Trez You

I usually shorten my titles, I shortened this one to TreasHu and hear it in my mind as Trez You.

Treasure Hunt” is the name I’ve come up with for my directorial debut.  It may also be my last movie, only time will tell.  My goal with this is to film it with a ‘nano’ budget of just a couple of thousand dollars, over weekends, with a cast and crew paid via reel, beer and pizza (and the lure of an indoor pool).

I plan to document my trials and tribulations, along with, I hope, my successes, so be sure to check back here if you’re interested in following the adventure.

I’m hoping to write the screenplay such that each 10-20 minute portion can be viewed as if an episode in a TV show, while the feature length (my target is around 100 minutes) can be successfully viewed as a coherent whole.

As I write this, I have a couple of page synopsis written. My intention is to, very soon, begin fleshing that out into the full screenplay.  My tentative timeline is to begin filming this summer (2018) and finishing this fall.

If you’d like to participate in some way, feel free to contact me.

Blurb me, baby!

I’ve been told I have some facility with writing blurbs.  However, since mine tend to run long, perhaps I can only help others.  You can judge for yourself by clicking on the titles on the left-hand side of my home page.

When I’ve helped people with their blurbs and synopsis, what I’ve found that seems to work the best is for them to get angry.  Yup, get pissed.  I’ve back-and-forthed with a couple of authors, trying to help them, and they get more and more frustrated because I don’t ‘get it.’  Finally, they’ll rattle off a series of one or two sentence bullet points summarizing their story.  Guess what?  That summary is exactly what needs to be in the blurb and synopsis!

By the by, though there are huge overlaps, there is a distinct difference between a blurb and a synopsis.  The blurb is the teaser that goes on the back of the book, that’s supposed to incentivize the reader to purchase the book.  The synopsis is to tell the agent/publisher/bookseller what the story is about, so they can judge if yours is new/interesting/different enough to want to represent/carry.  Blurbs NEVER contain ending spoilers, synopses (the plural of synopsis, according to dictionary.com via Google) ALWAYS contain spoilers.  Snyopses tend to run longer than blurbs, but there can be a lot of variety, as it depends on the audience.  Blurbs generally should run 100-150 words and this really is a case where less is more.  Synopses are expected to run between 500-800 words.

The concepts behind writing your blurb and synopsis are the same, just blurbs get fewer words and don’t spoil the ending, while synopses get more words and spoil the ending.  You can use the exact same mental process.

You need to introduce your main character, but if you have more than one it can get tricky as too many characters will confuse readers.

You need to outline the stakes.  What’s motivating the character to accomplish great things.  Their main goal.

Finally, you need to list the obstacles keeping the character from achieving that goal.

Simple, eh?  Of course not. You’ve lovingly devoted months, if not years, to your epic story, how can you possibly trim all that beauty down to a few sentences, yet still be interesting, entertaining and unique?  This is why I now write backwards.  Here, I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel and are stuck with trying to create an engaging blurb and synopsis.

This is why I advocate the ‘get angry’ method of blurb writing.  Very quickly, as if communicating with dense old me who simply is not getting your story, list out 4-6 bullet points of why your story is unique, what sets it apart from all the others and why readers should pick yours.  Surely you had these reasons floating around in your head when you started writing.  I’m positive you didn’t sit down with the idea of writing a clone of some story you’ve already read.  You wanted yours to be different somehow.  That’s what I’m looking for.

These bullet points should be your starting point.  You still need to introduce your character.  Not their backstory!  You don’t even need to supply their last name, sex or age, but they need a handle.  Don’t clutter your blurb with other names unless they’re critical to the story, and never name a character mentioned only once.  Use function names.  For example, the wicked witch of the West doesn’t need a name unless she shows up more than once (in the blurb or synopsis, of course).

Never do an info dump in your blurb or synopsis.  Exactly like writing your novel, only supply information when it’s necessary to move the plot forward.  And not a moment sooner.  Trust your readers. Trust that they care enough to remember something is missing.

Get those stakes in there, we need to know why the character is in the story.  Then put in the obstacles.  If it’s effortless for the character to achieve their goals, then you pretty much don’t have any story.  How long does it take for someone to describe their idyllic vacation, where all the food was great, no mosquitoes, their significant others got along, etc.?  About twenty seconds, right?  But those nightmare vacations, those are the ones people want to hear about.  The worst to experience have the best stories, right?  If your character’s experiences were like the idyllic vacation, you might not have a novel anyone will want to read.

Once you have all that raw material, now comes the ‘fun’ part: condensing it to 100-150 words.  Don’t obsess with getting it under 150 words, but if you have 350+ you have too much.  Each word needs to convey excitement to the reader, there can be nothing extraneous.  If brevity is not your strong suit, then you might want to ask for help, once you’ve got all the critical information from the above exercises.  Goodreads has a place; I’m sure there are others on the ‘net.

What about the synopsis, you ask.  Well, you use the exact same raw material, but you spoil the ending.  A good synopsis will engage the reader (generally the agent and/or publisher and sometimes the bookseller if you make it that far through the process), but they understand those are difficult to write.  They’ll give you a little slack. But you get no slack for your blurb.  Sure, word of mouth is great, and if you’re lucky enough to get that, you’re off to the races. But in the beginning, you have to convince people with your blurb.  When you’re looking at books, how long to you give each one?  Ten seconds?  Five?  Your blurb has to grab the reader that fast and keep them interested enough to want to read the rest, which has to be interesting enough to make them want to take it home.  If you can write your synopsis the same way, then you’re grabbing the agent/publisher (bookseller) the same way as you would the actual reader.

Having said all that, screening out readers who won’t like your story is just as important as teasing the interested ones.  I learned that the hard way with my first.  I mistakenly thought of it as a romance (yes, it is a love story, but it violates more romance tropes than it satisfies) and wrote the blurb to attract those readers.  Boy did I have some pissed off readers!  Fortunately, these were beta readers, not paying customers, so no one star reviews reviling my story.

If you go with my ‘get angry’ process, you should have all the necessary raw material for a compelling blurb and synopsis.  Polish to perfection.  If you find you’ve got too many words, ask for some help.  Sometimes we fall so in love with our prose we can’t see how little information we’re conveying.  Blurbs and synopses are a true case where less is more.

A note on white space.  I’ve read in many places, and noted it myself reading other people’s blurbs, that long paragraphs are hard to read.  For your blurb in particular, you want your paragraphs to be no more than 2-3 sentences, 4 at the most.  And short punchy sentences!  The additional whitespace lets the reader digest smaller bits at a time and lets them read more, since they’re only committing to a couple more sentences.  The more they read, the more likely they are to buy the book.  Make it as easy as possible for them to read by having short, interesting, informative sentences.

Good luck!  Don’t despair if you struggle; I spent more time on my blurb than I did on my first draft.

Writing Backwards

What?  Backwards?

What I mean is, instead of writing a novel (or, for me now, screenplays) and then trying to condense my 70+K pile of words into 500-800 word synopsis, then a 100-150 word blurb and finally a 10-25 word logline (less important for novels, but critical for screenplays), I start the other way around.

I’m sure that most, if not all, first time authors simply start writing.  The more plotter oriented (vs pantser) will have outlined their story, but basically, assuming you actually are a writer, you’re going to write just to find out if you can.

The problem then becomes condensing.  You started writing for a reason, you had a story to tell, something that caused your fingers to itch.  But now that all got lost in your wonderful prose,  your charming characters, your clever plots.  You’ve lost sight of why you started writing, so distilling your pile of prose to a simple coherent summary is hard.  I’m positive I spent way more time on my blurb and synopsis than I did writing the first draft.  I decided: never again!

So now, when all I have is the gist, that kernel of an idea I want to blow up into a pile of prose, that’s when I create my summaries.  I make notes about what’s important for the story, the elements of the plot and characterization I think make it unique and worth investing time, the critical reveals, sometimes even dialog.  I turn that into a blurb, logline and synopsis first, and only then start writing.

This doesn’t mean you can’t change.  Never think of them as a straight jacket, but if you decide you want your cozy mystery to morph into a scifi first contact, you should, then and there, update your blurb, logline and synopsis with the reasons why.

Does this make me a plotter?  Well, to a certain degree.  But I always knew the ending before I started writing any of my stories.  And I usually wrote the ending fairly early in the process.  Sometimes the ending morphed as I wrote the body of the story, but usually the ending was what drove the structure of the body to begin with.

Now, if you’re writing for your own enjoyment and never intend to show it to more than a handful of friends, no worries.  Go with what works.  But if you intend to show your baby to the world in an effort to get paid, you’ll need a blurb at an absolute minimum, one that captures the essence of your story, grips the reader and forces them to buy and read.  I feel that’s much easier to do if you start that process first, rather than last.

Atomic Blonde

I recently watched the movie Atomic Blonde. What I particularly liked about the movie was how the protagonist actually carried her injuries along with her for the duration.  Much like how in the Bourne series the MC stays injured (even across films!).  So many characters are so super human, after all the damage, they pop up unscathed movements later.  While I can certainly enjoy escapism (though I prefer the Craig Bond over the old-school), things that are more gritty and realistic appeal more to me.  For instance, I like Reservoir Dogs and Chinatown because of that element.

The movie also had a very eclectic visual pallet, though I found it jarring a time or two.  For instance, the TV in the MC’s hotel always had these glaring lights on it.  The music was great, as it reminded me a lot of my youth.  With the appropriate fogging effects of time, I can look back at the era (late 80’s) with nostalgia.

This may be considered a spoiler, if you haven’t seen the flick. Stop here if you want to watch it pristine.  I’ve been studying screenplay writing with the idea of becoming a director at some point (I’ve finally decided to get off the fence and intend to direct a feature on my own nano budget later this fall; I’ll try and remember to update this with a link when it’s gelled more) and occasionally, when I watch a movie, I’ll think about a particular scene, how it was filmed, how the script would have to be written to convey the imagery, that sort of thing.  I felt it was harmless.

Well, I had a disturbing revelation during the lesbian sex scene: I couldn’t relax and enjoy it, I kept focusing on camera placement, what the actresses were doing, the very interesting choice to use mirror-like surfaces to double the view, that sort of thing.  I felt violated, in a way, that I couldn’t just be in the scene (if you can’t guess, this sort of thing is a big turn on to me).  I really hope that the more I get into screenplays and directing I don’t lose what attracted me to it in the first place: the joy in watching movies.

I’ve been beta reading a lot over the last year, but I easily partition that reading because I do it on my computer and read for entertainment with the dead-tree versions.  Maybe I’ll have to watch movies for learning on the computer as well, as a way to try and keep my watching compartmented.

Something else disturbed me, but as a ‘refrigerator moment‘.  I felt there was too much grunting and yelling going on during the fight scenes.  While I suppose unskilled fighters would make a racket to attempt to be intimidating, I would imagine (indeed, that’s exactly how I did my character in my first novel) that skilled fighters would minimize the racket they make, as they don’t want to give away their positions.  I imagine spies as being particularly resistant to making noises as they kill people.  It didn’t jar me out of the movie, it’s pretty much the only way those sorts of scenes are filmed (I like the Bourne fight scenes so much because they are silent and deadly), but when I later thought about how I would do something like that I’d rather have my fighters be largely silent.

If you like realistic action/adventure, I highly recommend this one.

Why Mitusents?

Why did I choose my blog name? Well, I really don’t feel I have much to add to the manifold sources of information that can be found on the web.  Indeed, I debated a long time about even the idea of a blog on writing, as I really didn’t feel I had anything to offer.

Then I realized how much I benefited by finding different expressions on the same topics.  By having the diversity of viewpoints, I felt I could better internalize the important aspects of the topics.  So, particularly since I love to write and give advice, I’d focus on that aspect for my blog.  I’m adding my two cents to what’s already out there.  If someone thinks my viewpoints are helpful, then the blog has accomplished my goal for it.

Dealin Wit Feedback

The first rule regarding feedback: don’t talk about feedback always thank the person giving you feedback.  Seriously.  No matter how rude you feel they are, how clueless, how obtuse, just say ‘thank you’ and move on.  Even if you’re paying for reading/editing (but especially if you aren’t!), people are making choices of what to do with their time, and they’ve chosen to spend it with your story.

OK.  The second rule, which is only not the first rule because I feel it’s really important you say thanks, never, ever, make any changes just because one person, even if that person is an expensive, well-renowned editor, tells you to, unless that suggestion gets you so fired up to make it that your very finger tips itch to start hammering at the keyboard.

Really, that’s the basic gist of what I want to get across here.  Make changes only if you feel they strengthen what you set out to do in the first place.  Most people (I was going to claim ‘all,’ but I’m sure there are always exceptions) started writing with an idea of what they wanted to accomplish.  Make changes that bring your writing closer to those goals, that strengthen your intent.  My rule of thumb when I get feedback is exactly what I said above.  If I get so inspired I just can’t wait to get at the keyboard, then it’s a ‘good change’ and it doesn’t matter if it was just one person who gave me feedback.

Now, what if multiple people give you the same feedback?  Then it becomes a numbers game.  Always get an odd number of readers and always at least three.  If less than a majority of people have the same comment, feel free to ignore it.  You simply cannot please all the people, all the time.  If each of your readers loved some portion of your story so much that they’ve recommended it to their friends, it’s OK if they have some less-than-favorite sections they feel can be strengthened (unless, of course, your finger tips get itchy).  In my first novel I had just as many people complain about the romance as I did about the ‘endless’ jobs interrupting the romance.

This is not to say that you should ignore mechanical advice.  Meaning, if your writing… fails to match conventions (you might hear the term ‘sucks’).  Conventions exist so people can focus less on the prose and more on the story. The more conventions you break, the more people have to work to get at the story.  If you’re intentionally breaking a convention (or several) and that’s the whole point for writing your story in the first place (as a topical example, I just read a novel that was entirely dialog between  two people speaking on the phone; I can’t wait to read more!), then any advice contrary to that goal can safely be ignored.  You must understand, though, that bucking conventions almost goes hand in hand with reducing the number of potential readers.  But if that’s your intent, then it’s not wrong when you did it.

On the other, other hand (or the gripping hand), if you didn’t set out to deliberately dispense with convention, then it’s probably good that you learn (and internalize) the mechanical aspects of writing, since you dilute your reader’s feedback if they’re focused on elements you don’t intend.  As an example, quotes are used different ways in different cultures.  If you’re targeting US audiences, you need to do your quotes such that those readers will understand.  If your prose lends itself toward… excessive description (read “purple“), then you may want to consider tightening things up.  If you’re like me, on the other hand, you’re rather parsimonious in your descriptions and aren’t supplying enough for your readers to visualize what you have in your mind.

So you’re happy that your prose matches the conventions, at least to the extent you intended.  And a majority of readers all complain about the same thing.  What then?  I still say you need to seriously consider the value of sticking to your guns (for those of you not familiar with the slang, “avoid making changes”).  If you can make a change that preserves your intent, yet also allows for the resolution of your reader’s dilemma, at least for me, that makes my finger tips itchy.  Do not, though, make changes simply because a bunch of people complained about the same thing… unless you can be convinced it strengthens your story’s intent.

What does it mean when you constantly make changes?  It means you aren’t writing your novel, you’re writing an amalgam of a bunch of different people’s vision of what you set out to do.  Who wants to read a novel written by committee?  I don’t see any awards for that!

When you’re self-editing, particularly after you’ve read about how stories shouldn’t be told, don’t go second guessing yourself.  Sure, if it’s a mechanical aspect, you need to learn to be a professional writer (assuming you want to be one, of course; there’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby (but even then, convention exists for a reason)), suck it up and learn to write.  You’ll get much better feedback from your readers if they aren’t continually popped out of the story when they stumble over your prose.  But if your story violates some so-called convention (for instance, my first was written in first-person, present-tense; boy did I get a lot of complaints about that!) on purpose, stick with your intent.  You can always write something else later.  Remember, just because it’s the first novel you’ve written, doesn’t mean it has to be your first novel published.

What finally convinced me to give up novels

As a follow-on to this post, I finally found the source of the data that caused me to give up any notion of financial success as a novelist.  If you’re reading this with the goal of being financially successful, you might want to pause and decide if you really want to continue.  I was blissfully able to ignore all the other bad news I’d read until I got to this one.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)
An In-Depth Look at What/How/Why Books Sell
https://electricliterature.com/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-book-sales-but-were-afraid-to-ask-1fe6bc00aa2d

For me the passage that killed was this one (there’s a lot of great information, so, if you’ve come this far, I strongly urge you to read it):

That’s a small sample though, so I went through the BookScan numbers for every fiction book listed on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014. I used 2014 instead of 2015 to make sure each book had at least 12 months of sales. No list is perfect, but the NYT list includes story collections and small press books alongside the big name literary authors and award contenders. 2014’s list includes names like Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Marlon James, and David Mitchell as well as small press debuts by Nell Zink and Eimear McBride. It’s a good sampling of the “books that people are talking about” in the literary world.

The BookScan sales of those books literally ranged from 1,000 to 1.5 million, with an average (mean) of just over 75,000 copies sold per book. That 75k number is pretty skewed by the existence of Anthony Doerr’s runaway literary hit, All the Light We Cannot See, which sold over 1.5 millions of copies. (The next highest book was about 270,000.) If we remove the best and worst selling books on the list, we get a mean of 46,550 copies and a median of 25,000 copies.

My take from this is the 50th most ‘notable’ book sold a whopping 25K books, when ranked by sales.  I already know there’s a steep drop off in book sales after the first year and while a very few books will become perennial sellers, all the rest probably see 80-90% of their sales in the first 12 months of sales.

Note that these books all have conventional publishers, and, in most cases, the publishers are big ones.  Thus, were I to achieve my fantasy of being picked up by a major publisher (which, of course, requires being taken on by an experienced agent), the best I can look forward to is, really, 25K books sold.  As much as I like the notion of being a best selling author, I just don’t think my style of writing will have a wide enough appeal to generate the sorts of sales that would build on themselves enough to be best selling.  My fantasies assumed I’d be more in the top 1K books, which if the 50th is that dismal, how bad can the 1,000th be?

Yes, if you have a backlist, any new book will generate a bump for all the rest, if your latest is well received, but I’ve read that it’s generally only possible to make a living as a novelist after you’ve had 10 novels that sold fairly well AND you keep cranking them out.  I managed to write nearly 250K words in a year, which is 2-3 novel’s worth, so output isn’t the issue.  But I was unsuccessful with my query attempts (detailed in here), so faced with the three orders of magnitude more dismal prospects of self publishing I decided being a novelist just wasn’t where I needed to be.

Oh, mentioned in the above article is this equally depressing one, which I will leave you with:

What Writers Earn Money? A Look at the Author Earnings Report on Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing Sales
https://electricliterature.com/what-writers-earn-money-c109bfb04d3d

Curious how many authors are earning poverty wages or better?

4,600 authors [earn] $25,000 or above from their sales on Amazon.com. 40% of these are indie authors deriving at least half of their income from self-published titles, while 35% are Big Five authors deriving the majority of their income from Big Five-published titles, and 22% are authors who derive most of their income from titles published by small- or medium-sized traditional publishers.

So… not exactly a ton of writers are even scraping together poverty wages from writing.

How about writers who could be described as making a nice living off of books at $100,000 a year?According to this report, only 1,340 make the cut. For comparison’s sake, there are 1,696 NFL players in any given year drawing an average salary of $1.9 million.

Why my change in focus from novels to screenplays?

Here’s a summary:

  1. I wasn’t finding representation for my first novel, possibly due to difficulty in identifying genre.
  2. So I switched focus to a murder mystery, figuring I could use that, with it’s nice clean genre, to break into the ‘biz (there’s no reason the first novel you write has to be the first novel you publish).
  3. Sadly, that effort came up way short of my goals (18.6K vs 65K).
  4. So I decided to switch focus to self-publishing, as I heard that people were buying murder mystery novellas.
  5. Which lead me to negotiate a grand a book budget from my boss (wife).
  6. All this was grand, until I suffered from acute depression around 2017 birthday (I hate birthdays, they always remind me I haven’t built any space stations (don’t click, it’s sad how out of date it is)) in parallel with…
  7. Recalculated our retirement goals (we do this a couple of times a year, to be sure we’re on track for the summer of ’22).
  8. Realized how foolish it was to spend all that money ($8-10K just on things already in the queue ($3.5K already sunk)) with no return.
  9. Crisis of ‘faith,’ leading me to give up writing novels while in the midst of getting covers made, prose proofed and awaiting dev editing feedback on my series.

After a great deal of thought (normally birthday depression only lasts a few days, this time it was over a month), I realized the only thing that got me excited any longer was the prospects of being able to direct a movie.  A silly dream, yes, but really, how much sillier than being a best selling novelist?

I’ve had a number of business ideas over the decades (from building molecular scale computer components, to sequencing DNA on a microchip (got a patent on that one), long-term digital data storage and aquaponics; I am nothing if not eclectic) that all went nowhere.  All also had lots of dependencies, usually on finding other people with money.

I could write scripts, though, and then direct them for reel, beer and pizza.  Or so I’ve been told many times during my research on independent films.  Of course, few will ever see such a film, almost exactly like self publishing your novel.  However, I feel, by gaining experience and proving my capabilities (or, perhaps, proving to myself I really don’t have what it takes, or find I lack the desire), I can legitimately hope to find a producer that can back a project with enough money everyone can get paid.

I believe now is a golden age for independent film making.  Places like Netflix and Amazon need to have exclusive films to lure in customers and, at least until they develop their own studio system, they’re likely to depend on the indie movie scene to fill the gap.  Plus, the technical aspects have got so cheap.  Even if you want to film in 8K, rental is only a few thousand a week and the computer power to process/edit even 8K raw format is something entirely feasible with a moderate budget.

Besides, people have always said my prose was terse and descriptions minimal, perfect fits for screenplays. I might as well write where my strengths are.  While still quite rare, I feel the chances of making enough money to live off of screenplay writing is much higher than doing so as a novelist.  There are so many more people who watch movies compared to reading books.  Sad that this is  the case, but I got into the writing business as a mercenary intent on monetizing my free time, not to scratch an itch (though I confess, I find it hard to avoid the itch now).

DoaCK Developmental Editing, Part 3

This is a three-part post regarding the developmental editing I got for my first novel through Steve, the Novel DoctorPart 1. Part 2.

This is Steve’s reply to my reply.  I included excerpts from mine to give context.

…In either case, it seems that the bulk of the marketing and advertising falls on the author’s shoulders which then seems to make the idea of self publishing all the more appealing. Except then there is the battle to rise above the huge amount of noise.

Just a note – marketing has always been something that lands most squarely on the authors’ shoulders. Yes, publishing houses have marketing budgets to help launch a new book/author, but unless they’re projecting huge sales, that budget is tiny. In this “new world” of social marketing, it’s truer than ever that authors have a lot of hard work ahead of them. That’s just the reality of trying to become noticed when there are literally thousands of books competing for the same eyes/ears/reviews/sales.

…Of course, I fantasized you’d say I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and tell me you knew just the right agent, but instead I’ve got my worst-case scenario: I need to put in dozens of hours (at least) to get it ready to approach agents, then the silly process of trying to actually get published, all for the pittance offered.

If you want me to tell you you’re a crappy writer, I can do that. But that would be a stretch. I know it’s frustrating to be caught somewhere in the middle, but the truth is, that’s where most authors are – both successful ones and those who don’t sell a single book. The number of truly awful authors is bigger than that of truly great ones, but most of us are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Of course, all of that is subjective, so what some editors/agents/publishers say is “middle of the road” could be “top of the heap” to others. Yeah. I know. More mud to slog through. In some ways I wish this were easier to assess – but then again, that would mean no space for surprises or outliers.

…I’m now convinced I’m not the right guy to do erotica, but I’ve only had the one reader that ‘specialized’ in that sort of reading (she was the one that said it was too much or too little). As mentioned elsewhere, I plan on (assuming I move forward) substantially upping the romance of the first sex scene, but don’t intend to add erotica back when doing so.

I can certainly look at that if you like. I’m more concerned with the overall “flow” of the plot regarding the romance and sex, though. It’s a bigger picture issue than merely adding more scenes. It’s about the slow build, I suppose, rather than plugging scenes in to hit some kind of nebulous quota.

…As one of Seacay’s hobbies is reading, I would expect he would attempt to adhere to a lot of things you are describing, so I believe that the changes you are suggesting will allow me to maintain the goal I set out to achieve.

I gathered this was the conceit, but still had to wonder if it might be more compelling with the past tense approach. It still has that immediacy and intimacy of first person, but without the occasionally clumsy present tense issues.

…I want to show some sort of transformation for her, though, because as I reveal later in this book and emphasize in later books, she has very little interest in sex with anyone, but particularly men. I felt it was important to show why she would be willing to consider trying to get her man, but I do agree it could be put further off in the story.

Yes. Sometimes when the backstory comes too soon, it steals some of that wonderful “wondering” that readers do while they read. It’s all a balancing act, of course, and knowing when to reveal something about a character is one of the trickiest parts of writing. But it’s worth careful review in the revision process because it’s often the difference between a compelling read and a benign one.

I agree with the ‘show vs tell’ issue, but often need some help in specifically addressing instances. I certainly ‘tell’ a lot, but I feel it is necessary to move the story along. Based on comments from you and other readers, my conclusion is much of my ‘telling’ is acceptable, so I need specific instances (like the one you point out above).

Yes. Telling is fine and necessary in fiction. But the most compelling sections tend to be those show, so more show will mean more engagement.

The way I wrote the original sex scene there was lots of graphic, fluid filled sex. I think I cut too much, or rather, didn’t adequately replace the fluids with something else. I’ve been working on converting the novel to a screenplay (as if I didn’t already have enough distractions already 😉 and have been looking at each key scene (I consider that one of the most key) and realized that, as written, there is essentially no way any reasonable reader (or viewer) would think these two people had got unrecoverably hooked on one another.

Agreed.

…If, as seems to be the growing consensus, stories written with this goal in mind are not ‘interesting’, then it is probably best for me to set these aside. I understand the general draw of ‘coming of age’ stories as they allow for the traditional angst, mistakes and dumbdumbs, but my whole goal is/was to write something after that point.

I certainly understand that. And there are successful novels with similar “super-hero” protagonists. I’m fine with that. I just like to point out things that stand out to me as “opportunities” for the author. In this case, the opportunity was to make Seacay a bit more relatable, despite his obvious skill and experience. It’s when we stumble that we most seem human, so that’s sort of the point I was making. Still, you need to trust your gut ultimately so it’s a book you enjoy.

…Considering myself a likely ‘conscienceless killer’, just an unproven one, I model Seacay after myself regarding the damn chick flicks (ever watch ‘Courage Under Fire’? Who knew a movie about war and blowing shit up was a chick flick; that happened to be the first movie I watched with my now wife and still acutely remember the pain of holding in the tears while we watched the damn thing).

Point taken. Yes, the ol’ “choked up” rather than tears. I actually liked that Seacay had this “chick flick” issue. I just mentioned it because I wanted to be sure you are being consistent with his character. Again, it works. But maybe you need him to acknowledge even more directly that while he’s emotionless on the job, and perhaps in relationships (apart from Isabel), for some reason he’s unable to put up the wall when watching those movies. You sort of address this – but I think having him acknowledge that disconnect could go a long way toward erasing any “is this consistent?” questions in the minds of readers.

I guess I would need some specific pointers where I need to shift from telling to showing. I understand your point, but have read quite a few authors that I like and respect and they often will tell just to move things along. I would rather ‘dwell’ on the plot points I think are important than invest a lot of time (mine and the readers) on what I consider points not germane.

I have found that a good “showing” scene makes up for a whole host of telling scenes meant to move something along. Think about the goal of the scene – is it to describe a job in detail? Then use your telling as much as needed. But if it’s to reveal something about a character, it seems to me there would be benefit in zooming in close to a “showing” scene and leaving space for the reader to play a role.

…Still, when I go around depending on a needle gun that knocks people out before they can fire their own gun, I figure a small addition of a heart attack inducing chemical isn’t that far a leap.

That’s fine. I only ask these sorts of questions because I know some readers will. I will say this, though, when an author says “Well, it happened in real life, so of course it could in a novel,” I have to press pause. Because what exists in real life, and what works in real life, doesn’t always work in fiction. Fiction has to be more believable than non-fiction.

Maybe I do need to remove/rewrite that, but it was a key scene I came up with early and I feel shows them both struggling with their feelings for each other. I also want to show that Isabel is struggling with their relationship as well.

I just wonder if there’s a better, still awkward, approach that doesn’t dive directly into misogyny. Which is what it feels like in context.

…I also feel that Seacay, in adapting his diaries, would be cagey about some of those details, but I can also see that he would conclude he should make some stuff up to help the reader. I’ll think about how to go about adding more such flavor.

Fair enough. But he does mention how many months/years it’s been in the text, so why not make that clearer for the reader. This actually could enhance the “diary” aspect of the form.

…On the one hand I hate sub titles, on the other hand, I hate Anglicizing everything, particularly since I think non-US viewers might be a significant fraction (at least I would be targeting them, were things to proceed to that point).

This is a case where clarity probably trumps cleverness (or even accuracy). This is the same dilemma historical fiction writers face when trying to figure out how much classical language to include, etc.

…As I said before, I don’t think I emphasis enough that they spent several sex-filled days at the end of their first job and no matter how fantastic the sex is, if nothing more there has to be some conversation while the body recovers. I think if I am able to effectively get that point across that perhaps this element won’t be as out of place.

Yes, that will solve this.

…The vulnerabilities I want to show (perhaps not well) is that he is out of his comfort zone because of Isabel. I can see to adding more layers of evident distraction, perhaps catching his mind wandering or something like that.

I think the key here might be for him to ponder more about his rather quick decision to partner. It goes so against his nature, yet there’s not that much resistance to the idea.

…This event (giving the second a specific drug cocktail) isn’t spontaneous, it is the result of a long period of careful planning on Seacay’s part. I’m trying to tell the story entertainingly, but quickly, to show his expertise is more than simply tripping people going down some stairs or shooting them with a needle gun.

Maybe what’s missing here is a piece of narrative that helps readers see how much time has gone into this job before what we see on the page. That would answer some of the concerns. And I’ve already noted my general concerns about “convenience” above.

…I wanted to show that he isn’t just about unbelievably beautiful women, but is more about personalities once there has been interaction.

This is fine. It’s just that there’s an abundance of things that appear rather conveniently. This would be stronger if there were fewer of those, I think.

…I could just drop Seacay’s story and keep Tessa’s if you think that achieves what’s necessary. I guess this also applies to below as well.

I like having more Tessa. Maybe you can solve the concern about “perfect” Seacay by addressing it more directly. As noted earlier, sometimes when you have the protagonist directly address the issue that the reader may be pondering, you eliminate it as a concern in the readers’ minds. It’s like you could have him say, “I know I’m a bit of an ideal – a superhero who has all the right skills at all the right time. But it’s not like I started out that way. And history is written by the victors, so I’m telling the story my way.”

I agree that some transition is helpful. Perhaps a good place for one of those ‘living it up’ scenes where he is having a great time, but is seeing Isabel everywhere he looks.

Yes.

…I was trying to make his earlier ‘vanishing’ acts more believable by showing some of what was involved in making that happen. I guess this applies to the below as well.

I could see this. But readers have already made their assessment about his abilities from the previous scenes where he just does these things. So the explanation comes a bit late, and may feel more like story apologetics than a narrative necessity.

…Perhaps the marathon dialog needs to be broken somehow, except I don’t want them to interact physically and don’t really see them being this intimate at, say, a restaurant.

I think the key here might be showing a little more dialogue earlier, or at least some aborted attempts at communication so when this flood comes it feels like it’s been building.

I can see I’ve hammered home my average looks and memory aspect, but I want to show him getting started before he joins the military and this story seems plausible to me.

The first kill comes without any real vetting of who he is, though, right? I think that was my concern.

…In my mind this doesn’t show anything particularly super human, he knows what meds the target has been prescribed and even if he didn’t already know the result of higher doses he could learn that trivially.

This is fine. Just keep in mind that my comments about this stuff are mostly about the abundance of convenient skills, etc. Readers will get to a breaking point on the believability of a story/character when they’ve had to swallow (pun intended) too many things that required suspension of disbelief. That point is different for different readers, of course.

…As I’ve said, I think my first sex scene needs a massive overhaul and with that done correctly, I think this scene might fit in better.

Agreed.

…I can see interweaving those discussions within the body of the novel, perhaps that would ‘speed things up’ on the job.

It might simply be an issue of the form you chose to write the novel. When it’s a series of jobs, there is going to be a baseline “sameness” to some of the action. But my concern here was more about the stuff that happened before that, which just touched on themes about Seacay that I felt had already been adequately addressed.

I agree in principle, but need specifics in order to focus enough to come up with alternatives. Perhaps, if I persuade myself to move forward with this writing, I can get your “Red Pen of Life and Death” or “Comprehensive Edit” and you can point those locations out.

[I’ll save my Kindle notes. Out of habit I started to highlight things I’d address in the Red Pen. They’re written in my own little shorthand, or I’d send them along.]

I suppose I could do away with the chapter, but felt it was important to show the reader some of the effort he puts into his layers of disguise.

Which you already did earlier, right?

…I get that when there is a theme with readers there is an issue that needs to be addressed and in this case I am not so attached to it that I would want to stick with it, but I feel something like this is important.

I’m fine with the psychological operations idea. It actually makes sense, assuming of course that Seacay is skilled in this as well as the other jobs (kills, observation, requisition of data, etc). Psyops would be a rather specialized field, wouldn’t it? So to make Seacay an expert at this too…well, you know my general thoughts on that.

…BTW, don’t really get the ‘bit on the nose’ reference, where does that come from? Going with what I recall in my reading, I would interpret ‘on the nose’ as being ‘right on target’, the opposite of what I think you are trying to convey.

The “on the nose” reference is just to say it feels too neatly packaged. It’s a phrase used a lot with movies – you’ve probably seen some dialogue that just feels like it was drafted to answer questions for readers, rather than sounding organic to the moment. That’s what I was referring to.

Well, I’ve designed and built a house (along with my wife, the two of us doing 90%+ of the work) as well as an indoor pool/greenhouse, all from reading books, so it doesn’t sound like any sort of stretch to me. My goal with the story about the bondage is to show how Isabel and Tessa came together, to make it clear that they have had a long, loving relationship. Perhaps it comes too late for proper impact.

Yes. It does come a bit late. It’s all bunched up at the end of the novel, though the truth of these two would have been evidence at least in clues here and there much earlier.

…I can see adding some of the elements scattered around the rest of the book, that would make this chapter much shorter.

Yes. That will help a bunch.

…I want to have to defend the elements I think are critical, if I can’t convince a professional editor that they are important, perhaps either they aren’t as important as I thought or, as is likely in this case, I’m just trying to do something that doesn’t have a ready market.

I didn’t mention funds because I skipped over that question in your editorial note. Not on purpose – I was focusing on the editorial notes. I can tell from your writing (and from these notes) that you have a great interest in making this better, but also that you have strong opinions on what that might look like. Both are admirable qualities in a writer. Being open to editorial suggestions and direction gives you the chance to grow, but without some conviction about the story, it’s like taking a writing class, rather than writing a novel. Which by the way, isn’t such a bad thing. I’ve worked with lots of writers on books that became a living writing class rather than a publishable work. Writing ain’t easy. And making money from it is even harder. But for those who feel the compulsion to write, the hard, long road is something to embrace.

Just a few more thoughts – first, there is no such thing as wasted writing for anyone who desires to be a writer. I have the sense that you’re not entirely sure you need to be a writer so much as someone who wants to make money writing. (Though as noted – your natural writing voice is good – you’re far from a hack.) The two aren’t entirely distinct, but if you find yourself frustrated by the process now, I can assure you it’s not going to get any easier.

This is something I tell all my writers: don’t quit your day job. I know, you’re talking about retirement, but the same truth applies. No one can tell you with assurance if your books will ever find a substantial audience. That’s been true in publishing forever. Of course, if you have to write, then no one can tell you not to (nor should they). But if it all comes down to dollars, you’ll never hear me saying “drop everything and write full time” because that’s simply unwise. Could you be a huge seller someday? I can’t say “no” because I can’t predict trends and luck and opportunities. But the vast majority of writers (including some brilliant ones and plenty of average ones and more than a few hacks) won’t earn back what they spend on editing/covers (if they self-publish) or much more than their advance (if they publish traditionally). That’s just reality.

Of all my writer friends (and clients), I only know a handful that make anything near 50K a year from writing alone. A great goal, and for a select few, reachable. But you have to be totally committed to the marketing game, however you get published. And that’s practically a full time job in itself.

Okay, enough harsh reality. If you feel you must write, write. I’d be happy to work with you to help shape a book into something that might garner more agent interest (no promises – but that’s always the goal). I enjoy the give and take that comes with the editorial process. I always grow as an editor with every project, but especially with those that are trying to do something a little different.


I hope those of you who stuck through this to the end got something out of my exchange. Steve’s input triggered me to make changes to my novel that I easily believe made it 10x better. His feedback also gave me confidence in my abilities as a writer, allowing me to believe my quixotic quest to become a professional writer wasn’t entirely misplaced. I felt it was well worth the money and the wait and recommend developmental editing to anyone who is serious about their craft, whether they intend to publish or just grow their skills.

DoaCK Developmental Editing, Part 2

This is a three-part post regarding the developmental editing I got for my first novel through Steve, the Novel DoctorPart 1. Part 3.

This is my reply to Steve.  I included excerpts from Steve’s where I felt it was relevant.

First, before I forget, a couple of friends are curious about your response, is it OK if I send them what you’ve sent me (and my reply)? I’m expecting to rely on their opinions on my decision to go forward or not, so would like them to see your input.

Second: Thank you for your input. I quickly read it yesterday before I went to bed expecting there to be a lot of issues that needed some repose to consider, but was ‘disappointed’ somewhat your responses weren’t as bad as I feared. Not as good as I hoped, which gives me a conundrum. I expected I’d need to make changes if there was potential and while the stuff you’ve recommended (for the most part, caveats embedded below) is stuff I agree would make the story stronger, I’m left with the conclusion that it might not be worth the effort at this time. I’m already involved in several projects that all have substantially more promise than the expected value of writing (given the pitiful average advance of $5K or so). Of course, they could all have value zero, as has been the case up to this point, but unless I were to become the next J. K. Rowling (I’m not getting that vibe from you or my other readers) it seems my time may be better spent on these other long-shot projects. I may simply leave writing until after our hoped-for early retirement in 6 years.

I’ve read a lot about the seemingly thankless effort to find an agent, then the rather dismal reality that getting a supportive agent only means the thankless process starts anew. Then, if that lottery pays off, the ‘reward’ is a few dollars, little to no effort to market the book, and the apparent reality that major publishers give a new book/author some 90 days to catch fire. It seems rather pointless to pursue publication under the most favorable situations. I’ve looked into the idea of targeting a small press. The information I’ve been finding indicates, if you past muster, they will invest a year or even a couple, before deciding there isn’t the expected market. In either case, it seems that the bulk of the marketing and advertising falls on the author’s shoulders which then seems to make the idea of self publishing all the more appealing. Except then there is the battle to rise above the huge amount of noise.

On the other, other hand (or the ‘gripping hand’, if you’re a Niven fan), I find myself obsessed with my characters and it is often hard to focus on my other projects. In addition to the three or so I’ve already written in this series and the two more I’ve got outlined, I have several other book summaries I’ve written that tend to grab my attention and imagination. As much fun as it is to think about the stories, characters, situations, etc. I just keep coming back to “where is the pay off?” I think I’d be better off if you felt I was a crappy writer. Indeed, there were many times over the last several months that was my hoped-for outcome. Of course, I fantasized you’d say I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and tell me you knew just the right agent, but instead I’ve got my worst-case scenario: I need to put in dozens of hours (at least) to get it ready to approach agents, then the silly process of trying to actually get published, all for the pittance offered.

What I would appreciate, if you choose to work your way through the remainder of the document, is a suggestion on whether you think I am editable or not. I know that many people who write are loath (perhaps that word is not strong enough) to alter their ‘baby’ in any way. I have very specific aims with this story and series and if sticking with them means I’m not commercial, then as difficult as it may be, I need to put this writing thing behind me. If, instead, you feel my justifications are reasonable (e.g., I may have commercial appeal sticking to my guns), I’m back to the conundrum of do I invest the time/energy in something with the huge hill to climb to have any measurable success, let alone the Mount Olympus climb to achieve the financial success I feel I need to justify taking time/energy away from my other projects.

…As written, it’s definitely not a romance novel. It isn’t erotica, either, though it sounds like you could almost turn it in that direction by going back to what you were originally writing. In that case, you’d have an alpha male (of the highest degree) who falls for one (or two) strong female characters. This might be the direction to go, since you already have the framework for adding more scenes that ooze sex and power and (eventually) something resembling love.

If you are open to it, I could send you the extracts with the detailed sex in it. I was told my sex was too mechanical, as well as too much or too little, which is why I took it out. I’m now convinced I’m not the right guy to do erotica, but I’ve only had the one reader that ‘specialized’ in that sort of reading (she was the one that said it was too much or too little). As mentioned elsewhere, I plan on (assuming I move forward) substantially upping the romance of the first sex scene, but don’t intend to add erotica back when doing so.

I have to wonder what the book would sound like in first person, past tense. I have a gut feeling it could be stronger that way.

The conceit I had when I started this ‘diary’ is that the author (Seacay) has decided to take his actual diaries (who knows what they would look like, probably be something encrypted) and write them into something novelish and sell it. When I originally started my character sketch I actually intended to have this ‘ghost written’ from Seacay’s verbal accounts. I decided that was cumbersome and chose instead to go with the first person POV. As one of Seacay’s hobbies is reading, I would expect he would attempt to adhere to a lot of things you are describing, so I believe that the changes you are suggesting will allow me to maintain the goal I set out to achieve.

…I almost wish you’d use the whole first Part to tease the coming relationship. Perhaps they do fall into bed by the end of the section, but don’t share all those intimate details about their lives. Leave some of that off the page early on to create more of that all-important intrigue that will compel readers. Let some mystery remain in Seacay’s head/heart, so the tug back to her becomes even more significant.

I think I can get behind your suggestion of putting off Isabel’s backstory. When I originally wrote the first part it was as a short story, but when it ran so long, I decided to shift focus to a novel instead. I want to show some sort of transformation for her, though, because as I reveal later in this book and emphasize in later books, she has very little interest in sex with anyone, but particularly men. I felt it was important to show why she would be willing to consider trying to get her man, but I do agree it could be put further off in the story.

Bottom line is this: secrecy is power – so wouldn’t there be some of that going on even in this budding romance?

I agree with the ‘show vs tell’ issue, but often need some help in specifically addressing instances. I certainly ‘tell’ a lot, but I feel it is necessary to move the story along. Based on comments from you and other readers, my conclusion is much of my ‘telling’ is acceptable, so I need specific instances (like the one you point out above).

Also, while I certainly can buy Seacay’s “no other relationship will compare to this” snap judgment, based on his experience with Isabel, it’s a big leap for someone who’s thus far considered women to be little more than distractions. I think it can work – perhaps even better if you do what I suggest above – but it’s the kind of thing that grows on you, rather than is immediately certain. At least I think that would be true. Perhaps even moreso if there are some unanswered questions – some secrets – re: Isabel.

The way I wrote the original sex scene there was lots of graphic, fluid filled sex. I think I cut too much, or rather, didn’t adequately replace the fluids with something else. I’ve been working on converting the novel to a screenplay (as if I didn’t already have enough distractions already 😉 and have been looking at each key scene (I consider that one of the most key) and realized that, as written, there is essentially no way any reasonable reader (or viewer) would think these two people had got unrecoverably hooked on one another.

Seacay

For someone who prefers to work alone, he sure was quick to agree to help Tessa and Isabel. I wondered if this was believable for someone who by choice, and by personality, needs to be highly protective of his choices regarding other people (especially people in the same business). He just needs to act honestly from that core of who he is for readers to trust him and care about him. Not that he can’t have cracks that show he’s not entirely consistent, but that he tries to be consistent to the core truths he’s embraced.

Yes, I like this. I should indeed show him reluctant, at least second guessing himself. He wants an excuse to be with Isabel, but worries he is losing his opsec because he is thinking with the ‘little head’.

I’ll mention this a few times, but his skillset is a bit hard to believe. Yes, in Part Three we see some imperfections and hiccups in the execution of his plans, but it’s rare. It’s something that will cause some readers to go “really?” when you want them to go “cool.” For example, he always seems to have exactly the tech he needs to get the job done. That can feel like a plot contrivance at times. What if he has to improvise once in a while? What if he screws up?

This is sort of the sticking point for me. For the most part (the use of the needle gun being the one I haven’t researched to my satisfaction yet), all the elements I use in the story I know are things active ‘in the field’. What you (and, I freely admit, other of my readers) feel are unrealistic elements I know are reasonable, even pedestrian in some cases. I intend him to be an expert and to pick up the story after he’s gone through his early, error-filled, apprenticeship stage. Allowing Isabel a reason to be rescued as a damsel in distress actually occupied me for a long time as I want her (and Tessa) to also be experts with extensive experience, thus unlikely to make mistakes. If, as seems to be the growing consensus, stories written with this goal in mind are not ‘interesting’, then it is probably best for me to set these aside. I understand the general draw of ‘coming of age’ stories as they allow for the traditional angst, mistakes and dumbdumbs, but my whole goal is/was to write something after that point.

He talks about being emotionless, but cries at chick flicks? And while I like that he develops a friendship with Tessa, I’d much rather see more of it than be told about it.

Regarding the second point, I agree and will/would move that aspect up and add more. Regarding the first point, I didn’t say he cried, I said he got choked up 😉 I know that I have a lot of attributes that Seacay has (write what you know, eh?) and I’ve always been a bit wistful that I didn’t get the chance to go into combat when I was in the military. I know for certain that with just a little bit ‘worse’ friends after high school I would have slipped into the mode of Seacay (but probably no where as near as successful, my memory for details sucks, as does my ability to focus for long term (I write what I wish I had)). Considering myself a likely ‘conscienceless killer’, just an unproven one, I model Seacay after myself regarding the damn chick flicks (ever watch ‘Courage Under Fire’? Who knew a movie about war and blowing shit up was a chick flick; that happened to be the first movie I watched with my now wife and still acutely remember the pain of holding in the tears while we watched the damn thing).

Finally, I wonder about what really motivates him. We get clues that he’s in it for the thrill, the job itself, and he talks about all the money. But we don’t see him really using that money, apart from the costs of the job itself (which is usually funded by the client anyway) and the details about his lavish house at the end. What’s his endgame? I wonder if we might benefit from more clues about that – and perhaps a few scenes showing him really living extravagantly, which would make sense considering the dollars he’s raking in. Something to support that aspect of his character.

Another idea I really like. Some wining and dining (though he doesn’t do the wine part) and interacting with sophisticated, smart hot women, but not being entirely satisfied as he keeps thinking about Isabel.

A Few More Notes About the Non-Traditional Approach

It’s true that “not much happens” in a global sense in the novel. As already noted, Seacay is nearly invincible anyway, so it’s almost a moot point. But it is exactly the kind of criticism you’ll hear from agents or publishers. One of the issues is the abundance of “telling,” too. When you give us a scene that’s more immediate, you compel the reader more. Those are good. And the dialogue is pretty good, too. But it’s otherwise an overload of “let me tell you some things” and that will wear on readers.

I guess I would need some specific pointers where I need to shift from telling to showing. I understand your point, but have read quite a few authors that I like and respect and they often will tell just to move things along. I would rather ‘dwell’ on the plot points I think are important than invest a lot of time (mine and the readers) on what I consider points not germane.

And a Bunch of Other Things

The Heart Attack Dart – Is it a real thing? A believable fiction? Just noting this because all invented tech choices in a novel need to feel believable or readers will roll their eyes. Too many eye rolls and you lose them. Also, why doesn’t he confirm the death? Wouldn’t that be part of his job? Wondering if “trusting things are all good” is a reasonable expectation for a professional.

It may be a contrivance, though I feel there are almost certainly substances that can do what I intend, though probably at a volume large enough that even a cursory autopsy would reveal. I know there are a number of substances that are deadly in slightly higher doses than are used therapeutically, though, again, the volume may be such it is impractical. Still, when I go around depending on a needle gun that knocks people out before they can fire their own gun, I figure a small addition of a heart attack inducing chemical isn’t that far a leap.

Chapter Naming – I find myself often saying “don’t name the chapters – you’re giving too much away” to writers. But I kind of liked your chapter titles. They’re fun and don’t reveal everything that’s to come. But that’s a good think to keep in mind – if your chapter title could be considered a summary of the coming chapter, it might be the wrong thing to use. You want readers to discover the plot along the way, not be told “here’s what’s coming” first. (Small note – chapter 21 reads “Why am I So Cautions” and I suspect you mean “cautious.”)

To a certain extent, my goal with the chapter names is either a joke that the reader would (hopefully) get as they read, or a misdirection. I may have let a few slip out that were too predictive and probably need to rework them. When I am writing I just go chapter by chapter without any numbering as I expect to rearrange chapters later and don’t want to have to keep renumbering them (no doubt this could be managed automagically, but I generally focus on content creation and am practically a Luddite when it comes to technology (I don’t even have a cell phone!), this, despite being a professional programmer).

The Crude Joke in the Vent – I wondered if that worked as written. I mean, the decision to speak it seemed almost out of character, though I suppose that was part of his plan. Still, it really stands out like a sore thumb. Wouldn’t there be another way to get his focus back? It’s probably fine, but it jumps out at readers as surprising, and not necessarily in a good way.

Maybe I do need to remove/rewrite that, but it was a key scene I came up with early and I feel shows them both struggling with their feelings for each other. I also want to show that Isabel is struggling with their relationship as well.

Time Table – I wonder if you can include dates (even just general ones, like season or month and year) at each Part of the novel, or chapters that occur much later than the previous ones to help readers see the passage of time more readily.

I have already tried working on some of those issues pointed out by other readers. One of the reasons I set the ‘parts’ off with blank pages is to try and clue the reader into a time jump. I also feel that Seacay, in adapting his diaries, would be cagey about some of those details, but I can also see that he would conclude he should make some stuff up to help the reader. I’ll think about how to go about adding more such flavor.

Language – You often refer to the fact that a character is speaking this language or that. This can be fine, but also, when overdone, quickly becomes a distraction. Only mention it when the plot demands and you’ll be fine.

Yes, I see I can let the reader assume he is using whatever language is appropriate. Interestingly (to me, anyway), this particular element has been driven home in thinking about how to adapt this to a screenplay. On the one hand I hate sub titles, on the other hand, I hate Anglicizing everything, particularly since I think non-US viewers might be a significant fraction (at least I would be targeting them, were things to proceed to that point).

The Signals – I wonder if the story would be more interesting if Seacay and Isabel hadn’t created signals to flash to each other when meeting in the future. Then there’s more “hmm…how’s this going to turn out” in the readers’ minds and that could be a good thing. More uncertainty/mystery is a good thing. For novels in general, and romance in particular. Again, I’m just looking for natural places to add some intrigue. It’s the little things like this that can make a novel stand out.

This is an ‘expert’ element where I figure they would have made these arrangements almost automatically. As I said before, I don’t think I emphasis enough that they spent several sex-filled days at the end of their first job and no matter how fantastic the sex is, if nothing more there has to be some conversation while the body recovers. I think if I am able to effectively get that point across that perhaps this element won’t be as out of place.

Chapter 4 – I wondered just what Secay wondered – was that whole thing too easy? I’m fine with characters who are unusually skilled at their job, but so far things have gone pretty much without a hitch for our protag. You mentioned in your note that this isn’t a traditional narrative approach to the genre (well, depending on the genre we’re talking about) and that’s fine. But when you have opportunity for some added tension or obstacles, you might as well take advantage of those moments. More tension means more intrigue means more reader engagement.

This I’m not sure about. To my end, I feel creating things that trip up Seacay are going against what I’m setting out to do. Later in the book I try to show he is not invincible, but particularly at this point I want to show that he is (largely) a master. The vulnerabilities I want to show (perhaps not well) is that he is out of his comfort zone because of Isabel. I can see to adding more layers of evident distraction, perhaps catching his mind wandering or something like that.

Chapter 7 – Is that specific cocktail believable? It strains credulity just a bit, since it does all the intended things and that might be a bit too convenient for some readers. As noted earlier, we could use some errors and mistakes early on in the story to make our hero less unbeatable.

Again, if this is not a leap of faith the reader can make then probably the whole story is moot. Just to add to your point: I’ve had complaints about this particular aspect when I mentioned the drug results as they were happening and modified the story to show the drugs being selected ‘laced with some additional special ingredients’ to ameliorate that complaint. This event (giving the second a specific drug cocktail) isn’t spontaneous, it is the result of a long period of careful planning on Seacay’s part. I’m trying to tell the story entertainingly, but quickly, to show his expertise is more than simply tripping people going down some stairs or shooting them with a needle gun.

Agatha – It’s rather convenient that S. has a contact with just the right equipment so nearby to where he happens to be. Just noting the “plot convenience” elments because too many and you get reader disengagement.

I suppose she could be further away, but then I feel I stall the action too much. Of course, I could drop her all together, but I’ve included her in subsequent action and in any case, I wanted to show that he isn’t just about unbelievably beautiful women, but is more about personalities once there has been interaction.

Exploding Bullet – So Seacay is an engineer of ballistics? Hmm…reminds me a bit of a scene in that George Clooney movie, The American. In fact the novel has shades of that (and maybe a touch of Mr. and Mrs. Smith as well, without the humor). Just made me pause a bit because it’s one more thing that makes him “perfect” and that can be off-putting. (Along with his great shooting skill, skill with women, disguise-making ability, photographic memory, etc.)

Once again back to the ‘experienced’ issue that I’m trying to do. I agree that I could drop the entire section, but wanted to have some back story for Tessa and show them interacting and developing friendship. I could just drop Seacay’s story and keep Tessa’s if you think that achieves what’s necessary. I guess this also applies to below as well.

Chapter 15 – Would love to see more showing vs. telling here. Seacay says “I am surprised how much I think about her” about Isabel, but it’s been three years, right? I wonder if readers are going to wish they’d had a scene or chapter earlier that showed us this longing, rather than suddenly say “I think about her a lot” once three years has passed. Maybe we need a small chapter before this where we see Seacay between jobs, just living his life but wondering if he’ll run into Isabel around the next corner. Watching him try to have a kind of “normal,” considering his job and his current love for Isabel could be interesting to readers.

I agree that some transition is helpful. Perhaps a good place for one of those ‘living it up’ scenes where he is having a great time, but is seeing Isabel everywhere he looks.

Chapter 16 – Not much to this chapter, really. Nearly a filler chapter. I wonder if the important bits could be incorporated into a different chapter.

I think the content is important, but can see your point in spreading it around. My goal with this whole section, though, was to show the reader how he goes about his recon by assuming persona that allow him to vanish. I was trying to make his earlier ‘vanishing’ acts more believable by showing some of what was involved in making that happen. I guess this applies to the below as well.

Chapter 18 – The second half is very “talky,” which could be an issue, but I do like the fact that Seacay begins to ponder the whole “trust” thing. I just thought that might be something that would have come up long ago, considering his general lack of trust (as noted earlier).

Certainly talky, but that was my exact point. I wanted to show them interacting non-sexually. Perhaps the marathon dialog needs to be broken somehow, except I don’t want them to interact physically and don’t really see them being this intimate at, say, a restaurant.

Chapter 20 – I like the backstory stuff here. You do repeat the “average guy” theme that’s already been established, as well as the “I have a good memory” thing, though. Also, the first kill seemed a bit far-fetched.

I can see I’ve hammered home my average looks and memory aspect, but I want to show him getting started before he joins the military and this story seems plausible to me.

Chapter 22 – This is a good example to illustrate what I mean about Seacay being “perfect” and nearly a superhero. Even when things don’t go as planned (he slipped up in his planning?) he happens to have the access and skills to accomplish his goal anyway. He can tamper with meds? Hmm…one more skill that shows up just in time to save the day. Here’s another way to look at it – it’s like Batman’s utility belt in the old TV series. He has exactly what he needs (or in Seacay’s case, access to exactly what he needs) just when he needs it. It strains credulity just a bit.

Perhaps it was my choice of words regarding the ‘tampering’ with the meds. I use ‘adulterate his meds’ when all that is happening is he is swapping out much higher strength versions of the same drug (later I say ‘I’m exchanging them for much higher doses’, but perhaps the initial verbiage clouds the perception). In my mind this doesn’t show anything particularly super human, he knows what meds the target has been prescribed and even if he didn’t already know the result of higher doses he could learn that trivially.

Chapter 24 – The bartender comment “I wonder how he keeps track” seems out of character. Doesn’t Seacay have to keep track of multiple things at once? Maybe instead he’d feel a kind of affinity with bartenders? Also, you spend almost as much time on the sex scene with the two women as you do in the earlier scenes with Isabel. Seems out of balance to me. Maybe we need more Isabel on the page earlier?

Maybe this was too cute, or letting too much of the author’s mind in, I’ve always wondered that so felt like articulating it. I can see that Seacay might actually not be impressed at all, or even have an affinity, like you say. As I’ve said, I think my first sex scene needs a massive overhaul and with that done correctly, I think this scene might fit in better.

Chapter 25 – This seems awfully familiar to me. Most of the chapter is redundant themes and claims by Seacay. Once you get to the actual job (“It is nigh on two weeks…”) it starts to feel new again.

Maybe it depends on the reader. I’m trying to show a variety of methods Seacay can use to take out targets and am trying to avoid repetition. I also figure that Seacay would be interested in showing off the breadth of his skills, and everything else has been urban, so wanted something outdoors. I also figured it would be an ideal way to weave in his evolving thoughts. In considering this section for the screen play adaptation, I was actually thinking of conveying much of this information as flashbacks where he would discuss these elements with Agatha, Tessa and Jim. I can see interweaving those discussions within the body of the novel, perhaps that would ‘speed things up’ on the job.

Earlier… – You use the “Earlier, I did this…” form a lot in Seacay’s narrative. That’s fine because you can’t show everything in “real time.” However, an abundance of this usage can steal the edge from the narrative. If you’re going back to say what he’s done “before” too often, the reader starts to lost the all-important sense of immediacy that comes from the first person present tense approach. And you need that, to help with building tension.

I agree in principle, but need specifics in order to focus enough to come up with alternatives. Perhaps, if I persuade myself to move forward with this writing, I can get your “Red Pen of Life and Death” or “Comprehensive Edit” and you can point those locations out.

Not a Target? – I had to wonder throughout the novel why Seacay could just get away with all of these kills, etc., without anyone targeting him. Maybe he’s just that lucky? But wouldn’t clients want to cover all their tracks, and if he’s a loose end, he might be considered one of those tracks? Just wondering aloud on this one.

I like this idea a lot. I can show him noticing observers and having to make some detours in order to avoid them. I can also see him taking some active measures from time to time to steer the observers in the wrong direction or temporarily incapacitate them. This could add some interesting flavor.

Chapter 26 – It’s more of the same “I have a great memory” and “I’m good with disguises” braggadocio here. And maybe that’s my issue with Seacay in general – he keeps repeating himself about all these skills (and tricks) he has (and uses), and that repetition starts to make him less appealing/compelling.

I suppose I could do away with the chapter, but felt it was important to show the reader some of the effort he puts into his layers of disguise.

Chapter 27 – The painted on eyes? On the boy? A bit of a stretch again, but mostly I was bugged by the shift in narrative tone to talk directly to the reader (“Come on, you didn’t really think I would do such a thing…”). I’m wondering if you even need this chapter. It’s quite a bit different from the rest, though perhaps even more unbelievable. And it’s gruesome, so it’s going to turn off some of your readers.

Several people have complained about this chapter and while I agree that it is discordant, I am trying to show the breadth of his skills and figure this is a realistic job he would take and also one he would feel is worth while relating to his readers. I am open to alternative ways to convey what I want, meaning how to show him doing a psychological operations job. I get that when there is a theme with readers there is an issue that needs to be addressed and in this case I am not so attached to it that I would want to stick with it, but I feel something like this is important.

Chapter 28 – This feels like it’s coming too late. Too much after the fact. Just show us that scene with Tessa earlier in a chapter that’s more immediate. It will carry far more emotional weight that way. You can have Seacay show a hesitation there, even, if that works for him. Something to suggest he’s thinking about Isabel when Tessa walks out of the shower. We could use more moment of “showing” like that, as already noted.

As I think I mentioned above, I agree with the idea of moving this earlier in the book.

Chapter 29 – Tessa’s long explanation about Isabel is really wordy and a bit on the nose. It doesn’t come across as organic conversation – especially for someone who is upset. Dialogue here could be more fractured, as I would expect from someone in a near panic. The patterns of dialogue can reveal as much about the characters as the words themselves. Also, in this chapter Seacay one again manages to do everything right. Wouldn’t this be a place where he might fail? That could raise the stakes a bit for the reader.

I like the idea of showing Tessa upset and frustrated and think doing so would increase the drama a lot. Last night I thought of having her get tongue tied and punch the dash or something, then Seacay realizes that he’d seen a bunch of bumps in the roof of the car and can see knuckle prints in the headliner and cracks in the dashboard. BTW, don’t really get the ‘bit on the nose’ reference, where does that come from? Going with what I recall in my reading, I would interpret ‘on the nose’ as being ‘right on target’, the opposite of what I think you are trying to convey.

Chapter 31 – We can add architect and builder to Seacay’s list of skills here. Hmm…he doesn’t sound real. And Isabel’s story to proclaim and explain her bisexuality? That’s the stuff of male sexual fantasy, I suppose, but it’s not needed in this moment. Less is more in this case, and this is a case of “more is more” instead.

Well, I’ve designed and built a house (along with my wife, the two of us doing 90%+ of the work) as well as an indoor pool/greenhouse, all from reading books, so it doesn’t sound like any sort of stretch to me. My goal with the story about the bondage is to show how Isabel and Tessa came together, to make it clear that they have had a long, loving relationship. Perhaps it comes too late for proper impact.

Chapter 32 – The male sexual fantasy continues. Will it appeal to men? Some. Women? Maybe not as much. And while it was nice to get the tour of Seacay’s place, it just kills the story momentum. Maybe we needed some of that earlier, if at all, though it’s another bit of evidence that Seacay is The Perfect (Self-absorbed/Self-confident) man. Some of your readers will want to be him, most will think he doesn’t exist (which is true). Yes, it’s a novel – in a way, a pure spy/assassin fantasy – so going over the top is somewhat expected. But I think there are opportunities to make it a little more believable, without losing that “fantasy” element. Thus, all my previous comments. The ending, while again an attempt to humanize Seacay a bit (his acknowledgement that Isabel needs to feel feminine after all she’s been through) comes awful fast, and in a strange way emphasizes his lack of nuance in understanding women/love. It’s kind of a “duh” realization that she would need some time, so for him to state it, while correct, just comes across as saying what he’s supposed to say. It doesn’t resonate.

I did intend some of the ‘duh’ part, he is still adjusting to his new emotional state. Going from a misogynist to a partnership should have some rough patches. I also wanted to (quickly) document some of the ‘what comes after’ that rarely seems documented. Perhaps, as you say, it is too much. I have read a number of complaints about how Tolkien seemed to go on and on about the whole bit back at the shire in LotR. I can see adding some of the elements scattered around the rest of the book, that would make this chapter much shorter.

My final thoughts…

I appreciate you picking out a ‘few good words’. I write ‘naturally’ in that for the most part it just flows from noggin to keyboard. When I edit, it tends to be more along line editing, so overall structure doesn’t change. I’m guessing, by you avoiding any mention of the funds/time to pound this into acceptable shape, that either you don’t see that as happening without too much work on your part or you aren’t sure I’m capable of taking editorial direction. If it is the latter, then hopefully the comments above will allow you to either conclude you were right or offer hints that I might be someone you could work with. When I have asked for input on business proposals I’ve written (a silly hobby that, so far, hasn’t made me a buck) I prefer to get back a ‘trashed’ document and hate it when I get back otherwise. I want to have to defend the elements I think are critical, if I can’t convince a professional editor that they are important, perhaps either they aren’t as important as I thought or, as is likely in this case, I’m just trying to do something that doesn’t have a ready market.

I get that there may not be any interest in what I’ve written. I get that finding an agent (just the foothill of the Everest climb) could be a nightmare, even if they like it (I’ve had a couple of what seem that sort of response, I can relay them to you if you’re curious). And I completely get that even with everything happening to get the book published, the reality of the publishing world may mean that even a potential best seller languishes because no one gets a chance to learn it is available. It is against this backdrop that I find your overall response so maddeningly unsatisfying. Though I fully expect the need for a fairly decent back list in order to bring in the money I’m targeting for retirement (I would be happy with $50K/year, according to my projections that leaves enough in our retirement that it continues to grow rather than shrink), one of the reasons I started with a several book series, if I can’t get the first book sold because agents/publishers won’t put effort behind it, I think it may be time to cut my losses. However, you encourage me to keep writing. If, after reading all this (assuming, of course, you’ve read this far) you think I’m not capable of being edited into something salable (meaning I’m too stuck on my baby to consider changing it where necessary), I think my clear course of action is to put it all behind me. Of course, if you answer that I can take enough direction that you don’t think the dollars spent on a comprehensive edit you are just leaving me just as messed up as before…

In any case, thanks again for your critique.