Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Things Change

I noticed awhile ago and I’m going to point out now something inevitable in the writing process… or at least in my writing process.

Things Change

I went into this first book with fourteen pages of notes. World building, character info, plotting… It was all there. But as I actually wrote, I found that my plan wasn’t always what necessarily happened.

-A main character became very secondary, nearly unimportant
-Main characters didn’t end up with the exact same personality I had planned for them.
-Several characters I hadn’t even dreamed up were suddenly there, with vibrant personalities, begging for big parts.
-Not a single chapter flowed the way I had it plotted. They didn’t generally deviate too far, but they were always different.
-Several chapters I hadn’t planned on came into existence. Like you get to chapter X and realize that this big thing needs to happen in order to get to Z. Insert Y.

It’s like the book has a mind of its own and I’m just a tool in the process of bringing it to life.

On the whole though, I think the changes were great. The characters and scenes came out better than I’d imagined them. They seemed to just flow, like they were meant to be a certain way and if I tried to force them to go my way they’d come out like twisted scrap metal instead of a shiny new car.

I’ve learned from this experiences that plotting ahead is a good idea because that’s the only thing that’s kept me from getting lost, but that I have to be flexible, because the stories and characters will change, whether I want them to or not.

Fantasmic, this world of writing, isn’t it?

Number Freak

Okay, I’ll admit it… I love numbers. Not like, LOVE.
So naturally the thing to do with a writing project is figure out the statistics for it… right? Okay, so most people wouldn’t do that, but what can I say? I’m strange.

Anyway, I spent last night finishing Ch 18, rereading chapters 14-18 (finding pleasantly that I still like them), and figuring out all the numbers for the project. It’s fun. Perhaps if I write ten books I can do an analysis of my writing. Categories: over time (aka: experience), by book length, by content depth, etc.

Yeah, I know I’m a freak.

But here are the stats nonetheless. Enjoy! (unless its not your thing, in which case, skip over this post entirely *wink*)

Note: everything in white is solid, color is variable.

Words per average ms page: 550
Words per average book page: 300

Book 1
(yes it has a name, but I won’t dare post it here until editors approve)
Began: August 29th, 2008
Finished: _________, 2008
Average words per day: 2-5 thousand
Average chapter length: 4,000 words, 7 ms pages, 13 book pages

Half length (thru ch 13): 96 ms pages, 177 book pages (~53,000 words)
Full length (thru ch 26): 180 ms pages, 330 book pages (~100,000 words) expected

End of chapter 19 expected at 75,000 words, 136 ms pages (3/4 the way through)
Currently at end of chapter 18 (71,500 words, 130 ms pages, 240 book pages)

Edit: Well, I looked up the manuscript style preferred by editors and agents and its different from what I was doing. I type in 12 pt Times New Roman single spaced, which gives about 550 words per page. They like 12 pt Courier double spaced, which only gives 210 words per page, so bear in mind that my ms numbers above reflect MY ms type, not THEIR type (which I’ll have to use when I actually submit stuff, but is largely irrelevant now)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Slash and Burn

I know you’re probably supposed to wait until you’ve finished the whole rough draft before you start revising, but that darn first chapter was bugging me so much. It was all I could think about. I know, sad right?

So I revised.
So sue me. ;) (That’s a joke! I’m broke, so you wouldn’t get anything anyway)

I ended up cutting about half of the first chapter out entirely. And it was painful. But it’s soooo much better now. Probably not top quality (give me like six more revisions – I’m a perfectionist), but it’s definitely better. Just above the “that sucked” line. Woot! What an accomplishment. lol

I’m thinking that all but the very best authors probably have trouble with the first chapter. It’s like this. You know a thousand things that the reader needs to know, but you have to space those things out over the whole book and even then they only get about five hundred. It’s hard. And then you have to prioritize which twenty or so are too important to leave out in this chapter or that one.

To clarify, I already knew not to dump a backstory into the first (ten) chapter(s), so I didn’t do that. But I gave details about typical day to day life, just so the reader has some jumping off point. Unfortunately, nothing exciting happens in day to day life, so much of the chapter was pointless and bland.

Hence the slashing.

Fortunately, now that I’ve seen what a drastic change it can make, I think a big edit like that will be easier from now on. Although I suspect it will probably happen to every first chapter I ever write.

Fact: Getting a project (school essay, fantasy book, anything really) started is always the hardest part. Chapter two through about eight were super easy and by chapter nine the story was getting complex enough that it started slowing down. But by far, chapter one was the hardest to write. Hardest to edit. Hardest, period.

I wish chapter ones just never existed. :)
That’s my happy thought for the day.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Weak Points

Ugh! It’s hard to know what to do when your biggest weak point is your first chapter. You know, the part you send off for review when agents ask for it. I’m staring at it, going ‘well this is all important stuff that I can’t really cut’ so what’s a girl to do.

Starting with chapter two it all starts to flow and be peachy (chapter two is my mom’s personal favorite so far), but that’s not what I would get to show an agent. Not to mention readers. Chapter one is supposed to dazzle, to motivate a reader to keep reading, but what do you do when your chapter one is the worst spot in the whole story?

I’d throw it out if I could, but the protagonist refers back to it so many times throughout the rest of the story that it’s impossible… Ah well, I guess it’ll just have to be rewrite rewrite rewrite. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go…

I Really Love This Stuff

I’ll admit readily that I didn’t expect the writing process to be fun or easy. Just thinking back to all those papers in college, and even the two semesters of creative writing, I cringe. I liked the short stories I wrote in there well enough, but pushing out a mere thousand words a week was challenging.

This first book of mine is a completely different experience. I’ve found that I love telling the story and usually have to force myself to stop writing at the end of the night. I think that the writing style is far from my potential, but I do like the story.

I feel that this is a necessary step – like there were some things I just needed to get out before I could really write. Perhaps after some heavy revision it will be sellable, but even if it never gets into bindings, I will still appreciate the experience.

To give you some background, this book was originally planned out as four, but I decided to squeeze them all together and do some serious outline updating. With the added twists, I can easily see two or three sequels to it, but – as my favorite agent blogger says – if the first book doesn’t sell, why bother with the sequels?

My problem is that I’ve created this world, Ralyn, and the events in Book 1 change that world in such a way that it opens up many new possibilities. (Much like Tally’s experience in the Uglies series opens the world up for Extras). So if Book 1 doesn’t sell, what on Earth – excuse me, Ralyn – will I do with my world? ‘Tis a dilemma I must deal with if the time comes…

Tips from an Agent

Well, I’m about two thirds the way finished with my first book, so I decided to get some information on how to go about the publishing world.

There seems to be three ways:
-Self publishing (*shudder*)
-Contacting mid to low level pub houses on your own (and deal with the headache that comes with the industry)
-Get an agent

Now, the smartest thing to me would be to get an agent. For one thing, if an agent likes your work enough to take you on, you know you’re on the write – I mean, right – track. Plus they know what they’re doing a heck of a lot more than I do. The one bit of advice I’ve run across numerous times is avoid any agent who charges upfront fees. Sounds smart to me. As far as I can tell, agents make their money by selling books, not reading unpublished authors’ works.

So stumbling around the internet world, I found an agent’s blog that I found both entertaining and full of good information. (http://pubrants.blogspot.com/). Here are the big highlights I found in terms of advice to “newbies.”

-No info dump (first chapter, second, or otherwise)
-No repetitious recaps (character relaying to other characters what just happened)
-Don’t be dialogue heavy. Balance your dialogue and action
-Show don’t tell (yeah we’ve heard that a million times, but she specifies to be careful to not overload with dialogue about offstage action)
-No pointless dialogue
-No summarizing what the reader should have gotten out of a scene or conversation

So sure, that’s a lot of “no”s and “don’t”s, but I think it’s sound advice. Those are sometimes hard pitfalls to avoid as a writer, but as a reader, I recognize that I don’t want to read that kind of gunk.

Looking over my own work, I’ve found myself guilty of several of those crimes. Some things to work out during the editing process, for sure.



I doubt I’d be nearly as excited about this project if it weren’t for what I think of as my personal cheerleaders.

I have a grandmother who’s encouraged me to write for years and I swear she has more faith in my ability than I do most of the time. It’s good to have her at my back. Then I have a cousin – who’s just as much a fantasy freak as I am – reading along. As I finish each chapter, he’s asking to read it. That, in and of itself, is encouraging, because it tells me that my story is interesting to someone other than just me. It also tells me that I havn't completely botched the job. Now, seeing as I’m in the rough draft phase, I realize that there are some major revisions to come, but all the same, it’s encouraging.

Now the only thing I need is a fellow writer, who understands the writing process, to share the experience with. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t tell someone how it is to be a writer and have them empathize if they themselves don’t write. Believe me, I’ve tried.

So long for now.

Hurdles and Getting Started

So I’ve written off and on for years now, notebooks of ideas piling up, but I never once considered myself to be a writer.

I’ve been wanting to tackle a book project for over a year now, ideas accumulating, characters forming, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that everything sort of fell into place. One epiphany and one established author’s advice worked together to tear down the mental blocks I had set up against writing.

Firstly, I realized that nothing I say can be wrong… in my story – in my world – I am authoritative. If I want maroon skies or gargoyles that eat, I can do that… there’s no reason to fear rebuke. (Well, I didn’t make any maroon skies, but the point is still valid).
Things don’t have to be scientifically sound in a fantasy world, so I could let go of the need to make everything make sense – the need to explain everything. Furthermore, I stopped comparing my writing with that of published writers. Sure, some basic principles apply to all of us (show, don’t tell, etc), but I don’t have to emulate them to be successful. I have my own writing style, as they each have theirs.

Secondly, I really liked Stephenie Meyer’s advice that you should write for yourself. She said in an interview (and I’m paraphrasing) that if you liked the story you were writing, then you were a writer and that it didn’t matter whether or not it ever gets published and others liked it. Well with this philosophy in mind, I found myself freed from the pressure of pleasing the crowd. Now I’m writing a story that I like and when it’s done we’ll see if others agree with me.

So now I feel I’ve jumped a few hurdles and taken a sledgehammer to those mind blocks. I have to tell you, it feels great. I began writing on August 29th and I’ve found myself writing 2000-5000 words a night, landing me halfway through chapter seventeen a mere month later. So far I am very pleased with the progress, though I’m already sensing my writing skills improving, which makes this book project seem like the first stepping stone on a long road of story-weaving.

I, for one, am anxious to get to step two.