Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Category Archives: editing

Time to Update

Hi friends,

I sincerely apologize for not being very active on the blog over the past two months. I’ve been a busy boy – working full-time at a job that gives me tons in tips, rehearsing full-time for a show that’s in the Edmonton and Vancouver Fringe Festival, and launching my own theatre company – Third Street Theatre (www.thirdstreet.ca).

So I have been quite busy, with so many projects on the go. Last count had me at 95 hours/week of work, and I don’t think I’ve had a day off in six weeks. It’s a pretty rigorous and exhausting schedule.

That being said, I have had continued interest from the literary agent in my book, and he is working with me on fixing some of the issues regarding pacing. My only challenge is to grab some time to dedicate to revisiting the manuscript.

I have had a seven month break from the book, which I am sure has given me loads of perspective. I am hoping that in the next couple of months I’ll be able to find a couple of days to really dedicate myself to editing again, so that we might be able to continue on this path.. and hopefully lead to official representation.

There are so many exciting things going on in my life, and the Universe seems to keep sending more projects my way. It’s hard to complain about it (although, I find myself complaining that I am tired, have no time, and no social life.. which isn’t a fun story to be telling all the time).

I can make no guarantees that I will be blogging every day, but I will do my best to write a post now and then – especially as I move forward with editing the manuscript.

All the best, and cheers.

Paul

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What Makes a Good Story?

I have had a very busy year.

A rough estimate would suggest that I have seen over 110 plays in the past 12 months. In a way, it has been fantastic: I have been exposed to so many differing types of stories through the medium of the theatre. In another way, it has been a chore. Most of the shows have been perfectly acceptable pieces of theatre, with a few true “stand-out” pieces. And the elements of those stand-out pieces vary. In some instance, it was the direction, and in others it was design that made it stand above the rest. In yet others, it was the performance – the skill and craft of the actors involved. And in precious few, it was the story – the elegance and execution of a perfectly crafted script.

That definitely gets me thinking: What is it that makes a “good” story so hard to tell?

We can and do spend countless hours trying to understand and master structure. We struggle to perfect the rhythm and the pacing of the piece, and we try to create compelling characters. We throw them into interesting worlds with challenging, believable conflicts, and we hope and pray that we will succeed, that someone will be moved by our work.

So why is it that we so often come short?

I do not have the answers.

I am still learning this myself, and while I have theories, I cannot claim to have true knowledge as to what makes a good story. Indeed, when I read, watch, or experience what I would describe as a “good” story, I often find it challenging to explain why. I find myself saying that it touched me, moved me, excited me, or surprised me. In other instances, it inspired me, sparked something in my imagination that took me to another place, that caused my own ideas to multiply and grow. All good things, but definitely not tangible – and certainly not universal.

The elements of a good story are something I am exceptionally curious about. I do my best to read other people’s take on the subject in an effort to understand what it is, what that magical trick might be, that allows a storyteller to weave a tale that will have an impact.

So I wonder: Can we ever truly master the elements of a good story? Do good stories exist that defy the logic, the “formula,” as it were? And when that happens, why does it happen?

Is it voice? Artistry? A certain je ne sais quoi?

The curiosity lingers.

But we are curious beings, so I can only conclude that this is a good thing.

Have you read any articles that have given you an “ah-ha!” moment when it comes to what makes a good story? What resources have played important roles in the development of your craft? What are some examples of good stories that defy the logic, as it were? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!

Rhythm and Pacing

Hello, friends.

It has been a while since I have last updated. I have been busy with a new “joe-job” (which is actually pretty fun) and a number of other work opportunities that have come up – working as a mentor for a festival, participating in workshops, substituting classes at a private institution, and a handful of auditions and the preliminary exploration for a film opportunity. When it rains, it pours.

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is in town this week. For those of you who don’t know, this festival brings the best of the best theatre to one lucky town every year – with each alternate year being in our nation’s capital, Ottawa. As Calgary is the Culture Capital of Canada for 2012, and as we’re celebrating a number of wonderful milestones (Stampede’s Centennial, for one), Calgary is the ideal choice for the host city of the Festival. I am privileged to be living here, as it’s giving me the opportunity to attend.

Last night was a production of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s “Oil and Water” directed by the new Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre, Jillian Keiley. There was some wonderful work happening in this very interesting show about a piece of Canadian history: the true story of Lanier Phillips, the only African American survivor of the shipwrecked USS Truxton.

The director, Ms. Keiley, has an incredible gift for rhythm and pacing and, from what I gather, she often makes use of this sort of exploration in her theatrical storytelling. Through rhythmic percussion and acapella singing, she builds the dramatic tension and intensity from start to finish.

The result?

A powerful piece of theatre whose climax hits us on a highly emotional level. It carries us on an intentionally and carefully crafted ride, keeping us invested and engaged in the journey of the story as it unfolds.

Building tension through rhythm and pace.

Building tension through rhythm and pace

 

Seeing this piece of theatre and the effectiveness of its execution got me thinking about rhythm and pacing in writing. It exists, and it is a tricky thing to master (kind of like trying to “master” artistic “voice.”) Some people have an innate talent for it and are able to feel the impact of the writing – and everything from word choice to use and type of punctuation contributes to it.

When I edit my own work, one technique I always use is to read the work out loud. If we trip over the phrases when we read them out loud, chances are people will be tripping over the same phrases when they read them. Their little inside voice won’t be too happy, and we run the risk of losing them as a reader.

When I start tripping over sentences, I investigate them further to figure out why. More often than not, it has to do with the rhythm of the phrase, or the length of the thought. Something isn’t jiving, and this technique definitely helps point out what, exactly, is amiss.

Another thing that happens – and this is an added bonus – is that you start to hear the rhythm of the piece. When you’re hitting climactic moments of a scene, the intensity should be building, and the reader should be swept along. Reading out loud helps us determine whether this is truly happening – and if not, we know where to tweak.

We want to build tension, and we want to catapult the reader through the story. We don’t want them to put the book down. We want to tease their curiosity and force them to stay up way past their bedtime because they needed to read just one more chapter. Taking a look at rhythm and pacing is perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve your writing.

How often do you focus on rhythm and pacing in your own work? Do you find it easy, exciting, or challenging? How do you handle areas where the pacing is off? Is it a technical thing, or more of a reliance on your intuition? Please feel free to share your thoughts (and links to great articles, if you’ve got them!) in the comments below – I would love to hear them,

Quick Update

Hi friends,

I apologize for being a little MIA lately. I’ve been busy teaching at the college, seeing a ton of local theatre (I’ve pretty much caught all but a few professional shows playing in Calgary this season, and let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’ve seen over 50 productions since September), and trying to get a handle on work for next year. I’ve also been recovering from a couple of colds and a bout of salmonella poisoning. Very not fun.

I’ve also been watching a lot of television – Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Secret Circle, and re-runs of old episodes of Charmed. It might seem like a lot of slacking off, but in a way it is also research – watching how stories are being put together, how the protagonists and antagonists are defined and developed, and how the conflict unfolds.

And lately, I started picking up books again, too. I don’t read books near as much as I would like to.. it seems like they’re reserved for when I go on holidays, and unfortunately when you’re a professional actor and writer, you can’t really afford to holiday very often. But I’ve been reading The Hunger Games, and I wish I had written this book. I certainly understand the mass appeal, and I am thrilled that it’s a part of the canon.

Regarding my manuscript:

I have received a couple of e-mails back from agents who are interested in my query, but are hesitant to request a partial read of the manuscript due to the size of the book. It is currently sitting at 140,000 words. If you take a gander at my last post, you’ll see that the book was originally 198,000 words long and received some massive cuts. The target for fantasy is 90-120,000 words, and this is what the agents are wanting to see. More of them are suggesting I cut it down to 120k – or preferably 110k – words before they’ll take a peek.

I am also still waiting to hear from the NY literary agent who received the first 110 pages of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN on January 6th. I am tempted to follow up, to see what he’s thinking, but I’m not ready to rush it just yet.

And I am starting to think about plays again, too. Perhaps it’s time I tackle one of the projects that has been on the back burner to experience a change of pace. To be determined, I guess.

In the meantime, it’s hot yoga and 10km (or 6 miles, for you non-metric types) runs as the city struggles to shed winter and embrace summer.

Have you read any good books (or plays) lately? What’s on your night stand? What are the top television shows that grab your eye? I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days, so please feel free to comment below.

Guest Author Paul Welch: A Journey Through Massive Edits

Hi, friends!

Janice Hardy asked me to be a guest blogger on her website a while ago, and she just let me know that the blog went live today. I thought I’d share it here, as it chronicles a little bit about my journey through massive edits.

An interesting thing to note:

Despite reducing my novel from 198,000 words down to 142,000 words (at the time of the guest blog) and its subsequent reduction to 140,000, a literary agent just expressed interest in the premise of the story but would not request a read until it was 120,000 words, or, more preferably, 110,000 words. “140,000 words is far too long for a debut novel.”

So I am faced with an interesting dilemma. The NY literary agent mentioned in the blog is still reading my partial request, so I think I will wait until I hear from him before moving forward, but I am a strong believer in eliminating obstacles. I understand that my novel is long – but it isn’t without precedence.

I want to be published, so I supppose – if and when the time comes – I will just have to see whether the story can be reduced and simplified even further.

But enough of that – on to the blog!

Guest Author Paul Welch: A Journey Through Massive Edits in Ten Easy Steps.

“I’m excited about today’s post. A few months ago, Paul Welch wrote me to say thanks for some of my revision posts. He had a huge novel to cut down and my advice helped a lot (which totally made my day). We got to chatting and he told me his amazing story and what he did to turn a massive novel into something he could submit. I was so inspired by his tale, I asked him to guest post and share it with you guys.”

Read the rest of the article at Janice Hardy’s website.

Blog Mash-up

I’ve been a little swamped lately, but I’m still reading blogs and wanted to pass along a couple of wonderful articles for you to read. Please check them out:

From Kirsten Lamb:

What “Finding Nemo” Can Teach Us About Storytelling

Storytelling is in our blood, it binds us together as humans. On some intuitive level, everyone understands narrative structure, even little kids. All good stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. Ever try to skip parts of a story with a toddler? Even they can sense on a gut level that something is wrong if we miss a fundamental part of the story. Thus, often when I am teaching new writers how to understand narrative structure, I use children’s movies. Frequently the narrative structure is far clearer, as well as the Jungian archetypes that are present in all great fiction. Additionally, all fiction can be boiled down to cause, effect, cause, effect, cause, effect.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Janice Hardy:

Footloose and Not So Fancy Free: Four Ways to Update an Old (and Familiar) Story:

When the hubby and I watched the new Footloosemovie and we had mixed feelings about it. Part if it was easily because the original 1984 version was a big part of our teen years, but part of it was due to the almost too faithful remake. Nothing felt fresh, even though it was new movie. It took what was already out there and just re-made it. It’s a great example of why a book might not grab an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Rebecca Berto:

Three Fiction Writing Tips From Famous Authors:

I love these lists. Do you?

I Googled this topic and loved these results so much that I had to share them with you. The best thing is, you can never read enough advice. I mean, who thinks, “Right I know enough. I can’t get any better at writing”?

Check out the rest of the blog here.

Have you come across any fantastic articles that you’d like to share? If so, please post in the comments below – I’d love to see what’s inspiring you these days.

Blog Mash-up

For today’s post, I wanted to share three articles from blogs that I think are pretty darned interesting. I’ve given you the headlines and a sample of the article, and I strongly hope you click through and give the rest of the article a read. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

I hope you enjoy them!

Paul

The Faceless Villain: What to do When Your Bad Guy Isn’t a Person

In a lot of stories (especially genre novels) the antagonist is a physical being that can be fought against. But what do you do when your antag is something to overcome, like depression, or a self-destructive streak? Technically, there’s nothing plotting against your protagonist for them to fight. It’s a personal situation or flaw holding them back. These stories are a little tougher to write. 

Read the rest of the article HERE on The Other Side of the Story.

How To Write – And Deliver – Killer Speeches
For two years or whatever, I blogged three times a week about publicity, speechwriting, public relations and scandals for The New York Times’about.com.  If you are an author, actor, director, politician, professional athlete, rock star, user of social media or otherwise in the public eye, THESE POSTS ARE USEFUL TO YOU. If you live in an ice cave, you can safely ignore all this stuff and go back to tanning that elk hide.
Six Ways to Beat The Blogging Blahs
We all go through times when we wake up in the morning, take one look at the clock, and pull the covers back over our heads wishing we could spend the day cocooned away from the world.We have those days (or weeks!) when it’s hard enough to force ourselves out of bed, much less make ourselves sit down in front of our laptops and try to come up with something witty and interesting to say on our blogs.
Did you come across any awesome blogs or articles this week that you’d love to share? Or perhaps you posted one on your own blog that you’re particularly proud of? Please share them in the comments below – I’d love to see what you’re reading.

Book Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

Every now and then, I will be posting book reviews on my blog. I know this can be challenging, as we all have personal tastes. What rings true for me might be in complete opposition to your own experience. This is 100% okay, and I welcome differing opinions.

That being said, I hope to use these reviews as an opportunity to explore where novels did or did not succeed.  These are the lessons I took, and, with a little luck, they might be helpful in your own work.

The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross.

This young adult novel is a steampunk adventure. It has received a lot of praise, sales, and even an award or two. It has a sexy cover, its title evokes the popularity of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the premise is pretty neat. I was excited to give it a read.

From the back-cover blurb:

“When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch…

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help – and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But the Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on – even if it seems no one believes her.”

The novel is published by Harlequin Teen, and I will acknowledge that I am not the target demographic. That’s okay. Good stories can have universal appeal, but sometimes they target a specific group of people. That being said, we should be able to appreciate aspects of the story – characters, plot, atmosphere – regardless of the genre.

A cursory scan of the reviews on-line suggested that a number of readers have thoroughly enjoyed this book, so I acknowledge I may be in the minority in my opinion. But the story didn’t sit as well with me. I’d like to explore the reasons why as an opportunity to learn.

I struggled with the plot. I felt like I was never given a real sense of the antagonist. Right from the get-go, we’re given the impression that perhaps it’s one guy. But after a single scene, he is all but forgotten. We’re given a hint that this other fellow named The Machinist might be the antagonist, but he seems so much on the periphery that it is hard to believe he’s truly important to the story. At the half-way point of the book, I was still at a loss for a clear antagonist, and that’s problematic.

The lesson: It is important to establish the stakes of the antagonist as early as possible. We need someone to be worried about – someone that will pose a threat to the survival and well-being of the protagonists, the characters we’re going to root for. If the protagonists aren’t in jeopardy, how can we become thoroughly invested in the story?

Some novels manage to accomplish a subtle antagonist – someone who doesn’t clearly jump out as “the bad guy.” And please note, an antagonist doesn’t need to be “the bad guy.” They simply need to provide the conflict – the challenge – to the success of the protagonist. And without strong, clear conflict, it becomes difficult to invest.

The story had multiple points-of-view. I found this problematic. The story starts off by introducing us to the protagonist, Finley. But after one scene, we jump into another point of view. And then another. I never really got a true enough sense of the characters to care about them long enough to give their perspective up, and this proved problematic.

The lesson: If we’re going to use multiple point-of-views, it is worth-while to ensure the reader develops an attachment to the character – roots for them, wants them to succeed – before we dive into another. Multiple points-of-view can succeed and be highly effective, but I think it occurs in situations where we’re truly invested in the heart and soul – the ambitions, challenges, and humanity – of the character.

The editing posed a problem. It may be a matter of personal taste, but I felt this book could have used a little more massaging. Several scenes felt clunky. There were run-on-sentences – which I acknowledge can be used to drive tension, to up the ante, as it were – but unfortunately it often came across as grammatically flawed. There were also instances where a simple re-ordering of sentences would have done WONDERS for the scene… and other instances where sentences could have been cut to help drive the story – the action, the plot – forward.

The lesson: Be diligent. Challenge sentences every step of the way. Does it further the story? Does it add to the atmosphere? How about the pace? Editing can be tedious, but 99% of the time it’s what makes your story sing. Janice Hardy has numerous excellent articles on editing, and if you choose to invest the time, it will take your novel to the next level. I highly recommend her blog.

The Girl in the Steel Corset was a fairly easy read. It didn’t bore me to tears, and I managed to move through it fairly quickly. I’d actually love to see the film version of this book, and I hope that we’re given the opportunity. For the book, however, I simply felt that with a few little tweaks, it could have gone from an acceptable story to an incredible story.

I encourage you to see for yourself.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with any of my observations? Please share your opinions in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Worth a Look: Rebecca Berto & Larry Brooks

Today, I want to introduce you to a woman named Rebecca Berto. She is a young writer and editor living in Australia, and she hosts a blog called Novel Girl where she offers up clear advice on writing, a smattering of comprehensive book reviews and author interviews.

And what’s more, she’s done a ton of work on amassing valuable tools that I have certainly found useful in developing my craft.

In particular, she highlights the skills she learned from Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering. Larry’s book is definitely on my wishlist, as it sounds like it’s loaded with incredible tools and resources.

As I approach my own craft of writing, Larry’s site Storyfix and Rebecca’s blog have been very educational, and I recommend them both.

Story structure is one of those elusive things that a lot of novice writers don’t think about – and judging from a couple of disappointing published short stories and a 500-page YA novel I’ve read recently, it might be something a few published authors don’t think about, either. Most, however, do – and it becomes quickly apparent as to why.

We’re given a very brief overview of it in high school, and then it quickly drops to the back-burner, never to be thought of again. I will admit that when I wrote my first novel, structure was the last thing to pop into my mind. But I guarantee you that through the editing process, it resurfaced and I paid special attention to the various elements that make for good structure in a story. The fixes were sometimes a challenge, but definitely worth-while.

The following three links are from Rebecca’s site, highlighting her understanding of Larry’s technique.

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 1 – Setup

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 2 – Plot Point 1

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 3 – Midpoint & Second / Third Plot Points

What are your favorite sites for writing technique? Are there any books on the craft of writing that you view as your proverbial “bible”? Please share them in the comments below – I’d love to take a peek at them.

Public vs. Private – Adding Layers To Your Scenes

Sometimes, when we’re writing a scene, we run into difficulties. Something just isn’t working. It might be a tone thing, or an atmosphere thing, but it’s often difficult to pin point.

As a professional actor, when I approach script analysis,  I always examine the nature of “public vs. private.” People – and characters – behave differently depending on circumstances and setting. What costs us nothing in a private setting suddenly costs us everything in a public setting. And by looking at whether a scene is public or private, there are so many conclusions we can draw – conclusions that increase the stakes and amp up the drama of any given scene.

If we look at our own lives, we also see that this is true. At home – with our family – we have a different persona than we do when we’re out in public, or when we’re at work, at church, or with our grandparents, etc.

From a voice, speech, and text point of view (which I teach to theatre students at a college), we call this “code shifting.” The type of language we use – the tone of voice, the pitch, cadence, and vocabulary – changes depending on the given circumstance and the people we’re choosing to engage. It’s an extremely important tool for cracking a scene, and I believe it can be a useful tool for writers, too.

As an example: When we’re talking with our loved ones, we behave differently than if we were, say, in an interview, or purchasing a car or home. We adopt different a persona depending on our circumstances and the nature of the relationship with the people we’re currently engaging – and with who might be watching.

And if we think about our comfort zones vs. moments of discomfort (i.e. traveling to a foreign country), we are definitely aware of the difference in our behavior.  As an aspect of the human condition, it’s an incredible opportunity for adding conflict to our scenes, and I encourage you to examine it in your own work.

I think it’s important for us, as writers, to consider the impact of the private vs. the public.

When we encounter a scene where things aren’t working, one of the tools we can draw upon is to consider the relationship dynamic between the characters. Is this a private moment, behind closed doors? Or are we in a public setting, where the status and relationship of the characters come into play? What’s at stake in the scene, and do the stakes change whether the scene happens privately or publically?

Perhaps we’ve planned some important moments of character development or revelation, yet they don’t seem as effective as we imagine them in our minds. So what if the scene becomes public, rather than private?

The way the characters choose to interact with one another shifts, and we receive an added level of conflict: the personal vs. public persona. What happens when it’s pushed to the limits? What happens if  the limitations of personal code break down, and a character unleashes everything they’re feeling – every little complaint, concern, and issue they might be having?

The impact definitely changes.

Consider how your scenes might change depending on whether it’s a two-hander scene in a private study, or a scene that happens at a party, or in a crowded marketplace.

What was once a somewhat decent outburst of emotion becomes a horrific train wreck, with very public ramification and personal implication possible.

And who doesn’t enjoy watching a train wreck?

Have you ever encountered a scene where you’ve examined the nature of private vs. public? How did it change your scene? Are there scenes in your work where this technique might serve you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.