Monthly Archives: March 2015

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

During the month of April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging challenge. This is my first year, and I’m really looking forward to participating. The idea is to write a post for every day of the month except Sundays, and have each post relate to a different letter of the alphabet. So I’ll start out on April 1st with a post related to the letter A, and end on the 30th with a post related to the letter Z.

Although not required, many participants will choose a theme for their posts. While the most important thing for me is just to write something each day, I am going to try a theme for my posts this year. And that theme is…

Book reviews!

I’m going to use titles or characters to tie in to the letters. Not only will this help me become better about blogging regularly, it will be good motivation for me to keep up with my Goodreads reading challenge so as to have more material for posts.

I’m really looking forward to visiting other blogs during the challenge, and seeing the ways other bloggers use the letters of the alphabet to inspire them. If you’re participating, feel free to share your blog link in the comments.

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NaNoEdMo Week 3: Those crazy characters

So I’m getting this out a little late, because I had a deadline to meet last week on an unexpected project. I was asked to do a guest blog post for a major website, an honor which I feel was completely unearned. I’m pretty pleased with what I wrote, though, and I’ll share the link here as soon as it’s up. Let’s face it, I’ll be sharing that with everyone who will listen. I’m pretty excited. Because of this, I’m ridiculously behind on my NaNoEdMo hours, and I actually forgot to log them at all last week. So I will not be winning this year. Nevertheless, I am still plowing ahead with my revision of PQ.

One of the biggest areas needing improvement in my novel is my characters. As is typical in a first draft, I had characters who walked into scenes and then never appeared again. Others were very inconsistently portrayed, both in small details and their motivations. My villain was weak, and actually fairly undefined. The climax involved a war between forces that had never been properly introduced. I had a major character start a scene talking about his wife, then completely ignored that and had him be single for the rest of the novel. These are the sorts of things you do when you’re writing a first draft. You change your mind, move on, and pledge to fix them in revision.

Actually fixing them is not always easy. In analyzing my characters, I realized that I had made the wrong person the villain. A different character had much better motivation to oppose my protagonist, and it was possible to keep his identity hidden until ultimately using it as the biggest twist in the story. This means that I am now re-plotting my entire novel, because this character had been more of a pawn in the big picture of the first draft. In some cases, I’m just tweaking existing scenes to place him in a position of power. In others, I’m scrapping entire scenes and adding new ones.

Another character issue I found is a bit of a tougher call. I realized that my protagonist has no friends. Well, she has one friend who disappears about halfway through the story, and who is little more than set dressing. The trouble is, I’ve written a very independent protagonist who is used to spending time on her own because of her profession, and who has only just returned to her home city after years of being away. I’ve decided to bring in some new characters that were friends of hers during her time away, and I’m looking for ways to better incorporate the one friend I originally wrote.

When considering character changes, the biggest question I’ve been asking myself is, “How does this person help the story?” Clearly defining each character’s role in the story is the first step in making sure you have the right cast of characters. Weeding out extraneous characters makes the story flow better for your readers, and can tighten up your scenes. I’m getting rid of probably a dozen one-off characters, but adding nearly as many supporting cast members to flesh out the story where it was thin on first draft.

Have you had to cut a character you loved? Or maybe, like me, you realized your protagonist had no allies to help them reach their goals? Share your own experiences in the comments. I’ll have one more NaNoEdMo post later this week. If you’re participating, let me know how your revision is going and if you’re on-target for total editing hours. You can do it!

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NaNoEdMo Week 2: Your Story, Re-imagined

These days, it seems like remakes are everywhere. From comic book heroes to fairy tales to classic musicals and cult favorites, Hollywood is bringing plenty of re-imagined stories to the big screen. Sometimes these stay fairly close to the original material, other times only the bare bones of the familiar stories remain. And since people have been retelling old stories pretty much as long as stories have been told, I doubt that trend is ending any time soon.

Revision is just another form of this kind of adaptation. You take the story you originally wrote, and turn it into a fresher version of itself. You might introduce a whole new cast of supporting characters. Maybe you’ll move things to a new setting. In my current project, I’m drastically changing the plot. Glancing just at the series of events that occur in the book, my rewritten novel bears little resemblance to the first draft. Yet both are undeniably the same story at heart.

So how do you know what to keep when you know your story doesn’t work in draft form? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the answer depends on the story and the writer. It’s also why I don’t recommend taking a first draft to critique partners, even very good ones. Knowing what to cut and what to keep, which direction your new adaptation of your story should take, comes from within yourself as writer. What made you write the story in the first place? What is sacred to you within it? With PQ, my urban fantasy, I could not sacrifice Celtic mythology influences on the magical world I created, or my main character and her unique definition of beauty. In my current rewrite, I’m putting my focus on making sure the magical elements are present throughout the story, and on strengthening my characters. To do so, I’m tightening my plot and removing anything that detracts from the core of the story I want to tell.

One of my favorite things to do is play the “What if…” game. I do this most often in the pre-writing stage, when I’m brainstorming new story ideas, but it’s really helpful when I’m stuck on how to fix a problem draft as well. I ask myself questions like, “What if this happened in Spain instead of the US?” or “What if Bob isn’t the villain? What if it’s Suzy instead?” The more outrageous the question, the better the results. My writer friends are great at asking good questions when I’m stuck. I’ll give them a quick elevator pitch of what I’m working on, or break the problem down into a few sentences, and they’ll throw out awesome questions for me. Since change can be hard, one of the best things I’ve learned is to just roll with their questions or suggestions rather than dismissing things out of hand. They may not always know the best way to change my story, but they always give me a fresh perspective, which is just what this sort of re-imagining work needs.

If you’re feeling stuck in your revision, take a break from the manuscript and start asking yourself questions. You may feel like you’re losing your mind, but let’s face it, if you’re a writer you’re at least halfway there already. In addition to the “What if…” starter, other favorite questions are, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” and “What’s the last thing you would expect to happen next?” Both are great for building conflict and keeping the reader’s interest.

If you’re participating in NaNoEdMo or otherwise doing revision, I’d love to hear your own tricks for re-imagining your stories, as well as any stumbling blocks you’re hitting along the way. I’m behind on editing hours because I got an amazing writing opportunity with a looming deadline (more on this when I can share it later). I should be able to get caught up in the last half of the month, though. I’m really having fun adapting my rather wrecked first draft into a much better version of itself. This is one story that needed a remake, and I’m happy to see it shaping into something new.

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NaNoEdMo Week 1: Giving your novel a workout

I hate to work out. I don’t like being sweaty. I feel ridiculous doing repetitive exercises or lifting weights. Knowing the benefit of these things doesn’t make it any easier to start doing them.

That’s how I feel about starting revision on any project. New ideas are fun for me. It’s simple for me to start writing a first draft if I’ve got something that intrigues me. Most of the time, though, that passion and energy dwindles greatly as I write the draft. Even if I love what I’ve written, it’s hard to commit to returning to it later to face the hard work of revision.

Beginning to revise a novel is a bit like going to a gym for the first time. You may get a quick orientation, but after that, you’re pretty much left wondering where to start, how to even use half the equipment, and feeling like everyone can see your flaws and will be judging your every move. My first reread of anything I’ve written is painful. I find criminally bad grammatical errors, underdeveloped plots and characters, dropped threads, and every other mistake imaginable. It would be far easier to shove it in a drawer and never look upon it again. True, some projects do meet that fate. There are some stories I don’t care to refine, to share with the world. Sometimes the act of creating the story is enough. But most deserve more exploration.

What I’ve learned is that I can motivate myself to do almost anything–even work out–if I see a direct benefit in doing it. It has to connect with me. I found motivation to exercise when I joined roller derby. I hated the drills, the crunches, endurance exercises, the reek of our protective gear (hockey players may be the only others who understand exactly how badly these things stink), and the pain of injuries. I had to do squats to strengthen my legs and core, stretches to develop flexibility. I had to learn how to fall so that if I was hit I could avoid getting run over by other skaters and be able to get back up as quickly as possible. Learning to deliver a hit well is difficult. Whips–a fan favorite–seem simple but take proper timing and execution to be effective, and can cause injuries if done improperly. But I loved skating, and in particular, skating alongside incredible women who hit hard but were fiercely supportive of each other. So I did all these and more, knowing that even if they were really difficult for me, these exercises made me a better derby skater. They also got easier the more I did them

Tackling a revision requires very different tactics than planning and writing a first draft. Just as I never could have just jumped into a derby bout and been successful–quite frankly, I would’ve ended up in the hospital–starting all over from scratch and writing a new draft can’t be the only tactic in getting your novel into a polished form others will want to read (and hopefully spend their hard-earned money to buy). Developing structure, plot, characters, voice all take different strategies. And just like physical exercises, these tactics get easier over time.

It’s hard work to slog through a manuscript, finding its flaws. It’s even harder to cut out parts you may love that just aren’t working. Sometimes you have to play around with the order of scenes. Other times you may need to add characters or give some the boot. And yes, eventually, you’ll need to clean up grammar, spelling, and word choice in order to make the final draft sparkle. Sometimes you’ll mess things up trying to make improvements. Working on improving your novel will improve your craft. Eventually, you may not make the same mistakes you’re making now. You’ll make new ones, of course, but that’s the learning curve for any activity.

If you’ve got a project that needs some liberal use of a red pen to get it into shape, why not join me and many others in participating in National Novel Editing Month? NaNoEdMo takes place each March, and challenges each participant to spend 50 hours during the month editing an existing novel. Check out their community at www.nanoedmo.com for more information, and let me know in the comments if you’re participating. I’d love to cheer you on as you work to improve your own project!

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