A not-profound (but kind of entertaining) “writing about writing” essay over at WritersDigest.com about what Orson Scott Card believes to be the four “meta-structures” of novels. (My words, not his.)
Posting this link here because I want to try to keep this little Tumblr alive, at least for a while longer. Life circumstances have made it difficult for me to keep my nose to my muse’s grindstone. (She also seems to have misplaced that grindstone…)
Thus: this instead of how many hours and words. (Since there haven’t been any hours and words in a while.)
Sat down to work on one story, and immediately remembered (saw?) my NaNoWriMo project from 2006. Opened that up. Started reading. Started detailing how it could be better. Got obsessed with that. Like 1.5 hours and 1,200 words (give or take) into that.
One hour on the outline tonight. I think that finishes it. I think. Parts of it still don’t sit right. But I think now it needs to be written. That’s the only way to figure out how all those other parts connect. (Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out…) Anyway. That’s enough for one night.
Take your notes and throw them away. Shred your outlines. Murder your characters and burn down your settings. Do it now. Celebrate the destruction and watch something marvelous rise from the ashes. And then watch that marvelous beast contort into something hideously beautiful by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.
1.5 hours tonight. More outlining. Going through what I already have with a fine-toothed comb. Straightened out a few bits, but there are some tricky snarls toward the end. And that end. That end. That unwritten end. Where I wind up with what’s left (of what’s written down) determines that end. But in the meantime…
One hour tonight of dedicated re-outlining on the Tunguska project. My notes had a bunch of loose ends that I surprised myself by tying up. It gives some new dimensions to the story and keeps with the spirit that I intended all along. This will be a fun one to re-write.
An hour tonight on the Tunguska story’s revisions and re-outlining. More work to do there. I got to the end of “what’s written”, so that’s good enough for one night. But I find myself wondering: What do these characters want? I know—but it’s not in the text. Time to meditate a little on that, and then finish the outline. And then re-outline again from that.
1 hour. The re-tread of that Tunguska story continues. Good progress; about 2/3 of the existing story re-outlined. Another night or two should finish that, but then there’s the fact that it needs to have its ending rounded out.
Meanwhile, I’m going to want to work on that new idea.
1 hour. Meditating, note-taking, and outlining for a new novel. I have a beginning and an end. I can make them meet in the middle later.
Also: actually written/outlined/etc. about 5 hours this week. Haven’t been diligent about posting the updates here. But there it is.
ALSO: Even though I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, why is it that the creative part of my brain has activated itself in an overdrive fashion again? Is it just that I’ve done it four of the last five years and I’ve somehow conditioned myself to look at November as an all-writing-all-the-time month? or what? It’s almost ridiculous.
Tonight: 1 hour of revising and outlining. Got to “the end” (“as written”) of that other project I’ve been poking at. Started detailing what its revisions will look like. Good enough for one night. (For that project, at least.)
“How should one train students to give good, vivid examples in their writing? Should you tell them, Be more specific? I used to do that but I don’t any more, because it’s too vague, not operational. Today I give students a shortcut. I say, “Write physically. Write with physical objects. Put physical objects in your essay.””—
He’s writing more about expository essays (the kind you write for college classes) but I think the advice works equally well for fiction.
And it’s timely. I had a conversation with one of my beta readers today, and he told me that he wound up feeling a strong connection to a character that I kill off in the very first chapter. When I asked him why, he thought about it for a second and said (paraphrased): “It was the fingerless gloves. Just the one little detail gave him this whole life that you didn’t even need to include.”
Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
Laugh at your own jokes.
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Because I haven’t in too long. And but so only one hour tonight. Still waiting for my beta readers to get back to me on that last project. In the meantime: tiny increments on this other, older project.
“An agent’s job is to find an author whose novel is ready for publication, or so close to ready that it makes economic sense for the agent to put the time into helping make it ready, and connect that writer to a publisher. […] getting your work to a publishable level, building a track record that will be attractive to a publishing house, wangling connections that will get you out of the slush pile – that’s your job.”—
Perhaps not the most encouraging report, but it makes sense — even if it contradicts some things that other folks have written. What this means however, is that it really is that important to know the right people, or else have a very strong self-published novel, or else make that investment in something like a trip to Clarion…
Tonight? After a little bit of a break (to work on other things…) 1.5 hours of re-reading/revising on a project I’ve had in the drawer since… Oh, 2009. That one was just for fun. And will be fun to revise. And when it’s done? Maybe I’ll give it away for free. Donations and all that. We’ll see.
“Most people say, “Show, don’t tell,” but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do.”—Colson Whitehead’s Rules for Writing - NYTimes.com
Two hours tonight prepping the manuscript for the beta readers that have volunteered. Not exactly editing, not exactly polishing; more like sanding the roughest edges and surfaces. The egregious typos, the [EMPTY PLACEHOLDERS]—that sort of thing. Made it about halfway. I’ll expect to have it ready for the beta readers in another day or two.
Pushed through the last 3 chapters tonight. Took about 1.5 hours. All my annotations are on the pages now.
Going to step away from this project for a little bit. (A couple days? A week? A month? Not sure yet…)
But in the meantime:
I’m looking for a few beta readers. Are you interested? I warn you, the copy you’ll get will be the barely edited, typo-ridden, colander-of-a-plot, steaming pile of NaNoWriMo that I just read and annotated. But this is A Good Thing. Because I want your feedback. Your raw, visceral, vicious feedback. Seriously: go nuts. (I just did. It feels good to rip this thing to shreds.)
So what do you say? Are you one of my beta readers? Message me here, or on Twitter (@founddrama) and tell me why you should be one of my beta readers. (Serious applicants only.)
Another hour, another two chapters. (But I have work-work to do in just a few minutes, so… have to shut down for that.) Feels good to be close to the end of read/annotate round one. The revisions are coalescing.
1.5 hours tonight. An intense, emotional chapter. A long chapter. This was the chapter where (the first time around) I said to myself: “I need more chapters like this and the only way to do that is to do something like this…”
1.5 hours of reading/revising/editing tonight. Two chapters worth of material. The first had good content, but didn’t all make sense together. The second was damn near perfect the way it was.
I’m happier with this novel’s draft than I thought I would be, now that I’ve taken the time to read it before rushing through and into a complete re-write. There are still plenty of things to change. But, in the spirt of Saint-Exupéry, it is more about what is to be taken away, and not what is to be added or changed.
I’ve also decided to go ahead and start seeking out some beta readers. I won’t even touch up this draft. They’ll get it as-is. (Maybe you’re one of them? Sorry about that.)