Tales of Valeron

It all started with that fit-for-goblins bard

After hours of grueling drills, exercises, and repairing gear, the smells and sounds of the Naked Turkey tavern lightened Krod’s step. A hearty bowl of stew and a frothy ale were the half-orc’s favorite part of the day, and if he was lucky, there might be a few new rumors to overhear—if he was really lucky, a bard might be in town. The bawdy ruckus echoed through the open windows and doors, and a smooth male voice sang above the din, tugging at Krod’s excitement, and he ran inside.

The other recruits were still at the barracks, repairing armor from Krod’s merciless blows, so the half-orc didn’t recognize anyone. Summer had been brutal for Karth, the center of the Sindaran Army’s training regiment along the coast, and each passing night, the tavern had grown fuller.

A stool at the bar groaned as Krod settled his into the seat and ordered a meal; it was so loud he slid five copper pocs across the counter and mimed food and drink to the keep.

On a small stage by the unlit fire, a bard strummed an instrument. “With his men falling to Merroc’s hordes, our fearless king must break the walls or perish. Kaegar strode to those battlements, arrows raining like the rains of Pharast, but the mighty dwarf-giant swatted them from the sky. Undead rose from the swamp to stop him, but wave after wave shattered before his hammer.”

A cheer came from a couple of dwarves sitting near the stage.

“One blow. One… single… blow, sundered rock and stone. Kaegar Castlebreaker, born with arms as siege weapons, crumbled the wall before him,” the bard sang, accompanied by a wider cheer. “An open path ahead, the brave followed Kaegar and stormed the castle. Just before he was too late to stop Merroc from his evil rituals, Kaegar struck down the necromancer with the same hammer that felled the castle walls.”

A louder cheer erupted from the crowd, accompanied by the clink of mugs.

“He battered Kerric with such strength, the floor cracked, and that mortal enemy was reduced—” The bard grabbed a bowl of stew from a nearby table and threw it into the empty fire pit. “—to soup!”

Most of the tavern laughed or cheered, except for the patron who lost his stew and an old man beside Krod. Wearing a tattered jerkin and a beat-up sword, the old kytesi took a swig of his mead and grumbled something.

“Cheer up old man, that’s a great story! You could at least toast the victory of Kaegar,” Krod said.

The old man raised his mug and took another drink. “Pssssh, Kaegar didn’t do half of what that fit-for-goblins bard said.”

“Ha! And how would you know, old-timer? Were you there?” Krod said.

The kytesi let the words hang for a moment, gazing at Krod through keen, iridescent eyes. “The name is Telan, and yes, I was.”

Krod’s jaw dropped as the old man drained his mug.

“Wait, you were at the siege of Thunix?” the half-orc said.

“Sure enough. I been through many sieges, thankfully, Kaegar made Thunix the faster than a dragonlin’s temper.” The kytesi dropped a handful of copper pocs on the counter and walked away.

“Wait, wait. Will you tell me the real story then?”

“I’ve finished my drink, youngin, so no.”

Krod ran to head off the old man. “Please, let me buy you another drink. I want to hear what it’s really like. I joined the army in hopes of seeing epic battles like that, meeting real heroes the bards sing about, and maybe making my own mark upon the world. Who better to hear those stories from, than from someone who’s seen it with their own eyes—and lived!”

The old man thought for a moment, staring back into Krod’s eyes, and slowly nodded. “Fine. One story. An’ NOT the siege of Thunix! But it’s too loud in here. Buy me an ale and meet me under the tree outside.”

Krod nodded and ran off to get another drink for the kytesi. This really was his lucky day.

Featured post

Why and How to Write a Query Letter

You put in years of work, countless revisions, beta readers, even more revisions, and now you’re looking for agents to query. Only, every agents wants a “query letter.” What is a query letter, how do you write one, and why is each piece important? The process is intimidating, but I have great news! Agents need writers to survive. So let’s examine query letters, how to develop them, and why agents require that information.

Why you need a great query letter

A query letter is the first thing an agent will read before they even open page one. So you have to interest them in your book, and you, to read further. They’ll likely look it over late at night after they’ve worked all day with their current clients, so expect them to be half-asleep and running on fumes, plus they’ll have 100 other queries from that day. Therefore, your query must stand out!

Make query letters short and easy to read!

How well do you absorb information when you’re tired? Keep that in mind when you’re writing your query. You only need to hook the agent, not dazzle them with your prose. So don’t detail every aspect of your plot. Keep the query to one page max—if you’re long winded in your query, they will assume you’re long winded in your writing.

Formatting

As far as format goes, use 10-12 font size, black text, and standard font types. Don’t underline and italicize every other word, or throw in that “papyrus” font you love—make it easy on the eyes and keep it simple. Also, only pitch one idea or book at a time. They want the best of all of your ideas, and if you have others, you can talk about them when you sign.

Part 1: Email subject line

Most agents want the book title, genre, and your name in the subject line, but review each agent’s submission guidelines on their website and follow them to the T. If an agent is looking for a specific hole to fill in their client list, they can group submissions into those holes, and by putting this information in the subject line, you’ll be easy to spot.

Don’t include every subgenre (teen, zombie, vampire, regency romance) stick to the high-level subgenres and later mention comparable titles that give the agent a better clue (Nancy Drew meets Guide to the Universe).

Part 2: Introductions

The first part of a query letter should introduce yourself and your book (the title, genre), and personally address the agent. Before you write this part, research the agent. Find out and mention their previous projects, likes, etc., which resonate with you and your story.

Do the research! If you’ve spent this long perfecting your story, spend the extra time to find agents who would be interested in it. There’s no excuse for ignorance and they won’t represent you unless they connect with your idea, so don’t pitch every agent you find. You can check out MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) to discover agents looking for your kind of work, or open the acknowledgements of comparable books and find the agents and editors. This is a great place to find agents because they understood your idea enough to bring it to print.

Personalizing your query to an agent tells them why you make a great pair, not so you can point out they went to “WRITERS CONFERENCE OF YOUR GENRE,” or that they got back from vacation. So follow them on social media, browse their agent profile, and find aspects that connect them with you and your work. Maybe you’re both light hearted, coffee fanatics, or you both love camping.

This may seem unimportant, but when you say, “Your representation of THAT AWESOME BOOK leads me to believe you would be interested in my novel, MY AWESOME BOOK, and I’m also a big fan of underwater basket weaving,” it tells the agent you will be a good fit with them and them with you. (Remember, you must stand out from hundreds of other queries, and connecting with them is a great way to do that)

If you want to be traditionally published, you MUST approach this effort as a business. You’re not just selling your book, you’re pitching yourself as a business partner. So keep everything professional. Don’t worry about letting your personality shine though. If you have a comedic style, let it through, but don’t be insulting, or give them an excuse to pass because you’re abrasive. Consider, if an agent has two pitches they can’t decide between, they’ll go with the author whose personality is more marketable.

Close to 1 million books are published every year, and agents survive on writers, so show them how you can be a long term partner that can produce a best seller.

Part 3: Logline

Wikipedia’s definition of a logline is “A brief (usually one sentence) summary of a television program, film, or book that states the central conflict of the story, often providing both a synopsis of the story’s plot, and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest.”

Sounds easy right? Strap in, this is the hardest part. We write 100,000 words to tell our idea… now do it in 25. There are great guides to writing loglines, like this one over at Scriptreaderpro, where they help you define the “struggle between all the major characters and essence of what’s at stake.”

The method I heard is to write your two page, double-spaced synopsis (which you must do pitching agents in the first place), then set it aside, and come back to rewrite it into one page. Do that again into two paragraphs, then 3-5 sentences, then finally one sentence. I’ll warn you, this will be rough. If you have a writing group, pitch them your logline(s), and if you don’t have a writing group, find one, they are key in your development as a writer.

Two notes on loglines:

-Don’t start with a question (Have you ever been angry?). This is worn out and provides no information—of course everyone has been angry at one point.

-Don’t give the story away. Make them interested to read the book, or at least a short summary that hooks them. If they want to know more, they can read your synopsis.

Part 4: Biography, Comps, and Word Count

BIO

Why are you qualified to write this story? If a publisher is going to print a book, they need to sell the book and you, and if you write non-fiction, your platform is incredibly important. So you need to tell them something about yourself: writers groups you’re involved in, awards, training, education, writing credits, and why you are the expert in what you write. But avoid throwing too much information at them. You don’t need tell your life story with children’s names, hopes, dreams, and every terrible thing that’s happened to you. Your goal is to be personable but not creepy—don’t make them scared of you!

Comps

Know your comparable titles (COMPS). If you claim “my story has never been done before” and you’ve never even checked, you’re starting off on bad footing. Comps give an agent an idea of what your book is like beyond its genre. So fill in the blanks of “Those who enjoy XYZ, will love my novel ABC,” you’ll be steps ahead of the competition by indicating your target market.

Your story could be entirely new, but you can still compare narrative voice, style, or concepts covered, or even what you drew inspiration from? Is your book similar to Harry Potter written by Edgar Allan Poe, in the style of Shakespeare? If you still don’t know, go to Barnes and Noble or your local library and say you’re looking for books like: “describe your book.” That will at least point you in the right direction if you’re not familiar with current books on the market.

Word Count

Word count matters—a lot! If you’re a first time author, falling within standard word counts means you have a grasp on story structure and pacing. Established authors get away with higher word counts because they’ve proven they know how to write good stories. When you’ve published several best sellers, you can do the same, but until then, stay out of the slush pile by sticking to the standards.

So research standard word counts for your genre. Google is your friend here. Once you have comps, look up their word counts, or search for “standard word count for YA Fiction” and you’ll get an idea of what you should stay within. If your goal is to write for yourself, don’t worry about word count, but if you want to get published traditionally, use those word counts and revise until you’re at least close.

Lastly, say thank you and keep it professional. If they sign you, you will have a professional relationship with them, so it’s best to avoid “Hang loose dawg.”

Conclusion

You want to sign with an agent excited about your book. They will go to publishing houses to sell your work, so you want them to be one of your greatest fans. So when you’re researching agents, search for people who you think would be excited about your work, not just “willing to represent you.” When you pitch those agents, half your battle will be won.

Hit send and wait for the rejections to roll in! It’ll be a rough ride, but don’t give up. Some authors go through a hundred submissions before finding the right agent. Any agents who seems interested and provides details in their rejection letter, ask them for revise or rewrite advice, what turned them off, or what you could do better in your next query. You might not get a reply, but take every piece of advice and continually improve. 

Good luck!

February 13th, 2019

San Francisco Writers Conference

I can’t believe it’s almost here! I am attending the San Francisco Writers Conference tomorrow, and I’m excited, nervous, and as prepared as I’ll ever be.

I’ll be blogging about my experiences, and I have several questions from fellow authors I plan on asking agents, editors, and other attendees, so keep an eye out for the next Hall of Scribes article.

In preparation for the conference, I’ve been working the past few months to draft queries, a synopsis, finish editing Dawn of Corruption and put together some handouts of the first page. A big thank you to my wife who came up with the idea of using a wax seal with my logo! I think the combination will stand out and works very well with my platform and style!

Thank you!

All of this has taken an incredible amount of time to make sure I can put my best foot forward, but I’m ready to jump into the deep end and make a real go of being a published author. I’ve learned so much through this journey and want to thank some people who‘ve made every step enjoyable, challenging, and an experience I wouldn’t change. Drop by, check out their work, and say hi!

Jessica Piro https://www.wattpad.com/user/xDRAG0N0VAx

Theresa Ryder tlryder.wordpress.com

Jason R Shepherd www.facebook.com/JRShepherdbooks

A.W. Stahl https://www.wattpad.com/user/Tumbleweed_500

In other news

I finally posted the first tale in my series of short stories expanding the world of Valeron, Endless Loyalty. All the tales I have planned incorporate locations, creatures, and events that may or may not be in future books. *wink wink*

Also, the final installment covering filters in writing is posted in the author advice blog, Hall of Scribes. For the basics on filters, read part 1, but there are many nuances to filtering, so come back after applying the concepts and dig into the details of getting rid of these little pieces of dragon dung.

Keep writing!

Endless Loyalty

You remember what I said about that ale? Great. So you wanted to hear about real heroes? I know the perfect story… The greatest hero I ever seen wasn’t some burly warrior or spell-slingin’ sorcerer. Dak looked far from what you’d imagine as “heroic,” but you’ll never find more courage, sacrifice, or endless loyalty than that peculiar ol’ bird-man.

He walked into a dock-side tavern in Awnya, a kytesi port in the Shimmerin’ Isles, where I was lookin’ for work. Everyone thought the gray-feather tengu was high on Echo Dust as he glanced around, mumblin’ to himself. As the crowd returned to their drinks, he snaked his way through the cut-throats, mercenaries, and soldiers to stop and gaze up at me—those copper eyes sharper than I expected. He didn’t introduce himself, just held out a coin purse and dropped it in my hand.

“150 gold checs now and 150 more when we return. We leave at dawn,” he said and walked away.

I was so confused I didn’t ask where we were goin’ or even where to find him. But the next day he was already waitin’ with four grizzled men, and the six of us sailed east for two weeks. Durin’ the trip, I found out the others experienced similar encounters with Dak. A stout craglin’ with midnight eyes named Taggor, told us Dak was an Unlivin’ Guide.

Now let me tell you, Tengu live a long time, almost as long as elves, and Dak had been around since the age of Silver Courage, a thousand some-odd years. When he was a youngin, he married a girl named Nox and found the good life, but his wife got into magic. One night she snuck off to practice and had an accident, turnin’ her into an unlivin’ ghost.

Dak spent the rest of his life studyin’ the unlivin’ and became an Unlivin’ Guide, some kind of priest to Aesa who helped ghosts complete their destiny, all so he could be with her in Elysium. Well, his wife’s destiny had come time, and that’s what we were doin’. 

I wasn’t thrilled to learn our destination was the dragon breedin’ grounds of the Wyvernlin’ Archipelago. But when I had the wits to ask, there was nothin’ I could do. The others were capable enough, so as we set foot ashore, I figured we’d be in and out without a problem. Boy was I wrong. Two weeks later we were still creepin’ through the undergrowth, tremblin’ in our boots from every shadow that eclipsed the sun, and then, Dak plopped his gear down and said, “We’re here.”

Now me and those hard men wouldn’t drop our weapons for nothin’, but ol’ Dak, he acted like we were stayin’ at the king’s palace. He kicked his shoes off, snuggled up in the brush, and took a nap. I swear, he took a nap! The other five of us took it upon ourselves to set up camp and scout the area. X’anthis, a katfolk with a wiry mane, crawled up the short cliff Dak was sleepin’ against and found a red dragon nest—with the momma still in it. Ha! That ‘fraidy-kat dropped pellets on Dak’s head.

Needless to say, we woke the ol’ coot and demanded we find somewhere’s else to camp.

“We camp here,” he said. “We have to save the hatchlin’ from a pack of lycoi, so rest up.”

If you’ve seen a lycoi you’d… You’ve never heard of lycoi? Well, they’re like a cross between a wolf and a panther, with short snouts, big ears, and razer fangs. Mangy as a goblin, but they’re crafty scavengers that’ll grab the scraps dragons leave, or apparently, kill a dragonlin’ if given the chance.

No matter what any of us said, ol’ Dak wouldn’t budge. So we plopped our backsides in the shadow of that nest and crawled under a rock so red-momma couldn’t see us. Come to think of it, we were so close that big red had to have smelled us…

Anyway, three days later, Dak says “it’s time,” gets up, and walks off. Krelin, this lanky little drow won’t move, says “he’ll guard the camp.” We called him a coward of course and followed Dak. I figured, with all the things he‘d done, I was better off followin’ him than hidin’.

We walked halfway around the nest, which took awhile since that red took up a hill the size of an elf’s ego, and Dak disappeared into a hidden cave as if he’d been there before. The lot of us crawled through those dank tunnels and popped out in the middle of the nest. As usual, Dak timed out arrival flawlessly, and the big red had left. I guess when dragons hatch, the momma leaves ‘em behind, somethin’ about lettin’ ‘em fend for ’emselves from day one—makes ‘em stronger.

So there we were, Dak with three of his thugs, an egg the size of a house, and an unlivin’ ghost driftin’ about the nest. Dak let out the biggest sigh of relief, seein’ his wife, and told us not to get too close. The longer someone remains an unlivin’, the angrier they get bein’ kept from Elysium.

As soon as the egg cracked, whoops and hollers called to each other from the shadows. The lycoi must have been waitin’ for big-momma to leave and the egg to break, as five of the beasts shot straight for us.

Taggor did this spell that sounded like thunder and blasted one beast right off me. I cut the head off a lycoi as Dak distracted it, yelpin’ like a wounded animal. By the abyss, we fought for our lives, each one savin’ each other at least a half-dozen times, but X’anthis got too close to the egg, and the ghost rushed him.

I swear, Dak knew somethin’ ‘cause he appeared out of thin air in front of Nox as Taggor shot lightnin’ from his fingers. The bolt ripped through Dak but drew his wife’s attention from X’anthis long enough for the katfolk to get away. I’ll never forget seein’ Dak and Nox reach for each other as that ol’ tengu dissolved into his unlivin’ shadow.

We cut down the last lycoi as the dragonlin’ broke free. Its wing was crippled, and it was disoriented, so it woulda been easy prey, but as it gained its feet, we watched Nox’s ghost fade into a swirl of blue magic and head for the afterlife.

No one wanted to stick around, so we high-tailed it back to the camp, but poor Krelin, his carcass was scattered everywhere… I always wondered if him gettin’ eaten gave us the time to get between the egg and the lycoi… Wouldn’t surprise me with all Dak seemed to know.

Anyway, we made it back to the ship, and here I am. Well, it’s been a hundred years since then, but that’s a lot of other stories.

You want to be a hero? Heroes don’t only save cities and kingdoms, they sacrifice everythin’ for others. And Dak gave everythin’, in this life and the next, for someone he hadn’t seen for a thousand years. That is a real hero.

I’d tell you another story, but I’m tired. If I’m here again, buy me another ale. I got plenty others you might like.

Filtering Pt. 4 – External Filters

This series grew longer than I expected, but I hope it’s clarified what filtering is and how to handle it. We’ve looked at the basics of filtering and broke filtering into three categories: Internal, External, and Action Filters. So without further ado, what are external filters?

External Filters

The name should be self-explanatory, but just for consistency, external filters are:

Environmental effects experienced by the POV character they can: feel, hear, see, taste, smell, etc.

For whatever reason, we write external filters naturally. I think it’s part of the way we progress as writers; we have to mimic the world so our stories feel real, but we go overboard and lose sight of how a person experiences the world and instead narrate outside of the perspective. It just makes sense to describe what’s going on, even more so when we incorporating our senses into descriptions.

External Filtering Example 1:

Outside, the cool breeze felt amazing compared to the stifling heat of the forge. Maroc could smell the sweet aroma of lilac carried on the drifting currents.

We get a nice picture of what is going on by letting the character’s senses describe the scene, but are “felt” and “smell” filtering our experience? My first reaction is to nix both, but let’s dig further.

“Felt” is acting as a state-of-being verb (is, am, are, was, were, etc.), stating the “breeze was amazing.” The subject is not a person; it’s the “breeze.” So while the person who “feels” the breeze is implied, we are only stating the situation.

Therefore, if the subject in the sentence is not the POV character (opposite of internal filters), there is no filtering. This is opposite because internal verbs are describing someones thoughts, and you’d be head hopping to describe what someone else thinks. But external filters are what we do to experience the world around us, which can be seen by our POV character if another person smells a flower or feels a rock. Perfect, that takes care of the first filter word.

How about the second filter word “smell”? Let’s check. Maroc (our POV character) is the subject and “smell” can’t be replaced by “was” without the sentence losing meaning. So we are filtering.

The good thing about external filters is, they’re easier to identify and remove. The fix is replacing the POV character as the subject with something else and removing the filter:

External Filtering Fix 1:

“Outside, the cool breeze felt amazing compared to the stifling heat of the smelting factory. The sweet aroma of lilac carried on the drifting currents.”

Implied Vs. Explicit Subjects

Since removing filters changes the explicit existence of the POV character to an implied existence, can we just take out the POV character as the subject and leave the filter? Let’s try:

External Filtering Example 2:

Hearing the ringing bells, Maroc checked his watch and ran.

“Hearing” and “checked” look like filters, external and action filters respectively. But are they both filtering? “Checked” is an action, and it produces an experience (see Pt. 3 – Action Filters), so we’re filtering. For the second clause, if we drop “Maroc” as subject, the sentence doesn’t have another subject to take over. So the subject and both filters are bound together. We need to rewrite the sentence.

External Filtering Fix 2:

Three notes resounded from the nearby clock tower. “Crap,” Maroc said, launching into a sprint.

It’s implied that Maroc heard the sound, and this way, we can develop more urgency through his words and actions, without giving stage direction. But that’s pretty much it. External filters are more straightforward than other filters, and the only exception is filter words that describe a state-of-being.

Conclusion

While external filters don’t always cross into the bad side show vs. tell, they still add unnecessary narration and bloat your word count.

If picking out parts of a sentence is like a different language to you, just swap the external filter with a to-be verb and see if it works, if not, ax it. The reader already knows whose eyes they’re experiencing the story through, so we don’t need to mention our POV character.

Overall, we’ve covered a lot of in-the-weeds information. So, for easy reference, here’s our list of guidelines for determining what is and isn’t a filter.

Internal Filtering:

  • If internal filtering is performed by someone else and observed by the POV character. You’re head hopping. Delete it.
  • Remove internal filtering by showing the reader the clues that helped the character reach their conclusions.
  • If the internal filtering is narration of the POV character’s past thoughts, you can leave it. But always opt for showing how they reached their conclusion.

Action Filtering:

  • Action filters show an experience, or involve the POV character’s senses. But filter words that show an effect are not filtering your writing.

Unsure if it’s an experience or an effect?

  • Swap the action filter with a new verb and check again.
  • Isolate the clause with the verb.

External Filtering:

  • Filters and the sentence subject are tied together, so if your POV character is the subject and there is a filter word, you are likely filtering.
  • If the filter can be replaced with a to-be verb, the filter is providing a state-of-being for an object or situation.

Do you have a sentence you’re stumped on? Post it in the comments and let’s work together!

January 9th, 2019

Happy New Year! I hope the holidays were filled with love and laughter, excluding all of the drama and stress we tend to face. It’s been longer than I intended to get an update out, but my family and I got hit with a couple rounds of the flu, followed by the hectic holidays.

Dawn of Corruption

Editing has been going exceptionally well, even if it’s a little slow. I’m only a handful of chapters away from completing the first overhaul edit, and in the process I’ve cut 20k words, bringing the manuscript from 110k to 90k. Which means I have some wiggle room to expand the events I breezed over! So you’ll get more battles, more magic, and more ridiculousness from our favorite dwarf.

I aim to make one more pass to unify the character voices, but that will be a piece of cake compared to the micro-editing I’ve been doing. Which means I’m on track for my goal to start querying this year! *Internal screaming*

San Francisco Writers Conference

The February conference is quickly approaching, and I’m confident I’ll be prepared to put my best foot forward… and a little terrified

I will be blogging about my experience at the conference, and I’ve collected a few questions from fellow writers that I will ask agents and publishers as I get the chance to interact. So if you have anything burning in the back of your mind, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll add them to my list. Your questions will add to what I can give back to everyone who’s been instrumental in my growth and success.

Best of luck with your writing, and non-writing goals in 2019!

Filtering Pt.3 – Actions

We’re back! I hope you’ve been able to tackle your filters with more confidence in your writing. Last time I broke filters into three categories: Internal, External, and Action Filters. So let’s build more understanding by focusing on filtering your POV character’s actions, why you’ll encounter these more than any other, and how to spot true filtering.

If you need a refresher on the basics, hop over to Filters Pt. 1, or check out Filters Pt. 2 to look into the first category: internal filters. Otherwise, here we go.

Action Filters:

Movement, actions, and reactions that are performed by the POV character: feel (something), watch, touch, look, glance, etc.

At first, I thought action filters were the most difficult to recognize and remove because they look like regular verbs, and vice-versa. But if we make an important distinction before proceeding, we can tell much easier.

Filters are verbs done through one’s senses, or in their mind, that produce an experience (sight, sound, taste, idea, etc.) to be conveyed to the reader.

So “Maroc observed” is a filter because we’re using his sight to show what he sees, however, “Maroc ran” is not a filter because the action produces an effect (Maroc moving).

Why is this important? Let’s look at an example:

Filtering Actions Example 1: 

Maroc grabbed his gun and crouched, waiting, then, once the marauders came around the corner, he took aim and squeezed the trigger, felling the leader.

There are five verbs attributed to Maroc (grabbed, crouched, waiting, took aim, squeezed) but all of them produce an effect (control of an object, movement, passage of time, movement, and more movement). So while that example has issues of excessive stage direction, we’re not filtering the narration to convey what Maroc is experiencing.

Filtering Actions Example 1.1: 

Maroc crouched behind a boulder and listened to the thundering hooves grow closer. When the noise pounded in his head, he peeked out from behind the rock and scanned the riders for their leader.

Another five verbs attributed to Maroc (crouched, listened, pounded, peeked, and scanned), and you should be able to guess which ones produce an effect and which produce an experience. “Crouched” shows the effect of Maroc’s movement and he doesn’t experience anything through it unless he sits on a cactus. But “listened” is definitely an experience since we describe what he hears as “thundering hooves grow(ing) closer.”

“Pounded” is an oddball, but Maroc isn’t the subject in this clause, “the noise” is. So while Maroc is experiencing the pounding, the noise is causing the effect. Even if the noise was somehow our POV character, it is affecting someone else, so either way, “pounded” is not a filter.

But what about the last two? Both use the Maroc as the subject and produce a visual experience, but they also incorporate an element of movement: coming out from behind the rock and looking from rider to rider. So which is it, filtering or not?

Help, I’m Stuck!

I guarantee you will come across a filter that you’re just not sure about. It might be buried in a flashback, hidden in third-person narration, and under a dependent clause nowhere near your POV as the subject, but you’ll look at it and not know where to start. What do you do?

It’s easier than you’d think. Take the filters in question and swap them with a new verb. You might have to reword the sentence to get it to fit, but you’ll likely realize which is which without needing to go through the full exercise. So let’s take our example and switch out “peeked” and “scanned” for “jumped” and “looked,” respectively.

Filtering Actions Example 1.2:

Maroc crouched behind a boulder and listened to the thundering hooves grow closer. When the noise pounded in his head, he jumped out from behind the rock and looked for their leader.

“Jumped” is definitely an action requiring movement, so we’re safe keeping “peeked,” but “looked” is still ambiguous. Or is it? While the narration doesn’t provide us with an experience, or the visual of what he sees, it’s still inserting Maroc unnecessarily. What if we isolated the clause and said, “Maroc looked for their leader”? That definitely seems like a filter to me.

So that leaves us with two out of the five being filters and the rest are necessary actions to convey what is happening, all without interjecting our POV into the flow. What might a fix look like?

Fix 1:

Maroc crouched behind a boulder as thundering hooves drew closer. When the noise pounded in his head, he peeked out from behind the rock. If he was going to survive, he had to kill the leader.

Not too bad. There’s lots of action, which is a good thing, and we swapped out the filter for the reason why he was looking for the leader—and clarity is always a good thing.

Conclusion

Action filters can be the hardest to figure out. Between confusing them with other verbs and the subtleties of filtering, you’ll spend most of your time on these. If you get stuck, here are some things that will narrow it down.

    • Action filters show something the POV character experiences, or involve their senses. But filter words that show an effect are not filtering your writing.

    Unsure if it’s an experience or an effect?

    • Swap the action filter with a new verb and check again.
    • Isolate the clause with the verb.

 

We’re almost done! In the next article, we’ll wrap up with external filtering and put all of the information together.

Filtering Pt. 2 – Internal Processes

Welcome back! Have you discovered filtering to ax in your own writing? I’ll bet you stopped at least once and thought, “How do I fix this? The sentence makes no sense if I remove the filter word.”

I listed some filter words in the last article, and below for quick reference, but that is a starting point so you can spot them. The frustrating thing is, just because you find a “filter word” doesn’t mean you are filtering your writing. But how do you know the difference?

  • be able to
  • can
  • consider
  • decide
  • experience
  • feel
  • hear
  • hope
  • imagine
  • know
  • look
  • note
  • notice
  • realize
  • see
  • seem
  • sound
  • think
  • touch
  • watch
  • wonder

If you need a refresher on the basics, give Filters Pt. 1 a quick read, otherwise, let’s dive into the nuances of filters!

In case you forgot, filters are:

Words and phrases that keep a reader from experiencing the story through a character’s senses and instead tells the reader what the character is experiencing.

To understand the exceptions, let’s break filters into three categories. They’re straightforward, but let’s walk through them.

Internal Filters: Activity that happens in the mental space of a character: thought, realization, consideration, decisions, wonder, etc.

External Filters: Environmental effects experienced by the point of view (POV) character: feel, hear, see, taste, smell, etc.

Action Filters: Movement, actions, and reactions that are performed by the POV character: feel (something), watch, touch, look, glance, etc.

Grouping filters like this, we can see their differences easier and we can make informed choices about when to use them. One thing to note though, filters apply to our POV character only. So if you encounter a filter word attributed to another character, you have one option:

  1. Internal filters performed by someone else and observed by the POV character means you’re head hopping. Delete it.
  2. External and action filters performed someone else can be observed by the POV character and allow for description of those actions. Leave it.

Internal Filtering

Concerning our POV character, many times we need to portray the conclusions a character reaches. But it’s difficult to know how or when to state this. So let’s look at an example:

Example 1:

Maroc opened the door, but when he realized a meeting was in progress, he scurried away.

We need to tell what he concluded, otherwise, how do we know he walked into a meeting, right? Not really. If you do it right, the reader will come to the same conclusion through your narration (show don’t tell). This one is easy to fix: show the reader the clues that helped the character reach their conclusion.

Maroc opened the door and five heads swiveled in his direction, a glowing projector screen illuminating their ghostly faces in its pallid light.

“Oops, sorry,” he mumbled, scurrying away.

Did you conclude they were in a meeting too? The edited version is powerful compared to the original, and it provides a glimpse into how Maroc perceives the meeting (ghostly faces), which is our goal—let the reader experience the story through the character.

Unknown Reasoning

But what if that character is using the narration to step through their thoughts? That might a doppelgänger hiding as a filter.

Example 2:

Maroc had always seen the grunts as mindless cannon-fodder, there to kill and die—but Keith changed all of that. That recruit led his squad to overcome challenges that even confused the tacticians, and Maroc slowly realized he needed to assess each individual.

“Seen,” and “realized” are both filter words, but what’s their purpose? Neither provides stage direction for something Maroc is doing. Because this happens in his mind, we don’t know exactly what made Maroc come to his conclusion, only vague generalizations.

You could write a whole chapter “showing” how Alistair’s actions changed Maroc’s mind, but depending on those reasons, his realization could take up its own book. Summarizing events like this, we quickly force the reader to the same conclusion. But that doesn’t give you carte blanche to filter away, we must still apply the same principals of showing the things that caused a realization. It’s just as easy to tweak the second sentence a little:

That recruit led his squad to overcome challenges that even confused the tacticians—Maybe Maroc needed to assess each individual on their own merit.

Previous Deductions & Comparisons

What about thoughts in the past, or comparing them to the POV character’s current time frame? Narrating a flashback in real time will take a pile of words, especially if we’re just concerned about the conclusions themselves. The great thing is, we’re talking about a past version of the character, so in essence, his past-self is a different character. But can we use our rules for filtering outside our POV character?

  1. Internal filters performed by someone else and observed by the POV character means you’re head hopping. Delete it.
  2. External and action filters performed someone else can be observed by the POV character and allow for description of those actions. Leave it.

Thankfully, internal filters don’t count as head hopping here because we’re in the POV character’s head, so we can leave it. let’s look at an example.

Maroc had been happy because he thought he was free, now he realized, that freedom was an illusion.

While this example contains “filter words” we’re not separating the reader from the POV. We want to show how he arrived at the conclusion, but talking about a past “thought” and a current “realization,” there’s not much we can show. In this instance, the context must provide the information we need.

Conclusion

The distinction is blurry. You must make judgment calls to show a character’s conclusion, or to use an internal filter and summarize the information quickly, but now you have the tools to make that call. While every filter word may not be filtering your story, they still indicate weak writing. So practice spotting the difference and removing your filters, and your narration will be strong, direct, and add details to your world and characters you never thought possible.

*Proceed with caution* Opt for showing every time if possible. Remember how Maroc saw the faces as “ghostly” in our fix to the first example? What if it had been “angry” or “joyous”? That one word can change a whole character or situation, so don’t pass opportunities to bring your story to life.

Have you run across a filter you can’t decide how to address? Let me know in the comments and we’ll tackle it together!


In the next article, we’ll discuss action filters. They will make up most of the filters you’ll encounter, so stick around for Pt. 3!

September 4, 2018

Hello and happy September! Troy here with a little update for everyone.

Dawn of Corruption continues to undergo a final edit, but in the meantime, it has made the Long List in the Watties. The Long List consists of 800 books out of 151,000 submissions and will be whittled down to a short list within the next couple weeks. For Dawn to have made the cut in a very unfinished state, makes me rather excited for future prospects.

Speaking of the future, I will be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference, February 2019! In order to get the most out of the conference, I have been preparing in every way possible—from gathering questions to ask agents, to determining ways to make an impression, and most importantly, getting Dawn to a finished point. So if you have questions you’d like me to ask or recommendations for attending conferences, I’d love to see them in the comments. If you don’t have a question but you’re still curious, I’ll be blogging as much as I can of my experiences and lessons learned, including the answers to your questions. Best way to stay informed? Sign up for the mailing list!

If you’re going to the conference, I’d love to meet you! There will be plenty of networking and sharing of ideas, so if you’ll be there, let me know in a comment or email and we’ll try to get together.

In other news, I kicked off my writer’s blog, Hall of Scribes, with an article on filters. This surprisingly unknown issue can be hard to get your mind around at first, but with a little work, your prose will engage the reader more than you thought possible.

Hope you all have a great September!

Filtering Pt. 1 – The Basics

A while ago, someone gave me some writing feedback, and in a handful of comments, they dug into my work and left it a smoldering heap. Fast forward two weeks, after my ego healed, and I looked into the things I had dismissed: filters. That word appeared in almost every comment. I couldn’t even figure out the basics of what they meant, and they offered no explanation. Filters? what is filtering in writing?

I searched high and low for this elusive term and discovered little on the topic, and what I read only explained the basics of what filtering is. Since then, I’ve put in a lot of work to understand what it is and what it isn’t (because sometimes a filter word doesn’t act like a filter), and I believe I can make this vague concept digestible for you. So let’s start with my definition:

Filters are words and phrases that keep a reader from experiencing the story through the character’s senses and instead tells the reader what the character is experiencing.

That seems like a case of show vs. tell, right? In essence, it is. Thus why I defined the term this way. If you go by its definition on Sribophile.com you get:

“In writing, filters are unnecessary words that separate the reader from the story’s action. They come between the reader’s experience and the character’s point of view.”

Okay, so we have unnecessary words and show vs. tell. But what does this mean in application?

Filtering Example 1:

Let’s say our story is in close third-person, but this also applies to first-person. Omniscient third-person can exhibit this problem too, but not as pervasively.

“Marroc glanced at the ship, its barnacle-encrusted hull repelling the crashing waves, and their captain stood without fear on deck.”

The first clause gives us an unnecessary visual of Marroc turning to see the ship with “glanced,” when the narration describing the ship already shows he looked. If we’re reading a novel, all narrative and quoted speech is being experienced by the character’s point of view (POV).

It’s like watching a movie and a voice-over telling you what the main character is doing as they are doing it. That would get annoying quickly, wouldn’t it? How about reading a 100k word novel riddled with the narrator getting between you and the story?

We can remove the first clause and make it more dynamic:

“The sound of waves crashing on the ship’s barnacle-encrusted hull drew Marroc’s attention, and he saw their captain standing without fear on the deck.”

Wait! We changed the sentence and removed the word “glanced,” so shouldn’t the filter be gone? Read that again. We removed the specific filter “glanced,” but we introduced another filter “saw” and added another filtering phrase with “drew Marroc’s attention.” But why are those filters?

Marroc is our camera, so everywhere the camera turns we “see” what he sees. Therefore, does a narrator need to say when something draws Marroc’s attention, or that “he saw” something? No. Both instances come between the reader and the character’s POV, telling us what the character is experiencing, instead of just showing it.

So how would you fix this? Maybe something like:

“Waves crashed on the ship’s barnacle-encrusted hull, and there, standing on the deck, was their fearless captain.”

Much better. I even get the sweeping visual of seeing the waves hit the hull of the ship, and then I pan up to see the captain. By removing the stage direction for what our POV is doing, we are seeing things as he looks from one thing to the next, and I guarantee the reader won’t miss the bland redundancies we took out. Added bonus, this version cut words we can use in a more important part of our story.

This also highlights if we remove filters we can accidentally introducing more. So as you get familiar with filters, look at your fix before moving on.

Filtering Example 2:

How about the internal processes of thinking, believing, or realizing? Since we can’t show internal thought, we need to say what’s going on in the character’s head, right?

“Marroc couldn’t believe it, Susie was alive!”

Believe it or not, “believe” is acting as a filter in this sentence. He isn’t doing something that can be shown through action, but you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to show how that disbelief affects him outwardly.

Filtering your writing this way is redundant, and readers are more intuitive than you can imagine. So if you cut the filter and reword it, you’ll still wind up with narrative that makes sense, doesn’t interject, and has more impact:

“Marroc gasped—Susie was alive!”

By taking the filter out, we let his actions and the narration show Marroc couldn’t believe Susie was alive, instead of telling the reader what he was experiencing.

These are short examples, but I find that cutting filters reduces my sentence length by 3-7 words. It may seem insignificant to cut 3-7 words here or there, but you might find, as I did, you use a lot of filters and redundancies like this. Those 3-7 words cut out of every 200 will snowball, and in a 100k word novel you’ll cut 1,500-3,500! Imagine what else you could do with an extra chapter or two.

Parting Thoughts

These are fairly simple examples, but we have to start easy because they get more convoluted. I’ll leave you with a list of common filter words I’ve come across. There are more, and they aren’t restricted to single words, but it’s a great starting point.

  • be able to
  • can
  • consider
  • decide
  • experience
  • feel
  • hear
  • hope
  • imagine
  • know
  • look
  • note
  • notice
  • realize
  • see
  • seem
  • sound
  • think
  • touch
  • watch
  • wonder

If you take this list and highlight all the filter words in your own writing, you’ll see many places you can cut these unnecessary word-sinks!


In part 2 of this series on filtering, we will dig into the nuances of filtering and how to recognize when a filter is a filter, and when it isn’t.

Do you know any other filter words, or are you struggling with them in your own work? Post it in the comments, and we’ll tackle them together.

June 18, 2018

Hello everyone, Dawn of Corruption has been completed and the entire manuscript can be found on Wattpad or Inkitt—free… for now.

Over the next month, I will be taking a break from writing and editing to work on my author platform – and to let my beta readers have a chance to dig into the book. I will then be taking the following several months to edit and overhaul the draft into something publishable. But fear not! Tales from Valeron will be rolling out shortly with content to scratch that itch for more heroes and villains!

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