Monday, November 29, 2010

How "Drafty" Do You Write?

Usually I don't get to my blog or have a chance to visit my friends' blogs until later in the day.  But I have a weekday off from work for a change.  If you're not a Pennsylvanian you might not realize most of the state closes schools on the first day of deer season.  If we didn't we wouldn't have half our students and teachers in school.
This weekend I finally finished the short story I'm writing as promotion for the upcoming release of the second book in The Futhark Chronicles, Beyond the GateTamarin's Story will be available shortly in a number of locations but not yet. 
When I say I finished the short story I meant I completed the first draft.  Writing a first draft for me is like a train rolling downhill.  It goes really fast but it's kind of scary and out of control.  It gets to its destination quickly but it's not really graceful or pretty.  I have a friend who writes first drafts I think are nearly ready for submission they're so close to perfect. Not mine.  I write it as fast as I can knowing clean up comes later. First though I put it aside and let it simmer.  My mind may turn to it but I don't look at it for a few days.
A few days ago I posted about slashing scenes and before that I wrote about 'weak words.'  The second draft is all about that.  After letting it alone for a few days, I'll look at my short story or novel with fresh eyes.  I'll read completely through it, making notes.  I'll check for flow between scenes, repetition, POV problems, and slash some scenes.  If it's a novel I might completely remove a subplot or a secondary character to make the story flow better and keep the writing tighter. 
This is the time to read dialogue out loud.  Is it stiff? Does it even make sense? Do I need it all?  Do I need all the dialogue tags?
I'll try to do away with those adverbs and use stronger nouns.  Then I have check for my 'Pennsylvania Dutch.'  If you lived in central PA you would know what I'm talking about.  I don't speak 'Dutch' but it does sneak into my writing a little bit.  'PA Dutch' is a way of speaking that puts the words in an awkward arrangement.  Here's an example of one of my morning chores. 
"After the trash man came I brought into the garage the empty cans."
Looks really weird when you see it written.  Usually I don't write anything as blatant at the above but I still have to search for word arrangement problems. 
Hopefully during this stage I will catch inconsistencies with character appearances, timing problems, and characters speaking out of voice.  If the first draft is really rough, I entirely retype the second one. Then it's ready for submission.
Before publication, my editor will return it at least once with her comments for edits and we'll work those out with both of us compromising( usually it's me) until it's as ready as we can make it.
Galleys will come back to me a few months before the actual book is released.  Usually they have a very tight time schedule of only days.  I love reading galleys.  I found only four typos in the galleys for Beyond the Gate.  The editors and readers did a great job.
So how many drafts do you do before submission?  How many times does your editor ask for changes? If you're self-published, do you have readers who help you with edits and changes?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Work and Play

Except for major holidays, I like to do at least a little bit of writing work every day.  Sometimes all I get done is visiting blogs and reading mail.  Since today is a day off, I'm intending more than that. I'm nearly finished with the short story I'm going to use as promotion for my upcoming release, Beyond the Gate.  I'm also writing up a few blogs to post during the upcoming week.
This morning was all about play however.  A few weeks ago I received two gift cards to Barnes and Noble for my birthday. I used one to shop online but today I promised my daughter a trip to the book store.  Barnes and Noble is a short distance in miles from my house but the roads there make it longer than it seems. A durn construction project slows the busy roadways and of course being the Saturday after Black Friday brought a lot of traffic to the confusion and roughly-paved streets.  We went early, found a seat in the cafe and then took turns browsing and bringing stacks of books to our table.  Between sips of coffee we read inside flaps, back covers and first chapters.  Money is tight so we're careful shoppers. 
Like most writers, I read a variety of genres.  I love reading historical mysteries when the detectives have to use their wits and intellects without relying on DNA, security cameras or phone traces.  Victoria Thompson's Gaslight series set in New York is one of my favorites.  I recently discovered, Will Thomas's Barker and Llewelyn detective series set in Victorian London.  This first book, Some Danger Involved, intrigued me so today I picked up the second one, To Kingdom Come.  And for a little bit of quick light reading, I picked up Richard Castle's first book, Heat Wave.  I love the Castle TV series and of course am wondering like so many other people who is actually writing the 'Nikki Heat' books.
I still have the massive next book in The Wheel of Time series to tackle but I think I'll wait until Christmas break to dive into that tome.  What about you? With the winter chill setting in, what book are you curling up with?  I have a hot coffee by my hand and tonight I'll have a glass of wine.  What will you sip on while you indulge in some pleasure reading?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Day After

I meant to post the day before Thanksgiving but preparations for the family get-together interfered. I have to admit yesterday came off quite perfectly.  The birds (yes, I roast multiples) were moist and perfectly tasty.  Everything was ready at the same time and set on the table in steaming serving dishes.  And best of all was the conversation.  The older children have obligations to the families of their significant others so they were in an out all day.  Between watching football we played card games, ate cold turkey sandwiches and finished off  the apple and pumpkin pies.
Today is the day after the big feast and one of my favorite days.  Shopping held no temptation for me but sleeping in did.  An unhurried hour browsing at the local library made for a fine afternoon though when I'll have time to read the three books I picked up...
Tomorrow I'm headed to Barnes and Noble with my birthday gift cards.  I hope to get there in time to snag one of the precious tables in the cafe.  There I'll work on my blogs for the next two weeks and sip expensive coffee.
I'm thankful for the day after Thanksgiving.  It's always a day off for me but I know many people had to work today. I caught up with all my friends who blogged yesterday or earlier today. I submitted a book to a publisher I trust to handle my romance novels and hope for a positive response to that. So though I had the day-job off, I worked on the job I wish was full time.  When I miss even one day online, I feel like I fall behind. Yet I don't usually get on my computer at all during the big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Easter.
How about you? Do you take a holiday from your writing during certain days or is it a 365 days per year job for you? 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sword-Sharp Scenes

The great Alfred Hitchcock once said, “A good story is life with the dull parts taken out.” I suppose that is exactly how we want our novels to read. No dull parts or scenes.

As I edit a first draft, I evaluate each scene and decide if it’s necessary and are there ways to make it better. Is there conflict or tension in every scene or perhaps it hints of further conflict to follow.
Deepening character relationships or revealing the emotions of said characters adds weight to a scene. Does the scene reveal an important clue to upcoming events or character motivations? Is the scene in the best POV for effective story telling?
Once I’m sure I must keep a scene I will try to tighten it a little. Can I start it later in the action or end it sooner to leave the reader wanting more?
And this leads to the final test. Does the scene compel the reader to keep going? How many times have you read a book before bed intending to stop at the end of the next scene? But you can’t stop after that one and go one more and one more until the clock reads one in the morning and you have to get up in five hours to get ready for work?
So take out the dull parts of your story. Make each scene work to keep the reader turning the pages. What things do you look for in a scene? Do you find yourself removing entire scenes during edits?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slashing the Weak Words

I’m working on editing the short story I’ve written as a prequel to The Futhark Chronicles. The main characters are secondary but important story movers in the second, Beyond the Gate, and the third book, Beneath the Mountain, in this epic fantasy series.

Since this story will be used only as promotion the only person doing the editing will be me. No professional book fixer will give me advice. All the editors I’ve worked with have helped me identify weak words. Now I’ll have to try and catch them all myself.
I’ve tried to break my habit of using certain pet works. We all have them but successful writers learn to overcome the temptation to use them. How many times can I write, ‘just, even, surely.’ Those are some of my favorite offenders.
How about triple words. Have you written or read one like this. ‘He hoped to try to begin to heal.” There has to a better way to say that one.
How about made up words? ‘Terrifyment, Terrifical.” What exactly do those mean? Get rid of them.
Sometimes it’s so easy to insert wishy-washy verbs instead of rewording and finding a more active verb. I try to get rid of all the ‘made, began, became, put, take’ and a few more that deserve no place in my story.
Along those same lines of weak verbs are the one representing abstract mental processes such as ‘knew, thought, realized, recognized, seemed, appeared.’
Some editors advise you to reword any sentence starting with ‘there.’ And of course cut all words ending with ‘-ly.’ I recently read an article cursing all use of pronouns. I don’t possess the talent to attempt that. Yet.
Every day I write is also a day of learning. Every time I work with a different editor I learn something new. Sometimes one editor contradicts another and perhaps proves a little of the ‘weak word’ identification is affected by personal preference or experience.
What weak words plague you? Have you learned to strike them from your writing? Is there a particular book or workshop that has helped you with word choice?

Monday, November 15, 2010

PRO-logue or CON-logue

I write and read fantasy but not exclusively. I love thrillers and mysteries and will delve into a good romance now and then. But the first section of the book store I head to is always the fantasy/science fiction shelves. Like many of you, I usually open the book and read a few pages before I buy it especially if it’s an author new to me. In a fantasy novel I’m very likely to encounter the controversial prologue.

A prologue is usually like a preliminary act to a play. It can be a teaser, a foreshadowing or even a historical event that sets the stage for the main action. It tantalizes with tidbits of mystery and is often set in a different time or place. The characters might be different from the main characters in the novel or perhaps be from another period in their lives.
Speak to an editor or an agent and they will likely show their disdain at the hated pages many authors use at the beginning of their novels. Some will call it lazy writing, wasting pages to explain things better sprinkled throughout the novel.
In fantasy and science fiction, the prologue gives a view into the created world and culture. In any type of novel it may help set the mood of the story. Is it light-hearted, dark and edgy, or action on top of action? I use a prologue in all the novels in my Solonian Series.  I don't call them prologues though.  I label treat them as pages taken from a historical log as you can read here.  They set the tone of courage and personal sacrifice that run as threads through the series.  Thrillers and mysteries may start with a crime in progress that may not involve the main characters but will somehow be tied to them.
I like prologues and they will often sell me a book. But back to the attitude of agents and editors. Should you use a prologue and if you do how long should it be?
Mine are usually five to seven pages long though they can be as short as one page and still grab the reader’s interest. But should there be one at all? Ask some questions of yourself. Could the prologue actually be the first chapter? Does it enhance the story or would the information in it be better incorporated elsewhere in the novel?
I’m interested in the feelings of readers and authors on the much debated topic. Do you like them or hate them as a reader? Do you use them as an author? Have you been asked the cut them by an editor?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Making Sport of Writing

Those of you who know me well, know about the Gourley family and sports. Gourleys play sports, live sports, coach sports and support all the sports they don’t play or coach. Athletics are great family activities though as often or not we’re miles apart on different fields supporting one family member or another and updating each other by cell phone.

This time of year is often a lull between seasons unless one of our teams makes the playoffs. My daughter’s field hockey team almost always makes the post season. This week they’re defending their state title from last year. It should be exciting.

Being a writer I can’t help but make comparisons between sports and a career as an author. It takes lots of practice to be good at them. You improve quicker if you have experts and those with more experience giving you direction. The encouragement of your colleagues and support persons helps you keep going when you get discouraged. You can’t succeed if you don’t try your best all the time.

Sometimes you’re so tired from the other demands in your life you want to slack on your commitment but you have to find the will to keep going. You have to take risks and be daring. You have to take criticism and use it to help you improve. There are some rules you must follow but there’s also room to show off your own talent and style. There will be painful failures and joyful successes. Sometimes you will be the best player but you won’t necessarily win. Occasionally you may not think it was fair or you’ll get a bad piece of luck. At the end of the day the best team or writer doesn’t always win.

But the successful athlete or writer only goes that much harder when the going gets tough. Don’t give up the dream. Work harder. Turn the frustration and tears into determination and sweat. The time will come when you’re the expert, coaching the inexperienced and finding more pride and joy in their growth. So keep working and give back when you’ve ‘made’ it.

What are some ways you help other writers? Do you have family or writing friends who provide support for you?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Juggling Isn't Only for the Circus

My dear mother turned eighty-five last week. You can guess by her age she grew up during the depression. She’s never used a computer, never searched for anything online and is the only person in our family who doesn’t like to read. But she has always supported her family in their reading and now me in my writing.

We didn’t have a local library in the small town where I grew up. We relied on the school for pleasure reading material. When I was a teenager I had an aunt who started sharing her romance novels with my sisters and me. I was introduced to The Hobbit in a ninth grade English class and my love of fantasy was born.

I called my mother to wish her a Happy Birthday and she asked as usual how my writing was going. She always puzzles over where I get my ideas, that infamous unanswerable question. She knew I had some edits to do last week and asked me if I’d finished them. When I explained that I had and was now working on setting up promotion, writing a short story and hoping to get back to the new manuscript I’d put aside to do edits, she became totally confused. I’m not sure I ever realized myself how much of writing is juggling various projects.

When I first started writing, I worked on one manuscript. When I finished and polished it, I started submitting it to agents. While I waited to hear back on my submissions, I took the advice of all my writing buddies and began work on the next book and then the next. Once I sold that first book, I began establishing my ‘web presence’ with social networking and building a website. By that time I was already submitting the second book, and then the third, doing edits on the first, doing promotion, and keeping up with the blogs and all those other promotion gambits.

All this is familiar territory for experienced writers but I remember the stress it caused me the first few times I had to put aside a WIP because I had to edit an older book especially if the new one was really flowing. I still long for those days when I could concentrate on one project at a time though I’m thrilled I’ve had enough success to have so many things demanding my attention. And on days when I’m ‘stuck’ on a certain scene or plot twist, I still feel as if I’ve accomplished something if I’ve updated my blog or made some new contacts on other social networking sites.

I’ve learned to juggle and most days avoid the stress inherent in it. How about you? Are you ever so busy with multiple deadlines, various projects and responsibilities it nearly overwhelms you? Have you ever missed a deadline or otherwise dropped one of those balls you juggle every day?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All the Best People

Today I'm very privileged to be interviewed on Madison Woods's blog.  Madison asked me eleven questions about all manner of things related to my writing process.  Please click over there and read it.
As writers we're constantly being reminded and instructed to use social media to promote ourselves and our writing.  Blogging is my preferred method of using social networks though I do spend some time on facebook and twitter.  But all social networks only work for you if you can make connections with it. When it comes to blogging, that means having other writers as guests, doing interviews and commenting on other blogs.  It means posting things of interest to readers or others involved in the business of writing. 
Madison's generosity in having me on her blog is one example of writers helping other writers.  Do you have guests on your blog? What is your favorite type of social network to spend your time on?