Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Lure of the Shiny New Idea: Novel Writing Diary

For the past few years, I thought I was immune to this phenomena, because I had so precious little time to write, and when there was time, I used it fully. But now that I have more free time, I realized last week that I'm no longer immune.

Only, my shiny new ideas seem to come in the form of SOFTWARE that steals progress on the manuscript. I've written about writing software a number of times before. Last week, don't ask me how I ran across it, because I don't even remember, but I found something called THE JOURNAL 6, which is everything I've been looking for since forever to organize my blog and to collect all of my writing other than novel writing.

For novel writing, I'm sticking with Scrivener, which I love.
But in all the time I've been working with Blogger, I've yearned for something that would help me organize this crude software. Or if I couldn't organize Blogger itself, then something else that could fill my needs for organization. I mean, give me a break. All you can do with Blogger is write a draft. Choose when to post it. Post it. Then the post drops down into an unending, uncategorized list of posts. True, if you want to see what you've written on a particular topic, you can sort by labels.

I have always wanted to be able to do so much more than that, and do it offline. I'd like to have a calendar posting schedule. I'd like to have a place to store ideas and images that are easy to see within in a file tree. Something better than Windows Explorer, which is a file tree, but hides everything in file folders. I'd like a place for half-written drafts, as well as drafts that are ready to go--two separate places for two different levels of drafts. I'd also like to be able to see at a glance what I've written about,  with topics embedded within, so I can sort and keep track of spin-off ideas. My Sunday Salon posts, when I did them, were written to be full of spin-off possibilities.

Now it's all possible, and so much more, with THE JOURNAL 6.

And needless to say, I was lured away from my writing last week by this Shiny New Idea. Often when I should've been writing, I was importing blog ideas that have been hidden away in file folders for the past couple of years. And I'm nowhere near done. About 2/3 of my ideas, and a lot of images, still need to be imported.

But finally, I've found something that works for me, and I can upload my blog post directly from THE JOURNAL 6.

So that was my Shiny New Idea, my self-defeating mechanism that allowed me to stall my progress in the novel last week.
And why did I allow it to happen?
Because I was slated to write a synopsis, and synopsis-writing fills me with anxiety. It's just the worst writing task to have to do.

Fortunately, I finally broke through my break down, and finished writing the synopsis today. It started at 2500 words, and I was able to condense it to 1100. When finished, I was curious to see if the synopsis I'd written last December, which is 950 words, without suggestions by Dramatica, was significantly worse (or better) than the one I just completed, incorporating Dramatica's suggestions.

Basically, Dramatica suggested that I tell more of the objective story plot, in addition to fine-tuning the subjective story (the romance). In essence, it suggested that I more about scenes that grow their love, but also cause conflict between them. The best part for me was that it allowed me to examine some different facets to my story, and to squeeze a few more insights out of my brain--ways that a few of the scenes still need a bit of tweaking to bump up or clarify the conflict.

As to the two synopses, I still want to study them both and decide whether to further shorten the new one, and if so, which additional scenes to pull out of it.

Just off the top, the more condensed synopsis causes the book to read like a somewhat different story from what it actually is, which troubles me. And even though it's shorter, it's not as tightly focused.

That's most of what I accomplished last week regarding writing, not a lot. I also read a notebook full of pitches I'd collected from Brenda Drake's Pitch Madness, and Write-on Con's Midwinter Pitch Fest, both of which I participated in last March, but didn't get very far in them! After studying the pitches that garnered agent interest, I see more clearly what I can improve in my first 250 words (for Pitch Madness) and Query (for the Midwinter Pitch Fest), for next time I enter something similar.

Tomorrow, I plan to revise my query, and to revise my first scene, especially the first 250 words. After that, I'll spend some time looking at June RWA contests to see which ones I can enter. And then I'll pull together a proposal and begin entering contests again.  

How was your writing week last week?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Novel Writing Diary: The Tinkertoy

Do you remember Tinkertoys? You can still buy them, but Legos, I'm sure, have overtaken them in popularity.

Still, I've always preferred the skeletal nature of Tinkertoys to the solid bricks of Legos.
Why? I like being able to see and understand the underlying design and structure of something, particularly that of my preferred art form, the novel. 

That said, I have now progressed to making those small structural changes in the following areas of my YA manuscript

All notes for how each scene needs tweaking have been dropped into each scene.

I've determined new chapter breaks, based on a slightly altered pacing.

I'm now looking at the MS scene-by-scene, and paying particular attention to scene beginnings and endings, to ensure the transition is seamless. Am also making sure the hook at the end is as strong as possible.

I'm looking at each scene's conflict and, if necessary, boosting it. I'm also making sure the conflict has an appropriate arc.

I'm checking to see if each chapter works toward a focal scene, and that the chapter also has an arc.

For each set-piece scene, I'll make sure it’s as big as it needs to be. A couple of them aren't.

I'll make sure temporal cues are present in each scene, to ground the reader in space and time. If the scene is too talky, I'll add some relevant action to further ground the reader. My beta readers have told me that dialogue is my greatest strength. But I'm also aware that there is such a thing as too much dialogue. Sometimes the pacing needs to be slowed by filling out the scenes more. 

So that's where I am now. I don't foresee it taking more than a month to make the changes. 

When that's done, I'll start sending it to some RWA contests, based on how much feedback they give, and also the editors they've lined up to judge the finalists in the YA category. 

How's your writing week been going?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Novel Writing Diary: Clarity

It’s been a week since I began taking one final look at my YA manuscript before sending portions of it off to contests, and after getting contest feedback, querying agents.

I’ve made some decisions about it:

I’ve decided to bump it from 64,000 words to 75,000. I generally write lean to the bone, and so I’ll use most of the additional wordage to add further details for clarity, and otherwise to fill out the leanness. In each of the book's seven sections, I should be able to add about six pages, which amounts to about one page per scene, assuming the scene needs it. 
There were two other reasons for the decision:

Though I write lean, I did find some bloat in Journey 2, (the scenes for the four throughlines that span a couple of chapters before, and a couple of chapters after, the middle). According to Dramatica, that section was 24 pages too long, which really S--L--O--W--E--D my pacing.

But I was able to excise about half of it and easily move it to the next section (Signpost 3, which are all scenes that lead directly to the black moment). Signpost 3 was too short by 10 pages, and so everything’s still relatively well paced.

With the extra 12 pages remaining in Journey 2, I’ll think about shortening one of those scenes. The worst offender, a scene that is 3000 words long, is where the heroine almost gets booked for shoplifting with the bad boy character. He's fairly tangential to the story, but I had so much fun writing that segment, I hate to give any of it up. Although, as the saying goes, you have to “Kill Your Darlings.”

I don’t need to get rid of it entirely, but it might do the story good to enter the scene at a later point. Or maybe I’ll leave it alone and, hopefully one day, see what an editor has to say about it. 
The last reason that led to my decision to lengthen the book came after doing a quick Amazon search and discovering that YA Romance is usually longer than most adult series romances. Even 300 pages (75,000 words) is on the low end.

Other things I've learned or done in the past week

Though Dramatica’s great for helping to develop your story, you can also use it to give editorial guidance during revisions. I wasn’t familiar with it when I first dreamed up this story, and so most of it was written without the aid of Dramatica. But it did help me better understand my story after its first completion, to restructure and enhance it in many big ways. 

The biggest thing it helped me see was that I could end my story any way I wished. In fact, I needed to come down on one side or another of my overall theme and drive it home. 

Now, a year later, and after two or three more revisions, Dramatica is again helping me, one last time for this project. 
This time, I've dropped all of the Dramatica notes into Scrivener and am able to analyze, in side-by-side panels, each of my book’s 28 scenes against Dramatica’s suggestions for what that particular scene should contain. 

I’ve never used Dramatica at this level before. I’ve never paid any attention to the thematic issues that Dramatica suggests for each scene in this unique storyform (my book). 
What I’ve discovered is that, delightfully, my own intuition has dealt with many of the thematic issues, meaning that I’m on track most of the time. But not always. And when I take Dramatica’s additional suggestions about things I hadn’t thought of, I’ll be adding further depth to my story. 

That said, I’ve made notes to drop little clarifying details into most of my scenes. Dramatica has helped me see that many of my scenes need to be ever so slightly reslanted. Reslants and clarifying details are small things, and yet I have a feeling they’ll make a big difference to the reader’s experience of the story, understanding more fully all of its underlying themes. 

During my analysis, I discovered some changes to the hero’s and heroine’s backstory, giving it both greater depth and some surprises in the end. 

In some scenes, I discovered, I could change a character’s motivation to make the scene more interesting, but with the same outcome. I remember reading this once, in a book by Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel). I didn’t get what he meant then, but I do now. 

I also discovered that I have the hero and heroine getting along way too well, way too soon. I need to go in and tweak those scenes to make them not get along so well. 

In summary, in one week, I analyzed my book, scene by scene, noting small changes that need to be made. 
I was also able to go through Section 5 of the manuscript (all throughline scenes leading to the black moment), and actually make the planned changes. 

I read once that the whole purpose of writing a novel is to push the protagonist toward the black moment, so that they can fail, and then have an epiphany about how they must change, to have the life they want to live, or be who they want to be. 
So I decided to tackle that section first. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with the aftermath of the Black Moment (Black Moment Effects, epiphany and change) and the Resolution, and then next week, after being out of town for the weekend, I’ll start again at the beginning. 

What you see above is a screenshot of my Scrivener desktop. I am so gobsmackingly delighted with Scrivener and Dramatica. Both are everything I've longed for forever, to help me understand what goes into writing a novel, and to corral all the notes and things that contain my thoughts. 

How is your writing going this week?

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