Tag Archives: drafts

Time for a New Year’s Change


If your present methods of work are producing you a stream of stories that are finding homes and an audience — as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But if there’s something that isn’t working for you, it’s time for a change.

This includes sheer boredom. If you want tedium, you can find plenty of wearisome ways to spend your time that are much easier work than writing fiction and marketing it, and probably bring in more money or status to boot. (Say, dumpster diving for items to sell on eBay. Game stores and upscale neighborhoods with designer label trash seem to rule YouTube dumpster vids.)
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That School of Holy Map-Making


A boffer would have been handy the other day to hit myself in the head with. (Why do we punish ourselves for having just solved the problem?)

One of my big projects had been hanging fire because I had to make a continental-scale map to lay out the states and climate and the military campaigns.

Now, let me say that if your story is about a couple of wandering rogues, you can lay out a map in half an hour — I’ve done it on lined paper during a lecture class. As soon as you bring in military campaigns, you are looking at days of work because you have to either decide on the terrain and make the war fit it, or you have to work out the strategy in detail and make the map suit.

But, whoa, there — why are we laying out maps in any case?

Because someone told us we had to.

Because someone said that without one we will have the city north of the river in this story or chapter and south of it in another.

No, we won’t. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 05.1.2 — Map Your Course


Time to mark things up and see not only where you are going but how to get there.

“Oh, master, how do I make a statue of an elephant?”
“Get a big block of grey stone, then chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant, especially the elephant you’re after.”

Revision is often done holistically rather than linearly. While one could go through correcting just one thing, like passive writing, then make another pass just for dialog, most people carry a whole swarm of things to look for on any one pass. Also, when you change something late in the novel because it makes your lip curl when you read it, Read the rest of this entry

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


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.)


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.

Revision 01: High-Level Revision and Spectrums of Writers


ImageAny good book on grammar and punctuation can teach you much of what a low-level revision requires. The low-level revision is also known as the line-edit. It’s the last thing a writer needs to do. Literally. You don’t have to worry about that until the last draft before it goes to an editor to read, but it’s good for the beginner to run one earlier to start seeing what the mistakes are. You can start training yourself to just not do them, or do them less often.

For fiction, you may also need to know conventions of representing speech and thought (very different than MLA Handbook quote conventions), and looking for infodumps, telegrams, reaction before stimulus, and other fiction snags. An eye for spotting these is probably best developed in online workshops, where writers critique each other’s work. I suggest online because in-person critique workshops can be emotionally rough and, since they are based on only the few people in your immediate geographic vicinity, not common interests, sometimes they aren’t a lot of use. Different genres have different templates and the experience of many of us is that someone who never reads romances cannot decently crit a romance novel; someone who never reads specfi has no idea of its conventions of how to read a story, which is very different than the rest of fiction (as James Gunn explicitly pointed out in his courses).

What has been missing is a guide on how to do high-level revision, which is about plot structure, world-presentation, characterization, and templates, not commas and Tells. It requires looking at the very basics of your story. Rather than looking at the beast and deciding it needs dark hair rather than light, you are looking at whether it should have fur or feathers or scales, or maybe be a plant. Because the high-level revision addresses the underpinning of the story, it’s not easy to set down as simple rules the way low-level revision can be. Also, what is good or bad depends on your genre as well as many other things going on in the manuscript. These blogs can guide you, but you must apply it with your own wit and judgement.

As writers have met each other online, in groups of hundreds and thousands, not just the six or ten in our local area, we have found that there are different wirings involved here. No one method of writing suits everyone. Some people have their writing ruined by trying to force themselves into unsuitable patterns.

There are three spectrums onto which we fit, three axes of a 3D graph of where we lie among writers. Of course, few people fall onto the far ends and most of us mix traits in the middle. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 02: When to Revise



It’s traditional to say you must finish one draft before you can revise. You’ll find that traditions often are more prescriptive than descriptive, telling you what someone thinks ought to work rather than what necessarily does work for any one individual.

Revising Before You Finish a Draft

The plotter needs to address some high-level revision as soon as finishing the outline, before any manuscript even gets written. Don’t go to the trouble of writing all the scenes for a flawed plot, then have to throw out thirty thousand words, when you can catch those problems in the outline. That’s the plotter’s built-in advantage, to have the plot strongly built before writing, ready to support all those wonderful characters and fascinating narrative.

If pantsers or railroaders find themselves stalled halfway through a draft, they may need to stop and check their plot. The problem may be a big plot snag. It may be a character that isn’t working out. It may be part of the world or society or how reality works that needs to change. It may be an information hole you need to fill. High-level revision tools can help you figure this out and how to fix it.

Revise Later — Much Later
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