Archive for writing



I spent the weekend mostly with my head down in my book. I’m at the point where I’m making subtle changes that add up to make a big difference. I’m also cleaning up the words. I find that I tend to state the same thing several times in multiple ways, like I’m searching for the best way to say it so that it’s most clear. On this draft, I’m cutting the first few attempts and just leaving the last one that works.

There’s also a lot of stuff lingering from earlier ideas, where I changed plans but the stuff I put in to set up the original plan is still there. In spite of writing quite a bit of additional material, I’ve cut more than a thousand words so far on this draft.

Today’s project is to rewrite the ending. I’ve revised the first half, so I’ve hit most of the stuff that sets up the plot threads involved in the ending. Now I need to write that ending so that I can drive toward it in the rest of the book. I may even start from scratch rather than using what I’ve already written.

After I finish this round of rewrites, it’s on to proofreading, reading the whole book out loud.

And I have a week to do all this in, with a convention during the weekend. Fortunately, I’m not very heavily scheduled at this convention and it’s very close to my house, so I can run over when I have a panel, then run back home. I’ve been questioning the value of conventions to my publicity plan, anyway. This is mostly going to be a chance to catch up with some friends — that is, when I’m not working.


Planning the Rewrite

I’m working on revising the book I’ve been working on most of this year, getting ready to send it to my agent, and I’m trying something different this time. In the past, I’ve tended to just go back through the book, revising as I go, but I’ve found that this tends to lead to me rearranging or fixing words rather than tackling structural issues. I found some books on revising at the library that suggested making a “map” of the book, going scene-by-scene to analyze each one on the basis of what’s going on, what the characters’ goals are, what subplots are present, what the purpose of the scene is, etc.

I spent yesterday doing this, using a sheet of paper for each scene so I’d have room for additional notes (one book suggested using index cards, and there’s no way I could fit this info on a card), and it’s interesting how just going through this exercise made some of the problems more obvious. You can’t help but notice your “darling” scenes that you love but that don’t really have a purpose in the book. For those, you either have to cut them, possibly moving some of the elements you need elsewhere, or you have to find a way to incorporate a key plot point so that there’s a purpose.

Doing this also shows the plot points that don’t go anywhere, the things being set up that don’t really pay off.

But I also found that I’ve entirely unconsciously incorporated some pretty powerful symbolism. Now that I know it’s there, I can use it deliberately. We’re talking term paper kind of stuff that English teachers would love. I didn’t plan on these things serving that purpose, but looking back, it really does track what’s going on with the character. I love it when stuff like that happens.

After doing the scene-by-scene analysis, I went back and wrote a plot outline, then outlined the emotional internal plot and the various subplots. That showed me where some things need to be fixed. I can go in and fix these elements in these scenes, and that way the book should be more or less in order before I go through it and fix the words.

And I have two weeks to do this. Eep!


Attack of the Escalating Idea

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I should write another Christmas story for this year. I’d have to hurry to get it done in time, but I had a few ideas in the back of my head that I’d been thinking about for a while, so I figured I could write a short book pretty quickly.

Then last weekend I sat down to actually think it through and wrote down what I knew about the ideas I had, and I realized how weak those ideas were. When I started trying to develop them, I ran into plot holes and logic problems (which means they’d probably have been fine as the basis for a Hallmark movie, but I have higher standards). Figuring that I wouldn’t try to write a Christmas story this year, after all, I got up to do something else.

And then I got hit by an entirely new idea. When I sat down to write what I knew about it and develop that, I ended up with pages and pages. It kept growing and building.

So, I thought, that’s good that I have a story idea.

But my brain wasn’t done. Suddenly, the previous ideas I’d had fit into that setting in a way that fixed the plot holes. I had the possibility for a series. Every year, I could do a Christmas story set in this same town. In the first one, I could establish some characters who would show up in later stories, and in the later ones I could follow up with the previous characters to show what they’re doing now.

And then yesterday it struck me that once a year isn’t a lot for that kind of series. I could hit all the major holidays, and I had ideas for that.

The tricky thing would be classifying them, aside from the “holiday” theme. They’re generally “sweet” romantic comedy, but they all have a magical element — more like magic realism than outright fantasy, and they’re not really paranormal romance. It looks like this sort of thing sells really well, and I think it would be a fun break to write. I doubt it would help me with fantasy name recognition and might more firmly embed me in the “too romancey” category for getting in with a fantasy publisher, but I’m at the point on giving up on the fantasy world ever accepting me. I might as well earn a living doing something fun rather than keep banging my head against that brick wall.

So now if I’m going to do this, I’ll have to write the Christmas one quickly and maybe come up with the story and characters for a Valentine’s Day one and write an opening so I could include a teaser in the first book. Plus, I need to fully develop the town and come up with the characters for the next few books.

This is what happens when I think I can write a quick, easy, fun story in between bigger projects.


Fighting the Fizzling Ending

A lot of writers talk about struggling with the sagging middle. My biggest writing problem is the fizzling ending. I don’t think I’ve ever written a book in which I’m totally satisfied with the ending on the first draft.

Actually, I usually don’t even write the ending on the first draft, although I usually have the ending planned before I start writing the book. I get to what should be the climax of the book and suddenly have no idea what it should look like, even though I have a general sense of the things that need to happen. I’ll decide to put off writing the ending until I’ve done a round of revisions, since the things that change in revisions will have a ripple effect that will mean the ending really has to change, so there’s no point in writing it before I know what the changes are.

Then I’ll revise the whole book, get to the ending, and the ending I write is rather lame. I’m often rushing to get through it because I want to be done with the book or because it’s all so intense that I can’t make myself dig into it. It’s like writing while peering between my fingers from behind the sofa. Or I’ll find that I’ve tried to avoid conflict entirely.

So I then have to go back and rework the ending, sometimes figuring out entirely different events for the climactic scene. There’s a lot of pen-and-paper analysis of everything that went on in all the character arcs in the whole book in order to figure out a satisfying way for the good guys to prevail. It generally comes back to figuring out what lesson the heroine has to learn and finding a way to show that she’s learned it. Putting that into practice is a lot more challenging.

And then there’s the resolution, the wrapping-up part, and finding a way to tie up the ends that need to be tied up without going on and on and on after the climax. There’s a very narrow window that works between not enough, so readers don’t feel satisfied, and too much, so readers wonder when this book is ever going to end.

The end is one of the most important parts of the book. The beginning sells this book — people may flip through the first chapter to see if they want to read it. The ending sells the next book — if readers end the book with a satisfied sigh, they’re more likely to be left with a good impression that means they’ll pick up the author’s next book.

I spent yesterday doing the pen-and-paper work to figure out the ending. Not only had I chosen the wrong nemesis, but I’d missed the point entirely. I think I have it figured out now. I just have to write it.


Impulsive Characters

After my rant last week about stupid characters, one of the next books I picked up opened with the heroine doing something stupid and impulsive that got her in huge trouble that ended up affecting other people in her life. Then her adult mentor got her out of that trouble and told her exactly what she needed to do — or not do — to avoid even more trouble that would affect her whole family, and about thirty seconds later she completely neglected to do what he told her she needed to do and went off and did something else and, yeah, got into even more trouble.

This was a YA book, and I know I’m not the target audience. Rash and impulsive is pretty much the teen “brand,” so maybe teen readers aren’t groaning about what an idiot the main character is. This book was really quite successful — a lot more successful than any of my books have been — so maybe the teen readers are enjoying the teen characters ignoring the adults in their lives, even if ignoring good advice leaves a swath of destruction in their wake. Meanwhile I, as an adult, want to give them a good spanking and ground them for about a month.

And I suppose there wouldn’t have been much of a book if the character had listened to the advice — though, really, the trouble she was in was big enough that I don’t think it would have made that much difference. I’d be a lot more sympathetic if she followed the advice and still ended up in trouble than I am when she rebelliously ignored the advice and landed in trouble.

It really is a tricky balance. Smart, reasonable characters who listen to good advice may not be as likely to get into the kind of trouble that makes for a good story. And this does give the characters room to grow. Maybe over the course of the book she’ll learn to listen and think before acting and will realize that her mentors know a thing or two. Right now, she’s just coming across as bratty, wanting what she wants, with no thought for the greater good or even the good of anyone else but herself, and that’s not sympathetic to me.

The heroine I’m writing now has done something quite rash and rebellious, but she thought it through and had a reasonable plan. I guess she was sensibly rebellious rather than stupidly rebellious. She ended up in way over her head, but she did avoid some danger. I’m saving the danger for later in the book.


Finding the Right Villain

This morning I figured out the problem with the villain in the book I’m working on: I’ve been focusing on the wrong villain.

There’s still the big bad causing the societal problem, but I picked the wrong lower-level villain to be the heroine’s direct nemesis, the person who stands in the way of her achieving her goals. The one I was trying to make be her nemesis really has no reason to want to oppose her through most of the book, and he has no power to stop her from achieving her initial goal. He’s still an antagonist and he can be the kind of bully who makes her life miserable, but he can’t really do anything to stop her until maybe getting in the way toward the end.

It’s another character who’s been there all along but who I hadn’t really focused on who makes the best nemesis. He has a reason to be opposed to her, in particular, and he has the power to stop her from achieving her goals — all of them, both the one she initially thinks is important and then the real goal she later realizes is what she needs to do. He’s also an agent of the big bad, so he fits in with the big-picture conflict.

I may not even have to rewrite that much to bring this out, but I feel like this is the ingredient that’s been lacking, and emphasizing this conflict will make the book spark.

The challenge will be to actually write the conflict, since I tend to be conflict-averse. I don’t like torturing my characters, but I really must do so.


Stupid Characters

One of my pet peeves in books (and other media) is dumb characters. I like smart people. I know that writing smart people is a challenge because it’s harder to get them in trouble or to keep their plans from working the first time. Unless you’re really good at finding motivations for smart people to do dumb things or unless you create really difficult circumstances, if your characters are smart, you get the world’s shortest story. If the characters in your horror story don’t go alone into the dark basement, the story never goes anywhere.

But it’s incredibly painful to read a story that relies upon the characters being too stupid to live to have a plot. I recently read one that shall remain nameless in which the heroine piled stupid thing on top of stupid thing. There was one toward the end that was a gray area, an action I’d put in the category of “stupid good,” where it might have been considered the right thing to do, but it also put a lot of other people in danger and could have ruined things for a lot of people, all to help people who wanted to harm the main characters. I might have been more forgiving of that one if the heroine hadn’t already betrayed all the people who had helped her. She thought she was doing the right thing then, too (though it was mostly to benefit herself), but the person she betrayed them to was practically twirling his mustache, he was so obviously evil, and he even expressed opinions that made it clear he meant harm, and meanwhile she had made zero effort to find out what was really going on with the people who were helping her before she spilled it all to Snidely Whiplash — only to find out about thirty seconds later that she was entirely wrong about everything. And this was after she’d been foolishly naive and careless near the beginning of the story in a way that led to her being in a predicament. This chick was just careening through life, causing chaos every step of the way, but the author wrote her as though she was super intelligent and careful, and the character who criticized her rashness was later said to be wrong and made to apologize.

And then the next book I picked up had another idiot character. It’s got a romantic triangle, where the heroine is horribly torn between the guy who just ditched his long-term girlfriend, has confessed that he cheated on her, has admitted he’s just looking to fool around now rather than get into a real relationship, and is flirting heavily with the heroine’s friend, who has a boyfriend, and the guy who has helped her out of a number of predicaments, actually listens to her and pays attention to what she wants, and lives in the place she wants to open a business. Not that she’s obligated to be into a guy who’s nice to her, but she is into him. She’s just torn because she got a crush on guy #1 years ago and decided then that she wanted him when he was free, and now he is, so she feels obligated to go for him, even though she knows he’s bad news and she really likes guy #2 better. That’s definitely Too Stupid To Live territory. You’re allowed to change your mind, especially when it’s just a promise you made to yourself (that’s another pet peeve of mine: the plot that revolves around a character doing something they know is a bad idea that they don’t even really want to do because they promised themselves years ago that they’d do it).

There’s a really fine line between letting your characters make mistakes and making them be stupid. Smart people can do dumb things, but you’ve got to motivate it. I tend to write stubborn characters (gee, I have no idea what I might be drawing upon there), since smart people often have a tendency to feel like they can figure things out for themselves and go it alone, and that can get them in trouble when they overestimate their abilities and hate to admit when they don’t know something. There’s also perfectionism, which might lead to waiting too long to act if they’re waiting until everything is perfect. You can also come up with emotional blind spots, where they’re bright about everything except that one thing that’s their weakness.

In the book I’m working on, I’m trying to make the heroine fallible, and it helps that she may be smart, but she’s entirely lacking in information because she’s essentially a foreigner in an unfamiliar culture she knows nothing about, and based on that lack of knowledge she misjudges a lot of people and situations. She rushed into something based on ideals and assumptions and realized she was in way over her head. There are things she misses because that sort of thing isn’t at all important to her, and she doesn’t realize that those things are very important where she is. Since the whole book is from her point of view, the reader is seeing her perspective but may get the sense that she’s misjudging things. I hope that works to build a little dread while still making it clear why she sees things the way she does.


My Problem with Villains

I think I’ve figured out what I need to do to fix the ending of the book I’ve been working on. At least, I have a general sense of the problem and a few ideas of what I can do about it that I need to think about more. And it comes down to something that’s a regular problem for me: offstage villains. This is something that’s begging for a direct confrontation with the villain, and yet the heroes are just doing something on their own that’s a struggle but that has no direct opposition or confrontation.

I even figured out early on that the real villain isn’t someone this heroine could directly oppose. He represents a system/society that the heroine opposes, but he’s not someone the heroine can come face-to-face with and defeat, and in doing so show that she’s truly learned all the lessons she had to learn throughout the book. So, I created a secondary/subordinate villain who is someone she can oppose directly. He’s a representative of the big villain who is in the heroine’s direct orbit, someone who’s more or less a peer, so she can say the things to him that she’d want to say to the big villain.

And what did I do? I kept him mostly offstage, and then he disappears entirely at the midpoint of the book.

I have a real problem with villains. The thing is, I don’t find them interesting at all. I don’t care about their sad backstories, their motivations, or their goals. If they’re hurting people, I want them stopped, and if they can be stopped by the heroes being clever and subverting them rather than confronting them directly, so much the better. The less time we spend with villains, the happier I am. I want them out of my life (and the characters’ lives). I’m up for a redemption story, in which the villain realizes the error of his ways, regrets the evil he’s done, and works to atone, and I might be somewhat interested in a villain who’s being set up for a redemption, where during the pre-redemption phase he has a somewhat sympathetic motivation that isn’t entirely selfish, shows signs of potential for good, and shows conflict about doing bad things, and I’m horribly disappointed when villains are doing that but don’t have a redemption arc. But a villain who’s a villain? Snooze.

I may have been the only kid in my neighborhood who wasn’t at all interested in Darth Vader after the first Star Wars movie. As far as I was concerned, there was no “there” there. He looked cool and he was powerful, but that’s all there was to him. He was basically just a thug. Even the later revelations didn’t make him much more interesting, and I found his last-minute redemption to be weak and unsatisfying. Fleshing him out in the prequels made me even less interested because his turn to darkness wasn’t at all sympathetic to me.

But a good villain can make for a good story, and this story needs an antagonist, so I guess I have to find a way to make this guy interesting to me so I can keep him onstage and let my heroine thoroughly defeat him.


Rewrite Woes

I was rather social this weekend, going out both Friday and Saturday nights. Shocking, I know. Now it’s back to work, and I’ve got to rewrite a scene that I don’t think is working, but I’ve got to figure out what goes in that place.

This may be a case when it’s easier to write something entirely new than to “fix” what’s already there. I think it needs to be almost entirely new, and trying to rework what I’ve done keeps me from getting it to where it needs to be. A great deal of brainstorming may be required. But once I get past this hurdle, I think it will be fairly smooth sailing until the end, where the rewrites will have a big impact.

I was hoping to get these rewrites done this week, since I have music and art camp next week, and I know nothing much will get done then. But I spent more time than I planned working out the changes I wanted to make, since I ended up changing more than I expected. It makes the book so much better, though.

This book seems to have really taken over my brain, since I find myself drifting off to think about it when I try to read anything else. That’s a good sign (and possibly a bad sign about what I’m reading right now).

Now to figure out what needs to happen in this scene and what it should look like …


Making Things Tough

I’m back to rewriting the book I’ve been working on, off and on, for much of the year, and I think the break to revise another book was good for me because I had a nice breakthrough. The other night, something I was reading gave me an idea that might apply to my book. It would certainly add conflict to the story and make things more difficult for my character. But as I thought about it, I decided that it would really just add conflict to a part of the book that didn’t need it, that’s only a transition point, and it would mess up a lot of other things in the story.

Yesterday morning when I was trying to figure out the heroine’s character arc, I found myself thinking about it again. It occurred to me that it would actually add conflict to the ending, too. Maybe I needed to consider this idea. So I made a pro/con list about making this change, and I came up with about a page of pros and only a few cons, and the cons were superficial and easily addressed. While it did add conflict to that transition part, that part could still be quick and moved past to get to the real story, and it raised the stakes for the whole story, so that the heroine has a genuine reason to fear failure throughout the book, and she has reason to worry about whether what she does at the end will work.

Basically, I’m yanking away her support system, which always makes things tougher. I guess I’m too nice as an author. I don’t want to hurt my characters. I tend to play it safe as a person, and that usually makes its way into my stories. This is a case of a character not playing it safe, putting everything on the line for something she’s not sure she can even do, but she feels like she has to try.

I’m kind of excited about it now that I’ve overcome my initial resistance.

The funny thing is, it won’t require that much rewriting. There are a couple of scenes that have to go, and I’ll need to write a couple of new ones. Everything else will just require a subtle overlay, and then it makes what happens at the end work better. It’s almost as though I’ve been writing it this way all along and just needed to add the setup.

I love it when the brain works in mysterious ways.