Tag Archives: editing

The Big Pause

23 Nov

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

(cross-posted from my personal blog)

Recently I read this article by Jaye Wells, and it cleared something up for me about writer’s block and how I write.

Usually when I’m working on a novel I encounter a point I call The Big Pause. It occurs 75% of the way through the story, when all the meat is out of the way and all that’s left is to write the big finale.

I stop.

I tell myself it’s because I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next, and how can I write it if I don’t know what to write, but that’s not really the reason. I know how it all ends up. I don’t have a firm grasp on the details, but I never do for any scene. Somewhere in all the work it just magically comes together.

But the above-mentioned article pointed out what was really going on: The Big Pause is my moment of fear. It’s the point where the book is about to turn into a reality. Soon it’s going to be a finished product, not something I’m just working on for fun. I’m going to have to show it off. Be responsible for its perfection. And that’s scary.

But not the only thing that scares me. The biggest reason I have a Big Pause is that I’m afraid what I’m going to write is total crap.

I don’t have this problem in the first three quarters of the book. As a friend once put it, I write really clean first drafts. I’m not saying everything comes out sparkling, and there have definitely been some scenes I’ve had to cut or seriously modify. But to put it in perspective, for the sleeping beauty story there was only one scene I really struggled with. One that got completely rewritten out of a whole book.

So when I have to face the prospect of writing just to get it done, I freeze up. I love the idea of writing messy and cleaning it up, or maybe I love the idea of getting into that mental space where you know, as the creator, exactly what needs to go, what can stay, and what just needs to be fixed. But when the moment comes I really struggle with writing a sentence I’m not happy with the first time around.

(This is starting to sound like I’m not capable of editing, and let me say that’s definitely not true. After everything I’ve gone through with NAMELESS I feel confident in stating I absolutely know how to edit and mix things up 😉 )

I also read recently that procrastination is sometimes defined by fear and guilt. The fear that once the story is complete it will have to actually BE a functioning, sellable story. The guilt that it’s not moving fast enough, that it’s maybe not as amazing as I’d hoped.

My Pause usually lasts a few weeks, and by that time I’ve gestated the issues in my mind well enough to know how to sprint towards the finish. But I don’t want that to turn into a habit. I want to learn to let go, and give myself permission to write the story clearly not perfect, because it can always be fixed later.

It can always be fixed later.

That’s what editing is for, after all.

I now declare The Big Pause officially over!

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Don’t shrug this off.

24 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

My vocabulary sucks.

Well alright, it doesn’t suck, but it could definitely use some work. I figured this out when I read through a 1500 word chapter the other day and found about twelve uses of the word “though”.

I supposed it’s a bit unfair, though, (<–hah) because that word only has so many synonyms. It’s worse when you have people repeating actions. In your head, they nod a lot because they agree with what’s happening. On paper, you start asking yourself why your characters have suddenly turned into bobble-heads.

These are some of the actions I constantly find my characters repeating:

  • Smirking
  • Raising an eyebrow
  • Grabbing (why is there so much grabbing!)
  • Eyes widening
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes blinking once to express confusion, disbelief, and/or bemusement
  • Fingers curling into fists
  • SHRUGGING.

So much shrugging.

There used to be a time where I would sit down to write a scene and a million different actions would come to mind to express amusement, or loftiness, or frustration. I’d have a mental list that was ten concepts long for actions denoting fear. Gradually, they became lists of five, then three, and then finally, the universal sign for fear simply became “Eyes widening” or “Heart pounding”.

But why? Why has my vocabulary of actions suddenly become so shit?

Because I’m not reading.

This is in no way sudden. Recently I’ve been so focussed on life and school and getting my own manuscript polished up that I haven’t had the chance to sit down and really read for enjoyment. It’s at the point where when I do read, I’ll come across things like “She looked at him sidelong,” sit up in excitement, and say, “I remember that! How could I forget that?” Then I’ll go back to my own MS and a few weeks later, while doing some quick once-over revisions, I’ll find that after so many pages into the story everybody begins to look at people sidelong. Then I’ll start yelling at them that they have necks for a reason and get frustrated with all my characters enough to scrap whole scenes. All because of my over-enthusiasm for remembering an action I’d forgotten.

Never before have I been so convinced that in order to write, you constantly have to read. Not that you can’t write if you don’t read, but your vocabulary will be much less rich. Sure, you can look up words and synonyms in dictionaries and thesauri but actions are far more complex. Describing an action you’ve never seen described before can be really hard. And like with everything else, it doesn’t hurt to have a few examples before trying. Some really great writers, I find, are ones who not only have a compelling story, but who know how to briefly describe shrugging without once using the word “shrug”.

And while you’re reading, observe people. Remember that your actions aren’t the only actions that exist. Some people facepalm, others run their fingers through their hair. I can’t stress enough how much watching real-life characters can help you develop the ones in your book.

But before this turns into an article about the finer points of stalking, let me impart to you this last bit of personal, opinionated, and always biased advice:

Don’t overdo it. There are only so many times you can get away with “The corners of his lips curved upwards into a crescent” before the reader starts shouting at you to “Just say he smiled!”

Different and innovative is awesome. Sometimes, though, simple packs as much of a punch.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Tackling Revisions

11 May

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Film and the Written Word

10 May

I love film.

Yeah, okay, that might seem like an odd thing to say on a blog pretty much dedicated to writing and novels and such, but it’s true. I adore film. I’m nuts about costuming and lighting and how they build sets. I could spend days analyzing the color schemes they use for the characters’ clothes and the meaning of every facial expression the actors portray.

I love the technical side of film-making, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I’m really into watching commentaries, especially director commentaries. I like to hear what they’d meant for every scene. Why did they choose that particular angle? Why that kind of lighting?

If you know me at all, you probably know that I’m a bit of an enormous Firefly fan (TV show by Joss Whedon, for the uninitiated). I’m actually in the middle of watching his commentary with Nathan Fillion (actor who plays the hero of the show) about the show’s pilot. Yes, I paused the video to type this article up. What can I say? When I get the urge to write something, all else must stop.

There’s so much I’ve learned about writing from film. Some of it, yes, does come from reading film scripts. But a lot of it comes from commentaries like this. It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone break down their story for you, and I wish authors had the same opportunity. Am I the only one who would pay to read some kind of “author commentary”? Maybe a book that had the regular story text but had author’s notes stuck in in a different color or in footnotes or whatever? I think that would be amazing.

In the mean time, though, I guess I’ll stick with director commentaries.

One thing I’ve learned is the physicality of a character. I’m a great lover of dialogue. It’s something I put a lot of focus on—a book or TV show or movie with unrealistic dialogue will turn me off like nothing else.

I admit, though, that my focus on dialogue sometimes leaves me with characters who say too much but forget to express themselves through their actions. I’m not talking about big actions, like showing a guy is brave by having him lead the assault or whatever. I’m talking about little things, like a touch on the hand or a shifting of the weight or a hug between two characters when one simply goes limp.

But if TV shows and movies have taught me anything, it’s the art of saying as much as you can with as little as you can. Every look is loaded. Every movement counts. If it’s not important, it’s left on the cutting room floor.

In general, good books are the same way. In my revisions, I muddle around, moaning and groaning about the little details. But then I watch a well put together movie and all of a sudden, I remember the big picture. Wasteful dialogue? Gone. Cute but meaningless scene? Cut.

I think it was actually Joss Whedon who once mourned the cutting of some scenes from his movie, Serenity, but in the end said that they had to be sacrificed to that all-powerful god of story-telling: Momentum.

That really hit a cord with me. I’d been struggling with the pacing in HYBRID for a while, and this really helped me figure things out. It also helped me figure out what was “wrong” with many of the stories I’ve read but put down or not enjoyed.

A story needs momentum. Things must move ever forward. Yes, the reader/audience needs time to breathe and reflect, but things can never grow stagnant.

That is the most important thing. Of course, a story that’s all plot momentum and no character interaction or emotional attachment, etc, doesn’t tend to do well (though I’m sure we can all think of a story or two that is exactly that and still manages to do just fine in the eyes of some…)

As always, it’s a balance. Writing, I’m coming to learn, is an everlasting struggle between saying too much and saying too little. One is as bad as the other, but if you manage to hit that perfect spot…

Well, you get something rather magical.

I’m off to watch the rest of this commentary, then. Then maybe I’ll try to get in a little revising. Gotta keep searching for that sweet spot :]

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

The lady doth protest too much.

3 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Today I’m going to share a short epiphany of sorts. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize it; I supposed it’s possible that it’s the sort of thing you learn by doing.

I’m in the midst of revising and I figured something out the other day. One of my main characters has a personality that isn’t exactly reader friendly. Being that this is a book I’m trying to write, that’s not the best quality a character could possess. And I finally understand what it is about her that needs to be tweaked.

You know those people that are adversative for no reason? That, usually just for kicks, say no to everything you ask of them? Yeah, she’s kind of one of them. At the beginning, when I wasn’t sure how my story would go, this was okay because it provided a great amount of comic relief and it was fun to write. But now that I’m trying to tighten everything up, all it does is gets annoying.

When you have, for example, an opening scene with said character, establishing that they’re contrary is great, but when their contrariness slows down the action, it becomes a problem. For example, I had a scene where a boy was trying to get her, Ingrid, to follow him somewhere and she just sat there and spewed stupid witticisms that made him look dumb. And the whole time I wanted to scream at her to shut the hell up and get on with it. So, in some spur-of-the-moment viciousness, I took that whole chunk and cut it out.

Suddenly, the scene got much, much better, and the discovery that I could keep cutting out the annoying bits whenever I wanted to re-inspired me more than anything else recently.

But why did it take me so long to figure this out? Surely I always knew that, it being my work, I could cut whatever I wanted, right?

Well…not quite. I had to learn a few things first.

Like I said, Ingrid isn’t exactly a people pleaser. She’s extremely stubborn and there are times where even I want to punch her in the face. It’s not that she isn’t likeable, just that sometimes it’s easier to not have to deal with her—especially when she’s in one of her moods. When I first thought about cutting out the parts where she amps up her annoying traits, I was afraid that it would change her actual personality.

You see, my fear was that if she started giving in easily, she wouldn’t be as strong.

But a strong character is strong not only because they’re confident and aware of themselves, but because they choose to do the things they do. If someone tells Ingrid to do something, she doesn’t do it because she’s been told; she does it because she wants to or because she accepts that she needs to. And when something really exciting is happening, chances are she wants to find out what’s going on more than she wants to stand in one place just because she knows it’ll annoy whoever she’s with. So why would she say no to following the mysterious boy with answers? Yes, it makes sense in the shallows of her personality; she’s adversative. But deeper than that, she’s adventure-seeking and suffering from cabin fever. She would actually very readily follow. She’s interested. She’s hooked. She’s passionate as much as she’s contrary, and when the passion wins over, all she wants to do is find out more.

So really, cutting out those tedious scenes of “No, because I feel like being obnoxious,” and replacing them with scenes of “Yes, but only because I want to,” has made more sense than anything else I’ve done so far. The only thing it’s done to her personality is it has made her look less like a 3-year-old constantly asking why and more like a sixteen-year-old headstrong young woman who knows that she can back out at any moment she wants. She has that power.

I think that’s far more interesting than funny, insulting one-liners based in the first-impression insecurities of the characters around her.

So pretty much, what I’ve learned and am trying to share here, is that strength of character isn’t denial. It isn’t spunky for the sake of spunky, or bitchy for the sake of bitchy. It’s a deeper, more personal trait that isn’t always shown through dialogue, but can always be spotted through the subtleties of actions. These actions, no matter how brief, have the power to add up to a fully-formed character with countless dimensions that will take root in the reader’s mind. You will no longer be saying “Hey look! Look how strong they are!” You’ll be saying that yes, they’re strong, and yes, they know it, and because they’re secure in that knowledge, they don’t feel the need to constantly validate themselves by putting down others.

This, I believe, is applicable to more than just Ingrid.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

Doubtlessly, there is doubt.

20 Apr

by Biljana Likic

~~~

I have to brag a little bit; I’m surrounded by some amazing writers. Not just here at LTWF, but at school, on Twitter, blogs, people who I hardly even know aside from the random and tentative internet hello. And it can be intimidating. Friends left and right of me are getting agents and book deals, and while I am extremely happy for them, screaming like an excited fool over long-distance Skype conversations, there are times where impatience sets in; impatience with myself, with how much time school is taking up, and with how I know I lack a lot of the discipline needed to balance my studies with revising my manuscript. But it’s important to remember that I’m still young, and that everybody has their stages of development, and I’ll get to where I get to in my own time.

It’s also important to remember that the fear of being inadequate is hard to get rid of. We all have our moments of doubt, and right now I’m seeing more in my friends who have agents and books deals than in those who don’t. What if my book never gets sold? What if I’m not satisfied with the final revisions and the book I publish embarrasses me? What if I’m unable to fix it? What if, after this book, I can never write again?

To this I say, yes, it’s possible. You might never sell your book. The story you love might get so twisted and warped that it’s published into a story you hate. You might lose all inspiration after your first book because you’ve simply exhausted all your ideas. Each one of these is possible. It’s why they exist as doubts. If everything were guaranteed there’d be no stress or drama in the world. There’d be no stories to tell.

Things like these are hard to swallow. To make things worse, we’re all so caught up in how others perceive us that half the time we don’t even voice our problems. That would be whining, and nobody likes a whiner. So we bottle things up within ourselves and turn to Internet for guidance.

The Internet is a place of self-diagnosis, not only for your flu symptoms, but for the worries you have about your novel. Blog upon blog is filled with the do’s and don’ts writing, LTWF included, and the information is so overwhelming that suddenly you don’t just have the flu anymore; you have pneumonia, or an ulcer, or you’re in the early stages of sepsis. You start going through the symptoms until they blur into a mass that seems unmanageable. You don’t think have a stomach ache, but now you see it’s possible, you feel one coming on. You get to the final few things listed, about fast heart-rate and high fever, and suddenly your heart is pounding in your throat and you’re burning up. You have to go to the hospital. You have to get cured. Because the next symptom is a little harder to get rid of: death.

It isn’t until you get there that you realize you’re making yourself sick.

There are so many rules about writing. Rules about tension, plot-building, characterization, word count… There are so many things that you can read and start panicking that you’re doing exactly what they’re telling you not to. Sometimes, it is a real problem, but a lot of the times it’s simply paranoia caused by that unshakeable feeling of inadequacy.

So here is my piece of advice, coming at you from an un-agented, book-deal-less, anxious girl who knows the doubts will follow her long after she has her break, if she even gets one:

Have faith in your writing. You know your plot, you know your story, you know what you’re doing. If you’re in a place where you’re out of questions, and you truly believe there’s nothing more you can do till you get word back from your critique partner, or your agent, or your editor, then stop looking for answers. Illnesses only get worse after a trip to Dr. Google. Let the hiccoughs pass, and have patience. Worst thing that happens, you get your feedback and you’re re-inspired.

Most importantly, voice your doubts. It’s amazing how much lighter you feel when you share that weight with somebody. Talk to people. And if they accuse you of whining, tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

Never Forget WHY You Write

6 Apr

When you first begin writing, you do it for various reasons…  Maybe it’s an escape.  Maybe it’s for entertainment. Maybe it’s because if you didn’t you would just die.

Whatever the reason, it gets your butt into a chair and your fingers onto a keyboard. As you BICHOK away, you may or may not finish what you start…but ultimately it doesn’t matter because at this point you are writing mostly for YOU.

But then, at some point, you decide you want to write to get PUBLISHED.  Suddenly, your entire approach to writing changes–as it should!

You learn about writing.  You build your tool-box of characterization, plotting, scene-construction, outlining, voice, and more…

Then (or more likely at the same time) you start to learn about the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. You accept that it’s not going to be easy, but by golly you won’t give up!

And maybe, if you’re obsessive (read: ME) you spend every hour researching agents, refining your query letter, joining another society/crit group/workshop–all meant to help you jump that first hurdle in publication: AQUIRING AN AGENT.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–you are retrieved from the slush.  Your MS is good enough, the agent makes an offer, and…

BAM! You have an agent! Now what…?

Oh, there’s still more for your obsessive nature to dwell on.  First, you’ll probably go through revisions with your Shiny New Agent, and then, lo and behold, you GO ON SUBMISSIONS.  To editors!  It’s out of your hands now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t check your email with psychotic determination.  That you won’t spend every waking hour daydreaming about that second giant hurdle in publication: SELLING YOUR NOVEL.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–your novel does catch the eye of an editor.  Your MS is good enough, the editor makes an offer, your agent negotiates the deal, and…

BAM! Your book has sold. Now what…?

And here, my friends, is where–if you’re really like me–you may suddenly have to revaluate everything. Technically, by all your friends and family, you’ve MADE IT.

Selling  your novel was your dream!  You’ve spent sooooooooo long and spent soooooooo much energy trying to reach this point, you never really thought beyond.

Um, well, if you wish to make this your LIFE (as must of us certainly do), then you’re going to have to write another book.  And another book after that and another after that…and multiply that by infinity.

But even harder, you have to write good books.  And that’s really freaking scary.

To quote my agent,

Second Book Jitters ares viewed as…cliche almost? Like it’s become such a normal discussion topic that many people don’t acknowledge it anymore. But that term has its roots, and in my opinion, is always worth bringing up.

The Second Book Jitters are undoubtedly real, and I think they come from the sudden realization that all that energy you’ve focused into steps 1 (Agent Acquisition) and 2 (Selling the Novel) has now got to go somewhere else: a good second book that readers will enjoy.

But truly, I think “second book jitters” could just as easily be renamed “First Book Jitters” or “Eighty-seventh Book Jitters” or how about just BOOK JITTERS!

Why? Because readers are notoriously hard to please, yet when we seek to be published, we take a vow to write for our readers.

And now we get to a point where you have to rediscover the “spark”.  You have to get back to the whole reason you started writing in the first place:

YOU.

That’s right.  Writing started with YOU, and now you’ve got to bring it back to YOU.

First drafts are for you. Revisions are for readers.

Yes, you may write for publication and for your readers, but when you BICHOKing out your first draft, you’re writing COMPLETELY FOR YOU.  You must tap into whatever it is that compels you to write, and you have to use it to get that first draft out!

I write because I have a feeling to share.  Just like a piece of music moves me, a story will burn in my heart until I have to tell it.  And finding those feelings, nurturing those stories, setting aside commercial-concerns and self-doubt for a few months while I hammer out a first draft–all of it is CRITICAL for me to write a novel.

And it took me a few months of chasing my tail to finally sort all that out…

But now I know what motivates me to write.

I know that, ultimately, writing is my career, and that means staying in touch with MYSELF.

I know I have to focus more of my time on WRITING than on All The Other Crud (social networking, obsessing over foreign rights, dreaming of selling future books I haven’t even written yet!).

Ah, now if only I had stayed in touch with myself throughout the querying/subbing process… I’d have saved a lot of time (and some crippling self-doubt) later on!

MORAL OF THE STORY: No matter where you are in the journey to (or on) publication, don’t lose sight of why you write.  Writing is for you; editing is for your readers.

So why do you write?

What is about storytelling that attracted you in the first place?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

The Querying Flowchart of DOOM

17 Mar

by Kat Zhang

~~~

No, silly, it’s not actually “of DOOM,” but sometimes querying feels like it, no? (And besides, as writers, we’re obligated to be dramatic, right? What, that’s actors, you say? Pshaw!!)

Anyway, in order to ease the beginning querier into the query process, I’ve made a handy-dandy flow chart. Yes, it’s a very condensed version of the pre-query checklist…mostly because I only have so much patience with making little multi-colored text balloons. Also, there are no arrows. I know. Sadness. But look at it as a test of thy skill, young querier! If you can not master the maze that is the Query Flowchart of DOOM, then see it as a sign that you need more training before daring to enter the lair of the dragon–I mean confront Darth Vader–I mean query!

Are you ready to begin your test of skill??

Enter at thy own peril…

So? Did you make it? Are you ready to send out those queries? 😀

…and did you notice the two missing bubbles?

…because I totally did that on purpose as a further test of your skills.

yup

that’s my story, and I’m STICKIN’ WITH IT!

D:<

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It

23 Feb

by Susan Dennard

~~

In Germany, there is a saying:

It it doesn’t fit, it can be made to fit.

While this phrase is appropriate for suitcases, skinny jeans, and dishwashers, it does not work for your novel, memoir, short stories, etc.  In fact, I have recently learned that the opposite is true when it comes to creativity:

If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

I did NaNoWriMo last year (2010). I wrote 52,000 words in a YA dystopian called Screechers.  Of those 52,000 word, about 20,000 have been revised into Something of Moderate Quality.

But I hate it — hate Screechers, I mean.  I hate the story; I hate the main character; I hate the stupid world building; and I hate the fact that it’s a dystopian and high concept when neither of those things interest me.  It’s just one big BLEH.

So after two months of knowing I should get back to Screechers but not wanting to; knowing that if I just made a butt-in-chair for a few months, I’d finish; and knowing that my agents would be very happy if I handed them my high concept MS all polished and pretty,

I am letting it go.

Sometimes I think writers (read: ME) are reluctant to throw out manuscripts (um, raise your hand if you insisted your first novel would be publishable…only to realize much later that it wasn’t even close).  Heck, no one wants to throw out anything they’ve worked hard on — be it a novel, a painting, or a crooked bookshelf.

It’s like when you’re making a cake but you royally screw up the recipe (maybe you added 3 egg yolks instead of 4 egg whites), and the only solution for you is to START OVER.  (Well, there is another option: eat a wretched cake. But no one wants to eat wretched cake.  No one normal, anyway. ;))

Sometimes we really just gotta let it go. You know, in one fell swoop like an awkwardly placed band-aid (wait — aren’t all band-aids in bad spots?), hit delete, toss it in the trash, and say “good-bye”.

I realized (like 4 days ago) with Screechers that no matter what, I will never like the story as it currently is.  And the only way to turn it into a story I love is to start over. And this time, I’m not going to do the stupid things I did with the first draft.

What were those stupid things?  And how do you know if you’re committing them too?  Answer these questions and let’s find out.

Are you:

  • Writing in a style that is popular, but isn’t your own?
    • I wrote in first-person present.  While I think some people can pull this off really well, I am NOT one of those people. I struggled (read: was clawing my eyes out and screaming) to make first person present work. Present tense just isn’t natural to me, so it never felt natural on the page.
    • Plus, I had MAJOR problems with too much narrative distance (1st-person present ≠ immediacy, contrary to popular belief) and filter words.
  • Writing something high concept?
    • Screechers is high concept premise — complete with action, irony, an instantly sympathetic heroine, and more.
    • BUT, I had so many problems trying to hard to fit into my high concept logline that I just couldn’t tell a good story anymore (high concept ≠ good story, contrary to popular belief).
  • Writing it FAST?
    • A lot of the speed was because of NaNoWriMo, but the speed-revising had more to do with my own insane determination to finish revising Screechers by April 2011.
    • Sometimes, taking it slow works better — especially when the story isn’t coming naturally and you need time to think.
  • Writing in a popular genre?
    • Dystopian ≠ automatic WIN, contrary to popular belief.  Some people handle it really well (Suzanne Collins, George Orwell, John Wyndham, etc.), but again, I am NOT one of those people.
    • I like fantasy more thank I like dystopian. I like sci-fi more than I like dystopian.  I like paranormal more than I like dystopian. SO WHY THE HECK WASN’T I TRYING TO WRITE THOSE GENRES?
  • Writing an MC with whom you can’t connect?
    • I could not find my MC’s voice — partly because of the first-person present thing and partly because I didn’t like her (even if she was immediately sympathetic).
    • She was a Tough Girl, and some people write Tough Girls well (Suzanne Collins, Holly Lisle, Cherie Priest).  I don’t.  My Tough Girls just come across 2-dimensional.
    • Plus, I just didn’t want to tell a dystopian story, so I found I couldn’t care about my dystopian heroine.

Are you running into any of these?  If so, you’ve got a problem, and more importantly, you have to decide:

Is the manuscript worth it?  Should you try to salvage this cake or just bake a new one?

For me, starting over is definitely worth it because somewhere in the premise for Screechers is the story I originally wanted to tell.  If I get rid of all the crap I don’t like about it and add all the story-telling sparkles I love, then I’m going to wind up with a better book.

So if any of the above questions above apply to you, then take a long hard look at you MS (or your cake…or your leaning bookshelf).  And if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

Have you ever had this happen?  Is there something you’re working on now that just isn’t clicking for you?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Book Recommendation: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

22 Dec

Hello, my name is Kat…

(Hi, Kat)

…and I am a Grammar Nazi.

Yes, it’s true. Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense. I make mistakes plenty of times; I certainly break the rules of grammar when style and context call for it; and God forbid I become that guy who mercilessly hounds others for missing a comma (Or…I try not to!). But when all is said and done, I have a great love for those little squiggles and lines that organize our sentences.

So when I found Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, I was in love. It combined my two favorite things–grammar and snark!

How can a grammar lover not adore a book that details “the weapons required in the apostrophe war”? (for those of you interested, the list includes correction fluid, big pens, guerilla-style clothing, strong medication for personality disorder, and a gun)

At the most basic level, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is a book for teaching grammar. But while I learned one or two new things and had a few more affirmed, if you’re really looking for a nitty-gritty rule-book, I recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is so much more.

It details the history of the comma, waxes poetry on the semicolon, and calls the ellipsis “the black hole of punctuation.” And all throughout every page runs the wonderful, never-too-serious voice of the author. This book is anything but dry, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who always wondered about the correct use of an em-dash versus an en-dash.

Oh, and why the title Eats, Shoots, & Leaves?

Here’s the joke:

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation:

 

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots, and leaves.”

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.