Posts Tagged ‘process’

Achievement Unlocked: Draft #2

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Attention, attention, Draft #2 is complete! *horns blare*

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I was struggling viciously with the final chapter, which so disappointed me the first time around, but I finally found the right angle at which to approach it. It’s still flawed and has way too much talking and I’m not quite sure I tied up all the questions properly but it’s DONE (caveat: FOR NOW).

The Numbers for DRAFT #2:

Date Started: January 12, 2016
Date Finished: May 19, 2016
# of Writing Days to Completion:  60
# of Chapters:  21 (divided into three Parts) + epilogue
Final Word Count: 92, 038
Difference from 1st draft: -4051
Number of printed pages: 295
Difference from 1st draft: -34
Number of paperback pages: ~234
# of Words I wrote but then cut or didn’t make the cut: 68,328

I tried my best to track my writing/revision word counts and progress but it’s challenging. Revision makes it hard to sort out how much is new and how much isn’t. According to the numbers as I tracked them, I averaged ~927 words/writing day. Again, this is deceptive because there were days when I would work for three hours and technically only add 80 words because I deleted three times as many.

My most successful writing day was April 27th when I spent 6 hours writing and added 3806 words. Some of that included scenes I had removed and reinserted, which is why it is such a particularly high number. See? Like I said, confusing.

If you count all the words that currently reside in this project and are retained in my Scriveners folders (the full draft, notes, outlines, deleted scenes, character sketches, research, etc.)  we’re looking at 275, 612 words . That’s a lot of creative brain juice right there.

So what’s next?

Sleep. And chocolate.

No, in all seriousness, there probably will be some sleep. There will definitely be chocolate. And the reading of books and enjoying of summer. But the next step for this manuscript is to put it in front of a few key sets of eyes: my beta readers.

Is that some kind of fish?

No, beta readers are actual people.  I’ve picked a couple writer friends who have experience reviewing Works-in-Progress (WIPs) and am sending off the manuscript to them as we speak for review sometime this summer (I hope they will forgive the fact that I constantly confuse “its” and “it’s” and use commas far too liberally). Yes, someone is going to finally get to look at this raw honeycomb of a novel. Then in the fall, once I’ve gotten their feedback and taken some space from it all, I’ll start trying to figure out what still needs to be fixed and how best to do that. Aka, DRAFT #3.

Then… I don’t know! More beta reading? More revising? Or finally on to querying? I would love to start querying sometime next year, but we’ll have to see how it all goes down.

But how do you FEEL about it?

Good, actually, thanks for asking! I feel much better about this draft than the first. It’s so much less of a rambling mess. Interestingly enough, in the first draft I felt as if the beginning was strongest, as it’s where I did the most writing/development and the ending was bare bones. With the revision I had to slash and rearrange so much of the beginning that now I have no idea if it’s any good. But the ending feels much more earned and secure.

When can I read it?

Eventually? But because you asked so nicely, here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 1:

I leave the shelter of the woods and head up the long, steep hill in front of me to the overlook. The grass is tall and golden and dampens the legs of my pants as I climb through it. On this side, the hill is pockmarked by mounds, some fresher towards the bottom and older as I reach the top.

The hill rolls down to a fog-laced field of flowers, pale as moths. The daffodils grow all the way up to the rocky edge of the mountainous cliffs surrounding the Mouth of the Valley. The mountains are massive; they glint grey, silver, and gold in the morning sun and they break in two places: to my right, past town, where they hit the ocean and bend away from sight, curving out to the sea; and straight ahead where the deep v-cut cut of the Mouth yawns before us. To the left the cliffs ripple and spike their way into the haze of distance.

In daytime it’s hard to see the lit torches, but they’re there: small licks of flame casting molten shadows on the rust-colored earth at the base of the Mouth, no matter the time of day or night. On the other side bleeds the field of poppies like a red lake, the flowers turning their ruddy faces to the sun. And beyond that, strangely normal pastures and houses of the Valley. A funnel of birds wends it’s way out, rippling against the pale blue sky above the cliffs, before passing over my head.

Looking out over the landscape, the muscles in my shoulders begin to relax. The sun is finally warm against my back. I imagine I can feel the thrumming of the ghost roads around me, pouring down into the Valley, pointing spirits toward the next plane. I don’t let my eyes settle long on the Mouth itself, but instead wrap myself in the heady scent of daffodils, the fresh green of their unfurling leaves. The beginning of daffodil season always feels like some kind of dangerous invitation to closed spaces.

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Draft #2 or Revising the Ghost, Take 1

Monday, February 22nd, 2016
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That’s iced tea not beer. Though if I drank beer, I totally could have used one.

It has been moons, fair readers. Like, a ridiculously long time. But I am sure you are all dying to know how The Ghost Story novel is coming along. Good news: IT’S COMING ALONG.

In November I took a class on revision at The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, hosted by the delightful and talented Erin Dionne. I had grand plans to dive right into the revision process but that didn’t really work out. In all honesty, I barely did any real writing at all at the end of 2015… I read through my draft, made notes, did research, twiddled with outlines, notecards, and all the various tools Erin walked us through. I was scared, intimidated, and frankly, tired. A lot. And so, I didn’t get cracking on actual revision until January 2016.

The first week was wonderful and terrible. It felt good to be writing but I kept having existential moments of GAH WHAT IS THIS and HOW DO I FIX and OH THE FUTILITY. It took me two weeks to get through most of Chapter 1 and I thought: This will take forever. I have at least twenty-two chapters to go through. And this is just draft two. But I realized I just had to sharpen my scalpel. I have to be unforgiving and relentless with the writing, but forgiving and patient with myself. And that revising can contain just as much writing as it does cutting.

Authors have consistently said at events I’ve run/attended: “Oh yes, I had to cut the first 100 pages of my first draft” and it always made me blanch. How? Really? Impossible! Well…

For the numbers people, as of 2/18/16:
Number of writing days since revision began: 20
Chapters Revised: 6.5 (mostly)
Word Count (New Material): ~16,000 words (50 pg)
Word Count (Revised + new material): ~25,700 words (85 pg)
Word Count (Cut from 1st Draft): ~24,500 words (80 pg)
Current goal for 2nd Draft Completion: April 30, 2016 (then a month of “polishing” before off to beta readers)
Cups of tea consumed: Countless

Want to know what has needed the most revising? (more…)

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The Muse & The Marketplace 2015: Reflections

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

I attended my first writer’s conference last Saturday: The Muse & The Marketplace hosted by Grub Street Inc. a non-profit creative writing center in Boston (the same folks I took a class with earlier this spring). It was really cool to be surrounded by other writers of various stripes, to be exposed to a lot of fresh ideas about craft, and to meet-up with writer friends. There’s a huge component of The Muse that’s focused on publishing, including sessions and lunches where you can meet agents and editors, but I skipped those this year and focused on craft-based sessions. Click on the courses below for some of my take-aways:


["Timing is Everything: Negotiating Past & Present in Fiction"]

taught by Maya Lang

This workshop was fantastic and I wasn’t the only one discouraged by the blaring fire alarm that interrupted our session. Dr. Lang had a smooth, calm voice and made the concepts we covered – the position of your character in time and how that relates to the narrative of your story – seem approachable, achievable. She also talked about the way readers experience time: “Some stories make time disappear,” she said, “others make time slow down.” Like devouring a meal versus savoring an 11-course tasting menu. “Sometimes it’s worth dwelling.”

Notes:

  • META narrators are positioned away from the dramatic action, but the story brings them back through time to focus/reflect on that action. These narrators utilize: hindsight, regret, justification, self-awareness. The change in emotional state between then and now adds to the sense of emotional stakes – why the narrator is looking back.
  • IMMERSED narrators are present in the dramatic action of the story. These narrators utilize: immediacy, high stakes, likeability, more detail, no safety net, no pre-knowledge of the outcome. “You have to watch the pace of the unspooling” of the narrative.
  • Seamless flashbacks are woven into the narrative and flow of thought – they don’t disrupt the story. They are always “triggered” by a thought or sensory experience in the story.
  • Demarcated flashbacks are often longer and there is some sort of indicator (paragraph break, chapter break) indicating a movement in time. These tend to be fuller and richer than seamless flashbacks.

Reflections: This session was perfect for me because in The Ghost Story I am doing all four of these things – meta narration in the form of demarcated flashbacks alternating with live-action immersive narration with the occasional seamless flashback. I asked Dr. Lang if that was allowed, if I could do all of these things in one novel. That I didn’t want to do everything half-assed instead of one thing well. “Don’t think about what you ought to do in the first draft. Just write.” A lot of the temporal position questions can be resolved once you have the whole picture, she assured me, once you yourself can reflect back on the work.

Maya Lang: "Time is a tool at your disposal"

Maya Lang: “Time is a tool at your disposal”

["Dramatis Personae or What Are All These Characters Doing in Your Story"]

taught by Lynne Barrett

Twitterfbc7013Another fantastic session. Barrett dove right into characters from a theatrical point of view: their roles on stage, their exits and entrances, the dynamics of different numbers of characters interacting with different levels of knowledge. “A story has a cast with roles,” she explained, “And those roles and relationships can change shape and shift.” It was fascinating to think about making effective use of “stage time” for characters and developing triangles of tension between them. “Good books have lots of triangles in them,” she joked as she outlined the dynamics between characters in The Great Gatsby.

Notes:

  • The protagonist is important, but the story really starts with the entrance of the deuteragonist (2nd character) who may or may not be the antagonist. The introduction of a tritagonist (3rd character) allows for more variation – the deuteragonist can then take on more of a confidante role. But all of these roles can transform by the end of the story.
  • Aristole’s Poetics, Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, and the Comedia dell’Arte all have examples of different kinds of roles that are useful in interpreting your characters. Doubling up on roles can really add drama through bonds of love/hate. E.g. Breaking Bad where the anti-hero and his antagonist are brothers-in-law –more dramatic than if they weren’t related.
  • There are viewpoint characters like Watson who relate the story/serve as a lens versus focal characters like Sherlock Holmes who are the main drivers of a story.
  • How do you make things happen in a story about internal struggle? Character “rifts” – Characters that enact internal struggle/conflict with strong actions that are contradictory serve the story  best. Continual contradiction creates character. Characters that say one thing but do another, who are consistently inconsistent create action and movement.
  • Ways to think about your characters and story design. Try making a character map or list outlining the breakdown of your characters by: class, territory, genealogy, order of appearance. Entrance order in Shakespeare’s plays made clear the balance of power to an audience without a program. What does your characters’ order of appearance say about the balances within your story?

Reflections: Yes, a thousand times yes. My story is bloating outward with characters; everytime I fact a conflict or am not sure which way a story should go, I add more characters. “Every character should really contribute to the outcome of the novel,” Barrett warned, “Always try to think about who can serve more roles.” I really appreciate being told to think about the roles my characters play and how those interact. Whose story is it? Who’s telling it? Who contributes to that story and how? Also love the character “rift” point, that contradiction is the strength of good characters.

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Lynne Barrett: “Good books have a lot of triangles in them.” Connections of marriage, lust, power, and money in Gatsby.

["'A Woman Wouldn't Say That'- Gendering Characters Without Bending to Stereotype"]

taught by Dawn Dorland Perry

A gentle conversation about how to develop characters that don’t conform to gender stereotypes. “In the absence of information in a story, a reader will make an assumption, likely fueled by a stereotype,” Perry said. We discussed techniques of characterization and what some of our own stereotypes are about men and women. “Stereotypes eat our writing from the inside out,” Perry warned, and urged us to think deeply about the context and point-of-view of stereotypes creeping into our own work. Perry did an excellent job of making the material accessible and comfortable, though I wish we had had the time to dig a little deeper into how gender shapes the choices we make about our characters. We did some reading and writing exercises that were very fruitful.

Exercise: Step 1: Call to mind someone you know Spend three minutes list the salient traits of this character, inventing and embellishing wherever you like. PAUSE. Step 2: Flip the gender of your character. Take a moment to adjust to this new reality. Then for five minutes write a passage rendering a scene from this new characters point-of-view, either in third or first person.

Reflections: Doing the gender-flip exercise was great and I loved the discussion it generated… I almost wish we had done that earlier in the workshop! This is a topic I think a lot about because my novel’s protagonist, while female, often passes for a boy and is fairly non-conformist. Its important to me not to fall into the traps of my own bias, especially when I’m creating an entire world to populate. It got me thinking about: what are the stereotypes in the world I am creating? How do my characters break not only the stereotypes of our world, but of theirs?

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Dawn Dorland Perry: “Stereotypes eat our writing from the inside out.”

["One Thing You Should Always Do Before You Write"]

taught by  Nadine Kenney Johnstone

Not too many notes on this because we spent most of the session doing a visualization exercise. Johnstone was very down-to-earth and organized, even with the cerebral nature of the exercise. Writing without developing a scene in your mind is like moving into a house with not plan for unpacking, layout, and design she explained. She walked us through a piece of writing, having us call out the d

WP_20150502_15_17_26_Proetails of scene and character that stuck with us. Then she led us in visualization exercise. First we jotted down a few notes about a day-in-the-life of our character and had us think about one thing that might be different on this day.  Then we closed our eyes and she had us picture the scene, first from a birds-eye view with natural elements, time of day/year, etc. Then she had us zoom in on the space our character occupied and examine it through the senses, then through the furnishings and objects around the character, then examining the character herself and those around her. Finally we focused on action in the scene and that subtle shift – who or what has changed at the end? What won’t be the same anymore?

Reflections: I liked this exercise, though I don’t think I did it right – I started my character in her bedroom in the morning, after first waking up before I realized we were sort of supposed to start them in the moment in change. But when I asked Johnstone about it she said “If you started in her room, there was a creative reason for it.” I think this is a great exercise for really diving deep into sensory details. It’s something I do in a smaller way on a regular basis since descriptive detail is my jam. But I liked the idea of “what is different about today?” and that it could be as small as waking up in a different mood. I had a mini “ah hah” moment during the exercise, so that was fruitful.

A hook to get me into a fresh scene for my novel...

A hook to get me into a fresh scene for my novel…

["Star Literary Idol"]

Pieces read by Steve Almond, judged by Stephen McCauley, Anita Shreve, Elinor Lipman, and Mameve Medwed

Imagine having your first page read aloud in the dulcet tones of writer Steve Almond and judged by four brilliant authors? Yup, that’s “Star” Literary Idol. Almond read the pieces aloud and if one of the judges hears a line that would prompt them to stop reading, they would raise their hand. Once two hands were raised, Almond would stop reading and the judges would critique the piece.

The first piece read aloud was a darkly funny piece about a man struggling with obesity, attending over-eaters anonymous with a bunch of skinny women. The judges loved it and wanted more. The second piece they read was MINE. Almond read it beautifully, I’m sure, but I only heard half of it because my heart was literally beating so hard and loud it felt like my entire rib cage would split open. But… no one raised a hand. My first 250 words made it through strict judgement! They were intrigued. Anita Shreve was worried that it would be grim, but was interested in hearing what happened next. They all liked the imagery (even Elinor Lipman who said “I don’t usually go for descriptions of leaves and things…”) and the unexpected line “the trees rattle and cough with hundreds of birds.” And then they were on to the next piece and my hands were shaking and I could breathe again.

Reflections: Terror! Now the rest of my novel has to live up to the first 250 words! Which was always the case, but some piece of me wants to believe that if I fix the beginning enough, the whole thing will be fixed – NOT TRUE. As for the rest of the pieces read and analyzed during the Idol session, about a quarter to a third of them were stopped mid-read, usually due to confusion, boredom, or cliché. There was a large swath that made it all the way through, but where the feedback was really mixed – the usual comment was “The first part was slow/clichéd/confusing, but it really started for me with your second-to-last line…” There were a handful that the judges had only positive feedback on, and a teeny tiny number that the judges loved.

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Mameve Medwed: “Dialogue should be the cream that rises to the top.”

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Mile Marker 80K + writer’s conference

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Yesterday I hit 80,000 words in The Ghost Story project! **fireworks**

So I thought I would update you on my “process”:

  1. Next time I write a novel I want to have more of a plan. Maybe that’s not my true process but being 80,000 words in, a plan would feel really good right about now. This last week has mostly been hyper-productive because I know I have to get my characters from point A to point B and I’ve just been bullheadedly pushing them there.
  2. Revision will either be the life or death of me. There is so much that needs to be fixed, dear readers, and I’m not just talking about the errant cliché (I actually used the phrase “every fiber of my being” and thought I might keel over right then).  I’m talking about referencing stuff in later chapters that never even happened in earlier chapters. I’ve changed people’s personalities and abandoned secondary plots. I don’t know if that means they are better off abandoned or if I’ve shed all extra weight just to get the buoyancy to finish. But I have a document called “Weak Spots” that I’m filling with notes like: Make sure lead up info/backstory is given BEFORE critical scene, not after and Establish conflict and Why would he even DO this?
  3. I’ve upped my daily word count goals. I boosted it from 850 to 1300 last month because needs must. But I’ve found that I can hit that now. If I focus, if I have some specific scenes to work on during a writing session, then I can get there.
  4. Reading backwards. I have to go back and read the last chapter or two before I continue. I usually do some tightening and tidying as a I go, but try not to wallow there too long. Sometimes I go back and read Chapter 1 because that’s where the tone I want lives, in those early pages.
  5. Still aiming for May 31st but… in all honesty, even if I make it to 100,000 words (which would be more like 1,500 words/writing day), I don’t think the story will be finished. It feels like I’m 50 – 60% complete, not 80%. This is where the plan would be really useful. Based on my sort-of plan, there’s a whole additional country to visit (possibly two) and another antagonist to encounter. I think. It feels kind of ridiculous.
  6. I’m still figuring out the shape of this project. What’s the real mystery/mission at the heart of this story? When I go back to revise, I think the focus will be the world, the characters and the questions: What is grief and how do we grieve? How do we live in the face of death? If death and the afterlife were a known quantity, would that make life easier or harder and how? If reincarnation were the cycle of the world, how would that impact the choices people make? What would that kind of world look like? Oh, and making sure it all makes sense.

This weekend is Grub Street’s The Muse & The Marketplace. This is my first writer’s conference and my writing buddy and I are attending all day tomorrow. The workshops I plan to attend include ones on writing through time, handling large casts of characters, writing gender, and creativity exercises. I’m also going to “Star Literary Idol” where there’s a chance that Steve Almond (!) may read the first 250 words of my manuscript to a panel of authors to be Judged. I’ll do an extensive write-up once I’ve processed everything and let you know what I’ve learned. I’m hoping it’ll make this crazy “I don’t know what I’m doing!” feeling a little less “ahhhhh!” and a little more “ahhhh…” or even, possibly “ah HA!”

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