Keeping Score: January 29, 2021

‘Tis the season of the writer’s conference.

Had the Apex Magazine 15-minute workshop on Monday, which may have permanently changed the way I approach my writing. I’m on the alert now for some of my bad writing habits, and am currently going through two different stories to eliminate them.

Today, I’m attending Clarion West’s workshop on How to Write Science Fiction in a Post-Colonial World, part of their series of single-day online workshops. Similar to the Apex one, I’m not sure what to expect. I hope it’ll help me with the novel I’m writing right now (and future works), where one of my main characters is from the steppes of Central Asia. I don’t want to appropriate anyone’s culture, but I do want to showcase the diversity of the world, particularly in the time period I’m setting this story (the 18th century), which American writers tend to whitewash.

And I’m considering signing up for the Southern California Writers Conference, which is in two weeks (and also online). It was the first writers conference I attended, back when we could safely congregate inside. I got a lot out of it: I wrote two stories, got tips on plot structure, and met some great people. And now one of my fellow Writers Coffeehouse alumni (Dennis K Crosby) is one of the special guest speakers! I could use that kind of shot in the arm again (vaccine connotation very much intended).

Not that I’m currently having trouble producing, thank goodness. Novel’s at 26,099 words. I’ve patched up the seams in the scenes I’ve written so far, and moved on to the “meat” of the chapter: the POV character’s close encounter with a dragon.

I’m still writing it in bits and pieces, moving up and down the page as ideas come to me and I figure things out. It keeps me from getting hung up on any one part of the book, or worry too much about how I’m going to get from Point A to Point B. I can always make something up 🙂

And after the Apex workshop, and re-examining some of my past short stories, I’m starting to think about the connective tissue between scenes differently. As in, maybe I don’t need it, after all.

That’s not quite right. I think I, the writer, need it. I need to have written it, in order to fully understand my story. But I don’t necessarily need to show that to the reader.

Same thing with exposition. I need to know everything about my world. I need to know what the sunlight looks like in springtime. I need to know how the birds sound in the morning. I need to know which cars are driving by at the end of the day (if this world has cars). So these are all things I need to set down, to fix in my mind by fixing them in text. But I don’t need to relay those details to the reader, unless something stands out to the POV character, and affects their decisions.

It’s advice I’ve heard before, but not really felt in my bones until now. I’d always assumed my readers were lost unless I held their hand, and relied on my brevity to make the explanations palatable.

I think now I can trust the reader more. I still plan to write all the exposition, so I have it straight in my own head. But when editing I’m going to start taking it all out, and only putting things back in if a beta reader complains of being lost. Otherwise, I’m going to lean on actions and dialog to convey everything.

What about you? Is there a piece of classic writing advice that took you a while to fully understand?

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!

Beyond the Editing Wall

Only four chapters left in the final editing pass for the novel.

Four chapters.

I’ll be done early next week. Thank the gods.

Then it’ll be time to gather a list of agents to send it out to, polish up my query letter, and start emailing the thing out.

It’s been…two years? almost three?…since I started work on it. And soon, very soon, I’ll finally have a finished version to send.

So, what have I learned? What lessons will I apply to the next book?

  • Definitely break up your editing passes. Trying to fix every problem you see as you see it will only lead to a mess.
  • Don’t be afraid to edit the story. Your first take on the story — not just the words, but what happens and why — doesn’t have to be the last one.
  • You’ve got time to get it right. Take as many editing passes as you need. No one has to see it until it’s ready.

The End is Near

Novel edits are coming along faster than I thought. Might actually get them all done by the end of the month 🙂

It’s weird to see the novel being reshaped under my editing scalpel. I can feel the book getting better, little by little: its characters more consistent, the world more fully realized, the pacing tighter.

I’m remembering my plans for a follow-on book, and looking forward to writing it. Can editing a novel make you excited to write the sequel?

Cranking Through

Managed to whittle the list of editing passes from twelve to twenty and now back to thirteen.

Which means I didn’t finish them by the end of March, like I wanted.

I *did* finish the biggest of the changes, though: giving each chapter to either the male or the female protagonist, swapping evenly between the two, and filling out her narrative arc so that her storyline has equal weight.

The changes I have left are much smaller: revising character appearances, adding touches to scene descriptions, and making sure everything is consistent.

Still, I’m setting weekly goals, aiming for three editing passes done each week. At that rate, I’ll be finished with the edits in early May :/

Much later than I’d like, but I tell myself that’s better than not doing them, or worse yet, continuing to tweak and edit for a year or more.

Editing Day

Today is Editing Day.

I’ve patched the holes in the plot. I’ve gone through and made the language more consistent. I’ve checked the character’s backstory to make sure it all hangs together.

Now it’s time to do the cutting. Time to trim away the fat from my descriptions, to cut the unnecessary dialog, to skip over any boring action sequences.

It’s good I have the day off. I’ll be spending it making the first cuts, and planning the word culling to come.

Patching

Biggest three flaws in the novel are fixed!

Or, at least, I think they are? Hard to tell without getting another round of beta reader feedback.

In any case, I’ve made edits to fix the largest plot holes. 

Moving on to problems with world-building. Those range from big things like: does the background for the two main characters make sense? Is it treated consistently? Does the behavior of the villain at the start of the book hold with what we learn about them by the end? To smaller pieces, like making sure the monetary system used holds up and the curses the characters utter fit the world.

It’s a little more scattershot than the first editing pass. Almost wish I’d made notes as I wrote the first draft, breadcrumbs for me to follow back so I’d know exactly which sections of the text would need to be checked later. Maybe something to try with my next novel?

Chugging Along the Editing Rails

The major flaw in the novel is almost fixed. I’ve been editing around it, working my way from the scenes where the initial cracks in the story start showing through, down to where the plot hole opens up a mile wide.

I’ve started building a bridge across that chasm, a way to connect what happens on both sides so that it’s no longer an abrupt fall.

Today I made it up to the turning point itself, the central event at the heart of the flaw. I’ve finished editing that scene, and will continue on past it, smoothing things over until I feel the problem is fixed.

Once that’s done, it’ll be on to the next issue, and the next. Those are much smaller, so I’m hoping their edits go faster.

Onward!