Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing for Write Club

Since the Write Club finale I've had a few people ask for a little background to the entries I sent in. I finally found some time to give you just that.

So first off, we have THE PIG WOMAN.

This Winifred Wootz passage came from my current work in progress, called The Spellwriter. I've been working on the book for a number of years now. The passage I submitted comes from the first chapter, titled as follows:

Chapter One

The Cursed Boy of Bickern Major

In which
Winifred Wootz has an encounter
with a celestial light socket and the baby
gets blamed.

“If a child reaches ten
with naught but good befalling, then
he need not fear the hand of Fate
who’ll find Its curse was cast too late.”
                                                                                      -old Bickern saying

J. W. Waterhouse, Magic Circle
The Spellwriter is an upper MG fantasy about twelve-year-old Jonathan Smyth, who finds himself in the rather uncomfortable position of being apprenticed to a Hag. Winifred Wootz's role in the story is, alas, rather short, as the chapter title suggests, but she really is the one that gets the whole ball rolling, so she is necessary.

I began the story about six years ago--well before I did any real studying of the art of writing. At that point the only knowledge I had about storytelling was from the stories I read--a good start for any writer. Over time though, I learned--as every writer before me has-- that writing isn't just putting a story on paper, but telling the story in a way that works. It is always a bit frustrating to talk to people who have never tried to write professionally but who think "Gee, writing isn't that hard--after all, we all use words to speak so anyone really can do it."

I must admit, when I first started writing I had a little of that feeling. So over time I started studying really great books--you know the type, the ones that have you debating exactly how many hours of sleep the human body really does need to perform an entire day's work the following morning? Yes, those books.  

Well it got me thinking: Why do so many people agree that those books are soooo engrossing? There must be some formula they follow in the telling of a story that I and so many others miss.

Well there is...and the formula is called:

Good Writing.

That's it. The difference between okay writing and unplug-the-phone-and-eat ice-cream-from-the-carton-for-dinner-because-I-am-not-putting-this-book-down type writing is the amount of work the authors are willing to put into designing an intriguing story. Much of what goes into an intriguing story I learned from the famed Highlights Conference for Childrens Book Authors in Chautauqua, NY. It was a priceless experience.

So now I'm in my major rewrite of the story and my goal is to have it out with agents by the end of next year.

Caravaggio, Nativity
My second and third entries came from a YA sort-of-paranormal mystery that I began writing three years ago. The timing of the book was unfortunate as I began it just before the whole angels craze in the market, so I set it aside for the time being until the market cools. The story is about a fifteen-year-old girl whose father is on trial for stealing a priceless Caravaggio. She gets some unlooked-for help from a tweed-bedecked stranger named Godfrey and his fellow Earthbounds--Angels who have been demoted for one thing or another and must carry out their various angelic missions undercover as janitors, taxi cab drivers, meter maids, etc.        

The competition entries were from the first chapter, in which Mr. Jaspers and another Earthbound are caught off-guard and removed from their posts by a mysterious stranger named Mr. Dunaway. 

Now it feels funny to say the chapter "came from a manuscript" as though I just copied and pasted a passage of polished work and left it at that. As my wife can attest, that is far from the truth. I spent probably about six hours of cutting, rewriting, and wordsmithing on each entry to get it to feel complete within the 500 word limit. It was not easy. But it was an invaluable lesson in revising. I honestly feel in two of the three entries, that the passages were improved by reducing the word count. It also reminded me as a writer that I'm in control of my story and not the other way around. I think too often writers treat previously decided plot points and words they've already written as though they are a vital organ which if removed will destroy the whole story. The heart of your story is an idea...not a series of of words or actions, and that idea can be told in a million different ways; sometimes it will require 30,000 words and sometimes you can fit it into 500. It's all up to you.

So, that's the background behind the entries. In the near future I'm hoping to post the entire Chapter One of The Spellwriter for your enjoyment, but now...



  1. Thank you for sharing your background Mark. I always find it fascinating to learn about other writers WIP's and how they come about. :)

  2. Yay! Thanks for sharing the background of the entries, Mark. I can attest to how important it is to be part of a community of writers when trying to build your craft. I wrote my first book in isolation, and although it did get published, I think it's not nearly as good as the ones that are to come -- the ones I wrote after I became part of the writing community online.

    As for dropping word count -- Yes, yes, yes! My last manuscript was 98k in the first draft, but I dropped it to 85k before sending it to my agent. When she told me she thought it would be better as upper MG than YA, I made some major revisions to content and also dropped the word count to 78k. It went on submission at that length, and when it sold, my editor gave me a goal of 65k. I made that goal -- and OH, it is SO much better! So much cleaner!

    LOVE the chapter title for The Spellwriter. If you are looking for a beta reader at some point ... ahem ... *raises hand*

  3. I can honestly say that one of the most enjoyable and exciting reading experiences of my life was reading your rough draft of The Spellwriter all the way through. It was amazing then...and I can't wait until I can read the new and improved version from start to finish.

  4. Congratulations, Mark! I was just catching up on Faith's wonderful blog when I got to the entry on your emergence from WRiTE CLUB 2012 as the winner! Well done!

    Also, Gordie was home for Christmas and told us that your instruments are famous, as well. There's a violin-maker in Madison, WI named Paul Martens who encountered your work at a conference and became very excited when he heard Gordie has one of your violins.

    A blessed and happy new year to all the Houghs. I know each and every year is a gift, but I am glad to see 2012 in the rear view mirror. And as you closed out your post ... BACK TO WRITING!!!

  5. You are absolutely right about excellent writing requiring a lot of work! I enjoyed your post!