Archive for the ‘Revising’ Category

22,222 Words

August 18, 2012

In the middle of May, I was about 28,000 words into the Italian Chase Novel and wondering about whether or not I needed to Cut to the Chase.  Were things moving too slowly? Was I adding in too much description? Two weeks later, my agent gave me an answer after she looked at an excerpt and a synopsis: Yes.  Not enough was happening fast enough. There was a lot in the opening chapters that could be trimmed way down.  Well, THAT was a blow because I really was trying to make things lively and exciting while establishing characters and a strong sense of place.  But there was good news as well. My agent loved the characters. I did evoke the settings.  This story could and should be saved.

So what happened? Open-heart surgery. I trimmed off about 7,000 words in two days. Two chapters disappeared in five clicks.  Snick. Clack. Gone.  (Well, they weren’t completely gone because I had carefully saved what I labeled the “ItalianChasePreErin” file just in case I wound up going a little two far. I also had an ItalianChaseScraps file which was growing exponentially.)  I took a slightly more delicate approach to make the other cuts, but I was ruthless. Certain subplots disappeared because my character would be taking a much different path than I’d originally intended.

Then I started moving forward again. This entailed a series of additions and subtractions as I took on scenes that could be saved, but needed substantial modification as I worked them into new situations and settings.   And finally, at long last, I really feel like I’ve got some forward momentum back after a series of interruptions, good and bad. Visits from family. Helping my parents clean out their cabin after a devastating flood. A fabulous writers’ retreat. The funeral of my husband’s aunt, a wonderful lady who left us all too soon. A road trip to the northernmost point in Michigan. But I believe it was Katherine Paterson who said that the same things that keep us from writing also give us something to write about.


Back to Blogging

September 29, 2011

I’m not surprised that September 1 was the last time I managed to pull together a blog post. My husband and I took a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons from September 10 to the 17.  That took prep time. Five or six days after our return, I was off to Mackinac Island for a writers’ conference.  I know that you’ll all pity me deeply when I say that I had to get there a day early and leave a day late to help my friend get editors to the conference and bring Donna Jo Napoli back to the airport.  More on all that later.

But to put this busyness in context, I received a wonderfully detailed email from my agent, the fabulous Erin Murphy, on September 8th.  I finally managed to sit down at the computer and start working at the revisions last Saturday on Mackinac Island.  But I think that the two weeks of meditation on her comments as I hiked through narrow canyons, studied prismatic springs, waited for Old Faithful to go off, and repeatedly mowed the lawn were an extremely valuable part of the process.

Plus, I needed to work on world-building.  That’s not something to do in brief spurts, at least not for me since I needed to hold the changes and clarifications in my head. I kept going on my Italian chase novel in those quick half-hours.  Today will be another sustained effort.

Juggling Projects

July 9, 2011

Some writers out there are jugglers.  They can easily switch from project to project.  In fact, there are those who strongly feel that you should have more than one project out there so that you can jump to something else if you feel blocked.  Since I am by nature both a plodder and a polisher, I prefer to keep myself completely submerged in a single project.  If I can’t move forward, I’ll go back and tweak things so that I’m staying involved with my characters.

One of the reasons that I don’t like picking things up and putting them down is that I can lose a lot of momentum.  It isn’t easy for me to get back on the rails of the story and start chugging along again.  In fact, it can take four to six weeks to get up a good head of steam. But I’m hoping that it won’t take so long to get back to work on PORTRAIT after turning in a revision to my agent for her reading week.

If I hadn’t had a high school graduation, a college graduation and a visit from my sister who’s been working in Egypt to enjoy, I might have been able to spend about a half an hour a day on my Italian chase novel while spending the chunk of my productive mornings on the revisions of Calyn’s story. Then I could have kept some forward momentum.  But here’s a near paraphrase of a quote from Newbery Medalist Katherine Paterson: “The things that keep us from writing are the same things that give us something to write about.”


Revising Again

June 30, 2011

I’m not sure how many times that I’ve finished Calyn’s story, but I might be able to work it out with a piece of paper and a pencil. I can say, however, that it’s gone through two major revisions. The first one was something that I thought I’d never do: I started with a blank page and only referred to the original draft when I wanted to check the skeleton of the plot. Believe me, I had always thought such behavior was crazy, but I knew that it was the only way that I could bring my new understanding of story into play.

The second major revision came after my agent and I evaluated the feedback on Calyn’s story from various editors. Many felt that the world was underdeveloped. Even wore, people just weren’t bonding with my character quickly enough. She was too passive. The solution wound up being starting the book about eighteen hours before the original Chapter 1. I knew that I was on the right track when a critique partner who hadn’t an earlier version looked at me and demanded, “Where’s Chapter 2?” The new first fifty pages sent ripples down the manuscript. I also brought in new characters to round out the world. What I thought would be a six-month revision took closer to seventeen months.

What am doing now? Well, my agent asked for a few clarifications on the new opening. But even better–at least for me–was the fact that she pointed out exactly where I could slide them in. So this revision has been much shorter than the others. But once again, I’ve had to follow the ripples of the changes throughout the entire manuscript.

What am I hoping for afer completing these changes? Why the opportunity to revise this manuscript again for an interested editor, of course. Revision doesn’t stop until a work goes to the printers.

Chapter 2: Roughed In

April 13, 2011

Every novelist approaches projects differently.  My technique is usually to get what I call a semi-polished rough draft in place for one chapter before moving on to the next.  In my case, that means that I’ve got most of the dialogue down as well as a goodly chunk of the action.  Instead of polished description, I’ll usually have list of adjectives and nouns that I want to eventually work in.  Some transitions will be weak; others will be non-existent. 

I’ve found that a good way to remember where a character is emotionally is to return to the previous chapter to read and edit it.  By the time I finish tinkering with phrasing and sharpening descriptions, I’m back in the world of my book.

The Terrors of Revising and Submitting

April 4, 2011

You can find Jeannie Mobley’s extremely amusing post on Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submitting at Emu’s Debuts.  I had to laugh when Norse mythology was added to the fruit salad of literary allusions.

Plotting and Planning with Jennifer Mattson

April 3, 2011

Last weekend I made my usual pilgrimage back to Missouri for the annual SCBWI retreat.  One of the guests was Jennifer Mattson, an agent with Andrea Brown.  She joked that she was “celebrating the nerdiness within” as she prepared her speech because it brought her back to the days of writing term papers. 

I had to smile when she announced that she wasn’t going to address voice much over the weekend.  After all, I’ve sat through a lot of presentations on that topic over the last few years, but I don’t think it was overkill.  Writers needed to know on a deep level exactly what professionals in the industry meant when they used that word.  But Jennifer noted that stories with voice can fall flat if they don’t have a strong internal architecture.  As E.M. Forster noted in ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL: “We are all like Scheherazade’s husband, in that we want to know what happens next.”

While I won’t be able to share all of Jennifer’s supporting examples that brought these ideas to life, I can share the basic outline of the speech:

Effective plots have:

1. Strong internal structure.  (Check out THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, WRITING THE BREAK-OUT NOVEL and so on.)

2. Compelling characters with clear desires.

3. Well-timed inciting events. (Some people do start too early in their effort to grab the reader’s attention quickly.)

4.  Friction and tension.

5.  Carefully selected events presented.

6. Layered and inter-connected subplots and character relationships.  (Read Tom Leveen’s PARTY.  Tough content, but illustrates point. Franny Billingsley’s THE FOLK KEEPER is another good choice as is the speech Ms. Billingsley made upon accepting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction.)

I feel very lucky to have  had a chance to discuss the structure of my novel with Jennifer, especially the timing of my novel’s  inciting incident.

The End

March 2, 2011

Several of my writer friends were kind enough to look over the product of last week’s writing binge.   It looks like I addressed a goodly chunk of the issues that they had with the book’s ending.  It had felt abrupt; there were too many questions unanswered.  I’m definitely sensitive to that charge since it was one of the complaints about my YA mystery SUSPECT.  But perhaps the greatest challenge was figuring out how to resolve a tension between what I thought my main character wanted at the end of the story and what a goodly percentage of my critique partners wanted for her.   I did manage to come up with a set of circumstances that worked for her, me, and the readers.

A Writing Binge

February 25, 2011

I’m not usually a binge writer.  Instead, I tend to dedicate early mornings to my current project, the middle of the day to my students’ work and late afternoon to various household chores.  During the evenings, I’ll putter away at this and that depending on my student load and whether or not I like the current NCIS rerun.  I’m slow, but steady.

But yesterday, I spent the whole day and most of the night on the last two chapters of Calyn’s story.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if I turned out about 1000 new words of polished prose AND figured how to ease those sections into what I already had.  I don’t usually never work that fast.  But some ideas for the ending clicked into place. I felt like I was under a compulsion to get it all down when I usually lose forward momentum on my projects before lunch.  And since my family is getting ready to put the house on the market, it really is time to wrap up this draft of the novel and get it to my agent for one of her reading weeks.


February 16, 2011

When I’m not sure what to do with a certain section of my novel, I frequently reach for my copy of the Newbery honor book, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.  I’ve done this with first chapters, last chapters, chapter openings, chapter endings and transitions in general.  So when I was struggling with an ending for Calyn’s story, I checked out the last few pages of The Perilous Gard with its rhythms and interactions.   Then I tinkered with what I had for a bit and decided that I was done.

But of course I wasn’t. 

While I had addressed the personal issues for Calyn, I didn’t cover the effects that her actions had on the wider world. My writer friends held me accountable.  They wanted to know what happened. After thinking things through, I belatedly realized that Elizabeth Marie Pope had covered the wider world issues at the beginning of the 28-page chapter.  But the fun part is that I’ll get to go back and read the endings of some of my favorite books for a sampling of endings like  Ella EnchantedThe Thief, The Hero and the Crown, Beauty, and The Blue Sword.