As some of you that follow this site know, I’m in the middle of editing my next upcoming novel, Lusitania Gold. This story has been a long time coming, one with a twenty-one year history. That being said, the manuscript has seen many tweaks over the decades. Here, I’ll discuss the process of how the story is slowly but surely (and don’t call me Shirley) coming to fruition. Maybe one day, if this ever happens to you, these insights may help.
I’ve always been fascinated with sinking ships since my grandpappy sat me down in his lap in Lakewood, California in probably…1955 or so, and showed me pictures and stories from an Encyclopedia Britannica my parents had bought, back in the days when there were actually door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. I guess they fell under that spell and we ended up with a set. Anyway…Grandpa Frank happened to pull out the L book and as we leafed through the pages, we came to one with the most famous or infamous drawing of the sinking of the Lusitania. The split second I saw that image, those four funnels, that hooked rudder and those gleaming propellers sticking above the water and all those people scrambling about in the water, it burned in my memory. I was only four years old, but never forgot that vision and became hooked on shipwrecks.
As time went on, unfortunately, the Lusitania faded into the background because the more infamous Titanic took center stage. However, there were plenty more unfortunate wrecks to read about as well, like the Morro Castle, Empress of Ireland, Sultana, Brittanic and hosts of others less well-knowns.
Decades later, when I fell into writing, thanks to inspiration from Clive Cussler and others, I wanted to put in my two cents and bring the Lusitania back into the mainstream. So, the seed of the idea for Lusitania Gold came into being.
Though it’s gone through substantial editorial tweaks over the two decades since I originally wrote it in 1995, essentially, Lusitania Gold’s the same story. However, in the beginning, it had some bloat, as they say.
In my early research, the Internet was far more primitive than it is today. I did my due diligence and eked out all the details I could at the time based on what I could garner from the library and personal knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. As for the electronic side of research, part of the problem was my personal computer. I also didn’t have access to Google Maps like we do today, among other web sites. It was 1993 when Bob Ballard explored the ship and did the video of his dive on the wreck. Around that time, he published that excellent book that I relied on extensively.
In 1992, I devoured Clive Cussler’s novel Sahara. That novel as well as the first book I read by him, Raise The Titanic, gave me inspiration for the wishful thinking I employed when I wove the plot for Lusitania Gold. Not only that, but along with being fresh off my just finished icky bug novel, The Greenhouse, I added a little surprise. It turns out that another author, which became a later influence, had a strange parallel as well. James Rollins also employed this same surprise in his early novels but was fortunate and talented enough to get published while I was still struggling in the trenches! It was almost a decade later when I read my first taste of his work and discovered he used the same thing.
That whole mix ended up being in the first draft of Lusitania Gold. It was 130K words. Along with that were a few sub-plots. As the years passed, after many query letters and subsequent blind edits by me as I learned my chops, and not knowing what I was doing, they never got deleted like they should.
FIRST MAJOR EDIT – A DECADE LATER
I’d received minor interest and had sent several samples out, chapters and an entire manuscript to a few places, but ultimately, rejects of around eighty or ninety agents and publishers as I recall. By the time I arrived in Las Vegas and found the Henderson Writer’s Group, I decided it was time to read Lusitania Gold to them and get twenty to thirty sets of eyes on it. I knew I needed lots of external input. Besides, my writing and editing chops were light-years ahead of what they were a decade before, plus, I’d set it aside and had already written three or four sequels since!
The tweaking began in earnest! I found sub-plots and passages that were destined for the trimming floor. There were things I didn’t need that had no impact on the story, and at the same time, I lost nothing of either the impact or the plot. I ended up tightening the plot and made it so much better.
On the other hand, because of much improved access to the internet, I also obtained new and improved info on the Lusitania wreck, contacted some divers that actually dove on the ship and obtained real info. This is something I was never able to do with Ballard. I tried multiple times to contact him and never once got a response from either him or anyone from his team.
As a result of this reading to the writer’s group, which took a year and a half, I pared it down from 130K to 95K. Quite a difference!
From the major edit after the writer’s group, I combed through it probably two times over the years, prior to various writer’s conferences. Why? Once in anticipation of pitching it. The second time because I actually got a publication contract. In each case, I tweaked and tweaked, and still found more things as my editing skills improved. I picked up a few more things through the forest (forest-through-the-trees).
When my original publishing contract fell through, the stars aligned and I found my real publisher, one who was there and had been there from the beginning of the major edit with the writer’s group. She’d been in on all the major tweaks and trimming it took to turn it into a better and more suitable manuscript. She knew the story intimately.
Right now, as I’m going through the pre-publication editing, my editor and I are getting to the details. Yet even so, I keep tweaking more real facts. As it turns out, this editing process takes months. During that time, I received another book on the Lusitania for Christmas and read it. Because of that, I now have even more background detail to use for tweaking!
I’ve not only incorporated that into my edit, but have gone back to the Internet and re-tweaked my research. I’ve gone back to Google maps. I went back to the web sites I could recall. I also removed historical names of storms in the areas because I didn’t want to date the material. I’d mentioned certain recent hurricane damage but didn’t want to mention them once I thought about it. Since I’d mentioned those storms, there’d already been others worse!
I added the name of an airport, either added in or took out details I wasn’t sure about. Stuff I’ve been preaching to you about and stuff James Rollins and I talked about extensively at the writer’s conferences where we chatted about these details.
COLD DEAD HANDS
To quote Charlton Heston, which I’ve probably done before but without the guns, as authors, the work never ends until it’s in print, and even then, you want to pull it off the shelf and tweak some more. You want to edit until they pull the manuscript out of your cold dead hands!
I’ll continue to tweak Lusitania Gold until they pull…
Well, you get the picture.
There’ll still be things wrong, historically, physically, scientifically. Some of it’s intentional, wishful thinking. Some of it’s just my blunders. My tweaking is to try to make it as believable as possible – to get you to suspend your disbelief, so to speak. I can’t please everyone and I won’t even try. However, if I can get even some of you to close that last page with a smile on your face, I’ve done my job. I hope you, as writers feel the same way.
Sometimes, people have confused the two. Turns out, they’re completely different styles. Since I’ve written both, I can speak from experience. I did technical writing as a profession for a decade. I’ve also written a number of non-fiction stories.
Oh…kay. When you think about it, both non-fiction and technical writing are “technically” non-fiction. So, what’s the difference? When it comes to just non-fiction writing, in this case, we’re usually talking about a non-fiction story of some kind. That could be an autobiography, a memoir, history, philosophy, news or something that’s not made up. Something told in story format that’s not fiction.
Now, as for technical or tech-writing. What is it? It’s usually instructions, raw information, something that isn’t in a story format. Directions how to get from point A to B. Instructions on how to put together a piece of furniture. Procedures on how to fly a plane. How to use a piece of software.
Okay, both are non-fiction, per se, but in one, a story is still being told where in the other, instructions are being conveyed. There’s a huge difference in the style of the telling (or showing, if you want to go there).
In non-fiction storytelling, there are characters, there’s a goal (sort of a plot), and there’s a story flow. The writing had this flow from A to B and it’s up to the writer to make it interesting and to keep the reader engaged. This is where a lot of non-fiction books fail. The writer’s, at least to me, go too much for the literary and overdo minor details, description, mood, so as to paint a vivid picture. They bog down in details that have little to do with the main gist of the story. That’s one reason I rarely read non-fiction, besides that I like to spend my reading time being entertained rather than getting educated. Don’t get me wrong. I like to learn, but pick and choose. I’ll often pick up a book and go right to the section I’m interested in, rather than slog through all the background.
In summary, in non-fiction writing, all the elements of fiction are there except it’s true and there are certain restrictions and barriers that cannot be crossed without losing the integrity of the story, such as certain emotions and feelings the writer cannot know without being the person (unless it’s second hand information).
The point is, in this type of writing, there are potential feelings, emotions, actions and descriptions.
TECHNICAL WRITING PROCESS
In the technical writing process, there’s no emotion, no philosophy, no personal pronouns! This is neutral prose with the whole purpose of conveying information. Period. There is no other purpose. There is no story, no plot, no entertainment. There are instructions to show you, the reader, how to get from point A to B and that’s it.
Nicola Tesla was a man of electricity. However, he had a stiff competitor in Thomas Edison. They were at loggerheads over which had the best method of a national electrical distribution grid. In the end, Edison won.
Take the new blade, face it forward in the bottom clamp. Rake your finger over the teeth gently, to make sure the teeth are facing down. Once this is assured, set the bottom end of the blade into the bottom clamp and tighten the knob. Make sure it’s standing straight up through the hole in the table.
Now, thread the blade through the pilot hole in the wood piece and clamp the other end of the blade to the upper clamp. Make sure enough of the blade sticks through the clamp to ensure a good grab. Then tighten the upper clamp.
Finally, lock the tensioner and fleck the blade with a finger to make sure it’s tight.
Turn on the saw.
Notice the differences now? There are two types of non-fiction. Story and technical.
There is another type, such as in textbooks. In this case, what you might have is a mixture of the two styles. It might start with the story part, then when it gets down and dirty, the style may shift to the technical side.
There are, of course varieties.
Use them wisely, Grasshopper!
When will I ever learn? Every time I’ve ever picked up a horror novel endorsed by Stephen King, it’s totally sucked. Every single time.
This time, I thought it might be different.
King is known to love books with bummer endings. I despise books with bummer endings. While I was in the bookstore, I…no…let me give a bit of background first.
This book first appeared on the new book shelves as a hardback. When I spotted it, I go “Yeah, an icky bug book in hardback!” Seeing one of those is so rare, it’s like seeing a 1909SVDB penny in pocket change. I’m not kidding. Finding horror featured on the hardback shelves should’ve been a big clue right off the bat. First off, unless it’s either Stephen King himself, or Dean Koontz horror, you ain’t gonna see it. Period.
That’s just the way it is in icky bug (horror). They (King and Koontz) are almost the only ones “allowed” to publish horror in hardback, unless it’s self-published. Hah! Not a snowball’s chance in hell will you see it on a shelf in Barnes & Noble if it’s self-published, at least on a feature shelf. There are few rare examples, like I said, the 1909SVDB exceptions.
That brings me to this one. I was nonplussed. My alarm bells went off after I saw the title and back cover blurb. Why? A big old Stephen King endorsement on the front. Right away, I went to the back of the book to see if anyone survived. Sure enough, right in the last paragraph, it didn’t end well. So, I almost threw what could’ve been a good icky bug book back on the shelf. I restrained myself and set it on the shelf rather than risk damaging the merchandise.
Jump forward a year and I’m browsing the regular “general fiction” book shelves, where everything’s mass market and trade paperback. Here’s this book again. I recalled seeing it in hardback on the feature shelf the previous year. Next to it, I see another book by the same author. When I leafed through that one, I caught the same featured character, or at least one with the same name. Huh? Maybe that character never did die in the other one. Maybe, somehow, he managed to survive. If that’s the case, I could chance reading it and ignore King’s endorsement.
So…with that in mind, I bought the book.
Wrong move, Grasshopper.
I finished it, thank the Gods! The whole time, I so wanted to finish it just to get it overwith! OMG, as they say in shortspeak. This book did have a horror premise. In fact, it was full of gore, splatter in fact, but it was really nothing but a character study. It crawled, and not in a good way. The pacing was glacial. Remember me talking about making your story move? Remember me talking about flashbacks, super long diary entries? This guy did it all, and not in a good way.
The story was excruciating. It was literate horror with overlong descriptions and characterizations that went on and on and on and on. I found myself checking the bookmark just to see how many pages I still had to go. It was that bad. The only reason I suffered through the whole thing was that I paid for it and I also wanted to see if somehow, the ending redeemed itself. Unfortunately, and true to a Stephen King endorsement, no ceegar. It ended with a bummer and nothing redeeming whatsoever. The book was a total waste of time and money. It ripped me off.
Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Your job as an author is not to torture your readers!
No wonder, as an icky bug novel it made the hardback feature shelf and wasn’t a King or Koontz novel. It was literary horror. In other words, it sucked! Why in the world would the big six ever put a good icky bug novel that was actually fun to read on the shelves? Or, didn’t bury one that didn’t totally suck on the back shelves and not even feature it on the new paperback shelves, like they usually do! You know, sneak it out there so you have to search for it among the thousands of older books? I can’t even count how many times I’ve found my icky bug by accident because they won’t even feature it on the new paperback rack.
After all, that’s what they usually do with any horror story that’s the least bit fun or has a socially redeeming or uplifting plot. Of course, unless you’re either King or Koontz.
But nooo. They have to feature crap like this King-endorsed piece of literary boredom and give horror a bad name.
So, for those of you that write icky bug (horror) like me, be prepared. You certainly have your work cut out for you. More than likely, you’ll be lucky to get a small publisher or have to self-publish. I only ask that you have high standards with your writing.
Speaking of which…
I’ve probably talked about this in pieces before, but I want to consolidate it all into one article for you.
Though there are no specific rules in fiction, there are some general guidelines one should follow for the use of contractions for consistency.
Most native English speakers use contractions. We do it without thinking. It’s a way to abbreviate words, it’s slang, sort of, a shorthand way of getting to the point. It applies to a certain class of words.
On the other hand, those not native to the language tend to not use contractions as much, or not at all. They’re not used to the quirks and idioms of our tongue. It depends on how immersed they were in their language course, what environment they learned in, how fast they were on the uptake and a whole host of other factors.
In narrative, generally, contractions are not used. Everything is spelled out. Why? Narrative is NOT dialogue, it’s NOT speech. It’s narrative, description, it’s the other part of the story. It’s not supposed to be as spoken. You don’t use shortcuts like that. It’s not the correct style because it’s not the conversational part of the story.
When do and don’t you use contractions in dialogue?
Generally, what I do is use contractions for native speakers when they’re speaking in their native tongue, regardless of the language.
That’s right. It doesn’t matter if it’s English. They can be speaking German for all I care. If they’re speaking German, even if that language doesn’t use contractions, they’re using the German equivalent of contractions, whatever they may be.
Think about it. You of course, aren’t going to have two Germans chatting back and forth in German because you’re writing in English for an English speaking audience. You’re going to tell the reader they’re speaking German but they’re going to be speaking English. However, to make them speak comfortably and make it sound native, they’re going to speak English as if it were German, which means it’s going to sound natural, which would include contractions. See?
Now, let’s look at it from the other side. Say they’re Germans speaking English. They have an accent, but speak acceptable English. However, it’s not their native tongue. They would likely speak without contractions, using every word instead of our shorthand because it’s awkward to them. Also, this is your way of distinguishing their speech from ours. It gives them a distinctive voice instead of trying to give them an accent in every sentence, or too much of one, which can be annoying. Overdone, it can be distracting.
In my writing, non-native speakers don’t use contractions. Period.
Now, as for a native speaker not using contractions?
There are circumstances when you want to emphasize something. For instance, “I will not go there!” That’s instead of “I won’t go there.”
The will not being emphasized.
As for narrative, I don’t use contractions at all in narrative. Period.
Now, in autobiographical narrative, which is conversational, you can use contractions because it’s you talking. The same for first-person POV. Why? It’s conversational. It’s coming from the POV character telling the story. In doing so, you or the POV character are telling the story in conversational English.
You may now get that these contraction rules apply to third-person POV.
By keeping contractions where they belong, you keep your prose clean.