DSP Reader’s Choice Collection

Dragon Soul Press proudly presents the DSP Reader’s Choice. What does that mean? For each anthology, readers will be able to vote for their Top Three favorite stories. At the end of the year, all of the chosen stories will be compiled into a single volume available in ebook and paperback at major retailers. The goal is to give readers a variety of excellent stories from the year and introduce them to new authors.

What about the other books? We’re glad you asked!

A similar version of voting will happen for the books published during the year. The difference is only one will be chosen and the first chapter will be included alongside the anthology short stories.

All of the authors will have a brief introduction within the volume and be given the option to be interviewed for the DSP blog.

When will voting begin?

Voting has already begun for the First Love Anthology and the form can be found here.

When the voting becomes available, each form will be listed on this page for easy access. Expect to see the voting for the novels appear each January. Voting for the anthologies will be available the day of release.

There will be thirty (30) days of voting before the polls close.

Thank you for reading and showing interest in the DSP Reader’s Choice! You can find this same information for future reference here.

DSP Reader's Choice

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Get the Blood Pumping and Write Those Action Scenes!

One of the things I notice when beta-reading for new writers is how they approach action scenes. They either increase the tension up to where a fight should be inevitable and then back away from the potential fight or they engage in the fight and it’s a mess—the reader can’t figure out what’s going on between the combatants.

Writing a good action scene is like paying attention to a musical score during an action scene. In most movies, you will hear two types of musical scores with actions scenes–the heavy, fast-paced, furious score designed to get your blood pumping (about 95% in all movies), or the soft, opera-like singing that indicates a potential tragedy in the making (5% in all the rest).

We’ll focus on the 95% of a typical action scene as the tragedy action scenes are a bit more complex and we’ll save it for another blog post.

So what does a good action scene have in common with a good musical score?

  1. The notes are fast and furious and that’s the core of how your actions scene should flow – fast and furious. A great way to do that is to shorten your sentences. Deliver with strong verbs.

    For example, instead of writing: He ran as his lungs burned, his legs tiring, sweat pouring down in rivulets into his eyes.

    Try: He sprinted despite his burning, tiring muscles, eyes blinking from sweat.

  2. You can feel the music and a good action scene describes the flow with strong, active verbs. Never use any passive verbs in your action scenes unless necessary.Here is an example:

    He screamed as he was struck from behind with a sword, running through his chest.

    Try: He screamed, a sword running him through.

  3. Just listening to the music alone without the movie sends your imagination running. A good action scene will always convey to the reader where all the players are, what they are doing, and bring an incredible amount of tension to each scene. What’s a good way to do that? Use the environment!Here we go with this:

    Raven swung her sword in a wide arc, striking all three guards’ blades. They tried to counter, but met air where she once stood.

    Yawn. Why? Because all we imagine is a woman named Raven swinging her sword against three guards also armed.

    Try:

    Raven jumped atop the table, kicking a plate of rotten food into the face on the guard to her left while swinging her sword low into the blades of the other two imbeciles. They tried to counter but met air as she jumped off, somersaulting over their heads.

    Though, be mindful of things like physics and such. If you’re writing epic fantasy, your reader is going to love this. If you’re writing a Game of Thrones clone, they are not going to be impressed with your Princess Bride moves.

  4. A good action scene uses a seesaw effect. The hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back. The hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back again. Sometimes, you want to use this effect and add a “one square forward, two squares back” so that when the hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back and now the hero is in a worst position than before.

    Let’s try out this example:

    Raven parried the Count’s blade aimed for her throat. The bastard swung too hard and she moved in for the kill, bringing her own weapon down to his head. He deftly dodged, his thrust aimed straight at her eye, but she jerked her head.

    Decent, but let’s up the stakes a bit:

    Raven parried the Count’s blade aimed for her throat, but the tip of his sword bit enough for her to feel the sting. She backed a step, cursing as the bastard swung too hard, the opportunity lost. She brought her own weapon down, trying to draw him in. He deftly dodged, his thrust aimed for straight at her eye, but she jerked her head, the edge of his blade slicing across her cheek deep. He chuckled.

    In that example, we’re painting the Count as kind of a better swordsman against Raven. So while she’s holding her own, she’s making mistakes and getting nicked for it. This increases the tension (drastically if your story is grim and dark).

    There are many ways to write good actions scenes, but a quick method is to picture them as a good musical score and understand how that score handles pacing, tension, and power.

    Happy writing!

Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!

How to Kill Passive Voice

One of the biggest mistakes amateur writers make when submitting proposals to Dragon Soul Press (DSP) is Voice. It’s passive. As such, Passive Voice does two things that hurts your story.

First, it tends to have more telling and not enough showing. You may have heard this expression, “Show, do not tell.” If you have Passive Voice, you’re likely telling. Here’s an example.

Wyntiir was angry, her face a virtual snarl.

The first part of this sentence is, “Wyntiir was angry.” You told us she became angry—just like that. Let’s do it again.

A fire erupted within Wyntiir’s chest, her face a virtual snarl.

Now the whole sentence reads of her anger and it’s up to us just how angry she feels, but at this point, we get a stronger picture that Wyntiir is frothing mad. If we added more description, that picture gets stronger, but we don’t want to overdo unless her anger is pivotal in a scene or chapter.

The second thing Passive Voice does is creates a bland story or bland action. A lot of great action scenes could be written if the author simply takes the time to clean up their passive verbs. Here’s an example of a bland scene using Passive Voice:

Wyntiir was angry, her face a virtual snarl.

Becoming bored, Samdel yawned. Wyntiir was like this to him all the time.

“Wolf-biter!” she screamed but turned away. She saw the body again. The man before them was clearly dead, rotting away.

All of this is not good and if you have a ton of scenes written like this, it could throw your reader off or worse, bore them to tears.

How to fix it

Fixing Passive Voice is not that hard and actually can be quite enjoyable in the editing phases of your draft.

  1. Get rid of as many passive verbs as possible. Google passive verbs or helping verbs but here is a short list—was, is, are, were, had, to be, being, has been, been, had been. Rewrite your sentences using strong active verbs. In the above example, we replaced the verb “was” with “erupted” and rewrote the sentence.
  2. Don’t use emotive words at all in your story. Look for all the words that is clearly an emotion— happy, angry, sad, depressed, stoic, etc. Describe those emotions through actions, dialogue, and/or body language.
  3. Get rid of filler words tagged with verbs. Cry out, let out, screamed out are common examples. Instead of, “He cried out a sob,” use, “He sobbed.”
  4. Get rid of filler verbs such as saw, heard, knew, notice, recognize. 99% of the time these verbs are unnecessary. Instead of, “The next thing I knew, I saw a man approach me with a gun,” use, “A man approached me with a gun.”