Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Karina Fabian Talks about Plotting Her Novel

Today I'd lke to welcome Karina Fabian, author of Magic, Mensa & Mayhem, to this blog. Although a Mensan, KARINA FABIAN lives a life of "F’s" — Family, Faith, Fiction & Fun. Winner of an EPPIE award for best sci-fi (Infinite Space, Infinite God) and a Mensa Owl for best fiction ("World Gathering: Magic, Mensa and Mayhem"), Karina’s writing takes quirky twists that amuse her — and her readers. A fan of comedy improv, she came up with Dragon Eye, PI, started after watching a film noir skit on Whose Line Is It, Anyway? and it has grown into one of her favorite worlds to write in. Learn more about Karina at www.fabianspace.com and more about Vern and Grace at www.dragoneyepi.net. Karina lives with her husband and children at Minot AFB, North Dakota.

Since we've been ta;lking about plotting a novel, Karina graciously took the time to answer some questions about plotting her novel.

What was your starting point for writing Magic, Mensa & Mayhem? What was the first thing you did when developing your plot?

I had gotten some translation help from Shirley Starke, a Mensan and editor of the North Dakota Mensa newsletter, the Prairie Dawg, for a DragonEye, PI, story. Afterwards, I sent it to her, and she asked if she could run it. I'd written it for somewhere else, so I offered to do a serial mystery for her newsletter instead, just for fun. The Mensa World Gathering was happening in Florida that year, and I thought it'd be funny if the Magicals were invited with Vern and Grace chaperoning.
I went to the Mensa website, pulled up the program and decided on some funny twists on lectures the Magicals could give. Brunhilde's ride to Hel (just the visuals and sound effects), Coyote's panel on thinking outside the box, and of course, a High Elf mistakenly booked as the farewell address. (No one would catch their planes!)
The Pope issued an encyclical about that time, which led me to the words "papal bull," and the rest pretty much fell together from there. I'm very much a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I let the characters lead me.
BTW--"World Gathering: Magic, Mensa and Mayhem" won the Mensa Owl for best fiction contribution of 2007. I'm also offering the story that led to all of this, "Amateurs," free to anyone joining the DragonEye, PI website, www.dragoneyepi.net.


What do you want readers to take away from your novel? Is this the same thing you had in mind when you first started writing it?

I want them to come away more fit, emotionally and physically. Laughter is very healthy--in fact, I'm lobbying the AMA to recommend reading Magic, Mensa & Mayhem as part of a healthy lifestyle. Seriously, I just hope they have a couple of hours of good laughs. This book is a lark, an escape into the land of silly. Nothing more. (Not all the DragonEye, PI books and stories are so silly--wait 'till you read Live and Let Fly--but they all have a healthy dose of comedy. Healthy comedy for a healthy body!)

Your characters were already established when you started writing MMM. Did you have to change any of the things you wanted to do with your plot because of who your characters are?

Not in Magic, Mensa & Mayhem. In fact, this book did a lot to define the characters. I think there about a dozen stories hinted at the novel; some written, some waiting until I have time to write them.


Did any of your characters have to change to accommodate something in your plot?


No. Characters drove the action. Live and Let Fly was a different story. My villain changed at least thrice.


Did you have to come up with any new characters to move your plot along?


They sort of popped up. Some were old friends: Cambridge Ramada, a character from "Greater Treasures," just showed up at the dinner and started flirting with Brunhilde. Coyote cheated on the test to become a Mensan so he could attend World Gathering.
The Brownies as a whole are new characters. I had to do a lot of thinking about how they fit into the Faerie/Mundane universe so that they matched the cliché of helpful housekeepers while still wrecking havoc in the hotel. Kent and Garn showed up because I needed a diversion--and what fun they turned out to be! Kent makes a cameo in Live and Let Fly, BTW. Then there are the bellhops who like Capitol One commercials . "Hyuck hyuck. What's in your wallet?" They get theirs.


How would your book have been different if Vern had been more like one of the dragons of Pern- say like Mnementh- or if Sister Grace had been more like Sister Bertrille (The Flying Nun).

Wow. It's been so long since I've read Anne McCaffery. (Loved her books!) And I have never seen the Flying Nun. Think I have to pass on this one. I have to admit, though, I can't imagine Vern as a Pern-like dragon. He's too snarky and independent. He's also not fond of people riding on his back, though he will do it. (He charges extra.)


Do you outline your plot ahead of time or do you let the story lead you where it may? What techniques do you use to plan your plot?

I usually have a good idea of the beginning and the end, with some scene ideas for the middle. Then I start writing and let the characters lead me. When I get stuck, I may put the basic plot points on post-it notes and stick them on the wall, then move them around until they make sense. Then I go back to writing--where the characters change everything all over again!


Did your plot go exactly as you envisioned it or did something surprise you as you wrote this book?

I had several surprises--characters that showed up and became part of the mystery (and the confusion), a new friend for Vern (Roxanne Lewis, reporter)... Rhoda Dakota and Charlie Wilmot becoming an item came out of the blue--score one for Matchmaker Vern!
I also changed the final conflict on the advice of my best friend and writer, Ann Lewis. She read the draft and loved it, but told me I didn't give her a reason to care about what was happening. "It's all about the Faerie and not about us," she said. We took the conundrum to our crit group, and they helped me brainstorm the idea of the Elves declaring war on Florida. (So Floridians? You can blame that on New York City writers.)


You have a fun book with lots of humor. It flows very naturally throughout the course of the book. Did you develop your storyline around the humor or did you develop the humor to fit the storyline?

Thank you! It was a lot of fun to write!
It's very synergistic. Something in the plot leads to a joke which leads to more plot. A good example is "puck." I had the pixies playing a joke on Vern, but I needed someone to blame. Who's the fairy best known for jokes? Puck in "Midsummer Night's Dream." I didn't want to steal Shakespeare's character, so I turned "puck" into a title. This led to no end of puns, and the plot moved to accommodate them.


What writers do you look to for inspiration when developing your plots?


In Magic, Mensa & Mayhem, I didn't really draw from other writers for the plot, though you'll see influences of Robert Asprin's and Jody Lynn Nye's Myth, Inc. series in the situations and comedy. Plus, I hope, some Terry Pratchett in the worldbuilding and cliché twisting. Piers Anthony influenced my taste for puns early on in life--blame him or credit him as you wish.
However, in other DragonEye, PI stories, I draw heavily from noir films and books, or from whatever genre I'm looking to spoof. Live and Let Fly is a super-spy spoof, so I read a lot of 007 novels and watched the movies. When I'm ready for the next (GapMan!), I need to bone up on my comic book heroes. Such a difficult life...

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Plotting Your Novel (Part 2)



When Bill and I set out to write The Dead Detective, we knew where we wanted to start-- with our main character, Budge, becoming a ghost by being murdered. We kind of figured that we wanted to end it by having Budge find out who his murderer was, but the stuff in between was still very nebulous.

First we had to determine who our characters were. We knew we wanted a female protagonist to go along with Budge, but other than that, we were clueless. Budge didn't even start out being Budge. He started out being called "Woody." Bill and I knew that we wanted our hero to actually be kind of an anti-hero-- or rather to be totally unlike the normal hero in mystery novels. There actually tend to be three types of mystery novel heroes: The tall, strong, masculine, sexy, hard-boiled type of guy (who almost always likes jazz music) and who generally has relationships with many women; the good looking, sensitive, caring, psychologist type who is often a family guy or is at least in a committed relationship (This guy is often the best friend of a detective who frequently consults with him for psychological insight); or the slob-- overweight, junk food addicted, surly, uncouth guy who is not particularly likable but has very close friends who work with him on investigations.

We wanted Budge to be totally different from any of these stereotypes. We already knew he wasn't going to have any type of relationship to law enforcement. At that time, Bill and I routinely spent weekends shopping at pawnshops because they were a great place for parents of school-aged children to buy inexpensive musical instruments, graphing calculators or DVD players. We also bought a replacement wedding band at a pawn shop one time after one of my daughters lost mine in the swimming pool. "Let's make him a pawnbroker!" I said excitedly one day when we returned home with a "new" flute for our younger daughter. Bill liked that idea, so there we were. We had a pawnbroker named Woody as our dead guy.

We really liked the idea of having Woody go against all the stereotypes so we decided to make him a real flake. Don't get me wrong; he's a nice guy as everyone who knows him tells CJ when she is investigating his murder. But he's not a real critical thinker. He believes in horoscopes, I Ching, ESP, and whatever other types of pseudoscience that are out there. People tend to discount him because of that, but he's smarter than they give him credit for. He's a chess player-- but more of an intuitive, Captain Kirk type of chess player than an analytical Spock type of player. And he's, how should I put this, physically unprepossessing. He's scrawny. The kind of guy that in high school walked around with a pocket protector. He wears thick glasses, has no muscles to speak of, and is very physically awkward. He's shy and nervous around women, but they don't notice him anyway because he is simply so unprepossessing.

So, we had our hero. Geeky, scrawny little Woody, who worked at a profession that many people consider to be somewhat seedy. Now we had to come up with our female protagonist. This was more difficult because we needed someone who was a counterpart to Budge. We decided, first of all, that she needed to be very rational and logical. She not only doesn't believe in ghosts; she doesn't believe in anything at all that is supernatural. No horoscopes, no pyramid power and definitely no ghosts. That makes it all the more fun when Budge realizes that she is the only living person who can hear him, for whatever reason.

We decided to make her a computer geek to give her a reason to be at a pawnshop after hours. We also decided to make her a junk food junkie in homage to all the slobby male detectives that are out there. However, we decided to throw a slight twist in things. At first we talked about having her be kind of unattractive, maybe overweight or with a really big nose or a receding chin or something, but then we thought it would be fun to make her a former beauty pageant queen- with a twist. CJ is a stunningly beautiful blonde (Nicole Kidman would be perfect for the role!) who absolutely does not care about her appearance. She hates her beauty queen past. i can't remember where we came up with the name CJ, but her real name is Crystal Janine and she hates that as being too frou frou.

At this point we had our two protagonists, and we were ready to start plotting-- but I'll save the details of that for the next blog, which hopefully will come along sooner than this one did.

Oh, and in case you are wondering how Woody became Budge-- we realized that there is an actual pawnshop in Arlington called "Woody's Pawnshop" so we had to change it. We had already decided his full name was Cecil Eugene Dirkwood, which we decided sounded sufficiently nerdy, but coming up with his nickname was a problem. Cecil? Eugene? None of those just seemed to fit. Then one day we were talking about one of our daughters and how difficult it was to budge her once she had made up her mind and Bill said, "That's it! We'll call him Budge because he's so stubborn!"

It was absolutely perfect, and Budge and CJ sprang into being.

Now you might wonder what all this has to do with plot development-- which is supposed to be the topic of this blog, however you've got to have strong, well developed characters before you can plot your novel. Many of the plot points we put in there came from the fact that Budge and CJ are who they are. In my first blog on this topic I said that writing a novel is like planning a trip. The characters in your novel are akin to your companions on your trip-- the route you take and your mode of travel will depend on the type of companions you choose. When my husband and I moved from New York to Texas, we went separately. I took our two small daughters and traveled by bus to Florida to visit a childhood friend for a few days. I then went the rest of the way to Texas by plane. My husband, on the other hand, drove across country with our cat and our guinea pig in the back of the car. We both ended up at the same place but we both had vastly different journeys. He couldn't go to Florida with me and the girls because of the cat and the guinea pig, and the girls and I did not want to go with him and spend three days or so driving across country in a tiny compact car with a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old, a cat and a guinea pig. Do I really need to tell you why?

So developing strong characters is a very important part of plotting your novel. In my next blog I'll tell more about how Bill and I developed our plot.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Critique of Science Fiction comedy

On a nameless planet populated with pay by the hour motels where politicians and sports stars
took beautiful women to escape the public eye, Ug Lulank, President of the Universal Council,
sat on the bed in his motel room. He was a Quinikian, a race known for their elastic, hairless blue
bodies and flat faces. Ug contemplated the coffee stain on his yellow slacks while humming his
planet’s anthem, which sounded similar to a synthesized version of “Smoke on the Water.” Half
way through the second chorus there was a knock on the paint chipped door. “Come in,” he
answered.

Into the room walked a figure of legend. She was a short dumpy woman in a dark brown dress.
Her green eyes and facial features were sharp, and stringy red hair hung about her shoulders.
During her lifetime she had become known throughout the universe for many things, but the
thing she was most noted for was her artful practice of law.

“Ima Swindler, how are you?” Ug greeted his new guest.

“Alright given the circumstances,” the small woman said, sidestepping sticky spots on the carpet,
“thanks for meeting me here Ug.”

“No problem. Though I don't know why we couldn’t have met in a more conventional place like
the UC headquarters or my summer home on Survath 7?”

Ima hopped into a chair and looked solemnly at the president, “Because there’s too much
security in those places, I don’t want to be overheard by the wrong people.”

“Overheard? Ima, is everything okay?”

“No.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s a long story, do you have time?”

“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have flown half way across the universe to meet you here. Now, tell me
what’s wrong?”

Ima sighed, “The universe is in danger.”

Ug laughed, “The universe is always in danger. Ever since God appeared and uttered the words
‘Let there be Chaos,’ danger has been part of it.”

“I know but this is not your typical mad scientist trying to blow everything up or a large space
worm trying to eat everything in existence, this is serious. A powerful force is at work that can
bring about the universe‘s destruction.”

“Really,” the president was intrigued, “what kind of force is it?”

“Galacorp.”

“Galacorp?” Ug cocked a bony ridge above his eye that served as his eyebrow, “What does a
supermarket chain have to do with the universe‘s destruction?”

The small woman reached down the neck of her shirt into her bra, withdrew a packet of papers,
and tossed them to Ug.

The Quinikan’s orange eyes scanned the words on the first page.

Galacorp Corporation Incorporated
Department of Superfluous Research Number 6
Experiment 13,742,334.257 ½
L.U.V. and its Effects on a Living Being’s Senses
Ug flipped through the first few pages of scientific jargon used to boggle the logical mind, and
got to the part that explained the experiment. A new essence was created by combining the
pheromones of a Pernorgian mongoose and a Norshikian wallagag, a ferocious 10 foot pink and
purple striped armadillo. If the essence, called Luperelemen Uoxenobop Vylotramadon (L.U.V.
for short), was applied to an individual, that individual would magically appear attractive to the
opposite sex. If the essence was fused into a garment and that garment worn, the same result would occur. The next several pages showed pictures of men’s and women’s designer clothing said to contain the essence. On the final page were plans to release the new line of essence treated clothing in one of Galacorp’s stores. When the location of the release was about to be mentioned the topic of the article changed to a scientific explanation of why polka punk was both a legitimate musical genre and fashion design.

“Interesting,” Ug said in mock excitement, “Do you think Galacorp is taking pre-orders?”

Ug’s guest looked daggers at him, “If you’re not going to take this seriously Mr. President, I’ll
take my leave.”

The president made a calming gesture, “I’m sorry Ima but none of this sounds dangerous. In fact it’s exciting. For a reasonable price everyone in the universe can look beautiful. Social stigma
based around looks would practically disappear. Most importantly, females won’t have to spend
hours a day in front of a mirror applying makeup. They could just throw one of these garments on and be ready to go. Something like this might hurt the makeup industry, but that’s business for you. Unless you’re worried about the well being of the makeup industry, I don’t see why you
dragged me out here.”

Ima reached into her bra again and pulled out another packet of papers and handed them to Ug.
This packet was a scientific report that explained a side effect of the L.U.V. essence. If the
essence infused garment was donned by an individual, it caused the wearer and those within 10
feet of the wearer to become insatiably sexually aroused. In one experiment, a grandmother of 75 was asked to wear a dress fabricated with the essence, then was escorted into a laboratory where several male scientists were employed at different tasks. The end result was three million dollars worth of broken equipment, several disheveled, tired scientists, and one very happy grandmother.

Ug whooped with laughter, “I see how that could be a problem! But with approval from the
Intergalactic Exchange Commission and a proper warning label, there’s nothing in the books
against it.”

The lawyer reached into her bra again and procured another packet for the Quinikian to read.
This document covered the marketing strategy of the new product line. L.U.V. apparel would be
introduced on a planet where sex was constantly indulged in. The product’s release date was
during the sixth cycle on the fifteenth revolution, only five cycles away according to the
visiwatch on his wrist.

When the location of the release was about to be discussed, the subject of the document changed
to the use of sponges in intergalactic polo. Ug's face wrinkled in confusion, causing it to shrink to
half its size. “Why is it that every time the location of the product’s released is about to be
mentioned something completely random comes up?”

“Because Galacorp put an encryption program in place to keep someone accessing the
information on the outside from finding out where the product will be released.”

The president was utterly confused, “Why? How did you get this information anyway?”

The lawyer smiled, “Glad you asked, let me start from the beginning. A few nights ago I was
dreaming about a lovely day on the beach. As I was soaking up sun, the skies went black and a
small gray figure with red eyes appeared beside me.”

“The Oracle?” The president’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

“The one and only. She told me to come and see her on Zerkoz as soon as possible; my eyes
jerked open and within a few hours I was in her cave on Mount Veluspa. Over tea, she told me
about a vision she had a few nights back that had to do with the universe‘s destruction. She was
sure that some great power was at work to destroy the universe, but she didn‘t know what it was.

I thanked her and told her I would look into it.”

“I was about to leave when she fell into a trance and said the words Galacorp, essence, and
fashion in a deep voice, muttered incoherently for a few minutes, then came to and told me
goodbye. Irked by her outburst, I rushed to Galacorp's main headquarters on Robil 11 to
investigate.”

“I hacked into Galacorp’s data systems and found the information I gave you. I also found this,”
reaching into her bra, Ima retrieved a piece of paper and handed it to Ug. It was an e-mail that
company CEO Doogle McFard sent to the Vice President in charge of sales. It was mainly full of
last quarter's sales figures and a recipe for French onion soup. However the last few sentences
caught the president’s eye.

…Do not worry about the side effect of our new product, and the result that the side effect causes. I already have a plan to take care of that problem. Right now just worry about getting that product out! I can see big profits and a BIG raise in your future.
Your friend,
Doogle McFard
Galacorp CEO


Dindy's Critique:
One of the first things I note about this is in the very first line-- a bit of description that I
absolutely love: "nameless planet populated with pay by the hour motels where politicians and
sports stars took beautiful women to escape the public eye." This draws me into the passage, and
makes me want to read more, however then we run into some problems.

First we have some classic violations of Show Don't Tell:
He was a Quinikian, a race known for their elastic, hairless blue bodies and flat faces

If this is important to the story, it can be worked naturally into it somewhere else. As it is, it
seems to be there for one reason only-- to make the point that the president is not human.
Into the room walked a figure of legend. She was a short dumpy woman in a dark brown dress. Her green eyes and facial features were sharp, and stringy red hair hung about her shoulders. During her lifetime she had become known throughout the universe for many things, but the thing she was most noted for was her artful practice of law.

Most of this comes across as description just for the sake of description. Again, if it is important
to the story it can be worked in gradually as the story progresses.

And we have some info dumping (using dialogue to give a bunch of details that
may or may not be important at one time.):
The lawyer smiled, “Glad you asked, let me start from the beginning. A few nights ago I was
dreaming about a lovely day on the beach. As I was soaking up sun, the skies went black and a
small gray figure with red eyes appeared beside me.”

“The Oracle?” The president’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

“The one and only. She told me to come and see her on Zerkoz as soon as possible; my eyes jerked open and within a few hours I was in her cave on Mount Veluspa. Over tea, she told me about a vision she had a few nights back that had to do with the universe‘s destruction. She was sure that some great power was at work to destroy the universe, but she didn‘t know what it was. I thanked her and told her I would look into it.”

“I was about to leave when she fell into a trance and said the words Galacorp, essence, and fashion in a deep voice, muttered incoherently for a few minutes, then came to and told me goodbye. Irked by her outburst, I rushed to Galacorp's main headquarters on Robil 11 to investigate.”

“I hacked into Galacorp’s data systems and found the information I gave you. I also found this,”

How much of the above info is really important? The bit about the Oracle talking about some
power about to destroy the universe is repetitious- we already went through that when Ima first
entered the president's room. (As an aside, I would use a name other than the Oracle as that has a strong association with The Matrix movies.) The whole purpose of this seems to be to give Ima a reason to hack into Galacorp's data systems and get the information.

More info dumping:
“No problem. Though I don't know why we couldn’t have met in a more conventional place like the UC headquarters or my summer home on Survath 7?”

Ima hopped into a chair and looked solemnly at the president, “Because there’s too much security in those places, I don’t want to be overheard by the wrong people.”

“Overheard? Ima, is everything okay?”

“No.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s a long story, do you have time?”

“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have flown half way across the universe to meet you here. Now, tell me what’s wrong?”

This passage uses 7 paragraphs to tell us that the president has a summer home on Surgvath 7 and that he flew halfway across the universe to meet Ima. Assuming that either of these bits of
information is important to the story, taking 7 paragraphs to give us that info is wasteful and
boring.

There are also come continuity issues:
On the one hand, Ug is "a Quinikian, a race known for their elastic, hairless blue bodies and flat
faces" and on the other, he has "a bony ridge above his eye." (If he has a bony ridge above his
eye, then he doesn't have a flat face.)

In addition, when Ima enters the hotel room she is wearing a brown dress but when she starts
drawing papers out of her bra she has changed into a shirt.

I took the liberty of rewriting the passage. I tried to tighten things up a bit, remove some
of the redundancies and continuity errors, and eliminate the info dumping. I also tried
to show instead of tell. I tried to use the original words as much as possible although occasionally I did slip some of my own words in there.

Dindy's rewrite:
On a nameless planet populated with pay-by-the-hour motels where politicians and sports stars take beautiful women to escape the public eye, Ug Lulank, President of the Universal Council, contemplated the coffee stain on his yellow slacks while humming his planet’s anthem, Quinikia Forever. Half way through the second chorus there was a knock on the paint chipped door of his room. Running his fingers over his hairless, blue head, Ug stood up. "Open," he called.

Galaxy-renowned lawyer Ima Swindler clumped into the room, sidestepping a suspicious looking spot on the carpet and brushing aside Ug's proffered hand of greeting.

“Ima, how are you?”

“Alright, given the circumstances,” Ima hopped up onto a chair and squirmed to get comfortable on a seat clearly meant for larger bottoms.

"What circumstances?" Ug settled across from her at the table and tried to avoid staring at her bosom, which seemed larger than usual. "And why all the clock and dagger stuff? Why couldn't we have met at Council Headquarters?"

Ima sighed, “The universe is in danger.”

Ug laughed, “The universe is always in danger. Ever since God appeared and uttered the words ‘Let there be Chaos,’ danger has been part of it.”

“This is serious," Ima shook her head vigourously, her stringy red hair brushing across her shoulders. "A powerful force is at work that can bring about the universe‘s destruction.”

“Really?” Ug cocked the bony ridge above his eye and tried not to smile. “What kind of force is it this time? A mad scientist trying to blow everything up or a large space worm trying to eat everything in existence”

“Galacorp.” Ima pronounced firmly.

“Galacorp? What does a supermarket chain have to do with the universe‘s destruction?”

Ima reached into the scooped neck of her brown dress and withdrew a packet of papers, tossing them across the table at Ug.

"Department of Superfluous Research Number 6, Experiment 13,742,334.257 ½, L.U.V. and its Effects on a Living Being’s Senses," he read aloud. He lifted his orange eyes to Ima's face. "What the plipperget is this?"

"Keep reading."

"Who can read this? It's just jargon," Ug flipped through pages, stopping occasionally to read a word or two aloud. "Phermones? A Pernorgian mongoose and a Norshikian wallagag? What's a Norshikian wallagag?"

"It's like a Terran armadillo except it's ten feet high and has pink and purple stripes."

Ug set the papers down. "So what is the significance of all this, Ima?"

"According to this report, if the essence, called Luperelemen Uoxenobop Vylotramadon (L.U.V. for short), is applied to an individual, that individual will magically appear attractive to the opposite sex, and if the essence is fused into a garment and that garment worn, the same result will occur."

“Interesting,” Ug said in mock excitement, “Do you think Galacorp is taking pre-orders?”

Ima narrowed her green eyes, “If you’re not going to take this seriously Mr. President, I’ll take my leave.”

The president made a calming gesture, “I’m sorry, Ima but you're going to have to explain why this is so dangerous. It sounds exciting to me."

She snorted and pointed at some lines on the report with a stumpy index finger. "Look at where they plan to release this."

Ug followed the print at her finger and then picked up the paper to look at more closely. The blue of his face darkened in puzzlement as he read aloud, "The new line of essence-treated clothing is scheduled for limited release in conclusion we can state that polka punk is both a legitimate musical genre and a type of fashion design." He lowered the report slowly. "What does polka punk have to do with-"

Without answering him, Ima reached into her neckline again and pulled out another packet of papers. She held them out to Ug.

"What's this one say?" he said wearily, his mind boggling at the thought of looking at more scientific jargon.

"This report tells about a side effect of the L.U.V. essence. If the essence infused garment is donned by an individual, it causes the wearer and those within 10 feet of the wearer to become insatiably sexually aroused." Her voice held a tone of self righteous indignation.

"Okay, so wearing the garment makes people horny. Really Ima, if this is all you've got, I've got better uses for my time."

Ima snapped, "In one experiment, a grandmother of 75 was asked to wear a dress fabricated with the essence, then was escorted into a laboratory where several male scientists were employed at different tasks. The end result was three million dollars worth of broken equipment, several disheveled, tired scientists--"

"--And one very happy grandmother!" Ug whooped with laughter, “I see how that could be a problem! But with approval from the Intergalactic Exchange Commission and a proper warning label, there’s nothing in the books against it.”

The lawyer reached down into her bra again.

"How much stuff does she have in there?" Ug wondered, looking at her increasingly flattened chest.

This time she appeared to have to search rather deeply, but finally she procured another packet for the president to read.

"Marketing Strategy," he read aloud. "The L.U.V apparel will be introduced on a planet with a high incidence of sexual behavior. The scheduled release date is—" Ug glanced at the visiwatch on his wrist—"Only five cycles away. Okay Ima," Ug tossed the final report on top of the other two. "So explain to me how this will destroy the galaxy."

"Look at the release location."

Ug sighed, but obediently looked. "It is recommended that the L.U.V. apparel be released at our conclusion is that sponges not be used in intergalactic polo." His face wrinkled, shrinking to half its size. “Why is it that every time the location of the products release is about to be mentioned, something completely random comes up?”

“Because Galacorp put an encryption program in place to keep someone accessing the
information on the outside from finding out where the product will be released.”

The president was utterly confused, “Why would Galacorp do such a thing? And how did you get this information anyway?”

The lawyer looked slightly nervous for the first time. "We-ell, the Orpacle summoned me to her cave on Zerkoz-"

The president's jaw nearly dropped to the floor. "The Orpacle?"

"Yes. She summoned me and while I was there, she had a vision-"

"She always has a vision," the president muttered. "She's two pickles short an aldorian maxleburger."

Ima resolutely continued, "I didn't understand most of what she said, but at the end of her trance her voice got real deep. She muttered for a bit and then I could make out three words, 'Galacorp,' 'essence,' and 'fashion.'" Ima sat back and waited expectantly.

Ug shrugged. "So she then spit out all these reports that you had stuffed in your bra?"

"No!" Ima snapped. "I warpedoed to Galacorp Corporate Headquarters on Robil 11 to
investigate. I had to place a few bribes here and there but it wasn't too hard to hack into their system and get those reports. And I found one more thing." Ima's hand went back down into the
front of her dress.

Ug rubbed his hand over his eyes and wondered how she had any room in there for her boobs.

Ima retrieved a piece of paper and held it out to Ug. Just as he reached for it, she changed her mind and snatched it away from him. She read it aloud. "To Blippir Cargledoo, Vice President of Sales.

"…Do not worry about the side effect of our new product. I already have a plan to take care of that problem. Right now just worry about getting that product out! I can see big profits and a BIG raise in your future.
From,
Doogle McFard
GALACORP CEO"


So folks, go ahead and critique my rewrite. How would you improve on what I did, or on
what the original writer did?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Plotting your Novel (Part 1)

The Muse conference is over for another year and I think I have enough material from my two chats to fill several blogs.

One of my presentations was called Plotting your Novel: One Way to Get from
Point A to Point Z and all the Places In Between. I had a terrific presentation all written up with cool exercises and everything but I must have saved something over it because it has disappeared. Grumble! I hate it when that happens.

But I am nothing if not resourceful so I will just pick myself up and move forward. When I was a little girl I loved playing with my dolls, and I would often pretend to tell them stories. I say "pretend" because what I would actually do is say something like, "Okay dolly, I'm going to tell you a story about a little girl who didn't listen to her mother." Then I'd skip right to the end and say, "So you see, dolly, that's what happens when little girls don't listen."

I thought that telling stories was a great thing to do, and I wanted to be the kind of person who told stories, but I just wasn't real good at the actual telling part. It was kind of like planning a trip to the top of Mount Everest and then walking through a transporter and voila! I come out on the other side and I'm standing on the peak of the mountain without having to mess with Sherpas and tents and water bottles and rock climbing gear.

However, real live story telling doesn't work that way. When you are telling a story, the journey is the important part and if you shirk on that, no one is really going to care about your fabulous ending. How much can you really say about standing on the top of Mount Everest, and how can your readers even begin to put it into context if they don't know what you went through to get there?

Plotting your novel is like planning a journey. The destination is the climax of the novel, and the body of the novel is all the stuff that happens between points A & B, and sometimes Points C, D &E as well.

So you want to write a novel. Why? What do you want people to come away from your novel with? My whole starting point for writing The Dead Detective was, "I want to write a book where the victim comes back as a ghost and solves his murder." That was the easy part—Bill and I started off the book by killing off our hero and we knew we were going to end it with Budge finding out the identity of his killer. The hard part was the stuff in between—we had to come up with a motive, a murderer, a method and lots of red herrings and memorable characters.

In my next blog, I'll discuss how Bill and I came up with our plot and give you some suggestions for how you can organize your plot.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Similes and Metaphors

As posted in the Southern Review

http://www.anvilpub.net/southern_review_of_books.htm

Every year, English teachers from across the country submit their most amusing similes and metaphors gleaned from high school essays. Here are some of the winners from 2007:

bullet He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
bullet She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
bullet She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
bullet Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
bullet John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
bullet Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
bullet The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
bullet It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
bullet He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Good Writers Don't Get Published

After a discussion among my authors about why their works were rejected, I put forth the following suggestions:

As far as why so many good writers have a hard time getting published, and why it’s so hard to sell short stories, here are some reasons from my own experience:

1. We can only buy so many short stories because of space and time limitations. Among the ones we buy, we need to make sure we have a variety of styles, genres and sub-genres. If we have our quota of stories about polka dot cyborgs, we aren’t going to take any more.

2. On a similar vein but slightly different, we don’t publish stories about telepathic hippos because our publisher hates hippos.

3. Because we have a story by Mr. Big Name writer in this issue, we can’t take two other stories that are actually better but nobody’s ever heard of those authors.

4. The story is 5000 words long, but we only have room for a 3000 word story,

5. The story is 1500 words long, but we need 2000 words to fill the space.

6. I like both these stories but I met this person at a convention last year so I’m going with his story.

7. Aw! It’s a story about cats! I love cats! Sure, it needs some work but the cats are so cute. Forget about all these others, we’re taking this one.

8. This is a great story, but every story in this issue was written by an orange alien from Alpha Centauri. We’d better look for something by a blue spaceman from Mars or else the Martians will complain that we are discriminating against them.

9. I’m in a really crappy mood today so I’m not taking anything unless the author’s name is JK Rowling.

10. These 5 stories are all terrific but I can only take one of them. I’ll throw a dart to see which one gets the nod.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Critique of Still Killing Children

{Editor's comments in blue.]

1950’s Yorkshire

Knowing he should not be daydreaming about inception day when he joined the Royal Air Force, especially whilst at the dance with his beloved wife, Peter was looking back at the reasonably recent and often thought about occurrence which amused him so much. [It is very hard to figure out what the writer is saying in this sentence. There are too many dependent clauses that just don't have anything to do with each other, and the use of the past participle (was looking) immediately removes the reader from the action.]
“Drop your trousers,” was the medical officer’s curt command, as the young men approached him one by one; some embarrassed but, typically when you get a few lads together, others were rather more brazen. [grammar issue, try substituting, "as is typical when a few lads get together"]
Pressing his fingers up into each of their groins, he issued a singular instruction.
It was Peter’s turn now as the non-commissioned officer issued his instruction once more.
“Cough”. Before continuing in a less formal manner, the examiner made a whimsical observation.
“Mark my words young man, you’ll be popular with the girls, those WAAF’s will love a big boy like you; you must have been at the front of the queue when they were handing out mutton daggers. Cough again, harder. Ok! Next.”
His quirky, un-official remark lightened the occasion, helping them all through the rigmarole of the primitive medical check-up, it caused a great deal of amusement among the lads who were still waiting, in alphabetical order of course, each with his waist band and fly buttons undone and at the ready.
I’ll bet his name is Jack, he thought, isn’t he the dull one. Then daring to respond, he slipped in a brazen answer, taking some of the thunder from his superior’s remark. [Tell us who's speaking. When you use a pronoun, make sure the reader can identify to whom it is referring.]
“Not quite at the front, you should see my older brother, he was first in the queue; I was second.”
Not wanting to be outdone by backchat from an erk the sergeant snapped out at Peter.
“Do you want to find yourself on a charge laddie?”
Feeling threatened and flustered, and not wanting to fall foul of the others wrath, especially on the first day, Peter quickly recognised that he was on shaky ground so he dutifully spat out an apology.
“Er! No sir, I mean Sarge, sorry.”
“I should hope so too, you could easily have gotten yourself seven days jinkers, if you carry on like that I’ll see to it that you get cashiered before very long.”
Then in a more relenting manner, and feeling, in front of the line up, that he had recovered his command of the situation, the medic offered a conciliatory observation.
“You don’t want that in your first week, do you? Becoming a Brylcreem Boy should be enough for now. You don’t want a black mark against you at this early stage in your military career.”
“No Sarge, sorry Sarge.”
“Right, let’s get on with this. Next.”
Everyone was glad when the examination was over; the slightest evidence that any one of them showing signs of a hernia knew it would immediately terminate their chances of getting into the Royal Air Force. [Grammar issue: subject-verb are not matched in the second clause. Try "they knew that the slightest evidence that any one of them showed signs of a hernia would result in immediate termination of their chances of getting into the royal air force."] Not a single entrant of the group of the twenty-seven young men had failed the somewhat decisive test. There were sighs of relief all round.
“OK, listen up. Take a form each from the table by the door as you leave. You have the rest of the day to be kitted out. Go to the appropriate departments on the list to get your uniform and other kit.”
One of the lads was about to ask where they should go first but his thoughts were interrupted.
“Use your initiative, if one department has a queue, jump ahead and go back later. You are about to become men, start acting that way. Anybody not completing the job today will most certainly be on a charge.”
Without another word, the sergeant pointed to the door as he glared at the hapless bunch.

Looking forward to joining the RAF, but waiting for the buff envelope to drop on the doormat, holding his call-up papers, Peter Stronglimb was pleased to be going off to serve his Queen and country, a two-year term of National Service was the norm. [This sentence doesn't make sense. It's got too many uncompleted thoughts here. Peter Stronglimb looked forward to joining the RAF, but waiting for the buff envelope holding his call-up papers to drop on the doormat ... what comes next? Peter Stronglimb was pleased to be going off to serve his Queen and country. (Okay. so?) A two-year term of National Service was the norm. (okay, so?)

Having to be away from his wife Christine didn’t go down very well but there was a poor selection of jobs in civvy-street. Inception day had been dealt with without getting into trouble. [But he did get into trouble. He drew the ire of the sergeant and was threatened with being put on a charge.] When the second day dawned, he found that if he wanted to serve merely the obligatory two years, there was a poor choice of trades chalked up on a large blackboard.

Overall Comments: Granted, there is very little of the manuscript to go on, but at this point if is hard to see the point of the entry paragraphs. You start with Stronglimb at a dance with his wife and immediately go into a flashback to his Inception Day, and then seem to go even farther back to his waiting for his call up papers, then once again, back to his inception. The reader is left feeling like a ping pong ball being hit at random. If you want to start with a flashback, then go directly into it-- and make sure the flashback is relevant and purposeful. Is the fact that he is at a dance with his wife relevant and purposeful? Is the process of the hernia exam relevant and purposeful?

My personal preference is for starting the story as late as possible- the reason being that you draw the reader in immediately. Readers of today are impatient- they've grown up with instant gratification and they expect it when they read. They don't want to sit through pages and pages and pages of build up. They want something to happen NOW.

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