Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

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Figuring Out Your Subplot

May 20, 2015

plot threadsIn my first Regency mystery, my subplot was an obvious extension of my main character’s romantic interests and just sorta ‘showed up’.

TA-DAA! Heeeere’s your subplot!

In that first mystery, I had a Plot A, Plot B…and a Plot C. Too much plot? Perhaps. But I liked the trinity feel of it, my variation of the rule of three.

It developed organically and it all felt fine. I was diligent about balancing them out properly, so that Plot A was the shining star and Plot B and C the back up singers. (No plot coups on my watch!)

In the next book, the second of the series, I’ve had to put more thought and intention into developing my subplots.

Plot A has a very clear direction (though not necessarily a clear path).

But Plot B and C? Not so much.

In fact, I’ve been in such a hurry to lay down the beginning of Plot A that I completely forgot about the others. It wasn’t until I re-read what I had from the start that I realized how heavy and off balanced and one focused it felt.

Wait! I gasped, smacking my forehead. I don’t have a subplot! What the heck is my subplot?

First, a reminder. Here’s the definition of a subplot: “it is the secondary or subordinate plot in a literary work”.

Subplots are great. I love how they break tension and yet crank it up.

They interject the main plot, giving that plot a chance to breathe. By doing so, they also create suspense…you now have to wait to get back to the main plot! But they also mirror the tension of that main plot, acting like an extra music note played a half a second later…and they all get faster and louder and faster.

So in reality, there is no break in tension. That’s an illusion! Really all you’ve done is shifted in your seat to look out a different window. But you’re still in the same vehicle, one that is still hurtling forward, and the speed is steadily increasing–

Subplots add complexity and nuance.

They really are fabulous.

Great. So where do I get one?

I ended up looking in these places:

Relationships

Family and friends of your main character are a great source of subplot material. This is, in part, what I ended up doing. I’m mining my main character’s relationship troubles.

Themes & ‘Big Issues’

Search out a secondary area that mirrors your ‘big ideas’. Does your story deal with issues of abandonment? Well, then, find an abandonment plot that connects or mirrors or is similar to the main one.  (In my book, reconciliation is something my main character struggles with. So finding other ways and means for my main character to obtain goal is part of my subplots.)

Genre

I’m writing mysteries and so it makes sense to have my main mystery be Plot A and then have some mini mysteries in my subplots.

These are some areas where you can find subplots. I’m sure there are more.

For me, this is what worked.

I think it’s good to sort out your plot threads every now and again. I tend to write organically–I am an organic plotter, not of the ‘outliner’ persuasion–but sometimes an analytical approach is needed and I’ve got to pause to take stock…or else I’ll just have a knotted mess! Grrrr.

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My Novel Needs a Buzz Cut! aka Editing Madness #2

May 9, 2014

editing madnessHaving finished my novel, I now willfully enter the EDIT and REWRITE phase.

Of course, I’ve been editing all along (see Surviving Editing Madness #1) and to call this my ‘first’ draft is inaccurate…it’s more like my fortieth.

BUT it is the first draft that has a BEGINNING, MIDDLE and completed ENDING. Thus, I shall call it: MY FIRST FULL DRAFT.

It now requires some mega-chopping because it is way over limit at 100 000 words ‘plus’.

I have to chop about 30 000 words.

Yep, my novel needs a make over. I’m thinking…buzz cut!

But not all at once. Rather than radically dissect my work, I’m starting with the gradual cuts, sloughing off the usual fluff that deserves to die.

I’m following these sites as a guideline to start:

Writing 101: Revising A Novel   and   Tighten Up Your Manuscript

I got rid of the excess words like very, etc. Now I am going through my novel from start to finish, word by word, reworking sentences and, as much as I don’t like it…losing most of the ADVERBS. (See ‘Relax, It’s Just an Adverb‘ for my thoughts on the much maligned adverb).

I’ve also been trimming the fat off dialogue. This has made a significant difference to its quality but I’ll admit it has been hard to kill those hard won words.

I can’t tell you how many times I struggled to find the perfect action to accompany dialogue!

  • She sighed; he shrugged.
  • She shook her head; he lifted an eyebrow.
  • He grinned; she stared at him.

On and on I contorted them, like marionettes. But getting rid of these has increased the punch and zip in the conversation. It flows faster. The dialogue is smokin’!

Speaking of smoking (as in smoking guns) *ok, awkward segue-way* Let’s talk about…CHEKHOV’S GUN.

To quote Wikipedia, this is:

A dramatic principle that requires every element in a narrative to be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed.

Or, to put it in the words of the man who said it:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.– Russian author Anton Chekhov.

Alas, I have a couple of scenes that don’t fire. They aren’t wholly necessary. But they are dear to me. It feels like a slasher movie.

Me: No, not the ghost story scene! No! Stop!

Mad writer wielding an axe: CHOP! *maniacal laugh*

And through this process, I hope to complete phase one in my novel’s beauty make-over.

Wish me luck!

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Where’s the ‘real’ Finish Line?

May 2, 2014

done but not doneThe other day I wrote the last line in my novel. Yippee!

It has taken me years (I’m on the verge of saying ‘decades’) to reach this point. The road I took was long, winding, and, on occasion, headed in the wrong direction.

But I followed it faithfully.

And now it’s done! 

But it’s not done!

Next up, I’ve got editing and a massive rewrite. I have to lose *around* 30, 000 words. (That’s a lot of ‘darlings’ to kill).

Sometimes I wish I wrote less intensive pieces—limericks and haikus, say. Pieces that don’t require the endurance of an ultra-marathoner to get from A to Z.

Writing a novel is a vast enterprise. Like any long trek, you need fuel (by which I mean snacking at the computer), positivity (go! writer go!), stubbornness (not…giving…up) and a sense of humour (oh! I just spent two weeks working on a scene that didn’t work and it turns out I don’t need, ha! ha!).

Also: you need the wisdom to realize that even once ‘the work’ is polished and published and read by millions (?)…you’re still not done. There’s more stories to tell. New projects.

I’ve realized: my twinge of jealousy towards poets is misplaced. Poets don’t just stop at one (usually). And neither do novelists (usually).

We all keep running. Writers of all kinds are willing to go the distance.

When you’ve got a creative calling, is there ever a finish line? I say: No! So, pause for a moment to enjoy the milestones, but otherwise…just: GO!

 

PS. I COULDN’T RESIST! HERE’S MY LIMERICK!

There once was a writer named Julie

Who wrote all the time, so groovy,

She wrote and she wrote

‘Til the day that she croaked

Then she wrote as a ghost, yes, truly!

 Hmmm. Better stick with novel writing, amiright?

 

 

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Searching for Crit Partners…How? Who? Where? Why?

April 13, 2011

In a few short months (like two) I will be finished my novel. At least that’s the plan. Lately I’ve been writing like a fiend to make this happen, not because anyone’s making me do it, but because I made this #writegoal for myself and I intend to keep it. It’s the whole point of setting a writing goal: so I honour my commitment to myself.

And truly, it seems quite possible I’ll do it…the end is in sight…! *applause* *cheering*

Already I’m thinking about how it will feel to finally cross that finish line, to write the last, pithy line to a 10 year labour of love. I expect I’ll cry a little, do a little dance, tweet it out, facebook it, call everyone I know and shout it to the rooftops: I DID IT!

Then, after about five minutes of that, I’ll turn my attention to stage 2. Editing.

How I wish I could just press ‘send’ and have my novel magically appear in the #1 spot of the best sellers list! But, alas, it is not that easy. After sweating and bleeding out a first draft…I now must sweat and bleed out a second draft.

Editing.

Ok. So I can do a spell check no problem, I can probably even plug enough caffine into my system to work my way though a grammar check (they’re, their, there…who, whom…its, it’s–finding these in a block of text is the best cure for insomnia, I swear!).

But as to the rest of it–I could honestly use some help!

Someone who can read it through and is willing to say more than just: great! well done! I love it! Because they don’t want to make me feel bad.

I need honest input. I need someone who will tell me great, well done, I love it–AND also pick it apart, tear it to shreds, tell me everything that’s wrong with it–so that I can fix it and make it better!

These are the things I need them to tell me:

You said he took off his jacket. So how can he put the letter in his jacket pocket later on?

I can’t understand who’s saying what in this dialogue! Is the the guy? the girl? the dog? Who?!

This scene makes no sense. Why is he telling a ghost story? Who cares?

THEN I can finally see about getting it published…!

So…who do I get to do this? Sure, I can lasso my family and friends into doing it. But there’s obvious limits to that. They don’t want to hurt my feelings, for one. And I don’t want them to feel beholdened to me to do it just because I ask, that’s two.

But if I want someone else to do it (for free), someone I’m not related to or know well…how do I figure that out? Do I randomly select names from the phonebook? Do I put a help wanted sign up at the local grocery store?!

I know Twitter’s writing community is probably a good place to find critique readers, but…and here’s the rub: HOW DO I TRUST THESE PEOPLE? No offence, but I only know you from your tweets, your twitter name and your profile picture (which could be photoshopped, for gods sake!). Yes, I’ve built up relationships with some fabulous people on Twitter …but….but…

Can I ask them for a resume? References?

My novel is my baby! It’s like the first time I sent my child to daycare. It was tough to let go, but I knew I had given a lot of thought into my decision and it was sound. I did the research, toured the facility, met everyone , got references, talked to those who also had brought their babies there before…

Does this hold true to the writing world?

Writers, how did you find your crit partners and beta readers? If you’ve been down this road and survived, can you help a sister-in-writing out here and let me in on your secret?!

THANKS!

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#teasertuesday: Meeting Mr. Elliot

July 27, 2010

Here is my #teasertuesday entry. I have been fussing over this scene so much I can’t look at it straight anymore. I could really use some fresh perspective! Though I’ve edited and reworked it a million times, its still not quite how I want it. Have I got the right vibe between them? (Mr. Elliot: flirtatious, Mrs. Honeychurch: standoffish yet pleased/amused/intrigued). Any and all feedback appreciated!

Just to give you some orientation: my book is a Regency rom-com mystery. This scene takes place during the day trip to the Elliot’s country estate, the purpose of which is to ‘match make’ Mr. Elliot and Miss Rutherford (one of my subplots). Everyone decides to go for a walk but due to various circumstance Mrs. Honeychurch and Mr. Elliot (and the twins) are the only one’s continuing onward to the hill top meadow…

This is the second half of that scene, once they’ve reached the meadow.

***

Mr. Elliot stood beside me under the oak tree,  looking outward as I was—and glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, as I was to him.  A breeze ruffled the red leaves above us, causing the green ribbons on my hat to dance. I pressed my straw hat firmly in place then, resolutely, turned to him.

“Are you happy to be home?” I asked, hoping to deflect whatever was going on between us with jaunty and pleasant conversation. I had enough complexities in my life.

“Yes,” he replied, taking a step towards me. As he did so, my pulse leaped.  “Though I must confess, I do miss Istanbul. And Camlica. And Malkara. That’s the trouble with traveling. You come to adopt each local as your new home. Everywhere you go you leave a little bit of your heart.”

“At least no more bandits are chasing you,” I told him, in a rush.

“No,” he laughed. “I’ve only to face the Ladies of Almack’s! Frankly, I don’t know which is more terrifying! I might find I prefer rattling sabers to the Marriage Mart.”

I squinted up at him from beneath the brim of my hat.

“So you are indeed looking for a wife next season?”

“Yes,” he replied, gazing at me speculatively. “If I find someone suitable.”

“And Miss Rutherford?” I asked, pointedly, lifting my chin. “Is she suitable?”

He looked out at the view for a moment, his lively green eyes dancing all over Glorious Old England. His lips twisted slightly, as though savoring a secret he was about to tell—and my stomach sank—while my heart rose to my throat—

Oh no, I thought, how had this happened so fast?

“I’ve a confession to make, Mrs. Honeychurch. I only agreed to meet Miss Rutherford because I knew you would be one of her traveling party. You’re the one I wanted to meet today and I must tell you,  Fate has been very kind to me. I was hoping for a chance to speak with you alone and now that it’s been granted, I’ve decided I can’t let it pass, whatever the consequences.”

I stared at him.

He went on: “You intrigue me, especially now that I’ve met you and seen you as your own person. I should like to get to know you better, if you’ll allow it.”

“But—” I frowned. Though I’d half expected him to say something like this, my wits hadn’t quite caught up with reality.“But—what about Miss Rutherford?”

He shook his head.

“She’s fine enough, but not for me, I’m afraid.”

“You seemed interested in her on the patio!” I pointed out.

He shrugged, unabashed.

“I was playing the part drafted for me today.”

“That was dangerous!” I thought of her blush, her undivided attention.“You may have inspired interest on her behalf.”

He waved away my reproof.

“Oh, I doubt it. She’s here under sufferance, is she not? Her heart all ready belongs to another.”

“You don’t know that.”

He smiled.

“Of course I do. I listen to gossip. I know she still cares for Mr. Henessey. She as much as told me so as we were walking.”

“She did?” My God, that girl was insufferable, sabotaging our match making efforts the first chance she got! But then I  recalled her blush in response to Mr. Elliot again—something that just couldn’t be faked. Maybe her lack of interest wasn’t so certain? “I know she thinks that’s how it is for her,” I went on, heatedly. “But it could change, if she met the right person and fell in love again.”

“Perhaps,” he allowed. “But a man would have to be both patient and besotted. I may be patient, but I’m not besotted. Not with her, at any rate.”

“You could be, given time.”

His eyes twinkled. He seemed to be finding my arguing for his affections on behalf of another woman very amusing.

“Let me make this plain: I don’t want to be besotted with her. That is not where my interests lie.”

“Well, I do hope you intend to inform everyone!” I huffed.“They’re ready to pack your bags and send you both to Gretna Green with their blessing!”

He laughed. “Oh, we will let them down gentle, never fear. But later. No sense ruining everyone’s afternoon.”

I shook my head at him. This was audacious.

“You are playing a dangerous game,” I warned. “Trifling with another’s feelings.”

“It’s not a game to me. And the only feelings I’m trifling with are my own. I’ve put my own sentiments out there for you to see—and I’ve yet to receive a response, you know.”

“I’m not interested in remarriage,” I told him, stiffly. Then I realized with a start: even if I were interested, I couldn’t anyway…because if Charles was still alive, then I wasn’t a widow anymore, was I? No, I was still his wife. His wife. He could come by any time now and claim me like an old pocket watch, if he were so inclined.

I hadn’t quite thought of it that way before. I felt suddenly quite distressed.

“At least grant me the opportunity to change your mind,” said Mr. Elliot, ever persistent. Apparently, a man who could walk from Istanbul to Corlu with only a guide and a small pack of supplies rarely took no for an answer.

I shook my head. This was madness, I told myself. I shouldn’t even be having this conversation, let alone considering—

The twins ran up to us then, bounding out of the tall grass.

“Uncle, Look!”  Samuel cried, holding up his undone cravat. At the bottom of that long strip of linen, he’d tied a large rock, which dangled and swung, to and fro, like a pendulum. “We’ve got Napoleon’s head!”

“And for you, Mrs. Honeychurch,” said Jacob, bowing forward with a bouquet of white asters. “We’d like to crown you the new Empress of France!”

I accepted it, touched by their ridiculous whimsy. Oh, I thought, to be a child again. It seemed less complicated. But then I remembered my own childhood and checked that wish. It was the wrong wish.

Too bad I didn’t know what the right wish should be.

There was no time to consider it further: we heard a voice cry out behind us ‘hey, there!’. We turned to find Mr. Rutherford and Miss Rutherford coming up over the crest of the hill.

She had changed her mind again.

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Surviving Editing Madness

July 1, 2010

Recently, I participated in #teasertuesday. It’s where you post a snippet of your current work for others to read and comment upon.

I’d never done anything like it before, and when I found out about it I only had 2 days to prepare for it…2 days in which to frantically search my novel for an appropriate piece…and then try to make it picture perfect (or at least fill in those research blanks and make sure the dang thing’s spelled correctly!)

I’ll admit it. I came down with a bit of ‘Editing Madness’. You know, where you start examining each sentence, each word, asking yourself: is this the best way to express it? Is there a stronger, better, more specific verb? Am I being too repetitive here? Should I change this character’s hair colour? (My gosh, once again, everyone’s a brunette!)

In a way, this is good. It’s healthy to go over your work every now and then from the perspective of that Anonymous Reader. Put on their viewpoint and see things with ‘fresh eyes’. You can make your writing tighter that way.

But I had to remind myself…

1. Don’t take it too far! Not every word needs to be heavily imbued with meaning.  Not every line needs a fancy-dancy metaphor.

2. And don’t forget to take off those ‘audience eyes’ when you’re done! Its fine to wear them on occasion but if you wear them all the time, you run the risk of blurring your own vision. It’s meant to be an alternate, occasional viewpoint, not your permanent one. Use it to inform your writing; not dictate it!

3. And stay connected to your intuition! Don’t let that ‘critical’ reading morph into an over-urge to people-please, so that your noble intention to improve your writing becomes tainted by self doubt and anxiety… then nothing’s good enough and the next thing you know, you’re eating your own tail, trying to make it be all things to all people…so that when you finally do step away, you do so saying ‘huh? Where did my novel go? Why is it now about good-looking teenage vampires?’.

Stay grounded and confident in your original intent. Know where your interior boundaries are.

Know when to tell your inner editor: Ok, that’s enough!

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[Frame It] to Keep the Writing Flowing

June 9, 2010

I’ve been working on a scene lately that is really fussy. I can’t quite get it how I want it.

It’s a funny scene. My novel is supposed to be a funny Regency Mystery…but there’s a fine line between a humorous homage and a spoof. I don’t want this to come across as some kind of Comedy Club Jane Austen Skit…

So I finally decided to apply the parentheses []. I often use [] when I’m writing, as an way to tell myself ‘this area needs to be revisited and reworked’. Sometimes I’ll use it as a way to mark details I can fill in later, perhaps after some research. For example:

Living in [location in London], they were often the last to arrive. OR

“I vow,” declared Lady [name], “That I read more books in two weeks than I usually do in a year!” OR

Before dinner, I practiced [name of Mozart music] to perfection.

Sometimes I put it around alternate phrasing, because I’m not sure which one I prefer. Such as:

My aunt [had retired for the night/was still at a dinner party]

This is the first time I’ve applied it to a whole scene, though.

For some reason, it’s only once I slap those suckers down, that I can let it go and move on. Got to keep the writing flowing!