Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Last post February 19, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:09 pm
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This will be my last post on this blog. From now on, I’ll be posting over on my new blog, Autumn Macarthur.

Thanks for coming along on the ride with me, I hope you’ll join me over there for new adventures on the path to publication and beyond!

 

More waiting! February 18, 2011

Well, I went to the breast clinic yesterday. Both consultants who saw me said words to the effect of  it being unlikely to be anything serious, but it was “unusual”.

Somehow, that wasn’t quite as reassuring as I’d have liked! This is one situation where though I’m normally happy to be quirky, I’d be very glad to be normal and boringly usual.

Anyway, the upshot was I had two core biopsies done (not nearly as bad as I’d been afrid they might be at the time, but hurts like crazy still!), and I get the results next Thursday.

No matter what the results, I’m feeling good about making some changes in my life.

I posted today over at the Seven Sassy Sisters about reinventing myself.

My new blog Autumn Macarthur - Love grows in unexpected places, is up, though doesn’t have any posts yet! That will change over the weekend.

BTW, I’m moving all my links over too. If you want your blog or website to be in my blogroll and it isn’t at the moment, please let me know and I’ll gladly add you in!

 

No more waiting February 13, 2011

Filed under: General strangeness of life,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:50 pm
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There’s been a lot going on for me this week, a lot of things I don’t really want that have brought me to a decision point. No more waiting.

I’ve realised my sister was right when I started this blog and she commented that it was kinda negative, to be passively waiting for the Call. I didn’t get it then, I do now. I’m gonna be out there chasing that Call instead. Life’s too short to sit back waiting for things to happen.

I’m reinventing myself. My new policy is to say yes to everything, as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, or waaaaay too fattening. Already opportunities and possibilities are opening up for me.

A couple of things triggered this. One was the recognition back around the start of the year that although I had an active web presence, nothing at all linked it to the name I’ll use for my writing. I’m not going to have mulberry, or waitingforthecall on the covers of my books! So I had to reinvent my internet presence sometime this year anyway. But the biggie was finding a breast lump last week. I’m waiting now to have that investigated.

No matter how much I know that the odds are it will be benign, there’s that little voice that whispers “But what if…?” And my answer to that is that life’s too short to live the way I have been living, pushing my dreams to the perifery day after day, eaten up by the resentment my life isn’t how I want it to be. If this lump turns out to be a nasty, I’ll be making some big changes in my life. If it’s not, I’ll still be making changes, but a little slower.

Starting with changing the name of my blog. I’m tired of waiting.

Next post I do will be the last one here, linking to my new blog. Now I gotta go get it set up!

 

Rewrites and backstory February 5, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:45 pm
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I’m just about ready to start on my rewrites of Cady and Lock’s story. This is the story aimed that SuperRomance that I had a rejection for in December. Megan wrote-

“the plot relies too heavily on external forces and secondary characters to bring Cady and Lock together.
Everything that happens comes about because of actions taken by other people, not from any decision made by the hero and heroine. For this story to be successful, we’d need to see the characters be more proactive in their lives and their relationship instead of simply reacting to the other people around them.”

So I looked at ways to make the characters more goal driven, more proactive, and give them far higher stakes. I’ve spent the past week planning the story, trying to get good strong conflicts and character arcs.

The good news is, I think I have a handle on it. I feel like I really know the characters now. I hope I’ve made their conflict strong and believable. Apart from the inciting incident not externally driven at all. Cady and Lock are the ones making things happen. The structure seems solid. I have a plan that it virtually a synopsis, focused on their emotional growth and change and how this affects the relationship, not just a list of what happens.

The bad news is, there’s very little in the original first draft I can use. It was all discovery draft.

 *sigh* This is going to be a long process.

It feels as if I’m really starting from scratch again, except I’m not. I know the characters well, I know their backstories, I know why and how they hook into each other’s deepest internal issues. I know the things that get in the way of them having a relationship. I just hope I can write it!

Thinking of backstory, I read this excellent article today, especially relevent for me as my first draft is just loaded with backstory in internal monologue. One of the hazards of knowing my characters well, and them having a history together, which I know has to get the chop. I hope I’ll be brave enough to use his method to eradicate any remaining infodump when I edit up the next draft!

Presuppositions

One of the biggest problems I see in fiction manuscripts is a big glop of backstory in the first two or three chapters of the novel.

Every novelist who has ever committed this sin justifies himself by claiming that the backstory is necessary because otherwise the reader won’t know what’s going on.

This isn’t true. Readers don’t read your novel for your marvelous backstory. They read it to get immersed in your main story. Once you get them hooked on the story, they’ll begin to get interested in the backstory and u can start feeding it to them in small doses.

You may be thinking, “That’s great advice for everybody else, but I’m different. My story is different. My readers HAVE to know my backstory.”

The answer is yes, but.

Yes, you’re different. Yes, your story is different.

But your reader really doesn’t care that 35 years ago your main character Luke got beat up every day in kindergarten.

Your reader cares that RIGHT NOW Luke is peering through the sights of a sniper rifle. Which happens to be trained on the head of the state governor. Who happens to be 40 years old. Who happens to be a bully. Who happens to have gone to kindergarten with Luke.

NOW your reader cares just a wee bit about what happened way back when. But your reader still cares a whole lot more about Luke’s trigger finger than about his horrible childhood.

It’s true that your reader is going to need to know a little about your backstory. How do you provide that without losing momentum in your frontstory?

One way to do that is by inserting “presuppositions” into your sentences.

And just what exactly is a “presupposition?”

Loosely speaking, a presupposition is a statement that is implied by a sentence. If the cop asks, “Have you quit beating your wife?” there’s a presupposition that in the past you beat your wife.

A classic example of how presuppositions work in language is the following sentence, which Bertrand Russell analyzed many years ago:

“The present King of France is bald.”

Is the above sentence true or false?

Since France is a republic, there is no present King of France, so the sentence can hardly be true.

But is it false? If it were false, would it be true that the present King of France has a full head of hair?

Obviously not. Russell pointed out that this sentence carries along with it some unspoken presuppositions:
* France has at least one king
* France has no more than one king

When you say that the King of France is bald, you are also implicitly asserting these presuppositions, and the combination of the three statements is false because they aren’t all true.

Some people would say that it’s simply meaningless to say “The present King of France is bald.”

But if you were watching a movie set in 1753 France, and if one of the actors said, “The King of France is bald,” everybody would know exactly what he meant.

Context matters. Presuppositions imply context. And another word for “context” is “backstory.”

Now here’s the point for fiction writers. Many of the sentences you write in your novel carry along with them certain presuppositions. When your reader reads your work, she unconsciously analyzes those presuppositions and makes conclusions about your Storyworld and the backstories of your characters.

When Han Solo brags about his ship in the original STAR WARS movie, for example, he says, “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”

Here are some presuppositions which are implicit in this line:
* The Millennium Falcon is famous
* The Kessel Run is long or treacherous or both
* A parsec is a unit of time
* Twelve parsecs is an excellent time for the Kessel Run

Notice that these presuppositions may be false (parsecs are units of distance) but they still tell us something about Han Solo and the world he lives in. Solo is not only egotistical, but he’s also sloppy in his use of language.

Writers constantly try to explain too much. This is true for the greenest novices and the most advanced experts, and it provides unending employment for editors, who earn their keep by scrawling “Resist the Urge to Explain” in the margins.

How do you fix things when you’re explaining too much?

The first step is to cut out the backstory. (Don’t throw it away. Save it to another document so you’ll have a record of it. Then delete it from your main story. Yes, all of it.)

The second step is to look for those places in your story that are now confusing to your reader because she lacks some essential context — some piece of backstory. Insert ONLY the fragment of backstory that your reader needs in order to make sense of the story.

One way to do that is to imply a chunk of backstory by rewriting a frontstory sentence so that it now contains a few well-chosen presuppositions.

Your reader is smart. When she reads a sentence that carries presuppositions, she immediately assumes these presuppositions are true and are part of your backstory. If she knows or learns that these presuppositions aren’t actually true, then she concludes that your character is unreliable.

We’ve already seen how George Lucas used a few presuppositions to characterize Han Solo. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how other writers have done it.

Here’s the beginning paragraph of a scene in ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card, in which we meet Ender Wiggin:

The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, “Andrew, I suppose by now you’re just absolutely sick of that horrid monitor. Well I have good news for you. That monitor is going to come out today. We’re going to take it right out, and it won’t hurt a bit.”
This only makes sense if the following presuppositions are true:
* Ender is a fairly young boy
* He’s had a monitor installed for quite a long time
* The monitor is unpleasant to wear
* Ender has had some painful medical procedures before
* Monitors are managed by a bureaucracy

We can also deduce from all of these that the story is set in the future.

Card could have told us all those things and a whole lot more about the history of monitors and why they’re necessary and thereby slowed down the story. Instead, he let us figure out only what we need to know right now. With presuppositions.
Here’s an example from the opening two paragraphs of THE KEY TO REBECCA, by Ken Follett:

The last camel collapsed at noon.

It was the five-year-old white bull he had bought in Gialo, the youngest and strongest of the three beasts, and the least ill-tempered: he liked the animal as much as a man could like a camel, which is to say that he hated it only a little.
The first paragraph carries with it this presupposition:
* More than one camel has died already

The second paragraph has these presuppositions:
* The owner of the camel is a lone man
* He is no longer in Gialo
* He is familiar with camels

We can also deduce that the owner of the camel is making a long and dangerous journey across the desert. This isn’t a presupposition, but it follows pretty readily from the presuppositions and from the first sentence.

Presuppositions are useful because they let you say more with fewer words. That is a worthy goal for any novelist.
 
If you’d like to see some more examples of how presuppositions work, check out the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositions

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 24,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Another blog I’ve been reading  a lot this week is one Janet commented about- Plot to Punctuation. I liked this series on Revising Character in particular, and his stuff on character arc is very good.

 

Post SYTYCW rejection update February 1, 2011

One of my critique partners Chelsea  just got a request for a full from Blaze for her So You Think You Can Write entry! Am squeefully dancing around the room for her!

I got over my poutiness pretty fast over the form rejection for mine. A girl’s gotta grieve, but the trick is to feel it deeply and fully, but not let it go on too long.  Truth is, what I sent in wasn’t very good. But I can console myself that I subbed it to the wrong line, and that’s why it got the R. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Well, that and the fact that the story needs to be approached completely differently. I got straight back on the horse, anyway, and if I had to use little mental tricks like that then so be it!

I’ve decided to let that story rest for now,  then come back to it later in the year. I’m currently in chapter 7, and I know some of what I did wrong. I wasn’t letting the story be what it needed to be. I wanted to sub it as a category romance, so I forced events into it that just didn’t fit – like making the hero appear as early as possible in chapter one. The more I write, the more I’m realising this isn’t a romance, it’s women’s fiction with a strong romantic element. It’s the heroine’s journey of self-discovery and emotional growth. Part of this is creating a damn good loving relationship, but she learns a lot of what she needs to allow this to happen from the female friends she makes when she allows herself to stay in one place long enough to be part of a community. Think Fried Green Tomatoes crossed with a hot SuperRomance and that’s kinda the idea! I’m feeling quietly excited about letting that one simmer on the backburner for a while and see what’s cooked up when I come back to it.

For February, I’m going back to the previous story, the one I got the personalised rejection with the two sentence gold nugget from Megan, the editorial assistant with Supers. The story is getting a radical makeover, even the title is new. Oh boy, my heroine has a goal, motivation, and strong stakes now! 95% if not all of my partial goes in the bin. A lot of the first draft of the rest of the book will also need to be scrapped too. It will be a real challenge to write, and the character arcs are still a teensy bit unclear to me, but if I can pull it off, it’s going to be good. I’m doing Shirley Jump’s Revisions can Be Fun workshop this month, so it’s the perfect chance to go back and see what I can do with this story. I’m hoping I’ll have an outline and at least a first draft of the new partial by the end of the month.

How’s everyone else doing in the post-SYTYCW week?

Hopefully there’s more idiot grins and happy dancing going on out there for people who got requests!

For those of us who got the rejection email, some people might be feeling stuck in the inevitable grieving after a rejection. We’re all going to take different lengths of time to process this.  I’ve had some practice this past year! Some things that help- do let yourself feel the anger and sadness. Don’t deny how you feel or pretend it doesn’t hurt- it does! Nurture yourself and be extra gentle with yourself. Remember, it doesn’t mean you suck or your writing sucks, just that there was something that didn’t quite work in your submission. Set yourself a time limit to move on so you don’t get stuck. Be willing to look at what could be changed in your story to strengthen it, or what other publisher it might be a better fit with. Donna Alward did a post on dealing with rejection (even multi-published authors get them) that you might find helpful.

Just don’t let this stop you. Believe in yourself and your writing.

 

More free Mills and Boon ebooks January 30, 2011

Filed under: What I'm reading — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:38 pm
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The lovely people at Mills and Boon have updated their Everyone’s Reading website with more free romance ebooks.

A fab opportunity to try out a series you wouldn’t normally read!

 

Rejection First Aid Kit January 28, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:38 pm
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The lovely Shannon McKelden, aka The Happy Writer, has put together a free e-book on dealing constructively with rejection. Just sign up for her newsletter here.

Here’s a taster-

The most important phase of rejection is the recovery phase. It’s your choice whether you recover or not. Whether you pick yourself up and plunk yourself in front of that computer again or whether you wallow in self-pity and never write another word.

To survive rejection, it’s in your best interest to develop a thick skin. And the only way to build a callus, to toughen up, is to take
chances, put yourself out there, and accept the risk of rejection by submitting. Remember… rejection is never fatal. Make the choice
to use rejection to become a better, more professional writer.

Finally, remember to apply CPR to your rejections:
C – Collect your thoughts, Check your ego, Celebrate (you’re a real writer!)
P – Prepare to get rejections, be a Professional, watch for Patterns, stay Positive
R – Research, React in a positive manner, remain Realistic, Recover!

Her blog is well worth a visit.

 

 
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