Tag Archives: writing a novel

State of the Zoo-nion Address 2015

Image from cafepress.com

Image from cafepress.com

Greetings, my fellow Simians.
Perhaps I’ve been binge-watching too much Homeland lately, but today, I am compelled to once again brief you on my current state of affairs as your faithful Primate President, as well as a Reader, Writer, and Editor.

First, I’d like to make a motion that we conduct our US zoological elections more like they do in the UK, with primary–I mean, primate–election campaigning limited to four months instead of an absurd two years. It’s enough that they’ve entrusted our species with the great responsibility of protecting their limited freedoms within our limited abilities (we’re all in cages, after all, so there’s only so much we can do, am I right?). But from the lion’s den to the penguin sanctuary, animals zoo-wide are crying (or roaring, or squawking, or squeaking, or spitting–looking at you, lamas) for us to waste less time throwing our feces and bribing each other with bananas and spend more on addressing the primate–I mean, primary–issues we all face. For instance, zoo opening hours have been extended to far too late, and really? Stringing up the zoo with fairy lights in winter means we can’t get the holidays off now, either? Humans have become too handsy with our habitats as well, reaching between our bars, fingerprinting our plexiglass, and throwing too much inedible waste our way. We must also battle against the discrimination still plaguing our gift shops and wall murals, in which the same animals are represented over and over again. We monkeys have had more than our fair share of the limelight, and the tigers, elephants, giraffes, and flamingos have grown increasingly vocal in their frustration, too, with the paparazzi attention such exposure continually wreaks upon them. But we must acknowledge the joys, too, in what we have taken for granted, so I want the more obscure species among us to exalt in that recognition as well someday. The crowned lemurs, the Inca terns, the Sichuan takins–they, oh yes, they will have their day to shine. Maybe even literally, if they can get onto one of those glow-stick thingies the shops are selling now, you know, with the LED lights and thingamabobs sticking out and spinning around for no other purpose than looking really cool in the dark and getting kids to stop crying. All this and more lies before us as achievable realities, not mere cow-pie-in-the-sky fancies.

In other current events, as of this week I have the honor of beta-reading the English translation of author Ellen Dunne‘s manuscript. Ellen was one of my very first blog buddies when The Fallen Monkey was instituted in 2010, and it’s been amazing to follow each others’ writing journeys, celebrating successes and persevering through challenges. She has since published two novels (both in German but hopefully translated soon!) and the English-language short story “Cigarette Break,” which I’ve read and highly recommend. In the pipeline are two more novel-length manuscripts (also translated), one of which I’ve got loaded on my Kindle, ready to go! I also recently read an ARC of Shani Struther’s The Return (book three in The Runaway Series, though it works well as a standalone), which was released today and also comes with my recommendations.

As for my own schtuff, I am not as prolific as the talented and creative Ellen and Shani, but I’m of course thrilled to have a debut novel and novelette see the light of day in the past year. And after much (much, much) revision and querying, Manuscript #1 is finally finding acceptance out there. So in the coming weeks, I’ll be weighing my options. Meanwhile, I’m querying a novelette-length urban fantasy, too, and am writing my next novel-length romance of sorts.

On the editing front, I’ve reached a blessed standstill. After a year of reviewing roughly fifty manuscripts in an acquisitions capacity, I’m now back to concentrating on developmental editing—but at a pace that I can better balance with my writing and other life obligations. Last year was very intense for both personal and professional reasons, so 2015 finds me in a state closer to equilibrium. Here’s to a brighter year for you, too. 🙂

*waves and steps down from behind the exhibit information plaque serving as podium*

 

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NaNo Nuh-Uh

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!

Whoa, boy. What’s going on. Has the Monkey finally lost it? Did she ever have it to begin with?

Never fear, my resounding guffaw is simply me laughing in the face of my past self who actually thought she’d be doing NaNoWriMo this year. What? Really? HAHAHAHAHAHAAA! Who did you think you were kidding, girl?

Sad but true, I had to opt out. Again. And it’s killin’ me. But editing duty calls, and I am fully realizing the curse that is the otherwise-blessing of being both a writer and editor. Were I still in finance, shifting from numbers to writing after the workday would’ve been an easy enough if not hugely therapeutic way to decompress (I wish I did write back then). Were I still a teacher, I would admittedly still struggle to balance writing with the day-job like I do now since that’s an occupation where the work never ends, even after that last-period bell has rung. But I still dappled in freewriting and such back then as, again, a therapeutic way to shift gears and do what I love.

But as an editor…I spend all day every day troubleshooting story issues and thinking through different ways to rephrase sentences for other people’s manuscripts, so it’s not exactly a welcome relief to then jump into troubleshooting and thinking through mine. I need a break. I need to get away from the computer. I need to not brainstorm story ideas and sort out developmental stumbling blocks. Often, I don’t even want to read an already-published book because the activity is still too similar to what I do all day—and as it is, what I curl up with at night is usually just another raw manuscript that I’m reading on the Kindle and taking notes on so I can brainstorm its future plan of attack. Yes, that, after working on another story at the computer all day. So the most writing I do these days is in my head while I’m doing something else. It’s just kinda how it has to be, at least for now when I’m up against dueling deadlines.

Anyway. I didn’t mean to make this whole post a primate pity party. I’m so, so lucky to have the work that I do and to still have the ideas and drive to write my own stuff. And if I haven’t been writing anything new, I’ve actually been making good progress revising my original Manuscript #1 this month. And editing other people’s work is always a great way to hedge against mine sucking. I can still live vicariously through other writers’ talent. 🙂

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, huzzah! Bravo! Keep it up! Don’t lose steam! You’re over halfway there, and crossing the finish line is so sweet. Good job, and write on.

 


NaNoWriMonkey 2014

Hellooooo! And brrrrrrrrrr! The season has officially shifted—the temps are dropping, the days darkening, and lattes everywhere are getting infused with pumpkin spice whether they like it or not. I can smell Halloween in the air, and the day after that will be…National Novel Writing Month!

Now, I won’t pretend that I’m the most consistent, most winningest NaNoWriMo participant out there, but this year especially, I have a lot to be grateful to this event for. Those who’ve followed me awhile might recall my virgin yet Herculean (if I may say so myself) NaNoWriMo effort in 2011, when I first started in the middle of the month and still met my 50,000 words! The craziest thing about what I churned out over those couple of weeks is that I salvaged most of it as not pure and utter crap—I don’t credit my command of the craft for that so much as the OUTLINE I had going into it. I wasn’t writing purely off the top of my head but with specific plot points in mind for Manuscript #2, which gave me the destination to aim for even if the path I took was allowed to roam (which is really when the magic happens, I think…when you let go and just immerse and write, which leads to tapping into your storyworld so directly you almost feel like you’re just transcribing what already exists, not something you’re creating—see my NaNoWriMo follow-up post for more reflections on that experience).

In any case, what I salvaged from NaNo 2011’s 50,000 words can now be found in the novel that was published this year. So needless to say, I bow down to NaNoWriMo as a worthwhile endeavor no matter how ready or not you are. I’ve been itching to get back in the game ever since and attempted to last year, but I couldn’t knock my editing hat off to wear my writing one for long enough. And, granted, I wasn’t prepared with another WIP outline at that point; in lieu of that, I was going to try my hand at an anthology for all the miscellaneous paranormal ideas I have floating around. I did manage to write almost 8,000 words for one of those stories, which was in response to a call for submissions that had opened at the time. The publisher was looking for urban legend retellings, so I cranked out Bloody Hell, Mary!  It wasn’t accepted and certainly not the best I could do, but I appreciate the practice it gave me as I try to warm up my writing muscles for Manuscript #3…

…which is my NaNoWriMo goal for 2014. I still need to shape my next novel idea into an outline, but I’ve written a crapload of notes and wrote my first chapter yesterday. If I can start to find my groove over the course of October, I’m hoping November will be the month when Manuscript #3 gets officially underway.

And as for dear, sweet Manuscript #1…it’s hangin’ in there. I’ve revamped its opening chapters quite a bit and would like to tighten its second half around a more cohesive story arc. We’ll see. I know she isn’t going anywhere–which is both a relief and just what I’m afraid of. 🙂

All right, gang, so who’s with me? Who’s planning to get NaNoed this year? Write on!


Omniscient Deficient

Now that I griped about the challenges of third-person omniscient narration in my last Red Pen post, gol’ damn if I’m not going to try it in novel manuscript #3! After stewing on it and reviewing another manuscript submission that actually handled it quite well, challenging myself to write with an omniscient narrator has become a quest. But more important than that, I sincerely believe it’s the best choice for the story that is presently budding in my head. I can’t pretend I’ll be at all skilled in handling this POV, but why not try and broaden my range.

I have been so inundated with editing assignments that I can hardly fathom starting a new novel anytime soon (I can barely fathom when the hell I’m going to edit my own book—manuscript #2, which is now slated for publication this August), but the voices have started chattering in my head, and ever so slowly, I am sifting through them to hear my individual characters. So I’m just grabbing minutes when I can to brainstorm the people and plot in the random, sloppy, handwritten way that I do (see alter-ego Rumer’s “Madness to the Method.”). It’s crazy fun exploring this new idea, just when I thought I’d be tapped out on novel-length fiction for a spell. In the meantime, I’ve also kicked around some short story ideas for a paranormal anthology. (Alas, I thought I’d conquer NaNoWriMo 2013 to accomplish that project, but all I squeezed out was one story that I ended up posting on fanfiction.net as a retelling of an urban legend.)

Anyway, back to third-person omniscient. Like I said, I wouldn’t use it just to try it; I think it’ll work great for my story, which will comprise an ensemble cast in a single setting over the course of a single night. Remember my ages-old post “The Shotgun-Shack Story: Nowhere to Hide“? I’m going for that. This will consequently place a lot of pressure on characterization and dialogue, and I’d honestly like to experience it as a fly on the wall. I’ve enjoyed writing in third-person limited narration so far—manuscript #1 is limited to a single POV, and #2 is limited to multiple–and that’s what I mostly read these days, be it published fiction or the yet-to-be-published stuff that I edit. But I don’t know…do you sometimes get sick of being inside the same head(s) as a writer or reader? Sometimes I’m bored trying to speak through a specific set of eyes all the time, and as an editor, I find a lot of authors over-indulge in introspection. I’m constantly hacking out superfluous inner narrative that either gets repetitive with itself or redundant with what’s already been said and done. The string of inner-questioning in particular seems a popular rookie favorite, the constant upswing in intonation at the end of every sentence that I “hear” with my inner ear driving me batty at every turn! We can’t let our characters just constantly stew in insecurity and indecision like that. I don’t care if the main characters eventually do get off their asses to proactively achieve their goals; even those small moments of having to swirl through the questions in their minds is just wheel-spinning and dizzying when we probe too deep too often.

So at any rate, I’m terribly eager to stick all my new characters into a room with each other and see what the hell they do. I don’t want to think for them. And I don’t want them to give anything away in their thoughts. So I’m going to aim for a truly objective POV, avoiding any head-dipping if possible. The risk, of course, is detaching the reader from these characters. It will sharply lose the intimacy that a subjective POV could provide. But that hasn’t stopped me from attaching to the characters I see on TV and in film, most of which don’t bring us into their thoughts like Dexter; they just let us watch and listen (with or without Ron Howard’s omniscient narrative assistance 🙂 ). So why not give it a go and practice my way from POV deficiency to proficiency?

How about you? Have you written third-person omniscient narrative before? Do you find it easy or difficult? Do you keep it purely objective, or do you like to head-dip now and then? And when do you think it’s most appropriate to use? Do you care for it as a reader?


The Red Pen: POed at POVs

red penHappy Monday, my Monkey friends! I’m putting my editor hat back on today to comment on an issue that’s plagued me a lot as of late: POV. I ranted on this topic a while back in my post “POV for Vendetta,” when I feared a colleague and I were nearing impasse, ironically because we shared different points of view on point of view. As I eventually related in my follow-up post, “The POVerdict,” we did find compromise, and, in retrospect after gaining more experience, I do think the book is better for it. At the crux of it, though, was when sharing multiple POVs is head-hopping or not. The reading and editing community at large has become increasingly intolerant toward shifting between characters’ thoughts and prefers the nice-n-tidy confines of limited POV. But even when multiple POVs are limited versus omniscient, when can such perspectives alternate without having to denote the shifts between them with an obvious section or chapter break?

Now, I’ll be honest that I do personally prefer when a scene or chapter is kept to one character’s perspective. It’s simply easier to understand and allows me more intimacy with that character, provides me more insight. Even JK Rowling’s expert use of third-person omniscient in The Casual Vacancy drove me a bit nuts at times, purely because I don’t care for those shifts occurring on a sentence or paragraph level. For me, it always comes down to the story and the writing, whether the alchemy of the two produces an effect that works for my brain or not. It can be a very personal choice and difficult thing to articulate.

What perplexes me at the moment, though, is a novel I just finished: the NY Times and international bestseller The Expats, by Chris Pavone. No doubt the writing is good (better than mine fo’ sho’), and the story well crafted (though arguably a bit underwhelming and in need of a wee bit of tightening), yet I can’t reconcile the straying POVs within it. The story is 99.5% told through the protagonist’s point of view, but every now and then, we jump inside another character’s head. It’s an easy mistake but a just-as-easily fixed one, leaving me to wonder how these shifts got through—via oversight or justification? If the latter, I’d love to know what that was. Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong.

But allow me to share a challenging POV predicament that recently came my way—something I could and did do something about. Unlike The Expats, this manuscript tried for third-person omniscient narration, not limited, so shifting between perspectives was acceptable. But unlike the omnisciently narrated The Casual Vacancy, these shifts were intolerable. Rather than recreate the wheel, I’ve pasted an excerpt of my actual notes (with specific story information removed for sake of anonymity):

The aim here is evidently third-person omniscient, in which an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator is observing from the outside yet still able to know characters’ thoughts. Consistent with that, we do get to follow everyone around […]. The dilemma, however, is that it treads a fine line between omniscience and head-hopping that our acquisitions and editorial teams found dizzying.

Head-hopping and third-person omniscient narration are not the same thing, so I’m not going to claim that a story can’t reveal different characters’ thoughts in the same scene or even same paragraph. Omniscient narration is common in classic literature, after all; it’s just less common these days for assorted reasons. For some, it sounds old-fashioned; for others, they prefer the intimacy they can have with characters under a limited POV. Those are largely personal preferences—for readers, it’s a choice of which POV they like to read, and for writers, it can also be what they like to write, but first and foremost POV has to suit the story. Regardless, many writers shy from third-person omniscient because it’s very difficult to pull off without lapsing into head-hopping.

The strength of your narration is that it does maintain a consistent sense of voice. Even if it dwells with one character a while, it doesn’t assume that character’s voice instead. That’s vital for omniscience. There are also times when ducking in and out characters’ minds lends comic relief and a colorful storytelling quality to that narrative voice. But the main thing you have to ask yourself when approaching any story is whose story is it? Who is the hero? Whose perspective matters most?

As one of your first readers, if I were to answer these questions for [your manuscript], I’d say [A] is the story’s heroine with [B] as her leading man. Next in the hierarchy are [C] (the heroine of her own subplot, which triggers [A]’s main plot) and [D] (the villain of the story). These four are very tightly intertwined, though, and drive the story collectively, so I like your choice to use multiple points of view. Each of them is worthwhile to follow around, and their individual POVs can take us places where the others don’t go to provide us important information to be gleaned from different locales at once.

But note that I didn’t list anyone beyond those four characters. [P]resenting bits of the story through secondary characters’ POVs is more difficult to justify. There’s the comic relief, yes, but that’s embedded in the narrative voice itself and certainly shines through the four main characters. This quality of your storytelling wouldn’t be lost even if we don’t get to hear every minor character’s internal quipping (like I said before about killing your darlings, if it means editing out a good joke or clever wordplay, use it another story that shares similar dynamics. Maybe write a sequel with the same cast of characters but different leading roles, etc.). And even if their thoughts have important bearing on the plot, most likely we can acquire that information ourselves through their body language and dialogue.

[Example from the text.]

The other factor at play here is not just that [A]’s, [B]’s, [C]’s, and [D]’s POVs should be the main ones but that they already are. We spend more time in their heads than anyone else’s, so the story seems to already want to limit itself to their perspectives. And I think that’s where the overall POV has an identity crisis of sorts between omniscient and limited that lends to the head-hopping quality. When we’re in one perspective for most of a scene, it’s jarring to shift out and then back into it during that scene. On the other end of the spectrum is when we’re not oriented in any one POV at length but, rather, shifting around frequently among several people. Even between a couple of characters, shifting on such a sentence/paragraph level is really disorienting.

Very long story short, I’m generally not inclined toward using a third-person omniscient POV for this story because it:

–   detracts from the main characters, whose perspectives matter most
–   can easily slip into head-hopping or produce a similar whiplash effect when shifting POVs across too many characters too many times in a scene

So based on my own observations and those across our acquisitions and editorial teams, I highly recommend switching to third-person limited POV. You could (and should) still use multiple points of view […], but try to keep scenes within a single character’s POV and use a section/chapter break whenever there’s a shift.

The idea is to keep readers oriented and not jar them by shifting without warning. If POV does shift at all within a scene, it needs to be very, very carefully controlled on an absolutely as-needed basis. And weed out the strays if one character’s POV clearly dominates a section—e.g., say you have five paragraphs in a single POV except for a few sentences of an alternative POV interspersed within them. The best solution is to delete or rewrite those few sentences into the dominant POV.

When your main characters separate, it’s easy to choose which one’s POV to follow for that scene. But remember also that they’re often in the same room with each other, so even having to choose one POV among them doesn’t mean we can’t still see and hear the other characters and draw conclusions based on their spoken/body language (and whoever’s head we’re in at the time can form those conclusions for us in their thoughts, too). And if you’re dealing with one scene but really, really want to show it through more than one perspective, look for shifts that naturally lend themselves to a section break. If we see a situation in [A]’s POV for several paragraphs but then [B]’s POV kicks in with his viewpoint of the same time and place for the next couple pages, those are sizable chunks that can be divided with a section break marker but, together, still constitute a single scene. Section/chapter breaks aren’t the end-all, be-all way to handle shifts, but they’re the safest when in doubt.

So there’s my two pence on that topic. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the author was on board with shifting POV from omniscient to limited multiple. Very enthusiastically so, actually. And yes, my editorial plans can be long-winded. 🙂 Especially when they go to the author for a preliminary rewrite rather than straight to the editor, as I try to be as specific as possible in my guidance for newer writers.

As a reader and/or writer, what are your thoughts on omniscient vs. limited point of view? Limited vs. limited multiple POV? And how do you define the difference between true omniscience and head-hopping?


Slap Happy


To be mid-thirties and still getting toys for Christmas…magic.

(Thanks, Mom! :))

And that video is what I’m feeling like in these young months of 2013. In a good way. Slappy…but happy.

I know it’s been a looong time, and if you’re still with me, I love you for your loyalty. Thanks for havin’ a monkey’s back. And now I hate to inundate you with a laundry list of all I’ve been up to, but we’ve got some catching up to do since my last post.

First of all, I discontinued my writing services as a web content writer. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t take on new projects, just that I’m done with the old and not presently soliciting new. Should any fall in my lap with no douchebag-SEO-guy strings attached and the content requested sounds meaningful and fun, awesome.

Second of all, I’ve since then thrown myself into my editing work and recommenced my querying process—for my first manuscript, yes, but also some short stories I’ve had lying around and collecting dust on my hard-drive. It’s been a much more pleasant process since my discovery of Duotrope. Why in hell has it taken me this long to know about it? If I’m at least still one step ahead of you, allow me to expound my new-found knowledge: the site allows you to filter through a comprehensive listing of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry markets (~4,500 of ’em) based on your criteria (e.g., genre, word count, etc.).

In any case, it’s been a lovely time getting reacquainted with my shorter pieces of fiction, but, alas, I haven’t been doing much new writing lately. For shame, I know, but I’ve been editing multiple manuscripts back-to-back. My workload in this respect has significantly increased since agreeing to assist with editorial direction on fresh acceptances as well, which is much quicker turnaround apiece but still a crapload of reading, analyzing, and plan writing.

I don’t know, maybe I kill myself too much over them, but I care, gol’ damn it. I know it’s not my name that’ll be attached to a book in the end and that it’s usually very different from my own writing, but I strike up lovely little synergies with these authors, and, in the end, a lil’ piece of me is in that book. I’m there in spirit, existing in the syntax and idea development. I might be the reason a description really enhances a setting or character, or that POV is third-person limited and not omniscient. I might be why that villain exhibits vulnerability rather than a caricature of evil intent. I might be the one blasting a hose of cold water on the fiery libidos of two love interests, asking them to please keep it in their pants until at least the next chapter. Or I might be why lush summer gardens fade to blustery winter landscapes when the original time frame doesn’t sync. And perhaps I’ll be why an adult paranormal novel becomes new-adult contemporary, as I reduce characters’ ages to something commensurate with their behavior and situations…and save the world from one merman story at a time.

And I will always be why a writer feels good about his or her work in the end. Because for as much grunt work as I can take credit for, it ultimately has to stay in keeping with the author’s vision and style. They are the ones who provide the clay to work with. As two of them recently emailed me:

“[T]hank you so much for the kind words. As someone with the fragile writer’s ego, I appreciate them!”

“Just wanted to thank you for all the wonderfully encouraging comments and smiley faces.  As a writer […] there have been many moments when I reread my own stuff and thought, ‘this is terrible.’ I can’t tell you how gratifying and inspiring it is to view the parts you particularly enjoyed as I revise.”

It’s such a special collaboration to be a part of, and I look forward to (hope for) the opportunity to experience this process from the other side someday.

As for someone who already has walked that wild side of publication for her second time now, I’d be remiss not to close on the very happy news of my sister’s latest book! Divine Temptationa paranormal romance and Nicki Elson‘s second novel—is fresh off the presses as of last week:

Maggie Brock has everything under control…until an angel shows up in her bedroom.

God speed to this good read!

And now—with a *slap* *slap* to both of my cheeks—time to happily get on with my work. 🙂


Do not attempt to adjust your television – er, computer monitor…

* * BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP * *

This blog is currently on hiatus.

The Primate has been on loan to a zoo overseas for the past month and is going ape-sh*t over other commitments.

Please stay tuned for The Fallen Monkey’s winter season line-up, though, when it returns to its irregular schedule.

Same Monkey Time. Same Monkey Channel.

*


The Lazy Way to Write a Blog Post…

…copy/paste something you’ve already written. 🙂

Okay, so we’ve established by now I’m not the most reliable of bloggers, and now I’m not following through on my promise for this post to be about 1st-person narration. Fact is, I haven’t prioritized time for thoughtfully compiling thoughts/excerpts on that topic, but I will, I will…

What I have been prioritizing lately—FINALLY!—is my second manuscript. I’ve been close to the end for months now, but, just like with my first manuscript, the characters’ voices went quiet. I probably should have pushed through anyway, but I didn’t, and now I’ve got them all screaming in my ear. So, when I have free time (or blow off work to create pseudo-free time), I am writing the rest of my novel. And giving advice to friends to get them started writing theirs!

Which brings me to my lazy post today. The novel-esque email responses I just inundated my dear friend with this week as she prepares for NaNoWriMo as a first-time writer. Here goes:

Q: How do you narrow down an idea? I have a million…

A: [First of all, I thought, “Lucky girl!” It took me ages to generate even one idea for my first manuscript.]

Evaluate each one for how easily you think you could run with one for an entire novel. Do some have nicer complexity than others? Are they more appealing for you to research and live with for a long, long amount of time whereas others you might tire of or not be able to develop very far? And is there just that one that really, really speaks to you from the inside…you can’t get it out of your head, it gets you excited because it’s so original/meaningful/interesting/etc., you can already see the setting and hear the characters, it is THE book you were meant to write?

You can also try writing little vignettes for each idea and see which one takes off, inspires the most possibilities. Foregoing an idea at one time doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited at another, either as another book or as a short story.

That’s always another avenue—write several short stories and compile them in an anthology. With short stories, you can also submit them individually to contests and publications (e.g., magazines, anthologies, e-zines, etc.), which builds a publication history you can cite in your novel’s query letter down the road. It’s a great way to earn credibility. I only wish I could be more prolific that way. 🙂

One blog that I follow is www.milo-inmediares.com. The guy (Milo) is a maniac about writing/submitting stories based on Ray Bradbury’s early discipline of writing and submitting one story a week to get his start. Milo helped create the Write1Sub1 blog, too, to encourage others to write one story a week or month so that, at the end of the year, you have a large collection to work with, not only because getting published is such a numbers game but also to have that accomplishment for yourself. It’s a proper repertoire. Anyway, in either his April 2011 or April 2010 archives, he blogged every day about one new publication to submit stories to, in case you wanted to explore the short story option with all your different ideas.

Regardless of what length you write, just remember every story has an arc: exposition builds to rising action, which reaches climax and descends with falling action toward a resolution. The major climax occurs late in the story (and resolutions shouldn’t be too dragged out). There must be some sense of ongoing internal/external conflict that builds and builds before getting resolved in the end, but minor conflicts along the way help build tension, too—subplot helps add complexity/depth. I’m hoping to blog in the coming month about some stuff on story progression. Oh, and the NaNoWriMo organizers are so awesome—they provide so many great resources and pep talks along the way. It’s such a special experience, and I’m so happy you’re doing it!

Q: So much to take in, I feel far from prepared for this. The issue is I have no actual ideas, I have had no time to even think about them, develop them.

A: [Okay, so I obviously misunderstood her first question, thinking the exact opposite. And, yeesh, leave it to me to overdo it regardless…here was my attempt to backpedal.]

Oh no! I didn’t mean to flood you with info. There are just all sorts of options for wrestling down an idea. How to approach it varies for everyone. It’s really just a matter of what makes you tick.

When I first considered ideas, I didn’t have one to hold on to either. I started with what I loved to read—and that’s a top tip I’ve heard from authors since: write the book you want to read.

So I thought about how I love ghost stories of the Gothic variety, yet also liked the modern edge of supernatural stories like The Time Travelers Wife. I also thought about how whenever I read or watched a ghost story in a book or on film, the story always went a different way than my expectations had hoped for. So then I thought about what consistently caused my disappointment and jotted down in a journal all the elements I would love to see in a story, what, for ME, would be intriguing, atmospheric, and frightening. I just had pages and pages of all this related and random stuff, and then I started to research the topic from different angles and recorded my findings in the journal, too. Then, as slices of story started to occur to me based on what I’d brainstormed/researched and really wanted to feature in the story, slowly but surely the dots started to connect.

And a lot of it comes from just writing it. I told you about subplots before, but sometimes those just occur as you go along. Secondary characters appear out of nowhere because you start to see them or instinctively know that your main characters would meet them in a certain situation or whatever. I at first created this one gal simply to give my protagonist a friend at school as it seemed unnatural for her personality to not at least form an acquaintance. But then as I wrote this other person, suddenly she started behaving oddly and became a mystery unto herself. That was purely spontaneous writing, and then the strategy and planning came in afterwards when I had to determine why she was acting that way, what new role she could play in the overall scheme.

My point is, so much comes to you when you finally just start to write. That’s the spirit of NaNoWriMo—it doesn’t give you time to think about it much; you just have to write and keep going, keep pushing forward and forward and then sort out what you’ve got when you’re done. No one comes out of it with a polished and complete novel. And it might not even be a novel but a free association of ideas that spins off in tangents. The ideas could first come through THAT process, and it could serve as a way of finding your writer’s voice, too, so you can determine what tone to approach your book with.

You just don’t know until you write, so forget what I said for the time being about story arc and outlining and whatnot. Just take what time does come to you on a day to scribble out something. Practice describing your daughter as she plays with something. Write an entire paragraph about her disgusting boogers now that she’s sick! Pretend your house is the setting of a story and describe it for a reader to “see.” Maybe write about a funky dream you recently had. If you get in the habit of writing a little something creative every day, it really warms you up and gets you into a groove. It’s exactly the same thing as exercising, you know? The more you do it, the more energized you feel and the more you want to do it. And just like there’s a runner’s high after pushing past a certain distance, there’s a writer’s one—that’s why I keep harping on this one point: write! If you can tap into that weird mode where it’s almost like the story already exists independent of you and you’re being chosen to tell it (it’s a little haunting but so wild!), you’ll get it and so many inhibitions about the task will drop away.

So what do you think, have I steered her okay? Is it better for a first-time writer to go into it with more structure or less as they find their voice and creative footing? What other advice would you give?


The Curious Case of the Missing Editor

OMG, the Monkey screeches again! (for those of you who are still left to hear it)

Though I’ve obviously been MIA, my title isn’t in reference to me. As an editor, I’m always at the ready—always on the job, in fact, even if it isn’t my own, apparently. You see, I mentioned before how I’ve been more in Reader than Writer mode lately, and I’ve got to say I’m gobsmacked by some of the poorly edited work I’ve read lately. And I’m talking traditionally published stuff by best-selling authors. Even the best indie authors know not to dare self-publish without consulting the expertise of an editor. At least they should know if they take their writing seriously and want others to as well. Repeat after me:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

We can be ever so proud of our book babies and earnestly believe in our talent, but it’s downright diva to think that any of us could possibly be above the need to have someone else edit our work (and neglectful of editors to let anyone slip through the cracks). I don’t just mean proofreading to clean up the spelling/grammatical bits; I mean deep copyediting, where, yes, you might have to let go of that sentimental scene or hack out some delightful description, no matter how poetic the prose. Anyone who wants to evolve from rookie status should understand the value of a fresh pair of eyes. None of us are perfect in any way, shape, or form.

Hats off to indie author Tahlia Newland, for instance, who in the last few months has published an imaginative suite of stories through Catapult Press. Having myself offered some input on a couple of her projects, I was just one of several beta readers Tahlia makes a point to share her pre-published work with before then employing the services of a professional editor. I’ve been following her blog for a while and, consequently, her journey to bring her short stories and soon-to-be-released Lethal Inheritance novel to readers, and her revision process has been nothing less than comprehensive, involving a team of critical eyes. She also runs the Awesome Indies website, which upholds a standard of quality for the independently published.

Some traditionally published authors, on the other hand…

Well, of the last several novels I’ve read, one that I enjoyed while reading but was quick to criticize in hindsight was The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. Now, this is a bestseller that has had readers falling over themselves in absolute love with it, and I just have to say, “Eh.” NO QUESTION, Obreht is a debut author that will be a literary force to reckon with going forward. She has a spectacular if not intimidating command of the English language (which is not her first language and surpasses many of those for whom it is!), a maturity transcending her years, and her capacity to describe is absorbing. I’ll delve more into that last observation in a future post about 1st-person POV, but for now I just want to say that, while a tremendous and captivating storyteller, Obreht should have trimmed down a substantial amount of that description, along with secondary characters and story lines. A classic rookie case of wanting to keep in every great idea that crosses the mind, she was just too ambitious with all the folk stories of sorts that she chose to interweave—we’re introduced to an exhausting list of characters who are described in exhausting detail, only for them to fall off the planet with no lingering consequence. The tangle of tales, I felt, ultimately rendered none of them as effective as they could have been (standing alone as part of an anthology, maybe?) and, in the end, left the primary story thread underdeveloped. And her editor should have known this.

To be honest, I think a lot of the readers who gave The Tiger’s Wife rave reviews did so because they didn’t get it and attributed that fact to some profound, intellectual meaning that was surely just going over their heads. That their comprehension simply and understandably fell short in the face of genius. And, hey, you can bet I originally gave benefit of the doubt that my own questioning was a product of me being dumb as rocks. But I don’t think we readers should be so quick to sell ourselves short. When I find myself discussing this book with a group of women on the same page, and all of us educated, well-read, and discerning yet equally baffled as to whether there’s indeed some grand overarching purpose unifying the excess, methinks it actually all boils down to, nah, it was just really crappy editing.

But by far the most abysmal absence of editing I’ve recently encountered was in Julian Fellowes’s Past Imperfect. Now, Fellowes is another brilliant storyteller. He’s brought us the Oscar-winning Gosford Park and hugely popular Downton Abbey. But after just finishing the aforementioned novel (as well as reading his book Snobs a few years ago), I’ve come to the conclusion that screenplays are clearly his forte. Why? Because there’s no doubt he knows his subject matter (rich people). No doubt that he conceives compelling stories, engaging dialogue, and settings that are a feast for the eyes. But he can’t write narration. Or, rather, he has a clumsy handling of it. He’s very good at description and development, but in Past Imperfect, he seems to have invented an entirely new narrative POV: 1st person omniscient

That’s right, his 1st-person narrator can read the minds of every other character in the novel:

A pink cloud of nostalgia hovered over him for a moment. “The library was one of the prettiest rooms I’ve ever seen, never mind lived in. But no.” He shook his head to loosen these disturbing, self-indulgent images. “I’m finished with all that.”

*

“What happened to her?”

“She died.”

“Oh.” She sighed, saddened by the inexorable process of life.

The narrator can also see what other people do while on the phone with him:

“And Terry.”

He was puzzled for a second, and then he nodded and smiled. “You’re right. I’d remembered it as being before we left.”

Unless this was a video-conference (which I assure you it wasn’t), seriously, WTF. Or should I say, WTE, as in “Where’s The Editor?”

Because he/she certainly wasn’t there to correct the error in “reaping what you sew.”

And certainly didn’t caution Fellowes against too much telling or constantly interrupting the flow of dialogue with needless narration:

“Are you on good terms these days?”

The question seemed to take him by surprise and return him to the present. My words had told him something beyond their content. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked.

*

“Which ‘some’?”

“Sorry?” The phrase sounded foreign. I couldn’t understand him.

*

He shrugged. “It was obvious she was talking about Damian.” He must have caught and mistaken my response to this news, and hurried to undo any possible hurt. “She was always very fond of you, but…” How was he to phrase it?

I helped him out. “She wasn’t interested in me.”

We both knew she wasn’t, so why should he argue? “Not like that,” he said, accepting my own verdict.

*thump*
*slam*
*swish-swish*
*bam-bam-bam*

Oh, sorry, that was just the sound of me tripping over narration, brushing myself off, then proceeding to deliberately bang my head against the wall. Back to what I was saying…

The long and short of it is, Writers: Each of you needs an editor. And Editors: Even if your authors are already best-selling superstars, don’t cut corners in polishing their work. Just as every writer should take pride in their writing, editors should take pride in their editing, whatever the constraints we face.

I like to think I do, and yet I still don’t claim to master the art on my own—for the work that I do for a small publisher, I have three other editors on my team for any given manuscript, and it’s always a learning process for me. I’m pleased to say, though, that two more guinea pigs I’ve developmentally edited on this publisher’s behalf are out in the world as of September, making five published novels in total, with three more on the way this winter. I also just finished editing a short-story prequel to one of those books, and a freelance manuscript that I’d proofread for the sake of querying has already found itself an agent. SO proud of my authors, and may we all continue to write, edit, and prosper.

See my related post: “Editing Out the Editor

Also, stay tuned for some reflection on use of 1st-person narration


Ahhh…Thanks. I Needed That.

Two little gems found their way into my Inbox today. Rather than me paraphrase their marvelously refreshing perspectives (no time), I’ll leave it to their words. But, really, as a writer, professional, and human being, if you value your time, priorities, and sanity in the least bit, please do follow these links to read both articles.

Because honestly, in the midst of a hectic week, I am shouting from the rooftops a big huge freaking THANK YOU for someone just effing saying what I’ve long insisted to myself yet have dismissed as lazy excuses. Amidst the humming neuroses of others, let’s fight the good fight to keep it real.

Real Writers Write Every Day – from The Editor’s Blog

Excerpt:

You do not need to write every day to be a real writer.

Pilots don’t turn into non-pilots if they don’t fly for a day or a week. Surgeons are still surgeons after a week’s vacation.

There’s nothing magical about writing daily that endows the title writer yet takes it away if a writer doesn’t put pen to paper during a 24-hour period. Writers may be different from other folk, but writing is no wooey-wacky profession. You don’t have to give more to it than is required to do the job, to fulfill the contract, to finish the manuscript.

Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning – from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network

Excerpt:

[W]e try to speed up to match the pace of the action around us. We stay up until 3 am trying to answer all our emails. We twitter, we facebook, and we link-in. We scan news websites wanting to make sure we stay up to date on the latest updates. And we salivate each time we hear the beep or vibration of a new text message.

The speed with which information hurtles towards us is unavoidable (and it’s getting worse). But trying to catch it all is counterproductive. The faster the waves come, the more deliberately we need to navigate. Otherwise we’ll get tossed around like so many particles of sand, scattered to oblivion. Never before has it been so important to be grounded and intentional and to know what’s important.

Never before has it been so important to say “No.”

Hear, hear! Now I can exhale a bit.


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