About My Book

Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Update: Another Reason Cutting Stuff Helps

So after getting feedback on my fifth draft, I pulled it out and made my own comments. What I found was interesting.

When I reviewed my fourth draft, I found quite a few things I could cut from the draft to tighten the story.  The result was my fifth draft going down to a little more than 50,000 words from around 62,000 in the fourth draft.

After reading feedback and my own brief review, I realized that I needed to make additions by expanding on the characters I kept and the situations they face.

By cutting something from a previous draft, not only can the story work better, but you can go into more detail about what you keep. The result is what should be a more polished product, one that keeps readers interested.

So there's another reason to not be afraid to cut something from a draft. It gives you more freedom to expand characters and other elements that play more importance to your story.

The sixth draft is what I plan to make my final draft before I take the next step. Because we are getting closer to that point, I have decided to reveal a few more details about the book, and you can learn a little more about the primary characters of the book by checking out my information page about Six Pack: Emergence.

For those who have read my draft or parts of it, I thank you. For anyone who is still interested, you are free to inquire, but be advised I want to start writing again by the end of October and it might come earlier than that if I find the time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Really Made The Muppet Show Work

While I am a fan of the Muppets, I didn't bother tuning into the premier episode of ABC's revival. When I read about the concept, it didn't strike me as getting to the heart of what the Muppets are all about.

I've heard some people say the problem with the revived Muppets is that too much of the material is aimed at adults rather than children. I find that interesting because, when I recently bought the first season of The Muppet Show on DVD and watched the episodes, there were actually a lot of jokes that were aimed at adults. So why was it something that the whole family could enjoy?

Because Jim Henson understood how to approach material so that the jokes and gags weren't obviously aimed at adults. To kids, everything looked like puppets being funny and they could laugh along with it without having Mom and Dad explain everything to them. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad could sit back and laugh because they had an idea about the deeper meaning of the jokes.

With Kermit, kids just saw a frog whose face got scrunched every time something went awry or unexpected. Adults, though, could understand the frustration Kermit went through when things didn't go as planned. Or better yet, Mom and Dad saw Kermit as them having to put up with kids who ask too many questions or otherwise drive them crazy.

And the numbers the Muppets performed often carried a deeper meaning. I'll direct you to this blog post about the meaning behind the "Mahna Mahna" number, which explains it was more than just a goofy song that gets stuck in your head. Again, though, kids didn't have to get the deeper meaning to enjoy it. Neither did adults, although I wonder if some of them thought more about the meaning even as they were laughing along with it.

The Muppets are at their best when they are in a variety-show environment, as that allows them to poke fun at the world around them. The Muppet Movie was more of an elaborate expansion of that variety-show environment, with musical numbers spread throughout the adventure describing how these Muppets came to be celebrities.

The Muppets movie released in 2011 got to the heart of that, in which the whole premise was about whether or not the gang should get back together to put on a variety show during a time in which audiences seem more interested in other things. But turning the Muppets into a general sitcom is what I think is the bigger problem than any notions about how the show should be directed at kids.

And when you present humor on the show, you need to style it so that the jokes and premises are more adult in nature, but nobody pays attention because kids are spending more time laughing at how funny those Muppets are. That's the charm the Muppets brought, and from everything I've read, that's what the attempted sitcom may be missing.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the premise of the 2011 movie and find out whether or not the world is ready for a variety show format again?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Break In The Action At The Right Time

The completion of my fifth draft came at the right time, now that work has picked up. But having less time to focus on my novel isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Some of the advice I've read is to set aside your writing for a while and focus on other things. That's probably something I needed to do, because I had moved quickly from a first to a fifth draft in a six-month span.

It's been a good time to let beta readers look at either the draft in full or the first few chapters. (Blatant plug: I'm still open to those who are interested.) I've had time to enjoy other activities, such as watching NFL football (I'm a Broncos fan) and spending time with family (my mother and sister came to visit this past weekend).

It's also been a good time to pick up additional books. I finished The Catcher In The Rye and have started The Stand (1,500-plus pages in paperback form, so this may take a while). I also have Jurassic Park, The Maze Runner and the original Star Wars trilogy paperback. Those should keep me occupied for a few months.

With each book I've read, I've paid attention to character development, voice and pacing. It's the first item I'm focused on because it gets me thinking about how I may give more depth to my characters. Voice is something I've learned can make or break a book (as I explained when I talked about The Catcher In The Rye). And pacing is something I've learned can be the differnce between keeping a reader's attention or driving them away, whether it's because they think there's too much going on or not enough happening.

It's different from how I used to read books, in which I didn't think much about those elements and only concerned myself with whether or not I enjoyed the book. I have found it makes reading more enjoyable, though, to think about what elements drew me in.

The time will come, though, when I'll have to sit down, read the fifth draft and determine what adjustments remain. That's when I'll definitely need to pay attention to what makes a book enjoyable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Writer's Strengths Can Be The Difference

I've been on a book buying binge as of late, meaning I'll have quite a bit of reading to do in the coming weeks. Along the way, I'll have a chance to think about the books I read and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each.

One of the books I recently bought was The Catcher In The Rye. It's an interesting read for more than just the main character, but how it was written -- and how it might violate some of the rules that writers should follow today.

The biggest violation of today's rules would be the long paragraphs. Writers are encouraged to break up long paragraphs so that it's easier on a reader's eye. Consider that J.D. Salinger ignored that rule and you might ask yourself how in the world his book could have caught the interest of readers.

No, I don't believe it was because the rules for writing back when The Catcher In The Rye was published are different. It's what made the book work, and that's the voice he brings to the main character, Holden Caufield. Salinger's first-person writing conveys the idea that Caufield is telling you his story and what he's experiencing. Caufield is believable as a teenager who finds himself unable to fit in with the world around him.

Salinger's strengths come through the writing and allow him to get away with those long paragraphs most of the time. Granted, those long paragraphs won't keep every reader's attention drawn, but the voice he utilizes makes it easy to see why the novel held strong appeal when it was released.

In critiquing other's work, I've examined what the writer's strengths are and what areas the writer can improve. I've made sure to talk about their strengths so they know what is working and how they can build on that. For whatever I find to be weak points, the writer can decide when it's good to change them or if the strong points are enough to overcome the weak.

Of course, I believe some rules of thumb writers follow have changed over time, as writers thought more about what works and what doesn't. But there may be times when it's OK to break, or at least bend, a couple of those rules if a writer finds something that everyone says works well. The writer just needs to emphasize those strong points, so that the weak points don't bother most readers.

No writer is going to be perfect at anything. That's why it's good for every writer to recognize his or her strengths and use them well, while recognizing areas to improve. Trying to get everything right can be a difficult task, but building on one's strengths means the best chance for a book most readers will enjoy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Some Rules Apply To All Forms Of Writing

For those who have read my All About Me In 20 Questions post, you know that my full time job is sports editor for a weekly newspaper, which not only means I do a lot of writing, but when high school sports are underway, my schedule becomes busier.

It was a good thing that I got my fifth book draft finished last week, because I enter that brief period in which I don't look at the draft and allow others to review it. (If you are interested in being a beta reader, the details are here.)

Even so, I've thought about some of the things that I learned from book writing when I've sat down to write newspaper stories. Sure, newspaper stories are shorter than novels, and even short stories, but there are similarities regarding how they are written.

For example, on more than one occasion, when editing a story, I suggested cutting the word "just" when it wasn't necessary. "Just" is one of many words that book writers are told to consider dropping whenever possible, because it cleans up writing and makes it easier on the reader.

Other book writing tips can apply to different forms of writing. Cutting down on adverbs is a good thing, for example. So are using active tense and simple words. Even learning how to draw a reader's attention early is useful. With newspaper stories, they tell you the lead can make a story. That's similar to how the first few lines of your first chapter can make your book.

It goes back to something else I said in my 20 Question post: Spend time writing whenever you can. Regardless of what you write or whether or not you do it for a living, practicing writing is how you get better. No matter what you write, you can think about tips and guidelines that can improve your craft.

Some rules are different for different pieces. But in many cases, the rules are the same.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Seeking Beta Readers

The fifth draft of my first novel is finished and I'm looking for a couple of people who are interested in being beta readers.

One of the pointers Stephen King gave in his book On Writing is finding a few people who are willing to read a draft of your novel before submitting it to an agent or publisher. I've reached that stage and hope that a few people who have been interested in my writing are willing to critique it. I am planning to talk to a couple of people I've met at Kansas Writers Assocation meetings, but could use a few more beta readers.

If you are interested in reading the draft, I'll let you know what I'm looking for.

* I want you to give an honest assessment of what you like and don't like about it, particularly about the characters and the pacing. I want to know whether you found them relatable or sympathetic, which ones drew your attention and which ones you'd believe need more depth. Tell me how much I held your interest or if there were points in which you believed the story need to move along quicker (or slower). In other words, I want specifics, not just whether or not you liked it overall.

* Certainly, part of the job is looking for spelling, grammar and punctuation. There may be the debate about the Oxford comma, though. Seriously, do keep an eye open for such issues and typos.

* You should have a recent version of Microsoft Word or a program that can open a file with a ".docx" extension. I use Microsoft Word 2010.

* Remember that this is a critique, not a review. You are NOT to spoil anything (only I decide what will and won't be spoiled before the book comes out). You are not to pass it around to anybody else unless you get permission from me (and in such cases, it will only be granted if that person wants to be a beta reader). You are not to discuss plot or character details with anyone else.

* I will give you two months to read the draft and send it back to me with your critiques. Getting it back sooner would be better, but I understand everyone gets busy. Besides, another pointer from King is that the writer put the draft away for a few weeks, so I won't be doing anything with this draft for a while.

If you are willing to do this, here is what you do.

Send me an email to ratsportrm at yahoo.com. Please put Beta Reader in your subject. Let me know why you are interested in doing this (other than the fact that you know me and think I'm a nice guy).

I will take up to 10 people (no more than that, though) who are willing to read and critique my work. As for what's in it for you, I can discuss that with you individually.

Thank you in advance to those who are interested.