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Edit 5 (Which doesn’t have a name)

Edit five is really pretty quick, because by this time I’m deep into another project and have no interest in finishing.

In the fifth edit I’m doing a broad over-view to make sure things fit. Are the issues creating a problem with flow? Does a particular scene work? Why did I put that description there, and would it be better in another place? Did I use the same description more than once? (Which I have done, oops) Are there any sections where I get bored, and want to go do something else?

This is the place where I work on fight scenes, to make sure they read quickly so that the readers don’t get bogged down in details. It’s basically a read-through, stopping at anything that catches my attention.

Then I send the book out to the beta readers again, if I want to overwhelm them. Then on to edit six.

I usually have this process going for a couple books at a time, so one (or five!) might be in Traige stage while another is in stage five and two are in the emotion-description edit stages. I try not to have more than one in each of those two categories, because otherwise nothing else gets accomplished.


Edit 3 (Emotion)

I have a very difficult time putting emotion into my novels. To me, their emotions are obvious from their actions, but my readers (almost unanimously) say that they need some indicator of what these people are feeling.

Honestly, if an ex husband comes back with the stated intention of taking custody of their son, I think the woman’s emotions can pretty well be assumed. But apparently not.

So the third edit I do is emotion. At this point I have to put in the little actions, words, descriptions, that will tell my readers what I already feel is obvious.

Makes it difficult, and some might say that if I think it’s unnecessary I should skip it. Since I like the books better when this edit is done, I continue to do it.

This is another step of character development, and unfortunately many of my books are set in a world where visible emotion is frowned on. In many cases what I do is create physical tells for each character. So a character might pick at her skirt when she’s angry and fiddle with her hair when she’s being sarcastic, or whatever. If I can create distinct “tells” for each character they start to pop off the page, just a little.

I go through the book as many times as necessary, trying to put at least three emotion words or sentences on each page. Doesn’t always work that way, but I try.

Then it’s time for the other hard edit, even worse. Description.


My Problem (and a few tips)

By Ava Mylne

I have this problem.
I’ve written four full-length novels,
and written to the miserable middles of four more,
but I have yet to submit anything—seriously–for publication.
My problem?
Even after twenty years of practice, nothing
is ever good enough if it came out of my head.
I’m still learning, you see. I still don’t know everything.
No matter how well written something looks to me now,
I’m going to see it in another year and cringe at how flawed it is.
I don’t want to see my own literary flaws
immortalized on some bookstore shelf–
If I ever get that lucky.
I have a lot of very encouraging friends who tell me,
“Just keep trying,” and I do.
My back-brain tells me, “Just keep writing,”
and I will.
Someday I’ll be able to read my own writing
and judge accurately what needs to stay and what needs to go,
but for now, I rely on a dear friend:
Other people’s ideas.

So now, without further ado, I give you: Lauren’s List of Words to Eliminate! (Is this plagiarism? Now excuse me while I go do some editing.)

That
of
ing
ly
just
then
finally
like
as
sound of
made of
so, finally, of course
precisely, slowly, quickly, quietly, softly
all forms of to be
could, should, may, would, can linked to a verb
have, has, had, will, shall, might, must
The word “breathed”—or “hissed” or “growled’ or any other animal sound– used as a tag
amusement vs interest
stare or staring
names of animals–appropriate?
Names used where they should not be (mainly in conversation)


Giving other writers a hand

Some of you may have already come across the wonderfully pithy and inspiring “Hand in Hand” photo gallery put together by the Wofford College Shared Worlds writing workshop this summer (a writing program for teens interested in speculative fiction). It’s a collection of photos of writing advice inscribed on the hands of various professional speculative fiction writers.

The entire gallery is worth checking out. Here are a few of my favorites:

Neil Gaiman

David Drake

Lev Grossman

Joe Haldeman

Karen Tidbeck

Go check out the whole gallery and share your own favorites in the comments.


The Places that Shape Us

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

This past week I had the opportunity to revisit many places from my past. My parents, after 32 years, are moving out of the home they raised me in and down-sizing their way into a town home in a retirement community. They live one sate away, and I drove with the whole family out to see the home one more time and to help them pack their three decades of accumulated stuff into boxes to prepare for the movers. My home town looks very much the same if you stay in the neighborhood of my childhood. The houses haven’t changed much – some are in need of repair, others have been well-maintained and updated. Some of the yards are well-kept, others less so. But the same was true during my youth. The only major change is that the trees are taller and there are a few extra cracks in the sidewalks. On the other hand, as I drove further afield, I noticed more and more changes. Old shops ripped down and replaced with new. Once-empty fields now filled to the brim with housing tracts. Bright new storefronts and restaurants. Even my old middle school had been completely demolished and replaced with a new building. The place I grew up in had continued to grow and change without me, as if it had a life of its own. It was more than a little disorienting.

Then, on the way home from our visit, we took a detour to the town my father grew up in, to see the old farmhouse once owned by my paternal grandparents. They’ve been gone for about six years now, and my uncle owns the house. I haven’t been back since he and my father decided to subdivide the old farm and turn it into housing lots. The house looks the same on the outside – the same red brick, surrounded by tall trees. The towering catalpa still casts shade over the driveway with it’s dinner-plate sized leaves, the old root cellar resting a few yards behind it. But the familiar fences and outbuildings of the old farm are long gone. Where once stood an old barn and granary there is now a row of ranch-style stucco-coated homes with SUVs parked in front drives and swing sets and propane grills standing in the back. The old bull-pen has been replaced by a street, and a round-about sits right about where another old shed once resided. The reality of progress has washed away the places of my memories, leaving only ghosts behind.

This nostalgia-filled journey got me thinking about just how much our sense of place informs our writing. I can set a story in a city, or a forest, or a frozen waste, or on a space-faring vessel, but in the back of my mind I see rolling fields and distant mountains – gullies lined with scrub and cottonwood – housing tracts and hay pastures standing side by side. Just how much of that makes its way into my writing? How does it inform the way I conceive the worlds I create?

In his study of the Apache sense of place, Wisdom Sits in Places, anthropologist Keith Basso writes:

“…places are perceived in terms of their outward aspect – as being on their manifest surfaces, the familiar places they are – and unless something happens to dislodge these perceptions they are left, as it were, to their own enduring devices. But then something does happen. Perhaps one spots a freshly fallen tree, or a bit of flaking paint, or a house where none has stood before – any disturbance, large or small, that inscribes the passage of time – and a place presents itself as bearing on prior events. And at the precise moment, when ordinary perceptions begin to loosen their hold, a border has been crossed and the country starts to change. Awareness has shifted its footing, and the character of the place, now transfigured by thoughts of an earlier day, swiftly takes on a new and foreign look.”

I’ve been seeing the places of my past as colored by this new and foreign look all week long. It makes me wonder how that disorientation of past memories colliding with present realities impacted Gimli when he stepped inside the mines of Moria, or how different Green Gables seemed to Anne when she returned from college with a new perspective, or how difficult it must have been for Odysseus to get used to his home after being away for so very long.

The interplay of one’s memories of a place with the alterations left by the passage of time is fertile ground for exploration in our writing. Now that I’ve had a taste of it in my own life it’s definitely something I’ll spend more time thinking about as I write.


On Outlining

I think every fiction writer faces the question: “Do I want to outline, or not?” at some point in their career, and revisit it from time to time. As to the particular style of outlining, they probably revisit the problem from time to time.

I’ve known some writers who write detailed chapter by chapter outlines that are not only long, but include actual snippets of description and dialog. Others write vague lists of major plot points and then free-write their way from plot point to plot point. Still others will come up with a basic story concept, spend time writing character sketches, and then put their characters into their basic story and see where those characters take it through free-writing. There are methods based on a three-act structure, or other multi-point systems, or circular cycles of rising and falling action leading to new cycles of rising and falling action. A simple google search will produce dozens of different outlining systems.

None of these systems are right or wrong. It’s a matter of experimentation to find what works best for you.

For most of my short stories I come up with a basic concept and then free-write until I’m finished. I’m generally happy with the results. On the other hand, when I tried to free-write a children’s fantasy novel, the resulting manuscript was so messy and inconsistent that I’ve had to revise it about five times, and I’m still not happy.

I’ve set that manuscript aside for the time-being, and for my two new works in progress I produced outlines of all the key plot points. I’m currently using the 7-point plot system taught by author Dan Wells in this series of videos, or summarized in this episode of the podcast Writing Excuses. Give it a listen – it might be the system for you. And if not, there are dozen of other systems out there, just waiting for you to try them.

So far I’m very happy with this outlining system. It provides a clear path for each of my major characters, as well as an overarching story to tie all those characters together. But it’s not a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline. There is still plenty of room for me to make changes here and there and to free-write my way to better world-building and character development as I work all my outlined plot points together.

What outlining styles (or lack of outlining styles) have worked best for you? Share them in the comments to help other readers find the right fit for their writing method.


Writing for a Living

Many fiction writers have to hold down day jobs, but most of us would rather write for a living. What does that really mean? Not living off of our fiction income – that’s a rare and special privilege held by a small percentage of writers. No, for most people, writing for a living means writing mundane things for money and fiction in our free time. Here’s a great info-graphic from The Write Life Magazine to help you start thinking about how you might be able to earn a living as a writer.

One word of warning – while writing for a living might give you more personal satisfaction than many other career choices, it might also burn you out on writing while working on your bread-and-butter writing and before you turn to your personal fiction projects each day. If you think you might fall into that trap, consider jobs that require minimal emotional input and/or give you space for daydreaming/project planning.

For instance, best selling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson spent several years as a night desk clerk at a hotel so he’d have plenty of time to work on his real ambitions while also bringing in an income. Not everyone can find jobs like these, or make them work with personal situations, but if you can, this might just be the right work for you.

What jobs have you tried out to facilitate your fiction-writing ambitions?


Networking

I’m a plant freak.  That doesn’t mean I’m a freaky plant (either vegetative or the spy variety) but that I love plants.

This week it’s strawberries.  Strawberries are interesting little critters.  They’re invasive, but sneakily so.  During the summer, under the guise of spreading out their leaves to soak up the sun, they put out runners that move into places where strawberries are not supposed to go.

They’re very strong and can survive things that kill other plants.  Part of the reason for this is all those runners.

The parent plant puts out runners not only to perpetuate itself but also because the baby strawberries send nutrients back to the parent plant once they put down roots.  In reality you have not one plant but a colony, all interdependent and interconnected.  If one plant grows in a place where there’s lots of water, and another is usually dry but has plenty of nutrients, the two can trade and each fill in the gaps in the other.

Eventually all those runners dry up, when the plants are strong enough to survive on their own.  

As writers we’re much the same, or at least we should be.  One writer alone has weaknesses.  I might not be able to see the problems with my plot, while another person doesn’t understand grammar.  Standing alone, neither of us could do what needs to be done.  Working together we’re both stronger.

I’ve also heard of successful authors who mentor others, who in turn mentor others, creating a support network that is seldom found in any other career.  Those sneaky little runners go out, feeding the baby authors until their roots are strong enough to survive on their own.

But unlike strawberries, those runners don’t dry up.  The network just continues to grow, authors helping authors through the generations.  

If we used that network to its capacity, the author community would have everything.  Like strawberries, we already have everything.  We just don’t know it yet.


Tips from Pixar

By Jocelyn Nash Carlion

I’ve always admired the Pixar movie studio – not just for the brilliant animation, but for their wonderful storytelling. Pixar films consistently win more critical praise and more awards than any other animation studio not just because of their technical expertise but because of their focus on telling a good story, and telling it well. In my opinion they not only tell better stories than most family films, but better than most Hollywood films, period.

So, even thought it’s about a year and a half old, I was delighted to find this list of storytelling tips from senior story artists at Pixar, as compiled and tweeted by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats.

Here’s the complete list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Not all the tips will apply to you and your writing at this exact moment, but there are enough gems of wisdom on this list that something on it will probably resonate with you. Numbers 8 and 17 really speak to me right now. Which tips speak to you?


Demolition

By Lauren Ritz

I am sitting here in my office, listening to the sound of demolition ten feet away. It’s a beautiful day (which means no sun and it’s slightly cool) so of course the door is open.

Sledge hammers, saws, and other tools of destruction are in the process of demolishing the old deck so that a new one can be put in. It won’t be much different—prettier maybe, more sturdy. The old deck is about twenty years old, the boards warping and turning when people try to walk on it.

I find myself in exactly the same place with one of my stories. I still love it, but it’s old. When I wrote it I was just starting to write seriously and had learned nothing about characterization, plot, and the million other facets to writing. I thought I knew, but I didn’t.

So now I get to demolish it. Break it apart, piece by piece, learn what can be saved and what needs to go. Restructure the plot so that it’s more of a cohesive whole than a series of unconnected events. Put in foreshadowing and make sure that the real villain shows up early in the book—in the original version, you only find out what’s really going on (and that there’s another villain) in the last few pages when the real villain kills the villain that we thought was the bad guy through the whole book.

Demolition is sometimes necessary.

Even with a new deck, sometimes you learn that there are problems with the construction only after it’s been in for a while. The color’s wrong, or the contractor made the deck wrong so that it slopes to one side. Then you have to go back, do it all again.

The interesting thing for me to watch is people whose deck (their story) is essentially sound. But they don’t like the color, or the boards are slightly too narrow for their aesthetic sense, so they tear the whole thing up and start again. Worse yet are those who wait until all the furniture is in place and tear up the deck because one of the plant pots is the wrong shape.

I have never written a story that I didn’t like. If I don’t like them, they don’t get written. Tearing up the deck because the grass needs to be mowed is the epitome of self-defeating behavior.

If demolition is necessary, that’s fine. Take the time, do it right. If it’s the fence around the yard that’s bothering me, I don’t go tearing up the deck and rebuilding it to match the fence.