When The Going Gets Tough

Hey—get back here!

Where do my characters go? You can see one of them running away from me at right. I think it’s Jack Trainer. Madeleine O’Brien might have gotten out the door ahead of him.

As many of you know, I’m in the midst of rewrites and revisions to my novel Death Out of Time based on my beta reader comments. And some of the characters are being less than helpful. That makes the work harder than it should be.

I honestly think rewrites and revisions are harder than writing the initial story. Think about it. That first draft shapes the story in a writer’s mind (at least it does in mine). But when readers consistently point out problems such as too many characters or too complex a plot, a good writer recognizes there is a real problem. Changes must be made.

At this stage, I don’t think it matters if you’re an outliner or a pantser. You’ve got to figure out what to cut, what to revise, what to add, how will that affect other parts of the story … you get the picture. And that’s never easy.

Part of my problem is in the tunnel that I envision between my world and that of my characters. When we first finished building it, the tunnel was wide and clean. Ideas flowed smoothly between us. But as we worked on the early drafts, we ignored the garbage piling up on the tunnel floor. What garbage, you ask? Oh, things like discarded dialogue tags, cut characters, and pooh-poohed plot twists.

This is not Jack Trainer. It might be David Monroe.

As I look at the tunnel floor after two drafts, I see a ton of garbage. And it’s hard to maneuver around it. The floor needs a good cleaning. But am I getting help with that? HA! Who ever wants to help with housework?

No, most of my characters are on vacation somewhere. Maybe sitting on a tropical beach in the South Pacific. Or hiking in the Rockies. Or maybe they’re just hiding out in their homes with the blinds drawn, hoping I’ll go away and finish the work on my own.

To be fair, a few folks are helping. I’ve got some lovely imported Spanish wine set aside for David, Valerie, and Ortzin. Hmm, that last character’s name might have you wondering…. Remember, this book centers on time travel. That’s all I’m saying about him. 🙂

I’m ready for the Muse to step in. She has the power to find the truant characters, round them up, and make them pull their share of the load on the revisions. But I have this sneaking suspicion she’s drinking mojitos with the gang on the tropical beach.

The reality is this. I have to find them, round them up, and make them work with me. And to do that, I have to pull my writing brain together. Revisions are hard. Part of me has a hard time settling down to do it. And that part has gotten too much of the upper hand.

So if my comments on your posts are getting shorter, or I sometimes only leave a “like” when I used to comment, it’s because I have to spend more time with the books. My novels are the reason for the blog. I hope you’ll understand.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I just got a tip that Madeleine was spotted at a nearby shopping mall….

You’re coming with me, O’Brien.

PS. On a fun note, I typed the opening scenes of my WIPs into the “I Write Like” web site. I stole borrowed the idea from Kathlis’s recent post. You get a comparison to famous writers based on your word choices and frequencies. It was fun. According to the site, my opening scene for Death Out of Time is reminiscent of Jack London. Hmm. That’s not bad company.

As a lark, I entered the opening scene for each alternate universe of Summer at the Crossroads. While these all deal with the “same” woman as a main character, her life is different in each universe. And, apparently, so is my writing of them. I got the following results:

Catherine Donnelly = Ernest Hemingway. Trust me. I do NOT write like Hemingway.

Katharine Donnelly = Raymond Chandler. Um, I really don’t think so.

Kathryn Donnellan = Dan Brown. Wow. Mega sales, here I come! LOL

Katarina O’Donnell = Anne Rice. Hmm. More mega sales! I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

64 thoughts on “When The Going Gets Tough

    • Hi, thanks for the follow! I’ll drop by your blog shortly for a visit. 🙂

      On early drafts, it seems like I can’t keep the characters out of my head, and I’m scrambling to keep up with them. But revisions ARE hard. And it doesn’t help when the MCs decide that’s a good time to wander off!

      Hope you enjoy the posts!


  1. I am looking forward to your books! Your characters live interesting lives, but then, it sounds like you do, too.


    • Thank you! Things are “a bit” more adventurous for my characters. Although, I will admit the archaeologists in the books and I share some common experiences…. As I’ll say in a number of posts, I think the stories are good ones—I have to do them justice in my writing. And that is no easy task.

      Your poetry and photos are absolutely beautiful. I’m looking forward to seeing more of them. My “Poetic Archaeology” posts may be a “novel” approach to haiku, but they are not necessarily good poems!


  2. I just love it when my characters are recalcitrant and I have to whip them back into line 🙂 Kidding aside, it does get hard, especially when you find scraps and trash lying around from previous drafts and edits, and I think that happens to everyone. I don’t know about you, but after a while, I almost want to start fresh, if only to clear away all the trash the easy way. Of course, then you potentially introduce new trash and start some cycles all over again. Some days I wonder if we writers ever win. That said, I’m sure you’ll get there and show those mojito-swilng, beach-dwelling characters who’s the boss around your pages 🙂


    • There is that element of starting fresh, and I’m doing a bit of it. I did the earlier drafts in Word, but I’m taking this opportunity to retype (yes, retype! not copy and paste) the entire work into Scrivener. I really like the ease of moving between scenes (and moving them around) in that program. I think it’s a good “refresher” for me for the entire story.

      Some of the plot lines are rewriting smoothly—of course, they involve some of the supporting characters rather than the mains. But that gives my brain time to think about the changes needed for the mains. And I need that since they’re not being as helpful as some of the supporting cast.

      I’ll get there—eventually! 🙂 But maybe some of your cooperative characters could explain to mine how much quicker the process would go if they would help! 🙂


      • I will have another word with Tavis, but no promises. He’s a bit busy right now, helping me with edits on book 3 of the Mirrors trilogy. As soon as he’s done with that mb 🙂 Devan, on the other hand is busy getting ready for June 1st, and wouldn’t be any help at the moment.


  3. I tried the “I Write Like” site as well. I ended up writing in the style of multiple writers. That’s when I decided to not hold too much stock in it. 🙂

    I loved your spin on revision. It is difficult. So hard to cut things out or change something about your character that you know you should, but dang it, you really like it about him/her.

    Don’t worry about scaling back on blog visiting/commenting while revising. I know I will have to do the same thing once my editing requests come in (I’m beginning to think that will never happen). Good luck. Here’s hoping you don’t tear your hair out!


    • Yeah, I’m not putting too much stock in “I Write Like.” But it’s fun to see what comes out of it. 🙂 I can see the Jack London “similarity” for Death Out of Time. There’s a definite placement of the characters in the environment and their reactions to it. I should try putting another section of the book into IWL and see who that “sounds” like…. 🙂

      The character changes are the hardest. I need to revise the relationship between Madeleine and Jack to “up the stakes” for them as the story unfolds. And they are definitely NOT helping with that. Grrr. But we’ll get it worked out somehow. And that’s one of the things that makes us writers—when we don’t give up when the going gets tough.

      And there’s the trite expression of the day. 🙂

      Your blog is easy to keep up with—not too many posts per week and fun topics to comment on! 🙂 And I hope you hear soon from your editor. I think you’re still approaching the time they said, right?


      • Yes, technically it should be in June. I was just hoping it would be earlier. Three months doesn’t give much time for the final product. Your post today was timely, because just this morning, I was thinking of my main character in the novel, and I worry she is not “deep” enough. But I found in trying to keep to the recommended word length for novels, and to keep my novel plot-driven, which it very much is, I had to take out some of my character’s backstory, and just put in blips here or there. I might try to deepen her if I can in my edits. I’ll see what Mr. or Ms. Editor says.


        • There’s that balancing act again. It’s amazing how many forms it takes in writing—pacing, character development, backstory, word count, sentence structure, plot elements…. And just when we think we have a handle on it, we read a blog post or article that reminds us we forget about it in some other aspect of the book. I guess that’s why truly great authors will tell us we never stop learning about the craft of writing.

          Hopefully your editor will have helpful insights on the revision process—and specific recommendations for them. I’d hate to have an editor say something vague like, “I’m not getting into this character. Make him more interesting.” Okay—how?!

          Remember, when you do hear from the editor, we’re all here for moral support and encouragement! 🙂


  4. with enough wine you can do anything! good luck rounding up the wayward MC’s.
    since your stories involve time travel, we may have to put out a signal to them to “phone home” LOL


    • I’ve actually been trying to cut back on the wine. 🙂 Not this weekend, though. It’s perfect weather for making white sangria with Spanish cava, brandy, Licor 43, and fresh fruit….. 🙂 Mmm. Darn. Is it still morning?! LOL.

      Funny, most of the time travelers are the ones being MOST cooperative. It’s the mains from our time who are leading the “senior skip month” trips! And they’ve definitely turned off the cell phones. 🙂


  5. Ooooh! I love time travel stuff. Can’t wait to read it.

    In my critique group, there are a couple of us (not me) who LOVE to revise, revise, revise. And they are excellent at it! I agree with you… writing the initial draft is the easiest part for me. I’m not at all saying that I hit it out of the ballpark on the first draft, but it seems to flow out. But then it’s almost like the “piece of marble” analogy and chipping away at what isn’t your novel to make a perfect-ish, complete book. I have a difficult time with that. But my goal is to become an excellent reviser… they say that’s where the real talent lies!

    Best wishes on the revision process. My thoughts are with you. I’m about 9,000 words into my second novel now and hoping it continues to flow… because then I know the revision process has to occur. Blech.


    • Oh, I wish I had the “loves to revise” gene in me! (My characters probably do, too 😉 ) And why can’t the flow of the first draft continue into the next stages?!

      Your chipping away at the marble is a great analogy for the process. What’s also hard is when we have to break off a chunk of it because it doesn’t fit (like cutting characters, revising a relationship). We put that time and effort into those parts for the earlier drafts, and now we have to let them go? Sob.

      But you’re right. We have to become excellent revisers. And I hope your characters are better at helping you do it than mine are! Thanks for the wishes and support, and may your second novel’s first draft be the first—and not last—of them to flow smoothly. 🙂


  6. It’s a bit boring some of the editing, no? Sometimes you might have to combine characters and do odd stuff like that.

    I often blab on about this to people but have you seen the writing software “Scrivener”? It is the best thing for novels and really good when it comes to revisions. I know Carrie (up there in your comments) uses it. It has a generous trial period as well.


    • I started using Scrivener this winter, and I love it. I don’t think I could ever start another novel in Word or other “mainstream” word processing software. They’re too cumbersome. You either have hundreds of small files for scenes, or one large file where it’s hard to move easily between the scenes. Just being able to drag a scene from one location to another is a huge attraction.

      Editing is certainly not as interesting as the writing. And believe it or not, I have 17 characters being dropped or rolled into other characters from Draft 2. One of them was a major supporting player. But most readers said “too many!” and they’re right. I can’t let my eyes glaze over in the detail work of removing all references to them and making the right adjustments to the remaining characters. I think I might need a cup of coffee about now….!


  7. Great post. I love the idea of my Muse sitting on a beach and sipping mojitos. Maybe there’s some Muse convention going on that we don’t know about. I enjoyed your imagery of the clutter-filled tunnel. With rewrites I do often feel as if I’m wading through litter to find my way.


    • I can’t complain TOO much about my Muse. After all, she has led me to some great story ideas. But I do think she’s off with her sisters somewhere, enjoying cold drinks and checking out the guys on the beach…. But why don’t they ever invite us writers to go with them?!

      Alas, no. So it’s back to more cleaning for me. 🙂 Have you seen my broom anywhere….?


  8. I completely agree that editing is harder than writing. I can spit out 10,000 words in a really good, focused weekend, but going back and adding the “art” into it is the hard part. I have found that since I’ve started outlining that I have a lot less to “cut” which is helpful.

    Of cource, like you, then I think I have something brilliant… then it’s off to the betas, and then BAM back to the drawing board — errrr — editing board.


    • Not much can compete with that feeling when the words and ideas are flowing, can it? When I first see how the story is going to fit together or a new scene take shape in my mind, I can lose track of hours at the computer.

      And, yes, then those beta readers step in and bring us back to reality. Pantsers, outliners—we all have revisions to do. Pantsers (like me) probably more. 🙂 But I would NEVER submit or e-pub a work without several rounds of beta input!

      Now maybe my mains can read this post and decide to cut short their vacations and come home?


  9. Keep plugging along…and enjoy it! This is YOUR art…YOUR baby, so love each moment of writing, editing, revising, and editing again.


    • I will! This is a marathon, not a sprint. And I think I’m in one of those low-energy points and jogging more slowly right now. I’m hoping my second wind is just around the corner…. 🙂 I do love the stories—and the characters. Hopefully the feeling is mutual!


  10. Sounds kinda like what Ally did to me during my hiatus with Spark. I know exactly how you feel. Unappreciated. 😉

    This was a fun post for me to read, because I am wanting to blog something about revisions, too–considering the revision mode I’m in. Your take on the process got me thinking about in a fresh way!

    I love revisions when I can create brand-new scenes with fun character interactions and lots of good action. But what I always find challenging is weaving the new stuff into the old stuff so that it flows naturally, yet surprisingly.

    Inevitably, changes that I make upset much of what I originally wrote and I find myself revising things that hadn’t been flagged. It can be a very untidy process, very frustrating. But obviously it is still an enjoyable process, otherwise we writers wouldn’t keep at it.

    I find that characters can behave much like children. If you pretend you don’t care that they’ve run off, they come back to you much sooner than later. Try ignoring them and see what happens. Housework is as good of a task as any! Good luck.


    • Underappreciated is a great way to describe it. Here I am, setting down their stories so people in my world can read about them, and then where do the characters go when the work gets harder?! Hey, come back here and help finish what you started!

      Some of the hardest work for me is making sure that remaining scenes fit with the new ones. It’s easy to gloss over a bit of original dialogue that no longer matches the revised story. Or a character’s thoughts about another character or event that need to be reworked. Seventeen characters have gotten pink slips in this revision, and I have to be sure I clean out any references to them!

      I’ll have to try some of that “tough love” on them. Although, if they read your post, I can just hear them saying, “We are NOT acting like children!” 🙂

      Looking forward to seeing those revisions! 🙂


  11. Get that rope out and tie them up. I think you are right; this second stage is must harder. I will send tea and toast and look forward to your progress.


    • Ooh, tea and toast sounds wonderful. 🙂 Maybe that will make the gang jealous and bring them home. 🙂 Then I lock all the doors and windows…. !!


  12. Good luck on the revisions, JM. I’m rooting for you.:-)

    “I write like” is great fun. That’s funny about your characters! They give you a badge you can put on your blog if you want. My results were “Margaret Mitchell.” Squee! 🙂

    Looking forward to your progress! 🙂


    • Thanks, Christy! How perfect is Margaret Mitchell for you?! If only that analysis could guarantee reaching as many people! We’d all be hanging out at conferences and on tropical beaches…. 🙂

      And I am working away. It just feels like the forward momentum is lagging a bit right now. 🙂


  13. Here is all I ask: Don’t disappear. While I can take the no comments and the not-as-frequent likes, should they appear, don’t just leave. I have in you a new friend. This friend-mind understands you as someone who has things to do and is busy and can’t give much time…just don’t ….Disap-p-e-a-…


    • Don’t worry! I’m still reading posts and commenting and liking as much as I can. 🙂 It’s just that I can’t do it as much as I’d like.

      But after the morning walk and errands, this afternoon I drafted a new scene for one of the novels. It was a bit of a slog, but I got through it. And I have to do more of that. Once I’ve got a first draft down for new scenes, the initial revisions usually flow smoothly. I really want to get this third draft done!

      But I will still be visiting! (And I’m spending some time to catch up on blogs now. 🙂 )


      • I am doing the same. Oh and to be a little proud…I was just informed that, one of my short stories, made it to the final reading review! I will be happy for this and not worry about the being published part!


  14. Revision is the hardest part. You get to vomit scenes onto a page during drafting. You aren’t quite sure what will happen next. Revision is about keeping it fresh while intricately tweaking everything. 🙂


    • The hardest part for me is sitting down consistently to do the revisions. It’s easy to make excuses that I should do something else or work on another manuscript or jot down new ideas. I’m trying to set aside a set time each day for it, but I’m not totally into that routine yet.

      Maybe opening the window for a breath of fresh air will help keep the work fresh! 🙂


    • I’m glad my Muse isn’t the only one doing it! I may need to tie her down when I can figure out which beach she’s on….

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂


  15. I tried a meeting between all my characters – I even made scones – but they couldn’t get along. A few stormed out and there was a massive fight. I’ve lots my deposit on the room I rented and they’ll never have me back again.


    • Oh, no! Things haven’t gotten that bad with my characters—within each book they seem to get along. Although, I don’t think there’s any love lost between the two books….

      I hope you were able to get things back on track! And your characters really should repay you for that lost deposit. 😉

      Thanks for joining in the conversation! 🙂


  16. Great post – during my revisions, there was a point where I had whittled away at some of my characters until they’d lost their mojo. Had to go back in and add the warts 🙂


    • I need to add some warts to some of mine. They’re too well-behaved. 🙂 I know I’ll never get them “perfect” (there’s no way we can), but they have to show some of their flaws, even if they don’t want to!


  17. I agree with you that the writing it the easy part. It is the editing where the real work begins. I did the I Write Like thing too and was compared to J.D. Salinger. Really? Don’t think so.


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    • Neither did I—until I started writing one! 😉 I have a much greater appreciation now for the authors of books I’ve enjoyed. And those who can do it consistently over five, ten, or more books are amazing. Because even the prolific authors say how terrible their first drafts are and how much work goes into revisions. Ack—it never gets easier! 🙂


  19. LookIng forward to the day your characters are outed for the world to see. Till then, I will enjoy my visits to your blog and whatever visits you might have time for at mine. Time is precious, I do know that 🙂


    • I will always have time for your blog. 🙂 And I hope I will have done a good job of introducing those characters to our world when the books are published. Their stories are good ones. But I have to choose the right words for them. Hopefully, I’m up to the challenge.


  20. Editing and rewrites are so hard! You get so tangled up you can lose sight of your original intent….and you are so right about the characters taking off to party leaving you to shove around the draft.
    (Will have to check out that who do you write like site – thanks)


    • I’m still waiting for some of them to come back home…. Maybe I should threaten to write them into comas if they don’t get back here soon? A friend of mine does that with the characters in her works. It might be worth a try….

      I would love to hear who “I Write Like” thinks you write like. You have such a unique style in your posts—and I mean that in a very good way. 🙂


      • Write them into comas! I love that – serve them right. Interested in that CO canal route – pictures look nice. Actually, the German will be going back to her forever home in N. VA/DC area – so I feel better there are places for her to get outside.


        • The canal is a great place to walk—lots of access points so you can make it as long or short as you’d like. And there are lots of dog-friendly places in N. VA/DC for a good walk (and run). But your house won’t be the same without the German, will it? I’ll bet even a certain regal cat will miss her sparring partner!


          • Sure it will be like “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” situation for RC. ( I have no doubt another 4 legged waif is already making the way here…the word has probably already gone out there’s a vacancy – we’ll see.)


  21. I know what you’re talking about. My characters tend to run the show too. (And I am also wondering whether continuing to blog is going to destroy me as a fiction writer because it’s eating all my time.) Hang in there!

    I just tried the “I write like” site with the first few paragraphs of my WIP, and I drew… J.R.R. Tolkien? I just cracked up! I mean, I probably write fantasy in part because of the influence of having read Tolkien, but no way do I write like him!


    • Oh, don’t stop blogging! But, yes, finding a good balance for it is hard. I’m just getting there—I think. 😉

      At least Tolkien is a “good” fit for a fantasy writer! Can you imagine if you’d gotten Hemingway? I don’t think his terse style would be an encouraging sign for fantasy, which requires so much more in world-building and setting.

      I am seriously thinking about writing them into comas. Are you listening Madeleine and Jack?! 🙂


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