Bad Ass Writing Blunders

Creating my first novel, Learning Levitation, was a fascinating process and a hell of a lot of work.

Writing Lies and Legends will be different. Sure, unknown BABs await but, honestly, I can’t wait to get started. My new characters are knocking at the door. I have exciting things in store for them – and I know they have secrets and wonders to show me, too.

I did learn a lot,  and I’d like to share it with you in only 500 + words.

Write a synopsis first unless you want to make up the story as you go along. For a disorganized thinker like me panstering just won’t work. Because I didn’t know to write the synopsis first, I fell into the following pits of festering words:frustration-was-threesixtyfive-day-244-8_l

1. Bad Ass Blunder numero uno: Leaving major elements out of your plot. In the heat of writing things get lost. It wasn’t until my beta readers were half way through LL that I realized  I’d omitted crucial information about challenges facing the characters. So, paste the following sentence on your monitor: MY NOVEL IS ABOUT — YOU FILL IN THE REST.

2. Make a second sentence for the theme. Your novel isn’t limited to action, love story, and fascinating off world concepts. It needs a message, and if it doesn’t have one, get one.

3.  Don’t make your chapters separate files. What bonehead would do that, you ask. See me blushing? If you’re using Word, you can start and finish your book in one ginormous file. (In the old days one big file in Word would crash your computer.) This way  you always know how many words you have at any moment.

4. Which brings us to word count. Decide total count first. I’ve decided to estimate chapter word count also. Anal but necessary for me.

5. All of the steps above prevent a truly terrifying problem. I ended up with 120,000 words, too much for a first novel. I had to cut over 18,000 words. Yikes. I took out some great scenes which, btw, I will resurrect in my second novel.

6. How long is the story time span? My action took place over six months – ok for Game of Thrones but way too long for an adventure/romance novel. This time ten days max.

7. Plan your scenes carefully. Again, this may be too rigid for some writers, but precision keeps me writing.

9. If you are (like me) a careless typist, a lousy speller, and somewhat lacking in punctuation skills, proofread each chapter as you go. You’ll have to do it again when your book is completed, but this extra bit of effort will keep you from banging your head against the keyboard later. thinking-in-mirror-image

10. Spend serious time on character sketches. I knew my characters well, but my readers didn’t. My people turned out one-dimensional, and I had to tweak them until they screamed for mercy. I’m using http://www.eclectics.com/articles/character.html. Five pages per character, but worth the work.

Does this sound like the accumulated knowledge of a complete revision of a completed novel? It is. Thanks to Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course, I made it!

stars-thWhat have you learned writing your novel? Are you ready to start another one?

Photos from http://www.foter.com

OUTLOOK from H**l

Greetings, everyone.

I’ve finally done it. I’m officially an Insecure Writer.

Two months ago I finished my first novel, a science-fiction romance. I wrote my query letter and synopsis, and I  described my book in thirty words. The worst is over, I thought.

But, I’ve hit the wall. Submitting the queries.  Navigating the arcane submission rituals (different for every agent) is a test of my patience, not to mention my self-esteem.just-a-lonely-heart_l Have I been under a rock for the last two years writing the novel, completing HTRYN, and everything else? Apparently.

OUTLOOK, the email of choice for so many agents, is kicking my rear. I can’t get it to work from my PC. It occasionally sends the query letter packet  but, more often, it will not send. I pressed the right button, I swear! My poor query ends up in the outbox from which it will not budge. My attachment (yes, some agents take them) is small – just a plain word doc.

So, any one out there have this problem? How did you solve it? Does OUTLOOK work better on a Mac? Help!

(Oh, on the brighter side, my surly muse has given me an idea for a second novel. I’m taking a few weeks to ponder the plot, do character sketches, and see if I still like it by July:))

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Quiet Please

Q – Only nine blogs left. Here’s a quick comment, taking us one step closer.trickling_water-web

Something important is missing from our lives – something soothing, thought enabling and natural.

QUIET.

The following excerpt from a wikiHow article confirms my suspicions about our noisy daily lives:

Scientists estimate that we are subject to receiving one billion stimuli every second in our brains.
 Of this amount, our brain manages to filter out most but there are still around 100 sensations kept for continued processing every second. And much of the stimuli received is in the form of noise. With all this bombardment, you can be forgiven for feeling easily distracted, ready to down tools and go for a little mind wander (or even a wander somewhere else totally).

Before I started writing, the constant confusion of tv, radio, talking, and music was annoying, but I learned to live with it. After I began my novel, noise became an issue.  Keeping my train of thought hurtling down the narrow tracks ahead was difficult on a good day and with excess noise it was nearly impossible. Now, I use ambient music apps, ear-buds, or earplugs with moderate success.

I do understand we live in the Age of Racket. On a warm summer day, I roll the windows down and pour bone-rattling latin jazz over my fellow commuters at a stop light. So, OK, I am an occassional noise marauder.

But, the next time cacophony invades the space between your ears visualize the following image:

It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Wow.stars-th

Plenum Pursuit

P – Tonight Rick came up with a p-word for the blog. (Back and forth word suggestions have become quite a game for us now. In spite of his claims to the contrary, he has a great vocabulary.) His first word was plenum. A plenum is a heating and air-conditioning term for a chamber intended to contain, in this case, air.

Funny thing about this word game. First words out of our mouths tend to be things that are really important in our lives. (So be forewarned if you play it with your family!) A plenum is part of Rick’s work, just as a keyboard or a pen is part of ours. Creativity isn’t restricted to the written word or the brush stroke. 11970909911651569759jcartier_Pencil_svg_thumbI think many people are intimidated by traditionally creative folks. But, imagination and skill isn’t unique to artists or writers. Maybe this is stating the obvious, but it’s important acknowledge the facets of talent existing all around us, talents often hidden and usually ignored. Watching my husband create a web of sheet metal ductwork for an entire house is amazing. With his fine-honed craft and training he’s warmed hundreds and hundreds of homes over the last forty-one years. No small talent.

The next time you’re watching carpenters or nurses or anyone who makes our modern lives possible, think about creativity. The world vibrates with it, and we can see it everywhere – if we choose to look.

stars-thWhat talented person in your life needs a compliment?

Oasis

After the tragic events of the last few days, I’ve decided to concentrate on beauty. Writing is an oasis for the mind, but  tonight photos seem more appropriate – an oasis for the eyes.

1048553049Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado

One of the most beautiful places on this planet or any other.

sunsetNorthern Colorado

Sunset view from our back deck.

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Winter is going.

As soon as the snow clears, these beauties appear.

What is your oasis?

Jambalaya Journey

J – In our joint effort to inspire me through A to Z challenge, my kind husband suggested twenty J words, and I picked jambalaya before I could stop myself.

What the heck is jambalaya? It is a spicy rice stew which, as I suspected, it is many things to many people. A distinctive combination of foods – chicken, shrimp, sausage, rice, spices, celery and tomatoes in varied amounts – this sassy delicacy sprouted in Jamaica, flourished in Bayouland and seduced palates all over the country.1245692931947677249egonpin_Caldero_svg_med

So, what does this have to do with writing? After I read the descriptions of this dish, the similarities were inescapable. Everyone who writes combines everything they know while creating a word path. The meat of their writing is as distinctive as tender chicken or fragrant sausage. Add a dash of action, a glob of adjectives, a pinch of pronouns. On a daring day, throw in tablespoonfuls of eroticism,  pounds of politics, and cups of laughter. Like the rice stew, writing evolves and morphs in the hands of every new word wizard. In fact, as a novel is written, its style becomes more sophisticated from first chapter to last. (I found that out the hard way!)

One article cautioned that tasty jambalaya is only as good as the kettle used to simmer your personal concoction of foods. A writer’s surroundings, office, nook at the bookstore, or hiding place in the library is the kettle of her ideas. Does she thrive in a boil of anonymous noise in a coffee shop, or does she simmer between her ear buds? Is she a sloppy writer leaving words, notes, and files scattered across the screen, like splashes on the stove top? Or is she tidy, cleaning up word debris as she goes?

What writing habits make your words simmer?

Guys and Gals

G – Even before I killed a main character, I let two other characters fall in love.

I made a conscious decision that neither individual would say, “I love you.”  These three words alter everything in an instant, bringing our Western values and preferences for a happy stars-thending into a story.  Believe me, I wanted my folks to drift into the galaxy and live happily ever after. Instead, I described love in the actions of the characters as they helped each other in spite of almost insurmountable cultural and species differences. The plot, the action, and the fortunes of each character has to work for the story, no matter what.

How do you write it? Are your readers guaranteed a happy ending?

BTW, I’m enjoying this A to Z Challenge. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my blog. The variety of fascinating and beautiful blogs out there is amazing.

Flat Line

F – I cheated and asked my husband for tonight’s idea. Something that begins with F. I was taking a chance on a sassy answer but, instead, I ended up with a memory.

Two-thirds through my novel I killed a main character. No, not the main character but someone who influenced everyone else in the book, someone whose ambition and moral ambiguity almost got the other characters killed.

Once I realized this man had to die in the pursuit of his dream, I froze. His death worked in the story. It provided extreme tension, tragedy, and triumph. The narrator suffers from her grief, deals with it, celebrates her dead comrade’s life and makes sure his legacy survives. In the process, she realizes what is truly important in life. But, I just couldn’t kill him. First of all, I liked this character. He was smart, tough, and ruthless. He was funny and sexy. He was just too hot to live. I pondered and fretted for two weeks. How would he die? When? Once I made those decisions, guilt set in. Ridiculous, I know. I wasn’t worried about how readers might feel, I just felt guilty for dispatching him.star-pattern

It took me several days to write the scene. Now that I was ready for his death, I wanted it to resonate. The gory details weren’t important. The reactions of his friends mattered. I described the circumstances through the narrator, using her reaction to him dying rather than gruesome descriptions of the event. Finally, when I finished the scene, I was sobered but satisfied.

But, I missed him. So, when fellow bloggers described their muses I began to wonder. Could this character take the shape of my muse? Why not? After all, the ancient Greeks had lovely  fantasy maidens as their muses – why couldn’t I have a handsome smart- alec as mine? So, now, when my muse is elusive, I’m not surprised. After all, I did sacrifice him to the plot gods, so I don’t blame him if he sulks occasionally.

Who is your muse and why?

Cosmic Commas

C –   English is my first language  and I thought I knew it well but, since I started writing, the vast chasm between speaking properly and writing properly has me tottering on the edge of literacy. I doubt myself constantly – Elements of Style is never far from my side. Grammar Girl is my constant online companion. Discussions with co-workers about the proper use of good vs well are not uncommon and, amazingly enough, actually interesting! Our language is so complex, varied, and inconsistent almost every writer needs reference materials and moral support. Fortunately, the internet provides us with reassurance – occasionally we do put the commas in the typewriter-thright place. This punctuation anxiety is just the cosmic love/hate relationship we have with our mother tongue .

I should have taken Latin in school. The origin of words is fascinating, but the spelling of words is horrifying. Every time I write, I’m so glad English is not my second language. If it was, I would be lost. And, every time I write, I thank God for spell check.

What is your cosmic reference material?

 

Synopsis Magic Wand

Quick update:

Where is the synopsis fairy when I need her? She must wave her wand and write this thing for me!

Just when I thought I was armed and ready to query this tiny little problem popped up. I researched the list of agents who welcome science-fiction and most of them want your synopsis submitted with your query. And guess who hasn’t written her synopsis? Honestly, kids, the synopsis is a monster challenge that kicks your butt until you kick back. I thought a query letter was difficult, but this synopsis thing is astronomically more daunting. Something happens as you examine your novel from beginning to end in 600 hundred words or less.lilac-pen-orange-writing-th Under this close focus, this paring down to bone, your novel weakens or strengthens. Oh dear.  There’s no escaping the moment when you’ve written your draft and you realize your novel doesn’t come across as the amusing intelligent story you know it is. So, I have to draw the line in the sand, the sell it now or never line.

 Good writing  doesn’t always go hand in hand with good salesmanship  but, in this case, it has to. So, I’m forging ahead, fearlessly. Sort of.

This situation definitely goes on my list of mistakes I won’t make on my second novel. Don’t wait until the novel’s completed to write the synopsis. Write it first.

How will you handle the synopsis when the time comes?

Do you have any secrets you want to share? Any pats on the head as I continue to whine my way through this process?

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