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Getting Drastic

- by ria, on Friday, 11th February 2011, 11:24am

In case any one is interested, I just cut the first 5 chapters from book 1. It doesn’t get exciting until then. Now I need to come up with 15,000 words of a more exciting start for this book.

Why are beginnings so hard? I guess it’s because so much has to be introduced, and at the same time it has to be well written and engaging.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and working on my query has really made me see how dull the first five chapter were. Now to come up with something better.

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category: writing

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Query Letter Hell

- by ria, on Thursday, 10th February 2011, 5:05pm

As you may have guessed, I’m writing my query for book 1 at the moment. Why am I not working on book 2, you ask? Way back when book 2 was nothing but an overblown 4-page story(overblown by about 80 pages) I had extreme trouble with one scene. I couldn’t figure out how to get one character from one place to another. My answer was highly convenient, but I left it in because I couldn’t think of anything else. Now, I’m at that bit again, with the same problem, but this time I refuse to sully the story’s integrity by using convenience. Hence, I moved on to my query for book one while the scene simmers in my mind.

I’ve been trying to write a good query letter for about six months now. Every attempt was boring, or stagnant, or lacking emotion. Writing a query is hard. Trying to sum up what motivates your character, the conflict, the stakes, while using good wording and a unique voice (and get across some emotion) is not something that happens overnight.

Anyway, I am very happy to say, that after 5,000 words of attempting (a query is 250 words at most), I finally have a good hook:
Almost half a millennium of magically enhanced life has given Zachery an acute fear of death, and he is dying.
So that’s half the battle, right?

I feel like I’m cheating using it, because Zachery’s fear of death doesn’t really come into play until pretty late in the book. What I worry about is that an agent will read the query, love the hook, but not see it reflected in the start of the book. Ah well. I’m going to stick with it for now.

Aside: I’m changing to a post when I feel like it schedule. I’ll still try to update weekly, but those updates will be more spontaneous.

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category: site, writing

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Onwards to Book2

- by ria, on Wednesday, 26th January 2011, 4:18pm

Hey, it’s Wednesday.

I have news, too. I’m 10% through the first draft of book 2. That’s why it’s been so quiet around here. I’ve been putting all my time into outlining and starting this draft.

Other writers may laugh at this, and a lot of you may wonder how I ever wrote book1 when I say this, but for the first time today, I really had to consider two character’s points of view. Unlike book1, this book has more than one POV character and the characters are completely different.

I was writing from Zan’s (whose name will change) point of view, about Zachery and while I really had to consider her reaction, I also had to think very carefully about his. Zachery is a complicated fellow and he has a way of talking and doing things that is almost opposite to the way Zan does things. When I’m writing from Zan’s point of view I have to be careful to curb my enthusiasm when it comes to Zachery’s dialogue. I’ve cut a bunch of small talk from the last scene, because while Zan is into making conversation, Zachery isn’t.

It’s a new thing for me to have to think this much about character actions. It’s a lot easier when you have one character to worry about. I wonder should I have been worried about this stuff in book1. Should this have come up before now, and because it didn’t, does that mean all the characters in book1 except for Zachery, are shallow and one dimensional?

It’s something to bear in mind for book1′s next revision.

- – -

Shoutout

I would like to give a shout out to Nathan Bransford. He’s running an opening paragraph competition on his blog: 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. That post and the ones that follow are interesting.

Reading all the entries has given me a good idea of what I like in an opening paragraph, and I think I have to say that the opening of book1 does not contain the magic ingredient. I think it’s too much about the surroundings and not enough about Zachery’s wants / needs / conflict / him being an interesting character. I think I need to open with a display of recklessness.

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category: shoutout, writing

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Taming Inspiration

- by ria, on Wednesday, 8th December 2010, 6:36pm

I was reading an article about creating articles recently, where the writer said he can only write when he’s inspired. He gets an idea and if he doesn’t go with it straight away it fizzles and he stops working on it. He said he’s so driven by this wave of inspiration that if he stops in the middle, he can’t continue when he gets back to it because the inspiration is gone.

I completely understand where he is coming from, but I don’t agree with him. I used to be like him, waiting for inspiration and once it hit, sitting down for a 7 /8 / 12 hour stretch to try to get the whole story (or drawing, it used happen a lot with drawings) done before I had to stop working on it for the night. Usually if I didn’t get the piece finished by then, it never got finished. I get the impression a lot of young writers work this way.

The bad news: it doesn’t work. If you want to write a novel, you have to be able to take the inspiration and tame it so that you can use it whenever you need it. You must be able to draw that creative / excited energy out for the entire length of writing the novel, which could be a year or more. Any published author will tell you that writing a novel takes persistence and a strict schedule more than inspiration. That flash of brilliance is just enough to get you started, it’s up to you to take up the idea and carry it through to completion.

‘But how do I do that?’ you ask. Self-discipline, a good writing schedule and deep understanding of your story and characters helps. Really, you are the only one who can answer the question. I guess you need to ask yourself how much your story means to you, how strong is your desire to finish it. For me, I want to be a writer. I’ve wanted it for a long, long time. That need to be published is what keeps me going; you have to figure out what drives you, and use that to push yourself along when the inspiration wears off.

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category: thoughts, writing

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Dealing with Mistakes

- by ria, on Wednesday, 1st December 2010, 8:05pm

Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes every other sentence when I’m typing. It’s big no big deal. I hit backspace and continue on. I don’t even think of it as a mistake, really.

Mistakes in writing are a somewhat more subtle creature. If I make a mistake in the plot of chapter 1, I may not realise it was a mistake until chapter 10. By then it is a big deal to correct it. Some mistakes slip by unnoticed. I don’t notice the mistake until well into editing and I’m staring at this one scene wondering why I can’t get it to shape up properly.

I can be pretty slow to realise that I made a mistake. No one wants to admit that they are flawed. Since writing is a part of me, I find it had to see when I’ve made a mistake, or when something isn’t working. But I’ve figured out a marker or waypost that can help me find and deal with mistakes.

Spotting the Elusive Mistake

I find it very hard to spot mistakes in plot /character / conflict while I am in the middle of a draft. Editing is usually when I start to notice them. Spotting mistakes starts with a small feeling of something not being quite right. I’ve been over this scene 3 or 4 times and it’s still not working. Now, it usually takes my brain a few days to realise why this scene isn’t working out. It was a mistake, things should never have gone this way.

If you find yourself stuck or don’t know what to do next, maybe you need to ask yourself if your story is sound. You need to check for mistakes back down the plot, or maybe the mistake is in the scene you are on at the moment. Finding the mistake is the hard part. Forcing yourself to admit that something is wrong is not easy, but you’ll feel more in control of your writing and less frustrated at whatever scene isn’t working once you do.

Erase that mistake

So, you know something’s wrong. What to do now? When I make a mistake typing I don’t even think about deleting it and typing it right. It should be the exact same with writing. Delete it. Don’t think about the time you spent writing it in the first place. Accept that it is flawed and cut it out. That’s the hard part.

Now all you have to do is go again, with something that actually works. For me, this part usually goes very smoothly. I know what’s wrong and I know what I have to do to fix it. I usually spend a lot more time agonising over the mistake than I do rewriting it.

The next time you get stuck and have no idea why, think of this post. I hope it helps.

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category: writing

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Novel Writing Month

- by ria, on Wednesday, 10th November 2010, 4:04pm

I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year (reason at the end of this post), but I would like to wish all the people who are participating luck. Keep at it, no matter how bad you think your novel is. I’ve done Nano a few times, and what I’ve realised is that Nano isn’t about writing something good. It’s about writing something vaguely resembling the story you want to tell. It’s a head start on draft1. It’s about getting rid of the obstacle presented by a blank page.

It’s much easier to work with something you already have than to write from scratch. It took me three tries of Nano to figure this out. My first attempt I wanted to get perfect. My second attempt was a kind of personal curiosity (it turns out that writing 50,000 words while on a 6 week camping road trip isn’t a good idea). The third try was about getting the story down, no matter how bad it was. And it worked as well as it was meant to.

The story I wrote is appalling. The writing is atrocious. The plot is nothing but a group of scenes strung together by the flimsiest of threads. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know what works and what doesn’t work. I know my characters’ motivations, and I have a better idea of how the plot should resolve.

Better still, it means that when I sit down to write the book properly, I don’t have to face a blank page. I already have a framework, no matter how bad it might be. And for that, I will always be an advocate of Nanowrimo.

* * *

The reason I’m not doing Nano this year is because I’m in the middle of moving house. That’s why there was no post last week and why there will be no post next week. In fact, this day next week, I will be on a plane to America. I’m excited, but the move has meant that I’ve done no writing at all in the last two weeks (it feels like two months), and I probably won’t do any for a few weeks after we arrive (I’ll be too busy getting used to my new surroundings).


category: events, writing

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A Bit About My Writing

- by ria, on Wednesday, 20th October 2010, 11:46am

I’ve mentioned the things I’m working on in other posts, but I figured I should dedicate an entry to getting everything straight. Let’s start with what I’m working on right now.

For the last few years, I’ve been writing a fantasy that centres around Zachery and his attempts to save the world from itself. It’s rather magic-heavy, and I like to think it’s a pretty fast paced adventure.

Artificer

I started writing it the summer I finished college (2006). I used the snowflake method to draw up progressively longer outlines. The outline I ended up working from was 23 pages, and included headings like POV Character, Characters Present, emotional angle, description, chapter number. It was divided into 80 scenes, or so. November of that year I started writing draft 1 and by the end of the month I had 55,000 words. (Thank you NaNoWriMo.) It took me a full two years to write the other 70,000 words. (One year of that involved travelling around the world.)

April of 2008, I started editing the horrid mess that was the first draft of my book. It was called The Fall back then. The Fall is a horribly cliché title, so you can imagine what the story was like. Not wanting to face a rewrite (and not really understanding that I needed to rewrite) I messed around with it a bit, tweaking paragraphs, changing a few things here and there.

By September of 2009, I had made very little progress. I sat down one day and made a schedule for the next 6 months. I wanted a good story by March 2010. One that was unique, exciting, infinitely better than what I had. Even though it had taken me a year and a half to face the fact that I needed to rewrite most of the book, it was the best decision I made. March came around and I had something better. Not amazing yet, but good. The feedback I got made me face the problems that still existed. So, I took another 3 months and came out with draft 3.

I’m now on draft 3.2 and have a query letter that I’m still not happy with. I haven’t sent it out to any agents yet, because it makes the book sound boring. So, that’s my current situation.

Familiar

When I was still in college, I had this idea for a short story. Two girls whose lives get really strange when a demon shows up at their door. I imagined it would be about 3 or 4 pages. I wrote it by hand in a yellow page notebook. 188 pages later it was finished. It took me the whole college year to write, September 2005 to May 2006. I originally wanted to write this story as a graphic novel, but I don’t have the same persistence to stick with a bit of art that I do for a bit of writing. Zachery was the bad guy in this story. I liked him so much, I gave him his own trilogy. This story is book 2 of the trilogy. At the moment it is only 32,000 words, so it needs quite a bit of work.

Fiendling

Book 3. I wrote this for NaNoWriMo 2008. Like my first NaNo attempt, I got to 50,000 words and just stopped. I stopped in the middle of a sentence, no less. This book is half written, and it is terrible. It is probably the worst 50,000 words I have ever written. I imagine I’ll be tearing it to pieces and rewriting 95% of it. The good thing is that rewriting Artificer has given me loads of ideas for this book. So I’m actually enthusiastic about getting to it – after I’ve done some serious work with Familiar.

2000 and Beyond (Before?)

I’ve also been working on a thief/magic adventure since I was about 12. I’d written about 10,000 words when I lost the file and had to start again. I did start again, and wrote 4,000 new, better words. I imagine I’ll be rewriting the whole thing again, though. I actually think it needs a whole new re-imagining. It think it’s a bit too straight-forward as it is at the moment. I’ve come to be wary of ‘quest-type’ fantasies (it’s easy to fall into clichés with them), and this was ‘quest’ at it’s most unimaginative.

So there you have it. My writing life all neat and summed up.

I’m not sure if there will be a post next week. I’m going away and can’t guarantee I’ll be at a computer / have the inspiration to write.

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category: thoughts, writing

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Opening with Action

- by ria, on Wednesday, 13th October 2010, 5:16pm

I have had problems with my opening scene since I wrote it. Until now, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I knew that it wasn’t good enough, and that was all. I read back over it today (looking for inspiration for my query letter) and I realised that the opening scene is utterly stagnant. Nothing at all happens. There is no action.

Make Things Happen

This is my personal preference but, I love books that open with action. I can’t stand a lengthy description where nothing at all is happening*. An opening that shows the main character dealing with a serious problem lets readers see his personality so much better. They instantly feel like they can relate (or not) to your main character based on the way he reacts and deals with the situation.

Now, I’m not saying open with a battle or a deadly fight. You can, but when I say action, I mean anything at all that brings the plot forward in time.

Examples

Your character is in a situation, say someone has just broken into his home. In a static opening, your character will stay where they are but he might look around, listen to the noises around him, and think about someone invading his privacy. He might also think about the people he knows, and try to figure out why this is happening. Has someone he knows let themselves into his house?

All this is fine, but all of it together at the start of a book is a bit much. There’s probably not going to be enough to keep a reader interested.

Take the same opening and straight away move your character from where he is. Immediately time comes into play and it feels like the plot is moving forward. This is what you want. You want readers to get a sense that something is happening. If you open with action, you have your character move through the house and confront whoever has broken in. Or, have him flee in fear. He should react as is appropriate for his character, but he should do something.

Things happen in Time

Time is the key to action. If you ask yourself, ‘Does time move forward in this scene?’ and if the answer is, ‘Yes,’ then you should have a scene that contains action. The only time this might not be true is if you have a montage kind of thing where you are showing time passing, but very little is happening.

Thoughts and description don’t happen in time. All thoughts and description stop the story. And you don’t want to start your book being stopped. Start in full sprint and you’ll have a better chance of catching your readers up in your momentum.

- – - – - -

*except the opening to the Belgariad, where Eddings is going on about Garion’s childhood – I like that opening. But that opening is so chock full of emotion and description it’s hard not to like it.

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category: writing

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Readers Create the Story

- by ria, on Wednesday, 6th October 2010, 10:07am

As a writer, I like to think I control everything about my story. The truth is, I control very little.

As soon as someone reads my story, I have lost all control of it. Every person who reads my story will render it differently. Names will change, both of people and places. Locations will look different. Even characters’ personalities will shift considerably. I no longer control the story, the reader does.

They invent my world all over again, using my words as a template. What they see in their mind as they read my words is not the same thing that I saw in my mind as I wrote the words. Where I see the main character as determined, they might see him as egotistical. Where I pronounce words with long vowels, they use short. I can do nothing about this.

My story doesn’t exist until someone reads it. I need readers to manifest my world and my stories. This is where things get dangerous. With all of us having control over the world, some people might expect things to go a certain way. If they see a character as strong, they expect him to do heroic things. If he does not act in accordance with their picture of him, they will be disappointed. It’s my responsibility, as the progenitor of the work, to give a clear template upon which readers can create the story.

How do I do this? By writing clearly, by giving my readers time to form a picture of each character and setting before I introduce more of them; by keeping things simple, by explaining the way things work and sticking within the rules.

I want to add, for the writers out there, your view of your world is no more right or valid than that of your readers. If they see the main character as egotistical, then he is egotistical. Don’t try to tell readers they are wrong, because they are not wrong. Everyone who reads the story creates the world, and they are all right.

In the words of Umberto Eco, “The author should die once he has finished writing. So as not to trouble the path of the text.”

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category: thoughts

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Revision Numbering

- by ria, on Wednesday, 29th September 2010, 11:28am

This is more of a note to self:

When moving on to a new draft be careful to save the file with a different number at the end. When I went from draft 3 to draft 3.1, I didn’t bother to create a new file. I figured the changes I was making would be small, a word here, a line there. Oh no. I rewrote whole paragraphs, deleting bits without considering that I might want to reuse some of the stuff I was deleting.

So, writers (and self), when you are starting a new draft, even if you think it is a simple proofread, please save a new file.

Numbering revisions

I usually save the large numbers for full rewrites. So the difference between draft 1 and 2 is pretty extreme, as is the difference between draft 2 and 3. I’ve pretty much nailed down the plot in draft 3, so revisions from now on will be 3.1, 3.2, etc. That is, until I decide I’ve changed enough of the core plot that it needs to be called draft 4. I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

Right – short post this week. I’ll have something a little more thoughtful next week.


category: writing

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Agents and What Happens after You Write Your Book

- by ria, on Wednesday, 22nd September 2010, 12:06pm
Finding an Agent

The first thing to do when looking for an agent is to find a list of agents who are interested in your genre. AgentQuery is a database with useful (if not entirely accurate) information on a large number of agents. Go through the list of agents and verify (by visiting their site) that they do, actually, represent your genre. I found that when I visited the agents’ websites, they did not mention my genre, even though AgentQuery said they did. While you might get lucky and get picked up by an agent who doesn’t handle your genre, your query letter and first few pages would need to be outstanding.

Making a List

I am an organised person, and I like to make lists. They help keep everything straight. If you are the kind of person who can keep track of large amounts of information in your head, feel free to skip the list, and do this mentally. Did I mention this list has many columns? My agent tracking spreadsheet has ten (preference, name, agency, genre, authors, email address, submission guidelines, reliable, date queried, reply (no / partial / full)). The most important parts of this list are name and email (obviously) submission guidelines and date queried. Their reply is important too, it means you are not re-querying agents who rejected a full or partial.

The other columns are less important, but I will explain them anyway.

* Preference is the agent I want to work with most. It goes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.
* Agency is the agency the agent is part of.
* Genre is the genres they deal with (your genre should be here).
* Authors is for writers I like that are represented by the agency. (I think this is a good way to find an agency that will suit you. You like the authors for a reason, and your book is going to be a little bit like theirs (it can’t not be). And you know the agent likes the kind of books you like.)
* Reliable is to let me know if an agent is legitimate or not, and how other people who queried them got on (as in, are they professional, do they focus solely on agenting or is there another job eating into their schedule).

Go through the agents on AgentQuery and make out your own list. You’ll probably need to trawl though their website to find all the information (some agency websites are appalling). Also, Predators and Editors is good for reliability. Ideally, you want someone who is with the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). QueryTracker is also good for seeing how long it takes an agent to reply, but I haven’t used the site that much (you have to register).

Once that’s done, you figure out who you want to query first from your list and send off your letter / email. Good Luck.

On a Personal Note

I drafted my query letter yesterday, and was thinking about it this morning. Not the letter itself, but what I will do with it. I will send it off to an agent who will ask for pages from my novel. This dream of mine suddenly feels real. Yes, I’ve been working on this book on and off for the last four years, but until now it has seemed like something I’m doing just to pass the time. Yes, I’ve dreamed of getting published, of being a best seller. But it never felt real. Now that I have my query done, it suddenly does.

It’s a bit scary, and exciting at the same time. Fear of the unknown is a crippling thing. I have no idea what will happen if an agent likes my book. I think I’m more scared of that than getting rejected. Rejection I can handle, but I’ve always been wary of winning. I don’t know how to act, how to comport myself when that happens. I guess it all comes down to confidence. Do I think my book is good enough? I did when I finished draft 3, but now I’m not so sure. It takes a lot of bravery to send a query and there are many ways to procrastinate.

If you are in my position, leave a comment and we can encourage each other.

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category: publishing

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My Inspiration

- by ria, on Wednesday, 15th September 2010, 12:19pm

I’ve kind of touched on this before, but inspiration and ideas come from everywhere. Since I finished draft 3, I’ve found myself at a bit of a loose end. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now. I figure I’ll move on to book 2. In this in-between-time, I’ve been thinking about how my book started out.

The story I tell in this book has been growing for the last 13 years or so. It started with a painting entitled Fall of the Rebel Angels by Samuel Forde (1828). The painting depicts Lucifer and his angels being cast from Heaven. It’s pretty dark, Michael or Gabriel or someone illuminated on high, and Lucifer and his boys falling into darkness. They look back at the archangel and that look speaks volumes to me. It is fear and longing and hatred and jealousy. But mostly it is regret. They don’t want to leave the light and fall into the darkness. But they are too proud to ask for forgiveness.

I used go into the gallery every weekend and look at that painting (it’s been taken down since) and marvel at The Fall. Some years later I got around to reading Paradise Lost (actually, I never finished it. I found Raphael totally boring and I stopped reading at the bit where he’s talking to Adam and Eve). There was one bit that really stood out, and that was when Satan has a moment of doubt. He’s plotting his revenge on Heaven, but for one moment he questions everything. He wants to return to the light, he wants to be good again, he misses the glory of the Host. He shows such weakness, such humanity.

That frailty wormed its way into my soul and took root there. In college I made animations and shorts that revolved around the idea of the fall. Most of the stories I wrote involved people being cast out, being filled with darkness at the injustice of it all.

Only recently did I realise how much Fall of the Rebel Angels affected me. I did not put these things together until I started editing draft 1. Draft 1 was pretty much a fall from Heaven. It was even called The Fall back then. It was about angels and demons and one angel’s fall from grace and subsequent exile. It was childish and cliché. But it was a base from which the current incarnation of my book grew. There is still exile and desire for revenge and weakness and doubt and grief. Perhaps it’s not laid on as thickly any more, but it’s still there.

I find it interesting that I’ve been writing this story for 13 years, that the inspiration has been with me that long. I wonder will getting this book finished and published satisfy that need within me to tell this story, or will pieces of it show up in things I do from now on.

Feel free to add any similar inspirations you might have, in the comments.

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category: writing

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Adventures in Book Binding Part 2

- by ria, on Wednesday, 8th September 2010, 4:37pm

As I write this, I have glue stuck to the tops of my fingers and cotton wool stuck to that.  I did the cotton wool thing on purpose so my fingers wouldn’t stick to the keyboard. Anyway.

I may have left off on a bad note last week, but fear not. All turned out well the next day. As with stories, home-publishing seems to need more than one draft before things work out. Book binder draft2 worked. I am in the process of binding a copy of my book right now. So, this is going to be a bit of a revelatory post. A revelation for me, that is. One that I’m going to share with you now.

I think I have been drawn into the idea that I am helpless. Marketing and advertising tells me how I should be, so I get to wanting to be that way. This suits the companies who own the marketing and advertising departments, but it’s not really best for me. I am losing my creativity to ideas that aren’t mine. I may think I am a writer, I am one of the most creative people in the world. Yes, and I am also just like everyone else. If I need something, the first thing I think is, “where can I buy this.”

Thankfully, I don’t have a lot of money, so purchases tend to be things that are necessities. Most everything else I can do without. Or I can make for myself. Like my book binder. I used things I found around the house to make it. Old bits of shelving we weren’t using, an old drawer. Even my tools were other implements pushed into service as tools. A pen knife as saw, peeler as planer, paint from an old tin that’s been lying around for ages.

Ok, this post has gone completely off topic, but what I’m trying to say is: don’t let the world stop you getting what you want. You are creative, so be creative. Let your imagination help you when it can. Last Wednesday, my binder wasn’t working out for me. Last Thursday I tried again, a different way, a way that worked. Today, I printed draft 3 of my novel and glued the spine. Tomorrow I will have a bound book.

I think you have to have the same sort of persistence when it comes to writing. If something isn’t working, just try again a different way.

And to give you an idea of how my binder turned out, here’s a photo:


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category: publishing

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My Craft

- by ria, on Wednesday, 1st September 2010, 3:52pm

I’m a writer. It’s what I’ve chosen to be because I love creating things. But life could have worked out differently for me. I have a diploma in printing and for a while all I wanted to be was a printer. I wanted to get my hands dirty, to see physical things come about because of what I was doing. And if I couldn’t do printing, I wanted to do bookbinding.

I bound my first book at age 11 (or something). It was about 20 pages, stitched. My next attempt at book binding was at age 18. It was 12 pages (or something), made by folding one A3 sheet over and over and then cutting the folds. I think I stapled that one.

Moving on to more recent times, I’ve printed out each draft of my novel (having a printed copy really helps with edits). My binding attempts were reduced to hole-punching and putting it in a ring binder or using a twinlock type thing. It seems my first attempt at binding was the most elaborate. Until now.

Adventures in Book Binding

Draft 3 is finished and I want to print copies for my writers’ group to read (and critique). But the ring-binder method isn’t good enough for them. I want books that look perfect bound (using glue along the spine). So, I did what any good researcher would do, and went to google to find out how I could make perfect bound books at home.

I came across the Fun and Easy How to Guide to Binding Your Own Paperback Books At Home…FAST, which went into detail on the whole process. But first, I needed to build a binding machine.

Now, I quite enjoy the odd DIY project and it just so happened that I had an old wooden drawer lying around the place, so I set to with ruler and saw to cut the pieces I needed. Everything went well. I used an old peeler as a makeshift planer to square off the bits of wood. I painted everything. It looked lovely, and then I had to drill the holes for the bolts.

Hmm. I think I should stop the entry here. Let’s just say the drilling didn’t go so well. The bits of wood were too small and the wood itself wasn’t the best quality. So here I am today, without a binding machine and no idea what I can do to make things better.

If you decide to bind your own books, I hope things work out better for you.

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category: publishing

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Rewrites

- by ria, on Wednesday, 25th August 2010, 9:55pm

Rewrites are funny. When you are writing… Wait, let me start again. When I am writing, I think ahead to the editing stage and I ask myself how I am going to be able to do it. While I’m writing, that’s all that’s in my head. I’m not thinking about editing, and so, I get to thinking it’s the hardest thing in the world.

Now, when I’m editing, I wonder how I ever wrote all the words that I did. I’m editing and writing seems like the most difficult thing ever.

Enter rewrites. They are the writing during the edits. I wonder how I ever rewrite anything, but my brain actually switches between writing and editing quite easily. I cut whatever I’m not happy with and write the scene again from scratch. And usually it all turns out well, better than the original version.

This very short post was brought to you at 10pm after a long day spent proofreading and copyediting (what is the difference between those two?) 10 chapters.

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category: random, writing

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What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

- by ria, on Wednesday, 18th August 2010, 10:30am
A Writing Schedule

If you find it hard to sit at your computer for 6-8 hours typing out the images in your head, then I may have some advice for you.

Sometimes, a routine can help with getting you into the right headspace for writing. This is where an outline comes in handy. Figure out all the free time you have during the week for writing. Make a chart that shows the days of the week (or, use something like google calendar – that’s what I use).  Now, look at all the scenes in your outline and try to guess how much time you will need for each scene. Let’s say a scene a day. Find your first free day and mark in ‘Scene 1.’ Find your second free day and mark in ‘Scene 2.’

If you don’t have whole days to work with, you can spread your scenes over two days. Try not to spread your scenes too far. You are trying to write a book, here. Even if you only have an hour, you can get 500 words done. 1,000 words make a good scene. At most, you should only need three days for any one scene. If you are editing, do the same thing, but instead of scenes, do chapters per day.

This may seem hard, but it’s the only way to get a novel written this decade, especially if you don’t have much free time. Or worse, if you have all the time in the world. In that case, you feel that you have plenty of time, no need to sit down and start yet. Wrong. Start now. Before you know it, your time will be gone and you won’t have your book written.

When that Doesn’t Work

If you suffer from laziness, lack of inspiration, not knowing where your story is going, and you don’t feel like writing, try writing anyway. The only way to get over these problems is to write through them.

If you really don’t feel like writing, don’t write. Simple as that.

I suffer from occasional apathy, and on these days I can’t do anything. If I force myself to write when I really don’t feel like it, I end up with the worst prose and usually have to scrap it and go again when I actually feel like writing. Fortunately, these apathetic moments usually only last two or three days.

Do Something Else

If you think it’s just a passing phase, that you will feel like writing next week, don’t stress. Maybe write something in a blog, write a letter / email to a close friend, write ideas that you may have. You don’t even have to turn on your computer; you can jot them down in a notebook.

If you are inspired but can’t face your manuscript, don’t. Use some other format. Sometimes when I don’t feel like writing, I get an A4 pad (I prefer blue or yellow paper) and start writing (in pencil, fountain pen, marker). A change of scene is great to get me out of a slump. Now, I could just as easily suggest you go somewhere that you don’t normally write, a café, park or something, but I hate doing that. I need peace and silence for writing and don’t get how anyone can work in such a distracting environment.

If none of that works, stop trying. Go read a book, or play a game, get some exercise, clean the house, sew, go shopping, whatever. Maybe you need a break to get your inspiration flowing again. Whatever happens, don’t let a little unenthusiasm (firefox tells me this isn’t a real word – oh well) turn you away from your novel. Give it a week and come back, or move on to a different scene.

Whatever happens, don’t give up.

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category: writing

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Worldbuilding, or Lack Of

- by ria, on Wednesday, 11th August 2010, 3:39pm

I think my series on pre-production is coming to an end. They were fun to write and I’ll have to keep them in mind as I head into draft 2 of book2 (which will be happening sometime soon – I’ve already started a very rough outline). But just for the record, I would like to write a quick note on worldbuilding.

Learning things the hard way

Don’t tell any agents or publishers, but I don’t really do any worldbuilding. When I started draft 1 of book 1 (I’m currently on draft 3 of book 1, just so we’re all straight) I had a 16 page outline that set out everything that was going to happen in the plot. I had a very vague idea of what the world was like, I knew there were planes (dimensions of reality) and portals but that was pretty much it.

As I wrote the first few chapters, I let the world build itself around the story. If I needed a forest, there was a forest. If I needed a city, there was a city. It was pretty haphazard, and I think it led to quite a shallow world. I still feel this way. My book is not about the world, it’s about the characters and the adventure. By the end of draft 1, the setting was all over the place, because I’d put no thought into it. A lot of the rewrites in draft 2 compacted the world and solidified the magic system.

That’s why drafts are essential for me, even though they are time consuming. If I had everything set from the start it would save me a lot of effort. But my brain doesn’t work that way. I can’t come up with a whole world,because I don’t know what my world will need and what it won’t need. Between drafts 1 and 2, I did a bit of worldbuilding. I came up with cultures, places, professions, etc. But it was all a bit superfluous, because none of it made it into draft 2.

So, I still have a lot to learn about worldbuilding. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

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category: pre-production, writing

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Novel DNA

- by ria, on Wednesday, 4th August 2010, 6:39pm

It seems the world does not want this post getting out, but I promised it last week, and I’m not going to stall any longer. I have a cold and my brain isn’t working quite as well as it should, but I’m not going to let that stop me. Still, I may come back and edit this post some time when I’m feeling a little more myself. Anyway, on with the post.

This information has been cut from two posts already. I kept thinking it would fit with other topics, but it is so important it needs its own post. It fits in with the kind of post-theme I’ve got going on at the moment of outlines and ideas and inspiration.

Before you start a novel, (or mid-way through, or at the end (not advisable – if you do it at the end you will have lots of rewrites)) you need to figure out what drives your plot.  I gathered this information from a lot of agent (as in literary agent) blogs I read, where they try to give us baby writers advice about what makes a story.

What forms the soul of a novel?

To answer that, you need to ask a bunch of questions:

-what is your main character’s goal
-what prevents him reaching it, i.e. conflict
-how does he choose to overcome that conflict
-what are the stakes of his actions, both personal and public (why should he bother trying to achieve his goal)
-what consequences arise from the choices he makes

That’s it. Answer those questions and you have a fully formed novel-soul. The answers to these questions are your novel’s DNA. They are the most essential things to a good story.

Goals

Your character’s goal is what propels him forward. Things like staying alive, saving his village, rescuing the princess. It is the one thing he works towards for the whole novel. It is the force pulling him onwards through the story.

Conflict

Conflict is anything that gets in the way of your character’s goal. It could be something external, the antagonist who wants the opposite of what he does, the demon threatening his village, the dragon guarding the princess. Conflict can also be internal: maybe he doesn’t see himself worthy to achieve his goals.  He doesn’t see himself as a hero and he struggles against his own thoughts and emotions, which try to turn him away from his goals. Add conflict in where ever you can. It makes things interesting. But bear in mind that goal vs. conflict is the most boring thing in the world if there are no consequences involved (I’ll get to that in a bit).

Stakes

If the goal is what moves the story forward, the stakes are what powers that movement. (That was a bad example – shush, my brain isn’t working.) The stakes are what motivates your character to go out and achieve his goals. It’s all fine and dandy to make your MC (main character) go out and slay the dragon, but he’d better have a powerful reason for doing so. No rational person faces a dragon just because.

If he doesn’t kill it, the dragon will eat his mother / burn down his village / kill him. To make things really interesting, there have to be stakes that matter only to your character, as well. He’s lost faith in himself as a warrior. If he doesn’t kill this dragon to prove to himself that he is still brave and strong, he will never be able to look anyone in the eye again. That’s very simplistic, but I hope you get the idea.

Choices

You character must decide how to overcome the conflict that prevents him reaching his goals. He must be proactive about this. There is nothing worse than when someone else comes in and forces him down one path or the other. He must be responsible for whatever happens because of his actions. This makes things dramatic, especially if his choices are hard dilemmas. He must choose the better of two bad options. And things must happen in the world because of the choices he makes.

Consequences

All decisions have consequences. There’s nothing worse than reading a story where nothing changes. Your character defeats a dragon, the consequences are many injuries, a free princess and a new sense of self for your hero. He had learned something about himself. Half way though the story, he didn’t think he could do it. He doubted himself so badly that he let the dragon destroy his village. His mother got eaten. But now all that doesn’t seem so bad, because he has made sure it can never happen again.

I personally love heartbreaking consequences. Someone dies, someone has a revelation about their actions, the world changes irrevocably. Heartbreaking doesn’t mean it has to be bad. It could be wonderful. I find sappy romance movies where the lovers finally admit their love for each other heartbreaking.

So that’s it. The five things that lie at the heart of every novel. The things you absolutely must pin down before you start working on your plot. The things that will keep you writing and keep your story moving forward.

See you next week.

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category: pre-production, writing

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Ideas

- by ria, on Wednesday, 28th July 2010, 11:51am

Coming up with ideas is hard. Especially if you are staring at a blank page. I can’t sit down and just start writing a story. First, I need a character I love, then I need a setting that fires my imagination. Then I need a plot. Two posts before this, I spoke about creating an outline, but I didn’t go into any details on where the ideas come from.

For me, they come while I’m writing. I’m working on a trilogy at the moment. I’m editing book one, book two is written and book 3 is half-written. So I have a good idea of the overarching plot. As I write, I’m thinking ahead, ‘How can I use this turn-about in one of the later books?’ So I’m getting ideas for book 3 from things that are happening in book 1. And I kind of hope that that shows through when I have them all written. I want people to be able to see the connections. I want them to say to themselves, ‘Ah, yes. I remember this from book 1. This author wove that narrative string nicely across the trilogy.’

But what if you are starting with a whole new book? One where you do not have a large background of information to pull ideas from? As I said already, start with a character, or a setting. If you are really brave, you can start with an emotion.

Setting as Inspiration

Let’s say you decide to focus on coming up with the setting first (I’ll get to character in a minute). Think about things you like: wood, metal, water, desert, city, food, bed… (yeah, now I’m just getting random). Anyway, think about something you like, say metal, and figure out how to work it into your setting. The setting is full of metal: a metal planet, a factory, a slum where huts are made of metal sheets… you can work it in any way you like. Then build on that. Let’s say you went with the metal factory. Is it in use or abandoned. Let’s say its abandoned and there are people living there. Why do they not have homes? My brain jumps to a post-apocalyptic setting. A bit cliché. I can do better. The metal protects them from something… Lightning? I don’t know. My brain has run out of ideas. Maybe I should go with something else.

You get the idea. Once you have your starting point, work up from there. You probably should leave the starting point behind. Don’t work it into your novel, use it to get a feel for the setting and then do something better with it.

Character as Inspiration

Starting with a character is generally the way I work. I usually get the look and style of the character first and then build up characteristics based on that. For example, one of the girls (women – she’s about 22)  from book two. My initial inspiration for her was an image of a girl wearing baggy pants and a t-shirt standing on the wall of a river bank, her long coat and hair blowing out behind her. A bit dramatic, I will admit, but you have to start somewhere.

In my mind, she’s alone and it’s dark. Now, what sort of girl would wear such clothes, be out at night and standing on the wall of a river bank. Someone confident, she doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s not going with convention – what grown adult walks along walls just for the fun of it? She’s also not wearing clothes that are conventional for a lady to wear. She’s definitley got more of a punk vibe going on. The final detail is that she looks serious. There’s something wrong, maybe insomnia, maybe depression, that has here out at night standing over the river. She’s not facing the river so I know she’s not suicidal. She just wants to let the wind take her problems away. Right, and I got all that from one image.

Now, this image did just pop into my head one day, but you can use things around you to the same effect. An image from a magazine, someone on TV. Find someone who attracts you, figure out why, and build up a personality for them. Don’t use someone you know, or a famous actor. They already have too much of their own personality.

Emotion as Inspiration

The final inspiration I’m going to write about is emotion. Emotion is a powerful thing. All of us feel, we all like to feel good, but sometimes it can be nice to wallow in bad feelings. Sometimes it is therapeutic to do so. But not too self-indulgently. Just for a little while.

Using emotion as inspiration can be tricky. You have to figure out what emotion would you like to explore. You have to come up with a situation that causes this emotion. Let’s say you want to write about forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful emotions out there, it’s always a great one to write about. So, at the end of your novel you want the power of forgiveness to come shining off the page. You need to work backwards. You need a character who needs forgiving, or who holds a grudge. You need to work up to that. Being inspired by emotion isn’t generally something that happens to me at the start of a book. It usually comes when I have a better idea of everything, when I know my characters well, when I know what kind of emotional turmoil I want to put them through.

Other Sources of Inspiration

I want to add that if is there some cool action sequence you’ve always wanted to write, note it and work it into your novel somehow. Nothing like a good action scene to get your inspiration glands working.

So, How Does the Plot Come from All This?

Well, that’s the easy part. You have your setting, your primary emotion, or your character, the plot is what you do with it. Turn it on it’s head. Add conflict. Give your character something to worry about. Actually, I’m going to write a whole separate post about this.

One Further Comment

Whatever you do, don’t think that you can sit down and write just because you have a cool setting or a brilliant character. Believe me, if you do that, I can guarantee that your first 10,000 words will be nothing but back story and filler. You need a plot before you start writing. Exciting stuff has to happen on the very first page.

* * *

There’s a really important post on finding your plot coming next week. Set your rss to threecornersquare so you don’t miss out.

PS, I write the longest posts ever. This one is 1127 words.

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category: pre-production, writing

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Writing is a Series of Questions

- by ria, on Thursday, 22nd July 2010, 5:33pm

Writing is not so much a series of questions, as it is the answers to those questions. I find all my difficulties can by written away if I just ask the right question and find the answer to it. Questions solve all sorts of nasty problems like:
What’s happening now?
What needs to happen next?
Why is my character doing this?

If I get stuck, I’ll open notepad, stick a question at the top and spend a while figuring out an answer to it. I find it helps me think. I can stare out the window puzzling over my problem all day, but I find I get things done much faster if I jot my thoughts down.

Questions even help with the niggly things like, ‘is it farther or further?’ Or more to the point, ‘if I replace farther with “more far” will the sentence still make sense?’

I’m always asking myself questions like that, and I find the answers are what is getting my novel written.

Just a quick post this week. I’m busy with work (paying work, not novel work). I should have something longer next week. And sorry, I’m posting this late (Wednesday is posting day). Hopefully work things with be a bit calmer next week.

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category: writing

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The Outline

- by ria, on Wednesday, 14th July 2010, 2:12pm
Disclaimer

I should mention that this blog is for me as much as it is for anyone else. When I start on my second novel, I want to have all this info in one place where I can refer to it with little hassle. So, this post is targeted at me (and people who write in a fashion similar to the way I do).

The Outline

For me, every story has to start with an outline. Be that one paragraph or 16 pages, it doesn’t matter. I won’t get anywhere without one. Well, I might get the first scene done, but once I get past that I’ll have no idea where to go next.

Every novel starts with an idea. It might be a character, a location, a particular scene, a line of dialogue. Or, if you are lucky, it might be a whole plot, complete with characters and settings. I doubt that, but you never know. So, you have your idea, your small nugget of creative gold, but you need to do something with it, make something out of it. That’s where your outline comes in.

The outline is where you take that small idea and work on it until it becomes something worthy of a novel. Let’s say your idea was a location: an old shack on the side of a lake, a hermit’s workshop, an eccentric place filled with old bits of metal, wood, dried food, all sorts of survivalist gear. Before you even start work on your outline you might want to figure out who lives here and why. Then you come up with some event that will launch the plot.

Creating your Outline

Now you start writing.
“Scene 1: a strange something washes up on shore.”
Go into some detail, not too much – just enough to get your creative juices going.  You are not writing the actual novel here, you are just giving yourself hints, or signposts for when you get lost during draft 1.

Carry on with the outline, going from scene 1 to scene n. Don’t worry about chapters or novel structure or anything like that. (Not sure how good this advice is – I don’t have enough experience to test it. When I was outlining my current novel, I did include chapters, but I reorganised everything in draft 2. It went from 16 chapters to 36.) If you do want to include chapters, leave them as broad as possible. Have them as a sort of high-level outline.

Stop. Think about your Idea

Outline done, you get to start writing, right? No. Stop. Once your outline is done, take a few days and think about your story. Think about characters and settings. Can you improve the plot? Can you see weak areas where plot holes may develop? This part is important. If you can catch the plot holes now, you can save yourself work later on. Do bear in mind that this outline isn’t the be-all and end-all of your novel. It’s a helpful map for the first draft. The more precise it is, the better off you will be.

I want to note here, that working over the idea in your head after you have done your outline is especially important if you went with the first idea that came to you. It might have seemed fantastic at the moment of inspiration, but there are most definitely ways to improve it. I studied graphic design, and one of my lecturers constantly repeated his maxim: throw out the first few sketches you work on. It’s the same here. The first idea you come up with is just your brain getting warmed up. You can come up with something way better.

Having said that, you do have the next draft to fix problems / plot holes that crop up. Your outline doesn’t have to be perfect. 50% of your novel will probably change as you go along anyway. And for those of you who think you know everything about your world and characters and plot, an outline is still handy for keeping things straight in your mind. 100,000 words from now you might not remember what went through your head day one.

Outline not only for Plot

In the outline, be sure to expand on themes and emotions. Note where you want the tense scenes to go. Focus on your character’s reaction to events (this point is still big in my mind after the last post). Figure out how characters interact with each other. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of important stuff, it’s been ages since I did an outline.

For those of you curious, the outline to my current novel was 16 pages. I had about a paragraph for each scene and there were something like 80 scenes in the whole thing. I didn’t stop to think about my idea after I’d written the outline, I just blundered ahead into draft 1. Look where that got me. I had to rewrite 80% of draft 1. I’ll not be doing that again. In contrast to that, the novella I wrote before that (30,000 words), had a one paragraph outline. So it’s variable.

Anyway, getting back to the point: think about your idea after you create your outline. Is there enough tension? Is your idea original and interesting? Do you like your characters? Will you still like them 100,000 words from now? That is very important. I’ve read dozens of blog and forum posts where writers have grown to hate their characters and they stop working on their book because of that. Feel free to make as many changes to your outline as you want. The goal here is to have the best idea you can come up with.
(There will be a post about coming up with ideas in a few weeks. (I do like to give myself a challenge, don’t I.))

Disclaimer 2

I use ‘he’ when referring to your character because my main character is male. My next novel has a female protagonist (two of them, actually) and then, when I refer to your character in this blog, it will be ‘she.’

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category: pre-production, writing

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Show Your Story

- by ria, on Thursday, 8th July 2010, 12:35pm

I ‘tell’ an awful lot in my novel. It annoys me, because I read over my work and think it’s boring, or it’s missing something. Until now, I had a vague idea that I was missing out on emotion, on characterisation. But that wasn’t it.

Recently, Nathan Bransford linked to an old post of his where he discusses the old adage, ‘show; don’t tell.’ The main point I took from his article was: have your character react. That’s what my novel has been missing, that reaction to events, or to emotion. It’s all fine and dandy to say, ‘he was angry,’ but Mr Bransford drove home the idea that having your character react to his anger will make a far better impression on your reader.

So, when you are writing characterisation, and your character is angry, you have to ask yourself, ‘how does he react because of this anger?’ The answer is what you write in your MS (manuscript for all you exceptionally new to writing).

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category: writing

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Drafts and Edits, Edits and Drafts

- by ria, on Friday, 28th May 2010, 8:15pm

As you may have noticed from the sidebar, I am half way through draft 3, so editing is on my mind. And since I’m thinking about it a lot, I figured I’d write a post about it. You’d think the first post containing actual helpful content would have something to do with setting up for writing – creating characters, world building – but no. I like to do things a bit different.

Anyway. Editing and the sequence of drafts.
When I was younger, I thought the difference between the first and second drafts was that the second draft had been spell-checked, sentences flowed nicely. The second draft was just the first draft but easier to read. That was before I actually sat down and wrote a first draft. That was when my writing had been confined to ‘essays’ and short stories. Safe and dull little pieces that weren’t long enough, or complex enough, to develop plot holes.

Enter the novel written over seven months, four continents, and numerous A4 pads and I quickly realised the editing would need quite a bit more than just a proofread. It would need a second draft. This was when I figured out that a draft is not just fixing up the language, it is changing the plot, characters, setting in order to convey the story I wanted to tell.

Each draft, I have learned, is significantly different from the one previous. Draft 2 of my novel was about 80% different from draft 1. I removed and rewrote most of the thing, keeping only a few paragraphs that contained the essence of the story. I completely changed the world and the races in it. So while the setting was similar, most chapters had to be rewritten to reflect the changes. Draft 3 is the same, though not as drastic. Only about 10% has been rewritten, this draft involves writing new content – better descriptions, deepening the characters and setting, working on pacing (a post for another day – pacing is a beast I have yet to tame).

You might think, ‘Well, I’m organised. I know what my world is like, and how my characters work.’ I promise you, 100,000 words and a good few months from now, that will change. And if it doesn’t you might want to leave it alone for a year, come back to it and see if it does. Because, in my experience (which is pretty limited, I will give you that), the first draft is usually made up of the first idea that came into your head as you wrote. Your characters have some cool attributes, some cool swag, now you need them to get into some sort of adventure. So you work something out, probably put a lot of thought into it, but you can’t possibly know all the twists and turns. As you write, more ideas will come to you. Better ideas. The ending might need set-up or foreshadow earlier on that you didn’t know about when you wrote the first draft. You might need a new character to fill in a role that you didn’t plan for. Loads can happen over 100,000 words.

So what I am saying is: go into your first draft knowing it will change. Write it like it doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t. Anywhere between 50 and 90% will be trashed and rewritten anyway. Use this inherent attribute of the first draft to have fun. Play around with it. You have more freedom at this stage than anywhere else in the novel-writing process. And when it comes time to start on the second draft, look at what you have, cut anything that doesn’t feel 100% good to you, and come up with a better idea. And again, write like it doesn’t matter (but try to stay true to your core idea / story). You can keep coming up with better ideas in the next draft.

It is not until the final draft, until you are 100% sure of everything on every page, that you can start editing for language. Do not tidy up one sentence or trim one paragraph until you are very sure that you will be keeping it. Because there is nothing worse than having to cut a perfectly worded sentence, one you slaved over to get just right. Wait until the final draft to polish, and you can keep all your gems.

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category: writing

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Change is Good

- by ria, on Wednesday, 5th May 2010, 1:01pm

“Change is good, but it’s not easy.”

The site’s been converted to wordpress. Not a simple task by any means. But I managed to port the design and css over with minimal hassle. As I write this, there are still a load of little things to be done, but the main layout is working and that’s what matters most.

EDIT: the main layout is still suffering growing pains. Bear with me if there are weird borders and divs are all over the place.

This site was always more of an art site, with less of a focus on writing. That is about to change. As my life goals and career path move closer to writing, I find that I have very little time for drawing any more. The gallery will still exist (as the art page), but it probably won’t be updated that often. No, the space to keep an eye on is the writing page. Expect short stories hopefully every few months. And here, on the main “loop” (as the wordpress people call it), there will be updates on my writing techniques, useful tips, and my learning progress. I’m not a seasoned writer by any means – I’m working on my first novel at the moment, with the aim of getting published sometime in the next 2 / 3 years.

So, this will mainly be a blog of my voyage into the world of publishing. And hopefully people will find me, and my posts will be helpful to them, and we all take the journey together.

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category: site, writing

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