1.5 Draft… Accomplished!

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Teenage Wasteland by the Who)

It’s pretty amazing what a few weeks of unemployment can do for you in terms of finishing projects.

When all your time is free time, you can move through things a lot quicker. A draft which would have taken me months was accomplished in just under three weeks.

But, as you can imagine, I am very tired of writing. And so this post will just be a self-five.

I’m going to launch straight into Draft 2 as soon as the weekend is over (I usually give myself a break from creative writing on weekends, but I couldn’t hold it in this time). Once that’s done – hopefully another three weeks or so – I’ll be ready to start gathering alpha reader feedback.

Here’s the part where I ask for any and all lovers of fantasy, fellow writers, fellow readers, and all those people willing to put up with my learning curve as an author. If you would like to be an alpha reader for me, please hit me up. I don’t care if it’s by email, or comment to this post, or on Facebook, or by text (if you have my phone number, ya creeper).

I know this is a few weeks early, but I like to start rallying the troops for a little while before I’m actually done. Gives me an audience to look forward to.

So please, if you want to help me make this project a success, please let me know if you’d like to alpha read for me.

Thank you in advance, all you wonderful souls who take me up on this.

Yours, tired and triumphant,

-R.R. Buck

Escalating the Tension in Your Writing

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Short Skirt Long Jacket by Cake)

What’s up, world?

I’m very close to finishing the 1.5 draft of my [first novel of a trilogy/first third of a very long novel]. I have one chapter left to rewrite and revamp – the climactic finale of act one of my story.

As I’m reading through the last few chapters and liking the pacing now that I’ve cut this piece down from over 100,000 words to under 50,000 , I’ve realized a little something about tension that I wanted to share with you all.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had difficulties editing your first draft, and a large part of that is because it’s hard for you to imagine the story as being anything other than what it is – or, in words that actually make sense, you’ve written a story that moves forward in a certain plot, and it’s hard for you to put new scenes in because ‘that didn’t happen in my story’.

It’s like once I start writing something, I find a path for it, and sometimes that path takes a few twists and turns, but it usually goes about where I expect it to. And so when I’m considering new scenes to add in, and I say “What if Character X did this thing in this chapter instead of that thing?”, my immediate response to myself is, “Well, no, because that’s not what I wrote the first time – and therefore that’s not what Character X would do.”

I just kind of assumed that what comes to mind when I’m writing my first draft is what my characters would actually do, and anything that comes later is just me trying to force them to take actions that aren’t in their character, which is my biggest writing pet peeve.

The thing is, that’s not even close to true. Characters are just as variable as people in reacting to situations – what happened in the scene just before could completely change the way in which someone is equipped to deal with a new development, and that’s still entirely in their character. So I’ve been trying to dismantle that “Oh, that character would never do that” mentality and replace it with a “Okay, if that character were to do that, how would that make sense under that character? What would need to happen for them to make that decision?”

And I have to say, it’s working pretty well. In my first draft, a lot of my drama was subplot drama, character arcs interacting as my characters developed alongside one another. Now, it seems like the drama is more than that – in some cases it fits into the main plot, in others it just ratchets up the tension between either characters and situations or characters and other characters. It feels both genuine and fast-paced, and that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to go for with this rewrite.

Which brings me to the main point – and if you’re perceptive, you’ve noticed by now that I always seem to waste the first 500 words or so in a long-winded introduction to my topic. In your second draft, when rewriting scenes, adding in scenes, deleting scenes, all that good stuff, you should be looking for character decisions that feel like they’re in character but also feel like they’re pushing things forward, kicking up the tension, making the reader turn the pages faster.

I love the feeling of the pace in this project because it starts off with this kinda dumb drama where the main characters squabble a little bit; and then we learn about some terrifying backstory stuff that makes those squabbles seem minor in comparison; and then there are people fistfighting and shouting matches and really cruel comments that make you wonder if these characters will even stay friends; and then you have the moments of actual, permanent bodily harm coming to some of these characters, making you feel like they’re not insulated from danger; and the entire time the main plot is slowly developing toward something terrifying at the end that (hopefully) should have the reader shaking their laptop by the last pages.

That could only happen because of the wonderful metamorphosis that is this 1.5 draft – keeping the good, heart-pounding chapters from my first draft, adding in some new things to make the pace even snappier, and bundling it all together to make it cohesive and interesting.

So my advice to you is this: figure out first what might happen, then narrow it down to what could happen based on the parameters of the character and the situation. Then take a look at everything in that list and ask, “What do I want to happen? What is likely to happen? And what will make the story even more engaging to a reader?”

That’s all I’ve got. Happy Friday!

Yours, replaying Wind Waker for the umpteenth time,

-R.R. Buck

Streed of Consciousness [Part 1 – Lab]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Under Cover of Darkness by the Strokes)

It occurred to me a few days ago as I sat down to post that I had nothing to write about.

I love that I’ve continued my commitment to writing every day, but it can be kind of tough to continually think of new things to post about. I don’t want to be that person who struggles to post and then ends up posting things that aren’t important or helpful to other writers.

So I’m gonna do something stupid and fun instead.

I’m calling it Streed of Consciousness (look closely, it’s a pun).

Streed of Consciousness will be a series where I just start typing and see what comes out. I think it’ll be a nice change of pace from the writing advice, and it’ll let you learn a little more about me and the strange way my brain functions.

So let’s dive right in!

I’m in lab right now which, as many of you know, is one of my favorite places to write. For those of you who have never done science research, there are often large gaps in experimental protocol (sometimes multiple hours) in which there is literally nothing to do. My lab can be any level of busy but is usually pretty quiet, and no one minds if I play the Journey soundtrack in the back (which has become my go-to writing playlist).

If I’m writing, it’s happening in one of two places – either here, on this ancient computer (seriously, it’s called a ViewSonic VE155 and I have no idea who makes it), or at my apartment, on my comfy couch with my laptop. In general I prefer my laptop (it lets me put my headphones in and immerse myself in music while I write), but nothing beats two hours of dead time as an incentive to do something, anything productive.

So anyway, a little bit of background about my lab. I work in a UCLA lab that mostly uses fish as our model organism. Now, for any of you animal rights peeps out there, I want you to know I have the utmost respect for your cause, and I’m actually vegetarian because fuck the meat industry, right? I have my own reasons for why I’m doing research on animals (which would actually make for a great Streed of Consciousness later, maybe I’ll give it a shot).

I don’t enjoy doing research on animals, and some of the things I experience in lab (either things my labmates do happily, or things I have to do reluctantly) leave a lasting imprint on me. I don’t want any animal rights activist to view the standard researcher as someone who routinely tortures cute, fuzzy animals with glee and malice – that’s just not the way things work. But neither are we absolved of guilt in our daily proceedings, and that’s our burden to bear.

Wow, that was tangential. Let’s pull it back to the main subject, yeah? My lab is split into two sections – the aplysia californica side and the danio rerio side. In other words, the sea snail side and the zebrafish side.

Many of you have probably heard people doing research on mice and rats, or bonobo chimps, but why fish? It’s actually a really good question, and the answer is different for the two species.

Aplysia, the sea snails, are simple and easy to classically condition. (If you’ve not heard of classical conditioning, google “Pavlov dogs explanation” or something; it’s cool stuff.) The aplysia nervous system is nowhere near as complex as higher organisms and their external anatomy – a gill and siphon, in particular – lend themselves easily to classical conditioning because they form basic reflexes. Here’s a fun fact for you non-science nerds: if an organism has a basic reflex, that’s a great target for conditioning because the behavior is so instinctive (it’s basically programmed into the animal from birth).

On the other hand, danio rerio, the zebrafish, is the part of the lab I work for, and they’re great for a couple of reasons. First off, most of the major neural circuitry we’re interested in looking at comes online 5 days post fertilization (or dpf). Imagine 5 days after conception for a human – you’re like the size of a jelly bean and you can’t do shit. Zebrafish are swimming around, their anatomy solidified, the neural connections we’re interested in are mostly formed. That’s pretty incredible for 5 days into the world.

Baby zebrafish are also translucent, which means we can see right into their brains and spinal cords (kind of). It makes imaging of cells and connections easier for us, and allows us to know better what’s going on inside a zebrafish’s brain.

They also have a lot of neurological similarities to humans – I’m sure everyone’s heard those misleading facts about how we share, like, 60% of our DNA with a banana or something, but I’m talking serious similarities here. Zebrafish brains have, in some cases, structures and connections that are almost exactly the same as humans, which means we can study human disease cures by inducing those same diseases in fish and then attempting to cure them.

(Yeah, like I said, the reality of it isn’t pretty. But I give myself enough guilt over it, so I don’t need anyone else telling me I’m a horrible person.)

Finally, zebrafish have an easy reflex that we can classically condition, just like aplysia. In this case, it’s called the C-start reflex, and it’s actually pretty cool. A zebrafish hears a loud noise or sees something potentially predatory, and it executes this escape response where its whole body curls up like the letter C and it launches off very quickly in a new direction. We have to use high-speed cameras just to capture the C-start – that’s how quick it is. And we can (or, I should say we’re trying to) condition that reflex.

Yeah, science, bitch!

(Do you know he never actually said that in the show? Weird, huh?)

Anyway, that was fun. More word vomit to come!

Yours, running in that middle zone between tired and asleep,

-R.R. Buck

The Final Word on Second-Draft Rewrites

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N Roses, Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas, You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid by the Offspring)

I’ve been writing a lot this month about rewrites and editing for two reasons – one, because it’s the hardest step in the process for me, and two, because I’m in the middle of what I’m calling “draft 1.5” of my current writing project where I squish a trilogy into a single novel. It’s been… surprisingly pleasant, and I think I’m figuring out why.

I had the pleasure today of meeting with an acquaintance from the UCLA Library in searching for a communications-related job on campus, and I asked her what her philosophy was for what makes good communications writing, or good writing in general. And she said something that reemphasizes what I’ve been learning, AND it was something James Patterson said as well in the MasterClass I took with him.

“You need to think about your project analytically,” she said. “Figure out your goals and your audience first, and then develop a plan that will accomplish those goals.”

James Patterson’s advice, along the same line, was “Outline every project before you even get started – and make it super detailed, down to what needs to be accomplished by each scene. Write multiple drafts of the outline, just like you would the book itself, and when you have a perfect outline, it makes the first draft nearly perfect.” (Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing here.)

Outline, outline, outline. I’ve said it before, but I’m gaining a new understanding for why it’s important. Because writing is both a craft and an art, we sometimes find it hard to extricate our goals. “I’m just self-expressing, nothing more than that.” Well, if you’re writing genre or commercial fiction, you’re not just self-expressing. You’re trying to do something for some audience, and you have to know what that is.

Earlier I posted about the eight questions you should ask yourself on your second draft edits. And for me, that’s a really great place to start, because it’s applicable to most writing projects. But honestly, it doesn’t even begin to cover your purposes in writing your project – your overall goals. Which, incidentally, are more important in the grand scheme of things than “does this chapter fit well into my book?”

So I’m challenging myself, and all you writers, to determine what exactly it is you want to do in your project before you start writing the first draft. And then, when you start making your edits and creating a second draft, ask yourself, does [Scene X/Character Alpha/Plot Structure 221-B] help me accomplish those goals? If it doesn’t, you know what to do.

Of course, my current project is already on its 1.5 draft, but I can still figure out the goals and approach my edits more holistically from there. My audience is readers of mainstream fantasy and science fiction, and my goal is to provide them with a suspense-driven fantasy story that starts off with this cute little “slice-of-life at the magic academy” and quickly devolves into world chaos and disorder. It’s not exactly the most novel of concepts, but it’s what I want for my story, and all changes I make to it will be towards that goal.

And that, friends, is the final word on editing.

(Just kidding, I’ll probably figure out more in the next few weeks. It’s a journey, folks, not a roadmap.)

Yours, gorged on homemade cookies and stew,

-R.R. Buck

James Patterson MasterClass on Writing Tidbits [Part 5]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Vacation by Guttermouth)

Well, I finished my MasterClass today.

I haven’t written a post about the class in a while, mostly because a lot of the recent lessons have been about what to do after you get published (lol). Still, the closing lesson was very inspirational, and the very last words James Patterson had to say were absolutely worth sharing with you fellow writers out there.

I’ve actually said them before, in some form or another, but I’m gonna put them all here in a short handy list for your (and my own) reference in the future.

  1. Believe in what you’re doing – everyone around you is facing that same insecurity of whether or not they’re going to be able to make it as a writer, but you have to believe in your abilities in order to have the strength to continue.
  2. Listen to the advice of everyone around you, and then decide what works for you (also known as my personal writing philosophy) – I feel like I’ve said this a billion times on this blog. Everyone has something to suggest, or something to criticize, and all of their opinions are valid, but sometimes you’re going to want to go your own way. Freaking go for it, dude.
  3. Ignore the advice you can’t hear in the moment. If you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter how good the advice is. When you’re just starting out, everything is going to upset you – any criticism, no matter how slight. Ignore everything that could bring you down or cause you to lose focus. With time, you will learn to hear criticism better.
  4. Fuck convention. This was the one James Patterson stressed most strongly, and I want to stress it too – if anyone tells you there’s a certain way the craft of writing should be done, they’re bullshitting. There are many strategies that have previously been successful, but fresh and innovative new writing techniques – when paired with good writing – will draw new readership from populations bored with old tropes. YOU DO YOU (because you is beautiful).

That’s it, short and sweet. If you feel like hearing some other advice from the world’s bestselling author (James Patterson, not me, dummy), click here, here, here, and here.

Peace out and good luck with your writing.

Yours, in solidarity with all you struggling writers,

-R.R. Buck

The Cover Letter That (Kind Of) Worked

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Papercut Skins by the Matches)

I’ve done a lot of posting about creative writing on here, but the fact of the matter is, creative writing just won’t pay the bills unless you’re that right combination of lucky and talented. If you want to practice writing as a career, you’re going to want to look into other areas – copywriting and communications are the two I have the most experience with.

So while my unemployed ass has been sitting around writing these posts and working on the second draft of my novel, I’ve also been checking out options for doing communications both on UCLA campus and off. One of the companies I applied to for an internal communications position was Riot Games, the company that produces League of Legends.

I had an in already – my brother works there – but I knew Riot wasn’t the kind of company, and he wasn’t the kind of person, to let me get in just off of that. I had to write a good cover letter and answer the writing prompts on their application in a fresh, innovative way.

Now, there are a few things you should know before reading this. First, this letter didn’t get me a job, officially – Riot doesn’t have any associate-level positions open right now in internal communications – but it did get me a phone call with the woman in charge of hiring, who (I think) took a liking to me and encouraged me to keep in contact in case anything opened up. In my eyes, that’s just as valuable as a formal interview (especially since I didn’t put my foot in my mouth like I usually do in interviews).

Second, Riot is the kind of company that… well, you just know if you’re a League of Legends player. They value honest, open communication, sans bullshit and sans pretty language. This cover letter was, in my opinion, a great fit for Riot, but might be considered irreverent to another company. Regardless, there’s something to learn here.

Okay, I shut up now:

I’ve always been a kid tinkering with puzzles.

Legend of Zelda, Scrabble, chess. D&D, calculus, League. I only loved what I struggled to figure out.

With college came my first fumbled attempts at writing. Cute and unsubtle, like Amumu. I love them dearly.

Meanwhile, neuroscience had become my new favorite puzzle. Every day in class, in lab, I watched while others rushed to a product. I asked – is this the perfect method? It rarely was. There was always something more precise lurking just out of sight.

Writing caught back up with me after graduation. I couldn’t understand why; I didn’t see myself as an artist.

But science is art. Writing is precision. They’re both just puzzles.

I’m not writer or a scientist; I’m a tinkerer.

I’d like to tinker for you.

Not exactly your standard cover letter, but that’s the thing – when you’re applying for a writing position, no cover letter should be standard. It needs to be a reflection of your personal tone; the tone the company uses and is looking for in hirees; and the kind of concision and wordcraft you’re bringing to the table. And, of course, you have to show, not tell.

So what was successful about this letter in catching the attention of Riot? Well, let’s count all the things it did in the short span of 132 words:

  1. It showed my personal tone and how I view myself – not as a writer, but as a tinkerer
  2. It showcased my hobbies and the fact that I’m a gamer at heart, something that Riot looks for in its employees
  3. It made a joke about one of the League of Legends champions, Amumu, showing that I’m an active player of the game
  4. It balanced seriousness with irreverence and lightheartedness – the exact tone Riot has struck out for in all of its external (and presumably internal) communications
  5. It took the reader through my background in writing – mostly none – and in neuroscience, while showing how my skillsets from neuroscience could transfer over to a career in communications
  6. It established me as different in the way I think and the way I view myself from the average writer
  7. It did all of these things in a very short amount of space, wasting no words on things that could be read in my resume or the rest of my application

Really, if you’re looking to do writing as a career, you have to have something innovative for a cover letter – which makes it infinitely more difficult than cover letters in other career fields. Mine was pretty out there in terms of sparsity and minimalism, but clearly it worked, at least for one company. And I think that’s the real key – finding out, through the external communications of the place you’re applying, what their tone is and how you can match it while still being yourself.

Sounds totally impossible, right? It pretty much was for me. I worked on six or seven different cover letters until I came across this one – and really, it was just the seed of an idea at first for being a “tinkerer” instead of a writer. But just like your creative writings, once you have that moment of inspiration, the wheels of your mind will start churning with the follow-through and out will pop something pretty cool.

I’m hoping this means I’ve turned a corner and suddenly my query letters for my novels will become incredible… a boy can dream, can’t he?

Yours, day out and day in,

-R.R. Buck

Timelining Your Novel

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Bury Your Flame by La Dispute)

Hello everyone,

As you know if you’ve been reading along, I’ve been working hard on the second draft of my manuscript – rewriting chapters, cutting entire chunks out, and overall doing that macroscopic editing that, when finished, makes your book feel like a Frankenstein’s monster of thrown-together chapters and scenes.

A few days ago, I was trying to total all chapters from a given character’s perspective, and my stupid Google Doc was loading too slowly (probably because it was over 80 pages, lol).

All of a sudden, inspiration struck me.

Yeah, you know the punchline if you read the title, and you’re probably rolling your eyes like “Seriously? How did you not think of this before?”

All I can say in answer is… I’m stupid, y’all. You should know this by now.

But anyway, I grabbed a few pieces of paper and taped them to the back wall of my apartment (thereby confusing my roommates, who have long known not to ask when I do something weird like this).

I first considered what exactly I wanted to know, and I developed a few key questions in mind:

  1. How many chapters are from each of the three main character’s perspectives?
  2. How many moments of tangible character development (through revelation of backstory or dramatic choice in-the-moment) are there for each character?
  3. What is the spacing between those moments of character development?
  4. How many chapters of the total work advance the plot forward in some way?
  5. What is the spacing between those chapters of plot advancement?

Based on these questions, I drew up four horizontal “timelines” running the course of the book – one for each of the three major characters, and one for the story or plot. Vertically, I divided the paper into the sixteen chapters of the book, plus the prologue and the epilogue as start and end points.

Under “plot” for each chapter, I wrote out a short synopsis of the plot of that chapter, and then I marked with stars the chapters that moved the main storyline forward. It turns out that, in sixteen chapters, only eight of them moved the main story forward – and that was a great place for me to consider whether I was comfortable with that relative level of inaction, or whether I wanted almost every chapter to push the story forward.

(In case you’re wondering, I ended up siding with a slower-moving plot – I’ve already condensed the novel from 120,000 words down to 50,000 and I think any more cutting of worldbuilding or subplot scenes will make the whole thing seem confusing and rushed.)

After I finished the “plot” section, I moved to each of the main characters. If they didn’t get any development in a chapter, I drew a straight line through that chapter. If they got a little bit of development, but not enough to be considered a major character moment, I wrote that. But if they did get a moment, I wrote a short synopsis of what happened and put a star.

When I looked at the whole thing, I was able to see which character got the most stars, indicating the most development (which was interesting, because it was the last one I expected), as well as how frequently characters received major developments in their arcs, letting me know when a character was having a “dry period”.

I also circled, for each chapter, whose viewpoint the chapter was from, so I could see who received the most power over narration. (Again, it was the last character I expected.)

Finally, on a whim, I put arrows on the “plot” line indicating chapters that flowed directly into other chapters (as in the scene at the end of Chapter A is directly preceding the first scene of Chapter B), to determine if there were a lot of time-skips in the book, or if most things flowed well together.

When I looked back at everything, I was pleased – the moments of character development were well-spaced out and relatively equal between the three major characters, and the plotline followed a relatively snappy pace, with a lot of chapters ending on cliffhangers that flowed directly into the next chapter (giving the work that “can’t be put down” quality).

I was able to notice dry spells and analyze whether I wanted to add in new events, but the real benefit was in being able to visualize the whole novel as this series of timelines, some moving forward at some points, and others moving forward at others.

The best part of the whole thing? I could see that my attempts to make each chapter of the second draft contain multiple important moments was working. When I looked at each chapter’s column, I saw at least two stars for every single chapter – meaning in every chapter at least two characters are having major moments of development, or the plot is developing as a character makes a major decision. Tighter writing: accomplished.

If you’re having difficulty seeing where you might make improvements on your draft 2 of your project, I would suggest timelining it (I’m unsure if this is the same thing as storyboarding, but I don’t think it is, so I apologize if I’m wrong). You’ll be able to see all parts of your novel and develop your own criteria for what you want to see – and then you’ll be able to point out chapters and scenes that don’t contribute to what’s important to you.

Until next time, I’m your anchor, Reed R. Buck, saying good night – and may your muse puke creativity onto your page.

Yours, wishing the world a hug,

-R.R. Buck

LA Times Festival of Books Was LIT! (or… LAT.)

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Brave New World by… me!)

You know it’s a good day when even the title contains a bad pun.

I spent the last few hours at the LA Times Festival of Books, held at USC this year. I initially got a line about it from a friend of mine who met her publisher there – essentially, it’s a gathering of a bunch of small independent publishers, cheap bookstores (I mean cheap as in 5 bucks for a book), food trucks, author speakings and signings, and a shitload of other cool stuff.

It’s really cool from a reader’s perspective to be able to stroll through and not worry about overspending on books (although I did drop my entire month’s entertainment budget on it… lol). But on a whole other level, being able to network with a few publishers and other folks as a writer was pretty invaluable.

And I’m gonna share what I found with you! Who said reading my blog didn’t have its perks? 😀

One really cool group I met with was SPAWN, the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network. The woman I specifically spoke to was Kathleen Kaiser, who runs KKA. The breakdown is: SPAWN is a pay-to-enter group of publishers, artists, and writers who all are interested in communicating about what’s currently happening in publishing and marketing. It’s a great way to stay in touch with some of the smaller groups who are much more likely to publish your work, but it does run at a cost to subscribe to the group – to the tune of $75 (sorry all my fellow poor graduate homies).

KKA, on the other hand, is Kathleen Kaiser & Associates, a group run by Kathleen who represents both companies and authors for all their communications and publicity needs. They’ve introduced a new program called “Author Promote Thyself” where they’ll personally help you promote and sell your work through multiple media. Again, this is a paid thing, but hey, if you’re socially defunct like me, maybe you’ll want to give it a shot.

Next are two pretty sick competitions. The first is Writers of the Future, a SFF contest in which the winners are published in a collection of works backed and approved by L. Ron Hubbard, among other noted fantasy and science fiction writers. Winning this contest is essentially like getting your work read – and name recognized – by many prominent SFF writers.

The other contest is called The Launch Pad, and it accepts all genres (so my readers who aren’t SFF can have something to take a look at). Their goal is to help new-on-the-scene authors launch their careers by getting them looked at by some fairly significant screen and novel writers. Fairly significant as in Allison Gillogly from Ridley Scott’s production company, among others. One thing to be aware of is that this program is run by the Tracking Board, and so it will almost certainly have a Hollywood slant to it. If you’re in the top three spots, your work is guaranteed to be published, but it’s also possible you’ll be roped into a media deal for the rights.

Which, in all honesty, isn’t a bad thing. Just something to be aware of.

Next is a trio: Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink, and DSP Publications. These three are all run by a centralized managerial and support staff, but they’ve got their own slant. The unifying theme? All of them are LGBT-oriented genres and stories, so for anyone publishing queer fiction, you should absolutely check them out. Dreamspinner specifically does romance; DSP does sci-fi and fantasy (and caught my eye almost immediately), and from what I can tell, Harmony Ink does any kind of genre fiction. The LGBT themes are overt in a lot of the romance put out by Dreamspinner, but the woman running the stand told me the other branches don’t require explicit LGBT themes as long as one or more of the main characters are LGBTQ. So even if you’re writing non-LGBT oriented fiction, if you have queer main characters, you might consider submitting to them.

Then there’s Brick Cave Media. This group publishes sci-fi, fantasy, and poetry, and it’s clear to me they rep their authors because one of them greeted me when I walked into the booth. She ended up selling me her book as well as handing me some information for submission. Their open submission period is July 1 to September 30, so that should be just enough time for me to finish up my current writing project and make it all pretty and sparkly.

Finally, there was Austin Macauleyand if I’m being honest, they were my favorite. They’re a decently successful publishing company in the UK who just made the move into the US in January and are looking to take on new authors to establish a base here. Because they have an open submission policy, they take on any and all genres, and the two ladies staffing the booth were extremely nice in giving me literature about the company and taking down my information as an interested author. If you’ve done any research on the field, you know that new publishers and agents are a great way to get into the writing game because they’re always ready to work with up-and-comings, so this one is seriously a gold mine.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. A nice blend of publishers, contests, and groups for you. If you aren’t able to make it out to USC this weekend, consider this an abbreviated mini-festival, just for you.

Yours, with a fire lit under him,

-R.R. Buck

8 Questions You Should Ask While Editing Your First Draft

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Photograph by Def Leppard)

Crap, I’m turning into Buzzfeed.

Well, be that as it may, I’m learning a lot from my second draft of my current writing project. I’ve done half-assed second drafts many times before without giving real consideration to what I want to accomplish – mostly vague things like “I want to make the writing more tight” or “I want to add in character development for Elmo” or something like that.

A good starter rule for writing books – especially if you’ve never written a good book before – is to have a good roadmap. If you outline the book really well before you start draft 1, you’re so much more likely to finish the whole thing instead of losing momentum halfway through. And if you outline your goals for your rewrite in draft 2, you’ll be a lot more likely to actually accomplish them.

Because who loves pointless rewrites, am I re-right?

(I’ll show myself out.)

Here are the questions I think make for a great second-draft editing process:

  1. Is my book of an appropriate length? Related, is the pacing good? The answers to these questions can be gained from using an alpha reader early in the process (I recommend The Adorer or The Writer for your alpha reader). If someone can’t put your book down, you’re in a good place. If they can, why? What parts of the story are the hold-up for them?
  2. Are the concepts I need to be clear, clear? I usually give my alpha readers a pseudo-quiz at the end of reading a project of mine, including things like “how does the magic system work” or “what was the meaning of this moment”. Even if you’re not doing fantasy, you still want to make sure that the important concepts are understood by your reader – I’m all for interpretation of literature, but not if they’re actually interpreting the events of the novel wrong.
  3. How good are my characters? This is oh so damn crucial for practically any genre. I’m noticing as I’m writing this project that more and more of my friends and family who don’t like fantasy as a genre are interested in this book. (Okay, it’s mainly just my mom.) When I asked her why she was more interested in this book, she said that the writing was better than previous things I’ve wrote, but also that the characters were better and more relatable. No matter what your genre is, if you don’t have good characters, your readers are not going to want to share their struggles.
  4. Do I have enough/too much __________? The blank here can be filled in by a number of things – character development and arcs, plot development, descriptions, action, symbolism that contributes to your larger theme or themes. Establishing balance between a plethora of different elements in your book will make it so that it feels like everything is happening at once, in a pleasant (not overwhelming) way.
  5. Is this scene/chapter necessary to the book? Should it be occurring right now? Should it be occurring from this character’s perspective? Is there anything that should be altered or taken out from this scene? If I’m being completely honest, most of my second draft is scene editing, deleting, and relocation. I now take every chapter and examine it to see first off whether it even needs to be there, and if so, when/where/from whose perspective it should actually be. DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF JUST BECAUSE YOU REALLY LIKE A SCENE. If it needs to go, it needs to go.
  6. How can I move things more quickly/be more concise? This is one I’m just learning to do now. A lot of times, it seems like each of my first-draft scenes is focusing on one particular element – a single dialogue that reveals character, or a moment of plot development. I’m learning how to take these multiple scenes, cross out as many as possible, and recombine those elements into a single scene which accomplishes all of those things simultaneously. It makes for great, tight writing as well as a story your readers won’t be able to put down.
  7. Do we have continuity across the work? This one is important because oftentimes you start off with an idea of what things are, or what they should be, and then your damn deviant characters run off with the story and take it down a new path. That’s fine – wonderful, even – but in your second draft, you need to keep an eye out for early moments or details that don’t make sense with where you know your story is going.
  8. What did my alphas tell me? This might be one of the most important questions you can ask on your second draft. When you gave those lucky one or two people your first draft to read, what did they say? What should you change? Now, in case you haven’t been reading this blog for very long, I’m going to say it again, in bold and caps so you know it’s important: LISTEN OPENLY TO EVERYONE’S OPINIONS, AND THEN DO WHAT YOU WANT. You need to hear what every alpha reader is saying to you, but many of them will be directly contradicting one another. They are all opinions, and they are all important, but in the end, the writing is yours. Be neither wishy-washy based on the opinions of your public, nor rigid in your inability to change your “perfect” first draft. Be like… jello. Flop with the punches and send ’em jiggling right back when you don’t want ’em.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Good luck, and happy editing!

Yours, effervescently,

-R.R. Buck

Why Writing?

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Last Lost Continent by La Dispute)

I’ve been writing all my life, it seems. When I consider choosing any other art form to build my career path on, it just seems silly.

And yet, when I think about things, I realize I’ve been playing and writing music for just as long as I’ve been writing. Which is weird to think about, because I hardly consider myself a musician.

I started playing piano when I was nine or ten years old – about the same time I first started writing little kid stories and such. The first “song” I ever wrote on the piano was when I was twelve – about the time I started my first novella. And the first time I ever wrote something I considered to be an actual piece of music was in exact conjunction with when I wrote my first novel.

How do I know that? My first songs were the soundtrack to my novel. (I know, I was a weird little high-school nerd.)

It’s just funny to think that I’ve been playing music for the same amount of time as I’ve been writing, and yet I feel so much more like a writer than a musician. I want to believe a part of it is innate talent, but it’s not – I’ve struggled just as much with writing as I have with music.

And neither is it training – I have been very informally trained in both writing and music, having learned both of them mostly by trying (and failing many, many times) on my own.

Still, when I remember bringing my whole family into my room after dinner to show them my newest “song” and then tripping up on the notes because I hadn’t even learned my own song well enough to play it without mistakes, it reminds me a little too much of me showing my rough, terrifying first drafts of writing projects to my alpha readers far before they’re ready to be seen.

So why did I choose writing over music? Others’ music is a lot closer to me spiritually than others’ writing, and I’ll generally spend more time in a day listening to music than I will reading.

It’s just a difference in medium.

Now, before I continue, I really have to say that I know nothing about music theory or writing theory, so if I’m completely wrong, I apologize. These are my own reflections outside of any formal training.

Disclaimers aside, I feel that music is an incredible way of conveying emotion. When I hear a well-written song or thematic score, I can feel the emotion behind it without ever needing a word said. To me, that auditory format is better than almost any book, short story, or poem I’ve read in terms of conveying a single emotion or feeling.

(As an aside, this is why I love hardcore music – “screamo”, to those of you who are uneducated on the topic. Some of the most emotional, most beautiful music I know is lyrical hardcore music – like they say, some of the best art is produced by tortured individuals. For today’s playlist, I’ll put up one of my favorite hardcore songs – the one whose lyrics I’ve tattooed on my skin. The song, despite being “screamo”, talks about the unity of humankind against the cruelty of our world, and it never fails to make me tear up.)

Contrary to music, I believe writing is the ideal form of storytelling. The words we choose, the ways in which we put them together, allows us to take stereotypical, archetypal situations and characters and breathe a new life into them – something similar enough to the rest of fiction to be beloved, and different enough to be enticing. We can gather the expectations of our audiences and fulfill them, if we want to – or we can flip those expectations on their heads and leave the audience infuriated, but satisfied in a completely different way.

I’m not saying music can’t tell a story, or words and writing can’t impart emotion – obviously they both can. I’m just saying that I see each medium as being best at something, and the more important something to me is telling a story. I love being able to construct worlds, to weave thematic and symbolic concepts into them so that the world becomes a parallel of our own, and to have an audience come away from the tale with a new perspective on how our own world works.

Or, I would love that, if I was any decent at writing.

AYOOOOOO!

Yours, laughing his ass off,

-R.R. Buck