Time for some reading

My friend who is acting as First Reader for Unexpected called tonight to tell me that he’d finished it, and that it was very entertaining.

He also suggested that I not censor Kiwi, that her language is part of her character.

Our brief conversation (which also discussed the story and the twist I was so proud of) makes me want to read it.  Of course, I’m in the middle of a book right now, plus working on Mara’s story, so it might be a little bit.  It’s been a few months, though, so I should be far enough removed to be able to find flaws.

I think I’ll print it out in the next few days and add it to my pile!

NaNo Update, Day 29 (What’s Next?)

Everyone I know has congratulated me on completing my novel for NaNo.  A lot of them follow it up with this question: So what do you do with it now?

I’ll tell you one thing I won’t do with it right now.  I won’t be trying to send it anywhere.  It’s incredibly rough, hasn’t had any revisions, and as every piece of advice you’ll ever see will tell you, it is not a good idea to send a first draft to an agent or publisher.  Yikes!

Here’s what I will likely do with Unexpected, now that’s it complete.  I’ve already sent it to a trusted friend who is going to act as a First Reader and give me feedback on plot, characters, grammar and spelling.  (Sorry, Mom, I know that’s normally your job.  I figured we’d both enjoy that experience better if I find a way to tame my swearing fairy a bit first.)

I’m also planning to ride the Unexpected train into December, at least as far as blog posts are concerned.  This weekend I’ll get some Kiwi’s Crazy Comments up for you; some will be from the running series on my Facebook page, some will be new. I’m also planning to find a tame(r) section and post an excerpt.

After that, well, I’ll let it sit for a while.  I like to wait a couple of months between finishing a novel and reading it for revisions.  That way I can go at it with fresh(er) eyes and be a touch more critical.

If it turns out to be not too bad, I might put together a query for it (after a few revisions and a bit more effort on Dragon, of course).

Rewriting the Ending

Last night I finished the first phase of revising Dragon.  The first part is the fun part – that’s when I get to re-read the book and mark it up with comments like “awkward phrasing” and “do I like this word?” and “clarify this.”  Now I get to start the second phase.  That would be when I go through and actually address all the changes that I marked.

There are several areas where this is going to be more than simply reworking a sentence or adding a bit of description.  I’ve mentioned before that there are a few larger challenges that my First Readers presented, mainly dealing with the context of the gates and the world.  Some of this I’ve already started drafting, and I found some good places to expand and explain this concept, as well as address a few others.

Last night I discovered a big one: I need to totally rewrite the ending.

I’m not changing the ending, although I know it will disappoint one of my First Readers.  (She was really upset with me over a choice that I had to make.)  Rather, I need to find a new way to approach the ending.  I’ve already started playing with some possibilities.  In order to be perfect it needs to fit with the story, stay true to the characters, and be satisfying to the reader.  It’s a tall order, but I think I’m up to the challenge.

Motivating a Dragon

As part of my revision of Dragon, I had to find a better motivation for my antagonist.

First, some background: Dragon Pendant is set in a gate world. On one side of any of the gates is Earth, mostly like it is today. On the other side, a world of magic that includes elves and dragons. Due to the magical nature of the gates, they are monitored by the elves. The dragons are mostly restricted to the magical realm, primarily due to their misbehavior early on. For some reason the elves thought that having dragons rampaging through a then-unprotected population of humans wasn’t a good idea. Ok, you’re caught up.

Now on to the antagonist. She’s a black dragon, and while not all of them deserve their reputation for evil, she definitely earns hers. I have her going to great lengths to get herself to Earth. The original reasoning I gave her was simple: you told me not to go, so I will, just to prove that I can. Once there, she starts building her hoard of antique weaponry, mostly through theft.

This was not a sufficient motivation for one of my First Readers. I’ve taken the time to consider her comments and realized that it might not be enough for other readers. So instead of just building a hoard (which she’s still going to do), she’s going to be developing herself as a major crime boss of the city. Now we don’t just have the nose-thumbing reason, we have the more traditional money/power reason as well.

I know it’s not a groundbreaking motivation, but it fits the character and the story well. And that’s my primary goal.

More Explanation

I added a big section of explanation to Dragon today.  I’ve been pondering how to best address the multitude of questions posed by one of my First Readers, and I had a revelation.

The main character doesn’t know she is a dragon, at least at first.  She spends most of the book learning how to be a dragon.  This means that there are lots of opportunities for one of her tutors to explain things to her that the reader would also need to know.  Conveniently, there is already a scene where she asks her human tutor (who is a scholar of sorts) about using the term Khai instead of dragon.  I took advantage of this scene and made the conversation much more elaborate.

This character-to-character explanation made it easy to address several of the questions that popped up throughout the book.  The scene is early enough in the story that the reader now gets the information before the scenes where it is good to know.

Dragon still needs a lot of this type of attention, but I am heartened by the fact that I am managing to find places where I can add more explanation!

Finding the Right Balance

I am struggling to find the right balance in a section of Dragon.  Be forewarned, I am giving away some spoilers for Dragon in this post.  If you want to wait and be surprised, don’t read it.  (To be fair, they are early spoilers and don’t give away anything major.)

The main character of the book is a dragon, but she was born in human form to human parents.  Her grandfather was a dragon who took human form and married a human woman, and his daughter was human but carried the ability to have dragon offspring.

In order to write this story, I had to figure out the science and genetics that would make this possible.  I am a science nerd, after all, and I had to understand it in order to be comfortable writing it.  Therefore, I have a full working knowledge of dragon genetics (at least as they relate to my fictional world) and the realities of inter-species breeding.

Most of my readers won’t want or need the same level of knowledge that I have, but this brings us to my dilemma.  I got conflicting reports from two of my First Readers.  One, who does not have a science background, said that the explanation that I currently have in the book was sufficient and not confusing for her.  The other, who is a science person like me, wanted more information.  The “it involves advanced genetics that I don’t understand” explanation that one character gives the other wasn’t enough for her.  And honestly, if I were reading the book, I’d need more than that to get past the disbelief I would have in the situation.

I am planning to write an excerpt from a fake scientific paper detailing the genetics at length, which will be included as an appendix to the book, but I fear that for the science-minded among my readers, there needs to be more explanation within the story itself.  I’m just not sure how to find the right balance to accomodate both the science nerds and the non-scientists who might read the book.

Explaining

I finished reading Dragon a few days ago, and I’ve decided that it needs some work.  When I said this to someone who has read it, however, the response was surprise.  I had to explain why it needs work.

The writing is not what needs work.  In fact, I think my writing improved (thanks partly to this blog) between Butterflies and Dragon.  Yes, there are occasional sentences that need some help, but mostly the writing is good.

The story itself is not what needs work.  Although one of my First Readers would disagree (she didn’t like most of the end), I think the plot, the characters, and the basic layout of the story are going to stay the same.

I think what needs work is the development of the world, or at least of the different magical races and their relationships.  The preliminary work is there; I know what’s going on.  I just feel that I’ve not explained things well enough for the reader.  The biggest piece of this is the whole “like Tibet” concept fail that everyone who has read it pointed out.   But there are other things, too.  Reading it with fresh eyes, as a reader rather than an author, I recognized places where the explanation isn’t very clear.  The characters clearly understand what’s going on, but the reader has been left out.

So now I get to go back and figure out the best way to fill in the gaps.

Animal Inaccuracies

A couple weeks ago I talked about avoiding terms in your writing that wouldn’t be applicable in your chosen time frame.  Today I want to talk about avoiding animals that wouldn’t be found in your chosen location.

I know that the average person isn’t going to think about where an animal is from, and the presence of an incongruent creature isn’t going to ruin a story for them.  There are a lot of people with some animal smarts, however, especially young adults who may be addicted to wildlife television.  As a person who knows something about critters, it can be very distracting to see an animal in the wrong place.

Want an example?  Fantastic!  I have some recognizable ones from movies.

Common to us in the USA, a raccoon should only show up if your story is set in the Americas.

I recently watched three of the Disney classics from the early 90s: Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  Every one of them had at least one animal incorrect.  In B&B, Gaston has a raccoon hanging out of his hunting bag in a very early scene.  Every raccoon relative is native to the New World only, and wouldn’t be found in France.  (The red panda, often considered a relative, is currently classified in its own order and not in Procyonidae, so I didn’t count it.  Besides, it’s restricted to China – still not found in France.)  The Lion King, which took great pains to be incredibly detailed and accurate with all of the wildlife, has giant anteaters in “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”  Once again, anteaters and their relatives are New World, and not found in Africa.

Aladdin is probably the worst, although I am willing to cut them a little slack.  It’s supposed to be set in the Middle East, but there are a lot of Indian influences (and animals) throughout the movie.  Tigers, Asian elephants, and peacocks are only found in Asia, but as the Middle East was a center for world trade, I think we can overlook these as possible to the scene.  My two main issues with the movie are both camelid.  First, they can’t seem to decide if they want dromedary (one-humped) or Bactrian (two-humped) camels in the movie; dromedary would be the correct choice.  Second, and bigger, is the “llamas galore” in the song “Prince Ali.”  Llamas are (once again) New World only, and unlike Asia that part of the world was not accessible to traders in the Middle East.

I can’t fault Disney too much; many of their later movies are very accurate with their species choices.  I’ve also had this difficulty.  In a scene in Butterflies, four characters are dressing up as woodland creatures for a masquerade ball.  I had them originally as a butterfly, a lizard, a wildcat and a raccoon.  After an interesting discussion with one of my First Readers, who pointed out that the others could be found almost anywhere while a raccoon is North American, I changed the fourth costume to a squirrel.  That change made the animals all generic enough that they weren’t setting a specific geographic location.  As the story is set in a world of my own creation, not specifying a real-world place with my animals is a good idea.

If you’re using animals in your stories, keep in mind where they are from.  Use generic animals (eagle) rather than specific species (Bald Eagle) when possible, and if you want to use something specific, there are many animals with wide ranges that won’t restrict you to a certain place.  The biggest message here is to do your research!  Putting in the right animals builds your scene, while the wrong ones can throw a reader out of the story.

Writing a Synopsis

Now that Dragon is done, I would love to put a synopsis of it up with the one for Butterflies on my synopsis page.  (See that link up there?  Yup, that one.  That’s where I’d put it.)

The trouble is writing it.  I can explain my books in detail to someone who asks, but writing a brief paragraph is tricky.  It has to share enough to get the reader’s interest while at the same time not sharing so much that it turns into a spoiler.  As I worked hard in writing Dragon to reveal information only as the main character got it, revealing anything in the synopsis makes me cringe.

This is my homework for the next couple of days, I guess.  Write a synopsis and have the First Readers review it.  Then I’ll post it for everyone.  I know, I know; you can’t read Dragon yet.  It doesn’t mean I can’t give you a little taste of the concept…

Listening to Feedback

My First Readers have lived up to their roles once again.

I got feedback from the third person to read Dragon a couple of days ago.  It was no surprise that some of the comments were echoes of the first two.  The biggest question everyone has: Why doesn’t the main character get more awestruck or surprised when she meets elves and goes to Erova?

It’s pretty clear that my concept of this world and what I actually managed to get down on paper are not quite matching up.  This is a gate world.  Imagine that the city in the story (which is a little like but also different from Houston) has gates throughout it to another world.  Humans can’t access them, since they don’t have magic, but elves can and do come to Earth on a semi-regular basis.  In a world like that, Erova (the other world) is kind of like Tibet: you know it exists, you occasionally see Buddhist monks, you might dream of going there, but only a few people actually visit.

Clearly, that common knowledge of the characters is not clear to the readers of the story.  It might be time for me to return to Dragon and fix a few things, or at least make some notes so I can remember the ideas when I revise it again in a few months.

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