Sunday, August 30, 2009

World building

For Matt's story I didn't have to do much world building. I created the fictional city of Livingston, added in some pertinent buildings and places and organizations. Wren's song is an entirely different world. I know places and people but today things reached a point where I needed to know about magic. Patricia Wrede has a wonderful set of world building articles on the SFWA site. Here is the specific one I am using at the moment.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The places I go...

I read a lot of blogs on publishing. Sometimes a ridiculous amount. It started a few years back stumbling onto Miss Snark, and continues with Nathan Bransford, Pub Rants, Editorial Ass, Editorial Anonymous and many more. Read them. Go back to the beginnings and spend a day reading through the archives. They and those like them, have answered many of my questions on publishing. Once you've read through them read Writer Beware for good measure.

The wonderful people who operate these blogs and many more like them are the reason I know not to pay an agent (they take 15% once things are sold to a publisher and they don't get paid before that), that a good agent is worth every single bit of that 15%. Why it's worth taking my time and making the novel the very best it can be, and why unicorn stationary and glitter in a proposal are the bestest things ever!!! Yes I made that last bit up. Go forth and be educated.

On the tenth day she rested...

Yesterday I didn't write. My husband and I are heading to a sci fi con soon and we had a list of things that needed to be finished before hand. So yesterday I shopped. Today I woke up late, poked about on the net then sat down and wrote 700 words in a sitting and edited a short story. Resting can be good.

I'm stopping now to do some world building. I don't start off with a developed world. Conflict and character come first, and I build the setting around who my characters need to be and what they need to do. Wren's Song is a fantasy novel. I created the countries after the first scene to set up the political conflict but there are huge gaps in the world right now. So today is dedicated on how to fill them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ten ways I make myself write

For years (30 of them) I started projects and never finished them. I have a horrible case of project ADD. The very first part of writing a story is easy for me. I have an image or a character in my head and with it comes their tale, like someone is whispering it in my ear. After a few hundred words, it gets harder. It's work. So here are some of the ways I have found to push through.

1. Take a break: if I have been writing pages and pages and suddenly I don't know where the story needs to go, getting away from it helps my subconscious to start putting pieces together. I read a book, a blog, or just get out of the house. This only works when I’ve already put in the work though. Taking a break after ten words is a cop out, which brings me to…

2. Summarize: Sometime the scene isn't working yet. I have been known in first drafts to write, "they fight add it later" and move on. On the other hand imagine the scene is already written. You will be surprised what details you find that already know about that scene. Writing the scene right after your troublesome one can add more insights. It might not end up in the final draft but it can show you the right path.

3. Calculate: As soon as I know what type of book I am writing I have an idea of the length it needs to be. Young adult is about 50-80K though there are exceptions. Most novels are around 80-100K of words with fantasy going as high as 150K sometimes. I pick the smaller number of the range and use that as my goal. Then I figure out chapter length, 2-5K for me, and figure out how many chapters I need, I rounding up. I have a spreadsheet with words, pages and chapters to go to meet my goal and a count for how many more words to go in a chapter. I like the organization and tangible measure of progress. Why yes I have an inner type A.

4. Outline: Once I have that first rush of story that tells me who and what I am writing about I try and figure out what needs to happen to get my characters to the ending. If I get stuck in the outline I write a ending and work backwards to figure out how to get there. I write about 10-400 words per chapter. Sometimes I write out major bits of dialog and description, other times I write, “Tie up the fight, be clever, no pressure.”

5. Don't go backwards: As you are writing the story you will get ideas for the parts you have already written. It's great but if you break off writing and scroll back to chapter 3 and find the scene that all of a sudden needs to have ice-cream in it to emphasize the deep spiritual meaning of waffle cones in chapter ten then getting back to where you started is much much harder. I've heard of writers that keep a notebook next to their computer and jot notes down as they come up. I type red text into Word right in the middle of what I was doing. I fix it during the revision phase. I don't look up names or facts either unless it's vital. If I don't remember what I named Matt's little brother then I type "xxlittlebrother" and keep going. The xx makes it easier to search with Find and Replace later. I also change my text to be minuscule on the chapters I am not working with so I can't get sucked into the story or into doing fussy edits yet.

6. Type something: If I absolutely can not figure out what comes next then I start free typing. Delete is always an option but usually something will come out a few words after typing "I don't know what to write" or “What do I need to happen next?” I find the physical part of typing to be relaxing, I’ve never been what you would call normal.

7. Work on something else: I have so many projects started, writing on something fun and with out the pressure of being the "first draft of X project I am going to submit professionally" helps me get words. And perhaps that space alien story I was writing on a lark will end up good.

8. Be bad: I constantly give myself blanket permission to be bad when I first draft. I overuse words, use trite metaphors and ignore the spelling check. That is what the second draft is for (and the third and fourth and…) On the first draft I need to get the ideas down, meet my characters and write an interesting story. I think of it as the pencil sketch for a painting. Once it’s down I can erase like crazy, fill in where needed and edit, edit, edit.

9. Research: Sometime knowing the whys about your environment can give you new ideas on how your character would act. Just don't research more then you write. It's easy to fall into the trap of researching every single detail. Research is great, the story is more important.

10. Read it out loud: If it's not working I go back to the last place that the writing did work and read out loud till it doesn’t. I can usually hear where the narrative is off and how to fix it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quote for the day...

Words were written, characters have been tortured, plot has been advanced and tomorrow I get to start all over again.

I have managed to put in over a thousand words today. I've developed a schedule in which I write from about 9-9:30 am till about 4-5 pm (or whenever I hit 1000 words). I end up with an hour or so break about noon to eat, check emails, clean the kitchen and feed the cat. If I am not on a schedule then he certainly is and I am soundly scolded for being late (or any other reason, cats are not tolerant.) Having a structure to my day has helped keep me focused and keep the words coming. Another day another word count.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ending a book

One of my writing friends came to me recently and confessed they didn't know how they were going to end their book. I generally have the opposite problem, I know how I want it to end but not how to get the story there.

I usually start with an idea. Mary Sue Smith gets sucked into Neverland and meets Peter Pan the third. Usually that idea suggest certain scenes, Mary Sue actually getting sucked into a trans dimensional literary portal, meeting Pan at the point of the sword, Captain Hook as a conflict, lost boy acceptance, defeating Hook, Mary deciding how to live happily ever after. I'm a sap. I like happy endings, or at least bittersweet ones.

Those scenes (which are the most fun to write) get me started in the rough draft. The trouble comes in connecting the two. I try to write chronologically. If I get stuck I will skip over scenes with a minimum of narration, putting something like write a cool fight scene here or Mary needs to learn to waltz here. I write the next scene. Then I can back track. Mary needs a sword to fight the pirates therefore I need to get one to her in the scene I skipped. Mary needs to face inner demons personified in Hook, therefore in the earlier scenes we need to give her inner demons.

Each action should have an after effect and a series of events that led up to it. Although it may offend the artistic senses, writing a novel requires a great deal of logic. If the story doesn't make sense then all the flowery prose in the world will not save it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Revisions again

I've finished the last edits by hand on Matt's story. Printing out the pages and having hard copies to read from has made all the difference. It's easier to flip back and forth to check facts and most of your errors jump off the page. My paper copy is riddled with red ink and post-it notes. Two characters are planned to merge into one, my villain is getting more backstory, Matt's goals are getting clearer. All solid forward progress. Now I only need to shove everything back into the computer file, fix my notes and send it off. Only.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bloody edits

Have I mentioned that my pages edits look like someone died on the other side of the room. Red ink corrections everywhere. I have 2 more pages to edit on Matt's story then the draft 3 rewrite begins. Hopefully this will be the last "closed door" edit and then my merry minions (aka beta readers) can have a go at it.

As far as forward momentum goes I've spent three days in a row writing a thousand words a day. It's slow compared to some but its progress. And once those thousand words are a habit then we can jump to two thousand, or three thousand. Productivity for the win.

The rest of the day is not going to be productive writing wise. Family is visiting and I have cleaning, mowing, cooking and shopping to accomplish before they arrive.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More progress

I should be editing. But instead I added another thousand words to Wren's song. This time I've started very much in the middle. All of the conflict is about to be laid bare on the rush covered floor. After that I think I will be outlining until the story has more structure. But the kernel is there and Wren is coming alive on the page. It's been an odd 15 years walking about with such a person in my back brain. I'm not sure if I am relieved or if I will miss her once the story is told.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


only the good kind. I'm not talking Iran, health care or any other jazz. Nope, we are talking 100% made up politics in a 100% made up world. I've been having a fascinating time figuring out what conditions would have to exist to make the countries have the traits the stories need them to have. Queen Victoria, Jacobite revolutions, assassination plots and various Coup D'etat, and this is just the back story.
I am a thousand words into one of the big scenes right now. I've got a couple thousand in outlines, backstory and introduction. As always when I am writing in I remind myself to just get it down on paper. It's far easier to build a story from something then to start from scratch. And no one ever needs to see my first drafts if I don't want them to. That is a comforting thought.
Editing on Matt's story is nearly complete for pass two. I'm juggling the rewrites with Wren's song and I have 3-4 beta readers lined up once it's done. Forward momentum.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Things that rock about writing....

Spending six hours googling feudal coups, succession wars, and treachery is legitimate time working.

Reading novels also constitutes research.

Friends on facebook who came point out famous historic power struggles at the drop of a hat.

Although sitting down and writing is the largest part about being a writer, the daydreaming out scenes while on cross state car trips is also considered productive time.

Red ink pens and post it notes. (And those nifty binder things that hold all your pages together with the editing equipment.

We are now five chapters from the end of the edits and proceeding to enter them into the file while working on plotting out another book. My muse hates me... or just likes to see me squirm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More revisions

I've been getting help editing today. I think I might be more productive with out Blair trying to eat the pen or cover up the pages but we are into Chapter 15.

Post it notes are my friends. Reading through this all at once I'm finding where the characters get redundant. I have 3 supporting characters in a place where 2 would work. I think that will be the next revision. I'm layering hints and expanding the back story of my villain. I'm cutting out unnecessary words.

Tomorrow's goal is to finish the last 14 pages of edits and start plugging them into the computer. Then we write more, add new scenes, flesh it out, build it up, print it out and repeat. I am hoping draft 3 will be able to go out and be read by others for feedback. Small forward progress though.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I'm about half way through the second pass. I printed everything out and I'm proceeding to red ink bleed all over the manuscript and tag it with post its. I love office supplies. I sat on the urge to buy new red ink pens for this revision. I did end up with plastic tabs to mark out the chapter divides. Warms the cockles of my ever organizing heart.

The biggest weapon in my editing arsenal is my voice. I wait till the house is to myself and I read parts of the manuscript out loud. The places where I added to many adjectives or skipped a word jump out more. The dull spots scream for attention.

I'm layering themes in right now. When I first started writing I had this belief that once I wrote the story, that part would not change. Sure, the words would change. I could always find a clever new way to say something, but the story had to come out whole. That's crap and that one discovery has fixed so many things in my writing.

I have cut out two whole sub plots from the first incarnation (bogged down the story). I've changed the character's gender, made a minor character into a major one, and changed the villain from the initial concept. This pass through I'm making sure that the changes I made stay consistent. For me looking at each draft as building a layer of the story, like an animator creating levels of cells to film, helps to keep me moving on the story. Otherwise I wander off into the labyrinth of "it's not perfect" and get lost. It's not perfect yet, but it will be.