Revision Report

Once again, Camp NaNoWriMo provided the structure for me to complete a writing task. Two years after I wrote the first draft of my novel through Camp, this year I spent those 31 days on a complete, top-to-bottom revision, turning Draft 2 into Draft 3. This isn’t the finished draft by any means, but it’s closer. In addition to the day-by-day pressure to finish that I got from Camp NaNo, I also relied on the 31-Day Revision Workshop posted in Janice Hardy’s Fiction University blog. Both forms of structure were important to keeping me going.

I learned some interesting things about my book and myself as a writer in this process:

  • There was so much excess that I needed to prune away! I probably took out a hundred examples of “that” and another hundred of “just.” I cut out dozens and dozens of unnecessary dialogue tags and bits of stage direction (he nodded, she shrugged…). I converted a ton of “he was X-ing” to “he X-ed.” I insisted my characters stop saying the same thing over again in slightly different words. I rooted out extra adjectives draped all over the place. There was so much that had to go, the book was about 1000 words shorter when I finished than when I began.
  • Yes, I tend to overwrite. But this doesn’t scare me any more, because I know it and I can find and eliminate it in revision.
  • I still like my book. There have been days when I didn’t, and nights when I can’t imagine what made me think I could be a writer, but when I come back to it I find there’s still something there that speaks to me. Kay’s story is important, at least here inside my head, and I’m going to keep pressing to tell it the best way I can.

So what’s next?

  • Running the whole thing through a computer system to get word frequency counts, so I can find and eliminate some more of the things I say too often
  • Revisiting the chapter breaks, since I have a nagging feeling that some chapters should be combined and others broken up
  • Putting it away for at least a couple of weeks, probably a month before looking at it again!

In the meantime, I’m pleased to be able to hang the Camp NaNoWriMo WINNER badge on the site. One small step forward in this very, very long process.

 

Advertisements

Camping Again

Two years ago I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, and it worked for me – I hit the 50,000 word goal by the end of July and pushed on to complete the first draft of my novel in August. Since then? I’ve been working with a critique group to revise the draft, making it better all the time. I’ve almost gotten all the way through the draft with them, and expect them to be reading the last chapter for the first time in a couple of weeks.

So now I’m going to try camping again. This time it doesn’t make sense to set a word-count goal. Instead I’m setting a time-on-task goal: 30 hours (almost, but not quite, an hour a day in July). I’m also thinking of it as a chapter a day, since I think my book will have 25-30 chapters when I’m done putting it all back together.

If it all works out as I hope, I’ll have a completely revised version to share with my critique buddies in August. Wouldn’t that be something?

Wish me luck.

Location Danger

Yes, I’m still working on my book. That was actually the original focus of this blog, way back when it started, and it’s still part of what I do here, though I’ve branched out and most of my posts are on other things. Today I get to connect the writing-a-novel thread with the weekly-photo-challenge thread in one image.

About 18 months ago I visited the real-world spot where most of the action in my book takes place, and I wrote at the time about how useful this visit was. For today’s photo challenge I’m sharing one image from the trip, one that shows what the view might be like from my fictional hotel.This is the vista of Lake Ontario from the Devil’s Nose bluff, and the sign warning me to keep away from that edge. It was good advice. The drop to those frigid waves is about 20 feet (around 6 meters for those of you in more scientifically enlightened places), and it would not be easy to climb back up the muddy bank, especially if you’re wet and shivering!

In other ways, though, I don’t want to keep away from the bank. There are times when the whole idea of writing a novel is terrifying. Maybe that’s part of why I’ve taken so long to get from finished first draft to first revision. I blame it on other things (taking on extra responsibilities at work, preparing for my daughter’s wedding in JUST FOUR WEEKS), but we all know that I could carve out more time for this if I really tried. There’s an edge there that’s scary. So now I want to tell that sign to go jump in the lake – I will NOT keep away from bank. I will go to that bank, right up to that edge, and finish that book.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Danger!

 

Time Travel – Skipping Through Time in a Story

Weekend Words today were inspired by a recent post in the Pub(lishing) Crawl blog by Jodi Meadows: The Weight of Time (In Your Book). Jodi pointed out a mistake lots of writers, beginning and experienced, make in first drafts. The issue is how to get from this scene to that scene without dragging the reader through the entire time span in between. Go ahead and read what Jodi says, because she’s got it right.

In a story, words are time. The reader spends roughly the same amount of time reading per word throughout the whole book (yes, it varies a bit, but not significantly). So when deciding how to cover a period of time, what we need to be focusing on is how much time we want the reader to spend with that experience, not how long the actual experience takes. This is part of what is meant by pacing. We want to slow the reader down when a lot of important things are happening, so we need to spend more words there. When nothing important is happening? Fewer word. Even no words at all.

Here are two examples from great stories by skilled authors.

The Deep Blue Good-by (1964) is the first of the splendid Travis McGee stories by the incomparable John D. MacDonald. Nobody can create characters and settings as vividly in as few words as MacDonald. He also handles time and pacing very well. About two-thirds of the way through this book (p. 149 in my copy), narrator McGee finishes up with a conversation with one character and leaves her to visit another character, Cathy. Cathy is in the hospital, following a severe beating from an ex-lover, and McGee needs information from her to find him and bring him to McGee’s form of justice. Here’s how MacDonald handles the transition, with the closing dialogue of the previous scene (with the character talking about the pants she’s wearing) and the start of the new one:

“I bought them today. I don’t feel very secure about them.”

Cathy was in a six-bed ward. I pulled a chair close, kissed her on the forehead and sat beside her.

See how much time MacDonald spent on the transition? None at all. We hear the last line and then, blink! We’re in the hospital. No need to walk through the whole process of getting there.

Pattern Recognition (2003) is an all-time favorite science fiction novel by William Gibson. Cayce Pollard is someone with an unusual sort of mental power who finds herself embroiled in an increasingly confusing and dangerous world as she tries to avoid kidnappers and soviet-era spies. The disconnected, other-worldly feel of the story is reinforced by Cayce’s frequent sleeping and waking up in new places, and having to remind herself of where she is and how she got there. (This book contains a wonderful description of jet-lag.) The up-to-the -minute atmosphere is also strengthened by frequent references to current technology. Here’s one transition, as she goes from flying in the first-class cabin to another country and connecting with Bigend, the person she’s going to meet. This is the last line of one scene and the first line of the next:

Decision out of the way, she closes Taki’s jpeg, puts the iBook away, and returns to bed-mode.

When they exit immigration, Bigend is waiting, the only smiling face in a scrum of glum chauffeurs holding hand-lettered sheets of cardboard.

Once again, there is a discontinuity in time. We don’t see her arrive, deplane, find her luggage, and go through the immigration line. There’s nothing there the reader needs to see, so no words are wasted there.

My lesson. I really need to learn to do this. When I looked at my work in progress with this in mind, I found no examples where I went from one scene to the other without at least skimming over the time in between. Things like, “After dealing with all the aftermath of the disaster, I was heading down the road…” This is going in my revision checklist. Where can I cut through that whole transition cleanly, like a film cut, jumping straight from one scene to another with nothing in between? I have to make each of those transitions prove to me that they’re worth it, or out they go.

What do you do when you need to go from one scene to another? Do these transitions give you trouble, as they do for me?

 

Cultivating Creativity

On today’s Wednesday Words, I’m mostly giving you other people’s words, not my own. I want to share some recent blog posts related to creativity. Enjoy!

First, Roz Morris, in her Nail Your Novel blog, posted her inspiring Writer’s Manifesto for 2017: Take Your Imagination Seriously. We’re writers! Imagination is our main tool and purpose, but we tend to be sheepish about it. This is all just pretend, after all. But no, Morris says – we have to step up and welcome our imagination, fight for it, be proud of it. Amen! So now I’m all fired up to get serious about imagination. But how?

Here’s how: 8 Ways to Improve Creativity, posted by Beth Nelan on the Writer’s Edit blog. She gives a series of specific techniques that can make any of us more creative. They range from the simple action of looking up (and around) to take in more of the world than we usually do, to more involved actions like taking courses or traveling the world. Yes, these are excellent ideas that can give any of us a creativity boost.

Coincidentally, I just discovered a blog aimed at my day job, but with ideas that any of us can use: The Creative Professor. Risa Stein posts frequent messages about creativity in the classroom. I can use them in how I teach, but they are also valuable in my writing as well. Here’s the most recent post as of right now: Crappy Pictures are Awesome. She talks about how fearful we all are that others are judging us, and our failures will be on display for all to see. Better to keep our thoughts to ourselves, stick just to what’s safe and expected, right? This kills creativity. Don’t worry if your pictures, or your ideas, seem crappy. I’m reminded of a frequent exhortation from a choral director I know: “Be right or be wrong, but be bold!”

How do you nurture your creativity? What helps you take it seriously? How can you make sure to do more of that in the weeks and months to come? Pick a creativity-bolstering activity and make a pledge to do more of that.

Professor’s Prerogative

I’m exercising a professor’s prerogative and not giving you any meaningful Wednesday Words this week, because classes just started on Monday and I’m CRAZY with the start of the semester! I’ll be back next week, I promise (I already know what I’ll write, but just haven’t had time to do it justice.) So I beg for patience, and thank you for your attention.

Oh, and the update on the 10-minutes-a day promise: That I DID do this week. Not much more than 10 minutes in any given day, and I’ve only re-written about 1/3 of a chapter this week, but it’s something. I feel like I’m moving ahead, at least a little.

Vanilla Villains: The Antagonist’s Arc

This week’s installment of Wednesday Words has to do with the antagonist, the person or situation that blocks the protagonist’s progress toward his or her goals. One of the accepted truths is that antagonists must be as fully-drawn as the protagonists, and must have their own goals and motivations besides simply being evil. (See blog posts by Mary Jaksch and Janice Hardy that make this point.) This had me worried. In my WIP, there is a hierarchy of antagonists the heroes have to face and defeat:

  • A human who has sold out to work toward evil goals. His motivation is made pretty clear. He sees this as his best chance to survive under the rule of the evil forces.
  • A nonhuman creature that manifests in fairly human guise (though with a slippery, shape-shifting appearance). She is scary and dangerous, but seems to have no goals of her own except to serve the whims of her evil master. The closest she comes to independence is when she points out that some of her master’s actions have made it more difficult to reach some of its other goals.
  • The ultimate evil, which is a magical power that rules without self-restraint, focused only on its own pleasure. This being is faceless and shadowy. The protagonists know of it through rumor and glancing contacts, and don’t actually confront it until the climax of the story.

So here’s my problem. Only one of these antagonists has a real, comprehensible motivation, and he’s the most minor of them. The others are, really, just … evil. They are explicitly incomprehensible, because they are entities from a separate, magical dimension where nothing matters but the wishes of those ultimate beings. We don’t know what they actually are or where they get their power. They don’t care about us except that they use humans to fulfill their basest urges. For instance, they may enslave armies of humans and make them fight against each other in wars or gladiatorial contests just because they like to watch.

Is that enough to make a fully-rounded antagonist? Is that really something I need?

Here’s something that helps give me my confidence back. Lots of very successful stories have antagonists that don’t have goals beyond power for its own sake. For example, there’s Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. He lost his corporeal form when he lost the One Ring, and was finally destroyed entirely when the One Ring was unmade. During the Lord of the Rings story sequence Sauron is a noncorporeal manifestation of power and evil, kind of like my magical enemies. J.R.R. Tolkein was able to pull this off. I don’t have a tenth of his experience, imagination, or talent, but just possibly it’s within my reach to do the same.

Here’s something else. Lots of very successful stories have antagonists that aren’t sentient entities at all. The most famous example of this is Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire, where the unnamed protagonist battles against the unforgiving cold of the Yukon Territory and eventually is overcome by it. A more recent example is Andy Weir’s book that became a Matt Damon film: The Martian. Here the antagonist is the planet Mars. In both these stories the antagonist doesn’t care about the protagonists at all and can’t be said to have a “motivation” in any real sense. Still, they are wonderful stories with strong protagonists we root for. Can I achieve the same thing?

So I’m back to my story with renewed conviction. Yes, an antagonist can be something impartial and implacable, like a planet or the weather. Yes, an antagonist can be focused solely on accumulating power, like a magical demon lord. So with these examples before me, I can focus on why my protagonists are doing to overcome the obstacles before them.

What are your favorite antagonists? Are any of them faceless powers of evil, or impersonal forces to be overcome? Can this kind of antagonist work for you?

Daily Writing Update: As I promised, here’s a report on my pledge to write 10 minutes each day. In the last week I only missed one day. Six out of seven is okay, but I’m determined to get every day this week!