Archive for writing


Now, Where Was I?

Yesterday, I reread the part of the book I’d already written and I almost didn’t remember writing any of it. That was good, in a way, since I was able to read it like a reader without knowing where it was going, but it’s bad if I have to write the rest of it and I’m not sure where it’s going.

Fortunately, I have notes about my plans for the book, but when I read them, there was mention of a scene that I could visualize clearly but that wasn’t in the book. I was rather baffled because I could swear I wrote it. I was starting to think that maybe I’d just outlined it, and the outline was so vivid that I felt like I’d written it, but then I got the idea to check my backup drive. I wrote this book on a different computer, and although I was pretty sure I hadn’t written anything after the date of the last file I’d transferred to this computer, there was always a chance I’d written more. There was a little panic behind this because the computer I was writing on has died, but I was pretty good about backing up that hard drive.

And, sure enough, on the backup drive, there was a version a few days older than the one I’d read, and it did have the scene I remembered. Hooray! Thank goodness for backups. And this is why I tend to have overlapping computers, so nothing is really lost if one dies. I guess this means I’ll soon be in the market for a new laptop.

Today, I need to re-outline the book and figure out where I’m really going with it. It’s been a while, so I may have changed my mind.


On to the Next Project

I’m letting the project I’ve been working on rest for a week or so before I give it another pass, which means I’m switching gears to work on something else — a new Enchanted, Inc. book. I got about halfway through it in the fall before life got crazy and I got busy on another project, but I need to get back to it and finish it so it can go out into the world and make my fans happy.

Today I’ll be rereading what I’ve already written so I can remember what it was all about. That’s a little scary because it’s been months, and there’s always a chance that I’ll look at it and go “What was I thinking?” Or I guess I could like it.

After today, I’m planning to do a massive writing binge and make a game out of seeing how fast I can finish a draft. I’m trying to break some bad time-wasting habits I’ve developed, and I hope that if I can make new habits, I can increase my productivity. The idea is that if I spend the summer, when I’m hiding indoors from the heat, diligently writing, then I can enjoy the fall — still working, but making a little more free time.

So, now, back to a book I haven’t looked at in months. I barely remember what the main plot was about, so this should almost be like reading something someone else wrote.


Writing Short

I ran all my errands this morning, so I think I get to just focus on work today. I’ve finished a short piece I was working on, and we’ll have to see if it’s something the person who asked for it can use. I’m not a good short story writer. I get frustrated with the short length and want to develop it more, but then it’s no longer a short story. When it’s truly a short story, it feels too short and underdeveloped to me.

This is why I get angry when writers persist in giving the advice to write short stories first. Short stories aren’t the training wheels version of a novel. They’re an entirely different form, and the ability to write one doesn’t mean you have the ability to write a novel. I’d say it’s more like roller skates vs. a bicycle. They both involve wheels, and some people can both skate and ride a bike, but learning how to roller skate isn’t really going to help you ride a bicycle, other than maybe having leg muscles and a sense of balance.

Learning to write short stories teaches you how to use words, maybe a bit of character development and plotting. But the character development you do for a short story is entirely unlike what’s needed in a novel. The plotting you do for a short story doesn’t necessarily scale to a novel-length plot. Worldbuilding and how it’s conveyed are different.

I don’t think it’s even any easier to sell a short story than it is to sell a novel. With so many online publications, it might have swung back lately, but without the online magazines, there are drastically fewer venues for short stories than there are publishers for novels.

I worry when the “write short stories first” advice gets spouted because if I had taken it, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I heard that advice when I was a teen wanting to write, and I tried writing some short stories. They all failed utterly, mostly because my brain was trying to write a novel, so when I came up to the end of the word count and I was just getting started, I threw in a rushed resolution. I had to get into romance writing, where short stories are something you’re more likely to do later in your career when you’re invited to participate in anthologies, and write a novel before I found out that this was a lot easier for me, and from there I was able to get back around to fantasy.

I make a living as a novelist now, and although I’ve written a couple of short pieces in my own world, I’ve never actually sold a short story.

So, if you want to write short and are good at it, then go for it. That’s a perfectly valid way to start a career. It just isn’t the only way, so if you don’t write short stories well, go ahead and write a novel.


The Perils of Head Hopping

I don’t have a lot of absolutes when it comes to the writing style of things I read. I’ve heard people say they won’t read first-person narration or present tense, etc. I generally try to give everything a chance and let it come down to how the book works for me. For instance, I’m not a huge fan of second-person narration — “you do this” — but I’ve read a few stories where it works.

One thing that does come close to an absolute for me, though, is indiscriminate head hopping. That’s third-person narration in which the point of view character changes frequently — not just from chapter to chapter or scene to scene, but within a scene, and going back and forth within the scene. For instance, two characters are having a conversation, and when one character is speaking, in that paragraph we also get his thoughts. But then when the other character speaks, in that paragraph we get her thoughts.

This is different from omniscient narration because with that, we have an all-knowing narrator with a perspective on these events. That narrator may dip into everyone’s head at various times, but what we see in that character’s head is presented to us through the viewpoint of the narrator. This was common in 19th century literature. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens often used it. We might get glimpses into the heads of all the characters in a scene, but we weren’t so much seeing through those characters’ eyes as we were seeing what Jane or Charles thought about what the characters were thinking. Some of the cases I’ve seen of people writing head hopping today seem to be authors trying to do this but without realizing that omniscient POV works better if the narrator really does have a perspective, to the point of being an offscreen character.

I find it really hard to get into books that head hop because I can’t sink into any one character’s head, and that makes it really hard to get a grasp on the world and the people involved. If in one scene I’m switching among all the characters, I don’t get into any of them and I’m not sure what to think about any of them. It works better for me if I spend some time in one head, seeing all the characters through that person’s perspective, then in a different scene go into another person’s head and see everything through their eyes, and so forth, and then I can figure out all the characters by putting all this information together.

I will generally put a book down if I have too many instances in the first chapter or so in which I have to backtrack to figure out whose head I’m in. If I’m going along in one person’s head and then with no transition I’m suddenly seeing that person from the outside for a paragraph and it takes me a while to figure out that’s what’s going on, that I’m in another person’s head now, I find that very annoying. It’s worse when the author has point of view breaks on top of it, where the character is thinking things about himself that most people don’t think, so sometimes it’s just a POV break and sometimes it’s an entirely different perspective. For instance, if I’m in my head and reading something that astonishes me, the way I’d describe my reaction would be more internal — I might gasp, my pulse might speed up, I might get a knot in my stomach, etc. I probably wouldn’t think about my green eyes growing wider.

I just started reading a book by an author I’ve been enjoying, but the previous books were all first-person POV. This book is doing multiple character third-person, and I don’t think this author has a good grasp on that. We’re getting a lot of “her green eyes widened” type stuff from within the characters’ POV about themselves, but then the next paragraph will be another character thinking about what that first character’s reaction means, and then a paragraph later we’re back with the first person. I have to keep going back to figure out whose head I’m in. I’m really intrigued by the story situation, but it’s taking me forever to get into this book.

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule about what works here because I know of a lot of really popular books/authors who do this in a way that bothers me so much that I couldn’t read their books, and obviously it didn’t hurt them with a huge number of readers. My rule as a reader is that if I notice it in a way that hurts my enjoyment of a book, you’re doing it wrong for me.


Almost There!

I’m so close to finishing this book that I’m having to battle with my usual “oh, just get it done” impatience in order to make the ending what it needs to be. I sat down to outline the rest and realized that I’d made a few minor wrong turns that have things in not quite the place they ought to be, so I think I’m going to go back over the last half with the same concentration I gave to getting the first half right so I can get a running start to the ending. I’d have to do this kind of editing at some point anyway, and there will be less to change later if I get the setup right.

I already know most of what I want to adjust along the way, and they aren’t major changes, just a few little tweaks that will eventually add up, and that I think (hope!) will take this book to the next level.

So, that will be my focus for the next couple of days. I may throw myself a party when I feel like this book is finally done (for now).


Dreaming the Book

I made both my writing time quota and my word count quota yesterday, so I felt really accomplished. And I must have become deeply engaged in what I was doing because all last night I dreamed the scenes I wrote yesterday. It would have been nice if I could have come up with something new, like maybe the next scene, or even some revisions to the scenes I wrote yesterday, but I guess if it was vivid enough to dream, that’s still a good sign. I know when I’m dreaming a book that it’s going well.

I’m maybe a week and a half away from finishing, if I keep up this pace. But I’ve said that several times before so I’m not going to make any predictions.

In other news, this weekend is the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I’m not one of the featured authors and my books aren’t being sold there, but I am volunteering in the afternoon. I pretty much look like my book cover photo, though I suspect I’ll have my hair up and I’ll be wearing glasses, and I’ll have something on that will be a hint about who I am. If you’re there, look for me, and there may be a little prize to anyone who spots me and comes to say hi.

And for those in the Pittsburgh area, mark your calendars for a big booksigning that will be held on the afternoon of May 20. It’s part of the Nebula Awards weekend and will involve a lot of authors, including me. It’s free and open to the public. You can bring books from home, and there will be some books on sale there (supposedly, they’ll have copies of Rebel Mechanics. I’ll have a few other things). I’ll share more specific details as I have them.

I have a few events in the fall, but this is probably going to be the extent of my getting out and about until September (unless someone invites me to something else).


Revision Woes

Sometimes I love revising. While there’s a sense of discovery to the first draft, it’s also sometimes hard to think of what happens next. With revising, I’ve figured out what the book is really about, and I can mold and shape it.

But sometimes that can be a real challenge because what’s already there has a powerful hold on the mind, especially if it’s something I like. It’s tempting to tinker with the words that are there rather than question the scene that’s there. Even if I let myself question the scene, it can be hard to break away from the circumstances surrounding it.

That’s where I found myself yesterday. There’s a scene that doesn’t need to be there. It came about in the first place because I was nearing the end of a chapter and needed a good end of chapter cliffhanger. Sometimes, I get good stuff out of throwing in a cliffhanger like that. It sends the story off in a fun new direction by adding additional conflict. But when I really looked at the story, there was no reason for the antagonist to show up at that time. He had other things he needed to be doing. On the other hand, I really liked the other directions that incident spurred, and I liked how I set it up. The problem is, I can’t really have the setup and the aftermath without the incident, and I’m having a hard time mentally getting away from what I already did to create something entirely new. This may be one of those situations that requires starting a new blank document and writing an entirely new scene without referring to the previous draft, then pasting that in.

It’s like I have to completely unwrite what was there, then think of something entirely new, and then smooth over the seams. It’s not even an important scene, but that always seems to make it harder. It’s easier to change important scenes, in a way.

So, that’s going to be my fun for the day.


The Value of Cryptic Notes

There was one good thing about the week or so I spent on business stuff: My brain seems to have solved the plot problem I was wrestling with before I had to put the writing on hiatus. There was something I wanted to have happen, but it was mutually exclusive with another thing I wanted to have happen. When I was reviewing my notes yesterday, I couldn’t quite decipher what I’d written, mostly why I’d suggested something, and I misinterpreted it, but then the misinterpretation turned out to be the solution to the problem because it put one of the things I wanted to have happen in a different place, which allowed the other thing to happen.

Hooray for bad handwriting, cryptic notes, and time away to forget what I originally meant.

I suspect that I get more good ideas and solutions out of bad handwriting and cryptic notes than I lose brilliant ideas because I can’t read or understand them later. It’s not so much the original idea that’s so brilliant as it’s the idea that comes after I’ve had a chance to mull it over, and that idea tends to come from attempting to decipher the cryptic notes.

Bad handwriting is also a good source of fantasy names. I may have written “Mike,” but it ends up looking like “Melke,” which is a decent fantasy name. It would be fun to write an entire book where all the characters are named based on attempts at deciphering my handwriting.

I am so fortunate to live in the day of personal computers. I was watching a documentary on Jane Austen and how she wrote, and I’d be doomed if I had to write and submit my manuscripts in longhand.


Choosing the Adventure

It’s a nice rainy day, which often means more productivity, unless I give in to the urge to nap or read. I do sometimes consider that a perfect reading day gets turned into a holiday, but I have too much writing to do to get away with that right now. I also have a lot of business-related work that needs to be done. But maybe if I’m very good and productive, I can stop early this afternoon and spend some time enjoying the good reading weather.

In the book I’m revising, I’ve hit a point where the smaller changes made earlier in the book have resulted in major changes to the plot, so I’m not really revising anymore. I’m writing totally new material, which means figuring out what happens next and how it’s going to happen. That slows things down a bit. I have to separate myself from what did happen and think of what these characters really would do in these new circumstances.

This process starts to feel like one of those “choose your own adventure” books. I’ll think of what could happen next and realize that there are a couple of different paths I could take. I get out a piece of notebook paper and list what could happen with each option, and I choose the version that either makes more sense or that results in a better story (preferably both). If the better story isn’t necessarily the one that makes more sense, I have to come up with a way to make it make sense, and that may require going back to an earlier scene to set it up.

For instance, I figured out that I could justify the more exciting option if the characters knew the bad guys were close to finding them, and I came up with a way for that to happen, but for that to work, the characters have to be able to recognize a person that they hadn’t previously met, so I had to go back a few scenes to set up how they would recognize him.

This is going to require a lot of tea. And chocolate.


And Then vs. And So

I had a big “click” in my head yesterday that was kind of exciting.

I’ve read a lot of books on the craft of writing, scene structure, etc., and I’ve been to a lot of workshops. I know all the stuff about how a scene needs to have a character goal, then some conflict and then lead into the next scene. I’ve just never been able to make all that work consciously. Yes, I’ve written a lot of books, and most of them have been moderately successful. People seem to like what I write, and I get good reviews. But I think I’ve mostly been doing it on instinct.

That may be the difference between those “gift” books and the ones that are a struggle. The gift books are the ones where my instincts are working and I’m doing it right without thinking about it. The struggle books are the ones where my instincts are failing me.

My click yesterday came from a Twitter thread in which someone was talking about how each scene needs to lead into the next scene with either “and so” or “but.” That means that the actions in that scene cause the events in the next scene to happen in some way. Either the character achieves his/her goal and it causes the next scene to happen or the character tries but doesn’t achieve the goal, and so something else happens. You have problems if your scenes are “and then” because it just means that the next event happens, not that the next event is caused.

I knew that. I’ve heard that a number of times before, but I don’t think it clicked for me until I started looking at the current project, and I realized that the difference between the original draft and the current version is that in the original draft, all the scenes were “and then,” with the protagonist being swept along by events. In the current draft, the thing I changed (not always on purpose) was turning all the scenes into “and so.” The scenes that are still iffy for me that I’m not entirely happy with are the “and then” scenes.

I didn’t actually dance around the room, but I sure felt like it. The clouds parted and sunlight streamed in. There are still other things to fix, but if I can fix that much, it will make a huge difference.