Tag Archives: revision

Why Not Cookies, Coffee, and Maize?


… or, Why exotic modern foods are out of place in most herofi or highfy.

The first reason to avoid artifacts of our post-renaissance worldwide culture is atmosphere. If you want your reader to immerse in your medievalesque world, don’t keep swatting them in the face with things that don’t feel medieval. If you want a feel of the Orient, don’t bring in New World stuff and if you want a Mesoamerican ambiance, keep European stuff out of the mix.

Particularly, I recall objecting to characters eating cinnamon cookies in a northern mountain culture, in a ms I critted for a workshop. The author’s attitude was that they were technologically possible, so why not? My objection was that “cookies” were unnecessarily shoving 21st century America into a world so alien it didn’t have dogs or horses. The cookies weren’t necessary to the plot. They were merely cosmetic, and in this case the wrong cosmetics. I mean, in the same village, you might as well serve tamales or have the children play basketball.

They’re just as atmospherically wrong, though technologically possible. They’re just not technologically plausible.

“Cookie” is a specifically American and modern (last couple of centuries) word. “Sweet biscuits” or “sugarcakes” could have served the same purpose without swatting the reader out of immersion.

But are they technologically possible? Read the rest of this entry

Exotic Pet Ban: Delete Your Pets


The traditional term among writers is often “murder your darlings.” This phrase is not always understood and does repel by its overly dramatic word choice. These days we delete files, unlike the old days when the technical term and the code command was to “kill” a file.

What you are looking for, in order to change or delete, are words, phrases, scenes, characters, or subplots that are too brilliant, too clever, too glow-in-the-dark, so that they don’t fit into the prose or story organically. They stick out like that cupboard door left open at eye height. In revision, you need to close the door.

These are often hard to see for yourself, especially after several revisions. You become work-blind to them. You can best find them by watching your own reactions.
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Time to Prioritize


On my common topic of writing revision, consider this …

Is it time you revised your writing game plan?

Thanks to an overactive imagination and too little time, I have way too many “projects” on hold, from individual short stories to series of novels.

Sure, they get shopped around, but if you hadn’t noticed, most publishers have slush piles that feed into wormholes. You send them the properly formatted manuscript with return postcard for arrival notification, as well as the return envelope with all that postage on it, and you never hear a thing again.

This especially applies when you send a proper synopsis and three opening chapters, and have them contact you, asking to see the entire manuscript which has really interested them. Wahoo, right? Right into the wormhole, to emerge as a stream of sub-atomic particles on the other side of the universe. So I wait a year, send ticklers, and get ignored.

But the point is, NaNoWriMo is over, and it’s time to think about one more novel in the stack.
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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

The Revision Project


Heaven knows it was useful to me to update my page that gathers all the blogs for the Revision Project. Just a few holes here and there! And maybe someday I’ll get that counting thing straight …

For those of you following that, it may help you catch some you missed, and also explained some apparent non sequiturs.


Revision 06.1.1: The True Story and the Good One


When you’ve finished a draft, you may feel like you have captured the real essence of the characters, their world, their lives, their adventures–

But it’s a little too easy on them.

If your main problem in feedback on your manuscripts is that you aren’t being mean enough to your characters, that your story lacks drama because they triumph too easily, that the tension and interest would be higher if things were rougher on them — you probably need to listen.

Yes, I and others sometimes express weariness with plots where everything always goes wrong for the protagonist, chapter after chapter, until suddenly at the end everything can be wound up and reversed. The world isn’t really full of villains and fools just waiting to do someone dirt as soon as they are declared a protagonist or the close attachment of one, and we find it difficult to believe a world where that’s how they all act. Things have to work both ways, but right now in the story you know is right, things don’t go wrong enough or often enough.

What you need to do is to preserve this version. Burn a copy on CDR and print it out in hardcopy. Now you have, forever, the True Story. This is the real history of these people and this place.

You will now put aside this true history, and write the fictionalized version. This is the one in which you can make any changes in, do all sorts of things to your poor leads, and torque it up as far higher than reality as you like.

There — wasn’t that liberating? You have the true story safe. Let’s go write the good one that will sell.

Revision 06.4.2 – Tensionicide: Don’t Chicken Out


Some scenes overwhelm with emotion or are so difficult to write that the writer flinches, and jumps to after them to recap. In many cases, you couldn’t do a worse thing to your fiction.

Actual Workshop Examples:

–Lee built up a romance through 80,000 words of Machiavellian heroic fantasy. Friends of the duo scheme to throw them together alone, at last. We’re ready to see passions spark, obligations thunder, walls fall, declarations made. We get — a jump to the next day, everything settled, everyone happy, that reads like a chapter’s missing.

–Taylor put the hero in rivalry with his chief helper, which had us wondering if the helper would turn on the hero or sabotage him. Big stakes, heightened reader attention. Then a chapter starts with a paragraph saying, “during the last few nights they had settled their difficulties, and now everything ran smoothly, with X now a loyal lieutenant.”

Readers want to live in the character’s skin. You have to give them pay-offs after build-ups. Yet some scenes most of us don’t want to go through graphically.

How do you tell the difference?

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Revision “Tell, Don’t Show”: or, Don’t Bore the Reader to Tears


Far too many freshman stories begin with the character waking up, getting dressed, having something to eat, going to work, all in complete detail. Part of this habit comes from Dinosaur Fiction, from before WW2. When it comes to modeling your work on it, anything before 1980 is kind of suspect in romance and before 1970 in specfi, though in other fields you can touch back as far as 1960 or so. We can also blame movies. They Show under the credits the sort of scenes we must Tell.

The freshman writer has been told “Show, don’t Tell” and gone overboard.

In fiction, there are almost always places to Tell rather than Show.

Take the trip from Point A to B. If nothing happens that changes character relationships or plot direction, you don’t need to Show it. Sum it up as, “Three days of travel with only two pirate attacks to fight off brought them to …”

“Skip two pirate attacks?!” you yelp.

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Revision “Show, Don’t Tell”: What the Bumper Sticker Means


Those three words are often repeated without being really explained, so they become noise. This writer’s bumper sticker is supposed to mean, “let the reader experience the story and make their own judgements, so they feel they live it through the viewpoint character, rather than you predigesting the matter and only giving them summaries of action or your summation of the characters.”

Fiction written to be read and storytelling, especially for children, diverge here. Oral storytelling uses Tell, because that’s more concise and it is a less immersive art. Listeners know they are hearing someone else tell them the story, and don’t expect close identification. Contemporary fiction emphasizes getting the readers to forget the author and themselves and move into the character’s skin. The major tool for this is Showing rather than Telling.

Tell: He awoke, and looked up through the branches of an alien tree at an alien sky.

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