Review – On Writing by Stephen King

This is from a paper I did for my MFA program.
Stephen King’s On Writing is more than just a book on how to write. It is a memoir and a journal about how he wrote several of his best sellers. It also showcases his keen eye for what makes a good story.
 
King is in the camp that believes writers are born, at various skill levels. A writer cannot be made of someone who is not born a “writer”. Mr. King does believe that the skill can be sharpened, thank goodness.
 
I found the memoir section engaging. I’m not sure why this surprised me. Each of these little vignettes was a little story of its own. Even though they were non-fiction, they were quite entertaining. He remembered things that had some aspect that was either jarring or gross. Elements that, no doubt, helped shape the direction his writing life would take. I definitely empathize with getting poison ivy in all the wrong places as a kid. I did notice, however, that even Stephen King uses passive voice when describing something, colorful and evocative though it may have been.

Continue reading “Review – On Writing by Stephen King”

Pathetic Fallacy

Leighna Raluca
Pathetic Fallacy
Leighna Raluca Pathetic Fallacy

I learned a new literary term this week. At first, I thought my mentor was snarking at my poor use of description, but I looked it up and it’s actually a real thing. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, but like so many other things I had no idea there was an actual title for it.

 Pathetic Fallacy – A literary term for the attributing of human emotion and conduct to all aspects within nature. It is a kind of personification that is found in poetic writing when, for example, clouds seem sullen, when leaves dance, when dogs laugh, or when rocks seem indifferent. Continue reading “Pathetic Fallacy”

How I’m Progressing as a Writer

Timons Teaching
Timons Esaias in his element

I recently finished my 4th residency for my master’s program and I’ve had some time to reflect on my progress as a writer. I’ve enjoyed every residency but each has its own flavor. After the first one, I wasn’t really sure that the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program was going to work out. I’d spent several years prior to starting the program trying to improve my skill and my knowledge-base about writing as a profession and I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new. My opinion on that changed after the second residency, but looking back now, I can see the cumulative effects of the program.

After each semester I’d taken stock of how much my writing skill had increased, if at all. After the semester that ended last winter, I felt I’d reached a new plateau, but after spending a full semester with Timons Esaias as my mentor, my skill seems to have gone up an order of magnitude, instead of incrementally. I more easily recognize patterns in writing that I couldn’t see before. Common mistakes that a lot of writers make, especially on the first draft, stand out like a strobing beacon. Continue reading “How I’m Progressing as a Writer”

Pimping a book: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Wired for StoryWired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every writer should read this book. It has great insight into how the brain and the written word interface and the avenue is via story. Fantastic learning tool for writers of all ability levels.

I was turned on to Wired for Story through an interview Chuck Wendig did with Lisa Cron in July 2012 for his blog Terribleminds. She gave us her views on developing story. Lisa has a very fresh take on the importance of STORY and how it relates to the human brain. She is a producer for Showtime and Court TV, a writer, and also teaches a writing course at UCLA, but spent the last ten years researching the connection between neuroscience and how the brain relates to stories. It’s quite fascinating and illuminating, allowing us to learn techniques that will make our story click with the reader. They can’t help themselves, the brain is hard wired for receiving stories and if we can strike the right chord it will resonate within the readers mind. Continue reading “Pimping a book: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron”

I Love It When a Devious Plan Comes Together

152c6-thrillerThe idea for my new novel was birthed back in November. It started out as an idea that I was noodling around with and I’d put it on the back burner until January, when I decided to use the idea to craft my thesis novel. After a false start, I retooled and decided to try my hand at turning it into a Sci Fi Mystery novel. I’d never attempted anything remotely like a mystery before, so I did a little research on how the genre is approached and did my best to stay within those bounds. It was hard for me. First of all there is no dead body at the beginning. Bad stuff happens, but it doesn’t start with a murder. I still thought I had enough to get there, but the further along I got the more it seemed to veer away from the mystery tropes. It was confounding me, but now I have clarity. I am writing a Thriller, not a Who Dunnit? Continue reading “I Love It When a Devious Plan Comes Together”

My First Guest Blogger – Victoria Thompson

I’m happy to give the podium to one of Seton Hill’s finest. The prolific Victoria Thompson is an instructor and Mentor in the Writing Popular Fiction Master’s program at Seton Hill University, in Greensburg, PA. Vicky also happens to be an Edgar nominated mystery writer, specializing in Historical Mysteries. Her Gaslight Mystery Series are centered around New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Her first book, Murder on Astor Place was released in 2009, and the latest book for that series (number 15) is about to be released on May 7th. It’s called Murder in Chelsea. Vicky has published thirty-five novels so far and I don’t see her slowing down.

Today, she is going to give writers a few tips on what to do when we feel like we don’t know where to take the story…

WRITER TO THE RESCUE
So what does an author do when she’s written herself into a corner and can’t for the life of her figure out how to get out of it—all while thousands of fans are clamoring for her blood?  That’s the situation in which I found myself last year at this time.
If you are a fan of the Gaslight Mystery Series (Berkley Prime Crime), you know that Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York City Police and Midwife Sarah Brandt have been solving mysteries and gradually falling in love over the first 14 books in the series.  Unfortunately, I had started the series by creating insurmountable barriers to their ever getting together, never realizing that the series would become so successful or that readers would become so invested in Frank and Sarah’s lives.
Now let’s face it, how many mystery writers are lucky enough to have a series that runs for 14 books? I count my blessings every day. But in the spring of 2012, I realized that if I didn’t take care of Frank and Sarah’s relationship, readers probably would not keep reading. But how to do it without ruining the dynamics of the series? I was getting desperate, so I vented to my classmates.
Classmates?  Yes, I was just finishing up my master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.  One of my classmates, David Wilbanks, who writes Science Fiction and had at that time never read anything I’d ever written, took my challenge and sent me a list of about 20 things that could happen.  Unlike me and my fans, Dave was unencumbered by knowledge of the characters involved, so his solutions didn’t have to be feasible or even sensible.  His ideas were outside the box.  Some of them were even outside the Universe.  But one of them was the perfect solution to Frank and Sarah’s problems!
If you’re expecting me to tell you what that solution is right here, I’m sorry.  I write mysteries, so I’m not giving away anything that might  spoil the book for you.  I will say that in MURDER IN CHELSEA you will finally get to see Frank Malloy propose to Sarah Brandt. Of course they also solve a couple murders and locate the birth parents of Sarah’s foster daughter into the bargain.  This is a mystery series after all! And to thank Dave for his help, I named a major character after him in MURDER IN CHELSEA.

So this is how a fellow writer rescued me, saving me from the wrath of frustrated readers!  You can see how he did it by reading MURDER IN CHELSEA, a May 2013 hardcover release from Berkley Prime Crime.  It’s also available in all electronic formats. Please let me know if you like the solution by contacting me though my website, www.victoriathompson.com or liking me on Facebook at Victoria Thompson Author or following me on Twitter @gaslightvt.

Clear Ether!

NaNo Prep: Writing Rules III – Return of WriMo

NaNoWriMo is merely three days away, and in the spirit of preparation I revamped my Writing Rules again.  This time when I went back to review them I realized that they were a hodgepodge of thoughts with no form.  So I organized them and revamped them and added some new content.  As always I am open to suggestion if you see something wrong or something that needs clarified or plain just doesn’t make sense.

This is kind of long and I have it posted as it’s own page here.

A few years back a friend of mine asked if I could pass along some of what I’ve learned over the past couple of years about trying to write a book.  I’ve tried to distill that info here.
I am focused on novel writing, so all of these ideas may not apply to poetry writing or something other than Novels or Novellas.  Please feel free to add in some comments that will help refine this.  This is all from the perspective of a novice unpublished writer, but I have done my homework, and learned a few things along the way.  These so called “rules” are merely guidelines.  There are no hard and fast rules.
Getting Started: Setting and Characters
There are a couple of ways to do this, and a couple of key ingredients that you need to start.  You are going to need to know the setting…intimately, at least for the actual places your characters will be.  This doesn’t mean you need to include every detail in the narrative, but you, as author, need to know how things work. 
The other key ingredient is the characters.   A strong protagonist and a strong antagonist are absolutely essential.  Other types of characters you might include are companion, or foil, for your main characters that will allow you to showcase certain aspects of your main characters, to bring out viewpoints or details about the background that might be needed to flesh out the world.  Another key character type is the relationship character, which will usually be at odds with the protagonist early and will mend the relationship by the end.
I recommend writing down everything you know about the character.  You don’t want to make them perfect people, interesting characters have flaws.  They need to be balanced.  Try writing a little bit in their POV to get to know them if you are stuck.  You don’t have to use any of this but it may help you understand the pathos of your character better, and they should all be suffering to one extent or another, otherwise, why are we writing about them.
 
A lot of people get hung up on world building.  They really like this part, and I can see the fun and the draw of that, but at some point you need stop world building, develop a plot idea, some characters and start writing an actual story.
Okay, so now you have some characters and a setting what do you do next?
 
Plots and Character Arcs
There are basically two types of arcs, an internal and an external.  The external is pretty straight forward, things happen in the world.  Usually your characters will react to these things and respond, making a new thing happen.  The external character arc is usually what people will refer to as the plot of the book.  A happens then B happens then C happens. 
The internal arc is about how your protagonist deals with things in their head.  The internal character arc is what the book is about.  The internal arc is more about how your character changes through the book, not how things in the external world change.
An Arc is exactly what it sounds like, rising action to the climax then falling action to the dénouement.   You can have multiple arcs and for novels you will have several hopefully.  A short story usually has one. For the longer piece you will have an overarching character Arc.  The big problem that needs to solved.  Inside of that you will have mini-arcs that tell a smaller story within the story, and different characters may be involved with each one.  You need to close each of these off before you end the story, unless perhaps it is part of a larger story arc involving multiple books.  
Each of these little arcs are like promises to the reader, and you need to keep your promises and solve the arcs or the reader will feel cheated.
The axiom is that the closer together you can resolve the external and internal arc and reconcile with the relationship character the more powerful the ending will be, ideally in the same chapter if that is possible.  A really great book for this concept is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.
There are a couple of well-known formulas for setting up your story arc, for example: The Three Act Play, or the Hollywood Formula or 7 Part Story Structure.  There are lots of ways to skin the cat.
Point of View and Voice
Choose your voice for the story and be consistent. The POV is really going to set the tone for your narrative, so you need to think this through to see who will tell the most interesting story.
You have two tenses and three basic points of view to choose from and you can mix and match these giving you a wide variety of ways to tell your story.  Most established authors that I’ve spoken to or read about tell you to avoid present tense, leaving past tense as the most commonly used method.   Third person narrative is the prevailing approach, but books are also written in first person, Twilight by Stephanie Meyers is a good example, and second person, Halting State by Charles Stross is a good example of this form, but it’s fairly rare. 
There are also variations on how to use the third person in the form of omniscient, objective (primarily used for news reporting) and limited, which can lend itself to a narrator that is unreliable.  Unreliable just means you only see what the character sees and feel what the character feels, whether it’s a true representation of reality or not.  Third person works very well if you are changing the narrator. 
Each character will allow you to tell a different aspect of a story, but you will need to pick the one that tells the story you want or at least has access to all the important stuff.  You can use more than one Point of View character.  But please don’t jump heads in the middle of a paragraph, have the decency to have a definite break before you switch POVs. 
For each scene the POV character should have something at stake.  If they don’t have anything at stake for that scene then someone else should be the POV.  If nobody has anything at stake you might want to rethink keeping that scene.  As a general rule of thumb if you start a scene with one POV and switch, you should try to end the scene in the POV of the one you started with.
Pantsing or Outlining?
There is no right or wrong way to write a book.  The end goal is to have a finished story that makes sense and the reader is able to follow and enjoy.  The two most prominent that I am aware of are outlining and discovery.
Outlining is just what it implies; you make an outline then flesh it in and keep adding layers and detail to your outline in the form of story.
Pantsing, or maybe better known as Discovery Writing, is where you have a kernel of an idea and just start and let the story go where it wants.  I prefer a combination of the two, with a basic outline then start writing and adjust my outline as the story progresses.  Another common way for discovery writing is to get to where you are about what you think is 2/3 done then outline the ending to help you close the loop on your story.
Where do you start the story?
There is an oft quoted idea that says, “Get in as late as you can and out as early as you can.”  But this doesn’t necessarily mean you start like a James Bond Movie.  There is a lot of advice out there that says “start in the middle of the action,” but I’m not convinced that’s the best way to do it.
We need to have enough of a feel for the normal life and even a little empathy for the protagonist before we start blowing up his or her world.
The beginning of the book should grab the reader.   But what it really means is showing us why we should be interested in this particular protagonist.  What is different or interesting about him or her? This is not universal, I know a lot of established authors don’t really follow this advice, but they already have a following.  To hook new readers you need to start out with an interesting passage.  Most editors and agents are going to ask for the first three chapters or X number of pages, but they want to see the beginning, so it should be your best stuff and include what is referred to as the hook.  The hook is just that thing that is interesting about your character or the story that will make someone want to read further. 
There have been attempts to study what makes people keep reading, of course it’s not universal, but if you have an interesting hook most readers will give you the benefit of the doubt and get through the first chapter.  If you hold them that long they will read more chapters until they are invested in the book and finish it.  Most readers are stubborn and once you hook them they won’t give up on a book unless you give them a reason to.
Prelude or not? Most writers I’ve talked to recommend skipping the prelude idea, just start your novel there if it’s that interesting.  It is situation dependent. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. 
Mechanics
The most important thing is to tell a good story.  It’s more important to tell a good story than to write well, but both are a plus, so learn your craft.
Show, don’t tell.  This means let the action play out; don’t just describe it in summary form.  Action sequences should always be shown.  There are parts of the story you can skim over with broad brush to avoid boring the reader, but too much of this makes the story feel empty.  Ideally you leave all the boring parts out.
Info dumps should be kept to a minimum or broken up into smaller bits and brought out in the right spots, preferably by one of your characters via conversation.
Know the rules of grammar.  You can say anything but punctuate it properly.  An excellent book for the essentials on clear, correct English is Strunk and White’s – Elements of Style
Another great resource is the podcast Grammar Girl.
Read your book out loud to make sure it flows.  Dialogue should be dynamic and not stilted, but written dialogue is not like real talking.  Leave out the “uhs,” the choppy unfinished sentences and stuttering unless you are trying to set a tone or particular character trait.
Minimize the use of strange language.  Too much technical jargon or unusual language is going to lose your reader, just pepper it in to give the feel and style you are trying to portray.  Ease the reader into it and you can use it a little more later on perhaps, once they get accustomed to what you’re doing.
Describe only what is needed.  My personal pet peeve is over-doing the description.  Most of us are not Nora Roberts.  Let’s not fool ourselves or overcompensate by describing every detail of something that really has no bearing on the story.  The idea here is to only describe things that might be different or things the character notices.  I know different people have different tastes on this and some well-known authors still do this, but if you are going to do it just know that I am probably skimming that part.
The Joy of discovery.  Sometimes your characters are going to take you places you hadn’t planned on.  This, to me, is one of the great joys of writing, but sometimes they will take you down a dead end or completely off course.  Then you will have to decide if the new direction is a better story or if it really is just going to derail the entire plot.  Save all this stuff though.  Don’t throw any good prose away.  I keep a boneyard for all my ideas that I can salvage things from later.
Use Active voice.   Passive voice is weak and tends to make you add a lot more words than you need.  It is appropriate at times to slow up the pace, but as a general rule active voice makes things happen in a style that creates action and movement, which will help hold the reader.  There is a place for passive voice and it will require some work to develop a feel for it.
Avoid editing and writing at the same time.  You write with the right side of your brain and edit with the left side.  Your creativity flows from the right side, so try to avoid mixing in left side stuff when you are in the creative mode.  You do use both sides at the same time or you wouldn’t be able to write, but if you avoid going back and changing a lot of stuff constantly while you are in creative mode you will likely have more success moving the story forward.
A good book on helping avoid passive voice and other editing tips is The 10% Solution by Ken Rand. 
I love using the thesaurus to avoid using the same word too often.  http://thesaurus.com/
Where do you get your ideas?
People ask all the time where you get your ideas from, but honestly once you actually start this writing thing as a regular part of your life the ideas just flow. 
Keep a notebook with you as much as possible and write down ideas as they come to you. 
Reading a lot helps, with style and tempo and form.  Read as much as you can.  But I know a lot of authors avoid stuff that is too close to what they are presently working on to avoid too much influence on their story (and lawsuits).
Dreams are often a good source of ideas.
I read lots of magazine articles on the subjects I’m interested in writing about.  For me Scientific American is a great source of ideas.
The web is a great source for ideas as well.  I stay up on news events in my area of interest also.
I love listening to writing podcasts.  My favorite is Writing Excuses. These guys and gal are successful writers and have a plethora of good advice for aspiring writers.
I borrowed an idea from Brandon Sanderson for keeping track of story ideas.  I use a Book Guide.  It is broken down into four sections: Character, Setting, Plot and Boneyard just flesh out the information for each section as you develop more of the ideas.  I find this helps immensely with continuity and just tracking down mundane stuff that you’ve put in the setting or how you spelled someone’s name, or the color of their hair, etc.
Habit patterns
Write as often as you can.  It’s best if you can develop a habit of writing.  If you can manage to get a regular time and place to write that is ideal.  The whole trick is to write, as often as you can.  Then write some more.  Did I say that enough?
Here is an interesting fact: 250 words is approximately one page for determining your novel length.  It takes about 15 minutes to half an hour to do that each day.  If you do that for a year you will have a novel length book.  Obviously if you can write for an hour or two each day you can pump one out a lot faster.
You may find that the more you write the better it flows and the ideas just start coming out of the wood work.  The imagination is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly.
Editing and Reviewing
Get a Writing Partner or two or three.  They write, and can be a free way to get good edits and ideas for where you went off course or just didn’t connect something properly.  Sometimes you have all that story in your head and you make assumptions that the reader knows things, when you haven’t actually made it clear.  A critique group is a great idea also. If you can’t find a local group, then look on the Internet.  There are lots of places to get free critiques.  One of the better ones I’ve used is Critters. Beta Readers can help with this also. 
Once you finish the manuscript hand it off to a first reader, one that is going to give you real feedback, not your mom, who loves you and won’t tell you the hard truth.  Listen to the critiques and make changes if you think their critique is valid. You don’t have to take all, or any for that matter, but listen to what they are saying.
Don’t over edit.  Error checking is great and continuity checking is good, but your editor voice doesn’t have the same view of your work and if you do too much editing you may lose the magic that made your story work.  I read often that the first draft is often crap and you need to edit brilliantly, but the creative part of your story is going to come out on the first pass more than likely, so keep this in mind.  Three or four passes is probably enough to get the big stuff: errors, continuity and first reader/beta reader comments that show stuff that might require some tweaking is probably all you need.  Your mileage may vary here, but the idea is to let go at some point and start mailing out your story.
In the end you will want a professional editor and they do cost money.  If you can sell your book, then the publisher will provide this for you, but if you self-pub do everyone a favor and pay for one.
You’re done, now what?
If you are going to submit your writing to someone, whether agent or editor, follow the guidelines they lay down.    There are people that get picked up that don’t follow the rules but they are not norm.
Have faith in yourself and be prepared for rejection, it’s likely going to happen, a lot. 
Publishing cycle
Traditional publishing is going to take at least two years before you see your book in print.  It could be longer.  Many of them won’t want to publish more than one a year due to their seasonal release schedule and just not wanting to oversaturate, if that is even a real problem.  They also don’t give you a lot of information on sales, and payment can be delayed.  They will often give you money up front though, in the form of advances.  The value of the advance has been going down in recent years as the publishing industry has been in such turmoil, but from what I am reading lately things seem to be leveling off and traditional publishing is profitable again (for them). 
This is where self-publishing has a real advantage.  You can publish quickly, in a few days to get formatting right, and publish as frequently as you like.  I know several novelists that are publishing as many as four novels a year this way.  If you are a prolific writer and don’t want to wait on the traditional publishing cycle this is the way to go.
Agent or Not
There is a lot of discussion on this issue right now.  It will really depend on how much of the business side of things you want to take on.  If you don’t want to mess with any of it then an agent is probably the way to go.  If you can take the time to understand the business and work your own contracts then you probably don’t need an agent.  You can always use an independent editor and an attorney that specializes in book contracts to help you out here.  For more on this subject I would read through Dean Wesley Smith’s website on debunking the publishing industry myths: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860
Once you are ready to submit your novel get it in the mail and START ON THE NEXT BOOK.
Self-Publishing
If you don’t have any luck getting a big time publisher to buy your book or you simply just want to, you can self-publish and there are lots of ways these days to do this.  You will also keep a larger percentage of the book sale, and have a lot more velocity in the publishing cycle.  The down side is you have to pay for all marketing yourself and take care of all the business transactions, cover design, tracking for taxes, etc., yourself.
This tidbit is something I found in the comments section of one of Dean Wesley Smith’s blogs:
Put your novel up on Smashwords, which gets you to Sony, Nook, iBook, and other places. Cost: Free
Put your novel through CreateSpace in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Amazon. Cost: Free (or $39.00 if you want better distribution into all stores.)
Put your novel through LighteningSource in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Ingram. Cost: around $100.00
From what I gather that will pretty much get your books to every English speaking market on the globe.
Good luck on your writing!

Yes, But – No, And

I was listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast the other day in my car, when I came across this fantastic nugget of advice about how to do chapters/scenes.  How do you move forward from one chapter to the next?  You need to know how to develop the connective tissue and keep driving the story forward.  This simple trick will take you a long way to developing a story that has momentum.  You simply ask a question, is the protagonist going to accomplish his/her goal in this chapter?  You have two answers obviously, Yes or No.  The trick is thus: Yes, But and No, And.  Every chapter/scene needs to have a reason to exist other than you thought up some really cool world building stuff that you want to show off.  The Yes, but will allow you to finish minor story arcs but keep propelling the story forward.  For example, your group needs to cross a bridge in this chapter.  Will they make it across?  Yes, but on the other side they encounter a group of ruffians. 

Conversely, if you go the other way you can move the story along but “up the stakes.”  Are they going to make it across the bridge in this scene?  No, and in fact there is a group of ruffians coming up behind them now and they need to come up with a new plan.  You get the idea here. 
Every scene should be moving the story along.  It’s is fine to have a few down moments to allow the reader to catch their breath, for example, the group is successful at making it across the bridge and make camp for the night, but they see smoke on the horizon signaling that the group that is chasing them will be here by morning, so they will need to moving before too long.  It will give you some “campfire time” to do some reflection and perhaps bring in some back story or maybe some foreshadowing for the coming scenes.
This is something I am toying with in the new thing I’m doing called outlining.  It is actually helpful in laying out the plan and moving from one chapter to the next, actually ahead of time.  That’s not to say this locks me in to anything.  I reserve the right to change the story as it comes to me, and to change the outline again as a result, but it is a very useful tool in our bag of tricks.
Clear Ether!   

Let That Thing Fester

The title of this post is so awesome that I feel like the post itself isn’t going to live up to it.  I actually thought of saving it for another post on the subject but I’m going to go with it anyway.  I’m having issues finding time for this currently, and I ‘m not proud of it.  I know I’ve been absent lately but I have been doing the job of three people at my day job (literally) and cramming for my Air War College Exam.  The good news is we have enough people back at work that I can get back to just doing my own job and I got the results back from my exam, which I passed with an excellent!  I’m only one test away from finishing now, so I’m buckling down to get through it and then I can refocus on finishing the edits for Clear Ether and get it out to some beta readers.

I actually had a little down time in there while I was waiting for the exam to be graded.  I was initially expecting four weeks of waiting but it only took four days.  At any rate, I had time to do some revision on the first few chapters after feedback from my alpha readers and I actually feel like I have enough distance now to see it like someone else wrote it.  I was able to make big cuts and move some stuff around and really focus the POV.  Getting that distance is key.  I got some great advice and some great feedback from my alphas, thank you!

When people tell you to put your manuscript in the drawer for a month or two and let it ferment, they aren’t kidding.  I did some preliminary editing after only a few days, but I was really having trouble seeing the errors.  Stacy can tell you I went off the reservation with the word “just”.  It was laughable how many times I used that word in one chapter alone.

As the creator you can often have a hard time detaching yourself from your own POV.  You already know everything that happened and all the background details and motivations, so when you go in to start your revisions you can’t divorce yourself from yourself (Austin Powers anyone?) without giving yourself enough time after the manuscript is finished.  Completing the manuscript is a huge thing.  A lot of writers never get there, so I’ve heard.  And I know I was excited, not because I finished the manuscript, but because I was one step closer to being published, and I wanted to get on with the revisions.  I’m here to tell you that you have to wait a bit before you take that next step.

The manuscript is near and dear to your heart.  You’ve invested a lot of energy and time getting to “The End”.  Carving up your baby is simply not feasible at that point.  Any believe me, it needs to be carved up and have great chunks removed and tossed in the waste bin. (Boneyard)  It’s like a grotesque turkey that has too many legs and wings and parts sticking out and it needs to be prepped and oiled and baked to perfection still.  But before you can do any of that you need to stick it somewhere dark, where you will leave it alone, and let it fester for a few months.  When you put it away it looked like a bright shiny baby, when it comes out it will look like Chucky, and you can stab it and carve it up.  I must be hungry.  Enough of the carving analogies.  You get the idea.

When you get it back out you will be able to see it as a work of literary fiction instead of “your precious”.  You can see the POV errors and the extra background that really isn’t germane to the story.  You can see the bad dialogue tags and the dreaded adverbs and poor word choices.  You can see the poorly written sentences, and maybe there are chapters that really don’t even need to be there.  At the very least they need to be massively trimmed and combined with another part somewhere else.  It is eye opening … really.  Put that sucker away!  Don’t touch it!  Ah..I see you going back to look at it, I said leave it alone.

Anyway, as an aside, I’m also in the process of applying for a Master’s program in writing, so I had to put some finishing touches on some writing and then write a Letter of Intent.  It was kinda fun actually. I’m shooting for the Seton Hill University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction degree.  It is a distance learning program that will only require me to spend 5 days each semester on campus.  That works great for my busy lifestyle.   The cool thing is it is designed for you to have a publishable novel length book at the end of the program.  I’m very excited about it and have my fingers crossed to get in.  It’s a small Catholic university near Pittsburg, so it’s also driving distance, at least until I move.

I hope you are all having great fortune in your writing and reading!

Clear Ether!

 

NaNo Fail Whale

NaNoWriMo is never a waste of time in my humble opinion. I’m not going to hit the target this year of 50k words in 30 days, but the endeavor has its own rewards.

Last year I had a great idea and I think it will become my Master’s thesis and I had no trouble moving along. It was a simple idea but very open and I knew where it was going ultimately. I‘ve got stuff on the back burner and a backlog of ideas I want to explore but for this year I decided to try my hand at something completely outside of my comfort zone. The original idea was to try my hand at a YA tie- in to my current novel. But once I conceived of the idea it started to develop its own life. I thought it was just going to be in the same vein as my adult fiction, just from a different perspective, but as the idea started to coalesce it began to morph into more of a substantial piece, and basically even though the setting is several hundred years in the future it is not classic SF. It’s actually literary fiction, which is a completely different animal.

What I learned this year is that literary fiction is harder. It requires a lot of introspection and for me at least, has been a lot slower to develop. The story arc for literary fiction is intended to be an internal arc, to see a character mature or change their beliefs in some fundamental way. That is the overarching plot, and of course you can add in lots of small plot-lines that will move the story along.

I can see a lot of potential with this, but it’s not what I thought it was going to be. I love that these things are like a living flame that can be stoked into life, just add a little more kindling, a breath of air, bigger sticks and the thing grows. You have to pay very close attention though or the flame can die. But even as they can grow, it helps to know where you’re going. This story is developing but I’m still not sure where I’m going with it and that is the biggest hurdle. I like the characters, and I like the ideas that are developing, but the elephant in the room with me right now is time.

I have several projects competing for my time and some have real deadlines. Some are self-induced, but one is outside my control. I seriously want to finish my adult novel and get it out there. I have a series of tests that I need to study for, that are incredible time eaters. Time keeps marching on and as it does my stress level is slowly creeping up.

I like the idea that I have something that will challenge me and my skills and it’s something that might actually have something to say and not just entertain. But right now I’m not sure it fits in with my agenda. Ideas are funny things, some are very finite and some are lofty and undefined. This one feels more like the latter, even though I have some concrete concepts developing it has a long way to go to really gel.

All this to say I think I am going to put this one back on the rear of the stove again and let it simmer some more. I like knocking things off my to-do list and I have some low hanging fruit that I can take care of if I just focus my energy. The one good thing about stress is that I tend to get more motivated. The stress has reached a point where I need to act and this is the first step. Epic NaNo Fail, but ultimately a victory in my pursuit of happiness. Good luck to the rest of you working toward your 50k goal!

Clear Ether!