Saturday, July 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - "The Ciderman's Daughter"

It's week two of my Six Sentence Sunday adventure and I found it just as challenging to find six sentences this time.  These are from a work in progress tentatively titled, "The Ciderman's Daughter."

A little bit of background.  Rois is the daughter of a human and a shapeshifter.  She was raised by foster parents with no knowledge of her background.  As she reaches maturity, she begins to see other shifters in their animal forms, identifiable by a soft glow that surrounds them.  Once her own nature is discovered, she's forced to flee with Dray, a shapechanger whose other form is a wolf.  Dray has every reason to hate her--his bonded mate sacrificed her life to save Rois.  This scene happens as Rois tries to get Dray to tell her more about what he is and, in turn, what it means for her.

Between one step and the next Dray was back to his man-shape and striding across the space between them.  When he stood so close that she was forced to tilt her head at a sharp angle to look up at him, he said, "I am Aldred."

Rois knew he was trying to intimidate her, standing so close she barely had space to breathe without touching him.  "And what am I?"

"You," he said, touching her sternum with an outstretched finger, "Are a nightmare I'm cursed with.  Now hush and follow."

That's all for this week.  Next week I'll be at the Cascade Writers Workshop, so I won't be posting, but I'm looking forward to getting back the week after!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - "Moon Lantern"

Here it is--my first foray into the world of Six Sentence Sunday.  I found it challenging to find six sentences that I felt were enough to show character, setting, atmosphere and also not leave off in the middle of a thought.  It appears many of my paragraphs run five sentences.

For my first try, I dug into my short story, "Moon Lantern," which was published in 2004 by Abyss & Apex.  It felt safest to use something I already know worked for somebody.  Even so, as I look at it now, I see one place where I would cut were I editing it today.  Here you go!

Most nights I sleep behind the bar at The Moon Lantern. There’s a shadow there, away from the Lantern light. I can lie in that thin rectangle of darkness, safe from the light, and breathe the smell of the day’s customers. Some of the girls wear heavy perfume. Not the good stuff — the stuff that comes in little aerosol cans that say “just like Calvin Klein” on the labels. The smell lingers like something that died under the porch.

My inner editor twitches with the desire to excise the phrase, "safe from the light," but that's how it was published and how it shall stand.

Next time will be harder.  I'll have to dive into something untested.  Should be fun!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: "The 10% Solution: Self-editing for the Modern Writer" by Ken Rand

One of my most problematic tendencies as an author is to overwrite.  When I'm starting into a new piece, if there's a way to say something with four words instead of one, I'm likely to do it.  This is something I developed as a fledgling author back when I thought that if one adjective was good, then WOW, I could use EVEN MORE!!!  As I evolved--though practice, workshopping (both online and in-person), and study of how-to writing books--I learned the error of my ways.

Simply put, more is not better.  Precision is powerful.

Ken Rand's book, "The 10% Solution: Self-Editing for the Modern Writer," provides a framework to take your prose from verbose to streamlined in a direct, easy to follow format.  Let me be clear--this is not a book about plot, or characterization, or new ways to get in contact with your muse.  This is a book designed to clean up and polish your writing until it glows.

I wish I had found this book years ago.  I have learned, through lots of hitting and missing, many of the fundamentals, but seeing them laid out in front of me so clearly helped me to internalize them in a more concrete way than sort of hazily "knowing" them.

The title refers to the idea that your prose will be better if you can manage to cut 10% from your original draft.  It's not a specific goal, but an illustration of what you might achieve.  It also specifies that this is self-editing for the modern writer.  This is important, because the process involves using the "find" tool in your word processor so while it will work for the pen-and-paper types, it will be a lot more cumbersome.

There are a number of problem words that signal places where prose might not be strong.  This book helps you work through them in an organized fashion.  Mr. Rand also points out that it is up to the author to think through each instance, to be sure that changing the text will actually make things clearer, more immediate and active.

Another benefit of the 10% Solution is that it frees me up to be as overwrought as I want in my first draft.  I can write down many different images as I go and know that my editing process will allow me to go back and think about which is the right one to use in a given place.  Knowing that lets me move quickly without my internal editor shrieking obscenities as I go.  It will get its turn later.

I decided to try the 10% Solution on a piece of my own work from back when I was starting out.  I believe the piece is fatally flawed and unlikely to see the light of publication, but I wanted to see what happened when it had been edited using the 10% Solution.

The original piece was 5,000 words long.  When I was done, it clocked in at 3,400.  Obviously, 32% is a lot higher than the projected 10%, but, as I've previously mentioned, I'm quite wordy, especially my older work.

Below, I've included two examples of a scene section where the hero flees from an inn.  (Elia, for what it's worth, is the harp.)  The first version ran 126 words:

He quickly gathered what little was left of his supper: a crust of bread, a cube of pungent cheese, and an apple.  He laced Elia tightly into her case, grabbed up his sack, and slipped into the silent hallway.

With barely enough stealth as not to disturb the innkeeper, Bryon fled, down the stairs, through the common, and out to the stables.  Wingfala was awake, his eyes rolling, stamping at the muddy floor.  Bryon set the harp against the outside of the stall before entering to saddle the horse.
The darkness posed only small hindrance, for his hands knew their work, even without benefit of sight.  He moved quickly, and as he coaxed the bit between Wingfala's grinding teeth, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.
The edited version of the same scene is 71 words long.

He stuffed the remains of supper into his sack, laced Elia into her case and slipped into the silent hallway.

Bryon fled down the stairs, through the common room, to the stables.  Wingfala stamped at the muddy floor, eyes rolling.  Bryon set the harp outside the stall before entering to saddle the horse.

The darkness posed small hindrance.  His hands knew their work.  He coaxed the bit between Wingfala's grinding teeth.

I am convinced that Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution" is a tool that would be useful to anyone wanting to clean up their writing, if they are just beginning or have been receiving positive comments from editors without any sales--even if they are already selling.  It never hurts to revisit those things we "know" in a new way.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Into the Blogosphere

In Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," there are twelve stages the hero will pass through, beginning with the "Call to Adventure" (which this blog almost got named,) and ending with the "Return with the Elixir."  As I looked for a title for this blog, I was drawn to "Crossing the Threshold" because it speaks to me as I begin my own journey into the daunting world of the blogosphere.

"Crossing the Threshold" is, in the most simplified sense, the point of no return as the hero sets out on the journey.  I've already crossed what I see as several of the major thresholds of being a writer.  I've written, edited, submitted and published.

Once upon a time, I'd just keep doing those things, hopefully with more successes on the publishing side as I gain experience, but part of being a writer in this modern age is developing an online presence.  Even the big name authors at big name houses do this.  It's a way to reach new readers and keep currents ones updated and invested in what you are producing.  Of all the parts of being a writer, this is the one in which I have the least confidence.  Still, if this is a part of my journey, it's time to accept the "Call to Adventure."  This first post is my "Crossing the Threshold."

This blog will contain thoughts on the craft of writing, stories of success and the lessons learned from failure.  First up will be a review of Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution: Self-editing for the Modern Writer."

I'm looking forward to the adventure!