Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Character Goals: Why they are Essential to any Good Book


Hi everyone! Today I want to talk about character goals and why they are absolutely vital to your story. This is an important edit because most writers nonchalantly believe that their characters have goals in general, so they do not need to focus on this area of their book. However, many writers do not realize how prevalent these goals must continuously be throughout your story.

So today I will discuss what character goals are, why they’re important, which characters should have goals, how to figure out whether your characters continuously have goals, and how to insert these goals into the text.

What are Character Goals?
Character goals are those things that drive the character’s role in the story. This can also be considered character motivation. The genre where this is most prevalent is Mystery, where the main character spends the entire book trying to figure out a murder, disappearances, kidnapping, etc. But, every fictional novel must contain characters with goals. For instance, in The Count of Monte Cristo Edmund Dantès’s main goal was revenge; In The Hunger Games, Catniss’s main goal was survival.

Where Should Character Goals be Present?
Everywhere. I mean, not literally—that would be a bit repetitive—but the character must always be on task in nearly every scene in the book. This is where most writers veer off course. Most writers find it hard to pull together why their character needs to do this or that, so they just kind of throw their characters into situations that will further the plot. It pains me to read scenes like this, because many times the situation is implausible, and the simple solution to fixing this scene is inserting some character goals.

Why are They Important?

1. They Tighten your Plot line
Think of those books where you’ve asked yourself, “Where are they going with this?” This question suggests that a plot line is weak, and the writer has not sufficiently done his or her job. (A reader should only ever rightfully ask that question if your intention was to misguide them.) A weak plot line can lead to confusion and frustration, which is bad news for your book.

Keeping your character goal-oriented means that your book won’t have those frivolous scenes that slow down many books; there will be no place where readers can take a break. And if readers cannot take a break, then your book is successful—you’ve crafted a story that readers care about too much to leave.

2. Character Goals Keep Books Logically Sound and Believable
I recently found a story that I wrote when I was in junior high. It was hilariously bad, in part because my main character literally stumbled into conflict over and over again. She never sought it out; it only ever came for her. This was because she had no goals, nothing to hold the story together. And as you might imagine, the story got ridiculous quick.

The one flaw in my example is the assumption that only childish writing lacks goals. I’m betting most first drafts contain a lot of goalless scenes, and this is nothing to be embarrassed about. However, it should be fixed, because goals keep the book logically sound and believable. For instance, if your book is about treasure hunters, and their goal is to find treasure, then each character should be pursuing that goal. This is much more believably than the goalless alternative: that your treasure hunter(s) stumble across clue after clue. After a while, these piling coincidences can become unbelievable and illogical if there is no underlying reason for them.

3. Character Goals Can Reduce your Work
Yes, inserting goals will reduce your work in the long run. This conclusion is really quite simple when you think about it. Character goals simply keep your characters on task because they’re thinking about the problem they need to solve, not chatting with their friends about their favorite color of nail polish.

It’s much more difficult for a writer to come up with a plausible reason why the character is coincidentally in the right place at the right time, over and over again. Inserting character goals alleviates some of that stress. You get to cut out all that fruitless work of figuring out how to create a plausible coincidence because your character is taking the initiative and pursuing their goals.

Which Characters Should Have Goals?
There are two primary characters that must have goals. The first is (not surprisingly) your main character. The second is the book’s antagonist, and this antagonist’s goals should conflict with those of your main character.

How Can I Tell if my Characters have Goals?
Go through your book scene by scene, and ask yourself in each scene what your main character’s goal(s) is/are. This is a great exercise because if you cannot answer this question, the scene may not be important in pushing the plot forward.

How Should I Correct This?
Alter your character’s thoughts, actions, observations, and/or dialogue to reflect these character goals. Like I said at the beginning of the post, you do not need to throw your character’s goals in the reader’s face; it can be subtle and indirect, but it should always be present to some extent. Readers like having direction and knowing roughly where you the author are going with a story.

The Exception
Books are full of way more coincidences than real life; it’s part of what makes books magical. In addition, there are inevitably areas of the book where the character is not focused on their goals that are nonetheless important. Don’t stress over these scenes. Whether you are a new writer or a seasoned one, I’m sure you all know that writing rules have exceptions—we learned that in grammar school. This edit cannot be applied uniformly throughout your novel; instead it’s aimed to make you think critically about how you’ve presented your novel.

Conclusion
Character goals, those things that propel a character through the story, should be present (although not always obvious) throughout your novel. Including character goals in your story is important for three reasons: one, they tighten your plot line; two, they make your story more logical and believable; and three, character goals reduce your work. Your protagonist and antagonist should both have goals and these should be opposing. You can edit for character goals by asking yourself in each scene what goal the character seeks to further or accomplish. But lastly, remember that like most of my content edits there are always exceptions to this rule.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services
415.745.1764

Monday, November 26, 2012

Interview with Dan Rix


Happy Monday everyone! I hope you all had wonderful weekends. I want to thank Becca Puglisi, Angela Ackerman, and the Bookshelf Muse for letting me guest post last week. I want to also extend a warm welcome to all my new members. I’m so glad to have you all!

As promised, I interviewed Dan Rix on his new book, Entanglement, and answered some of your burning questions. On top of explaining a bit about his book, he sheds some light on how long it took him to write the book, how many rounds of revisions he made, and why he dropped his high profile agent.

Interview with Dan Rix

What made you decide to write a book?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I remember when I was a kid, probably around six, picking up a novel and asking my parents how it was possible for someone to write so much. From that moment on, I was always impressed with books and the people who wrote them. And probably because I was so impressed, I aspired to be one of those people. However, it wasn’t until I came up with a solid idea that I started writing seriously with the aim of publication.

How did you come up with the idea?
Lying in bed one night, it just hit me. I know, I know…you’ve probably read on my blog that writers should go after ideas rather than stick with “the tooth fairy’s lousy pittance,” and believe me, if I had followed my own advice, I would have had a good idea years sooner. Still, the initial concept required work. The idea that everybody has a soul mate wasn’t very original. The idea that everyone has a soul mate who is born at the exact same time as them, somewhere else in the world, was better.  Finally, add that one boy is an exception to this rule, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a book exactly like it.

How long did it take you to write the book?
Just about three years. Four years total, but the last year has been mostly small changes, querying, and working on my next project. Of course, I only worked part time on it. If you add up the total hours, you get about 2,500—a little more than a year’s worth of full time work.

How did your experience in architecture and other fields shape this book?
I think every writer should major in architecture. Architecture students work on a project for months and then present it before a panel of judges, whose only purpose is to rip it to shreds (sometimes literally). People leave the critiques crying, pissed off, and humiliated. Usually, the better your project is, the worse they treat you. After four years, we graduate with no ego to speak of. But there’s another thing that happens.

Before every critique, you think your work is perfect. After every critique, you realize it’s not. And you realize there’s probably a kernel of truth in something they said. After the twentieth time this happens, you learn an important piece of wisdom. No matter how perfect you think something is, it can always, always, be improved. That’s a philosophy that applies directly to writing. Great writing doesn’t come from a brilliant mind, it comes from taking bad writing and making it a little better—and doing that again and again and again, more times than you can stand.

Did the book draw on any real people, places, and/or events?
I actually took two characters directly from people I knew. I changed them, though, and made them more extreme versions of themselves. They’re not recognizable anymore as the same people. Also, Tularosa, the ideal Southern California city in which Entanglement takes place, is essentially my home town Santa Barbara, with a few minor differences.

How many rounds of edits did you go through?
Ten altogether, with minor revisions in between. There’s not a single sentence from the first draft still in there. My approach to revision is this: rather than ask myself, “What is easiest way to fix this weakness?” I ask myself, “What is the most I can do to fix it?” and “If I was going to completely rewrite this, how would I do it?” If you have that attitude for every revision, your weakest scenes will turn into your strongest scenes.

What is your favorite aspect of your book, Entanglement?
Wow…tough questions! I think I’m most proud of the way Entanglement really leaves you thinking after the end. It’s a simple idea, but the way it plays out is layered and deliciously nuanced. It’s the kind of stuff that’s hard to swallow, that heats up the back of your neck and gives the rest of your body chills. It’s more than I could have hoped for!

You had a literary agent from a respectable agency, so why did you decide to self publish?
I think my story is depressingly common for writers. I signed with an agent who said she and everyone else at her agency who had read it “loved it.” She said it was highly polished and that there were just a few minor things she wanted me to address in the manuscript. I spent a month revising and sent it back to her. At this point, I started to feel that there was a lack of communication. She was okay about responding to my emails, but her replies were always so short, and I didn’t get the sense that she was gearing up to send my book out. I was worried. After another month passed and I still hadn’t heard from her, I followed up with an email, and then a call a few days later. At this point, she did get back to me with another round of revisions, this one substantially more serious than the first. To me, it felt like we had made backwards progress.  But more than that, while I had agreed with her first round of edits, I disagreed with most of these revisions and started questioning whether she was the right agent for the book.

Agents have a tough job. They’re trying to get an editor to make a $20,000+ investment in a completely untested product. One of the ways of hedging that uncertainty is presenting a book that’s similar to another book that has done well. My agent wanted to make Entanglement similar to other books on the market, such as Matched. This meant altering the parts of my book that make it unique and are its best selling points.

After a few more emails back and forth, we made a mutual decision to part ways. I do think I learned my lesson, though. Not every agent is right for every book, and it’s important to discuss upfront what kinds of revisions they expect. I’ve heard stories of writers doing dozens of revisions for an agent over the course of years, and I don’t think that’s right. I bet those writers could have accomplished much more in that year if they hadn’t been with that agent. My advice: find an agent who loves your book as it is. If they want you to make changes, tell them you’re willing to make one round of edits, and that you’re absolutely willing to work with an editor on more rounds, but you don’t want to get stuck going back and forth on edits. In my opinion, it’s fine if an agent wants you to do work on your book, but if you don’t agree with that work, he should concede and be willing to submit the book as is.  If not, he’s not the right agent for you—and he probably faked it a little bit when he said he “loved” your book.

For those writers in the process of querying, what advice would you give them?
Querying sucks. I didn’t learn much from doing it, except that it sucks. I mean, it really sucks. Okay, but you asked for advice. Go on to agentquery.com and read successful query letters. Try to make your own, then post it and have people rip it apart. Think like an architect. Don’t just seal the leaks. If writers are saying a sentence isn’t clear, rather than just rewrite the sentence, rewrite the whole query letter. Writers are in the business of pointing out symptoms, not the underlying sickness—so you have to go after the sickness.

Once you have a good query letter, go onto querytracker.com and start a free account. Search for all the agents that represent your genre and add them to your list. Don’t bother being selective.

Finally, query the hell out of this thing. Try fifteen to start with, but DO NOT stop there. A big mistake writers make is assuming that if fifteen agents reject them, then it’s time to give up. There are 1,200 agents in North America, give or take a few hundred. Make them ALL say no before you try something else. And if all 1,200 do say no, should you give up then? No way.

There are many other ways to get into print.

What’s next?
I’ve got a sequel already outlined, but I’m putting that on hold for a bit—at least until readers chime in that they’re ready for the next installment. :) Right now, I’m working on another speculative YA thriller.

Is there anything you’d like to say to writers who are in the process of writing books of their own?
You’ll hear a lot of disheartening statistics tossed around in the publishing world. Only one book in a hundred gets published. Even good agents only sell half their books. Two thirds of books don’t earn out their advance. Most writers don’t earn enough to quit their day jobs…and on, and on, and on. Let’s put some of these to rest right now. Here’s the only statistic that matters:

The odds that you will publish your book and be successful is 100%.

If you want it badly enough and are willing to grow.

Contact the Author
Interested in knowing more about Entanglement and Dan Rix? Click on the links below to read more!

Dan Rix                                               Entanglement
Website                                               Amazon
Facebook                                            First three chapters

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone in the U.S. had a fantastic Thanksgiving and everyone outside of the U.S. is enjoying the weekend so far.

I’m breaking a small promise by writing this post. I know I told you all I wouldn’t be posting until Monday, but I’ve been out of town for the last three days and away from all technology—which felt absolutely wonderful! However, now my inbox is about to explode. So today and tomorrow I’m beginning the task of getting back to all of you. I wanted to let you know that I am not ignoring you, and I am sorry for making you wait.

Thank you all for the wonderful messages. (My ego and I are extremely grateful.) I’m also happy that I recently acquired a bunch of talkers. I love you guys—you keep me on my toes! Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and try to not let that tryptophan get in the way of your writing!

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services
415.745.1764

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dan Rix’s ENTANGLEMENT


Today I want to introduce my client Dan Rix’s new book, Entanglement. I have both a professional and a personal connection to this book as Dan is not only a writer I worked with, he is also my significant other. And no, dating me will not give you a discount on editing—nice try!




This labor of love has been a four-year journey for Dan and filled—like many of you know—with great highs and lows. Professionally I cannot play favorites, but personally, I am incredibly proud of all his hard work.

A Brief Description of the Book
Humans are born in pairs.
This is the story of the exception.

1935

An investigation into the eerie new field of quantum mechanics reveals the existence of soul mates. For the next sixty years, all births confirm the discovery. Humans come in pairs.

1995

When a newborn boy takes his first breath in the coastal town of Tularosa, the exact time is noted, recorded in the Registry, and later compared to the birth times of other newborns around the globe. As always, there will be one identical match—his half. They will meet on their eighteenth birthday and they will spend their lives together. Except this time, there is no match.

2013

Hotheaded heartthrob Aaron Harper is scheduled to meet his half in twenty-nine days, and he doesn’t buy a word of that entanglement crap. So what if he and his half were born the same day and share a spooky psychic connection? Big deal.

That is, until the day a new girl arrives at school and threatens everything he takes for granted.

Cold and unapproachable, Amber Lilian hates the growing list of similarities between her and the one boy she can’t read, Aaron: born the same day, both stubborn, both terrified of meeting their halves. . . . All the more reason not to trust him. That she would rather die than surrender herself as her half’s property is none of his damn business. But once lost in Aaron’s dangerous, jet black eyes, she’s already surrendered more than she cares to admit.

Tangled in each other’s self-destructive lives, Aaron and Amber learn the secret behind their linked births and why they feel like halves—but unless they can prove it before they turn eighteen, Aaron faces a lifetime alone in a world where everyone else has a soul mate . . . and he’ll have to watch Amber give herself to a boy who intends to possess not only her body but also a chunk of her soul.

A Review
What if we all had a soul mate? A single individual who best complimented us. What would that world be like? Enter the present day town of Tularosa. The city, as well as the rest of the world, has known about halves since Erwin Schrödinger discovered the concept of quantum entanglement in the 1930s.

In contrast to the global peace this new world offers, the life of each character in this book is touched by darkness. This twisted story has all the ingredients of a good read: a mad scientist, a nefarious cult, and a set of complex individuals who are in constant conflict until the story’s final crescendo. Ultimately, the book will leave you wondering whether this idea of quantum entanglement has a kernel of truth to it, and whether a predetermined soul mate would remove what we love best about ourselves: choice.

Excerpt: Half Death

“Picture this: The moment you’re born, halfway around the world someone else is born at the exact same time. You and this person share a subtle telepathic connection that appears to travel faster than light. If one of you dies, the other feels it instantly…and follows shortly. The two of you are soul mates. An entangled pair.”


Emma’s condition had gotten a lot worse when Aaron and Buff visited her on Sunday, five days later.

Sunlight spotted the peach wallpaper in Emma’s bedroom, and Aaron felt a strange twinge in his stomach when he saw her. She was buried under comforters and fluffy pillows. Her pale skin gleamed with sweat, and her eyes made endless circles as she watched the blades of a ceiling fan.

Her mother managed a weak smile from her rocking chair and leaned over her daughter. “Baby,” she said, her voice cracking, “look who came to see you!”

Buff squeezed Emma’s hand. “It’s us, Emma. It’s me and Buddy from school.”

She opened her mouth but only managed to drool.
Emma’s father cupped her head in his palm and edged the pillow out from underneath her. Right where the back of her head had been, Aaron saw a red stain in the indentation on the pillow—blood. Her father laid her down again and glanced at his half.
“It’s getting worse,” he said.
There was no cure for what Emma had, for half death. The scientific explanation was quantum entanglement, the spooky phenomenon whereby two entangled halves could be separated by light-years yet react instantaneously to changes in each other’s states.
Up close, Emma’s eyes were vacant, unfocused, cloudy. There was only a glimmer of the girl Aaron once knew, and he felt a lump form in his throat.
Emma was innocent. She was normal. There were only six weeks left before her birthday—six weeks until she met her half. And that was stolen from her. Her half was dead.
She would soon follow.

About the Author
Dan Rix majored in Architecture at UC Berkeley and considers himself lucky to have graduated during one of the worst housing market crashes of the century. "It made writing an easy choice," he says.

His favorite novels include Michael Grant's Gone, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. High stakes, high concept page-turners. That's what he likes to read, and that's what he likes to write.

Dan lives in Santa Barbara, California with his girlfriend. His debut thriller, Entanglement, just came out on Kindle.

Where You Can Find the Author and the Book

Dan has recently launched his author blog, and it is an excellent resource for book extras, writing tips, motivational posts—and you can also read his first three chapters there for FREE! You can also find Dan on Facebook and Twitter, and you can purchase a Kindle edition of his novel. The book will shortly be up on Barnes and Noble and the iTunes store.

In honor of Thanksgiving, my next post will be next Monday. Stick around for Part II, an author interview. Dan will discuss how he came up with the concept, why he dropped his high profile agent, and what he’s up to next. If anyone has any questions they’d like answered, please feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll incorporate it into the interview.

Happy writing,
Laura

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services
415.745.1764