Tag Archives: first draft

The Art of REwriting

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard

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It’s NaNoWriMo month.

In other words, it is currently hell-on-earth for many writers around the globe. A self-induced hell that anyone who isn’t participating in just CAN’T UNDERSTAND.

Yes, we clearly enjoy torture, but no, we are not insane. (Though, ask again in 3 weeks…)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to soothe the minds of worried first-drafters. Everyone will tell you this (including Vahini, here on LTWF), and all I can do is reiterate:

It is okay to write crappy first draft.

In fact, we’re all expecting you too…because so will we.

And, if I’m REALLY HONEST with you, then I’ll just go ahead and share a little secret:

I’m a really bad writer.

Like, downright dreadful.

Here’s a quote that pretty much embodies me:

“More than half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”

~John Irving

This is so, so, so me.

My first drafts are riddled with long pages of backstory and slow, unnecessary scenes in which characters (i.e. me) get to know each other. Every piece of dialogue has a tag–many of which are “snapped”, “hissed”, and “growled” (my characters, it would seem, are easily annoyed).

My first drafts are so bad, in fact, that I would rather be paper cut to death than share them with anyone. I’m serious–no one reads my first drafts. In fact, my crit partners are usually eyeballing third or even fourth drafts. It’s not just that I’m self-conscious about my prose–it’s that I am perfectly aware I can’t write well.

The issue is that my first drafts come out fast. We’re talking all my first drafts are NaNo-worthy, month-long passions of speed-typing.

I usually have a strong idea of the primary external plot, but I have zilch for my subplots or resonance. And as I write, my Muse strikes me with ideas for clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) threads to weave in.

By the time I finally reach the end of my book, the manuscript is what I (lovingly) like to as one giant clusterf***.

But you know what? That’s okay…

Because, by golly, I am one hell of a REwriter.

Just take a look at these massacred pages from the very first REwrite of Something Strange and Deadly. (It was still in third person! HOW WEIRD.)

Ah, but one REwrite wasn’t enough. Here’s the same section during round 2 of a total REwrite:

So let’s lay out some ground rules about rewriting–some things you might want to come back to when NaNoWriMo wraps up and you find yourself crying maniacally in the corner.

The first key to rewriting is to NOT STRESS. You may have a disaster on your hands, but you can always, always clean that up.

You have a story now (something you didn’t have when you began). All you have to do is take what you wrote and make it WHAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE.

If you want to see why stress is a killer, then read this hilarious post by author Libba Bray. My favorite line?

…then Tim comes in, takes a look at the dirt and staples all over you, your bloodshot eyes and borderline psychotic grin, puts his finger to his mouth in a thoughtful way and says, “I’m concerned.” And you say, “No, Tim, it’ll all work out—I swear!” And you staple some fertilizer to the floor and laugh.

The second key to rewriting is to STAY ORGANIZED. Go in with a plan and that messy first draft will seem way less scary.

You are gonna TACKLE THIS BEAST TO THE GROUND, GOSH DARNIT.

Plus, if you need help figuring that “plan stuff” out, well, I’ve got an entire revisions series that you can work through.

The third and final key to rewriting is BICHOK. Get your Butt In that Chair, your Hands On that Keyboard (or pen, if you’re like me…making it BICHOP) and work! You need to max out your stamina and determination for all they’re worth.

Because eventually and with enough hard labor (and possibly tears–those have been known to happen), you can turn any horrible first draft into a masterpiece.

I mean, just look at what my tattered pages above became:

Yeah, that’s an ARC of my book–an ARC of my REwritten, multi-revised (at least 8 times by the end…probably more), crappy-first-draft-in-a-month BOOK.

And with a little elbow grease and drive, you, my friends, can do the same.

So what about you? Do you write clean first drafts or rely on re-writing to get your novel where it needs to be?

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Researching Your Story – A Four-Step Strategy

30 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Unless you’re writing a book about your own life, chances are you’ll have to do some sort of research before you can say your novel is finished. (Even if your book IS about your own life, you’ll probably have to refer to your family albums, at the very least!) Historical settings, legal proceedings, and medical conditions are just a few examples of story components that would require research. The object of this post is to suggest a strategy for research that will provide the authentic details you need without bogging you down in the process.

Step 1 – Make notes about the factual issues that you will need to research.

What will you need to learn to ensure that your story is authentic and appropriate for its genre? (I mention genre here because some genres have higher standards for accuracy than others. A “police procedural” mystery will require far more exacting details than would a contemporary fiction that includes an arrest in the plot.)

Once you’ve made a list of topics and facts you will need to research, divide it into two categories – “big picture” and “important details.”

“Big picture” knowledge is the information you need as you create the over-arching idea behind your novel and start your first draft. Examples would be:

  • In pre-Columbus North America, were horses a part of daily life?
  • Would a heart transplant be an option for a pregnant woman?
  • How long does DNA evidence last at a crime scene?

What qualifies an issue to be in the “big picture” category is the fact that it is at the heart of your story and essential for your concept to make sense. For instance, if your novel is about a crime that was committed aboard the Titanic, and how it is solved in the present day by the use of DNA evidence, you need to take the time to research these facts at the outset. What you learn about DNA evidence will have a huge impact on the course of your novel.

Step 2 – Attack the “big picture” issues and gain knowledge about the facts that will help form the spine of your story.

If you know that there is an area of study that is a major component to your plot, investigate that area as you form the seed of your story. If your story is set in Vietnam during the war, study up on the geography and the people. If your story is about an astronaut who makes an error that threatens to kill his entire crew, get an understanding of space missions and how they are structured and staffed.

Step 3 – Firm up your concept and dive into your first draft.

This is why you divided that list from Step 1 into two categories. The second category – “important details” – can be put aside for now. I’m not saying that you won’t have to look up those questions and answers eventually.  What I am saying is that you don’t need to know every detail of life in revolutionary France before getting started writing your rough draft. Authentic details will be required before you turn in your final draft, but you shouldn’t let research prevent you from getting started. If one of your characters lights a candle to read by, and you find out later that gas lamps had replaced candles ten years before your story takes place, that detail can be fixed in the revisions stage.

Step 4 – Firm up the details and make your revisions.

This step is where you need to add accuracy. What kind of gun would a pirate have used? Did matches exist or would the main character light a wick from the fireplace? How long did it take to travel from Glasgow to London by carriage in 1814?  Now that you have your first draft down, you can take the time to get the facts straight without interrupting the flow of your writing.

Do you do a lot of research for your writing? What process do you use? Do you have any ideas to add to the above? I look forward to reading your comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

Dictate Your Story – An Unconventional Method of Completing A First Draft

13 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Each of us has a personal writing style when it comes to getting that first, rough draft down on paper. Some writers type rapidly and let their words pour onto the page in a stream of consciousness. These writers test their ideas easily, and tend to complete NaNoWriMo in two weeks or less. These writers are confident in their ability to revise, and aren’t afraid to put bad writing on paper in the quest to get that all important first draft down.

Alas, I am not one of these writers.

I am one of those other writers. The kind that types a sentence, reads it over, revises it, reads it again, deletes it, and starts the whole process over again. My ideas go down on paper slowly. I agonize over word choice, even when writing a scene I know will likely be cut when I revise. I go back and re-read constantly, interrupting the flow of my thoughts.

Maybe my first draft will need less revision because of my edit-while-I-write style. Maybe. But first I have to finish it. And truthfully, that first draft takes me a very long time.

Frustrated with my stagnating word count, I recently took a radical step to reduce my self-editing. I forced myself to dictate my first draft into a hand-held digital recorder.

Since beginning this experiment about a week ago, two things have happened. First, my writing has become much more rough and ugly. Second, my daily word count has more than tripled.

Both of these results are exactly what I needed. Yes, this first draft is full of messy transitions, horrible prose, and cringe-worthy dialogue, but isn’t that what a first draft is meant to be? This draft isn’t the book that will one day sit on a bookstore shelf. This draft is the idea that will be polished into that book. And at this rate, I’ll be polishing before I know it.

If you’re having difficulty letting go and just getting that rough draft down, consider dictating your story. Here are some tips that will help you get started:

• Don’t play back your dictation until you’re ready to transcribe. Don’t delete anything you say or go back and revise. I don’t even have headphones plugged into my recorder while I’m dictating. After all, the idea is to turn off the self editor while you draft.

•Don’t be afraid to sound silly. Don’t worry if you start every sentence with the words, “And then,” or if you repeat the same pronoun ten times in a paragraph. You’re going to revise later. Just talk. Tell your story. You can work on finding the right words later.

• Whatever you do, don’t give in to the urge to edit while you transcribe. This can be extremely tempting, but it results in a loss of all the benefits that dictating is supposed to provide. It also takes too much time. I tried editing my words as I transcribed one night, and I didn’t get the day’s entire recording down on paper. Then the next day, I was confused about where I’d left off. Dictation allows you to cover a lot of ground in your story quickly. Transcribe just as quickly, or you’ll get bogged down.

• Ignore your voice. Don’t worry about your annoying accent or the nasally way you pronounce your vowels. You can work on your diction another time. Right now you’re writing the first draft of your novel.

• Have an idea of what happens in a scene before you start. You don’t have to have the entire book outlined, but you should know what action you need to describe when you press record. For me, it works best if I watch the scene in my head like a movie, and then dictate the action the way it just played out in my mind.

• Have fun. Do different voices for each character. Laugh when you catch yourself using the word “suddenly” for the third time in a scene. Realize that rough drafts are called “rough” for a reason.

• Let yourself write some horrible prose.

• Trust your ability to revise.

Think dictating might be for you? Tried it before? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

Herding WIPs

19 May

by Jenn Fitzgerald

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Rarely do I work on a single WIP at a time. I’m still not sure if this is good writerly behavior or not, but it is something I have to deal with. No matter how much I love a project that I’m working on, no matter how devoted to it, or focused on it I am, I still think about other WIPs. It can kinda feel like I’m cheating on my books with other books, but luckily WIPs can’t have hurt feelings if I neglect one for a while to spend time with another.

However, it can be a problem trying to balance projects. Sometimes, I’ll sit down to write, open up a project and start typing away, only to be distracted a few minutes later by plans for a different WIP. I’ll switch to the other one and start working on that, only to be drawn back to the first one again. And, by the end of the day I haven’t gotten much done on either and I’m frustrated with myself.

I had this problem in a big way when I was starting PRISCILLA THE EVIL. I was writing another WIP and things were going well, but I couldn’t help thinking about this idea I had about a little girl who wanted to be evil. Finally, I decided to get to a stopping point with my main WIP and see where this other idea went. Six weeks later I had a first draft of Priscilla and could go back to working on my main WIP, which I finished before starting major edits.

What I learned from this was that I need to work on new ideas and I need stopping points. Constantly jumping back and forth between projects is not the way to do it.

So, now when I have to deal with multiple projects I try to pick one to work on, and pick a stopping point to work towards before I’m allowed to switch to the next WIP. This helps keep me from switching back and forth spastically. If I set a goal and can get myself to work to that certain point, then I can actually get something done and make progress on both projects. If there is something pressing that I just have to write down or risk forgetting for the project I’m not working on, then I’ll take the shortest possible notes before going back to the WIP I am working on. This way I don’t loose any ideas, but I don’t get distracted and pulled off into another work either. This is still a process I’m working on and trying to get better at. There are sill days when I jump back and forth and can’t settle on one WIP to work on, but it’s getting better.

Do you all have the same problem? What techniques or solutions do you have for dealing with wanting to write multiple projects at the same time?

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.

Slipping in Character Description

11 Apr

by Kat Zhang

~~~

How much physical information a writer should put in about his or her characters is a pretty well-debated topic. Some readers like to have everything about the characters described the very first time they show up. Others just like to have the basics—hair color/length…eye color…tall or short…slim or heavyset. Others don’t care about physical description at all and like to have a blank canvas to draw their own mental picture of the protagonist and minor characters.

I’m in the middle. Well, actually, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a super-detailed description of every single character. I’m a very visual reader, and I like books that allow me to see the scenes in my head like a movie. That’s basically how I write, too, except the other way around. I see the scene like a movie in my head, and then I describe it on paper.

Trouble is, there’s really no way you can describe everything. It would slam the action to a halt, and while I say I like detailed explanations, I know that a book that is actually full of them would drive me crazy. So what’s a writer to do?

First off, remember your voice. This is especially important for first person and close third. You’re not just describing someone, you’re seeing them through someone’s eyes. Everything they notice or don’t notice should make sense. Think about what you notice when you see someone. You don’t meet your friend for lunch and run over their entire outfit and the eye color and hair length before saying hello, right? You might notice if they’ve recently had a haircut or if they’re wearing a skirt when they never wear skirts or something, but otherwise, you probably won’t even notice their clothes.

However, it is nice to let the reader know some physical description of the characters, so you’ve got to find ways of subtly slipping it in.

This is an example of just describing someone:

He was tall, about 6 foot 1 with short blonde hair and blue eyes. Also, he wore a white shirt with horizontal blue shirts and camouflage-patterned, baggy cargo pants. His shoes were heavy boots with thick soles, and he had a ring on his ring finger that was just a band of polished gold.

A couple things that could be improved on this description. Right now, it’s sort of just sitting there. Whatever was happening before the protag saw this guy has ground to a stop while you, the writer, describe his appearance. Weaving your description into the story’s flow of action can improve it a lot. So can spacing out the description so the reader’s picture of a character is built little by little. Of course, if you take too, too long, the readers will start filling things in on their own, and it might be a bit of a shock if, ten chapters in, you describe your love interest as having green eyes and the reader has imagined him as having dark brown ones.

So let’s try weaving the previous description into some action:

He waved to her from across the room, and when she smiled back, started making his way through the crowd. She bit back a laugh when he stumbled; he’d used to be graceful, but the recent growth spurt had added a foot to his height and an ungainliness to his walk.

“Hey, soldier boy,” she said when he was in hearing distance. “Nice pants.”

He grinned, automatically looking down at his baggy camouflage-pattern cargo pants. Along with the heavy boots and the crew cut she bet had taken a lot of convincing on the part of his mother to make happen, he looked almost like he’d stepped out of one of those Army Strong pamphlets her older brother used to bring home. Only his preppy white and blue striped shirt broke the image.

“Laundry day,” he said, still grinning, and ran his fingers through his hair. Probably had to get used to how short it was. She was about to say something back when she noticed the flash of the ring and choked on her words.

Right, so not the best material out there (I probably wouldn’t usually try to cram so much physical description in at once), and I missed out on some of the detail in the first example, but this way, the story didn’t stop completely. Yes, I used more words overall, but we also got a bit about the guy’s age (teens if he’s recently grown a foot in a relatively short period of time), about his relationship with the girl (close enough for her to tease him and him to smile), about their families (she’s got an older brother who was/is interested in the army; his mother wants his hair short, and he disagrees), and about the ring (she hasn’t seen it before).

I’ve got lots more to say about things like this, but I think that’s enough for today 🙂 If you guys are interested, though, I’ll continue the series during my next post!

~~~

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.

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.

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.

The Snowflake Method of Drafting a Novel

5 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh

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If the idea of methodically building your novel appeals to you, then the Snowflake Method, designed by Randy Ingermanson, might be just what you are looking for.  (A link to Ingermanson’s site can be found at the end of this post.)

The Snowflake Method contains ten steps.  These ten steps will take you from your concept to a completed first draft.

TEN STEPS:

Step One – Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.  The best summary sentence is one that includes a reference to the character who has the most to lose and the thing he or she wants most to win.  The one-sentence summary for Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES would be something like this, “A girl tries to stay alive in a fight to the death against twenty-three other teens that is aired on live television.”

Step Two – Expand your sentence into a full paragraph.  In this paragraph, you should include the story set-up, each disaster, and the ending.  You can decide the cause of each disaster, whether it is internally caused or brought on by external circumstances, and include those details as well.

Step Three – Next, your characters.  For each of your major characters, write a one page summary sheet that includes the following:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?)
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step Four – Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph from step two into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.

At the completion of step four, you should have a fairly concise one-page skeleton of your novel.  (Don’t sweat it if it’s longer or shorter than one page.   The point is that you are taking your seed of a story from step one and growing and expanding it.)

Step Five – Write a one-page synopsis of the story from the point of view of each major character.  (For more minor characters, you may want to write a half a page.)  This step may seem tedious (and it can be time-consuming if you have a lot of major characters,) but it will really get you into the heads of the people who will give your story life.  You will begin to see where they agree and where they clash.  While plot is always important, honestly drawn characters are what make us lose ourselves in a novel.

Step Six – Take a fresh look at your one-page plot synopsis from step four and expand it into a four-page synopsis.  One way to approach this would be to expand each paragraph from step four into its own page.  This step gives you the chance to find the complexity in your story, discover new plot ideas that may have been inspired by your character explorations in step five, and weave in subplots.  By keeping it to four pages, you can also easily identify plot holes or problems with the story’s logic.

Step Seven – Expand your character summaries from step three into full-blown character charts.  Make sure that you not only know each character’s motivations and goals, but also the smaller details, such as the one thing they would grab before running from a burning house, or the person who has been the greatest influence on them.  This is the step where you make sure your characters are fully alive in your mind.

Step Eight – Take the expanded synopsis you created in step six and make a list of every scene that needs to be written to tell your story.  If you’re adept with spreadsheets, creating one for this task will allow you to use the columns for details such as setting and POV character.  For those of you who like to hold your writing in your hands, index cards will work just as well.

Step Nine – Using the scene list, write several pages of narrative for each scene.  If you choose to add in dialogue, that’s fine.  By the end of this step, you’ll have a miniature rough draft of your book.

Step Ten – Write your first draft!

So what do you think of the Snowflake Method?  Do you think it would be helpful, or do you think it would hold you back?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

For more information about Randy Ingermanson and his writing theories and methods, you can visit his website, here.

 

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

[Insert name here]

10 Nov

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Ahhh, names.

Names have the power to embody an ideal. They have the incredible ability of making you judge somebody before you’ve even met them, subconsciously or not. And certain names have inescapable connotations: a Jezebel is a whore; a Narcissus is vain; a Samson is strong. Names have become so much a part of human identity that when we just meet somebody, more often than not, our first words to each other include them. In fact, it’s unnerving not to know somebody’s name. It makes the memory of them so mysterious and enigmatic.

Which is exactly why, when it comes down to having to name things, I freak out. A lot. Especially when it’s the naming of a character.

There are so many questions to ask.

Do I want to give them a name with connotations? If I have a man who’s really strong, am I going to name him Jack, or am I going to name him Francis? If I do name them something that doesn’t really suit their personality, is it for the sole purpose of breaking the stereotype or did I do it for irony?

And then there’s the issue of multiple characters.

What if I have six characters, and four of their names start with the letter S? Is that too many S’s? Should I change them? If in one book my villain’s name is Matthew and in the next one it’s Mark, will people notice that they’re both M names and both biblical?

And then I try to reassure myself by telling myself that I’m thinking too much. People see the name, they see the character, they put them together, and run with it. That’s all.

But that’s not quite true is it? I’ve had many, many discussions about character names, and if they do or do not fit, or if they hint too obviously at the nature of the character. It used to be okay to name people Adolf. Now there’s a taboo. Do I use that taboo to my advantage, or do I try to give the character a clean slate?

That’s when I realized that there never really is a clean slate. People go into books with expectations, and names only help to feed those expectations. It’s up to the writer if they want to meet or break them.

And trust me, more often than not, you want to break them.

When I first told my friend about my manuscript, I told her that my protagonist’s name was Ingrid. She told me after she read it that at first she didn’t like the name. She didn’t think it suited her personality because she associated it with old ladies and not, as it were, with stubborn, loud sixteen-year-olds. Then, in one of the greatest compliments somebody could give me without realizing it, she said, “But the more I read, the more it felt right. I can’t think of any other name for her.”

Which may not have meant much to her, but to me it meant the world.

Her statement basically proved to me that Ingrid was a strong character. She was able to break away from the stereotypes her name leant her and make it her own. She changed my friend’s perception of the name Ingrid from Old Lady to Cool Heroine.

And through all this, I realized that all of my questions and trivial worries were completely and utterly moot.

As long as your character’s voice is strong, it doesn’t matter what you name them. If they are able to hold onto their personality, their personality will begin to have a hold on the name. If you can make them come to life in a person’s mind, they will become real. And them being real will give the name a new dimension.

So stop worrying about what others think of your protagonist’s name when they read it and focus instead on finding something that feels right to you personally. That character already exists in your mind, and only you know which name will suit it best.

And who knows. Maybe next time somebody thinks of Jezebel, they won’t just think of a whore.

~~~

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.