Light at the End of the Tunnel

Okay, Nanowrimo participants. You’re in that final stretch, the end in sight, and you think you cannot possibly write another word. Every time you look at your Nano novel, you feel a little queasy, and your eyes start to cross. Fear not. Here are some final words of encouragement to help you hang in there to the bitter end.

First, and I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is just a draft. It does not have to be beautiful or perfect. It does not even have to make sense. All you need to successfully complete Nanowrimo is to churn out 50,000 words. Granted, the better the first draft, the easier it is to revise later, but if that was truly your goal, you would have given yourself more than 30 days to write the darn thing.

This is supposed to be fun. Remember that. Be silly. Write whatever and however you need to in order to make it across the metaphorical finish line. Stock up on your favorite energy drink, grab some candy bars, and put the pedal to the metal. Write, write, write, and see your word count climb.

Hit the forums or the local write-ins and rub elbows one last time with your fellow Nano participants. Cheer each other on. Congratulate (or hiss at) anyone who has already reached their goal before the deadline. Take that chaos and energy into yourself, and get back to work. You have a goal. You can do it.

So what are you still doing here? Go write!

Links for the Holiday

Here in the U.S., we’re heading into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Depending on how energetic I’m feeling, I might pop in with a post in the next few days, but it’s more likely that I’ll be happily ensconced on my couch with a huge stack of books for the duration.

So, I offer up some links to entertain. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you celebrating, and a wonderful weekend to the rest of you as well. Wishing you all good food, good company, safe travels, and much for which to be grateful.

World’s Top 10 Literary Cities – Not sure I agree entirely, but I’m happy to visit and check them all out.

A Checklist for Deep POV – Either 1st or 3rd person. Worth reading, whether or not you have POV issues.

Ninety-nine Weeks: A Fairy Tale – Ursula LeGuin. ‘Nuf said.

Thirteen Ways of Beginning a Novel – Nice round up, plus just entertaining to read.

Robert Crumb’s Favorite Macaroni Casserole – Fun recipes from writers, in honor of the food-happy holiday ahead.

Charging Ahead: 3 Weeks of Nanowrimo

It’s been three weeks of furious writing if you’re participating in Nanowrimo. Maybe you’ve had a couple of missed days. Maybe you’re a bit behind on the word count. Or perhaps not — perhaps you’ve written buckets of words and have that 50,000-word goal in sight.

Either way, if you live in the United States and celebrate Thanksgiving, this upcoming week is a tricky one. Holidays tend to create chaos; there’s shopping to do, food to prepare, relatives to wrangle… you get the idea. Lots of distractions from writing. Even if you’re not celebrating this week, you’re still easing into the home stretch, that last third of the month where you probably need to crank out something like 16,000 words, or more. Chances are that you’ve plowed through a lot of your ideas already, have thrown what feels like the kitchen sink and a few minor appliances at your protagonist, and you’re starting to feel a little weary.

Here’s the thing: if you’re going for the word count, it’s time to pull out all the stops. If you’re a quantity-over-quality writer at this stage in the game, you officially have permission to go crazy. Acknowledge that much of what you’re writing this week is going to get edited out at a later date, and start padding your manuscript.

What do I mean by padding? I mean exactly what it sounds like, adding details and content that fluff out your word count without doing much to alter the plot. You may have a revelation while you’re doing so, and then you most certainly can go back to writing substantive material, but until lightning strikes, I recommend harmless scribbling.

Go back to the start of your manuscript and read slowly. Each time you introduce a new character, a new setting, a new object, describe it. Describe it more than you already have. Add details. Colors, shapes, fabrics, book titles on bookshelves, warts on noses, condition of clothing, of curtains, of carpeting. Next add dialogue. For each conversation, add one more exchange. You can hone it back down to sparse and intelligent come December, but for now you want characters who are chatty. If you’re really desperate, kick out all your contractions. I’m becomes I am. Wouldn’t becomes would not. Instant extra words.

Is this cheating? Is this ridiculous? Well, some people would say writing a book in a month is ridiculous, and yet here you are. The idea is to keep progressing, to keep moving forward. You’ve already acknowledged — or should have — that whatever you produce this month is merely a first draft, that down-and-dirty version of the novel you aspire to write. If you’re truly committed to finishing 50,000 words by November 30th, and you’re having trouble with what to say next (as opposed to how to say it), just keep adding words. There will be plenty of time to go back over what you’ve written once the month is over, to finesse your work and to add more plot twists. The challenge here is to get to the finish line, not to write a masterpiece in 30 days. The latter is unlikely, but the first is very possible. So, charge ahead, and happy writing!

Announcement Regarding Submissions

TGIF! And I mean that with all my heart. The last few weeks have been more hectic than usual, and with the holidays on the horizon, it feels as if everyone is scrambling to get things accomplished before they take off on various vacations.

In honor of extreme work loads, particularly my own, I’m closing to new queries/submissions until otherwise stated, but I’m anticipating that it will last as least until the new year.

What does this mean? If I’ve already requested something from you, be it partial or full-length manuscript, please do send it along when you’re ready. Likewise, if you’ve been recommended to me by one of my clients or an agent/editor and they’ve already chatted with me, please go ahead and send your material. However, any queries directed to me at the agency submissions box will be either rerouted to a different TKA agent or replied to with a note that I’m not currently taking new material. The Knight Agency as a whole is still accepting submissions.

Why am I doing this? It’s been a busy year, not just a busy few weeks, and I am painfully behind in reading submissions. I am also spending a lot of time sending notes to people who are inquiring as to where they are in the queue, which is understandable since I’m so backed up and they wish to verify that my response hasn’t gone astray, but also takes more time out from doing other things, including reading said submissions. So I’m putting a halt to the flow of new material until I’ve caught up.

There has been a lot of chatter online recently regarding agents who only respond if they want to see more/sign on a writer, and who allow silence to serve as a rejection. Please note that I do respond to all requested material.




In the Spirit of Giving

Those of you who frequent this blog know I’m highly in favor of giving books to those who have few or none at their disposal, and that I’m a huge supporter of the book fairs run by Guys Lit Wire, a blog that focuses on reviewing books that appeal to younger male readers in particular. Well, they’re hosting a book fair for the holidays, benefiting Ballou Sr. High School in Washington, D.C. The school first came to their attention last spring, at which point the school library held an abysmal one book per student enrolled — a really shameful ratio. The spring fair and some additional efforts have brought the ratio up to four books per student, but that still falls short of the American Library Association’s recommended eleven books per student.

With Thanksgiving around the corner here in the U.S., it’s a perfect time to consider what you’re truly grateful for in your life. I’m particularly grateful that I have easy access to any and all books I could ever possibly wish to read, a luxury that many people do not share, whether for financial or political reasons. So I’m donating some books to this excellent cause, and I ask that you do the same if you’re able. If a book donation is not something you can do right now, please consider boosting the signal for this school, and helping them to achieve their goals in that way.

Complete details are posted over at the Guys Lit Wire Blog, including a link to the school’s wish list of titles at Powell’s Books.

Off the Beaten Path: When Your Story Takes a Detour

When writing a novel, there frequently comes a point in the process, always somewhere in the middle, where you scratch your head and wonder when, exactly, your characters hijacked your story. You knew where you were going, you had a goal, an end point in sight, complete with fabulous climax and a stirring resolution, but somewhere between Once upon a time and happily ever after you appear to have taken a wrong turn. A fabulous sounding tangent crept up on you during a particularly weak or frustrated moment, or a new character appeared from nowhere and wanted in on the action, and you went with it because, hey, writing is all about discovering the story as you go, right? The willingness to go with the flow is what makes magic possible.

Yes, and no.

The reality is that you’re telling a story, and stories ultimately have a certain structure. I’m not saying there is only one structure out there — far from it — but at the end of the day your story should have a beginning, middle, and end (though not always in that order), and your protagonist should have undergone some sort of change, be it physical, mental, or something in between. It’s perfectly possibly to achieve this in any number of ways, including by taking short-cuts through the woods or hopping in that mysterious boat you hadn’t planned to leave on the shoreline or by kissing that girl who shows up in the office out of thin air. Your character can do these things because what he or she does is what creates that character, what makes them who they are. Choices, actions, reactions; you show the reader details about the protagonist through the road they follow over the course of the narrative. So by all means, let the story influence you and allow for twists and turns that occur as you write.

However. You are still the one writing this book. While it might sometimes feel as if your characters are taking charge and telling you what to do, the reality is that they are your creations and have no say in their fate. No matter how much you are swept up by the magic of your storytelling, you need to keep your feet planted firmly under your desk and to realize that if you write yourself into a corner, only you can write yourself back out of it. And sometimes those mysterious characters or those weird tangents that call to you are nothing more than your subconscious jumping the shark. Not every diversion is going to be a good idea, no more than every story idea you ever have will make a workable, interesting novel. You still need to exercise your own right to choose, and to be the master of the universe you’ve created, and decide whether or not to allow the twist in your tale.

So what do you do if you’ve written yourself into that corner? If you took a turn from your original plan and, say 15,000 words down the road, realize that it’s taking you nowhere near your destination?

You have a couple of choices. If you’re currently writing for Nanowrimo and your only goal is to get your word count by the end of the month, just keep going. Put some sort of marker at the place where you took the wrong turn, and another at the point where you realized your mistake, leave the words there, and start writing from that original turning point. Eventually you’ll go back and cut the part that wasn’t working, or prune it and move it around until it works with your story as you’d intended. Just because it doesn’t serve the narrative where it is, doesn’t mean it’s a complete loss. Recycling in writing is just as valuable as in real life.

If you’re writing with a complete novel as your goal, one that you hope to eventually publish, and you aren’t concerned about hitting 50,000 words by November 30th, then I recommend removing that unwanted section immediately. Reread the section that’s not working and be sure that there’s no way you can salvage it. Then cut and paste it into a separate document and save it to your writing folder. Rework the main document as you’d planned to write it originally and continue on from there, but be sure to check periodically to see if any of the section you removed will be useful to the story as you progress.

Sometimes those twists in your plot are going to be brilliant. Sometimes they will just create more work. For those writers who plan ahead and have a good idea of what their story will be, it is often easier to determine if a tangent will succeed, since they can see not only the start of the detour, but where it might possibly meet up with the main path again later in the story. For non-planners, or “pantsers”, there’s a greater danger of finding a twist or turn that takes you too far from the road you need to follow. For this reason, I maintain that all writers should consider starting with at least a few notes regarding where their story is going, and how it’s going to end. Even a briefly sketched road map can save hours (or days) wandering lost through the woods.

Happy Book Day!

Congratulations to Nalini Singh, whose LORD OF THE ABYSS, the fourth and final book in the Royal House of Shadows continuity from Nocturne, hits stores today. Nalini wrote this series with three other authors, and together they planned out the world and overall arc for all of their books. A second edition of the book will be available next week in a two-for-one volume, with a reprint of Nalini’s very first book, DESERT WARRIOR.

Linkity Link

Happy Friday! I’m out of town for the weekend, but I have not forgotten you. Here are some lovely and informative links to keep you entertained. Wishing you all a most enjoyable weekend, filled with books and writing accomplishments and all manner of good things.

First off, in honor of Veteran’s Day, Knight Agency author Bryan Andersen on MSNBC, discussing his inspirational memoir, NO TURNING BACK, about life as an Iraq vet, Purple Heart recipient, and triple amputee.

Knight Agency Clients Receive 24 Romantic Times Award Nominations — because we’re so very proud of our authors.

Small Talk — a lovely interview with author Anthony Horowitz.

The Truth About Amazon Publishing — a very informative look at the company’s new programs.

Literary Websites — a handy list.

Digested Read: Bleak House by Charles Dickens — an overview of a very long classic, in honor of the approaching 200th anniversary of the author’s birth.

Are We There Yet? Setting the Pace

It’s day 10 and counting for Nanowrimo participants. That means as of the end of today, you should be about a third of the way through your Nano novel. Which brings me to pacing, and pacing is a vital part of storytelling, no matter if you’re writing a novel in a month or over a year.

Pacing is just what it sounds like: The speed at which you move your characters through the story — and your readers along with them. So what exactly determines the pace of your story? Just about everything you write.

Big-picture pacing has to do with the nuts and bolts of your story. Do you kick off your book with an action-packed scene, or do you introduce your protagonist and set up their current situation before you throw them for a loop? Do you introduce supporting characters soon or gradually? How soon do your characters set out on their journey, whether it’s literal or figurative?

How swiftly do you build suspense? If you kill someone in the first few pages and set up a scenario that points toward a body count, the deaths might come with fewer pages between the farther you get into the story. The killings might be more brutal and/or more personal. Is the protagonist a potential victim? Their significant other? Are people getting kidnapped before turning up dead?

In a romance, the couple’s exchanges get more tangled as the story progresses. As you ramp up their attraction and sexual tension, you also want to push more obstacles in their way. The harder and more complicated those obstacles are to overcome, the faster your reader will push forward to read what comes next, to see how you solve everything and create that happily ever after.

Fantasy stories are often about quests or adventures, where the characters undergo rites of passage and trials along the way. Weather and the landscape serve as obstacles, along with minions of the antagonist, tricky magic, and sometimes their own poor choices.

A good thing to keep in mind while you’re building suspense and moving your characters forward: Obstacles can be both physical and mental. A mix of both is the most effective and realistic scenario, and the mental obstacles will often last over the course of the story and tie in with your resolution. But watch out for letting characters get too “thinky” about their internal issues. Long internal monologues can bog down a character and the story pacing along with them.

Page turners are just what they sound like. You create a story that has readers anxious to find out the next step in the journey. But plot points aren’t the only way to increase tension and push readers forward. Remember that sentence structure and word choice can convey a sense of urgency. Used sparingly, techniques such as reducing paragraphs to short, tight sentences can help to build tension. Read your narrative out loud and hear the difference in your word choices. Hard, clipped consonants make for a staccato beat, moving the reader’s attention forward. Listen to the rhythm of your sentences.

Brief exchanges of dialogue between two characters that have the bare minimum of attributions — the he saids and she saids — can convey a variety of tense moments. Perhaps one character is pressing the other to give them information, or a character is too upset or traumatized by a recent experience to speak swiftly despite the fact that time is of the essence. That feeling that the information being withheld, intentionally or not, can ratchet up a situation for readers as well. In this case, both the style of the writing and its content help set the pace of your story.

We’ve all seen the diagram of a story plot. It looks like a long climb up the side of a mountain, until you reach the pinnacle, and with it the climax of your story. The downward slope on the far side is generally far shorter, as your resolution ties up the end of your story. But you’re the judge of how steep that initial climb should be. Too flat and there’s no challenge, and you’ll lose your reader’s interest. Too steep and you’ll wear them out with your acrobatics, or else they’ll get confused by the twists and turns and give up entirely.

Finding the pace for your story is more than just getting the words down. For Nano participants, churning out the sentences is the main concern at this point, but building the initial climb — that ramp constructed of tense moments and thrilling plot points — helps to create a strong skeleton of a first draft for any writer. If your story keeps you writing, if you’re excited to see what comes next and to push forward and write it, there’s a good chance your reader will be just as anxious to share the journey.



As of last night, I am the proud owner of a shiny new iPhone. How does this affect you? Well, if you’ve sent me an e-mail since I turned off my Blackberry, the chances are you’ve received a message that it bounced. Rest assured, I’m receiving all e-mail. It’s just all agency mail was being forwarded to me on my old phone, and since it is no more, the messages are bouncing from there. Our tech guy needs to turn off the forwarding for me, so my apologies until he can take care of it.