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!).

Reblog Wednesday: Peep Show Spin-Offs

I really love taking the time to showcase the blogs of people I know and people I don’t. It forces me to read more blogs and to think about my own.

Today, I have four reblogs.

First, Sabrina’s peep show. Peep Show of The Severing. The Severing is Sabrina’s first novel and I’ve been around for the last year and a half helping her with it. Sabrina was the first person I started editing for and she’s made some amazing progress. I love helping Sabrina with her writing and because of her, I’ve started branching out into the editing business. (so HINT HINT, if you know anyone that needs to hire an editor, I’m good at it!).

Second, AK’s peep show, Peep Show of “Salvaged.” I’ve had a wonderful time getting to know AK and sharing our nerdy interests. Her WIP, Salvaged, is really inticing and makes me think that if I ever get a plot cobbled together for a sci-fi story, she’ll be great help! I am a huge Battlestar Galactica Fan and her peep reminded me of it.

Third, Jason’s peep show, “Peep Show” of Manifestation and its Sequel. He gives us two and he’s made me fall in love with Minerva. She’s got a clear history and the strength to move on (at least physically) so I’m really interested in seeing where she might go. As for the sequel, it’s definitely interesting! A character with kids hints at a different plot than I’m used to (which makes me want to get out of reading YA for a while).

And last but not least, Nat’s peep show, Peep Show of Necromancer: The Awakening. I love necromancers. Not oogy boogy zombie necromancers but the kind like Garth Nix‘s Abhorsen Trilogy so Nat’s title grabbed me right away. Nat also posts amazing, amazing articles about writing that I just think are phenomenal. His blog is a great, great resource to writers. And his story? Well, I am really excited about checking out this reckless new initiate!

Thanks guys for either passing on the challenge or taking up the mantle with great aplomb!

Peep Show of The Abassi Expedition

Sabrina passed the Peep Show Challenge along to me and so here it is:

The Peep Show rules are, go to the 77th page of your WIP, count down 7 lines, write the next 7.

I promise, despite the fact that it only looks like 6 lines, it was 7 on my manuscript!

“She must be killed.” His handler downed a glass of scotch. “Your punishment isn’t over,” he added with another puff from his pipe. He nodded and men grabbed Morris from behind. They pulled him from the hook and he sighed at the relief on his muscles before they threw him to the ground in front of a trough of water.

They thrust Morris’s head in and out of the water, never drowning him but never giving him enough time to breathe before shoving him back in.

I’m going to pass this along to… AK, Jason, and Nat Russo! I can’t wait to see some of their MSs

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 imgur.com. I’m not proud, but “I’ll just look for a few minutes” is just a lie I tell myself. Every day.

Planning Your Story

Sometimes ideas come to us in the dead of the night and we write down a sentence, a paragraph, an idea. We get names from those characters come to life. But what’s next? What happens after you have a one paragraph or one page synopsis?

Research and planning.

After dredging up an old (worked on in high school) story, I thought–why not? It’s about time I got this idea out.

The first thing I needed to do was develop my own world of magic. I’m going to let you in on one type of magic that I decided to include: Feral Priests. Now, a feral priest can do three things: can communicate with animals, can share bodies with an animal, and can steal the abilities of an animal. Cool, cool but there has to be a cost or the world is just going to be a nutty, nutty place filled with superheroes. So, when feral priests speak with animals, they lose their voice for a time, when they share the body of an animal, they loose control over their own for a while, and if they steal the abilities of an animal, they kill it. I added four other priests with equivalent abilities and costs. It’s very important to set up your magic system so that you don’t run around with invincible characters (which I originally had).

So, then the MC was Aidan, but that name kind of took off so I rooted around the internet for the right name. I basically fleshed out the first few characters with Welsh names:

Cadogen (Cade), Mairwen, Bethan, Leolin, Owain, Roderick, Efion.

Then, I needed a city name for the starting place. I went to a site and just started writing down the names of cities in Wales that I liked:

Cardiff (Doctor Who?), Swansea, Caernaten, Brecon, Kilgetty

Then I started mixing them up:

Braed Macaediff Kilfair Caelfair Caelgetty Kilcaedon Braegetty Kill Caekilwen

No, my story is about a journey, so I built cities and name lists for each city. Then, shaped the plot–each city must be different! So, three cities, three unique experiences. Research for my first city is under-weigh: I’m researching Rome (which I’m familiar with anyway, thanks college!). As I research Rome, I think about how I can use their culture to supplement my story and flesh it out–maybe I’ll have a Colosseum, if there is a Colosseum then I’ll have to use it for it’s original purpose, for distracting citizens. So will my heroes fall to the trap and have to escape or will they break it? Either way, how will the trap be designed and how will they escape or break it?

After I figure out what the three cities are going to throw at my heroes, I’ll start working on a plot outline. I really like this set-up for the original plotting process:

I used this for the Abassi Expedition, the basic idea is that if you have 40 scenes, Act 1 is 10, Act 2 is 20, and Act 3 is 10. Or 60 Scenes: 15|30|15.

I broke out of this alter, but the idea of plotting this way really helped me set up. There are other plot charts:

This is another good image to have in mind as you plan, but it’s not as detailed. One thing, however, it makes important is the idea of constant upward movement–everything leading up to the climax must be rising action, if it’s not why have it there? It bogs the story down. Sure, it’s interesting, but if it’s not helping reach the climax, it’s a waste of space.

Again, I use that first chart back there and pick out all of the things listed starting with the Climax. What is the climax, why does it happen, and how do I get my characters there? Jason at Writing Possibilities also reminded me to find the motivation for my characters. And when I plotted the Abassi Expedition, Sabrina had me set up three struggles or conflicts for my characters: physical, mental, emotional.

As of right now, I spent a few hours Saturday just touching the surface of magic, character, and setting. Writing a novel, especially one in speculative fiction, is hard work. It’s not just sitting at the computer and writing. It’s planning, researching, and backtracking.

My next step is to use my new Campaign Cartographer to design my world and City Designer to work on the settings so that I can shape my plot.

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

In December, my friend Stephanie at Misprinted Pages shared Book’d Out’s Eclectic Reader Challenge with me and I got on the train. I’m really enjoying the progress so far this January as I use it to work towards reaching my goal of reading 100 books this year.

So, let’s talk about what I’ve read so far and what I thought!

Guilty Pleasures

Links: Author PageGoodreads.comAmazonBarnes & Noble

My friend, Sabrina, loves Laurell K Hamilton and her work so I decided to give Guilty Pleasures a look before getting into my ERC reading list and then I realized HEY! This fits the ERC!.32

Despite all the smutty covers made for this book, it’s actually quite devoid of sex, which stunned me. It started,out similar enough to other books I’ve read in this genre at a CLUB. YEP. A CLUB. WHO WOULD’VE THUNK IT? NOT ME. NAW. Okay, this time it was an all-male, vampire revue which means that it should have a nice, Magic Mike-inspired scene should it be made into a movie. I don’t know why, but this club thing is grating on me. It’s numero uno on what not to have in my urban fantasy piece.

Hamilton did a great job with first person narration. It wasn’t too “I” heavy. A few things bugged me, which were, I assume, funny to most but  repetitive or stilting to me (such as the use of “Naw”). She over uses some of the same jokes that I thought, “once was enough, twice was pushing it, thrice–too far.” Other than that, the prose was good. The bad guy was pretty obvious making me wonder why Anita Blake missed it until he revealed himself. Why did I piece together the mystery before her?

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A Clockwork Orange was just too frustrating to finish. I didn’t get very far before giving up on the language. It was like reading a novel of Jabberwocky. I’ve seen the movie so I knew the language and understood what was going on which to me made reading the book pointless. If I’m only following along thinking “Oh, I remember that part of the movie,” that means I’m not enjoying the book. I’m just trudging along because lots of people like it. I’m not one of those people and that’s okay.

The Road

The Road

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

McCarthy’s story is told with no chapters, no breaks. Just prose. I loved it. It wrapped me in this blanket and carried me along until the end of the story. A man and his child travel across the country and I’m not sure if it’s the apocalypse or McCarthy’s style, but if I could have, I might have held my breath the whole way. I was scared, worried, anxious about reading to the next page, the next paragraph because of what might happen if I continued. It was as if by not reading it, it would not happen. I don’t get this feeling very often when reading so that is a glowing recommendation.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)

Storm Front

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

For me, Storm Front became an abandoned book about 20% in. In December, I blogged about another series by Jim Butcher, Codex Alera. When reading Codex, I was able to get past the poorly developed characters, the tropes, and the amateurish writing. In Storm Front, I couldn’t. The world, plot, and races of Codex Alera saved the series and made it worth reading but in Storm Front, it’s just not there. I just felt annoyed by the narrator, sick of the writing style, and not at all interested in any mystery. It was PI mystery mixed with all the crap I hate about urban fantasy. I know lots of people love this series, but I don’t.

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

No Crystal Stair

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

No Crystal Stair is the first book I read that wasn’t for the ERC. A literary agent told one of my clients to read this to help her shape her novel so I too needed to read it. No Crystal Stair is a short, fictional, documentary (which is typically non-fiction?) book about the life of a Black Rights activist, Lewis Micheaux. The entire story is told from multiple view points all focused on Lewis. About 15% of the book is sources, acknowledgements, etc so this is a very, very short read. It’s labeled YA but I don’t buy that. There is nothing YA about this book; it might be helpful for kids to read with a history unit or to encourage self-research. The writing, in my opinion, was weak. The entire text was filled with generalized statements and showed a disconnect between writer and character probably because there were so many she attempted to write through. It was interesting and I enjoyed learning about someone but the delivery made me feeling unrewarded because of that big old word “fictional” up there. There were strange disconnects leaving plot holes over the course of the man’s life that made it frustrating in some parts. That said, it’s won awards and stuff so maybe it’s just me.

Elemental

Elemental

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In short, Elemental blew me away. For his dystopia, John used a place that most east coasters know–the Outer Banks. I vacationed at Hatteras Island one weekend and it was probably the best beach trip I’ve ever had so that paradise was set on end by John’s action/adventure story, making it even more powerful. He works to develop elemental magic though his world building is minimal, wasting no time on long info dumps, instead helps us to discover the way things work with the characters. His characters, I love. Especially Alice (what a spit-fire) and Griffin. I’m really excited for the next two books in this series.

Elemental is relatively short and is a quick, action packed read. I highly recommend this book. It’s my favorite this month.