Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Writing Update for December

One of the tools I like to use is a chronological chart of happenings, paralleling each character's thread. I'm looking at the chart for Trefury: The Secrets of Callorin and I'm near the end. It's a good feeling. Five months ago I felt I'd never get to this point. I've faithfully kept a writing journal as I've plodded through my current rewrite and the dismay of an empty 3-ring binder and a brand new notebook has given way to a sense of satisfaction as they both have filled up. In fact, I may need a second notebook before I'm through. My scene profile files on my computer are grouped based on plot threads and it's handy to be able to read through them and make sure that information and action are where they need to be.

Basically, a daunting, humongous task has become less Herculean due to persistence and hard work. I don't have the luxury of having several hours a day to devote to writing. I snatch an hour or two where I can, sometimes only half an hour. The little bits add up and I'm glad that I documented them as they compiled.

Writing is so solitary an endeavor and I often find myself tucked away from the rest of the writing world as I'm in the middle of creation or revision. I poke my head out once in awhile and make sure I keep active on my writing forum because writing contacts and friends are important too. What I think I enjoy most is the self-discovery part of writing, the omniscient feeling. And the realization that how I picture my worlds and characters will never translate perfectly through words doesn't disturb me as much any more. As writers, we create alone, then give away what we write to the imaginations of those who read. Wouldn't it be scary and cool if there was a way to perfectly translate the story we see in our heads? Kind of like plugging up everyone else to the movie in our heads, including the strength of our emotions and how we feel about what is going on. I'm sure someone will create a movie about that concept someday.

It's interesting to reflect and chart your own growth as a writer, too. The absorption of technique, critiques, brainstorming, and improved skills is exciting to see. I don't think that makes each story we write any easier, unless we are following a set formula, but we're not the clumsy beginning artists we once were. There's a little more confidence, fewer paths down tangent roads that eat up time and make us feel like novice idiots. We've learned rules and when to break them. We've learned that there are very few hard rules in fact and that we can move creatively forward without incurring the wrath of people we once thought of as experts on pedestals. We've learned the difference between indulgent writing for ourselves and the slavery of writing to everyone else's expectations, and hopefully chosen a place in between.

We present our work to the world, have our PR time, then go back into the cave of solitude to create another story. And that's where I am. I've had my break from writing, gagged the internal editor, and am blissfully reworking a story I feel passionate about.

I'm having surgery today and I'm excited about it. I look forward to finishing this year and starting the next spending my recuperation time finishing up this draft before doing my final rewrite (the one before I solicit beta readers to help me iron out the bugs). I hope those of you who write or work in other creative endeavors have a great New Year and if you take anything from this obscure blogpost from this obscure writer, I want it to be hope that even if your circumstances are not ideal as to time and means to pursue your creativity, that you know even the small moments add up. Don't give up or give in to frustration because it isn't happening the way you want or in the time you want it to. Do give your best and work hard. Push yourself; it's so worth it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Writing Update for November

Did any of you try out scene profiles after reading my last post? I'd love to hear about it.

I'm pleased to say that I've completed a lot on Trefury: The Secrets of Callorin in the past couple of months. There has been chopping out, and adding in, exploration into side stories in order to make scenes richer, and character twists and quirks which have surprised me as they've come to light. Writing a sequel is challenging at the best of times, only in this case, I'm writing a continuation of Trefury: Mendi's Curse. The original book was cut in two. So this half will be high-powered and darker than the first, in preparation for the big revelations that come with book three.

There are moments when I'd love to put this story aside and work on something else entirely. For a long time I was blocked, not for lack of plot or character development, but in trying to figure out what should be shown and how to show it. I broke that block last week thanks to scene profiles. You can imagine my happy dance when that happened. That block had prevented me from being on deadline by several months. Now I'm bursting ahead to catch up.

Have you ever had a bad block before? How did you get past it? How did you feel afterwards?

I'm grateful I got past mine. I'm grateful for the support of family and friends with my writing endeavors. I'm grateful to be able to develop my writing skills further. And I'm grateful for those who have read Trefury: Mendi's Curse and have shared their reactions with me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cut-to's and Scene Profiles: A Second Draft Life Saver

You've written your novel. The creative juices were flowing, you hit a few blocks and snags, but you got past them, and it feels so great to have reached the end.

And now you have the second draft to deal with.

The drafts that follow that magical first one can be magical too, except this kind of magic comes with a price, that of lots of toil, pressure, overcoming self-doubt or self-delusion, sweat, and more dark valleys than bright mountain peaks. It's worth it; trust me; you don't want to put that first draft in a safe and leave it as is. Your baby has to grow up.

There are lots of ways to tackle subsequent drafts. I've tried many of them. I still use many of them. My favorite is quickly becoming the art of the scene profile and cut-to. Screenwriters use this technique and so can you. It's like rewriting your novel before you actually rewrite it and it'll save you having to do lots of other rewrites.

For example, have you ever started a rewrite - even with an outline - and at a certain point you realize that the whole things isn't going to work? Or maybe the story's been derailed or sidelined. Outlines are great to help prevent this, but outlines aren't written in stone and can easily be overturned or go astray. Outlines are pretty distant too, even the in-depth ones, giving you a panoramic big picture view of your story and where you expect it to go. The problem is when you settle in to write and all the little things start accumulating, you find that that big picture wasn't so accurate or that you're in a tussle to try to make the little things tow the line and keep to the outline.

By all means, use outlines as tools. I do. But after you've had your panoramic glimpse of the big picture, may I suggest using scene profiles and cut-to's before you start rewriting in order to keep the big and little things from creating an epic battle that will threaten your sanity and eat up extra time as you try over and over again to make them agree with each other.

What are scene profiles and cut-to's? How do you use them?
A cut-to is an overview of a scene, like a close-up glance, or play by play of the action.
A scene profile is where you've gathered your pertinent information on the scene and the characters in it.

Together the scene profile and the cut-to list makes rewriting your scenes easy and efficient. They'll help you spot inconsistencies, plot-holes, will help you decide if you need minor tweaks or an overhaul, or let you know if a scene needs to be dropped because it has no purpose. While these sound like extra effort and work, they actually save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Here's an example of what I do:
1. Create a list of scenes that are in the novel or that I know need to be in the novel.
2. Working one scene at a time, plug in the information about the scene (whether directly from my first draft or the outline or both) into the scene profile.
3. Create the cut-to list for each scene.

I have a template I build off of for each scene:
Scene name or number: I'm a big proponent of naming scenes because it encapsulates the purpose of the scene and makes it easier to keep them straight rather than using numbers.
1. Date: This refers to the date in your story. Is this scene during Day 45 or on the 27th of March. It seems like a little, unimportant thing, but it's not. Knowing the date helps set your chronology and makes you step back and think about how realistic your time frames are in the narrative.
2. Time of Day: This affects your characters and your setting. What if your main character is a morning person and this scene takes place in the evening? They are more apt to be tired and cranky. Didn't think of that the first time you wrote this scene did you? Or what if it's night time and your characters are at a university? What are they doing there at night? Little details like this enhance your narrative and pique reader curiosity.
3. Weather: Yes, what is the weather like during this scene? Did your first draft read like a perpetual summer's day? How might knowing the weather affect your characters, the setting, or the plot?
4. Setting: This is where you plug in the details of your setting. And I do stress details. You should write it all down in a separate file, envision it. And then be prepared to pull what you need from it and let the rest go, or bring out some details in this scene and other details later on when revisiting this same place. Make a note here of the details you've chosen to reveal.
5. Objects: Good novels have objects. Memorable characters are associated with objects, like Snow White and the apple or the Beast and his enchanted castle. Objects are symbolic of what is happening in the plot or to the characters. What objects are noticed, sought after, obtained, or lost in this scene?
6. Characters: Write down which characters are actively in this scene. This is also the place to mention if there is something new, off, or otherwise different about any of the characters. If you're introducing or exiting a character, you can make a note of that as well.
7. Scene cut-to's: A list of play-by-play action that goes on in the scene. This is where you very briefly and succinctly write the scene before actually writing it with fleshed out details. For example: 
     i. Main character walks into the room with a book.
     ii. Side characters B & C stop talking about Main character and look guilty.
     iii. Main character asks them what is going on.
     iv. Character C pulls out a letter from their coat pocket and hands it to MC
     v. MC opens the letter and starts to read.
     vi. Character B makes an excuse to leave the room.
     vii. Character C tells B they can't go yet.
     viii. MC reads that their teenage child has run away from boarding school.
     ix. Character C tells MC that they aren't surprised, launches into a tirade about MC neglecting their child.
     x. MC slams the book down on a table.
     xi. Character B makes a hasty exit through an outside door.
     xii. MC laughs and Character C is shocked.
     xiii. MC tells C that they helped their teenager escape.
     xiv. Character C reaches for their phone.
     xv. MC twists C's arm behind their back.
     xvi. Character C drops the phone in the pool.
    xvii. MC whispers in C's ear that they know C was the reason the teen was sent to the boarding school to begin with.
    xviii. Character C asks what the MC intends to do.
    xix. MC lets C go and walks toward the door.
    xx. C repeats the question with greater agitation.
    xxi. MC tells C that they won't hear from MC or their teen again.
8. Flashbacks or backstory reveals: Here's where you plug in your backstory material that has any relevancy to what is happening in this scene. It can be pages long or a quick sentence. Not all scenes should have flashbacks or backstory reveals, but you as a writer need to know where these things are simmering in the subtext.
9. Foreshadowing: This is the place where you have your big picture outlook come down to manageable size. Not all scenes have foreshadowing, but good ones do. It may be a simple remark a character makes, an event, an object, or a decision that will have big consequences later. Stop and think about this scene and your book at large and make this scene stronger by adding an element of foreshadowing.
10. Notes: Here is where you jot down any additional notes you have, like psychological development of the characters, things to watch out for, research data that you've collected that will have a bearing on this particular scene, etc.

See what I mean about writing the rewrite before actually writing it? By putting together this information you get to know your scene, its purpose and place in the novel without expending the time and sweat writing it. And it's much easier to tweak, change, or discard as you build your other scene profiles than going back and rewriting pages of prose.

Once you've made up all of your scene profiles and cut-to's and everything is fitting into place and all your insights, twists, and details match up as they should, then comes the fun part - rewriting your novel. And the best part is that it will be quick because you have everything thought out and jotted down, everything.

Give it a try and tell me what you think. I know I've avoided repeating details too much, found plot-holes, and developed stronger subtext by employing this method. I've also been able to chuck scenes that don't really do anything for the story. Sentimentality is avoided when working in a scene profile and with cut-to's. And usually, a writer's sentimentality is the biggest stumbling block of all to overcome.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yesternight's Voyage: Changes

The blog will be undergoing some background maintenance as well as a few outward changes. More good content to come. Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writing Update for April

April's been a pretty good month. I devoted two weeks to writing and made significant progress on Trefury: The Secrets of Callorin. But even the best made plans don't always pan out as you hope they will. I had hoped to have the book done by mid-April. Life has a way of intervening, as usual.

I have learned that even if you have a story written, and even if it's technically good, you can usually make it better. And sometimes making things better derails what you've already written. That bothered me a lot when I wrote the first Trefury book, but this time around I'm ripping out original or recently revised material without a second thought. I suppose that's a sign of writer's maturity? While the essence of the original story remains, it doesn't control the wonderful new directions the story has taken. If you don't let go and try, you'll never know how good it might have been. Just make sure you keep a copy of the old stuff in case the new bright idea doesn't pan out after all.

The last week and a half I set aside my novel to read someone else's. I'm always so grateful for these opportunities, especially if I enjoy the writing style of the person I'm critiquing for. While evaluating and trying to help them make their story stronger, I'm always taking notes in the back of my mind. Things like, "Oh yeah, I make that same mistake too!" or "Look how well this person handles (fill in the blank); I need to work on that." And I'll admit, because I try to be honest in my critiques, I go through several days, after turning it back in, of inner anxiety and misery. I'm always scared to death that the other person's going to hate me or think I'm crazy. The overall goal is to help them out and I always try to find good things to note as well as voicing my concerns. No one has sent me hate-mail yet. And I have to admit, I get a thrill out of seeing books I got to read before they were published, in published form. If only Goodreads would let me count them for my yearly books-read count.

Now I've got to swing back into writing mode for a couple of weeks before I get to beta read again for someone else. And I found out a couple of days ago that I get to do some copy editing and formatting for my mom as she gets ready to submit/publish her first books. I'll admit, it's awesome to look at my bookshelves and see novels written by family members. You see a different side of a relative when you get into their creative mind. At any rate, collectively, we're amassing an impressive family history collection of novels. I should mention all the artwork done by relatives too. To top that, my daughters have begged me to teach them more about creative writing and we've done some serious workshopping together this week. It's a growing legacy, and something I'm so happy to be in the middle of.

So that's it for now. Thanks for reading. I'd be delighted if you wanted to post your own writing update in the comments section. And as always, happy writing to all of you.