A Trifecta of Pitch Wars Lessons!

It seems impossible, but Pitch Wars is wrapping up less than two weeks! It’s been an absolute whirlwind of editing, writing, editing, reading and–you guessed it–MORE EDITING! Over the past two months I wrote a whole new ending for THE RADIANCE OF BLACK (almost 30,000 words), cut a full major character POV, and rearranged the opening chapters so it starts with a different main character than I originally planned.

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It was a lot of work, but I think the manuscript is much stronger than it was before. I have to give an enormous shout out to my mentor Hayley Stone for all of her enthusiasm and encouragement during this process. (A huge congratulations is also in order for her and the recent book deal for her book MACHINATIONS and its sequel!) She gave me so many great ideas on how to craft this book into the leaner, meaner and decidedly more readable(er) version we have today. In today’s post, I thought I’m share with you some of the lessons I learned over the last couple months while working with Hayley.

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!

I’m sure you’ve gathered from my post here at Scribes, I can be somewhat overlong in my writing. It’s something I’ve struggled mightily with since I started writing seriously about five years ago. I tend to go way too in depth on the descriptions of people and places – if I get a vivid picture of how a cool suit of armor or some horrific monster is supposed to look, it feel the need to make sure that whole picture is painted in words.

I’ve been able to break that habit a bit, but one thing that was still a major issue with RADIANCE was that it took much too long to get into the plot. Original first chapter was a scene with a bunch of snappy banter with one of main character, Ferris. While we both agreed the voice was really strong, it didn’t do much in terms of getting the action moving.

Woo! Action!

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Now the manuscript begins with what was originally the fourth chapter. It’s an introduction to the other main character, Sesily, and a pretty intense interrogation scene with an imprisoned serial killer. The biggest change is that this scene goes right into the main plot of the story and is the ignition for Sesily’s part of the story. In contrast, the original version took three chapters of set up to get to this point.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO END IT, JUST END IT!

I dare you to find some one who loves a good cliffhanger more than me.

I’ll wait.

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Unfortunately my timeless love affair with cliffhangers doesn’t mesh well with writing the first novel in what one would hope to be a series. Because how can it be a series if it’s not even an actual book yet? I kinda knew this already, but had convinced myself that it was still okay to end RADIANCE with a cliffhanger. And it was quite a doozy of a cliffhanger indeed.

Hayley’s biggest suggestion was to rewrite the ending so there was a definitely climax and final battle between the heroes and villains, which I would have left for the second book. We still kept the cliffhanger I had written as the orignal ending, but now there’s eight more chapters of resolution and conflict following it. This was the right choice. I loved the original ending dearly, but the new one is much more of an actual ending. More importantly, it added an extra layer of development of all of the characters involved and delved way deeper into a romantic subplot that I had ever intended. In all honesty, I think these new chapters are the strongest of the manuscript.

Spoiler Alert: there is still some loose ends left unresolved at the end, but the major plot threads are all tied up in a nice, if not somewhat depressing bow. It’s not a happy ending for our heroes, but it’s an ending.

WHAT THE EFF IS AN EM-DASH?

I consider myself a pretty good storyteller, but maybe not so great of a writer. This especially  true when it comes to some of the technical aspects of the craft. I don’t have any advanced degrees in writing, I don’t think I’ve taken an English class since my senior year of high school (and that was a really really long time ago). Grammar and I are not always on the best of terms.

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Lucky for me, the technical skill of writing can be learned through repetition and having someone to help you correct your grammatical boo-boos when they raise their ugly, ungrammatical head. Let me tell you, dear friends, there were many many technical line edits when Hayley gave this manuscript back to me.

The Red Pen of Death spilled buckets of digital ink on those pages.

But it was another important learning experience. Tightening up of the grammar went hand in hand with the tightening of the prose I mentioned earlier. Less run-on sentences equated to less meandering descriptions. Breaking up dialogue tags properly led to even smoother banter between the characters. All of this is certainly not to diminish the help my beta readers gave me in the initial drafts (shout out to Shauna and Kristin who helped make this book good enough to sub to Pitch Wars) but these edits went way beyond the scope of anything I would expect from betas.

This was a surgical dissection and reassembling of a manuscript that was, I think ,a really good story at its core. It had a strong voice and strong characters, but also had some very glaring technical and pacing issue that needed to be fixed before it was ready for Prime Time.

I’m very hopeful about THE RADIANCE OF BLACK as we get closer to the Agent Round. Even if I don’t get any requests, I still have a better manuscript than the one I had going into Pitch Wars. I’m totally going to requery any agents that showed interest in previous draft too (working on a new query letter right now!).

And on top of all that, I made great new friend! Hayley and I will definitely be helping each  other out on future projects (I owe her a whole heap of beta reading after all this). One of the most important things about making it in this wide wild world of publishing is making connections and building relationships with good people. Pitch Wars has been fantastic in that respect too.

I started this post lauding the virtues of brevity, didn’t I?

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Still working on that.

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