Tag Archives: fantasy

New Ideas – Don’t Be Afraid to Change It

Hi everyone,

It’s no secret that I love interconnected stories written across multiple volumes.  For me, one story, whether a short story, a novel, or a movie, is nothing more than an introduction to the characters and their world.  It’s when you start to develop follow-up tales that you really get to explore them!

I know that every writer approaches their craft differently, but for me I slowly develop the overall story arch as I work on each tale in the series.

For instance, when I wrote the first novel of The Sword of Dragons, I knew how I wanted the series to end, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there.  By the time I finished the second novel, Burning Skies, I had started to figure out how I would get there, and while writing book 2 I laid several eggs that would one day hatch into the plots that would lead to the end.

change
Image Credits: James Altucher

Last night, that all changed.  An idea occurred to me, one that I found exciting and invigorating!  So what should I do?  Should I say “Well that would have been cool, but I’ve already got the story plotted out”?  Heck no!  This, my friends, is not the first time this has happened.

Changing Course

Back in 1999 I started a fan fiction series.  To some writers, fan fiction is a taboo, but I’m not at all ashamed of my series.  I wrote it for many reasons, but one of my primary goals was to simply practice writing and receive feedback from others.  It was a huge help to honing my craft!

I wrote it for 7 seasons, and each season had a different story arch.  When I started developing season 3, I came up with a system where I plotted out the general story of each episode as well as the overall story arch, and this method worked so well that I used it for every season after.

By the time season 3 was over, I had developed seasons 4 and 5’s plan, I knew exactly where the story would go for them.  Then all of that changed when an exciting idea occurred to me right before I began writing the first season 5 episode.  The stories I ended up writing for season 5 have almost nothing to do with my original plans.  The same thing ended up happening for season’s 6 and 7.

The best part was that the changed story plots actually worked better for all of the groundwork I had previously laid.  In that final season, seemingly minor events in the previous stories all came together seamlessly, and made for a fun, entertaining, and moving story!

I think a big reason why this worked so well was that the original connections I wanted to draw between the earlier and later seasons were forced.  What I ended up writing felt more natural.

Follow Your Instinct

My point to all of this is simple: as a writer, I’ve learned to trust my inner voice.  If I’ve got the story plotted out, and then something different and exciting clicks in my head, well that tells me my original plans were lacking, and something in my unconscious mind came up with a new direction to spice it up!

This not only makes writing the story much more interesting and challenging for me, but it also makes the end-product far more entertaining for the readers!  This can lead you in directions you never would have imagined before, and learning to ‘go with the flow’ of your imagination can help improve your writing!

However…yes, that evil word.  This advice can be dependent upon multiple factors.  Every writer is different, their process of coming up with stories and writing them down is as varied as can be.  So if your mind goes 100 different directions at once, it may be wiser for you to stick with what you’ve already decided upon, rather than changing your long-term story plan every hour.  That can lead to intense frustration.

So more than anything, follow your instinct.  It’s been my experience that most writers are extremely passionate about their work!  That means what ever your inner voice is telling you, it probably is telling you exactly what your heart wants you to do.  If changing the story feels right, do it!  If it doesn’t feel right, reconsider.

Conclusion

Well anyway, that’s a lot of advice, some of it may almost seem conflicting.  I’m interested to hear what your opinions are on these topics, so please feel free to leave comments!

Thanks for reading :)
-Jon

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Query Woes – How Do You Describe Your Story?

There is one thing I struggle with consistently when it comes to the world of writing: how to describe my stories.

When someone asks me “What is your novel about?” my mind immediately turns blank.  It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had, and it happens to me almost daily!  Someone recently reminded me of a Doctor Who quote that applies: “You know when someone asks you what your favorite movie is, and suddenly you forget every single movie that’s ever been made?”

However, it goes beyond this.  This isn’t just a “Jonny-on-the-spot” blank moment, this is a struggle that has extended into writing query letters, and is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles I face at the moment to finding an agent.

What is a query letter?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a query letter is a one-page presentation of your story and yourself that you send to literary agents in an attempt to garner interest in your work and, eventually, land an agent to represent you and your work.

Query letters have a basic formula that all writers are encouraged to stick to.  Trying any other format has been described as ‘trying to re-invent the wheel.’  There’s no need, the wheel works fine just as it is, and if you try to sell a reinvented wheel to GM or Mitsubishi, they’re just going to laugh at you and go pay lower prices for regular wheels.  Agents expect a specific format to your letter, and I have read that if you don’t stick to that basic principle, most agents will not even finish reading your query.

The format is simple: Hook, Mini-Synopsis, and Writer’s Bio.

The Hook

No, the Hook isn’t afraid of ticking crocodiles.  The hook is supposed to do just that: hook an agent’s interest and, for that matter, everyone else’s.  In one sentence (some leeway on that, but generally speaking it’s one of those rules you want to try to follow) you have to make your story seem interesting and unique, and give the agent a reason to keep reading.  If the hook doesn’t catch the agent’s interest, most likely he or she is going to stop there and send that dreaded rejection letter.

The Mini-Synopsis

This is exactly what it sounds like, a very short description of your story and the characters.  How short?  One paragraph.  How hard is it to condense your entire story into one paragraph?  Well, for a real challenge, try to describe Lord of the Rings in one paragraph.  Added difficulty: it has to be in such a way that it seems interesting, and isn’t just another fantasy epic that’s like the 50,000 other ones already out there.

Writer’s Bio

For published writers, this area is probably easy.  Describe your writing credentials.  Essentially, you’re trying to tell the agent why you’re worth the risk.  For someone who has nothing professionally published, this is pretty difficult to fill out (but that doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your query letter!)

My Struggle Writing a Query Letter

My first query letter is time stamped July 2013.  I have probably gone through 2 dozen revisions (including a few complete re-writes) and am still struggling to make it work!  I owe a lot of the progress I have made to articles such as this one.

I do realize that part of my struggle is my tendency to over-think and focus in on the details too much, but when you only have a paragraph for your mini-synopsis, focusing on the details is your worst enemy!  I also struggled with writing a 1-page synopsis, which some agents require for submissions on top of the query letter.

Until recently I’ve posted my query letters on my personal facebook page and asked friends and family for critiques, and they have been invaluable with helping me fine-tune it.  And yet I knew it still needed improvement.  The two agents I sent the latest revision to rejected my story, and I had the feeling that the query still needed work.

So I went to the forums I’d been lurking about for some time at Agent Query Connect.  I finally created an account and started responding to other writers’ posts, and then today I finally posted my own query letter for critique and advice.  I braced myself for the worst, knowing they would be brutally honest, and hoping for nothing less than that same brutal honesty!

I was not disappointed :)  Only two writers have critiqued my query letter at the time this article was written, and their critiques all touched on similar points.  My query letter is generic, it describes a story that sounds generic, and leaves the characters as unknowns.

This helped me to realize something.  In my query, I’m focusing on the story too much, and not giving enough attention to the characters.  Naturally I need to talk about the story, specifically the catalyst for the story, which is the titular Sword of Dragons, but for a moment, go back to the example of the Lord of the Rings.  When you think about the novel or the movies, what are the first things that come to mind?  Does the One Ring come to mind first?  Sure, its in the title, but is that all?  For me, it’s the characters that I think about more.  Frodo’s bravery stepping up to take the ring.  Samwise’s undying loyalty.  Gandalf’s fireworks and his love of Hobbits.  Aragorn’s steadfast leadership.  Merry and Pippin’s mischief.  Gimli and Legolas’s friendship.

The characters are what make stories worth reading.  The characters are what stick with us when we walk away from a story.  They are the ones who live in our hearts forever.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Realizing just how important characters really are, I intend to attack my next revision (or rather, rewrite) with the idea that I want to make the characters the focus.  The Sword of Dragons is the catalyst, yes, but the characters are the ones who make things happen, who fail or succeed.

I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress :)  Until then, thanks for reading!  Click “Like” below if you liked this article, and click the “Follow” button if you want to know when I’ve posted more articles!

-Jon

My First Blog – A New Adventure!

Hi everyone!

Welcome to my first blog :)  My name is Jon, and I’ll be your tour guide on this crazy writing adventure!

Up front I want to tell you all what this blog is going to primarily focus on, and that is writing fiction, the trials and triumphs of trying to find a literary agent, and eventually getting my first novel published.

I hope that my blog will be helpful to other aspiring writers, but more than that I really wish to start making a connection with everyone out there who’s willing to follow this blog!  I don’t just mean other writers, but anyone and everyone!  I want to connect with my readers, and as passionate as I am about writing, I know that this blog will be a personal journey that I am excited to share with you all!

For starters, I will be writing blog entries on how I go about writing novels and short stories, including telling about my endeavors as I write them.  I also will be discussing the process of finding a literary agent, which includes the (sometimes painful) process of writing query letters and synopses.

Something else I want to do on this blog is write short stories within the same universe as the novels I am currently trying to publish, called The Sword of Dragons, and post them here for all to read!

So while there isn’t much here yet, please subscribe to my blog, because I guarantee you that there is a lot to come!!

I also would like to encourage everyone to feel free to leave comments.  Introduce yourself for starters!  My only stipulation to everyone is to please, please keep things civil.  I want this to be a blog people from all walks of life feel comfortable coming to :)

The Story So Far…

I talk a bit about my writing endeavors up to this point in the “About” section (see the link in the header), but I wanted to cover some specifics about my current project, and where I am right now in my quest for publication.  If you aren’t able to finish reading to the end of this entry, don’t worry, it’s a bit of a long story, full of evil things like writer’s block and dozens of drafts of query letters :)

The Sword of Dragons has a decade-long origin story!  Longer, actually.  When I was in junior high, I came up with a science fiction story called Star Dragon Legion.  While a future sci-fi story, it also involved magic and dragons.  Before you roll your eyes, remember that I was very young and very inexperienced as a writer :)  I never finished a novel for the series, but I wrote numerous short stories.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I was required to do a senior project, and I chose to do mine on writing a short story and trying to get it published.  The short story I wrote was entitled “Star Dragon Legion – Sword of the Dragon”.  In it, the protagonist was required to complete a trial by retrieving a fabled, powerful weapon, the titular Sword of the Dragon.

I never did get it published, and to be frank, it was pretty poorly written, but I learned a lot during my project, especially because I had taken my first creative writing class!

Sometime during my freshman year of college, I came up with the idea to take the basic principle of Sword of the Dragon and turning it into a full-on fantasy novel.  By the end of my sophomore year, I had finished, and that summer I sent it to a publisher.

It was rejected, and before I sent it to another publisher, I decided to do another round of proofreading.  By this time I had moved on to a 4-year college for my junior year, and was in the middle of a great creative writing class!  I had already learned so much, and so when I tried to read Sword of the Dragon, I realized how badly written it was.  I couldn’t even get through the first chapter!!

So I shelved it.  And some time later, I started a rewrite.  Shelved it.  Started another rewrite, and shelved it again.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I began what would become the final version.  By then I had graduated college and had numerous creative writing classes under my belt, so my writing style was considerably better (even today I still think the early chapters are well-written!)  I got about halfway through the novel, when… DUN DUN DUNNNN….  Writers block hit.

Evil, accursed writers block!  For the next couple of years, I struggled with writers block, and between 2008 and 2012 I only wrote 2 chapters in The Sword of Dragons!

2012 was the golden year for me.  Something changed that summer, and I picked up Sword of the Dragons again, right where I left off, and started writing like mad!

Sometime near the end of 2012 is when I finished the first draft, and I spent the next few months proofreading and getting friends to read through it.  During this proofread, I also renamed the novel to The Sword of Dragons, and by extension renamed the weapon that is the catalyst of the novel.

Next came the hardest part of all – finding a literary agent!  Which I am actually still in the process of doing.  By now I’ve gone through at least a dozen drafts of my query letter, and have written a few synposes.  I’ve submitted to only 6 agents at this time, all of whom have rejected my story.  I didn’t feel ready to “shotgun” out my query letter, and have continually tweaked it.  In a future blog post, I will be discussing an extraordinarily helpful website for query letters, and is where I plan on submitting my letter for peer review before I shotgun it out to several more agents!

In the mean time, I have written the second novel in the series, titled The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies.  It took me about 4 months or so to write this one, I have really found my groove in writing!  I am still going through the proofreading and editing process, which I will discuss in future blog entries as well :)

There’s a lot more to talk about, but I feel like this is long enough for an initial blog entry.  You all will get to know me and my tale a lot better as time goes on, don’t worry!

Thanks for reading :)

-Jon