State of the Presidential Candidate Website

Okay, I don’t take Donald Trump very seriously as a presidential candidate. I mentioned this in an online forum and someone said they knew a couple of people who said they liked his policies. Well, to be honest, I really didn’t know what his actual policies were, so I went to his campaign’s website to see what he was really about. I thought to myself, this would tell me his policies and stands on the issues straight from his campaign, not bits and pieces gleaned from soundbites and pushed through a media filter.

With this optimistic spirit, I went to www.donaldjtrump.com and was presented with a big picture of Donald Trump and a menu that looked like this:

cwtrump

Hmmm…. nothing about issues or policies readily apparent. Maybe it was in ‘about’. Nope–nothing there but a bunch of stuff about how great Donald Trump is. The videos didn’t seem to be a lot of help either.

Well, so much for that. But I was curious now, what do other candidates provide on their campaign’s website? I decided to check out a more conventional candidate and went to Scott Walker’s website. His campaign is about solutions, not about personality, right? Of course there would be information there.

I went to www.scottwalker.com and was presented with a big picture of Scott Walker with the slogan ‘Let’s get to work.’ With that slogan there had to be some good information on the issues. I clicked on the menu icon and…

cwwalker

… sigh. I tried the ‘Meet Scott’ option, but no dice. Maybe I could intuit what his policies would be from some of the accomplishments listed there, but I’m not looking to have to intuit things.

I decided it was time for a game of sorts. I would pick four issues of the day and see if a visit to the candidate’s website would tell me his or her solutions. For the four issues I decided on the ones listed below. There are plenty of other important, even critical, issues, but I didn’t want to get bogged down with too many and these have been in the news of late.

1. Healthcare – Healthcare is always in the news and I don’t think even supporters of the ACA (aka Obamacare) think it solves all our healthcare problems. So what is the candidate’s solution to making healthcare accessible to everybody and controlling the growth of healthcare costs?

2. Wages – It’s well established that lower and middle class incomes have been stagnant in terms of adjusted dollars for quite awhile. What does the candidate propose to do to help grow income for the bulk of Americans?

3. Black Lives Matter – What does the candidate propose to do to address the serious social and economic injustices that face the black community? Yes, other groups face problems that need addressing too, but this has really been brought to national attention recently even though the problem dates back to the very beginning of the country.

4. ISIS – What does the candidate propose to do to diminish ISIS and address the chaos in Syria? This is one of the biggest foreign policy challenges of the day.

I decided to rate the answers to these questions with the following scale:

Nope – No information or something so vague that it is meaningless. Score of 0.

Sorta – An answer that’s vague or leaves big questions. Score of 1.

Okay – An answer that gives me an idea of the direction the candidate will take if not  precise policy. Score of 2.

Good – A solid answer with some actual policy details. Not every detail, but enough to really evaluate the solution. Score of 3.

Okay. So far the score is:

Trump: Healthcare – Nope, Wages – Nope, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Nope. Score: 0

Walker: Healthcare – Nope, Wages – Nope, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Nope. Score: 0

Next up, the two Republican candidates I consider (along with Walker) the most likely to get the GOP nomination: Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio.

Jeb!

First Jeb Bush, or Jeb! as his campaign says. Like the others, I’m greeted with a big picture of the candidate and a menu. Again, no obvious place to go for his stand on the issues. Maybe I could glean something from the news items he links to or from his description of his accomplishments in his ‘Meet Jeb’ section, but there’s nothing that’s really there for me on issues and policies.

cwbush

Bush: Healthcare – Nope, Wages – Nope, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Nope. Score: 0

Rubio

On to Rubio. Again, there is a big picture of the candidate, but this time there’s a menu item that says ‘Issues’. Now we’re cooking! Let’s see what the Rubio campaign has to say on the issues.

cwrubio

Healthcare:

There’s a section called ‘Obamacare’ that is about transitioning from the ACA after it receives a fatal blow from the King v. Burwell case. Well, that’s a little out of date, but it does spell out what Rubio thinks our Healthcare system should transition to.

First, we should provide an advanceable, refundable tax credit that all Americans can use to purchase health insurance. The value of these credits should increase every year, and we should set the tax preference for employer-sponsored insurance on a glide path to ensure that it will equal the level of the credits at the end of the decade. This will prevent large-scale disruptions and reform one of the most significant distortions in our tax system.

Second, we must reform insurance regulations to encourage innovation. Americans with pre-existing conditions should be able to find coverage through their state’s federally-supported, actuarially-sound high risk pools. Americans living in high-cost states should have the opportunity to purchase coverage across state lines. Consumer-centered products like health savings accounts should be expanded. And under no circumstances should taxpayers be asked to bail out an insurance company that loses money, as is currently the case under Obamacare.

Third, we must save Medicare and Medicaid by placing them on fiscally sustainable paths. Without reforms, these programs will eventually cease to be available for those that need them. I believe we must move Medicaid into a per-capita cap system, preserving funding for Medicaid’s unique populations while freeing states from Washington mandates. Medicare, meanwhile, should be transitioned into a premium support system, empowering seniors with choice and market competition, just like Medicare Advantage and Part D already do.

I’m rating that answer as ‘Good’. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the solution, but I’m getting the information I need and that rates a ‘Good’.

Wages:

This was a little harder to find. But I did find something under the ‘America’ section.

If we reform our tax code, reduce regulations, control spending, modernize our immigration laws and repeal and replace ObamaCare, the American people will create millions of better-paying modern jobs.

If we create a 21st century system of higher education that provides working Americans the chance to acquire the skills they need, that no longer graduates students with mountains of debt and degrees that do not lead to jobs, and that graduates more students from high school ready to work, then our people will be prepared to seize their opportunities in the new economy.

That took to me his ‘Student Loans’ section. To get more clarification and that seemed to boil down to this:

I believe that before any of our young people take out student loans, that school has to tell you how much you can expect to make when you graduate from that degree from that school so people can decide whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to major in basket weaving.

All-in-all it’s pretty vague, but there is a little bit of policy idea in there. I’m going to give this a ‘Sorta’.

Black Lives:

Couldn’t find anything. This is a ‘Nope’.

ISIS:

There’s a section called ‘ISIS’ so this was easy to find. There’s a lot about why ISIS is a problem followed by this solution section:

First and foremost, we need to move now to degrade ISIS’s capabilities. The President’s decision to send 300 advisers to Iraq is a good first step, but their ability to deter ISIS will be limited unless we eventually engage in airstrikes to target their leaders as well as the supply lines that they use to transfer weapons and fighters between Syria and Iraq. We know where these supply lines are, we should not hesitate to halt the ISIS resupply to their strongholds in Anbar, Ninawa and Salah ad-Din.

Second, we also need to understand that our lack of an effective Syria strategy has allowed ISIS to take hold and flourish in the region.

ISIS has been able to develop its capabilities, increase its ranks, and obtain combat experience for its fighters over the last 18 months in northern Syria.

We need to begin to tackle the root causes of the problem in Syria by overtly arming the moderate Syrian rebels that are fighting ISIS in that country even as we simultaneously tackle the challenge they currently pose to Iraq.

The U.S. and allies should consider additional counter terrorism measures in Syria, perhaps working with regional partners. This is all a response to the same problem, and must be part of a unified strategy.

The President’s long overdue announcement on Thursday of an overt plan to train and equip moderates in the opposition is a welcome development, but we need to do much more to finally deal with the threat that the Syrian conflict poses to regional stability and ultimately, to U.S. security.

Third, as ISIS has gained ground in Iraq, its wealth and ability to make money have increased. We need to stop their ability to sell the Syrian and Iraqi oil they attempt to market to the outside world. We also need a new diplomatic strategy to counter ISIS funding and support.

Unfortunately, some of our partners in the Gulf have contributed to this problem. Others in the region have turned a blind eye to foreign fighters flocking to the fight. This needs to end.

Finally, our partners in the region need our support. Jordan deserves special attention and assistance. Jordan is already dealing with an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the conflict in Syria. Jordan is a close partner of the United States and a likely target of ISIS’s attention. In recent days, the group captured the border crossing between Iraq and Jordan.

The United States should find ways to make clear that the United States will defend Jordan’s security, including militarily if necessary.

Some will argue that the challenges faced by Iraq or countries such as Jordan are none of our business. That we have spent too many years, lives, and dollars trying to make Iraq and the broader Middle East a better place.

None of the options before us are ideal, but the question is whether we take action against ISIS now or deal with the consequences later here on U.S. soil.

There’s a lot here, but there’s plenty that’s pretty vague, especially on how to stabilize Syria. The U.S. is already performing airstrikes on ISIS and arming other rebels in Syria, so some of the proposals aren’t anything different than what Rubio’s campaign says isn’t working. I don’t think I can go ‘Good’, but I think I can go with an ‘Okay’.

Rubio: Healthcare – Good, Wages – Sorta, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Okay. Score: 6

There are still plenty of Republicans out there, but I think it’s time to check out a couple of Democrats.

Clinton

cwclinton

Hillary Clinton’s website has a slight difference in style with a large banner with a picture of the candidate. There is a link right up front called ‘The Four Fights’ that takes me to her stand on the issues. She appears to be trying to build more of a narrative than just breaking it down to individual issues, so finding specific topics isn’t that easy, but I suppose it’s just a matter of taste. Here’s what I could find:

Healthcare:

  • Defend the Affordable Care Act and reduce health costs

    We will slow the growth of overall health care costs and deliver better care to patients. And we will ensure that the savings from those reforms benefit families—not just insurance companies, drug companies, and large corporations.

This is pretty vague, but it does state that she intends to keep the ACA so that’s a policy of sorts. I’m going to give it a ‘Sorta’.

Wages:

This is a tough one to score. Clinton touches on a lot of issues related to helping lower and middle class families. Some very directly related like economic growth, raising the minimum wage, and protecting the rights of workers to organize. However, there’s also mention of more affordable child care, more affordable college education, and other things that make it easier to work or find better-paying jobs. There are several points about making it easier for small-businesses to grow and provide jobs. Other points include tax breaks and paid family leave that will benefit lower and middle class families, but don’t address wages. However a number of those points are like these:

We will make the necessary investments in infrastructure, research, and education to put people to work today and grow our economy for tomorrow. Increased investment will lead to economic growth, that in turn will increase wages and boost bottom lines for both families and American businesses.

Child care is a critical issue when it comes to our economy, our families, and our children’s future. We will make quality, affordable child care a national priority to give working families the support they need and give our children the opportunities they deserve.

In other words, really vague. Still there are so many points and some with enough specific content that I’m going to call it ‘Okay’.

Black Lives:

Again, you have to go digging around but there is an acknowledgment of the issue and a little bit addressing the criminal justice system.

We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America. From Ferguson to Baltimore, the patterns have become undeniable. There is something wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than their white counterparts. A third of all black men born today face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.

A balanced criminal justice system

The recent tragedies in Ferguson, Baltimore, and North Charleston demonstrate the need to reform our criminal justice system and restore balance to our communities. The inequities that persist undermine our shared vision for what America can be and should be.

One out of every 28 children now has a parent in prison. We will work to end mass incarceration while keeping our communities safe.

The bonds of trust and respect between police officers and the citizens they protect are eroding. We will listen to law enforcement leaders and work with communities to prevent crime, rather than measuring success just by the number of arrests or convictions.

Our communities need change that can be felt in our streets. We will ensure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets. And we will make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions on patrol.

I’m going to have to go with a ‘Sorta’ here. There isn’t much in the way of details and it only focuses in on mass incarceration and policing when there are plenty of other issues.

ISIS:

There is a little bit on ISIS:

ISIS and the foreign terrorist fighters it recruits pose a serious threat to America and our allies. We will confront and defeat them in a way that will truly enhance our security instead of miring our troops in another misguided ground war. And we will empower our partners to defeat terrorism and the ideologies that drive it, including through our ongoing commitment to Afghanistan’s democratic government and our partnership to build Iraqi capacity.

I think I have to call this a ‘Nope’. She wants to avoid a ground war, but everything else is so vague I can’t make out a policy.

Clinton: Healthcare – Sorta, Wages – Okay, Black Lives – Sorta, ISIS -Nope. Score: 4

Sanders

cwsanders

Next, I went to the Bernie Sander’s Campaign website to check it out. Like the Republican websites there is a big picture of the candidate. There’s also a link for ‘Issues’ so I know right where to go. From the list of issues presented you can see Sander’s focus on economic justice so there’s not much information once you stray to other issues. Still, let’s go through the four issues in my game.

Healthcare:

Now I think most people know that Sanders would like to implement universal healthcare coverage with a single-payer system like Canada or several European countries do. However, there’s not really anything about it on the website so I have to give this one a ‘Nope’.

Wages:

While it’s not all in one place there is a lot about improving employment and increasing wages along with less direct benefits like required sick, vacation, and family leave time. There are some specific points as well that highlight what he has supported in the past and presumably would support as president.

  • Introduced legislation which would invest $1 trillion over 5 years to modernize our country’s physical infrastructure, creating and maintaining at least 13 million good-paying jobs while making our country more productive, efficient and safe.

  • Opposed NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, the TPP, and other free-trade agreements. These deals kill American jobs by shifting work overseas to nations which fail to provide worker protections and pay extremely low wages.

  • Introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act with Rep. John Conyers. It would provide $5.5 billion in immediate funding to employ one million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, and would provide job training to hundreds of thousands of others.

I think I’ll give this one a ‘Good’.

Black Lives:

The only mention I could find was a concern about unemployment among young black people.

A recent study found that over 50 percent of young African-Americans and more than one-third of white and Hispanic youth are looking for full-time work.

A brief mention of one problem isn’t enough to give me any real information so I have to go with a ‘Nope’.

ISIS:

Nothing there. ‘Nope’.

Sanders: Healthcare – Nope, Wages – Good, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Nope. Score: 3

Christie

Where to now? I think I’ll switch back to the Republicans and go to Chris Christie. He’s the ‘Telling It Like It Is’ candidate, so I’d expect him to have some views on the issues listed.

When I loaded up his website something horrible happened. He has a huge autoplaying YouTube video. I hate websites that autoplay audio or video upon loading. Am I saying you shouldn’t vote for Christie because he has autoplaying video? Yes. Yes I am.

cwchristie

Anyhow, once I paused the video I turned my attention to the menu and there’s an ‘Issues’ link. All right, let’s see where he stands on my test issues.

Healthcare:

There’s some good information on his Medicare and Medicaid proposals with a summary on his issues page and bullet points giving specific details on a linked PDF. (Really? Links to PDF files? C’mon put some effort into the website.) However, I can’t find anything on healthcare outside of Medicare and Medicaid.

Here are just the summaries for what’s there on Medicare and Medicaid:

Medicare spending growth is placing an inescapable burden on future generations and failing to produce high-quality health care results for our seniors. In order to make these programs fiscally solvent for future generations and improve the kind of health care services and treatment those utilizing these programs receive, Governor Christie proposes keeping it simple – if you can afford to pay more for your health benefits you will and if you can’t, you won’t. Governor Christie proposes expanding the existing sliding scale for Medicare premiums for higher-income seniors.

Governor Christie proposes giving each state a set amount of Medicaid funds indexed to the number of enrollees in Medicaid. Under such an arrangement, Medicaid would continue to provide more funding for states and low-income individuals when the economy is doing poorly and unemployment increases. By implementing a per capita cap system, all states will have increased freedom to tailor Medicaid programs to their citizens in the best-suited manner for their state.

There’s so much good detail under these topics that I’m going to go with a ‘Sorta’ despite the lack of information on healthcare outside these programs.

Wages:

The best place to find his ideas is to go right to his PDF on his economic plan. This starts off with a quote about the importance of growing middle-class wages.

“As a Republican, I don’t suffer from the disease that Democrats do – I don’t feel the political need to vilify the wealthy and accomplished. But by the same token, I do not feel we need to protect them either. The policies of this president have led to a crippling decline of middle class wages and opportunities, while our wealthiest have gotten wealthier on a stock market fueled by borrowing and easy money.  I will not attack or vilify those who have been successful, but America now needs leaders who will fight for our middle class by growing our economy and unleashing the opportunities that will come with growth.”

You can follow this to the PDF to see more:

https://d70h9a36p82zs.cloudfront.net/Ccpres2016/base/assets/1-0-1/production/Chris-Christie-TheEconomy.pdf

There’s a lot of good information on his policies here, but mostly it’s about creating more economic growth in general and not very specific about what to do about stagnant wages for the lower and middle class, a problem that extends well before the Obama administration despite periods of strong economic growth. I think I’m going to have to go with an ‘Okay’.

Black Lives:

There’s nothing. ‘Nope’. One could argue that his proposals on educational reform and economic growth will benefit the black community, but that’s not good enough to say the issue is being addressed.

ISIS:

You have to follow the link to his PDF, but there is a little bit about ISIS mixed with Iran.

Confront ISIS And Check Iran Through Regional Coalitions:
Iran might not have the bomb right now – but their influence is absolutely radioactive. Meanwhile, our piecemeal strategy to deal with ISIS doesn’t inspire confidence. We need to contain Iran with our moderate Sunni Arab allies, while at the same time rolling back the shadow of ISIS. We need to do more to organize our allies into a strong coalition on the ground, and to train and equip the moderate opposition to Assad in Syria and to ISIS across the region.

Meh. I’m going to go with a ‘Nope.’ I don’t think there’s enough for me to go with a ‘Sorta’ here even though it’s close.

Christie: Healthcare – Sorta, Wages – Okay, Black Lives – Nope, ISIS – Nope. Score: 3

Well, that’s what I consider to be the major Democrats and major Republicans (plus Trump and Christie). All in all, I don’t feel especially informed after visiting their websites, though kudos to Macro Rubio for giving me the most information on my topics of interest. I’m especially disappointed in the campaign websites for Bush and Walker that have no information laid out on their positions at all.

Maybe I’ll get to some of the other candidates later.

There’s still a lot of time to go before the primary voting begins, so I ask the presidential candidates to please post more information on their positions. Maybe in today’s political landscape issues aren’t really that important, but I like to at least pretend they are. This is the candidates’ perfect platform for laying out their ideas with no media filter and with the ability to express all the supporting arguments they wish to spell out. Why not use it?

Final Scores

(Remember, I’m not rating how good I think the policies are, just how much information there is about them.)

Trump: 0

Bush: 0

Walker: 0

Rubio: 6

Clinton: 4

Sanders: 3

Christie: 3

Cumulative Score For the Issues

(Scale of 0 to 3 summed over 7 candidates.)

Healthcare: 5 – Huh. Pretty low.

Wages: 8 – Looks good compared to the others but it averages out to a ‘Sorta’ answer over all the candidates.

Black Lives: 1 – Seriously? This is one of the biggest issues of the day.

ISIS: 2 – I really expected to find more than this.

Conclusion

State of the presidential candidate websites? Great if you want to donate money. Not so great if you want to actually learn what they want to accomplish as president.

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Wordcount Nightmare

wordsLast night I had a dream in which my manuscript for DRAGONFIRE suddenly had a wordcount of 103k. Yikes. That’s a lot for a middle-grade fantasy, really too much for a debut author. The fact that I dreamed about it tells me that I may obsess about wordcount a little too much.

Wordcount is a real concern for writers with an eye toward publishing since publishers don’t want to gamble the higher expenses of a long novel when the author is an unknown quantity. Exceptional novels might get away with lots and lots of words, but exceptional novels are just that, exceptional. A novel also has a minimum length, otherwise it’s not really a novel.

So I fired up Word and double-checked the wordcount of DRAGONFIRE to find out that the typing elves haven’t been at it, and it’s still the same 63k words as it was when I last worked on it. I’m very happy with that final tally, but it took a good amount of outlining work to make sure I’d have a plot that would end in the right range of words.

Meanwhile, I’m finding that I’m moving through my outline of my latest manuscript, DARK HUNTER faster than I expected to. I may find myself obsessing on the other end of the spectrum and coming up with a story that’s too short. That could mean doing a lot of reworking to make the plot longer without simply adding fluff. What gets added has to matter. I could also write it with more details to stretch it out, but that affects the pacing.

Ultimately a story should have as many words as it needs. I work hard, with varying results, at structuring the story to have a need in the right range.

For MG and YA writers I’ve found this blog article to be very informative on the subject of wordcount and what wordcounts fits the desirable range.

Wordcount Dracula

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First Steps

Since I’m starting out with a new idea, I thought it might be interesting to blog my process as I go through it. Of course, maybe it’s just interesting to me :).

The Rough Outline
The Rough Outline

I have a new idea and I’ve written a pitch for it. Now it’s time to get to work on it. The first thing is to think about and visualize the story. This part all happens in my head, and I spend a lot of my commuting time working on it as well as other spare moments throughout the day. I’ve already done a lot of thinking about DARK HUNTER while coming up with a pitch, but not enough to write an outline. Maybe it sounds silly to call this a step in my process, but it really is. This step is done, or at least there’s enough done to get to the next step. I’m not going to stop thinking about it.

Mapping out the characters. There aren't very many yet.
Mapping out the characters. There aren’t very many yet.

The next step for me is the rough outline. In my case it’s like a washboard road in the Outback kind of rough. Basically, I puke out all that thinking into a list of events in the story. DARK HUNTER’s outline doesn’t even have the correct character names as I scribbled it out before I have the character names figured out. The only job of my rough outline is to give me direction for the real outline. This all gets typed into a single Scrivener text thingie that I just call a card. This part is also done.

It’s not time for the real outline yet. Now I move onto the main characters. Each character gets a card in the ‘character’ folder. Then I type the general description of the character. By general description I don’t mean physical description but rather the role in the story. This is also the time I have the dread task of coming up with names. For that I usually use 20,000 names for inspiration. As I write the story I paste in passages about the character that I need to remember for continuity. This is where things like physical descriptions go along with bits about backstory, personality, whatever. As I introduce new characters, I’ll add cards into the list so I have a quick place to look up what I need. I have this done for the main characters.

The Real Outline
The Real Outline

Now I’m finally ready to start on the real outline. For this outline I create a card for every section in the novel. Often times a single section corresponds to a single chapter, but sometimes a couple of short sections might get combined. Interestingly, DARK HUNTER has ended up with 23 sections which is exactly the same as my last novel DRAGONFIRE. Apparently, I’m pretty consistent. This part is also done.

Within each section I make notes on the events that happen and the scenes in that section. Also I like to add notes on how the section moves the physical and emotional plots. If I can’t figure out something for one or the other, then I know I’ve got a problem. So far I’ve made notes for the first section and that’s where I stand.

No part of the outline or character notes are set in stone. Sometimes I get a great idea and have to rework them, or I go off the outline because that’s what makes sense while I’m writing. Still, having everything mapped out helps me stay productive when the time for pounding out that first draft comes along.

What kind of process do you have when starting out on a new novel?

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A New Idea

idea_bulbI was struggling with my idea for novel. I had a description of the novel, but I couldn’t put it together in my head. Getting from point A to point B felt contrived, and I just never thought of another way of doing it. Stuck in the mud. Then recently I came up with an idea which is a middle-grade version of an adult fantasy tale I had floating around in my head for awhile. It’s a good feeling to have something new brewing. Here’s what I have, though I don’t consider it of query quality.

The world is a fearsome place with monsters roaming the lands between warded cities and towns. In the wild lands between are the sorcerers who summon these creatures to do their bidding. To protect the people are the Dark Hunters, specialized warriors who root out the sorcerers and destroy their fell beasts. Though they’ve never organized before, the sorcerers have formed a mysterious council called the circle to rise up against the Dark Hunters and penetrate the protective wards. After a failed mission, apprentice Dark Hunter Kuro and his best friend, Reina, are abandoned in sorcerer-infested lands. When they discover the secret of the circle, it challenges Kuro’s beliefs, and the hunters become the prey of sorcerers and Dark Hunters alike.

Now that I have a pitch of sorts, it’s time to put my process in motion. First comes a rough outline of the plot and notes about the characters and the world. The next step is the slow process of mapping out my scenes. I like to have all my scenes figured out before I start writing. My working title is DARK HUNTER. I’ll see how it goes.

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Finishing

A key skill in writing a novel is finishing it. I call it a skill, because seeing an entire novel to the end is not an easy thing to do.

Finish LineFirst, there’s seeing a novel through to the end of the rough draft. That means figuring out an ending and, perhaps even more important, creating a middle to get there. The middle of the story can be a quagmire where story ideas go to die. With the momentum from the beginning gone and still far from the exciting conclusion, it’s easy to run out of ideas. I try to combat that by starting off with something big for the beginning, end, and middle before I start pumping out words. Everybody is different, but I find coming up with a big event for the physical and/or emotional plot at the middle of the story keeps me from getting stuck.

That’s not to say endings are easy in comparison. Coming up with a good and satisfying conclusion is no simple task. I’m not sure how you start a novel without knowing the ending, but I’m sure some people can pull it off.

Reaching the end of the rough draft is an exciting moment, but what makes a good ending? I like an ending to be challenging for the characters. I like it when the lead-up is to something that feels near impossible to overcome whether the obstacles are physical or emotional. But I also like solution to not be cheap. I think cheapness can be a real weakness in the fantasy genre where the hero pulls out a new ability or power that’s never been hinted at before. Like if Evil Overlord person strikes a fatal blow at Hero Dude only to discover that Hero Dude’s pet cat is really a mystic being that can heal any wound or something–ugh.

So you put together beginning, middle, and end to make a rough draft. That’s far from the end of the novel because revision looms ahead. Here lies the trap just waiting for perfectionists. How the heck do you decide if you’re done revising?  Right now that’s where I am, attempting to finish up my novel Dragonfire. I still have some feedback to collect and still have some things to fix, but I feel like I’m coming into the final stretch. I know it isn’t perfect, but I also know I could go through it a hundred more times and always find something to tweak. If I let my perfectionist tendencies take over, then I’ll be forever stuck. Revision is the dangerous area for me.

So when is the right time to let go? I suppose for me it would be when I can read through it and decide that it’s equal to a book I’d pick off a shelf, and I don’t find too many tweaks I feel need to be made. Too many and I’ll need to read it again after fixing them. Just a few, well I can fix them, and call it good.

So, if you are a novel writer, what’s the hardest part of getting a novel done for you?

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Revisionland

I’m deep in the land of revision with my new novel Dragonfire. Dragonfire is the third novel I’ve written, so I knew I’d be here after I finished that rough draft. Revisionland is sort of like Candyland with no candy and a lot more work and caffeine. But it’s where most novels go to become good novels. Revisionland is where the magic happens.

So what happens in revisionland? Well, it’s going to be different for everyone. Sure that’s a cop-out answer but it’s true for almost everything relating to writing. Maybe it’s a bit like parenting, there are a million books with advice out there, but for the most part it’s finding out what works for you since children are individuals and so are parents. Similarly, every novel is individual (even if the ideas aren’t original) and so is every writer. Okay so much for the wishy-washy stuff.

What does revisionland look like for me? Well, it two major cities, beta-reader-ville and read-through-berg, and a bunch of connecting roads.

There's still a lot of work left after roughing things in.
There’s still a lot of work left after roughing things in.

Beta-reader-ville is hugely important. Without somebody else taking a look at your work you end up being like a team that you’ve only watched scrimmage against itself. Maybe it’s a good team, but maybe the offense and defense are equally bad so the scrimmages don’t reveal the weaknesses. When the team is subjected to another team, then the weaknesses come to the forefront. My rough drafts are never without weaknesses so I need these kind and wonderful people to read it over and reveal the problems.

Read-through-berg is also important. While beta readers are important, my own opinion is ultimately the judge of my novel. Read-through-berg is where the government is. After every round of revisions I visit it to read through my latest manuscript and decide what stays, what goes, and what needs to be changed. It’s also where I go to pull the weeds of grammar errors and typos.

Sometimes I employ the use of robot minions to help me out in the form of a text-to-speech reader and my e-reader. I find having my computer read to me helps me find problems that just reading the text doesn’t. Somehow, I also find using an e-reader to help me read through my manuscript seems more effective. Maybe reading it without sitting in front of a computer screen makes me go slower and pay better attention.

Finally, there are the connecting roads where most of the work takes place. All those beta-reader comments need to get processed into manuscript changes on the way to Read-through-berg. Sometimes those changes are easy and straightforward like a clear freeway. Other times the changes domino, clogging up the road with lots of corrections. And then there are those times I need to put out the orange barrels and replace whole sections of–okay, maybe I’m overdoing the analogy at this point.  It’s those changes where I need to rip out multiple scenes or even whole chapters that are so daunting to me. Inside, I want to scream, “I’ve already written it! Don’t make me go back and write it all over again!” In the end, though, I slog through and end up happy I did–hopefully happy.

Those roads run both ways though and my read-throughs send changes back to the beta readers. The paths become well-traveled before I reach my final destination at the pinnacle of final draft mountain.

So that’s what revisionland looks like for me. What does your revisionland look like?

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

A Short Story

When I sit down to do some writing, I want to work on a novel so short stories aren’t really my thing. There’s something about the complexity and scale of a novel I find appealing in a way that a short story simply can’t fulfill. However, I do have a few on my blog and this particular one was the first real short story I wrote.

discipline_cover_blog
I had to come up with a cover since I made it available on Feedbooks.

So why did I write this one three and a half years ago? Well, a couple of reasons. Off and on, I toyed with the idea of a science fiction story set on a tidally locked world in orbit about a red dwarf star. In my head was a place where two civilizations developed on the day-side and night-side with a hostile strip of twilight between them. The two sides developed different philosophies and the story comes from an individual crossing over. So that was the idea lurking in the back of my head that wanted to get out somehow.

Then came the prompt, literally. A website I frequent had a short story challenge that fit my idea, so I decided to write a short story. At a smidgen over ten thousands words, it isn’t all that short, and even then the ending can make some readers wanting to know more. However, I had to find an end or write a novel, so I picked a moment of change for the main character. It doesn’t really satisfy the idea I had, so maybe one day I’ll write a novel based on what I’ve started with this story.

Sigh, even when I do write a short story, I tend to think novel.

If you’d like to read this story, it’s available on my website here or in various e-book formats from via Feedbooks. Some people like it and some people don’t. I’m not afraid to share it, but it does have it’s weaknesses.

When it comes to reading, I can certainly enjoy a good short story. Still, it’s not something I go seeking out. Maybe I like to get to know a character and stick when him or her through through more than five thousand words. Maybe I like a more complex plot than can be imparted through a shorter medium. There’s something about novels I really like.

So, maybe I’m not a short story kind of guy, but I do admire people who are good at writing them. It takes a special skill to draw in a reader with an economy of words and make him or her feel something in only a very few pages. I certainly wouldn’t mind having more of that ability.

Are you a short story writer or reader? What do you like about shorts that a novel just can’t give you? Or conversely what does a novel give you than a short can’t? I’d be curious to read some thoughts.

Posted in Blog, Writing | 2 Comments

Manuscript Format

There are lots of good sites and blog posts to tell you about proper manuscript format. This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide, but to offer some useful templates for getting started on a new project.

Now, if you’ve been reading the blog you might be thinking: hey, don’t you use Scrivener? While, Scrivener will output manuscript format doc files, I’m not a fan of the way it outputs so I’ll roll my manuscript into Word once I’ve gotten a couple of revisions done. I like Scrivener for getting those early drafts done, but I prefer Word for polishing things up.

Okay, so back to manuscript format. Odds are you know the basics, one inch margins all around. The font should be Courier or Times Roman set to 12 points. The first line of every paragraph should be indented. There should be no extra space between paragraphs. And the whole thing should be double spaced. Italic text used to be underlined rather than italic, but these days you can just keep it italic. Sections should be separated by a single, centered hash ( # ).

Chapter headings should be the same font as the rest of the document and centered with four or five blank lines following before the chapter text. If there is a chapter title it should come right after the chapter heading and before the blank lines. And finally the page number should be in the upper right header in the format “TITLE / AUTHOR / (Page Number)”

Normal manuscript page.
Normal manuscript page.

Opinions on the cover page vary, but something like the following should work just fine.

manuscript_cover
Manuscript Cover Page

If you have an agent then it will be different. Talk with your agent about how to format in that case.

To do all this formatting I like to use styles. I modify the “Normal” style to indent the first line of paragraphs, set the font to the Times New Roman 12 point, set left justified, and set to double spacing. The existing “Emphasis” style already is set to italics, so I use that instead of the italics button. For chapter headings, I modify “Header 2″ to the correct formatting and use it. By using a header for the chapter headings, the document map will show me where all the chapters start :).

For the cover page, I abandon styles and simply format it directly.

I’ve already configured the styles in the templates I’ve provided. In Libreoffice/Openoffice, the “Normal” style is called the “Default Style”, but the principal is the same. Using the “Emphasis” style is a bit of a pain with Libreoffice/OpenOffice so perhaps it’s better to just directly format.

With the Word documents, I’ve also modified the Style UI so that only the needed styles show up and have more intuitive names. “Chapter” should be used for chapter headings while “Title Chapter” should be used for chapter titles.

styles
Spiffy customized styles UI

Here are the links for my templates:

Documents are regular files which can be opened and modified like any word processor document. Templates are special documents that create a new document when opened with the contents of the template. Template files are useful because they make it harder to accidentally overwrite your manuscript template.

Right click on the links below and select “Save Link As…” to download the files. In some browsers just clicking on them will download, but some might try to open the files instead.

Manuscript Document in docx format for Word 2007+.

Manuscript Document in doc format for older versions of Word.

Manuscript Template in dotx format for Word 2007+.

Manuscript Template in dot format for older versions of Word.

Manuscript Document in odt format for Libreoffice and Openoffice.

Manuscript Template in ott format for Libreoffice and Openoffice.

Posted in Resources, Writing | 3 Comments

Carts and Horses

Putting the query before the manuscript feels like putting the cart before the horse.
Putting the query before the manuscript might feel like putting the cart before the horse.

Way back in the beginning of this blog, I had a post about how my first step in a new project is writing the pitch. This time I’m going to post about why I think this is a good idea.

Writing a query isn’t the easiest thing to do. Just go visit Query Shark to see how much work it can be to put together a good one. I did a fair amount of poking around on Query Shark before writing my first query letter, and one of the queries really made an impression. I’ve forgotten the details, but it came down to QueryShark wondering why the book was even written at all.

It’s a nightmare to think about putting in all the time and effort writing and revising a book, then trying to create a query and not being able to figure out what to put into it. What if the manuscript has some brilliant scenes but a weak plot? What if the stakes aren’t that compelling? What if the descriptions are wonderful, but you can’t make the main character sound interesting?

Here’s where I think writing the query before the manuscript can be a help. You can shape the query from both sides of the equation. If the brief summary of the plot doesn’t sound all that great, then not only can you reword the query, but you can just as easily change the plot. If a few quick words can’t make the main character interesting, then you can change the character. Everything is flexible.

It doesn’t make writing a query easy, nor should it, but it does challenge your idea for the story. It’ll make you question how compelling the elements are and maybe stimulate some new ideas. You can run the query by other people and see if they find it compelling. Take it to a writing forum and let it get ripped to shreds to see if your ideas can hold up. Sure, everything might change as you write it, but at least you’ve established what makes that original idea compelling and use that knowledge even as the plot and characters get modified.

For me, I was able to take a plot I liked and made it even better. It might have made the difference in finding an agent who loved the manuscript. I’m now a believer in putting the query before the manuscript. I don’t really need a query anymore since I already have an agent, but I can still run that query-like pitch past her and others before I start pounding out the novel.

If you do need to write a query after the manuscript, then you already have a good starting point. At least for me, it made the constructing the query a lot easier when the time came, and the query worked.

Like anything, it isn’t for everybody, but I think putting the cart before the horse is something to think about.

Posted in Publishing, Writing | 3 Comments

Kid Beta Readers

So, I’ve got a middle grade manuscript I’m getting ready for sending to my agent. I’ve had one adult beta reader go through it, and I’ve got another one taking a look as well as an online critique group. However, I haven’t forgotten the kids. My daughter and one of her friends have read through it, and I’ve got another couple of kids in the pipeline. Hmm… kids in the pipeline, maybe that isn’t the best expression.kidbeta

In my case, I have it pretty easy. My daughter and son can help me find beta readers, but for people without kids in the right age range, I can see this being difficult. Without my kids’ help. I’ve recruited a friend’s kid, and I suppose I could see about kids in my extended family if I didn’t already have a good number.

I can’t expect kids to go into in-depth reviews, but they can definitely tell you if the story simply doesn’t work for the age group. I also like to directly ask if there was anything they didn’t like, so they can feel free to be critical. So far my manuscript, Dragonfire, seems to be doing okay.

Another thing they can tell you is if you’ve made some bad assumptions. For instance, when kids read my steampunk story, COG, I quickly discovered they didn’t know what an airship was. I had to beef up my descriptions to make it more clear what one looks like and how it works. I also beefed up my descriptions of pneumatic tubes, though I already kinda figured that wasn’t a kid-friendly reference.

It’s important not to forget your most important beta readers. What do kid beta readers tell you? How do you find them?

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments