Archive for writing


Problem Scenes

Every book seems to have a problem scene, the one that stalls me out every time. I’ve been struggling with rewriting a scene all week, and it turns out that this was the scene where I put the book on hold previously. It took me three days this week to manage to rewrite it. Now I hope I can move forward.

It’s the big midpoint scene, so that’s part of the issue. And I didn’t get it right the first time, so I had to fix it, and I had to figure out how to fix it.

Of course, it’s just in time for a busy weekend, so whatever momentum I gained may be lost, since I won’t have time to write.

But next week I may be able to finish this draft. Hooray!


The End is Nigh

I think I’ve figured out the ending to this book, but it’s going to require going back through the whole thing to set it up properly. It seems that part of my problem that an event I was trying to squeeze in during the ending really belonged at the middle. Once that’s in the right place, everything flows much better.

And I didn’t have a good sense of the timeline. Putting the events onto a calendar really helped me see what was going on and figure out the timing and pacing. I should have been doing that all along. Someday, I’ll learn. You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now, but even if I got it all together, there would be something new to learn.

So, this week is my buckle down and get to the end of the book week. Hold all my calls and clear my calendar.

Then another project has jumped up and told me it needs to be dealt with. Silly demanding characters. But I guess it’s a good sign if my characters are real enough to me that they can demand attention.


Figuring out the End

Today will be a day of plotting because I hit the end of what I know for sure in the book I’m writing, and my rough outline for the rest of the book no longer applies. I think part of the problem is that the outline was so rough. The big, climactic scene was essentially “and then they do something to expose and stop the bad guys.” Now I’m heading toward that scene, when I have to set it up, and I need to get more specific, but the specifics I already have don’t work with the vague plan I had to set up the big scene.

So today I will be diving into specifics. There will probably be a lot of whining. Maybe some whimpering. I’m sure I’ll write out at least a couple of scene outlines that are essentially “they meet to make plans.”

I knew I was getting into trouble yesterday when half the scenes I was writing were the characters arguing about what to do next without coming to a conclusion — and then I realized this was because I didn’t know what they were going to do next. I suspect many of these scenes will be cut from the final draft. I call that “plotting on paper,” when the way I figure out what the characters will do is to have the characters discuss what they should do. Once I know what they’ll do, I don’t really need the discussion unless there’s something else going on in the scene.

I love the plotting phase at the beginning of a novel when I’m just starting to explore and discover what it’s about. I’m less fond of the plotting phase at the end of the book when I realize that all the stuff I did at the beginning was actually pretty vague and it didn’t flesh out along the way as much as I’d hoped it would.

So, off to figure out how this book should end …


The Not-Ready Project

The good thing about having so many projects competing for mental attention is that if I get stuck on one or just don’t want to deal with it, there’s always something else I could be working on. I finished one phase of one of the projects, then just couldn’t seem to focus on the next one up, so I turned to the one that’s more of a “play” project.

And learned in a rather vivid way that it’s not quite ready for prime time. I created scene cards for each scene I know about and realized that although I have a lot of stuff about this story in my head, almost all of it is backstory. The backstory may end up in the book, since it’s a complete story, in and of itself. I may do it in dramatized flashbacks, a la Lost or Once Upon a Time, and that’s the part where I’m not entirely sure how well it will work. But once I get to the present, I have no idea what will happen. My chronological outline comes to a dead stop at the beginning of the story.

I can still write the backstory bits, and the fun of using Scrivener for this is that I can always rearrange the pieces. Writing the backstory may give me ideas for the present. But this idea definitely requires more development. It will have to remain something I do for fun in my spare time until I’m ready to devote serious headspace to it.

This is an object lesson in dealing with the Shiny New Idea. When you’re in the hard part of a book, any new idea is going to sound really great compared to the thing you’re working on, but if you drop what you’re working on to play with the new idea, you may never finish the thing you’re working on, and you may find that the new idea is just as difficult as the thing you were working on. Then you’ll get another Shiny New Idea, and so on.

I recommend taking a break to write down everything you know about the Shiny New Idea. That way, you’ve captured it so you won’t forget the good stuff. You may get it out of your brain so you can focus. And you’ll see how developed it really is. Usually, you don’t have enough to really start writing an actual book. If you do find it more or less writing itself, then go for it, but that’s pretty rare.


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).