So, as mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday, I spent my spring break in the Chicago area putting up flyers for Ch1Con 2015 and doing research for a novel.
It wasn’t exactly the most relaxing spring break ever, but it was awesome getting to meet so many librarians and bookshop owners, and Chicago’s always gorgeous.
We put up flyers for the conference in over fifty locations over the course of three days. Which was basically insane.
One of the days, I spotted Oscar Mayer’s Wiener Mobile in a mall parking lot and made my mom drive over so I could get pictures. It was completely surrounded by people taking selfies.
Thursday we took a break from flyering for a few hours to visit the John Hancock Observatory, which is currently under renovations to become 360 Chicago. The John Hancock Center’s my favorite building in Chicago and I know a weird amount of stuff about it, so it was cool to get to go in and see the updates they’re making to the observation deck.
Here’s the shadow of the John Hancock Center over North Avenue Beach and Lake Michigan.
Sears Tower on the horizon.
The updated observatory includes mirrors coating the ceiling, which leads to fun optical illusions.
The biggest update to the observation deck is the new attraction “Tilt,” in which participants lean against the windows in the picture below and they slowly tilt outward until the participants are facing the street below, ninety-four stories up.
And of course I had to take an awkward observation deck selfie as documentation of my visit.
Friday we had the special treat of Ch1Con team member Emma going around with us to put up flyers. I don’t get to see the rest of the team in person very often and I absolutely freaking adore Emma, so getting to spend the afternoon with her wasn’t just a highlight of the trip, but the year.
Also: while my mom was awesome and drove us around to all of our various drop points, Emma and I wrote a joint post for the March Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain and posted it on the Chapter One Young Writers Conference Tumblr, which you can check out here. The prompt for the month asks about your thoughts on reading and writing in non-novel formats, so since we’re both huge theatre nerds we wrote about how theatre has affected our writing.
And finally, after a few long, long days away, there’s nothing like coming home to the worst best selfie partner in the world.
Have you had your spring break? Did you do anything fun? Let me know in the comments!
(Especially if you went somewhere warm, because dude, please let me live vicariously through your not-freezing adventures.)
(On the upside: It hit forty degrees today, which means at least for now* we’re past coat weather! Yay!)
*It’s totally going to snow again tomorrow, just because I said that.
So I had my creative writing tutorial today and in the midst of my instructor giving his critique on the short story I turned in last week (by the way: he liked it), he brought up how I need to start thinking about my senior creative writing honors thesis, and also here are some examples of awesome theses from students of yesteryear, and also it hit me: I’m going to graduate really, really soon. Then I’m going to be just another spiral-bound senior honors thesis on his shelf.
This time next year, I’m going to be in my last semester of college. And that is terrifying.
I’m not ready to go out into the real world yet. I can barely handle figuring out how to pay taxes and bills, let alone how to provide money for paying taxes and bills. And like–I’m supposed to get a job? How does one get a job? How do you find jobs, and apply, and interview, and actually get one? Or if I don’t go on the job hunt, I should be going to grad school of some sort (said creative writing instructor has started dropping hints about MAs and MFAs), and there are all these tests and applications and interviews, and LIFE IS A SCARY THING.
It’s January 21st, 2015 and I am already freaking out about 2016 and everything that comes after.
I cannot believe that I am twenty and I’m graduating next year and I’m supposed to start being a Real Adult next year.
Anyway. Existential crisis aside: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post on how to get back into writing after taking a break. (Thanks for the idea, Ariel!)
So, you’ve been away from writing for a while. Maybe you were on vacation, or burned out, or didn’t have time. Maybe Netflix ate you. (It happens.) The point is: It can be difficult getting back into writing.
Here are some of the ways I get back into the swing of things.
Set aside time to write.
Just setting aside a concrete chunk of time to definitely write and do nothing else can do wonders for making it easier to start again.
Listen to writing music.
I really like listening to movie scores while writing. Even if I’m not already in the mood to write, if I put on music I’ve previously written a lot to, my brain starts whirling. (Protip: I’ve been listening A TON to the score from The Theory of Everything lately. The opening track is quite possibly the most beautiful thing ever composed.)
Go to Panera/Starbucks/wherever.
I’ve been having a ton of issues getting in the right head space to revise the past couple weeks, so yesterday I treated myself to a large Panera mac and cheese and a smoothie, and there is something about being in a public place that makes working so much easier.
As much as I love the privacy and quiet of my bedroom, it’s way easier to accidentally end up on Twitter or Youtube when no one else is around, even when no one else is watching.
Work on an existing project.
Starting something new straight off a break can be hard. I find it’s generally easier to return to something you’ve already put a lot of the legwork in on, get back into the writing mode using that, then move on to your shiny new project.
Do you have any suggestions for getting back into writing after being away for awhile? Leave ’em in the comments!
It’s been blizzarding all day, which means I guess it’s officially winter and officially Julia Never Wants to Leave the Apartment Ever Again time. (I mean, it’s gorgeous out. And snow is fun to play in. However, walking to class through the slush and black ice? Not my favorite.) Also I baked cookies this afternoon (then ate nine) and had my first of at least four Thanksgiving dinners (including pumpkin pie), so obviously I’m making good life choices right now.
Wednesdays are a kind of easy day for me, so I’ve actually had some time to write, and I GOT IN ANOTHER 4K ON NANOWRIMO. I’m now at just over 36,000 words, which still puts me 2K behind where I wanted to be at this point in the month, but I’m doing a virtual write-a-thon thing Friday night, so hopefully I’ll catch up. (Although, also, I need to work on a term paper this weekend and I’m going home towards the end to get some of my plethora of stitches out, so who knows how much time I’ll actually have. But fingers crossed.)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Thanks to CP, Ch1Con team member, and all around amazing human Ariel for the idea! (You can read an interview I did with Ariel here.)
We’ve all been there. You’re busily writing away, all happy go lucky and enjoying your story, then BOOM: You’re stuck.
I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in getting stuck. Sometimes you’re mentally drained, or you’re not quite sure where the story wants to go from there, or something else equally as frustrating. But just as easy as it is to get stuck, it’s even easier to get unstuck.
1. Take a shower. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve worked out by taking a long, hot shower. When you’re just standing there, letting your mind drift and with so few distractions, your brain has a way of working things out without you even needing to focus on what’s wrong. Then you’ll be in the middle of making a Mohawk with your shampoo suds and you’ll be like, “WHOA. WAIT. STOP. EPIPHANY.”
2. Go for a walk or run. This is another really great way of clearing your head. I did a lot of work figuring out problems while revising this semester while walking on the treadmill in my apartment building’s gym. Mind numbing activities are just so good for working things out. (The biggest thing is that you need to not focus on what you’re trying to work out. It’s your subconscious that will come up with the answers.)
3. Work on another part of the story. Sometimes when I have an issue, I’ll move forward to another part in the story and write there until I have an idea of how to get between the part I’m stuck at and the new part. If you’re trying to build a bridge but you have no idea what the other side you’re building to will look like, how are you supposed to know how to build the bridge, right?
4. Read a book or watch a movie. If you’ve reached that point when you’re quite simply too burned out to continue, take a break. Focus on a story that’s already done. Let yourself relax and remind yourself why you love stories in the first place.
5. Change your environment. It can be as simple as putting on some music or moving to a different room. Sometimes you just need a change, any change, to get back into the flow of things.
6. Sleep. When all else fails: put the stuckness out mind and come back in the morning. The problem’s not going anywhere, so take your time fixing it. Don’t worry. You’ve got this.
Whoa. Look at that. It’s Wednesday again. (Funny how that happens.)
Midterm season has drawn to an end, which of course means it’s not even Halloween yet and already my professors are yelling at me to get term paper drafts done and it’s suddenly cold enough to warrant a coat on the way to class.
Also: internship apps, and NaNoWriMo prep, and did I mention that November’s bringing lots of big announcements? Like I’ve been working on a lot that I haven’t been able to share with you BUT NOVEMBER IS THE MONTH. (Don’t get too excited. This in no way involves an agent or book deal or trip to Mars or anything. But still: Exciting Stuff.)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.
I’m currently in the midst of doing the line edits round of revisions on one of my novels and, as expected, it’s basically torture.
Most of revising I don’t have a problem with. I actually really enjoy pulling the novel apart, switching things around, adding and getting rid of stuff, then putting it back together again. But line edits involve sitting down and reading the entire thing straight through in order to ensure it all works. And by “it all,” I mean not only the changes I made earlier in revising, but also checking flow, and fixing awkward sentences, and nailing down phrasing and character development and SO MUCH MORE.
It takes a ton of energy and attention, and because of this can be really difficult to get through.
But I’ve got a few tricks to getting it done.
Revise by Scene
I used to revise by chapter instead of scene. (Meaning: I’d take a break and give myself a pat on the back when I finished a chapter.) But then sometimes I’d be in the middle of a scene at the end of a chapter, so I’d come back after a break and have no idea where I was supposed to be tonally, and of course some of the details wouldn’t be as clear in my head anymore, and yeah. Now I don’t let myself stop until I’ve reached the end of the scene I’m on, instead, and it really helps to keep things focused.
Procrastinate by Revising
A couple weeks back, I got about a week ahead on my homework with the idea that doing so would leave my weekend free to revise. It had been difficult juggling schoolwork with bashing-my-head-against-a-wall-over-line-edits. However, the instant I no longer had something I wanted to do even less than revising (like reading about WWII propaganda films for my film history class), suddenly I had no interest in revising either. So I ended up spending the weekend binging on Gilmore Girls.
Moral of the story: If revising isn’t your favorite activity ever, it’s possibly actually good to be dividing your time between it and another activity you like even less. It’s amazing how productive you can be when you’re using that activity to procrastinate from another one. (Also: I clearly make good life choices.)
Set Short Term AND Long Term Goals
Setting goals while revising should be obvious, but it’s a step I forget about sometimes. And you not only want to have goals like “finish Long Action Sequence #1 by midnight,” but also “finish first third of manuscript by Friday” and “send draft to critique partners by end of month.” It’s these layers of goals that help keep you on track and motivated.
And on that note:
Use a Reward System
Goals don’t mean much if you don’t get something for reaching them. Maybe if you meet your revising goal for the day, you get to have a bowl of ice cream. Or you can go to the movies with your friends.
And for larger goals, you should also have larger rewards. I generally let myself buy something semi-expensive off ModCloth or purchase concert tickets or (wow, I really need to stop using spending money as rewards).
Make Time to Relax
This is the biggest thing, for me. If you burn yourself out trying to get your revisions done super fast, they aren’t going to turn out well and you ultimately are just going to make more work for yourself. So take time to sit back and watch an episode (or three) of Gilmore Girls. Hang out with your friends. Read a good book. It’s okay to take a day off here and there, as long as you don’t lose momentum.
I began this post yesterday, but I somehow managed to fall asleep at 9:30, so I didn’t get a chance to finish. (#Oops #YOLO #CollegeLyfe ?)
I’ve spent the past week and a half doing really intense revision work (like: Spend Every Free Moment Not in Class Revising kind of revision work), so I’ve been tired and not sleeping well (haven’t had time to exercise, so my legs are really restless), and… yeah. I guess it finally caught up with me last night.
Anyway: please forgive this terrible transgression against you, oh dear Wordy Wednesday reader. This makeup blog post is going to have to be a quick one, because besides not finishing writing it last night, I also slept through time I was supposed to spend on a lit paper due in a few hours. And I, ya know, still haven’t chosen a topic or anything. (I am ROCKING that life thing right now.)
This week’s (belated) Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.
As mentioned above, I’m currently in the middle of some really intense revisions.
Mostly this has involved something along the lines of what I talk about in this post (restructuring by scene) and *cough* this post (strengthening character development in the supporting cast).
(Spoiler: all these blog posts have to do with the single round of revisions I’ve been working on since, like, March. It’s all just been culminating in the mad dash at the end these past couple weeks.)
I’ve finally reached the point at which I need to actually read the manuscript, to make sure my changes work and make other changes that are difficult out of context. For example: strengthening the line-by-line writing. And although I’m only on, like, Chapter Nine right now, I’ve already found several chapters that go on too long.
Not like, “Woe is me, this chapter is 2,576 words long and I wanted it to be 2,574!” but like, “What is the point of this paragraph at the end? This solidifies the end of the chapter too much. This is too comfortable of an ending. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE.”
Chapter endings should not be comfortable. If they’re comfortable, what’s the point of continuing reading? They should be ominous. They should be uneasy. They should be surprising.
It’s called a cliffhanger for a reason.
You always want to leave something unresolved at the end of a chapter. Whether your protagonist is being accused of cheating on his math test or she’s literally hanging off a cliff, this situation needs to be unresolved so that the reader will turn immediately to the next chapter.
Take it one step further: don’t give all the info in a cliffhanger. Make the reader have to turn the page not only to learn how the situation ends, but the rest of the details of what’s even going on.
Are you more likely to read on from, “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned. In stepped the butler.”
Ooor: “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned.”
If you leave off in what feels like it could still be the middle of a scene, or end the chapter with your protagonist not quite learning all the information you led the reader to believe they were supposed to, etc., etc.–that is more likely to keep your reader going.
The SURPRISE! chapter ending requires you to pull a one-eighty at the very end of your chapter. Like the very end. Like in the very last sentence.
While the protagonist (and reader) have been concerned about something else–like someone accusing him of cheating on the math test–an entirely different problem has snuck up on him. Or maybe this problem literally does come out of nowhere and it’s not that the protag has been misleading his audience by focusing on something else, but that BOOM! This is an entirely new and not expectable problem!
A classmate drops dead in front of him. The super villain shoots him with a freeze ray from behind. The possibilities of a SURPRISE! ending are endless. They’re there to shock.
Make the reader think.
I don’t really suggest using this one, because it’s hard to make it seem not Super Written (and to make it an ending that keeps the reader from turning the light out for the night), but I have seen it done well in a few novels, so I figured I should include it.
When your protagonist spends time thinking, so does your reader. When you end a chapter with a character thinking (whether with a statement or an outright question), that leaves the reader really thinking, as they turn to the next chapter.
This can be dangerous. It can give the reader time to figure out something you don’t want them to figure out yet or, more commonly, it can leave the reader not feeling invested enough to keep reading.
Because when a reader sits back to ponder a statement or question the protagonist just asked, the reader disconnects from the story to do that. They evaluate the story as a whole, rather than staying right there, right then with the protagonist, like you want them to. And this easily leads to it not feeling like an urgent enough necessity to start the next chapter that night.
Be careful with this.
Reveal new information.
This is similar to both a cliffhanger or SURPRISE! ending, but less in-your-face and really only useful for chapters towards the beginning of your novel. It doesn’t build a ton of tension, but is just intriguing enough to keep the reader going.
This is information your protagonist probably already knows, but only now chooses to reveal to the reader. Some juicy bit of character development or world-building. It doesn’t do as much to build tension, because if the protag already knows it, the reader knows it’s not going to be some shocking revelation that guides the plot. But it does leave the reader curious.
Most importantly: leave the reader wanting more.
No matter how you end your chapter, the one thing you NEED to do is leave your reader wanting more.
Like I said: chapter endings should not be c0mfortable.
If the end of Chapter Eight is comfortable, then–like me–you’ve got some deleting to do.
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
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.
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.
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.
This 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?
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
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
at least one paperclip
several shades of highlighters
a couple shades of pens (I use black and red)
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.
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?
PS. The happiest of birthdays to my CP Kira, who becomes a Twenty Something today! 😀
Life is insane. In a really good way. I’m on spring break right now, which means that I’m ditching homework for career-work. In the past few days I’ve gotten a ton done on Ch1Con 2014 (we’re finally getting semi-close to being ready to put up registration forms and all that!), worked quite a bit on writing-related stuff (revising and I are BFFs), and–less on a career-side and more on a fun-side–a few of my friends and I spent yesterday at the Detroit premiere of Divergent. Which was an incredible experience.
Go see Divergent when it comes out on March 21st. Do it. I’ll do a full review of the movie later, but for now, know that it’s way better than the trailers make it look and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it and I have already bought my tickets to see it opening night. (Also, while at the premiere, one of my friends and I got to have posters signed by Mekhi Phifer, aka Max, and the other two in our group got to do a little Torchwood freaking out with him, and it was all really cool.)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a new 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.
The New Capital branch of the Clinic is a maze of hallways and elevators, and Dr. O’Brien leads me through enough of them that I no longer remember the way back to office suite 4581, let alone my way outside and to the subway station.
I don’t think I’m going to make it to school in time for lunch, as I promised Amelia and Eric I would. I hope they aren’t angry.
We pass a window overlooking the plaza I entered the Clinic’s building from and I stop, stare. We’re at least twenty floors from the ground, and I didn’t even realize it.
Sunlight reflects off the polished glass walls of the neighboring buildings surrounding the plaza. Businessmen and women hurry over the scrubbed pavement below.
Dr. O’Brien turns back. “Please do keep moving.”
“Sorry.” I hurry to catch up.
We ride another two elevators—one up, then a long one down—and step out into a lobby similar to the one I waited in before, only this one is not as nice. Instead of ergonomic chairs and a fish tank in the corner, they have metal folding chairs and a ceiling fan that turns slowly but surely overhead.
Dr. O’Brien walks to the secretary desk and tugs back the sleeve of his lab coat. The secretary scans his Identiband with a nod and no words, and the door beside the desk beeps open.
“Come along, Miss Dylan.”
I follow Dr. O’Brien down one hallway and another, around corners and through doors with locks that will open only with a prick of his thumb. We occasionally pass other employees of the Clinic, but none of them ask who I am or what I’m doing here. Instead they avert their eyes and bow their heads as we walk by, and I keep my eyes focused on the back of Dr. O’Brien’s head in an attempt to stop my mind from wandering.
Before Amelia befriended me, no one at New Capital High knew who I was. Most of them still just know me as that quieter girl, unmemorable, who Amelia Anderson hangs out with for kicks.
Before Amelia befriended me, Ramsey and I were so tightknit you couldn’t fit a pair of scissors between us to snip the thread.
Before Amelia befriended me, Eric spent a lot of his time with Ramsey as well. It was always the three of us, and occasionally a couple of the other kids in our year from Portsmouth. But the day after Ramsey hurt me and the two of us stopped talking, he stopped talking to her too. It wasn’t until Eric abandoned her for Amelia that Ramsey completely lost it.
But I shouldn’t think of all that, I shouldn’t sympathize with Ramsey, not when I’m about to see her and she won’t remember any of the things that I remember anyway.
Dr. O’Brien stops before a smooth black door without a knob and lets the scanner prick his thumb. The skin must be hard and calloused there, always sore, from the Clinic testing his blood to make sure he is who he says he is so often.
The door slides back into the wall. Behind it is a room even smaller than his office, made entirely of metal. A spigot dripping water sticks out of the wall in one corner with a drain beneath it, and a low metal table like the one I sat on before hangs from the wall opposite.
The only thing in the room otherwise is Ramsey.
She’s crouched in the very center, as far from the walls and table that must be her bed and drip, drip, drip of water as she can get. Her knees are pulled up to her face, forehead braced against them, arms wrapped around her head almost like a makeshift halo. Her school uniform is rumpled but clean—of course Ramsey would be the one girl at NCH who didn’t bother to change into nice clothes for the assembly. Her hair is pulled back in a frizzy, practical bun.
She doesn’t look up as we enter.
Ramsey. Her name is on my lips.
Not the Ram, but Ramsey, my friend. It’s hard to see the brutish bully she transformed into these past few months when she is so pathetic and quiet on the floor.
“Carp.” Dr. O’Brien barks it out. No more Miss Carp and poor girl, but just her last name used as a command to look up and recognize the girl he has brought with him.
I shrink into the doorway. Dr. O’Brien lays a hand gentler than his voice on my shoulder and prods me forward. He steps away, back into the hallway. The door slides shut between us, sealing me in with the girl who attacked me yesterday.
My heart thuds so hard it feels like my entire chest will cave in from the pressure. I press my back against the door and don’t take my eyes of Ramsey’s forehead, where acne has broken out across her skin.
What if this has all been a hoax, and they haven’t sent me in here to question Ramsey, but rather to lock me up as well? What if I never see my father, or Calvin, or Amelia, or Eric again?
Goodness, I’d even prefer see Stephanie Jones to the girl I do see before me, now.
Ramsey lifts her head and traces my shaking body with tired eyes. She chews her lip. “They send you in here to get me to apologize?”
Her voice is high, sweet. It doesn’t fit the words or her current appearance.
“We—we just want to know why you did it.” My voice trembles.
She laughs. “Did what exactly? You know me, Alexa. You know I’ve done a lot of things that could make the Clinic upset with me.”
You know me, Alexa. That isn’t right.
“They said you didn’t remember me.” I say it to myself, but the metal walls and ceiling and floor make everything echo a thousand times, so she hears me all the same.
Ramsey laughs again. “They’re right. I don’t remember you. I don’t know you. But you know me, Alexa.”
“So you know that we’ve been friends since year zero?”
“Right.” She nods. “That’s it. That’s how we know each other.”
This conversation isn’t going at all how I expected.
I’m grasping at air, all the thoughts and ideas of things I had to say dissipating like smoke. The door is frigid against the back of my hot neck.
“Why did you hit me?”
“And we’re finally there.” She twirls a single finger. “I hit you because it was a good idea.”
“Why was it a good idea?”
She shrugs, but her words are not at all nonchalant. “Because they were going to offer recruitment to you. And you were going to say yes. And that would not be a good idea.”
“You didn’t know they were going to recruit me.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Didn’t I?”
“Of course not. That would be an impossibility. No one ever knows if they’ll be recruited by the Clinic before it happens, and they almost never recruit year elevens anyway. You had no way of knowing.”
Plus, they recruited me early because of Ramsey.
My shoulders stiffen.
A deep, irrefutable problem exists within the Clinic’s logic.
Dr. O’Brien told me they recruited me because of Ramsey. He told me it was beneficial to them to recruit me now rather than later, because they needed help figuring out Ramsey.
But his partner called my name at the Recruitment Assembly before Ramsey even brought herself onto their radar by raising her fist.
Which means they recruited me early for some other reason, and Ramsey just happened to get in the way.
“I see you working out something, there.” The dark bags under her eyes make her look almost ghoulish. She grins.
“Doctor O’Brien?” I glance around the cell, but can’t find a security camera to speak to. I direct my words to the corner above the spigot. “Doctor O’Brien, I have a question.”
“Goodness, you’re like a little amnesic puppet now, aren’t you?”
I turn to Ramsey again, lightning-fast. “What did you call me?”
Her smile falls. She looks at her shoes. “Nothing. Of course not. Nothing.”
“Of course not what?”
She doesn’t reply.
“Doctor O’Brien,” I call to the ceiling.
“You said yes, didn’t you.” Ramsey still doesn’t look up. “You said yes to working with them.”
“Only because they need to figure out what’s wrong with you.”
“What’s wrongwith me?” Ramsey picks at her nail. “Tell me, dear, sweet, naïve Alexa: What did you say right before your jaw bruised my fist.”
I cross my arms. “That’s an interesting way of approaching the fact that you hit me.”
Her eyes flick up to meet mine, and I’m so shocked by the firmness of the action, I don’t look away.
“I said yes.”
“Why? Did you want to say yes?”
My mouth is open, but no words come out. I lick my lips, then try again. “I guess so?”
“No, you did not. I can see it on your face. You didn’t want to. So why did you say it?”
I don’t know how to respond. I said yes because it was the right thing to say, didn’t I? Does it truly matter if I wanted it or not if it was the right thing to do?
Ramsey points a finger at me. Her arm shakes. “Exactly. And do you want to know why those other kids said no when they were recruited?”
I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, but I can’t figure out how to shape my mouth, how to move my tongue, to push the words past my lips.
“They said no because the Clinic trained them to. You said yes because the Clinic trained you to. Why do you think no one ever stands there and deliberates over their answer before responding? Because it’s predetermined. It’s all predetermined. All of you robots just do what the Clinic tells you to and then hope for the best.”
“That’s not true.” I mean it, but my tone is weak.
She smirks. “Can you prove that?”
“No.” I force some of the confidence back into my voice. “But you also can’t prove that hitting me was a good idea, now can you?”
She throws her head back when she laughs this time, and some of her hair pulls free from the bun. It floats around her face, catches in the light. “Alexa, dear, it’s not my fault my plan didn’t work out. I was hoping knocking you out might also knock some sense back into your head, but maybe it truly is all gone.”
Goosebumps rise on my arms. “You’re insane.”
Her head snaps forward. Her stare locks onto mine. “Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s crazy.”
I stare at her. She stares back.
A sound comes from the other side of the door, and I spin to face it. I slam my hand against the black metal. “Let me out.” Footsteps approaching. “Let me out!”
From behind me comes the tinny clatter of shoes against metal; Ramsey standing.
I turn back to face her. “Don’t come near me.” She takes a step. “Stay away. I’m warning you, stay away!”
The door swishes open behind me and I stumble backward into the hallway. Dr. O’Brien is right there, something shiny in his hand—a gun?—and a woman wraps her arms around my middle, tries to pull me further from the cell.
Ramsey is too quick for them. Clammy fingers snake around my left wrist and pull me back towards her. Hot, moist breath presses the inside of my ear.
She whispers, “Tell me what color your Identiband is.”
I almost ask, How do you know that? How do you know it’s been changing color? But the words catch in my throat. I choke on them.
The woman is still pulling me away while Dr. O’Brien presses the gun to Ramsey’s temple and barks orders to get back in the cell, and if she were insane she would smile, but she doesn’t. Instead she looks sad.
I meet Ramsey’s eye, and something desperate reflects there. She is desperate for my answer.
My Identiband is flashing back and forth so quickly it could be a strobe light. I am dizzy just from the thought.
Before you read this post, please note: A reader brought it to my attention that she thinks it sounds like I’m not willing to take critique, here. That is not my intention.
I love critique. I will always listen to critique, because I know I’m not perfect and I need help to make my writing better. That’s not what this post is supposed to be about. It’s also not supposed to be about me saying that there is anything wrong with my critique partners–between their opinions or the ways they critique–because there is nothing wrong with them. I love them. I love it when they’re sassy or thoughtful or sweet or any combination of the three. Me writing this post has nothing to do with a problem with them and everything to do with a problem with me.
I got so scared of making a mistake, recently, that I could no longer tell whether a decision was right or not.
This post is supposed to be about me learning that my voice matters just as much as everyone else’s–that my novelsshould ultimately reflect the style and ideals that I want them to–and that I, as a writer and individual, need to learn to trust my own instincts, sometimes.
That does not mean I will not take critique. That does not mean I’m not willing to rewrite scenes and revise plot lines and work with someone else to make my writing stronger. It just means that I’m learning to bring myself into the equation, as well. If I disagree with a suggestion, I’m going to bring it to the other person’s attention, and work with them to come up with something that we both agree on, rather than blindly following what they tell me to.
Critique is good, dear reader. But it’s all about how you interpret it. And that is the point of this post.
I really don’t know how much of all of this I should be saying. And by “all of this” I mean “talking about the revisions I’ve spent the past month doing on CADENCE.”
I wasn’t planning on talking about the revisions at all, actually, but Wednesday felt like a perfect time to mention them. And, here I am again, two days later, writing another blog post.
Because while I wasn’t planning on talking about them, right now I feel like I need to.
I finished my own changes to CADENCE on Saturday. They involved lots of rewriting, cutting and condensing and adding scenes, and attempting to deal with my apparent obsession with dialogue tags (I have no idea WHY there were so many dialogue tags in CADENCE up until this point, but I cut about a thousand words worth of them during line edits last week). Then I sent the manuscript off to four critique partners, all of whom I would trust with my life, and therefore I trust with a red pen.
The first critique landed in my inbox just a few hours after pressing send: CP Numero Uno loved the novel, loved the changes I had made (she and CP #2 had both read an earlier draft, back right before I began querying) and had very minimal suggestions for improving it.
The next day, CP #2 sent me her critique of the first few chapters, with the same sorts of suggestions: “Oh, there’s a typo here, an awkwardly worded sentence there. Maybe add something to further flesh-out what you’re saying in this paragraph?”
–All in all, those are the kinds of critiques I live for, because they mean I must be doing something right. They give me confidence in my decisions as a writer, and make me feel like my “maybe, someday I’ll be good enough to be published” pipe dream isn’t all that much of a pipe dream after all. I happily implemented my CPs’ suggestions and tucked the manuscript away for when the critiques from my other two CPs–the ones who hadn’t read CADENCE before–began appearing in my inbox.
The next couple days passed in a whirl of WriteOnCon and relaxing with books that have already been published (because, believe me: you get tired of reading ones you need to edit, after a while). Then Thursday came, and with it the next wave of critiques.
And Critique Partners Numberos Tres & Cuatro were not nearly as glowing as the first two.
Now, don’t get me wrong: neither CP #3 or 4 were mean or rude or ANYTHING of the sort in their critiques. These girls are awesome, and they really have just been giving me the tough love treatment I ask my critique partners to hit me with. However, their tough love also involved comments on rewriting scenes, restructuring whole chapters, and other major overhauls that made me want to simultaneously vomit my heart out and throw my laptop against hard surfaces. Like concrete, from the top of a very tall building.
I trust my critique partners with all my being. I know they just want what’s best for my novel. There’s a reason I chose these particular four people, out of the more-than-a-dozen who volunteered to read CADENCE without my even asking*, to be my CPs.
But as I sat alone in my room freaking out last night about which comments to take seriously, and which ones to disregard as we-write-different-styles opinion, and which ones to take into consideration but ultimately not act upon right now, it occurred to me that I’ve been spending so much time trusting my critique partners’ judgement–trying to make the novel what they want it to be–that I’ve stopped trusting my own.
As much as I love my CPs and want to make them happy, what’s ultimately important, with CADENCE, is making myself happy. It needs to be the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. And if I don’t agree with one of their suggestions, I should trust my own judgement enough to make a decision on how to handle it.
It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true. This is not something to rely on other people to figure out. If they don’t like something that I’m doing stylistically, or they don’t like my plot or narrator’s voice, oh well. It’s not for them to decide. It’s my responsibility.
I don’t know if it gets easier, when you’re older, to look at these sorts of things and go, “Okay. I value your opinion. But since this is my novel, ultimately I need to value mine more.” Maybe it’s just because I’m nineteen years old and everyone always talks about putting others first. But it’s difficult to look at something and truly believe that my opinion matters more than–or even just as much as–someone else’s.
And I’m working on that. When it comes to me, when it comes to my own personal work, my opinion needs to matter, above my friends’ and family’s and colleagues’. I have the final say in what happens with my writing for a reason. While most of the time it’s good to put others before me, this is one situation where it’s important to put myself first, because CADENCE is my novel. I need to take ownership of it. I’m the only one who can.
So yes, it’s important to listen to and respect my lovely, wonderful, brilliant critique partners (you have no idea how much I love you guys). But it’s also important to look at some of their suggestions–like rewriting my opening paragraph because it didn’t grab CP #4 enough, despite the fact that none of the other CPs had problems with it–and say, “You know what? This opening paragraph has been working just fine for me so far. It’s gotten me requests from literary agents. I like my opening paragraph and I worked really hard on it. At least for now, I’m not going to change it.”
Someday down the line, I may rewrite that opening paragraph anyway. But for now, these opinions on CADENCE are just that: Opinions. Not law I need to follow. And they’re coming from only a couple of readers (most of whose advice has been oh-so-helpfully contradicting one another’s), out of what will hopefully someday be many (knock on wood).
It’s time to stop listening to what everyone else wants CADENCE to be, and focus on making it my own instead.
Everyone in the publishing industry is always talking about how you need a thick skin in order to take rejection and critique and reviews. But I think there’s also something to be said about knowing when to look someone in the eye and say, “No.” There’s something to be said for standing up for yourself, against your own doubts and fears; in trusting your own judgement.
I will never be able to please everyone with my writing, but at the least I should be able to please myself.
Of course I’m going to listen to my CPs about some things–like maybe how a sentence reads awkward or a paragraph needs a little more fleshing out or a sequence is confusing. But otherwise, it’s time to start listening to my own judgement. It’s time to start believing in and backing my own decisions. Because at the end of the day, this novel isn’t theirs. It’s mine.
One of my major fears, last night, in deciding what to do about these not-so-glowing critiques, was trying to figure out how I would feel over CADENCE being rejected, based on whether I took the suggestions or not. If I took them and agents rejected me, would I feel like I’d sold out? What would those what-ifs be? “What if I hadn’t listened to my CPs? Would the agents have still rejected me if the novel was more my own?” But what if I didn’t take the suggestions, and they rejected me then? “What if I had listened? What if the agent had preferred the plot to go in that other direction instead?”
I will never know how this whole thing would have turned out if I’d decided to rewrite parts–and possibly most–of CADENCE, based on the conflicting, confusing reactions of my critique partners. But it’s not something I should worry about.
I would much rather have an agent reject me for something I’ve consciously done on my own terms than accept me for something that no longer feels like it’s mine.
This story isn’t over yet. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, where it’ll end. Maybe it’ll be a happily ever after, and maybe it’ll be yet another dead end on the path to publication. But either way, it’s time to start trusting myself again.
I don’t know which is worse, jumping blindly or jumping with your eyes wide open. And I’m not exactly sure which I’m about to do.
But I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of not trusting my own judgement and trying to please everyone else, even at the detriment of my own happiness.
So I’m going to jump. And I’m not looking back.
*If any of you are reading this, by the way, I want to give you a massive hug, because you’re great and I love you and I’m so thankful for having you in my life. (But no, you’re not getting a copy until it gets published. And that “until” should be read as a very big “unless.”)
It has now been a little over three weeks since I finished the first draft of Dreamcatcher, and since then I’ve done a second draft myself, had one of my amazing critique friends do a critique (and implemented her changes into a third draft), and now I’m eager to do more revising, just as soon as my other two amazing critique friends finish up. And then I’m giving it to my mom to edit. And then I’m giving it to one of my English teachers to edit (believe it or not, I currently have multiple English teachers — that’s what happens when you’re way too obsessed with English).
… And, in conclusion, I’m probably going to have like a billion and one drafts done by the time my “two month waiting period” is up and I actually get to the point where I’m allowed to look at it.