Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: January 2012

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Wordle: 1/27/12

So it's been ten days since I posted. Many things have happened: I received a new, publishing-related job offer, which I shall be very happy to share details about once they have firmed up. I have decided to participate in what amounts to a Muay Thai bout with pads and started training for it. I submitted to a new agent and learned something very important about what I really need in an agent, and I've been working on my synopsis.

So without further ado: a wordle of the synopsis of Soulwoven!

As you can see, quite different from the wordle for the full draft. Note, specifically, the lack of the word "eyes." No room for silly description in a synopsis! It's all plot, all the time, baby. Also, you may notice that Litnig seems to have jumped into the lead in terms of importance. This is because the most important thing you can do when writing your synopsis (as chronicled here and here in my old blog) is to focus on one character, one arc, one storyline. Since Soulwoven opens with Litnig, he gets the focus in the synopsis.

Also interesting is that, because the synopsis is so short (3400 words, which equates to about 10 pages and is a decent length for a detailed synopsis), it's easy for words to jump out. "Grandfather," for instance, only appears in the description of two chapters. Yet it gets used enough times to merit inclusion here.

Synopses are a strange beast. They have to hit as many of the interesting bits as possible, in as short a space as possible, without confusing the reader. They remind me, in many ways, of the graphic novel scripts I've read--pared down to bare bones, with most of the space left open for the interpretation of someone else. Not my favorite form of writing, but it beats ad copy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Sentences

So today is the day that I'm starting to send my manuscript out to agents. I thought that would be fun, but it has turned out to be quite nerve-racking. After spending some hours wondering why, I discovered that this is mostly because Soulwoven once had a first sentence that I liked a lot. It went like this:

"Once upon a time, a young man opened his eyes."

This sentence was workshopped out of the novel sometime last summer, as I was revising its first chapter. I can understand why. It goes against a great deal of collected writerly wisdom re: first sentences. It contains very little action. It could open a number of different stories. It introduces an editorial voice that fades away in the next paragraph and only appears sporadically throughout the rest of the novel.

And yet I found myself so attached to it that I spent the last 30 minutes mulling it over and have reinstated it before sending the manuscript out.

I have discovered that this is because if I were forced to sum the story up in 10 words, it would be those 10 words, in that order, with that comma. And I like that--writerly wisdom be damned. My short stories invariably grow out of one sentence. They start with an idea, a single image, a thought, that I then go on to explore. Soulwoven didn't start that way. It started in fragments as I was dozing on the bus to school as a teenager and has grown and morphed and stopped and restarted and been scrapped and rebuilt and remolded a dozen times since then.

But if it had started from a sentence, that one would be it.

And in the end, that's more important to me than the whole collected body of writerly wisdom.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Wordle: 1/13/12

So there's this really cool tool out there on the Internet called Wordle. You have probably seen some of its work. It takes a block of text of any size and creates a graphic with it, sizing words by how often they occur within the text.

I discovered it a few years ago on someone else's blog, and since then I have always run my manuscripts through it after I finish a draft of them. It tends to be a pretty rewarding experience, and it usually tells me more than I expect about my writing. For instance, I have learned that I use the word "eyes" a lot. So I keep an eye out for it when I'm editing and make sure that there isn't a better way to say whatever I'm using it to say.

I've been wondering how I might be able to share what I'm writing with people on the blog, and I think that Wordle might be a good way to do it, since I can just take whatever I've been working on that week and feed it through the Wordle machine, then talk about what it is. We'll see how it turns out.

This week I've been working on the full manuscript of my YA fantasy Soulwoven. When I run it through Wordle, this is what I get:

So--interesting things. We can see that I still use the word "eyes" a lot. I'm all right with that. Eyes do a lot of things, and we get a great deal of information from the movement of someone else's eyes. It's also pretty easy to see who the book's main characters are (Litnig and Cole are the brothers the narrative centers on). More interesting to me are some of the smaller words that make the cut. Words like "light," "darkness," "life," "fear," "cold," "heart," and "wall." Things that turn up again and again in the novel.

Oh, and I like to make sentences by following the words around the Wordle. Like "Leramis felt hand fingers, even opened beyond wind." Or "Ryse thought, 'Look. Light. Darkness. Never long.'"

It's a fun game.

I'll be submitting the manuscript starting next week, which means it's synopsis time, during which I get to boil 130,000 words of novel down to about 300 of plot description. As you might guess, there are more enjoyable ways to spend an afternoon, but it still beats cleaning the bathrooms.

In other news, I have discovered this week that if one substitutes "whipping cream" in a quiche recipe that calls for "light cream," one will end up with a very heavy, very tasty quiche, in which all the cheese sinks to the bottom and the whole mixture forms sort of a quiche pie.


Happy weekend!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Writers, Readers, and Editors

I was originally going to write something about manuscripts again this week, and going back over them to in print versus on the screen, but I think I'll save that for another time. I went to a critique group last night, and as I was falling asleep after getting home I had a bit of an epiphany. Anyone who has had their work critiqued by more than one person will tell you that you can get vastly different feedback about the same piece by different people. Part of learning to write is learning what to do with the feedback you receive.

I'm big on feedback. I like to get as much of it as possible, and as a result I like to have all kinds of different people go over my work. And I think that I can put all of them into the broad, venn-diagramy circles of reader, editor, or writer.

This is useful because each type of person tends to give a specific kind of feedback, and knowing what to expect from a person helps you figure out to whom you should give your work depending on what you need.

Writers, I have found, tend to try to guide you towards one particular style of writing. They are people who have spent a greater-than-average amount of time thinking about writing. They will often describe it as a "craft" and have probably read at least one how-to-write book. They have found a number of things that work for them and tend to press you to adopt those same ideas. They may occasionally treat stylistic rules (active verbs are better than passive verbs) with more reverence than grammatical rules (you cannot join two independent clauses with a comma). Some of them take great joy in formulas and jargon.

Editors try to guide you towards the style they think you're shooting for or that best suits a work. They can see both sides of most stylistic issues, and their job is not to tell you which is best but to help you optimize your prose for whatever you're going for. They know the formulas and the jargon, but they have also seen their limitations and tend to be ambivalent about them. They read more amateur writing than any other group of people in the world and as such are particularly averse to certain things that are common in said writing.

Readers just read. They have never picked up a how-to-write book. They may have read a few stories for their brother or sister or friend who wanted feedback, but on the whole most writing they encounter has already been published. Some of them read a lot. Some of them read a little. They are a very diverse group of people, but they will tend to tell you things like, "This doesn't make sense," "I thought this character was a dick," or "I had no idea what was happening when the fish-monster and the shapeshifting wolphin were fighting the giant octopus on Mars." They will point out problems. They will usually refrain from trying to solve them for you.

Editors and writers often overlap. Some writers are excellent editors. Some editors fixate on one style like writers do. Regardless, there are useful things to be had from all three. Writers can help shake you out of your own dogmatic ideas about writing. At the very least, they expose you to different ways of thinking about putting words together, and every once in a while something will click and you'll get something you can use from them. Editors are extremely useful, but will probably have little time for you if your mechanics aren't sound to begin with, because they get tired of saying the same things over and over again. Readers are perhaps the most useful of all, except when you have a problem that you don't know how to solve.

In other news, its dashed cold outside and the holidays are over. I am almost finished with my final edits on Soulwoven, and it should be out the door next week. How's that for meeting a New Year's resolution?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Hitlist

So, when I launched this thing a few weeks ago, I mentioned that it was in honor of my first short story submissions since I was a kid. I have now finished with that first round of story submissions and moved on to putting the final touches of paint on Soulwoven. Before I send that out and promptly forget about the short stories for awhile, I want to take a moment to mention the tool I used to submit my short stories, because it is amazing.

It's called Duotrope, and one of my old professors at Hamilton College named Tina Hall turned me on to it when I asked about short story markets. In addition to offering hands-down, bar-none the best short story market database I could find (take note, Writer's Market), it sports the following:

Duotrope calls it the submissions tracker, and it makes my life a lot easier by giving me an easy way to keep all my submission info in one place. As you can see, I submitted three stories to five markets, and if I'm lucky, I'll hear back about them all by, oh, six months from now. Duotrope is free, so if you write short stories, or know someone who write short stories, pass the good word along.

And if you happen to know anyone who works at the magazines I submitted to, tell them to keep an eye out for me, would you?