27 June 2011

Diving Back In

It's time to do the final round of edits on my WIP. I've taken a break to work on the synopsis (which I'm pleased to report is now under two pages), so now it's time to shape the third and final draft. My to-do list:

1. Tackle the issues raised by my critique partners
2. Focus on "showing"
3. Cut or replace over-used words that are still plaguing the MS
4. Continue to eliminate any unnecessary words, paragraphs and scenes
5. Final grammar, spell-check and polish.

I know this time around I must be ruthless. I hope I can be.

At some point I'll send off a few test queries to gauge interest in the project. I still don't have a final version of my query but I'm getting there. I'm excited and nervous to see what the response will be. It's getting to a point where, after these next edits, I need to accept that this project is as good as I can make it, and it's time to work on the next one. Will this turn out to be just another manuscript in the drawer? Time will tell.

22 June 2011

Downton Disappointment

I'm interrupting my semi-regularly scheduled programming to rant about the last episode of Downton Abbey, which screened in New Zealand last night. The penultimate episode was very enjoyable, promising so much for the finale. But it was so disappointing, it made me wonder if they found out they had a second season just before writing it... it seems like all they were doing was setting up the next set of plot arcs. The episode forgot important plot points, while throwing in incongruous twists for no good reason. My main quibbles were:

1. The next test for Mary and Matthew's relationship was supposed to be her confession. Would he still love her once he found out the truth about Mr Pamuk? The risk was all on her side, and there was never any doubt of him being a worthy recipient of her affections.

Instead the writers just forgot all about this, and Mary didn't even tell him. Instead they added a ridiculous pregnancy, which could cause Matthew to fall from his position as heir. It became all about whether Mary should risk her future material security by accepting him. I couldn't care less about that - of course he'd make enough money as a solicitor to support them if she loved him enough. The point was whether she could make herself vulnerable, and if he'd be accepting. I was crushed at the end when the writers just let the tension dissolve away, and the relationship with it.

2. It also seemed that Thomas was to be eliminated before the next season, but not with the justice he deserved. As the evidence mounted, his guilt was proven. But instead of being called to task by Lord Grantham, he was allowed to resign to assist with the war effort. Again another conflict just fizzled out. Why? (I will say that I never liked him and I'm glad he'll be gone, but no doubt another villain will take his place)

3. The plot with O'Brien was another failed device. If the pregnancy just served to end the M&M happily-ever-after, why have O'Brien behave so badly only to remove the barrier and suffer no consequences? Perhaps she will suffer the fallout in the next season, unless guilt is the only punishment. However like Thomas, it only seemed natural that some sort of comeuppance was due to her for her sins during this season.

4. The arc with Bates and Anna seemed to progress with Anna's discoveries about the past. But when presented with an opportunity for more revelation between them and a furthering of the relationship, Bates just says again, "I can't tell you," and Anna retreats as if this satisfies her. Where is the spirit she showed in the previous episode, when she protested her love? At least we get to see that Bates is actually interested, but will he ever fight for her, or at least explain why he won't? I thought he was a stronger character than that.

The sibling rivalry was well done; deliciously vile. And I like the hints of more to come between Sybil and Branson, but the plot about her liberal tendencies sort of evaporated too. No doubt outside events will have a larger part to play in season 2. I just hope the writers do the characters and dramatic tension justice. I could do with less scenes of Mary crying too. And here's hoping that Matthew will be back as he was really the only romantic hero!

20 June 2011

Do as I Say, Not as I Write

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So far in my writing most of the situations, and the characters' reactions to them, align with my personal moral code. I know that in a future book I have planned, the lifestyle choices of the MC will certainly surprise conservative friends and family.

I admire the stance Nicholas Sparks takes to never use infidelity as a plot device. His reasons are to refrain from glorifying such things, and to keep his works original. I thought I'd take a similar stance but l
ately, I've been toying with taking plots and motivations further. Could I take characters beyond what I think is morally acceptable? Have them do things that would make me gasp?

I've been wondering...

-What lengths would you go to to pay the bills... petty theft, fraud, embezzlement?
- Is it possible for a blissfully married woman to be strongly attracted to another man?
- Could jealously make someone intentionally and secretly sabotage another's happiness?
- What if you don't like your own children, or one of them?

These situations don't relate to my own experience at all, and I know if I wrote about them I'd feel sort of scandalous (not to mention ill-prepared!). I fear those I know (or possibly more those I don't know) thinking that I condone my characters' behaviour. However I also know that I'll never improve if I don't push myself.

I know what makes me gasp would scarcely cause some readers to blink. These are tough issues for me. Does anyone else struggle with this balancing act?

16 June 2011

The Long and the Short of it

It's been a long while since I wrote a synopsis. And the last book was long and slow without much of a plot (I realised later), so I suppose it wasn't too much of a challenge back then. Now, I'm finding it to be as much of a challenge as everyone says. The problem isn't writing a flowing narrative which documents the plot. The issue is length. I've read that the ideal synopis is 500-1000 words long. Mine is... ahem... 3928 words. Five (and a bit) single-spaced pages. And I stuck to the main characters and plot lines. It killed me that I had to leave out the little details - it's all the details that make this book what it is (or so I'd like to think). But now I have to go back with a sickle to slash it by three quarters. I'm realising that the sypnosis is not a plot summary. It's more like an extended hook from a query letter, with an ending. Right?

So tomorrow I'll go back to the drawing board for my second draft of the synopsis. It has to be more like tip-toeing over the plot than wading through it. The good thing is, it should be much easier to get the query done once I have the synopsis finished. Don't get me started on the hook paragraph/s. I already have about thirty different versions.

Tell me how you go about writing a synopsis - how do you sum up your 300-page masterpiece in a single sheet?

04 June 2011

Making Art With Words

In my last post I mentioned that I use Wordle to see which words I'm over-using. In response to Lindsay's question, here's more information on this great tool.

Wordle is a website where you can create a word cloud from any number of words you choose. There's a range of font styles and colour schemes to choose from. Words appear larger based on the number of times they are repeated throughout the text. If you don't want certain words to appear in the finished product, you can remove them later. Wordle randomises the layout of the words, so no two wordles are the same. I could play with it for hours. I'm a bit of a typography geek, but I think the results are beautiful. I love seeing my novel turned into art.

There are many practical uses for the writer. Apart from seeing which words you're over-used, you can also see which characters appear the most (which may surprise you) or themes within your work that you might not have realised were there.

Of course you can make art with any sort of words under the sun.

You could use a poem....

02 June 2011

Ding Ding! Round One Complete

Image: ningmilo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Tonight I finally finished my first proper round of edits on my WIP. Only two months after I hoped I would! Getting to "the end" again was highly satisfying. Having to do it all again while incorporating notes from my critique partners feels a bit daunting right now, so I'm going to take a little break.

Even as I've worked through this process I've been learning a lot. I've been reading blogs and articles about how to tighten your voice, developing conflict and structure, and tips for showing not telling (which I struggle with). It's great to be able to have at least some objectivity about my work, and actually see places where I need to apply the learnings. There've already been some insights from the critiques I've received so far. I feel like I'm growing as a writer.

It's amazing how you don't pick up some things until you've stepped back from the story a bit. I said on Twitter the other day that I have a fondness for character names starting with "J", but this week I discovered two Steves and two Stevens. My characters would also look and smile a lot, and love taking deep breaths. They frequently felt sheepish (but maybe that was just me on their behalf). I'm going to do some Wordle clouds again to see which words I'm still over-using.

To take a break before I dive into round two, I'm going to have a go at the dreaded synopsis. I also have several different versions of a possible query, so I'd like to start narrowing down my approach.