Posted in General, writing

The Next Writing Step

At this point in the year, a lot of writers are close to (or already are) the finishing line on their rough drafts. NaNoWriMo gives us a good chance to get through the hardest part of any task: the first step.

Writing a good story is difficult. Specifically, writing a good novel is tremendously difficult. Somewhere in that fifty-thousand words of story is a golden nugget—possibly several. That nugget might be a theme, or a plot point, or a character. Maybe it’s scattered like gold flakes in passages of near perfection.

Regardless of where that gold is in your story, you’re finished with it. It’s time to move onto the next step.

No, the next step is not publishing.

It’s editing.

Editing is arguably the part that takes the most effort of any task. You have gold in your story—every story out there has at least a little gold in it. Editing helps you find that gold.

And like any gold minder out there, you need the right tools. Finding the tools that work the best for you to find and tap that gold vein in your rough draft isn’t as easy as just running through a checklist of things to do before you really do move onto the publishing phase of writing. For starters, not every checklist will suit every writer. Secondly, not every story follows the same process to turn from lump of dirt into precious metal.

Outlines are one such tool. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that outlines are only for before you start writing. They can give you a big picture look at what your plot is doing and where things have gone awry. My fellow pantsers, I know how much outlining sucks, but rejoice: in this case you’re not creating one for the story, but one from the story. Write down the bare-bones structure of the story. What happens first? Next? Then? Last?

Grammar Checker.  More specifically, look for a detailed grammar checker like Hemmingway, Grammarly or SlickWrite to get a detailed look at things like passive voice, vague writing, sentence complexity and word variety. This helps strengthen your writing. As a bonus, if you notice the same suggestions coming up such as a problem with filler words or passive voice, you can work on improving those across all of your writing.

Beta Readers. As the writer it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working your story. Having outsider readers to provide feedback on your manuscript. You might also find it helpful to enlist the aid of an alpha reader—that is someone who reads and provides feedback on the rough draft.

Notes. Regardless of whether you make these based on feedback, or if you make these from your own observations as you read through the story, having notes makes editing easier. Depending on your particular story this might be a note on a scene you want to add in somewhere, or even notes on your setting or characters. As much as you might think you can keep it all your head, the brain is a faulty thing. You might forget smaller details like a character’s middle name or particular and important dates.

Above all else, the one tool I recommend you have for editing is a plan. This doesn’t need to be detailed, but having a plan helps you get and stay organized throughout the editing process. This might be a checklist of what order you want to do things in, or it might just be goal of finishing your next draft by such and such a date.

One last thing. If you’re sitting on your finished draft looking towards the next step: congratulations. Now go find that gold.

Posted in Exercises

Scene Unsticking Questions

It happens to the best writers. Even in the middle of a draft that’s going well and with a well-detailed outline, sometimes we get stuck on a scene. It might be that we’ve opened a huge plot hole we don’t know how to close. Or, we’ve written our characters into an impossible situation and were hoping to have a clever answer to get them out of it again that just isn’t coming.

Hopefully some of these will help. Instead of trying to push through and write your way out, take a couple of minutes and answer these questions about your current sticky scene. When you’ve answered them all, come back and see which answers spark more ideas and use those ideas to continue the current scene.

Remember! There are no limits to the answers here, even if they seem ridiculous or don’t fit your current genre conventions. You can edit or come up with a reasonable explanation for it later. Right now is just for unsticking your scene.

  • What would happen if you killed your current PoV character?
  • What clichés fit your protagonist and how can you change them?
  • How would your supporting characters react to their biggest fears appearing in the current scene?
  • Which supporting character has a reason to defect to the other side?
  • Which family member’s death would affect your protagonist the most?
  • Which character has most recently told a lie and what was it?
  • What stereotypes fit your antagonist and how can you change them?
  • What would happen if your protagonist’s mother came in on the current scene?
  • What would happen if your antagonist’s mother came into the current scene?
  • How would your antagonist react to your protagonist revealing their darkest secret?
  • What would change about the current scene if you set it in a busy mall? An abandoned house? A thick forest? An open plain?
  • What would make your Love Interest fall for the antagonist?
  • How would your current scene to change if you switched the protagonist with a supporting character?
  • What’s one threat that would make the antagonist and the protagonist work together?
  • What one thing would make the antagonist give up?

If none of these work, consider skipping ahead to the next scene. You might find hints and clues about how your stuck scene resolved as you develop the next.

 

 

Posted in writing

Unfinished Projects

Earlier this year I looked at my older projects and eventually ended up rewriting an old story. I’m a lot happier with where that story is now that it’s been a cleaned up a bit, but digging through my projects did present a fact: I have a lot of unfinished projects.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Most of it comes down to Shiny New Project Syndrome. It’s not that the ideas behind my stories aren’t any good, it’s just that a new idea is more appealing. Some of the stories are ones I just got stuck on and never came back to try and untangle the knot.

It’s frustrating because reading back over those old pieces while trying to decide on what I wanted to tackle for September, I’m reminded that these are good ideas. The writing may not be fantastic, but the idea behind it has merit. Part of that does come from the fact I’ve taken quite a bit of time away from some of these stories.

Regardless of what made me stop writing in them, they’re still there. Some of them did end up being mashed together and creating new stories and ideas, which are happily awaiting my next pass of editing. The majority of them however, are in need of revisiting entirely.

Which is what I’ve decided to work on for the remainder of the year. I set a goal earlier this year to have two projects published and with Seventh releasing in a serial format here on the blog, I can say I’ve accomplished that. But with only a few months left in the year, it’d be nice to set myself up to see what I can really do next year.

One of the first things I need to do is make a list of which unfinished projects need a complete revamp, and which ones merely need a finished draft.

I’m curious. What’s made you leave a project incomplete? Will you ever go back to that project?  

Posted in Exercises, General

Using the Zero Draft

In full honest confession, I actually didn’t know what a zero draft was until a couple of years ago when a writer friend mentioned she was about twenty-thousand words into one. I asked her what a zero draft was, and the answer I got surprised me: It’s the earliest draft of your story, in which there is no order.

It’s fairly well established at this point that I’m a pantser. I write based on whatever inspiration I have on hand. Up until I’d heard about a zero draft, I figured drafts that meandered, made no sense and generally had gaping holes were rough drafts.

Dependent on your particular process this might still hold true. Your rough draft is for you and no one else. A zero draft however, is often where you throw things in for the story before you write a proper draft. In other words, rather than looking anything like a first draft, it might just be a conglomeration of notes–such as ‘Come up with Witty Banter. Will needs to sound smart.’ or perhaps just a few rough ideas of dialogue. There might be a random character that pops up and then vanishes until two chapters before the end.

More or less, zero drafts are unstructured pieces of writing. This might mean a free writing exercise that takes up dozens of pages. Alternately, it’s just a collection of scenes to help you explore what you want to write. There’s really only one rule:

Write.

More specifically, write uninterrupted. If you get hung up on trying to come up with clever dialogue, then leave a note. If you don’t know what the next scene would be, skip to the one you do know. You can leave a note for what you know should happen next, or you can just hop from one scene to the next and back.

Do not edit. Don’t rewrite anything. Don’t even use the backspace or delete key. Just keep writing.

Give yourself permission to make the worst piece of writing ever. Title that document as your Worst Version Ever. Leave ridiculous notes in the middle of sentences. Ignore basic formatting or even start a new line every sentence. Whatever it takes to just get the ideas down.

 

Posted in writing

The Mixed Feelings of Finishing

On Sunday I wrote the last words for my current project. Or rather, I wrote the last words for the rough draft. I know myself better than to dive straight into editing and will be taking a little time off from Hero Stones to focus on other projects (just don’t ask me what yet, there’s a small mountain of ‘other projects’ endlessly awaiting my attention). While I’m happy to have finished, there’s also a mix of other feelings to go with it.

In part, I’m relieved. I’ve fought with this one for the better part of a year, including the original sections which I wrote back in July. Normally I can write a draft quickly, and it’s the editing that slows me down. That and the bout of burn out I dealt with when I was already so close to finishing definitely added up to some relief.

There’s also a strange sense of disappointment. That’s caused by two parts. One, being that I’m very much a pantser/discovery style writer. Although this was more a rewrite and re-fleshing of the original idea, I found numerous little ideas while writing which is my favorite part. The second part of that disappointment is that yes, I have finished and the flow I’d found while working on it now needs to be transferred to another idea (which is always easier said than done).

Along with all of that though, there’s a lot of excitement. With the rough draft done, I get to work on something else for a while. That might be writing an entirely new idea, or editing an old one. Eventually I’ll also have to come back around to edit Hero Stones, to make it better and stronger.

Although I’m finished with one part, there are still numerous steps ahead of me, and they’re all going to have their own mixed bag of emotions to go with them.