66% Done

I cleared 40,000 words on my latest WIP.

celebrate

And yes, this is approximately 66% for me. As a romance writer, I like my works to come in around 70-80k words. I write a very bare bone first draft, so I leave myself space to go back and add in more during revisions. Things like scents and sounds to help the reader feel closer to the action. More description…or description at all.

My beta reader has nailed me for the number of sensory deprivation rooms I have in my early drafts. I’m much better about finding it and correcting it myself now, but that still means more words.

So, why am I celebrating the 66% mark? Am I that desperate for recognition? Maybe a little, but that’s not the point.

Why is the 66% mark important to me? Because at this point, I’ve conquered the dreaded middle.

I’m a pantser when I write. Yes, I’ve tried outlines.

outlining

Outlines simply don’t work for me. I’ve given up trying for the moment, and I’ve given myself over to letting the characters show me what’s going to happen.

I know where the story starts. I know how it ends. What I don’t know is the middle. How are they going to get there? It’s this middle part that teaches me a lot about the characters, what deeper internal motivators they have, their hopes, fears, etc.

The beginning, that’s really their face to the world. Their mask. To get them to reveal more, I have to throw some things at them. See how they react.

By the end of the story, well, you know me. There is going to be a happily-ever-after (HEA). That’s a given.

Sometimes, getting the characters to come clean in the middle is really hard. Either they have a lot to hide, or I am trying to author-plot and not let things evolve on their own. Me not stepping back and giving the characters agency is usually the issue, but sometimes the obstacles I throw at them are not significant to get them to come clean on their real internal struggles.

Does this mean a lot of revision later? You betcha.

firstdraft

Now that you know the characters better, you have to push all you’ve learned back to the beginning of the story. Let who they are peek around the corners of who they want you to believe they are. It requires changes to the beginning, and as I rewrite and delve deeper, it frequently requires a change in the ending as well. And lots more tinkering throughout.

But that’s revision. That’s later. Right now, it’s all about getting the electrons on the screen in a pattern that resembles words. Most of which will change later.

But if I can get through the middle, I have a really good shot of finishing the book. The end usually writes faster than any other part as we barrel towards the climactic resolution and our happily-ever-after.

Of course, I will probably have to rewrite the ending. The one novel I’ve polished and am querying had four different endings before I was happy.

Still, here’s hoping I can get that last 20,000 words and have another first draft waiting to be revised.

8 Things I've Learned About Being a Writer

The one thing about us writers is, well, we write. I’ve been writing on-and-off since I was twelve, but I’ve been known to put it down altogether for long stretches.

Perhaps you’ve even put it aside from time to time, too.

For me, the longest I stopped writing was when we decided to start a family. There was an amazing amount to do to get our lives ready and *so* much to read.

Why don’t babies actually follow what’s in the books?!?  Do you know how many times I showed my infant what the “experts” had written as she continued to never sleep unless she was being held?

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Even with all this preparation, we were totally unprepared for the realities of being parents.

I fell into the routine many new mothers do and spent very little time on myself. If I wasn’t at work, I was with our little one.

After my second daughter was born, I watched a lot of TED talks. They were interesting, and they didn’t mess with my new-mom emotions. This one by Larry Smith , convinced me to start writing again. I literally got an old notebook that afternoon and started jotting down ideas.

I attempted to write that story. I mapped it all out, complete with plot and character outlines, applied bottom to chair, and churned out 50k words in five months.

Then shelved it.

The characters weren’t working. The plot was there but forced, even though I’d diligently followed my outlines.

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Except, you know, when they don’t.

I tried revising it, but my hero would’ve rolled his eyes at me if he could. It wasn’t his story. I’d been so busy sticking to my plot-points and outlines that I hadn’t listened to the characters.

I gave up and started a new novel. I plotted nothing. I let the story unfold as I wrote it. I completed the first 50k draft in three months. It was a rough first draft. Very, very rough. But it worked, and I loved the characters. I wanted to see them get together.

I still remember the climactic ending coming to me as I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, and I had to pull the car over and write it down before I forgot it. That’s when I knew the story was really working.

I’ve managed to write three more full novels in the year-and-a-half since, in addition to my full-time day-job, blogging, and two small children. Here’s what’s worked for me:

 

  1. Write Every Day – I’d originally thought the more I wrote, the more burned out I’d get. Not true. It’s amazing how creativity inspires more creativity. Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Sure, I can still get on a bike and pedal it, but teaching my oldest child to ride a bike made me realize that the elliptical machine does not keep you in shape for bike riding.

 

  1. Carve out Writing Time and Defend It (Even from Yourself) – My spouse has been amazingly supportive of me getting back into writing, and he’s agreed to be the primary parent for an hour each night after the kids are supposed to be in bed (yeah, you other parents out there know that’s a big “supposed to”). But if I spend that hour surfing the net, I’m stealing the time from my writing as surely as my daughter is stealing my patience when she comes out for her third cup of water.

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  1. Keep a Notebook – my mind does amazing things while I’m walking, driving, or when I first get up in the morning. But those thoughts will dissipate like fog in the noon sun the moment I get back inside, the engine turns off, or I swing my legs out of bed. I need a notebook to write these amazing bits of creativity down. My phone works well for this, too.

 

  1. Perfection Is the Enemy – get that rough draft down on paper. If you want to make changes, make a note of it and keep going. You can polish a rough draft. There’s nothing you can do with a blank page. Finish the story. Crappy is still done and gives you a place to start rewriting.

 

  1. Give Yourself a Couple of Months Before You Edit – This is one of the biggest things I learned with my first completed story. I was too close to the characters, the plot, and even the writing itself. I spent a lot of time “editing” that was really just patting myself on the back for what I’d written. When I went back and looked at it two months later, I had a much clearer view of what needed help.

 

  1. Find a Good Beta Reader – a good beta reader is worth their weight in Starbucks. They’ll help you see plot holes, character issues, and other things you’re too invested in your book to see. If you’ve got a good beta reader, of course you’re going to follow their advice even if it means a painful rewrite.

beta-reader

  1. Read, but Read Critically – Lots of writing advice says you have to read a lot to be a good writer. I think this is over-simplified. Reading is helpful only if you take the time to figure out why one author engages you but another doesn’t. Why do you like a character, hate them, or think they’re too stupid to breathe? Why are you on the edge of your seat reading this thriller but not that one?

 

  1. Take What Works for You and Toss out the Rest. Writing is a creative endeavor. What inspires my muse may drive yours away. Some writers swear by an outline, whereas it brings out my type A personality.

 

 

How about you? Any good writing tips you’d like to share? Anything that’s worked for you? Anything that hasn’t?

 

Top 7 Things to Focus on When Editing

I’ve talked to you about my first drafts and how they require a great deal of editing. I think most novels require some level of editing after they’re complete.

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As much as we’d all like to produce J.K. Rowling or Stephen King level work on our first draft, I have yet to see someone who does. I try so hard not to cringe when I hear a writer say they’ve just finished up, they’re going to take a look at it, and then self-publish.

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As I am working through this first rewrite, there are 7 things I really focus on:

1. Beta reader Comments – this isn’t entirely fair as I don’t even let a story out to Beta readers until I’ve done a revision or two. But once I do send it out, I take their comments very seriously. These are no people who’ve spent months with these characters in their heads. They frequently see things more clearly than I do as I sometimes get lost in the trees and can’t see the forest.

 

2. Characters – this is where I spend the lion’s share of my time. I’ve put together a lot of stuff on heroine analysis herehere and here. And on heroes here and here. During this first revision process, I know my character a lot better than when I was writing them. They’ve shown me more. I’ve been with them all the way through the end of the story. Seen their foibles, felt their fears. Seen them succeed or fail. I know a lot more about them, and I can bring that back through the whole story. Here are a few things I consider:

  • Do I like the hero or heroine? If either are unlikeable, time to rewrite. And no, this doesn’t mean they need to be “perfect”. Truly likeable characters seldom are.Is what the character doing within their personality?
  • Are they making choices true to them? For example, is the British spy-master forgetting who he is and what he does to marry a woman being manipulated by a French spy-master. Please, please, please tell me no. Or go back and rewrite it.
  • Do their words in the dialogue sound like them? I still struggle with this, but a prince and scullery maid should not be using the same words.
  • Do I want to see them get what they want? Will the characters getting what they want give the reader that happy smile that says “I just read a great romance novel”.

Invariably, I answer “no” to some of these things, and that means rewriting. Sometimes it means changing the characters early on in the story, and that usually flows into changes later.

And that means the ending must change. *sigh* Perhaps with practice, I’ll get better at getting the characters right earlier in the writing process and not have to scrap the last 10-15% of the story.

 

3. Point of View –  This is an area that an editor corrected me on. Once, romance authors were allowed to go back-and-forth between the hero and heroine’s point of view in the same scene. Best-selling authors and authors who started when this was allowed are still allowed to do this. Those of us that are trying to break into the genre aren’t. Changing the point-of-view and making sure I stick to it has been one of the most difficult aspects of rewriting for me.

 

4. Plot – A lot of this is taken care of by character actions. But, I want to make sure things are logical and consistent.

  • Is anything happening that appears weird, unusual or out of context?
  • Am I keeping things happening at a realistic but not boring clip? This should be true for the external plot as well as the romance itself.
  • The romance is the main plot. But I can’t tolerate lack-of-communication or stupidity, so it has to be real things keeping the characters apart.
  • Is it engaging? Do I want to know what happens next?

 

5. Descriptions – My first draft is pretty bare bones. What will ultimately be a 75,000 – 85,000 word novel starts out at around 50,000-60,00 when I’m done. Why? Because I’m so busy getting things done in the story that I skip right over descriptions. My first draft sort of takes place in a void. Yeah, there are occasional descriptors, but nothing that pulls in the reader with sounds and smells. Maybe even tastes.

 

6. De-Clunking –  Revising clunky words or phrases and streamlining the actual words themselves. This takes a larger chunk of time than it looks, but it’s important that the story reads well/

 

7. Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling I don’t bother much with this in the first edit as so much that’s going to be rewritten, I wait and save this revision for prose I’m pretty sure isn’t going to just get cut.

 

How about you? What’s your rewriting/editing strategy? How do you tackle it? What do you look for first? How long do you wait after writing the first draft to start revising it?

Critquing Manuscripts: 3 Things I Have Learned

I have learned quite a few things, but here are the top three things I have learned so far from critiquing, beta reading and editing other people’s manuscripts.

 

Characters

I have read a lot about characters and how they need to drive a story. They need motivation. Foibles. Secrets. Whatever.

Here’s something else. I need to like the protagonist. Or at least sympathize with them. I need to want them to reach their goal. Otherwise, I’m putting the book away.

This might not be true for every genre, but I write, read and critique romance.  If the hero is a jerk or the heroine unlikable… Well, you just lost me as an audience.RedRiding

This also applies to secondary and tertiary characters, but to a lesser extent. I’d still like to know if the heroine’s “friend” really is. When characters are written a certain way, it has ramifications. And I’m going to want to see a nasty “friend” get her comeuppance by the end. If she doesn’t, I’m going to feel as if there’s loose ends not tied off.

 

Dialogue

There are rules to dialogue. They really do need to be followed to make work understandable.

Also, I find it ideal to take a moment to read dialogue out loud. Not all of it, but at least a few conversations. If it doesn’t read easily, if it doesn’t sound like real people talking, it probably needs some work. If one area needs work or sounds stilted, other areas probably do, too.

In my world, people don’t make a snarky comment and get their reply 5 minutes later after everyone in the room has contemplated its meaning.

 

World Building

I have read a lot of advice telling writers not to give a lot of exposition about the world, even if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Let the world take shape around the characters.World

I get it. I hate exposition and tend to skim it. But, I still need to know where we are and if this is a fictional world, our world, or some hybrid. I’ve finished entire first chapters and still have not known. That’s an issue. I should feel like I am there with the character, and part of that, is knowing where I am.