Thursday, January 29, 2015

Editing: Second Revision Strategies

It's Dan today, with more on revision techniques. Last week Karlie led a fantastic discussion of methods for draft 2 of a manuscript. Now we've filled all of the holes. We've chipped and filed this project into shape. Now it's time for the detail work: sanding out the rough edges until only a smooth, polished manuscript remains. I thought I'd share my strategies for draft 3, and then I'd love to hear yours.

So here's what your manuscript should look like heading into the second revision:

  • The narrative structure is in place, i.e. everything is in the correct order.
  • Plot holes have been filled. Major inconsistencies have been addressed.
  • The prose might not be perfect, but it's workable and complete (no placeholders).
In other words, we have a workable draft in hand, and now we want to make it a readable draft. A manuscript that grabs the reader and won't let go from start to finish. Areas that I like to focus on:

  1. Pacing. The opening chapters of the book are critical, but also look for stretches where it slows down and doesn't move the plot forward (i.e., places to cut).
  2. Transitions. I don't want to give the reader any chance to put the book down. So I look closely at the scene and chapter breaks, to make sure there's a hook to pull the reader forward.
  3. Text structure. Do you ever hit that groove when building a scene when the words just flow? I get that sometimes, and it usually results in super-long paragraphs. I break up big blocks of text into smaller ones. I also check sentence rhythm, to make sure it's as readable as it can be.
So, that's my smoothing-out process for the second revision. What's yours?

Lisa: This is usually when I really analyze character voice and look for any inconsistencies there. I'm not so good as you, Dan, for knowing what to do for each draft. But somewhere in the second or third revision, I read only for character wording, character line of thinking. It's important that I don't have a character thinking and deciding something because that's what the plot calls for. It has to make sense for his personality type to make that decision. If it doesn't make sense, then I adjust his growth - his arc, so that it's more obvious he has evolved into the type person who would make this decision. He didn't just flip the switch.

I also look at word choice. Every once in a while it's okay to have your characters' speech alike - as long as you have another character remark on it: "Julian, you're starting to sound like Emilie." But most of the time it's not a good practice. If one character says "Sure thing" in place of yes, then the other character shouldn't be saying "Sure thing" as well. Otherwise voice starts blending, and your characters don't sound like individuals. Instead of hearing various characters, we'd get various shades of Julian.

If one character doesn't mince words, she's curt and blunt, then that practice doesn't need to bleed into the other character's voices. It sounds obvious now, but it can easily happen when you're writing. This is when it helps to read out loud.

Karlie: I like that idea, Lisa, of doing one revision just to focus on character voice/dialogue. The main thing I focus on, after all the plot holes are filled in, is cutting the fluff. My writing tends to have a lot of purple prose, and I usually go over that with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I get it all. Something else that gets a hard look are fight/action scenes. I'm not very good at those, and I usually just gloss over them in the first couple of drafts. But in draft 3, I really buckle down and research and rewrite until they ring true.

There's always something to fix, I suppose. And one of the hardest parts of revision is knowing when to stop. I often catch myself editing something to death, and before you know it all the good stuff is gone.

Caitlin: While I certainly cut a lot while revising, in general, I tend to add more than I cut. That's why I don't worry too much if my first draft is only 40,000 words. Once I read it, I'll realize all the missing scenes or the scenes I run through too quickly. I have a tendency to want to get right to my favorite parts without building them up at all, but the build up is oh, so important! 

I have also often thought, this time I'll read it just looking for X. But I never end up being that disciplined. :-P However, I think with each read/revision, the story, voice, and pacing improves.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Turn It Up Tuesday: Near To You

It's Karlie bringing you this Turn It Up Tuesday!

My song for today is Near To You by A Fine Frenzy. When your heart's been crushed, it takes a long time to get over the fear of losing someone else. Sometimes, you get the opportunity you thought you'd given up forever…but the other person's not going to wait forever.

But you're getting better…if they can just hang on a little longer…

Shannon never thought she would ever let another person in - but she never thought she would meet anyone like Michael, either.

And she definitely never thought she'd be asked to kill the only person that had ever come close to helping her manage the pain.

Near to him, she's better. But in her world, there are no guarantees.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Draft 2: Method of Attack

Hey, it's Karlie!

So, you've gotten your first draft down, in all its ragged glory. The good, the excellent, the soul-wrenchingly awful - it's all there, from the beginning to the end.

Now what?

The first thing I'd recommend is taking a breather - a month at least, or if you don't have that luxury (a deadline staring you in the face, for one) two weeks. And when I say take a breather, I mean don't touch it, don't think about it, don't even look at it! I firmly believe that distance is necessary to see the whole picture.

After that, give it a read-through. You'll have moments of amazing, and you'll also have moments of what-the-holy-crap-was-I-smoking-when-I-wrote-this. You should be able to see the bigger picture as you do this - character arc, plot, sub-plot, everything. What works and what needs fixing.

A lot of people do things backward when approaching the second draft, though. They start with the dialogue and the prose itself, rather than fixing the big things. The result of this? You spend hours getting a single paragraph absolutely perfect, Nobel prize worthy, only to find the scene isn't relevant to the plot after all and you must cut it.

Trust me, it hurts a lot worse when that happens than if you'd simply cut it from the beginning. I know.

So first things first - plot and character arc. Even if you're not usually an outliner, it helps a lot to start a basic plot sketch, even if you wait until draft 2. It's super helpful, and I'm a born pantser. It'll help with all those loose threads that are still dangling around in draft 1.

After you're totally satisfied with character and plot, then is the time to fix the prose itself.

That's my plan of attack for draft 2 - what's yours?

Caitlin: I basically do the same thing, except that I'm usually too impatient to wait long before diving in, though I do think having taking a breather is good advice! I'll often read this first draft on my kindle to keep myself from editing it. As you say, Karlie, it's all about the big sweeping notes at this point. Another thing I'd recommend, if you can pull it off, is trying to read it all in one day. That helps you really analyze the pacing, decipher character inconsistencies, and see any glaring plot holes.

Lisa: Caitlin, all in one day? That's actually a great idea. I'll have to try that one. Karlie, I definitely wait a month, usually two. However, I do one congratulatory read-through right when I finish. Hey, I have to! But, I edit as I write (raises shameful editor's hand), so I'm not moved to fix a thousand glaring errors, though there are still plenty. On a side note: You think you feel stupid when you find little mistakes like the wrong form of you're or their - imagine being an editor by profession and finding those mistakes in your own writing. Mind. Blown.
I have to add one more thing on Karlie's subject. I've always heard that you should read your novel backward in order to find more of the silly typos and grammar errors (this is usually advised for the sixth or seventh edit. Yes, there are that many.). I finally did, just wow. Do it. I found stuff that everybody missed.

Dan: I usually let it sit for a week or two -- if I have the luxury of waiting that long -- and then reread the whole thing on my Kindle (like Caitlin). Usually I have some idea of the plot holes and inconsistencies because I noted them while writing, and didn't want to slow down. Even so, I'll keep a notebook while I'm reading to draw up my plan of attack.

I agree with Karlie -- the first revision is all big-picture stuff. Character arc, narrative structure, filling in major plot holes, etc. Then it's beta reads and more revision, followed by a copy edit and fine tuning. Next week, I'll lead us in a post about these second and third revisions and we can share the strategies that work for all of us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Do you know where love goes? Turn It Up Tuesday

Sometimes it's the tone of the song that moves me. Sometimes it's the voice of the singer. Sometimes it's the lyrics. It's rare that I get chill bumps over all three. Matt McAndrew has done this with his song Wasted Love. The opening lyrics sucked me straight in:

So I'm not supposed to love you no more
I guess I'm not supposed to care
I held you so close, now I'm holding a ghost
How can love just disappear?
And where does it go when it's over?

I've written so many books containing breakups that I can't pinpoint which one this song, these lyrics, work for best. All of them. Just listen to this song and you won't be sorry. You'll probably be adding it to your library and your playlists. And thanking me.

You're welcome :)

In case the powers to be won't let this video insert stay, I'm including a link here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Best Writing Craft Books

Caitlin here. :) I think it’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that this next craft book will open the door for you and make writing a cinch! I’ve had periods in my life where I read more craft books than any other kind of book, which, by the way, I don’t recommend at all. To be a writer, you need to read widely!

So, I enter into this blog post warily and with a big disclaimer: DON’T GET TRAPPED IN THE CRAFT BOOK CYCLE. There are many ways to become a better writer—I’d rate reading (non-craft books), writing (oh, yeah, the actual craft), critiquing (both receiving and giving), and observing (you know, the stuff that you will be writing about) as more important activities than reading craft books.

But that isn’t to say there aren’t some great craft books out there.  Here are a few that I find especially helpful and that I recommend again and again.

The Basics
You need to know the rules before you break them. So, what are the rules?

On Writing Well, William Zinsser
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White

Getting at the Heart of Writing
Why do we write? And how can we get past the fear and other mind traps that keep us from writing?

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
The 90-Day Novel, Alan Watt (Note: you don’t even have to follow the day-by-day guide [I didn’t! :-P], but the soul-nurturing advice helped me get through a lot of mental obstacles. I don’t think I would have written my first novel if I’d never read this)

Working Out Plots
What is a “story” anyway? And why do readers burn the midnight oil (or Kindle back light) on some books and toss aside others?
Story Engineering, Larry Brooks
Wired for Story, Lisa Cron

What about you? What are some craft books that you think are utterly indispensable?

Dan: I try to be selective in the writing-craft books that I pick up, because I know in my heart that each one is a considerable time investment that I'll "count" as writing time. And while I may learn some valuable things, the word count won't move while I'm reading. I second your recommendation of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I've just been working through that stuff, and find it very useful for structuring my novels.

I'm a little surprised you didn't mention On Writing by Stephen King, which is both a memoir and a book about craft, enjoyable even if you don't read much King. If you've ever done NaNoWriMo or just like the idea of writing a novel fast, then I recommend Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! Finally, for SFF authors I thinkThe Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells is essential.
that reading Ben Bova's

Karlie: I really love The Negative Trait Thesauraus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The companion book, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, is also invaluable. Not only do these books help create a well-rounded and believable character, they also help show how certain characters would react to those with different traits. I highly recommend them.

As far as plot goes, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell is an exceptional resource. Brandilyn Collins' Getting Into Character is one of my personal favorites as well.

Lisa: Okay, are you ready for this? I've never cracked the spine of a craft book. I do read craft blogs ALL the time, and I have my favorite websites for character research (especially Myer Briggs personality test Just no craft books. Isn't that crazy? So, don't look at me as an example on the right direction to take as far as developing writing skills. However, I am a huge participant of active reading (not that I'm against craft books at all). I learn by example what I'd like to do or not do, what works and doesn't work. For me and my style of learning, this is a much more effective approach. We'll soon see if my approach is a sink or swim.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Does the genre you read or write say something about you as a person?

Hi! Lisa here. That was a long break and I've missed you guys. I'm back and I have a question for writers and readers: What genre are you?
Do you write New Adult romance? Do you read Science Fiction? How does that genre mesh with the real you?
Me? I write Young Adult as my main genre. My teenage daughters would say it's because I'm still immature. I don't think they mean I'm always behind on my bills (I hide that from them too well;). I just have a playful and spontaneous attitude. I play hide and seek with my daughters...and dog. I'll even bicker with them if they cheat. Give me a break, I'm competitive. I still do cartwheels, giggle, make weird faces and wear ridiculous clothes just to get a reaction. And this aspect of myself might be why my characters still come to me as teens. I'm a character-first, plot-second kind of writer and the character always pops into my head as a teenager.
The "reader" me is very young. My two favorite books of all time have eleven- and twelve-year-old main characters: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery, and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE by J.K. Rowling. I guess I'm never growing up.
All of the books I've written have mystery and that reflects my personality well. I love the detective shows and movies. I'm almost always wrong about who I peg as the killer in the beginning, but it's always more fun to be wrong than right.

What about you? Tell me how your reader/writer self reflects your personality.

Dan: Oh, this is a dangerous topic. I read science fiction because I like science and technology, especially the optimistic/futuristic kind. I read epic second-world fantasy for the escape. I guess somewhere, deep down, I like the idea of riding horses and fighting with swords against evil. Finally, I read grimdark (gritty fantasy) because I think it's a more realistic picture of human nature. I hate it that I'm playing right into the stereotype of the geeky white guy who reads sci-fi/fantasy, but it's true.

Luckily, I can break the mold a little bit when it come to TV and movies. I like action/spy thrillers like the Bourne Identity, smart dramas (The West Wing), mysteries (Sherlock Holmes). I'm not sure what this says about me, but thought I'd put it out there.

Caitlin:  I write YA and NA. While both age categories have a lot of interesting aspects to them, mostly, I think I write in them because there's a lot more wiggle room for mixing up genres. I think my reading and watching interests would reflect that too, because I like a little bit of everything: literary short stories, mysteries, fantasies, steamy romances, heartfelt contemporaries, etc. etc. When I was a kid, I loved watching Murder She Wrote, my favorite author was R. L. Stine, and I couldn't get enough of Back to the Future. As I got older, my favorite weekly show became The X-Files (I am a "monster-of-the-week" X-files fan [see, Dan, I can get nerdy too. :) ].),  I discovered some great mystery writers, like Ellery Queen, and I loved the grittiness in The Ususal Suspects and Fight Club. I also gobbled up almost every rom com the 90s had to offer (which is a lot!) and started sneaking reads of my mom's romance books.

Since then, my tastes have remained eclectic and I like trying to fit as many of the things I love into one novel. Yes, I know that mixing too many genres is often (always?) looked down upon...but, hey, I have fun with it and I know that at least I like reading those kinds of mashups. (If anyone knows of a book that's French Kiss meets The Sixth Sense meets Gosford Park, send it my way! *grabby hands*). And, if it can at least fit neatly into a category, like NA, then it has a publishing home and the freedom to splash around a bit. :)

Karlie: I write mostly fantasy, but have been known to dabble in darker suspense and even some lighthearted romance. Like Caitlin, I like a little bit of everything! While Susanna Kearsley is my current favorite author, there's plenty of John Grisham on my shelves, and Christopher Paolini and J.K. Rowling have in no way been neglected. Medical thrillers is one of my favorite genres. I'll try just about anything - the only genres I tend to stay away from completely are horror and erotica.

As far as TV goes - I'm currently in love with BBC's Sherlock, I never miss an episode of Chicago Fire or Chicago P.D., and I also like the darker movies - Red Eye, Nonstop, Taken, things like that. But Monk is also a personal favorite of mine. Bottom line - I rarely say no to anything. ;)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Turn It Up Tuesday: In My Veins

Karlie with you today!

The song I chose is one I recently discovered - and I've had it on repeat ever since. In My Veins by Andrew Belle, feat. Erin Mccarley, is a beautifully honest song that is definitely helping as I work on some difficult scenes from my novel Kismet. As Aria and Logan struggle with their own separate demons, fight to survive a war, and finally come to terms with the shared part of their pasts, they know one thing for certain - fighting alone is not an option anymore. No matter how much they might wish the opposite to be true, neither of them can walk away.

Oh, you're in my veins 
And I cannot get you out
Oh, you're all I taste 
At night inside of my mouth

She might be dying. He might be a killer. Their lives could end at any moment…but whatever end they face, they'll face it together.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Is writer's block really a thing? Whether it is or not, relax, we can figure this out.

What I visualize as writer's block is absolutely not being able to get one word out. I don't get that way. I could get a word out--I just don't want to. I call this writer's funk: lack of motivation, not liking my story anymore, having written myself into a corner, etc. But whatever you get, writers can combat this. Think of having writers block/funk as having a stiff neck. You've been in the same position too long. Change it up.

Sometimes my mind can't unclutter because of the clutter in my writing space. If that's your bedroom, straighten it up a little. If that's just anywhere you can find, and you have no control of these little corners, then leave. 

I get in my car a lot of the time, taking my computer along for the ride. I'll be driving around and stuff just comes at me like crazy. I find a safe place to pull over and spend the next hour typing stuff out. 

Simply writing outside is great too. I've often found that this is the most valuable stuff I've written. The pressure is off and the creative juices are able to flow. Sitting in my backyard (or kicked back at the beach), my actual writing is really loose. But the content is amazing. 

These things work for me, and they could work for you as well. Or they might not. The point is to change  things up. Find what works for you.