Weird Punctuation

Melissa Gilbert

Howdy, folks. Today I’m talking about those weird punctuation marks that people often either avoid or misuse. Three that I will be including in particular are (parentheses), [brackets], and . . . ellipses . . .

Parentheses

The Chicago Manual of Style says that parentheses as “stronger than a comma and similar to the dash” (336).

Some of the things you can use parentheses for are to set off text that doesn’t grammatically fit with the rest of the sentence such as a translation, explanation, afterthoughts, labels, and minor digressions.

Now, there are some good guidelines that we can follow to help us make these as smooth as possible.

  • Don’t overuse them. If you’re drafting a novel and find that you have a lot of afterthoughts, that’s okay, but move them in your revisions to where they should be rather than as an afterthought.
  • In some cases, you come across a time when you need parentheses within parentheses. So, what do you do? Chicago style prefers using brackets within parentheses, but British style and most law publications prefer parentheses within parentheses.
  • Avoid enclosing more than one sentence within another sentence.
  • If you need to include several bits of information, you can separate them with a semicolon.
  • Punctuation should come inside if it belongs to the parenthetical information but outside if it belongs to the main sentence.
    • Example: She’s watching TV (Who’s Line Is It Anyway?) tonight and tomorrow night (The Walking Dead).

Brackets

Brackets aren’t used too much in fiction, but they’re often used in academic or scholarly work. Some of the reasons you might use brackets are as follows:

  • Translations or pronunciations of unfamiliar terms
  • Explanations of pronouns or other missing information in quoted text
  • Any materialized by someone other than the original writer

Punctuation and other guidelines for brackets follow suit with parentheses.

Ellipses

The dot dot dot . . . it’s often used to indicate trailing off speech, interruptions in thought, an omission in quoted material. (Technically, they’re called suspension points when you interrupt thoughts.)

These fellas are useful, but they do need to follow some rules.

  • Be careful not to skew the meaning of the passage if you omit information.
  • They should appear on the same line even if they have spaces between them.
  • You do add a period after the third dot when you’re starting a new sentence.
  • There is no space between the last ellipsis point and a closing quotation mark.
  • Don’t overuse them.

The spacing of the ellipses is a matter of style. AP style does it this way … with a space on either side and no spaces between, but Chicago style does it this way . . .  a space on either side with spaces between.

 

Well, that’s it for today. I’ll be back in two weeks with more fun stuff!  (Note: there is no sarcasm in that exclamation.)

 

David B. Coe: Release Day for DEAD MAN’S REACH!

DavidBCoeDavidBCoe

David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonToday is release day for Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth and final (for now) novel of the Thieftaker Chronicles. I’m incredibly excited about this book for several reasons, not the least of which being that it represents, I believe, some of the finest work I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoy reading it every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.

All of the Thieftaker novels demanded that I interweave fictional story elements with actual historical events. That has been one of the great challenges of writing these books, and one of the great pleasures as well. And I think that most fans of the series would agree that the interplay of fiction with history is part of what has drawn them to the Ethan Kaille stories.

In no book has that blending of history and make believe been more demanding, more complex, and more intricate, than in Dead Man’s Reach. Beginning on the morning of February 22, 1770, the morning after my opening scene, the town of Boston entered a crisis of bloody violence, tragedy, and mutual provocation between Boston’s citizenry and the occupying British soldiers (whose arrival in the city in the fall of 1768 provided the backdrop for Thieves’ Quarry, the second Thieftaker novel). This cycle of confrontation and bloodshed followed a twisting but traceable path of causality, and I needed to insert my storyline into it.

That February morning, supporters of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty staged a demonstration against a loyalist merchant who had been importing products from England in violation of nonimportation agreements. Through nonimportation — an agreement among merchants not to import any goods made in Britain — the colonists hoped to pressure King George III and Parliament into lifting the various taxes and tariffs that had been levied on the colonies. Those merchants who supported the Patriot cause readily agreed to nonimportation, but loyalists opposed the agreements, calling them bad for business. They sought to circumvent the agreements at every opportunity. As punishment, the Sons of Liberty and their supporters resorted to mischief, vandalism, and public demonstrations intended to shame violators of nonimportation. This particular protest quickly turned violent, and during the melee a loyalist — a friend of the merchant targeted by the demonstration — fired a musket into the crowd, injuring one young man, and fatally wounding a boy named Christopher Seider.

Dead Man's Reach, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)In the days following Chris Seider’s death, confrontations between citizens of Boston and occupying soldiers escalated. Young toughs harassed soldiers, pelting them with snowballs and ice, rotten food, and rocks, and shouting insults and obscenities. Rope workers at a rope yard near one of the barracks where the British regulars were billeted, engaged in violent brawls with the soldiers. Several men on both sides were injured, at least one critically. And, of course, on the night of March 5, a confrontation on King Street between a huge, unruly mob and a small number of soldiers led to the shootings later dubbed the Boston Massacre. Five men died and six more were wounded.

That historical narrative (with a couple of other real-life events thrown in — a public funeral for Seider, a massive blizzard that crippled the city for a few days) provides the framework for the fictional plotting of Dead Man’s Reach. It’s a complicated story, made even more challenging by the fact that the key events stretch over a span of nearly two weeks. By way of comparison, the events described in each of the other Thieftaker books take place over the course of a few days. I had to find a way to blend Ethan’s magic into the storyline, and plausibly connect Ethan, his magic, and his past, to the violence gripping the city. I can’t really describe exactly how I did this without spoiling a good many plot points for you, my potential readers. It’s enough to say that another conjurer manages to take control of Ethan’s magical power and use it to deepen the chaos.

I like to envision my historical fantasies as literary lasagnas (an image that Faith first came up with, though in a slightly different context). I am layering truth on top of fiction on top of fact on top of magic on top of detail, etc. If I do it right, and make the ingredients work together as they should, I no longer have a mix of historical and fictional timelines. I have a single, seamless story, one in which it is all but impossible for my readers to see where the real ends and the fictional begins. Nutritious, and delicious . . .

This was harder to do with Dead Man’s Reach than with any other book I’ve written, which makes the result that much more satisfying. I hope you’ll pick up a copy today, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks!

*****

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which will be released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.davidbcoe.com/blog/
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://www.facebook.com/david.b.coe
http://twitter.com/DavidBCoe
https://www.amazon.com/author/davidbcoe

To Be Or Not To Be?

Misty MasseyMisty Massey

To be.  Is, are, was, were.  The most used verb in our (or probably, any) language. It has a purpose and a place in writing and in speech.  But use it too much, and suddenly your stories become bland and dull.  Want to know how I know?  Because my editor challenged me to take every instance of the verb “to be” out of the story I owe him.

John Hartness, you’re a cruel man and I love you for it.

You see, I agree with his assessment.  The problem with “to be” lies in its calm. When someone screams or leaps or scrambles or argues, something happens.  I, the reader, ride along on the wave of action the writer creates.  If I use various forms of “to be” instead, I run the risk of my action falling flat.  Let me illustrate.

With “to be”:

She was dark haired, and her eyes were blue as the sky.  But she had been trained as an assassin, as dangerous as she was lovely, and she was going to kill the man she had been assigned, no matter who was in her way.

Without “to be”:

Her dark hair shadowed her sky-blue eyes.  Her beauty disguised her deadliness, and her assassin’s training drew her toward the man assigned to die at her hand. No matter who stood between them.

It’s a subtle change, but the action increases just the same.  Of course, no editor expects you to write an entire story without using some form of “to be”.  Sometimes “to be” fits exactly what you want to say.  It only becomes a problem when it appears too often.  In my case, I was using the past perfect tense of “to be” and it was dragging the story down when I needed it to be rushing forward.  Whenever you can, and without sounding like a thesaurus, try to use verbs that have a little more oomph to them.

Which leads me to my other point for today – writers listening to their editor’s suggestions.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with writers who are just getting started on their quest for publication, who absolutely believe that they shouldn’t be asked to change a single thing about their manuscript.    While the story does belong to the writer, the editor exists to help the writer produce the best possible story.  Sometimes (usually) that requires rewriting.  Maybe to take out too many “to be”s, and other times to rework a plot that makes no sense.   He sees your story with different eyes.  You look at it with the eyes of love and that can betray your creative intent.  Have you ever lost your keys, hunted for them all over the house, and then had your child find them in the one place you never thought to search?  That’s how the editor works.  He sees those places you never notice.  When your editor asks you to consider some changes, take a deep breath and a long look at your story, keeping those suggestions in mind as you do.  And while you’re breathing and looking, you’ll very likely realize what the editor means.  He wants your story to succeed, same as you do.

Do you have a paragraph with too many “to be”s?  I challenge you to share it here, along with a rewrite that takes out as many “to be”s as you can manage.  OR if you’ve had an editor or beta reader or writing group buddy suggest changes that worked, share that before and after.  Show me what you’ve got!

Money Matters – Patreon, Conventions, and Charging for Autographs

John G. Hartness

Before I start this week, a quick note that I’ll be at MonsterCon 2015 in Gaffney, SC next weekend, so come by and say hello if you’re in the upstate! Also, I’ll have a new release to talk about in the next couple of weeks. It’s my first foray into epic fantasy, and it’s coming out as three serialized novellas, then I’ll release the entire novel when that’s done. It’s called Queen of Kats, and here’s a peek at the cover.

Queen of Kats 1 cover

 

Welcome to the Dark Side, we don’t really have cookies. We also have a lot of incomplete information about how this business works and how people manage to make a living in it. Since becoming a full-time professional writer on June 30th (sounds SO much better than “losing my day job,” which just sounds careless), I’ve paid a lot more attention to the cost and benefit of various things, including appearances. I’ve also worked on developing new ways to make a living writing, including offering my services as a developmental editor (no, I still can’t fix your grammar) or “book doctor.” If you’re interested in those services, contact me at my website or Facebook.

One thing I’ve been doing for a while now is Patreon. Patreon, not to be confused with Patrón, which I also indulge in frequently, is a sire where people who are fans of an artist or group can pledge their support of that artist or group and either donate a set amount of money whenever the artist releases new product, or once a month. Many webcomic artists and podcasters accept donations on the per-publication model. I chose the monthly support model, then started working very hard to release new writing at least once per month. My patrons get various perks, depending on their pledge level, ranging from a special listing on a Patrons page in my self-published books, to free e-books, to dinner at a convention! So far I have a dozen patrons, and it brings about a hundred bucks in the door each month.

People give me a hundred dollars each month just for being me. That pays my gas bill and my water bill, and it’s something I can’t help doing anyway. So it’s a pretty good gig on my side. And for my patrons, they get the sense of supporting a writer they love (me!) directly, and helping me continue to attend conventions and write the books they love.

Because we’ve talked time and again about how expensive conventions are, and every little bit that helps defray the cost goes a long way. I estimate that I’ll spend close to $4,000 in 2015 alone on attending conventions, including gas, parking, hotel and food. And we won’t discuss anything I buy in the dealer room. So cutting $1,200 off that annual budget item is no small feat, and it allows me to plan my budget and add in some new smaller conventions, like Monsterama is Atlanta this fall.

There’s been a discussion recently among some writers, and I noticed a trend among some comic artists at HeroesCon this year, of charging for autographs. Let me be clear that these opinions are mine and mine alone, but I think it kinda sucks. I think it sucks that actors charge stupid amounts of money for signed headshots, and I think it sucks that artists and writers need to charge for signatures to cover convention costs. And that’s after I just owned up to spending $4k this year on convention costs!

I’m in a different situation from comic writers and artists, or even traditionally published writers. As a self-pub and small press guy, I rarely have someone coming up to my table with one of my books. Usually if I’m signing a book, I’ve just sold it to someone at my table that moment, or maybe they bought it while I was away at a panel and have come back to get it signed. Either way, I’ve sold them something and there is NO WAY I’m charging to sign my name in my work if you’ve just handed me money for that work. That’s ungrateful, and it’s also not what is happening to these folks.

At a comic con, there are people who get a few things signed, often from creators they are big fans of, or from new creators when they take a flyer on a new book. And sometimes they’ll bring a comic or two from home and get someone to sign a special issue for them, something that they really enjoyed or that meant a lot to them. That’s usually where I fall. If I get a signature on a comic, I’ve usually bought it from the artist or writer at their table, or like this year at Heroes I picked up the Morning Glories omnibus edition, noticed that the artist was a couple of rows over, and got him to sign the book. He also volunteered to do a sketch in the book, because it’s kind of an expensive comic, and he likes to do something to reward people who paid for the expensive book and lugged it around. I got it on sale and carried it for ten minutes, but he was being super-cool, so we’ll let him continue to be super-cool.

But if I’m the norm, then there are a LOT of outliers who walk up to an artist’s table with a stack of 20+ comics and want all of them signed. Often these folks don’t even turn their DEALER badge around before expecting artists to increase the value of their salable stock for no compensation. And that’s not fair. I also don’t think it’s fair for people who aren’t dealers to plop down a huge stack of comics to be signed and not ever buy anything from the artist’s table. For me it’s one thing is you’re taking a minute or two of someone’s time to let them know you appreciate them, and another thing entirely if you’re taking ten minutes when there’s a line thirty people deep, and you’re  the one guy with dozens of books to sign. In that case, I think there should be a five-item limit, then you go to the back of the line.

So the question comes up, at what point do you start charging for autographs? I can’t see ever charging for my signature, but I’ve gotten autographs from some of the greatest musicians in the world for free, just by asking nicely. If Earl Sruggs would sing autographs for free, I certainly can. But I also understand the desire and need to make a living. Do I think it’s fair that an actor that did three episodes of The Walking Dead (as a zombie) can get their room comped and travel covered at a small con while a NY Times bestselling writer has to pay their own way? No, I don’t. But that’s the way it is currently and it doesn’t look like that’s changing any time soon.

So how do I think people should handle it? I wouldn’t ever object to a tip jar, that makes it voluntary. I also think folks could do a lot worse than watch Brandon Sanderson at a signing sometime and just copy whatever he does. I had the good fortune to sit next to him in a mass signing a few years ago, and since nobody knew me from Adam, I had plenty of time to observe him. He greeted every fan warmly, signed everything anyone brought, personalized it if they wanted it that way, and made arrangements with dealers to visit their booths to sign stock, or had them wait until fans were taken care of first. He understood that commerce was important, but the fans were the lifeblood of his career, and he made sure every single fan felt like they had his undivided attention, at least for the minute they were in front of him. I was impressed, and learned a lot by watching him.

There’s no good answer. There are more and more conventions, and they’re more and more expensive. And we’ve all gotta live. But we also have to remember that we’re here for the fans, and we’re nowhere without them. So I hope I don’t go to a con a few years from now and see all these artists with their autograph price lists talking to each other in the aisles wondering  where all the fans went.

David B. Coe: Another Post About Openings

DavidBCoeDavidBCoe

David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonWe write about openings a lot here at Magical Words, and with good reason. A good opening for a story or novel establishes voice, tone, and conflict, and will ground your reader in your setting, your narrative, and your various character arcs. Early in our careers, when we submit work to editors and agents for consideration, we rarely get more than a page or so to convince them that our stories are worth publishing or representing. A lot rides on those first few paragraphs. Later, when we’re established, we still rely on those openings to carry a disproportionate share of the burden in winning over readers. Potential buyers will often read the opening page to determine whether they’re interested in purchasing a novel. I’ve had readers do this right in front of me at signings and conventions. Sometimes they read a few graphs, put the book back on the shelf or pile, and move on. More often, I’m pleased to say, they buy the book.

Faith refers to this as Bait and Hook, and that’s just what it is. We bait readers with the first lines, piquing their interest. And then we hook them with tension, or a hint of plot, or some cool element of our worldbuilding, or with a compelling character. We have to do it effectively, and we have to do it fast. There are a lot of books out there. We want people to buy ours.

So I’m going to break down the opening paragraphs of Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth book in the Thieftaker Chronicles, which comes out on July 21 — next Tuesday! I’ll try to give you some sense of what I was hoping to accomplish with each element I introduce, and of course, I’ll be happy to answer questions in the discussion that follows. I also plan to do this next month with the opening of His Father’s Eyes, the second book in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, which comes out on August 4.

The opening of Dead Man’s Reach is, in many respects, similar to the opening of the other Thieftaker novels. I begin with Ethan in the streets of Boston, at night, pursuing a thief. As in the other books, this initial pursuit is meant to drop my reader directly into a scene fraught with action and tension, and also to introduce some small plot point that will come back into play later in the novel. Here are the opening 150 words or so:

Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, February 21, 1770

Ethan Kaille slipped through shadows, stepping from one snow-crusted cobble to the next with the care of a thief. He held a knife in one hand, his fingers numb with cold. The other hand he trailed along the side of a brick building, steadying himself as a precaution against the uncertain footing.

Dim pools of light spilled onto the street from candlelit windows. Flakes of snow dusted his coat and hat, and melted as they brushed against his face. Every breath produced a billow of vapor, rendering his concealment spell all but useless.

The air was still–a small mercy on a night as cold as this one–and a deep silence had settled over Boston, like a thick woolen blanket. Even the harbor, her waters frozen near to shore, and placid where they remained open, offered not a sound. In the hush that enveloped the city, Ethan’s steps seemed as loud as musket fire.

Dead Man's Reach, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)The first paragraph establishes point of view, tension, and setting. For readers of the previous books, and those who are just coming to the series for the first time, I tell them with the first words whose point of view we’re in. I don’t bother with what he looks like, or anything in his personal history. I don’t need to right now. We’re in Ethan’s head, listening to his thoughts, and he is thinking about the knife he holds, the ice beneath his feet, his desire to “slip through shadows.” It’s winter, the streets are made of cobblestone, his weapon of choice is a blade. And he’s trying not to be seen. One graph in, and my reader knows a lot.

But more to the point, my reader is, I hope, interested in what’s happening. Why is he carrying that knife? From whom is he hiding? What would happen if he were to fall or be seen?

The second paragraph deepens the ambiance and tone, bringing the scene to life, and reinforcing the historical. Pools of light spilling from candlelit windows — this is not a modern setting. While the flakes of snow and billowing vapor paint a lovely picture, if I do say so myself, they might well be a distraction from the tension of my opening. But then I hit my readers with that last phrase: “rendering his concealment spell all but useless.” That’s a hook. Now, in addition to the knife, and the mystery of what he’s up to, we have a magical element. This guy can cast spells. Yes, my long-time readers knew this already. But the fact that he’s concealed adds to the tension and hints at more conflict. And for new readers, this is one more thing to make them say, “Cool!”

In the third paragraph, I employ a similar approach. The city, Boston, is quiet — too quiet, as the old movie cliché goes. It’s gripped by cold, by ice and snow. The tranquility of the scene could feel reassuring, and I use those descriptive passages to lull my readers a bit, to hint at that calm. But then I shatter it at the end: “In the hush that enveloped the city, Ethan’s steps seemed as loud as musket fire.” By returning to Ethan and his caution, I amp up the tension again, and, more, I foreshadow the central historical conflict that will play out in this book: the bloody lead-up to the Boston Massacre.

One note about the date/place stamp at the start of the passage: All the Thieftaker books, and most of the Ethan Kaille stories, begin with a date stamp like the one that you see here. The books are clearly historical in nature; every element of the packaging — the art, the print, the jacket copy — points to this. I include the exact date because it is invariably significant from a historical perspective. February 21, 1770 is the day before the fatal shooting of Christopher Seider, a young boy who many consider the first casualty of the fight for American Independence. Most of my readers won’t know that, but a couple will, and for them that date will be pure gold. A few other readers will realize that this book begins shortly before the Massacre. That’s helpful as well in building narrative tension, even if it’s significant to only a small percentage of my audience.

So there it is: the opening of Dead Man’s Reach. From here we get into the inevitable encounter with a thief and with Ethan’s thieftaking rival, Sephira Pryce. But by then the reader is, I hope, already baited and hooked.

How is the opening of your WIP shaping up? Care to share? 150 words max please.

*****

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which will be released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.davidbcoe.com/blog/
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://www.facebook.com/david.b.coe
http://twitter.com/DavidBCoe
https://www.amazon.com/author/davidbcoe

Research Mode vs. Writing Mode

Tamsin Silver

Originally the plan for today was to share with you all about my trip to New Mexico. I was going to jot down my feelings and thoughts each night about what I’d learned and then post that diary for everyone.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.View behind Tunstall Store

I tried. Oh, how I tried. But the first night, after being in transit (flight + driving) for 16 hours, I was too tired to do anything. The next night I sat down to write and ya know what came out? Facts. Boring facts. Things like, “I left at 6:30am EST, arrived at NM at 1:30pm CST, had a lot of trouble getting my rental car causing me to be late (which equated to a myriad of other problems) arriving at Fort Sumner, and thus pulling into the B&B at 10:40pm CST (12:40am EST).

Yawnsville.

Seriously…it went on and on like this. I was bored writing it and thus I knew you’d be even MORE so as you read it. So I quit and went to bed.

I tried again the next night but stared at the page because the same crap was going through my head. So I got frustrated and upset. I think I said something to myself like, “You are in a beautiful room on a gorgeous night in a enchanting town…and you can’t even write one interesting sentence!? And you call yourself a writer? Pfffft! Sure ya are. Go read and stop embarrassing yourself.”

Ok…maybe not all that…but that was how I felt so I might as well have said it all.

Rolling Hills of New MexicoMy last night I had to pack strategically so as to sneak both large bags on the flight due to my 36 min layover in Texas (cause I didn’t want my bag going to LGA in NYC if I wasn’t, you know?) and got to bed still wondering what I was going to do. I had 24 hours to write this post and most of those hours were going to be spent in transit back to NYC. Luckily, when I woke up the next morning and let my mind really examine the issue, I understood what was going on and snagged my phone. I typed the title of this post in my Notes App and set it aside, my heart and mind feeling MUCH lighter.

So here’s the thing…there were two problems working against me:

The first is the simple (possibly obvious) one:

There is SO much information that I am at a loss at how to convey it all without putting it in a bulleted list. (*snore*)

The second is the complicated (possibly confusing) one:

I was not in the correct gear. If you put your car is in reverse, you can’t go forward, right? Well guess what? If your head is in full gear to take, it cannot also give if that form of “taking” is all consuming. If you’d told me I’d have trouble with this prior to me leaving, I’d have said that was a bunch of BS. But I’m here to tell you, my scoffing would’ve turned into a painful groan of admission that you were right and I was wrong.

The Road out to Tunstall Ranch - with pouring rain in the distance

***Sidebar: You may not have this problem when you go to do on site research. The type you’re doing will play a big part in it as much as how much you do. You also might not have issues with the gear change. If so…WOOT! Go you! I am not that gal.***

It comes down to this: I was in full Research Mode and that does not give way to Writing Mode as easy as turning on and off a light switch. I thought it would because I can go from reading research online (or in books) and turn around and apply learned information to what I’m writing without a second thought or hiccup. This was different though. I was in a state and city I’d never been before. I was going into buildings and walking the land of those from 1878 and had to video it (over an hour of video by the way), take pictures (I maxed out my phone memory), ask questions, absorb, catalog, and process it all.

So when I asked my brain to pain you all a colorful picture of my experience it came out like a grocery list…and not in any order that made sense either. LOL! For example…my stream of consciousness was a bit like this…

  •  The land here rolls like the ocean
  • Vultures coming back to the area = spring is here
  • Adobe is built by mixing clay, silt, straw, and sand
  • Is that a boat in the middle of a field?
  • The large court room used to be 4 rooms
  • The store part of the Tunstall Store used to only be the bottom of the “L”
  • Wow! It takes forever to get anywhere and there’s so much empty space!
  • How are clouds here so amazing?
  • Why do parents with tiny children bring them to watch cannon’s be fired? They’ve got to know that is going to scare the crap out of them, right? RIGHT? *facepalm*

Billy the Kid's Grave MarkerThat list could go on and on and on…you have NO idea how much random facts and thoughts are swimming about in my noggin’ right now. Add to it that they aren’t in any order and I have no way of sharing them in a story format. But that’s okay, I am just going to have to give it all time to sink in.

Now, where was I? Uh…see, I took the time to jot the stream on consciousness from the trip and it took me 10 minutes to write that little paragraph above vs. how I wrote the section above the list very quickly. There is just sooo much I want to share that when I think on it, I block the ability to explain it in an interesting fashion. I think that’s because it is not properly cataloged yet…so once it is, you’ll get to hear about it. Promise. :-) To be honest, I could tell you stories of my trip easier than writing it all down. Mainly because that’s a faster way to get “all the things” out of my head and thus they won’t get clogged up in the writing pipeline (head to hands) as I express them.

I’m sharing this all with you today not just because I want you to understand why you’re not getting the post I promised, but also because I thought I should share my learning experience with you. That way, if you ever go through this, you’ll recognize it for what it is and not want to mentally flog yourself for being unable to switch from absorbing information to expelling it. I think maybe a better car analogy is that it’s like throwing your car in reverse while it’s going 65 mph down the interstate. It’ll bring you to a stop and kill the car…thus leaving you stuck. So if you ever embark on an adventure to research something, you’ll now have some warning of what could happen to you (it may not, but it could) and you won’t feel like you’re failing at your craft. You’re not. I’m not. We’re just revving up so as to excel at it. We just need the time to collect it all and put it in the mental scrapbook so we can share it with the world.

Me at Dick Brewer's Grave

Through this post I’ve shared the first few pictures that come to mind when I look back at my trip…I’ll post more on my blog as the weeks go and upload some of the videos to my YouTube page as well. Then, once I can share my thoughts on my research trip in a concise and interesting way, I will. However, I’ll give you this info:

  • Pic 1: This is the view John Tunstall had behind his store, where he is now buried.
  • Pic 2: The rolling hills of New Mexico
  • Pic 3: The road out to what used to be John Tunstall ranch land (which then was bought by his enemy, Jimmy Dolan, after he had John killed). In the distance you can see pouring rain…for I was there during their rainy season (or as they call it, monsoon season).
  • Pic 4: Grave marker for William H. Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) and his two best friends, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre (though it’s rather likely they’re not really buried here due to a flood at Fort Sumner that shuffled bones/graves around before they were “moved” here. You know…if you even believe he died in 1881…………………. ? :-)
  • Pic 5: Richard M. Brewer (aka Dick Brewer, leader of the Regulators) and me. This was the one grave I really wanted to visit. Of all the men I’ve been studying from this point in history, he’s the one I feel the closest too emotionally…even though head-wise I feel more in tune with Billy. Hence why the book will be in his POV. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually write something from Dick’s POV. To be honest, I may not have a choice since he’s so loud in my heart.

That’s it for me this time around…write hard, bathe in imagination, and here’s to the folks of Lincoln, NM…you all were just wonderful people, I hated leaving you! But have no fear…I’ll be back in the spring! RESEARCH ON, FOLKS!

Tamsin :-)

 

 

 

What I don’t want to see…

Emily Leverett

So, I’m going to follow what Misty did yesterday and discuss Congregate. (I promise, a discussion of adjectives is coming!!)

I was on an “Ask the Editor!” panel with a few other people, and the first thing that was asked was “what really makes you say no, or what do you not want to see?”

That’s easy. The most obvious is a story that starts without any action: a description of the weather; a description of the setting/ landscape; a description (including backstory) of the main character. The submissions that do this have a very difficult time being published. Readers want to be engaged, and tension /conflict /action do that. To quote Nirvana: “here we are now, entertain us.”

But the thing that disappoints me even more than that is the following. When I open a sub and read a great opening line, and then it is followed by great action/tension/conflict for a paragraph or two, BUT then the author stops the action to go into backstory, to go into pages of weather, etc.  In a scene with momentum, don’t stop the momentum unless you have to. In other words, if your character is in the middle of a stage coach chase, is being shot at, and is trying not to fall out of the coach, don’t suddenly break from the action and have him remember his childhood for half a page.

If a point is important–necessary for the scene–then give the information in as little space as possible: less than one sentence. Backstory and setting are important, but they need to NOT be given out in huge chunks. Those are often called “info dumps” and, again, slow down the momentum of the story. The reader is jerked out of the moment and, often, have NO idea why I’m going told what I’m being told.

These problems come, I think, from two places: first, from the desire to give the audience EVERYTHING right away. We know all sorts of stuff about our stories, and we want to share it all right now; second, from not trusting the audience enough. And this one was a problem for me. Treat your audience as though you believe they are smart. (It doesn’t matter if you really believe they’re smart or not!) Dive in and let them keep up with you. If they feel just a little behind, if they have the thrill of needing to know more, of needing to understand, of needing to see what is going to happen, they will keep reading!

I struggled with this a lot (and still do). So, I’ve now decided to treat my audience like they can keep up. I give as little information as possible in the opening, and let the audience run along with me. The should eventually catch up, of course, but not until close to the end.

The caveat: If you give so little that the audience doesn’t know what is going on, they won’t read the story either. And this is a concern. This is what beta readers are for. But I still say, err on the side of giving out less and building as you go, rather than giving too much. If your beta readers don’t understand you, find the point(s) of confusion and make them more clear–often by putting in small details, but not by info dumping all over them.

The panel about this covered lots of other things, but this really was one of the biggest reasons that editors reject submissions.  Also, next year, if you’re able to get to High Point, I really recommend this con. It was well run, fun, in a good hotel, and, overall, very successful!