Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tips on Fixing Chapter One

The accomplished writer Patricia Wrede is giving tips on her blog on fixing chapter one of your manuscript. These are very helpful.

I think you’ll see why from the post titles:
    Fixing Chapter One, part one
    Fixing Chapter One: Why
    Fixing Chapter One: Character
    Fixing Chapter One: Plot
    Fixing Chapter One: Background, setting, backstory
    Fixing Chapter One: Putting it all together
    Moving on (chapters 2 and 3)

In my own (unpublished) experience, it is best if the first sentence tells the reader something personal about the character, has some action, and gives some idea of the physical background. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Posting at Misha Gericke’s today

Hello, everyone. I’m doing a guest post at Misha Gericke’s blog today. Her blog has the ambitious title The Five Year Plan. You can find out more about that and my post by heading over there.

Please feel free to leave a comment there. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Novel: How not to handle

My previous post showed how much I liked the movie Edge of Tomorrow. But the people in charge have bungled the novel to go with it. When you see this cover, you would expect a novelization of the movie, wouldn’t you?

But it’s no such thing. Edge of Tomorrow was based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Instead of a vast military force flying in from Great Britain to fight aliens on the European continent, the force is from Japan, fighting in China. Instead of Major Cage (played by Tom Cruise), the main character is a Japanese kid named Keiji Kiriya.

Since this is not a negative blog, I’ll just say the novel didn’t really seem to be my style. But it could be interesting to others, if the packaging were different. And there’s the rub.

When the 2001 Planet of the Apes movie came out, it was only loosely based on the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle. A novelization of the movie was written, and both books were sold in bookstores. But they were packaged so a reader could tell the difference between the original novel and the novelization of the movie.

And that’s how to do it. Spend the money to make a true novelization, instead of just throwing (in this case) an Americanized cover on a significantly different foreign work. Science fiction readers are open enough that they could get interested in the original Japanese version. As it is, some fans will get deeply disappointed when they realize they’ve picked up something different from what the cover advertised.

Of course, if the publishers want to contact me to do a quick hack writing job based on the script, I’m available.   

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of Edge of Tomorrow

Drafted into combat, William Cage, a self-centered coward, finds himself in a desperate battle against grotesque aliens who have overrun Europe. Although the humans are wearing armored jackets with built-in weapons, they get slaughtered. He spots Sergeant Vrataski, a woman who has killed over a hundred aliens, but they both get killed.

Cage (Tom Cruise) wakes up on the eve of the invasion and is forced to go into the same battle. This time he momentarily saves Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who tells him to find her when he wakes up. They both die again.

On the eve of battle again, she tells him the same thing happened to her—the aliens can see the future, and he has accidentally tapped their ability so that he relives the battle each time he’s killed. She went through it herself three hundred times. Now she will train him to help win the war.

As Cage relives the battle over and over again, he becomes a super soldier himself. But can these two individuals turn the tide?

photo by MTV Live 

Edge of Tomorrow has done it. They actually show an army of live actors marching off to war in what in Japan would be called mecha suits. The close ups show the intricate details of the armored jackets: servos that give extra power to the limbs, straps to keep them attached to the bodies, clips for fast reloading, and multi-language displays.

Also, the military details are bell-ringing: When Cage frantically asks regarding his weapons, “Where’s the safety?” the cynical reply is, “Exactly.” When Cage blabs too much about how they’ll all get killed, Sergeant Major Farell (Bill Paxton) has his mouth duct-taped. And Paxton is a delight as the Kentuckian who gives his harangue on combat as “the great equalizer.”

Comparisons have been made to the movie Groundhog Day, but Edge of Tomorrow is really more like gaming, with the player getting killed while trying to achieve more difficult levels. For instance, Cage directs Vrataski to advance thirty yards beyond a trench, then face to the right and fire, even though she won’t see the alien yet. And in a pivotal scene, she asks him, “What do we do now?” He replies, “I don’t know. We’ve never gotten this far.”

photo by gdcgraphics

But this movie is not just for gamer guys who have emerged from their man caves. Women will also enjoy watching Emily Blunt, she of the steel triceps, as she never lets up on being a soldier. She is able to whack aliens to death with what looks like a club/sorority paddle. And Tom Cruise still delivers when it comes to action movies.

It’s not all dreary battle—some of the first times that Cage wakes up again are quite funny. But the title made me think it was a soap opera when I first saw it. The phrase developed for the marketing campaign, “Live Die Repeat,” would have been much better. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Word Length – Cut, Cut, Cut

I’ve had more than one freelance editor go over my manuscript for The War of the Worlds and Fairies, but the more recent once gave me some inside baseball on word length. But first, let’s go over the starting figures.

At science fiction conventions and writers conventions, I’ve been told that adult fiction should be between 80,000 and 120,000 words, depending on the genre. My manuscript came out at 121,000 words. So before I let this editor see it, I cut 2,000 words from the first three chapters. (This isn’t as radical as it sounds—for some reason, I had people just standing around too much). You know how those studies show that if one product is offered for $100.00, and the same thing is offered for $99.99, people think the second one is a much better deal? I was hoping that 119,000 would look a lot better than 121,000.

Public domain

Well, it didn’t. This editor let me know that publishers have contracts with bookbinders that actually include a page limit. In practical terms, a novel from a new writer needs to be less than 100,000 words. It takes extra money to go beyond that, which they will for an established writer. We all know they sometimes do that for a new writer who has written something brilliant, but the odds are against you being the one.  

She pointed out chapters totaling 27,000 words that could be cut. She didn’t think they were bad—they were chapters with another group of characters battling the Martian invaders elsewhere, outside England. I was kind of afraid she would say that. But it was the logical choice. I followed her advice and cut them.

(Never get rid of material like that. Those chapters are set aside for a sequel.)

She also pointed out I had to emphasize a minor character more. I had assumed ahead of time that would be good news for a writer: write more. But this was extremely difficult. I had to insert scenes that not only fit into the timeline for this current work, but also the timeline for the sequel.

(The timeline was so complicated, I used an Excel spreadsheet for the first time while writing a novel. See my entry here.)

So I cut more words and added the new scenes The current word count is about 93,800.

And that’s how it’s done.

Since you’ve patiently read this far, here’s a sample. Ashley and her friend Violet assume the invading Martians will be easily defeated. Oh, I was also advised to make each chapter ending a cliffhanger. How’d I do?

Immediately after that was more firing, obviously from the artillery.
“They’ve started!” Violet hopped up in delight. “They’ve started firing. But Oriental College is in the way. Let’s go up on the roof to watch.”
“NO.” I grabbed her arm with both hands—too hard, since she made a gesture to bat me away, and only just stopped short. I don’t know why I had such a terror, since we were in Maybury and not anywhere near the fighting, but I clung to her. “Don’t go on the roof! And not toward the study window, either.”
“All right, but I’m not such a delicate flower.” My pixie friend counted out on her fingers. “We didn’t see any Martian bodies at the pit. We can’t go up on the roof and watch them get shelled. We probably won’t get to watch when the scholars dissect their—”
A crash cut off her words. It rattled our windows and the dishes in the kitchen. It shook the floor beneath my feet, and judging from how Violet’s dark eyes widened, she felt it too. Clutching at each other, we rushed out onto the lawn.

The dome of Oriental College was collapsing. 


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