Tag Archives: Rewriting

Serendipity is a Weird Mistress

Serendipity really is a weird mistress. I mean, I’d been wondering for months what I could do to take my writing to the next level. I’ve edited an anthology, I’ve published and yet I found myself feeling absolutely stuck. A mentor was what I wanted – someone to show me how I could improve. But where are they? All the really good writers I know are writing and publishing with little time to spare. My critique groups (I love every writer in them) felt predictable. Plus, I couldn’t afford to go on an expensive training session. So where could I get the injection of awareness and learning to improve my craft?

When Serendipity cast her hand, I was elated for my help came in three ways:

Psychotherapy for writers and their characters
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Based on his latest book Writing the 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, Donald Maass’s one day workshop focused on making writing deeper, more meaningful, more palpable and more energized. It was psychotherapy for the writer and story characters. Here are two examples of the exercises he had us do. If you answer them honestly, then it creates an opportunity to take your writing to the next level because the core of who you are becomes the core of your characters and that’s what readers find interesting.

Example #1 What can’t I say in my story (what is it I fear writing about)? When does my protagonist fear the very thing I’m not saying? When does my protagonist become me?

Example #2 What makes me blissfully happy? How is it different for me than for anybody else? When in my story will the protagonist experience the same bliss?

Example #3 What feeling was new to me in the last year? When in the story will my protagonist experience this same new feeling? What happens that stirs this new feeling?

An awesome revision checklist
My imagination is boundless – I have five first draft novels on my desk waiting for revision. Yet the very idea mortified me – if I’m writing at a certain level, how do I know what to look for? How do I make my story better? When I attended FictionWriterCoverWeb-190x300Nina Munteanu’s one hour presentation on revision at the When Words Collide Conference the pieces to the puzzle fell together and now revising is totally fun!

I was elated to discover that I had many of the skills and resources I needed to revise. What I lacked was structure for the task. Revising, I learned, is a ten step process. The second step, Dig Deep, is the most exciting for it gives permission to restructure and change things to make the story better. For example, I had been toying with changing the gender of a main character but was unsure. Then, Nina said it was okay. Bingo! When I did it, I discovered that I hadn’t made the original character as strong and unique as I thought – there were trite mannerisms and stereotypical reactions I had subconsciously written. Why should a female wail and a male not? Or did I want either of them wailing? Was that the reaction I wanted? Of course not! Out with the stereotypes, in with more concrete characters and writing. It’s given me a whole new perspective as I examine all my characters.

The other helpful thing about the book is that Nina has a good succinct information on things important to telling a good story such as an overview of the hero’s journey, using the metaphor, getting sensual, the Zen of passionate writing and more. Simply and succinctly written, The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now is an excellent resource which has helped me get my writing to the next level. Simply written (I don’t have the patience for long dissertations), it makes its points quickly on essential things such as the hero’s journey, using the metaphor, getting sensual, the Zen of passionate writing and more. Nina will be our guest next week, so be sure to join us then.

Learning from each other
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Many writer friends, including some in my critique groups, also attended sessions, took workshops or did cool things like attend Odyssey for six weeks. Now, we have some truly interesting discussions, brainstorming sessions and meaningful critiques. I learned that the mentors I sought weren’t some magical gurus from best seller lists (although I wouldn’t turn one of those down!). They’re local writers who continue to learn and grow. Because we each pick up on different things, we can see issues in each other’s writing that the writer cannot. The importance of having a learning, supportive group becomes evident when you read a novel’s acknowledgement page. Great mid-list and best seller authors credit numerous people for everything from technical information to proof reading and editorial advice. We all need a community to help us get to the next level.

So yeah, taking my writing to the next level was as simple as 1,2,3: psychotherapy, a revision checklist, and having a community of good supportive writers who have the same aspirations. Serendipity provided me the tools I needed to grow as a writer – I just needed to take advantage of them when they presented themselves. I’m really glad I did.

Happy writing!

 

Novel Rewriting Workshop and Other Dave Wolverton Semimars

Did you every have one of those stories that you know “missed it by that much”? I did. While there were some obvious fixes I knew I needed (like beefing up my descriptions), there was a fundamental flaw in the story that I couldn’t get my hands around. The story was sick and needed help. So, I took my baby to a professional.

Let me back up for a second, the story I’m talking about is my trunk novel. I’ve been picking at it for far too long. The first draft was well over 300,000 words. I know. I know. So, I broke it into three books. The problem was that the first book’s story arc was high on the Character quotient of Orson Scott Card’s MICE scale. For those who don’t know, I’m going to vastly oversimplify this. Card broke stories down to four archetypes – Milieu (setting), Issue, Character, and Event. A character story is mostly concerned with the character’s internal journey. So, the book ended when my main character transitioned from spoiled, self-centered twit to taking responsibility for the greater community, and before the promisDavid Farlanded big battle. A lot of the comments I received was that “nothing happened” in the story. So, books one and two became book 1. But I still had what I called a “pacing” problem. I didn’t know how to fix it. Hence, the trip to the book doctor.

The book doctor of choice and the stated course of therapy? David Farland’s Novel Rewriting Seminar. Dave is a New York Times Bestselling writer who has been translated into many languages and trained a number of #1 New York Times bestsellers, like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer. His latest novel, NIGHTINGALE, has won eight awards. So, the ability to hear him speak, much less take a class from him, is an amazing opportunity.

This seminar focuses on editing. In order to attend, you have to submit a sample to Dave and be accepted. You’re committing to a lot of homework, both before and during the workshop. We had a reading list which ensured all participants were starting with the same base knowledge.

All participants send in the first 100 pages and a synopsis of their stories. Part of the pre-seminar homework is to read the first 20 pages and synopsis of the other workshop stories. Getting to read and critique other stories, when you do so honestly, is a learning experience. What do I mean by “critiquing honestly”? I mean not cutting down a story just to cut it down. Your plan should always be to help the writer improve the story. realizing that your comments are just your opinion and you’re not any smarter or better than any other writer. Use critiquing as a way to help someone, but also as a means of seeing what you are doing that might be hurting your own writing.

The work doesn’t end when you get to the workshop. This isn’t a seminar where you can sit back and zone out. Each day, we went over two or more of the workshop stories, discussed story structure and elements, and were given homework that applied the topics discussed. We each left with 10 other perspectives on our story. Another fabulous excercise we did was disecting the story-telling elements in The Hunger Games movie. Many of the workshop participants would go out to lunch or dinner together. We built a community there.

Each participant meets with Dave to go over his comments on the first 100 pages of your novel. I have to say the time spent with Dave was worth far more than the price of admission. Not only is he a genuinely wonderful person, but he has so much insight and experience over the entire entertainment industry. I could have spent hours talking to him about everything from game design to movie making to publishing, and barely dipped my toes in the well of information and experience that he has. Dave pointed out some of the things I knew needed work – my descriptions of places and people were thin. But he also articulated the bigger problem I was having, and a way to address it.

What was the best thing about the workshop? That’s a hard question. The people I met there are wonderful. The knowledge I gained was invaluable. But, I have to say the best thing about the workshop was leaving knowing what I had to do, and that I could accomplish it.

Dave has a workshop for whereever you are in your writing career. He has a host of new writing classes scheduled for 2013 available at www.davidfarland.com/writing workshops. These range from his new Short Fiction Master’s Class, to his Million-Dollar Outlines, Novel Revision class, and Fiction Mastery Class. While there is some overlap between the seminars, each focuses on a different aspect of the craft of writing. I can’t wait to attend some of the other ones.

As if the workshops weren’t cool enough, if you go to to any of his workshops and mention that “I heard about it through the Fictorians,” Dave will buy you a free dinner with him (if time allows), or he’ll give you $20.

If you have the choice between dinner with Dave or $20, take the dinner. Every time.

So please check out his workshops here.

Why Revising is a good thing.

Guest Post by Dan Wells

Congratulations! You finished NaNoWriMo this year–a 50,000-word novel in just one month. Maybe it’s a full story, or maybe it’s just a beginning; maybe you printed out the little diploma and hung it on your wall, or maybe you didn’t even finish. Maybe you didn’t even do NaNoWriMo this year, but you have a book left over from last year, or a book that you wrote without any connection to NaNoWriMo at all. The point is, you wrote a book. Hooray! That’s a step most people never even make it to, and you’ve done it. Good for you.

Now it’s time to go back and make it better.

“Revision” is, for a lot of writers, a scary word. You may think I’m trying to give you a bunch of extra work. You may think I’m telling you that the book you wrote doesn’t count, and that you have to write the whole thing again. You may even think that the book you wrote is brilliant and doesn’t need to be revised at all. Rest assured that your book IS brilliant, and it DOES count, but that you need to revise it anyway. Revision is something that a lot of aspiring writers balk at, but experienced, professional writers never question. It is our very best friend, and, quite frankly, one of the primary reasons we are professional writers. Revision is a magical process that will turn your finished book into an excellent book; it will take your brilliant story and refine it in a way that will help everyone recognize its brilliance. Think of the recipe for your favorite food: even if you have all the right ingredients, the dish won’t turn out like you want it unless you combine them in exactly the right way–and even if the flavor is perfect, the best chefs will spend just as much time on presentation and serving, making sure that every aspect of the meal is perfect.

Or, to make things easier, I can sum up that entire paragraph in one sentence: your first draft is for what you want to say, and your final draft is for how you want to say it.

The revision process starts with distance. Remove yourself from your writing for a while–a few days, a few weeks, a few months, whatever it takes to give yourself a fresh perspective when you come back to it later. Work on other projects, read other books, and cleanse your mental palate. If you have someone willing to read your work, give them the manuscript so you can get some outside feedback. The purpose of this step is to help yourself see the book for what it is, not for what you think it is. Inside your mind you have an idealized view of the story you wanted to tell–you know what emotions you wanted to create, what reactions you wanted to elicit in the reader, and which parts of the story would be exciting or romantic or scary or sad. While you were writing it, you saw it the way you wanted it to be. Other people–and yourself, with enough distance–don’t have that idealized view, and they’ll see your story for what it really is. When you give yourself distance and come back with fresh eyes, you can compare the story on the page to the story in your head and figure out which parts worked and which parts missed the mark. WARNING: most of it missed the mark. I can tell you that without even reading it, because that happens every time, and it happens with every author. The more you write, and the more you develop your skills, the better your first drafts will be, but even your very favorite writers write bad first drafts. They do it all the time. I do it myself. The trick is to not let it get you down–don’t get depressed, don’t give up, just use this as an opportunity to fix what’s wrong. Again, think of a chef: when she tastes her latest creation and realizes there’s not enough salt, she doesn’t close her restaurant and move away and never cook again, she adds more salt. You’re not here to agonize over your problems, you’re here to solve them.

Step two, of course, is to look really closely at the problems you found in step one, and figuring out exactly what’s causing them. To continue the metaphor, step one is where you taste the food and realize something’s wrong; step two is where you figure out that it’s wrong because it doesn’t have enough salt. Like all things, this comes with practice, but you can start that practice by asking the right questions. It’s not enough to say “this book is bad,” you have to ask yourself why it’s bad. Is it boring? Are the characters unlikable? Is it hard to understand? Maybe your helpful friend who read the book told you he couldn’t figure out why the characters were doing what they were doing. Your job, as the author, is to look at those characters and their actions with a discerning eye: do they have good reasons for what they’re doing? Do those reasons connect as logically to their actions as you thought they did when you wrote it? Are those reasons clear in your mind but never really presented well on the page? Say the book is boring: does the reader have good reasons to care about what’s happening? Does the reader like the characters enough to be invested in their problems? Does the reader have all the information they need to be ready for the climaxes and the cliffhangers and the big emotional payoffs? No matter what the larger problems might be, you can dig underneath and find the specific issues that are causing them.

Once you’ve identified specific issues, step three is to figure out how to solve them. Let’s look at character motivations again: your readers (and perhaps even yourself, if you’ve created enough distance from the manuscript) are confused about why the main character is doing what he’s doing, and you’ve determined that this is because his motivations are never properly explained. There are many, many, many ways to solve this, and you need to figure out which is the right one. Do you just add a few lines of inner monologue where he explains himself? Maybe several lines, scattered throughout the book, where he reaffirms his personal beliefs? Maybe you need a new scene–the bad guys do something that affects the main character personally, so he has a clear and visible reason for opposing them. Maybe you need to add a new character: a dependent who the bad guys can hurt, or a buddy that the main character can talk to, or a romantic interest that will give the main character something to fight for. Maybe your character’s motivations rely on some key piece of knowledge she didn’t have access to in the first draft: oops! Figure out how to give her that knowledge, maybe with a mentor/traveler/newscaster/whatever who can explain it to her, or a scene of investigation or accidental discovery where she can learn it for herself.

It all boils down to this: when you look at your book critically and identify its weaknesses, you can drill deep down into what’s causing those weaknesses and figure out exactly how to make your book better. Once you’ve cleaned up the storytelling, you can do the same thing with the writing: polishing it and refining it until it’s not just good, but great. Learn how to revise, and your writing will become better than you ever imagined.

Dan Wells has a new book coming out in March called FRAGMENTS, the sequel to PARTIALS; it’s a post-apocalypse SF story about a group of plague survivors trying to rebuild civilization. Also check out his e-novella called ISOLATION that’s kind of sort of a prequel to the series and takes place several years before the apocalypse.

Bio: Dan Wells lives in Germany with his wife and five kids. Why Germany? Why not? He writes a lot of stories, reads a lot of books, plays a lot of boardgames, and eats a lot of food, which is pretty much the ideal life he imagined for himself as a child.

Book Review: Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy

This book is for you if:
You’re new at plotting and you don’t know where to begin;
You want a concise yet usable refresher course on plotting, character and world building;
You’re revising your novel; and
Especially if you’re a pantster!

Writing Fiction for Dummies is all about making sure your novel has all the right components for success. As author Randy Ingermanson says in his opening notes in Snowflake Pro, a design program for novelists:

Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I’ve done it both ways and I’ve found that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result for me. But you may find that doing your design after you write your novel works better for you. It doesn’t really matter when you do your design work, as long as you do it.

And this book covers all aspects of the writing from finding your target audience, to choosing your creative paradigm, using the principles of powerful plot, editing and getting published. However, it’s not for dummies – it gives credit that the reader is intelligent by succinctly providing information and tips. I like that I don’t have to read an entire book on character or plot or revision and then have to distill the information I need. Plus, the book has great examples to illustrate each point.

These authors are masters in taking you through the steps logically. For example, Part II: Creating Compelling Fiction takes you from building your story world, to creating compelling characters, plot layers and examining theme. Part III gives you the tools to edit and polish your work by analyzing characters, story and scene structure and then editing scenes for content.

Truly, I always thought I was a panster at heart until I realized that I was simply plotting and outlining in my head. Writing fiction for Dummies has given me the tools to put those points on paper. Now my plots are multi layered, my characters are deeper and I don’t have the headache from keeping all that information in my head! I still can’t write a detailed outline – it’s just not me. But, I’m a more organized pantster now who has lots more fun brainstorming the deeper “what if?’ scenarios.

I’ve started a new series and I can’t keep five books worth of information in my head. Chapter 8: Story Line and Three-Act Structure is my starting point for the basics and I brainstorm from there. I planned the big picture first – key points for the beginning, murky middle, climax and ending for each novel. Now I have an idea of plot arc, character arcs, emotional arcs and where each story in the series needs to end. I still have lots of room for random creativity as my characters take me on unexpected turns in their journeys and I can let them do that with confidence because I know I have enough of a plan so that key story elements aren’t derailed. Most importantly, I know that if the novels grow in unexpected ways, I can revise the plan because as our characters evolve, so do we as writers and so must our plan.

Whether you’re writing your first or tenth novel, revising your draft or reviewing, Writing Fiction for Dummies is a resource every writer must have. It’s a quick reference guide filled with checklists and thought provoking questions on critical elements … and I can hardly wait for the revision process because now I know what I’m doing!

Happy writing and revising! It’s always a joy to create!

To learn more about authors Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, visit their sites at:
http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php
http://www.petereconomy.com/Welcome.html