Writer In Motion: Space Cows 2: Self-edits

I wanted to share a little of my self-editing process as I did it, but I already got started a tad before I remembered to show my work. I thought I’d show you what my notes to myself sometimes look like as I work.

So what am I doing here?

First, I wanted clarity of story, with complete internal and external arcs, and a resolved plot.  I figured I could get the words for that by trimming the on-ship scene, as I feel there’s some repetition (cycling) there to cut out. 

As I did this, I got rid of all my stream-of-consciousness notes to myself (marked in the original by AA…). 

Once I had a decent draft, it’s time to strengthen it by looking at characterizations, polishing arcs, and descriptions.

Finally, line edits, such as weeding out unnecessary words and phrases and strengthening emotion and weaker words for stronger ones. Once it was as good as I could make it, I had the computer voice read it aloud (to increase my own criticism of it), and then ran it through AutoCrit for help seeing potential issues that I was too close to see (including some pesky tense errors!).

Completing arcs took the word count up to 1587, but it feels much more like a story rather than the scene that it was before. Still, it means I had a lot to cut, while maintaining those now finished arcs!

Behold: my self-edited version of Space Cows 2.


“This is where you’ll be going.” The Whale’s fin indicates the Beacon lighting the screen.

You give a show of attention. You aren’t going, after all—you just got back from a mission.

“We’ll need you, Cow.”

Good thing Cow faces are naturally docile. You flick your ears instead of giving voice to your frustration, especially when the Whale continues.

“And a Wolf.”

Your forestomachs clench at the thought of working with a Wolf.

“Investigate the Beacon and come back.” The Whale’s voice follows you out of Command. 

As you head toward the Drop Room, your mind races. The Beacon is some kind of call for help, but from whom, and why? And why is the Whale sending you, instead of a team of Wolves? Wolves are cunning and work well together. Just not so well with others. 

A Wolf joins you in the Drop Room, and you stare at the controls rather than look at him. You breathe deep. You’re ready for anything. 

Or so you think.

Splash! You flounder in the marsh, a bellow escaping your throat. Beside you, the Wolf struggles, the Matt clamped in his jaws. He goes under, then fights to the surface. Your stomach twists. If you lose the Matt, you’ll never get home.

“Climb on my back,” you grumble. 

The Wolf pants harshly as his claws dig into your hide. You try not to flinch. What other tricks might the Wolves play if you act like prey? You don’t want to find out. 

The squishy mud of the marsh sucks at all four hooves as you slog on, the Wolf lying on your back. When you finally meet dry land, the Wolf drops to his own feet and shakes himself. You do likewise as you stand back up on two legs. He holds the Matt, but his eyes are wide and ringed with white. Is he…frightened?

“Come on, we need to find the Beacon,” you say. 

He shivers, eyes never leaving the marsh. Your nostrils flare as you walk uphill, where you can see and smell more. 

“We’re stuck here, you stupid Cow.”

You stop, turning back to him, and wait for the next words to fall from his muzzle, dreading and hating them before they’re even born. 

His ears flatten. “I hung on to it. But the water… Just look! Do you see any lights?” He thrusts the Matt in your face. 

Your hooves stamp on the dirt, reassuring yourself that there is something solid in the universe, safe places in this nightmare. 

“We can’t get back.” The Wolf’s voice is full of bitterness.

“We’ll figure it out. The Beacon is still out there.”

“They’re not going to send anyone after us. We had the only working Matt.”

You shake your head. You slide backwards on the mud, but continue up the hill.

“We’re stuck here!” he shouts, as if you hadn’t understood.

“I’m still going to do my duty. I may be just a stupid Cow, but I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ll figure out a way home on my own if I have to.”

After all, you were given a mission: investigate the Beacon and come back.

And that’s exactly what you intend to do.

Once you’re halfway up the hill, the Wolf appears beside you like a ghost, and you Do. Not. Spook. No, that quick breathing is all exertion. You lumber on to the top. 

The Beacon lights the sky above a settlement, crisp against the ocean, with a tall metal fence rusted by the salt air. The gate creaks open to allow you in. Settlers fill the space, their physiology eerily similar to the monsters from the previous planet. You shiver. You can’t help it, even though the Wolf gives you a toothy grin. 

“The Wolves are here!” The person who opened the gate flaps hairless arms. “And they brought…” He furrows his brow, “…food?”

“Might as well,” the Wolf says. “Since I can’t return to my ship.”

The gate clangs shut, displaying a bared-tooth wolf carved on the inside. Terror slams through you, electrifying all your nerves, but you can’t be prey. Not with that look in the Wolf’s eyes. 

“But the Beacon!” you shout nonsensically. 

“Yes, we lit it as instructed when the water purifier broke. See?” The person leads you to a large rusty machine—a water desalinator.

“We’re supposed to help you.” You stamp, desperate for time. “At least let me try to fix it.” 

“I suppose you can have until evening,” the settlers agree. 

You crouch by the machine. The nearby marsh must be fed by freshwater, so there must be a nearby source. Even if not, there are other ways of getting salt out of water. But you’re trapped inside a fence with people and a Wolf all looking at you like dinner. A wire catches your eye. As dusk settles on the settlement, you realize: the desalinator may never work again, but it could power the Matt, now that the sun has dried it. 

“Time’s up: the people are hungry, and it’ll take a while to cook you,” the Wolf says. 

You finish mashing the new wire with the old to splice it, using the exterior of the Matt to shape it. 

The Wolf’s paw lands on your shoulder. “What are you…”

“Not such a stupid Cow.” You keep the Matt well away from him. “I can go home anytime.”

“Let’s go then!” the Wolf’s eyes gleam. 

“You were going to let them eat me!”

“Come on, Cow, it was just a joke.”

“Fine then. I have a joke of my own.” 

As he opens his mouth, you press the button, Matt’ing up to the ship. 

After your report, the Whale agrees with your assessment, and together you send a message, both to the Wolf on the surface and those on the ship. The Wolf can rejoin his pack… after he turns the Wolf carving into a Cow. 

This version comes in at 990 words, and while there’s still some things nagging at me, I’m much happier with it.

Writer In Motion, round 2

Writer In Motion is back with a swanky new website and forums and I’m so excited to join in again (without the editor feedback this time, but I’m still overflowing with motivation)!

Check out this prompt:

Image by engin akyurt from Pixabay

I want to continue my Space Cows saga (which I intend to eventually do a reader magnet for) , so that’s constraining my creativity a tad, which is not a bad thing. And then, looking at the prompt, I started thinking, hmm… Current ideas are a beacon, a last stand, fearlessness, and some vague ideas I can’t put words to just yet.

So this week I will post my first draft, along with all the other WIM participants. If you haven’t thought about joining us, you should! I love seeing all the wonderful stories that come from the prompts, and this time there’s a delightful forum for us to mingle in, as well as all the Twitter shenanigans.

Check out the project schedule:

Windward Cover Reveal!

Windward is almost here, and I’m psyched to share it with the world!

What’s it about? It’s a classic fantasy adventure story with a spotlight on the bond between a woman and the dragon she chose over leading an ordinary life. Read on:

When dragons fight, mountains weep.

In nests high in the mountains, dragons and dragonbonded share their lives, thoughts, feelings, and ambitions.

Palon and her partner, the dragon Windward, are renowned among their nest for their flying skill. Their days are filled with everything she loves, especially riding the wind. Even being tasked with teaching their way of life to Tebah, a rebellious newly bonded teenager, can’t bring her down too much.

But when treasures from the dragons’ hoards are found in Palon’s collection, her idyllic life comes crashing down. She battles to prove her innocence, while her every move is cast as further evidence against her. Tebah’s suspicion, homesickness, and defiance would be frustrating even in easy times. With Palon in the spotlight while her rivals smear her name at every turn and stir up plots of revenge, her teenage charge’s behavior proves dangerous.

Dragon tempers shorten, and challenges and disputes shake the ground. Palon will have to trust more than just herself if she hopes to once more own the sky.

Coming September 27th, Windward is available for pre-orders now!

And now… for the moment of truth…

The reveal!

WindwardFC_Text_190905

I love my cover. I love the feeling of movement, and the colors, and the feeling that brings to mind all the classic speculative fiction I devoured as a kid. Dave Brasgalla has been amazing to work with and I’m so fortunate he loved working on my cover so well! It really mimicked the process of editing and polishing the words itself, the constant attention to detail and the way I was able to watch it somehow get better and better with each rendition.

My ARCs are out and in the hands of readers, and I can’t describe the giddy feeling of seeing my work in someone else’s hands! (Pictures have been sent back to me of people holding their ARCs, and I love it!)

 

So: September 27th, Windward goes live! The first several orders of the print book have the option to send me their receipt in exchange for a free Windward cuff bracelet inspired by dragonbonded fashion. The offer lasts until supplies run out.

Enjoy!

Windward is coming!

I’ve been working like crazy putting the last polishes on Windward ahead of its release in early August! Most of my final readers have sent me back their feedback and the rest are coming soon so I can make final polishes. I’m super fortunate to be able to work with David Brasgalla as my cover artist, and he’s been sending me some amazing concept art that I just have to share! I’ve never worked with an artist before, so I’ve been learning so much.

Take a look at this concept art for Palon! I literally could stare at this all day if I didn’t need to finish stuff so you all can read. Dave really captured her attitude here.

Windward_-_Palon_Concepts

I got a draft of the cover too so I could tweak anything that needed tweaking. I love the design of this though- it’s got that classic heroic fantasy feel that manages to encompass the style of the book and how I hope readers feel as they take this journey along with me. Even the dragon nests will be there, in the background on the back cover, and details like the style of WINDWARD on top are spectacular. I can’t wait to see if fleshed out and in color.

Windward_-_Cover_Comps

In the past week, I’ve been working hard designing and fashioning leather cuff bracelets which will be given away with the first several print copies. I almost have the look the way I want it, and I’ll post when I have it just right!

Are you excited? Because this is really happening! I just have to set a date and I can open up to pre-orders. The sky is theirs… but Windward can be yours!

Do you want a chance to read it early? I’d love the reviews, so I’m happy to give out some Advance Reader Copies if you want to spread the word. Simply fill out the form below, and check out Windward’s blurb on my Books page if you haven’t already!

 

 

 

Telling vs Showing

So there’s tons of blog posts and articles and other information out there on how to “show not tell”, which is one of the main pieces of advice new writers hear and themselves spout. I’m not going to talk about how to do that- I want to talk for a moment about when to show, not tell.

Yes. Sometimes, you want to tell.

Why? Great question, because it informs When and that helps you use this tool appropriately. When you show what’s going on, you decrease distance, increase your reader’s buy-in, and thereby increase tension, all through immersion. When you tell, you increase distance and lose tension. So you need to be aware of that corresponding decrease in tension when you have a section of telling- you’ll have to work to regain that tension afterward. Also, keep in mind a book that is constantly super deep and super showy and super tense and involved can be wearying for some readers. Backing off gives a moment of rest to then let them be drawn back into your net recharged and ready to re-engage.

I put it simply. Show when the moment is important and you need your reader engaged in your character’s struggle. This is going to be most moments. You can tell when you’re just moving the story along from point to point in time or space. This will be the vast minority of times.

So for instance, this is a passage from Windward:

“They gathered, the bonded riding on their dragons, winding single file down the rocky slope. The light mist retreated from them, leaving behind droplets to adorn hair and scales as the morning sun burned the last of it away with gentle heat. Claws scraped on the rocky soil, and the sweeping rasp of scaled tails as they made their way down the path filled the heavy air like a funeral song. The rocks rose, bald domes jutting up from forested crowns around which the slight breeze toyed with the scent of fresh soil, damp mosses, and sawdust.”

Do you smell it? Do you see it? Do you feel it? I sure hope so, or I failed as a writer. This is a heavy moment in the story, a moment for showing.

She and Aturadin had even taken to sleeping outside her room to protect her from further visits from Laetiran, though other bonded whispered at the unusual arrangements. And still the girl remained prickly, while the days went by and Palon couldn’t find the time to fly—not without leaving the girl unguarded. Dragonfire blast through her if she didn’t try everything to reach the girl.

Now here, the fact that they’re spending their nights sleeping outside the room is important, but actually showing it would be boring, since nothing happens. But the fact that it’s happening is the important part. The same goes for Palon’s increasing frustration- but here we start to slip back toward showing, until the last line is thoroughly in Palon’s head again, giving the reader her thoughts on the situation: Dragonfire blast through her.

Other great times to tell are if you have a traveling moment, where you’re just getting characters from A to B. “The road to Arbah had been long and dusty, and he had been certain the sun would roast them long before they saw the city gates.” We’re not showing the journey because the journey doesn’t matter. The fact it happened does, because we need to bring the reader along with us. Same with jumping forward in time. If nothing happens for 3 weeks or even 3 days, please don’t show the reader! I’ve read passages like that and it’s just plain boring. If your character is bored and you’re showing that boredom, your reader will be bored.

The times when you tell should be short and sweet. You want to keep as much of your character’s voice as you possibly can in the telling, too. Then switch back to showing the moment you can, and immediately immerse the reader back in the sights, sounds, feels, and emotions of the goings on around your character.

Happy writing!

 

 

Oh, synopses, you wonderful, awful things…

So I just finished powering through another round of edits for Windward to prepare it for RevPit, despite feeling like my brain was leaking out my ears. Yesterday afternoon saw me chugging water and passing out on the couch from busting my butt to beat the deadline (last weekend saw me entering Writers of the Future, so it’s been… a thing).

Anyway, now that I can think and type and actually use words again I wanted to talk about something that I hate. I hate it worse than query writing guys. The dreaded synopsis.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m good at writing synopses, because I really suck at them. But I write them anyway. Why? They are such a valuable tool to check and make sure your story didn’t go off track (especially if you are a discovery writer like me. My stories are always going “track? What track? What’s down this hiiillllllll?!”) Here’s the breakdown.

Synopses can show you plotholes. When you’re writing, it can make total sense that Character A goes off with Character B, but then when you’re reducing that chapter to two sentences for your synopsis and you can’t think of a single good reason for that event… Time to edit! Similarly, because the previous chapter was also two sentences, you can look back and realize that the real answer was there all along! (Why did they fix Thor’s Hammer in Stargate if they weren’t going to use it to de-Goa’uld-ify Share’ when she was pregnant like three episodes later?)

Synopses show you slow sections. If you find you have nothing to write about what happened for an entire chapter… that could be a problem. It’s time then to take another look and see if you can spice things up. Increase the tension, add in a fight, throw in some drama, whatever. Just make sure your random-giant-bashing-through-a-mountain then also still makes sense after the fact.

Writing your synopsis can help you pin down your themes. Then, you can go back through in editing and polish those themes till they shine, creating a cohesive story instead of a series of semi-related events. This is something I really struggled with, and still do some.

Synopses aren’t just for agents and editors. They aren’t something to avoid at all costs. Instead, they are a tool you can use even previous to submitting to agents and editors, to really clean up your story.

 

Breaking Rules

I wrote this February 15, 2017 but I’m leaving it up, and then going to talk about what I’ve learned in the last two years.

So getting traditionally published is notoriously difficult. It seems only a fool would stack those odds even more against themselves. It also seems I am one of those fools.

I’m a big believer in following your passions, especially when they are hobbies. I’m not going to be able to write well if I’m trying to force myself to write something I don’t care about. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this project breaks a lot of traditional rules.

First, I have multiple protagonists, which means multiple people to make known to the reader and forge a connection between. Second, those protagonists all know each other extremely well, having grown up together, so it’s not like they’re constantly learning new things about each other than I can use as a window for the reader. Third, they’ve all lived in the culture we begin in all their lives, so again, no good window (though having Eian helps just a bit for that, because children force adults to explain things they take for granted). This culture is significantly different from Western civilization in a number of important ways, but the trick is to convey that without boring or preaching at the reader. Fourth, the protagonists are not new to their powers. Oh, and I’ve never been before published under any name, and have a series here to pitch. Five and Six.

This is not a coming of age story. This is not a traditional “go kill the dragon and return home triumphantly” story, either.

 

So, I think it’s important to know how your story stands out. I love all the ways Between Starfalls sets itself apart from many other fantasy novels. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there like it. But focusing too much on the differences, it can be hard to find the target audience. Also, to be perfectly honest, I was a little bitter.

I’m past that now, I think. I’ve decided self-publishing is the best thing for me, for this series, and so I’m actually grateful my book didn’t get picked up. One of the main reasons I wanted to do traditional publishing was to avoid the marketing. I didn’t realize then that traditional published authors still have to do a lot of their own marketing (unless they’re a big name). Additionally, as I’ve grown and improved, so has my manuscript. It is so much better now than it was then, it’s really no wonder it wasn’t picked up.

So yes, differences matter. Finding a new lens to look in on a story can be difficult. But don’t be bitter, and find the similarities, too. Good luck!