Category Archives: Rewriting

Back it Up

backup

gibberishA few months ago, the fam had gone out of town, which meant I could get some serious writing done. I was zipping along when all of the sudden my words turned to what you see to the left.

I closed it down, opened it back up and nothing changed. Frantic, I called my IT guy and he walked me through a few things to try—still no good. I sent it to a couple other folks, tried a slew of suggested remedies, but nothing worked—It was gone.

Turns out the last time I had saved the file was about a month earlier. Also turns out I’d been really rocking on this project for the last month and so my previous version looked about 150 pages shy.

“Jesus Saves. You Should Too.”

I received this advice from a friend. He was right. It would have taken just a couple seconds to save the file—essentially sparing me a month’s worth of rework. I write on a laptop, so I never really shut down the computer. I did save it. I saved it often. But I never made a backup copy. I just saved on top of the old version making a new one.

I’m told that the file had grown so large (to about 4MB) that Word couldn’t handle it and wigged out and this had something to do with RAM.

Word sucks by the way, but it is part of my writing process. I haven’t been able to make Scrivener part of my process yet.

So now I save. I save everyday. Multiple times a day. In multiple versions. I saved a file today with 916 at the end, indicating to me that it is the version done in September 2016. I put a letter after 916 so I can go right on through the alphabet with different versions.

Now while this was extremely painful, and many of you probably winced at the thought, let me assure you that I got through it. After a night of depression, I awoke, determined to redo it. I spent the next two days writing. In the end, I caught up to where I was before my misfortune.

The new version was shorter by about 20 pages. And it was better. Only by the time I finished, I was spent on the project and my pantser mind went on to other things. I have yet to circle back to finish the dang thing.

Moral of the story:

  1. Safe often. Save in different names and locations. Email it. Flash drive it. Google Drive it.
  2. A rewrite can be a good thing.

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.

So You’ve Written Yourself Into a Corner…

Every writer has been there. Your plot is humming along. Your protagonist is sidestepping or hurtling every obstacle you throw at them, and they are well on their way to the climactic, final showdown. Suddenly, BAM! You find them squarely in a situation that you can’t see your way out of. You’ve written yourself into a corner.

It’s honestly one of the worst feelings in writing. That awful, “Oh no, how much am I going to have to change to make this work?” feeling of time and effort wasted. It sucks. But take a moment and collect yourself. We’re here to help.

FIrst, take comfort in the fact that every writer has (or will have) experienced this feeling. Those who prefer the “pantsing” style will generally feel the pain far more and probably have developed thick calluses to it, but even the most ardent outliner will have a logical hiccup in their plan every now and then and find themselves having to fight their way back out of it.

There are varying ways to tackle the problem. Which one to apply depends entirely on two factors: how systemic the damage is and the level of the writer’s improvisational skills.

But before I go into specifics, there is one rule you must obey above all when trying to correct the problem of having written yourself into a corner: Use this as an opportunity to make the story better. 

I don’t mean better in the sense of “I had written myself into a corner and now I’ve fixed it.” Go beyond just fixing the problem. Use the fix to illuminate your characters more, or to reveal richer details of your worldbuilding, or to make your plot flow more elegantly. Seeing this as an opportunity serves more purpose than simply resulting in a better story than you had before. It also helps you avoid the psychic toll of feeling as though you’ve wasted a bunch of your time writing into a dead-end. Pull this off, and you’ll be happy you screwed up, because the end result will be that much better.

The first thing you have to do is analyze the problem and the context surrounding it. Are you happy with the book up until this point? Or has the story become more like a beater car, struggling more and more to make headway as it gradually falls apart, with this dead-end being the final straw?

If things had been just fine up until the dead-end, then you probably don’t have to do all that much to fix it and probably aren’t even reading this for advice. Backtrack as far as needed and make a few changes to foreshadow a solution, or change the scenario entirely into something that works.

But sometimes a dead-end is merely a symptom of a larger problem. You can almost think of it as your subconscious’s way of forcing you to really look and see the larger issues of the story. I’ve run into this before where two hundred pages into a book, I realized that my protagonist’s actions didn’t line up at all with his personality. As Dave Heyman discussed a couple of days ago, I had to tear the story down to the studs and basically start over with a premise and some characters.

Hopefully your problem won’t require such drastic measures. Is your dead-end more character-focused but not something you can easily rewrite? Luckily for you, people are very complex creatures, full of flaws and contradictions. Think about a real person you know well. I’m guessing that most of their personality will angle in a certain direction, but that you’ll have noticed that they have a few weird tics as well that don’t seem to jibe with the rest. This sort of thing is a great way to add richness and complexity to your characters. As long as you foreshadow a character behavior a couple of times in advance, you shouldn’t have any trouble tweaking the character enough to allow for the behavior while not breaking them.

If your dead-end is more centered around logistics or plot mechanics, now’s your chance to showcase the world your character inhabits. Especially if its a science fiction or fantasy story, there are any number of ways to add a cool worldbuilding wrinkle that will enable your character to progress. Just make sure that you backtrack and insert that wrinkle (or hints of it) liberally throughout the early portion of your story, to avoid a deus ex machina situation.

If you’re REALLY lucky, you can find yourself with what I like to call the Sublime Solution. This is where those of us who practice the pantsing style of writing really come into our own. Consider: are there any other loose threads of your story dangling out there, things you put in because they just seemed really cool and now you don’t know what to do with them, so you’re considering marking them as darlings to be killed? Well, not so fast. Because maybe, just maybe, you can find a way to tie one or more of those loose threads into a rope to hoist your character free of their dead end. If you can pull this off, it’s one of the best feelings in writing. I had a situation like that arise while working on Ungrateful God, picking up a thread that had been dangling since early in Unwilling Souls and, well… saying any more would be telling. 🙂

In summary, finding yourself written into a corner is both quite common and no reason to panic. Indeed, if you look at it as an opportunity to strengthen your story the annoyance factor … diminishes. Saying it goes away would be a lie, because it’s annoying every single time. But with experience it gets easier to see it for the backhanded gift that it is.

Because it’s always better for you to find and fix the problem before a reader does.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

The Dory Method

This month’s theme is about damage control. When I saw that in the schedule, I laughed to myself, a sort of bitter, resentful laugh. Let’s just say that my last year has been a target-rich environment for damage control. Rejection, lack of sales, family issues, job struggles, potential financial ruin, cancer, death… It’s been a heck of a year, for sure.

Back in January I think I hit the lowest point of motivation and hope I’ve ever reached as a writer. I covered part of that in this previous Fictorians post. I won’t cover all that again. Thank goodness. But the gist is still relevant to this subject, which is all about dealing with struggles, setbacks and lack of motivation.

Right now I am doing my final proofread of the third and final book in my War Chronicles series. You want struggles? I was supposed to finish this back in February. You want setbacks? I pretty much rewrote the final third of the book three times. One of the lowest points of that entire year was when I finally came to terms with how much help and support I had gotten from my brother, who passed away from cancer last year. It turns out that it is no mere platitude to say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Really gone. Forever.

So there I was, a month late with my personal deadline for my third book, with my previously planned ending in ruins as I realized it wasn’t the right ending, my main support for working through issues gone, living in a tiny rent house while trying to build my dream home, struggling with a new job as it became painfully obvious that writing wasn’t (yet) going to pay the bills, and dealing with a ream of personal issues better left unsaid here.

I could have packed it in. I could have just said “It’s too much right now, I’ll deal with this after everything settles down.”

But here’s the thing that I’ve learned in my life. Nothing ever settles down. Things rarely, if ever, get easier. And the longer you put things off, the harder it is to pick them up again.

So my means of coping is something I call “The Dory Method.” You know what that is. Everyone knows. But here’s the thing… It works. I just kept at it, a little at a time, worrying at the story issues like a dog with a bone. Until finally, one day, weeks later, I figured out what the story was lacking, and then everything started coming together.

Working full time in a new job, while trying to build a house, and living in a tiny rent house with no privacy is no way to write a book.

But you can do it. If you just… keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing.

Edison was right. Success really can be 95% perspiration. Or in the case of writing, 95% perseverance.

And the result? Warlord, coming soon to an online book retailer near you. 🙂

Managing the Attention Deficit Thingy

a-d-d-attention-deficit-disorder-funny-retro-posterI find little in life more enjoyable than discovering something new, a character, a world, a scene. I love watching how things develop as I discover write them. I’m what they call a Pantser. I wrote of my writing disorder a couple months ago in A Pantser’s Plight.

In one of David Farland‘s workshops he said something to the effect that discovery writing was to him the most enjoyable and the least productive. I have found that to be true. So I’ve worked hard to develop a plot, outline the direction, but I still discovery write the scenes. I’m finding that the story develops and takes life.

Just this past month I wrote a scene that I had loosely outlined for my protagonist who started a new job on Wall Street. As the scene unfolded, a cute red-headed receptionist entered the mix. And suddenly my protagonist took interest and next thing I know they’re digging on each other. I did not see that coming in my outline but it works nicely.

I developed two other characters who, according to my outline, were scheduled to be killed later on in the story. These characters have grown and become significant in the story. I’ve used them to bridge plot gaps and deepen side plots. Now I’m not sure I want to kill them off. I probably still will, but I could see some spin off stories developing, so I’m going to keep discovering where it goes.

This last month I’ve written about 30,000 words on the same book. I haven’t touched anything else. Not the two short stories, brewing in the back of my brain. Not the other three novels half finished. This is pretty significant for me and I wanted to share my newly acquired trick to stay focused.

The Problems

First, as I mention earlier, I get really excited about discovering something new and tend to lose interest in something that I’ve already figured out in my mind though I haven’t written it yet. This usually leads me to ping-ponging from project to project but never finishing anything.

Second, squirrel. I get easily pulled onto something else more exciting and I have a hard time focusing my mind on what it doesn’t want to focus on.

Third, sometimes I discover write my characters into a situation that just doesn’t work with the rest of the story and I get stumped. And sometimes my characters get into a situation they just can’t get out of.

The Solutions

First, I do a light outline to give myself direction. And I try not to over develop. When I do, it usually becomes cliche or boring.

Second, I noticed awhile ago that whatever book or movie or television show I was into would effect which of my projects my brain thought important at the moment. So, as I’m writing a financial thriller, I’ve tricked my brain to staying focused on this book by reading two John Grisham books, watching shows like Better Call Saul and movies like Wall Street. And more importantly I won’t let myself read or watch anything science fiction or fantasy related. It’s working quite well.

Third, I used to revere what my brain discovered as sacred. I credited inspiration. But I’m learning now that sometimes it’s crap and I need to chuck it out the window. I hated rewriting a scene that I had already thought out a different way and I still don’t enjoy it, but the end result makes it worth it. Sometimes I’ve got to suck it up and push through.

Funny thing, writing this post has gotten me excited to discover more on this particular project. It’s called Unknown Soldier and if I can keep it up, I’ll finish it in a couple more months.

 

jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.