Monday, December 10, 2012

A Field, Not a Swamp

Stagnant. That’s what a swamp is.
Cultivated, plowed, sown, tilled, harvested. That’s what a farmer’s field is.

I want my characters to be fields, not swamps, but in order for that to happen, I have to be a good farmer.

  • Unturned soil: Character begins thinking he is pretty happy, but something nags at the back of his mind
  • First plow: Character realizes not all is well in his internal workings. He wants to be something more.
  • Seed is sewn: Finds purpose in working hard to obtain goal
  • Drought comes: Goal is put out of reach. Despair sets in.
  • Fertilizer: Perhaps can reach goal another way.
  • Rain: Outside influences encourage growth.
  • Growth: That one’s pretty obvious
  • Ripening: Character realizes perhaps his goal should be different
  • Harvest: Achieves goal

The important part is not to get things out of over. If the rain falls at the wrong time, the crop is ruined. I have a tendency, I’ve noticed, to start my character mid-development or to rehash problems the character has already worked through. Writing out a list helps me to have an idea of where my character is supposed to be at a given time and it keeps me on track (lists are the way I do things, but you could use an outline, a chart, a bubble graph, or even a picture like a visual life map).

The only problem then is that you have to know where your list is . . .

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rest in Peace, Jason

“Sorry, Jason. Tertiary characters are supplanting your position as an important secondary character. You’ve been a good friend, a good older brother, a good leader in the resistance, but you just make the story too convoluted. It’s your own fault, really. If you had just joined the military when they asked you to . . .

I’ll make it up to you, though. If demand is high, and I’m rich and famous, I’ll go ahead and write you your own book. Deal?

The Author”

Sigh. Cutting characters is hard.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cutting Characters, Left and Right

“Sooooo, did you catch last night’s episode of popular reality show? Yeah, no? You missed a good one, man. You missed a good one. They were kicking people off left and right. And like, some people got kicked on. And uh, I mean, you should a watched it, man. You definitely should a watched it. Should a watched it.”
~~Homestarrunner in Strong Bad e-mail 37, “Dullard.”

That quote keeps running through my head as I write, with minor variations. “She was cutting characters left and right, and like, some characters got kicked on.” When I started this story, I had five main characters and about four secondary characters. Over a period of about five years (author time, not story time), it grew to ten main characters with about fifty secondary characters (not at the same part of the story at least!). My protagonist started the story with a family of seven, a best friend and his little sister, and another friend and his family of nine (plus a sister-in-law and nephew). He then met up with a group of nineteen others, plus around five mentors. Add to that all the tertiary and absent characters as well as the villains and it was mind-boggling.

At my first writer’s workshop, I submitted the first (terrible!) three chapters of The Epic Novel. One of the questions my shopmates asked was why the fourth friend was there. Because you don’t leave one of your crew behind when you take a road trip, of course.

As I’m redrafting this first part of my novel, I painfully realized that the question they asked was quite legitimate. Cutting that fourth friend hurts because two of my favorite most poignant scenes deal with that character. Sigh.

Horrifically, I am realizing that the third friend, who at one point was my favorite character, may not have purpose either. Not to the MC’s motivation, not to this particular plot of the story. Sadly, I think he may have to go. The problem is, his sister is quite involved. How do I keep her involved without him? How does the MC even know her if not as the little sister of his best friend? Dilemmas, dilemmas!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Plot Exposition

Miss Piggy: “Why are you telling me all this?”
Lady Holiday: “It’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.”
(The Great Muppet Caper)

I have a tendency to tell dramatic parts of the story: And then there was this battle. The good guys were hard put, but they stuck it out and won.

And then I show all the mundane parts, like completely superfluous birthdays and meaningless events.

This gets me into trouble with plot exposition. I just finished writing a chapter where some important plot elements are included--a little back-story, some character introductions--but it’s so everyday (they’re registering for classes), and it’s right at the beginning of the story. At the end of the chapter, I know important things happened, but will the reader recognize them as important and be intrigued to read on? Is there some better way to do this? How do you write about the everyday things that are important to the plot without losing your reader’s attention? Oh, there they go! Off to eat a cheese sandwich . . .

As I write this, I’m realizing some things. If I make it important, the reader will catch it. If it’s everyday, maybe it doesn’t need to be included. What is out of the ordinary? What makes that day different? Focus on those elements. Everybody else can drop by the wayside. Sorry guys. You’re just not important to this scene.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Throw Away Draft

I finally understand the concept of a throw-away first draft. Every time people talked about writing a rough draft just to get out their ideas and then throwing it away, I was confused. Toward the end of my stint at grad school, I realized the reason I don’t do that is because my rough draft is in my head. I go through several versions of a story mentally before I ever put anything to paper. Therefore, the first draft, while needing much revision, usually has the final outline of plot and character development.

Not so with The Epic Novel! I drafted this story 12 times before entering college, so already, it’s been through the works. The story has changed quite a bit numerous times. However, that 12th version is the one I went with all through college and grad school. I mean, this particular plot has been engrained in my mind for nearly a decade (O_O). So, starting from scratch is next to impossible. I constantly must remind myself that the story does not have to be exactly the way it was in that 12th draft. I have to break the hold that version has and let the characters take the story where they will.

I’m revising the opening chapters right now, and everything is becoming so jumbled. I keep rearranging chapters, changing the focus of the MC’s motivation, cutting characters from scenes, adding them back in. And then, trying to remember which version I’m currently using as I revise the next scene. I’m about ready to toss the whole thing and start over.

Light bulb moment! :::slaps forehead::: The throw away first draft. I get it now.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Writer’s List of Thankfuls

This year, I’m thankful for many things, but I’ll stick to those things related to writing here.
I’m thankful
  • That I can devote all of my work time to writing. Praise God!
  • That I have begun Book One. Is publishing in the near future? Es posible.
  • That I now live close to one of my writer-friends.
  • That I have the time to get involved in a critique group. Praise God!
  • For the instructors under whom I have been blessed to study
  • For a husband who lets me tell him all about my writing woes at the supper table at night
  • For a dad who shares my love of writing and who faithfully made me a cup of coffee and spent his Saturdays writers-workshopping with me for at least a good year
  • For a brother who grew up with my characters
  • For a sister who reads rough drafts in one sitting
  • For a mom who always encourages me
  • For a best friend who knows my characters (and me) sometimes better than I do
  • For a friend who read the first eight chapters in one night and was so excited she had to call me about it the next morning
  • And for all the friends who have been patiently waiting for a draft. It’s coming!

Wow, I could go on and on. God is so gracious to me. But one of things for which I am most thankful is the fact that God created me to be a writer. :-D

Monday, November 19, 2012

Revision--but I haven’t even finished the rough draft!

(in deep, gravely, movie announcer voice) This November, embark on an epic adventure of war, love, and betrayal.

So, now that I am full-time writer, I have finally been able to start Book One of The Epic Novel! Well, it has more to do with Divine inspiration than with excess time on my hands. I received this inspiration in about the third state on the incredible cross-country move. Anyway, I must say, it’s going much better than I had anticipated. And more succinctly as well. Yay!

I decided to tell the story from two points of view, alternating between the main character and one of his friends. As I wrote the main character’s scenes, I stumbled along, like trying to find my way through a maze in the dark. A maze without walls, just lines on the floor. That I’m supposed to follow. In the dark.

When I finished the second of the chapters from the alternating POV, I thought, “Why is it so much easier to write from his POV than to write from the MC’s POV?” It hit me like a lightning bolt (actually, it was another inspiration from God): the alternating POV was easier because I had that character’s motivation always foremost in my mind. I’ve been writing from the MC’s POV for so long that his story has been muddled by everyone else’s story. I realized I needed to go back and rework the MC’s chapters with his motivation front and center. Oh my goodness, things started to go so much better. Of course, now I’m afraid I’ll have to cut a few more characters. (The author frowns contemplatively.) I love revising, though, and that’s currently where I’m at. So be prepared for an abundance of posts on revisionary type delimmas!

P.S. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Sheepishly, she sneaks up to her computer and begins to write.

Ahem. So, yes, it’s been awhile. I have good reason though, namely massive upheaval in my personal life, of the most positive kind, but not conducive to regularly updating the blog. I have moved location and am now a full-time housewife, which translates to more time for writing and more flexibility in my schedule. With the holidays coming, I’m not sure how regularly I will post until next year, but I would like to post at least once a week.

I’ve realized that this blog is sort of a writer’s workspace for me, a place to vent my own feelings and to discuss things (in a monologue-ing kind of way). Writing this blog helps me to think. I guess it’s more of my writer’s journal than a blog. I hope, though, that my comments will be helpful to other writers in progress, and as my own development continues, I hope to become more and more useful.

So, here’s to regular updates from beyond the glass!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Operation: Cut the Internal Monologue

Not too long ago, a friend of mine commented on the differences between men and women (these are generalizations, not rules). Many women--I think all the women I’ve ever known--are constantly thinking of something. Personally, I have a constant internal monologue going on (on a side note, its usually in third person: “She wondered what to have for lunch . . .”). My friend said she used to ask her husband what he was thinking, and he would answer, “Nothing.” She got frustrated, thinking he was just refusing to tell her. After awhile, though, she realized he really was thinking nothing.

The ending of my novel is messy. Very messy. In talking with a co-worker the other night, he reminded me that guys, in general, don’t internally monologue. The next day, I went back to my ending to work on some new scenes, and they came out much less messy. I concentrated on setting and action to indicate feelings and thoughts rather than on internal monologue. This makes the writing more showy (vs. telly), more interesting, and more true to the character. I also have to remember that my readers are smart--I don’t have to spell every emotion out for them.

As I revise my messy ending, I’m going to work on description of setting, action, and physical feelings to indicate my character’s emotions and thoughts. After that, I need to go back through Parts 2-4 focused on the same thing. This could be disheartening, but I find it encouraging. I had been trying to figure out why Part 1 was so much better than the rest, and I think this is why.

Operation: Cut the Internal Monologue commence!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Physical Manifestations of Emotion

I have known for a couple of years now that I have difficulty including sensory detail in my stories. I experience the world through thoughts and thought processes. I don’t necessarily remember how things smell or taste or sound--I remember specific images, dates, and numerical or logical details. I remember what I thought at the time.

For example, a few years ago, I went to an air-show on an especially sunny and hot day, and I got heat exhaustion. I don’t remember how I felt, the heat on my skin, the thirst or anything like that unless I try really hard. What I do remember is thinking, “I feel miserable.” I remember sitting on a concrete floor in a hanger near a table where a dismantled M-16 was on display thinking, “All these people probably think I’m weird.” If I try hard, I can remember that everything echoed, I faintly remember cool air coming from somewhere; I vaguely remember the cold concrete floor.

One of my good friends is studying psychology and counseling. When I asked her to read Part 1 of Book Two, she sweetly agreed and has given me insights based on her training. She reminded me that a young man probably wouldn’t be able to articulate his feelings as well as my MC does. She encouraged me to use physical manifestations of emotion rather than just saying, “he was angry” or “he felt sad.” What does being angry feel like? Did his muscles tense or weaken? Did his back ache or his neck hurt? When I mentioned my trouble with recognizing sensory detail in my own life, she suggested sitting still and quiet and counting backwards from ten while focusing on what my body is experiencing.

For any other intuitive rather than sensory writers, I hope you find this helpful. Happy Writing!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Perfect Heroine

My heroine used to be so solid, a rock the hero could rely on--that everyone could rely on. She was always encouraging, a stickler for rules but fun. She was tenderhearted but strong. She was the manifestation of an ideal.

And then, I started telling the story from her POV. Suddenly, she seemed so insecure. She had bitterness she’d never dealt with from being rejected so often as a child--by her family, by her peers. She was strong because she had to be--no one else would be strong for her--but all she really wanted was for someone else to come take care of everything, for someone else to make  things better. She wanted that strong person to hold her and fight away her bad dreams. She wanted that person but didn’t know how to trust anyone to be that person because everyone she had ever relied on had let her down.

Wow. I guess I need to go back to Book One and rewrite all her scenes with that in mind. She isn’t as perfect as she seemed.

I think I like her better now.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Little Weekend Fun

Time for a little amusement. Some writers throw out their first draft and completely start over with their second draft. I do not recommend throwing away your writing. Ever. For practical reasons, I often realize a scene I had cut out after the first draft actually does belong or that I've gotten away from a character's personality. If I'd thrown out my first draft, I wouldn't have that information anymore.

For a purely entertaining reason, I love going back and rereading what I wrote. Especially some of the things I wrote in highschool. I make myself laugh so hard.

Yesterday, I decided to look at my highschool draft of Book One to see how I introduced my MC's mentor. Well, his mentor was apparently quite gruff in that early draft. At one point, he sits the MC down and tells him how he has two options. He waxes eloquent on how either option will be extraordinarily difficult and ends with this sentence:
"Eventually you will become so disgusted with yourself and everyone around you that you will sink into a fathomless pit of self pity and loathing, wondering each day why you cannot simply die and be done with it."

Wow! I think I'd get a new mentor. . . . ;-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daunted by Book One

I’m really excited about writing Book One of The Epic Novel.

So why can’t I start?

All my characters’ motivations are becoming clearer and clearer, the plot is falling nicely into place. Things that didn’t make sense before suddenly make sense. If writing this story is so exciting, why can’t I put pencil to paper?

I think I still have a bad taste in my mouth from six years and twelve drafts ago. I’ve already written this book. Five times. One time, I actually finished it. I’ve already introduced all the characters, written the battle scenes, and cried at the death scenes. I don’t want to do it again.

But I have learned so much about writing in those six years. Whatever I write now will be miles better than those earlier drafts.

Another problem: where to start. I can’t decide which incident is the inciting one. The decleration of war? The trip to another country? The raid? The revelation that the main character is a valuable weapon? The introduction of a mysterious figure? Or is it the highschool graduation from Drafts 10-12? (that seems doubtful).

I think I’ll start in the middle and write the beginning later. I don’t usually do that, but it seems necessary at this point. (I sigh deeply.) Well, if writing Book Two took only a year, then writing Book One can’t be all bad. I just have to buckle down and do it.

Anne M.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How many times have I said I would be consistent in updating this blog? Well, at least I'm consistently inconsistent. Let's see if I can actually do it, this time. I already had been thinking I need to update my blog frequently when I came across a series of posts by my friend Janet Fox. She has three very informative posts on marketing your book and branding yourself as a writer: "Marketing and Publicity for Authors," Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

One reason for my sudden motivation is that I actually see an end in sight. When I first embarked on Epic Novel, I had no idea it would become my favorite project. As I continued to work on it, I wondered if I would wind up taking 14 years, as Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings (not that I'm comparing my story or writing to Tolkien--just the length of time writing the manuscript). After 11 years, 14 years doesn't seem so long. However, I have actually completed the rough draft of Book 2. Yay!

This draft took me about 10-11 months to complete. When I realized that I actually wrote an entire draft of a novel in less than a year, I realized that pursuit of publication may actually be 3-5 years down the road rather than 10-15. Therefore, I should start thinking more seriously about my web presence and my writerly connections.

Now that I have a complete draft, I am mentally organized enough to join a writer's group. Yes, yes, I know, I should have joined one long before now. Just trust me that I know myself, and I would not have functioned well in a writer's group until I had organized my own mind.

Aside from looking for a critique group and other writers with whom to converse, I am currently revising Book 2. The characters are finally growing in the correct order. They kept arguing about things they had already worked out, and they kept being angry for no reason. I'm excited with how the motivations and growth are sorting themselves out. I also have been able to cut numerous extraneous scenes. I love getting to the point in revision when, for the good of the story, I can cut something with which I was once in love.

I am also trying to read more blogs. I enjoyed this recent post on theme by Gail Carson Levine.

And for now, that is all. Today is my one day off this week, and having spent the morning on necessary errands, I shall now devote the afternoon to more revision.

Write on!