Augh! Tuesday Again!: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Grr. Tuesday snuck up on me this week. Time to be held accountable.

1. I showed up to be critiqued at my writer’s group on Sunday. Took lots of notes on a short story that I’m going to send to Hayden’s Ferry Review for their “In the Dark” themed issue. (Ali posted it as a challenge to all y’all as well on a Saturday Pages post – so there’s still time guys!)

So, at the very least there’s gonna be some revision going on around here.

2. Annnnd there’s already some revision going on. I’ve been working on my La Llorona story – adding some scenes mostly, and cutting stuff that’s not important to the main plot. I’m up through the third chapter (I have twenty-two total and plan to work my way through all of them by the 15th).

I also went through the notes that I have from my original readers. I’ve discovered that if you wait a year you will come to the exact same conclusions as your original readers. My opinion of waiting between drafts has always been wait a looooong time. Way longer than you think. It’s the best way to get perspective.

Plus it’s easier to ‘kill your darlings’ when you don’t necessarily remember writing them….

Short and sweet, huh? I’m still baseballing too.

Revising the Plan: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Happy Tuesday, writerly folk! Tuesdays are accountability day here at Place for the Stolen…so time to see what we accomplished writing-wise this past week:

1. Okay, so I know last week I said to hold me accountable for the End-of-April rough draft plan. I’m here to say that perhaps that was a smidge hasty. I’ve been re-evaluating the speed at which I can compose gracefully (read: without pulling my hair out) and have come to the conclusion that slower and steadier wins the race. I’m now aiming for the end of July as the rough draft due date for The Line.

And this past week I’ve added another 2400 words to the novel. Huzzah!

2. Part of the revising my plan is also that I’m starting another draft of an earlier book – my La Llorona book for those who care what I’m working on. It occured to me that The Line won’t be ready for submission this year no matter how much I bust my ass – and I want a submittable-to-agents draft of a novel this year. That way I can at least build experience in the querying gig. Plus, I like this book and, after seeing Woman in Black, feel that a good, old fashioned ghost story is the way to go. (For those that have read some of it – you realize this means some definite retooling.)  

I whipped out my handy-dandy calendar and figured out a way to gracefully (read again: without pulling my hair out) do a new draft by the end of August.

So far I’ve marked up the first three chapters, cut another chapter, and have typed in a new two pages. Huzzah!

*Interesting note: I work better in the morning on the flat-out new stuff. Revisions are more a late afternoon/early evening thing. At least it keeps the days interesting, huh?*

That’s it for me, kids. How about you guys? Revising? Working on something new? 

Giving Characters Their Arc

I’m always hesitant when it comes to a Dramatis Personae list anywhere in a book. What it means to me is this: there are too many characters to handle. It means there are too many threads to follow through to a full conclusion. It means that there is so much information gathered in the text of a novel that you need notes in order to understand it.

Generally, this turns me off.

And George RR Martin has a loooooong cast list at the back of his books.

When I picked up A Game of Thrones, I was very nervous about it. My brain didn’t seem up to the task of handling such a large group of people. And, honestly, if I hadn’t seen and fallen in love with the HBO series, I would have been beyond lost. It took a while to put the names with the characters for me – even with the visuals provided by the television series.

However, I was greatly, greatly impressed with how Martin handled his characters. After a little effort, they were easy to track and follow.

I think the ease of adjustment came from how Martin created complete arcs for each of his characters – especially in A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. And the best example is of  Daenerys, the exiled heir to the Iron Throne, in this case. She goes from a child, with a child’s sensibilities at the beginning of the book, to a believable leader of nations by the end.

This arc for Daenerys is so complete that Martin lifted her sections bodily out of A Game of Thrones and created a whole novella: “The Blood of the Dragon.” It proceeded to win a Hugo award.

Daenerys’s story can be marked Point A to Point Z in A Game of Thrones.

She is an innocent married into a barbarian horde, she learns to fight and love within that horde, she faces down her bullying brother, is faced with the death of her child and husband, confronts and kills the person who murders her child and husband, and then hatches dragons…earning her heir-to-the-throne rank rather than just having it handed to her. Pretty badass.

I’ve never tried to lift a whole storyline based on one character before, but that’s probably a good exercise for revision –

Here’s what I’ve come up with…

Pick a character, any main or semi-main character in your story. Find all of his/her scenes. Pull them out (i.e. copy and paste them into a new document). Read it through. Does it read as a whole story? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there some kind of growth cycle or does he/she remain painfully unchanged all the way through? Adjust accordingly.This also strikes me as a useful revision technique because it forces you into some distance from the main plotline sometimes. And in order to revise gracefully, we all need some space from the original story.

What do you guys think? Have you allowed your characters their full development? Have you decided that not all characters will get a full development? (Because that’s totally legit too.)

Believing the "Truth" of Your Own Words: The Enemy of Revision

I love tremendous and sonorous words. But his words are too hearty to be true. Yet he is by this time convinced of their truth.” ~V.W. The Waves; the character of Bernard describing the Headmaster and his speeches

Have you ever found yourself, whether verbally or silently, responding to a critique/workshop/mentor in a manner similar to this: “But I want it that way! I meant to do it that way!”

Because I have. There was this one particular instance where I described a car in my piece and my group went–why is this car here? What does it represent? There is no point to this car that we can reasonably see.

My response?

I want it that way. I meant to do it that way. It will have a very symbolic point.

And it’s true. I do still want it that way. I do mean to do it that way. I am “by this time convinced of their [the car/my words] truth.” Since I told myself, over and over, the car would have an impact, I believed it would. That’s the hearty of the above quote–if I say it loud enough, long enough, it will be true.

But we have to recognize when we argue a little too loudly. (Defensive much? Hmm? Pay attention.)

When you argue, you stimy your revision process. The longer it takes you to stop being defensive, and right, the longer it takes to work on the parts that need to be worked on. Guess what? Sometimes you’ll be right. Sometimes your first readers might be tired, or grumpy, or trying to sell their house.

Your words are not the Truth. They are words. They can be switched around to greater effect. The words that describe a car ad nauseum can be deleted. It’s that Backspace key.

If you need to believe in the “truth” at first, in order to get to the good stuff, then by all means write whatever strikes that note. Just remember, these words aren’t set in stone and sometimes there are better, cleaner ways to put things.

All right, dammit: New Plan.

Didn’t get all of the revisions done–forgot to factor in the fact that you actually have to do some new writing when you revise. Banged through a few chapters okay, but had to change stuff I wasn’t expecting, who knew there were so many little tidbits throughout that you’ve gotta catch?

Okay, new plan:
1. Finish revisions by end of the month…even if I have to stay up all night on the 28th.
2. Finish UGWP submission for Sunday.

And that’s all she wrote for February. I have to get these outta the way because my CWC submission is coming up again and I have I worked on anything new? Not nearly 50 pages worth.

I guess I was just so excited about having the time to work on the book that I underestimated how much work it was. I did get more than halfway through…which is much more than I would’ve gotten otherwise. And it is so much better, too. Even I, who have been so close to it for so long and was growing tired of it, saw it get better as I worked. Yay team!

That is not to say that I haven’t been despairing at points. Recently I’ve taken to reading the agent blogs and have been surrounded by bad news on the publishing front–so there’s been a part of me that goes, dammit, how am I supposed to make a career out of this? Especially when I read posts about the number of submissions that agents are getting. They’re gonna have to read through that much more crap to get to my stuff and then they may be too tired to recognize it-or perhaps breathe a sigh of relief because something good finally crossed their desk. (I believe that such is the case for American Idol judges as well, after a while your ears ring with badness, so you want to kiss the good ones. I don’t even sit through all the auditions and feel that way.)

Another depressing point is that today is my last day on ‘vacation’. Tomorrow, I have to wade through the same ol’-same ol’ after having a taste of what my real life could be like. That’s really bittersweet. Yes, it makes me want to work harder, but I’ll admit, it’s really, really depressing.

Revision…it’s the pits

Last night was Ali’s big thesis critique, and judging from her blog I think she thinks it didn’t go so well.

So I think that maybe I didn’t get something across that I meant to.

She put a lot of work into those revisions–the new stuff was obvious. It was thougtful. It was a new slant. There were new angles and glances. That’s what revision is for. I think it was Helen Sellers in Chapter by Chapter who said something along the lines that revision it to re-vision, to re-see what you’ve got. Ali saw something different, something extra for her work and put it on the page. Whether it works or not, well, that’s not really the point. It’s about seeing what works best. That’s the point. And sometimes we’ve gotta do it a few times before it hits.

I’ve got the same thing in FJR. I thought I was doing one thing, I was hoping to get it across. Not everyone got it, and I overdid some things, but I do have something there and need to keep chisling away until the whole story comes out. Kinda like King’s archeology analogy in On Writing–every new piece helps explain the whole. Dig out the dinosaur man, dig it.

After Ali left to avoid the weather that was annoying all of us, (stupid snow!), Deb, Shane, and I talked about the Round Story that’s going on in the other group. Here’s an interesting situation where there’s nine different authors, nine different visions of how things should go. Deb said she wondered how much of what the writers thought was in there was actually there versus what was just in their heads, and I think that’s a consistant problem whether there’s one author or nine.

That’s why writing is considered a process. If you’re not willing to do the ‘work’ (that’s the creation of draft after draft….) then you shouldn’t be writing. If you’re not willing to make the best story possible–whether it’s what you originally envisioned or not–then put down the pen. You’re not gonna get it. Eventually, with enough practice, I believe that you learn the techniques that help you get it closer with your first swing…but then you’re gonna have to swing again, no matter how good you get.

Luckily, I write with some really amazing people who understand the purposes of drafting. Ali showed me that last night (or, I guess in the month I was reading her stuff up until last night). Even though I told her to cut a lot of things, I believe that those things had to be written, there was no way around it. Through the pages, the worlds became more real. Maybe it wasn’t what she wanted to hear (because we all want to hear: “It’s perfect! You’re done!”) but I think she did a really good job and think she’s on the right track.

And ignore Juan.

Galley Stuff

In the last couple weeks, I have had the opportunity to look at the galleys of the magazines in which my stories will be appearing. The experience is a heady one. There are your words, and you didn’t have to type them this time, and someone else has formatted and made them look pretty. Of course, it’s a little tedious at this point because all you’re doing is looking for typos and ‘does that comma go there’? I’m pretty sure in one of the stories, the editor added in semi-colons. That kinda threw me, but it looked good so I didn’t say anything (of course, I could have done that last minute too, after a while you’re just not sure what’s yours anymore…)

Now it has me thinking about book galleys and having to read through your whole book for little typo shit. My eyes cross at the thought! At work we get what are called ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) which are basically the same thing that the authors get to proof. It’s the pre-final edit before the actual publishing takes place. And sometimes, whoa!, the mistakes that get made in layout.

I have an ARC of Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes. At some point there is a whole scene immediately repeated.

In the ARC of 20 Times a Lady there are multiple, painful misspellings (in one case a ‘butt’ for ‘but’–could be slightly embarrassing).

The good news is that in a professionally formatted piece, the typos almost jump out at you. It’s really hard to miss them. The consistancy of the publishing makes the mistakes twice as bad. Mistakes are easy to miss on loose-leaf, self-formatted paper (and one the computer screen).

So, here’s to getting it right (hopefully! my eyes are tired).