Draft One of ??? Complete

I actually have a complete first draft of a novel! I wasn’t sure it would ever happen. Hang on while I savour it for a moment…

…Ok. About the draft:

1) Title TBD. The story has the same main character and universe that I created in one of my short stories, but I may or may not keep the original title. I’m currently thinking not, the story has changed a lot, but I am yet to think of a good alternative so we’ll see. 2) It’s a mess. It is a first draft as Joanne Fedler describes here: The first draft and the rewriteVomit in a bucket. An apt, if gross, metaphor. But, all the pieces to the puzzle are there. What remains is for me to go back and decide which pieces to keep, which to throw away, and what needs reshaping for a better fit.   Continue reading

What You Can Get

I was reading an article the other day. The details of the article are not important, but as I was reading there was a line that stood out to me:

“Are you focused on what you want, or what you think you can get?”

From the outside, it may appear that I’m doing pretty well going for what I want. I’ve given up not one, but two possible career paths with which I had every reason to think I could be successful—and which would likely have given me long-term financial stability—to pursue writing . Why? Because I want to (not a satisfactory answer to the many raised eyebrows out there).

I want to know what it’s like to make my own Continue reading

The Edit Loop

Aside from Dosterra, I am also working on a novel that I actually plan to complete, edit and refine before subjecting anyone else to it.

I started it over the summer, got about halfway through, didn’t like where it was going and started again. I did make some progress. This time, I made it a little farther than halfway before getting stuck. As I discussed the other day being unsure what to write next tempted me to get into the editing process. Bad idea.

I resisted the urge for a little while and actually think I know now where I want things to go next. Unfortunately, in the meantime I read How Not to Write a Novel  and now I know how many mistakes I’ve been making.

Tug-of-war over, I’ve tipped over the edge. I’m going through it from the beginning…again. Though I’m hardly starting from scratch, it feels like I am. Still, I just can’t leave what I’ve written as is. I’m trapped in the edit loop, and it may take a miracle for me to  get out and finish this thing—the danger of working without a deadline I guess.

Buddhists say it is impossible to love and hate something at the same time. I beg to differ. Maybe tomorrow I’ll work on a short story instead.

How Not to Write a Novel – Review

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To all aspiring novelists out there—to all writers period—I highly recommend reading How Not to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. Between them, these two authors have lots of experience with writing, editing, teaching, and reviewing. They’ve seen a lot of good and bad writing come and go.

Rather than try to explain what makes good writing good, as most writing how-to books do, this book explains instead what makes bad writing bad. Going through the major points of plot, character, and style, it gives detailed examples demonstrating the various traps most new writers fall into, send their precious manuscripts to the trash can—sorry, recycle bin.

Some of the tips you will have seen before, though probably worded somewhat differently, if you’ve ever read anything on writing. And yet, you probably still make these mistakes from time to time, and another reminder wouldn’t hurt. For example: “Fuck You!” He Said Profanely: Where the author uses adverbs to no purpose.

Others will be new, at least they were to me, like: The Joan Rivers Pre-Novel Special: Where clothing is given too much prominence.

Though written with the novel in mind, the majority of these blunders are not unique to novel writing. The examples are often woefully exaggerated for humour’s sake, but also clearly make their point. As essential as examples of the ‘right thing’ are, examples of the ‘wrong thing’ are valuable too. It’s a lot easier to find mistakes in your writing when you know what the mistakes look like.

Also, the book was simply fun to read. Not a hint of textbookiness to be found. I will warn you, however, unless you are most impeccable writer in existence (in which case, what are you doing on my blog?) it will at times be painful when you see hints of your own writing peeking out from the what‑not‑to-do pile.

Though I’d like to think none of my writing is quite as bad as the comical passages in this book depict, there was lots of ‘yeah, ok, I might do that sometimes.’, and ‘Crap, I’ve definitely done that.’, going through my mind as I came across the traps most applicable to me. I’d list them all, but there are too many (feel free to read any of my writing and I’m sure you’ll find a few on your own).

Here and there, I got to think ‘Phew, I know I’ve never done that.’ Usually when the error described in no way applied to the kind of writing I do, like: Gibberish for Art’s Sake: Wherein indecipherable lyricism baffles the reader. I have been accused of confusing my readers in the past (Dosterra Chapter one), but certainly not with lyricism.

How Not to Write a Novel also includes: The Crepitating Parasol; The Whatchamcallit; and “Yo, Charlemagne, how dost thy big war?”, to name a few more intriguing subtitles that make it impossible not to wonder, ‘What’s that about?’ If you’d like to know, pay a visit to Amazon, or your local Chapters.

What to do, What to do…Tug-of-War

I’ve got a few things on my writing to-do list right now: I’m working on a novel–aside from Dosterra, which is also a work in progress–I have a flash-fiction piece set aside for future editing before I decide where to submit it, and of course there’s Letter From Your Girl, which requires tweaking, but as I mentioned yesterday I’m giving it a few days, maybe longer, for my maturity and professional detachment to kick back in after the critique I received set off all of my defensive alarms.  There was a time when I didn’t take feedback personally…before I became a writer. 

Anyway, I decided I should work on my novel.  It’s been a few days since I’ve tackled it, and leaving it for too long can cause me to lose the flow. Problem, I’ve hit a little wall as far as what I think should happen next. There is no magic solution to this. Normally it’s just a matter of sitting down and starting, and eventually something comes even if it’s only a place holder until a better idea replaces it. This time when I sat down, I was overcome with a very persistent urge to go back to the beginning and edit what I’ve already written. My rationale being, by the time I finish doing that I’ll know what I want to have happen next.

Sounds logical. The thing is, any site where you can find writing tips advises against this. They say ‘write first, edit later’ for the very simple, and true, reason that the write-edit-write-edit cycle can become an endless, inescapable loop. I know this. Still, half of my brain wanted to progress the story, the other half wanted to edit.

The tug-of-war came out a tie. Result: neither story progression, nor editing occurred. I wondered over to youtube for a while, played my guitar a little–yes my life is very tough these days–made some lunch, played with the cats, and the curser on the page didn’t budge.      20131030_231920[1] 20131030_232020[1]

Finally, in danger of wasting the entire day, I gave up on the novel and abandoned the official to-do list all together. Instead, I went to my unfinished-stories folder and picked out another piece I had started a while ago, but abandoned, and managed to move that story forward by a few hundred words. Not much, and I have no plans for what I’ll do with it when it’s finished, but some writing got done and that makes for a good day.

 

 

On The Premises Take Two

The online fiction magazine, On The Premises, has a contest every few months based on a specific premise that must somehow be incorporated into the story. As I discussed in a previous post , the first time I entered one of their contests (the premise was ‘Innerworkings’), I didn’t make the final round of judging and opted to pay ($15) to have my story critiqued.

I seek out critiques of my work and comments as much as possible because for all the research on ‘how to write effectively’ I could ever do, the only way to know if I’m succeeding is to hear what people think about my final product. Preferably people who aren’t too close to me to be honest, and who are better writers than I am (which I admit may be a lot of people, but not everybody). Getting feedback from editors who have seen a lot of good and bad writing come and go is very useful.

Unfortunately, most ezines I’ve encountered don’t provide feedback unless they accept your story and the expected editing process begins. OTP, however will critique any entry if asked, and the contests themselves are great writing prompts. If you’re looking for feedback on your writing, it’s worth considering OTP as a place to submit your work. The feedback I received the first time around was thorough and helpful, so I decided to give it another go.

This time the premise was ‘Instructions’. Stepping away from my usual sci-fi/speculative comfort zone, the story I submitted was a WWII, historical fiction narrative inspired by some letters my grandfather wrote from 1944/45. I kept the historical details as close to reality as I could, putting my protagonist in the times and places my grandfather would have been—give or take—but all the characters were fiction.

I didn’t win a prize this time either 😦 but I did make the top ten 🙂 and as a reward received my critique for free.

The thing about critiques is, well, they’re critical. In this case they did start by saying:  We consider “Letter From Your Girl” one of the ten best stories that we received for contest #21. You might be able to sell it to another market without changing a thing.

This statement should have made me feel wonderful and put me in a mind set to take the subsequent comments in stride, and it did—for about ten seconds. Then I went on to read about all the weak sentences and confusing points they found in my story, how they had trouble feeling the emotions of my protagonist, and so on. The knowledge that a) they liked my story better than most they received, and b) I asked for this feedback, became totally irrelevant while my guts were being gouged out by a carefully-sharpened pencil.

Was that a bit dramatic? I thought so too. So, I took a deep breath and realized, a) most of their observations were not that bad, certainly not impossible to fix before I send the story elsewhere, and b) they were right.

However, there was one thing in the critique I took issue with. You can make your own judgment about what it says about On The Premises staff (or about me). And feel free to comment and tell me I’m making an issue out of nothing…or that I’m not.

Here are some sentences taken directly from the story:

“…sharing the New Brunswick birth place had created an automatic bond between them.”

“The troop train rolled into the Moncton station…”

“…he was sure he could hitch a ride the rest of the way to Saint John.”

“Someone who’d been back in Canada for some time, no doubt.”

“…celebration at the sight of the Canadian troops and tanks.”

Here are some sentences taken directly from the critique of my story:

“Why this family decides to adopt an American soldier…”

“…when he gets back to the USA…”

Do we see a problem here?

I can understand how the mention of two Canadian cities might escape notice. I can’t claim to know the name of every American city. I could even let the misunderstanding of New Brunswick go. It is one of our smaller provinces, and there does happen to be a city called New Brunswick in New Jersey, as well as a Brunswick, Georgia. There were also multiple mentions of the Staghound armoured car used by commonwealth forces (not US forces) during WWII, but that is a reference I probably would have missed myself until recently.

However, I have some trouble reconciling that I could refer to Canada directly twice—and we’re talking about a short story here, not a novel—not to mention, the abbreviation ‘cdn’ appearing about half a dozen times in letter excerpts throughout the story, and yet the judges for On The Premises made the assumption that my protagonist was American. Maybe I’m just nitpicking, but it’s hard to believe my work was being given even a fraction of the reader’s full attention.

Actually, on first noticing this oversight, images of my story being read at two in the morning while working on bottle of wine number two ran through my head. My impulse was to be incensed. Why should I listen to what they have to say about my writing when clearly they weren’t even awake when they read it? Do they even know there were countries other than the USA in WWII? I wonder if they’d be shocked to learn the war started before December 1941.

Oh dear, being dramatic again. I took another deep breath. This lapse does not mean their other comments on my writing do not deserve my full attention. For now I’m putting both the story and the critique aside. Sometime later, I will read them both again, fix my story as best I can, and submit it elsewhere. In the meantime, will I enter the next OTP contest? Probably not, but maybe the one after that.

Too much information…or too little?

Perhaps this issue is less relevant in the science fiction realms, where I spend most of my time, than other genres, but it’s still something that requires consideration. The question of accuracy in the details when writing. When to do research, and when to make it up. Or, leave it out all together.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being irked when reading a book or watching a TV show that gets the facts or details wrong…or just makes you shutter thinking, Come on, seriously? For me there is one in particular that comes up over and over again in just about any show or book that depicts anyone in uniform. Military, cops, fictional freedom-fighting force from another planet, it doesn’t seem to matter.

This major pet peeve of mine is a fictional senior officer of any kind emphasizing their command by saying…you’ve all heard it…”That’s an order!” or worse “That’s an order, soldier!”

Blech!

Every time I hear those words I cringe. It’s like someone scraping the bottom of a dinner plate repeatedly with their steak knife seemingly unaware that they have already successfully sliced the meat. Perhaps it’s because my military experience is Canadian (and Navy/Air Force at that), but never, in four years at military college or in five years of service afterward, do I ever recall hearing anyone say those words (and I was called a lot of things but never soldier)–except maybe in jest. If I did hear such I thing, I would fear the individual who spoke was at high risk of finding shaving cream in their shoes.

That said, it would appear from most of what I’ve read (and watched on television) that most writers are ok with filling the gaps in their knowledge with believable-ish jargon from their imaginations, or copied clichés that they know the majority of us have been brainwashed to accept as whatever they are trying to represent–like a take-no-bullshit officer let’s say. And does it really matter? Obviously I continue to watch these shows and read these books despite the momentary break in the illusion.

As Stephen King says: I want a little bit, but not the whole thing. Don’t confuse me with the facts. I want to know just enough so that I can lie colorfully. Actually, it was one of his characters who said it and I think the character was quoting someone else, but the character was a writer (I’ve noticed a lot of writers like to write protagonists who are also writers. Write what ya know and all that, I suppose). Anyway, this passage brings to the forefront that magic balance between leaving the reader dizzyingly confused and making them grind their teeth with irritation at the writer’s ignorance.

I am still struggling with this one. Though I’m sure I have been, and will be in the future, guilty of the latter, I tend more toward the former–so I’m told–especially when the topic I’m writing about is of particular interest to me. If I’m interested the reader will be too, right? Not necessarily. Take the early chapters of Dosterra for example where I try to combine my understanding of quantum physics with the possibilities my imagination leaps to based on that knowledge, mostly to the confusion of everyone but my husband who loves the geekiest of hard science fiction more than most.

Part of the problem, of course, is that when it comes to these topics ‘I know just enough to be dangerous’, as they say. I do have a fairly strong science background, but when it comes to quantum physics and cosmology (good Sci Fi material) I am mostly self taught. I think I understand what I read as well as the next person, but I don’t always pass the Richard Feynamn litmus test: Could I explain it to a guy standing at the bus stop? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you have a firm grasp on the concept, if the answer is ‘no’…well…maybe keep your thoughts to yourself, or do some more research.

Even when I do pass this test, how much does the reader really care? Usually not as much as they care about the experiences of the characters themselves. The other stuff is mainly there to make the experience feel real. Beyond that the details can get in the way, or simply bore the reader. The danger is, however, if you gloss over the details too much then the reader feels cheated or patronized, and that’s no good either. Confused yet?

My latest food for thought for other aspiring writers out there.