Showing posts with label Post-Apoc Ninjas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Post-Apoc Ninjas. Show all posts

Current Status

For a long time, not a lot had changed, hence the lack of updates. But here's what's going on in my life right now that you may (or may not) be interested in:

1) Torment is out. You probably already know this, but if you don't let me say it again: TORMENT IS OUT FOR PS4, XBOX, PC, MAC, AND LINUX. It's also getting some pretty great reviews, with a metascore of 83 on Metacritic. I don't think I could be happier with all of our work.

2) I have a new game design gig. I am not (currently) working for inXile and instead am doing narrative design for Nexon. I do very much hope I get to work with the fine folks at inXile again in the future, but I'm also pretty excited about what we're doing at Nexon. Such is the life of a freelancer.

3) I'm currently drafting "Secret Middle Grade Fantasy Project." I want to tell you more, but I can't. Suffice to say I'm excited about this project.

4) I'm also writing another Middle Grade novel. This one tentatively called Sea of Souls. It's very different from anything I've written, which makes me both scared and excited. I think it could be pretty great, but we'll see!

5) I'm considering starting a Twitch stream. Because obviously I have all this free time. If you don't know what Twitch is, don't worry about it yet (I'll explain more if/when I do). Right now, I'm just trying things out and deciding what I want to do with it (and why). Any thoughts you have on the topic are welcome.

6) I'm finishing up Rurouni Kenshin. Thinking about what to watch next. Probably Iron Fist (since I'm fully invested in the Netflix Marvel universe), but there are so. Many. Shows.

7) I'm (finally) playing Banner Saga 2. And discovering I really suck at it, but also discovering how not to suck at it, which is fun.


As for other things you might be interested in -- like Izanami's Choice, some kind of sequel to Izanami's Choice, Post-Apoc Ninjas, etc -- I have no new news on these things (hence the long periods of silence). But that doesn't mean they have disappered. As always, I'll let you know when I have something to share!

So that's what's going on with me. What have you been doing lately?




Writing Status

Those of you who saw my post about my super ridiculous September may want to know how I made out. Here are where things stand on all things writing and a few other things.

I'm on schedule for Torment. At least I should be. I'm pretty happy with what I've gotten done, anyway!

I wrote a novella. Specifically, I drafted and revised the novella known as "Post-Edo Bladerunner" on the Works in Progress page. It is out of my hands for now. With luck, this will be a thing you can read in the near future. We'll see.

There may be another story for you to read soon. Specifically, this one, but that is also out of my hands. I'll let you know.

Air Pirates is no longer on submission. For those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time, I know this is really sad news. Though honestly it's been nearly four years since I got my agent; Air Pirates has not been on submission for that entire time, but it has been for a lot of it. I'm sure most of you already figured out it wasn't happening.

We got a lot of great feedback on Air Pirates, and at least one editor wants to see more of my stuff (an editor I really, really, really, really, really want to work with). But a lot of people expressed that -- while they loved the world and the characters and the story -- the category and genre of the thing was kind of hard to pin down, which means it would be kind of hard for them to sell.

Air Pirates is not dead. I love that world way too much. There is a major revision in its future (maybe even a rewrite?), but we'll see. What happens to Air Pirates depends on various career things that are out of my control over the next several months. Speaking of which...

Post-Apoc Ninjas is on submission. This novel has had its own bumpy ride, but I have learned a lot of things from the Air Pirates feedback and other soul-crushing critiques, and so I've revised the crap out of it. The result is something my agent loves (and if preliminary feedback on the Post-Edo novella is an indication, the critiques may also have leveled me up as a writer). Now that thing my agent loves is Out There.

Don't get excited yet, though. Publishing is slow, Tricia and I are cautious, and, well... you know what happened with Air Pirates. The point is I'm still writing and things are still moving.

The Thai government is happy with us. Or at least they're leaving our home alone, which in bureaucracy terms is the same thing.

No children died while my wife was gone. Though there was a fractured bone incident, but that wasn't my fault, and I handled the crap out of it.

Though it was a close thing.

Was there anything else you wanted to know?


Status of the Update

For those of you who don't read every single one of my Facebook posts (it's cool; even my wife doesn't read them), here's a quick rundown of what's going on and where.

I sent Ninjas off to my agent. You probably know this. She's still reading it, but I'm naively hoping she likes it and wants to start submitting like really, really soon. Cuz getting published (and paid) would be rad.

I went to California. I spoke at my church, had meals with a quarter bazillion people, played and occasionally acquired new games, and then spent a week at inXile HQ where...

I got promoted to Torment's Design Lead. That does not mean I'm in charge of the whole thing (thank God; Colin's still Creative Lead (making sure the story, characters, writing, etc. are awesome) and Kevin's still the Project Lead (making sure the game actually gets done)). It does mean I'm in charge of the game's rules, systems, interfaces, and other designy tidbits. It's pretty much the same stuff I was doing before, except with higher expectations and less ability to blame others when things go wrong. Should be fun.

I watched like 8 movies/shows on the plane trip back. And I have determined that Disney's The Lone Ranger is stupid. BBC's Sherlock, however, is intelligently awesome.

I got home. Wherein I've played a bunch of games with the boys, given out cheap American candy, seen Catching Fire with the wife, and done very little work (except the work of getting over jet lag, which is ongoing).

Tomorrow I plan to play Wasteland 2, write >= 500 words (I've lowered my standards, for reasons), and entertain a 3-year-old tyrant. Among other things.

What have you been up to?


Coming Up with a Book Title

I am preparing, finally, to send Post-Apoc Ninjas to my agent. "Post-Apoc Ninjas" is the title I use for it online, short for Post-Apocalyptic, Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!). While that title is perfectly descriptive of what's in the book, it isn't quite the right tone for the novel.

I have another working title for the novel, which is The Con of War. It's meant to be a play on Sun Tzu's The Ancient Art of War, but (a) I don't think it really comes across and (b) it's just not cool enough. The thing is, I usually just go with whatever title comes to me. Turns out that doesn't always work (shocker!).

So instead I came up with a process (super shocker!).

STEP #1: What does a winner look like?
I thought about what the above titles were lacking in, and what I thought a good title should do. I came up with four general categories. Note that these were just my categories. You may have your own (you should probably look at titles you particularly like or something; I was too lazy):
  1. Tone and Feel: A measure of how well the title hints at what is to come. For my novel, this meant as many of the following as possible: an Asian feel, ninjas, dragons, mechs, post-apocalyptic setting, con game, and war.
  2. Multiple Meanings: A measure of how many ways the title can be interpreted (the more, the better), and the relevance of those interpretations to the novel.
  3. Use in the Novel: A measure of whether the title is a phrase from the prose itself and how relevant that phrase is to the novel's theme(s). Is it an important phrase? Repeated? Does it have special meaning, or is it a throwaway term?
  4. Overall Coolness: A measure of how cool the title might sound to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the story.
STEP #2: Enter the contestants.
Brainstorm. Just make up titles out of whatever. Scan or all-out read the novel looking for metaphors, themes, and cool turns of phrase. Write them all down. I ended up with twenty entrants (including the two contenders above). It helped that I was reading through the novel for a final revision and writing down anything that sounded remotely title-worthy.

STEP #3: Battle Royale. Fight!
Stick them in a table (or an Excel sheet, or Post-Its, whatever floats you) and judge them. Come up with a scale for your categories (I rated all categories from 1 to 3, because I don't need or like a lot of granularity).  Try to be objective. Try to judge them without comparing one to another. Hire someone to clean up the blood and teeth afterwards.

STEP #4: Semi-Finals.
Now that all of your contestants have been judged, determine your criteria for moving on. It might be an objective look at the totals across categories. Maybe you require that one of the categories have a certain score. Maybe you give a special pass to ones you like. Copy only the winners of the Battle Royale to a new place, so you can see them against each other, without the losers cluttering them up.

My criteria was at least 8 out of a possible 12 across the categories (although a couple of 7's passed because I liked how they were used in the novel). It cut the field down from 20 to 12, which wasn't much, but when I sorted them by total, I realized that the only ones I really liked were the ones that achieved 9 and up. These three titles became my Semi-Final winners.

STEP #5: Championship.
The next thing I did kinda surprised me. Instead of choosing a winner from among the three (although I did have a favorite at this point). I looked at all three and tried to make them better.

In my case, I realized most of them were a little shy of the Tone and Feel I wanted. I clarified to myself what that feel was (mostly kung-fu), looked up a bunch of related titles (mostly kung-fu movies), and figured out what made those titles sound like they were related (basically became a human kung-fu movie title generator: Way of the Master's Deadly Dragon Fist!).

It was pretty fun.

STEP #6 (Optional): Poll Your Audience.
Because I'm nothing if not shameless (and also I think by this point most of you want to know what my finalists were). Yes, I am serious. No, I won't necessarily use the most-voted as the title. Yes, you may vote whether or not you've read the novel. (If you're reading this from e-mail or a feed reader, you'll have to click through to see the poll):


Feel free to expand upon your vote, say how stupid these are, or even suggest other titles in the comments.

Writing Game Dialogue

A lot of you know I'm a multiclassed programmer/writer. Before I drafted four novels and got an agent, I had a Computer Science degree, scripted for Planescape: Torment, and completed a few dozen Project Euler problems (until they got too hard). Unfortunately, since I've been more focused on writing, my levels in programming have gone largely unused.

Until now. It turns out game dialogue is the perfect job for my class combination. It's nowhere near as complicated as writing a program to solve Sudoku, but it's got all the puzzle-solving aspects of programming that I love.

And it's not as hard as it sounds. Here, I'll show you.

Typical dialogue in a novel goes something like this (excerpt from Post-Apoc Ninjas):

     "Tell me who you really are," the Marshal said.
     Here we go. The Marshal had already guessed much. Kai would have to be careful. "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday, though the mercenaries themselves were from all over."
     "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
     "Pay me?"
     "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return."
     Kai hesitated. Marshal Aryenu was much sharper than his appearance made it seem. It felt very much like talking to Domino. Better to turn the questions on him. "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
     "Your reward, mercenary?"
     Both sharper and more stubborn than his grandson. "Two thousand."

     "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Game dialogue is not so different from this, at least for a game like Torment. Prose-wise, there are only a few changes:
  • Dialogue tags ("the Marshal said") are rarely necessary, since the character speaking is usually indicated on the game screen.
  • The Player Character's thoughts (in this example, our PC is Kai) are not tied to the PC's lines, if they're included at all; sometimes all information is conveyed through dialogue or item description instead.
  • PC lines are typically very brief. (In some games, you don't even get a line, just a motive or emotion that the game designers interpret for you).
  • Any description is written in present tense and second person (though I suppose it doesn't have to be).
So a more Tormenty version would look like this (speaker tags added for clarity):

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."
PC: "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday."
Marshal: "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
PC: "Pay me?"
Marshal: "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return." He examines you carefully. Suddenly, he seems much sharper than his appearance first suggested.
PC: "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
Marshal: "Your reward, mercenary?"
PC: "Two thousand."
 
Marshal: "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Those differences are primarily cosmetic. The real difference, and the most fun, is that game dialogues allow the player to choose what they say.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

1)
[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack the Marshal.

Each one of those choices goes to a different branch of dialogue (or exits dialogue and starts combat, in the case of the last one). It's pretty much exactly like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel combined with a combat mini-game.

But a game should be better than that, no? We can respond, not just to what the player chooses to say, but to their other choices as well -- things they've done in the past, how they've customized their character, who they choose to travel with, etc. We call this reactivity.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

1)
[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack him.
5) (If the PC betrayed his clan) "I'm a ninja, and a fugitive from my clan."
6) (If the PC killed the guards outside the keep) "I'm the guy who killed your guards."  
7) (If the player took the Read Minds ability) Try to read his mind.

And then each of those responses might have reactivity as well. The lie in (1) might succeed if you have a high deception skill, for example. What you learn from (7) might change depending on your level in the ability.

What you end up with is a branching, interlinking dialogue tree, hopefully one that is every bit as interesting for the player to navigate as combat or exploration.


It might seem overwhelming, but really such a thing evolves gradually as you write each line and think about what the player might want to say in reply. In fact, it's difficult NOT to write a huge, unwieldy conversation tree. For me, that's half the fun: trying to figure out how to guide the player to all the information I want them to get, without forcing them.

Here, if you want to play with a free, online example, try this online game where you play a dragon. But, um, don't blame me for any productivity loss.

What I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging

I hate having only First Impact posts go up, but I am trying to make money at this writing thing, so. Anyway, here are some of the things I've been doing in the last few weeks instead of blogging.

ON TORMENT...
Designing an alignment system. Basically codifying all of human experience and emotion into little boxes so we can tell the player things like, "You're Lawful Good." (Note: We're not using Lawful Good.) FUN LEVEL: High.

Thinking about what makes RPG combat interesting. There is quite a lot of debate in the hardcore CRPG world about whether combat should be turn-based or not. Part of my job has been to think about this a lot. FUN LEVEL: Medium (only because I'd rather get into specifics, but I can't yet).

Writing design docs. Fact: if we don't document it, it gets forgotten. FUN LEVEL: Tedious (but like our producer told me and Colin the other day, we don't get to do the fun stuff until we actually have money to do it).

(Anyway, tedious is a relative term. The most boring game design task is way cooler than anything I did for my Office Space job. I just want to think up cool stuff all day and have someone else write it down for me, is all.)

Writing Kickstarter copy. You'd be surprised how much work goes into a major crowd-funding campaign. I mean, look at a typical big-budget Kickstarter. Someone has to write all that stuff. FUN LEVEL: Tedious.

Planning Kickstarter videos. FUN LEVEL: High (until they start talking about my video update, then Abject Terror).

Iterating. I get an e-mail asking what I think of a design doc. I critique said design doc. What do I think of the latest concept art? Review and reply with my thoughts. Music? Videos? Someone's possible response to a forum question? Review and respond. Oh, and also respond to all the critiques of my stuff. FUN LEVEL: Surprisingly High.


OTHER THINGS I'M DOING...
Waiting on Air Pirates. Submissions, man. FUN LEVEL: Zero.

Revising Post-Apoc Ninjas. FUN LEVEL: Really slow.

Playing chess online. Our producer, Kevin, saw this drawing and said he might challenge me sometime. I can't let him win. FUN LEVEL: High.

Playing games with the kids. We raise gamers. I can't imagine why. FUN LEVEL: High until their attention spans wear out (so about five minutes).

Fending off tiny tyrants. This one, in particular. She gets mad at me when I work. Or cook. Or read. Or do anything except give her 110% of my attention. FUN LEVEL: I don't like it when she screams at me.

Driving. Yeah. I'm basically a soccer dad. FUN LEVEL: Usually High (this is where I come up with ideas).


So... what are you all up to?

When You Open Your MS for the 1,000,000th Time and You LOATHE It

Thank you for indulging my forced vacation last week. I actually didn't mean to time it with Thanksgiving (I often forget about American holidays out here), but sometimes things just work out, don't they?

So. You sit down to write. You open the Word doc that you've opened a million times before, see the chapter heading or title page and . . . you hate it. You hate that chapter title, that opening paragraph, that scene that you've revised twenty billion times.

This happened to me a little while ago. I've been revising Post-Apoc Ninjas for like ever, and I was so frigging sick of seeing this screen every morning:

Single-spaced, 10-point font, baby. That's how I roll.

But hey, writing's hard, right? We just gotta deal with it and move on.

But this was affecting my mood (and my predilection toward distraction) every single day. It was making a hard thing harder. So with the help of some basic psychology, I fixed it. Now I see these instead:

Emo Billy, but lots cooler.
Alternate view: a map prettier than any I could ever draw.
I found pictures related to my story, pictures that got me excited about it, and pasted them all over the first page. Now I don't have to see any text until I'm ready (and with the Document Map, I don't have to see the opening text at all, if I don't want to).

So that's your tip for today: When you open your manuscript for the millionth time and you LOATHE it, drop some awesome pictures on the first page to remind you why you still love it.

What about you? When you hate your manuscript and don't want to see it ever again, what do you do about it?

State of the Writing

It's been a long time since I've given you guys anything like a regular status update. I mean, there's my Works In Progress tab, but (a) who reads that? And (b) that only covers things with names.

So here's where things stand.

AIR PIRATES (being the novel that got me my beloved agent) is on submission. I've gotten some very pleasant-sounding feedback, but you know. When I have an announcement here, you'll hear it.

POST-APOC NINJAS (being the novel I talked about last month) is being revised. Of course the novel I drafted the fastest would take the longest to revise, but at least it's moving.

EVANGELION-ISH is a sci-fi novel I'm going to write after the Ninjas are revised (and the Pirates, if necessary). It has an outline. The two people who have read that are excited, so I guess that's a good thing.

SECRET FANTASY PROJECT is something I can't talk about yet. But it's cool. Unfortunately it's also back-burner, which means I'm spending as much energy trying not to think about it as I am actually working on other things.

TOP SECRET PROJECT, the nature of which I cannot even tell you. But rest assured it's awesome and exciting, and with luck I'll be able to talk about it in a couple of months.

This is on top of getting kids to school, making them food, and sometimes sleeping. I don't know how I got so many projects all of a sudden, but at least it increases the odds you'll get to read one of them eventually. Though it does mean a lot of drawing and remix posts. Sorry :-/

(And to answer the question "How do you do all that?": awesome wife + very poor single-tasking*).

So what are you up to?

* Being the more accurate term for "multi-tasking."

Talking About the Ninjas (Next Big Thing)

I don't do tags very often, but (a) I like talking about my WIPs and (b) I'll do pretty much anything the beloved Authoress asks.

So today I'm talking about ninjas of the post-apocalyptic kind.


Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

1) What is the working title of your book?
The Word doc is titled The Con of War, but I'm not sure I like it. So on the internet I use the more descriptive Post-Apocalyptic, Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!).

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I actually had six half-formed ideas and asked people which sounded cooler. Overwhelmingly, the response was, "Do them all!"

3) What genre does your book fall under?
YA Science Fantasy (post-apocalyptic, obvs.)

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I don't know about actual actors, but my wife and I were watching a lot of So You Think You Can Dance when I planned this story. So in my head, the young con-artist is Dominic, his techy sister is Katee, and the ninja is Emo Billy.


5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An assassin, on the run from his clan, must work with a young con-artist to keep the kingdom from slipping into civil war and anarchy.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My agent is eagerly waiting for me to finish revising this thing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
It took me 4 months, which is the fastest I've ever drafted anything. I'm paying for it in revisions though.

Believe it or not, the story starts with the weather:
It was cloudy the day Kai killed his god. He'd expected earthquakes, blood rain, darkness at the very least, but the day his god died—and the day they would execute Kai for killing him—looked the same as any other. As if it were not a god who had died, but a man.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The world of Catherine Fisher's INCARCERON felt similar to me (far future tech mixed with a fantasy feel). And I learned from Holly Black's WHITE CAT when I was planning the cons.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Honestly, I just threw in as many cool things as I could while still making sense. But the con-artist's struggles to trust and be trusted definitely comes from experiences with my own kids and attachment issues.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Krista Van Dolzer once called it, "A steampunk Inception with ninjas!" She hasn't actually read it yet, but I'm counting that as an official blurb.


The rules demand I tag 5 people, so here are some of the people whose works-in-progress I am most interested in. Some of them have already posted their answers, so check them out:

Krista Van Dolzer
Matthew MacNish
Myrna Foster
Daisy Carter
Melodie Wright


Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged. Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

Getting Unstuck

I've been working on revisions for Post-Apoc Ninjas, and it's been taking way too long. I once again have questioned whether I really should be writing, whether I deserve an agent, whether Air Pirates is some kind of one-hit wonder. I keep thinking if Air Pirates doesn't make it, Ninjas will be my next shot. Which means it has to be not just as good as Air Pirates, but better. And it's not.

But that's totally unfair. Of course it's not better. I've been working on Air Pirates for 4 years. It's been through dozens of beta readers and two or three major revisions. Post-Apoc Ninjas has only been through one very rushed draft.

But that didn't help me get unstuck. Here are some of the things that did, eventually, get me through it:
Pen and illustrations
courtesy of K. Marie Criddle
  • Read books on writing.
  • Think about the story 24 hours a day.
  • Create a dozen text files full of brainstorming and trying to work things out, with titles like "Random Revision Thoughts," "More Revision Planning (Invasion-Focused III)," and "Revision, Take Whatever" (You think I'm joking?).
  • Write plot points on index cards and shuffle them for no reason.
  • Use Awesome Pen of Power.
  • Make ridiculous, masochistic Twitter bets.
  • Make even more ridiculous punishments.
  • Take really long drives alone, like say: drive your daughter to her mountain village 2 hours away.*

I did finally get unstuck, and though all of these things helped (especially putting off reading BEHEMOTH), the only way I got through it was to never give up.

Who knew?

How do you get yourself unstuck?

* For the purposes of this post, driving "alone" and "with a teenager" are the same thing.

In Which I Work Up the Nerve to Edit Something

There's a lot of waiting coming up in the next few months, in which I have to just hope that Air Pirates is good enough. In which I have to write the next thing. The thing is, I have at least two finished drafts sitting on my computer, one of which probably will be the next thing, but I'm having trouble working up the nerve to edit them.

This is what's going on in my brain, then. Welcome to the crazy.

Brain: Work on Post-Apoc Ninjas. It's pretty good, and it has a lot of the same feel as Air Pirates.

Me: But I'd have to rewrite over half of it. It's so much work! Can't I just work on this New Shiny over here?

You'll have to rewrite that draft, too. It's less work to revise Ninjas.

But what if it's not? What if I write something that's mostly good on the first try?

Has that ever happened before?

. . . But if I rip out half of Ninjas, it'll feel like I wrote it for nothing.

Look at it this way: you still have half of a good novel.

What if I rip out more than half?

It's still part of a good novel. It's more than you had before you wrote it.

But what if I revise Ninjas and it's still not good? All that work will be wasted!

That's what you say before you start every draft.

I'd have to revise it AGAIN!

Look, what's it worth to you to write a good novel?

I HAVE written a good novel. It's called Air Pirates. Have you read it?

And how many times did you revise that?

. . . I hate you.

So long as you finish something.

How I Got My Agent, Part I

I don't know about you, but when I read these stories, I'm always more interested in how long and difficult the journey was (it encourages me when I'm dealing with The Long and Difficult myself). So this first part is everything leading up to the call. The part where Tricia chose me comes on Friday.

BACKGROUND
2003-2008: I wrote a novel (Travelers). I learned what a query letter is. I got rejected a lot.

2008-2010: I wrote another novel (Air Pirates). I got lots of feedback on it, learned how to delete whole chapters, and queried again. I got rejected less, but still . . . rejected.

(Side note: I also spent some time writing three short stories, getting one of them published, and drafting another novel (Cunning Folk)).

2010-2011: I revised Air Pirates from adult SF/F to Young Adult and, in May, queried it again.

THE REFERRAL
Querying the YA version of Air Pirates started off fantastic. Three agents from the adult round said they'd be interested if I did revisions or had another novel, but more than that, I had the Holy Grail of the Unpublished Author: a referral.

As part of my, ahem, "networking" I lucked into a couple of beta readers who have agents and/or book deals. One of them LOVED Air Pirates (still does, I believe) and thought her agent would too. Her agent requested the full within hours.

Three weeks later, she passed.

She was really nice, and said her client was right to refer it to her, but she just wasn't passionate enough to represent it. And I learned something I thought I had already known: a referral can only get your work seen, not sold.

THE ROLLER COASTER
That rejection hurt the most, I think, because I'd put so much hope in it. Over the next month I got a couple more requests and a couple more passes (always with the same thing: "There's a lot I liked, but I just don't love it enough to offer representation."). I also wrote this post and found myself in Stage 6 of this one.

Then in August I got 8 more requests(!). I thought I was level-headed about it, but I also doubled the rate I sent out queries so . . . maybe not.

In September, my manuscript was with 10 agents. A month later, half of them had passed -- some that I'd been really excited about -- all with the same comments as the others. I was still querying, but emotionally I was in the final stages.

THE OFFER I TURNED DOWN
This is another post, because it comes with warnings I think every Professional Aspiring Writer should hear. For now, know that I got an offer that may or may not have been a real offer and probably wasn't a good idea even if it was. I turned it down.

And I realized I was sending my 140th query letter to agents I probably wasn't going to be very excited about even if they offered -- agents I might even have said no to. I stopped sending out new queries.

I was done. Yes, there were still a few manuscripts out there, but I'd lost hope in most of them. I didn't even know some of the agents who had requested them. Would they turn out to be the same as the offer I turned down? I let it go and focused my efforts on drafting another novel.

It was less than 24 hours after finishing that draft when I got an e-mail with some hope in it. (Continued here)

Statistics, Milestones, and Statistics

As of this morning (last night for you in the Americas), the first draft of Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!) is finished, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Not because the work is done (far, FAR from it), but because drafting is my least favorite part of the process.

To celebrate, I'm posting these pre-revision statistics on the four finished novels I have sitting on my computer. (What, you don't think statistics are fun? Perhaps you've mistaken this blog for someone else's.)

I also submit these in the hope they will encourage any of you who feel you write slow: It Gets Better.

TRAVELERS 
Time to Draft: 4.5 years, both planning and writing (mostly writing).
Outline: None (GASP!), but lots of notes.
Draft Length: 76,000 words.
Avg Drafting Speed: About 1,600 words/month.

AIR PIRATES
Time to Draft: 19 months.
Outline: 244 words.
Draft Length: 100,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,200 words/month.

CUNNING FOLK
Time to Draft: 9 months.
Outline: 5,500 words (if you think I'm proud of that, read on; it gets better).
Draft Length: 48,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,300 words/month.

POST-APOC NINJAS
Time to Draft: 4 months.
Outline: 9,100 words (<--- !!).
Draft Length: 79,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 19,800 words/month.

I'm not quite at NaNoWriMo speeds yet, but I am finally at a place where I feel like I could produce a book a year, if I had to. You know, if someone wanted to pay me to do that (do you think that's too subtle?)

Breaking the Rules

If you've been learning the craft for a while, you've heard the rules. Don't start with a character waking up. Don't start with dialog or the weather. Don't use a mirror as a device to describe the narrator. Et cetera.

Lies.

There's a book you might have heard about called THE HUNGER GAMES. You know what it starts with? Katniss waking up.

You may have heard of Natalie Whipple, whose X-Men-meets-Godfather debut comes out next Summer. (If you haven't, you're welcome). About her novel, she tweets, "TRANSPARENT opens with a flashback, then moves on to a mirror scene while she is getting ready for school."

I love that. You may argue that means Transparent isn't good, but then you haven't read Natalie's stuff and you would be dead wrong. I can't wait to read Transparent, and I love that it breaks the rules.

My own novel AIR PIRATES starts with dialog. While it hasn't gotten me an agent yet, it has generated a lot of requests which, if nothing else, tells me the beginning doesn't totally suck.

Listen, the rules are good things. You should know them. But don't be afraid of breaking them. Just know why you're doing it. Are you breaking the rule because you couldn't think of anything better, or is it because that's the best way to do what you want to do?

If it's the latter, I say go for it! What do you think?

(Hm. I just realized Post-Apoc Ninjas starts with the weather. Maybe I have authority issues?)

Level Up: 1,000 Words in a Day

I'm a slow writer. Like, really slow. I mean, I wrote the freaking book post on writing slow. So I'm a little weirded out to have to admit the following:

I have written 1,000 words a day, every (writing) day, for the past two weeks.

Now, granted, I'm usually only able to pull 3-4 writing days a week, but my previous average was 1,000 words per week, so this is kind of a big jump. How am I doing this?

Well... I'm still trying to figure that out.

BETTER GOALS?
With Travelers, my only goal was to finish the novel. That took 4.5 years. Air Pirates wasn't much different, but I got that done in 2 years. I had a for-real word count goal with Cunning Folk, but it was a soft goal (meaning I didn't do anything if I missed it). I finished the draft in 9 months, but my production rate was about the same as Air Pirates.

Now? I have a hard goal of 800 words/day. "Hard" meaning on the first day, when I didn't meet my goal during my isolated writing time, I squeezed in extra work wherever I could.

The weird thing is, that's the only day I've had to do extra work so far.

WRITER'S HIGH?
My writing time is two hours. Often, by the end of the first hour, I'll only have written about 100-300 words. It sucks. It's hard, and I feel like I'll never make it. But something weird happens around 600-700 words: I stop paying attention.

I've never had a runner's high (what with my loathing for the activity), but I've heard it's a thing. So maybe there's a writer's high too -- a point at which you stop feeling the pain and just get lost in the story. There seems to be for me. Every time I sit down to write, I dread it and wonder if I can maintain this breakneck (for me) pace. Then by the end I wish I had a little bit more time to write.

OUTLINING?
I've written enough novels to know the kinds of things I tend to get stuck on and the kinds of things I'm good at just writing through. With this novel, I went over my outline until I had 9,000 words of the thing detailing every major plot point and motivation I could think of (plus a few minor foreshadowing tidbits), until I could read through the outline without any gaps.

There's still a lot I have to make up -- action scenes, conversations, the dreaded segues -- but those things haven't been slowing me down as much as they used to.

STREAMLINED PROCESS?
I used to revise as I go. Heck, I had a whole ritual every time I finished a chapter: revise, record statistics, send to alpha reader, update blog sidebar, try to remember what the next chapter is about...

I've cut out a lot of that now, but most importantly I've cut the revising as I go. It's hard (especially when sending really rough drafts to my alpha), but it keeps me moving.

PRACTICE?
I'm a big fan of the idea that you can do basically anything if you practice hard enough. I don't know why it surprises me that writing fast is one of those things.

How about you? How do you maintain your pace (whatever it is)? Got any tips for someone trying to get faster?

A Tip for Writing Multiple POV Characters

My current WIP has two POV characters, kinda like Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN. While I was outlining, I realized my favorite scenes were spread out between two of the characters: the ninja and the con artist. But neither of these characters had the whole story.

See, when choosing a protagonist, you need to choose a character who does all the interesting things and who has the most interesting character arc. And I had two characters who had all the interesting stuff spread out between them (actually three: the con artist has a sister whose arc I want to explore too).

There were a couple of ways I could've gone with this: (1) focus on one character while downplaying the other or (2) write a dual storyline. I've already written a shared story with mixed feedback, so I wanted to focus on one character this time. But who? To help me decide, I took a long look at each character and thought, "If this book was ONLY about them, what would their plot and character arc look like?" Then I would pick the arc I liked best.

Instead, I ended up with A REALLY STRONG DUAL STORYLINE.

Don't get me wrong. Writing from two POVs is still going to be a lot of work to do right, but this feels like a good way to start.

Ever written a dual storyline? Got any advice before I take it too far?

Using Tropes to Fix a Weak Plot

I am heavily plotting Post-Apocalyptic Ninjas (with Mechs!) in a vain effort to forget that, right now, agents are judging my soul. It's taking a lot longer than I think it should (the plotting, not the soul-judging), partly because my wife and I decided nine kids wasn't enough, and partly because Post-Apoc Ninjas is the novel I have to love more than the one I'm querying,* so I want the plot to be STRONG before I start writing.

And I've discovered a couple things: (1) my first idea is often a trope I'm dangerously familiar with and (2) the weak parts of my plot are where I used my first idea.

Take, for example, the Engineered Public Confession (warning: TV Trope link), in which the hero tricks the villain into admitting to his plan while he secretly records it. It was done in Minority Report, UHF, Monsters Inc, practically every episode of Murder, She Wrote, and it's #189 on the Evil Overlord List.

Does that mean we can't do it? HECK, NO! (Dude, Murder, She Wrote ran for twelve seasons!) The question is: how?

First: Identify the point at which the reader will recognize the trope. It could be as early as when the hero confronts the villain, or later when the villain begins to gloat, or (depending on how you play it) it might not be until the hero reveals his recording device. Finding the point is subjective, and varies depending on what genre you're writing (a reader of detective novels will probably see it coming long before a romance reader, for example), but do your best.

Everything before that point doesn't matter. It's what you do after that point that makes or breaks the trope.

Second: Decide how to play the trope. There are a number of ways you can do this:
  1. Subvert it. We talked about this before. Subverting a trope means it looks like you're going to do the trope, then you twist it in some way. Maybe the recording device doesn't work, or the villain is genre savvy and doesn't fall for the trope, or the intended audience hears the confession and doesn't care (or agrees with the villain!). Don't make the mistake of thinking your twist is completely original, but it's a good way to keep the reader guessing, and it can take you down some unexpected plot paths.
  2. Avert it. This means don't do the trope at all. The reader recognizes the trope is coming then...it just doesn't. There never was a recording device, or there was but the recording is never used. Sometimes averting a trope can be just as clever as a subversion. Sometimes it's just a different trope. But it's another way to go.
  3. Play it straight. Wait, wouldn't that be cliche? That's always a danger, but even played straight, there are a million ways you can pull it off (TWELVE SEASONS!). The recording could be accidental. It might be witnessed instead of recorded. There might be obstacles keeping the hero from showing the recording to the public. (This, btw, is where TVTropes.org is most useful).
The trick is to keep it unpredictable. That point when the reader recognizes the trope? It's at that moment she creates expectations in her mind of how the story will play out. If you meet all those expectations exactly, you will (probably) have bored your reader. That's what you have to avoid.


* Yes, there's Cunning Folk. There are definitely things we like about Cunning Folk, but we're not convinced it's the novel to get us an agent, not without a significant amount of rewriting anyway. (When did we start using the royal we?) Anyway, it's not trunked yet, but neither is it a priority. It's just waiting for me to love it again.

Scams and Cons

Among other oddities, I've been researching con artists for my latest shiny. For some reason, these grab my attention, from The Sting to Matchstick Men to Ocean's Eleven. Here are a few of the more interesting cons I've come across.

In the interest of readability, the target in these cons is named Mark. The con artist is Carl, and his accomplice (if there is one) is Anna.

THE FIDDLE GAME
Dressed as a poor musician, Anna buys something cheap from Mark's restaurant. When the bill arrives, Anna tells Mark she left her wallet elsewhere. She offers to leave her old, beat-up fiddle as collateral, then leaves.

Later, Carl enters the restaurant and spies the fiddle. After asking where Mark got it, Carl says the fiddle is a classic and offers $50,000 for it. Mark can't sell it, of course (it's not his), so Carl leaves his business card and tells him to tell the owner of the fiddle of his offer. Carl leaves.

Anna finally returns with her wallet. If Mark dutifully passes on the message, the con fails (though with no repercussions for Carl or Anna). But Mark is greedy and desperate for $50,000. He offers to buy Anna's fiddle. Anna, of course, refuses, as the fiddle is her work, but she is finally convinced to sell it for a modest sum, say $500.

At that point, Anna and Carl disappear, with a profit of $500, less the cost of the piece-of-junk fiddle now in Mark's hands.

THE FALSE GOOD SAMARITAN
Anna mugs Mark, but Carl shows up just in time to save him. Now Carl has Mark's trust. With a bit of smooth-talking, Carl can get a reward or a favor from Mark--one that would make him more money than simply mugging Mark would have.

THE RAINMAKER
This one requires some charisma. Carl claims he can make it rain for Mark's crops (or that his medicine can cure Mark's disease, or that he can change the outcome of a sporting event in Mark's favor, etc). Mark pays up front, and if it actually rains, Mark believes Carl did it. If it doesn't, Carl convinces Mark he needs more time and/or money.

THE INVERTED PYRAMID
Like Rainmaker, but more about math than charisma. Carl sends out a free tip on some sporting event (say the first game of the NFL playoffs) to many marks. Half of them are told the Chargers will win, the other half, the 49ers. Whatever the outcome, half of Carl's tips will have been right.

The second week of the season, he sends out another tip, but only to those marks who received the winning tip from the week before. Again, half the tips say Team A, half say Team B, and in the end half of them will have been proven right.

He does this each week, until the day before the Super Bowl when he has a very small group of people who have received apparently perfect winning tips for the entire season. That's when he sells the final tip--who will win the Super Bowl--for $1,000 each.

The key to a good con is charisma and legitimacy. Maybe you imagine Carl as a sleazy, underhanded crook--easy to spot because he feels like a liar.

 Carl?

But for a con game to work, Mark has to trust Carl completely (con is short for confidence, after all). That means Carl is going to be the friendliest, most humble person Mark ever met.

Carl!

Man I can't wait to write that character.

Anyway, what have you been researching lately?

Hook, Hook, Where is the Hook?

The hook is what you say when your friends ask, "So what's your book about?" It's how you tweet about your book. It is the fundamental concept behind the plot of your story, written in such a way as to make the reader say, "Cool, tell me more."

But how the heck do you distill 100,000 words into one sentence of cool? It's not easy. The internet has some good tips already, but I'm going to throw my own version into the mix because with something as subjective as a novel hook, you can't have too many ways to think about it.

I think there are 7 things the hook should have:
  1. Protagonist. Who is the story about?
  2. Antagonist. Who or what is against the protagonist?
  3. Goal. What does the protagonist want to accomplish?
  4. Stakes. What will happen if the protagonist does not accomplish their goal?
  5. Conflict. What is keeping the protagonist from accomplishing their goal?
  6. Setting. Where/when does the story take place?
  7. Theme. What is the story's main subject or idea?
Figure out that information, then stuff it into a sentence. That's your core. The rest of your query, synopsis, and even your novel needs to be focused around that. For example:

A cowardly bookworm receives a package from his supposedly-dead mother, so he joins a crew of air pirates to find and rescue her.

This is the hook for Air Pirates. Can you see the elements? Some are weaker than others, but they're there:

Protagonist: cowardly bookworm
Antagonist: not specified, but implied in the word "rescue"
Goal: to rescue his mother
Stakes: his mother will be hurt or die (implied in the word "rescue")
Conflict: he doesn't know where she is, and presumably someone doesn't want her to be rescued
Setting: implied with "a crew of air pirates"
Theme: a coward overcoming his fears

As you can see, not everything has to be stated explicitly, but the more clear the 7 elements are, the stronger your hook will be. (There's a lot to be said for voice, too, but I'm not dealing with that here).

Also be certain nothing else is included. The more you try to cram in, the more questions are raised. In the example, I didn't tell you about the future-telling stone in the package because, although it is important to the story, it raises a lot of questions. And as far as the hook goes, it doesn't matter what's actually in the package, just who it came from, and that he thought she was dead.

So an exercise for you. Take a look at the (current) hook below for my Shiny New Idea,* and see if you can find the 7 elements in it. Which ones are weakest? How could they be made stronger? (I'm not asking you to do this in the comments, though you're welcome to, if you want).

A fugitive ninja must convince a young con-artist to take the throne, before the nobles kill everybody in civil war.

Then take a look at your own hook and do the same!


* Post-Apocalypse Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!). Don't worry. It all makes sense in my head.

(This post is a remix of an older one) 

The Kitchen-Sink Story VS. The Rule of Cool

The Kitchen-Sink Story: A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the author in the process of writing it.

The Rule of Cool: Most readers are willing to suspend their disbelief for something that is totally awesome.
-- TV Tropes (intentionally unlinked because I care about you)


Yesterday I posted this on Twitter and Facebook:


Most of the responses were combinations. Steampunk ninjas. Jumper elves. The most common response, though, was all six: elven ninjas with Jumper powers, driving steampunk mecha in a genetically perfect waterworld (possibly fighting dragons).

It sounds great, largely due to the Rule of Cool stated above. Take two cool things, slap them together, and nobody cares how impossible the outcome is BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME!

But the fear, then (well, my fear), is being accused of writing a Kitchen-Sink Story. "You're just throwing in ninjas because you think they're trendy, not because they add anything to the work!" "Mecha don't make sense anyway, but in a world covered entirely in water?!"

At first glance, it sounds like these are two different sets of people: the SF geeks (who love ninjas) vs. the erudite literary heads who Take Fiction Seriously. But the SF geeks who find all this stuff awesome are also the folks who will nitpick your story to death. They want the cool stuff and a world they can dig deeply into (I know, I'm one of them).

Fortunately folks like me are willing to accept any explanation you can give them, provided it's consistent. So I think I'll do what I always do. You can feel free to follow suit:
  1. Ignore those who Take Fiction Seriously. Much as I'd love to win a Hugo, those guys aren't my target audience.
  2. Pick the elements I want, figure out why it makes sense later. It worked with Air Pirates, after all.
  3. Apply the Rule of Cool where necessary. Giant mecha don't make sense, neither tactically nor physically, but who the heck cares? They're awesome.
  4. Ensure whatever I make up follows its own rules. Sufficiently strange technology, or elements that don't exist in the real world, is treated like magic. State the rules, then follow them.
I don't know what I'll actually decide (depends on the story, I guess), but I'm definitely going to lean on the Rule of Cool rather than be afraid of the Kitchen-Sink Story. What do you think?

Oo, KRAKEN! Those are definitely going in the waterworld.