Archive for writing

writing

Taking Dictation

That book really took off over the weekend. I can barely keep up with all the stuff my brain keeps coming up with. Whole scenes are playing themselves out in my head. I got several thousand words written on Saturday. Now I need to do a little revision and regrouping because I got ahead of myself and skipped over some things that need to happen before other things can happen.

Although I’m mostly winging it, I’ve realized I do need some structure. I’ve taken some advice I’ve read and am writing a short synopsis from the villain’s point of view: what they did and why and what they’re doing in reaction to the other events in the story (using the singular “they” here to avoid any potential clues, like the gender of the character — I don’t want to spoil the book before it’s even written!). That allows me to have something of a timeline in mind to use as a framework and gives my heroine something to bounce off against.

I was on such a roll that I skipped an event I’d been planning to go to on Saturday since I didn’t want to risk losing all the stuff in my head before I got it written down. And that turned out to be a good thing because I noticed an odd burning smell in my car when I drove home from church Sunday. That’s about a fifteen-minute drive on neighborhood streets, so it could have been potentially bad if I’d driven halfway across the metro area at highway speed — and it would have been after most repair places would have closed for the weekend, so I’d have been in big trouble if I’d actually broken down. I don’t plan to go anywhere today (I have more scenes to transcribe, and there’s a front coming through, so the weather is nasty), but I’ll run over to my neighborhood mechanic in the morning for them to check it out. None of the warning lights have come on, but it’s not a happy smell.

Now I’ve got a cold, gray day, perfect for plotting mayhem and murder while wrapped in a blanket and with a cup of tea by my side.

writing

Mixed-up Ideas

I found myself at an odd standstill yesterday. I knew what I wanted to write, but I couldn’t seem to get started. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t decide on a starting point for the story. Every opening I came up with was either too early, with too much happening before the action really got started, or too late, with not enough setup to explain the situation. I couldn’t think of anything that was a happy medium.

My other problem was that this story got tangled up with another story idea that’s been living in my head. I had a lot of that idea developed but was missing some critical elements. This one story idea that I was supposed to be working on gave me the idea for one of those missing pieces. But then that story started writing itself in my head. I’m not ready to work on it because one of the critical missing pieces is an actual plot, but I was seeing scenes and characters, and they were overlapping the story I needed to be working on.

I think I got it all worked out last night. I found a good starting point and I have a better grasp of that character, so I think I can start writing today. The other thing has also made progress and I think I know where I need to go with coming up with a main plot, but it’s content to sit aside for now.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying another short burst of fall weather. This is one of my two favorite kinds of fall days, cool and crisp. I took a walk before breakfast, and it was lovely to come in and make a pot of tea to warm up again. Then it was just right for sitting on the patio with a cup of tea after breakfast. My flowers are all still blooming, and the sun had come out, leaving a bright blue sky. I may find excuses to sit outside the rest of the day before I have to go to choir.

writing

On to Proofreading

I’ve finished the edits and am now doing my proofreading by reading the whole book out loud to myself. I thought I’d edited thoroughly, but it’s astonishing how many little things I’ve caught in just the first couple of chapters. They’re not necessarily errors (though I have caught a few of those), just awkward phrasing or unnecessary words.

And I’m really liking this book more and more. Although reading out loud catches errors, it also means reading it through in a way I haven’t really done, and I’d like this book even as a reader. That’s a good sign.

But as much as I like it, I will be glad to stop working on it and do something else for a while.

I’ve been pretty diligent so far this year. I’ve almost spent as many hours writing as I did all of last year, and I’ve already passed the amount of time I spent writing in most of the previous years. Let’s hope this book goes somewhere because I spent most of this year’s time working on it, and it would be nice to have something to show for all that effort.

writing

Revising Some More

I’m almost done with this draft, so I’ll just have proofreading to deal with, and then I’ll be done with this phase of this book.

I’ve tried something different in my revisions. I know I tend to get impatient, and so I rush through, probably not changing as much as I should. A big part of rewriting seems to be adding a line I think is needed, then finding that line already there a paragraph or so later. This time around, I fought the impatience by making lists of things that needed to be fixed, then skipping around in the book to fix them, without worrying about reading straight through.

For the next round, what I’m wrapping up now, I read the section and take notes on what could be improved, then take a break, then come back and actually revise the section. That means I already know that perfect line is there so I don’t keep adding it all over again. I’m looking at the section from a big-picture perspective, not just rearranging the words (though I’m also fixing the words).

I’ve made a lot more changes than I usually would at this phase of a book, which is good. Strangely, the word count has remained more or less the same. I’m cutting as much stuff as I’m adding. Some scenes need fleshing out while others need trimming.

Monday, I’ll send this book to my agent to see what she thinks. I feel good about it, so I hope she thinks it’s marketable. She may have some suggestions before it gets submitted, if it’s something she wants to submit.

But for now, I’m really looking forward to taking a little break next week.

writing

Rewriting

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.

writing

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!

writing

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.

writing

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.

writing

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.

writing

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.