Problem: I have a team seven protagonists and this isn’t an origin story. Since they all know each other, they’re mobilized right away. Originally, the team leader spent two chapters traveling the country and activating his agents in a sequence not unlike Ocean’s Eleven.
However, that’s a lot easier to pull of in a visual medium. No one watching a movie is going to confuse Bernie Mac with Brad Pitt. In particular I had two women on the team that readers were confusing, Polly and Gabby.
Initial solution: Clearly, the spellings of Polly and Gabby are too close, so I replaced Polly with the full name Pollyanna. I also increased Pollyanna’s potty mouth and her a love of literature (dropping lit references in conversation) while cleaning up Gabby’s language and dumbing her down a bit.
Further solutions: 1) Cold Open: I’m going to extend the book with an action sequence at the beginning that’s loosely related to the rest of the novel, like in some James Bond movies. That’ll give me 2000-3000 words to introduce three of the four characters before jumping around the country for the other four.
2) Character Dossiers: Since this is an espionage story I can write up one page reports on the protagonists from the point of view of the spy master. They’ll come in after each character’s introductory scene and if the ink bleeds into the edge of the page readers can easily use them as reference. Like how fantasy novels used to have a reference appendix.
After this rewrite, I’ll try it on another series of beta readers. If they’re not confused then I’ll know if it worked.
I’m going into Comic Con in a good head space with baggage cleared.
One the software front, I released the Android version of Texts From Jesus last week. Software is never really done. We have plans to add multiple languages to the app starting with Spanish. Once we have all the major languages covered… Texts From Buddha
In fiction news, The Faith Machine is almost at the end of its second draft. I’m working shopping the last three chapters tonight. I have a few more versions to make, plot and character threads to cut or tie off, and a cold open to write, but if all goes well and if Con leaves me as creatively charged as it usually does I should be into third draft next month.
I’ve been attending Jonathan Maberry‘s Writer’s Coffeehouse meet-ups at Mysterious Galaxy. It gives me that same creative charge Con does, but in a more manageable amount. Like an IV drip.
What I don’t have is a series of good pitches for Comic Con, a skill I really need to work on. But there’s two days until Con and who needs sleep anyway?
How about you? How are you doing?
The Faith Machine first draft… done. 88,227 words is a tad on the short side. But I have a lot of scenes in the last act that need fleshing out beyond the dialog. And I plan on throwing on ten action packed and unrelated opening pages, ala a James Bond movie. Not to mention everything I forgot to write. That Hellfire missile I foreshadowed in the second act, totally forgot about it in the third. And I never showed the consequences of the villain’s success before he was defeated. That’s got to go in there somewhere.
Next: I take a week off to clear my head, even do some camping. Then I give the entire document a few pass-throughs. Like an iron pressing out the wrinkles. I’ll be looking for plot threads that changed or were lost over the last year. There used to be three clones floating around in tanks, now there’s one. Most importantly, make sure everyone’s agenda leads them to the climax. And I’ll be looking for opportunities to foreshadow elements I thought of while writing the last half.
I like the second draft. This is where I pretend that someone else tried to write my novel and it’s my job to fix it. I mean look right here, he forgot about the Hellfire missile.
And the only one who can do anything about it is me. So I gave the Magic Spreadsheet a try (almost). The gamification of writing.
The rules as I understand them:
- Write at least 250 words (equivalent to a page) everyday. Every 250 words is a point.
- Keep score with continuous blocks of goals met. Ex. If you’re written 250 words a day for a week your score is 7. 500 words a day for a week, 14. But if you miss a next day your score drops all the way back down to 0.
As this chain builds and your score gets into the two or three digits it taps into the compulsive part of the brain, the seed of game addiction. Using that nasty bit of neurology for good instead of evil.
So far I’ve only played by the first rule with a macro-less spreadsheet. Eventually I aim to write a full web app to calculate the score. In the meantime I’ve written up this basic version using ZingChart.
Setting a daily goal of 500 words a weekday and 1000 a weekend I managed to get 27,922 words written these last two months. That’s almost half of my total words written so far and I didn’t make my goal everyday, not by a long shot. I was only a third in, now I might be done by mid February. The desire to fill cells on the spreadsheet is a great motivator.
(Note: This isn’t a fair comparison. I was work-shopping as I wrote the first 40,000 words. They’re in their second draft, while everything I’ve written since November is a rough first draft. But the goal is to get the first draft done since that’s the hardest part.)
The Third Act is my Complication
No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy and neither did my outline survive contact with the third act. Changes I made in the first act invalidated large parts of the third. Major characters had their roles changed and needed to be replaced. Motivations no longer lined up with actions. Moles reconsidered their treason. Characters that died lived and vice versa. The warranties expired on my MacGuffins. I hit that wall and I spent Christmas weekend re-plotting the last five chapters. Gotta blue that print, measure twice, and proper that planning if the words are to flow.
Because done… done is beautiful.
I haven’t posted much since the Conference. There’s hasn’t been much to post. I really don’t do much except work and write. And the world doesn’t need another word count tally.
I had half an insight while writing The Faith Machine: A protagonist was going to die in the first act to show the stakes were high. For this purpose I created Gabby, the hillbilly with poor impulse control who could force a crowd to listen to her talk. But Gabby grew on me. I saw potential to use her throughout the story and stories beyond.
So Gabby got a say of execution. But I still wanted someone to die. So I created 97:4, the Bible-banging electrokinetic with pica. But she grew on me too. Lesson learned;
I make awesome characters that should never die disposable heroes aren’t my thing. Maybe that’s why I fixate on characters who died before their full stories played out, like Thunderbird and Swordsman.
Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, that’s a blog post. See y’all at Comic Con!
I heard the SDSU Writers’ Conference was a good place to land an agent, and that was my agenda. The place was crawling with industry professionals and I did get some interest from one of the advanced readings, but for the most part I’ll have to chalk this one up as a learning experience.
On Friday there were panels on pitching and query letters. I needed a pitch, so that panel was really useful. As for the query letter panel, well I can’t trust anyone who has never seen Star Wars.
Saturday was the day for advanced readings. I sent in 10 pages and $50 dollars for some face time with some agents. One liked the concept of The Faith Machine enough to ask for more. Boom! But all of them said my opening was too exposition heavy. Point taken. I rewrote the first scene with less back story any more animosity. That was a valuable bit of feedback and the rewrite will strengthen a weak plot thread.
I also met a few cool, speculative fiction writers, other attendees. And I attended a few panels that didn’t tell me anything new, but it was good to know that my knowledge of social media and blogging is still up to date.
I’d thought that being published would have given me a bit of a leg up, put me in a position where to attract an agent as a proven writer. But no, I’m probably still going to have to write the second book on spec before most agents will consider a look. However, of all the agents that I pitched too, none of them said that it was a dumb premise and should be abandoned so I got some encouragement out of it, that was worth $600 right there.
In Liberia, Park allows street urchins to pick his pocket while on his way to the US Embassy. Inside, he uncovers information on an abandoned facility that might be the Faith Machine installation as well as information on The Baptist, a local religious leader who may be at odds with whomever is operating the Faith Machine. Outside, he’s confronted by the teen-age leader of the street urchins. The oldest boy’s face is covered in blue from the dye pack that was in Park’s wallet. Park cons the teen out of his knife and recruits the two child pickpockets as guides. They set off to find The Baptist’s ministry in the slum of West Point.
In a luxury hotel Isaac wins a game of poker against wealthy Liberians and Chinese businessmen. After the game he’s threatened by four rough looking thugs from General Mamba, a warlord turned crimelord left over from the civil war. They intend to kidnap him. Isaac calls their bluff, they won’t try anything inside the casino. He casually tosses his poker winnings in the air, escaping in the chaos.
In Kentucky, the team’s newest agent, Gabby, is in a domestic dispute, chasing her ex-boyfriend down a dirt road with an ax. In her anger she’d forgotten that she has the power to stop him in his tracks by talking to him.
In Atlanta, Park and Ainia find Agent Isaac Deal in his luxury apartment, expertly playing a sitar, an instrument he’s never practiced or purchased. Isaac acquired the sitar, and the ability to play it, by mimicking the skills of his neighbors. Park appeals to Isaac’s vanity, and he agrees to come along.
In Cincinnati, Agent 97:4 feels that she can do more good working in a soup kitchen than she can aiding Project Dead Blind, especially after their disastrous last mission. Anticipating her reluctance, Park has 97:4’s family Bible, and the promise of being close to the book compels her to accept the mission.
In Pennsylvania, they find Agent Pollyanna trying, and failing, to use her power of positive thinking to rig the lottery in her favor. She’s too cynical and self-hating, her power turns against her. Pollyanna agrees to the mission for the money.
The teenage Agent Exposition Joe slides into Park’s backseat and accepts the mission with the grace of someone who sees the future. Ainia has misgivings about Joe’s loyalty.
In a Washington DC park, Agent Ken Park (imagine John Cho as James Bond) receives his orders from his spymaster, James Ensign. Ensign has spent years investigating the Faith Machine, a series of Soviet installations that weaponize religious beliefs, and has uncovered the last remnant of the program in Africa. While Ensign follows a lead in China, Park will go to Liberia, a country still recovering from years of brutal civil war, and he’ll be taking Project Dead Blind’s six primary agents with him.
Park travels around the country activating his agents. In Philadelphia, his second in command, Agent Ainia, is working her day job as a stunt-woman. A Latina who believes she’s a reincarnated Amazon warrior with the grace and brutality to prove it. Ainia is eager for some real action. She accompanies Park as he contacts the others.
A new year and a new phase for The Faith Machine. Finished the outline and the first three chapters yesterday. I’m waiting on some last feedback for the chapters before I submit. I plan on posting the chapters to my Deviantart account, in the meantime here’s the query letter:
The Faith Machine is a science fiction tale of international action, espionage and E.S.P. Imagine James Bond leading the Alphas against a being that claims to be God.
Ken Park is the field commander of Project Dead Blind, a team of powerful, but unruly, psychic government agents, sent on an investigation of the remnants of a Soviet psychotronic weapon program in Africa. But the investigation goes bad, and the agents find themselves scattered and pursued by the FBI, China’s 13th Bureau, a cult of America’s political elite and the mysterious Casemen armed with weaponized brains. They dodge arrest and murder while figuring out what put them on everyone’s hit list, undertaking an investigation that leads them to an underground laboratory in North Korea.
My first novel, Picking Up the Ghost, was published by ChiZine in 2011, is available as an audio book on Audible.com and was optioned for film by Breaking the Cycle Films LTD.
Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely, Tone Milazzo