The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

The writing process: The Query(ing) game

typewriter-1144164-639x426The Query – the dreaded next step from actually writing the story, manuscript, novel to getting it to the masses for consumption. To be able to share your story with the world, you have to first get it into the hands of someone in the industry who could make it happen. It is a difficult step for an author, especially new authors.

Whether you want to have your finished work published via traditional markets, e-books, Print on Demand or in journals/magazines, you need to Query. Querying can come in the form of a letter to an agent or publisher, but it is basically a pitch of your story to someone who has no idea what you have written. As many authors soon come to find out, it is harder to do a proper query than it is to write the book or story. And the pitch is not a step-by-step covering of your plot, it is a hook to grab the reader’s attention so they become interested in your book. The hook is nearly similar to what you would commonly see on the book jacket – it is the few sentences that either interest you or make you put it down.

For myself, it was a long arduous learning curve that I am still trying to master. When I first wrote my original book, my Query was shock full of mistakes. And those mistakes still carried over to the contemporary thriller, but where my fantasy failed, my thriller succeeded and I chalk that up to the market and genre. The point is, what works for one, does not work for another – and that goes especially true for agents.

Agents are people and they have their own tastes and wants. As an author, I forget that from time to time when I get a rejection or don’t hear anything. Agents have to be interested in the story, otherwise they are just wasting their time, which is as important to them as it is to you.

The same goes for the Query letter itself. I have gone to workshops and done webinars and bootcamps and learned one thing – everyone’s idea of a good query letter is different. Some agents want and expect one style, while another says something different. It is a difficult path to travel for authors because we think it should be easy since we wrote a full story – but we are wrong more often than not. While many agents follow a similar pattern, it is really pertinent to tailor each Query to the specific agent or publisher (even though most publishers want agent submissions, not unsolicited). It is good to have a stock letter, but to alter it each time with different tweaks to meet the agent’s needs/wants. It is good to have a solid few points to touch on from the plot, but make it fluid enough to alter if needed.

For example, in my story, I have an LGBTQ main character while also discussing a different take on religion in the future. In my basic letter, I don’t mention either because I know what type of hot topics those can become. But as I research different agents, I will add those parts if they mention they are drawn to that particular thing or if they want to see different perspectives. It is all about playing to the wants of an agent, but also not lying about your storyline. Not all agents request a Synopsis (another difficult piece to do for authors – keeping it one page, come on, that is super hard for us wordsmiths!), but that doesn’t mean you should exclude those things in the Synopsis. The Query and the Synopsis are two different animals and though I might not mention sexuality or religion in every Query, they are both in my Synopsis because they are integral to the overall plot.

With all that said, I am still trying to find representation for my novels. I have four completed books that are ready for the next step and it is up to me to persevere to get them to see the light of day. The query process might eventually be longer than it took me to actually write the books, but that is where a writer becomes an author.

Rejection is part of the game and you have to not take it personal. At first, I took it personal whenever I received a rejection, but I was younger and new to the process. Now, I look at it as part of the overall process. Querying is like taking a piece of you and putting it out there, it can be shot down and it does hurt, but like all things, to succeed, you have to push through. I know that there is someone out there who will fall in love with what I have written and it is up to me to find that person. If it takes me 1000 rejections to find that one who will take me to the next step, I will continue on (hopefully it doesn’t take that long!) with gusto and determination. That is the great thing about writing, it allows you to pour your heart on the page and let others into your world. I wouldn’t want to waste all that time I spent on writing it to just let it sit there and not be seen because a few people didn’t connect with it.

Interestingly enough, the day before writing this post, I participated in a Twitter pitch for my series. At first I thought it was even more difficult to condense the query down to 140 characters, but after the first few, it seemed easier for some strange reason. Social Media has changed the game, even from 2007 when I started the process. It has opened up new avenues for writers, created a larger community for us to get out there. I love it and truly enjoy interacting with others like me, other dreamers.

Dream on my friends and don’t give up on those dreams. I know I won’t. One day, the Dies Irae will be available for Fantasy Readers.