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Deciphering the Unwritten (Unpublished?) Word

Query Letters

posted Jul 14, 2019, 8:55 AM by Ben Kreucher

Query letters are a lot like first dates. They can be awkward or they can be great. It's a way to see if there's a spark, chemistry between an author and an agent. If a work has potential beyond the page, to spread and grow and become a phenomenon.

Knowing that and writing a great query is as hard as forming a great first date. Especially if you frame it as your last/only chance to find representation (or a spouse). It's a difficult task to pare down the hours, days, weeks, months, years it has taken to write your novel. It's harder still to condense the plot that takes the entirety of the manuscript into a short paragraph or a sentence. 

However, it's our job to capture that feeling of intensity that drives the book and imbue it into the query letter to engage the agent and get them excited to read our book. A daunting task indeed.

So, instead of looking at it as your only chance, perhaps frame it as an opportunity to make a great first impression. Not just with how well written you are but how excited you are for your novel. And, as the famous adage goes, "Show, don't tell". Allow your work to speak for itself in how you describe it. Capture it so it captivates.

At the end of the day, we all want to root for a good book. We all desire great books. Readers all looking for the next Harry Potter series. Authors want to be the next C.S. Lewis. Agents want to represent the next Neil Gaiman. So, go out there and write your book. Get people excited with your query letter, i.e. back cover blurb. And find your voice.

Don't try to be the next anyone. The world needs your voice. You just might outshine your wildest dreams.

Learn by Writing

posted Jun 4, 2019, 1:02 PM by Ben Kreucher

"The hardest part is writing a book" or so I've heard. And it's true that it takes time, discipline, and a lot of just tapping away at a keyboard to produce a novel length manuscript. That doesn't mean it's good or publishable. 

While I've stared at my manuscript for far too long it seems some days, I've come to realize that it's more true to say that "the hardest part is writing a good book". That not only takes the same time, discipline, and keyboard tapping that writing a book does, but it also takes patience while editing draft after draft, a keen eye for detail and grammar and spelling mistakes, and a healthy disregard for your own feelings toward a certain section or character as you tighten the prose, quicken the pace, and overall strengthen the story.

That's why, I think, many people will tell writers to just write. To write every idea for the manuscript on the page. Let them coalesce, breath, run free or wild. Because there's no need to hold back in a first draft. The story can meander, it can tangent and rabbit trail. It's when you edit that you need to trim and find the best story out of what you've written. The skeleton of the story to build upon. A framework that will hold up the rest of the story that you want to come alive and walk off the page into readers' hearts.

That's the hardest part. Sure, finding an agent and a publisher can be hard. So can promoting your book whether on Amazon or elsewhere. But the true challenge is grabbing a reader, getting them to hold on and never let go. Do that and you've conquered the highest mountain.

It all starts with that first word. That idea glimmering in the back of your mind keeping you awake at night. Just start tapping away. Don't worry what comes out. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare or Tolkien. It'll help you find your voice and your style. You'll learn about your characters, their journey, and their dreams. You'll discover the story you want to read and write that. But it might only appear after the first draft. Or the third.

So, don't just stare at a blank screen. Close your eyes if you have to. But, just let go and allow your ideas to flow and your characters to grow. 

You might be surprised by the results.

Editing Sometimes Ignores Feelings

posted Mar 25, 2019, 7:22 AM by Ben Kreucher

There's nothing like the feeling of holding your freshly printed manuscript in your hands. Usually. The first time I printed out a manuscript to line edit, I felt a sense of purpose and achievement. This most recent time, however, when I look down at the papers I just want to toss them into a fire. Not because they're bad. They might even be objectively better than that first manuscript I printed and gave to beta readers who later said they loved it. It might not be. But I don't believe that it's so much worse that it belongs buried in a drawer.

It's just easy to get caught up in the idea that there's always more work to do. Really, I just want to give this work one final polish before sending it out to give it its best chance at finding a home with an agent and publisher. Yet, there's still that feeling that this work belongs in the trash.

It's odd. I want to edit it and polish it, but I'm easily distracted from doing the work. Something always seems to come up: a spring training baseball game on TV, a new video game to play or a favorite old one, a movie to watch, a nap to take, etc. Instead of just buckling down and doing the work.

Or, when I do the work, I find myself relaxing early. For example, "Oh, it's only one o'clock and I've already read and edited X chapters. My goal was X. Guess I'm done." Instead of continuing to work until five and reading Y chapters, I'll stop after hitting X. Nothing inherently wrong with that. There is such a thing as mental fatigue, especially when editing. And I do prefer to have a sharp mind when combing through a manuscript, but the longer it takes to edit, the longer I'll have to wait to send it out and the longer it'll take to hear back. And, let's be honest, it's already a long process.

But, in the end, I'd rather not rush it. I'd rather send out the best version of the manuscript I can so it'll find the home it deserves. Yours. That's the ultimate goal.

Writing Hope

posted Feb 19, 2019, 6:01 AM by Ben Kreucher

There's a new literary movement beginning. Well, not new, just newly named. Hopepunk. It's a response to the current state of the world. And a direct opposite of the popular grimdark and dystopia. Though hopepunk can take place in any setting, it's defined by the protagonist's stubborn refusal to give up on hope.

It's basically Star Wars

Image result for rebellions are built on hope

Though not everyone is a fan. But I am. I like infusing stories and characters with hope with the will to keep going despite long odds and difficult circumstances because that's what life is: a struggle to keep moving forward despite the crushing weight of negative forces that want to keep you in despair.

We all need hope. We all need love. We all need faith. The more stories that build those themes up, the stronger we will become. We can resist the darkness together. Books, movies, TV shows, and games are just one small way to help bring hope into a sometimes dark world.

Good stories and good writing will always rise to the top. No matter the theme. Let's bring more together and brighten our world with our light.

So Far, So Great

posted Jan 27, 2019, 6:18 AM by Ben Kreucher

I like to let the new year marinate a bit before deciding whether or not to give up on it. I figure I might as well give it a chance. So far, 2019 has been pretty good. I've spent a lot of time going over critiques and feedback of my latest edit and taken time to let that advice and those thoughts and ideas bounce around and sink in. Also, I've gotten back into reading after a long few months of writing and editing.

Sometimes, I get a singular focus and seem intent and able to do one thing at a time. All my spare time goes into editing, for example. Other times, I can multitask, writing and reading (not at the same time) during my free time in a given day.

Often in the new year, we make resolutions that we break after a few months, this year, I just wanted to take some time to really evaluate my writing and style, polish my skills and manuscript, and gather new ideas and flesh out old ones. Not really a resolution, rather not a new one, more like a continuation of my writing process. Without growth, I'd stagnate and that's no fun to read about. Or smell.

So, I'm hopeful that 2019 will continue to be great and I'll gain wonderful experience, advice, and continue striving toward achieving my writing goals.

The Origin of an Idea--Erie Tales

posted Dec 2, 2018, 5:56 AM by Ben Kreucher

The current project I'm working on blossomed from an idea...like all stories do. The idea began as I thought about the subject of Chosen Ones. I knew I didn't want to write that story arc, not because it's been done well so many times, but because I wanted to explore a different angle of it. I wasn't sure that I wanted to subvert it, like the 5 books mentioned on the Tor/Forge blog

The basic premise I began with was "what if Harry Potter met Draco Malfoy first, instead of Ron Weasley". From their ideas blossomed and the subject of my focus changed. As the idea matured and generated new ideas and new story lines, I began to realize that what I was writing was actually a "what if Harry Potter's son joined Voldemort". Which, I suppose, some might say isn't too far off the plot of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

It just seemed interesting. You have this character who's grown up hearing about the deeds of their famous parent and living in the shadow of them. Maybe they want to live up to the hype or surpass that greatness. All they know is that they don't want to be overshadowed by their parent's legacy.

That's where Ted began. He fell into this trap of thinking how he'd become greater than his famous father who succeeded in fulfilling prophesy, defeating a relentless enemy, and saving the world by ending a centuries long war. Ted loves his father, but everywhere he goes, he hears about how "Merlin's heir is so great"; he begins to wonder if his whole life will be lived in the shadows of his father. When the opportunity to strike out on his own and forge his own legacy emerges, he jumps at it without fully considering the consequences until too late.

A Time To Edit

posted Sep 25, 2018, 9:46 AM by Ben Kreucher

A lot's happened over the summer. It was hot. I went to the lake. I worked hard. I read a lot. I wrote some, too. Now that it's autumn, though, it's time to buckle down. There's something relaxing about curling beneath a blanket on a cool fall day and editing. It seems to be my most productive time of the year... to edit. Maybe because all the rain keeps me indoors.

The nice thing about autumn is that soon the leaves will change color. Also, there's football to watch. Or at least have on in the background on mute while I edit (depends if anyone else is home).

A nice, warm cider in one hand and a good book in the other is a great way to spend the day. Whether reading or editing or just staring at pages wondering what color to add next to the shapes and lines on the page that form an image.

Sure, the rain and put people in a bit of a melancholy, esp. when that rain falls on a Monday or for a few days in a row, but eventually the rain stops (or turns to snow).

So, until next time, I'll just keep editing away and polish this manuscript until it shines or my fingers bleed.

A Long Delay

posted Jul 12, 2018, 7:51 AM by Ben Kreucher   [ updated Jul 12, 2018, 8:04 AM ]

I know it's been a minute since I last posted anything. Sorry about that. I've been caught up reading, editing, writing, and researching. Turns out, it's easy to get lost researching ideas and world building (there are too many articles on Wikipedia to peruse and too many interesting things on Pinterest to gaze upon). And editing can really take it out of a guy. It's not just the work of going back over your writing line by line, but waiting for others to read and revise and criticize and suggest; it's also, the harsh reality of pouring over a story you love and trying to view it for the first time.

Editing is time consuming, sometimes tedious, but 100% necessary for that excellent, ready to publish book you're dying to write and readers are longing to finish...putting off work, school, friends, family, and sleeping, reading while eating simply to get to the next page and dive deeper into the story. 

That's what every author wants for their readers.

Not easy, but totally worth it.

And, if you're curious what I'm currently reading, it's the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks. I bought it as an omnibus from Barnes & Noble.

To Start a Plot, Start Walking

posted May 8, 2018, 12:34 PM by Ben Kreucher

The plot of a book is a lot like taking a walk. As you start out, you might know where you're going and how to get there, but you don't know what you'll see along the way. A good plot gives you clues to your destination, some even point you toward it. It seems to take forever to arrive where you're going. But the way back home takes almost no time at all. Even though it's the same distance. For some reason, I like to walk home rather than walk toward some destination.

Even walking around the block seems to take longer until I reach the halfway point. Then, it's easier, I walk faster, and soon I'm home. It hardly feels like the same distance. 

Plots are the same. For me, I know where I want my characters to go, I start them in the right direction and they know how to get there. But once they reach it, the story is mostly over and going home, the wrap-up, flies by. Loose ends are tied up, some questions might be left unanswered, but nothing glaring or major. And the journey home, though it might be the same distance, feels shorter.

Along the way, as I walk, I notice things. A permanent marker discarded along the side of the road. A frog carcass baking in the heat. Where the sidewalk ends on one side of the street and if it begins on the other...even if there's no crosswalk or discernible reason why. Standing water. Stagnant drains. Construction. Houses for sale. How heavy the traffic is. 

As my characters journey, I notice things too. Where they stop for meals or rest. What signs, omens, or portents distract them. What adventures and quests meet them along the way. And I learn more about my characters, what they like, how they react to different stimuli, why they make a certain choice, etc.

Writing, like life, is a journey. The destination may be to reach "The End", but don't lose sight of the things around you while walking toward that distant goal. Take time to explore, especially in the first draft or two. You never know what you might find. You can always cut later. That's why writers edit.

Character Descriptions

posted Mar 19, 2018, 2:27 PM by Ben Kreucher

So, I've gone through a few character descriptions, so by now you're probably able to write something like:
She's smart, kind, enthusiastic, and generous. She gives great advice and doesn't judge. She listens without forming a response. She's beautiful and strong, inside and out. She's passionate and compassionate, but fierce like a mother bear, especially about her dog. She opens up to people slowly because she's been burned before. But she's more loyal than most. She's driven to be the best in all she does. Yet outshines everyone. They either try to catch up or give up as she laps them. But sometimes takes on too much to appear more competent. She wants to crash through her limits instead of working to expand them gradually. She's constantly learning, improving, and bettering herself. She knows she's not a prize to be won. She demands respect and attention, but if she doesn't get it, she seeks it until she does. And occasionally, that quest consumes her thoughts. Instead of confronting problems head-on and making waves, she avoids until she has to admit a mistake. She's nerdy and witty. Charming and polite. Honest. She doesn't always ask for help when she needs it, but she's working on it. She's competitive and works to improve herself constantly. She's not as confident as she could be because she doesn't see how amazing she is.

Okay, but now that you've got a character, how do you describe her? Green eyes, brown hair, average height, slim. That's boring. Why not have another character compliment her? Something like: "There are times when you literally take my breath away, then you put on makeup and there are no words." doesn't really work. Even if it's a great line for a Valentine's Day card.

This: "She had a kissably cute nose that perfectly fit her face. Elegant and graceful. Like a swan sleeping on a pristine, glass-smooth lake. The orange red glow of sunrise just peeking above the dark olive green trees." might be purple prose. But, again, would work for Valentine's Day.

Maybe: "Her chin daintily pulls away in an adorable, yet heartbreaking way, like it's afraid to be touched because it's been hurt before. Yet, it still braves the attempt." It's okay, still a bit much...

I suppose it just depends what sort of relationship you want the character describing her to have with her. If he wants to win her heart, those would definitely fit. If he wants to boost her self-confidence, they might help. Might not, if she doesn't believe him. If he's just her best friend, she might like it or she might find it weird. Hey, it's your story, get creative and see what happens.

"I could get lost in her eyes. Like olive forests teeming with untold adventures. Mirth captured in an instant. The searing heat of anger that cuts sharper than any knife. Yet I'd brave that fire for a glance my way." Definitely use that on Valentine's Day.

...Unless she has brown eyes. 

You could try, "Have you ever gotten lost in someone's eyes and felt like you were drowning? You resurfaced after days, gasping for breath, but it's only been a few seconds. That's why I can't look at her."

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