On Revising, Part IV: Raising the stakes

I think I’m ready for the big “Deep Think” revision on my project, The American Nine, and I’m super excited about it.

Whenever I get to about the third (out of four minimum) revisions I like to consider it to be my “Big Idea” revision. That’s when I take a look at everything about my story and see if there is anything structurally the matter with the piece. Are my characters (especially the MC) compelling? Does the story flow? Does my plot have any leaks or dead ends?

Thankfully, I had a chance to show my manuscript to some beta readers, and one in particular, a published author I’ve gotten to know well over the past couple of years. And she was nice enough to give me comments, the whole nine yards.

There’s a type of critique that really puffs you up and there’s a type of critique that pulls you down, pulls you down so hard it either breaks your will or you totally disregard it. The critique I got was a third kind – the kind that excites you with the possibilities that you didn’t see before. It’s the type of critique that shines a light onto something you didn’t realize and lights the way to a better story.

There was a lot to it, but the essential part of the critique was this (I’m paraphrasing here): “Well, it’s all good to have an interesting character going through interesting experiences. But it’s not like he’s in danger of losing, is there? Not the way you have it written. The way you have it written, I know he’s always going to succeed. There’s not the suspense there, is there?”

It was then that I realized:

I needed to raise the stakes in my novel.

Let me try to explain this a little.

One of the deadliest things that a beta reader, or any reader, really, can say about a book is, “Well, who cares?” If you want readers to care about your story, you have to make that story involve struggle.

If I was going to define what stakes were, I would lay it out like this. What does your MC have to gain if they succeed? What do they have to lose if they don’t? Are they the type of things that other readers could relate to, even if they don’t find themselves in the same situations as those characters? Could they relate to them, at least?

The problem was, my MC was always winning. Even that’s OK, but I have to make sure that it’s tough for them to do that. There has to be doubt in the readers’ minds that your character is going to succeed and some consideration of where the character is going to be if they fail.

Essentially, the premise of my book is, what would an American version of Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi look like? What would that person’s path be to soccer glory, and what would they have to overcome to make that happen?

In reading over my beta reader’s comments, I realized that I had dedicated most of my time to ensuring that my MC would reach those heights and not enough time putting obstacles in his path. For example, Diego had to overcome poverty, and Lionel had to overcome hormone deficiency to become the soccer gods they eventually became.

What did my character have to overcome to reach his goals, especially as a 17-18 year old kid starting to learn about life and what it takes to succeed? I had to show more of the building and less of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, essentially. I had to show the struggle, the climb to the top, to make sure that people cared about what happened to my MC.

That’s the challenge that I’m going to face with this next revision. I have to admit, I’m almost grinning at the challenge. There has to be a struggle, and there has to be a payoff, in life and on the page.

I’ve got some work to do. I can’t wait.



Writing Journal/Random Thoughts 7.16.2018: A slight drop off, World Cup thoughts just because, and one insight that might only interest me

Yeah, so the numbers for this week… not really impressive, but not a disaster:

+1,206 words written.

Days writing: 4 out of 7.

Days revising: 3 out of 7 for 90 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 3 out of 7 days.

So, not matching last week’s totals, but not a total collapse. Explanations? Two in particular come to mind.

First, since we are now in mid-July, I have to say that I am officially in the doldrums of my summer vacation where maximum complacency sets in. Luckily, this has not been as severe as previous years. Due to various circumstances, I find myself keeping active with local political volunteerism and assisting my wife with various errands. As a result, I am more occupied than last year, when I literally had nothing to do during the summer after a few consecutive years of taking and/or teaching classes during that time (to be fair, I probably needed the break).

Second, of course, was the conclusion of the World Cup yesterday and this past week. As has been documented previously on this blog, I have a pretty serious soccer obsession at this point. General thoughts (Random Notes? Random Notes!) on the tournament:

  • I was very happy with the quality of the games and the action.
  • Video assistant referees (VAR) have been a long time coming and much needed.
  • The final was great, with the young kids of France proving themselves against the best of the world.
  • Also glad to see the Belgians do well – my name and family background has some Belgian origin, so that was cool to see.
  • I was sorry not to see the USMNT in action, but I’ve been happy to see how the younger kids of that team have been doing in friendlies, and that plus the fact we will be hosting the 2026 WC alongside Canada and Mexico have helped me to get over that. Compared to the winter fiasco the 2022 Qatar WC will be, our tournament will be paradise.

How much of a soccer/football junkie am I? I’m actually counting down to the ICC club exhibition tournament in America within a couple of weeks. Plus there’s still Major League Soccer in America, and the European leagues will start up in a month… the fact that there’s always soccer on somewhere in the world is good for me, but it can be annoying to those close to me. πŸ™‚

Well, hadn’t expected to write that much about soccer, but there hasn’t been too much writing items to talk about.

I will say this, however, as a small piece of writing advice. If you are writing a story and you are not feeling it, you may want to swap out your characters for new ones that attract your interest. Not to get into too many details at this very early stage of the creative process, but I started considering putting a main character from one of my current projects into a writing project that had a totally different genre. And I think it’s going to work. It might be a project that I wasn’t planning on writing for a while, but I think it has made it a far more interesting and not quite as cliched as I had initially feared. Mixing and matching – it worked for rap, and it will work for you, too.

That’s about all for now. I do plan to write up something for midweek – I know I didn’t do that last week as I have been trying to do. Anyway, I’ll get you more stuff later.

Writing Journal 7.9.2018: Chugging along, I guess – at least consistently

I hadn’t even totaled up last week’s numbers until just now, but from my estimates, they appear to be… pretty good.

+1,236 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7.

Days revising: 6 out of 7 for 240 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 6 out of 7 days.

Well, I wasn’t expecting it. So, what was happening over the Fourth of July week?

  • Most of my revising has been on The American Nine. Nothing too heavy, just more of a casual read-thru right now,
  • In something of a whim, I basically started a rough draft of what would basically be American Nine 2. I’m only a few hundred words into it right now, but it’s been so much fun. I can see now why authors can get into writing book after book about a main character, especially if that MC has plenty of possible stories.
  • Progress on We Can Be You… has been slow at best. I think I have the idea behind the first book well and truly set up, but getting on with it has been a bit of a road block with me. I think it’s caused me to think long and hard about the motivations I have for the my lead characters and what their motivations are.
    • I think going back and forth between writing projects has shown me I have to have main characters that I have a true burning interest in if I want a book to succeed.

Honestly, I think that about all I can think of for right now. I’ll try and be more creative with this journal next time if I can.


Report On That Writing Conference I’ve Been Mentioning Off and On For A Few Weeks

Good thing I promised to do this in a day or two, not right away.

Anyway, wanted to finally let you know how that conference went. I believe this is either the third or fourth such conference I have attended, and I think I learned something or got some insights from each of them. I think they have also given me more focus on my work and inspired me to take my interest in getting published more seriously.

I was thinking that this was going to be a massive post, but for reasons to be explained, it will wind up being relatively short. I will go over a few observations/points/notes in no particular order regarding the conference.

  • I did not attend too many of the events at the conference. Part of my reason for that was because there were not any sessions that applied to what I have been writing recently. In addition, I was attempting to save some funds and not have to make the trip up to the Quad Cities more than I had to.
  • What I did decide to do was participate in a critique of my work by one of the presenters at the conference and a pitch to the MWC Press for one of my works in progress. From the critique, I was happy to hear that my main character had made such an impression on her, even though she didn’t know his background and only had an excerpt from the book. She also had some good suggestions as well. Although I’m not sure whether anything will come of the MWC Press pitch, it was a great experience to be able to do that and be able to articulate why I thought it was a compelling project.
  • I also have to give thanks to the Midwest Writing Center and St. Ambrose University for hosting the event. They always do a top-class job of hosting the event and making you feel welcome. Any writers who live in the eastern Iowa/western Illinois area, especially near the Quad Cities, would do well to check them and their programs out.

Well, I told you it was going to be short. However, if I can make it to next year’s conference, I certainly would go again.


Writing Journal 7.1.2018: Not the best ending for last month

Sorry if anyone was actually waiting for me to post today. πŸ™‚ Anyway, here’s the stats:

+930 words written.

Days writing: 1 out of 7.

Days revising: 2 out of 7 for 120 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 3 out of 7 days.

So, yeah… that wasn’t how I planned on wrapping up the month. Not too much of an excuse this week – just didn’t dedicate myself enough to it.

What’s up with the writing projects?

  • I’ve gotten some good feedback on The American Nine manuscript. Currently, I’m going to have it beta read by some members of my local group. I’ll let you know how that goes.
  • I promised you at least a quick entry about the writer’s conference I attended last week. Since I didn’t attend too much of it, it will be a quick entry for sure. That will likely get posted tomorrow or the next day.
  • Just a reminder, kids; Make sure that you save all of your writing in more than one location. That way you avoid accidents. Currently, most of my projects are being saved in five different places (main hard drive, two external HDs, a flash drive, and on Google Drive).
  • Had a thought – If I planned to write a trilogy, would it make sense to write it all at once as Tolkien did (after the fact) with Lord of the Rings? That might be something I try for another new project.

That’s all I can think of for now. More later.

The Cowboy And The Japanese Intern: A counterfactual historical fiction short story

This came out of two weird obsessions of mine – counterfactual history and professional wrestling, especially wrestling from the late 20th century.

The concept of “What If” has made the study and reading of history that much more interesting. What if the US did invade Japan during World War II? What if William of Normandy didn’t succeed in invading Europe, or what if the Mongol Empire had completed its invasion of Europe? What if Jesus hadn’t been crucified? The fictional possibilities of those questions often would send my mind reeling.

As a young kid, my mind was captivated by the operatic, hyperbolic, and lunatic action of pro wrestling. I had never known characters like this in real life, but they were clear echoes of the society I lived in. It was a guilty pleasure I had to keep at least halfway hidden from my parents, who had no idea what to make of their son’s obsession with massive musclemen, masked luchas, and high-flying daredevils telling operettas of the working class. (I guess I had more in common with Ric Flair than a Midwestern upbringing.)

It was a fascination that never truly went away, even after I realized what kayfabe was all about and I began to see through some of the more repetitive storytelling. But the fascination with wrestling culture and lore never quite went away for me. One of those stories was the tale of the Von Erich family. I had heard of the family growing up, but it wasn’t until much later, when the veil of kayfabe was pulled away and the Internet made research 10 times easier than in the old days of card catalogues and vertical files in libraries, that I found out the whole story about them. They were a family that were bigger stars than the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas and the Texas Longhorns in Texas, and their story was a tragedy of depression, death, and suicide that would have made Shakespeare sit up and take notice.

Some night about eight years ago, a “what if?” question came to my mind when I was doodling on the computer. What if the first of the Von Erich brothers to die hadn’t died in Japan in 1985?

For a day or so, I pounded out about 1,000 words on the subject, taking as my additional inspiration the final airing of WCW Nitro in 2001. Then, as per my usual problems with procrastination, it sat there untouched for years in my hard drives.

This week, I opened the file and took another look at it. I was interested in a change of pace. In two days, I added another 3,000 words to it. I have the feeling it is, in the words of the original Top Gear crew, “ambitious but rubbish.” But so help me, I hadn’t had more fun recently than the hour and a half it took me to book the most awesome wrestling event of the 1980’s, one that would have put Wrestlemanias I and III to shame.

Good or bad or somewhere in between – whatever it is, keep reading to see what my obsessions have wrought. As Rick Sanchez might say, just consider it one of the possibilities somewhere on the finite curve.

Continue reading “The Cowboy And The Japanese Intern: A counterfactual historical fiction short story”

Writing Journal/Random Notes 6.24.2018: A productive but really random week

Well, this turned out pretty weird:

+3,913 words written.

Days writing: 4 out of 7.

Days revising: 1 out of 7 for 30 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 4 out of 7 days.

Not expecting quite those numbers this week. Let me explain.

This week, I had planned to do a little bit of writing on my next project and perhaps a little light editing on The American Nine. What actually wound up happening is that I posted two blogs within a week, one my first photo entry and another about one of my older poems.

Then I wound taking a look at an abandoned short story from years back which combined two of my obsessions, alternative history and late 20th century professional wrestling. What I ended up writing after two feverish days was a 4,000 word-plus short story speculating how the avoidance of a premature death could have changed the course of professional wrestling history. The operatic psychological storytelling behind professional wrestling has always fascinated me when it’s done right, and the action is over the top. The whole story I’ve written is probably ridiculous but I’ll post it later today – watch out for it.

Random Notes:

  • I am planning on going to this conference Thursday and Saturday of this week (missing out on Friday). I figure that I will write at least one post about it, likely sometime Saturday, and let you know how it all went.
  • The American Nine has officially gone out to the beta readers in my local writers group. Who the hell knows what they will make of it (I’m one of the youngest members of that group), but I did warn them, so anyone who reads it is going in with their eyes open.
  • As someone who’s written a fiction book featuring soccer, I have been paying close attention to the World Cup. I put some money on it, but I have no idea whether I’ll actually win anything. When Iceland can tie Argentina, Portugal tie Spain, and Germany narrowly escape being eliminated by Sweden, who the hell knows what’s going to happen. The games have been great but Fox Sports has done a crap job of covering the events with the exception of the team of JP Dellacamera and Tony Meola. (I remember watching Meola in goal for the USMNT back in 1994. How time moves…)

That’s all I can think of for now. Watch for more later.