Doing The Story Justice — Redux

My PerNoReMo moves forward, despite some major self-doubts earlier this month. To help me through the mire, I read some of my earlier posts, looking for inspiration. And one that I originally posted on 2 June 2012 reminded me why I’m rebuilding Death Out of Time and not sticking with my original version. I thought it was worth sharing again with readers. Rather than force you to make extra clicks, here are the highlights from that post. Continue reading

Marching Toward My Goal

image credit: Microsoft clip art

image credit: Microsoft clip art

So following on last week’s post about my New Year’s goal, I’ve made a few purchases to further my writing education and to help tighten the WIPs.

image credit: Microsoft clip art

image credit: Microsoft clip art

As a research project for this pantser, I bought Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. This has been recommended by a number of bloggers, so I thought I’d give it a read. Engineering? You can’t get any more structured than this, right? What does this pantser think so far? I’ll let you know when I finish reading it. I’m only in Chapter 6. I can say, though, that Brooks subscribes to the philosophy of “First, tell people what you’re going to tell them. Second, tell them what you’re telling them. Third, tell them what you told them.”

For tightening the drafts, I downloaded The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Fellow bloggers have also recommended this book. This one is to help me do a better job of “showing” rather than “telling.” Maybe the next edition could add “exhaustion” as a category. That was the first thing I wanted to check out, and it isn’t in the thesaurus. But I’m nitpicking. The authors do a good job of offering body language and internal thought processes for a wide variety of emotions.

Finally, for polishing the final drafts, I picked up The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This is, of course, a classic. It goes well with my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.

On Vloffing

Reading your annual stats has been a real eye-opener. I couldn’t believe I was a Top Five commenter on so many blogs. That reinforced my concerns about how much time I spend blogging. This year, I have to be more structured (engineered?) with my time. Even if I don’t leave fewer comments, they must get shorter!

But Wait—There’s More!

The amazing Kourtney Heintz nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. This is a new one for me, so I’ll play by the rules, to a point. 😉

The rules:

1. Provide a link and thank the blogger who nominated you for this award.
2. Answer 10 questions.
3. Nominate 10-12 blogs that you find a joy to read.
4. Provide links to these nominated blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been nominated.
5. Include the award logo within your blog post.

The Questions (which are apparently identical to the Sunshine award):

1. Your favorite color – blue
2. Your favorite animal – horse
3. Your favorite non-alcoholic drink – water
4. Facebook or Twitter – Facebook
5. Your favorite pattern – subtle geometric
6. Do you prefer getting or giving presents? – giving
7. Your favorite number? – 28
8. Your favorite day of the week? – Saturday
9. Your favorite flower? – Native ones growing in their native habitat
10. What is your passion? writing

Remember, no one should feel left out if I don’t name you specifically. Of course, doesn’t the very name of this suggest that male bloggers are excluded? I’m going with 5 nominees who, as always, are free to accept or decline as they wish.

Small House Big Garden

Laura Stanfill

A Rich, Full Life in Spite of It

Brigitte’s Banter

Vanessa-Jane Chapman

Whew, this post is longer than originally intended! So I’ll just wrap it up here and wish you all a happy weekend.

UPDATE: What the heck has WordPress done? My marching graphic sometimes looks right and others, not. I tried inserting a different .png graphic and it did the same thing. These New Year changes aren’t for the better, folks!

Are You With Me?

Well, the holidays are behind us and most of 2013 lies ahead. If you’ve made resolutions for the year, my best wishes to you for carrying them through. For me, there is one goal for 2013—complete one of my WIPs and have it on track for publication.

Image credit: Microsoft clip art

How are the WIPs going? Why, thank you for asking. Let’s see…. Continue reading

Either I’m Getting Stronger Or The Molasses Is Getting Thinner

Even the President of the United States has to put up with unsightly public work near his home. There’s no particular reason for this photo with this post. But the juxtaposition struck me when we were there last Saturday. Well, not at the White House, but in DC.

With a title like that, you might think I’ve lost my marbles. Wait, that might be the subject of another post. Let’s try again.

Maybe you’ve seen my recent comments about revisions feeling like I’m slogging through a sea of molasses. For those of you unfamiliar with the substance, it’s a thick, brown, gooey syrup made from the by-products of sugar-making. I’m not particularly fond of it. Continue reading

I Had My Characters Do What?!

A bit of fun today with some friendly writerly advice sprinkled on top.

We writers are sometimes caught up in our stories and gloss over the exact details of what we’ve written for our characters’ actions. If we’re lucky, readers skim over those details without stopping to think about the literal meaning of our words. But more likely, they’ll see them and have an unintended reaction. We don’t want that.

Good agents and editors should highlight these potential gaffs and ensure we fix them. But with so many writers going the indie route, the lack of serious quality control can be glaring. Good writers should identify and correct these problems before querying their manuscripts or directly publishing the books.

Thank heaven I caught these no-nos before I ask anyone to beta read the revised Summer at the Crossroads. Continue reading

The Saturday Morning Post

If you saw Thursday’s premature post, there is new content here. WordPress, could you add an “Are You Sure?” pop-up when we hit “Publish”? I know I’m not the only one who’s hit Publish instead of Preview!

No single topic came to mind for today. Instead, I’ve been flitting between ideas and decided to go with a few random thoughts in magazine style. My apologies to the real journalists among you.

Envisioning A Novel’s Setting

In several comments on Tuesday’s post, I mentioned adding some photos to give you a sense of place for my novels. We start with a few photos for Death Out of Time. Much of the action takes place in our time in the northern Virginia suburbs. The book opens with archaeologist Madeleine O’Brien and detective Jack Trainer excavating an 18th century cemetery in an old, overgrown pasture. The pasture looks something like this one, although it has fewer trees.

Can you guess where the headstones are?

Can you find the cemetery in this photo? Madeleine faced a similar setting in Loudoun County. This is what she encountered when the project began in the spring.

Are you stumped? That’s okay. It’s a trick question. None of the headstones are still standing. They all fell over and were buried through the years or were removed by farmers to make more room for crops. Madeleine knew the cemetery existed only because it was marked on old maps.

One of the headstones she finds looks something like this. (Please bear with me. I’m not very good with my graphics software.) Who would have guessed it would lead to an unimaginable experience?

It seemed like a straightforward cemetery excavation….

In the book, Madeleine also spends time in her lab. It looks similar to many other archaeology labs in universities and in the business world. There, you’ll find an artifact drying rack much like this one. Very basic and inexpensive, but it does the trick. Budgets are usually tight in archaeology. Madeleine saves money where she can, just as my colleagues and I do.

All archaeology labs have something similar to this for drying artifacts after they’ve been washed.

In one scene, Madeleine focuses on that drying rack, struggling to maintain her composure in front of her crew. She can’t let on about what’s happening upstairs. Madeleine never thought she would need a good poker face. Jack’s much better at that sort of thing. But when a time traveler drops into her world, an archaeologist has to adapt.

And there you have a brief view of some of the scenery in the book. If this experiment gets favorable reviews, we’ll see more of the story’s settings in the upcoming weeks and months. I’m thinking of adding these photos (and others) to the introductory page for the book here on the blog.

Author’s Note

Tuesday’s post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I’m not depressed about my stats or contemplating a summer vacation from blogging. Subtle humor doesn’t always translate well to social networking or the written word. I think that happened here. Rest assured, I will stick to my twice a week posts unless extreme circumstances require changes.

And Finally—The Importance of Editing

I realize budgets are tight for small newspapers. And proof readers are a rare luxury in today’s world. But I think this photo caption from our local paper shows the downside of such cost-cutting measures. It’s worth clicking on the image if you need to in order to read the original caption.

I nearly lost it when my husband read the original story aloud.

Learning From A Book I Didn’t Enjoy

I read novels for entertainment and escape from everyday life. Since I started writing in 2009, I read them differently. Now, I also look for what works—and what doesn’t—for my tastes. And I’ve made a discovery.

I learn more about writing from books I don’t like than from those I enjoy. And the book I just finished reading taught me a lot about my own drafts. I won’t say which one I read, but it was science fiction about time travel. Yes, I was checking out the competition.

Problem 1

Writers are told to begin with action. I was dropped into the action, all right. People hurriedly preparing for assignments, running into colleagues, but never the ones they sought. Changes in plans were everywhere and everyone was complaining. And me? I was floundering. Hey, author—slow down. Who are these people? Why are they time traveling? Can we meet fewer main characters first? It’s the 21st century. Don’t they have cell phones? Shouldn’t someone ask what’s going on with all these changes? Those are just some of my questions from the first two chapters.

What did my test readers say about my initial drafts of Death Out of Time?Who are these time travelers and what are they up to? You’re jumping around so much at the beginning, I can’t get a handle on the main characters. Hmm.

Writers have to provide enough information for readers to connect with the characters and story. Yes, I’ve revised my opening chapters.

Problem 2

I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. Using my Kindle’s x-ray feature, I learned there were 120 characters or people mentioned. No wonder I couldn’t keep anyone straight. And some characters popped up in the middle of the book with point of view status. But I don’t think I met them before. I didn’t recognize them as “undercover versions” of the previously identified Main Characters. Then they disappeared. I’m still not sure who they were or what their purpose was.

What else did my test readers say? — You’ve got a lot of characters. I had to keep going back to remind myself who they were. Too many have POV status, including some that don’t appear until late in the book.

I had 61 characters originally. So far, 19 have been cut, leaving 42. Fourteen had POV status. We’re down to six. This is far more manageable. Some minor characters are now unnamed, letting the reader know they aren’t important to the larger story. They’re clearly “potted plants” in the room.

Problem 3

Much of this book is set in a particular historic time. And the author goes into excruciating details. Hey, some detail is needed. And I don’t begrudge an author a chance to showcase his research skills. But don’t overdo it. I was skimming sections in no time to find some action. I’m someone who doesn’t mind more details than the average reader. If you lose me, you’ve lost a lot of readers. If the author had cut half of this information, a “sequel” wouldn’t be needed.

So guess what test readers pointed out in my work — You dump a lot of information in some sections. Some dialogue provides information to the reader, but the speakers already know it. They shouldn’t be talking this way. The story slows down when you present big chunks of history or details.

You bet I’m working on this.

Problem 4

Finally, authors are told to put Main Characters through hell, and then send them back for more. This provides tension to keep the reader engaged. How will the Mains pull through? This is good storytelling. However, I wish I’d see more “expert advice” that warns writers — don’t overdo it.

Everything these characters tried to do was derailed. And I mean everything. Yes, Robin, I mean tried. Nothing went as planned. Was the writer making a point that Time will keep you from changing the past? Possibly. But I’d been hit over the head so many times with all these failures that my brain hurt. Cut some of these scenes, too, and two books wouldn’t be needed to tell the tale.

I haven’t overdone the tension in my drafts. In fact, I’ve been told I need to add more. But I refuse to make Job’s life look easy by comparison.

Off My Soapbox

Okay, enough ranting. But this book reinforced the importance of reading to become a better writer. Many writers in the audience already know this, although a refresher doesn’t hurt. And I hope non-writers enjoy a peek into the behind-the-scenes-work that goes into your favorite books. Few good writers spend their days sipping cocktails on a beach with the Muse. Instead, they’re hard at work, writing your new favorite story.

How about you, writers? Has reading a book you like or didn’t like been more helpful?

Readers—what do writers do that make you toss their books aside in boredom or frustration?

What’s Your View On Point Of View?

Point of View? Something else I have to consider? When will I ever finish these books?

Some of my characters are frustrated. Specifically, those from Summer at the Crossroads. They’re tired of waiting for me to finish Death Out of Time, the book I think would find the “biggest” audience for a new writer.

They forced me to look at their manuscript again. They read the beta review comments for the other book, and they’re afraid readers will point out similar problems. Their biggest concern? Point of view (POV). Continue reading

Doing The Story Justice

Some time ago, I realized writers spend more time editing and revising than we do laying out the initial story. That’s no surprise to those of you who have been at this a few years. If you’re just starting out, well, now you know.

Finishing the first draft is an incredible feeling. Wow. I wrote a novel. Woo hoo! Happy dances and high fives all around.

I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble who hasn’t gotten there yet. By all means, celebrate when you do. But now’s when the real work begins.

The REAL work starts now?

That’s right. You’re nowhere near ready to publish. Hey, if you’re Stephen King or another good writer and have somehow stumbled onto this post, one round of rewrites after you get your beta reader comments may be all you need. But most readers, like me, haven’t reached that level yet. We need multiple drafts, multiple reviews, and multiple rewrites.

For me, part of the repeated revision process is the desire to create a well-written book. I don’t want to be embarrassed by critical reviews pointing out all kinds of weaknesses—poorly developed characters, lame plot with multiple holes, passive voice, inconsistent POV, and so on.

But more importantly, I want to do the stories justice. I think the major plot ideas behind both my major WIPs are good ones. The Muse gave me wonderful stories to write about. I know they could be awesome books. In my mind, the main characters are interesting and approachable. I think readers could relate to them. But I have to bring that out in my writing.

Frankly, anyone can have a great idea for a novel. And most people, if they put their minds to it, could write one. But that doesn’t mean the book would be good. Many would-be writers couldn’t handle the work involved in getting the story right. That’s one reason everyone doesn’t write novels.

Can I do it? After several rounds of revisions, will I have a novel that is entertaining and well-written? I refuse to fall into the trap of revising forever and never publishing my books. That’s pointless. But when I decide to publish, will I have done the stories justice? Will I reach the point where I can honestly and accurately answer that question with a yes? I’ll only know the answer when the books are out there and I see if an audience develops. It’s a daunting thought.

How about you, fellow writers? What drives your editing and revision and keeps you sticking with your stories?

Recent Awards

This last week I was graced with three blog awards: Kreativ Blogger, Thanks for Blogging, and Ask Me Anything, by Kate Policani, Wally Tomosky, and KindredSpirit23, respectively. My modest nature is putting up some resistance in accepting these. It doesn’t think every second or third post should be an award acceptance—even though the “Ask Me Anything” award is newly created by KindredSpirit23 and I was one of the first “awardees.” That is an amazing compliment that my mind cannot fully comprehend.

I want to thank the three bloggers who nominated me, and I do graciously accept. But I need some time before I can do another award post. I want to provide some “serious” content for a while. Okay, as serious as I can be. I’m not going to turn the blog into an instructional series on writing or archaeology. But I don’t want my blog getting arrogant, as Sweet Mother would say.

“SMAP”

American Airlines seems to be making a lot of comments these days, be it mail, letters, or scam. Maybe they’ll sue the “smappers” for libel?

And “the mob” may be getting into the “smap” business. “Numbers Wolansky” wanted to comment on my “When the Going Gets Tough” post. Maybe he thought it referred to old-time gangsters?