Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

ugh… so this is revising… April 26, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 9:48 am

Okay, this is much hard than I thought it would be. I’m faced with my huge stack of paper. I started making edit notes then sort of gave up. There was too much of that. I’m no where near the point of language refining, which might actually be fun. I’m somewhere stuck in the land of, okay, this character doesn’t make any sense, or wow, this part is boring, really boring. In other word, there’s a lot I have to reimagine and rewrite.

Which makes me resolve to try outlining my next novel more thoroughly. Another massively important point: get intimate with your characters before you start outlining, even! This will help prevent your characters going off and doing their own thing which, though cool, leads to a great deal of headache later. Its worth investing the weeks/ months it takes to write out character sheets for each of your main characters, figuring out who they are, why the are, and what they are likely to do. Throw them into a situation, and the plot sort of takes care of itself. Funny, this is a summary of the advice I’ve read in how-to-write books, but it never quite struck a chord with me. Now I feel like it’s slammed me upside the head and I think, Oh, well, duh!

So here’s my plan of attack: read the manuscript, make large scale notes on what works, what doesn’t work. I’ve done some world and character building- I need to do more of that. Then sit down, block out the scenes I want to keep, and start brainstorming new scenes. We’ll try ye olde index card method next, writing out the scenes on the cards and moving them around.


The Revision April 15, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 2:11 pm

For the last several days I’ve been chomping on the bit, preparing to rewrite. I want to wait on it, to develop the “fresh eyes” I’ll need to look at it a little more objectively than now. But I also realized I have no clue as to how to go about revising.

I’ve sent my novel off to my writing buddy and my sister for reading. Sending it to the later was hard to do–I have almost never let family read my fiction in the past, and I have a rather tense/ competitive relationship with my sister, but in the end I decided I wanted her feedback more than I was scared of what she might say (“This is all crap! How could you waste your time on this?”) At some point I’ll let my poor betrothed read it. Out of all of them, he, perhaps, deserves most to read it, having been the brunt of neglect for the past few weeks (“Not tonight, honey, I have to finish this chapter!”)

I’m gradually arming myself with information. A quick Google search led me to author Holly Lisle’s site, which has a wealth of helpful information. Furthermore, she’s not afraid of transparency, and reveals her struggles to make it work, hints at how much money she makes, how to do taxes, etc. I appreciate and admire transparency in authors, and vow when (if?) my time comes, I, too, will be fully transparent.

As with all advice, though, you have to consider who’s giving it. I’m not sure I want to write like she does. So I’m reading another extremely helpful book, Self -Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is full of good stuff, not only advice on where and how to cut, but a checklist of items you should look out for while trolling through your manuscript.

Another less helpful but interesting book is Noah Lukeman’s The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. At times this book reads more like a rant on Lukeman’s pet peeves, and much of the info is standard (show don’t tell, focus on characters, etc etc) without much else to make it worthwhile. In fact, I don’t know that I’d recommend anyone buy this book if they already have good guides. But I have it so I’m reading it.
I want to be good and ready when I start revising, because I want to make this the best darn novel it can be. I already have ideas on what needs improving. I’m sure I’ll discover more. I’m starting to get geeked about this; I think it will be fun. A friend of mine told me she loved rewriting. I thought she was crazy, but now I see, this is where the real magic happens.


To have and to have held April 13, 2007

Filed under: style,writing — itsy @ 9:38 am

I had a rather heated discussion with my writing group a couple of weeks ago. The topic was tense and flashbacks. I’m something of a pluperfect gal (come on, it comes from the Latin plus quam perfectum meaning “more than perfect”–how could you not use it?).

So my writing partner wrote the beginning portion of her flashback in pluperfect, then after a sentence or two switched to perfect. Huh? I marked it up, correcting everything into pluperfect until we entered the “now” of her book again. She got a bit peeved (who wouldn’t with “had” s inserted everywhere), saying she deliberately did it that way, she didn’t inadvertently switch tenses. Apparently all the kids are doing it, and my insistence on the pluperfect is old fashioned.

Okay, I’m not dogmatic about the pluperfect. I used to be, then I read Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and my sense of tense got all screwy. Besides having written an excellent book, Irving moves in and out of the past as gracefully as a dolphin leaps from the sea. The “now” of the book is the late 1980’s, but the main character is reminiscing and recounting events that happened ten, twenty years ago. And it’s all written in the perfect tense. None of this had had business. Irving needed to do it this way for the narrator’s recountings last for pages and pages. Imagine reading all of that in pluperfect. But never once are you confused about the when of the characters in a particular passage. The choice in avoiding the pluperfect integrates the fictional past and preset seamlessly, enhancing the mystic qualities of the book.

Inspired, I tried it myself. It’s tricker than it sounds, to differentiate relative fictional times without resorting to some sort of gimmicky “Back then she was pretty. Now as she stared into the mirror…” I think some of my instances work, some definitely don’t. In any event, I’ve come to the conclusion that you should still stick to one way or the other in a passage. No switching back and forth a couple of sentences into a flashback because it’s confusing. But apparently that’s no longer convention, either. I guess I’m just behind the times.


Now what? April 12, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 7:55 pm

I stood by watching as the copy machine ate up my huge stack of paper and spitted it out to make an ever bigger, fluffier stack. It was weird catching glimpses of words, phrases here and there. I tried very hard not to read it while it was going, but every now and then I would pause and think, wait, did I really write that?

My labor for the last five years reduced in binary, black on white. This is where my characters have gone, where they now live. My fingers twitch to type a new bit of dialogue, to fix a a phrase or hell, I forgot to address that mini-plot, and does the scene where he talks to his father really work? Maybe if I wrote it like this instead… and my brain whirs off into a thousand options.

Then I remind myself. It’s done. At least for now. I need a break, space, it’s better for us this way. We were getting too close, our relationship too smothering. Maybe, you know, in a month or two when I’ve worked on other things, we can be friends again. It’s been fun, fast and exciting, but let’s take it slow next time.

My writing buddy says she always gets the family car vacation syndrome with her characters when she’s done. It’s something more intimate for me. Yes, I’m bloody sick of all of them. By the end I couldn’t even reread what I’d written for fear of developing nausea. But their chatter still echoes in my brain and I’m feeling lonely for their company. We’ll start a deeper, more mature phase in our relationship, but I miss the frenetic passion that used to rip through me in my eagerness to tell their stories.

In the meantime, I _am_ rather getting geeked about the rewriting. I’ve never worked on such a scale before. It’s intimidating, but I’m itching to delve back in there and discover those little treasures that I hope are in there and those horrors I know will be.


the innocent ones

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 2:51 am

Today I printed up the pages of my novel. All 600 some pages. I’m going to go photocopy them later and ship them off to my writing buddy. The words part, though, is that I have to feed the pages to my  bloody printer piece by piece because the damn wheels are dirty and if I pile empty pages in the feeder they just jam. The thing was $99 and too damn cheap and poor to buy a new one.

As I writer I deplore the amount of paper I use. I try to be conservative and only print what I need to, or stockpile old papers to print on the backsides of and double print whenever I can. I forced myself to read from the screen when I’d much rather have hard copy. But at a certain point you have to suck it and accept that your business is writing, and writing takes paper. Kudos to Rowling for trying for a more ecological alternative.

While I worked at a couple newspapers though I was appalled, simply appalled. Everyone printed EVERYTHING. Instead of forwarding emails they printed them up and handed them to you. My editor would print up old articles on a topic, when the same files are accessible on the internet.  And then came the proofs, proof upon proof for the editors, the copy editors, everybody got one.  By the end of the day I swear a whole forest had been destroyed.  And then the newspaper gets printed, and the next day the whole thing happens again.

So much for the electronic age.


Sex and the genre April 9, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 5:05 pm

My fantasy-writing buddy emailed me recently with the thought, “I can write about beheadings, why can’t I write about giving head?”

In her usual unabashed manner, she’d underscored an on-going disagreement we’ve had about the other’s writing: she delves into the act of sex while I take the gentleman’s way out, if you will, offering readers a suggestive mood and enough to read between the lines. The latter is the more traditional approach and all editors I’ve read give the same caveat: when it comes to sex, less is more. It’s taboo, inappropriate, cheap. They say that of violence too, of course, but when you write fantasy, there’s a little more leeway, because most will engage in some sort of violent behavior at some point in the story. Frankly, I love writing battle scenes. Perhaps a bit too much, because one rule I try hard to observe is the No Gratuitous Rule. No gratuitous violence, no gratuitous sex. All action should have some greater point, be it characterization or plot, and no action should be without the spirit of the characters involved.

But that was my buddy’s point: why is violence deemed more acceptable in fantasy than sex? Usually sex in the genre is stupid, precisely because, I think, people are told to avoid it, but feel maybe they should put some in. So the characters have what I consider obligatory sex, and then they sort of go on their merry way, as if the implication of the act should carry by itself without further mention. In her Kushiel series, fantasy writer Jacqueline Carey takes the issue head on: her character is a prostitute, but of the most glamorous, noble kind, who uses sex to gain political influence. It almost goes too far, assuming, of course, that all humans become dumb mindless beasts to their desire.

All of this was rumbling around in my mind when I picked up book from Cody’s sale table called Classic Nasty: More Nasty Bits: A Rollicking Guide to Hot Sex in Great Books, from the Iliad to the Corrections. It should have been $4.98; the clerk rung it up as $14.00, so I went back and pointed out the error.

As the clerk apologized and proceeded to fix the error, she said, “Oh, it’s rather brave of you to come back with a book like this.”

Brave? And then it hit me, that I had violated my Cardinal Rule of Writing, the one that I absolutely refuse to break: Ultimately, you must master your writing, not your characters, though it’s good to let them frolic on their own for a while, not laziness, not your ego. I was avoiding writing about sex because I was afraid of it being trite, risque, indulgent, inappropriate, tawdry, you name it, i was afraid of it.

Which brings me to an excellent article I read by Janis Cooke Newman in the SF Chron on her historical fiction novel Mary, titled Other than that, how was the sex, Mrs. Lincoln? In researching her novel Newman had to grapple with that most basic human activity. She writes:

The more I researched Abe’s scandalous spouse, the more I couldn’t ignore the fact that the woman was wildly passionate, overwhelmingly sensual, and possessed a complete lack of impulse control — and not just when it came to shopping. Her language might recall Jane Austen, but her libido conjured up Erica Jong.

Almost all of us have done or will do It, many of us do It regularly. But more importantly, while doing It, whether with a one night stand, a new flame, or a long-burning love, we think, we grow, we feel. Sure, you can make It happen between the lines, and deal with the character growth elsewhere, but would that be true to your characters? Which is why I applaud and admire Newman for following her heart, realizing she could only be true to her craft if she delved shamelessly into a topic that makes many others shift uneasily in their seats.

Love is the vehicle of change for my characters (beneath my bitter, bitter layers there’s a romantic that refuses to be smothered). For the last few months I’d been dancing around the truth of it, though my characters were telling me what they wanted. Still, I ignored them because I was afraid. But when I let go of the fear, and decided to address It, I managed to eek out a scene that brought the whole book together, just the right blot of color on a monochrome. This is the experience I posted about yesterday. I could have written in the character development elsewhere, but I don’t think it would have felt as natural or as powerful as it is this way. Sex became a lens to focus everything that the characters were going through in the most intimate, visceral sense, not just with their growing relationship, but in realizing the truths that had been pounding at them throughout the book.

I don’t know if I’ll keep this scene. I don’t know if, when I submit it to agents, I will be able to keep this scene. But I do feel good for having written it. I think it’s tasteful, conveys the important aspects of It without resorting to involved, almost clinical physical description of the act, another common trap. But most of all, I’m happy because I didn’t let my fear trump my writing.


why we do it April 8, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 3:29 am

i had one of those moments today, the kind that reminds you of why you slave away day after day at this torture called writing.

i’d felt for a while that something was missing from my book, though i couldn’t quite figure out what it was. so i opened up a new document, spent a moment just spacing out and channeling my characters, and wrote. and wrote and wrote, by instinct, somewhat by design, but mostly just what felt right. i trusted in my characters; they did not let me down. I reread the piece, somewhat nervously now that the euphoria of writing had passed, but i was surprised by the result.

i ended up with one of those keystone chapters that tie in some of the essential themes of story. Somehow, the pieces fell in together and the grain lay smooth.  i don’t know quite how i did it though the experience has made me a firm believer in the strength of the subconscious. of course it needs editing and polishing, but the bones are there.

this comes at a good time for me. i’ve been despairing lately on the sisyphean task of rewriting. but these little moments, when the magic happens as if of its own accord make it all worthwhile and let you believe, at least in the universe you created, life has purpose and beauty.