Tag Archives: My Writing Process

Day 8, #NaNoWriMo2017: The Detour

When I was planning my manuscript for NaNoWriMo and the month of November, I had intended to write nothing but short stories.

Unfortunately, the inspiration I had lacked for the rough draft of my current novel-in-progress (set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah) struck me at 2:30 a.m. on November 1st, taking us to the mid-point crisis in that story.

As a result, I have written the entire second quarter of that epic fantasy proto-novel, nearly 22,000 words in total over the last six days. But that is how NaNoWriMo sometimes goes for me. I plan to be a rebel, and end up following the rules.

On December 1st, I will copy those new chapters from my NaNo Manuscript and paste them into my original rough draft. Once that is done, the new words will bring the total up to around 60,000 words.

If all goes as planned, I will spend the rest of this month writing short stories, and won’t get back to that story until December 1st.

But as you may have noticed, things don’t always go as planned. When inspiration strikes, you must write, as some stories simply burn to be written. Write when you feel the passion, and you will have done your best work.

The creative process is different, from person to person. I use daydreaming and visual art to fire up the creative muse. With these prompts, I have little trouble getting submerged in my work.

As every writer knows, sometimes finding inspiration for what I am supposed to be working on can be elusive. But some random image or phrase will trigger my imagination. At that point I switch gears and write whatever that story is.

During most of the year, I usually have three manuscripts in various stages: one unfinished first draft, one in the second draft stage, and one near the finish line.  Every day I write new words on my rough draft first thing in the morning, unless I have an editing contract. By ten a.m. I move on to work on the others. Focusing on my rough draft first allows me to come to the more finished stories with a different, less biased eye.

At the end of the day, when my creative mind is tired, I find myself alternating between playing my game and adding a few words here and there to my rough draft.

But during November, my writing time is wholly devoted to writing new words. By the end of the day, my brain is fried, and my creative genius has died an untidy death.

As a result, some of my NaNoWriMo ramblings are brilliant—just ask me and I will tell you so. However, the majority of them not so much.

But every word I write can and will be recycled into something better, something useable, and something worth reading. In writing this stream-of-consciousness prose, I’m getting the ideas down before I forget them.

In 2015 and 2016, the manuscript I patched together for NaNoWriMo was like a quilt made up of short stories. This year’s manuscript will be a patchwork too. It will be made up of scenes and vignettes, parts of stories mingled with complete stories.

This jumble is like a bank, but instead of a place to keep money, it’s a depository of ideas and concepts for short stories, flash fictions, and essays. I will come back to this convoluted mish-mash of genres and prose again and again, whenever I need the core of a new story.

The first 22,000 words of this year have been different from the previous two years, in that my work has been a continuation of an established work-in-progress. However, I have now come to a stopping place.

Now I am experimenting with point of view through short stories. I thought of the perfect plot in which to use the little flâneur that lurks in all of us. Yes, I am leaving the fantasy genre for a brief stint in literary fiction. Besides the flâneur, I have an idea for the story of a woman, navigating the shoals of social ostracization because of her husband’s conviction for embezzlement.

Once those are done,  I will return to fantasy with an installment of Bleakbourne on Heath, and a short story set in Neveyah, the world where Tower of Bones is set.

As my homage to paranormal fantasy, I have the idea for another Dan Dragonsworthy story, set in the Drunken Sasquatch, the neighborhood tavern favored by Seattle’s ‘alternate’ population.

If I have time, Astorica, my gender-bent alternate universe, may see another flash fiction.

I have so many ideas and this month of madness is the time for me to get them all down. In fact, I’ve been talking to you long enough—I have to get back to writing!

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#amwriting: sit down and write

This last weekend, I attended the 2017 PNWA Conference. I had the chance to connect with friends whom I rarely get to see in person elsewhere, and met many, many new friends.

I immersed myself into four days of seminars on writing craft, with the intention of kickstarting the rough draft of the one manuscript which has stalled for the last two months.

Let’s be clear—I always have three or four projects in various stages of completion, so I always have one novel in the first, rough draft. Usually, I have no difficulty getting my idea onto the paper but, as I have mentioned before, life sometimes throws us curve balls. When that happens, I have no trouble writing blog posts or making revisions on finished manuscripts as requested by my intrepid beta readers and editor. But it is then that completing whatever story is in the rough draft form becomes a struggle for me.

So, let’s talk about getting past that mysterious thing some people call writer’s block, the horrible nightmare that is only a temporary lull in the creative process. This is when you hear those voices mocking you, “you claim to be a writer but you haven’t written a new word in days.” (Or weeks, or months.)

First, you must understand that this is not a permanent, career killing disability. It is a fleeting, dry period where the project you want to work on is not moving forward. But other writing can and should happen!

My recommendation is to sit down and write your way through it—don’t abuse yourself over whatever project you have that is stalled. Clear your mind of those little mental voices of doom and guilt because they are the carrion birds whose songs of despair lure you along the path to failure.

Focus on writing something completely unrelated instead.

In a seminar I attended this last weekend, taught by the award-winning sci fi/fantasy author and current SFWA president, Cat Rambo, she admitted that rather than beat herself up for a momentary lapse of creativity, she works her way through the rough patches with timed stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. She does this every day and shoots for 2000 new words a day, whether they are good words or not.

The way I interpreted her comments, she does this in the NaNoWriMo style, where you set a timer and write whatever nonsense comes into your head for a certain length of time and do not stop writing for any reason whatsoever until the timer goes off.

Cat’s advice? If all you can do when you sit down for that timed writing session is to write “I can’t think of anything” repeatedly, just write that. She said (and she is right) that after a few minutes of that sort of boredom, your creative mind will rebel, your subconscious mind will take over and push you in new directions. When I do this, I usually end up with some of my best ideas embedded in those long strings of rambling words.

Those nuggets of good writing and ideas are straw I can spin into gold.

My personal advice is to not set absurdly unrealistic goals for your work. Target goals are good, but in my opinion, setting too a high wordcount for new words on your rough draft each day is a good way to set yourself up to fail, as you can’t sustain it. I find that when I am involved in NaNoWriMo, which is a different kind of writing, I can put down 2000 to 4000 words each morning–but that kind of output is not sustainable over more than just the month of November. My usual output is 1000 to 2000 new words per writing session.

Consider setting your minimum goal of writing for at least one fifteen-minute increment per day, working straight with no stopping.  Repeat the fifteen-minute sessions as many times as you like each day, if you are really fired and inspired to write.

I am a fulltime author, but even when I was holding down three part-time jobs, I still managed to write every evening. When my children were still at home, I wrote when they were doing homework, or I wrote after they went to bed. I made my time to write by choosing to only watch the TV shows that meant the most to me and ditching the rest. That meant that most evenings I had at least one hour (but sometimes two or three) of good writing time after dinner was done and the kitchen was clean.

I understand if you are emotionally invested in some TV shows, but you must choose to make time to write—choose your entertainment wisely and don’t waste what could be writing time on shows you don’t absolutely love.

So, what about multiple projects? I find that having multiple projects in the works is good for me, as switching from one to another allows me to rest my writing mind. I am fortunate, in that writing is my full-time career.  Because it is my job, I always have three or four projects going, so I do have a certain, inviolable time of the day that I will work no matter what. On Sundays, I write all the blog posts I might need for that week, both for this blog and for several other websites where I have a regular column.

I need to keep regular office hours to be productive, so the morning hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are divided like this:

6:00 to 8:00, I work on adding new words to the current rough draft.

8:00 to 9:00, if I don’t have a writing group to attend, I handle my social media stuff—a nasty but necessary task that is part of the job if you don’t have a personal PR person but hope to connect with both readers and other writers.

I don’t have a PR person.

9:00-10:00, (again if I don’t have a writing group) I take a break from writing and make a stab at cleaning my house.

10:00 – 12:00 I do revisions on other projects as my editors ask for them or I edit for clients.

I always take a break at noon and either take a walk or sit on my back porch and just watch the world go by.

In the afternoon, I make maps or do other support work that may be required for one or another of my projects, depending which is firing my mind most intensely, or if I have a client’s manuscript to edit I will go back to that.

I’m no different than any other writer—I do have times when the well of creativity runs dry. But I have the support of other authors, and I have the mental tools I need to pull me out of those rocky spots. I hope this post offers you some idea of how to jumpstart your creativity, and remember–I am always here to talk you off the ledge.

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#amwriting: the rough draft

My Writing LifeI have begun a new novel set in Neveyah. It is the “how it all began” novel and takes place at the beginning of their recorded history. It’s been rolling around my head, and bits of this story are alluded to at various points all through the Tower of Bones series and also Mountains of the Moon.

The protagonist of this story is mentioned regularly in the Tower of Bones series as a character featured in children’s books. He’s portrayed as a kind of superhero, doing many impossible things.

But as always, there was a real man and real events at the core of the mythology.

I am taking the mythical man and giving him his place in history as the founder of the City of Aeoven, the College of Warcraft and Magic, and the first leader of the Temple of Aeos. I had the basic story drawn up back in 2009 when I began devising the world of Neveyah—three lines mentioning their childhood heroes.

The events that launch Aelfrid down the path of the mythic hero are all laid out. Now I must connect the dots and bring him to life.  If the story grows too large, it will be published as a two volume set, but my intention is to keep it to the same length as Valley of Sorrows.

As an indie, I must pay CreateSpace up front for my stock whenever I go to book fairs or signing events, so keeping my costs down is critical. CreateSpace costs are dependent on the length of the book, so if I have to pay $6.99 for each book, it limits  how much stock I can afford to keep on hand. I don’t want to run short of books, so I try to keep my costs to below  $5.00 per book. This also makes donating them to libraries and shelters affordable.

Even though Tower of Bones was published first, the rough draft of Mountains of the Moon was actually written first. In early 2009 I had been asked to write an epic fantasy story-line for a Final Fantasy-style anime-based RPG that was never built. For that reason, the world building was super-heavy.

Before I even had a story, I had to spend months

  • devising history and mythology
  • designing all the many environments where the story would take place
  • drawing maps
  • designing the creatures the characters do battle with
  • I also had to design the rules for magic, including its limitations

Having all these things so well-drawn and documented has been a bonus, as I can just write the story. The setting is clear in my head, laid out in a style sheet for that world, and the terrain is detailed on maps.

The north in the time of AelfridI have learned from the mistakes of others. Unlike the Saga of Recluce series, my maps for the early days detail the world as it was then, so there is no struggling to guess where the major towns are. (See my post, of  March 10, 2014, Spanking L.E. Modesitt Jr.)

I would definitely do two things differently, if I were to create that world today: the calendar, and the names of the days. I wouldn’t go with a 13-month lunar calendar, and I wouldn’t name the days after Norse gods.

But the calendar is canon now, and just as in real life, you must work with what you have. So, right now I am nearing the first plot point, where the first calamity occurs. Since this is the rough draft, everything to this point is really sketchy—a lot of “he said,” and “he went,” just to get the ideas down and everything in place.

These “telling and not showing” places are road marks, to guide me when I sit down to write the true first draft. My synopsis was about 3000 words. This rough draft will top out at about 55,000 words, and the first draft of the novel itself will be around 90,000 to 100,000 words.

398px-Heroes journey by Christopher Vogler

Hero’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, via Wikipedia

What I am doing at this point is setting the scene, introducing and developing the characters, and finding the reasons why they are who they are as people. I have a grip on my mentor’s character, and also the side characters.

I know my protagonist fairly well, although what initially motivates him is still a bit of a mystery. His personality and what he has to do are clear, but I haven’t yet discovered what lies within him that pushes him to achieve this thing. That is part of the journey for me.

For this book, I know exactly who my villain is, and how he came to be that person. He is new to me, but his motivation is clear and easy to imagine. I feel a real connection to him.

Altogether, if everything goes according to plan, writing this book will take about a year for me to get it to the final draft and into the editing process.

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#amwriting and #amrevising: weeding the garden of words

Free-range pansies by cjjaspersonWhen I write a novel, I always end up with a lot of back story. These are details that are important for me to know, but not meant for the actual novel. It’s more a way for me to mentally talk my way through the first draft.

I think of my manuscript as a garden of words, and by the time the novel is complete, it will have been weeded, dug up, and replanted many times.

Every author has their own style, their own way of getting the story down on paper. My style is not the usual way, but it works for me.

The way I do a first draft is this: First, I put together an outline listing all the characters and plot points.  Second, I write the ending and then write the scenes for the large events and turning points. Once those are in place, I start at the beginning and write the story in a linear form, connecting the large events and finally meeting up with the end.

Along the way, my story evolves. A lot of fluff gets added in because I need to sort the story out in my head and writing it down is the way I do that. This fluff is all written in a passive, telling voice, and is part of my road map for creating the first draft–it was put down in that fashion so I would remember it later when I came back to rewrite the scene and turn it into an action sequence or cut it entirely.

I’ll give you an example of a telling sequence from Julian Lackland’s story, which is set in Waldeyn, Huw the Bard’s world. It was written down in this way so I would have a mental picture:

“In Port Lanque, the harbor itself was accessible only by one broad cobbled street, Quay Street, snaking down the steep cliffs to the piers. This wide boulevard ran through the center of town, twisting and turning in a sharp descent down to the piers, and had been kept in good repair by the pirates as it was the only way to move carts and drays down to the ships for off-loading loot. At the very top of Quay Street, in the worst part of town, an immense, rundown palace loomed. Now less than a filthy slum, it was once the home of generations of kings.”

Little or none of that passage will make it into the final manuscript because it doesn’t advance the plot. It was originally written to set the scene in MY mind. But I didn’t throw it away–I kept it in my file of outtakes along with some useful conversations further down the page that may come in handy in a different story:

“You’re wearing a dress, madam, not a crown. How can I be sure you’re the real king?” King Harry eyed the pirate. “You could be any old thief claiming to know how to sail a ship. I happen to like this ship, and I’m not disposed to give her away to some random old man in a dress.”  

That above passage is why I say you shouldn’t be married to your prose. I love the scene and the conversation, and the action that follows, but the plot thread it is part of does not advance Julian Lackland’s story. However, I intend to turn it into a short story set in Waldeyn.

By the time I finish a manuscript, I will have written the beginning three different ways, some names will have changed, and relationships will have evolved. But the major plot points and the ending will usually be the same as I had originally envisioned.  I say ‘usually’ because that was not the case for Valley of Sorrows. I ended up completely rewriting the end of that manuscript.

prnt screen 1 never delete cut passagesI can’t say it often enough: never delete any passage that you have cut from your manuscript. Save it in a separate file labeled ‘outtakes,’ because you may need that information later, or you may be able to turn that work into a short story.

A lot of authors use Scrivener for this, and it seems to work for them. I find it simpler to just copy and paste the work into a new file and save it in my outtakes for that particular novel. That way it’s out there in my dropbox or google drive and available no matter where I go or what happens to my computer.

Short stories are the bread-and-butter of many authors. You get paid a small sum for them, and your author name is published in one more place. The small story you toss out there could attract new fans to your other work.

Our work starts out full of passion and promise. Like a garden, it can grow wildly out of control. When you can’t see the flowers for the weeds, the garden must be cut back and pruned. The wild weed-words must be pulled in order for the reader to enjoy the real story.

Sometimes those weeds produce beautiful flowers when you get them into a different garden.

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#amreading: the genesis of an author

Nymphenburg, View From the Seaside painting by Joseph Wenglein 1883

Nymphenburg, View From the Seaside painting by Joseph Wenglein 1883

I find the process of creativity as experienced by others intriguing, and am always curious about how they became authors.

My own journey to this place in my life was pretty tame. But some people  become authors via more adventurous, alternative paths.

This notion is explored in Elizabeth McKenzie’s frank, autobiographical post published on January 26, 2016, for LitHub.

Max Ernst, The Elephant Celebes 1921, Tate, London via WikipediaAppropriately titled “Surrealism and Decomposition. Or How I Wrote My Novel,”  McKenzie takes us on a journey through both her personal quest for enlightenment and creativity and the authors whose works colored her writing life. The quote that hooked me into reading this piece: “I read Rimbaud and Breton and Lautreamont and started according my dreams the respect I felt towards art. I wanted to have visions, I wanted, as Rimbaud put it, to take part in the systematic disordering of the senses.”

Her honest account of her sometimes psychedelic journey through alternate forms of consciousness and literary greatness is quite intriguing and took me back to my college days when many of my friends also chose that path for enlightenment.

Psychedelics were never an option for me, although in that way I was the odd one in my circle. The notion of them frightened me. Life in the early 1970s was surreal enough in its cold reality. My form of mind-expansion came in books.

The authors whose works influenced me as a young adult might surprise those who know me.

In my twenties, sci-fi and fantasy books were expensive and hard to get. The libraries stocked a few, but not as many as I required, as fast as I read.

When I was young, my parents were prolific readers and were members of both Doubleday Book Club and Science Fiction Book Club. They also purchased two to four paperbacks a week at the drugstore and subscribed to Analog and several other magazines.

samuel pepys diaryThere was always something new and wonderful to read around our house, and most of it was speculative fiction, although we had the entire 54 volume leather-bound set of the Great Books of the Western World, and our father insisted we attempt to read and discuss what we could.

Some were mostly understandable, such as William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys.

Plato, not so much, and yet his work did influence me.

At the age of 14 I didn’t understand Pepys, but I read him, and while we were bass fishing on a Saturday morning, Dad would talk about the differences between life and morality in Pepys’ London and our life in suburban America in 1969. His thought was that I should learn about the 17th century and the Great Fire in London from an eye witness, just as I had learned about the war in the Pacific from John F. Kennedy‘s autobiographical novel,  PT 109.

But Pepys’ London of 1666 was so different from the ‘Mod’ subculture of the London of 1966 (and the Beatles) that I was familiar with thanks to Life magazine. To me, it was almost like speculative fiction. In many ways it was more difficult  for me to believe in historical London than Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

When I married and left home, I still read every sci-fi or fantasy novel that came out in paperback, budgeting for books the way others of my acquaintance budgeted for beer. I read the classics for my irregular college classes, and learned to love Chaucer and James Joyce. For a variety of reasons I never earned a college degree, but I’ve never stopped reading and researching great literature.

But reading for entertainment was still my “drug.” I jonesed for new books by the great ones, Anne McCaffrey, Jack Chalker, and Roger Zelazny, reading and rereading them until they were shreds held together with duct tape.

As a married student attending college in Bellingham Washington, purchasing books for pleasure became a luxury. I found a secondhand bookstore where I could get a brown paper shopping bag full of novels in too poor a condition to sell on their shelves for $2.00 a bag if you had a bag of books to trade in.

As a college drop-out I went through a bag of books every week, and within a year, I had read every book they had.

Devils Cub Georgette HeyerThus, out of desperation, I discovered a whole new (to me) genre: regency romances written by Georgette Heyer, and other romance writers of that generation. Those books, along with beat up copies of bestsellers by Jack Kerouac, James Michener, and Jacqueline Susann began to show up in the pile beside my bed.

So at least some of my literary influences can be traced back to dragons, booze, morality, and England’s romantic Regency—lived vicariously through these authors’ eyes.

Always when the budget permitted, I returned to Tolkien, Zelazny, McCaffrey, Asimov, Bradbury, and as time passed, Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Tad Williams, L.E. Modesitt Jr., and Robert Jordan to name only a few.

And there were so many, many others whose works I enjoyed. By the 1990s, the genres of fantasy and sci-fi were growing authors like a field grows weeds, and I loved it.

All of the books I read as a child and young adult have influenced my writing. They still inspire me.

Nowadays I rarely am able to read more than a chapter or two before falling asleep. My Kindle is full of books, and I haven’t got the time to read them because I have to write my own story. Having the luxury to spend a day wallowing in a book is a treat to be treasured.

Old booksBut it is because of the uncountable authors whose works I have been privileged to read that I was inspired to think that my own scribblings might be worth pursuing.

Writing has always been necessary to me, as natural as breathing. In the beginning, my writing was unformed and was a reflection of whoever I was reading at the moment. As I matured and gained confidence, I found my own ideas and stories, and they took over my life.

Once that happened, I became a keyboard-wielding writing junkie.

Some days I write well, and others not so much, but every day I write something.

And every day I find myself looking for the new book that will rock my universe, a new “drug” to satisfy my craving, even if I know I won’t have time to read it.

I’m addicted to dreams and the people who write about them. Reading is my form of mind expanding inspiration. Without the authors whose books formed my world, I would never have dared to write.

Life would be so boring.

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#amwriting: the end: separation anxiety

Map of Neveyah, for RizAeroNothing is more difficult (in my opinion) than finishing a novel that has been stalled for three years. My current work in progress has been through three different incarnations.

Two other books have been published during this time because  I couldn’t find a satisfying way to end this chapter in the history of Neveyah.  Perhaps it is a case of separation anxiety, but for one reason or another, it has never gotten to the true finish line.

My current focus is on finishing the final draft of this novel and getting it submitted to my editor. This book must wind up the Tower of Bones series, and it has to finish BIG.

While I am doing this, I confess I feel the same mix of feelings as I did when my youngest child left home–a sense of loss combined with pride and the thought that freedom looms.

4th qtr of MSSo let’s talk about the all-important fourth quarter of the story arc.

At this point in the story arc, the final plans are in motion. We’ve met the enemy part 1 and survived the encounter. We’ve suffered a terrible setback. Now we’ve regrouped.

In the third quarter, major events have unfolded that point to the conclusion. Based on my structural editor’s suggestions, I  inserted new scenes into the existing narrative that drive the action to the final conflict. Those are all finished and are where they should be.

  1. At the outset of the 4th quarter, all my subplots are resolved and the final focus is on the Dark God’s move.
  2. The Dark God’s final pawn in this game must be exposed to the reader.
  3. The enemy’s plan and their true nature must be shown.
  4. Someone who was previously safe is now in peril. Their fate hangs on a thread and the outcome is unclear.
  5. The heroes must face the fact that their efforts to preserve their homeland has forced the enemy’s hand in a way they never expected
  6. The resolution for these characters is final, no loose threads can be left at the end of this book, as it completes the trilogy.

My work right now revolves around taking the new material and blending it into the existing story. Foreshadowing must be inserted and some otherwise great passages will be cut. This is because anything that does not drive the plot to this end is a side quest, and there can be no more of those.

This means one whole storyline that took six months to write will be cut, but it’s not a waste. There will be more opportunities for writing in this world, and that storyline could become a novella. These are great characters and the villains are as intriguing as the heroes.

As I said at  the beginning of this post, I am seeing this novel coming together at long last, and I am loath to let go of it. But I am excited to see it coming to this conclusion and feel good about it, despite having to shed some of the work that took so long to write.

The events have been detailed. Making sure this story flows seamlessly is time-consuming but it’s my obsession, so poring over the manuscript is what I am doing when I could be playing games. (Hear that Aveyond Stargazer?)

The Story Arc copy

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#amwriting: Taking the #NaNoWriMo novel to the next level

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-SquareYou took a leap of faith. You’d had this idea for a novel rolling around in your head for years. Someone told you about Nation Novel Writing Month, and on the spur of the moment you joined.

Then you were committed. Every day, no matter what disaster was occurring on the home-front, you sat down and wrote at least 1,667 words.  Some days it was hard, the words just weren’t there. But you persevered and some days you were on fire–everything flowed. Your story took you places that amazed you.

Now it’s November 30th and you have your 50,000 word manuscript, and the all-important winner’s certificate from NaNoWriMo dot org!

But now you don’t know what to do next.  Whatever you do, DON’T SHOW IT TO YOUR ADORING FANS JUST YET. This is not the time to ask for feedback unless you want to be lied to. They’ll look at you with a possum-in-the-headlights smile, and say “Wow…this is really…different.”

What they’re really thinking is, “Holy s**t. This disjointed, hokey mess sucks.” That friend will poke needles in their eyes before they read another piece of your work again.

What you must do is put it in a drawer for a month or two. Write some short stories, or start a new novel. You have to step back from this in order to see what need to be done with it, and you can’t do that right now. SO–in January or February:

First let’s talk about that manuscript.

When you were writing it, you were concerned about increasing your word-count. Someone told you not to use contractions, as the word ‘doesn’t’ counts as one word while ‘does not’ is two. Foolishly, you did just that.

LIRF Global Search all steps

Global Search Print-Screen

Now you must go through and make that awkward, stilted phrasing into contractions. Do a global search:

  1. press control+F
  2. type the word you are looking for in the search box
  3. click on options
  4. click on replace
  5. in the ‘replace with’ box type the word you want to replace the wrong word with
  6. DO NOT replace all. Go to each instance of the words individually and replace them after you have seen the context of the sentence they are in.

Second, let’s look at how we are telling the story. In the rush of the first draft, of getting all our thoughts about the story-line down, we use a kind of mental shorthand and write things like:

Erving was furious.

Martha was discouraged.

Readers don’t want to be told how the characters felt—they want to see.  When you come across this in your first draft, now is the time to follow those road signs and expand on the scene a little. Instead of telling the reader that Martha was furious, you will show this emotion.

Martha stamped her foot.

Erving’s face went white, his body shook with rage.

When you go back through your manuscript, change each ‘telling scene’ to a ‘showing scene.’ When you show the reader the emotions it deepens the story and enables the reader to be involved.

Dialogue

Third: too many dialog tags. When only two characters are in a scene readers should be able to keep track of speaker ID with ease. In those situations, speech tags are rarely, if ever, needed.

Instead of using a speech tag, consider inserting an action beat (a burst of action) before a line of dialogue. This identifies the speaker and offers opportunities for you to deepen character chemistry, conflict, and emotions.

Annie felt something trickling down her cheek. She wiped it, and her hand came away with blood. Her companion was covered with gore, but at least he was in one piece. “John, are you okay?”

 “Of course.”

 She reached toward his shoulder, toward the torn shirt, the ugly gash—but something held her back. “Your arm. I thought maybe ….”

 “You thought it was bad.” 

 The look in his eyes forced her to glance away. “Well, yes. But if you say you’re okay….” Her face burned.

John bent down, digging around in the medical kit, hiding his grin. His thoughts ran wild, but he said only, “Let’s get ourselves doctored up. We’ve a long way to go.”

Replace those empty speech tags with an emotion-infused narrative. However you must remember that the reader needs to have clear direction as to who is speaking to whom, otherwise you will lose them. Don’t make more than a few exchanges without dialogue tags, and make those you do use simple. Said, replied–we really don’t need to get fancy.

dump no infoFourth: Too Much Information. This is my personal bugaboo. As I am writing I spill my guts and write all the background as I am thinking it. The reader doesn’t need to know everything up front. These passages are really notes telling me as the author what direction this tale is supposed to go.

My beta readers always tell me the reader doesn’t want to read the history of the world–they want to get to the action. THEY ARE RIGHT!

Fifth: Make sure you have a good story arc:

  1. Exposition, where we introduce our characters and their situation.
  2. Rising Action, where we introduce complications for the protagonist
  3. Climax, the high point of the action, the turning point of the narrative
  4. Falling Action, the regrouping and unfolding of events that will lead to the conclusion
  5. Resolution, in which the problems encountered by the protagonist are resolved, providing closure for the reader.

The Story Arc

SO before we show this novel to anyone, we have a lot of work to do.

  1. Check for contractions
  2. Check for scenes that are telling and not showing
  3. Take a look at the dialogue tags and make action speak for you.
  4. Carve back the info dumps–keep what moves the story along and save the rest in a separate file.
  5. Make sure you have a good story arc.

Let this nano novel rest for several months before you do anything with it. Start a different novel, and come back to this one later. When you look at that original first draft with fresh eyes and begin looking for these things, you will be amazed at how well your novel will begin to come together. During this rewrite, your characters will grow and develop, and your plot will really begin to move along. This is when you really write your novel.

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#amwriting: consider the weather

81UuqzVF-1L._SL1500_Something about the  wind-driven rain-bullets here in our part of the world can be death on umbrellas, even expensive ones. Even the cutest umbrellas frequently end up in street-corner trash-bins, ending their days as the tattered and broken relics of impulse purchases.

Despite the carnage, I feel compelled to keep buying umbrellas, feeling sure the next purchase will be the one–the true umbrella for all seasons, able to withstand 40 mph winds and sideways rain.  So far, the decidedly unromantic golf umbrella is the bumbershoot I carry.

But while golfers look fine carrying them, I long for beauty. I just know that my desire to have some cheery vestige of spring in the form of a floral print over my head will somehow work out and I will manage to remain both dry and stylish.

And this brings me to my point: You may not realize it but weather is a huge factor in your characters’ ability to go from point A to point B. For those of us who are writing fantasy, our characters are likely to be riding horses or walking. Weather will be a large part of what impedes them, or enables them to travel faster than they had planned.

Traveling on foot in the dark during a heavy storm is extremely difficult. Prior to the advent of the automobile, people didn’t travel during storms unless some terrible reason forced them to.

helly hansen raingear comboWeather is something I understand. In the 1980s, newly divorced and unqualified for any well-paying job, I worked for a Christmas tree grower. In the summer, we started work at 5:30 am so we could be finished and out of the field by 2:30, during the hottest part of the day.

I’ve never been a fan of using too much sunscreen—it’s greasy and full of things I can’t pronounce, it gets in your food, and I’m not so sure eating it is good for you. So, in those days I wore light, long-sleeved shirts to keep the sun off me, and wide-brimmed hats that kept the sun off my face. That is old-school, low-tech farm garb, and is how I still roll when it comes to dealing with the sun.

But when November arrived, we field hands were still working outside. With the advent of a Northwest Winter, we wore layers, 2 pairs of wool socks, barn-boots, and raingear. Good old Helly Hansen—his fine product kept me dry and warm while I worked to bring Christmas trees into every home. But, working outside in the cold and rain requires a certain amount of preparation, or you can become hypothermic, and unable to function.

Howey Christmas Tree Baler

Howey Christmas Tree Baler via Flicker

Every year, when cutting-and-baling season started we would have a new crop of people who had never worked out of doors, and who didn’t understand the sense of investing in long-johns and raingear. The company offered decent gear (boots, gloves, and raingear) at reasonable prices, but many would not  spend the money, refusing to believe that it was a war the weather would win.

So I discovered that if you were going to work outdoors year-round, you needed better quality gear than the company offered. In 1982, the best gear available was: LL Bean thermal underwear, and Helly Hansen foul-weather gear, and the mail-order catalogue was the place to get it.

My point with this is that if your novel’s setting is a low-tech society, weather affects what your characters can do. It affects the speed with which they can travel great distances, and it affects how they dress. It affects their horses, and that is a serious point to consider.

Medieval society had ways of dealing with the weather when they had to be out in it, and the internet is your friend. In medieval times, people of England, Wales, and Ireland didn’t have to deal with extreme temperatures the people of Northern Europe experienced in the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was a warmer time. However, they did get some occasional snow and cold in the winter, and at times they suffered heat waves during the summer.

How did they protect themselves against the weather? Here are several good websites for research:

Sarah Woodbury, Romance and Fantasy in the Middle Ages

Medieval Gloves, etc.

Castles and Manor Houses

In a cold, wet winter, a simple shawl won’t cut it. Layers are critical, and the materials they would use are simple and readily available—linen, and wool.

414-2-blue-robed-santa-claus-christmas-vintage-postcardIn a lower-tech society fur-trapping is a common way of earning money, but only the wealthier classes, merchants and nobility, can afford to buy those furs.

The average medieval agrarian society will have access to fleeces, though, especially if they are a Northern European type of society. Also, in the more urban centers of a low-tech society, the average person’s winter garments, hooded cloaks and gloves, and even bedding would be made of thick wool, layered and felted.

Wool has been a winter mainstay since humans first began making cloth. Some garments will be made of heavy canvas, or oil-cloth. Oilcloth, close-woven cotton canvas  or linen cloth with a coating of boiled linseed oil,  was a product available from the late middle ages on.

Clothing and cold weather gear will make their appearance in relatively few sentences in your novel, but a little research on your part regarding what technology might be plausible in your society will lend a sense of realism to your work.

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#amwriting: 3 steps for keeping the story straight

1916 Momus Pinocchio via Wikimedia CommonsEvery liar knows it’s difficult to keep a story straight–the story keeps evolving and soon it’s out of control.  However, writers, those spinners of awesome lies on paper, must devise ways to avoid this little problem.

Some people use a program called Scrivener which is not too expensive, but which seems to have a tricky learning curve. I downloaded the free version but couldn’t make heads or tails of it and found it quite frustrating. Nevertheless, I understand that it works well for many people, and to them I say, “Good for you.”

For myself, I don’t want a fancy word-processing program. I just use MS Office, because I have been using the programs that come with that software since 1993, and I’ve been able to adapt to each upgrade they have made. It’s affordable, so I use Word to write and edit in, and occasionally use Excel  to make small charts that are my style guides for each  novel or tale I write, and also for every book I edit.

Helpful tip #1: Create a style sheet for every work-in-progress. Whether it is a handwritten list or spreadsheet–keep track of what you named people, places, and things.

Bleakbourne Style Sheet

By creating a visual guide that I can print out or  keep minimized until I need it, I will not inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. This particular chart is the style-sheet for a serial I am writing for Edgewise Words Inn, a small online blogzine.

Lets consider Lord Tenneriff, the name of a minor character. Because I noted it on the style sheet and gave a small explanation when I first used it, I will always remember that Lord Tenneriff was spelled with two ‘n’s and two ‘f’s, and with no ‘e’ at the end of it.  The heading of the sheet is like this:

Character Name       Word 1st appears      Other names       Meaning?

            Jason Tenneriff              chapter 1                                                      a local lord

                                                         chapter 2                   Bleakbourne             a village

By listing out the names of every character no matter how minor, even the horses, I will not have a continuity problem by the time I hit chapter 14 of this series. For my editing clients, I also list all magic spells, every god, demon or dwarf that comes into the tale. Anything that is named goes onto that style sheet exactly the way it was first mentioned, the chapter it was first mentioned in, and the brief description of what it means.

Every author has a different way of visualizing these things, and this is what works for me.

Helpful tip #2: Map it out:

Map of WaldeynSo how do you visualize your country and the world you are creating? I have discussed this before–I draw maps.

They start out like this, all blotchy and hand-drawn, with whiteout covering the changes. After a while of refining them they end up looking more like real maps.

Its a gradual process, and the actual shapes and where the places are will evolve throughout writing the tale, but it will remain basically that way.

Many authors will use locales they are familiar with for their fantasy maps, just changing the names of major cities.  This is a good way to do it, because your world is already well defined for you, and Northwesterners know that Portland, Oregon is about 170 miles south of Seattle, Washington.  You are safe using currently existing terrain.

map of Waldeyn 2015 with lettering cooper black copyBut safe isn’t exactly my thing, so I had to invent both the world of Waldeyn (Huw the Bard), and the World of Neveyah (Tower of Bones). This is what the hand-drawn map of Waldeyn from above has evolved into————>

Helpful Tip #3: Version control:

When we first begin to write seriously we learn how critical it is to have proper naming of our files to ensure version control.  The most recent file will usually be the best edited unless you have accidentally saved an earlier version over it. ALWAYS use a separate file for each version, and ALWAYS use consistent file labeling practices to avoid this tragedy!

Use good file labeling practices, even if you have a fancy program that handles structuring your manuscript.

As an editor, I am particularly careful how I name the files of my clients.

  1. I use a specific sort of naming system. It will ALWAYS be Book_ AuthorName_script.doc .
    This is the main file folder for this book and this author!
  2.  The file folder will contain everything that pertains to this author and his work. There will be at least two folders in this file, and can have up to six. Version control is critical, so proper naming of the files is absolutely essential. If he should ever lose his files, I will have the most recent version on hand.
  3. The raw manuscript in its entirety is saved in this file, and I will name it:
  •  Book_ AuthorName_rawscript.doc

There will be 2 files for every step of the process this manuscript goes through with me: One file will be from the author’s desk to me, and the other will be from my desk to the author.  I will break the raw ms down into chapters, and label each chapter in that file consecutively:

  • Book title_Ch1_ author initials_cjj_edit_rnd1.doc

This tells me that this is Book A, chapter 1, by Author SoAndSo, and was edit round one of that ms.

For my own work I label the files uniformly, like this: The main folder will be labeled with the working title, such as Bleakbourne on Heath. Inside the main folder will be the style sheet, and any images that will be used, including maps if needed.

Version Control 1

These three tips, creating a style guide, drawing a map, and labeling your files so you have good version control will help you navigate the shoals of the authoring business. You will always know who you are talking about, where you are, and you will be working in the most recent version of your work.

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Phrasal verbs–minions of evil, or sometimes useful?

Book- onstruction-sign copyPhrasal verbs are usually two-or three-word phrases consisting of a verb plus an adverb, or a verb plus a preposition, or both. They are just another aspect of English vocabulary, and can be considered a form of compound verbs.  We use them all the time, but what, exactly, are they?

First, what is an adverb?

The term adverb is somewhat of a catchall word to describe many kinds of words having little in common other than the fact they don’t fit into any of the other available categories (noun, adjective, preposition, etc.) and they modify an action word—a verb.

The principal function of adverbs is to act as modifiers of verbs or verb phrases. An adverb used in this way gives information about the manner, place, time, frequency, certainty, or other circumstances of the activity denoted by the verb or verb phrase. Too many modifiers in your narrative and voila! Purple prose.

phrasal verbsThere are three main types of phrasal verb constructions depending upon whether the verb combines with a preposition, a particle, or both.

Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, has a good example of these three forms:

Verb + preposition (prepositional phrasal verbs)

  1. Who is looking after the kids? – after is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase after the kids.
  2. They picked on nobody. – on is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase on nobody.
  3. ran into an old friend. – into is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase into an old friend.
  4. She takes after her mother. – after is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase after her mother.
  5. Sam passes for a linguist. – for is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase for a linguist.
  6. You should stand by your friend. – by is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase by your friend.

Verb + particle (particle phrasal verbs)

  1. They brought that up twice. – up is a particle, not a preposition.
  2. You should think it over. – over is a particle, not a preposition.
  3. Why does he always dress down? – down is a particle, not a preposition.
  4. You should not give in so quickly. – in is a particle, not a preposition.
  5. Where do they want to hang out? – out is a particle, not a preposition.
  6. She handed it in. – in is a particle, not a preposition.

Verb + particle + preposition (particle-prepositional phrasal verbs)

  1. Who can put up with that? – up is a particle and with is a preposition.
  2. She is looking forward to a rest. – forward is a particle and to is a preposition.
  3. The other tanks were bearing down on my panther. – down is a particle and on is a preposition.
  4. They were really teeing off on me. – off is a particle and on is a preposition.
  5. We loaded up on Mountain Dew and chips. – up is a particle and on is a preposition
  6. Susan has been sitting in for me. – in is a particle and for is a preposition.

(end of quoted example, thank you Wikipedia)

We use phrasal verbs all the time in our daily speech and in our writing. However, whenever it’s possible we should look for simpler ways to phrase our thoughts when writing, unless we are writing conversations spoken in the local vernacular.

Why do I feel that way? The way I see them, phrasal verbs are  two-or-three words (an action word and modifiers) forming what can be considered a separate verb-unit with a specific meaning. In other words, they use more words than is really needed to express a thought:

  • Who is looking after (verb unit) the kids? == Who is watching the kids?
  • They brought that up (verb unit) twice. == They mentioned it twice.
  • Who can put up with (verb unit) that? == Who can endure that?

We use these phrasings because they sound natural to us—that is the way people in your area might speak. But when used too frequently in a written piece, phrasal verbs junk up the narrative. They subtly contribute to what we call “purple prose” because the overuse of them separates the reader from the story.

Unless you are writing poetry, simplicity is best, because you want to immerse your reader in the experience.

ok to write garbage quote c j cherryhWhen we are revising our first draft, and tightening our narrative we should be examining the prose for weak phrasing. Each time you come across phrasal verbs in your work, look at the sentence it occurs in as if it were an isolated incident and ask yourself if it needs to be there. Many times a phrasal verb really is  the only way to express what you are trying to say, but equally often a more concise way can be found.

Phrasal verbs have their places, but if you can simplify a thought and make the sentence stronger, do so.

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