Saturday, October 30, 2010

You Say Po-tay-to, I Say Po-tah-to; or More Notes From The Editing Desk

(Yikes! I got this all written up, then realized I'd forgotten to actually post it! Sorry it's late....)

I've continued to work on edits to The Daughters of August Winterbourne. So far, I've taken out almost 12,000 words, and there are several upcoming chapters that are due to be deleted altogether, or at least greatly reduced. I'm pleased with many of the changes I've made, though I by no means feel that the edited sections have reached what I would consider a final draft.

One of the things I've been working on this week is how to say the same thing, but in different ways. There are certain notes I want to repeat throughout the story, but I need to do it in ways that don't sound tiresome and boring.

Here's an example: Celia, having just had her father confirm the existence of her half-sisters, reacts by running away. It seemed a natural thing for her to do, since she'd had the same reaction on first learning the news from one of her half-sisters.

But this time, following a suggestion from a member of my critique group, I decided to change things up a bit to show that Celia had learned that running away didn't solve her problems. I had her stop running after about half a block. She is on the verge of returning of her own accord when her love interest, Mr. Fletcher, catches up to her (having been sent by the Academy's Chancellor to chase her down).

I liked this change to the scene, since it did show her growing and learning from her past experiences. And I was still able to include a little interaction between Celia and Mr. Fletcher. I was even so daring as to have him give her a little hug. On a public thoroughfare and everything! Here's what that looked like:

He stopped about five feet away from her. “Miss Winterbourne. I don't mean to intrude. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

The sympathy in his face caught her off guard, and her eyes filled with tears. She turned to study the wall, not wanting him to see her cry. “I’m fine,” she whispered.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, and looked down to see his hand in front of her, holding a handkerchief.

“No, you’re not,” he said softly. “But if it would help to tell someone, I’m here.”

Against her will, she turned to face him, eyes still swimming with tears. “Thank you.”

The next thing she knew, his arms went around her, holding her gently against him. Once again, she marveled at how safe and warm she felt there.
Now, this wasn't a bad scene, but as it was pointed out to me, the part about how she felt safe and warm in Mr. Fletcher's arms was well enough, but it's a little cliche. Besides, I'd had her making that same observation a few scenes back, the first time they hugged.

So I made a few changes, and I think it's better:
The next thing she knew, his arms went around her, holding her gently against him. She buried her face in the grey tweed of his coat. He smelled of river water and coal smoke and peppermint; the scents wrapped themselves around her as securely as his arms.
I'm not convinced that it's perfect yet, but I think the revised version conveys the sense of feeling safe and warm without using those exact words.

[Update: After being outdoors all day today, I've decided that it should be: "He smelled of river water and autumn leaves and peppermint; the scents wrapped themselves around her as securely as his arms."]

How do other people handle the challenge of echoing a scene or emotion without resorting to repeating the same words over and over?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Overcoming The Scary, Parts 1 & 2

Bonus weekend posts from MileHiCon:

As I posted previously, one of my goals this convention was to challenge myself to overcome my innate shyness and y'know, like, talk to people.

My progress so far:

Last night, sat at the bar at a table with a couple of authors and actually carried on conversations. Yay!

This morning, attended a panel titled "Scoring in the Elevator: Writing a Good Two-Sentence Pitch". Except that it turned out not to be a panel, but a workshop. Once I learned that, I nearly turned tail and fled, but instead I stayed and presented my pitch for "The Daughters of August Winterbourne". And as a result, I had five author panelists and a room full of other aspiring authors work with me to craft this pitch:

When the techno-plundering Tarmanian Empire kidnaps their inventor father, four sisters must pilot his airship across Victorian Europe to rescue him.

I like it!

More updates as they occur. (My next challenge is to BE a panelist, but talking about start-up conventions rather than my writing. Still, it's a start!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

But They're Scary People! or, Authors and Editors and Publishers, Oh My!

(Posted live from MileHiCon)

Confession time.

I'm petrified of meeting authors, editors, and publishers in person.

I'm always terrified that I'll do or say something that will mark me forever as one of the biggest idiots to ever inhabit the planet. And that, once having done that, I will then have to locate the nearest rock and take up residence beneath it.

I don't know why I'm so convinced of that. Because my usual reaction to meeting a celebrity of any sort is to clam up and say nothing at all. I become completely tongue-tied and can't ever seem to manage anything more profound than "Hi" and "It was nice meeting you."

Last year at MileHiCon, they held an Author Meet & Greet in the bar. Aspiring authors were invited to come and rub shoulders with the pros, discuss their current projects,, and just hang out and chat.

I think I said about four words the whole time. And was terrified that someone would talk to me.

I know it doesn't make sense. I know that most authors and publishers are nice people. That doesn't seem to make them any less scary.

So it might surprise you to learn that I'm currently sitting at a table next to a small press publisher, and chatting casually, just like we were friends. And we sort of are. We've chatted at conventions a couple of times. Also, my husband went to high school with him.

And on Fridays, he runs #scifichat on Twitter, which I often pop in on over my lunch hour. So as I walked past, I mentioned it, and he invited me to pull up a chair and take part in the last few minutes of it.

Naturally, my first reaction was to run screaming. Obviously I didn't do that. Instead, I took a deep breath and said, "Sure!"

I seem to have lived through it. I wonder if that means I'll have enough guts to do more than say "Hi" and "nice meeting you" at the author meet & greet tonight? Perhaps I should make that a goal for this convention -- to actually talk to people more. Okay, maybe I've already achieved that goal -- I've already spoken with several people in the past hour who aren't people I know well. (This is unusual for a shy person like me.)

One thing that I've found does help are social networks. After I've chatted with people on Facebook and Twitter, they're not nearly so scary. Some of them are quite friendly, in fact. I had a bit of a chat with an author on LiveJournal this week -- about the preserving of apple pie filling, and how to can it successfully.

Okay, time to run along and see if my help is needed at the registration table yet. If not, I'm going to go grab my suitcase and lug it up to my room. And then see what kind of trouble I can get in.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's October 14, Do You Know Where Your Plot Is; or, NaNoWriMo, Coming Soon

I looked at my calendar today and felt a rush of panic mingled with a dose of anticipation.

It's October 14.

Which means that NaNoWriMo is just over two weeks away.

And I don't know where my plot is.

Now, this is not as bad as it could be. For instance, on October 14, 2006, I hadn't even heard of National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo). And yet, November 1 found me pounding away at the keyboard of my laptop. November 30 had me well over the 50,000 word "finish line," and before Christmas, I'd brought my first NaNoNovel in at right around 100,000 words.

The problem is that back then, I didn't really have a goal, other than writing a novel. But this year, my plan is to try to write the second book of the Celia Winterbourne trilogy. And I don't know what happens in this book.

All right. I know a few things. I know that it starts with Celia sitting high in a tree, looking down over a gypsy encampment, on what should have been her wedding day. And I'm pretty sure that it ends in an airship over the Atlantic Ocean. I even know a few of the things that need to happen in between. (For a look at those, check out my story synopsis on the NaNoWriMo website.)

What has me in a panic is that I'm not sure what the story arc needs to be for this middle book in the series. I have a much better idea of the story arc for the third book, but it's not time to write that yet -- especially since things that happen in the second book will affect the plot of the third. At the moment, I'm worried that this second book will end up feeling like nothing more than a placeholder, a place to kill time while waiting for the third book to happen. There needs to be a satisfying amount of action and character growth to make the story worth telling.

I suppose I just need to knuckle down, shove Inner Editor back into her dungeon for the month, and keep reminding myself to write first and edit later. But that's not always the easiest thing in the world to do.

I also don't want a repeat of NaNoWriMo 2008, where I decided to write the sequel to my 2006 NaNoNovel. That year, I didn't finish until March, and when I did, I was left with a 280,000 word behemoth that I still haven't figured out what to do with (except, perhaps, to print it up and use it as a really effective doorstop).

On the other hand, maybe if I have fewer story details going in, I'll have an easier time bringing the story in at a reasonable length. (I'm still trying to trim the first book down from its original 186,000 word length -- so far, I've cropped 11,000 words out of it!)

So is anyone else attempting NaNoWriMo this year? Or have you set some other writing goals for yourself?

(p.s. For anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo and hasn't already done so, my NaNo handle is arwensouth, if you'd like to add me to your buddies list.)

(p.p.s. Did anyone fall off their chair because I actually posted this on Thursday for a change?)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And in the beginning....

Last week after attending the Emerald City Writer's Conference (sidenote: A barrel of fun but I definitely won't volunteer to coordinate the bookfair again!), I had an idea for a novella. I have the whole thing losely plotted in my head. I know the characters. I know the journey they have to embark on. But I can't figure out where it all begins. Do I begin with the hero entering the city or the temple? Do I begin with the heroine being summoned so that she can set out with the hero? Or do I give the reader a sweeping view of the capital city on the bluff above the sea, setting up the place their story begins?

I love beginnings. I love opening sentences. It's always key for me to nail down that opening sentence and paragraph. I've thought about just skipping that for now and writing some of the other scenes. I already have a few humming around in my head. But it's hard for me to do that. Once that opening is written, I have no problem bebopping around. But I want that opening, that key piece that sets the stage before I can move on.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Visualizing Your Characters; or, How Nice To Finally Meet You!

I read a news story recently about an author whose book had been adapted for the stage. When he visited the theater during a rehearsal, he was introduced to the actor playing his main character. He paused for a moment, then said, "How nice to finally meet you!"

The actor was understandably confused, until the author explained, "You're exactly how I imagined the character when I wrote the book, fifteen years ago."

Wow. That has to be an amazing feeling.

I haven't had quite that experience (and it's unlikely that anyone will be adapting any of my stories for the stage anytime soon), but I have had the disconcerting experience of encountering a random photograph on the Internet that bore a striking resemblance to a character in one of my stories. Most recently, I found this picture of Carey Mulligan, and was struck by her similarity to my mental picture of my character Celia Winterbourne:

It wasn't so much a physical resemblance (Celia's hair should be darker and a little curlier, and her eyes should be green) as her eager and interested expression and the shape of her face. I can see this girl in Victorian costume, all excited to be going off to her first day at the Royal Academy of Science. She's pretty, in a clean, wholesome way, just as Celia would be, but not so glamorous that people would stop in the street to watch her pass.

On the other hand, I know authors who like to have reference photographs for their main characters before they even start writing. I've never needed to do that, nor do I usually(1) base my characters on actual actors or other people, but I do like to at least form a mental image of the characters before I write them. It's usually a clear enough picture that I'd recognize them if I met them on the street (or in the case of Celia's alter ego, saw them on the Internet)

For The Daughters of August Winterbourne, I went so far as to make up a spreadsheet containing basic information about all of the named characters, such as name, age, hair and eye color, and general appearance notes. That's the most organized I've ever gotten, and I think it did help. (Though now I'm wondering if I should go back and add in pictures as I find them as well.)

How do other people go about visualizing their characters? Do you haunt the Internet for pictures, or do you just build pictures in your head?

(1) There have been exceptions, of course, but only a few. And no, I'm not going to tell you which ones.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Conflict; or, Keeping Things Interesting

One of the things I struggle with in my writing is keeping enough conflict going to make the story interesting. I find that I often create friction between two characters, only to have them resolve it a chapter or two later and then everything is fine again. Life's not like that; good characters aren't like that; and frankly, it makes for boring reading.

The other thing I have to work to keep in mind is that emotional displays are not the same as conflict. So while it might be a natural reaction to have a character run off and have a crying fit when she gets some bad news, it's more interesting if we see her struggling to come to terms with the bad news and figuring out what to do about it.

This week, I spent some time editing chapters of my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, so that I could submit them to my on-line critique group. The chapters are about a third of the way into the book, when my MC, Celia Winterbourne, learns that she is not her father's only child, as she has been led to believe for all nineteen years of her life.

In my original draft, I had her running away to the neighboring cemetery to have a good cry, then returning to have yet another good cry with friends before actually confronting her father. While there were notes in the cemetery scene between Celia and her love interest that were rather sweet and helped develop that relationship further, after several readings (and some feedback on the previous chapters), I decided that rather than have her friends convince Celia to confront her father, it makes for a better story -- and makes Celia more interesting as a character -- for her to decide for herself that she needs to talk to her father. Showing that conflict within herself -- the desire to run away vs. the logical decision to meet with her father -- is much more interesting, at least to me.

But conflict doesn't always have to be a big, loud confrontation. Once I'd made revisions to my chapters and sent them off, I decided to go back and look at the beginning of the story once again. The opening scene, while it does a good job of establishing who Celia is and shows us how she and her father relate to one another, always felt a little flat to me. In it, Celia lands her father's airship. She and her father talk about how she will be leaving for the Academy of Science in a few days, one of the first female students to be admitted to the school. (Sadly, much of this comes across as an "As you know, Bob," kind of scene, and I wasn't terribly happy with that.) Then they get in a carriage and go back to London. Not very exciting.

So I revised. Celia still lands the airship, but this time, she and her father talk about how much he's going to miss having her around, and how they won't be able to just go off in the airship whenever they feel like it ... but I never have them say why. (Astute readers might figure out that it's because she's going off to school, but we don't know which school, or that there's anything special about her being accepted to attend it.) That increases the tension, at least a little bit.

After they land, they learn that there are reporters waiting to talk to them, since Celia's father is a well-known airship designer, and Celia is equally well known for her skill as an airship pilot. Celia doesn't want to talk to them, but does anyway. And that gives the scene a tiny bit of conflict that makes it more interesting.

Over the course of the interview, we learn that Celia is off to the Academy, and that yes, she is excited to have been accepted and so on. Then one of the reporters asks her if she's read a recent article stating that women are physiologically unsuited to the rigors of university life (the story is set in 1873), and what she thinks about that. Bingo! That's the conflict the scene needed.

So restructuring the scene this way accomplished several goals:

1) Increased conflict/tension = more interesting reading.
2) Eliminated the former "As you know, Bob" info dump between Celia and her father to establish the fact that she will be off to the Academy soon. Yay!
3) Helps establish the fact that Celia is a minor --and somewhat reluctant -- celebrity. Since this plays into some of the conflicts later in the story, I decided it was important to make more of a point of it up front.

I'm happy with the results.

So what have other people done to increase conflict in their stories?