Vlog: 5 Tips for Pacing Your Novel

Tips for Avoiding the Saggy Middle

You already know about the 3-Act Structure, you’ve experimented with beat sheets, and you’ve tried using script writing techniques to punch up the drama, but you’ve still got sections of your novel that lag.

Now what?

5 Tips for Pacing Your Novel

Tips for Avoiding the Saggy Middle

You already know about the 3-Act Structure, you’ve experimented with beat sheets, and you’ve tried using script writing techniques to punch up the drama, but you’ve still got sections of your novel that lag.

Now what?

This was a panel at Balticon51. The panelists were Gail Z. Martin, Ken Schrader, Paul Cooley, and Michael Ventrilla.

1. Every scene needs a beginning, middle, and end

There are two main ways you can look at this.

You can look at it where a scene has:

  1. Conflict
  2. Action
  3. Resolution/Conflict

Or, you can look at it wherein a ‘scene’ is the action part of the chapter and the sequel is the rumination or explanation of what just happened.

  1. “Scene”
  2. “Sequel”

Jim Butcher uses this technique with great success. He interweaves multiple Points of View (POVs), so we’re always anticipating the “sequel” of the other character’s previous “scene”.*

2. Action isn’t always violence

  • tension
  • stress
  • interaction
    • Fighting
    • Arguing

3. All chapters should end unresolved

I know, it sounds like I’m saying we should stop every chapter in the middle of the action, at a climatic moment. She just plummeted from a cliff! He just screamed a confession/plot-point. But there are more subtle ways to do it.

  • Mid-action
  • Raise a new question (in the reader and/or main character’s head)
  • Bring a new/old problem brought to the forefront — make it something that needs to be addressed next

4. If you’re bored, your readers will be bored

Avoid Long sections with no action

  • Cut words/pages from the long, boring section
  • Split them up with
    • Action
    • Conversation

Spice up info-dumps

  • Comic relief
  • Arguments
  • Have something interesting happening! While the information is being conveyed

5. Learn from the experts

Be analytical about the novels you like, the ones where the pace really works for you. Look at them and decide exactly what it is that gives the effect you like.

Reread and outline your aspiration novels. Really study them.

Practice and slowly diminish the time you leave for the “sequel”, and punch up the “scenes”.


Take these techniques and play with them. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Paying attention to some of my favorite writers, has led me to experiment with chapter length. Without rewriting a word, I’ve found you can often build tension by making shorter and clippier scenes.


What have YOU learned from reading?
What writers do you think get it right? Who gets it wrong?

Video Blog: 4 Steps Towards Finding The Right Editor

When you’ve done all you can do on your novel, but you think it could still be better. Or you’re just tired of form letter rejections to your queries: Sometimes, the next step is to hire an editor. But, how do you know if they’re right for you?

With a bit of research and due diligence, you should be able to find an editor who takes your novel and makes it shine.

[This post is also available in standard blog format here]


What tips and tricks do you have for finding the right editor for you?

*
Any (anonymous) horror/serendipitous stories you’d like to share?

4 Steps Towards Finding the Right Editor

When you’ve done all you can do on your novel, but you think it could still be better. Or you’re just tired of form letter rejections to your queries: Sometimes, the next step is to hire an editor. But, how do you know if they’re right for you?

‘Judging An Editor’s Work’ was a panel at #balticon51. The panelists were: Joy Ward, Jean Marie Ward, Jamaila Brinkley, Jennifer Levine, and Sue Baiman. I’ve edited the notes to apply to freelance editors for hire, although the panel also addressed editors within a publishing company.

Here are 4 steps towards finding the right editor.

1- Polish It On Your Own First

You’ve finished your novel. You’ve read it over, revised it, copy-edited it. You had beta-readers (volunteer readers) read through. You had a critique partner (another writer) or three give you feedback. You’ve seen how clean and polished you can get your manuscript on your own. (You’ve thought this stage would never end… ) Only now should you even think about getting an editor.

If you send it unpolished to an editor, the line-edits, formatting, small continuity issues will distract them and they won’t be able to pay attention to the details. It will waste their time and your money.

2- Finding An Editor

You’re ready to find an editor, how do you find the right one?

Who To Ask To Edit Your Novel

  • Ask other authors for suggestions
  • Follow authors you like and see who they mention
  • Check the dedication and acknowledgements pages in books similar in voice and style to yours and see who they had. Sometimes they’re private editors, but sometimes it’s an editor who freelances
  • I’m part of the PitchWars community and many of the mentors are freelance editors. Reaching out to their previous mentees is a good way to find suggestions

What Type of Editor Do You Need

There are three main types of editors, as I’ve mentioned before.

  1. Copy Editor – who looks for the writing mechanics. Also, they check for continuity – internal and, where necessary – should also check historical/scientific/etc continuity
  2. Line Editor – who looks for typos, spacing, and punctuation.
  3. Developmental Editor – who looks at the story — focusing on writing as a craft
    • Scenes that don’t support the theme
    • Plot Holes
    • Weak characterization
    • Inconsistent voice
    • Poor pacing

Ask For a Sample Edit

Ask for a sample edit. Any professional editor should be willing to do a sample edit: a query, 5 pages, etc.

This is so you can know if you can work with them – if their time frame works with your schedule, if their voice works for your story, if their editing style is too soft/harsh for you. And it’s also so they can know if they can work with you!

3- Red Flags

You’ve found an editor, but you’re not sure if you can trust them. What do you look out for?

  • Editors who find nothing.
  • Editors who don’t communicate with you – no updates, no feedback, no questions.
    • (Like house contractors – Jamaila Brinkley)
  • Editors who aren’t bringing out the best in your work.
    • This one’s subjective–but so is writing.
    • Are they fixing the words and sentence structure, but somehow missing the vibrancy your world needs?
    • Are they not able to see the brilliance hidden behind the tarnished words you don’t know how to polish?

4- When To Push Back

You’ve found an editor you can work with, you trust them, but this edit just doesn’t feel right to you.

  1. Reflect on their edit. Step back if you need to and sleep on it.
  2. Never reply to the editor in frustration, (especially if you’re not sober). And probably give it a day or two even if you are.
  3. Try to figure out WHY they suggested that edit.
  4. Remember that edits are suggestions, not ‘corrections’. You can take their advice and see it as a starting point.
    • You can change their edit into something that uses your own writing voice
    • You can see what they’re trying to fix and clarify it earlier, so the editor’s confusion is resolved without the suggested edit.
    • You can see the problem that the edit is trying to fix and do it your own way.
    • You can see their edit, decide it doesn’t matter, and skip it.
  5. If you can’t see what they’re trying to fix, ASK.
    • A simple, “What are you trying to show here?” to the editor is always permitted.
    • Don’t be accusatory or defensive. Be open and listen before casting judgement on their edit and their reasoning.
  6. Remember to pick your battles. The editor had reasons for their edits, don’t decide to negotiate on them all.

With a bit of research and due diligence, you should be able to find an editor who takes your novel and makes it shine.


Today’s blogpost is also available on my youtube channel:
Morgan’s Online Blog: In Video Format


What tips and tricks do you have for finding the right editor for you?

*
Any (anonymous) horror/serendipitous stories you’d like to share?

PitchWars is Coming! #PimpMyBio

Welcome to my All-About-Me blogpost. As we hit July, we’re coming up close to my 1 year anniversary of joining the PitchWarrior-hopefuls-club!* Another round of PitchWars is almost upon us, so it’s time for me to tell update you about me and my current project. Since PitchWars seems partial to gifs, this is a gif-ier post than I usually do, but have at!

My lair has more books and less gold than Smaugs…

My name is Morgan and I write YA Fantasy from my lair in Northern Virginia. (Well, at least right now I’m writing YA, who knows what it will be next time.) By day, I write software, by night I write novels and blog my adventures and writing tips here as I glean them on my journey towards publication. Plus, I just started putting some of my blogposts on YouTube. (THAT was pretty intimidating)

I help run 2 facebook support groups for PitchWarriors past and present. I like to think I represent the writing extrovert (or at least, the writing ambivert).

PITCHWARRIORS and the PitchWars YA Subgroup

Both groups are active, friendly, and happy to help their fellow competitors/writers.** It’s an amazing thing, being able to talk to people at the same stage in their writing careers. People who know the struggle of FINISHING a novel and REVISING it. People who have done their research about how to query, and have ended up alongside you on this journey.


I’ve attended Balticon, DragonCon, InterventionCon, and the Steampunk World’s Fair,  attending up to 20 hours of panels on writing, editing, and publishing per long weekend. Most of my notes end up in my blog. While at conventions, I’ve been known to cosplay. Especially bad puns. I also worked with the webcomic guests at the anime convention KatsuCon for 6 years, partially to feed my webcomic addiction.


Go Team Mystic!

When I’m not doing something writing related, I lend my voice to the folktale podcast, Anansi Storytime. In my (hahaha! Imaginary) spare time, I like taking long Pokewalks, taking pictures of nature, and pretending I’m actually going to start going back to the gym again. I’m also a gamer (although, I’m down to 1 monthly D&D game). Oh, and of course I enjoy watching TV with my friends. Currently, we’re watching ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Grace and Frankie’. Recently watched were ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’, ‘Gilmore Girls’, and we’re a few season behind on ‘Lost Girl’ and ‘Once Upon A Time.


twins

Morgan & her twin

I come from a family of Science Fiction and Fantasy readers. My dad’s heavily involved in fandom and is an aspiring writer himself. Meanwhile, my mother was a high school librarian for nearly 30 years and these days works on her massive to-read pile–when it’s not raid night #Alliance. One fun fact about me, I’m an identical twin. She’s not a writer, but she does help manage a local library!


My current project is FLESH AND INK, a matriarchal mash-up between The Golden Compass and the movie Frozen, with a hint of Avatar.

Lilyen loves her apprenticeship as a religious inker-of-flesh, even if it’s nothing compared to her little sister’s prestigious scholarship to the holy Domina’s Academy. But Lilyen’s years of training are jeopardized when her father spots her demon-stains—blue demonic letters that should only appear on those who’ve consorted with demons.

If the church finds out, they’ll kill her and sentence her family to twenty years of hard service, destroying her sister’s future. Lilyen flees her home before risking anyone else, desperately following rumors of others like her—demon-stained exiles living in hiding.

Things I love about FLESH AND INK:

  • Lilyen’s unwavering faith in her Goddess. Even as her church/country hunts her, even as she learns about the church’s lies, even when she learns what they’ve been doing to her sister, she recognizes the fallible state of humanity.
  • The world and the magic. How the elements correlate to each other and to the world.
  • Finding ways to play with patriarchal norms that we don’t even notice.
  • The way sexual orientation in my world isn’t either/or, it’s about the person.
  • That, while my story includes love interest(s), they’re a side issue, not the drive of the story.
  • The technological level. I envision it as a sort of anime level (think almost Miyazaki’s films: The Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke), (elemental powered) trains, bikes, but no phones, no weapons of mass destruction.)

P.S. Hufflepuff, because you can be clever, ambitious, and brave, but it’s best when you put people before ideals.

IMG_1055


PitchWars is an annual contest, run by the amazing Brenda Drake, that takes authors who are polishing their novels for that all-important agent query, and pairs them with mentors! If selected, in 2 months, the mentees will completely revamp their novels, making it ready in time for the Agent Round, where real agents read their queries and first pages and potentially make offers!  Last year, I was not selected, but I did find a wonderful group of supportive writers!

**  Feel free to join, but send me or one of the other admins a note, especially if your account is private, so we can verify you aren’t a spam account!

Video Blogpost: What Lies Beneath: Adding Subtext to Your Novel

What Lies Beneath:

Adding Subtext To Your Novel

In real life, people are not necessarily open and honest about their feelings, their intentions, or their actions. Sometimes they try to hide them, and sometimes, they honestly don’t know themselves.

In my 2nd video blog, I discuss:

  • what subtext is
  • where to find subtext in media AND real life
  • PLUS! 7 tips to add subtext to your own writing.

What examples of subtext do you have?
Do you have any stories about picking up on subtext… after the fact?

What Lies Beneath: Adding Subtext To Your Story

In real life, people are not necessarily open and honest about their feelings, their intentions, or their actions. Sometimes they try to hide them, and sometimes, they honestly don’t know themselves.

In writing, it adds to a character, helping round them out from 2-dimensions into 3 if you can figure out how to add the sub-text.

Sub-text is how you manage a big reveal or plot twist at the end of your book and have readers go “Oh! Of course!” rather than feeling cheated or misled.

But how do you add subtext to your novel?

At #Balticon, I attended a panel on Adding Subtext, featuring Sarah Avery, Bernie Mojzes, Gail Z. Martin, and Mike Van Helder.

What exactly IS subtext?

It’s the non-verbal communication piece. Often you find that developing writers spell out more than established ones, so it can be a sign of skill. They’re things that the reader can pick up on that the Point of View character might miss. It’s not good to rely on it for plot, but it’s amazing at filling in the world.

Finding subtext in books and media

Subtext lends itself more to some genres than other.

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy

Others it doesn’t work as well

  • Ayn Rand
  • Traditional pulp mysteries
  • High action
  • Thrillers

But, you can find amazing amounts of subtext in things you’d least expect. Children’s movies, and even Wiley Coyote and Bugs Bunny had huge amounts of in-jokes and cultural references in the background. It’s a great way to make a media accessible to children AND adults.

Subtext in older novels can really show the biases and cultural understandings of the time.

Subtext isn’t always intentional!

  • When you look back at all the random things you thought were simply part of the world, about 4/5ths the way through the book, and you realize [as a writer] you’ve actually been building to [Major Plot Reveal].
  • After writing a scene with dialogue, rereading it can be very enlightening, to learn about your characters and what they reveal through their reactions.

Finding Subtext In The Real World

The more repressed a society is, the more likely their subtext says more than their words. When you’re being watched and have to be on your best behavior to not show the wrong emotion, it has to come out some way.

Next family gathering, sit there and watch and see how much doesn’t need to get said. That’s conveyed with half a word and a look.

Both ambassadors and con-men are extremely skilled at subtext. That’s how they convince people to work with them.

Abuse victims are skilled at picking up on it–and start to pick up on it when it isn’t there.

In Japan, subtext Is the text. To  the unacquainted, they miss what’s really being ‘said’. Men have a grunting language. It’s not even the sound or tone. It’s all in the timing and how they grunt. When offered something , unless you say no the right way, they think you’re simply  being polite.

If you think about it, paranoia could be classified as a subtext disorder — seeing subtext where there isn’t any!

Ways to incorporate subtext!

  • Use vowel repetition/word sound/or alliteration for a scene feel
  • Slip in iambic pentameter
  • Have different subtext between a character and the narrator
  • Try to imagine the scene you’re writing as a film shot
  • Change Anglo-Saxon words to Romance language versions (in English, the Romance version comes from the Norman invasion and was more nobility, versus commoner.)
  • Have characters of power/with more agency be unaware of subtext – because they don’t have to worry about controlling their reactions as much!
  • Have Character A respond to Char B as if they were Char C! It reveals how they’re different with different people and some about who Char C is.

Writers and Media to look at for subtext

  • Shakespeare. He uses “subtext like a scalpel.”
  • “Lost In Translation”
  • Hemingway
  • “Supernatural” – the music adds a lot on context.
  • “What Every Body Is Saying”
  • “The Full Fact Book Of Cold Reads”
  • “Winning Through Intimidation”
  • “Death of the Author” – Roland Bart
  • Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden books.

What examples of subtext do you have?
Do you have any stories about picking up on subtext… after the fact?