Category Archives: Revision

Back to the Drawing Board!

This weekend I spent hours and hours reading for my thesis. I stumbled upon this book called “A Writer Teaches Writing” by Donald M Murray which made me really think about my writing process for my book but also for other stories. He breaks the process down as COLLECT PLAN DRAFT. The thing is, for his process, it’s not linear. It’s not just collect, plan, draft, DONE! It’s a revolving cycle until the final draft–meaning revision is just a rehash of the process. He refers to editing basically how I referred to correcting.

What does this mean? I’m re-thinking the Abassi Expedition. I’ve collected, planned, and drafted and now as I look at it–it doesn’t feel right. Something, mostly a fire, is missing from it for me. I think that I need some more collect, another plan, and another draft.

So, I’m probably going to collect my thoughts–break the draft down into the issues that I’m having, which for me, is primarily Alice and William at the end of the book. Morris grew into the most perfect character for me, save for maybe one or two scenes that feel forced. But Alice and William? They were planned before they were collected. So I’m back on the collect. I really want to better understand who they are, their backgrounds, how they’ll act as life comes at them. I had planned to be done with the Abassi Expedition by fall but honestly, I don’t know if that will happen.

After I collect, I’ll plan… I have legitimate scenarios for Alice and William to experience but I don’t think I have the right responses and actions on their part. So I might re-plan the rising and falling action. I like the climax, I like the end.

Then I’ll draft and when I do, I might use some old scenes but I also plan to use some techniques in that book like writing my lead over and over again in the different options (direct statement, anecdote, quotation  news, informing detail, dialogue, surprise, description, mood, face, scene, first person, third person, tension, problem, process, voice, second person, rhetorical question, background, introduction) with a focus on honesty, simplicity, immediacy, information, and voice.

I think it’s time for me to accept and be okay that my first draft is a discovery draft and it helped me to discover what I need to know, what I need to explore, what was left out. I have that draft off to my good friend Sabrina right now, so we’ll see what she says.

Another thing I’d like to do is to answer all the questions Murray gives that are more directed for non-fictional writing but still carry meaning to me:

  1. Do I have enough specific, accurate information to build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
  2. Do I see an order in the material that will deliver information to the readers when they need it?
  3. DO I hear a voice that is strong enough to speak directly to the reader?
  4. What do I know about my story?
  5. What do I need to know?
  6. Do I need to expand or narrow my scope?
  7. Will my reader’s questions get answered?

Murray also gives some great ideas about keeping the writing going such as setting a quota and keeping score, writing in parts instead of focusing on the whole, don’t stop to look at notes.

Before I start any of that, I need to figure out what is working well in my draft. My prose is good, concise, to the point, active, but my characters aren’t working for me the way they should. They’re not in the story enough. This plot is driven by the characters and the story needs to reflect that.

To really assess my work, I need to read it thrice (YES THRICE!) for content, structure, and language. Lately, I’ve been reading, instead, for language. That’s just not working for me. Because I can fix the prose but if the content isn’t right, that means nothing!

SO, now where am I? Well, I’m mired in the collect for my thesis. So the Abassi Expedition will have to wait a few months (hopefully just until March) before I can really delve into it’s collect. But I have a few books that I’ve recommended but never *fully* read, I’m going to link them AGAIN and finally read them this time! Cover to cover!

  1. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  2. Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs
  3. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  4. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  5. New to my list: On Writing by Stephen King
  6. New to my list: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

If I can work these into my thesis, I may, but until then, I’m stuck reading books and articles about writers teaching writing (if you know any, pass them on!).

5 Strange Writer Habits

1. Sometimes when I’m working on revisions, I isolate sentences in their own document. In this isolation, they can shine or sing or dance however they want or need to. Without the distraction of the other sentences around it, I can hone in on what’s wrong with the sentence and figure out how to fix it.

2. I email ideas to myself constantly. I know lots of people carry around notepads and pens but that’s just not me. I have tried to make that me, but I fail every time. So, I conserve trees and email myself with my iPhone. Sometimes I’ll get a line or an idea or just an off the wall thought for a scene and I send it to myself to include later. My best thinking comes in the car but I hate commuting to school and work. It saps the energy out of me so that all that excitement to write on the way home dissipates as soon as I walk in the door.

3. I overuse em dashes and thus am constantly editing them out.

4. I am obsessed with coffee. Until Tuesday, I was constantly drinking coffee to a ridiculous amount. I’ve cut down substantially but I am addicted. I have some attention span issues that coffee actually helps alleviate.

5. Because of those attention issues, my early morning routine involves over an hour spent on I’m not proud, but “I’ll just look for a few minutes” is just a lie I tell myself. Every day.

Reblog Wednesday: Beta Reader: Enquire Within

A few weeks ago, I discussed beta reading on Twitter with AK because finding the right person to read and comment for you is hard. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses that we need to get over to have a good revision and we also need people that won’t shy away from those when reading. AK d ores a great job at addressing the essentials to beta reading. I recommend you check it out because the best way to get beta readers is to beta read for others.

Beta Reader: Enquire Within.

Also Happy Wednesday.

On Revision: Eliminating Passive Verbs

I like to revise. I really like it. I love to help people revise too. I am also for hire should you want me to help you out. If you don’t want to pay me (why not?), there are lots of little things YOU can do to make your own WIP stronger.

First, you can check out a few blog posts that I’ve published that are really helpful:

Reblog Wednesday: The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam – This is great for speculative fiction writers to work on making sure their content isn’t rife with cliche.

Revision and Critique Group Tips – This is pretty self-explanatory! 🙂

An Exercise in Detail – This is great for practicing slowing down your writing to gather details.

Wordle and Poetry – This is a post about writing exercises and ideas to help you develop your writing.

One of my obsessions thanks to a grammar class in college is passive verbs. Passive verbs slow down your writing and steal the heat away from your prose. However, passive verbs, if you’re not familiar with them, hide from you and eliminating them can be difficult.

So first, pick a color of pen or highlighter and go through and circle/highlight every instance of: are, is, was, were, had, have, will, could, would. I also think looked, turned, watched, started, heard, gave, hoped, smelled, and thought should be eliminated as much as possible. They’re overused, blah words. Also, if you work to eliminate them, your work will be stronger.

Now, you have a wall of red… what next? Figure out how you can eliminate them. Here are some examples of ways I’ve eliminated some:

“he started to reel his line in” changes to “he reeled his line in” – simple enough

“there were apprentices running in between delivery carts” changes to “apprentices ran between delivery carts” – again, still simple because a great action verb stands ready

When you use passive verbs in situations like, “It was cold.” Cold is an adjective. So, either use it that way or use a metaphor… “it froze his fingers” or “it froze.” Or from “the car was red” to simply “the red car.” This is not to say, just add adjectives, because adjectives are lazy ways to add description, but once in a while, it’s okay. Be careful doing it. Sometimes, you have to rearrange the whole sentence or paragraph to eliminate your passive verb so don’t be afraid to look past the period for help.

For rearranging, try something like “Alice was used to Xui’s primping so she waited…” to “Alice, used to Xui’s primping, waited…”

Try this active verb exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Make a list of ten nouns. Pick a profession and find 15 verbs associated with that profession. Now match them up and make some sentences. She has sentences like “Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.” “The fiddles boiled the air with their music.”

Use -ing/-ed verb phrases to add detail (Running through the store, Mary slipped and fell.)

Use metaphor effectively (that takes practice) and not fall back on cliches or simile. “She laughed like a hyena” is both cliche and a simile. Using a metaphor effectively means using those verbs to do more than be literal: The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky. The buildings didn’t really draw anything, but that’s better than “The buildings were all different sizes.” And thoughtful practice: knowingly work on your passive verbs. The more you do, the easier it is.

I’ve found some really great sites about how to work on your passive verbs, so please check them out and please give me YOUR tips if you have any!

Let’s Have Fun Writing | Spike Those Verbs

Active and Passive Verbs

Passive and Active Voice

Active and Passive Voice

Updates on The Abassi Expedition

I haven’t shared a lot lately about my WIP so I thought I’d spend today giving an update.

First, I finished my first draft in the middle of December!

To celebrate… I printed out the first five chapters and started my revisions…

My first big change came in the form of developing two satellite characters (the parents of MC Alice Hadley). I read through the prologue searching out passive verbs (ick!) and -ly words (boo!). Afterwards, I thought, “These two characters who are are essential to the plot really need to be fattened up!” So I developed their physical image, their motivation in the prologue, their mannerisms. Then I got to work. I re-wrote the prologue which can found on my WIP Page. I’m very pleased with the change.

With chapter one, it’s really the first introduction to New London so I wanted to do something really important with it. I took some inspiration from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and used the social structure of New London to tell its story… I’m also very pleased with it:

The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky as wide swaths of sunlight illuminated the fresh paint, perfectly lain bricks, and smooth trim. Parliament lay in the center of the colony with its clock tower rising high into the sky, a beacon of order and direction visible from everywhere in the colony. The ministers, lords, and ladies all woke to their staff ushering them to new committees and meetings while workers diffused through the city collecting garbage, fixing cobbles, repairing buildings. Down the streets, apprentices lumbered into the light while their master’s still slept. The farmers were already on their way towards the fields that blew and shifted in the wind, ready to welcome the warm sunlight. The slums, hidden by the rest of the city, slept into the day.

To create that, though, I had to figure out the social structure and the layout of the city. This is the best I’ve got because designing cities is nigh impossible:

I do not have any colored pencils so it’s not colored but basically the top part is a lake with two rivers that descend through the colony. The hexagon shape is the barrier that keeps the colony safe from the wildlife of Kepler and filters the air so that the humans can survive on this alien planet.

My biggest goals with this revision are: eliminating passive verbs, catching POV violations, trying to get everything into place. I’m trying to rush (I’m not doing a good job of it though) so I can finish with a second draft by January. The big thing is to get it readable for beta-readers because the writing process means that some things that you wrote in the beginning don’t match up with what developed towards the end. Writing in itself is discovery so the whole thing needs to be molded for the best story. So far, I’m doing really well and happy with my updates.

Today, I wanted to work on chapter six but got derailed trying to figure out the military that two MCs and one satellite character is in. William is a captain, his father is the Lord General, and Morris is a Lieutenant. I wanted to know how big their army should be for the 400k population of New London (I put it at 20k) and what that meant for the structure. I also developed the enlisted and officer structure. The most fun part, however are the drawings I made for their uniforms and rank insignia:

On the far left is the universal combat uniform. You can see I have a little triangle on the left sleeve, that’s a lazy person’s drawing of the star in the center of the shoulder strap in the center. The right sleeve has the slashes for ranking. The officer’s uniforms have shoulder straps with insignia, while the enlisted uniforms do not.

On the right is the dress uniform which is the one that William most prefers (while Morris prefers the left uniform). I’m not done with it. I think the shoes should be shinier, have spats, etc. But for the most part it has the same shoulder strap in the center, is worn maybe with the flight cap on the right (the triangle one). Anytime you see a weird squiggly half-star, that’s my way of saying “some sort of insignia should be here.” But on the hats, I’m worried it might not work.

The center image is the shoulder strap. The circle at the top is meant to be a silver button that is a relief of the planet of Kepler (known to us real life people as Kepler 22b). The insignia of the sun is meant to be a star. I wanted the choices of insignia to reflect the new planet, not the old. This is really one of the first places that I’ve gone with the sci-fi thing which feels great! Because The Abassi Expedition is steampunk, I’ve tried to stick with mostly Victorian style, so I played with the insignia a lot. The other two symbols I used are a symbol of the parthenon for the governent and a scythe over a rapier.


Okay, that’s the last of my crappy drawings I’m going to submit you too. I hope that your eyes aren’t bleeding!

If you have any suggestions for city-planning, revision, uniform design, etc. Please let me know!

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, @MelanieSokol, you can get more frequent updates!

Character Focus: William

Inspired by my post Next Big Thing Blog Hop, I decided to do some character sheets focusing on my main characters for my WIP: The Abassi Expedition. Monday was Character Focus: Alice, today is William, and Monday you’ll get to meet Morris.

So William was, like Alice, part of my story from the very beginning. He grew from a man that Alice only just meets in my first scene to someone Alice grew up with. A large part of the Abassi Expedition is learning about their past so I don’t want to give too much away.

William originally started out as Julian but his name and his personality changed. Julian was a calm man, confident, but cautious with an eye for adventure. William is obsessed with adventure, raised on the lore of the Wilds, reckless, and groomed for the public eye.

I pulled one of my original drafts of him, right after I changed his name to William but before I developed his history.

Then he looked directly at Alice. His eyelashes were long enough that they seemed to hold onto the water. He blinked and they dropped a bit of their weight. She knew his eyes—William Blackmore He was in the shop before a second seemed to pass. He looked into her eyes with his eyes that remind her of coffee in color and in energy. He smiled causing his beard formed into a perfect anchor on his face to come to a point at his chin that curves with his mouth. He is the Captain of the Queen’s first zeppelin admitted to service.

When I decided to develop my story more, I wrote a detailed sketch again with the flowery language.

His short hair is pale yellow of a freshly hatched chick and refuses to lay flat despite attempts to comb it down. His eyes have the energy and color of fresh coffee beans. He looks easily over the heads of most men on the street. Wind and sun burnt skin. Has the habit of looking people in the eye usually longer than most find comfortable. His voice is honeyed but husky and unlike any man’s voice Alice had ever heard. His groomed face looked like the anchors that tethered ships to the ground.

I also created a quick description of him for my students.

William Blackmore is 19. He’s tall (about 6ft) and in good shape as he’s a unit commander of the military. He has light blond hair, usually worn similar to the picture. He was raised to be conscious of public opinion so he’s always very conscious of how he looks (suits are always tailored and the newest fashions). He’s very sure of his actions and very confident in himself.

William’s character sketch comes from Alice’s POV but still needs work.

Always a smart dresser, he wore black striped pants that stopped short of his ankles while he sat revealing his shoes, freshly polished and covered by crisp white spats. He adjusted the brown vest that matched his eyes, like coffee dark and full of energy, indicating how nervous he was. The cuffs of his shirt were held together by the cuff links made from clock pieces she’d given him as a gift years ago.

I pulled some of the bits of inspiration I use when writing William from DeviantArt and IMDB (for the actor at the bottom).

The first sketch is one that has a great steampunk uniform that I love for William. He’s the ship’s captain and a military captain so he has to look very sharp, he’s also very conscious of his appearance for the public eye so it’s very important for his uniform to be detailed and thus it must be specific.

I happened, by chance, on this amazing portrait that matches my idea of William almost perfectly.

This guy doesn’t look like William at all but he most definitely captures his attitude.

When I did The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, I picked Zac Efron for William but that was a stupid decision. This guy, Xavier Samuel, looks quite similar to the idea I have of William.

Thanks for stopping by. Check back Monday for the Character Focus of Morris!

Character Focus: Alice

In December, I have a month long review planned of all the books I’ve read this year. But until then, I have about four posts to entertain you with and I thought I would spend some time introducing you to the main characters of my WIP: The Abassi Expedition.

If you read my Next Big Thing Blog Hop post, you got to know a little about my WIP and how it came to be. Today, however, I’d like to spend some more time on Alice. I won’t be able to give too, too much away without ruining the whole story but I can give you a character sketch and tell you how I developed her.

Originally, I was working on some lesson plans to get students writing and revising stories with examples. So, to do this, I had to write my own story.

As is the way with all of my stories, I just get an idea, an image in my head. The basic idea was a steampunk story about a young woman hanging out in her father’s shop when a young man shows up to recruit her into the Queen’s army. So I started writing. I don’t have an original version, so this is a bit revised, but it’s the still the beginning of my original idea.

Water pooled in the cracks between the cobblestones and even they seemed to shiver from the cold. Ripples broke across the puddles from the rain, hard and unforgiving, as it crashed down. A small crack of thunder brought on a harder onslaught.

Alice read in a chair at the front of her father’s clock shop. She could do no work in weather like this. Noises drifted forward from her father’s bench as he tinkered with another invention. The pings and taps accompanied the drawn out sighs of the chorus of rain.

After I created this original story, I started to develop Alice a little. First, I made a character sketch that’s a bit pompous because I was trying very, very hard to describe her without plain words or cliches. Here is the first character sketch I did of Alice:

Her hair, the color of freshly brewed black tea, curls like fresh apple peels. She stands no taller or shorter than any other girl her age. Her fair skin seems to always be blooming like magic roses. She doesn’t look like the merchants’ daughters, frail as twigs, or the bakers’ who were always plump, but as if she ate heartily and exercised happily—so she was neither plump nor thin. She seems to always have a sniffle and her eyes water quite easily. When she works, she hums a favorite tune from a recent concerto or symphony.

After I created her, I used Jeff Gerke’s Character Versus Plot to pick her personality traits to make sure her character was realistical. Alice is INTJ, Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging.

Then I needed to develop my story from one scene to a plot for a novel. I wanted to write a story of exploration but I wanted to have the freedom to play with everything, so I put it on another planet, Kepler. Another thing I had to do was to pick a plot and some arcs for Alice. So, her story is that of coming-of-age, her arcs are about finding herself, mentally, emotionally, physically.

After talking with my good friend, Sabrina A Fish, about Alice, Kepler, and the human colony of New London, I decided to make some changes for my cast. So, first I started changing their races and therefore their background stories. One, in particular, Alice changed a lot. She went from a normal, white girl to a half-Arabic girl. I didn’t just change her race for the hell of it, it shifted for her the story too.

Part of my inspiration for the shift in Alice, came from this iconic picture:

Recently, some of my amazingly talented students agreed to do some actual sketches of my characters so I created some descriptions for them. Here’s the updated sketch:

Alice Hadley is 16. She’s half-Arabic, she has long, dark, curly hair but bright green eyes. She is unsure of herself. She typically wears knee high boots, breeches, a white/tan shirt, and a corset all covered in grease because she’s an engineer and always working on one thing or another. She’s average height and build. She’s very shy and unsure of herself.

So far, I have tried to let all of this information affect me in an organic way–it’s in my mind but I don’t obsess over it as I write. It will, however, affect my re-writes. I plan to go through my first draft and think about Alice and all of the decisions she makes. When creating, you can’t let yourself obsess over the minutia because then your characters won’t grow as they were meant to.

Here are some pictures of steampunk outfits that kind of match what I imagine Alice to wear. Keep in mind that they are just outfits, not her. That will come when my students get back to me.

Don’t forget to check back for Reblog Wednesday and Friday is my character focus on William!