January 31, 2006

The letter that queries …

I’ve been sending out query letters to over 70 agents in the last year or so. I just learnt that I’ve been doing it all wrong 🙁 We’d worked on the query letter and polished it and reworked it till we were sure that it was OK. But what we neglected to do was get a second opinion and that proved to be fatal. Somewhere along the way, in between all the reading on how to do an effective query letter and how to do a great synopsis, I seem to have got things muddled. Instead of writing a query letter, I’d been trying to write a query letter with an embedded synopsis. This was finally pointed out to me yesterday when I submitted my query letter for critting :p

Most online resource on query letters says to stick to about one page in length and to stick with three paragraphs – the first an introduction giving your title, genre, word count etc., the second details about your story and the third a description of yourself and your qualifications. Mine ran to four paragraphs I think and two of those were devoted to the story and yet, I didn’t do too good a job of it – as was pointed out to me 🙂 I thought that the whole story, both the beginning and the ending, had to be there. But it turns out that what I should have done was provide a teaser. Describe how the story starts and get them hooked but not go beyond that point. If they want to know more, then they can ask for a partial or the full manuscript. Simple, and yet apparently so easy to overlook.

My revised query letter turned out to be only two paragraphs since the first paragraph with the book title, genre and word count turned out to be a single sentence :p I merged that with the second paragraph detailing the story and came up with a much, much shorter two paragraph query. This time however, I’m going to get it critted before I try submitting to anybody else :p

Posted by Fahim at 8:26 am  |  1 Comment

January 30, 2006

What’s your style?

The above is a question that I find myself grappling with now that I’ve started on a short story. For the longest time, I could not write anything because I didn’t seem to have my own voice, my own style. The standard narrative style seemed just too bland for me but that’s about all that I seemed to be able to manage when I thought of writing something. Then I wrote my first novel and I found my voice.

I discovered that a dry, humorous style of narration is what suited me best. I’d used a variation on this during my days of writing non-fiction for newspapers. I used to have a self-deprecating/self-insulting style which poked fun at my own pronouncements and the readers seemed to love it 🙂 So, I was simply going back to the same roots and this seemed the right place to be. Of course, there were the inevitable comparisons with Terry Pratchett. Now, I didn’t want to be called just another Pratchett imitator, trying to cash in on what I perceived to be a good market. That wasn’t my intention at all. That just happened to be the style I wrote in and I’d written that way (at least for non-fiction) long before I discovered Terry. But that’s beside the point …

The real point is that I wrote my first novel and it had a fairly consistent voice. It was dryly humorous all the way through. Then I sat down to write my second novel and I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off a second time. Could I be that humorous a second time? Could I find ways not to have the same old jokes again? Could I even remember which jokes had been used where? I wasn’t too sure anymore. Of course, I got through only about 2-3 pages of the second novel before I put that away to write the short stories but I wasn’t really happy with the tone of the second novel. It didn’t have the same kind of easy flow as the rest – something was missing.

Now the short stories, they don’t have much humour at all. I am excited about the one I’m writing at the moment because I feel that the world the story is set in has potential and that I can do a whole bunch of stories set in that world. But does it have the same style as the novel? Not at all. This one’s straight story telling – more Asimov than Pratchett. So I find myself wondering again, what is my style?

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Posted by Fahim at 8:36 am  |  No Comments

January 29, 2006

Where the muse takes you …

Suddenly, I seem to be up to my neck in short stories :p I had wanted to get the latest revision of "Honest" done quickly but I’ve only gotten through the first chapter. While I do want to finish that, I feel the urge to work on this particular short story more.

When I dusted out my old short stories, I selected three stories as sort of in a state of readiness. Two were complete stories and the other was a fragment that I’d started to write but lost steam on. Laurie reckons that of the two complete ones, that one could be submitted. That was the last short story I had done – it was written about five or six years ago and was called "Dad is Gone". Not really one of my favourites but then again, it’s not really something with a lot of action – it more of a mood/character piece. I just like the setting, which was one of the first really detailed worlds I created, and the character. However, since that’s the one which is most close to being submission-worthy, Laurie is working on editing it and once she’s done, I guess I’ll go through it again and then try submitting that one to a few places.

The second complete story is a short, short – less than a 1000 words. It’s a really rambling, morbid piece which has prompted a couple of people to ask me if I’d ever considered suicide :p No, not because the writing was so bad, but because the narrator is kind of obsessed with death. Again, not really something I actually like except for sentimental value – it was the first short story that I ever completed – and the final line, I love that line 🙂 Will I try submitting it? I don’t know.

The third one – I’d named it "Big Brother Lives" but am going to change the title since that particular title makes no sense – is a different kettle of fish. I didn’t have any real affinity to the story as it was when I read it. However, as I began editing it and reworking it, I began to re-imagine the world the story takes place in and I like how the new world is turning out. It has possibilities. I am not very familiar with today’s science fiction (I mostly read golden age stuff …) and so, don’t know if this kind of thing has been done before. Considering the subject matter and the direction I’m taking, I think it probably has. But still, I feel good about this particular story … Let’s see how it goes …

Posted by Fahim at 7:14 am  |  No Comments

January 28, 2006

The long and the short of it …

There used to be a time when all I wanted to write were short stories. I had ideas written away on a million scraps of paper and stored on many different files scattered across my hard drive. I didn’t think I was capable of writing a novel because I didn’t think that I could come up with a plot that could span the length of an entire novel. Then, I wrote my first novel a year or so ago :p

Now, I don’t think I can write a short story 🙂 I have plenty of ideas for novels now. In fact, my current story line spans 7 novels at the moment. But a short story? Oh no! I don’t think I can do it because I don’t know I can tell a good story at that length. Some of my scenes take around 8-10 pages and a short story could be done in about 3 of my scenes! Or, that was my excuse till yesterday.

Yesterday, I dusted out one of my old short stories and took a look at it. I could certainly see where it needed work. I could also see how green I’d been and how much work the story needed in certain terms. I had about 4 pages of story and I sat down with the intention of writing a short story of about 35 pages. Horror of horrors! I suddenly discovered that I didn’t seem to know what to write and how to fill up 35 pages. Here I had been claiming that I could do a 350 page novel with no problems at all and there I was, stuck on a 35 page short story :p So in the end, I guess the length does not matter. In either format, you could get stuck just as easily or you could stop worrying about the length and just write the story and see where it takes you. I think that’s what I’ll do – try telling the story and see where the story takes me. It worked for me with a novel, so why not a short story? 🙂

Posted by Fahim at 8:14 am  |  No Comments

January 27, 2006

Daggers drawn

We watched "House of Flying Daggers" yesterday and the imagery from the movie still flits through my mind. Visually, it was stunning. I don’t know what it is about Chinese movies but they seem to work a lot in primary and secondary colours :p You see breathtaking scenes of impossibly green trees or fields and autumn leaves of dazzling yellow and orange that make you just ache to watch them – they are that beautiful. Then you have the warriors in all shades of blue and the beautiful maidens in red and so on. I absolutely loved the scenes in the movie as far as the visuals went – the colours were so crisp, so bright that it was as if somebody had taken the world, washed all the grime away and hung it out to dry in all its newly cleaned glory 🙂

The story itself, what can I say about the story? I liked the story though there were certain stylized points that I found hard to believe. Such as the fact that they’d have like 20-30 drums (or more) waiting around just in the off-chance a captain of the guard will wander in and want to play an "echo game" :p I didn’t like the ending but then again, I never like sad endings. There was however, a moment towards the end that I thought was absolutely brilliant. (If you haven’t watched the movie and don’t want spoilers, don’t read the rest of this paragraph – simply read the next paragraph :p) You have the two male protagonists (or is it the protagonist and antagonist? :p) facing off against each other. One of them, Leo, has just stabbed the girl, Mei, whom both he and the other guy, Jin, love. Leo is of the opinion that if he can’t have Mei, nobody can have her. Now, he’s about to kill Jin and Mei rises up and tells him that she’ll pull out the dagger that Leo stabbed her with and will kill Leo if he harms Jin, because she loves Jin. Jin is screaming at her not to worry about his life because pulling out the dagger from her breast will mean that she will die. You get this perfect moment of tension where you can see the different emotions on the faces of the characters and I was thinking, OK, perhaps Leo will realize what love is all about now – it’s not about killing the one you love because you can’t have her but about being ready to die so that she could live. The way the movie ends, I am not sure if Leo every actually understood that or not …

The actors did a great job in the movie. I could see every emotion, every thought mirrored in their faces and gestures. Half the time, I wasn’t even reading the sub-titles, I was just too busy watching their body language 🙂 And the title song, ah the title song. It was beautiful, it was haunting and so very sad. I couldn’t help humming it even though I didn’t know the words. Overall, a great movie – if you don’t mind foreign movies that is 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:42 am  |  1 Comment

January 26, 2006

Writing tools and writing writing tools :p

It’s something that has bugged me for a while – there just aren’t good writing tools around. Sure, you have Word or any of the other garden variety word processing software out there. But are any of those really targeted at writers? How easy is it to move scenes around? Or to see where the passive sentences are? Or where the adverbs are?

Sure Word allows you to cut and paste and it has a grammar checker which (not too accurately at times) points out the passive sentences. But it really doesn’t go much further beyond that. Some time ago, I started writing a writer’s editor called Amanuensis just for this reason. It had a treeview where you could navigate your individual chapters/scenes easily and even move the chapters around by simply dragging a node on the treeview to the desired location. It had timers to time how much work you’d done in this particular session and a word counter to keep track of the actual number of words you’d written. I actually got started on my first novel using Amanuensis. Then I switched over to using Word and Mind Manager and Amanuensis development came to a grinding halt :p

However, even while using Word, I’ve been really bugged about the actual lack of good writing aids in Word. I have looked around for plugins and add-ons which might help but what there is, seems to be commercial and a bit overpriced. I’ve been thinking about writing a couple of simple tools – an adverb highlighter, a commonly overused word highlighter etc. – for a while now but never got around to it. At least, not till yesterday 🙂 I finally decided to put some time towards getting a macro written and after a whole evening spent debugging the code, I had a working macro for highlighting adverbs. Of course, since the code simply highlights words ending in "ly" (this is how I’ve been doing it in Word till now – use Find/Replace to highlight all words ending in "ly") it ends up with quite a few false positives. So, I added an exclusion list and it all seemed to work fairly well. I have to change the code to include support for footers as well – it currently only works on the document body. And then, I intend to add highlighters for a few other word lists. Once it’s all done, I think I’ll release it so that others can benefit from it too 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:23 am  |  No Comments

January 25, 2006

Doing it the “right” way …

I’m going through an interesting (perhaps interesting is not the right word :p) debate with somebody on one of the forums I visit. I wouldn’t exactly call it a debate either since I didn’t start out with the intention of debating the point. I had simply posted the first scene from my novel on that forum for comments and critiques and I got one critique (only one mind you :p) from this person who had a few relevant things to say but also in the crit mentioned that I should not use terms such as "credits" or "blaster" in my story because "as any professional would tell me" (he might not have used the exact words, so the quotes are mine :p) that is not the correct way to write science fiction.

I agreed with most of his critiques because they were valid and to the point. However, I found this whole "credits" and "blaster" thing a bit … how shall I put it politely without saying "pig headed"? … irrational? mindless? stupid? I don’t know … one of those or all of those. I just didn’t agree with the way that particular comment was phrased. (There was sense in there – but not the way it was said and not for the reasons expressed by this particular person.)

Now, if you were to look around, you will find a lot of rules to writing and even ones which are specifically aimed at writing science fiction. The Turkey City Lexicon is one really good example of rules and advice on how to (and how not to) write science fiction. Incidentally, if the Lexicon helps you, you might also want to take a gander at the annotated version – it leaves out some of the stuff but it also, I believe, adds a bit to it. So yes, there are a lot of rules on how to write good science fiction. But the trick is not to get bogged down by these rules and not to follow all (or any) of these rules slavishly because "that’s the way it is supposed to be done". You have to take every rule and see if it applies to what you want to do. Sometimes you might even want to break a rule for effect or because it actually makes your story better. But in essence, you should be able to determine what works (and what does not work) for you personally and not be bound by all these rules.

I (or rather Laurie :p) posted the question about "credits" and "blasters" to a different forum – one composed of both writers and science fiction fans. The responses we got were completely different. Not one talked about doing it the "professional" way. They actually came up with arguments both for and against using the terms and in each context, I agreed with what they said. I’ve taken the best of what they’ve said and am incorporating those suggestions into my story because they actually made sense. But do something just because that’s how everybody has been doing it and by golly that’s the way it should continue to be done? Phooie, I say :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:32 am  |  No Comments

January 24, 2006

A good reader is hard to find …

Yes, I find myself echoing Feargal Sharky today after actually finding an excellent reader 🙂 At this stage, I realize that I haven’t been giving my first novel to enough people to begin with. Being the lazy kind of git that I am, I gave it to a few people and when I didn’t get any feedback, I forgot all about it and moved on instead of keeping at it till I actually got some feedback. So here I find myself, ready to go the Print on Demand (PoD) route and I still haven’t had my novel read all the way through except by Laurie and one agent.

Now that I’ve received some concrete feedback (not the whole, "I like it and it’s good" variety :p) I am thankful that only one agent has read it instead of a few more – there definitely is a lot more room for improvement. Jasper Fforde once sent me some advice which he sends to all writers who contact him. (It’s a long story, I’ll tell you another day :p). In there, he said that good readers are hard to find and when you find one, you should wine and dine them to make sure that you don’t lose ’em. I now see what he means 🙂

Of course, it’s hard to find good readers. Everybody wants to read your stuff when you ask them. But about 80% of those you give the book to will not read it at all or read the first few pages and then forget about it. Of the rest, perhaps 19% will actually read it but will come back with very vague suggestions or a not quite helpful "I liked it" or "I didn’t really like it". Then there will be that rare 1% who will actually take the time to read your work, make detailed notes as to what worked, what didn’t and even offer suggestions on how to improve things. If you find such a reader, hang on to them – they are rarer than you think 🙂

Posted by Fahim at 7:25 am  |  No Comments

January 23, 2006

Is Kong king?

We watched "King Kong" a couple of days ago. I wanted to write about the movie then but other entries intervened :p However, I’ve been reading a couple of other reviews of the movie since then and they, to say the least, were rather gushing. Since I was bored to death (and annoyed) by most of the movie, I decided to go ahead and present my opinion of the movie.

I have not seen the original though I know it has cult status. I had a basic idea of what the story line of the original was but I had never considered the fact that the movie was more horror than action/adventure. So I went into this version of "King Kong" expecting an action/adventure and received a mishmash of horror, romance, action and adventure. Of course, that’s not a fault of the movie. I don’t fault them for the mixture. But I do fault them for not making any of it actually work for me :p

I was in actuality on the edge of my seat till the ship got to Skull Island. The story was gripping till then and while I did know that they’d get to Skull Island eventually, I still was kept wondering as to what would happen next. But once they got to Skull Island, it was mostly downhilll from that point on – in fact, I believe I actually yawned a few times through the rest of the movie :p It was just a lot of (unnecessary to me) footage of Kong running through the jungle clutching Ann in its paws like a rag doll (let’s not even go into how she survived Kong’s grip and the break-neck hand movements) and way too many instances of strange creatures popping up and getting bashed all across the landscape by Kong.

I liked the performances of quite a few of the actors but Naomi Watts annoyed the heck out of me. Somebody wrote that you could see a range of emotions on her face. But to be honest, all I could see were two buck teeth that would have put both Bugs Bunny and Chip ‘n’ Dale combined to shame :p I kid you not, in all of her shots, all you can see of her mouth are two teeth, try it and see if I’m wrong 🙂 And the screaming, oh, the screaming! I know that the role of "Ann Darrow" is supposed to be a screamer but boy, couldn’t they tone it down a bit? She screams and the whole island seems to hear it. Heck, at one point she screams on the island and the people on the ship seem to hear it. I’ve heard of suspension of belief but they are to need anti-gravity lifts to suspend belief like that!

They say that Peter Jackson was initially unable to make the movie back around 1996 but the studios pulled the plug on the project. He was only able to make the movie after the success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy assured him he-can-do-no-wrong status. If the failure of "Lord of the Rings" would have assured that we’d be spared "King Kong", no matter how much I liked LotR, I wish it had tanked :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:39 am  |  No Comments

January 22, 2006

Memories are made of these …

I’m totally sleep deprived today :p We had a gathering of old college buddies yesterday. We all went to this boarding school and it was 30 years ago that we all met. Well, at least most of them did meet 30 years ago. I joined this particular school in grade 9 while most of the others had been there from grade 1. It is over 18 years ago since I last saw any of them.

Somebody had the idea recently that we should get together for the 30th anniversary of the fist meeting for most of them. So they organized everything and it was supposed to be an evening event and I was planning to go. Suddenly somebody changed plans and two days before the event I was told that it was to be an all day gathering and they were meeting up on Saturday (yesterday). Of course, the problem is that I couldn’t go since I had work. So, through the day I receive calls from various people that I hadn’t heard of in close to 20 years and we keep talking about the good old days.

They were supposed to be there till 6 o’clock and my work ended at 5 o’clock. So I promised them that I’d meet them there at 5 but that if they were to leave before then, they should all come over to our place since we were like 5-10 minutes from where they were meeting. Close to 5 o’clock I get a call saying that they are leaving and that they were coming over to my place. I figured that there’d be may be 10 people tops. Imagine my surprise when like 6-8 vehicles pull up and around 20-25 people get out!

It was a great reunion. Of course, in the midst of it all, my replacement for the next shift does not arrive. So I have all these guys sitting around staring at me while I sit there waiting for the replacement to arrive :p I finally had to call my manager and get him out of bed to take over the shift. By that time, the guys had left to go over to somebody else’s place. However, one of the guys stayed back, since we have no vehicle of our own, and took both Laurie and I to the other guy’s place after I finally got off work.

It was a fun evening. We talked about old college pranks, old friends who weren’t there due to one reason or another, recalled all the old nicknames and screamed ourselves silly. It was over all too soon though since some of these guys had travelled around 7-8 hours to get there and they had to get back the same night. We ended up going with the same friend who gave us the lift over to his house to meet his wife. Then they came back over to our place and we had a nice conversation which dragged on close to midnight. The upshot of it all is that I had a terrific evening yesterday but I’m so tired today :p

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Posted by Fahim at 8:27 am  |  No Comments

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