Pineapples Do Not Camp


Les ananas ne campent pas!

Les ananas ne campent pas!

My 4 fulls for Phreak Show are still in heart-stabbing, conference-season-delayed limboland. Off and on, I’m still tinkering with a few tiny screws and toggles on it. Seriously, (hear me: seriously!) revisions are never truly done.

What kind of screws am I tightening? Minor things—some I’ve wanted to tweak on my own, and others revealed as loose via some uber-useful & promising pheedback. A few elements are being enriched. One small issue has been mentioned a few times, so that’s definitely under the microscope.

There’s this one small thing that an agenty person pointed out, which I can’t fix on my own. So I’ve called in a specialist. There are 5 short passages in Phreak Show that include a little French. I took a couple years in High School, but I mainly walked away with enough savvy to carry on a  20 second introductory conversation. I mean, even if you add in zut alors! and les ananas ne campent pas, I’m pretty sure my teacher would shake his head in quasi-French disappointment.

As for the Phreak Show phrases, I ran them through Google Translate, and confidently popped them into the manuscript. LAUGHABLE. I trusted GT. Je suis un idot! Thankfully, a Canadian Twitter friend rushed to my aid. At least, I hope she took care of me. For all I know she could have translated “Can you believe this arse trusted a computer to translate for him?”

FTR, this is what ^that^ phrase looks like in Google-French:
Pouvez-vous croire ce cul confiance à un ordinateur de traduire pour lui?

It probably might be somewhat close to nearly correct.

I should watch more Téléfrancais! Like this sparkling gem: Pineapples Don’t Camp! In this episode, Jacques and Sophie decide to go camping in a mysterious green-screen forest. However, trouble arises when they get lost. [Yes, sadly, this is the abiding legacy of two years’ worth of French…]

The next time I need some fancy-schmancy foreign words, I’ll go to an expert. Which is to say: NOT GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Zut alors!

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Compendium of Synopsis Writing Wisdom


LucasCompendium

I am not a synopsis guru, nor the son of one.
But a few agents in my god-tier require them.

So, I am posed with the choice:
A) Whine & lazily avoid composing a synopsis, thus eliminating any chance of representation by those amazing agents – OR –
B) Research, work hard, and enjoy the synopsis element of a process which will help me see my publishing goals realized.

Last night, I chose Option B. I whipped out a damn good synopsis in about two hours. The process went uber-smoothly compared to my attempts with previous novels, and I believe I know why. I may draw friendly fire for this next statement…

If you find it difficult to summarize your story in synopsis form,
your story may be inherently flawed.

Once again, I am no guru, but a synopsis is basically an outline of your novel in paragraph form. If that outline is not clear, if the quintessential arc is more of a wriggly squiggle, if the tension doesn’t mount until cresting at a point of inevitable release–then, perhaps, you have discovered the reason a synopsis seems insufferable.

Of course, none of us deals with issues such as those…

So, what to do if you’re positive your story is as strong as it can be, yet the synopsis is still kicking your ass? Well, quit whining and make it happen! Also, research. There are tons of how-to guides and advice articles to scoot you on your way. Congealing & gleaning highlights from a few of these, I will add my non-guru voice to the chorus.

Lucas’s Compendium of Synopsis Writing Wisdom

– First, there are no hard & fast rules, but a few guidelines can make synopsis creation easier.

– Before you dive in, keep the touchpoints of motivation, emotion, and conflict in the forefront of your mind.

– Write in third-person, present-tense.

– The standard synopsis length seems to be 1-2 pages. Squeeze it into 1 short page if possible.

– Use strong verbs and adjectives (not too many!) to effectively express the plot points in the fewest words possible.

– Hit these key points: Hook, Stakes, Intro of the MC, Inciting Incident, Midpoint Twist, Climax, Resolution. (Some sources suggest allotting a single paragraph to each of these elements.)

– Ensure your characters are presented with personality and come across as sympathetic.

– An economy of words is key. Only include the true essentials. Wisely select only the most necessary of subplots–if any.

– Yes, the synopsis should give away the ending.

– The writing shouldn’t be flowery, but shouldn’t bore the poor agent/editor to tears either. Strike a balance somewhere between a technical manual and a book report.

– Just as with a novel or query, revise, revise, revise.

– Run your synopsis by your betas & CPs. Ask them to point out clarity issues or extraneous info.

– Embrace the process. Dreading and whining will only make it harder.

– Keep your end goal in mind! Compared to drafting & revising an entire novel, creating the synopsis is a straight-up, cupcake endeavor.

I couldn’t see it before, but now I totally understand why some agents require a synopsis. By comparing the end result of my latest attempt with previous ones, I can clearly see the strengths in my current story. I didn’t stumble over defining the essential stakes, core conflicts, etc. These items rang out crystal clear. And, so, I draw the conclusion that this novel is far tighter than my previous ones, and contains the elements a great, marketable novel should.

But hey, what do I know? Like I said, I aint no guru.

Nevertheless, the creation of this synopsis didn’t hurt. Not even a tiny bit. Maybe my Compendium will help your process flow along as smooth as silk.

Synopsis-hungry god-tier agents, here I come.

 

What say ye? Do you avoid querying agents who require a synopsis? Does the mere thought of synopsis writing make you cringe? Have you found a structure which works for you? What tips would you pass on to fellow writers?

Peeling Back Phreak Show’s Skin


Civer - Phrenology

Finally, Phreak Show is done!

Its creation veered off the usual path I take when writing a novel. Which, I kind of liked. I’m a creature of habit. Not OCD level, but I prefer clear plans, order, and steady movement towards the goals I set. I’m an outliner, a spreadsheet junkie, a list maker. I like to track things and see their progress over time.

All of those tools (and a few more) were involved in the making of Phreak Show, but the process didn’t move swiftly from A to B. Leave it to the phreaky story to be the one to shuck my norm.

Since I like to track things…Here’s a breakdown of the process I used this time around and how it strayed. For the hell of it (because such things make me happy) I’ll use a pair of symbols to denote which components are [N]ormal for my process, and which ones are a little [P]hreaky. And, yes, I’m busting out the bullet points.

  • [N] Idea – A line, a character, a conflict. I kick it around in my head. Weigh it for worthiness & flesh it out while showering, driving, falling to sleep. I may scribble down a few gems so I don’t forget them, but it’s mainly a mental process. For PS, it was the setting of a Sideshow with teenage freaks being enslaved by their own warped self-images, and having those personal fears manifested in physical form.
  • [P] Tagline -In the past, boiling the story down to a single line has been a hellish project which comes after the novel is complete. With PS, it punched me in the face very early in the process. Being a phreak isn’t about looks, it’s a frame of mind.
  • [P] Plotting – I go hard and detailed on this aspect. I don’t play. For PS, I used some elements as usual, but wielded them differently. I added some new steps. I use OneNote to organize ideas, settings, characters, specific lines. I drop in links and tidbits found during the research stage. This time, I didn’t copy & paste / type an official  outline in Word. I printed the OneNote pages, cut out the strips, and visually sorted and arranged them on my plotting wall. Also, I used 4-Part Story Structure as the framework. (<–This is a genius tool!) Everything fell into place like clockwork.
  • [P] Query Letter – I’m pretty good with them, I believe. But many, many wildly different versions are usually needed before I hone it down to the true, delectable meat of the story. Freeborn had at least 35 versions…With PS, I decided to write the query BEFORE drafting. Ummm, amazing way to do it. Reason: the basic concepts are vivid, but all the nitty-gritty goodness isn’t fleshed out yet. The process was streamlined because the writing jewels & subplots I’d be tempted to embellish the query with later, didn’t exist yet.
  • [P] Research – This is an [N], but it could have been a [P]. No, wait. I’m changing it. Definitely a [P]. I always research, but it’s usually 95% internet-based. This time involved a lot of that, of course, but it went to a deeper level. I read 2 non-fiction books on the history of the sideshow: Carny Folk: The World’s Weirdest Sideshow ActsFreak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. I also read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I remembered the movie (1983) from when I was a kid. Some of the imagery is burned in my skull. So, I wanted to be careful not to gank any of it–to make sure my ideas were my own. Two movies also gave me some great background: Tod Browning’s cult classic “Freaks”  (1932) and a documentary “Sideshow: Alive on the Inside”.  All of this gave me a feel for the imagery, terminology & world. But, it also provided an added layer that became key to Phreak Show: the emotions & motivations of real-life sideshow performers in their heyday. Golden. Absolutely golden.
  • [P] Bonus Features – Phreak Show got pimped out in this department. There is the mandatory Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/PhreakShowNovel. With 9 dedicated Boards, Pinterest played a huge part in image collection this time: http://pinterest.com/gypsyluc/. The one I’m most proud of contains a set of Victorian Cabinet Cards I created just for the characters: http://pinterest.com/gypsyluc/phreak-show-cast-steampunk/ [I still owe Douggie his…]
  • [P] Drafting – Usually, this is hardcore, front-to-back, full-tilt, beginning-to-end with no pauses in between. PS came in 5 major spurts. I hammered out the first 2 pages so I could share them at an SCBWI conference. (Rave reviews!) Then I paused again, waiting for NaNoWriMo to begin. After NaNo, the hiatus between sections 2 & 3 was six weeks long. I can’t really explain the reason why that happened. I never lost the passion for the story, but simply needed it to chill, and rest, and mellow. Or something. Idk? This was a new one for me. Then, with the story so close to done I could taste it, I stopped short of the final two chapters. It was uber-important that I got them right. The first time. Those two chapters took about 10 days to draft, which is insanely slow for me. Alas, the outcome convinces me it was well worth slowing the pace and nailing the perfect ending.
  • [P] Revision – I always edit little bits and pieces as I go. You know, read back over the previous section to keep the continuity and voice. Because of the lulls in drafting, I edited each section piece-by-piece. That was part of the holding pattern at the end of Chapter 23. I completely revised the whole thing–looking for holes, resolving dangling things, building the tension, back-filling, cross-checking, characterization, removing ridiculousness–before drafting those final two chapters. I will make a few more passes to double-check everything and make sure, but any further changes are merely cosmetic, obsessive tweaking.

So there you have it. Probably waaay more details about my process than you ever cared to know. When I look at that list, I see all but one [P]. That tells me that my process changed drastically from Freeborn to Phreak Show. I predict that this will translate into a much different outcome for Phreak Show, as well.

I know that once a new novel is complete, we all think THIS IS THE ONE! And, perhaps, that’s where Phreak Show stands. But, if I’m honest with myself: I know better. Laugh if you like, but this is, I strongly believe, the one. Not only am I uber-organized, but I’m also an excellent student. I learned so much from my first two novels. All that ‘practice’, the successes & failures, the things I did correctly & the dumbass mistakes I made–I channeled the lessons learned & wisdom gained into the creation of Phreak Show.

The contentment I feel isn’t merely about having completed my third novel. It is about this one, finally, being worthy of signing my name to it. And, time will time, maybe even signing my name on a contract.

“If you judge them by appearance alone, you will miss the truth buried beneath their skin, behind their wet eyes. A truth which, if you dare search it out, lurks within your own heart. Being a phreak isn’t about looks. It’s a frame of mind.”

Making Flash Fiction Your Bitch


Get it? "Flash" punching a dude into submission? :: ahem :: Anyway...

Get it? “Flash” punching a dude into submission? :: ahem :: Anyway…

Ever on the lookout for blogging inspiration–no matter what bush it peeks out of–this Facebook exchange with my writerly friend, Brittany Larson, has a good feel to it. Blog-worthy, I believe. From a random interaction amongst the social media bushes: Making Flash Fiction Your Bitch.

Brittany: HEY! I need some advice on some writing!

Lucas: Ok. I’ve got a few minutes. What’s up?

Brittany: Well I have this story idea swirling around my head about the 3 Archangels Micheal (The Angel Of Mercy) Gabriel (The Messenger Angel) And Azrael (The Angel of Death) And they are all fallen. And Iwas thinking Gabriel and Micheal stay faithful to God while Azreal goes rogue. He makes a deal with the devil that’s simple Bring me Rachel (My girl protagonist) and I will make you more powerful than God. God appears to Micheal and Gabriel and says stop him and you’re back in heaven. And I am thinking that Micheal will be my main male protagonist (Gabriel more as support) so what happens when Micheal falls in love with Rachel and doesn’t wanna go back to Heaven. Something along those lines. So the first question is: sound good? And also I don’t know if I wanna just start writing now or save it for NaNo.

Lucas: Is this a story you will try to market to agents/publishers? I only ask because a few months back many were groaning about the massive amount of “Angel” stories: fallen ones falling in love with a human. There are a lot of those on the market already. So, it’s a trope the pros don’t much care for anymore.

Brittany: Yeah…see I am not too sure. I am thinking. Truly I have never made it even far enough to think about sending it to publishers.

Lucas: A twist would be good. Can they be fallen gods instead of angels? And love triangles are always sellable. Maybe one naughty god in love with your mortal, Rachel, but a second god in love with the first & fighting the matchup? Or, make them aliens, or zombies, or any other creature. Then you could go with the same basic plot without stepping into the Angels theme. If you’re not going to shop it, then just go with whatever the heck makes you happy as a writer!

Brittany: True…true. That would be interesting. And yeah…see I am still debating whether to just write it or save it for NaNo…because I mean I have it written down so I don’t forget it.

Lucas: You’ll have more ideas before Nano! It’s always good to keep writing. Like flexing your muscles to make you stronger.

Brittany: True true. And I sure hope so. This is the Biggest Aha! Moment I have had in a while. My Nano idea wasn’t this solid.

Lucas: Here’s a cool trick for discovering ideas that are novel worthy: just start with a flash fiction of your story. Write out a key scene in 1000 words or less. Focus on using as little words as possible to convey setting, character, conflict.

Brittany: Thanks That really helps

Lucas: Still have the story arc of intro, conflict, climax, closure. This helps me weed out ideas as either long-running or short lived. If the idea feels “done” or exorcised, then cool. You have a flash fiction story. But, if you find the character’s voice and keep thinking about his/her life, then it’s time to plot for a longer work: short story, novella, novel.

Brittany: Yeah. Thanks for the advice

Lucas: You’re welcome, yo. Mind if I post this interaction on my blog in a few days? “I’d rather not” is an acceptable response. 😉

Brittany: Oh that’s fine. I really don’t care…I mean it wasn’t personal or anything:)

Lucas: I can keep you anonymous or remove/summarize your novel idea if you’d like.

Brittany: No it’s fine…put in as much detail as you’d like. I’m not shy.

Lucas: Done! Do you have a blog or Twitter account I can link to? Such things often bring you new followers.

Brittany: https://twitter.com/thegirlonfire16

So, let’s get Brittany some new followers.

And, let’s get to using Flash Fiction as a test-run for those awesome ideas we keep coming up with. It tests their mettle, and keeps us flexing those writing muscles. Better to weed out the losers before we invest a half a novel’s worth of time before discovering they suck. Also, our writerly friends are awesome sounding boards for our new concepts. They can often spot holes, provide useful feedback, and tune us in to stuff they’ve stumbled upon in the publishing world but we have not.

Now, you know one of the secret tools I use to tame my overzealous ideas. What do you think? Is it worth slipping into your own bag of tricks?

Reporting from the bushes, this is Lucas, signing off.

Bad Writing Tips Immortalization Project – #BadWritingTips


This is a random pic of a Barn Owl. It has nothing to do with the actual post. I have been sitting on it for a while, and decided today is the day to use it.

I suppose tweets are meant to be temporal. Apparently, I am adverse to letting that happen. I’m not the only one. After a world-trending day of #badwritingtips, many writers & authors have salvaged their witty remarks from the wastelands. I am one of these determined bloggers working on the [unofficial] #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project.

Here are the others on the growing list:

@IbecameMyDad – http://ivebecomemyparents.com/2012/06/25/barmys-bountiful-bag-of-bad-advice-for-writers/
@nimbuschick – http://www.amyleighstrickland.com/2012/06/the-best-of-badwritingtips/
@BenMyers1 –  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/jun/25/twitter-bad-writing-tips-improved-writing?CMP=twt_fd
@saphirablue84 – http://thiswritersworldplotbunnies.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-tried-to-find-something-with-bad.html
@BookRiot – http://bookriot.com/2012/06/25/the-best-badwritingtips/

If you know of more, please post a link and Twitter handle in the Comments. I will be sure to add them to the list.

My #badwritingtips are immortalized below. If you are a writer, you may enjoy these. If you are a bad writer, you will most likely hate them. Fix it.

Let’s kick things off with an homage Tweet to the originators of the idea. Then, we’ll roll gently into the @gypsyroots version of sarcasm.
 

1)      All hail the almighty @MeganWhitmer & @andimjulie. Goddesses of the #badwritingtips hashtag phenomenon.

2)      Every chance you get, use a big-ass word: e.g. Bunyanesque, fecundity, preposterousness #badwritingtips

3)      Short sentences. Pop. Staccato lines good. Fragments rock. All the time. All the way through. Keep em short. It is good. #badwritingtips

4)      Your first 3 chapters should be 100% backstory. No action. No dialogue. Readers love that. #badwritingtips

5)      Kill your MC halfway through the novel. Once you establish a new one. Kill her, too. #badwritingtips

6)      Run-on sentences and wordy paragraphs show readers you can hold long thoughts in your head so they should learn how to do it #badwritingtips

7)      Similes and metaphors should be so convoluted that your reader has no idea what you were actually trying to convey. #badwritingtips

8)      Put your climax in the 2nd chapter, then let the final 48 chapters slowly f a d e a w a y . . . #badwritingtips

9)      Each and every amazingly lovely noun & deliciously simple verb should have a minimum of 2 modifiers. To make them sparkle. #badwritingtips

10)   Every word has at least one synonym. USE ALL THE SYNONYMS. #badwritingtips

11)   Writers know best. Especially new ones. Editors and agents are stupid. #badwritingtips

12)   There are no original ideas. Regurgitate what has already been written. #badwritingtips

13)   Your surreal poetry is highly marketable. #badwritingtips

14)   Long-winded titles are best. It works in the music industry. http://www.listal.com/list/ridiculously-long-song-titles #badwritingtips

15)   Subplots are like seeds. Plant 10x more than you actually need. If they spring up, good. If not, don’t dig them back up. #badwritingtips

16)   All your characters should possess the same personality. This makes it easier for readers to keep up. #badwritingtips

17)   Three-dimensional characters are for movies. In novels, they should be as flat as the page they’re written on. #badwritingtips

18)   Uber-Niche markets are the key for non-fiction. “Holistic Skin Care for Manx Cats” will definitely hit the bestseller list. #badwritingtips

19)   Chapters of 10k words or greater are highly desirable. #badwritingtips

20)   Agents prefer phone calls over email submissions. Never relent. Keep trying until you get through. #badwritingtips

21)   All agencies really prefer snail-mail queries. Their guidelines lie. Perfume, stickers & glitter are all highly recommended. #badwritingtips

22)   Chapter breaks should end with a whimper, not a bang. #badwritingtips

23)   Absolutely! Include your 1960’s band and movie references. Your YA readers won’t get it, but who cares? #badwritingtips

24)   Continuity of storyline is overrated. Mix it up. Non-linear is good. Confusion is great. Keep it up. #badwritingtips

25)   Semi-colons and exclamation marks change things up; use them often! #badwritingtips

26)   Commas are like confetti. Toss them into the air and let them fall where they will. #badwritingtips

27)   When you get stuck, abruptly end the scene. Then, fast-forward to your character waking up the next morning. #badwritingtips

28)   Invented words will help get your complex points across. Include them on every page. #badwritingtips

I have no doubt that this hashtag will continue to reappear. Kudos to the creators for sparking a new meme—even if it is short-lived and only breathes within our writers-on-Twitter subculture. Hopefully, the positive peer-pressure of the #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project can make a difference.

I Am Homophonophobic


Alright, since you cornered me about it, I will admit it.

My name is Lucas and I am homophonophobic.

First of all, it was just plain fun making up that word. Secondly, my hate and fear of typos is real–especially when it comes to homophones. You know how they are: conniving, backstabbing, and sneaky. 

I’m not merely talking about in my manuscripts, but everywhere. When texting friends, I edit and re-edit before hitting [SEND]. Even still, sometimes “your” slips through in place of “you’re”. An instant follow-up message is required by Lucas law. If I’m in an online forum with frenzied fingers blurring in rapid-fire responses–and a fat-fingered mistake sneaks through–death. I immediately enter a correction preceded by an asterisk to replace “there” with “*their” or even “*they’re”.

Typos in Tweets (Tweetpos?) are the worst. They instantly zip out into the Twitterverse with no tether to yank them back. Tweetpos are irrevocable and fly out to a gazillion recipients at once. Double-death. There is no telling how many times I have posted a comment or status on Facebook, only to re-read it, gasp at my idiocy, and delete it. I recover quickly, however, and can draft a more eloquent version with the necessary change of “its” to “it’s” in mere seconds.

Before this blog entry is posted, I will search it diligently (multiple times…) for not only coherence, rhythm, the best wording, and spelling–but also a separate pass in search of  any homophones that fly below the spellchecker’s radar. Why am I confessing my homophonophobic nature? Because I threw up a little bit in my mouth the other day when I discovered “here” in place of “hear” in a blogpost that had been up for days. You can hunt for it if you’d like. You won’t find it. It was eradicated in a zealous hate-crime against homophone misuse. 

Here is a Euler Diagram to help you take back control of your life if you–like me–are homophonophobic. Caution: It may make you aware of new phobias you never even thought of having.

Balance: Checkbooks, Unicycles and Novel Drafting


Image

When the checkbook shows $2,000 more than the bank’s number, [I suppose] it’s time to balance it out to find the discrepancies. I was only two months behind when I sat down to match up the deposits and debits yesterday. The main concern was that someone else had been tapping into the funds.

I ordered a new batch of checks three weeks ago. They never arrived in the mail. Last week, I followed up with the bank. They couldn’t track the shipment, but went ahead and issued a stop payment on those check numbers, and then reissued a new batch of checks.

After an hour of highlighting, locating math errors, and adding debits that never made it into the register–I got the account balanced. The finding: no thievery was involved. In the midst of a busy schedule, I had simply forgotten to enter five [rather large] debits. These weren’t like $5.19 for Subway or $20.00 cash back from the grocery store. They were hefty payments for welding work, glass stock, and an online mortgage payment. Oops.

With my novel Freeborn, I have been balancing things as I go. From the outset, I have been ever-conscious of wordcount by chapter, an undulating pace of compressed action offset with more fluid descriptions, and editing each chapter before moving on to the next.

I spent way too much time going back in to edit my first and second novels. It was rather like trying to juggle the checkbook, bank statement, and a highlighter while riding a unicycle. This time around, I set a goal at the beginning of the process to take care of things as I went–to keep it balanced along the way. And this go around is more akin to taking a leisurely ride through the park on a two-wheeler instead.

So, no one stole my money. I received my new checks. Both my bank account and Freeborn are sitting pretty–balanced to the penny.