The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Rewriting’ Category

The Patience of Writing an Onion

6 August 2014 | 2 Comments » | Ace Jordyn

Writing a good onion, I mean story, takes time and I don’t just mean the time to think and type the first draft. Becoming and being a writer is an evolution, a process, and we need to be patient with ourselves as we learn the craft and apply it. But what does being patient mean and how can we apply it in a meaningful way? Here are three areas where I’ve learned to apply patience:

Creating the story
One day, I heard one writer critique a story. “Sheila is a patient writer,” he said. I was dumbfounded. What did he mean? I read Sheila’s piece and then looked more carefully at the author’s I liked. Slowly, I figure it out and my writing improved immensely.

Patience in your writing means taking your time to explain things where and when they need to be explained. For example, a story which starts with a lot of back story tells of an impatient writer. Knowing when to sprinkle in the details and saving some of them for later takes patience. It also means taking the time to explain things clearly when the opportunity presents. That can be with setting, character description, with action or dialogue. If you are clearly grounded, then the reader will be as well. Take time developing that scene. Show the situation, the feelings, and focus on the important points and explain them as clearly as needed. Don’t rush it unless there’s a good reason for doing so. If you over-write, you can edit it down later. If you are patient with characters you will make them memorable. If you are patient with your story, you will ground your readers and hold their interest.

Learning new skills
You can’t learn everything from a book, a workshop, a conference or a course. The secret, I’ve learned, is to take one thing that stuck with you and apply it to your story, scene or character. That one thing is usually an aha! moment and because of that it means you’ve become aware of something you never realized before. It’s another layer in writing the perfect onion. Apply that new understanding to your work and suddenly it’s transformed in ways you couldn’t have imagined. The truth is that how-to books are long and cumbersome and workshops are intensive because they try to cover enough points so that everyone will get something from it. So, take one thing and apply it.

Deciding which hat not to wear
The first draft can never be perfect – you’ve heard this before but what does it really mean? If you strive for a perfect first draft, your story will never be written and it’s an impossible feat. It’s impossible to wear both the creative hat and the editor’s hats. Yes, plural hat for the editors.

There are three editorial hats: conceptual where the larger elements of the story such as plot and structure are examined; line by line where every sentence and word are examined for clarity, word choice and content; and copy editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Then there’s the creative hat. Wearing four hats? Suddenly that sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Your first draft can be augmented by some planning (outlining) and your current writing skills. As you’ll write, you’ll learn more up skills along the way which makes new works cleaner and more cohesive. But that first draft will never be a perfect finished work. Every successful writer knows that. Don’t believe me? Check out their acknowledgements pages. First readers, proof readers, editors – they’re all thanked because they’re all there for a reason. Creativity needs its own hat to weave unexpected twists and unfetter your imagination. The weight of four hats will give you a headache and ultimately, writer’s block. So be patient. Wear your creative hat and come up with an exciting, moving story. The wear each editorial hat in turn. As you wear each one, that’s a good time to apply new skills or insights about the craft. A trick is to have cheat sheets with points or questions for each of the editors.

Patience can best be described as creating an onion rather than peeling it back. Layer upon layer must be built before the story is completed to our satisfaction. So perhaps the hat analogy doesn’t really work. The creative and editing processes are about layering the story to add density to the concept, the plot, to character, to our voice and mastery of the craft. An onion grows from a small seed and layer by layer with watering and patience, it forms a solid bulb and so too grows a story.

Growing Pains and Progress

18 July 2014 | Comments Off | Kristin Luna

You may hear authors reminisce from time to time about their awful earlier work. While I can agree that some of my oldest short stories are not as interesting or polished, I relish looking through them. Why? Because I can see how far I’ve come.

Growth in one’s craft is only sexy in movie montages. Definitely in Rocky III, amiright?

For everyone who isn’t Sylvester Stallone, growth looks like hard work, tears, inevitably a day of not showering here and there, and a hefty dose of self-loathing. Sometimes, it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere. You’re running in a constant hamster wheel, praying for something to break your plateau. You care too much to give up, even after seeing rejection after rejection.

When I hit one of these plateaus a few years ago, I spent time in serious reflection. I received a few rejections, and knew that my writing wasn’t quite up to par. I desperately wanted to improve and get better, but how? I had a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I have read many books about the craft. But I needed someone to dive deep into my writing and give some personal advice.

I hired Joshua Essoe, a friend and freelance editor, to line and content edit my YA fantasy novel, The Bond. While it was a bit scary to have my book picked apart, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned from the first few edited pages alone. Joshua Essoe pointed out things I do stylistically that no one else had before. Those observations helped me make my story more compelling and clear, and streamline sentences by taking out unnecessary or implied text.

Paying a professional to edit my work has been some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Working on the second book in The Bond series, I can see how much my work has grown, and how much tighter and precise my prose are.

Let’s face it. Editing is not fun. But editing your book in order to make it better is worth it. Looking back at your previous works need not make you groan. Instead, it should be a celebration of just how far you’ve come.

Personal note: If you’re in the market for a professional, detailed freelance editor, I highly recommend Joshua Essoe. He’s edited books for many well-known people including fantasy author David Farland, and Dean Lorey, the writer and producer of the television show Arrested Development.



The Miracle of Mentors

11 July 2014 | Comments Off | Colette

clouds-aircraftI hadn’t even finished my first novel. I’d written one exceptionally strange, not particularly good, short story, but was on my way to my first World Fantasy Convention. I had no idea what I was doing. The flight was full, but as fortune would have it, I happened to sit next to two writers. As Gini Koch showed her cover art for her first published novel, “Touched by an Alien,” to her friend sitting next to me, Glen Glenn, I worked up the courage to intrude on their conversation. It took me a minute–I’m shy by nature–but I finally leaned over and asked, “Are you both writers?” That simple question launched one of the best friendships and best mentoring relationship I could have ever imagined.

I talked with Gini and Glen through the rest of the flight and she told me to find her at the convention. That gave me the motivation I needed to attend the upstairs parties the next night, where I found Gini and she started introducing me to everyone. I met agents, fellow authors, and so many nice people I could hardly keep them all straight. Gini and I kept in touch, getting together for lunch, and she continued to give me loads of great writing advice. Through her mentoring, my writing ability jumped by leaps and bounds. For a while, Glen and I exchanged our writing material on a regular basis, which also improved my writing. The best bonus: I made some great friends.

Now jump ahead about three years. I’d attended multiple workshops, Superstars Seminar, conventions, and received a nice pile of rejection letters amid a few short story publications. I scraped up the money for another writing adventure, attending David Farland’s rewriting workshop, but I had other matters on my mind besides my manuscript. The seminar was great, and everyone loved my work, but I was starting to feel discouraged.

I’m a mother with five children, and all of the writing “investments” were starting to take their toll on the family finances. David didn’t know it, but I was questioning the value of my work. It was time spent that could have gone toward improving my home or working a more profitable job, and it was money that could go toward retirement or fun family activities. What was I doing going to seminars, conventions, etc so I could write fantasy stories?

At every seminar Dave gives, he takes some time and has breakfast, lunch, or dinner, one-on-one, with each of the participants. So we sat together, I remember a delicious aroma of broccoli-cheese soup so I think it was a Paradise Bakery, and talked about writing, publishing, and self-publishing. Probably because it was on my mind, the conversation turned to the social value of what we do as writers.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dave said something akin to, “The stories we write might be made-up fiction, but they come from who we are inside, and they can help people in ways we can’t imagine.”

I’d heard it before, but the way he said it that day, the way it pierced my soul, dispelling my doubts and fears and replacing them with absolute calm, changed my entire outlook. I still get discouraged, and the publishing world has done flips and turns that leave me mind-boggled, but I love to write, and I’ll continue to write, because it does make the world a better place and it makes me a better person. We need stories to work through our own values, emotions, and social perspectives.

They aren’t the only mentors who have boosted me up at just the right time, but these are turning points that have stuck with me. Have you had any turning points in your writing adventure? If so, please leave a comment and share your experience.

The Gift of Scorched Earth

16 December 2013 | 4 Comments » | Gregory D. Little

BookToday’s post is going to cover two gifts for the price of one, both intangible and tangible.

I began my first novel manuscript in January of 1999. There were three of us then, and during our winter break from college, we set out to write the greatest epic fantasy novel known to man. I probably don’t have to tell you our plans didn’t quite pan out. But flash forward four or five years, and that book, the first thing I ever tried to write with a serious intention of publishing it, was nearly the reason I quit writing for good.

My co-authors dropped out early in the process. We enjoyed talking about our story’s awesomeness more than actually working on it together. But I’d continued plugging slowly along on the book throughout college. And by the time I was graduated and then married, I had a couple of hundred draft pages. That seems like a tiny amount to Present Day Greg, but at the time it was by far the longest thing I’d ever written. The trouble was, I’d basically stopped working on it.

I told myself I was just busy. Working at a full-time job and commuting three hours daily left me very tired by the end of each week. But that wasn’t it. In truth I no longer believed in the story I was writing. I was no longer excited by it, because there was a dissonance between the plot and the protagonist. I didn’t believe that this protagonist would be responsible for the acts of his recent past that formed the foundation of the plot.

I’d be willing to bet a lot of writers don’t consciously decide to give up writing. It just sort of happens bit by bit, day by day until they look back and realize it’s been months or years since they’ve written. The point of no return is when this thought no longer bothers them. I came pretty close to that point. A more experienced writer would have just tossed the idea and started on a new one, but that wasn’t how I looked at it. The germ for this story had been in my head for a decade. If I couldn’t even see it through, what hope did I ever have of being a writer? But the Sunk Cost Fallacy had me in its claws. For those unfamiliar, the Sunk Cost Fallacy is the human tendency to “throw good money after bad” and continue investing in something that isn’t working just because you’ve invested so much into it already.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I gradually gave myself permission to scrap what needed scrapping in order to the save the story. It started with rewriting the protagonist into the antagonist, but by the end I trashed every single word of text and started over. Some of the characters’ relationships to one another and some of my original world-building concepts would survive, but every bit of the prose was fed into the furnace of reigniting my excitement for the project. It was total scorched earth, and as much as I’d dreaded the concept, it was surprisingly liberating once I’d committed myself to it.

Eventually I finished my monster of a first manuscript, An End to Gods. The final product is infinitely better than the project was originally shaping up to be. I’ve gotten much faster and trimmer as a writer since then, and the book is still too big and too Byzantine to publish as a novice writer, but I love it for all its messy complexity. My cousins even collaborated to get it printed and bound in leather for me several Christmases ago, complete with custom chapter icon artwork (Ben and Duncan, you guys still rock!) and it is still the coolest gift I’ve ever been given. It’s sitting on my shelf behind me as I type this (and in the picture at the top of this post). I don’t mind telling you I got teary-eyed when I first laid eyes on it, and I still plan on publishing it one day, however many rewrites that takes. I’ve already done it once, after all.

So there you have it. Two greatest gifts for the price of one. Kevin J. Anderson likes to use the phrase “dare to be bad (at first)” and that’s excellent advice. But if that first draft is so bad it’s discouraging you from continuing to write, it may be time to tear it down and start again.


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