Archives For Craft

Any posts that have to do with the craft of writing, including posts about character, plot, etc.

Since I’ve just run through an intensive two-week editing and revision sprint to get my superhero book off to Harper Voyager, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about revisions. Regardless of whether you are sending your work out to a publisher or preparing to self-publish your book, you need to have an editing system. You’ve probably learned a lot about story structure and how a good book reads by virtue of years of reading. You may have a natural feel for it. (I think I do.) But you can also learn a lot about solid story structure.

There are numerous books available telling you various ways to go about revising (my favorites are Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King), but the best way is the way that works for you. For me, the best way is a combination of using Scrivener and sticky notes.

The many-times-changed sticky note outline of UNEXPECTED HERO

This particular book, UNEXPECTED HERO, turned into what I hope to be the worst editing experience of my life. After working on this book in several drafts over seven years (ugh, that pains me even to say it), I hope I never ever EVER have such a difficult time editing again. It started easily enough with one draft and a clear vision. That vision wasn’t shared by my agent, and I did a page-one rewrite using her notes. In the end, she didn’t like that version either and the book was never sent to publishers. (I learned a lot from that experience alone, and I am grateful that she and I remained friends.)

Now I had two complete books (not drafts) with the same characters, similar plots, and a different time frame. That meant that I couldn’t use them both as the first two books in the series. I had to choose. Problem was, my agent made some good points about things that I improved in the second book, but other elements I liked better from the first book. I decided the best choice was to roll up my sleeves and completely rewrite the book again, taking the best elements and putting them together for the best possible story.

This was not easy.

In fact, it was so difficult, and I had so many other things going on in life – like grad school – that I didn’t finish the third draft. What I did “complete” (for lack of a better word) was creating a document I called “UH Prototype” in my “Hero” Scrivener file. I cut and pasted the scenes from the previous versions along with new scenes I’d written into a Frankenstein document. The final story would look something like this one in terms of story, but most of the scenes needed to be rewritten to some extent. (My heroine had been married for three years in the first version, was unmarried in the second version, and starts out as a newlywed in the final version.)

Then a month or so ago, I heard about Harper Voyager’s open submission window and thought this could be a great opportunity for UNEXPECTED HERO. So I printed out the UH Prototype file and found a printed copy of the last completed “draft” and read them through, making notes. I’d thought I was at least three-quarters of the way through the final draft, but as I read the printouts, I found I was closer to half done. And I only had two weeks to get the book in.

In grad school, I worked on a few of the scenes for school assignments, and even then the overwhelming number of words to get through was difficult to handle. At that point, I had the insight to number my revisions like software. The original book became Hero 1.1. The version based on my agent’s notes became version 1.2. The new version was Hero 1.3, but in the course of many confusing ideas on how to fix it, it also became 1.4 and 1.5. (The first two were original, complete “books” ready to go, and separate from each other. But after that everything else was a draft of the third version of book one.) I also started a file called Hero 2.1 with notes on the new villain taken from Hero 1.1; that will become book two in the series.

Three weeks ago, when I took time off to do nothing but finish this book, everything I needed was in the Scrivener file, and I was getting confused trying to edit such large (90,000 words) documents. So I needed more than what Scrivener was doing. (I now create each scene as a separate document in Scrivener so I can easily move them around if necessary, and compile them into one document when I’m done by pressing a button. Love it!) So I pulled out my box of sticky notes and wrote a one-sentence description of each scene in the order I currently had it, and lined them up (first on the glass of a framed picture at the timeshare – LOL!, then on my white board at home).

Between years of reading, learning story structure in my screenwriting program, and learning how to be an editor in one of my grad school classes, I had a feel for where the story was going wrong. But I needed to be able to visualize the whole thing in one glance. And I needed to move the scenes around and see if it worked better this way or that way. The one-sentence sticky notes allowed me to finalize the structure as I worked through the story. I’d get to a point in the actual writing/editing, and think, but wait… I’d go back to my sticky notes and realize a piece was missing – she had to tell him before they could argue about it. Or I’d be getting along toward the end when I realized she’d told the superhero but not his alter ego, so I had to write in a way that either the alter ego had to pretend he didn’t know or he had to make a mistake and let it slip that he did.

Sheesh!

In a strange, wonderfully sick writerly way, I actually had a lot of fun! :)

A reminder to track my timeline

Again, at about the three-quarters point, I was getting lost as to “when” I was. Was the story going too slow or too fast? Was I missing any major obvious events? So I pulled up a calendar that had the date the book started on the day of the week I wanted it to start, and I started writing on the bottom of my stickies – Monday the 18th, Tuesday the 19th, etc. Two scenes had to be reversed because one had to happen at lunch time and the other at dinner time. And somewhere around here I had the ah-ha moment for how I would end the book simply based on the date that the story ended.

It was a difficult process but for some reason it wasn’t as painful this time. Maybe because I’ve been rehashing this story in my mind for seven years. In fact, several times I spent an hour or more looking for a scene I was sure I wrote only to come to the conclusion that I must’ve just developed it with striking clarity in my head! One scene I did eventually find in my grad school homework. (Whew!) In any case, I know this is the best version of this book by far, and exactly what I meant to write. Some of the scenes even surprised me with how good they became. LOL! Definitely my best work to date.

So if you’re trying to figure out how to edit a monster, try some or all of the things I used:

  • printouts and a pen,
  • Scrivener or multiple open Word documents,
  • a calendar,
  • sticky notes,
  • and a white board or wall.

You can tame the monster, but it may take looking at your story in several different ways at the same time.

Good luck! You can do it!

Since Shonna is taking some time off, I thought I’d find other interesting things to share with you guys! :) If you’re interested in participating in National Novel Writing Month, you might be interested in this cool class! I’ll find something else I think might be interesting to you next Friday. Happy Writing and happy weekend!

HURRY!   SIGN UP NOW.  CLASS STARTS MONDAY.

“Conquering National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)” with Alison Diem

October 15 – November 11, 2012

Enrollment Information at http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclassOct12.html

COST: $20 for OCCRWA members, $30 for non-members

If you have specific questions, email occrwaonlineclass@yahoo.com

ABOUT THE CLASS:

Push your career forward.  Whether you are brand new to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or a veteran participant – this class will get you sitting down, writing and meeting those goals.

Alison Diem, your instructor and a 10-year NaNoWriMo veteran, will answer all of those burning questions (and doubts) about the challenge – how it works and how to get through the process.  NaNoWriMo can be a break-through opportunity.  Make it yours!

The first two weeks of class will prepare you for the entire month – from getting registered to tips on surviving Turkey Day with writing goals intact.  There’ll be a night before kick-off party, appropriately coinciding with Halloween.  Then, on November 1, the entire class dives into their NaNo novels.

As NaNoWriMo gets underway, there’ll be support systems and an arsenal of weapons for blasting through daily word counts and actually getting onto paper (or screen) 50,000 words in 30 days.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR:

As a NaNoWriMo participant for the past decade, Alison Diem knows all of the ups and the downs of this challenge.  In “winning” four different times, she’s learned some important techniques that she’s going to share with her students.  These are tools to use, not just during November, but all year long.

Alison is a writer of intricate stories involving history, the paranormal, adventure, magic, mystery, murder, fantasy, steampunk, creatures that may (or may not) be real and any combination thereof. Also, dragons.  She recently moved back to Ann Arbor, MI with her husband, Bear, and her kitty Harvey.

She is also very, very tall. You know, for a girl.  You can find her at http://www.alisondiem.com

Enrollment Information

Enrollment Information at http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclassOct12.html

COST: $20 for OCCRWA members, $30 for non-members

Coming in November 2012

Submission: Writing a Short Story for Anthology Call-Out with Louisa Bacio

This class deals with catering a short story specifically to a publisher’s request for submissions. Regularly, editors and publishers list upcoming anthologies and the types of stories they’re looking to include.

Check out our full list of workshop at http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclasses.html

Want to be notified personally two weeks before each class? Be sure you’re signed up for our Online Class Notices Yahoo Group! Sign up at the bottom of http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclasses.html or send a blank email to OCCRWAOnlineClassNotices-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

          This isn’t the first time I’ve been surprised that it is Wednesday and I have no blog written. I think it might be the first time that I haven’t twisted my schedule into knots trying to write something at least a little interesting and helpful. This time, though, I really have no time. I have papers due, computer labs to finish, art projects and studying for mid-terms all vying for my attention. I’m taking 20 minutes to compose and upload this, then it’s back to doling out pieces to each of the screaming vultures devouring my time.

          In the course of writing a paper defining the term subplot for my English Composition class, I came across a website, Seven Story Plat Patterns, that might be useful. It’s written to those teaching children. Your first inclination may be to dismiss it or to be insulted. Don’t. When I homeschooled my children, I discover the best way to get a good overview of a topic was to get a children’s book on the topic. Although I did not use this site in my paper, it was a huge help in focusing the direction of my research and my writing. I hope it helps you, too.

         Off to feed those birds!

Output is limited by input. Things don’t “come to you” so much as they “come out of you.” Ideas don’t appear from nowhere; they are the result of the combination and permutation of previously existing ideas.”  –Andrew Pudewa Thoughts on Creativity

Last night I had this crazy dream where I was trying to let the dog in through a sliding glass door (my house doesn’t have a sliding door) but these large, evil, peregrine falcons kept trying to get into the house at the same time. My poor arms were pecked at and bleeding.

Where did these random dream thoughts come from? 1. There was a story on the news that night about the actress who played the lead in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds and they showed several scenes of attacking birds. 2. Before turning out my light I was reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and if you’ve read this novel, you’ll understand where I got the peregrine from. So, while I was sleeping my brain took images and ideas from my day and mashed them up into a new dream sequence.

I write my novels the same way.

One idea paired with another idea sparks a concept. Add some more thought and research and then I’ve got a basic plot. I’m at my most creative when my mind is spilling over with ideas. What happens when I’m stuck? I need to go out and find more ideas—either new information or something that jogs my memory and sets me off on my merry way again.

Speaking of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the question: Where does Creativity come from? I love the concept of this book. The author, Ransom Riggs, took a bunch of old crazy photos and wrote a book around them.

I’m still mid-read in the novel, but aargh! I wish I had thought of this idea. Of course, my story behind the pictures and would have been different, but still…what a great concept! I’m frequently flipping through old photographs looking for ideas/setting/mood for my historical fantasies. Not once have I thought of including them in the books! *writer envy*

And you may as well go check out Ransom Rigg’s website. He’s got a few items there to stir your creativity.

 

          I’ve been so amazingly busy the past few weeks that I’m despairing of ever being able to get a blog written before the last minute. :) This week I have several beginnings of blogs, but nothing fleshed out and finished. Rather than rush the creative process and force one of those ideas into a mediocre post, I’m going to change tack.

          Even so, I’m not giving you something totally unrelated to what’s going on in my life. I’ve actually been trying to re-discover my writing, to re-connect with words in my life, to re-new my enthusiasm and my output. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I can’t just will myself to write. I need a little help. (We all do. That’s one of my “beginnings” and I’ll expand on that in a future post.) I realized I probably needed more than a little guidance. Where do I go when I need help? A search engine, of course. (What did we do before the Internet? 😉 )

          I came across this blog, Top 10 Blogs for Writers. There is enough material here to inspire and instruct me for a long time. I hope you agree. Enjoy!

I’ve been sitting in front of my computer trying to figure out what to say to you. I have little in terms of writing advice except this: write it down. Don’t forget the things that are important. Write them down even if no one else ever reads your journal, even if you never read what you wrote ever again. Don’t forget. The advice I’ve been giving myself lately is – write even if it hurts.

I haven’t been taking the advice, but I think it’s sound. I don’t want to forget any of the time I spent with Mom in her last weeks. I don’t want to ever forget the one-on-one time we had when she told me how proud she was of me, how she knew I’d go far with my writing, how the best writers are older because they had to live their lives first in order to know what was important enough to say, to remember.

I don’t want to forget how we laughed so much while she was in dialysis for three hours that we had to wonder if that’s why her blood pressure cuff broke that day.

I want to remember how she made me laugh when she whispered in my ear on one of the bad days, “He watches me while I sleep.” I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly, and she had such a hard time breathing that it was hard to understand her. I leaned my ear next to her mouth, and asked her what she said. “Your brother. He watches me while I sleep. It’s disconcerting.” I pulled back to look at her face and realized her wheezing was laughter. She was in the final week of her life, could barely breathe, and she was joking around about how my brother wouldn’t leave her side, even while she slept.

This is the stuff I want to write down in my journal so I’ll have it forever, but it makes me cry. (And it takes so much longer to write things out longhand.) I’m already tired of crying, tired of the mood swings. But from what everyone tells me, this is the beginning of a long road. Great.

Of all the reasons why I’m forcing myself to move forward, even a little bit at a time, with my writing and my writing business, it’s Mom’s last private words to me that push me to work. My mother believes that there is a future that includes people reading my work and laughing or crying or feeling better or having hope. She believes not just in my writing, but in my ability to make a life out of words. I don’t know how long she’s felt that way, but this month is the first time I really heard it.

So, as much as it hurt, and past my deadline this week, I wanted to write that part down for you. You need to believe that it’s important to write or you may let it slip away from you. If it does slip away and you don’t feel a void, that’s okay. Maybe writing was only for a season in your life and you are or will be ready to let it go, to let something better take its place. But for as long as you believe your words and thoughts and feelings are important, write them down.