November 22, 2016

Cutting Room Floor: Always Trim 30% of Your Word Count

You already know you need to do it. You’re sitting on a behemoth of a novel and everyone’s telling you it needs to be shorter. Complete at 150,000 words. Youch. That’s one sentence you don’t want to write in your query letter, trust me. Why? Because my novel is incomplete at 125,000 words, and the problem is only getting worse with every daily 1000 word writing goal. You know it needs to happen, you just need to be talked into it. Well, here you go:

5 Reasons to Cut Your Work Count

1. There’s an Ideal Length
Whether you’re writing for independent publishing or polishing that baby off to send it to an agent and traditional publisher, there’s such thing as an ideal length for a novel, especially for novice writers. It’s 80,000 – 90,000 words. Period. Shorter manuscripts tend to end suddenly without proper resolution and readers can’t get no satisfaction (read: cliff hanger or lack of falling action). Longer manuscripts begin to drag, slowing the pacing down. In the hands of a master, unwieldy word counts can comprise true art, but we all need to start somewhere. Those masters start out by drafting unwieldy lengths as they find their voice, their story, their themes and their flaws — and then they trim to remove all the unnecessary faults.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” —attributed to Ricky Gervais, cartoonist Scott Adams, Douglas Adams.

110,000 words is where your novel becomes defined as “epic” or “saga.” Not ideal for a first time writer. Don’t let it happen to you.

2. Be Left With Only the Best
It’s easy to fall in love with every word you ever write. But unless you’re some kind of superhuman, some sentences are going to be superior to others. Trim the worst ones. Trim the useless ones. Trim the purposeless ones. And then trim some of the mediocre ones and the decent ones, too, because there’s only so many hours in a day and I’ve got a Goodreads challenge to complete for the year!

3. Drafting Takes Discovery
Every writer “discovers” the story as they’re writing it. While we say there are writers who outline and writers who discover, an outline is not a novel, it’s a list of bullet points, and you still need to fill in the spaces and connect the dots to find out where the scene goes. Even outliners or planners (as opposed to pantsters, as we call them in NaNoWriMo) have described the phenomenon of the characters taking over the story, the plot taking on a life of its own, the journey veering in an unexpected direction. It happens to the best of us, and it ends up taking more words to figure out the kinks, to get the story on track, to wade through the muck to what’s really important to the core of your story. But sometimes it takes significantly more words to discover the story than it does to tell it. Unfortunately, readers don’t like to be spoon fed, they don’t like too much repetition or over-narration. Fluffy, nonessential or extraneous words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters fail to engage readers to keep reading. They may have been necessary to you as the writer to get to the bottom of what the heck is going on here, to solve the mystery, to uncover a tragic hero’s backstory, to figure out why this crazy character is acting the way she is, but that doesn’t make each of those words necessary to the reader understanding it.

4. Something Better Might Come Along
To make the story as engaging and interesting as possible, constantly providing the reader with new scenes, settings, facts, interactions, actions, surprises and so on, you may need to replace “fluffy” scenes or paragraphs, and you might find that what you’re inspired to write as a replacement might even be longer than what you had in the first place. To keep the pacing stable, you need to make sacrifices. Start with the low hanging fruit to make cuts, and leave room for future inspiration booms.

5. Agents look for any reason to say no.
Sad though it is, literary agents have a hundred manuscripts in the slush pile, and a hundred queries in the good old email inbox. They are looking for any excuse to cut their stack down, to delete as many of those emails while reading as little of them as they can. I don’t want to end on this note, because fear is not a good motivator. Don’t do it because you’re afraid every agent who sees “complete at 139,000 words” in your query is going to hit delete and read no further to get to your excellently crafted query hook and embedded examples of your writing and the fantastic twist you snuck in there. Do it because cutting your word count by 30% will leave you with the best novel possible every time. In my creative editing work, I strive to be honest about this in response to every chapter in every manuscript, simply because every writer loves his or her writing, loves every part of it, every word and sentence, but entertaining ourselves isn’t the goal here. Let’s make it as entertaining as possible for your audience.

November 11, 2016

Sacred Planet, by Austin Rogers

The word “Firefly” appears in a dozen Amazon reviews for Sacred Planet by Austin Rogers. That’s because from a debut science fiction author whose very book blurb reads, “Fans of Firefly will feel at home in the world of Dominion,” the comparison to Joss Whedon’s Western space romp is no accident; it’s the result of a Firefly fan capitalizing on the love of the series combined with knowing exactly how to channel Whedonesque characters without flaw. Hey, they say to write what you know.
Successive pulses rain down on Sierra Falco’s space yacht, each one a blow to the fragile balance of the galaxy itself. When the Carinian prime minister’s daughter’s ship is destroyed by a shadowy enemy, the political peace ties between superpowers are destabilized. Enter Captain Davin of the Fossa, a smuggler who’s about to cash in by selling the rescued Prima Figlia to the highest bidder — her father, right? Because Davin’s not a bad guy, but he has a thieving crew to feed. Off in Sagittarian space, a futuristic warrior accomplishes his greatest ambition, defeating all other competitors to become the emperor’s champion, only to make a sacrifice in exchange that he will never be able to live with. Kastor is my favorite character. Forced by his ambition to make a devastating choice, he grapples with the same problem over and over, failing to really recover and ever get what he wants when it conflicts with his orders. Poor guy.
The first scene of Sacred Planet reads like a script for an episode of Firefly, or to be more specific, the script to the second scene of the pilot, where Captain Mal Reynolds comes across some serious booty on an abandoned shuttle. Meet Captain Davin, who on page one gazed upon the beautiful sight of a massive heap of scrap metal prime for the picking. Sydney Strange is basically Zoe but a lesbian and the pilot, and Jai is basically Wash but not a pilot, and Jabron is basically Jane. Really. Everything from joking about the frozen bodies floating through their treasure trove to getting excited about the mysterious contents of a “preserve bag” from the wreckage is irreverent and edgy enough to be fan fiction, if not for the bigger picture — a huge worldbuilding scope and a larger cast well beyond the crew of the Serentity — I mean the Fossa.
The princess Davin rescues from the preserve bag, Sierra Falco, promises to be worth a whole lot more than her weight in gold, because she’s a pawn in the political justification of an interplanetary war, hence the attempt to assassinate her, destroying her space yacht. Davin’s devotion to cold hard cash struggles against his morality, and I gotta hand it to the author, that fight was not over easy and, sorry for the vague half spoiler, doesn’t really end well for anybody. It’s not the happiest of endings.
Much more interesting to me, however, was the unparalleled and incomparable Sagittarian warrior Kastor, who immediately after becoming the emperor’s champion becomes an unexpected victim of personal tragedy that I just couldn’t get over. So many tears.

November 1, 2016

Buzz: Engaging the Soul of a Small Business

A review of Buzz: Engaging the Soul of a Small Business by Lura Fischer. 5/5 ★s.

A striking story with a pulse swirls together with practical wisdom. Buzz is a surprise, a business book with a unique heart. Taki Fujimori brings passion to her small company, ThriveCo, and has to fight like hell for its survival against malicious entities. Harnessing the values of a small business and finding the right people to strive for those values is essential to thriving in the business world. Principles explaining exactly how to do that are related alongside Taki's struggle to make it. It's a story any small business leader can learn from and fall in love with.

Check out Lura Fischer's website for business wisdom and wellbeing resources.

September 22, 2016

Serial Killers in Space

A review of Star Watch Book 5: Space Chase by Mark Wayne McGinnis. 5/5 s.

A creepy psychological murder mystery wrapped in, you guessed it, a high speed race through outer space. While there's, of course, a greater plot to upset the balance of the universe, the main event is the serial killer hillbilly Orloff Picket, who's out for the blood of Nan Reynolds' nephew, Ryan Chase. A skilled hunter, Orloff's killer instincts kick in when Ryan accidently crashes into his multi-million dollar tanker conversion. From there it's all Ryan can do to survive long enough for help from Star Watch — and he's on his own in his Consignment Freight Delivery Van, with nothing but his wits and a smartalec AI to help him. A gripping read, and just when you think Jason, undercover as a mining broker, has it covered — watch out for the twist. Not your usual from the SW series, but lovers of horror and serial murderers will get their fix along with a dose of intergalactic action.

Mark's science fiction site here includes plans of Scrapyard Ship and Star Watch spacecraft and new 3D models of some of the ships.