Wordy Wednesday: Comparing Literature to Film

It has been such a long week.

I keep reminding myself that I just have to survive this first month or so of the semester, then everything should hopefully be a little easier for a while. But, honestly, things are really tough right now (like “I am on the verge of bursting into tears multiple times a day out of stress” kind of tough), which is something I haven’t had to deal with in a long, long time. (Basically: not since freshman year Spanish class.)

But also, all the stressful things I’m dealing with right now are going to lead to really fun things later on–I just have to get to that point. So I’m dealing with them. And I’m taking deep breaths. And I’m doing my best to remember to enjoy the little successes in the midst of everything else.

And, on the upside, in the past week and a half since the semester started, I’ve learned to super appreciate sleep?

Anyway: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (I knew I could count on you to vote for that!) This is a paper I wrote for my literature-to-film adaptations class last semester, so it’s a little long and not entirely focused on literature, but I think the differences between books and movies are really intriguing, and ultimately tell you about literature as a medium. (Which, you know, ultimately helps you with writing.)

Spoiler warning for anyone who somehow does not know what happens in The Great Gatsby. (And sorry that the formatting on this is a little rough! I don’t have time to make sure it translates properly from Word to WordPress, unfortunately.)

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Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of dashed hopes and the American dream, The Great Gatsby, is an accurate one, in many senses. The film brings all the important players to the screen, from Nick to Gatsby to Daisy; it draws attention to the symbolic importance of the green light at the end of the dock; and it shows the extravagance of Gatsby’s wild parties. However, it also changes the way the story is told. In particular, the film strives to make narrator Nick Carraway a more active player in the plot, which makes sense, since movies allow less opportunity for internal monologue and the role of voice than novels. The filmmakers seek to do this, in large part, by erasing F. Scott Fitzgerald so that they may rather insert Nick in his place. Setting Nick in this authorial role—not simply narrator, but someone who has the ability to pick and choose what he says, how he says it, and, to an extent, how the viewer perceives it—additionally, naturally changes the way Nick tells the story. And this changes The Great Gatsby on a principle level. Nick no longer is whispering the story of his friend Gatsby into a void, but shouting it—via words on a page—to a specific audience. He does not write the story voluntarily, but at the urging of his psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist is not interested in Gatsby; he is there to figure out how to help Nick. Thus this change, in essence, makes the story no longer about Gatsby, but Nick himself—and, because of this, the story no longer comes across as generally objective, but extremely subjective. Nick’s emotion, his pain over all that transpired in New York, tints—and arguably taints—everything. While of course this is also true for the novel, it happens to a much lesser extent there, due to Nick’s lack of awareness to the fact that someone is paying attention to what he says. The novel version of Nick has this magical ability of disappearing into the story, melting into the shadows in order to throw focus onto the characters who are more crucial to the plot. On the other hand, the film version of Nick finds a way to insert himself into every situation so that he is always present, everything is at least vaguely about him, and it is clear that he ultimately is aware that he controls what happens in the story. Thus, by utilizing Nick as not only narrator, but author as well, Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby changes not only how Nick phrases things, but ultimately what these things mean—as exemplified by a seemingly minor change in the opening monologue—, and this therefore transforms who Nick is as a character.

This decision to allow Nick to edit the story he tells becomes apparent almost immediately in the film, as his famous opening monologue begins as voiceover. However, the monologue is condensed—and thus changed—from the version found in the novel. Tweaks and deletions abound in the opening monologue, but one of the most intriguing changes is one that actually does not make it through to the final cut of the film. Rather, screenwriters Luhrmann and Craig Pearce made the change in the screenplay, then rescinded it—returning to Fitzgerald’s phrasing—in the actual film. This change is small, seemingly inconsequential: the removal of the words “and more vulnerable” in Nick’s opening line, otherwise written and spoken as, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice…” (Fitzgerald 1). In the screenplay, the line appears simply as, “In my younger years my father gave me some advice” (Luhrmann and Pearce 1). However, these three words greatly alter the viewer or reader’s perception of the story that follows. The fact that Nick admits to having not only been vulnerable when he was younger—but “more vulnerable,” as in he is still vulnerable, only less so, now—serves multiple purposes. Besides the obvious fact that this tells the audience to think of the past Nick as weaker—and the present Nick as someone who has learned from that weakness, although he is aware that he is not perfectly strong even now—, this phrasing also evokes a sort of sympathy.

None of the characters in The Great Gatsby are generally likeable, but this opening line makes a strong stride towards endearing Nick to the audience, and he is the sole character to truly get this sort of treatment. Everyone else comes across as impenetrable. In this way, it is Nick’s self-awareness, as much as his awareness of others, which makes him such a good narrator. The Great Gatsby is a naturally reflective story, as even in the novel, Nick spends his time looking back on the past and making judgments about it; while he claims, in another portion of the opening, to be “inclined to reserve all judgments” (Fitzgerald 1), he spends the entire novel making judgments about those he knew, what happened, and the various roles he played in it all. Even his last moment with Gatsby is a judgment on Nick’s part, as he states:

“They’re a rotten crowd … You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” / I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. (Fitzgerald 154)

Here Nick judges the Buchanans and their friends, as well as Gatsby and ultimately himself. He is glad he paid Gatsby a compliment, less because of what it says about Gatsby—as Nick hastens to add, he “disapproved of him from beginning to end” (Fitzgerald 154)—but because of what this comment means about Nick. It makes him feel like a good person, the fact that he unknowingly complimented a man just hours before his death, even if at the time he did not entirely believe in his own words. Luhrmann and Pearce transplant this section word-for-word to the screenplay, with the exception of the phrase “because I disapproved of him from beginning to end” Fitzgerald 154)—a change which, in opposition to the exclusion of “and more vulnerable,” works to draw the focus more to Nick’s judgment of himself rather than his judgment of Gatsby, and thus to Nick’s judgment of himself in general. It is decisions such as this that draw attention to the fact that it is this ability of Nick to judge himself that ultimately makes him who he is as a character and narrator in the novel and film.

Accordingly, the exclusion of “and more vulnerable” then begs the question of why the filmmakers thought to remove it in the first place. Based on the general paraphrasing of the opening monologue, the easiest answer is that they initially cut it to save time, which is a more limited resource in films than novels. However, three words do not take long to state; in fact, actor Tobey Maguire’s recitation of “and more vulnerable” takes less than a second—more specifically, seventy-three hundredths of a second. Likewise, the majority of the paraphrasing distributed throughout the monologue works more to reduce Fitzgerald’s wordiness rather than to change the meaning of the writing. For example, Nick remembering the advice his father gave him transforms from: “‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’” (Fitzgerald 1) to the less wordy: “‘Remember, not all the people in this world have had the same advantages as you” (Luhrmann and Pearce 1). It’s about streamlining, not steamrollering. Thus, the deletion of “and more vulnerable” must have been very purposeful, and the next most obvious conclusion is that the writers must have believed that their version of Nick—the one who is aware of his audience and his control over the story he weaves—would not admit to this vulnerability. A Nick Carraway who does not want the audience to know that he was, and continues to be, vulnerable is one who closes himself off from the viewer. He judges others, but not himself. Whether due to a lack of trust or simply a lack of sincerity, this lends itself to a Nick who, if the rest of the adaptation were to follow suit, would be as unsympathetic and ultimately unlikeable as the rest of the cast. Although Nick indeed does function as an audience surrogate in the novel version of The Great Gatsby, this role expands when he becomes the author of the story. Since he is in control, it is important for the viewer to feel safe in his hands, as if he will be honest and forthright about all that transpired. The viewer must believe the story in order to connect with it and learn from it, and that’s only possible when the viewer believes the person telling it. The viewer needs Nick to not only be vulnerable, but to readily admit to this vulnerability, in order to buy into everything else. This means that the phrase “and more vulnerable,” in essence, is a promise, upfront, to the viewer of what is to come.

Of course, it does appear the filmmakers realized this while recording the voiceover with Maguire, because amongst other changes to the opening monologue between the screenplay and film, “and more vulnerable” also reappears. While Nick’s character still transforms between the page and screen due to his increased role, as author, his vulnerability—and thus his ability to judge and therefore become relatable to the audience—remains intact. This decision works in the filmmakers’ favor, as Nick’s willingness to judge also plays into one of the story’s deepest-running themes. What Luhrmann captures best in his adaptation is that The Great Gatsby is a story of want: Desperate, contagious, inescapable, insurmountable, uncontrollable want. As the screenplay and film versions of Nick tell Gatsby, “[Y]ou can’t repeat the past” (Luhrmann and Pearce 140). The Nick of the present, the one telling the story in the psychiatrist’s office, has not forgotten this lesson. Thus, he decides how to tell the past in order to shape the future into the one that he wants. He has witnessed the effect of the green light at the end of the dock. He knows where Gatsby’s passionate, un-satisfiable type of want inevitably leads. Thus, where the novel ends on a note of hopelessness, the filmmakers are aware of their opportunity to end the story differently, and so choose to give a hint at something more—a slightly more positive ending that might better appeal to the movie-going audience, which is generally broader than the contemporary audience which reads classics such as The Great Gatsby. It is at this point, with the story of Gatsby completed and all the focus narrowed in, tight and center, on Nick, that Luhrmann’s film veers from its accuracy to the novel to truly charting its own territory, even if only for a few seconds. Nick does not tell this part. The voiceover narration has finished and the source material has run out. Here the film moves from the subjective first person point-of-view to a third person one actually far more objective than the perspective shared in the novel. Finally, the filmmakers grant the viewer the opportunity to see Nick from a distance, rather than from inside his head. They show here, explicitly, how Nick is choosing how he remembers the past. While not all of the changes Luhrmann makes improve The Great Gatsby, or even arguably work, this one does. The camera follows Nick as he finishes typing a manuscript titled Gatsby. He has finally become a writer, as he always wanted to be. He binds the manuscript, ready to leave the past behind. With a pen, almost as an afterthought, he decides to add the words “The Great” to the title. He chooses to remember Gatsby in this way. And with the binding of the manuscript, like the closing of a book, Nick leaves the past behind in order to move on with his life. He is aware of his vulnerability, but willing to embrace it, learn from it, and live with it. Nick judges himself, but also grows from these judgments. Although time might bear him back “ceaselessly into the past” (Luhrmann and Pearce 224), he has made the decision to meet it head-on. By utilizing Nick as not only narrator, but author as well, Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby changes not only how Nick phrases things, but ultimately what these things mean, which therefore transforms who Nick is as a character. In this case, he is vulnerable, judgmental—and, in consequence, actually a more hopeful Nick Carraway.

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Bibliography:
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Trade Paperback Edition ed. 1925. Print.
Luhrmann, Baz and Pearce, Craig. The Great Gatsby. 2013. Screenplay.
The Great Gatsby. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Warner Home Video, 2013. Film.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Reasons to Write Today

It’s been a busy week and the busyness isn’t going to let up after this. It’s gotten to the point where my planner looks like a pen threw up on it and I’m lucky if I get one day off a week from leaving my apartment.

Which is fine. It’s not like I’m doing anything I don’t want to. But I am also really tired.

Which means means that writing keeps threatening to fall by the wayside.

So, for this week’s Wordy Wednesday, here’s a list of reasons to take the time and effort to write today.

Because You Want To

If you’re feeling the inclination to write, don’t waste it. Write that feeling into the ground. Write it to pieces. That feeling is a gift. There will be a lot of times in your life when you need to write but you don’t want to. Write when you do want to in order to balance those out.

Because You Don’t Want To

Sometimes the last thing you want to do is pour words onto a page, but those can be important times to write too. Think about why you don’t want to write. Figure out if it’s a legitimate reason not to. (And even then, see if you can find a way to get around that reason.)

Because You Have Better Things to Do

Right now, in addition to writing this post, I’m running a Ch1Con Twitter chat and figuring out which classes to take fall semester. After this I’m making a Powerpoint presentation for one of the events I’m volunteering at over the weekend, inputting revisions on a manuscript, editing a paper for my fantasy lit class, looking over some Ch1Con documents, and writing a film review. Sometime in the next couple days I also need to send out more internship applications, reply to the slew of emails I’ve been neglecting, and write more papers and some posts for the other sites I blog for.

You will always have “better” things to do. Things that seem more pressing or important. But you have the choice to make writing an important thing in your life. If you want to be a writer, choose to make writing important.

Because You Said You Would

Even if the only person who knows you promised to write is yourself, make that be good enough. Hold yourself accountable. It’s the only way to get anything done.

Because You Can’t Sleep

Sometimes when the thoughts are whirring too loud in my head, it helps to write them out. Bleed them out on paper or your computer or whatever. If you’re not going to be able to sleep, at least be productive about it.

Because The Words Are Beating Your Skull

Sometimes most of you doesn’t want to write but that part of you that is A Writer needs you to. You’ll drown in the words if you don’t. Don’t let this happen, even if you’re busy. Take the time to write.

Because You’ll Fall Apart If You Don’t

Words can stitch you back together. They can keep the monsters at bay. They can pull you away from the edge and dust you off and pick you up and fix you help you fix yourself in so many ways.

Writing can have magical powers, if you let it. Don’t forget to call on it when you need help.

Because You’re a Writer

Don’t let yourself make excuses. Don’t let other things crowd writing out of your life. If you’re a writer, write.

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Off to do all the things (including write a little). Thanks for reading!

~Julia

England Trip Recap (Part 3)

If you’re wondering where Parts 1 & 2 of this series are, you can find them here and here, respectively.

You’ll notice that both those posts are from over a year ago. That’s because back last July, after returning from my first trip to England, I recapped everything we did while over here up until the very last part of our last day: the Leavesden Studios Tour. At which point I got too insanely busy doing Things-That-Must-Not-Be-Named (I swear someday I’ll give details of how I spent the end of summer 2013), and by the time I wasn’t insanely busy anymore, it felt like it was too awkwardly late to put up the recap.

But now I’m in England again and I was in London over the weekend again and GUESS WHERE I SPENT SUNDAY NIGHT. THAT’S RIGHT. THE LEAVESDEN STUDIOS TOUR AGAIN.

So, who’s ready for an extremely belated (but once again relevant) recap post?

[Pictures are from both my 2013 and 2014 visits.] [In case you were wondering how my hair magically changes length and color throughout this post.]

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For those not in the know, Leavesden Studios is where the Harry Potter movies were primarily filmed. Now that the movies are done, they’ve opened the studios for all the devotees to be able to make pilgrimages to see the sets and props and costumes and models and concept art and blueprints and BASICALLY EVERYTHING AMAZING THAT WENT INTO MAKING THE AMAZING MOVIES.

Harry Potter Studio Tour 2013

My visit last year was with members of my high school theatre company and our families (they’d invited alumni and relatives back for the trip to England). This year I went with seven girls from my programme. (Coincidentally after stopping by Platform 9 3/4 both the night before and that morning, so various members of the group could get their pictures taken.)

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It was fun going through the tour a second time, because:

a) I hadn’t budgeted my time well my first time through, so I’d missed a lot of stuff in the second half.

b) I now knew how to budget my time going through the tour.

and c) I now knew when to expect the shock and glee and grateful and crying moments (and therefore got to watch my friends have those reactions).

IMG_5442Blurry Great Hall. Fun fact: They had to use actual flagstone for the floor in order to accommodate the furniture, actors, and equipment. Fake stone wouldn’t have been able to stand the weight or use. 

IMG_5454Mirror of Erised.

IMG_5459Harry, Hermione, and Ron costumes from Half-Blood Prince. Check out that cool green screen magic going on with the Invisibility Cloak.

IMG_5477Wall of portraits. The green screen ones are the ones that would move in shots. And if I’m remembering right, the others all have faces of people important to the films, like the producers and all that.

A highlight for me was definitely getting to learn so much about the behind-the-scenes stuff for the movies. As much as I love seeing things like the Goblet of Fire and Dumbledore’s office in person, I can’t get over getting to see all the green screens and lights and wires. It must have been so incredible to take part in putting all the pieces of these movies together.

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Another really cool thing about visiting the studio tour right now is that they’ve got a special promotion going on in which they have special displays up. My favorites were the broom-making exhibit (in which the actual broom-makers from the series talked to us and, you know, MADE BROOMS), a board game from a deleted scene (that apparently is so complex no one remembers how to play it anymore), and part of a chess board set up so you could interact with the giant pieces as they whizzed across the spaces.

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IMG_5500The girl working the board game display was super nice and complimented my Hogwarts Alumni tank–at which point I had to sheepishly explain that no, it was not some cool new official merchandise, but something I’d gotten off a street vendor at Oxford for like three quid. (Harry Potter merch designers: You need to get on making Hogwarts Alumni stuff.)

IMG_5525Rockin’ that subtle Ravenclaw pride.

We took a break at the courtyard that is the halfway point for Butterbeer and general fangirling.

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The second half of the tour focuses even more on the behind-the-scenes elements of Leavesden, with entire rooms dedicated to the prosthetics used to turn human actors into all the various, crazy creatures; blueprints; concept art; and the teeny tiny models used in the design process for later constructing the monstrous sets.

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But also, of course, Diagon Alley.

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The tour ends with what are arguably the two best rooms (but only arguably, because the entire thing is fantastic).

The first is the model of Hogwarts that they actually used in filming for the earlier movies. I cannot enter this room without crying. (Yes. Even my second time through, I got misty-eyed.)

IMG_5630It’s just… that IS Hogwarts. That is the Hogwarts, right there, that we grew up with and saw a thousand times on screen and dreamed about.

The final room is “Ollivander’s.” Floor to ceiling, shelves full of wand boxes inscribed with names coat the walls. Each person to work on the movies has a box. It’s beautiful.

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Last year, a worker used a laser pointer to show us where all the Big Name People’s boxes are. No one was there to do that this year, but I still remembered a couple.

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After that, all that was left to do was spend my (parents’) life savings in the gift shop and make plans for our next Harry Potter movie marathon. (Because Harry Potter = true love.)

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~Julia

Because Dreams Do Come True

So I’m going to attempt to type this on my phone, which is awkwardly plugged into a converter plugged into a plug strip tucked between my mini fridge and massive desk, because I do not currently have internet in my dorm room, but Vodafone gave me free unlimited data for the next couple days as thanks for buying my UK SIM card through them. So yeah. Bear with me, here.

We made it safely through our stays in Amsterdam, Paris, and London (although the Parisians did give me a nasty cold–probably as thanks for my lack of ability to even pronounce, “Do you speak English?” properly). Now, we’ve arrived at our home base for the summer: Oxford!!!

Everything is gorgeous here. The buildings, nature, accents. I can’t get over the fact that THIS IS MY HOME AND SCHOOL FOR THE NEXT FIVE WEEKS. I keep thinking how it was only a little over a year ago that I came to Oxford for the first time and fell in love and promised myself I would come back someday. And it’s crazy how sometimes dreams do come true.

Hopefully I’ll get my internet working sometime in the next few days (now THAT would be a dream come true). In the meantime, classes start in the morning and I’m really nervous but also incredibly excited. I’m studying the Inklings of Oxford (aka C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and that whole bunch) and it’s so surreal that this class is taking place right in the middle of where they actually lived and worked and wrote. My inner Narnia nerd cannot handle it.

I’m going to attempt to get some sleep, but fingers crossed, please, for me getting proper internet soon. Thanks for hanging in there all through this crazy summer! Love you!

~Julia

P.S. How can this even be real life?

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Wordy Wednesday: What to Do About the Crab Apple Tree

Before anything else, listen to this song:

My favorite part is Ansel Elgort (Gus)’s creeper smile at 1:12.

So much TFIOS (The Fault In Our Stars) stuff releasing lately! I’m beyond pumped for this movie.

In Boring Julia Life Stuff, I found out yesterday that I finally need to get my bottom wisdom teeth out. (The oral surgeon says I’ve still got another couple years to hang onto the top ones.) Of course, because I’m traveling the majority of this summer, the only time that works to dig the suckers out of my jaw is this Friday morning. So, wish me luck. (Especially because they say you’re supposed to not consume dairy products for at least twenty four hours post-surgery and I’m pretty sure I don’t eat anything that’s NOT dairy.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for my creative writing class fall semester, called “What to Do About the Crab Apple Tree.”

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The faded wicker porch swing rests so high, I barely have to crouch to slide onto it beside Gemma. My toes graze the cement while the sloped roof of the porch angles the last rays of sunlight into a beam that hits me straight in the eyes.

Gemma shifts over, makes space, and keeps her gaze concentrated on the scraggly old crab apple tree that is dead center in the front lawn. She squeezes her lips together so hard they turn white. Her fingers have long since tangled themselves in her lap, skin tan against the peachy pink, bunched-up fabric of the shorts my mom picked out for her this morning.

She doesn’t look away from the branches, the ripening apples, as she says, “I don’t want to talk, you know.”

I stare down at my own hands. Pick at a hangnail. “I know.”

A smudge of dirt has lingered under my right thumbnail for the past hour, but I don’t feel the need to scrape it out. The realtor had Uncle Bill and me tear up all the dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace in the backyard today—said it would increase the cottage’s value.

Gemma is the cleanest thing I’ve seen since breakfast. The backyard is nothing but dirt and grass seed now.

It’s good Grandpa doesn’t have to see it this way.

Gemma glances at me out the corner of her eye—such a small movement I nearly miss it with the sunset in my face. Her dark eyes are ringed with a red so thick and bright it could pass as a ghastly shade of eyeliner, if it weren’t for the dark drips of makeup caught on her cheeks.

“Why are you here, then?” she asks.

I shrug. “I don’t want to talk either. So I figured, if we’re both going to be spending the evening avoiding the rest of the Walberg Clan’s motor mouths, we might as well do it together.”

She nods once, curtly. I press my toes against the warm cement of the porch and shove us backward.
The swing sways halfheartedly. The sunset dips in and out of view.

The sky is a mess of gold, pink, and orange streaks that dance above the Robinsons’ cottage across the road as we move. Their garage door is open, and through it I can just make out the little speedboat they take out on the lake every Sunday, and sometimes Friday or Saturday. The blackberry bushes lining the garage are so heavy with fruit, I can nearly taste Mrs. Robinson’s buttery, sour Fourth of July blackberry pie just by looking at them. The back of my throat aches.

Gemma asks, “What do you think is going to happen to the crab apple tree?”

“I don’t know. My mom talked about cutting it down.” I shrug again.

The air is so entirely still, I can’t see a single leaf or twig rustle, even with the tree just a stone’s throw away. The sunset has turned its leaves a deep, murky green, like unpolished emeralds.

It’s an eyesore if I’ve ever seen one, with branches that bow under onion-shaped fruit and a hacked-up trunk set at the same angle as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s been too droopy to read under since I was ten, and too weak to climb since Gemma turned twelve, but Grandpa loved that dumb tree.

Gemma’s tangled fingers squeeze together. The baby blue polish is chipped on three of the nails of her left hand. She scratches one nail against the other and another flake slips off.

My own nails are unpainted, uneven. I still don’t bother about the dirt.

“I don’t want them to cut it down.” Gemma’s words are quiet—said to the porch at large, rather than me.

“I know.”

“What do you think about the tree?”

I push the swing back again, this time harder. We sway towards the cottage, then forward all the way to the lip of the porch. If I jumped from here, I’d have half a second of flight before my heels made contact with the yellow, waterlogged grass of late June. I wrap my fingers around the armrest.

“I don’t know. My mom’s right. The tree’s useless.” A splinter catches against my palm. “And the realtor already made it clear she doesn’t want anything eccentric left by the time the cottage goes on the market.”

“I can’t believe we sold the old piano.” Gemma closes her eyes and runs two fingers over the streaks of makeup beneath them. The black smudges, widens.

Grandpa used to play Christmas songs on the piano after dinner in the middle of July, when the lake water was just the right depth to go fishing, and we had bass for dinner two or three times a week, the same meal and songs and family members gathered around the long, homemade oak table every July since before Gemma was even born. Grandpa used to sit whoever was the smallest and least squirmy on his lap, and have us slide our fingers overtop his so that we helped him press the keys as he played, and the entire family sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Silent Night” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” during the hottest month of the year.

“The piano needed repairs,” I say. “More than any of us could afford. And who was going to take it? Your family and Aunt Maggie already have pianos, and our apartment can barely fit the five of us, let alone that massive thing.”

“I know why we sold it.” Gemma rubs her eyes, then pushes a hand through her straight black hair. “I just can’t believe we did.”

“It was necessary.” It’s not what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say anything else.

“I know.”

“It still sucks.”

She slides her fingers through her hair; works on untangling it. The sky fades from pink to purple to that dim, empty color that perfectly matches the hue of a deep tissue bruise, the same exact shade of navy blue as blossomed across my left shoulder three years ago, the day we realized the crab apple tree was no longer strong enough to climb.

A new streak of mascara joins the mess on Gemma’s cheeks. The porch light flickers to life.

I lick my lips. They’re cracked and hard and taste like salt mixed with the sharp tang of orange juice. I wonder how red my face is, after this morning’s crying and the afternoon spent pulling weeds in the sun.

Gemma watches the crab apple tree. I glance at her, then at the yard.

A fat, chestnut brown squirrel darts across the lawn and shimmies up the tree. It perches on a branch to sniff at one of the red-purple fruit, and the branch dips all the way to the ground in an impressive display of weak wood and flexibility. A laugh works its way to my throat, but doesn’t pass my lips. Pressure grows behind my eyes.

“Grandpa would be pissed if he knew we were even considering cutting down his tree,” I say.

Gemma nods. “Let’s not forget how he and Grandma grew that tree with,” she affects a warbled, gravelly voice, “‘nothing but a shovel, a shriveled up crab apple found in the cottage’s garage when they first moved in, and a whole lot of love.’”

The laugh escapes before I remember to hold it in. Gemma sniffles and smiles. She folds her hands in her lap, displaying only the fingers with un-chipped nail polish.

Plates and silverware clatter in the cottage behind us as the Walberg Clan sets the long, homemade oak table for dinner. Aunt Jean, Uncle Ron, and my dad laugh over place settings while my mom and Uncle Bill argue about what to put on the salad, the way they always have—according to Grandpa—since they were children.

Grandpa probably ate a couple hours ago, since they try to serve dinner at five o’clock sharp at the Center Town Nursing Home. He’s probably asleep by now, leathery, wrinkled skin slack across his forehead while his nose rattles in that whistling snore that we used to tell the little kids was secretly the hoot of an owl loose in the bedrooms.

When we visit Grandpa in the morning, as we do every morning, he won’t remember if it was strained peas or blackberry pie or bass that the nurses served him, or if he enjoyed it or hated it or didn’t really notice it. He won’t remember if it’s June or July or December, and he won’t remember if I’m Gemma or Addie or Helen, or one of his grandchildren at all.

He will never know if we cut down the crab apple tree; he won’t know if the new owners do it after they sign the paperwork and we hand over the keys. He will never know if anything happens to that straggly old tree that he does not remember even a little, yet we cannot cut down the crab apple tree, because Grandpa once loved it, and we loved him.

He might as well be dead, he is so far gone.

“It’s weird,” I say, “being here without him.”

Gemma pushes against the cement, setting us rocking again. “I don’t like it.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to.”

“I miss him.” She bites her lip. The blood drains from her fingers as she squeezes them together.

“I know.” I stretch my legs out. The evening air breathes over my toes, like a whisper. I close my eyes—make a wish on the crab apple tree. A burst of laughter comes from behind us. “I do too.”

“Everyone keeps acting like this is normal, Grandpa getting old and forgetting everything. But how can it be normal?” Gemma inhales on a hiccup. “He was the most abnormal person I’ve ever known.”

I nod and smile a little, opening my eyes. I turn to her. “I thought you didn’t want to talk.”

“I don’t.” She says it to her shorts.

“I don’t either.”

Gemma scoots across the porch swing, pressing her leg against mine, and rests her forehead on my shoulder. I rest my head on top of hers. We breathe in, breathe out.

The squirrel leaps from the crab apple tree and trundles away across the grass. A light flips on in the Robinsons’ cottage—through the sheer lace curtains, I watch as Mrs. Robinson gets started on dinner.

Life goes on. Even as one life ends, the rest of it goes on.

I slip the nail of my left pointer finger beneath the edge of my right thumbnail and push out the dirt. Inside the cottage, Mom calls Uncle Bill a jerk, and he complains about how she never lets him put pine nuts on the salad, and my little brother Tony says something in his loud, squeaky voice that makes Dad boom with laughter.

“I don’t want to leave,” I say.

Gemma replies, “I think we should keep the crab apple tree.”

She looks at me, and I look back. I’m not sure which of us begins to cry first.
**********

90

 

~Julia

PS. Mi madre turned another year better recently. Happy birthday to the most wonderful mom in the world!

Fashion Friday: Favorite Spring Trends (2014)

I’ve been dying to do a Fashion Friday post for a couple months now, but between school and other commitments, this is the first chance I’ve gotten.

The weather has been absolutely crazy this year. It was in the seventies last weekend, then it snowed Tuesday. We have had blustery, freezing rain, and light misty rain, and burn-you-just-from-glancing-at-it sunshine. Basically: Michigan experienced all four seasons in four days.

What all this means is that figuring out what to wear this spring has been really difficult. I’ll be in shorts one day, and my winter coat the next.

This all has led to an interesting spring in clothes.

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Favorite Spring Trend #1: Layers

Target, $29.99

I’ve noticed I’m not the only one on campus rocking lots of layers the past few weeks. U of M is a sea of denim, leather, fleece, and utility jackets over hoodies. My personal favorite pairing is something light–a tank top of v-neck–under a sweatshirt with my jean jacket over top. It gives me three options to wear, depending on what turn the weather’s taken and how high the heat/air conditioning’s cranked in my classes. (I really appreciate the comfy look of the thin, baggy utility jackets though, so I’m thinking of splurging on one of those.)

Favorite Spring Trend #2: Funky Flats

DSW Oxford ShoesDSW, $39.95

I don’t know what you call the shoes in the picture above, but I call them “hipster shoes.” And they are weirdly cute. And a fantastic way of adding some personality to your outfit (also: much comfier than most ballet flats).

(While searching for the picture above on DSW’s site, I learned that the term “hipster shoes” is, indeed, not proper. They’re “Oxfords.” Which, looking back on it, I should have known.)

Favorite Spring Trend #3: Mint

Essie Fashion Playground Nail PolishEssie, $8.50

This color somehow is both calm and cheery. I don’t know how it does it, but it’s great. A nice, light green with a hint of blue.

Favorite Spring Trend #4: Blazers

Modcloth Fine and Sandy Blazer in SunshineModcloth, $64.99

This one’s been common for a while now, but I don’t think I’ve ever professed my love for blazers. While I don’t wear them often (I can’t seem to find a good, not-super-formal one that actually fits me), they’re definitely good for dressing up an outfit that would otherwise be casual. T-shirt and jeans? Throw a blazer over them, and suddenly you’re classy and smart.

Favorite Sprint Trend #5: Flouncy Skirts

Asos, $19.75

I’m a big proponent of dresses and skirts. They’re comfy and fun and a great way of looking like you actually made an effort with your appearance when in actually you, you know, just rolled out of bed and threw a dress on. This spring’s seen a lot of flowier, flouncier skirts. The kind that are soft to the touch and swish as you walk. Lots of skater skirts, made out of thinner, more breathable materials than usual for the warmer weather.

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What are some of your favorite trends this spring?

Countdown ’til summer: 7 days.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Ten

I am eating Panera mac and cheese right now. It is the most delicious thing in the world.

Also, therapy dogs are on the Diag, it’s not snowing (unlike yesterday), and I get to write a blog post. So it’s a good day.

Oh, oh, oh. And the first trailer for the If I Stay film adaption is out, and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and beautiful:

They just HAD to use “Say Something” in the trailer. Of course. Excuse me while I flood the world with my tears.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

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Chapter Ten
“Do you know what we don’t understand?” the woman asks as she checks me over for new injuries and dabs numbing cream against my swollen cheek.
The other side of my mouth lifts in a smirk. “How someone like Ramsey Carp and I used to be such close friends?”
She allows the smile I’d hoped for, but that’s it. “No, not that.”
“Then what?”
She pauses with her fingertip right beside my cheek, so close the heat radiates off her skin through the plastic sanitary gloves she wears.
“The words Miss Carp said as her fist connected with your jaw. We couldn’t figure out what they were at first, but when we looked at the sound-byte stored in Eric Flynn’s Identiband, we were able to work it out.”
I frown. “Not Amelia Anderson’s?” The nurse shakes her head. “That’s strange. She was the one sitting beside me.”
“Perhaps Eric Flynn knows her better, so he was better able to understand her.” She returns to dabbing my jaw. “The point is, Miss Carp didn’t shout something about hating you or giving you what she thought you deserved, like we originally assumed.”
She steps away and screws the cap back on the tube of numbing cream as she informs me, “She said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

I arrive at school in the middle of Español class—unfortunately also my last class of the day.
The profesora is in the middle of discussing the book reviews we turned in last Friday, but she stops midsentence as I slip past the door. My classmates stare.
New Capital High tries to keep English and foreign language classroom sizes smaller than our other classes, where we’re likely to have sixty or seventy students packed into a room. I’m not a school person, so I have never appreciated this logic—it just means the teachers actually try to give equal attention to both the nerds and the slackers like me, rather than ignoring us as I prefer.
However, I have never disliked the smaller size as much as I do today. It is impossible to disappear as I slink to the back of the room and drop into the seat beside Eric’s. Even Profesora Ramirez has trouble continuing her rant about our inability to properly analyze La muerte de Artemio Cruz. I am the girl who was recruited a year early by the Clinic, then knocked out by her old best friend right in the middle of the Recruitment Assembly.
In Español Eric whispers, “Please tell me you took a nap in the park while you were gone, rather than being at the Clinic this entire time.”
“I wish I could.” I drop my backpack on the carpet and unzip it. The noise is too loud in the quiet room, and Profesora Ramirez’s glare zeroes in on me. “I’m sorry.” I hold up my hands in the Quantum-wide gesture for I-come-in-peace. She returns to her rant.
As I lift my Español notebook onto my desk, Eric asks, “What did they do to you?”
I don’t want to let onto how shaken my conversation with Ramsey left me, so I shrug. “Nothing major. They just needed me to answer a few questions.” I open to a clean page and write down what I can catch of Profesora Ramirez’s tirade.
Idiotos.
No tienen un futuro.
¿Cómo puedo tener confianza en ellos cuando se gradúan si no pueden comprenden un texto tan simple como La muerte de Artemio Cruz?
“Are you officially recruited, then?”
I look at him. I frown. “Actually, I’m not positive. I guess?”
“Interesting.”
I hold back my laugh. “Interesting? Why is that interesting?”
“Just the fact that you were there so long—the entire school day—yet you still don’t know whether or not you work for them now.”
He’s right. “I guess it is kind of strange.” How do I still not know?
How did Ramsey figure out they would recruit me early before they even did, yet I spent several hours at the Clinic today and I still don’t know whether or not my agreement to help them continues past the problem of her?
The bell rings and the class switches effortlessly to speaking in English. I slide my notebook back into my backpack and stand.
“Some of us are putting stamps together to get a couple of pizzas at Joe’s. Are you interested in coming? Amelia would be glad to see they didn’t use you for experiments. We’ve been placing bets on why you weren’t back in time for lunch, all afternoon.”
“As fun as that sounds,” I roll my eyes, “I need to speak with my teachers about the homework I missed.”
“What are you talking about?” Eric grins. “That sounds like a much better time than goofing around with your friends. Go have fun, you wild thing. See if you can snap a shot of Principal Scully with his toupee off.”
I smack his arm. “Go away.”
“With pleasure.” He winks and leads the way out of the classroom.
Amelia waits in the hall. Her eyes widen when she spots me and she throws her arms around me in a pressing hug more passionate than the situation calls for.
“I was so worried!”
“Oh, shut it.” I slough her off. “Both of you.”
I can’t help the grin that crosses my face, though, at the fact that my two best friends care so much for me. Even when Eric glances at my Identiband, auburn eyebrows drawn, and it switches to the other color almost in response.

**********

87

Countdown ’til summer: 9 days.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Strengthening Your Supporting Cast

I take my last final exam of sophomore year in two and a half weeks.

Between now and then, I have to attend fifteen classes (if you include my choir concert and non-“final” finals), do two astronomy projects, take two medieval lit quizzes, write a psych paper, and keep up with internship work. And attend orientation for Oxford. And finalize a lot of things for Ch1Con. And register for fall semester classes. And other stuff.

Basically, I keep being like, “Oh, look! Summer begins in two and a half weeks! IT’S SO CLOSE AND BEAUTIFUL!”

Then I remember everything I have to do before then, and I go into Panic Mode.

Meanwhile, in what little free time I haven’t spent watching Netflix keeping my brain from imploding this semester, I’ve been busy with novel revisions. One of the things I need to work on in this draft is keeping the characters other than my narrator/protagonist:

a) realistic, and

b) interesting

A character not being realistic and a character not being interesting are two different symptoms that ultimately boil down to the same problem: Right now, a lot of my supporting cast is there simply for the sake of advancing plot.

While it’s good, obviously, for your supporting cast to act in ways that move your story forward, it’s also important to remember they’re not plot devices–they’re characters.

So, some of the things I’m going to be doing in these revisions in an effort to strengthen my supporting cast.

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Write Out Back Story

One of my characters right now is very well-developed in my mind. Unfortunately, since I know so much about him in my head, I didn’t realize how little of him is actually on the page. (That is, you know, until someone pointed it out THANK GOD).

This character’s in a lot of scenes, but I don’t reveal much about him within those. So, step one to fixing this problem: Open a new document, and actually write out the character’s back story. Talk about history, family, friends, enemies, quirks, goals, motivations, etc., etc. Then add some of this to the novel itself. Not enough to bog down the text, mind you. But enough to make the character three-dimensional.

I’ve found that writing things out rather than just letting them ruminate in my head helps me solidify and keep track of details, and this in turn makes it easier to figure out how to flesh out the character on the page.

Chart the Character Arc

I mentioned writing out a supporting character’s goals and motivations. It’s also helped me, with this particular character, to chart his arc for the novel.

A character arc follows the same basic model as a plot arc, with inciting incident, catalyst, rising action, climax, and falling action. Each character should have a primarily goal he’s going after in the novel, along with some smaller ones–just like the novel overall has both a central plot and subplots. When charting, focus the arc on the character’s primary goal and how he changes throughout the story in order to finally either reach it or fail to.

(On this topic, remember that a good supporting character isn’t static. He needs to develop and change due to the events of the novel. It isn’t necessary to outright state how the character has changed, but he does need to change.)

Read from the Supporting Character’s POV

This is a really good way of shifting from a supporting character acting simply as a plot device. Find all the scenes she’s in and read them back to back. What’s her motivation in each scene? What does she mean by each line and movement? How does her arc play out across the lot of them? Everything should be justifiable in the character’s mind. If she snaps at your narrator, it had better be because it affects not just your narrator’s arc, but hers as well.

It’s also important to know what each character’s doing when s/he’s not in a scene. Remember that each character’s life continues beyond the page.

Write from the Supporting Character’s POV

This is a great exercise for getting in a character’s head, if you don’t already know what her feelings and aspirations are really well. I’ve previously both rewritten scenes from other characters’ perspectives and written new scenes that take place off the official page of the novel, and am planning to do more of both as I work on this revision. Rewriting an already existing scene is better for in-the-moment stuff, and writing new scenes is better for learning bigger things about characters.

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I’ve gotta go write that psych essay now, but if you want more writing-related posts, vote for the “writing process” option in the poll below.

86This picture is not weird in the least.

What are some of your tips for bringing your supporting cast to life? Do you ever struggle with making your secondary characters realistic, too?

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Restructuring Your Novel by Scene

Winter semester 2014: In which a girl who’s afraid of space thought it would be a good idea to take astronomy. (Basically, this semester cannot end soon enough.)

Obama visited today. The entire campus went insane. You know. The usual.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about a photo. Specifically, the cover photo of my Facebook page right now:

The picture’s from last July. I was in the middle of completing a revision on a novel that involved a lot of refining for flow and structure, and I was having trouble working things out solely in my head/onscreen.

So I printed out my scene list. And chopped it up. And spread it all across my kitchen table. (Obviously my parents were thrilled.)

Being able to physically move around scenes was really effective and I’m about to do this whole process over again, so this seemed like a good time share it. (Thank you, Joan, for suggesting this topic!)

I give you: Restructuring Your Novel by Scene

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Step 1: Make a list of all your scenes.

For each scene in my novel I:

  • Assign a number (so I know where in the manuscript it fits as is, in case I move it somewhere else)
  • Give a title (basically a brief description of what happens in it)
  • Note which chapter it’s in (a bigger picture version of assigning a number)
  • Color code it (a scene that shares a chapter with one other scene gets one color; one that shares with multiple scenes gets another; if it has its own chapter it gets another; and if it has multiple chapters to itself it gets another–this helps me keep track of the structures of chapters in relation with one another, so I don’t have too many of one type in a row or anything)

I also keep track of any scenes that happen to have unique characteristics, like if it’s a flashback, pure exposition, etc. (On this note: the novel I did this for last summer had two types of flashbacks–some were in past tense; others were in present–so I categorized the two types separately. You want to be as specific as possible.)

Step 2: Print the list, cut apart the scenes, and lay them in order on a flat surface.

This step’s pretty self-explanatory. If you have access to a table that you know no one will mess with while you’re working, you’re gold. If you don’t, find a patch of floor somewhere that you can barricade other organisms from touching. (I don’t suggest taping your scenes to a wall. Although that would ultimately work too, I also feel like it would be a lot less functional.)

Last time I did this, it took me about a week of thinking and staring and rearranging for twelve hours a day in order to settle everything. You don’t want your dog to knock a bunch of scenes off the table or someone to leave a sweaty glass on one.

(Protip: Print another copy of your scene list, but don’t cut this one apart. It’ll be useful to refer to while you’re rearranging things, so you can remember where everything was to begin with.)

Step 3: Gather your supplies.

You’re going to want to have:

  • Post It notes
  • tape
  • at least one paperclip
  • several shades of highlighters
  • a couple shades of pens (I use black and red)
  • a pencil
  • lots and lots of love for your novel (because when your patience and sanity run out, love is all you’ve got left)

I’ll talk about why you need everything else later, but first: the purpose of the Post It notes. As you go through the following steps, keep your Post Its at the ready.

Take notes if you’re considering doing something but haven’t quite made your decision yet, or don’t think it falls under one of the steps below. Write ideas for scenes you need to add. Stick a Post It to a scene if what you need to write exceeds the space on the slip of paper. Anything, really. Your Post Its are basically your thoughts on paper.

Now, let’s move onto the fun part: actually working on your novel.

Step 4: Mark which scenes are absolutely vital to the plot.

I star my vital scenes with my red pen, off to the left of all the typed information from Step 1. (I put all of my markings off to the left, and all my made-of-words notes above/below/to the right of the typed information, so it’s easy and fast to find things. Make sure to consistently centralize information; making unnecessary work for yourself is never fun.)

Signs that a scene is vital:

  • At least one major plot point occurs
  • The rest of the manuscript would fall apart if you pulled it

(Unfortunately, simply really loving a certain fight sequence, or cute interaction between your protagonists, or cool line does not a vital scene make. Be careful not to mark something only because you’re attached to it.)

If you have more than one scene that is vital in a row, stack those scenes. You’ll come back to them later, but for now, save some space for the next few steps.

Step 5: Look at the non-vital scenes.

I’m serious. Stare those suckers down.

Consider everything that happens in each scene:

  • What does the plot gain from it? (use your pencil to write this, probably above or below the typed info)
  • Is it super necessary for a subplot or character development? (mark this with one of your highlighters)
  • Does it have a cool sequence/interaction/line that you adore and don’t want to get rid of? (note this in pen, again above or below your typed info)

Chances are, if you didn’t mark it as vital to the plot in Step 4, that’s because the plot doesn’t gain anything from it–so you shouldn’t have anything written in pencil on these scenes. (If you have written something, reconsider whether or not you should mark that scene as vital. If what you’ve written is still too insignificant to the overall plot or too small a part of the scene as a whole to qualify the scene as vital, leave it as non-vital for now.)

You can still move the story forward with a non-vital scene if it influences a subplot or the development of a character (so while it might not be vital to the plot, it could be vital to the novel). However, a non-vital scene can’t just do one of these things. It can’t just explain why Bobby is afraid of marshmallows or be the space for two of your supporting characters to get in a fight.

Each scene has to progress the story in multiple ways. It has to explain the fear of marshmallows, and describe the big fight, and reveal something important to the plot–even if it’s something miniscule.

Think of each important thing that happens like a meal: if you miss out on one (losing a scene in which one important thing happens), it sucks but it’s not a huge deal. Miss eating for a whole day (losing a scene with several important things), and it becomes one. Miss eating for multiple days (a scene in which A LOT OF FREAKING STUFF HAPPENS), and you’re in deep trouble.

Thus, a non-vital scene becomes vital.

So, if you’ve got a non-vital scene that does have multiple important things happening in it, mark it as vital. If it’s near another vital scene, stack ’em. If the non-vital scene only has one or two important things in it (or *gasp* none), prepare yourself for Step 6.

Step 6: Cut scenes.

If a scene does absolutely nothing important for the story, cut it. If it’s repetitious in content of another scene (your protags having a cute back-and-forth; your antagonist being annoying; etc.), chances are you only need one of them–cut the one(s) you like less.

This is the time for that Kill Your Darlings thing. If a scene does nothing to progress your plot, subplots, or character development: Cut. It.

Stack your cut scenes off to the side where you can find them later if need be, but they aren’t in the way as you continue with the scenes you’re still working on.

Step 7: Consolidate scenes.

If you have more than one non-vital scene in a row, consider consolidating them into one. Take the best parts of each scene (favorite actions/interactions, lines, and of course all the important bits) and see if you can stick them into one.

Be aware, though, that you can’t save everything. Again: avoid repetition. Just because you say something in several different ways doesn’t mean you’re saying something new.

Also, don’t be afraid to consolidate scenes that maybe aren’t currently next to each other in the manuscript. Reordering is okay.

When you consolidate scenes, either tape them together (not stacked) and use a pen to draw a line connecting them, or use that pen to write what you’re moving from the scene(s) you’re getting rid of to the scene you’re consolidating into, off towards the right side of your slips. (I suggest highlighting these written notes in a certain color, for a reason I’ll talk about in a second.)

The goal of the cutting and consolidating is to eliminate non-vital scenes from your novel. You do this by either cutting the non-vital scene or combining enough important things from non-vital scenes to create a vital one.

Once all you have left are vital scenes…

Step 8: Make structuring decisions.

Spread out the scenes you have left and look at the order they’re in. Would something work better in another place? Are you absolutely certain you need that water balloon fight in the middle of the scene that’s vital for entirely different reasons? Rearrange scenes as necessary and write down things you’re cutting/adding/changing-in-some-other-fun-way in each scene.

Anything you write on a scene that you’ll need to address while you’re working on the manuscript itself, highlight in a certain color. This will really help separate those things from everything else you’ve got written on the slips of paper.

Look over your list while thinking about the flow and progression of the plot, subplots, and development of your entire cast of characters (not just your core protagonists). If something is missing or not quite flowing right, this is the time to figure out how to fix it.

(Protip: Don’t be afraid to actually add scenes. This process is a good way of figuring out if you’re missing something. Use those Post It notes of yours to add scenes when necessary.)

Step 9: Step back.

You don’t want to rush into changing things without really thinking them through first. Take a couple days (or at least a couple hours) to not think at all about the plans you’ve made.

If you have an epiphany about something during this time, feel free to return to your scenes and add the new changes. But don’t touch the actual manuscript until you’ve had a chance to get away from it for a bit and you’re absolutely positive you want to try a change. (“Try” is the operative word here–if something that seems good on paper doesn’t actually work in the manuscript, don’t force yourself into keeping it. Find another solution. If you want your novel to be the best it can be, you’ve gotta do what’s best for it, even if that sometimes means “wasting” time on things that don’t work. The time’s not wasted if it ultimately lead to a better manuscript.)

Once you are confident in all your decisions, stack your final list of scenes, use a paperclip to hold them together, and get to work.

(Optional) Step 9.5: Make a To Do list of the planned changes.

I say this is optional because it’s something I don’t do, but I’m sure other, more organized people would like to. Either write or type a list of all the changes you’re going to make. This would be useful for keeping track of what you’ve done and still need to do–but definitely isn’t necessary if you don’t care about organization (the notes on your slips of cut out scenes should be enough to remember all the changes you want to make.)

Step 10: Implement changes.

Everyone likes to revise their manuscripts differently. Personally, if I’m doing big changes to scene(s) or adding a scene, I’ll create a separate Word doc to work on those before touching anything in the manuscript itself. If I’m just adding a line or moving a scene to a different part of the novel, I do that right in the manuscript document.

(Protip: Save your manuscript in a new file before implementing any changes. That way you can look back at the old version if you need to review how something used to be, bring back a scene you deleted, etc.)

Once I’ve implemented my changes, I make sure the changes flow with the surrounding writing. Then, it’s time to read the full manuscript to make sure everything’s working–and, once I’ve gotten the MS as good as I can on my own, I send it to a couple critique partners.

A critique partner is the best way to figure out if something’s working or not. A lot of the time as the writer, you subconsciously become so numb to what you’re working on that you don’t notice problems anymore. Therefore, a new set of eyes basically equals a miracle.

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And there you have it: my process for refining a novel by scene. (I’ll pretend this is patent pending, since it took me forever and a day to type.)

Do you have any specific processes for revising? Care to share with the class?

85

~Julia

PS. The happiest of birthdays to my CP Kira, who becomes a Twenty Something today! 😀

Big News Post, Take Two

I’ve been promising another Big News post for a couple weeks now, and I FINALLY CAN SHARE THINGS WITH YOU!

Drum roll please…

This is a Book Too is back!

Yup, after our unplanned hiatus (school has this annoying habit of getting in the way of projects like this, yes?), Mel and I are finally back in action with This is a Book Too. Check out new chapters on the official This is a Book Trilogy blog at: www.thisisabookthebook.wordpress.com.

I’m attending BookCon (AKA “Power Reader Day” of Book Expo America)!

I’m so excited to finally get to check out this event! (By which I mean “fangirl all over my favorite authors, likely scaring them so badly they’ll never come near me ever again.”) Plus, I’m attending with my super talented writing friends Ariel and Joan, and a couple of our parents, so that automatically makes it 110% awesomer. (Also: I love New York. Like a lot.) (Also, also: BROADWAY.)

I won the Arthur Miller Award!!!

The Arthur Miller Award is a prize here at U of M for writers. The winner receives a scholarship, an autographed copy of DEATH OF A SALESMAN (because Arthur Miller), and, you know, the right to stare in disbelief at the email and jump around a lot and maybe even cry, just a little bit. (Not that I did any of those things.)

I’m so incredibly honored to have been selected to be this year’s recipient. U of M’s got a kind of crazy number of talented writers, so the fact that they chose my entry blows my mind. A lot.

… Aaand, last but not-at-all least:

I’m studying abroad at Oxford this summer!!!!!

THAT’S RIGHT. I GOT IN TO MY DREAM STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM. AND I’M GOING. OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH.

I’m studying British literature in the place it was written, and some of my friends are going to be there at the same time, and it’s basically going to be beautiful.

On top of that: While in the UK, Hannah (who’s in the same program as me!) and I are attending–wait for it–JK Rowling’s session at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival! (If you happen to feel a flutter in your chest at this news, that’s probably the heart attack I had while scrambling to purchase the tickets rubbing off on you. I apologize.)

The plan is to keep the blog up and running while I’m over there, so prepare yourself for a deluge of posts about how wonderful Europe is.

I’m off to daydream about summer (so close, yet so far away). Love you!

~Julia