Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Plot Coagulates

Oh, god… I had to hack apart this chapter—amputated it completely, in the end—and now my plot is bleeding out. What do I do? Quickly! It’s dying! My poor plot… It needs a new chapter! Maybe a bionic one, to make it “better, stronger, faster”?

I’ve seen plenty of other writers post about rewriting chapters. I know it happens all the time. This, however, is my first experience with things having degenerated so far that attempts at simple repair render my words into a Frankenstein’s monster of patchwork prose so ungainly that an entire chapter can no longer be salvaged.

The worst part is, this is the chapter where the rubber hits the road—my protagonist finally figures out what all of the opposing forces are really up to, what their motivations are, and how she fits into the whole picture. In other words, it’s a crucial chapter. And I just had to chuck the entire thing as scrap.

Why relegate it to the rubbish heap? Well, for starters, half the stuff I need to reveal wasn’t even in the plot in the original draft; peppering it into the existing prose would be excruciating at best. The other half was included in only the sketchiest possible way, and needs to be fleshed out to make any sort of sense. Then there was the flashback scene that ended up being simultaneously redundant and contradictory after revisions to earlier chapters.

So my plot is lying in the gutter, headless. (And this metaphor is getting away from me.) How can I save it? Well, I’m hoping an infusion of new ideas will set it to rights.

Maybe it needs a new character! (Wait; I’ve already got enough random characters…) Maybe it needs a heretofore unnoticed clue! (Hmm… Then I’d have to go back and insert the clue seamlessly in previous chapters, which would make it unsurprising.) Maybe it needs a supernatural intervention! (Like three-plus supernatural “species” aren’t already crowding the story…) Or maybe—just maybe—it needs me to think clearly and logically about how my characters would suss out the problem for themselves.

Now if only I could figure out how to do that before my creative juices clot…

Today’s Writing Demons

Last time I talked about how the cover art I want to use for my novel is keeping me from leaping wholeheartedly into shopping it around once it’s done. Today I’m fighting different demons.

I’ve got a couple of short stories written (or at least drafted) about what it’s like to be a dryad in the world I’m building. I even quite like them. Before the demons popped up uninvited, I’d been thinking maybe it would be a good idea to try submitting a short story or two to some reputable sff magazines, just to test the waters. It would be good for me to start getting my work out there, get used to rejection, and maybe even get a little feedback. And, on the super-outside chance someone actually published me, it would look great on my artist’s résumé!

Then the latest demons materialized to torment me.

“Of course you like them; you wrote them!”
“You realize, of course, that compared to a real author’s work, your stories are complete crap, right?”
“No one is ever going to publish that schlock, so why are you even trying?”

~sigh~ Frankly, I’m tired of these little shits. I’ve had to listen to them for years; they convinced me not to bother even trying to write fiction for longer than I care to consider.

Eventually I found a way to sneak past them for my non-fiction work, and started blogging about my thoughts on my favorite TV show. I told them, “I’m not doing it for an audience; I’m just writing for me.” That seemed to work, and—miracle of miracles—a small but loyal audience eventually followed. So I kept writing. And kept considering dabbling in fiction.

Ultimately, the urge became too strong to ignore; I had to make an attempt at this novel. That’s when I found a magic spell to get them to shut up for a whole month, while I pounded out a really horrible rough draft. “That’s awful!” they’d shriek. “I know! Isn’t it glorious?” I’d reply with a grin.

It felt like a victory—and in its way, it was. I got past that first barrier and got something on the page. But there’s only so long one can afford the luxury of sucking, at least for any given piece of work. If you really want to write something that other people will read willingly, eventually you have to make it good.

So now I’m back to Square One, where the demons’ taunts are loudest, their slings and arrows sharpest. Deep down, I think I’ve got something worthwhile to share in these stories. Now it’s a matter of finding their True Natures beneath the labored words and banishing the cunning demons that so long obscured said truth behind a curtain of self-doubt.

Let’s see what I can find in my spellbook this time.

Shop It or Self-Pub? Art’s at the Heart

So I’ve started thinking more about what I want to do with my novel once it’s “finished” (~insert raucous laughter here~). Initially, I figured I’d just self-publish, try to push it to a few places I thought it might appeal or I might have a little sway, and say “Yay! I’m an author!” I even went so far as to commission some cover art, which I adore; it’s mind-bogglingly awesome. The further I get, though, the more I think, “maybe I should try to shop this around after all.”

There are, of course, several barriers to trying to get published through a “real” publishing house. I suspect every beginning writer considering the task looks at it all and says, “holy $#!7—where do I even start?” (at least I’m going to pretend everyone does that, because if it’s really only me, then that’s just depressing). Do I try to break in by getting short stories published? Do I just start shopping my manuscript around? Do I look for an agent, or do I go straight to publishers? Where do I find “appropriate” agents or publishers for the style of novel I’m writing?

On a more existential level, there’s the “am I good enough?” barrier. I look at my favorite books, at new releases, at things people I know are getting published, even the WIPs my critique partners send me, and I am overcome with conflicting emotions. Sometimes I despair, thinking I’ll never be able to match the literary skill I see displayed in print. Other times, I am buoyed by the thought that I don’t really see anything else out there quite like what I’m writing, and I dare to hope that someone will find my stories interesting for that very fact.

Oddly, though, the obstacle that concerns me most at the moment is that glorious cover art. I stumbled across the work of Robert Farkas, and instantly fell in love with his style. I was thrilled when he agreed to do a commission for me; he listened to my requests and dealt gracefully with my inexpert art direction. When I saw the final piece, I was over the moon—it’s perfect.

And there’s probably not a publisher out there who will agree to use it.

The idea crushes me. I know publishing is Big Business, and there’s a Way Things Are Done. If my novel ever got picked up, my publisher would have their own in-house art department create a cover design. But Farkas’s piece is the cover for this novel, as far as I’m concerned. The typography is negotiable, but the image…

I’m well aware that the traditional road to publication can be long and arduous. I think I’m up for the challenge; I’m ready to “give it the old college try,” anyway. But whether I start with my first novel or wait to shop the next one really depends a lot on how tightly I hang onto this art. Suffice to say, I expect to struggle with the decision for a long time.

Did Someone Say “Worldbuilding”?

I’ve been a fantasy fan effectively for my whole life. When I finally gave in to the urge to write a novel of my own, then, it was only natural I’d choose the genre I’d read almost exclusively for decades. Nobody told me how much harder it would be than I even imagined.

Why is it hard? One word: worldbuilding.

I actually took it pretty easy on myself. My protagonist is a young woman like me (okay—maybe 10-15 years my junior), who grew up in roughly the same area of the US I did, and the story is set in a place I’ve visited myself. Further, my fantasy world is a “near Earth”—it’s almost our world, but there’s magic, and supernatural creatures.

So I don’t have to worry about creating a new landscape, a new sociopolitical structure, or an entirely new language/way of using language. That is, I only have to sprinkle in pieces that relate to the particular new elements my protagonist encounters as she comes to grips with having suddenly become a supernatural herself (a dryad, in this case).

I wrote my (extremely) rough draft using the “pantser” method (a la NaNoWriMo—plotting “by the seat of my pants”); I had an idea where it began and where it ended, and a couple of the situations/obstacles she would encounter along the way, but precious little else. Knowing there were a couple of key points in a dryad’s development that would come into the story, though twisted from the “normal” way those play out, I decided I needed first to figure out what said “normal development” was. I thus set myself the task of writing a couple of short stories (one of which you can read here on the blog) as worldbuilding exercises.

As a start, that was great. I like how the stories turned out, and they give me a better sense of how dryad culture in my world generally works. It was an excellent springboard for the climactic scene of the novel (which may or may not be recognizable as the same entity by the time I’m done). However, the further into the novel my CPs get, the more I realize I’m nowhere near done on the worldbuilding front.

Tell me more about X!
“I want more Y.”
This is okay, as long as we find out more about Z as the story goes.

Oops. You mean the six-generation matrilineal genealogy I devised for her wasn’t sufficient preparation? I need to be able to describe what a dryad does in her day-to-day life, not just at those critical moments? This vague idea I mentioned in passing needs to be fleshed out?

Guess I’d better come up with some details on X, Y, and Z—and PDQ!

Revisions Are Making Me Dizzy

I don’t know how other writers work, but my revision process is not linear—especially not once I get outside feedback from my critique partners (CPs). Lately I’ve found myself nearly getting lost in iterative loops as I keep refining chapters. I can hardly remember what I’ve added (or subtracted) where, and which clarifications have been made to allow a later section to make sense as originally written (or did that section already get cut out anyway?).

It’s those blasted fuller descriptions that are at fault. It all makes sense to me; why does a reader need to be told? (Oh yeah… That whole “outside my head” thing again.) You mean someone actually wants to read the details that I purposely glossed over during my hurried first draft and failed to elaborate on later because I didn’t make any notes? Bother. Well, fine. I can do that. I’ll just add a little something here. Don’t worry—I’ve added something in an earlier chapter to fix that other problem, so this fix will make sense here, even though it’s not as much as you wanted.

Or something like that.

The problem with iterative revisions, I’ve found, is that I go in so many circles in a single chapter that I lose the overall thread of the story—or at least of character development. Sprinkling breadcrumbs back through previous chapters doesn’t necessarily leave me with a coherent trail because I’ve scuffed over the turf so often.

So now what? Well, I’ve decided it’s time to try larger circles—a bigger chunk of text as the piece that gets polished as a single entity. Instead of working on single chapters consecutively, going back to previous ones as I get feedback until I’m changing details within minutes of CP comments (not necessarily as productive as it might sound!), I’m going to bite off a chunk of several previously revised chapters instead.

The idea is that with a larger segment of the overall story arc to consider, I’ll be better able to see the direction of its flow. Did I leave a huge sandbar in the middle where the narrative runs dry, only to pick up on the other side, rushing ahead without looking back? Or have I meandered so far off course I’ve created an oxbow bend that could just as well have been bypassed entirely?

Whatever the case, I hope the ride smoothes out; I’m getting awfully dizzy.