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2016 Summer Writing Camp Review

Good afternoon, Parvus People!

Summer is coming to a close faster than any of us would like. With July in the rear view,  we are in the tail end of the dog days of summer. Before you know it, school will be in session once more, the ice cream shops will be closing up for the cold months, and the Parvus Hive Mind will be power-loading on protein in order to thicken our chitin shells for the coming winter. Before that, though, we’re going to need some juicy manuscripts to eat read.

Right now, the Parvus Hive Mind is offering to read your 2016 Summer Writing Camp manuscripts and provide notes. We will take manuscripts until our larders schedules are full and will provide each and every writer who sends in a manuscript with feedback from our publishing team. Right now, we think that’s around 30 manuscripts.

What kind of notes can you expect? Notes on plot, pacing, characters, dialogue, etc. If you have specific questions about your manuscript, we’ll even try and answer those too! So, send us your novels, give us sixty days, and we’ll get you some feedback. Rough drafts are welcome! Incomplete manuscripts are welcome! We are NOT evaluating these for publication.

Why are we doing this, if not to find manuscripts to publish? Primarily, we want to support the brilliant community of writers who participate in these summer writing camps, because we know how much effort it takes. We want to help you keep up your momentum and finish your novels. Second, we’re the new kid in town and not a lot of folks really know what kind of book is a Parvus book. We see this as a great opportunity to let the writing community get to know us and what we look for in a killer manuscript.

Grab that summer manuscript while it’s still hot and head on over to today. We’d love to read your work and offer our feedback.

  • Colin

Pirates, Parrots, and Problems with Voice

Happy Monday, Parvus People! First off this week, I wanted to share some statistics compiled from our submissions. So far, 70% of our subs have come from the US, 10% each from Canada and the UK, and 7% from Australia. What about that other 3%? Well, that accounts for submissions that didn’t include an address. It’s important to include your full contact info on your submissions so that we can track you down if we like your manuscript!

Of our fantasy submissions, two thirds have been of the “epic” variety. The remainder are mostly urban fantasy with a few “other” thrown in. Hat tip to all you hardboiled fantasy writers out there! The average fantasy manuscript, of any and all flavors, is 104,000 words. Over on the sci-fi side of the house, it was 86,000 words. There’s a joke in there about the attention span of sci-fi readers or the verbosity of fantasy writers; I’ll let you all fill it in on your own, though.

Nifty? Not nifty? We’ll dig out some more entertaining statistics next month. For now, though, let’s move on to this week’s Lesson From the Submission Pile (We really need a better name for that):

Problems With Voice:

“Voice” is one of those obnoxious meta terms that everybody throws around but nobody really defines all that well (Nobody except Grammar Girl, that is. Stop and read this: Yes, voice is the “feel” of the writing. It’s a mixture of the pacing, language used, grammar, etc. It’s that unique patois which results from all the small writing choices you make. Like using “patois”. That’s a choice I made to make this paragraph a bit more authoritative; give it a French sound, dress it up a bit, etc.

How can you, the writer, identify “problems” in the voice of your manuscript, then? Isn’t the voice entirely subjective?

No. It’s not entirely subjective. In fact, there is one thing that a lot of new writers get wrong when it comes to the voice of their stories and it’s this: You describe scenes with the words you would use instead of the words your narrator would use. Stick with me for a few minutes and I’ll explain:

MOST fiction is written in third person limited viewpoint. For this little adventure in explanation, let’s pretend the narrator is a movie camera. It makes this a bit easier to visualize.

In third person limited, the camera is basically sitting on the POV character’s shoulder like a parrot on a pirate. There’s a cable that runs from the camera into our POV character’s brain, so we can read their thoughts if we want. The camera is a parrot plugged into a pirate’s processing port.

So we see the scene from a spot JUST next to the POV character’s eyes (which lets us, the reader, look around the scene a bit and notice things before the character does), but that line into their brain means we can see their thoughts. It ALSO means that the thoughts of the POV character can influence the camera. How does ANY of this impact voice?

If you choose to tell the scene entirely from the camera’s viewpoint, we are entirely in the voice of the narrator and we can use whatever words we want to describe a scene. Imagine we are watching two men boxing. A ninja and a pirate. Our POV character is the pirate. (…parrot plugged into a pugilist pirate’s processing port…). Check out this line of text:

Paulie the Pirate grinned, showing a mouthful of teeth that resembled the shattered storefronts of an inner city strip mall. He hitched left, winked, and threw a powerful right hook that caught Nancy the Ninja completely unawares. There was a sickening crunch of cartilage giving way under the force of Paulie’s punch as her nose didn’t just break but crumpled.

 Nothing wrong with this, right? Well, nothing related to voice, at least. Now, let’s view the scene with input from that cable to the POV character’s brain.

Paulie grinned. He had been telegraphing weak lefts through this whole fight and the vain ninja thought she had him all figure out. He hitched left and winked and he thought, “Yar, this here’ll be damnably rewarding”. She never saw the right hook coming. He heard a satisfying wet snap as his fist smashed her nose into a shapeless blob of flesh.

There are a number of differences. We see some of Paulie’s thoughts, we see that he has been “telegraphing weak lefts”, data that we can be certain of because Paulie knows they were intentional. Our dispassionate narrator from the first sample wouldn’t be able to so bluntly describe such bluffs, because he doesn’t see it coming any more than Nancy does.

The key difference, however, is the description of the sound of Nancy’s nose breaking. In sample one, our narrator is a proxy for us. It is a dispassionate third party and it does NOT enjoy the sound of a nose breaking (because it’s an icky sound). To this narrator, the sound is “sickening”. In the second sample, the narrator is pulling a live feed from Paulie’s brain. To him, that is the sound of victory, so the sound is “satisfying”.

Note that we don’t have to limit ourselves to grammar and vocabulary that Paulie would use. The narrator is still an independent entity that is delivering us this story. But we DO have to recognize the influence of the POV character’s thoughts on the narrator’s view of events.

SO: Re-read those same two samples but SWAP the descriptor for the sound. Read it as “satisfying” in the first sample and “sickening” in the second. Doesn’t work, does it? THAT is a “voice” problem. Voice problems tend to arise from adjectives. They tend to be the narrator describing something the way the author sees it in their eye rather than from the viewpoint of the narrator/POV character relationship.

Here are some quick and dirty examples:

 Thorgbald prepared for battle. He tightened the straps of his bracers, rolled his neck, and tied back his silky hair…

No. His hair might be silkier than the silkiest silk, but Thorgbald is prepping for battle. He’s not thinking about the silkiness of his hair.

“Jenna had a shit day. Just shit. First, Thorgbald broke up with her to go fight in some Barbarian/Pirate/Ninja tournament, then she had lost her crown to her sister. Angry, frustrated, and hungry, she folded her arms under her ample bosom…”

Or she slammed a fist against her voluptuous thigh, or rested her hands on her shapely hips… You get the idea. The author might be picturing Jenna as a big-breasted woman, but Jenna certainly isn’t thinking about the size of her breasts in this scene. Or the sensuality of her thighs or inviting swell of her waist or any other such silliness. Stop staring at your character’s breasts, too. It’s just odd.

And, lastly,

Commander Jaxxor of the StarCruiser ‘Malevolence’ was looking forward to this. He had come from the farthest reaches of the galaxy in order to assert his dominance over the Barbarians, Pirates, and Ninjas of this sliver of the multiverse. With the barest of efforts, he swung his energized vibroblade through Thorgbald’s meaty torso. The energy weapon split Thorgbald from his well-muscled shoulder to the opposite voluptuous thigh with all the effort of pressing a kabob skewer through a cremini mushroom.

See that metaphor at the end? It’s beautiful, but that’s probably not a comparison that Jaxxor would make. Make comparisons that make sense to your POV characters’ experience and worldview.

 Fine tuning voice is an incredibly complex aspect of writing and something that only comes with practice and time, but it is the difference between writing a good novel and starting to master the art of being a novelist. If you’ve had negative feedback on voice in the past, or had readers tell you “The story was interesting, but I just had a hard time getting into it”, re-read and look for descriptors that don’t quite fit the POV you’re using in a scene.

Best of luck, writers, and please keep sending in your manuscripts! We’re still looking for more books to fill out our 2016 publication schedule. Visit our submissions guidelines here:

Make Your Job Harder

A close-up of a grouping of clover.

Happy Monday, Parvus People, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you celebrating this week. Being in the storytelling business, we’re big fans of the blarney.

Before we get into submission lessons, if you haven’t seen it already, you should check this week’s Blog Post of our compatriot and Consulting Editor, John Adamus. John talks about showing vs. telling (Something that you’re probably reading about by now) but he does it with stripper metaphors:  John’s Blog. I know you folks are tired of seeing “show vs. tell”, but it’s a skill that is still underdeveloped in a lot of the submissions we receive.

Our focus this week, fair friends, is going to be on how to make your job as a novelist harder. It appears to be a topic that many of you are interested in! So, without any further delay, let’s dig in.

The easiest way to make your job harder is to decide that it’s not enough to JUST be a novelist. You should also be a poet, or lyricist, or short story writer. It is common in fantasy novels (and marginally less so in sci-fi) to include an epigraph at the opening of a chapter. This is sometimes a quote from some fictional wise man in your universe, recalling a quote from a major character in an early chapter (A technique we love when used well), or even a bit of poetry.

I implore you, dear writer. If you are not a poet, do not include poetry in your novel. Most novel readers do not read poetry. Most novelists do not write poetry. When a person who Is not accustomed to interpreting poetry reads less-than-stellar poetry, it’s a disaster for both reader and writer alike.

If you must include poems in your novel, find a poet and ask them to write them for you. The same goes for songs. Find a songwriter, give them the rough sketch of your idea, and trust them to write the lyrics for you.

But, should you want to make your job harder, feel free to try to learn to write effective poetry while you are working your way through a 100,000 word manuscript.

What about short stories? The skills are more closely related; so what’s so bad about including a short story in your novel? Again, it’s about reader expectations. A reader picking up a novel is not expecting to find short stories peppered throughout. If they did, they’d pick up a collection of short stories.

Novels are full of side stories, vignettes, flashbacks, etc. that are mostly self-contained bubbles of story hanging off the main host, but they are not entirely self-contained. They must attach to the main story, either by way of a character weaving the telling of the story into the main through line of their arc, by ending without fully resolving their small plot (because the resolution of said plot is part of the larger story arc), or by some other means.

A short story is a fully self-contained tale with a beginning, middle, and end. If you absolutely must include something of this nature into your novel for reasons that don’t immediately leap to mind, have a character deliver it to us in a first person narrative. Have them relate the events that occurred to them. In this way, at least, you are weaving the short story into the larger narrative.

Or, you can choose to make your job as a novelist impossible by peppering your novel with short stories. Not only will you give your reader a jarring experience and break the spell of the narrative, but you will have the joy of forcing yourself to excel in two very different writing styles just to be considered adequate overall.

If you’re writing a novel, friends, just write a novel. Don’t compound the monumentally difficult task in front of you by attempting to master multiple different styles of writing and story composition in the same work. Give me a complex narrative full of foreshadowing, mirroring, allegory, callbacks and rich characterization. Isn’t that enough of a challenge for you?

Your Prologue Is Hurting Your Novel

Before we begin this week’s blog post, let me give you a little background information that will help you understand our perspective on prologues. 28% of the submissions we receive have prologues. The vast majority of those, 75% are fantasy. 25% of those books with prologues are science fiction.

Of the books that did not have prologues, there isn’t a single one that I read and thought “You know what would make this better? A prologue”.

Of the books that DID have prologues, nearly all of them suffered from the weight of the prologue holding the story back.

So, this week’s discussion is going to center on prologues and why you probably shouldn’t include one in your manuscript. I’d like to focus on what a prologue needs to accomplish in order to justify its existence.

A prologue sets up the reader to enjoy your story. It whets the appetite for the main course. Many people will advise you that the prologue establishes the world or setting. While it MAY do that, that is simply one function a prologue can perform. It is not the reason for the prologue to exist. The prologue makes promises to the reader. It tells them that, if they’re patient, the story will reward them with awe and beauty. And it hooks the reader with a question.

Look at one of the single most effective prologues in modern novels; George R. R. Martin’s prologue to A Game of Thrones. Spoilers (of the prologue only) follow:

What happens in this prologue? Martin introduces us to three characters – two of whom are dead by the end of the prologue and the third of whom dies shortly thereafter. He introduces us to the cold, icy setting of the world north of the wall; but it’s a bare bit of forest of no particular import. We are barely introduced to the Night’s Watch and the idea of the wildlings.

None of these things are really all that important. None of these really serve as an introduction to the world or the setting, as most people believe a prologue should. But, at the end, we see the Others, The White Walkers. We see these other-worldly, clearly magical villains and we watch them kill a member of the Watch, who then rises as a lich to kill his former companion.

THAT bit there is the important part of this prologue. Martin is telling us that there is magic in this world; evil, dark magic. He is telling us that there is an ancient enemy who swells its ranks as you try and fight it by raising the dead. He does this because the next chapter shifts us to Winterfell, a thoroughly unmagical place. In fact, there is very little magic observed in most of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The prologue was a promise to fantasy readers that while most of the books were about the machinations and politics of Martin’s richly detailed world, there was also magic pulsing in the background. It would be important, but it wasn’t going to be available as a tool for our heroes to Deus ex Machina themselves out of every jam.

And it gave us the question – Who are these Others? When will the rest of the world get wise to the danger they pose? This would be a background question for the reader to keep in their mind as they watched the game of thrones unfold. It’s a question that maintains tension throughout the novels; why is it important which Baratheon boy holds the throne when the real threat is an army of the undead coming from the north?

That, my friends, is what your prologue should do. It should leave the readers with a question that will lurk on the edges of the key scenes in your novel. It should promise something to them and keep them reading. Here’s the secret that a good prologue hides; Make the readers the promise of danger, excitement, or thrills and they will grant you an entire chapter one to set up the world.

The prologue buys you the time (and credibility) to deliver the exposition you need. If you’re putting that exposition in the prologue before hitting the reader with an exciting Chapter 1, you’ve gotten it backwards and they won’t even make it that far.

So; take another look at your prologue. Is there action, tension, and mystery? If not, dump it immediately. It’s an anchor you’re asking the rest of the book to carry around. Look at your chapter one; does it contain all the elements of your story in microcosm? Does it have momentum? Does it compel the story forward? If so, you probably don’t need your prologue.

My perspective on prologues in manuscripts is this: If the book opens with a compelling chapter one and keeps my interest moving through, I may find myself thinking “Great book. Could be better with a prologue to set up mid-point events. Should talk to the editor about that.” However, if I’m reading a prologue that is dragging me down with exposition or that seems wholly disconnected from Chapter One, I won’t have faith that the writer is skilled enough to make the rest of the manuscript worth reading.

At the end of the day, that’s the most important promise that your book’s opening makes, whether it’s a prologue of a plain old chapter one, you are promising the reader that you are skilled enough to have crafted an enjoyable story. You are promising the reader that you are worth their time.

Unless you’re certain that you’ve got a killer prologue, dump it before it kills your novel.

Paper Dolls and Strong Women

Hello, Parvus People! Firstly, we must thank you for another week of solid submissions. You’re making our job of selecting our debut acquisitions incredibly difficult. We hope to have some announcements on that front by the end of March, though, so keep an eye on your social media feeds!

This week, I’d like to continue our post series on feedback from the submission pool by focusing on characterization. One of the biggest challenges in writing is developing the skill to write fully realized, three dimensional, believable characters that are different from yourself. If you’re a nice, easy-going, gregarious person, it may be a real difficulty for you to write a believable villain who shares none of those traits.

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Beginnings are a Bitch

The response to our first call for submissions has been excellent so far. We were incredibly impressed with the quality of manuscripts submitted and that just goes to reinforce our decision to launch Parvus Press. There are some amazing stories out there, sitting on hard drives and ready for a publisher to put some muscle behind them.

As we’ve read through the submissions, we noticed a few common areas for improvement and I thought we should share them out for everyone’s benefit.

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