LTUE Notes: Friday Edition

Another day of LTUE is over, and I’m feeling just as tired and just as educated as I did yesterday. Come Sunday I will probably put up a more coherent essay on my experiences at large, but it’s way too late now and I still need to do my normal Friday post.

Today was a heavily military-themed day because Gwynne’s dad was on one panel and had two presentations. He’s a very engaging, entertaining, and knowledgeable speaker, and even though I don’t have any current plans for using military in my fiction, I still got a ton of good notes.

Military on Military SF
(Steve Harmon, Zachary Hill, Jeffrey Meeks, Brad R. Torgersen, Roger White)

  • Examples of the military done right in SFF: the book Starship Troopers (logistics, fighting an enemy) and the second Aliens movie.
  • Military folks have a very colorful way of expression themselves (f-word as an infix)
  • Loyalty to each other is just as—if not more—important than loyalty to the corps or the cause or the country.
  • Bad examples: As a piece of fiction, Old Man’s War was great. It was lacking in its accurate portrayal of the military (fraternization issues, field commissions). Cameron’s Avatar. Star Trek (original series).
  • Top brass shouldn’t lead from the front. You need someone with experience to coordinate the plans, do the major strategy, etc.
  • Each war is unique. Each situation in the war is unique. Most armies are prepared to fight the last war.
  • Tactics change as the technology changes. Keep in mind that the tactics will depend on what your weapons and environment are.
  • Even in the different eras of history, the tech, tactics, an motivations change.
  • When you’re not training, you’re cleaning stuff. It can be very tedious.
  • The state of mind of a solider is very different from the state of mind of a civilian.
  • Vietnam: you had a clock in your head about how long you had left. “How short are you?” “Six months,” “I’m so short I’m under ants’ feet” etc.
  • Military thinking bleeding over into civilian life. Example: A tire getting blown and the soldier ducks and covers.
  • It always seems like your enemy is cheating. Your side doesn’t cheat—you’re just being smart.
  • Maintaining good order and discipline is the most important thing for you to do as a leader.
  • By necessity, there’s a barrier between the leaders and the grunts.
  • Romance is a cancer in the military. So is fraternization. It breaks down discipline and cohesion.
  • Co-ed units creates a very difficult leadership situation.
  • Talk to people in the military—too few people have contact with veterans or current servicemen and servicewomen.
  • Your big challenge will be translating the military experience into something your civilian readers can relate to.
  • Please treat your subject with dignity and respect. Military life sucks in every conceivable way. There will be an emotional impact on the people who served.

Self-Editing and Revision
(Tristi Pinkston)

  • Line editing is looking at punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, etc.
  • Content editing is looking at the overall picture (plot, characters, etc.)
  • Agents/editors aren’t going to reject you if you have a few mistakes scattered here and there. They will reject you if there are nothing but errors.
  • If you have a great story, give it the honor of giving it a good edit.
  • There are rules in grammar, and there are exceptions to rules. Yes, there are things you should do, but not necessarily in every case.
  • Take a break between revisions: play video games, play with your kids, go outside, read a book, etc. You need a fresh mind to pick up on mistakes.
  • When you edit, keep your web browser open for fact checking, definitions, etc. Not for checking Facebook, Twitter, etc. Check everything.
  • You can write a book that is accurate and correct, and you have no reason not to with the resources available: libraries, internet, experts, etc.
  • You owe yourself as a professional to check your information.
  • Look for typos! Microsoft Word is sometimes wrong.
  • Make sure you’re not using the same words over and over again. But don’t stand on your head to avoid using different words.
  • Have someone else read your book to check for your pet words/phrases/actions.
  • Make sure you have all of your ending punctuation in place.
  • Pronoun confusion is a problem. Make sure that your pronouns point to the right character. The reader needs to be reminded who you are talking about.
  • There’s nothing wrong with adverbs, so long as you don’t beat them to death.
  • Make sure to mix up your speech tags. Be creative, but not convoluted.
  • When you start a new section/chapter, make sure your readers know which character’s head they’re in.
  • Is there a clear character arc? Is your conclusion satisfying? Can your hero solve the problem himself? Is your main character likeable?
  • Don’t be scared to take things out of your manuscript. Don’t delete it—save it somewhere for another time.

James Owen’s Keynote Address

  • Stories are a way of sharing the things that you believe with other cultures and other communities.
  • Magic is real. It exists in the world. There are people who can show you where it is.
  • All of your choices are cumulative. Every choice you make gives you different choices in the future.
  • Superman: Last Son of Krypton: You are supposed to live an extraordinary life.
  • If you really, really want to do something, no one can stop you. If you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you. But the choice is entirely up to you.
  • When people can see that you believe what you say, they will want to find a way to help you.
  • At times we have to choose to believe in ourselves even if we have to tell the rest of the universe that it is wrong.
  • Are you the kind of person that things happen to? Or are you the kind of person that makes things happen?
  • Never, ever sacrifice what you want the most for what you want the most at that moment.

    Military Characters
    (Jeffrey Meeks)

    • Military service is hard. It is mentally challenging and physically demanding.
    • Today’s serviceman puts on about 60 lbs of protective gear.
    • Military service is mentally hard. A lot of time it is just plain boring. You clean your weapon, fortify your position, clean your latrines, etc.
    • Starship Troopers is an excellent book to see what it is like to be in the service as a grunt.
    • Ender’s Game and Shadow of the Giant books are good to see what it’s like to be in the service as a leader.
    • Way of Kings for both ends of the spectrum.
    • A broad range of people join the military for the just as many different reasons. A melting pot is totally plausible and likely.
    • The different branches of the military have different cultures.
    • There is a huge line between officers and enlisted personnel.
    • Loyalty is paramount if you are an enlisted person.
    • Integrity is paramount if you are an officer.
    • The worst thing a marine corps officer can do is to lie.
    • As you go up in rank, your responsibilities change. If you don’t go up, you go out.
    • A good idea for conflict: An ace in the field being made an officer and struggling with the new responsibilities.
    • It takes a ton of constant training in order to hone your skills.
    • The rules of engagement is this one question: When and where can you shoot?
    • You have the inherent right of self-defense against hostile intent. You must make positive identification before you shoot.
    • Ask yourself what impact has military service had on the service people. There are physical and mental costs: amputees, PTSD, etc.
    • Ultimately, the president is in charge of the armed forces.
    • Fire team is the leader and three individuals (smallest unit)

    Military Strategy, Technology, and Operations in a Complex World Environment
    (Jeffery Meeks)

    • This will be from the perspective of a professional military of a democratic government.
    • What happens when the military units can’t communicate each other? Example: Battle of New Orleans after the War of 1812 was over. Command and control is a big issue.
    • The challenge in military systems is to get as much information as possible. You want to have perfect knowledge of everything that’s going on. It is impossible to gain.
    • Tactical process = Orient yourself to the situation. What is important and what is going on? Observe. You try to get as much information as possible. Decide. Act.
    • Both sides are doing this at the same time. You must make your decisions faster than your enemy.
    • Attrition warfare: Wipe each other out.
    • Maneuver warfare: Show up where you enemy isn’t and take out their centers.
    • U.S. has focused on maneuver warfare. We want our people to be able to operate independently after training.
    • In our fiction, we tend to focus on the front line forces. They rarely focus on the logistics.
    • You can only go as far as your army is fed. Logistics are key. You must have a good support train.
    • Your shooters and operators are never going to have enough bullets, water, food, or artillery. You need to get them there.
    • Amateurs discuss tactics. Veterans discuss logistics.
    • A long supply train is dangerous.
    • Too much information can slow down the OODA process, and that can get you and your forces killed.
    • What is the weakness of your particular enemy?
    • Example: Mazer Rackham in Ender’s Game figuring out that there’s a command center in the Formics and taking it out.
    • The problem with modern weapons is the power supply. How much are you willing to spend? Every time there is a huge advance, there is a huge cost.
    • We are becoming very capable and effective at killing people.
    • Talk to military people. (No, seriously.)

    Writing a Killer Query Letter
    (Elana Johnson)

    • Ask for her to email you the presentation!
    • What You MUST Know First: 1) What is the purpose of the query letter?
    • The purpose of the query letter is to generate requests.
    • There are query letter has four parts.
    • The first part is the hook: 1) Sum up the novel in one sentence and 2) propel the reader through the rest of the letter.
    • The Hook: 1) What is your book about? 2) Less than 40 words. 3) Mimic the tone of the novel. 4) Never use a question. 5) Grab. Entice. Get Out.
    • Look at Publisher’s Marketplace for these one sentence pitches. Look at taglines and book blurbs.
    • Submitted 189 queries and took eight months before she got an offer.
    • POSSESSION hook: In a world where Thinkers control the population and rules aren’t meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.
    • Stories happen to people.
    • Give your main character a name in your query letter. People care about others when they start to learn names.
    • Tip for hooks: Print out successful letters (ones you like) and study their hooks. Identify what makes them work. Pattern yours after the success you pinpoint.
    • and From the Query to the Call as resources.
    • Part 2: The Setup. 1) Provide a few details about your main character. 2) Give world-building info, if pertinent. 3) The catalyst that moves your main character into the conflict.
    • Stick to the main character—what do they want? Intro secondary characters as needed. Get there quick (3 to 5 sentences, about 75 to 100 words).
    • Tip: Write your query letter in the same style as your novel. Don’t write in third person, present tense? No problem! Write it in what you DO know and then just switch it back after it’s written. (I wrote my query in the first person and then switched it over to third.)
    • It should take you a while write your query letter.
    • Part 3: The Conflict. 1) Identify what the main character wants. 2) Expound on what’s keeping them from getting what they want. 3) Stick to the main conflict. 4) What your entire book is about.
    • If you’re having trouble writing your query letter, look at your first 35 to 50 pages. Everything in your letter should be in those pages.
    • Resource: Save the Cat
    • You want to make your book sound more interesting, more unique than anything else.
    • Querying is like dating. You hide all your flaws until after you’re married.
    • Tip: Write your query letter before you finish the novel. This will help you stick to the main conflict. Try writing it when you’re about 10k to 15k.
    • Part 4: The Consequence. What will happen if the main character doesn’t overcome the conflict? This is the most frequently missing element.
    • Leave the ending a mystery—give them a cliffhanger close.
    • Tie to the hook so it comes full circle. Don’t do a question. Give a strong statement instead.
    • Tip: Take your first sentence and match it up with your last sentence. Use your theme for them.
    • You should spend hours researching agents. Don’t spam people blindly.
    • Writing a query letter is a process. Break it down into the four parts. Work on them individually. Study successful letters. Identify why they work. Incorporate the success into your letter.
    • Agents/Editors want to know about your book, not you.
    • Your query letter should also have an introduction; author bio; genre, title, word count; marketing/comparison; publishing creds; conclusion; and contact info.