Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sorry for the gap …

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I would have liked to get more of the Revision Project up for you, but it’s been loony.

Suddenly finding a possible taker for The Horse Book (co-author S.A. Bolich) was good loony (that four-year-old draft looks ghastly and I need to make a revision to-do list first off).

Now, as we leap into NaNoPrepMo, let us leave thoughts of revision behind for December and go to how to organize our writing and research for a rough draft in November.

Revision 03e: The Story You Outgrew

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Save your first stories. Twenty years from now, you will find their forgotten box. A silly smile will cross your lips to read that title, see that opening …

Then the cringing starts. Wince. Groan.

You’ll find a mixture of the horrible, trite, and posturing with unexpected virtues and beauty. You can actually find a paragraph here, a description there, and even one or two concepts worth recycling. I wrote better about snow in the days I slogged through it than after many uninterruptedly tropical years.

Today, though, you’re stopped dead on a story that may be worth saving, but …
You wince right now.

Congratulations! In the process of writing even this far, you have learned so much that you have already outgrown the story.

Can revision of basic concepts can save this?

Usually, it can. Obvious Mary Sues can turn interesting, fan-fiction sheds its derivation, and stereotypes grow so you can’t tell they were ever cardboard.

You need to pinpoint problems to find solutions for each. They may include…

  • Arch or overwrought writing. If it makes you wince, you’re already past this stage. *Keep scenes and structure, but rewrite the way you can now.
  • Characters all sound alike: no one is more or less clever, more masculine or feminine. Characters all act alike, except for being good or bad. Any “different” characters are vaudeville stereotypes. Character motivations are thin or confused: the characters don’t have their own motivations, just obey author motivations to make the plot work. Characters act on or react to author knowledge they shouldn’t have. *These may take only cosmetic fixes, or may require a ground-zero plot revamp. You can characterize better than this now.
  • Plot secrets are obvious, or will be to anyone reading the cover blurb. Fan-fiction and self-publication admittedly have the merit of avoiding this major fault of regular publishers.
  • Pacing is slow, or all at one high level, or bumps up and down regularly as a metronome rather than building to a climax. Pacing keeps falling flat, lacking in excitement. You need high-level revision, dropping, adding, or changing scenes. A major problem like bead plotting needs plot rebuilding.

If you have to make bone-deep changes, unfinished is good: less to throw out, and you can feel revision leads to a first rough draft.

You may also decide this is too deeply flawed to be worth revision. You can start a new project fresh, freed by putting this effort in the Bottom Drawer. Sometimes “finishing what you started” is throwing good time away.

(Underlined items will some day be links when I get those blog items up.)

Revision 03d: The Plot Indecisive

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Sometimes you reach a point in a story and you can’t figure which way to go. Sometimes, oh allergic to writing things down pantsers, we forget what was supposed to happen, after a hiatus. Sometimes we read a blog that decries our choice we haven’t even written. Sometimes we have too many ideas.

If you can’t remember what your plot was, the grim reality is that if you can’t recover it through meditation, free-writing, or hypnosis, it’s gone. Take the pieces you have and make a new plot, cursing all the way, because we always know that the one that slipped our minds was just fabulous. Except it probably wasn’t or we’d remember it. It probably just seemed clever at the time. Very often, after you’ve written a new version, if you find the steno book or disc with the missing plot notes, you find they’re just so-so and you’ll be happy with the new one.

If the markets and your ideas conflict, you will discover one of two things. Either you are the kind of writer who can enjoy working to plan and modifying your ideas to suit — you lucky dog! — or you are the kind who is stuck writing what you have to write. (This does not excuse bad plots, junk characters, or derivative settings as being what you “have to write.”) What you will likely find is that after you have written one complete draft, you can put that away as “the true story.” After that, you can write “the fictionalized version” and feel free to modify it any way it needs to go. That, or you may find that you were thinking of the wrong market for this, and it’s really some other genre.

Sometimes you reach the middle and you know your ending, but you just can’t decide by which road to get there. Sometimes you reach a point in the manuscript where you realize that, at this point, you could go for one of two endings, either of which is good. Or a character could be one of two things. In all cases, both are good — it’s not like one is soggy or undramatic or unsatisfying — but it makes it a very different book.

Worst of all is when the character, as you’ve been writing, has revealed itself to be something you’re not sure would be in some planned plot situations. Even though you had been decided on the plot, the character has made it all questionable.

Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03c: Ant on Mount Everest

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When you look at the place a scene needs to go and go blank, suspect this. I don’t mean a weary turning away from boredom: I mean where part of your brain is admitting “I don’t know how to do this. I want the scene to do these things, but I don’t know how to make it happen.”

Everything has a learning curve. Just because you can mix colours doesn’t mean you can paint a real likeness in a portrait or make a landscape not only convincing but dramatic. Equally, just because you can write sentences and paragraphs and have a good vocabulary doesn’t mean you know how to make a scene work dramatically or make a dialog zing.

Alas, the only way to learn to write a scene is to write it. If you don’t like what you get, keep the parts that work (not necessarily the cleverest bits) and rewrite it. Over and over. Trying again in a new way is what all creative artists do to get it right, to approach closer to their vision for the work.

It may be you have bitten off more than you can chew. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03b: Face the Fear

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Before I could sell a book, I had to face why I was afraid to sell it. You may have to face your fear in order to finish your story.

Anyone not fearing one of these doesn’t understand what could be wrong with something as good as selling a book. Lucky them.

It’s usually about other people and your relationships. Try these on for size, and see how many apply to you.

“It will make someone I hate happy and able to brag that they know me if it sells.”
And they will, while ignoring or dissing you still. To their friends, you become part of their status. The cure: Quit cutting off your nose to spite your face. Imagine how they’ll get cornered when asked, that if they’re your great good friend, why their copy isn’t author-autographed or why their friends don’t get to meet you. Their bragging will actually boomerang on them. Smirk about it and get on with your work.

“It will make someone, whose goodwill I want, despise me for writing something they won’t approve.”
A lot of romance authors, let alone erotica authors, use pseudonyms. In other genres, serious academics may not want to be caught writing college comedies, heroic fantasies, whatever. If you’re a lay teacher at a parochial school, you mayn’t want to be associated with your Wiccan detective. This is what pen names are for.

“I’ll have to revise it and then try to sell it.”
That’s a lot of work, apparently more than you want to do. Remember, you control your writing. If it’s for fun, just do it — especially if it’s to learn how to write. You have to learn how to write before rewriting, and just learning to finish a novel is a challenge without stressing about quality. That’s what revision’s for. Have your fun, write it, and go on to the next. Revise if you feel like it. Share it with your friends. You never have to do more than you want. Really. I officially excuse you from having to do more than you are willing to do.

“It will make someone expect me to do more to meet their expectations of what I’m capable of.”
Especially a likely fear if your parents were/are perfectionists who demanded you live up to their ideals. But you don’t have to. You control your writing. If you write, sell, and publish this, you never have to write another single thing again except as it pleases you. This is another reason for pseudonyms: if you don’t tell them you sold a book, they can’t nag you about another.

If you fear you’ll never come up with another story after you finish this one, I assure you, I have never heard of someone who finished a novel who didn’t have another idea, connected or not, in a bit. If they lack sequels or prequels, they just invent a new idea to love writing about. It’s only the people who marry a series for ten years who forget how to dream anything else. That’s another reason I suggest beginners write three disconnected novels first. Then you won’t fear this.

So talk it out with a friend, your pet, or your journal. You deserve to get that story finished!

Revision 03a: Carrot or Carrot?

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My only method for finishing a terminally boring manuscript is bribing the Muse.

Mine will not be bullied. Some people can say, “If I don’t finish this, I don’t get to watch my favorite TV show, or I have to do extra exercise or scrub the toilet.” If I’m royally stuck, I’d rather scrub my toilet — and yours, too — than stare at the screen with nothing happening behind my eyes. If nothing else, when I get jammed, the house gets clean and organized and I get fitter.

Bribes, though, can be very small and cheap. Free, even. Like a sense of accomplishment.

I make a list of all the scenes and bits that need finishing. I print it out, and get to cross off completed items. This To Do list proves motion toward the goal to me. To me, that’s a reward, with a sparkly completed manuscript at the end.

But I also examine that list. It may be time to change some things.

First, I ask why I’m bored. Is it dull? The reader will think so, too, so I need to introduce something exciting or even turn the scene inside out (this can change the plot, but usually for the better). If it’s incurably dull but necessary — I cut that scene and sum things up in a Tell, if that much. You probably will find this improves the pacing no end.

If the problem is plot fizzle, then it’s time to invent some sparklers and fountains. In short, re-examine it and make it zing. This is revising the original idea, but no one said you couldn’t! That’s what revision is about: re-envisioning and changing things. You don’t have to finish a draft of a bad idea. Stop and make it good. This alone can restore the fun and re-excite you into finishing.

Double-check to make sure that you aren’t actually cringing at how bad this seems now. That’s another problem, not boredom.

When I absolutely can’t get going, I put “*****” at every gap (I’m a grasshopper, not a railroader). Then I go to each one in turn and write one sentence forward. Just one, if that’s all I’m capable of. “C’mon,” I tell myself, “you ought to know by now at least ten words’ worth of forward info.” Don’t limit yourself to one sentence if more arrives, but force at least one.

By the third time through, if not sooner, I’ll write somewhere to a scene finish, if only not to see the rest again. Then I can take a break.

Railroaders — you can stand anything not physically damaging for 15 little minutes. Pull your head together. Start the timer* and type fast for 15 minutes with no pauses whatever. Type anything to do with the scene. It doesn’t have to be pretty or salable (crafters, loosen up). If desperate, interrogate the scene.

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*Every writer needs a 15-minute timer, whether a software alarm or a wind-up plastic chicken. You will find me sharing several writing kinks that require a timer. It works because you don’t have to watch a clock, but can concentrate on the writing. Clock-watching can be an excuse to not really write, when all these involve diving in and doing nothing but writing in order for them to work.

Revision 03: Dead in Its Tracks: What’s Stalling Completion

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Most writers, at some time, will have stories they can’t finish. If you’re not doing this for money, or hope of it, you probably never will finish the story, not even for an audience. The huge number of unfinished stories at FanFiction.com tells us that, as do any number of people I’ve known with unfinished MSS piling up.

For railroad writers, having one scene stall is a real disaster: you can’t get past it to the rest of the novel!

Call it Ingraham’s Law: You must have a finished draft to sell, or you don’t have anything to sell. No editor will buy unfinished first novels, because you may never finish. (Amateurs are excused as usual, but you might like finishing, if you could.)

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The basic reasons a first draft stalls (as opposed to lacking any time to finish it) are–

1) Boredom/sloth. This is too much like hard work. No one warned you that writing is sand-hogging for your mind. Now that you know how the story works out, you’ve had your fun with it and don’t need the actual completion.

2) Fear. You’re afraid to write those scenes, because they touch sore spots of yours, or someone will disapprove. If you finish, someone will expect you to do something with it. If you finish this, you’ll never have another idea and your fun of writing will be over.

3) Lack of Skill. You’re in over your technical head and don’t know how to pull this off. You can’t figure how this scene would be played to get where you need to go. You can’t make the writing approach your vision. You don’t like what you’ve written and wish you had a collaborator who could do more with the material you’ve built in your head.

4) Confusion/indecision. This is sometimes the result of any of the above, but it has other sources. Trying to write commercially can have publishers’ preferences at odds with your Muse. You may have been away from the work long enough you’ve lost track of the plot. You may simply be pulled along either of two possible stories.

5) Growth. You’ve outgrown this story. It’s too primitive, juvenile, or derivative, and now you see it. It makes you hairball, or at least cringe.