Monday, December 31, 2012

December Reflections

Words today: 378

Total for January: 10,860

Word deficit: 0!

I surpassed my goal by more than 2,500 words. And I'm pleased with the words; it'll definitely need another "polishing" pass, but I wouldn't be completely mortified to have someone read it in the state it's in now. Workwise, I feel like I've found my groove; now I just need to keep my momentum going and take the fullest advantage of the next 10 weeks. New Year's to mid-March is a historically productive period for me.

The next few scenes are ones that gave me a lot of trouble in the first draft. I'm really curious to see how much my scene-building process helps straighten them out.

On the Terra Astra front, I'm still having episodes in which Ezra and Lark seize hold of my brain and force me to write out their dialogue. I now have the emotional arc of every "relationship" scene sketched out. I've discovered that  Lark is slightly older than Ezra, and that they met once before, as pre-teens. 

This is all just pure playtime; since I don't have an external plot for them at all, it doesn't feel like working on a second book. But if a brilliant plot hits me, watch out. These two are very insistent that their story be told. I just hope they can wait until after Eleven Names, which I intend to go back to WHEN (note the lack of  if with that when) I finish The Owl Bearer,  which will be sometime THIS YEAR.

Books Read in 2012

This year's tally: 51 books, including writing books, children's books, graphic novels, and a re-read. I count children's books if I've never read it before, and re-reads if I haven't read the book for more than twenty years.


Writing Books:

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray


Children's Books:

Henry and the Clubhouse by Beverly Cleary
Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett
Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
The Spiderwick Chronicles: Lucinda's Secret by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Ironwood Tree by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Wrath of Mulgrath by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
The Beast of Blackslope by Tracy Barrett
The Case That Time Forgot by Tracy Barrett
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary


Graphic Novels:

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
Castle Waiting II by Linda Medley
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura


YA and Adult Novels:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Purge by Sofi Oksanen
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill
Foundation by Isaac Asimov (re-read)
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarity
Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Crossed by Ally Condie
Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novick
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Across the Great Barrier by Patricia Wrede
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Edge by Jeffrey Deaver
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Quatrain by Sharon Shinn


I read so many good books this year. Really, there are only a handful of books I didn't enjoy (sadly, most were for book club). I recommend all three of the writing books.

My top 5 stand-outs as I look back over the year:

1) Pretty much anything by Beverly Cleary. I still can't believe I never read her when I was a kid. The Son owns a lot of Cleary on audiobook (read by the seriously amazing Stockard Channing. If you have the chance to hear these recordings, do. She's wonderful), and since we often listen to audiobooks in the car, I have heard all these stories many times. I never failed to be blown away by Cleary. Holy shit, could that woman structure a story! Her mirroring in her openings and closings makes me want to bow reverently at her feet.

2) Castle Waiting. I don't yet own this, because it's expensive and I'm trying to buy fewer books (although I did give it to The Sibling for Christmas). But I'm going to have to get it. I find it hard to explain why I love it so much: it's about a fairy-tale commune, essentially, of people (some of whom have animal heads) seeking connection or sanctuary. There is no sex or violence. And yet it is so addictive.

3) The Name of the Wind. Okay, yes-- the hero flunks the Mary Sue test in a major way. But that just goes to show that rules crumble in the face of awesome. I'm looking forward to reading whatever else this guy writes.

4) Troubled Waters. Desert island book. I've already re-read it. It's everything I love about Sharon Shinn: meticulous worldbuilding, strong-willed heroine, stalwart hero, and people who are mostly good-intentioned, even when they're wrong.

5) To Say Nothing of the Dog. Another desert island book. If you like Arthur Dent, Dr. Who, Jeeves & Wooster, cats, dogs, WWII, country house mysteries, love stories, and poking fun at Victorians, then I have to insist you read this book immediately. I have a feeling this is the start of something long and beautiful between Connie and me.

I'll be posting about my personal reading challenge for 2013 in a few days.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

12/30 Count

Words today: 252

Total: 10,482

Word deficit: 102

I got a late start writing today. The Son had a play date, and the plan was that the mom would drop his friend here and then go to the gym, and I would write while loosely supervising the two kindergarteners running around the house with lightsabers. Instead, she got her car stuck sideways in our nightmare of a driveway, so we had tea and a nice visit while we waited for her husband to come pull her out. And then I had to fix the boys' lunch, and then they wanted to go outside and build a snow fort, and then I had leave for tutoring minutes after the mom picked him up, and there went my writing time.

Tomorrow my mother-in-law is taking The Son on a day trip to visit her parents (who are now coming up on their SEVENTY-FOURTH wedding anniversary), so for the first time in a week and a half I will have a lot of time to read and write. My goals for the day:

1) write the day's 250
2) make up the 102 deficit
3) finish scene work for the next upcoming scene
4) do scene work for the scene after that --not going to finish this today, but it's in progress
5) finish reading Quatrain
6) write "books read in 2012" blog post
7) write "december reflections" blog post

Saturday, December 29, 2012

12/29 Count

Words today: 281

Total: 10,230

Word deficit: 104

I'm feeling that New Year energy kicking in. I am full of plans and resolutions. While I have never in my life accomplished all that I planned to on Jan. 1, I'm pretty sure I've done a lot of things I never would have done without the magic of new year motivation.

10%

I am 10% done with the second draft!

That feels at least twice as exciting as 5% did. 5% you're basically just humoring yourself to even report it. 10% is more like a real start on something.

Friday, December 28, 2012

12/28 Count

Words today: 285

Total: 9,949

Word deficit: 135

No long writing day until Monday. But it's coming along, and I've been slowly doing the scene work for the next scene, as well as my daily 250. I know I need to pick the pace, but I'm nervous about bumping it to 500 in a few days.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12/26 Count

Words today: 397

Total: 9,412

Word deficit: 172

Christmas Eve I didn't write at all, and Christmas day I did my best but fell short by 69 words. Since I've been busy with holiday preparations and The Son's been out of school, I haven't had the time to do scene work on upcoming scenes, and now my daily words have caught up with my scene outline. I've been working on just the dialogue for the first scene in chapter three, but today I had to take the time to finish the scene work and outline before I went any further. I've felt a little sheepish about how absurdly overcomplicated my scene-building process is, but today I see how much it helps me. I still have 172 words to make up, but I'm hoping for a long writing day this weekend.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not Today

Posting just after midnight on Christmas to say that even 250 words aint happenin' for the 24th. I cooked a truly ridiculous amount today. But the family is asleep, my kitchen is semi-clean, Santa has come, and I have two desserts and triple digits of homemade tortellini in my fridge.

I'll have to make up that 250 somewhere between now and New Year's Eve.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

12/22 Count

Words today: 281

Total: 8,579

Just a few more sentences and I'll be done with chapter two! I was out until 11:00 tonight hanging out with two of my mom-friends, and I'm too hazy to fiddle with words right now.

Friday, December 21, 2012

12/21 Count

Words today: 390

Total: 8,298

Made my goal for December, with ten days left.

Today was the first day of The Son's school vacation, and we did N.O.T.H.I.N.G. He watched two movies, I baked some meringues, and neither of us got dressed until 5:00pm when we went out to deliver cookie tins to friends. If the world ends in the next 40 minutes, I will have had a rather unimpressive last day on earth.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

12/20 Count

Words today: 253

Total: 7,908

Not going any extra miles this week. I see the light at the end of the shopping/baking/wrapping tunnel, but I'm also facing down 2 weeks of school vacation.

I've decided to do JanNoWriMo again this year, for the 4th time in five years. January just feels like the best month for a writing challenge, like starting the year off on the right foot. Even though I'm editing instead of producing new words, and even though my word count goal will be low compared to everyone else's, I'm still giving it a go. Anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Crazies

Words today: 286

Total: 7,655

Now I remember why I'd planned to take the week before Christmas off. I'm baking, cleaning, shopping, decorating, wrapping presents... and still doing some tutoring... and The Son has no school Friday. It's 11:27pm and I just finished writing my measly little chunk for the day.

Ezra and Lark have backed off, which is a relief; for a few days there I was making a lot of notes about their relationship and was really consumed with their story, to the point that I started a playlist* for them. Fortunately, I have no idea what their external plot is, so I wasn't tempted to start writing. Now, even though the words aren't flowing, my focus has sharpened back on Willa and Akenam. They won't cross paths again for another 10,000 words or so, but I want to be buzzing on their vibe when they do.


*Ezra's love theme is "Anyway That You Want Me" by The Troggs, which manages to be deeply romantic and kind of dirty at the same time:

anyway that you want me
anyway that you'll take me
anyway that you'll make me be part of you
anyway at all

Lark's is "The King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1" by Neutral Milk Hotel:

and this is the room 
one afternoon I knew I could love you
and from above you how I sank into your soul
into that secret place where no one dares to go

And if I had to sum up Ezra in two lines from a Led Zeppelin song:

in the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man
now I've reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can

Monday, December 17, 2012

12/17 Count

Words today: 259

Total: 7,082

Today was one of those days I mentioned yesterday, when it takes me 45 minutes to write a hundred words and I'm very glad I get to stop at two-fifty.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mid-Month Check In

Words today: 707

Total: 6,823

It's still going well (knock wood!). I like how it's coming together (guys-- it's, like, a book now! Not a great book yet, but a book), and I like that on days when I'm wrestling with a particularly tricky bit and it takes me 45 minutes to write 100 words, I can stop after 250 and feel good that I met my goal.

After a few months of looking at the big picture of the plot and sort of galloping through the book with CUT TO's and scene cards, it feels slightly odd to be crawling through each scene. "Where are we again? Oh right, still in the rain, deciding whether to get on the cart or not. We've been here awhile, huh?" It's enjoyable for now, but I can see it getting on my nerves as the months of revision slog on.

Still getting snatches of dialogue and scenes for Ezra and Lark's book, working-titled Terra Astra.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Voices From the Future

Words today: 429

Total: 6,116


Last night I was hearing voices, chunks of dialogue for a book I probably won't write for another 4-5 years. Mr. Intrusive again, and his lady love, who I'm starting to be able to hear (although I can't see her at all yet).

I'm 85% sure that Mr. I is Ezra Bright, the hero of a YA novel I did some planning for a few years ago. It takes place in the same universe as Eleven Names and The Owl Bearer, but earlier in the timeline-- only a little more than a hundred years into our own future. The story I'd planned was narrated by a 16/17-year-old girl whose scientist parents uproot her from her life to move the family to the first self-sustaining space habitat. In addition to all the other "hardships" of her new life, there is only one other teenager in the habitat: Ezra. And they don't get along at first. I knew there would be threats to the habitat's safety, and that my heroine and Ezra would team up to save the day, and romance would ensue.

I envisioned it being a kind of breezy YA thing, like "ZOMG my parents are making me move to space!  So lame!" But if/when I write this, I think the tone turn out very different, because:

1) Ezra is much more formidable young man than I'd originally thought. I need to make sure the heroine is a match for him.

2) The romance is hot. Um, probably too hot for YA. I may have to make them older to push it into NA (New Adult), but I don't see them being any older than eighteen. But I've been writing the sexual tension dialogue, and Good Lordy.

In news pertaining to the actual novel I am officially working on now: things are going well.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

5%

Words today: 293

Total: 5,012

I am 5% done with the second draft.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Back Home

The Husband came home tonight, as promised. Today was really hectic, but I managed to stay on track.

Words today: 256

Total: 4,719

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not Again

The Husband's in the hospital.

Sharon Long-time readers may remember that I began this blog while he was hospitalized following a bowel resection in Dec. '10. This one should be far less dramatic. He just got super-dizzy and it turned out he needed a blood transfusion for his anemia. He should be home by tomorrow night, or Thursday at the latest.

Famous last words.


The count:

Words today: 390

Total: 4,463

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hero Love

Words today: 400

Total : 3,742

I'm getting self-conscious about all these update posts, but I don't have anything much to say about the writing at the moment. I feel like what I'm getting so far is pretty solid second draft level stuff. Akenam is entering the story for the first time (I'm working on the First Encounter scene), and I feel like I need to pull myself away from this intrusive new character and actively work to re-infatuate myself with Akenam.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

12/6 Count

Words today: 465

Total: 2,771

Tomorrow is a long writing day for me, so in addition to my 250 words I'm going to try to get some scene-building work done on the scene that follows this one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

12/4 Count

Words today: 454

Total: 2,032


I finished the second draft of the first scene today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First of Many Check-ins

Words today: 355

Total: 1,164


I forgot to mention that during my hiatus from working on TOB, a new character snuck up and tapped me on the shoulder, just like Willa did in June '11. (Not to fear: I am not abandoning this novel to scamper after some shiny new character.) I have no idea what his name is, who his heroine is, or anything else about his story; I'm not even sure it belongs in the SF world of Eleven Names and The Owl Bearer. Maybe it does, but waaaaay earlier in the timeline, in our near future. I don't know. But I know him, and I know I'll tell a story about him some day.

I've posted before about how for me it's rare for characters to spring to life as complete people that I understand and am ready to explore. Usually I have a vague sense of what I want a character to be like and then I craft his or her personality and background to suit that-- and often have to re-work it several times before I have a character who feels real to me. Willa felt real to me right away, and so does this guy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Month, New Goals

Aw'right. Time for me to stop being a bitch and get back to work. I've actually been back it for the past few days, but wanted to see myself actually produce written words before I made any big announcements along the lines of, No Seriously Guys, I'm Working On the Book Again. For Realz.

(NOTE: in the above paragraph, the word "bitch" should be read in Jesse Pinkman's voice. Thank you for your cooperation.)

Since my life this blog is basically a series of fuck-ups followed by fuck-up analyses, let's get on with it:

Life has been kicking my ass this month, in ways both big (we've had a much rougher transition to Kindergarten than I expected; I'm not getting nearly as many tutoring hours as we'd hoped; The Husband's job is unbearably stressful right now) and small (we had The Son's birthday party, hosted Thanksgiving, my car broke down, our dryer broke down, I twisted my ankle badly enough that I was limping for several days, The Son had a bad reaction at the dentist and his lip swelled up so badly I couldn't send him to school the next day... the dryer, ankle, and lip things all happened on the same day, and the next day I was like some wretch out of the Middle Ages, hobbling around town with my enormous sack of laundry and my drooling, disfigured child).

All that didn't exactly help me to focus on the book. But there were also deeper problems with the writing itself. The Grand Pre-Revision Plan? Needed more Voice exercises. I loved the scene-writing process I blogged about at great and gory length back in October, but I kept stalling out in step 5, which is to write the scene so it actually sounds, y'know, good. I used to love this part of the writing process, but now I just fear it. I'm so invested in this story and so worried that my writing just isn't good enough to do it justice.

And angst aside, I just couldn't hear what the tone of the writing should be in my head. And that's weird for me-- I mean, right now, typing these words, I know exactly what I'm trying to sound like. So then I thought that since I was enthused about doing steps 1-4 in building the scene, maybe I'd just do that, and then make it all sound good in another draft. But then I got overwhelmed and grumpy at the thought of another draft, because doing too little in a draft (and thus making way more rounds of drafts for myself) is 68% of what derailed me when I was writing Eleven Names.

Then I said, Hey, look! Books on my shelf I haven't read!

And THEN (name that movie), I got thoroughly disgusted with myself and ordered me to open up to beginning of scene one and write the first 250 words until I found the tone.

And I think I found it.

And the next day I wrote 250 more words.

So as ridiculously few as that is, and as concerned as I am about my rapidly approaching self-imposed deadline, that is going to my goal for December: 250 words a day, for a total of 8,250 words (including the 500 I've already done) by the new year.

The parameters of the goal:

1) Each day's words exist in a vacuum, so if I write 700 words one day in a burst of inspiration, I still have to do 250 the next day.

2) If I miss a day, the words must be made up.

3) The 250 words is in addition to working on scene-building steps 1-4 for future scenes.

4) Blog progress here every day. I know that makes for some boring posts, but it helps get me back on track.

See ya tomorrow!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Off the Rails Again

The last few weeks have been rough on the writing front. I got overwhelmed with some un-juicy, tediously stressful personal problems, and wound up taking an unscheduled hiatus from the TOB. I was still writing-- but all daydreamy worldbuilding stuff for, like, three novels from now. And I read three novels, after not reading any fiction at all for over a month, and got caught up on my Breaking Bad and Fringe episodes. Clearly, I needed an escape.

But now things are looking back up, and in the last day or two I've started feeling ready to drag myself back to the book. I'm not going to be able to work on it for more than an hour a day until after Thanksgiving, so that's going to be my goal. It's gone pretty cold in such a short time, so I think the first hour is going to be just sitting down with my copy of The Weekend Novelist Rewrites a Novel, to remind myself of what I'm doing. I'll report in tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 6

Step 6 is optional.

IF you have the time, and IF you are not thoroughly ready to be done with the scene by now, read over your gussied-up version and make note of all the nouns. How many are concrete nouns-- things you can touch-- and how many are abstract concepts? In strong writing, concrete nouns > abstract nouns.

Then, if you can bear to, do the same exercise to check your verbs. How many weak verbs do you have? How many forms of to be? How many subjunctives? How much passive voice? Change every verb you possibly can to a strong verb that shows action. So, he was standing by the gate becomes he stood by the gate.

Again, this step is optional, since you'll probably do a final line edit once the whole rewrite is complete.

And there you have it! Revising a scene in 6 mind-bogglingly complicated steps!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 5

Now that you've built a solid foundation for the scene, it's time to pretty it up. You can start by incorporating the good bits from your first draft version into this version. Then just keep polishing until it's smooth.

This step is the quickest to describe, but the hardest to give a time estimate for. It takes as long as it takes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 4

This step is mostly reading and thinking, with a little cut and paste thrown in for fun.

First, read over the rough draft of the scene you did in Step 3. Do your best to ignore the clunkiness of the language (remember, we're not worrying about making it sound good yet), and focus on structure and flow. Anything need to be shifted around? Does it feel like there's a missing paragraph somewhere? Fix that now.

Then, open up your first draft version of the scene, and at long last, read it. If you do not immediately notice that the new version is better in all ways except sentence flow and word choice, then this whole process is probably not for you. But the first draft probably has a lot of good stuff in it, too-- stuff you want to salvage and use. So copy and paste any lines or passages that make you say, "Damn, that's good. I forgot I wrote that."

Again, this is a quick step. Probably not more than half an hour.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 3

I meant to write this post yesterday, but I had an article deadline breathing down my neck and a post-flu-shot Husband languishing in abject misery on the couch.

Anyhoo...

Step 3:

In this step you start at the beginning of the outline you made in Step 2 and build the scene sentence by sentence. I literally delete each line of the outline once I've incorporated in into the scene (as always, make sure to save an intact copy of the outline!), so the scene grows down the page as the outline shrinks line by line. It's more satisfying that way.

Some notes in the outlines might require only a few words of description or clue-dropping in the story, while some might generate a few paragraphs of action or introspection. Add attributives and incidental action around the completed dialogue when you come to it.

At this stage, you are not worrying about making it sound good. Think of it as an advanced version of the outline.

Since you are not worrying about making it sound good, and you are not having to stop to think of what comes next, this really shouldn't take more than an hour, unless it is either a very long scene or you are a very distractible person.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 2

Step 2 is to take the results of all the lists and exercises and freewrites of Step 1 and turn them into an outline for the scene. Note that there is no writing at all involved in this step; it's all cut and paste.

As always, open a blank document. Copy and paste your CUT TO's for the scene into the document. This gives you the bones of the scene. Now, add more and more meat to those bones. Paste in your chunks of edited dialogue where they belong in the scene, your steps toward and away from your goal, your setting details, backstory/worldbuilding/character development details, and your inner turning point moments. Just think through where these things belong in the scene, and drop them where they go. I would be shocked if this took you more than half an hour.

When you are done, you will have close to a thousand words of everything that needs to appear in the scene, in the order that you need to mention it. Good stuff.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 1

I thought it could be helpful-- or at the very least amusing-- to detail the process I've been using so far to revise the key scenes. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn it is a hilariously convoluted process. But it seems to be working for me so far, and it might work for you too if you're finding the prospect of rewriting overwhelming and you enjoy breaking tasks down into millions of tiny steps.

So, without further ado, Step 1:

This step sounds like a lot of work, but most individual mini-steps can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. This makes it a great step to do on the first day of the scene rewrite, because you feel like you've accomplished so much.

The mini-steps:

1) Pull out the scene cards for the scene, and look them over, reminding yourself of the basic facts: who and what is in it, where and when it takes place, what happens, and how it moves the plot forward.

2) Do CUT TO's for the scene.  Because you are insane, you have already done CUT TO's for each character, taking 1-2 snapshots of him or her per scene. Open up the CUT TO files for each character that appears in the scene, and copy and paste the snapshots for this scene. Then fill in the rest. Begin with "We open with..." and walk yourself image by image through the scene, like a movie playing with no sound. Where does the camera need to cut to something else? What do you need to show? If it's a talky scene without a lot of action, there might be only a few CUT TO's.

3) This one comes from Donald Maass: define your POV character's goal for the scene. What does she want? What is she trying to accomplish here? If you're unclear about the point of the scene, freewrite about it for 5-10 minutes to get at the heart of it. I haven't had to do this yet, since I'm working on key scenes that I've thought through quite a bit, but I'm sure I'll have to eventually.

Once you have the goal, work out three hints that she's going to get what she wants, and three reasons why she won't.

4) This one Maass mentions in both Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction, so it must be pretty important: determine the inner turning point of the scene. Each scene needs to change your main character in some way, so pinpoint the moment at which that change occurs. Is it because of something that happens? Something that someone says to her? Some revelation she reaches through introspection?

One you've pinpointed the inner turning point, freewrite for 2-3 minutes on how the character feels about things or sees herself before this moment, and then write for 2-3 more minutes on how she feels after it.

5) Come up with five interesting details about the setting, the weather, whatever. If you don't have a clear picture of the setting, freewrite on it for 5-10 minutes first and then pick out the five most interesting details.

6) Open up your original version of the scene. DO NOT READ IT. Not yet. Just copy and paste all the dialogue into a new document, and do the dialogue exercise described in the post below.

7) Open one last blank document, and make notes on any worldbuilding details you need to include, any clues you need to drop, backstory facts that belong here, or opportunities for your characters to act like themselves in this scene.


And there you have it. I told you it sounds like a lot. But the whole process has yet to take me more than two hours, including breaks between each step to get a beverage or check my e-mail.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cool Dialogue Exercise

Week two of the rewrite is going well. I haven't made a whole lot of progress on line editing the First Encounter, but I'm where I wanted to be with the Opening.

I'll post more at length about the rewriting process when I have the energy (my allergies are acting up and I had a horrid night's sleep last night), but for now I want to share this amazing dialogue exercise, courtesy of The Fire in Fiction by  Donald Maass (who else? the man is a fairy godmother, I'm tellin' ya.).

First, cut and paste a block of dialogue into a new document. Strip away all the attributives and action, so that you are left with nothing but two (or more, depending on the scene) disembodied voices speaking back and forth. Save.

Then, open up a new document and rewrite the dialogue as an exchange of insults. The same information needs to be conveyed in the lines-- they just need to be taking pot shots at each other with everything they say.

Then open up yet another document and rewrite again, this time in lines of no more than five words. One-two, one-two rhythm.

In still another document, rewrite the dialogue as a monologue delivered by one character to the other, who gestures but doesn't speak.

Finally, go back to the first, stripped down version of the dialogue and rewrite it, incorporating the best from the other three steps. The rewrite will probably be much stronger, cleaner, and tighter than the original.

I've done this twice, and it's truly amazing. The insult exercise punches up the conflict, the short lines exercise helps with pacing, and the monologue exercise helps you cut anything "chatty" and unnecessary. It sounds like a lot when I describe it, but each step moves quickly. Plus, it's fun! The insult one is a hoot.

Give it a try if you've got a block of dialogue that's feeling flat or infodump-y.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Week

Sorry for the silence this week. I've been working on the scene every day, but have definitely felt my motivation and focus slip, and I'm not as far along as I wanted to be by Sunday morning. I have a completed first run at the scene, but it's still pretty clunky and needs a line edit. It doesn't help that the scene is long (2,800 words) and that my two long writing days aren't happening this week due to The Son's school vacation. And my mother-in-law broke a bone in her back (slipping on our treacherous walkway steps, ugh), so I need to go help her out this afternoon instead of writing.

I'm tutoring tonight, but after that I should have 1.5-2 hours. I'll get as much done as I can. Tomorrow I'll start work on revising the Opening, but since it's a shorter scene and needs a lot less work than the others, I think I can "double up" for a few days, getting the Opening stuff done first.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Revision: Phase Two

New month, new goals, new phase!

Phase two will last nine weeks, and (assuming I stay on schedule) will take me to Dec. 3. I will be rewriting the key scenes at a rate of one per week, which is a very slow rate indeed. I'm following the rewrite model from The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel: rewriting the key scenes slowly and methodically, giving yourself a solid structure to build on, and then filling in the rest at a much quicker rate. This is also how he recommends writing the first draft, which if you've been hanging around here for a while you'll know didn't work out so well for me. But it seems to make a lot of sense for a rewrite, so I'm trying it. This could all go out the window if it paralyzes me.

The classic six key scenes from screenwriting structure are:

Opening-- first scene
Plot Point One-- end of Act I
Mid-Point-- some catastrophe in the exact middle of the story
Plot Point Two-- ends Act II
Climax-- very near the end
Closing-- duh

In addition to these, Robert J. Ray recommends including the First Encounter between your protagonist and the principal antagonist as a key scene, and beginning your rewrite with that scene. He also recommends having that scene as early in the book as you logically can, so I'm very pleased that my First Encounter is in scene #2.

So the big six, plus the First Encounter, plus I have two climaxes, so that's eight scenes in eight weeks. The ninth week is vacation: this year, I am taking the week before Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas off from writing. I'm trying to treat this more like a job, and if this was my real, paying job, I'd take those two weeks as vacation days. I host both holidays at my house, plus The Son's birthday is right before Thanksgiving so I'm dealing with putting on a party too, and I just never get anything done.

Today I start work on the First Encounter scene. I'm making this up as I go along, but I'm planning to do two days of prep, four days of writing, and one day of editing.

Goals for today (with time estimates):

1) read the first draft version of the scene. (10 minutes)
2) look over the scene cards for the scene, adding any notes. (10 minutes)
3) make a scene sheet of things that won't fit on the index cards--check GMC, problem/solution chains, worldbuilding details, CUT TO's. (30 minutes)
4) scene freewrite.  (30 minutes)
5) CUT TO's for scene (30 minutes)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Checking In

I finished the structural changes to the first draft! The Grand Pre-Revision Plan is complete, with one hour and fourteen minutes left to September.

Tomorrow begins phase two of the rewrite.

Friday, September 28, 2012

That's Enough of That


Okay-- enough with the multi-colored updates. I'm starting a fresh clean new post.

So. Three days left to September, and only one thing left on the GPRP: 

Make changes to a copy of the first draft MS. Cut and move scenes, fix chapter breaks, spin new scenes where they belong.

Doesn't sound so bad, right?

Well, it is. I'm dreading starting it, and am in fact putting it off right now by posting.

I did this once with Eleven Names, and it's just so much more work than it seems it should be. Here's the process:

1) open up a copy of the MS (always save an untouched original in case of cut-and-paste disaster!), as well as the list of the scenes and chapter breaks as they exist now, and the list of how they should be arranged.

2) Start on page one of the MS and scroll through, until you hit the first scene that needs adjusting.

3) If the scene needs to be moved, cut and paste it into a blank document, making sure you find the true beginning and ending of the scene. Keep the blank document up until you hit the part of the MS where the scene belongs, and paste it in.

4) If the scene needs to be cut, cut the whole scene and paste it into a document titled "Cut Scenes". Don't delete it! You never know what you'll need later. Oh, and remember to read it before you move on, and make notes about any necessary character development or worldbuilding tidbits that will have to be worked in elsewhere now that you're axing this scene.

5) If there's a new scene, spin or write a phase outline for the scene in the appropriate place.

6) Don't forget to fix the chapter breaks as you go!

Bleah. It's worth all the annoyance of this process to have a structurally sound first draft to work with, but it's not fun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Next Week

I got through items 1-3 from yesterday's list, but I feel like I toiled all day on it. This stuff is taking me longer than my estimates, and that's left me even more nervous today than I was yesterday. I know it's not the end of the world if it takes me an extra week to finish this pre-revision stuff, but I'm also wary of  getting too cozy in this "thinking and planning and writing about writing" state.

So here I shall post all that remains on the Grand Pre-Revision Plan. And every day I shall update this post with my progress. I think it'll help keep my butt applied to my writing chair.

9/25/12 Update:
9/26/12 Update:
9/27/12 Updated: Not my most productive day. Feeling unfocused and in need of a good night's sleep. Spent an embarrassingly long time watching X-Factor auditions on YouTube.
9/28/12: last update to this post! It's becoming unwieldy. And I'm running out of colors. ;)

1) Do CUT TO's and scene cards for the following characters:

Tom
Ruyad-- in progress: CUT TO's done, 8 of 16 cards done 
Ottoline

2) Do CUT TO's only for the following:

Saadia
Rowan
Lovisa
Aya
Park

3) Do scene cards only for:

Trio-- in progress: 10 of 30 cards DONE

4) Wherever characters share a scene, paperclip cards together. in progress: clipping as I go

[5) Print out plot work and put in binder. I've actually decided not to print most of it out now. I'll be using the various scene lists and CUT TO's and problem/solution chains to make scene sheets, and then printing those out as needed.] Printed out the GMC chart, which turned out to be 12 pages!

5a) List the worldbuilding details that need to be included, and work out where to slip them in. --in progress: about half done

6) Make changes to a copy of the first draft MS. Cut and move scenes, fix chapter breaks, spin new scenes where they belong.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Scene Cards

I've been making up index cards for the 52 scenes in TOB, jotting down the chapter, setting, time, action, characters, and objects, and where applicable, symbolism, backstory, subtext, bombshells, and chapter hook. I had hoped to have these finished last Friday, but working out the chapter breaks ate up a lot of time. And I barely wrote this weekend-- The Parent was visiting, The Son had soccer practice and a playdate, The Husband and I went on a fabulous date to Home Depot to shop for a new bathroom sink, and I tutored.

Long story short, I have exactly half the cards completed, and am starting to freak out a little about having only seven more days to get all the remaining pre-revision tasks done. Tomorrow is a long writing day for me, and I need to make the most of it. Goals:

1) Finish the scene cards. Estimated time: 2 hours.

2) Do CUT TO's for Akenam's scenes. Estimated time: 30 minutes.

3) Make cards for Akenam's story line. Estimated time: 2 hours.

4) If I have extra time, start the CUT TO/scene card process for Tom or Ruyad.

Non-writing goal: make butternut squash macaroni and cheese!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making Progress

Ten days left to finish the GPRP!

Here's what I've been up to:

1) Voice exercise. I took a first-draft page from the opening scene, which was written in a fairly neutral third person voice, and re-wrote in first person. The first person version was stronger and more engaging. But! Then I took the first person version and translated it back to third, retaining some of the flavor of Willa's speech and thought processes, but with a little more distance. And THAT version was better than the first person one. So for now my plan is to stick with tight third person limited, but to try to incorporate more of Willa's soul into the writing.

2) "Highly Motivated Antagonists" exercise from The Fire in Fiction: determine the biggest, worst, most improbable thing your Antagonist does, then work out 12 reasons why someone in real life would never do this-- or would be prevented from doing this. Then for each "objection", work out why in this case all these reasons fail to stop the Antagonist from doing the big bad improbable thing.

3) CUT TO's. This is an exercise from The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel (which is a pretty damn awesome book). You zip through the plot with a series of images-- "We open with..." "CUT TO:..." Each scene gets 1-3 images, depending on its complexity. This makes it easier to look over the plot as a whole, and to spot where you have boring or pointless scenes, where you need to add a scene, and where you don't have a strong enough picture of what happens. Which leads me to:

4) Scene order. I've fiddled around some more and have what I think is the final version of the scene list. I've got one or two more little holes to spackle, and then I'm ready to move on to the next phase.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mid-Month Goal Check

Hard to believe that September's already half over. Time to assess my progress on the Grand Pre-Revision Plan (GPRP):

I've finished all the Character and Setting work, and am chipping away at the mountain of Plot work I'd hoped to do. I finished the goal/motivation/conflict charts, and have been working my way through problem/solution chains for all the characters' goals. This is not a step I originally had on the GPRP, but it's really helped to tease out all the plot threads and work out each one step by step, and seeing what steps overlap and clash with other characters' steps.

Using the scene grid as a starting place, and keeping the problem/solution chains in mind, I've drawn up a list of all the scenes that belong in the book. There are 52, 9 of which will be completely new scenes.

I still have a ton of plot stuff left. Next up is going to be a voice exercise that will probably take me all of a Son school day to do. I feel sheepish admitting this, but I'm still not sure what voice to use. I wrote the first draft in third person, but I've started daydreaming the scenes in Willa's voice, and it's given them so much more life that it's left me wondering if I should switch to first person.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Checking In

I haven't had as much time to write as I hoped this week because, true to form, I blew off the book club book until the last minute and have been furiously reading to finish it before we meet tonight. Insult to injury: it's Fifty Shades of Grey. Thank dog I'm almost done.

Today my goal is to finish reworking the goal/motivation/conflict charts for the four key characters. The GPRP allotted me an hour for this. HA! I've put in at least four over the last few days. It sounds deceptively simple: all I have to do is write down what the characters want, why they want it, and what's standing in their way. But then it gets more complicated, since protagonists tend to have more than one goal, and there's both external and internal goals/motivations/conflicts, and I need to work out the steps to achieving each goal and the motivations and conflicts for each step. I had to go back and re-read like half of the Donna Dixon book to remind myself how all this stuff works. And my first crack at the GMC from last year was a giant mess.

While it's been a lot more work than I anticipated, I feel good about what I'm getting. The goals are more urgent, the motivations more compelling, and the obstacles more logical. I think when I'm done with the chart I'll do a problem/solution chain for each external goal in the book, to help me better see how all these goals are crashing into one another and making plot.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Data Entry

Man, that scene grid was a BITCH. Tedious (checking the word count of every scene, scanning them to remind myself who is in them) and depressing (gah-- some of it is so poorly written!).

Glad I did it, though. I think having a detailed map of what's in the book now will help me to figure out what needs to be cut, what needs to be moved, and what needs to be added.

But for now I need a break from anything remotely resembling data entry.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Moving Right Along

Enough pitch-fiddling for now. Rest assured, I have been working on other things. I finished the world bible on Friday, but haven't gotten around to printing it and putting it in the purple binder.

Now I've moved on to plot work, which will consume most of this month. The first step is to make a scene grid (not unlike the character grid) that outlines the book as it exists right now. It's taking a lot longer than the character grid, because I have to scroll through the MS and check the word count of each scene, as well as remind myself of what happens, where and when it takes place, and who's in it.

I half-assedly worked on it last night in front of the TV and got half of Act I done, but I think if I focus on it I can get through an Act an hour. We're having a fun early-autumn weekend (apple picking and corn maze yesterday, cave exploring and panning for semi-precious gems today), so my only writing goal for today is to get the rest of Act I into the scene grid. Tomorrow is an after-K day, so I should have no problem finishing the grid then. I'll also print out the world bible and bind it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One More Time.

Version Five.

I need to just step away from Query Shark for a while, right?



           Willa Bresher wanted her life to matter. She didn't want the fate of her entire culture resting on her shoulders.

            Her home is Haven, a network of villages clinging to civilization three centuries after a plague devastated Earth's population. Headstrong and restless, Willa is determined to escape the banality of village life by earning an apprenticeship with the arcane guild of mind-linked "Bridgers", who control the flow of goods and information between villages.
           
            When she encounters an intriguing outsider named Akenam in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. Space-dwelling humans have returned to resettle the planet, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear. 

            Willa follows Akenam to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting to argue over land allocation and trading rights.  She soon finds herself fighting for Haven's survival when a message from her long-dead mother leads her to uncover a centuries-old conspiracy that threatens her people. Aided by Akenam, whose loyalty she doubts, Willa risks everything in order to save her home.

            Trouble is, once she's uncovered the secrets of Haven's past, she's not sure it deserves to be saved.

I Lied

Version Four.



            Willa Bresher wants her life to matter. Her home is Haven, a network of villages clinging to civilization three centuries after a plague devastated Earth's population. But Haven feels too small for the big dreams of a confident and restless young woman like Willa.

            She bolts from the threat of marriage for an apprenticeship with an arcane guild of mind-linked stewards, who guide the flow of goods and information between villages. Her mentor is a visionary leader with a radical plan for Haven's future. Willa needs to prove she's as smart and daring as any man in order to secure a place in that future.

            When she encounters an intriguing outsider named Akenam in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. Space-dwelling humans have returned to resettle the planet, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear.  Willa follows Akenam to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting to determine the future courses of all their civilizations. 
           
            There she clashes with the summit leader, a 370-year-old scientist with a grudge against Haven. Akenam has been assigned as her aide, but she doubts his loyalty and resists his friendship. Back home, Willa's former mentor is determined to make himself Haven's first king. And a message from her long-dead mother may be the key to unlocking a centuries-old conspiracy that threatens her people.

            Willa never meant for her life to matter this much.

The Pitch, Version Three

I swear this is the last one for a while. I got sucked into Query Shark, and couldn't resist fiddling with the pitch just a little more.


           Willa Bresher wants her life to matter. Her whole world is Haven, a commonwealth of villages struggling for survival three centuries after a plague devastated Earth's population. But Haven feels too small for the big aspirations of a confident and restless young woman like Willa.

            She bolts from the threat of marriage for an apprenticeship with an arcane guild of mind-linked stewards who guide the flow of goods and information between villages. Her mentor is a visionary leader with a radical plan for Haven's future. Willa needs to prove she can be as smart and daring as a man in order to secure a place in that future.

            When she encounters an intriguing outsider named Akenam in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. Space-dwelling humans have returned to resettle the planet, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear.  Willa follows Akenam to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting that will determine the future course of all their civilizations. 
           
            There, Willa clashes with the summit leader, a 370-year-old scientist with a grudge agaist Haven. She can't decide if she can trust Akenam-- even though she might be falling in love with him. Back home, Willa's former mentor is determined to make himself Haven's first king. And a coded message from her long-dead mother is starting to make sense.

            Now Willa's choices matter more than she'd ever imagined.

Friday, September 7, 2012

World Bible

I'm going to push to finish the worldbuilding work today. The Son has his first day of after-K at his old nursery school (Mondays and Fridays until 3:00) today, and I haven't picked up any daytime tutoring hours from the boarding school yet, so I have a long day.

If the character work took more time that I'd expected, the worldbuilding work has taken less. A few minor changes and additions to make, a fairy tale to write, and a few exercises to complete, and I'm outta there.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Pitch, Version Two

Here's my second attempt:


           Willa Bresher is too headstrong and restless for ordinary village life. Her whole world is Haven, a commonwealth of villages struggling for survival three centuries after a plague devastated Earth's population. But Haven feels too small for the big life she dreams of living.

            Willa escapes the threat of marriage for an apprenticeship with the mysterious "Bridgers"-- a guild of mind-linked stewards who guide the flow of goods and information between villages. Her mentor is a dynamic leader with an exciting vision of Haven's future-- a future she desperately wants a piece of.  But when she encounters a dark stranger named Akenam in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. 

            The world beyond Haven is is changing, too. Space-dwelling humans have returned to resettle the planet, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear. Now Willa must follow the intriguing and infuriating Akenam to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting that will determine the future course of all their civilizations. There she untangles a web of secrets, lies, and conspiracies, and discovers that one of the most serious threats to Haven's people lies in the heart of home.


I know it needs a lot more fiddling, but that can wait until I'm ready to send out queries. At this stage, writing a pitch is more of an exercise in understanding the novel.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Character Bibles, Romantic Heroes, and Embracing Your Inner Slut

The character bible is done! I didn't finish it until this morning, but it's printed out and hole-punched and resting in my new purple binder, with the book cover mock-up I did tucked inside the protective plastic.

Revising the character work I did last summer took a lot longer than I anticipated. Willa pretty much jumped into my head as a real, complete person, but that's rare for me. More often, I find that the first, instinctive choices I made while building characters are not as interesting or effective as they could be, and I wind up making changes after the first draft-- sometimes just tweaking, and sometimes a major overhaul.

Saadia and Akenam are the characters that have had the biggest overhauls this time around. For Saadia, this is her third rebirth into a radically different person. She's not a major character, but she reappears in Eleven Names and so I was wary of making any decisions about her that would be hard to live with later.

As for Akenam... I accidentally cast him using the same mold as Bresher, the hero of EN. They had different upbringings and different coloring-- other than that, they were the same guy, just in different circumstances. And one of my Romance pet peeves is authors who write the same hero--who is so obviously their own idealized Dream Man-- over and over. Now, I do think that you need to be at least a little bit in love with your own hero (and/or heroine) to write a Romance (or in my case, a Romance subplot). But I also think that hero-love needs to be polyamorous. There's a whole world of imaginary men out there! Surely your skirt can be blown up by more than just the one!

In my case (being naturally hero-polyamorous), I think it was more that I've spent sooooo long writing about Bresher, I was just falling back on what felt comfortable and familiar. I kind of knew from the beginning that I was off track with him, because I had an idea of the voice I wanted him to have and I just couldn't make the Akenam in my head talk that way. (For some reason, I can build a heroine from scratch, but a hero needs to be based on someone: an actor, another character, or a real person. Not sure what's up with that.)

Then a little more than a month ago, when I was deep in Act III, I stumbled across a new Akenam on a YouTube video (no, not going to tell you which one!). So I fired the old one and re-cast him, and from that moment his voice has been perfect. Seriously, dialogue flowing from my brain through my fingers.

I did the same thing with Bresher, come to think of it-- wrote God only knows how many drafts with him cast all wrong, then re-casted him only to have angels sing.

So, to return to my initial point: my old profile of Akenam needed a lot of work.

But now it's done.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Soundtrack, Redux

As part of the character work I've been scrambling to finish this weekend, I did some shuffling of my soundtrack for TOB, making sure that each key character has his or her own theme song. I also auditioned new songs for the love theme, and checked that the few "atmospheric" songs still feel relevant. Here's what I wound up with:

Willa's song is Emergency Exit by Beck. I'm a huge Beck fan, and I love this song and have been listening to it a lot for the past year without connecting it to Willa. For a while I wished it could be Akenam's song, but it's not earnest enough. The twangy guitar, the cadence of the vocals, and the agricultural references made me think of it as a "Haven" song (Haven is Willa's nation), but it only just dawned on me that it was a good one for Willa herself. Maybe the male singer threw me off. But Willa's not exactly a girly girl.

The lines that particularly remind me of her:

it's a little too much to ask of faith
it's a little too late to wait for fate
so tell the angels what you seen:
scarecrow shadow on a Nazarene.

kindness will find you
when darkness has fallen
'round your bed...

Akenam's song is still Just Breathe by Pearl Jam.

practiced are my sins, never gonna let me win.
under everything just another human being.
yeah I don't wanna hurt
there's so much in this world
to make me bleed

stay with me
you're all I see...

did I say that I need you?
did I say that I want you?
oh, if I didn't I'm a fool you see
no one knows this more than me.

Tom's song is It's Good to Be King by another Tom (Petty).

it's good to be king
and have your own world.
it's helps to have friends
it's good to meet girls.
a sweet little queen
who won't run away
it's good to be king
whatever it pays.

Ruyad's song is Fix You -- but the version from the movie Young @ Heart, not the Coldplay original. Needs to be an old man singing it, because no matter how she appears in the story, Ruyad is an old man inside. She's not exactly the warmest or fuzziest of characters, but this song really gets to the heart of the pain and conflict in her backstory.

when you lose something you can't replace
when you love someone but it goes to waste
could it be worse?

lights will guide you home
and ignite your bones
and I will try to fix you.

Ottoline is Willa's deceased mother, but her story is vital to the events in TOB. Her song is Search and Destroy by Sanders Bohlke, and it's another killer. Listening to it has made Ottoline so much more real to me.

I was wide awake with the bodies in the gutter
waiting on a man who gave his word
I was told before to be not afraid
soon my fears will emerge.

And later:

and the lovers did feast and the birds flew away
and I was so mad at the coming of the day
but I will leave the monsters all at bay
and we can believe it's better this way.

And then there's the love theme. Willa and Akenam outgrew their old one, so now I'm trying out:

Strangers by the Kinks. If Akenam existed in the here and now, he'd definitely be a Kinks fan.

so I will follow you wherever you go
if your offered hand is still open to me

strangers on this road we are on
we are not two we are one

And, finally, the songs that remind me of specific scenes or sections:

"On the Road to Find Out" by Cat Stevens (Act I)
"This Time Tomorrow" by The Kinks (Act II, and the very end of Act III)
"Fuse Box" by Mychael Danna (all flirtation/romantic scenes)
"Allah Hoo" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (beginning of Act III)
ETA: "Drifting In and Out" by Porcelain Raft (Act II and parts of Act III)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September Goals

It's probably naïve of me to be surprised by this, but what was supposed to be an overnight visit to the computer hospital for Oberon turned into a four-day stay. I did manage to get a little writing done (finished the on-paper exercises, and wrote up quick sketches of all the minor characters for the character bible), but I was hoping to be further along by now and am feeling thwarted. The Son started Kindergarten on Wednesday (all went well), and it was frustrating to feel like I wasn't able to take full advantage of his school hours. And now of course it's a three-day weekend, when I'll have to scrimp for every writing moment. Gah!

My September Goal is to complete the GPRP. I have 48 hours (very loose and wobbly approximation) of work remaining.

My goal for the long weekend is to complete the character bible.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Technical Difficulties

I haven't had a ton of writing time lately, but I've been slowly making my way through the Character work on the GPRP. First up was to make a character grid in Excel, tracking all the characters in TOB, from Willa on down to the redshirts, in the form in which they currently exist. So down the side were the character names, and across the top were categories like function, archetype, core story, enters, exits, associated object, etc.

Next I did some free-writes-- just five minutes on each major character and how my understanding of him or her has changed through writing the first draft.

Then I finished up a few character exercises from The Fire in Fiction that I began way back in June. I have a few more to do, but I've also moved on to the last step of the character work, which is to go back through all the character pre-writing I did last summer and make any changes to reflect who I want the characters to be now. Then I'll print it all out and bind it so I can easily refer to it during the rewrite.

This will have to wait a day or two, because Oberon the laptop needs medical attention. The rubber thingy on his bottom side is almost completely detached now. It's bad enough that last Friday I was sitting in the pizza place next to the library, eating lunch and working on the character grid in between tutoring students, when I was accosted by a computer store employee on his lunch break, who told me that the rubber thingy is covered under warranty and to bring Oberon to his shop ASAP. He wore a slightly pained expression, as if he couldn't bear to witness the laptop's suffering for another moment.

I'll report back when I have a laptop again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Grand Pre-Revision Plan

Henceforth known as the GPRP.

When I first started working on TOB, I did a bunch of planning and storybuilding. First I refined the idea, and then I worked on character, setting, and plot-- in that order. My basic idea for the GPRP is to follow that structure again, deepening anything too shallow, clarifying anything too murky, and trashing anything too ill-made to fix.

First up is to refine the Idea, with a single exercise: write a pitch. For the uninitiated, a pitch is a 50-300 word description of a novel, not unlike the blurb on the back of a paperback. The pitch is used by authors to hook agents, and by agents to hook publishers, and by publishers to hook readers. If you're interested in getting published, sooner or later you need a pitch.

I allotted three hours of writing time for the pitch, which might seem like rather a lot for something I hoped would fall in the 100-150 word range. But it is surprisingly difficult to reduce a 90,000 word novel to two short paragraphs. It's much easier to do with something you didn't write yourself.

I used the pitch-writing exercise in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which consisted of jotting down some basic information about your novel (title, genre, protagonist, setting, a main story problem), along with whatever details make your story unique. Then you set a timer and write a first draft of your pitch in five minutes. And then edit the heck out it!

I worked on it for an hour and a half. When I made the GPRP, I didn't notice that the book recommends setting the pitch aside for a week and then editing it again with some distance, but I'm taking Maass's advice and moving onto character work tomorrow. I'll finish up the pitch next week.

This is what I got today: 136 words, and I can tell it needs more work, but:


In a far-future New England populated entirely by redheads, nineteen-year-old Willa Bresher escapes a life of domestic drudgery for an apprenticeship with the mysterious "Bridgers"-- a guild of mind-linked stewards who guide the flow of goods and information between villages. But when she encounters a dark stranger in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. 

The world is changing. Space dwelling humans have returned to resettle the plague-devastated Earth, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear. Now Willa must follow Akenam, an infuriating and intriguing "spacer", to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting that will determine the future course of all their civilizations.  There she will explore wonders and unearth secrets, as well as confront danger, love, and her own complicated political destiny.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ready to Launch

My week off has done the trick: I'm rested, inspired, and pumped to get to work on the revision! Tomorrow will be Day One.

This is the last week before The Son starts school, so I don't anticipate having more than an hour a day at first. That's fine-- it'll ease me back into it.

I'll post more details about the Grand Pre-Revision Plan (GPRP) tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Notes to My Subconscious

This one should probably be tagged "Senior Moments".

Last Friday, I was alone in my car, listening to music, when I had a thought about the book. It wasn't a plot-altering revelation, but it was a nifty little idea that I wanted to use. I was driving on the interstate and didn't have a pen or paper in the car, but I was confident that I could remember such a great idea.

Nope. By the time I got home, all I could remember was that I'd had an idea, and that it had been somehow sparked by the song I'd been listening to. But I couldn't even remember what song.

No sweat, I told myself. It'll come back. And it did. On Sunday night I took half a Unisom to help combat a three-day stretch of insomnia, and I was just about to shut down my computer when something I read on Joely's blog triggered it and it all came back. I should jot this down on a sticky now, before I lose it, I told myself. Myself pshawed at me. Surely you can remember this long enough to open the Word file where you are keeping notes about the book? myself said.

Nope. By the time Word launched and the file opened, I'd forgotten it again. Couldn't remember what the idea was, what character it might apply to, what section of the book it belonged in, or what I'd read to remind me of it. So, so frustrating.

I hope this was the sleeping pill at work, and not just how my brain is going to be from now on.

Anyway, I remembered reading an interview with author Sue Grafton in which she mentioned that if she's having a tough time with something in a book, she writes a note to her subconscious requesting its assistance, and then she usually dreams the solution. One might well ask why I could remember the details of an interview that I read in 2002 when I couldn't remember the idea I had in my head two frickin' minutes ago, but one would miss the point. The point is, I decided to write a note.

Dear Subconscious,

I would very much appreciate it if you would let the story element I've forgotten twice bubble up to the surface of my mind again.

Best regards,
Lianna

A little formal perhaps, but after all it was our first correspondence.

I did not remember the idea in my dream that night, but the next evening I was sitting on the couch with The Husband watching Ninja Warrior, and he said something that made me remember. I did not wait for the Word file to launch this time. And now I have an unexpected detail that will add some needed emotional depth to the beginning of Act IV.

That night I wrote another note:

Dear Subconscious,

Thanks! You're the best!

Love,
Lianna

I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fifty-Four Hours

The other day I took another look at my ridiculously detailed pre-revision plan-- which I had figured would take me 8 weeks to complete-- and tried to work out how many hours of work it really is. One thing I appreciate about The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel is that he gives you an exercise to do, and then tells you how long to spend on it. If you have any tendency toward perfectionism, it is incredibly helpful to be told: "Do the best you can in thirty minutes".

So I eyeballed each step of the plan and guessed how long it should take. I was generous with the time allotments, and kept reminding myself that this is only an estimate. In the end, it all added up to 54 hours. Once The Son starts school, I should be able to do 15 hours a week. So that's less than a month!

Like a lot of lazy people, I tend to grossly overestimate how long tasks will take, then become overwhelmed by how hard everything is, and then procrastinate in order to avoid the monumental amount of effort and time involved in, say, cleaning out my car, or paying bills, or revising a novel.

54 hours of thinking, planning, writing, and making lists and grids. I can do that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bouncing Back

It's amazing how restorative a few days away from the writing grind can be. The day after I finished the draft, I felt like I would need a month by myself in a cottage by the sea before I would be truly ready to get back to work on it, and here I am two days later, choosing new songs for my Revision Playlist and daydreaming about Akenam.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Break

So as you may have gathered, my completion of the draft was not so much a fist-pumping trot across the finish line. More of a wobbly stagger. And as annoyed with myself as I am that it took me eight and a half months to finish this draft when it shouldn't have taken more than four at the absolute max (and let's not even tally up the three months I lost to sheer laziness last fall)... dude, I need a break. A few weeks ago I made this whole revision plan and I was so psyched to get going on it, and now the well is just dry.

So I'm going to take at least a week-- but not more than two-- and just read, and watch movies, and enjoy the last few weeks of summer with The Son before he starts Kindergarten, and just try to fill the well a little.

It's weird to take time off on purpose-- I always feel like I don't deserve to do that, since I wind up taking a lot of unscheduled "time off". But I'm trying to listen to my gut here, and right now it's telling me that I am not that person that can finish a draft and leap into revising it the next day.

It already feels really strange to not think about my day in terms of how much time I'll have to write and how many words I need to get. Right now is The Son's rest time and I'm like: huh. Guess I'll read my library book. I can't shake the feeling that there's something I'm supposed to be doing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Done

First draft of The Owl Bearer is done at 94,730 words.

That last scene is more of a summary of a scene than an actual scene, but I am just out of steam. I feel like I did at the end of my 38-hour unmedicated labor, when I kept repeating, "I need for this to be over. I need this baby to be out of me," over and over.

I need this to be over. I need this draft out of me.

Celebratory drink will have to wait until tomorrow, since it's 10:00pm and I haven't even had dinner yet. I'll have a celebratory burrito. But a really good burrito, with chicken sausage chorizo and roasted corn straight off the cob.

So, So Close

I'm within a few hundred words of The End.

But I have a decision to make:

This whole time, I have assumed that this one guy's story thread is going to end with his death. But now that I've reached that moment, it seems... too easy. Too pat. But if I don't do it, then no one in this story will die (well, no one who can't just be uploaded into a new body). And that's like Just Not Done in this genre. LitFic's gotta have its protagonist paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life, and SF/Fantasy's gotta have at least one good guy and one bad guy die.

Oh, well. I'll probably kill him off and then re-evaluate in the rewrite.

Miraculous moment of the day: this whole time, I haven't known how Willa was going to overcome this antagonist. From the very beginning, I knew I'd have a double-peaked climax, with both antagonists defeated (and in one case, redeemed) one by one. I knew how the first encounter would play out, but I had no bloody idea about the second. Everything I could think of was a cliché, and either didn't fit the characters (a bookish girl who's never touched a weapon and a legally blind man with a desk job are not going to have a sword fight to the death. They're just not.), or was delivering a moral that made me cringe (do I really want my self-assured, feminist heroine rescued by her father or lover?). So I just charged blithely ahead, choosing to believe that when I got closer to the climax, the solution would come to me.

Well, I arrived at the scene this morning, still with absolutely no fucking clue how Willa was going to take this guy down. "Well, shit," I said to myself, and started the scene anyway. A few dialogue exchanges between the characters, and BAM! I got it, out of freakin' nowhere. And it's perfect. It ties into Willa's original story goal, first mentioned on Page 1, and perfectly expresses the central theme of the book. And although I'm too close to the words right now to tell, I think it falls into that elusive golden zone of not so obvious that you see it coming, but obvious enough that when you read it you slap your forehead and go, "D'oh! Why didn't I see that coming!" Ta-fucking-DA!

I love it when that stuff happens.