Tag Archives: Rewriting

Embracing the Pain – Receiving Editors’ Feedback

EditsReceiving edits back from an editor is like opening a Christmas present on the set of a horror film: exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love editing. The process of revising and editing and polishing a story transforms it into its final, awesome form. It’s like taking a house that’s got external construction mostly complete, and internal walls roughed in and completing the construction, painting, and furnishing every room to make it a livable home.

Even so, that first scan of an editor’s comments can be painful.

As much as I know the draft I submitted is far from perfect, there’s a part of me that still clings to the hope that the editor will simply say, “Wow. I’ve never read anything quite that amazing. I can’t imagine how to make that better.”

Never going to happen. Instead, a good editor will shine a spotlight on every flaw, point to every weakness, and ask for clarification of every inconsistency. They’ll highlight every issue part of me was secretly hoping they’d never notice.

Feedback is something we authors desperately need and usually crave. When we’re new, we’re usually terrified by it, sometimes take it personally, treat is as an assault, or embrace the righteous anger of a parent protecting their precious child. All the wrong answers.

I still feel flashes of that sometimes when I’m first reviewing edits, and I’ve learned to laugh at myself. My pride is meaningless, my vanity useless. The story is what matters, and a good editor helps identify weaknesses and make suggestions to help that story fulfill its potential.

They do point out the things that do work, and that’s also extremely helpful, but the work and the growth comes from the constructive criticism.

So I always complete an initial quick scan of the feedback, then take a break, breathe deep, consider what I read, and sometimes take a walk as I mentally update my assessment of what I had thought I had written to the reality of what I had actually produced.

Only then can I get to work.

That’s when the fun begins. When I embrace the feedback, accept responsibility for the flaws, and embrace the work required to fix and improve the story, it’s always amazing how fast new insights and ideas flow. Sometimes that’s the point when I finally understand what story I’m really trying to tell. That’s when I can make it amazing.

Some authors are smarter than me, and perhaps their experience with editor feedback is more like a gentle, encouraging massage. For most of us, it’s a bruising beating that helps us grow stronger.

PerfectionWithout fail, when I keep an open mind and honestly review suggestions and critiques, not only do I see ways to better tell the story, but I gain insights into my own weaknesses as a writer. With every story, I grow. I discover blinders that I had on that prevented me from seeing weaknesses, I gain insights into higher forms of craft, and strengthen my skills.

So next time my manuscript will finally be perfect on the first try!

Or not. And I’ll fix it.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Contemporary Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Pre-Writing and Screenwriting

Until 2012, I was a pantser. Truth be told, I still write short fiction without a plan sometimes, but I’ve been fully converted over to outlining. It’s a long story, but it’s worth the effort. The very first novel I wrote, RUNS IN THE FAMILY, took me 18 months to write. Without a roadmap, I would write all the little ideas and delete troves of words before latching onto another idea and doing the same thing over and over again. It was a slog and I hardly remember finishing it. When I had the idea that became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL, I vowed that I wouldn’t do that whole awful process again. I determined that I was going to figure out how to write a novel. I’ll cut off some of the story here, but a book on screenwriting changed the way that I write. That book was “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” by Jeffrey Alan Schecter. It’s a quick, easy read that gives you insights into character development, story pacing, and a structure that resonates with your reader.

Schecter’s book impressed the folks at Mariner Software enough that they built a screenwriting program called Contour that follows his method to the letter. When I found out about Contour, I quickly downloaded the free demo. From there, I ended up purchasing the program. It’s a part of my pre-writing process, which is the theme of the month, so let me break down how I get ready to write a novel.

Let’s say I have an idea already pretty formed in my head. Chances are that I’ve started gathering some notes on that idea in a notebook (yes, I have a notebook problem – there are never enough). I take that pretty formed idea in my head and start to make sure I can craft it into some of the key notions that Schecter teaches about character development. The takeaway here is that without good characters, your story doesn’t live to tell the tale. Forget to develop your protagonist and your book never reaches the end of Act One because there’s nothing to change them. Fail to develop a solid antagonist and your story dies in Act Two. By building the character development first, even before I start the plotting pieces and exercises, I have a solid idea of where the story is going to go based on the goals of my characters. From there, I go through Contour’s beats and guide sheets to develop a “straw” outline – that’s my first pass entirely through Contour. I come back and add more detail to the areas that need it – thanks to big text boxes and the like. Once I’ve done that, it’s time to open Scrivener, my writing software.

Once in Scrivener, I use what’s in Contour to help flesh out a basic structure. I create the building blocks in various ways – either folders and chapters for scenes, the cork board function for random thoughts or unplaced ideas, and any references I need to consult as I write. With the data from Contour about specific plot points, character goals, and what the characters need to discover/solve/act upon, by the time I’ve laid out my pre-writing, I have a serious amount of data already in the program ready for me to use. Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but for me it’s better than trying to handle those dozens of notebooks and pieces of scratch paper. If I take the time to enter the ideas in Contour, it asks the questions for me and my answers further flesh out the plot. From there, writing is relatively easy.

How easy? At this point, I’ve invested several hours in building out Contour and laying out Scrivener the way I want it to. For me, the end result is that I write faster. Remember RUNS IN THE FAMILY? Eighteen months from start to finish? With the method I laid out above, I wrote SLEEPER PROTOCOL in seven weeks. I wrote the recently published sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL in about nine weeks. It’s a much faster process when I know the route that I’m going to take. By laying out the entire novel, if a character decides to do something differently that I want them to, I can let that play out a little and still have a clear ending in mind. I can adjust things as I go, which is much easier than stopping and starting all over. With a full outline, I know where I have to get back to, and it makes a difference.

No two methods are the same, though. You have to figure out what works for you. For me, that intense planning and note taking process leads to big changes with my speed and productivity, but it may not work for you. There are a million ways to write a novel, but they don’t all require any prewriting. They do require writing, so get to it.

 

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.

 

Leaving Books Behind

[For those interested, my book Unwilling Souls begins a week long Kindle Countdown Deal at 8 AM EST TODAY, February 2nd, 2016! For the next two days, it will be just $0.99 on Kindle, with the price going up steadily every couple of days after that. So act quickly!]

Owing to my post last month which directly related how experience shapes writing, I’m going to take a slightly different tack in approaching the topic this month. Show of hands: how many of you have read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series? It’s an interesting set of books for a number of reasons. The first is that fantasy isn’t generally King’s genre. I’ve often found that talented writers who don’t usually write straight fantasy then choose to attempt it come up with very unusual entries into the genre. It’s as if not being immersed in the rules of the genre, both written and unwritten, means they approach a fantasy story with a very different mindset. Justin Cronin’s series The Passage has similar traits.

But I digress. The real reason The Dark Tower is such an unusual series of books is that King published them over a period of twenty-two years (1982 – 2004, and thirty years if you count The Wind Through the Keyhole, which came out in 2012). And since books 5-7 were published within a year of one another, the publication frequency became even more lopsided.

This is an impressive feat. Keeping the enthusiasm for a series of books up for that long is pretty much unprecedented, at least recently. As much grief as George R.R. Martin gets, his series has been ongoing since 1996, so he’s just second place on this list of two I’ve generated. There were plenty of Stephen King fans who, prior to 2003, thought they would never get the end of their beloved series.

It’s tough to keep up enthusiasm for one idea for that long. To be a writer requires a lot of enthusiasm, because there is very little in the way of positive feedback, especially in the early going. Certainly there’s no monetary feedback. It’s almost impossible to put fingers to keys if you aren’t excited about the ideas you are putting down, or at least excited about finally finishing those ideas. What readers ended up getting with The Dark Tower was a series of four books, each of which was written in a different style and with a vastly differing plot. No two of those first four books were really anything alike. Each was its own, unique animal, with strengths and weaknesses that largely differed from any other entry in the series. The overarching plot connecting them was very loose and free-form. By contrast, King wrote books five through seven back-to-back-to-back in an effort to finally put the series to bed. As a result, those last three books demonstrated a much more uniform style and a renewed focus on the overarching plot of the series. In the end, the main seven books of the series were written by five different versions of Stephen King over a period of a quarter century.

Talk to enough writers, and you’ll start to hear the same refrain over and over again: ideas are easy, execution is hard. And it’s true. My friend Gama Martinez is famous among his friends in the writing world for being able to take any weird or random notion you throw at him and sketch out a story concept within a few minutes. Most every author has more ideas knocking around inside their head than they can ever write about. And the sad truth is that plenty of those ideas, as excited as you may be about them when they pop into your head, may wither on the vine before you get to them. People change. The things that interest or excite them change too.

After my first Superstars seminar, I returned home with renewed writing vigor. Over the course of two months, I wrote a 100,000 word first draft of a superhero novel. It flowed out of my brain faster than anything I’d every written before. Then I started looking at it and realized how many problems it had. Ultimately, it was a series of mostly cool scenes and chapters that didn’t really fit together into a single, cohesive story, and I wasn’t sure, at the time, that I could find a way to make them fit. I put the book aside and began work on something new, my burst of excitement over my superhero story fizzling.

I told myself I would come back to it, rewrite what needed rewriting to fix the structural problems and not waste all that time I spent coming up with that world and those characters. And yet here I am five years later, and I still haven’t rewritten that novel. I’m neck deep in a four book series, now, unwilling to break my momentum with major side projects. After that’s done, the possibilities of the blank page may call to me more than a massively flawed novel first draft.

Time marches on. Our lives take us in different directions, and the topics we focus our thoughts on shift in compensation with these changes of direction. Sometimes, as writers, we outgrow ideas, or even entire stories. That’s okay. In fact, it’s perfectly natural, change being the only universal constant and all.

Write down your most exciting ideas when you have them. Even if you can’t get to them for years, you may find a way to spin them together in another story. And if nothing else, they are a snapshot of the kind of writer and the kind of person you were at the time.

 

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 and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn 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.