I just found this 12-part series by Robin Coyle on Strong vs Weak words.
I’ve written 18k of short storyness in the last 2 weeks, and then embarked on a mad 2-day revision spree. My brain is fairly toasted at the moment, so I thought I would point you in the direction of a few good links while my grey matter still cowers at the base of my skull.
I’m a fan of Alexandra Solokoff for her brilliant writing advice, especially her attitude; writing is HARD WORK. Today she talks about The Bash-Through Draft (aka draft zero).
Then when I start to write a first draft I just bash through it from beginning to end. It’s the most grueling part of writing a book (the suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark called it “clawing through a mountain of concrete with my bare hands…”) and takes the longest, but writing the whole thing out, even in the most sketchy way, from start to finish, is the best way I know to actually guarantee that I will finish a book or a script.
Thanks, Alex, I needed to hear that today. Coming back from a revision frenzy always leaves me reaching for perfection instead of progress.
In terms of revision though, now is a good time to talk about Weasel Words. I can’t remember who coined the phrase, but Weasel Words are the weak points in our prose; the superfluous words that contribute nothing to the story.
From Vision: Ten Quick Fixes to Improve Your Fiction.
From Fantasy Faction: Ready to Submit? Check Again…
And from Jennifer M Eaton: It. I Really Hate It.
As an example, this weekend I revised a 9.9k story down to 8.5k by eradicating all the weasel words from the manuscript. How did I lose 1.8k words? Because you don’t just delete the weasel word. You have to look at the paragraph around it, consider the impact and what you need to change. Often you will find that a weasel word marks a weak passage that lacked strong action, strong emotion or impact, or in fact any relevance to the story.
Check out the links, then go hunting. You will be amazed at the difference in your prose.
I’m having a lot of fun with my current novella. It’s high fantasy, something I haven’t written in many years. It’s a story about forgiveness, and pain, and finding courage again. The story location was inspired by the beautiful Tianzi Mountains in China (pictured).
I’ve also been having a lot of fun putting together images related to the novella on Pinterest. If you’re on Pinterest, let me know!
This is the beginning of the second scene.
The first time I knew I would marry Kamon I was carrying a baby to the sacred pool. It was Usimi I carried in my arms, the first child I would bless alone after I had sent my mother’s bones to the forest below.
The baby’s family surrounded me in a chattering crowd, so I did not notice when he began to follow. At the ropeway platform I turned to speak to the baby’s mother and I saw him. He perched in a tree that clung to the side of the rock, hanging out over the gap.
He was looking straight at me.
I turned away, pretended I hadn’t seen him, but I could feel his gaze on the back of my neck. I knew he was married already, to the beautiful Siri. On the pretense of settling the child I glanced his way again. He met my gaze, possessiveness in his eyes. His arrogance stirred something inside me.
I turned away from the throng and stepped to the edge of the platform. I held the baby securely against me and raised one arm.
The wind came at my bidding and lifted me up and over the gap. There were gasps and shrieks and then a cheer as I landed on the other side, the babe secure in my arms.
I turned and met Kamon’s stare openly. I remember his lips curving up in a smile. The wind tore down upon us, dancing around the crowd, whipping hair and clothes about. I stood unmoved in the disturbance, my eyes on Kamon.
If he wanted me, I would not be an easy prize.
Feel free to post a snippet of your own, either in the comments or on your own blog, and tell us a little about what you are working on.
I’m a pretty organised person. I like to plan things out so I know exactly what I’m doing when. I’ve got a full time job, a child and an addiction to Diablo 3. There is no such thing as spare time.
I planned out this year from January to December with the ultimate goal of submitting my first novel in January 2013 while also completing the first draft of a new novel.
How’s it going, I hear you ask?
Well, you might as well say I planned to drive to Melbourne and ended up in Darwin.
Okay, so it’s not that bad. But the original road map has flown out the window. The novel I wanted to work on turned out to be not strong enough to be worth it. So I put that away and decided to work a completed novella up to submission status. That, I’m pleased to say, is coming along well. I’m 3/4 of the way through the second pass.
In the meantime, I finished an 8k short that had been languishing on my heard drive for 5 years. I completed a 10k short that I want to submit to Extreme Planets anthology. I’m 3.5k into a novella for Crossed Genre’s Winter Well anthology.
I can’t help it, I just love short stories.
But while I’ve been doing this, I have also been thinking about my next novel draft, and I have one in my sights. Writing starts 1st July.
So while I’m nowhere near where I planned to be, I’m not upset. I’ve revised my plan and kept moving forward. I’ve been writing and revising the whole time (except for 2 weeks where I angsted over some words that were really giving me trouble).
I could have thrown my hands in the air and given up. I could have let the failure of that first novel send me into a spiral of writer’s block.
But I have learned three important things from writing and selling short stories.
- Not every story will work, no matter what you do to it.
- New ideas will always come along, demanding to be written.
- If you keep writing and learning and improving, you will sell stories.
I am not at all upset that this year didn’t fit in with my big plan. Because I still have that big plan. The end date has just blown out a little. And in the meantime I have explored new stories and learned more about the craft of writing and revision.
Never let a wrong turn make you miserable. You never know what you might see along the way. Just keep driving.
Your turn: how has the first half of the year gone for you? Have you lost your way? Are you still driving?
We are cutting down trees today.
My heart is hammering and I feel sick.
I love trees, but unfortunately the person who planted these trees didn’t think before they planted. One is under the powerlines. One hovers over the power and phone lines into the house. One is right up against a window.
So they have to go. But I hate doing it. I hate destroying something so beautiful.
I console myself with the thought that as soon as they are gone I will plant more, in the right place this time. Trees carefully chosen for height and shape and location. Trees that will glow with beauty, attract birds and bees, form a shelter for fauna and privacy for us.
I console myself with this and try not to cry while the trees come down.
Okay, so maybe I cried a bit.
But they had to come down. Sometimes you make hard decisions, and then you grieve, and then you pick yourself up and move forward.
In life, and in writing.
Just a quick heads up about two new sites you might find interesting.
The Write Turn is a community blog about writing.
There are a million or more pieces of writing advice, pearls of wisdom, tips, tricks, Dos and Do Nots when it comes to any kind of writing. Some bits of writing advice are GREAT. Others not so. What will work for one writer will be the death of another.
Our writers write a lot of different things – novels, blogs posts, essays, eBooks, short stories, pages like the one you’re reading now – and we have all come across an entire universe full of writing advice and know how from countless writers wanting to share what works for them. Or doesn’t.
The Write Turn brings together the best of writing know how from around the web and shares it with you.
If you are a writing blogger and interested in joining the community, contact Kate Krake here.
And for new and emerging writers who are looking for somewhere to submit, Headspring Press is:
…a new website and quarterly electronic journal celebrating new writing, comics and art.
When we’re talking about “new” writers and artists, we’re not only interested in the unheard voices scribbling their stories in dark corners. Our dedication to new and emerging writers is all about helping writers spread their wings (and their words). Whether you’ve just written your first short story, or you’ve just had your first novel published, we’d love to hear from you.
Every edition of Headspring Press will feature a selection of short stories, non-fiction as well as comic works and art from new, emerging, and more established writers and artists. We’ll also offer space online and in our journal to get to know the creators behind the works, as well as featuring interviews with professional writers and artists. And that’s just the beginning!
We’re particularly interested in Australian voices, but we’re open to the world.
Headspring Press is a non-paying market, in other words, you get a copy of your work and exposure on the website. Which, if you’re looking for a non-confrontational way to start submitting, is a good place to begin. Submission Guidelines are here.
I was reminded the other day (after a massive bout of self-doubt) of the importance of surrounding yourself with other writers. Aside from the companionship and understanding angle, a strong writer’s tribe can really help you move forward in your writing.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses as writers and people, but we can’t always see that. Having someone there to not only look over your work, but to be a sounding board for problems and possibly a font of advice is a great help.
Build your writer’s tribe with care. Find people who you like and whose work you like, and who like you and your work in turn. It is important that your tribe likes what you do. They don’t have to love it; in fact, blind love can do more harm than good. But they should at least be on the same page as you.
Here are four essential members of your writer’s tribe. You can certainly have more, but try and find at least one of each of these types. Having all of one type of tribe member isn’t good for you. Balance is the key.
This is the person we all wish we could be. She’s sold so many stories. She has a novel out to agents and is just cranking out another one. She’s driven and dedicated and sometimes she just bloody drives you nuts. She’s perfectly nice but you can’t help but feel inadequate when faced with her productivity and success.
Knowing an Overachiever is good for you. This person has done the things that you are just coming up to, and her experience could save you a lot of time and pain. She’s also good as evidence of all you can achieve if you really work at it. Reading her work should make you want to work harder, should inspire you to tackle something a bit tougher than you normally do.
Beware of the Overachiever who comes with an ego. If they are constantly rubbing their success in your face, it can be demoralising.
The Nurturer loves everything that you write. They can see the promise in even the worst draft. They listen to your woes with patience, and tell you that yes, it is okay to write a shitty first draft. Above all, they tell you to keep writing, because you will get there someday.
Nurturers are wonderful people. They may not even be writers. They may be friends who read your work and love it. They may be your mother. Either way, they are your support crew when the whole writing gig becomes overwhelmingly difficult and you cannot seem to write a cohesive sentence.
Nurturers are important. You have to have someone who loves your work, who sees your talent. However beware of surrounding yourself only with nurturers. While it’s lovely to have so much affirmation, you need a cold dose of reality now and then. Otherwise if you do hit a setback and you have only Nurturers around you, you may be tempted to blame everything except your writing. Critical analysis is as important as support.
Rules, rules, rules. This person knows grammar and writing and structure like the back of their hand. They know how to structure a query letter. They know what agents like. They know the hero’s journey AND all the variations. They can tell you what should happen in each Act of your story. They have read every writing book known to man, and can recite important passages to you on demand.
Lawyers are very useful people. They can tell you what standard manuscript format is. They can help you to understand what theme and motif are. They are a veritable encyclopedia, and save you a lot of time and research.
The problem with the Lawyer is that he is often paralysed by all these rules, to the point where his creativity suffers. Be grateful for their guidance, but don’t be afraid to step outside the boundaries in your quest for a good story.
No matter how small the flaw is, this person can see it and will point it out. They’re not being malicious; they just have a sharp eye for things that feel off, and aren’t afraid to tell you. They will take your perfect final draft and reduce it to a sea of red scribbles. They may, on occasion, make you cry.
Agonising as it is to get a really critical review of your manuscript, it is the best thing you can do to yourself, at the right time. At the wrong time, it can be a confidence breaker of epic proportions. But at the right time, the Destroyer can really help you find the hidden problems in your manuscript. They can help you to see where the story could be sharper, tighter, stronger, better. They are an invaluable resource, mostly because they will always be truthful with you.
The important thing with a Destroyer in your tribe is that they still like your writing. A Destroyer who doesn’t enjoy what you write, or one who is trying to rewrite your story they way they would write it is very damaging. Find the right critical partner for you.
This person may be just starting out on their writing journey, or they may have just made the decision to submit stories, or they may have decided that they are going to take things seriously now and really learn the craft. Either way, they are setting out on a magical journey and their enthusiasm is wonderful and infectious and inspiring. They might look up to you as an Overachiever or just as someone else who is on this wonderful journey.
Don’t squash their enthusiasm. The realities of the writing life will hit eventually. Encourage them, enthuse with them, assist them when they ask for help. It’s lovely to have a Neophyte in the group, to enjoy that precious innocence and joy, to remind you why you started writing in the first place.
And sometimes, it’s also nice to look back and see how far you have come. The important thing is to guide them without trying to make them write like you, to recognise their talent as valid and different from yours. To have the pleasure of watching that talent develop.
You may not have five people who fit this exact mould. You may have a couple of people in your tribe who take on multiple roles. You may find some of these roles outside your personal writing tribe. You may have just one writing partner who is all of these things and more.
And don’t forget, you will be performing one or more of these roles for someone else. Be aware of how you fit into your writer’s tribe. Build lasting, long-term relationships and you will be happier writers.
Do you have a writing tribe? Are you missing any of these roles? Can you think of another role you find valuable?
I am plotting for the Extreme Planets short story, and it’s all going well, except for the theme.
You know when you are trying to remember something, and you just can’t? That “tip-of-the-tongue” feeling? That’s what I have with my theme.
Luckily I can still write without having my theme in words. But still. The sooner my brain lands on the theme, the better. I feel incomplete without it.
It occurs to me that I haven’t really written a post in a while that doesn’t serve a purpose. No random ramblings. No thoughts on the state of rockmelon ripeness or the change in the weather.
Truth is, I feel all out of conversation. When I sit down at the computer these days it’s usually to bash out a couple of hundred words while I have the peace and quiet to do it. I spend a lot of time chatting to my writing buddy, often while writing. And now I have nothing left to say.
So what did I do today? I went to the paying job and had a great day. My mind also had a great day thinking about writing something for the Extreme Planets Anthology (thanks, Anna!). I wasn’t planning on writing short stories this year, but this anthology just tickled my fancy. Actually, Anna is also responsible for me writing a novella for the Winter Well anthology. Damn you, Anna, you temptress!
Today at work I spent a good deal of time reading the Australian Standard on The Control of Undesirable Static Electricity. 83 pages of time. And as I was reading I got a spark, and then bam! An idea for the Extreme Planets anthology bobbed to the surface and stuck around. I jotted down some quick notes, amused that reading something so boring could stimulate my creative side. It just goes to show, you never know where ideas will come from.
Other than that, I am still working on The Vessel. I had to rewrite 10k from the middle, and that’s almost done – 2k to go. Then I can get back to revising the end.
Unfortunately, Diablo 3 looms on the horizon and I am desperately excited. I’ve been tinkering with the beta for a couple of weeks now and I am hooked. This does not bode well for my already limited time.
Oh, and I started reading Graceling by Kristen Cashore. I love it. So pleased to have found another author I really enjoy.
That’s about it for me. How about you? How are things going?
I’ve known Chris for quite some years now – I think we met when we were both looking for critique partners. Chris has been writing Century of Sand for years, so when he finally put it up for publication, I thought it would be good to hear from Chris about how the revision process works for him.
When Merrilee asked me to write an article about my editing process, I didn’t think I’d get caught up in a month-long struggle with my own wordiness. You see, I’m a pretty brutal editor. I cut a lot. I’m not happy unless I’m cutting to the bone. As a result, my projects take a stupidly long time to finish. I’m my own worst enemy. But I can, at the very least, explain how I spent three years bringing my latest novel Century of Sand from a flabby, unfocused first draft to a finished product.
Century of Sand is a fantasy novel about a father and daughter – Richard and Ana – running away from their homeland, trying to escape from a vicious and bloody-minded Magician. It differs from many fantasy works in that the hero is not young, dashing and chosen by prophecy – he’s old, bitter, and full of doubt at the decisions that led to his escape. Ana is a warrior with the mind of an infant, trained to kill but not to speak. The landscape they’re crossing is not traditional European woodland, with tall grey castles and knights riding lovely white horses. It’s an unending desert, harsh and bright and bone-dry, where local warlords battle over water and demons walk around in stolen skins.
But when I began writing Century of Sand back in 2008, I didn’t even have that previous paragraph to work from. All I had was a premise – a demon living in a termite mound in the centre of a vast desert – and a single character – Richard, an old man fleeing from the Magician-turned-King. As such, I didn’t really know how to construct the novel. I had no plan and basis of comparison. All I could do was jump in at the deep end and hope something worked out along the way.
I operate in two very distinct modes: writing and editing. I can’t write and then edit a project in the same day, or even the same month. The processes require different areas of my brain, and it takes a long time to switch gears. So instead of sitting down and carefully plotting my way through, I wrote blindly, without consideration for character development or narrative structure. The result was a mess that Merrilee probably remembers as nigh-unreadable. I put the draft away in a drawer for six months, came back and read it as if I were reading somebody else’s story. Then, I began to plan.
My revision plan was constructed around what I personally feel most important in a story. For me, characters are always number one. With the rough draft in place, I could see the approximate arcs that my characters were supposed to take on their personal journeys, so I mapped out each arc and the changes that each character would need to undergo throughout the story. With those in place, I found the locations and events scattered throughout the Century of Sand trilogy that would best serve those evolutions in character. I twisted the plot where it needed to be twisted in order for these character revelations to fit – for me, plot is always secondary to a good character arc. Then, once I had the story mapped out in terms of character developments and interactions, I start cutting.
What parts of the plot didn’t serve the characters? They got chopped. What parts existed only for filler? Chop. I went through the story line by line and cut everything that wasn’t necessary, and I left myself notes to indicate all the things I needed to put in their place – meaty things, things with weight, things with tangibility. Authorial intrusion got chopped. Infodumps got chopped. I found ways to replace them with action, with collision and conflict. I located passive moments and beat my head against a wall until I discovered a way to make them life-or-death situations.
Then, with my character arcs in place and my story honed to a fine edge, I thought about the world.
I’m not good at worldbuilding. It’s the part of fantasy I hate the most, because it so often leads to extended chapters discussing trade routes and the history of meaningless cities. My perfect form of worldbuilding is one where info is only revealed in a way that furthers the plot, or the development of a character.
But to find those good moments, you have to cut away from a big messy whole. So, with my entire trilogy already drafted, I drew a map for the first time and figured out exactly where my characters were headed. I filled in the gaps, all the places they didn’t visit, and I thought about how those places, their religions, their histories and tribal disputes, could have influenced my characters in the past. Only one of my main characters, the Kabbah – a local warlord drawn into the adventure by a need to pay a blood debt – has any real knowledge of the world through which they’re travelling, so he is the lens through which my other characters, Richard and Ana, see the desert. The way in which the Kabbah talks about the desert gods, the rock formations, the wars over territory, inform the reader of his character as much as they inform Richard and Ana about the landscape. By making him my walking encyclopaedia, I can worldbuild but also build his personality simultaneously.
So, my three main editing steps – character, plot, and world – were complete. What was left?
I put the draft away in a drawer for six months. I let it get mouldy. I took it out. I started again.
After four complete rounds of rewriting, hating my manuscript, hating myself, cutting, rewriting, having epiphanies, cutting again, crying, and rewriting again, I finished Century of Sand. It took four years, almost to the day – March 2008 to late February 2012. I knew I was done when I took the manuscript out of the drawer in December 2011, reread it, and found myself enjoying every word. It felt like somebody else’s book, and it was exciting from beginning to end. Instead of thinking, “I need to rip this apart and start from scratch,” I thought, “A bit of a proofread and this is ready to go.”
That actual process of uploading and self-publishing Century of Sand should have been terrifying. Instead, as I clicked UPLOAD on the Kindle website, I was calm. I knew that my novel was the best it could be, the best I could make it. I trusted my process. It worked.
All I had left to do was books two and three.