Networking for the Unpublished Loser

— July 30, 2010 (10 comments)
I hate networking. I hate small talk, I hate getting business cards I'll never use, and I hate feeling like I have to "connect" with people just so I can use them to further my career.

Thing is, that's the exact opposite of what networking is.

Networking is making friends. It's connecting with people and learning what they do. It's being yourself with others who are being themselves too.

Networking is following a contest winner because you really enjoyed their entry. Commenting on their blog because they're also into zombies and ninjas and pirates. Entering contests they run and discovering that you like each others' stories enough to swap critiques.

Networking is following an author whose book you enjoy. Friending them on Facebook. Discovering that you went to the same college and share a mutual friend. It's just talking.

Networking is following an agent's assistant on Twitter because they're funny. It's replying to their tweets in a (hopefully) funny, professional manner that gets them interested in your tweets. It's caring about their lives, even when things don't go well or they cease to work for an agent.

Sometimes I get a new critique partner out of networking. Sometimes I get someone willing to spread the word about a contest or a short story I got published. But whether or not they choose to be helpful to me, I always get a friend.

And sometimes I befriend someone who goes on to get an agent or a book deal, someone who--theoretically--could give me that Holy Grail of the unpublished: a referral. But here's the thing: if I did all this networking just to get a referral, I'd never get this far. People can smell Self Serving, and it stinks. Even now, I would think long and hard before asking for such a thing, simply because the friendships are more important to me than the (supposedly) quick path to getting published.

And that's the point. Networking isn't about using people. It's about finding friends. And the thing about friends is, when you really need them, they're there for you.

So that's my advice today. Be kind. Be funny. Be clever. But mostly, be a friend. Maybe that friendship will be useful to you some day, maybe not.

Hopefully, by then it won't matter.

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"You Write Science Fiction? Oh, That's... Nice."

— July 28, 2010 (18 comments)
I'm always hesitant to tell people that I write. "Oh, cool! Like what?" they say.

I try to look them in the eye and smile, as if I'm not ashamed of what I'm going to say next. "Science fiction and fantasy. That kind of stuff."

The conversation then diverges to one of two places. On most people, you can see their face drop as they struggle to remember any SF/F they read in the last 10-50 years. They can't think of anything, but they don't want to offend me so they default to the polite, "Oh. That's nice."

Ah, but the OTHER reaction! The folks who light up and say, "Really? Like what?" And I get to tell them about my story and they actually think it's cool. Or they ask where my inspiration comes from, and we get to talk about things like Firefly and anime. Or they tell me about all their favorite SF/F books, and I get to tell them about mine.

It's worth the risk to find these people. It's worth having some folks glaze over my shelves of Card, Gaiman, and Pratchett for that one person who doesn't walk away scratching his head, who pulls down Neverwhere and says, "I love this book. Have you read Sandman?"

Now for all those people who aren't geeks but who like me anyway, I gotta say thank you. I know how hard it can be when something like Star Wars slips through my filter, and I'm halfway through a rant about George Lucas before I realize you're just smiling and nodding. You are awesome for talking to me again after that.

And for the rest of you geeks, I don't know why something as materialistic as comic books and movies should make us feel closer, but it does. Or maybe it just helps us to let our guards down so we can get to know the person behind the first impression. I don't know, but I'm always glad to find fellow geeks out there.

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So You Want to Start a Blog...

— July 26, 2010 (8 comments)
Jodi Meadows (and Mary Kole before her) talked about writers and social media -- specifically blogs and whether unpublished authors should have them. Both posts are worth reading, and I pretty much liked all of their points, but it really got me thinking. Why do I blog? It takes up a significant percentage of my available work time. Is it worth it? What have I gained?

So, as I often do, I broke it down into lists. Here we go:

  1. Make friends. A blog is a place for people to get to know you, to connect with you. The writing friends I've met outside of blogging can be counted on one hand (one finger actually, and he's blogging now too, so...). You don't need a blog to make online friends, but it can help.
  2. Learn how to be interesting. Both Mary and Jodi make the point that blogs shouldn't be boring. I agree, but I think it takes time to figure out how to do that (it took me like a year and a half, and I still struggle with being interesting 3x a week).
  3. Find your blogging voice/your brand. This is related to the previous one. If you've never blogged, and you suddenly get a book deal and your publisher says, "You should really start a blog, like that Kiersten White girl," it may be difficult to just jump in and try to be funny or informative or whatever it is you're supposed to be.
  4. See if blogging is something you want to do. While it can be good to start a blog early to find your voice, it's a terrible idea to keep blogging if it's something you don't enjoy doing. There are plenty of other ways to sell books, many of which you'll probably enjoy more. It might help to learn that sooner rather than later.
  5. Practice summarizing. One common complaint about the query process is that writing a query or synopsis is so much different than writing a novel. That's true, but if you're serious about this business, summarizing your story is something you have to learn how to do. Talking about that story online is a good way to practice.

  1. Sell books. Blogs don't sell books. Blogs CAN BE used to make friends, and friends SOMETIMES buy books. And when you're still unpublished, they can't even do that.
  2. Impress an agent/editor. There's a myth that if you have a blog and a following, it'll make getting a book deal easier. Thing is, everyone has a blog and anyone can get a couple hundred followers if they're willing to hand out books to followers. But followers aren't always readers. Readers aren't always friends. And, as above, even friends don't always buy books.
  3. Impress your wisdom upon the world. I'm thoroughly guilty of this one. I like to tell people what I'm learning, which is fine, but it often comes out as, "I've totally got this thing figured out, you guys. It's so easy." I, uh... I don't have the authority to say that.
  4. Rant. I mean, of course you can rant a little. About angry retail customers. About whitewashed covers. About adults acting like children. But rant with class. And DON'T rant about those commercial whore sell-outs (or whatever) who are rejecting your novel.
  5. Because everyone else is doing it. This is a bad reason to do anything. Blogging's no different.

Conclusion? I think unpublished writers can benefit from blogging if their goal is to make friends and practice blogging. I don't think it's a good idea to blog in order to build a platform for books you haven't sold yet (how do I know? Oh, I know).

Blogging takes a lot of time. The skills you learn don't always translate into fiction, and may never translate into book sales. But as long as you're intentional about what you're doing, and careful to keep your priorities straight, I think blogging can be beneficial to some.

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Form Rejections

— July 23, 2010 (14 comments)
In honor of the Rejectionist's blog birthday, I give you a top 10 list of what form rejections REALLY mean:

"If it makes you feel any better, getting this rejection means you're not on my blacklist. Yet."

"My cat threw up on my keyboard, but I still have to answer these stupid queries."


"Your query did not give my computer a virus. Good work."

"Congratulations. You successfully bypassed my spam filter."

"On the bright side, that query service you hired sent it to at least one real agent."

"I can only request 1 partial per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good either."

"I'm only rejecting you now because the queries never stop. They just keep coming and coming and coming, there's never a let-up. They're relentless. Every day they pile up more and more and more! And you gotta get them out, but the more you get them out the more they keep coming in. And then your computer freezes and it's the last day of NaNoWriMo!"


And the number one thing form rejections really mean...

"This rejection means the same as if I said nothing. Except if I actually said nothing, you'd pester me with e-mails or (God forbid) phone calls asking why I haven't said SOMETHING. Even though you give your resume to hundreds of human resource departments without wondering if they received it. Even though you give your phone number to God-knows-how-many potential girl/boyfriends, yet never track them down to see if maybe they lost it. For whatever reason, those expectations do not apply to me.

"So consider this your non-interview. Your fake number. I am turning you down in the nicest way I have available to me. Please, please, PLEASE don't e-mail again asking why."

Happy birthday, Le R! Thank you for brightening our depressing, rejection-filled existences.

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That Deeper Meaning Nonsense

— July 21, 2010 (6 comments)
When people admire art,* they often want to know what the artist meant by it. I get that. I do it myself. But honestly I don't really like "explaining" my art.

* I'm including books in this.

Part of it is plain old fear. If I have to explain it, it means I didn't do a good job of it, right? Or what if I explain it, and they don't like the deeper meaning of it, and therefore don't like the work? Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga is really thought-provoking science fiction, for example, but I know people who stop liking it when they find out it's patterned on the Book of Mormon.

Should that matter? Should the author's interpretation of what they wrote affect MY interpretation?

Shortly after it was published, someone wrote a review of my story "Pawn's Gambit". He really liked it (and I was bouncing for a few days after reading it), but here's what he got out of it:
We come to understand the true meaning of family, of love, of sacrifice. We have all had our differences with the ones we love, but even when we dislike our family we still do whatever it takes.
When I read that, I was all ==> O_o.

I mean, I see how he got that out of the story, but I can't say that's what I was trying to say. I can't say I was trying to say anything, really. It was just a fun adventure.

Does that invalidate his opinion? This is what the story meant to him. And like I said, he's not pulling it out of thin air. There IS family, love, and sacrifice in the story. There IS a father trying to rescue his daughter, even though his daughter wants nothing to do with him.

And who says I didn't mean all that, at least subconsciously? Fatherhood is something that's very dear to my heart, and a common theme in many of my favorite movies. So if it comes out in what I write -- even when I don't intend it -- I'm not surprised.

So what matters more? The author's intention, or what the reader brings into the text? Have you ever changed your opinion of a story because you found out the author didn't mean at all what you thought?

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The e-Pocalypse Won't Be So Bad

— July 19, 2010 (16 comments)
Before we go anywhere, thank you to everyone who participated in Lurker(slash-Regulars) Week. I had fun, and I hope you did too. I'm not sure I trust the results (the first poll, in particular, seemed pretty buggy), but for what it's worth, here they are. We're going to talk about one in particular today:

Good: 40%
Bad: 30%

I'm not sure where the other 30% disappeared to (thanks a lot, BlogPolls), but even without it, it's clear there are some fears concerning e-books. Personally I'm not so sure there's anything to be afraid of, but like any good sci-fi author, I asked "What if?" WHAT IF we took the e-book revolution to its extreme? What if paper books disappeared forever, and all we were left with were digital stories?

So consider this a thought experiment, and I guess an encouragement to not worry about the future -- to relax and enjoy the ride.

  • New Book Smell. Yes. Hi. My name is Adam Heine, and I'm addicted to new book smell (also new card smell, but I understand they have a different group for that).
  • Browsing a Bookstore. There is something nice about looking at all the books I COULD own, even if I'm never going to buy them (because, really, not all of them are that good).
  • Showing Off My Library. I realized a while ago that one reason I like to own books is so people can come over, see my bookshelf, and instantly know if they're going to like me or not (and vice versa). Saves lots of time and needless small talk.
  • Loaning Books. I know you can kind of, sort of loan with the Nook. And maybe they'll get better about that in the future, but until I can loan and borrow my e-books indefinitely (and more than once), I'll miss that aspect.*
  • Being Able to Read During Take-Off/Landing. Hopefully by the time paper books are extinct, they'll have figured out a way to shield airplane electronics from other kinds. Otherwise those first and last few minutes of every flight are going to be mind-numbingly boring.
* There's also a significant discussion to be had here about libraries, but that's way beyond the scope of this post.

  • Waiting for a Book. Driving to the bookstore is a pain. Waiting days for shipping is worse.** But if I could have any book I want RIGHT NOW, I think I'll forget that books used to smell good. (And maybe by then they'll have put some kind of odor software on the e-readers, yes?).
  • Standing in Line for Harry Potter #8. I've stood in line for movies before, but a book? No. Not in the 21st century. I'd prefer my pre-ordered, ultra-anticipated, sold-out-in-20-minutes bestseller to be sitting in my library before I even wake up that morning. Thank you.
  • Browsing a Bookstore. While it's nice to look at books I could own, it sucks to drive all the way to the bookstore to find they don't have the book I want. But not in the future. The future will be like Amazon where I can buy every book ever made, but WITHOUT...
  • Added Costs. That's right, folks. While I'm sure they'll find a way to tax e-books eventually, right now they remain tax free AND shipping free. (I'm aware the e-reader costs money, but it would pay for itself pretty quick, I'm thinking).
  • Choosing Which Book to Take on a Trip. I'm neurotic. When I go on a trip, of course I take the book I'm currently reading, but what if I finish it? I need to pack two. I'd like to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell next, but it's freaking huge. So I grudgingly toss in another Patterson novel. In the future though? I'll have all my books with me, all the time. Which also means I won't miss...
  • Forgetting to Take a Book on a Trip. The worst vacation I ever went on was when I forgot to bring a book. I know: talk to people, see the sights, blah, blah, BLAH. NO! I go on vacation to read, dangit! And if I have my wireless e-reader, not only do I have my entire library with me, but if I finish them all, I can instantly buy a new book.

** And if you think you have it bad, move to Thailand. When I buy books, I have to go through my contact list to see who is both (a) coming to visit soon and (b) willing to carry 20 hardbacks from Amazon for me. Then I have to wait for them to take their vacation.

  • Prices. I don't see book prices coming down much. Sorry. Believe it or not, it costs a lot to produce a book, even if you don't have to print it. (I mean, hello? People don't expect computer games to be $5 each. Do you think that $50 goes towards copying the CD and putting it in a box?).
  • Reading in the Bathtub. I've never read in the bathtub (though granted I haven't been in one since I was 10), but I guess this is something people do. I don't see this as a problem. (A) You don't drop your book in the bathtub, why your e-reader? (B) If they can make waterproof radios, cameras, and (dear Lord) laptops, how hard can it be to tub-proof an e-reader?
  • Kid's Reading. I've heard it said that parents won't let their kids use an expensive e-reader. First of all, I let my three year olds read BOOKS, which although less expensive are a lot easier to break (trust me). Secondly, during our time in the States I saw many, many kids, ages 3 and up, playing games and watching movies on iPods without once being in danger of destroying them (including my own son, who had never seen one before). If they can do that, they can read books on the things too. In fact, most parents would probably prefer it.
  • Reading a Good Story. Honestly, I don't read books because I like smelling paper and flipping pages. I read them because I want a good story. Sure, computer screens give some people headaches (although aren't you reading on one right now?), but that will go away with time and technology. What won't go away, ever, are the stories. No matter how we tell them.
Smarter folks than me have posited on what e-books will do to the publishing industry. I'm not in the publishing industry (yet), but I am a reader, and honestly? This future looks pretty good to me.

Or it will once they figure out that odor software.

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Feedback Friday

— July 16, 2010 (9 comments)
You guys are awesome. I was all worried Wednesday's post would get nasty for some reason (even though I know you guys; who would be nasty?). Thank you to everyone who shared, to everyone who wasn't mean, and to everyone who is still reading this blog even after learning that I hear voices and indoctrinate my children. I have the best readers in the world.

So we've had the small talk. We've had the deep conversation. All that's left now is to collectively answer the most important issues facing the world today, via online poll.

If at any point you don't see an option you like, feel free to expound in the comments. (Although I intentionally limited the options so you'd have to choose. Mwa-ha-ha!). The first poll is for me. The rest are for the world.

Note: if you're on Reader or e-mail, you'll have to click through for the polls.

UPDATE: There may be some problems with voting. Try voting anyway, and with luck they'll sort themselves out. Otherwise, uh...have a nice weekend I guess.

And here you thought today was going to be even harder than Wednesday. (Heck, maybe it was. Choosing between Picard and New Kirk? That's like asking me to choose my left or right eyeball.)

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The Thing No One's Supposed to Blog About

— July 14, 2010 (17 comments)
Welcome to Day 2 of Lurker Week here on Author's Echo. I really enjoyed reading your answers to Monday's random questions. I loved learning more about the regulars, and I'm so happy to see the poking heads of folks I've never met, or haven't heard from in a while. Hi, guys! Glad to meet you and/or see you again!

Today's topic is a little tougher than having tea with Gandalf though, but I think it's important. See, I'm aware that a lot of the blogs I read are written by quiet Christians, quiet Mormons, and more. Their faith is a large part of who they are, but they don't talk about it online, just like I don't. There are many, many good reasons for this, but just once I'd like to tell you what I believe, and hear what you believe, about this crazy existence we're all stuck together in. (For the purpose of this post, atheism totally counts by the way).

Some ground rules:
  • This is NOT about converting people. The point is to learn about each other, not to prove a point.
  • Likewise, this is NOT about who is right or wrong. Please don't put people on the defensive about their faith (and if I do so without realizing, please tell me).
  • DON'T be a meanie head. Nasty comments will be summarily destroyed.

Here are some questions to help voice your thoughts. Feel free to use them or skip them as you want.
  1. What is your religion (just the label here)?
  2. What's one important way your personal belief differs from what people normally think of when they think of that label?
  3. How does your personal belief impact your daily life?
  4. Most religions agree that the world sucks: people are hurt, get sick, die. How does your personal belief address that?
  5. Why do you believe what you believe?
  6. Anything else you'd like to share about your beliefs?

And my answers:
  1. Christian (non-denominational Protestant, I guess).
  2. I'm not your stereotypical conservative (not conservative at all, actually). I don't froth over the mouth about issues like gay marriage, for example. I tend to believe that loving people is more important than making them follow "the rules."
  3. Little ways: I go to church. I teach my kids to love Jesus. I read the Bible and pray most days. Big ways: I believe God called my wife and I here to Thailand to do what we do.
  4. Short, short answer is that I think it's a combination of sin and free will. That is, God gave us life and the ability to do what we want with it, and a lot of us (all of us, really) have screwed it up. I have a slightly more in-depth answer here, if you're interested.
  5. For years, I was Christian just because that's what I knew. I grew up in the church, a Christian family, everything. When I left home, I realized I had to decide for myself if this was my religion or just my parents'. Over the years since, I feel like God has proven himself to me in a number of ways, to the point where I trust him.
  6. I really think the most important thing is to love God and love people, not beat people over the head with their sin (nor make laws so we can punish them for it, for that matter). Beyond that, there's still a lot I'm trying to work out for myself.

I know this is scary (it is for me), but I do really, really want to both share what I believe and know what you believe. We put on these internet personas that are really only part of who we are. Sometimes I want to know the whole person, you know?

Likewise, I understand if you need to protect your internet persona by NOT talking about this. That's okay too. Feel free to say as much or as little as you like.

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Lurker Week

— July 12, 2010 (23 comments)
As I write this, I have 97 followers, almost the magic number 100,* but (a) I'm pretty sure that many people don't actually read this blog and, more importantly, (b) I hardly know any of you.

So I'm devoting my three posts this week to getting to know YOU -- in serious ways, funny ways, and maybe even potentially uncomfortable ways (don't worry, you won't have to play if you don't want to). While I'm exceedingly happy to hear from my regular commenters, I'd love LOVE to hear from folks who read but don't normally comment (commonly called lurkers). I swear, you'll never have to comment again if you don't want. But if you just let me know once this week that, yes, you're reading my blog, it'll make me all kinds of happy. Even more so if I get to learn a little bit about you.

So today it's question and answer time for you. Feel free to skip questions you don't have an answer for. Post your answers in the comments (I will too--shouldn't this go both ways after all?):
  1. Where are you from?
  2. Favorite genre to read?
  3. Favorite genre to write (if you're into that sort of thing)?
  4. Which Star Wars character would you be?
  5. Best book you've read in the last 6 months? 
  6. Gandalf the Grey stops in for a cup of tea. What do you talk about?
  7. Name up to 5 favorite movies.
  8. Your pirate crew/ninja clan/former employer has given you the Black Spot. What do you do about it?

* Though 100 is really only magic in base ten. 97 is actually better: a palindrome in octal, the beginning of the lowercase characters in ASCII, the number of characters that can be typed on a standard English keyboard, and the seventh happy prime. (And really, how can you go wrong with something called a "happy prime"?).

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Kids to the Rescue! (or Adults are Stupid)

— July 09, 2010 (11 comments)
Stop me if you know this one. A group of spunky, intelligent kids gets mixed up in a plot to destroy/kidnap/steal/control the world/their parents/other kids/a ton of money/puppies/etc, and the adults they would normally rely on to solve problems like this are dead/captured/kidnapped/stupid and/or otherwise don't believe the kids.

It's the plot all children's fiction must rely upon, because children's fiction must have child (or teenage) protagonists in order for its target market to enjoy it. And those protagonists must somehow become involved in an otherwise adult plot, even though they're not (adults, that is). It's the plot of Spy Kids, Goonies, Parent Trap, and every single Home Alone movie.

It's not always bad, but it can be done badly. It all depends on why the kids have to save the world instead of their parents.

  1. Adults are too dumb, disinterested, or just plain grown up to believe the truth. The spunky kids, then, must deal with the problem on their own, often with the parents working against them. I'm sure kids love this trope, but I can't stand it. It's insulting, sure, but it's also unrealistic and teaches kids unreasonable amounts of disrespect (says the guy who's had to parent kids raised on this trope). Examples: Home Alone, Parent Trap, Lost Boys, Goonies.
  2. Adults are incapacitated or otherwise out of the picture, and the spunky kids must fill their shoes, even though they're totally unqualified. It's even worse if qualified adults exist, but are too dumb, disinterested, etc. to get involved. Example: Spy Kids.
  3. Child of prophecy. The adults cannot save the world because it is not their destiny--even though they're more qualified. Example: The Sword in the Stone; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Hobbit; Lord of the Rings; Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Not all these reasons are inherently bad. Combined with one or more of the better reasons below, they can work quite well. (Also I should point out that I really like Lost Boys, Goonies, and pretty much any plot with a Chosen One (Power Rangers notwithstanding)).

  1. Supernatural or unnatural ability. The spunky kid is actually capable of something nobody else can do. Their ability just happens to be needed before they have a chance to grow into adulthood. Examples: Harry Potter, Ender's Game.
  2. Adults are incapacitated or otherwise out of the picture, but qualified adults don't exist, and the kids manage to win in spite of their shortcomings. Examples: Eragon, Star Wars.
  3. Adults cannot be involved, either because the rules of the conflict don't allow it, or because the spunky kids will fail if the adults know. Examples: Jumanji, Zathura, Adventures in Babysitting.
If you're writing kid's fiction, the main thing is to think about why this kid is the only one who can save the world. Why are they the most qualified, or the only available option? Is it because they can do something no one else can, or because all the adults in the story are useless?

Anyway, that's just my opinion. How do you feel about this trope? Where have you seen it done well? Done poorly?

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Quitting While You're Ahead

— July 07, 2010 (11 comments)
My favorite computer game genre by far is graphic adventure. These are the games where you're given a character with a story, and where exploration and puzzle-solving is what will win. Reflexes, practice, and endless hours on the XP treadmill won't help--just persistence and a clever mind. Classic examples of the genre include the King's Quest and Space Quest series, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and (my very favorite) the Monkey Island games.

But adventure games can be frustrating. You might walk around the same screens, looking at the same objects, trying out the same inventory items over and over wondering why you can't GET THE DANG PIRATE TO GIVE YOU HIS FREAKING GOLD TOOTH!

Or something.

Then after banging your head against the wall for an hour, you'll close the game because you have to pick your kids up from school, but when you get back... you don't want to play. Because you know when you do, you'll have that same puzzle staring you in the face, mocking you.*

Does this sound like writing yet? It does to me. I'll get stuck on a plot point, staring at it for an hour, then have to close the manuscript because the baby is crying and the boys are killing each other and my wife needs to buy food (I offer to, but you know)... and when it's all over I dread going back. I dread seeing that cursor just blinking, blinking, saying, "What are you gonna write now, big fancy pants writer, huh? HUH?"

So here's what you do. It's totally non-intuitive, but it works. When you're at a part you're really excited about, don't write it. Stop and save it for next time.

I mean, obviously don't stop if you have another hour free to write. But whenever you are done, try to stop in some place where you know what happens next. Not only will you have the motivation to sit down and write next time, but you'll also have momentum to keep writing after the exciting part.

This won't solve everything. You'll still need persistence many times (I was stuck on that stupid gold tooth for a week), but some days it just might help you get your butt in that chair when you otherwise wouldn't want to.

And if you need a little gold, give the blond-bearded pirate some bubblegum. His tooth will come right out.

* And you don't want to cheat, because then you can't brag that you figured out the game by yourself, even though it took you five years** to beat it and nobody cares anymore.

** NEVER happened.

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This is How We Polish

— July 05, 2010 (5 comments)
Turns out this writing thing is subjective. Did you know that? So often what works even better than tips on critique is an actual example.

To that end, and because I have to daily read the same stories over and over and over, and because not all of these stories had the benefits of modern editing techniques (or so it seems), I'm going to inflict upon you the same bad prose my boys inflict upon me. Then I'm going to try and fix it.

Yes, I'm aware of how passive aggressive this is.

Before we get into this, note that I'm not a professional editor. I'm not even a professional writer (or I just barely am, depending on what counts). I'm not claiming I Know How To Edit. I'm just giving my opinion on how this could be made better.

Got all that? Let's do it. This is from the mind-numbing tale Garfield the Easter Bunny?*

      "Tomorrow is Easter, boys," said Jon Arbuckle to Garfield the cat and Odie the dog. "We've got to get ready for the Easter Bunny."
      Garfield and Odie watched excitedly as Jon took three Easter baskets from the closet and set them on the table. There was one basket for each of them.
      Garfield looked at his basket and frowned. "My basket is much too small," he said. "I want something about the size of a bathtub."
      "When we wake up tomorrow," said Jon, "these baskets will be filled with treats."
      "By the time you wake up, my tummy will be filled with your treats," thought Garfield with a sly grin.

Rather than do a line edit, I'm going to pick on three things and discuss how they can be fixed. Then I'll rewrite this my own way. Again, your opinion may vary, and that's totally cool. Subjective, remember?
  1. Introducing the characters. All three characters are introduced in the first dialogue tag, but inelegantly. It's a mouthful to read and unnecessary. First of all, we don't need to know Jon's last name (especially since this is his only appearance in the story). Secondly, while identifying Garfield and Odie as the animals they are is important, it's awkward to do it all at once. In my example, I cut "the cat" and "the dog" entirely simply because there's a picture of them on every page--it's obvious what they are. In a novel, I'd suggest more subtle ways of telling the reader what they are. Odie wagging his tail or barking, for instance.
  2. Dialogue Tags. You don't need a dialogue tag every time someone speaks. I see this a lot in children's books, but you don't need it there either. Kids are smart, and they read the same books over and over again. They'll figure it out, and by not holding their hand, you'll help make them smarter. So, if the speaker is obvious (as is often the case with only two speakers) you can simply drop a lot of the tags. If there's some ambiguity, use an action sentence to imply the speaker as I do in the example at the end.
  3. Adverbs. I'm not a stickler for killing adverbs, but I think it's always a good idea to pay attention to them. When you see one, ask yourself if there's a stronger verb or noun that can be used, or if there's some other way the emotion (or whatever) can be expressed.
Here's an edited example, with my changes in bold. I made at least one change not covered by the tips above. See if you can figure out why.

      "Tomorrow is Easter, boys," said Jon to Garfield and Odie. "We've got to get ready for the Easter Bunny."
      Garfield and Odie watched wide-eyed as Jon set three Easter baskets on the table--one for each of them.
      Garfield frowned. "My basket is much too small. I want something about the size of a bathtub."
      Jon pat Garfield between the ears. "When we wake up tomorrow, these baskets will be filled with treats."
      Garfield smirked. "By the time you wake up, my tummy will be filled with your treats," he thought.

What do you think? Do you agree with my changes? What would you have done differently?

* I apologize if you like this book (or wrote it, or edited it, etc.). If it makes you feel any better, it's not the worst book in my house. And anyway, my boys obviously like it.

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I Fear Something Terrible Has Happened

— July 02, 2010 (12 comments)
My first attempt at something like this. I'm afraid you'll have to click to enlarge.

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