Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Final Edit Workshop

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (with members from California to Florida) sponsors workshops on a regular basis. This past Saturday, Charlotte Cook walked us through a few editing concepts. She's the first to tell you her strength does not lie in copy editing, but in story editing. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of her classes, I encourage you to do so. She's been doing this a long time, and it shows.

Wait. That came out wrong. Charlotte?

When I was very green, I would attend writing workshops and get very little out of them. Most of what was discussed was so far over my head, I could only try and grasp a few of the ideas that happened to flutter down a little closer to ground level.

Now, I'm almost overwhelmed with what I know I don't know, and a little terrified to consider what I don't know I don't know.

Here are a few of the notes I took during Charlotte's full-day workshop:

AVOID sentence fragments in action scenes. This is one I have to think about. I'm guessing in this quick aside, she was alluding to the differences between sentence fragments and short sentences.

First pages should be VIVID, VIBRANT and IMMEDIATE.

Do not bury dialogue. AVOID prose followed by dialogue. She says very clearly in a handout from the workshop: "The reader's eye is looking for dialogue. Don't bury or hide important dialogue from the reader's eye. . . . When dialogue and behavior/action aren't simultaneous but sequential, separate the two into different paragraphs."

Move powerful sentences toward the end of paragraphs where they have more power. Think "chronology."

Edit by paragraph, not line. Does each paragraph tell a story? I think if we were to take away one thing from her presentation, this would be what she'd like to have us remember.

USE USE USE USE dialogue tags. Huh. Maybe this is what she would want us to remember. She's including, I believe, action beats in this statement, but is thoroughly convinced there are far too few "he said" and "she said" tags running around in our manuscripts. On this I have to agree 100%. As a reader, I'm never frustrated by too many tags. I'm often frustrated by having to backtrack to figure out who's talking.

Be careful of any sentence you can add a "that" to. It's telling.

THREE books that Charlotte recommends:

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman for the best prologue ever.

Straight by Dick Francis. I'm not sure why she chose this one, but I do know she's a huge Dick Francis fan.

Underground Man by Ross MacDonald for its excellent crafting of backstory.

CR: The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner (My first of hers, and so far I'm impressed.)

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets

After spending all day Saturday in a writing workshop (which I'll post about later), and Sunday on a private tour of NORAD (which was very interesting), I'm having a hard time settling down to what needs to be done today.

What I want to do is continue to build my characters and plot for my new manuscript. What I need to do is try and apply a few of the things I learned Saturday to my old cow before I send it to market.

So, in the meantime . . .

David Corbett gives some good adivce here on how to make characters more interesting.

CR: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain. Almost finished with this one and curious about how it will end. That's a good thing.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stages of a Writer and Her Manuscript

I am PUMPED about my new plot. It is the coolest thing with so many caveats and depth-elements and possibilities. Okay, yeah. We're just dating. But still.

This plot is so HOT!

I've played with the story ideas today. My harshest critiquer (who also happens to be the LoML) nodded his head in appreciation when I read it to him. I know it's full of holes and GMC issues (Goal/Motivation/Conflict) but it has passed its first hurdle. If my incredibly insightful Life Partner/Husband can see the possibility . . . well. . . hello? Can one hope for anything more?

This plot and I will be getting married very soon. I can feel it. Come on, you know what I'm talking about. It's more than just heat. There's substance there. A future. A promise. There's little doubt I'll say, "Yes!"

We'll get hitched and before long, the real world will blast into our lives. Did you think about This? This is going to cause a problem. And That responsibility lurking over in the corner is going to bore into your world with the intent of killing your entire fairy tale. Or suspense novel. Whatever.

Boy (I will think), did I make a wrong choice.

It won't be very long before intervention is called for. Serious intervention. Word Shrinks (a/k/a critique partners) who don't hold back. Who will tell me that if I want this relationship to survive, I need to do a, b, and c. If necessary, they will threaten to take away my Twitter account. Block me from email. Make sure I know that unless I get back on track, my fairy-tale romantic suspense novel is going to bite the dust. And, they will smirk gleefully, they will stuff that dust down my throat. My cps do not take hostages. (Shhh . . . between you and me, I love them for that.)

I begin to believe that filing for divorce is my only option for a satisfying future. I'm pretty disgusted with the whole turn of events. The relationship is boring, predictable. The heat is gone. Everything is in such a muddle that nothing can be resurrected. And there is simply no way I can go a day without email.

The story I'd begun with a loving spirit, totally psyched about and seeing only potential in, has disintegrated and become something obscene. I'm staring Irreconcilable Differences in the face. And I'm ready to kick this entire venture to the curb. What was I thinking?

I know that day will come. But for today?

Well . . . he paid for dinner and gave me a good-night kiss. He promised me he'd call me tomorrow.

And I believe him.

So this time, with this relationship, I will take preemptive action.

And continue to believe.

CR: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain on my Kindle.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writing With a Chronic Illness

Periodically, I like to turn Suspense Novelist over to another author who is seeking more exposure for themselves and their writing.

I'm pleased to welcome KJ Roberts as my guest blogger today. If you'd like to get to know her a little better, or read an excerpt from her book, please visit her blog.

I’m not a doctor. Nor do I play one on TV. So anything I say here is just from my experiences.

I’m an author. An author who has fibromyalgia. While the term is spreading, some people still ask what that is. Truly, I don’t know. No one knows what that is. But people who have it know their bodies, and their bodies are telling them something isn’t right. They are in constant pain, tired all the time and have no energy. Now, there are plenty of other symptoms that go along with this, but neither you, nor I have the time to be bored with it. And all Fibromites are different in terms of what symptoms they have. Just know it is a chronic illness with no known cause or cure.

So what does this mean? For me and my attitude, it means I have a chronic illness that makes me feel sick. I suffer from this daily. I remember the last day that I felt really good. I mean really good. It was last year in the summer. I got up and felt like doing something. I grabbed my husband and said lets go golfing. Hubby jumped at this as he’s an avid golfer. Plus, I’d gotten him a new set of clubs for his birthday last year. I played five holes and was done. I was tired and in pain. I don’t regret playing that day as it was great to spend time with him.

How does this relate to writing? I have to takes things slow. This can really frustrate me if I’m on a roll. The juices may be flowing and the scene hopping in my head, but if I overdo it, I will pay for it. I might not be able to write for days or weeks if I push too hard.

Schedules are impossible. I can’t stick to one, because life has a way of changing things. If I have something planned like washing the laundry, one kid will be sick and have to go to the doctor. Super mom would get the kid to the doctor and wash the clothes. Me…I have to choose. My life has come down to choosing how I use my energy on small things. Shower and let my hair go wet, or no shower and style my hair so it looks nice. (Terrible, but no lie.)

Because I can’t push myself, I don’t usually get in a deadline situation. I don’t submit a quarry and three chapters knowing the story isn’t finished or pose an idea. I make sure everything I submit is complete. I know a lot of authors do, but I have to manage my writing and my illness. I write the story in my head and then look for a home.

I see many authors crank out books and have a huge backlist. I have the ideas for the books, but not the energy. So I don’t compare myself to other writers. I set reasonable goals and work towards them. With my last WIP, I set a goal of three hundred words a day. I worked on that for about a week. I saw that I had ranged from four to six hundred words. After two weeks, I raised my goal to six hundred. I knew it wasn’t pushing too hard after keeping to it for two weeks.

The best thing I could recommend to other authors with chronic illnesses is to measure your writing against yourself, be truthful with how you feel and forget how much others produce. If you don’t feel well, don’t push it. It’s better to take it slow and produce a little work at a steady pace than to produce a lot on a good day and not produce for days later. One good day at two thousand words don’t compare to seven days of six hundred words. Especially when you add it up for a year.

Thanks KJ, for letting us see what a little determination and bichoking can do. You're an inspiration!

CR: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Synopsis to Signing . . . Gag Me

I began work on my synopsis last night. I read advice that made writing a synopsis sound relatively simple, if rather dry. And to be honest, I've attempted writing these two important pages before. But when I tried putting down a few plot points, and character arcs, I began to wonder if my manuscript was any good. The synopsis didn't seem to be going anywhere. I'm letting a couple of trusted writing partners take a look at it and then I'll give it another go.


To round out my angst, Parnell Hall released this hilarious (well, sorta) video the other day. I'm sure he stages just a bit of it, however. After all, Parnell is used as a great example in Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novell.

So today I'm thrilled to be stumbling through a synopsis. Afraid. Hesitant. Filled with self-doubt. And someday, I'll be thrilled to be stumbling through a signing. Afraid. Hesitant. Filled with self-doubt.

Er . . . thanks, Parnell.

Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall

CR: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain. Wow.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

OT: More Comic Relief

I'm very, very happy to say I've finished incorporating my edits and am printing out the manuscript to let sit for a few days. Tomorrow I'll begin work on the final synopsis and query letter. Both of which are kind of making me want to gag right now.

This made me laugh. More than once. What can I say? I adore dogs. . . .

CR: Picking something new tonight. Not sure what that will be.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Diana Gabaldon's Writing Process

What is easy and natural to one person is devilishly impossible to another.

I'm wondering if my writing process will change as I get more experience under my belt. I can't imagine ever plotting every single point (Jeffery Deaver). Any more than I can imagine coming up with a cohesive story allowing myself to just sit and write.

I can, however, identify with her concept of a kernel.


CR: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I'll want to read this one again at Halloween!

And I recently finished 212 by Alafair Burke. Read this. Between it and Angel's Tip, I have developed a Nutella habit. Thanks, Alafair.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Comic Relief

Jeanne Robertson is one of my all-time funny lady favorites, and I needed a break today from incorporating my edits.

(Just so you know, I did six chapters yesterday, and two so far today.)

Enjoy Jeanne as she sets off down the Colorado River . . .

CR: 212 by Alafair Burke.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What Do You Need?

Sheesh. Some days I have nothing to say. Others . . .

It's important to decide what it is you really need when you ask someone to critique a few of your pages.

Are you looking for someone to tell you how wonderful you write, or are you looking for someone to help you improve?

I admit there are days when I hunger for gentle words that lift me up and feed me. Actually, there are a lot of days like that. I'm human, and I often forget how brilliant and amazing and gifted I am. It helps to be reminded. Makes me feel loved. I tell you this just in case one of these days you read something of mine I've actually slaved over. Or bake you an apple-nut cake.

But where my writing progress is concerned I only get better if I have a few doubts. Doubts that propel me to get an honest appraisal and solid advice with which to improve. I don't much care if someone wants to tell me a better way to change oil. I do want to know if there's a better way to structure a scene or insert misdirection or switch POVs.

Most of the critiques I receive are a combination of affirmation and information. Those are wonderful. I'm getting a little meat with my milk.

But you have to know what you want, and embrace what you need. They aren't always the same.

I recently read about a woman (true story) who nagged and nagged someone who was a little farther up the publishing chain to read something she'd written. The more successful author had to actually give her some credit for persistence, and after a while, acquiesced. When the woman received the feedback, she was quite upset about the critical comments. She determined that the stars were not aligned properly and thus elected to disregard any of the comments made about her writing. After all, they couldn't possibly have any merit.

If you want to be told only what a wonderful writer you are, let someone who really doesn't know very much about writing—and who loves you—read your work.

If you want to build your base, understand the architecture, and move to the next level, search out someone who will not only see where improvements can be made, but will tell you. Sometimes they'll be gentle, sometimes they'll be blunt. But it's all designed to make you think. Once you can think about the comments (rather than feel them) you can decide whether or not you agree.

And if you're having one of those "needy" moments, set the critique aside and wait until you're more open to ideas to make your writing better.

CR: 212 by Alafair Burke.

Working On: Incorporating my newest edits.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buried Agents

I've been reading a few agent's blogs, as well as following some on Twitter.

(If you want to get some real-time information and glimpses into the life of an agent, I highly recommend Twitter. There's less of a filter, and even though there's a character limit, there isn't a tweet limit.)

What I see happening almost every day is that people who have completed a manuscript, think their work is ready to publish. Or, at a minimum, ready for an agent to shop it. I don't get the idea that there are any large number of submissions where the agent feels the writer has taken time to re-write and edit their manuscripts. To work with a critique group or a private editor. To fine-tune and hone their craft.

To even complete the most rudimentary research as to who the agent is and what they're looking for.

I get the feeling that writers who have completed a manuscript, without even doing a cursory read-through, throw a net into the waters to see if they can snag an agent. Any agent.

Am I the only one bothered on many levels by this?

CR: 212 by Alafair Burke.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Inspiring Authors

I'm kicking my week off with a few words of inspiration from authors whose success makes their words even sweeter.

I've got nine more chapters to edit, then the work will begin to incorporate my marked up pages into my manuscript. That sounds easy, but it won't be. A large number of those markups involve phrases or paragraphs where I've simply written "Better."

Trust me, I'll be back to check out this short little video more than once.

Currently reading 212 by Alafair Burke.

It's all better with friends.