Thursday, April 30, 2009

So, That's That

I have finished the fifth draft! With time to spare! Actually, I finished it last night but it didn't feel right. I couldn't decide if it didn't feel right because of my sleep-deprived state or because it wasn't right. On the walk home from my bus stop about half an hour ago, I realized that I'd made a mistake in the climax scene and in a subsequent scene as well. I've fixed those mistakes, adding in about 500 Very Inspired Words. And now, I'm done. Done, do you hear? Next stop: long weekend vacation followed by two novel-free weeks! Yay me!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Troika!*

This weekend I was offered the opportunity to join Michelle Davidson Argyle (Lady Glamis) and Davin Malasarn on Davin's blog, the Literary Lab. Being no fool, I accepted the chance to co-host the Lab with these fellow writers, whose essays and comments about the craft of writing I greatly admire. The point of this merging of ideas is, as Davin says,

"We decided to work together because the three of us share a love for literary fiction, an art form that has sadly become associated with stuffy and inaccessible writing. Our hypothesis is that classical literary techniques will make any writing better, and the best popular fiction can also be the best literary fiction."

In other words, everyone should write well regardless of genre and the three of us are hoping to be some help in our little corner of the cyberworld.

This blog will be continued and I'll post progress reports as my novel moves through the publishing process. I'll pass along anything I think I've learned during that process. I also intend to post about writing my next novel (working title: Kindle-Ready Zombie Book), once I really get started on it.

* Tolstoy reference for Davin

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pacing, and a Surprise (for me, that is)

I am very nearly finished with my Major Revision, and the work is going swimmingly since my Post-It(tm) epiphany earlier this week. I did a bunch of work last night, mostly cutting dialog, it turns out. I have a bad habit of writing repetitive dialog, like this:

Antonio: So I'm going to kill you.

Babar: You're going to kill me? With a sword?

Antonio: Yes, with a sword. This one, in fact.

Babar: It goes without saying that I'd rather you didn't.

Antonio: While I can understand your preference to not be killed by me (or, likely, by anyone), I shall nonetheless proceed to slay you. Prepare to die.

Babar: In that case, we must fight. Have at you!

Et cetera. Obviously the above can all be reduced to:

Antonio: I'm going to kill you.

Babar: Have at you! (draws sword)

While dialog presented in this manner is sometimes realistic because people do ask clarifying questions and often just don't know what you mean, in most cases that sort of realistic dialog is not appropriate for fiction.

More than it being dull on its own, repetition like this really slows the pace in any passage. I became acutely aware of this last night (or maybe it was the night before; it's all a blur these days) when I hit a section of my book where it gets really truly very exciting and I stopped editing and just read what I'd written, carried away by the story. I had no idea, frankly, that my book so picked up the pace in the last 1/3 and ran so precipitously toward the climax.

Which is all very pleasing, but suddenly*, after a couple dozen pages of exhilarating prose, the story tripped over its own feet and ground almost to a halt. That's right, I had hit a chunk of my repetitive prose and I wanted to shout at my characters, "Will you just get on with it?"

Now, it's fine for me to act that way in the privacy of my own home, because as author I can make the characters get on with things by cutting all the junk prose. It's less fine for the reader to say that to my characters, and I've now become hyperaware of pacing, especially in the second half of the book. There are some scenes that exist purely for expository purposes, necessary for the action of the end of the book, but they sometimes feel static. I'm going to revisit those scenes after I've done the bulk of my revisions and see if I can give them some forward momentum.

Because momentum is really what I'm looking for in the second half of the book, and I have an image of the reader being carried forward down a hill that becomes progressively steeper toward the bottom, the reader traveling faster and faster until hitting the bottom of the hill. Like the old cartoon snowballs turning into huge avalanches as they roll down snowy slopes. So I'll be doing one editing pass just for pacing. This is sort of like Lady Glamis' technique of layers.

The surprise for me in all this is that I am now aware of momentum and pacing in a new way. I'd always sort of approached this intuitively, not really knowing at a conscious level that I was fussing with the pace of the story. Now it's suddenly* another story element over which I have direct control. So, huh. More and more, I look at novels as something like machines, with all sorts of interconnected parts, moving at different speeds and in different directions.


* used (twice!) for Davin's amusement

Monday, April 20, 2009

Work in Progress (and I do mean 'work')



I've made a lot of notes for myself during the ongoing revisions to my novel. Something like 100 pages of notes since the beginning of March. The Post-It(tm) above is likely the most valuable note I've made. It shows the conflicting motivations of the main characters as applied to the protagonist's central goal. Why is this little note useful to me? Because it's taken the last week to figure out that this is the basic structure I'm going to use for the last 2/3 of the novel, and a lot of hard thinking was necessary to get me to this point. When all else fails, I draw charts. This is not the only chart I've made lately. I have a much larger one that details the conflicts in every scene in the last 15 chapters of the book and how the characters' goals change (or don't) as each event in the story unfolds. I didn't make that chart on a Post-It(tm), of course.

What I liked best about this exercise is that it made clear to me that nearly everyone in the story is my protagonist's antagonist, even if they don't know it. Ta-da: instant and constant conflict. Yay! Conflict=good reading. Also, this makes it much easier for me to revise the book; my story has suddenly become more clear to me. I was floundering there for a while last week, which frankly terrified me. But I'm better now, ta awfully.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brief Revisions Update

I have cut page upon page of beautiful prose. Some of my favorite dialog--truly lovely stuff--is now in the bin. A new chapter has been added about a third of the way into the narrative. Two subsequent chapters have been rewritten from scratch. I've rewritten scenes that I've already rewritten. Twice. I'm about halfway through the revisions. My characters' fates sadden me. The book is better than it was a month ago. And now I must sleep.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Revisions

Tonight I finished writing a new chapter for the book, to fit into a three-year gap in the narrative I'd left to the imagination of the reader when I was trying to be clever. I've filled in those three years and it was, I must say, a job of work. I have been writing this chapter since last Monday, I think, and earlier this evening I worried that I'd never see the end of it. But I have, and I sit back with some satisfaction and declare it quite fine. I shake my fist at my protagonist and say, "I have finally got you!" For I do have him, at long last. I have his fears, his anger at fate, his love of family and his conflicted loyalties. He is now fully alive and the revisions to the rest of the book should come pretty easily after this. I may have to go back to the previous five chapters and add a bit here and there, but all in all I'm feeling pretty smug and full of myself.

I realize I've said this any number of times, but this revision is hard work, much harder than any of the writing I've done up till now, possibly including the first draft (though let's not get hasty). The book is growing longer at an alarming pace, too. I've cut about 3000 words out of it, mostly useless exposition and awkward phrasing, but the word count is nearly 11,000 words more than it was a month ago. Huh. I have no idea how long the book will be when I'm finished rewriting it. About 100,000 words, I'm guessing, which is much longer than I ever imagined it would be. I remember feeling lucky when I got the second draft up to 80,000 words, the minimum length for a work of literary fiction. The revision process continues to surprise me.

Despite the great flood of words spilling out of my gawcy pen, I still think I'm on track to finish the first round of this rewrite by the end of April, which gives me a week to collapse and sleep before I take a run at--I hope--a line edit in May before sending it off to Mr. Agent.

Most valuable lesson learned during rewrites: It doesn't matter if you don't feel like writing, it doesn't matter if you're not in the mood for it or you don't feel inspired. You can make yourself sit down and write when you need to write. The muse will find you if you commit yourself to the work no matter how tired or doubting you are, and the inspiration will come despite your reluctance to be inspired.