Tag Archives: revisions

The Art of REwriting

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard

~~

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?

Advertisements

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.

Writing With Immediacy

22 Mar

By Sammy Bina

~~~

For the longest time, I had no idea what passive voice was. You’d think, as a creative writing major, a professor would’ve explained that at one point or another. I learned a lot of things while taking workshops in college, but passive voice was somehow always passed over for lessons on condensing plot and the importance of realistic dialogue. And while those lectures were incredibly useful, I wish someone had taken the time to tell me why passive voice can be so destructive to your writing.

I found this nifty worksheet a while back, which defines passive voice as the following:

A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.

If that didn’t make any sense to you, it also included the following example which, I find, is much easier to understand.

Take a look at this passive rephrasing of a familiar joke:

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Who is doing the action in this sentence? The chicken is the one doing the action in this sentence, but the chicken is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject to be. Instead, the road is the grammatical subject. The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses

I’ve come back to this sheet numerous times when trying to spot my own passive sentences. Susan’s fantastic post about using filter words has also become a go-to resource. Why? Because my first drafts are riddled with passive voice and filter words. Though I know not to use them, they somehow always creep into my manuscript, hiding until I come back for revisions. Maybe it’s because I’m so focused on getting the story down that I don’t pay much attention to what words I’m using. But now that I’m well into revising my current WIP, I’ve had to edit out a decent amount of filter words and passive sentence construction. I’d sent my manuscript to a friend to look over, and she pointed out that a specific event in chapter one wasn’t immediate enough. Want to take a gander as to why?

That’s right. Passive voice and filter words.

Weeks later, I’ve gone back and hopefully corrected all of my earlier slip-ups. In the hopes of teaching by example, I thought I’d share a small excerpt of my current project, SILENCE. The first will be from before revisions, and the second is the current, updated version. I think you’ll be able to see and feel the difference!

Original

We were running, my lungs burning as I sucked in the frigid November air. My eyes were stinging, and I couldn’t stop the tears as the wind continued to pummel us. My parents were on either side of me, hands clenched into fists as we sprinted up Bridge Street, the rest of the rebels only steps behind. In the distance, we could hear the Guard calling out to us, demanding our immediate surrender.

None of us stopped.

The chase continued for what seemed like hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. My entire body ached, and I could feel the others losing momentum as we pushed against the gale. Snow stung my skin and turned it pink, and my feet slipped on ice as we rounded the corner, the bridge only a few hundred feet away. I could see the woods and felt my heart soar – we were going to make it! I’d grown up in the woods; I knew how to hide. If I could get there, I’d be safe.

But I didn’t make it. None of us did. The sound of high-powered rifles filled the night. Pop-pop-pop. I saw someone to the right of me go down in a spray of red.

“Go!” Papa yelled, shoving both my mother and I.

Pop.

I turned around just in time to see my father fall face-first into the snow. I opened my mouth to scream, but my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me forward.

“Run, Neva.” I felt two hands on my back as she shoved me, propelling me toward the trees. “Whatever you do, don’t stop running.”

Pop.

And I did exactly what she told me not to. I stopped. Right there, in the middle of the bridge, not thirty feet from the treeline, I stopped. My mother was lying in the snow, one arm outstretched. It was almost as if she were reaching for me. I couldn’t see her face, but I could imagine the desperation and fear that still lingered there. Something inside my chest shattered, and I took a step forward, desperate to get to her.

“Mom?” I whispered, hesitant. I knew she was dead, but part of me just couldn’t believe it. I needed to see for myself. I needed to know for sure.

After Revisions

I was running, my lungs burning as I sucked in the frigid November air. My eyes stung and I couldn’t stop the tears as the wind pummeled my body. My parents were on either side of me, hands clenched into fists as we sprinted up Bridge Street, the rest of the rebels only steps behind. In the distance, the Guard called out to us, demanding our immediate surrender.

No one stopped.

I pushed myself even harder, arms pumping at my sides. My entire body ached. Sleet pricked my skin and turned it pink, and my feet slipped on ice as we rounded another corner. The bridge was only a few hundred feet away, swaying dangerously back and forth. I saw the woods beyond it and my heart soared. If I could make it past the tree line, I’d be safe.

But I didn’t. None of us did. The sound of high-powered rifles filled the night. Pop-pop-pop. Someone to the right of me went down in a spray of red.

“Go!” Papa yelled, shoving both my mother and I.

Pop.

The driving force behind me fell away. I turned around just in time to see my father fall face-first into the snow. I opened my mouth to scream but my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me onto the bridge. I stumbled, reaching out to steady myself. The rope left a splotchy, crimson burn on the palm of my hand.

Mom had stopped to signal the others to disperse but she was too late. Most of the rebels were lying in the snow, scattered across the clearing. My heart dropped into my stomach as I stood there, my breath forming tiny puffs in the night air.

The planks beneath my feet shivered as she came back to retrieve me. “Run, Neva,” she ordered, propelling me toward the woods. “Whatever you do, don’t stop running.”

We took off in the direction of the trees, their branches like open arms. The green patches untouched by snow were welcome mats, inviting me closer. Cold air burned my lungs but I pushed forward, desperately seeking the cover the woods would provide.

Pop.

And then I did exactly what I’d been told not to. I stopped. Right there, in the middle of the bridge. I was less than twenty feet from the tree line, but I couldn’t take another step. My mother lay in the snow, one arm outstretched toward me. Red curls fanned out across the snow, long tendrils whipping back and forth in the breeze. Her coat was red, but it didn’t match the spray of muddy crimson around her. I forced myself to move toward her.

“Mom?” I whispered. She was dead – I knew it – but acceptance was slow in coming. I needed to see for myself.

Hopefully I’m not delusional in thinking the second one is more immediate. I cut some passive phrases and pulled as many filter words as I could catch. I think it’s really important to read your own writing back to yourself. Out loud, if you can. For some reason I have a much easier time catching awkward phrasing when I’m actually speaking.

There aren’t really any hard or fast rules for writing with immediacy. However, passive voice is definitely a no-no, and filter words can also take away the importance of a moment. Certain scenes call for very immediate action, especially when told in first person (*cough*HUNGERGAMES*cough*).The way a scene is written can really make a difference for the reader. We may not have cared about Katniss so much if everything had been very ho-hum, “Hi, I’m Katniss. I like bows and arrows and boys who bake bread. And also boys whose names remind me of storms. Now I’m in this big ol’ arena and think I’ll go shoot some things.” I mean, come on. That would make for a really boring story. What drew readers in was how immediate everything felt. You constantly were in the moment with her, and thus  able to relate to her and her situation.

What I’ve been working on is really envisioning the scene in my head. I try to put myself in my character’s shoes and observe everything as they would. Obviously I saw something, so I don’t need to reference that every time something happens (ie: “I saw such and such happen.”) Things like that can be difficult to catch, but the more aware of it you become, the easier it is to spot. As they say, practice makes perfect. So make yourself aware of the problems that could detract from the immediacy in your writing. Know what to look for and work to avoid it as best you can. I doubt I’ll ever have a first draft that’s free of passive voice and filter words, but with each book I write, I’ve been able to catch more and more. I know you’ll be able to do the same.

~~~

Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on 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.

The 51 Steps to Editing

15 Dec
by Kat Zhang
~~~
Having critiqued a number of manuscripts and received critiques in return, I think I’ve gotten the Critique Email Response down to a science. Here, in exactly 51 steps, is how the average writer* reacts. 

*in this case study, “the average writer” is a compilation of exactly 1 writer. Me.

1. Send out manuscript
2. Wait
3. Wait some more
4. Get very friendly with your inbox
5. Have mini heart attacks every time you see “Inbox (1)” (man, that right there just ramped up my heartbeat a few bpm…and I typed it myself)
6. Convince yourself that nobody loves you
7. Realize how dumb that is
8. Bug other writing friends until *they* tell you how dumb that is
9. Wait some more
10. Receive notes
11. Cheer!
12. Actually open notes
13. Read
14. Read again
15. OMG
16. How did I not think of that??/That’s the coolest idea EVER/WHAT, how did that not come across??/Eeeeek/That DEFINITELY needs to go in the story. Likerightnow
17. Brainsplode
18. Recovery mode
19. Read notes a couple more times, taking notes on the notes
20. Organize notes on notes under a select few headlines, like “Improve characterization for character A” and “Give more hints that Agent Kazoooski is a mole from outer space”
21. Cut “mole from outer space” subplot entirely
22. …add it back in
23. Brainstorm in trusty moleskine, telling yourself that there are no stupid ideas
24. Prove yourself wrong
25. Very wrong
26. Coffee/chocolate/carbs/other forms of comfort
27. Read through manuscript, despairing of ever changing anything without screwing up what’s already there
28. Read through notes again
29. Read through notes on notes
30. Save manuscript under a new document name (Manuscript_version97833283)
31. Take a deep breath and—
32. Ooh, lookie who’s on skype!
33. Spend the next three hours talking about anything and everything but the editing you should be doing.
34. Distract thyself from the task at hand
35. Repeat
36. Repeat
37. Repeat
38. Break something small and insignificant
39. Open manuscript doc again.
40. Have a staring contest with your own words
41. Damn.
42. They beat you.
43. Delete a couple out of spite. Hey, that felt kinda good.
44. Delete some more.
45. Hmm, might need something to replace those words…
46. Type a little something. That’s not half bad, right? Try a little more.
47. Freak out and stop.
48. Fiddle with what you already have on the page until it feels right. With regained confidence, revise deeper.
49. Emerge from editing cave 36 hours later realizing you have a test the next day and you can’t even remember what chapter you were supposed to study…or which subject.
50. Ah well.
51. At least you got some editing done!

What does YOUR list look like?
~~~

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.