Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Present You THE QUERY

After slaving over my query for the past week, I think I have it down. It's perfect. I love it.

To pay it forward, I'd like to show you how a query is done, and what a great query looks now. Eat your heart out, and thank me later.

My new query:

Hey Agent Dude,

I've got a kick-ass manuscript here that will make me the next Grisham-Rowling-Meyer-King thingummy and make you very rich. What is it about? Your just have to find out. Prepare to get your socks knocked off. Yo, call me.

Rock on, baby,

RaWo aka Ray Wong

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


"Mainstream" sounds boring, doesn't it?  But here I am, a self-professed mainstream writer. I certainly hope my works are not "boring," but they are no doubt relatively normal and, well, mainstream.

I admit I'm not as quirky and weird as writers such as Hunter Thompson or Douglas Adams. I'm not dark and strange like Chuck Palahniuk. I'm not as witty, off-kilter and self-deprecating as David Sedaris. I'm not as literary and offbeat as Michael Chabon.  I'm not even as proudly Asian as Amy Tan.

I've accepted that I'm too normal, and too middle of the road. My upbringing probably has something to do with that -- I grew up in a normal, relatively happy home. Both my loving parents are alive. I've had no significant traumas in my life (unless you count the time I almost got hit by a car). I live a relatively stress-free life.

It seems like being a writer should be the last thing I should attempt to do. Where is my edge?

I don't write or read fantasies. I dabble in science fiction with hilarious results. I certainly am of the wrong gender to know exactly what women want to write effective romance. I don't drink (forget about being the next Hemingway or Stephen King, then). I have almost no vice (not even coffee, folks).


So what am I good at? I do have a good imagination, and I like larger-than-life stories set in larger-than-life situations that tell the truth about the human conditions. I love high dramas such as Doctor Zhivago or Les Miserables, but also the quieter stories like The English Patient or Atonement. In fact, I can relate to authors such as Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguro (not that I'm even half as good as they), and their stories have touched me the way I want mine to touch others, and I appreciate their styles and storytelling and feel that mine has bloomed out of that appreciation. And I tell myself, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with being normal and mainstream."  I am what I am.

We writers have always been advised to "write what we love to read" and I think there's a ton of merits in that statement. Sure, now everyone wants to be the next JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, and they flock to write YA fantasies. Good for them, especially if they enjoy reading those stories. Best of luck to them.

I've got to accept I am who I am and be true to myself, and only then can my work be true and affecting.

I've decided I can't write to market like that. And I'd be posturing if I attempt to write such books even thought they're extremely popular now, it's because I don't generally enjoy fantasies. I like reading the Harry Potter books enough, but not enough to write that genre. I feel perfectly fine to go after McEwan's or Ishiguro's market, even if that means I'll never be rich and famous. I think I'm okay with that, as long as my works get read.  [smile]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Query Hell

I must have amnesia, because I don't remember how much pain it was to write a query letter. OK, I remember, but I guess time does heal most wounds, and now I'm opening a new vein. Beware of the puddle.

And the information you get from online sources and books is no help either. They're contradictory. On one hand, they say "you must be specific" and then they show you the successful query of a bestseller such as The Kite Runner, and it is anything but specific. They say "don't name the characters" and then show us letters that have names all over it.

And get this, they're ADAMANT about sticking to the three paragraphs, 12pt font, one page format. Fine. But then they proceed to show you examples of successful queries that include six or seven paragraphs that DETAIL every plot twist. As if I'm going to believe that's going to fit into a single page in a 12pt font.

I have to remind myself that writing a query is not an art form, but a business practice. The point is simple: make the agent ask for more within a minute or less. The concept is simple and straightforward, but in practice it's extremely difficult to do. Most of us, especially creative writers, are not salespeople and we're not trained to sell something with 150 words. We write long-form fiction for a reason. We're artists, not ad copy writers. Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil and we only hope we can write a decent enough letter that makes the agent think, "Hmmm, it sounds interesting."

Still, with all the conflicting information out there, and "successful" queries that range from vague to highly detailed, I must scratch my head and utter, WTF? How do you do something when there's absolutely no rule, when anything goes as long as "it works"?

If it's not difficult, it's not worthwhile, right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Subtexts what text?

I love subtexts. I'm a subtext fiend. Sometimes my stories are so full of subtexts that my readers have troubles getting them all, and that's all right. But when they do, I hope they enjoy the story without me telling them the obvious.

So what is subtext?  To me, it's as simple as telling something without telling it, or alluding to something with something else. Inference. An extra layer of meaning beneath what is obvious. The thing is, readers are humans, and people have unique cognitive abilities to fill in the blanks by inference, imagination, and reasoning. That's why mysteries are so popular because people have the tendency to want to piece together puzzles, or to induce something that isn't quite there for all the see. That's why literature classes have such great times dissecting literary work, because of the layers of meaning (even perceived), symbolism and subtext.

Take this famous six-word story by Hemingway for example:

Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.

At first glance, the words tell us exactly the facts: someone is selling a pair of baby shoes. It's in new condition.

So, where is the story? The beauty of it lies in the subtext, and it can only reveal itself when the readers think and induce, and make the correct connection and fill in the blanks. On the surface, it reads like a want ad. Hemingway's shortest story is the perfect example of subtext. Nothing else needs to be said. The fact alone tells the story, but the readers need to  dig deeper, use their logic, and provide their own experiences to complete the picture and recognize the real meaning.

I absolutely love this technique. While editing, I often would cut words that state the obvious to see if the subtext is loud and clear. There's so much pleasure, at least for me, to say something without explicitly saying it.

Of course, there are times we must clearly express ourselves. Facts, for example, must be revealed. There is a danger of being too obscure, evasive or symbolic. Some readers are rather obtuse and they prefer the writer to tell them everything instead of wondering, "What exactly does he mean?" Even if they enjoy the subtexts, less is often more. Subtexts are best used, anyway, when accompanied by enough facts to aid the readers. In fact, I consider subtext as part of the "show vs. tell" technique, which is ironic since "subtext" means telling something without telling it. But by "showing" the facts and information and then letting the readers "get it" through subtexts, you achieve a certain level of clarity and allow the readers to say, "ah ha!" Readers are not stupid. Award them when they pay attention.

Interview with Kelly Meding

RW: Kelly Meding, author of the Dreg City series including Three Days to Dead, and As Lie the Dead, is here today. Let's get down to it.  How long have you been writing and have you been always writing in your current genre?

KM: Technically, I've been writing stories since I was twelve. In seventh grade, I took it upon myself to write my very own YA novel, complete with every cliche imaginable, including 90210-inspired brother/sister twins. It was pretty bad.

I didn't start taking it seriously as a career option until college, when I developed a keen interest in writing screenplays. That fizzled out pretty close to graduation when I realized how little control (or respect) the average screenwriter has. Around the same time, I rediscovered my love of prose via fanfiction and began fiddling in fandom for a few years. During that time, I began writing my own original fiction, including a handful of novels. So I've been writing "seriously" for about six or seven years.

And it has not always been the same genre, but there has been a common thread through most of them. My first (not counting the awful, now-no-longer-in-existence YA dreck) novel was mainstream--a quiet, small town story with absolutely no supernatural anything. The next few dealt with people who had psychic abilities, but the books were more mystery/suspense than UF. Then superheroes. It took six other books before I wrote my first urban fantasy, which is my current genre.

RW: You seem to have navigated an interesting path with your writing. How did your experience with writing screenplays benefit or hinder your fiction/novel writing?

KM: I think it was hugely beneficial, because it gave me another set of tools to use. In high school and college lit courses, we're usually taught prose, poetry and essay writing, but very rarely are we taught screenwriting/playwriting. Screenwriting is so unique because it requires a very visual eye and a different way of looking at a story. Movies/television are visual mediums, whereas plays are almost completely focused on dialogue. Learning to master (or at least become competent with) those skills will always be an asset.

I also like to apply the screenplay's 3-act structure to my novels--it helps me see the beats of the story and to keep the plot moving forward. Obviously, there's more room to tweak the structure, and you don't want to adapt it completely, or your novel will probably suffer from an overlong beginning.

I can't really think of a way that it's hindered me. But I'm also fond of saying that no writing is wasted writing.

RW: That's a very interesting perspective, and you're right that no writing is wasted writing. You said you started out writing fanfic -- there's a lot of bad rep about fanfic and the authors of such. What did you get out of that, and what advice do you have for writers who start out with fanfic as well?

KM: There are a lot of different perspectives on fanfic and its merits (or lack thereof), and I understand them, even the folks who are wholly against it. I don't agree with the folks who are against it, obviously, but I understand their reasons and respect that opinion. Part of the problem is that you rarely hear anything about the hundreds of respectful fans who write fic and participate in fandom. It's the occasional nutjob, who doesn't understand the boundaries, that makes the round of internet blogs and forums--the idiots who break the number one rule of fanfiction, which is "thou shalt not profit."

As for what I got out of it? Everything. Okay, maybe that's a little simplistic, but before I found fanfiction and began writing for a TV show I enjoyed, I hadn't written prose in years. I was all about screenplays. Those fanfic stories helped me develop my storytelling skills (don't laugh). Yes, the characters and setting were laid out, so I could really focus on plotting and I enjoyed that. I was never popular in my chosen fandoms, but a few people read and enjoyed what I wrote, and those early fans gave me the confidence to write original fiction. It took me a while to find my own style and my voice, but I did, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I still occasionally indulge in fanfic, anonymously, for the same reason as before--for love of the show/characters. There's no better reason, I think.

My best advice for fic writers who want to make the leap forward into original fiction is the same as any advice I'd give to a developing writer - read widely and read a lot. Fanfic is a great playground to develop certain skills, but if you never leave it you won't grow as a writer. And be ready for criticism. Fandoms rarely provide you with the kind of real-world crit that you'll get once professionals start reading your work.

RW: Thank you for the advice and information. Tell us about your transition to original fiction, and the process you went through to get a contract from a major publishing house. Did you study their lines of commercial fiction (i.e. were you familiar with their products?) or did you just write what you thought believe was commercial and go with it? In other words, did you study your market? And if so, how did you do it?

KM: My process was a fairly strange, non-linear series of events. If I'd had a clue about the market, it might not have taken me as long as it did to finally write a salable novel. I don't know. After the meandering mess that was Novel #1, I went a completely different route and began adapting what I'd originally written as a two-part drama series pilot into novel form. It actually went fairly well, and I immediately wrote a sequel to wrap up the story. Then I had no idea what to do with it.

It wasn't a genre that I really recognized. It was a mystery and suspense and it had people born with unusual telekinetic/telepathic abilities, and even if I'd heard the term "urban fantasy" at the time, it still didn't really fit that sub-genre either. But I queried it anyway and gathered a lot of rejections (maybe one or two partial requests). Around the same time I discovered and, boy, was that an education. I learned a lot about agents, publishers, queries, submission guidelines, as well as genres. I discovered this thing called urban fantasy, and a whole host of authors who wrote UF and paranormal romance.

So I started reading heavily in UF and PNR, studying their lines and doing market research. Figuring out these stories and how they were told. I wrote something new (Novel #5, which after heavy revisions has recently sold to Pocket), and began querying it. But the book was still a bit of a mess--it straddled this odd line between UF and PNR without being enough of one or the other. I had quite a few requests for partials and fulls, and lots of compliments on the voice/writing, but no one thought they could sell it.

This was summer of '07, I think. I'd seen some advice on AW about some books not being "debut novels," even if they're good. They just aren't good enough. I was reading a lot of UF, so I decided I was going to write a straight UF with as many tropes and monsters as possible. And I did. I wrote it, polished it, worked up a query letter and synopsis, wrote 2 brief paragraphs for more books in the series, and sent out nine queries. Within three months, I signed with my agent. About two months after that, Three Days to Dead sold.

My story definitely has a happy ending, but I wouldn't recommend anyone go about things the way I did. There is so much information online about agents and publishers, and so many resources I didn't know about when I started. I do think it's very important to understand your market and to have a sense of what's selling right now. Know what agents are looking for. Follow guidelines. Read your target genre. Keep tabs on industry changes. And write a book you'd want to read.

RW: Definitely read widely and what you said about agents and guidelines. Tell us a bit about your series, what is it about, and how you came up with the idea/character(s)? When did you get the feeling that "this might just work"?

KM: The Dreg City series is dark urban fantasy. Evangeline Stone, the series narrator, is a former bounty hunter who once helped keep the city's various paranormal races in line and hidden from the general public--until she's murdered, and then brought back to life in order to stop a devastating alliance between two rival races. The series follows Evy as she navigates her new life in someone else's body and tries to survive in a city that's teetering on the edge of a species war.

As for how I came up with the idea, like I said above, I wanted to write a "kitchen sink" book. Something as blatantly UF as possible, and I wanted to use a lot of lesser-seen creatures, such as goblins, gremlins, gargoyles, trolls, etc..., as well as more familiars like vampires and Fey. I wanted a closed society, where these creatures lived all around us, but still remained hidden from the general public. Only a handful of humans knew about them. And in order to have the neighborhoods and factions I needed, I chose to create a city that's never named, in a state that's never specified. The world-building was pretty easy, once I knew what I wanted.

Evy came to me out of a completely unrelated scene for a different story. I had this scene in my head of a woman waiting in Purgatory to be judged for her crimes, until she's summoned by St. Peter to come before him. He offers her a chance to return to earth and a second chance at life, if she agrees to do a job for him--that's about as far as that particular idea got. But it got me thinking about a few things: Why her? Why is she so special? How did she die in the first place?

As I tried answering these questions, I put this woman together with my UF world and it all fit. The history of the Triads worked itself out in my mind. I asked myself what kind of people would do this kind of work, and Evy's character came out of answering those questions (as did several of the supporting Hunters we see more of in book two).

I think I have that "this might just work" feeling with every book, but that doesn't mean it will (ha!). But this one really poured out. Once I had the world-building worked out and a vague city map drawn, writing it was easy. I always knew how it would start--with Evy waking up in the morgue in her new body. It only took about two and a half months to write the first draft. I liked it and I knew it was good, but I didn't have a real sense of this one working on anyone except me until I got some peer feedback that was very, very positive.

RW: Wow, that's amazing. Don't you just love it when a character comes to you and it all fits? And you've said it about feedback, etc. Were there any doubts when you were writing or querying the series? Any mid-book/mid-series blues? Did you always think of it as a series?

KM: I absolutely love it when characters and story all starts to fit together. It's also kind of awesome when a bit of information you thought was throwaway ends up being really important later on. :)

I definitely had doubts while querying the series. Not really while writing; I think I was at a point of frustration where it felt like I had nothing to lose, so why not just put the pedal to the metal and write what I wanted? Looking back and realizing just how dark and twisty Three Days to Dead is, I'm sometimes amazed at the positive reception it's had.

Most of my querying doubts came about because of my past failures to really capture an agent's attention. I knew I'd written a good book, but I didn't know if I'd written one that would attract or repel agents. So I initially sent nine queries, all to agents who had requested something from me in the past. I figured why not. A couple of rejections came in...and then requests for partials and fulls came in. Out of those nine queries, I ended up with four requests, four rejections, and one no-answer. I was astounded, and I literally had to have my roommate read and confirm the email that first offered me representation; I just couldn't believe it had happened.

I always envisioned it as a series. If I'd written Three Days to Dead as a standalone novel without a series in mind, I'd have ended it pretty differently. But as I was creating Dreg City, I found so many nooks and corners and characters that I knew I could play in that sandbox for a while. I have a vague idea of how I want the series to end, and I really hope I get the chance to tell it to completion. With book four finished and promising a few big changes, I'm really excited to keep going (publisher willing, obviously).

RW: You said Three Days to Dead is "dark and twisty"-- do you think it's more so than the UF out there, or right up their alley? Did you set out to make it really dark and twisty, or it just happened -- the way you (or your characters) wanted it? Also, how much is the setting (Dreg City) in play when you plot your books (you said it's a good "sandbox")? I'm just wondering, do you plug your characters in and see what happens, or do you have a definitive plot in mind when you start each book?

KM: I haven't read anywhere close to even a quarter of the published UF that's available, but if there was a 1 to 10 for "dark and twisty," with 1 being "sunshine and puppies" and 10 being "black despair", I'd probably put Dreg City somewhere around an 8. I didn't plan on making it that way--a lot of it came out of the characters as I created their environment. People who revel in a job that requires them to track and kill things (even monsters) have to possess a particular mindset, and that often comes from their environment. Most of the teens who become Hunters choose to do so because it's the lesser of two evils, often a choice between jail or "freedom." Unfortunately, freedom ends up being a short life in a brutal, kill-or-be-killed environment. So yeah, dark and twisty, but definitely not the darkest or twistiest out there.

At the start of a book, I only have a vague idea of the plot--a basic summary of events or what the antagonist wants. I rarely have the whole thing laid out, or know the ending. My plots definitely come out of the characters, and its the characters who determine how the stories shape up. And that's always a fun discovery. For example, as I was writing As Lie the Dead, I only had a vague idea of who Phineas was. I had no idea until the end if he was actually a good guy or a bad guy. He kept even me guessing! And many of Evy's actions were reactions to Phin's actions, so the characters are definitely in charge.

The city tends to just be my canvas for those adventures. It's extremely fun to investigate a new part of the city, because it really is a supporting character in its own right. Mercy's Lot is a different person than Uptown, which is different from Parkside East. Young, old, modern, crumbling, Dreg-filled or Dreg-free. Even though its a completely made-up city, it still feels very real in my head, and putting my characters in it is very easy.

RW: What's next for you? Are you going to finish the series (or is it one of those let's-see-how-long-this-will-last types of series)? If so, what's in store for Evy? Are you going to write something else?

KM: I definitely plan to finish the series. My hope is go for about seven books, so I can properly tell Evy's tale--she's gone through so much hell, she deserves a satisfactory ending. But the great thing about Dreg City is that it has a huge supporting cast of characters, any number of whom could headline their own story or novel, so the world isn't closing even after Evy's part in it is done. She'll continue to face her own prejudices, to grow as both a friend and a lover, and probably get into one hot mess after another.

Evy's future shenanigans aside, I also have a new series coming out next year with Pocket. It features original superheroes in a somewhat dystopian setting, and I'm really excited about it. I also have a group project thingie (don't you love the description) coming up with some other Dell/Spectra/Del Rey authors, and as well as few other spec projects.

My ex-roommate will tell you that I get cranky if I'm not writing something...

RW: That's so exciting about the future of the series and your new projects. Now, for something more whimsical, answer these 10 random questions:

a. Describe yourself briefly
b. What's your opinion on today's youths?
c. Any special philosophies that guide your life?
d. What do you look forward to most in the future?
e. What's the hidden talent that no one, not even the people closest to you, know?
f. What's the first word that comes to you mind NOW?
g. What's in your pocket/bag?
h. How would you go to New Orleans?
i. Boxers or briefs?
j. If you were not a writer, what would you like to be doing?

a. Average everything, with a slightly overactive imagination.
b. They need to put down the video games and go play outside. Stat!
c. Not really, but you get out of life what you put in, so choose your attitude.
d. Hopefully being able to buy a house and settle down in the next five years or so.
e. I admit, I don't think I have one...
f. misspelling
g. No pockets. Bag has wallet, gum, checkbook, pen, mini-notebook, receipts, business cards, and a granola bar.
h. Sober.
i. Depends on the guy.
j. Managing an antique shop.

RW: That wraps up our interview. Thank you so much, Kelly. It's been really fun and fascinating and helpful.

KM: Awesome! Thanks, Ray!

If you'd like to be interviewed by RaWo, please send your request and your bio to the.rawo[at]gmail[dot]com

Friday, September 24, 2010

Synopsis sisponys

Writing an original novel is hard, but writing the synopsis of said novel is even harder.  I mean, how should I condense a 140,000-word novel into a 2-page summary?

It was difficult to do when I wrote the synopsis of The Pacific Between, and that's a 75,000-word novel with a relatively straightforward plot. The WIP is bigger in scope, spanning over 50 years and three wars.

I realized the only way I could tackle this was via a chapter-by-chapter outline. During one of my rewrites, I wrote down a brief summary of the chapters. I skipped the details and aimed for the big plot elements. No room for nuances and themes. Just plot, and only the main one, not the subplots. And I focused only on a handful of characters, my two protagonists at the center.

That really helped. I ended up with a 3-page synopsis. Still too long for query purposes. I only need 2 pages, and then a one-paragraph summary, followed by a one-sentence "tagline." I read through the 3-page synopsis and went to town editing it, cutting out the fat and trimming all the unnecessary details, and combining related chapters into single paragraphs. And I did it. I successfully pared it down to just about 2 pages without losing the important plot elements.

Now, I need to come up with the 1-paragraph and 1-sentence.

Piece of cake, right?

Let me get back to you after I have a real piece of cake. I deserve a treat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turning a New Leaf

Starting on a new novel... and it's difficult!   I forgot how hard it was to begin a novel, and now I'm reliving the experience. Laugh-out-hardie-har-har-laugh.

I'm the kind of writers who LOVE endings and it seems that the closer I'm to the denouement, the better I write. It's like a roller-coaster ride and it just goes faster and faster and faster toward the end.

The beginning, though, should be just as thrilling, especially with the anticipation. The first dip, the slow and steady climb to the first big drop... but in the realm of novel writing, I find it very difficult, and often can't decide on exactly how to begin a novel, and where it should be. Is it too far off the first dip? Is the climb too slow and long? Is it even the right track?

I really like the roller-coaster analogy, by the way. Often people would describe my stories as roller-coaster rides; I suppose that's a good thing. And there certainly are plenty of similarities.

Yesterday I wrote about 500 words of mostly exposition, backgrounds, etc. While they were good words, they were not the beginning of the book. No sir. So, I think I'm going to just plunge my characters into a scene and get things rolling.  I can always add or subtract later in rewrites, as I did with novel #2.

Now, the big question is: WHICH SCENE?   You mean I have to decide again?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Book...

Alright, I finished editing draft 3 over the weekend and I've been twitching to do draft 4. However, draft 3 is now out to my betas (all five of you, THANK YOU!), and I really must stop tinkering with it... for at least the next two weeks.  I've met my deadline (September 30) already.

Now what?  OK, I can play with my music. I have a few songs I need to finish writing. But I'm itching to write WORDS (funny how our brains work... especially the part that says "obsession").

While traveling today, I realized I should start on a new novel. This would be something kind of like NaNo, and I have a very good idea what it should be. At least an idea and a premise. So I think I'm going to start working on it tomorrow and see where that takes me.

I mean, I still have that outstanding 500-words-a-day challenge going on anyway (but who is keeping tabs?)...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is a Second Novel Easier?

Is it easier to write the second novel after you've already published one?  Is it easier to sell a second novel, after you've done your "debut"?

I can't really answer the second question, since I haven't started selling my second novel yet. I assume, maybe incorrectly, that having already had one commercially published novel out can only be a good thing, whether it was a bestseller or a door jamb. At least you've proven that someone else other than your parents or best friend or a vanity press (ahem, PublishAmerica, ahem) is willing to pay you for it. Still, how much does losing your publication virginity count these days? Do agents or publishers look beyond the fact that you're already a commercial novelist, and instead scrutinize your sales, etc.? Is being published by a small press beneficial or detrimental?

I don't know. I guess I'll find out some time soon.

As for the first question, I can tell you from my experience, it's HARDER to write the second novel. There is something freeing about working on your "first" because you're an unknown; nobody has ever read any novels of yours. They have no expectation. What you're doing with your debut is to set a bar, whether it's low or high. Certainly, you need to pass the test and the work has to be good enough to get published in the first place, but still, you're setting future expectations with your debut and the pressure is considerably less intense. Yes, you need to prove yourself and trying to get an agent or publish is trying, and many writers couldn't get past that stage at all. So, I'm not trying to diminish debuts. Still, all things considered, writing my debut was so much easier.

Why? Because with my debut, which I was very proud of despite its flaws (and how I wish I could go back and fix all of them), it was a modest effort. The plot was simple and the story was straightforward. It was more of a learning experience for them than anything else. I didn't even thing I would get it finished, let alone published. The experience not only exhilarated but also humbled me. I realized I had still so much to learn, and I also realized I had a lot of room to grow as a writer and a published author. I also set the bar pretty high for myself.

So it's all about expectations. My readers, those who actually liked The Pacific Between, surely will be looking forward to something better in my second effort. And I can't let them down. I can't let myself down. This second book has been difficult for me because while I "proved myself" as a writer with The Pacific Between, I feel the stakes are much higher this time: I'll have to prove that I'm also a good storyteller, and someone who can keep doing this, and getting better with every book, that my peak has yet to come.

Unrealistic? Perhaps, but I think it's a good sign. The sophomore effort is usually harder because of this expectation -- you have yet to prove yourself as an artist, but you've also set your bar at a level under which you cannot return. The last thing I want to hear is "this is worse than his first book."  That'd be dreadful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


So, I'm really done with draft 2. I even made an ePub format so I can read it with my eBook Reader (so I can highlight stuff, bookmark them, etc. for draft 3).

Here's the tally:

Words*:  144621
Pages (ePub):  389
Parts:  3
Chapters: 50

* includes titles, captions, etc.

So, it's not so bad. I mean, Harry Potter: Deathly Hollow is like 800 pages. This thing is going to be less than 400-450 pages (depending on layout), so I don't feel too bad about this.


Yup you heard me. Second draft (major revision) is done. So tomorrow I can start with the 3rd draft, which would be line edit (* weak in the knees *) Line editing has never been my forte. I know, as a writer, you should always be able to do that. But I find it extremely difficult to line edit your own work, because you really must distance yourself, and treat it as something another person has written. You have to forget that's your "style" and your way of saying things, and look at the mechanics and structures and grammar, etc. objective. It's very difficult to do.

Not to mention no matter how many times you've gone through the ms., there are some mistakes you just will NEVER catch.

I'm not going to stress over that, though. As Scarlett O'Hara so famously said, "Tomorrow is another day."

As it stands, the ms. is now at about 145K. I'm okay with that. I suppose I can cut a few thousand words here and there, but any more cut will, I believe, severely alter the story or plot or decrease its value as far as prose is concerned. Trust me, I already "underwrite." So, the next round of edits is going to be interesting.

I also find it hard to pick out snippets to post as samples. No matter what I do, it seems like I'll be revealing plot, and I don't want to do that. It's like watching movie trailers: I hate it when they give away the plot to the point I can guess what's going to happen. That really sucks. So while I'm very tempted to post some samples, my gut tells me I should hold off. At least until this thing is further polished and ready for my betas.

Snippet (A Bunch of Stories)

Now for something different, here's a sample from my short stories collection, A Bunch of Stories:


Jo went over her gear once more, making sure she had everything she needed: ropes, chloroform, nets, flashlight, knives...and 20 cc. of tranquilizer. She sipped her cold coffee and then loaded her pack with two canisters of tear gas.

Matt studied her, acting concerned but amused at the same time. “Are you sure you need all that stuff?”

“Better safe than sorry.”

“Do you have to go tonight?”

“Matt, I did my research. And Seth--”

“Ah, Seth, the cute sheriff.”

Jo laughed and brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Don’t tell me you’re still jealous. Anyway, Seth just wanted us to be ready. The animal is vicious.”

“That’s the part of your job I don’t like.”

“But I do.” Jo came over and kissed him on the forehead. “Not everyone likes a desk job.”

“Hey.” He pinched her on the ass.

She slapped his hand and smiled. “I gotta go.”

With her backpack strapped to her shoulder, she headed out the door.

“Jo,” Matt called.

She looked back and saw the seriousness in his green eyes.

“Do you have that special serum I gave you?”

“Yup, Doc. The syringes are good to go.”

“Okay. Better safe than sorry, right?”

She smiled at him and disappeared out the door.

Seth Collins was down at the riverbank when Jo pulled her Jeep up next to his patrol car. Seth waved at her, and she went down to join him.

“Good evening, Ms. Cain.”

“What’s up?” she asked.

“There was a report of disturbance earlier this afternoon.”

“But you said--”

“Yeah, I know, better safe than sorry, right?” He grinned. He pointed the flashlight at the muddy patch next to his feet. “You see these tracks? What do you think?”

Jo crouched down and took a close look. About two dozens of footprints in the mud, forming a few haphazard circles. She imagined there were possibly more, already washed away by the tide.

“These belong to the same animal. An animal,” Jo said. “But not the animal.”

“And you’re saying?” Seth sounded somewhat disappointed.

“These are wolf prints all right, but we’re not looking for a wolf, are we?”

Seth frowned.

“I don’t know,” Jo said. “I’m just telling you what I think.” She stood and surveyed the ground around them. “A wolf was here this afternoon, and it seemed to be distraught, lost. See these circles? Seems like it’s been pacing and circling, panicked about something.”


Jo stared at the river and sighed. “This is just crazy.”

“What is?”

“Looking for it.”

“I’m just following your expert opinions.”

“I know what I said. It’s just so, you know, X-Files.”

Seth laughed. “Jo, in my line of work, I’ve seen many strange, bizarre things. But, I have to admit--”

She shook her head. “I don’t think we’re going to find whatever it is here.”

“Okay. Sorry to have asked you out,” he said, a deliberate pause, “here.”

Jo smiled. She didn’t mind a little flirtation with her tall, dark and handsome ex-boyfriend, even though her heart belonged to Matt now.

“I’m going back to the pound,” she said. “If anything comes up, call me or look me up.”

Seth winked at her. “You bet. You’ll be the first to know.”

On her way back, up the dirt road, Jo kept thinking about the animal. The eyes she saw that night.

That night. She’d thought perhaps an animal had gotten loose at the pound. She didn’t remember exactly what had happened, only that the stench had been nauseating when she entered the building: animal feces mixed with blood and guts, the same revolting slaughterhouse stench she'd grown up with.

Then something had knocked her over, and in a blink, she saw those piercing pale yellow eyes in a corner staring back at her. She heard the snarls, so close and urgent. Everything after that had been a blank wall until she woke up in a hospital bed, bandages all over her body. Her boyfriend, the burly Dr. Matt Campbell had stood by her side, his eyes tender, concerned and guilty-looking. Matt told her he’d gone to the pound to look for her when she hadn’t come home for dinner. He'd seen something escape through the broken backdoor.

The pound was a shambles as if a tornado had whipped through it. Two Labs and a German Shepherd had been killed that night. Ripped to pieces, actually, their guts spilled all over the place.
Seth Collins told her a wolf must have entered the premises, and she was lucky to be alive. She knew she wasn’t lucky. Matt must have saved her life by frightening the animal, somehow. When Seth showed her the photographs of the scene, she knew something wasn’t right. No wolf could have done it. And the prints...

Ridiculous. She'd laughed at the absurdity of the idea.

She arrived at the pound and parked the Jeep near the entrance. The sky was dark, and the air smelled like rain. The full moon threatened to break out from the heavy clouds. She had an uneasy feeling about this place, yet something compelled her to come here. She checked her gear again. Better safe than sorry. That had become her favorite motto.

Jo took a photo from her pocket and studied the prints again. The claw marks looked like those of a wolf’s, no doubt, but the paws were simply too large. Too long. The same shape of a human foot. And only the back paws, never the front.

The animal walked upright.

Music for Writers

Many writers write to music, or at least listen to music to prime their creative juices. I'm no different, although my taste is probably quite different from a lot of writers.

Stephen King says he writes to heavy metal, the louder the better. I suppose that helps him focus on the stuff he writes, which is often hardcore and dark. Many writers also write to music from hard rock to Rap.

When I write original materials, I like to listen to music with NO WORDS at all. Lyrics distract me unnecessarily, especially if it's a good song. I often end up stopping what I'm doing and just sing along, or try to find out what that song is. I prefer something that is background, long, but fits the mood. Since I write love stories, I tend to prefer cinema scores, the more epic and romantic the better. I also like to keep it simple by just switching among a few soundtracks. Currently I'm writing to the soundtracks of Being Julia (starring Annette Bening), The Mission, Atonement, and Band of Brothers. Each of them fits a certain mood, and depending on the scenes I'm writing, I listen to a particular album. Being Julia conjures that romantic yearning of the 30s and 40s, what with the swelling strings and Jazz. The Mission is entirely epic and magical, and it fits my more "surreal" and sweeping scenes. Atonement and Band of Brothers are both excellent for my action and war scenes -- pain, suffering, turmoil, wants and desires. They've got it.

When I'm editing, though, I prefer songs with lyrics, and I prefer something light, or heavy like the soundtracks. It seems that I like to listen to alternative and folk, and of course, Jazz. For some reasons, these genres of music keep me focused on my editing tasks. For example, right now (well, when I get off Blogger) I have Pandora set on the Jazz channels.

Do you write to music? And what are your preferences?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I'm going to do something unusual -- I'm going to post a snippet (without spoiling the plot) of my WIP. Whaddaya think?

The general library is around the corner. I've always known where it is, of course, being such a book connoisseur (if there's such a thing), but I haven't had a chance to indulge. The sight of the pillars and stone steps, architecture so typically French and yet Asian within the context, delights me to no end. Midsummer blooms in abundance, and the ginger flowers, each as large and red as a rooster's crown, compete fiercely with the haciendas. That's the reason why I love the tropics. The incessant rain must be good for something other than wrecking havoc with my hair.

There's something about the smell of books -- old books, new books, thick books, thin books, tall books, short books, Asian-language books, English books. Books, books, books. I believe everything is all right again once I'm surrounded by shelves upon shelves of the printed words. Within these walls, and on every shelf, there are portals through which I could escape the harsh realities of the world outside. In the hushed dimness of the reading halls, there is a sense of calm satisfaction that no matter what happens, no matter how dire things are, there's somewhere a place for us (now I'm quoting West Side Story).

I've brought a few with me, of course, but reading them over and again, four times, is drone enough. Something new, or different, is in order. To my delight, the French and English literature sections are surprisingly well-stocked. As usual, Dickens, Austen, Joyce, Hugo, and Woolf await me, as do Salinger, Gide, Kerouac, Miller... but I'm looking for something new. Someone, or something, I haven't read yet. Scanning the aisles has become a purposeful exercise, the musty smell of books enticing, the growing weight in the crook of my arm comforting. I find a corner desk to stack the books I've collected, then randomly pull one out. Steinbeck's new The Winter of Discontent. I must have read my copy of East of Eden until the pages fell off. Now, it isn't always easy to love Steinbeck -- I often find him overt, heavy-handed, opaque -- but I admire his talent and the complex themes of his works. This looks to be a great book, and I'm eager to spend a hot, lazy afternoon with him.

Deeply immersed in Ethan Allen Hawley's modern America, I reach up for a breath before he goes through with the bank robbery. What a horrible decision to make, but I suppose we all have a certain darkness in each of us, and have to make morally ambiguous decisions. Face to face with our own values and defects, which path would we choose? That has always been a thorny question for me. I consider myself a moral person; through the horrors of the war, I managed to uphold my values. But am I infallible? If the devil knocked on my door tonight, would I let him in and serve him tea and biscuits? Then go to bed with him?

We're on the verge of another war, here. The Korean War was only a short hop away and we're already sending our men and women back to Asia, in a never-ending cycle of aggression and regression. Greenleaf's words rear their ugly heads again: "I don't think we can expect either side to be honorable." Those who believe wars are ever honorable and just will wake up soaking in the blood of a shocking revelation.

So, what am I doing here?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Love You To Pieces

Normally, my manuscripts are usually in one document. Granted, I've only written short stories and only one novel, so it's not really something I should call a "track record." Still, one document is good -- keep it simple.

But with the WIP, I did something different, and it's starting to get annoying. Because of the complexity and scope of the story, and given that I have two protagonists (and POV characters), I decided (after about 40K) to split the narratives into two documents, one for each POV character. It sounded like a good idea and it was. Better for my writing because when I felt stuck with one POV, I would switch to another and go from there. It's also more manageable: I now have two smaller documents to back up and update. Then, later in the writing process, I also added a third document called "ending"... it's rather self-explanatory. :) Again, the idea was to isolate a certain piece from the behemoth novel so I could focus or shift my attention more easily.

It was all good until now, when I need to edit. What a PITA trying to piece everything together. It turns out it wasn't just a straightforward cut and paste job at all.  I found there during the writing process, as I shifted around and changed focus, instead of my normal "keep it in one place" approach, a few things happened:

- there are missing scenes or pieces that I either forgot to fill in, or I put the notes in and then forgot about them

- sometimes the voice is inconsistent

- the chronological order of events were somewhat messed up

- the causality and effects of the events are not always coherent

Now, you may say, "So what? That happens to me all the time. That's why it's called editing."  I understand that, and I'm doing just that: editing. The thing is, it's all new to me again, because it's not something I normally do. I've been writing "seriously" for almost ten years now and I've always kept each of my mss. in one document. The first draft of The Pacific Between, at 95K, was in one single document. In a way, this multiple-document approach now feels rather like the "five men, one elephant" approach. It feels like the novel in my head is this huge elephant, but each POV in the document is only seeing a small part of the elephant, and now I need to put them all together and hope the elephant doesn't turn out to be some kind of mutant creature.

Last night I spent almost two hours putting all the documents together and rearranging passages and changing things around. It was quite a mental workout. The aforementioned four things did happen, and I know I need to fix them, but at least I know now, which is a good start.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Be Yourself

One of the most understated but true advice is "Be yourself." While all (wo)men are created equal, the fact is, we're all the way we are, and there's no need to change ourselves and pretend just to "fit in."

As a writer, actor and artist, however, I find the advice a contradiction to my work. As an actor, I play roles. I pretend to be someone else. I put myself into some character's mind and pretend I have a whole different life and experiences and even personalities. How can I "be myself"?

As a writer, I create characters and stories so unlike myself, and I often have to put myself in their shoes, to understand what they're like, to feel and think how they feel and think. My stories also take me and my characters to worlds far away or created as a figment of my imagination. How can I "be myself"?

It turns out you CAN be yourself as an actor or writer or musician or artist without sacrificing your marketability. Often, the best actors don't just disappear into their characters; they also put themselves into these characters, and their uniqueness comes through whether they're playing a crook or a god. Take Justin Hoffman for example, arguably one of the best actors of our time. Whether he was playing Benjamin in Mrs. Robinson or Ratso in Midnight Cowboy or Tootsie, he made us believe in the characters and the lives they lead, and yet, he was also always so Hoffman-like, and you can't imagine anyone else playing those roles because "that's Dustin Hoffman!"

As writers, we also are able to put our author's touches and personalities and voices in there, especially when we write in 3rd person. In first person or 3rd limited, however, it can be tricky. How much do your characters sound like you?! And do your characters have the same values, views and knowledge as you, the author, do? It is indeed tricky, and can only improve with time and practice.

Still, I think it's important we need to be ourselves and understand our own voices and how we do things, whether it's acting, writing, singing, or whatever. Not everyone sounds like Josh Groban, and they shouldn't try to imitate. I enjoy John Mayer just as much as I enjoy Groban, because both of them have found their own voices (and what vastly different ones, too) and are able to be themselves. When an artist comes across as genuine instead of trying to be something he or she isn't, it becomes highly enjoyable and you appreciate them more.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writer and Editor

When I write, I labor over my words and am painstakingly detailed in my descriptions, dialogue, and narrative. I'm also a very slow writer; there are days when I don't feel like writing anything, and I don't.

Now that I'm done with the first draft of the WIP and started the revision process, I've come to realize that as an editor, I'm quick and decisive. I wielded that virtual red pen like a might sword, and I'm not shy with the trims and cuts. So far, in the last three days, I have eliminated almost 15,000 words from the draft and added fewer than 2000 words. There were scenes that simply didn't work anymore, or plot elements that needed a complete overhaul. Cut, cut, cut. In just a few days, I've excised at least three months worth of writing. If that's not soul-cleansing, I don't know what is.

I'm a deliberate writer but a ruthless editor.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

13 Questions

This one is interesting, posted by Barb Tyler. You can read her assignment on her blog (clicky clicky).

Here are my 13 questions and the answers (Mine and my protag's -- Kai Tazman):

1. What day of the week do you like the best, and what day you hate the most?

RW: Friday. It's my lucky day. It's the end of the work week (for most people) and the beginning of the weekend. Not too lethargic to do anything (unlike Saturday or Sunday) or too riled up (unlike Monday).   I hate Thursday the most because I alway got in a funk.

KT: Wednesday. For some reasons some of the most major events of my life and my relationships happened on Wednesdays. And I cherish them like nothing else.  I hate Sundays... can't usually get out of bed.

2. If you can be any animal, what would  you be and why?

RW: A cat. Let's face it, even in the wild, cats have it good. They're agile, cunning, smart, resourceful, but can be very lazy and spoiled. They're affectionate but also independent. They're cute but not always "nice." They know what they want and they get what they want. They're fun to be around and snuggle well. They are spirited. They love to play and roam around the country. They're usually not invited to the party (do you see "cat" in the Chinese Zodiacs? Nope), but they don't really give a crap.  They may not live the longest of lives, but they sure have a lot of fun living them.

KT: A sea turtle. They are steadfast, loyal, and they would travel around the world just to return to their birthplace. They have good memories. They are gracious, if lonely and a bit sad.

3. When you have a new idea, what exactly happens in your brain?

RW: It's like fireworks. Frantic, chaotic, and multithreaded. It would take me hours to sort through everything that goes on in my brain and put (or at least try) them in order. Neurons are firing rapidly and it can go on for hours. That's why I take long drives when it happens. It calms my mind and makes it easier for me to sort things out and think things through.

KT: It's like a seedling slowly germinating from the ground, from a small grain. I'm not the smartest man, and I'm stubborn. While it may take me a while to understand a new concept or idea, once I do, it will take hold forever and never let me go.

4. If you HAVE to choose among the various versions of your favorite story (literary, TV, movie, video game, graphic novel, etc.), which would it be? [name that book/movie/etc. please]

RW: I have a few, but I'd cite my recent favorite which would be Ian McEwan's Atonement. My favorite version is Joe Wright's film, even though I adore McEwan's writing. The author does tend to dwell and become longwinded sometimes, despite his lustrous prose and atmospheric style. Joe Wright, however, is able to streamline the story and make it riveting, tragic, and much more romantic than McEwan (who is a bit more cerebral than romantic). The visuals in the movie are simply stunning, and adds to the beauty and tragedy of the story.

KT: Gone With the Wind, and I like the film version better. I'm not very smart and English is my second language. When I read the book I was much older and I appreciated it. Still, nothing compares to the time when I first watched the movie in 1939 when I went to Kuala Lumpur. I was stunned by the epic scope and the larger than life characters. And I was mesmerized by Vivien Leigh, who must have been the most beautiful woman on Earth.

5. How would you get to New Orleans?

RW: I'd take a long riverboat ride, starting from Pittsburgh, down the Ohio, then the Mississippi. A week long, leisurely trip with lots of stops (Cincinnati, St. Louis, etc.)

KT: I have been there once. I took the train. From New York to Atlanta then to New Orleans. I love Jazz, and I thought I might find her there.

6. If you could be 18 again, what would you change, and what would you not change?

RW: I was 18 when I came to the US. Actually I don't think I would change much. Perhaps more sure of myself and less shy about meeting people -- I have met some really great people during my first year of college. And to enjoy college/dorm life more instead of studying so much.

KT: I was in the internment camp when I was 18. In some way I'd love to change everything; on the other hand, everything made me the person I am. Sometimes, there's one mistake that you make that defines the rest of you life. I think of all things, that's one I would definitely want to change, to have a do-over. I would love to wipe those few years off my life.

7. How many countries have you visited?

RW: Let's see... China, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxemburg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Canada, the US, Mexico, Aruba, The Bahamas.

KT: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, The Republic of China, England, The US, Afghanistan, Mexico.

8. Do you believe in God?

RW: I used to believe in the Christian God, because that's how I was brought up. Now, I am still spiritual, but I don't subscribe to any organized religion. I believe there's something there, something much bigger than just us, maybe even the universe. You have to wonder, what is the soul and how everything works. They can't all just be random happenstances. But is there A god, someone who sits on a throne being mad when we don't do what he/she wants, who is going to punish and kill us because we're bad? I don't think so.  If anything, I have a notion that "god" is a collective term... we are all part of "god" -- this existence, this universal truth.  And deep down--way, way deep--we all know what it is.

KT: I don't believe in god, but you can say I'm agnostic. I think there's something bigger than all of us. I used to be a Buddhist, but have since abandoned the practice. You can't really call it a faith, though. Buddhism is more like philosophy instead of religion.  There are many good things about Buddhism, such as karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment. All of which I still believe.

9. Name three people who are/were the most influential for you?

RW: My father. Sorry Mom, I love you, but there's just something about how a father influences his son. My father instilled in me my general attitude on life, on love, on people, on work, on the meaning of life, etc. Just about everything.   The second person is Jesus. OK, that may make me sound like a Christian or even a religious freak but I'm talking about the person who was Jesus Christ. I think his philosophies, teachings, etc. are very important to my upbringing and I am really sad that so many Christians really are taking his name in vain and they forget what Jesus taught us.  And lastly, it would be my third grade teacher. Without her, I'd probably be out on the street dealing drugs right now.

KT: My brother, Juen. He's everything to me, and I look up to him in every way. He's an incredible human being and I wish I were ever half the man he is.   Grace Kendall: she means the world to me and in many ways, I live for her.  She made me who I am, because of how I felt about her. It is inexplicable, but eternally true. And lastly, it's Colonel Andrews. Not many people knew the extent of our friendship through the years, but Andrews is like a brother to me.

10. What is a hidden talent that no one, not even your best friend or family, knows?

RW: Actually I'm rather an open book (and a show-off) so most people know what I can or cannot do. But anyway, I'm really good with remembering faces (not names, just faces) and seeing people for who they really are. It's very creepy in a way, of how accurate I am.

KT: I can recite the entire play of Hamlet from memory.

11. What's the first word that comes to you mind right now?

RW: redemption

KT: pain

12. What is the one misconception that most people have of you?

RW: I'm aloof, arrogant and hard to know. Ooops, that's three things.

KT: I'm a communist.

13. What do you take when you go on a week-long trip?

RW: I'm a light traveler. For a week's trip, I'd probably take 4 shirts, 1 pair of pants, enough clean socks and underwear, a simple toiletry case, my phone, my computer (what in the world am I going to do without it?), and my eBook Reader. That's pretty much it. Everything else I can buy.  Oh yeah, of course, money.

KT: a haversack, a knife, a handful of fruit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Since I've beaten my original deadline (for finishing the first draft) by about a month, I think it's only fair that I'll set the same deadline date for the completion of the second draft. :)

September 30, 2010.

That's all.

p.s. coincidentally I have three betas waiting for the thing already. That's good to hear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Yup, I typed those coveted words. It's done.  Mark the date:  9.02.10  (just like that TV show). First draft, done.

And here's the thing, I started the thing so many years ago I don't even remember. The nugget of idea was inspired by my father's stories during the Pacific War, when he spent almost four years in an internment camp. I thought, wow, what a great story.

Of course, since then, the story in my head has deviated from my father's (sorry, Dad) and it twisted and turned so much that the original 90K story turned into 175K. I know I need to pare this thing down, and that's what I need to do next.

The truth is, I've set multiple deadlines for myself throughout the past few years. All false deadlines as I was nowhere need the end of the book. This time, however, I set a goal and told myself "I must finish the first draft by my birthday. No ifs or buts."

I'm so glad I did it. It does feel like an accomplishment, even though it's long time coming. I should have finished this two years ago. Even one year ago. But hey, better late than never, right?  And the fact is, I finished it almost one month ahead of schedule (this time), and I should be proud of that.

So what's next?

Lots and lots and lots and lots of rewrites. This humongous manuscript still needs a lot of work. It's nowhere near completion. It is very much Frankenstein's Monster right now. But I'm so glad to at least get the complete story and plot out, and now I can chip at it, polish it, and hopefully something beautiful will come of it. Who knows?

Anyway... yeah, one last thing:


How Long Should a Paragraph Be?

Of course, the correct answer is "as long as it needs to be."

Still, practically, there is some consideration that goes into breaking up paragraphs. I learned from English/writing classes that each paragraph should contain a unit of ideas or thoughts, and a series of these paragraphs would string these units of ideas into one coherent concept or argument, or some such.

That is all good, especially for articles and nonfiction. In fiction, though, this guideline could becomes murky. What constitute a unit of ideas and thoughts?

There are some general guidelines for fiction writing that would hold true under most circumstances. For example, for dialogue, each speaker should get a new paragraph:

"Jane is mean to me," Carl said.

"I'm not." Jane hit Carl on the shoulder and ran.

"See what I mean?"

Also, sometimes you want to pick out a line or two to form a new paragraph for emphasis. It's kind of like a sentence fragment. You don't want to overuse it for emphasis and pace, but it is effective once in a while to set a specific idea/thought apart in its own paragraph. Let it stand out.

However, upon reading my WIP, I realize I tend to write short paragraphs. I tend to move from one idea to another rather quickly, and it seems logical to have them in separate paragraphs. Granted, I don't write 3-page paragraphs describing a lamp! But still, the short paragraphs, I fear, could make my prose read too choppy, too quick, too brief.

Recently I read Ian McEwan's fantastic novel, Atonement, and I noticed how long his paragraphs tended to be. In fact, it seems to be the favored style of literary writers -- Charles Frazier did the same thing in Cold Mountain. For example, in Part 2 of Atonement, McEwan would go on for pages describing the horror of war, and within a single paragraph he would narrate six or seven different ideas, events and actions, that I would have presented in multiple related paragraphs. The effect of McEwan's long paragraphs, however, was one of lushness and languidness that captivated me, with a sense of not urgency or fast-paced actions, but of epic involvement, as if the scenes were one long single-take tracking shot (as done in the movie version, where Joe Wright created a mesmerizing 5-minute long tracking shot of the Dunkirk beach). When I read the paragraphs, that was exactly the feeling I got, as if I was watching that Dunkirk scene in the movie. No fast cuts, no sudden jerks of movements, but a long, smooth but complicated scene (Robert Altman did that a lot in his movies, too -- watch Gosford Park).

That makes me realize, paragraphs are not only used to contain logical units of ideas, but they, combined with sentence structures and lengths, could be used to create atmosphere and movements, as well as altering the pace tremendously.  Reading McEwan's novels gives you a different sense of time and place than, say, reading a James Patterson's novel (Patterson favors short, blunt paragraphs for a page-turning experience).

Personally, I've begun to experiment with my paragraphs. I've started to combine or separate them in my WIP to see what kind of effects they would create, and the results are astounding.

As with anything in the writer's toolbox, I think it's important for us to understand the power of structures, including paragraph lengths, to create the kind of feeling and atmosphere we want.