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!

More like a crawl than baby steps! June 14, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:28 pm
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The editing is progressing, but oh so slowly! Far more like a snail crawl than baby steps. Definitely not a baby crawl, kids scoot around on their hands and knees or bums much faster than I can keep up with.

Chapter two is finished, though no doubt will need some tweaking. I’ve already gone back and tweaked a few things since I posted a version on my crit group not that long ago for comment. The Sisters usually come back with some good suggestions, and as I do those I see other things that can be improved, and so it goes.

I do need to get moving though. I set myself a subbing date of June 20. Scarily, that’s less than a week away. So I need to write and polish chapter three, which like chapters one and two is all new, do a synopsis, write a cover letter, and get it in the post by next Monday. Easy peasy, right?

Not!

The cover letter should be okay, I know what I want to say and I already have a halfway decent pitch. Writing the chapter shouldn’t be too bad, it will just take time and focus, I know what needs to happen and where the characters need to be by the end of the chapter. The synopsis will be bloody awful, no doubt.

The first synopsis I did, for the Instant Seduction comp, dashed off in a couple of hours, came back with the comment “Good synopsis” written on it. I thought I’d done even better with my synopsis for last years Harlequin comp, I worked hard on it, was proud of it, but turned out it stank worse than a footballer’s kit bag after the big game.  So that might need special attention.

Gotta remember- focus on the emotional turning points, and not “what happens”! Also, play up the elements that make this story a fit for Superromance.

I can do it!

 

Editing is so different! June 5, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:54 pm
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I’m making slow but steady progress with the rewrite/ edit of Lock and Cady’s story.

I’m now half-way through chapter two, and I’ve set a goal to sub the partial by June 20.

I’ve never really done this before, not properly. I’ve completed or nearly finished first drafts then not edited them. I’ve written first chapters that I’ve laboured over and tried to edit then gone no further because I knew they weren’t good enough (actually, the problem is I know know that I write my way in, the real story for all those abandoned attempts started in chapter two or three!). This is the first time I’ve ever written a first draft, sat down and worked out what needed to be fixed, then set about doing it. It’s an interesting process, and far slower and more thoughtful than the first draft writing was.

A lot of the first draft  will go. The whole first three chapters will be new, completely different. There are several later scenes that don’t move the story along and can be compressed or removed. There’s a lot that needs to be changed. Which is good because that leaves more room for the real story, the relationship, the emotions. Room to go deep.

Chapter one is done now, I think. It’s been tweaked and retweaked. I added around another five hundred words to it today. The new words don’t change what happened, but they go deeper into the POV characters’ heads, and strengthen the body language and emotion (I hope!). Also deepen the emotional conflict too.

I’m taking this class with Margie Lawson. My characters’ physical reactions have been so cliche. They nod and smile and blink and grin hundreds of times. So non! She actually makes us check. I had 76 smiles in the first draft. I’ll probably still have a lot of smiles in the second draft, but I’m hoping I can describe them in ways that are a little fresher (but not TOO fresh- nothing like a startling simile to jerk the reader right out of story). Margie is good at pushing us to look at things differently. Hopefully I can also discover other things my characters can do besides smile and nod!

The other thing I’m giving close attention is the Donald Maass guideline- “Have conflict on every page”. I certainly didn’t have that in first draft! The potential for conflict was there, and some pages have it, but I have whole chapters where  the characters are doing things but not much is really happening on an emotional level. They don’t need to be scrapped necessarily. Conflict can be as simple as the character thinking one thing and doing another. It can be the tension of the character wondering if her secret will be discovered. It can be the will-they-or-won’t-they of the hero and heroine who want to act on their attraction, but have too much past history getting in the way.

This is one of my favourite articles on editing, by Melissa James. I think my writing process might be very similar.

We’ll see if I succeed. I’m having fun with it, anyway!

 

Productive procrastination May 31, 2010

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:19 pm
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Well, that’s what I hope I’ve been doing!

Still no actual work on the rewrite, but I’ve gone through all of the first draft looking at what needs changing and what works. The bad news is- nearly everything needs changing, there’s a lot of work involved. The good news is- the love scenes worked, the black moment made me cry, and the happy ending made me smile. Please God the final version will do that for it’s readers too!

I’ve spent the last two days going right through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed, workshopping the story. Twenty pages of notes later I have a deeper knowledge of the characters and their conflicts, and a load of ideas to power the rewrite.  (And a fifty work pitch too!) I know how I want the completely new first three chapters to go, and I know the ending I have will work, with some tweaking. There’s a swampy middle bit I have not much idea about yet, so I’m hoping that will work out once I get the rewrite started…

I’ve also been reading as many stories as I can from different lines with similarities in the situation and the conflict, whether that’s the secret child, old lovers reuniting, or heroines who’ve been raped in the past. Not to copy other writers, but to see if how they handled it can spark any ideas, show me what I need to make sure I do to make it work.

Liz Fielding’s “Five Year Baby Secret” reminded me that the hero is not just going to be a little annoyed, he’s going to be angry as hell, majorly pissed off when he finds she’s kept his child from him. Donna Alward’s “One Dance With the Cowboy” showed me how reunited lovers will have that same sweet yearning for each other, despite what has come between them. Both those stories showed that the same issues that drove the couple apart in the past will remain unresolved now- and they can only reach their HEA by both dealing with the past issues, as well as their feelings about their separation.

No similarity to my current characters in any way, but a deeply emotional (three tissues needed!) and very hot Superromance- Sarah Mayberry’s “Home for the Holidays”. What was interesting there is that she has the same double BM/HEA I gave my characters- where it looks like things are resolving and they can be happy, then bang, something even bigger comes between them to push them apart. For her heroine it was something totally unexpected, while I hope mine still works even though the reader will know it’s coming.

I’ve just finished an old Presents- Jane Porter’s excellent “The Sheikh’s Virgin”, recommended by my crit group when I asked for stories with a heroine who had been raped. From this I’m getting the shame and yet paradoxical fierce courage of the survivor. My heroine has the shame and guilt, but she needs to show more of the tenacity, fight, and will for life that helped her get through something  so devastating and soul destroying.

Now I have to say- enough of the procrastination. I still have more books to read, but it’s enough.

Tomorrow I start the rewrite. For real. No excuses.

 

Looking at scenes May 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:28 pm
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I have too many nice scenes where nothing really happens! Or stuff does happen, but the characters don’t seen to be driving it, they’re reactive all the time, rather than active. I wrote stuff that I hoped would move the story forward and keep the focus on the central relationship, but there’s no sense of the characters having goals, and the conflict is weak.

I haven’t really done any editing or rewriting yet, there are too many scenes that needs to be cut and replaced, or extensively rewritten. This is not a bad thing! My new plan is to spend the next few weeks digging into the first draft, and coming up with a roadmap to fix what’s wrong with it and keep what’s good about it. Then I have five days off to spend intensely rewriting. The write-a-thon worked so well, it’s time for an edit-a-thon!

I’ve been working through the story, scene by scene, making notes, trying to get a handle on what I’ve got and how I can make it better. I’ve been using a simple scene checklist I modified from ideas in a workshop I’ve done (can’t remember which now!) to keep me focused on making things happen in every scene.

It goes

Who?

Where?

Action-

Reaction-

Decision-

Edit notes-

 
Simple and to the point.


I was in the bath, thinking about this afternoon’s work on the story, and I wondered if I should make it even simpler for a conflict thicko like me to understand. Like this-

What does the POV character want?

What is he/she doing to get it?

What stops him/her getting it?

What does he/she decide to do about it next?

Which is just Action-Reaction-Decision, but in a form that I can grasp easier. Also reminds me that escalating conflict and tension mean that things keep getting worse no matter that the main characters do to try to fix things. I need to be able to answer those questions for every scene.

I’m going to give it a try when I’m planning what I want to do for the rewrite.

 

Avoiding the rewrite April 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:58 pm
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I’ve spent the weekend avoiding getting started on my rewrite.

So many other things that needed to be done at home first. It became suddenly crucial to sort out some boxes of junk in the bedroom. Ebay shopping was essential. Long walks were a must.

Then today when I pushed myself to just do writing realted stuff, I had to go over all the workshop info I had on revising . I had to use that  information as the basis to spend hours setting up an elaborate index card/ Post It note system to storyboard the story and make notes about characters, settings, and plot points.

I could keep procrastinating indefinitely. I still have several books on self-editing and rewriting on my shelf I haven’t read yet.  And now here I am writing a blog post about procrastinating, the ultimate in procrastination!

It’s not actually the rewrite I’m avoiding. It’s reading back my first draft and seeing what dreck it is.

What if I’ve just been kidding myself that there’s a good story in there amongst the expected first draft crap? What if it really stinks? What if it’s unsalvageable out and out bad writing?

Only one way to find out. Hold my nose, brace myself, and jump right in.

 

Now the rewrite… April 12, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 7:10 pm
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Hey, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who has been following this mini-adventure. Especially the commenters/ congratulators on the last posting. Hope your writing process goes beautifully for all of you!

I appreciated it a lot and it did help keep me accountable knowing I’d be posting my daily word counts.

I decided just to let the first draft sit for the rest of the week, to not look at it at all. Then read it through, just to take notes the first time, not changing anything. Then slash, burn, and hopefully improve.

I found this excellent article on rewriting today- loads of usable advice there!

 

Time to write December 7, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:22 pm
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Yay! I am a happier girl today. My manager has approved a proposal that we change the work hours in our department from five eight hour shifts a week to four ten hour shifts.

A third day off a week! My commute is so long and I’m so often late off, that I rarely write on work nights. Extended shifts won’t lose me any writing time. But with all of another day free, I’ve simply got no excuse not to spend it writing.

I need the extra time, as I’ve realised I probably should totally redo most of what I’ve written so far on Luk and Emma. My pacing is soooooooooooo sloooooooooooow.

I have too many scenes where not enough happens. Too many scenes that go on for too long. Poor transitions where I just write too much.

Not quite sure how to fix it yet. I just know that it’s not working as well as it could.