Evolving my style

When I started writing D’mok Revival I had literally binders full of maps, background stories, character shorts, etc.  Recall that it was supposed to be a pen-and-paper role playing game initially with the intention of converting into a computer based RPG later. With RPGs your players make decisions and the game master tells them how “the universe” responded. A novel doesn’t have the flexibility, it needs one track. I wondered the best way to take all the possible game modules and make them a linear story.  There were so many combinations! Nukari encounters would become more difficult as time went on—regardless of the order in which the worlds and supporting characters were picked up.

I decided I would just listen to my instincts, and simulate player decisions selecting “one path” through the game.  So, I played a virtual game with myself, documented out the direction, and then started writing out the prose form.

When I completed the first manuscript, like any newbie, I thought it was good.  In fact, I had no idea what I was doing.  To make matters worse, I didn’t even follow a traditional novel style for formatting.  I actually used more of a movie script style.  In essence, it was awful.

The ideas were good, but the presentation and execution needed a lot of refinement.  That was okay, I expected that.

I knew this story was important, and that I wanted to share it with people (or rather it wanted to be shared).  So I sought out an editor.  I trolled the Internet for recommendations, processes on how to find one, read warnings about those that would seek to take advantage of the newbie masses.

I found a site the appeared to provide some qualified recommendations. I ended up working with a wonderful lady from Atlanta.  Keep in mind, the manuscript was MASSIVE. 286,000 words or so.

Her first comment to me was, “as a first time author no one will publish this. Maybe if you were Steven King…”  I never forgot that.  Of course, she’s right.  In fact, many literary agents will tell you the sweet spot for first time science fiction authors is somewhere between 80k-100k words.

There was no way the manuscript was going to get edited down to that. So the approach was to review the entire thing and see where it ended up.  She provided great feedback about story pacing, character development, and grammar.  She even made some direct suggestions about evolving some dialog to add more personality to characters.

It was important for me to keep “my voice” in the story. What I mean by that is how the characters came across to me, and the way I felt they wanted to be presented. That said, there were many suggestions by my first editor that remained and shaped the future of the story.

In the end there were two massive books, with a number of big chapters removed. I created new outros and intros between books one and two. Then I tried to pitch the books to publishers (BIG MISTAKE—DO NOT GO DIRECTLY TO PUBLISHERS) without success.  In fact, once a publisher rejects your book they BLACK LIST IT so a future literary agent representing your work will have NO TRACTION with that publisher.  It will be a dead work to them.  So, heads up on that mistake.

Eventually I decided they modules that were removed were too important to character and plot development to take out.  So, I worked them back in.  Then I recombined them into one massive manuscript, and divided it into the first three books.  After more edits creating new intros and outros between the books, each was around 80-90k words.  The trilogy was born.

Sure, I went through all three books tweaking and rewriting segments.  But there wasn’t any major movement on trying to bring it to Market.

Eventually I wrote a fourth book (subject for another post). As I started a fifth, actually the first book in a spin off series that started as of the end of the fourth in the main series, I decided it was time to bring the story to market.

I attended the Milwaukee Spring Writers’ Conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.  I met great people, and even paid for an hour of review by an editor.  The entire conference was great.  It provided insights on the publishing (and self-publishing) market, let me network with other would-be authors, and introduced me to literary agents.

The time with the editor was especially important.  Though he only reviews 20 pages of my story, I felt he provided some great feedback. He called out issues I was concerned with (without prompting), and presented some solid solutions.  Eventually I contracted with him to do the entire book.  He really pushed me to make sure that, despite being a trilogy, the first book also had a solid story arc that could conclude. He also said that Rhysus, the protagonist, always seemed to come up with some ability just in time to save himself or others.

I explained that I was working off the Japanese model (mostly from Anime) where emotional outbursts or dire situations are the catalyst for new abilities emerging.  He said in the states it comes across as too convenient. But more so, he said that he knew Rhysus would come up with some ability and save things so there was little true tension. That particular comment really hit me.  I could see that.  Okay, sure, it’s Rhysus to begin with, he’s the main character, so of course he won’t die or whatever.  But I did see his point that there was little tension.

So I went back and modified the manuscript.  I made him more vulnerable, and less “powered up.”  His big guns really don’t out until the end now. It actually forced me to make him rely on his other teammates more.  In the end, I really liked it.

I think the revised ending to book one has much more of an emotional gut-punch as well.

Of course, my friend Yana, Michele, Pat, and sister Elizabeth were also key factors in the editing of the story.  They read (especially in Pat case re-read and re-read and re-read) sections always providing feedback on the changes I made.

Pat in particular is a living encyclopedia of movies and video games.  He was quick to say “this was done in XYZ” or “is very similar to ABC” or “man, this is totally cliché.”  I LOVED THAT FEEDBACK.  It forced me to try and put a fresh spin on things, or just stay focused in on how the D’mok characters would genuinely react to that situation and not just lift something from somewhere else.

Pat, ultimately, was a game changer for me and D’mok Revival.  It’s also why the first book is dedicated to him.

My advice for other new writers, write your pieces. Get everything in you out on paper (or computer). Have friends review it, rip it apart. Seek professional editing.  Even get a book writers circle going where you can review one another’s pieces (though that can be difficult to hold together if writing styles and topics are too diverse).

Listen with an open mind.  I didn’t make every change suggested. You won’t either. But it did provide insights as to what the readership may think.  Sometimes I changed other parts to make the troubled spot make more sense and smooth it out.

My style is always evolving. It always will.  My challenge now is I’m 4 more books ahead in my style.  As I work on bringing book two to market, I’ll have to update it with my new style.  That’s fine, it will be stronger for it, but it will be work!

Regardless, I love writing!