Flying Sparks Issue 7 Page 4 Is Up

http://flyingsparkscomic.com/archive/issue-7-page-5/

Our lovely comic page of the week. Thanks again  Jethro Morales and Shannon Perkins on artistic duties.  I’ve always stated that I love the character moments where two of my characters really start to build something between each other or change, beyond what you see in a lot of superhero comics. In my early issues, I was a little nervous about it so I really threw more action in each issue than I do in my more recent ones. There’s definitely a place for action and it’s fun, but building the characters is where it’s at.

Adventures From The Slush Pile #2: Magic, Technologies and Resolutions

Not everything you read in a slush pile is negative. It’s hard not to get jaded when reading, a lot of the time, because you see the same mistakes repeatedly. But even some mistakes can give you an epiphany about your own writing that don’t click until you see it.

I’ve heard it said a lot that it’s very important to have your magic system or technology or whatever route you’re going matter to the story. If it doesn’t, you might as well have set it in a realistic world. I’ve struggled with this several times in short stories. Because I like the space opera backdrop, I’ll have a piece that could have been set at any point in any time and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, the first draft of my novel suffered a lot from this, which I thank my crit group for pointing out before I stumbled too long into a 2nd draft and didn’t understand why it failed.

But in today’s reading, I learned more. Without going too far into someone’s story, I caught an instance where a magical thing was happening to someone, which was cool and intriguing, but when I arrived at the end of the piece, the “why” was never explained. We were left with characters who just had some mysterious event happening to them, and it did get resolved, but it was ultimately unsatisfying because it didn’t make sense why they were being haunted by this mysterious thing.

It’s hard to give a tip when being so vague about something, but when you write your magic, your settings, your technologies, it’s important to look at it and pay attention to: 1. Does this impact the story?  2. Does it make sense or need to be explained with a reveal at the end?  3. Does the resolution of the conflict answer enough questions to leave the reader satisfied?  If not, you almost don’t have a full story. I’m going back to a few of my shorts now and realizing that these three criteria aren’t met, and definitely want to revise them.

This sounds like pretty obvious advice, but it’s really hard to read one’s own story and see that these elements are missing. Keeping that watchful eye in reading your own work is a must.  Don’t sell yourself short by being too easy on yourself, and remember what’s in your head is not necessarily what’s on the page!

Though ultimately, I couldn’t accept this submission because of it’s fault, it still did a job in teaching, which I’m grateful for.

Adventures From The Slush Pile #1

Some of you may know that I do slush pile reading for speculative short stories. I am the first set of eyes that reads your story, and determines whether the editors should bother reading it. Since I’m going to be doing this work for the foreseeable future, I thought it may be handy to post up some “DON’T SEND IN YOUR STORY LIKE THIS” warnings for authors, and perhaps give a few positive tips along the way. 

First tip: I love my mom too, but make sure someone who’s not your best friend, mother, relative, lover, or any relation to you reads your work before you send it out. You WANT someone to tear your piece to shreds. That’s not to say you need to 100% take the advice of the person reading it, but having someone be nice about a piece does you no good. Someone else who has a different perspective than you will catch things that you don’t see in your own work. Different people look at different aspects of everything. You want all of your flaws pointed out, each ugly scar, blemish and mole highlighted. It’s honestly how you get better. If you don’t have a thick enough skin for that, your piece is probably not going to get to the point where it’s publishable.  

Second tip: Don’t do anything cute with the formatting. I mean nothing. Don’t make your name frilly in some cursive font, don’t bold parts of the story, don’t make full paragraphs of italics and others not double spaced, don’t have your manuscript red text with a black background. Whatever you’re doing to mess with the formatting is not unique, it’s just annoying to editors. This is advice that I see time and time again, and most publishers will post guidelines that require formatting on their sites that are pretty stringent. Even if you think the story relies on the different formatting, and that’s what makes it unique, it’s not. I have to say that nearly 20% of the manuscripts I get have one of those formatting “tricks” above. It doesn’t make you stand out, but it does make me not want to read further. Let the story speak for itself.  

Third Tip: Make sure your first couple paragraphs are so squeaky clean that no one can find any faults in them. This goes back to tip one in some ways, but there’s some other tricks I can recommend for this too. 1. Read the story aloud to yourself. You’ll catch a ton of awkward sounding phrases this way.  2. Watch out for comma missuses, run on sentences. I can’t tell you how many stories open with a sentence where an author’s trying to pack so much information into that opening line, that it ends up muddying what they’re trying to communicate. Brevity is the soul of wit.  For real.  3. Reading aloud will help with this too, but watch out for your adjective and adverb use and overuse. If I read something along the lines of “I saw a huge giant with huger muscles” that doesn’t instill me with excitement about how large the said giant was. A giant by definition is huge, and huger muscles is redundant.  If it was a dwarf giant, now that’s intriguing! 

Fourth Tip: Don’t open an email going into length about what inspired you for the story or how it’s based on a real event or dream but you changed x,y and z about it. That’s nice, but the story should justify its own existence. It doesn’t help, but it does make a reader wary to know that someone feels the need to explain themselves.  

This may sound harsh, but when an editor is reading a story, these are just the opening volleys to a long war of hundreds of manuscripts.  I’ll try to post more tips and tricks as I go through these month after month and become a more experienced reader.  For now, I really hope that helps! Even if a lot of these issues sound like your manuscript, the beauty of it is they’re fixable! Don’t lose confidence, but do understand what professional writing looks like.

Onto the next manuscript…

Jon

Distant Memories

A friend of mine is sick, and it reminded me of the first time I truly recall being sick, and spending time on my back. I was probably 10 years old or so, and had a late onset of the chicken pox. It was pretty miserable. I was itchy, crabby, splotchy, everything associated with it.

I slept into the early afternoon on the second day of the illness, and my mom came home with a surprise. Believe it or not, dear readers, it was a book!

Ahh yeah! Star Trek The Original Series #76, The Captain’s Daughter, by Peter David.  Now as a 10 year old, this was the most exciting thing I could recall. My mom not only thought of me while I was sick, but paid attention to the fact that I was getting into Star Trek. Very cool, mom! Double cool for encouraging reading, now that I look back at it.

This was my first foray into science fiction. Sure I’d seen the TV show, but when you involve yourself in reading, it’s actively in your imagination, not passive. I loved this book, and really loved that they delved into the family of one of the crew members. The show didn’t usually look at familial relationships that deeply (Who the heck was watching Wesley anyway? He kinda just ran around the ship and then touched buttons…)

Now that I’m older, I wished this hadn’t propelled me into endlessly reading Star Trek books, good and bad, for the next 10 years, and that I’d spent more time getting into the sci-fi I loved through my twenties to present. But it was still happiness brought from being sick. Without The Captain’s Daughter to take my mind off of scratching, I wouldn’t be writing today.

Word Count Per Day?

I was asked by a reader, “How many words do you write per day?”

Quick answer is: I wish I were that regimented! It’d certainly make my time tables easier to determine.

Long answer:  It depends on what I’m doing.

1. When it comes to writing comics: I always outline an issue first when I’m working on a comic, then I hold myself to 3-5 pages of comic script per day until the issue’s complete. I take two weeks off so it “cools” and I’m not so excited that I’m blind to the flaws, then look at the script again for editing purposes and see if I need to make some changes.  In editing, I try to get a complete script of 22 pages done in 1-2 days.  On the other end, I letter my own pages, so my final scripted words get another pass at that stage.

2. When I’m writing prose: I don’t hold myself to a limit, but I like to try to get at least 1,000 words out in a writing session, roughly speaking. I don’t use word counts to monitor my progress, but . I write a full scene or two full scenes per day.  When I’m editing, it depends. Editing can mean cutting whole scenes, writing completely new scenes or just going through and making the words work. I do typically do one thing at a time so when I’m editing I’m not usually throwing prose into a new project, unless something’s really pounding in my head that it needs to be written.

The key is consistency. Since I work in different mediums, the output looks different depending on the project. However, getting SOMETHING onto the screen at least 5 days a week is my goal. Usually hitting one of the targets above.

Hope that helps!

Jon

New Flying Sparks Page

For those who don’t follow the comic, each wednesday I post up a new page, and so I might as well add another place to let everyone know.

http://flyingsparkscomic.com/archive/issue-7-page-3/   Here’s the current page. For those who are following, they’ll see a lot of characters and storylines converging together here. I’m not saying the series is culminating into its climax yet, but it’s definitely another bump in the road toward that direction.

For those who don’t read, this is the story of a hero and villain who are dating under their secret identities, each unaware of each other’s secret lives.  It’s a lot of fun, and some good character driven superhero comic-ing.  Check it out, though I suggest scrolling back to the beginning. With only 7 issues, it’s not a lot to catch up on, and it’s a lot of fun.

The Advantages of A Good Critique Group

I’m about 40% through my first revision of my first novel, tentatively titled Starcrossed, and I started thinking about potential interesting topics along the lines of editing and revision. This part of the process is both the most challenging and rewarding part of writing, so I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned. Novel revision is so much more intensive than short stories or comics, though the principles remain the same. What I’ve found invaluable lately, as the title suggests, is having a few other sets of eyes to look at the piece and tell me “Hey, this part doesn’t work!”

Naturally, the end goal is to be able to pick those parts out for yourself, since at the end of the day it’s your piece, and your editing. However, different people have different perspectives, focus in on different things, and if you find the right people– those perspectives can tell you what your readership will want to see. An analogy I have is when I was making music with my band aprilsrain. Where I can write a nice melody, have the song going and make it pretty good, the part that my lead guitarist added a lot of the time turned the song from a good song to a great song. Just having an extra flare made it more interesting, and more worth listening to. And it was something I couldn’t have come up with myself.

Now novel writing is much more of a solo piece (unless you’re collaborating), so the analogy doesn’t work 100%, but the principle is the same. A lot of the time we’re so invested in our characters and in our story that we put blinders on, and read the piece from what we have in our  heads, and not what’s on an actual page.  We may miss important plot points, fail to diversify our characters enough or have botched the worldbuilding (in the case of sci-fi/fantasy) and not even realize or admit it to ourselves. So I found that the best way to make sure all of that is covered, is to have several people to read the work and give some feedback.  Now these people have to read my first drafts (poor them!) so they have to be people you can trust to read an inferior product and only pick at the things that need revision to make it a GREAT piece, not someone focusing on your spelling errors. Though copyediting certainly has its place, it’s far more important in the early stages to get real story advice. Here’s some good things to remember to get you helpful critique:

1. Think of this as sending your first drafts out for submission. You want help tearing this apart, dissecting it and telling you what’s wrong. If you have a group that’s composed of your mother and your spouse telling you “that’s great, dearie!” it’s not going to help you progress. That said, remember that your group will be coming at it from the mindset of trying to pick it apart, so don’t get discouraged. It’s still your work and your decision what advice to take/reject.

2. Get a variety of takes. Male, female, old, young. Everyone reads thinking about different things depending on their life states. One of my favorite authors said something along the lines that a work is a collaboration between an author and reader. Their imaginations are what’s bringing the words to life, so to be able to see what’s good from a professional standpoint, having many views will be helpful.

3. If you can find them, have your readers at this stage at a reading or writing level at or above yours. This is hard because you’re going to have to reciprocate a lot of the time, and naturally people who are not at your writing or analytical level will be more inclined to want to read your work and get YOUR feedback on theirs than people at a more professional level, but the advice of the seasoned authors who have made the mistakes you’re making will be invaluable to you.

With those in mind, you should be able to get a nice read of your work which will help you out. The first draft of my novel was absolutely atrocious on a lot of levels, and I’m only able to fix that now because of the three points above.  Don’t be afraid to show others your work, it’s the only way you’re going to improve.

What Are Your Favorite Books And Why?

I was asked today to fill out a survey for a publisher, and one of the questions was about favorite books. I won’t reprint the entire survey since I’m sure they intend to use it, but thought this was interesting. Now my top two books stay the same pretty regularly. I know this because they’re the only books I’ve read more than twice.  But beyond that it varies. I’ll list the three I gave and reasons then give a broader list below:

The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey – This book is great for me on a lot of levels. It starts out with the main character, Killashandra, who is in essence being told she’s not good enough to continue from her training at her music school to the professional world.  I’ve been told that before, and actually succeeded where I was told not to bother.  I won’t give specifics to embarrass someone, but that character immediately resonated with me. Beyond that, the science fiction world that was set up in this book is incredible. Using music to actually matter for the universe to function is ingenious.

Stardance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson – I’m noticing a theme in my own favorite works where producing art in a futuristic environment seems to be a motif.  I don’t think that’s the actual reason I love these books so much though. It’s because their characters are so cool, and so real.  This story is one of those “next step in human evolution” types, and is beautifully constructed.  The attention to detail on both the aspects of dance and the science of existing in a zero-g environment are wonderful, but Sharra is such a cool character that it’ll keep you reading this repeatedly.

A Civil Campagin by Lois McMaster Bujold – I struggled here, because probably ¾ of the Vorkosigan books could have made this spot.  Usually I waffle between The Warrior’s Apprentice, Memory or this book.  For those who haven’t read this series, Miles Vorkosigan is the greatest character ever to hit science fiction, period. He’s a snarky little genius with real physical problems that get in his way.  This book is Lois’s romantic comedy, and she’s one of the few people that can make me laugh and cry all in the span of the same book.  A true master at manipulating people’s emotions through art, and I mean that in the best way possible!

Now as I mentioned, different Vorkosigan books slide into my favorites, always in the top five somewhere. Here’s more books that are in the “favorite” category but didn’t make the top three today:

– Emergence by David R.Palmer

– The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

– Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

– The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (read the first book first!)

– Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

– Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

– The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (read the first couple first!)

You’re out of excuses, now go read!

Well Then…

Hi, I’m Jon Del Arroz. You might remember me from such comics as: If-X, Back Row Presents, Flying Sparks. You may also know me from my short fiction in Zharmae Publishing’s anthology, The Irony of SurvivalIf you happen upon a TARDIS and go even further back, you’ll find my band aprilsrain  (you can search for that on iTunes), which I understand one of my songs made it onto Real World: New Orleans a couple of years back.  I’m sure if you do some quick searches you can find some reviews or interviews I’ve done for different comic websites along the way as well. I do hope that as times go on this list becomes outdated, and I’ll want to list bigger and better things. Some of which are works-in-progress, and I’ll talk about on this very page.  Now that we’ve got my resume out of the way…

It came to my attention last month when I was blogging about the creative process over on the aforementioned Flying Sparks website that a significant amount of people were generally interested in what I had to say on the matter.  This ranged all the way from my influences and insights on why I went with particular story choices, all the way to talks on artists and coordination.  It was a lot of fun to ponder the topics for me as well, so I figured I might as well give it a go on a broader scale.  I’ll use this page to advertise works of mine on the horizon, talk about the process, and answer any questions that may be posed to me.  Comment and let me know what you want to hear, or if you like it! We authors thrive on knowing someone’s out there listening (or reading as it may be).

I’m assuming most of my clicks will come from people who read Flying Sparks at this point, so I’ll give a little tidbit of info: just finished writing Issue 8 (right now the book’s on issue 7 in terms of what’s posting).  I went into the issue with the full intent of taking it down a notch, slowing down the plot and not heading into the dangerous “I’m going to outdo myself!” territory.  Well, the characters didn’t listen to me. It’s a doozie, and I’m a little frightened of where it takes the story.  Guess you’ll have to wait a bit to see what I mean, though!

’til next time,

Jon