Final Draft Begins

I had a terrible time writing in April.

By the time I returned from work, I had already reached the limit of screentime. My vision soon blurred. (Luckily, I never suffered a migraine.)

I resolved to print chapters and revise them by hand. However, some chapters weren’t the versions I remembered. A little searching revealed multiple files of some chapters. Every time I opened a file to revise it, I would THINK I was opening one on my flash drive. However, the accursed program – aka “Mightysoft Blerd” – saved a version to whatever cloud storage was available; e.g. OneDrive or Dropbox. It didn’t matter that I’d set the parameters to save elsewhere.

Today I printed three versions of Chapter One to make a final, handwritten version in a lined notebook. When I’m done, I’ll type it into a simple richtext document and upload a copy into Scrivener for formatting.

I’m hoping the low-tech process makes me more thoughtful about the revisions and less focused on wordcount (too long, I fear) and whether the plot points come at exactly the “right” place in the page count.

I don’t know how long it will take. I’ll update weekly.

Cursing, swearing, and hollering

Joe Bunting reposted about real-life dialogue traits and how to use them in fiction. I agree with most of them, except the following:

Some people are very sensitive to curse words, and I get it. But real people pepper curse words throughout their speech, and if you want to write realistically, you need to think seriously about interjecting an occasional D-word in your dialogue.

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of older books. You know what sounded really dated? Not then-current events, which were intriguingly retro. Not the plots, which were often exciting. The so-called “shocking” language, particularly when it seemed like every groovy character was losing his cool, baby. Can you dig it?

Authors who wrote that the character “cursed under his breath” sounded far more modern than those who used exact quotes. It wasn’t because I was sheltered; my childhood friends used terms that would scorch the ears of today’s casual f-bombers. It’s just that the characters were supposed to be tough and/or streetwise. Maybe back then, the salty language came across that way. But nowadays, those same phrases are used all the time by childish, undisciplined people. No one takes them as seriously.

The phrases like “she swore” and “he cursed” leave a lot more room for the reader’s imagination – or lack thereof.

End of 12 Weeks

Well, that was fairly productive, but the draft still looks pretty rough as far as transitions go. The worst sections date from when I was listening to a “writing coach” and following the rules of The Hero’s Journey.

The boy-protagonist is itching to answer the Call to Adventure; he’s dead if he doesn’t. The girl-protagonist is refusing the (mandatory) Call to School, erm, Adventure and casting her as boy-protagonist’s “mentor” had her monologuing. (Or traveloguing.)

12-Week Challenge: Oh, I give up!

This week, I wrote a paragraph. 150 words. I also removed 400 words from a chapter.

Then I realized that an altercation between girl-protagonist and the local bullies is probably too suggestive… of violence. While she’s wrestling with one bully, another begins prying up a cobblestone to smash her skull. This creates the tipping-point for boy-protagonist to intervene; he’d rather avoid fisticuffs with goblins.

Getting from there to the next plot-point…. well, it seems abrupt to me.

Late-doers and Regrets

An acquaintance made an enormous improvement in her life. Despite her achievement, she has feelings of regret about it taking her so long.

I commiserated. I was a late-bloomer as a child, and a late-doer in many respects as an adult.

I didn’t tell her that I’m working on stories I started in childhood. Or that I became a teacher Quality-Control Inspector at a young human factory after working for almost a decade in the field I thought I loved. I also didn’t tell her about my beloved grandfather who, many years after retiring from the mining industry, became a stained-glass artist.

I gave her this advice, which I’m posting to remind myself whenever Regret comes to call:

Look at the past you as a person who wasn’t taught how to [do this thing you’re doing]. You wouldn’t say, “It’s about time” to an adult who returned to school to earn a high school diploma. You wouldn’t berate a person with unhealthy habits who finally mastered the tools to live a healthy life. Congratulate yourself and be happy you don’t have to spend another minute in the past.

Review: THE FACE IN THE FROST by John Bellairs

“P.S. Unexplained noises are best left unexplained.” – Prospero’s note to his cleaning lady, Mrs. Dufrey

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost, Olmstead Press, 1969.

What I Read

 The Face in the Frost is humorous, low fantasy novel with Poe-esque foreboding. The protagonist Prospero (not that wizard) is threatened and stalked by an unknown enemy. His old friend Roger Bacon (implicitly not that fellow) brings him crucial information. Together they begin a road trip/fact-finding mission.

Bellairs is a master of setting. He combines humor and horror in his description of towns and landscapes. Throughout the novel, the author surprised me with flourishes of figurative language, such as the following:

“…(B)ehind him floated large silent owls. They drifted and hung like paper lanterns…” (70)

I can’t pinpoint when my initial impression (“Too many details!”) changed to full immersion in the wizard’s journey. Suffice to say, the setting reflects the transition from his everyday life to increasing peril. A good example is the lead-in to his encounter with a ghost. There was typical foreshadowing: the locals spoke of a spooky forest and a rusty barrier showed an attempt to keep its denizens at bay. Yet the sense of danger was elevated by Bellairs’ earlier depictions of normal sights and sounds of August (albeit unusually cool). Prospero’s harrowing foray into the cursed forest was nothing like his previous travel through woodlands.

Besides his awesome powers of description, Bellairs uses dialogue and snippets of backstory to great effect. Despite this being a stand-alone novel, Prospero and Roger’s friendship seemed to have a long history. When Roger disappeared less than a third into the book – just as Prospero discovered the identity of his tormentor – his reaction of fear and hope felt real. (And I did miss Roger!)

What didn’t I like?

Authorial asides* using second-person which bumped me out of the character’s point of view. For example, “It was as if you were half asleep” (75) could have substituted the character’s name.

The last third of the novel has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe. A key supporting player, Millhorn, is introduced suddenly – after Prospero is dropped into our contemporary world.

The climax felt abrupt. Rereading it, I liked that the protagonist used both recently-acquired and previously-mentioned items to conquer the villain. That was clever. However, I wanted to know more about a certain Lovecraftian object.

What I Learned

While enjoying the interplay between Prospero and Roger, I had a brick-in-the-head moment: “Maybe I can grow my protagonists’ friendship BEFORE they’re forced to rely on each other!”

I tossed three chapters out of my work-in-progress and wrote 3214 words of new dialogue and description. (I’m not sure how many words I deleted, what author Mary Catelli calls “antiwords.”) I restored a confrontation between Argenta and bullies, which I initially worried would be too intense for readers 8-12.


*FOOTNOTE: I have discovered several authors have quirks related to their “authorial voice,” for lack of a better term. Some address the reader directly, in the style of old novels. It’s meant in fun, but it can be annoying. Other authors insert asides, discretely or intrusively.  

April Update: Writing

The Factory is swallowing my free will time, so I wrote this Sunday night. I hope everyone is having a good week in my stead!
***

I decided to finish my series in its entirety before looking for a publisher. It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, I resisted the idea.

While working on Book One’s second draft, I found myself writing vignettes for later use: scenes and dialogue growing naturally from the denouement. I suspected this scribbling was creative procrastination – or worse – a form of Doing It All Wrong. As everyone knows, a Real WriterTM finishes a book, sells it, and then figures out whether it’s worthwhile to write a sequel or a series.

Two things made me reconsider whether it might be a better option than write-stop-repeat.

The first happened when I studied popular children’s books. I read stand-along books but revisited the first books of two series.

All the books featured young protagonists making consequential decisions. The authors kept the tension high with fast-paced events but reminded the reader of the character’s goals. It didn’t take much, either: an omniscient sentence or a bit of dialogue.

Yet there was a marked difference in emotional continuity (for lack of a better term).

Some authors maintain it well. For example, I enjoyed re-reading a novel because I knew how budding friendships would grow and bloom in subsequent books. Despite adding and substracting characters later in the series, the author kept the protagonist’s original friends. Without those relationships, the series would have been a fantastic string of episodic adventures in the protagonist’s life. But not such a pleasure to re-read.

The other series-starter was fantastic, but it underscored why the series disappointed me. In the second book, the interesting protagonist suddenly (and maddeningly) became shallow. The author kept the character’s exterior, but pushed a reset button on character growth. The heart-rending climax of the first book, foreshadowed from the beginning and presented with dramatic irony, raised an expectation of emotional repercussions in the next story. No such luck. The author introduced a new leading character with trauma of his own. The girl-hero became little more than a follower until a tidying-up-one’s-past scene in the final book.1

I decided that a re-readable series, regardless of plot intricacies and grand themes, is one in which plots and character dynamics make sense across various books.

How could I do the same?

I began writing timelines for three adults whose backstories and relationships with the child-protagonists are of particular importance. There was an immediate Book One reward: A supporting character has a better motive – foreshadowed in the first chapter – to help a stranger he meets in Chapter 8. But one conflict in particular won’t be resolved until perhaps the last book.

I realized, too, that one of my favorite characters doesn’t seem to exert any influence on the protagonists in a later section of the timeline. I wonder why. I don’t want to kill him off; he’s fun to write and makes a great foil for other characters.

Writer David Farland gave me the second reason to write a series instead of stand-alone: to make it a selling point for publication. He explains better than I can at The Story Doctor.


  1. I refer to the original series. The author has written sequels and prequels. I’ve heard that retcon (literally: retroactive continuity) shored up some plot holes. However, the author still uses emotional crises as character motivation in a way that is out-of-balance with on-the-page relationships from the prior stories. No, thanks!

Writing Crapola

I read a lot of writerly advice. (I’m currently savoring You’ve Got a Book in You, which I am about halfway through.)

One I struggle with is READ WIDELY, EVEN OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE.

May I be frank? Oftentimes, something pushes me out of the story and makes me think, “Why am I reading this when I could spend the time writing?” Or, more specifically, “Why am I reading THIS CRAPOLA instead of writing something less awful?”

I think it’s because I’ve gotten in the habit of reading for the sake of writing.

Ray Bradbury once described how, as a kid, he asked the family doctor about weird lumps in his wrist; his doctors congratulated him on discovering his own bones. I can often see the “bones” of the story poking through its skin, and it puts me off. Even worse, so many writers slavishly follow the Joseph Campbell structure, I feel a sense of deja vu even with books I know I haven’t read before.

Slooooowwwww writing

The weirdest thing happened this week. Normally, I start each writing session by rereading the previous day’s work, which primes the pump and gets me ready to write for three hours.

This week, the number of words slowed to a trickle. I still felt like I was writing at my normal pace, but then the bedtime reminder sounded and… 300 words after three hours. Also, I realized I broke a rule of my world and I have to figure how to make things right.

I am going to write in the morning this week and see if it helps.