Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

You finished your first draft; now you’re done, right? WRONG. Not even close. Theoretically, you’re at the beginning yet again. After all, a great book isn’t written–it’s rewritten.

I’ve heard people say they don’t revise or rewrite. Shame on you. A good book, I mean one worth paying money for, has three things.

  • A well-constructed plot
  • Fully-developed characters
  • Smooth prose

Trust me, you can’t achieve those three things in one draft.

Writing requires imagination, creativity, and long hours of time. Rewriting requires less imagination and a whole lot more courage. It’s not for the weak or timid. You’ll be making big decisions. Most of us struggle to make small ones like what to order in drive-thru.

You have to decide if your protagonist is the best voice for your story; if entire scenes should be revised, removed, or added; whether characters be removed or added: whether or not your beginning works; or if the end provides any payoff.

These are the choices you have to make before you even decide does this sentence sound good?

What is rewriting?

There’s a big misconception about what rewriting is. It’s not perfecting a sentence here or there, or correcting typos, it’s gutting, hacking, and dismembering your first draft.

This might sound daunting. You’re playing doctor–God even! I’m talking total reconstructive surgery, not a botox injection.

Difference between revising and rewriting

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing although you’ll probably do a combination of both.

To summarize: Revision is adding and deleting a few words or adding more character motivation or adding or removing description. Rewriting is deleting or adding whole scenes, deleting characters, or changing a POV.

For some straightforward and hilarious examples, see here.

How many rewrites?

There isn’t a certain number. It depends on the MS. My current MS is on rewrite number two. Planning helps cut down on rewrites.

So what’s the first step?

Back away from the manuscript and nobody gets hurt. It might be easier to make objective opinions once you’ve separated yourself from your writing. When you come back to it (say in a week or month or so), that glittering sentence might not shine anymore, or you might unearth some hidden gems.

Look at the big picture

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Ask yourself with an objective eye: What does my protagonist want? Is it clear?

What is the plot? The theme? The conflict?

Did you select the best character to be your protagonist?

Could some characters be cut or blended? Do multiple characters serve the same purpose?

Is your plot well structured? Do any side plots deviate from the main plot?

Be objective or find an objective eye

Looking at the big picture can be challenging when you’re nearsighted, and all authors are–we’re way too close to our WIP to see it clearly. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to be objective. I usually read through and make an often very long list of questions that arise, changes I want to make, plot holes (often gaping and cavernous), side plots or character arcs that are unfulfilled, and other areas of concern.

If you know something is wrong but can’t put your finger on it, consider enlisting help.

Step two: outline

Did you outline before you wrote? Even if you did, once isn’t enough. Rewrite your outline before you rewrite your MS.

You’re not mistaken. Not only am I telling you to rewrite your novel, I’m telling you to rewrite your outline. That’s a lot of rewriting–but the more prepared you are, the less you’ll have to rewrite. Planning can make the difference between two and ten rewrites.

I look back at my first outline and realize I either deviated from it for better or for worse, or I decided to change it. Don’t work off of an old outline. An outline can be your typical diagram or a detailed description of each scene and chapter. If you don’t know how to create an outline, check out this prior Tuesday Tip.

Example of a detailed outline:

Chapter one: Introduce main character, best trait, fatal flaw, ordinary world, goal, and conflict.

Scene one: Start with attention grabbing sentence. Main character is doing this . . . then this happens . . . and so on.

I’m shy about sharing my work but to give you an example of how much my beginning has changed since I started rewriting, this is how my WIP used to start.

Character (side character) discovers that a city has been destroyed and all the inhabitants killed after a very long inner monologue. Next scene takes place years later and introduces main character with major supporting side character.

Notes that I made before revision:

  • No clear main character
  • POV character doesn’t appear again for a couple of chapters
  • Info dump: Might be more interesting to slowly reveal the back story leading up to current events
  • Might be better to start with the destruction of the city from the POV of main character
  • Next scene is too jarring. Too much relies on understanding the characters and their relationship, culture, etc that can’t be summarized in a paragraph

Revised Outline: This is how it starts now (still in progress).

Main character is introduced. Reader is introduced to his world and culture. Exposition is interwoven throughout text instead of being dumped. Character goes to city and destroys it. Conflict is introduced with inciting incident and call to action. Character refuses the call. Character then answers the call to action.

It’s still in the works but what I like is that the main character starts the story. You see how the events that the other character stumbles upon unfold. You see how the main protagonist and main supporting character meet. You get to know him and his goals before the action starts.

What’s still needed. I still need a clearer definition of my character’s goals. I have a basic idea of what he wants, but I need to make sure his goals are strong enough to always be his driving force.

Step three: should it stay or should it go

tvrclean

Get rid of the clutter and your manuscript is going to be fabulous

I love those home remodeling shows where they make the homeowner choose what to keep, toss, or sell from their clutter. I adopted a similar strategy for revising my MS. I read through from beginning to end, highlighting every word and sentence I want to keep. In a different color I highlight what I want to delete. In a third color what I want to keep for a different project. After I do this I can delete this version so I don’t end up with five or seven word files.

Try this. Chances are, even if an entire scene has to go, you might find a good snippet of dialogue or a wonderful description. If you can still use it, don’t lose it.

Step four: Rewrite or revise

If the scene is good, you may only need to revise: correct syntax, cut and add sentences, etc. But if you are making major changes, you might just want to rewrite. I usually rewrite the entire scene without looking at the old version, or else you just end up with a version that is only slightly different. Then combine the elements that you are keeping from the previous written scene.

Essentially how you rewrite or revise will depend on what kind of writer you are. Do you overwrite? underwrite? Based on that, you may need to cut scenes or write new ones to fill in the gaps. Do you go into too much description or need to add? Do your characters talk too much or not enough?

This is my method. There are others out there. Find the one that works for you. What are some methods that work for you? What are some tricks or tips that you use to make the process easier. Please share.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Today, let’s talk about plotting. Before you start laughing maniacally, tapping your fingertips together menacingly, or stroking your cat, I’m referring to plotting your story–not revenge.

Structure

I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan the structure of your story before you write. Planning reduces the time you will spend later cutting and rearranging scenes. Your story consists of a series of scenes and events. You probably have an idea of what is going to happen in your novel, but you may have no idea when. Take those events and put them in a logical order. Think of an event as being a dot on a connect the dot game. Every dot is carefully placed and spaced so that once they are all connected, you get a clear image.

Events and scenes should not be random. There are three things that need to happen in your narrative.

  1. The character decides to take action in order to resolve a conflict
  2. The action
  3. The resolution of the conflict

When planning your plot, you can use whatever method you like. The most popular form of outline is the plot diagram. It should look something like this:

 

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This is a very simple plot diagram. To be honest, it’s a little too simplistic, but it’s a good template when structuring your plot. Without this structure, your plot could look more like this:

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Looking back at the first chart, you’ll notice there are several key plot points: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Exposition: Consider this your setup. The exposition establishes the who, what, when, where, and why. In this early part of your novel, usually the first chapter, you should establish who the leading character is and introduce the conflict. Once you introduce your problem, your character must decide how to take action.

Rising Action: Once you’ve introduced the conflict and your character commits to resolving it, the action should start rising in a series of mini-plots. This is one of the reasons plot diagrams are so inaccurate. They show a straight line to the top. It really should look like the lines you’d see on a heart monitor. Action will naturally rise and fall as ocean waters ebb and flow. Too much dropping action, like a blood sugar drop, will result in saggy-middle syndrome. To avoid the saggy-middle syndrome, every conflict should be worse than the one before. Keep raising the stakes.

Climax: This is the turning point of your story. The climax of your story should not be the result of random events, but the consequence of your character’s actions.

Falling Action: These are the events that wrap up the plot. Tie up loose ends and satisfy your audience. This is not the time to introduce a new conflict (e.g.,The Scouring of the Shire), or introduce new characters.

Denouement: Plain and simply, this is the end.

Rule of Thumb:

  • Do not introduce a new character in the last 10,000 words of your writing.
  • Endings do not always have to be happy.
  • Do not use a Deus Ex Machina to resolve conflict.

Side Plots

The main dish is so much better with a side dish. Likewise, your plot is complimented by side plots. A side plot is the same as the main plot, only smaller. It’s like comparing a king size Snicker bar with a fun size. They have the same ingredients; they are just a different scale. Side plots follow the same structure as the main plot. Like side characters, don’t let the subplot take over the main plot. They should enhance, not distract.

Why have side plots

  • They lengthen your novel
  • They add complexity
  • They carry the theme
  • They develop characters
  • They keep readers interested
  • They offer relief from the main plot

Avoid Plot Holes

What is a plot hole? Simply an inconsistency in your storyline. Something that can’t be explained or believed.

How to identify them

  • motivation or events that can’t be explained
  • inconsistencies
  • contradictions

Some examples of plot holes:

Edward Scissor hands: Where was he getting the ice?

Jurassic Park: They spared no expense, except on security and tech support.

Harry Potter: Can go back in time. Only uses time travel once to save himself and stepfather. Could have used it again to stop the main conflict.

Frozen: What did Elsa eat in her frozen palace? How does ice magic make living snowmen, change a crown braid to a french braid, and completely change an outfit? Only Anna knows about Han’s treachery, but all the townspeople applaud when she punches him.

Toy Story: Buzz believes he is a real space ranger; however, when Andy enters the room, he goes motionless like all the other toys.

The Lord of the Rings: Arguably the eagles. Why didn’t they fly them the entire way. Floating around the internet is a great defense for why the eagles could not in fact take them the entire way, but I’m listing this one because Tolkien didn’t make it clear in his book.

There you have it, a little bit of information about plot to help you plot your . . . plot. Like a road map, a plot diagram will help guide your story in the right direction. Make sure to include those pivotal plot points in your planning, and watch out for plot holes!

 

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1When you start writing, you begin with an outline. When you start editing, you begin with a checklist.

Writers are often warned about the many mistakes they can and will make in their first drafts, but what about the mistakes they can make editing? During this stage, you can miss errors or introduce entirely new ones. You won’t catch all your mistakes in one pass and you shouldn’t try. Like painting a wall, editing requires several layers.

Layers. You know, like an onion–or ogres. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it, they both have layers. The editing process is less overwhelming when broken into layers or steps. As a former copy editor, I was taught to make three passes. The first pass was for content and structure alone (except for any glaring, obvious punctuation), saving the final two passes for grammar and punctuation.

There are several types of editing. I’ve broken it down into two.

Substantive: Also called content editing or developmental editing. This is where you edit your manuscript for organization, content, and presentation to tighten and polish the writing. This includes reorganizing and restructuring so that everything fits into the big picture.

Mechanical: This is where you edit for accuracy, consistency, and conformity to style, grammar, and punctuation.

With so much to look for, how can you be sure you leave no stones unturned? This is where creating an editing checklist comes into play.

First Stage: Readability and Content

The biggest  mistake I think self-editors make is trying to fix everything at once, especially grammar. This is the LAST thing you should tackle, because you will waste so much time fixing the punctuation of a sentence only to change it or even cut it later. You don’t sew the buttons on a shirt before you’ve attached the sleeves. Think of your commas as buttons, and put them in last

If you think about it, we’re going to scrutinize your manuscript as you would admire a painting. Start with the big picture and then look for the minute details.

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What to Look For

  • Plot
    • structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement 
    • call to action/adventure
    • scenes in a cohesive order
    • themes support the plot
    • test, allies, enemies
    • plot holes
    • do subplots aid or detract from main plot
  • Setting:
    • when
    • where
  •  Style
    • sentence variety
    • clear, concise words
    • remove vague or overused words
    • replace passive voice for active voice
    • Remove unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs
    • remove redundant words, sentences, scenes, characters
    • link beginnings of chapters to the ends of preceding chapters. likewise, link the end of the book to the beginning.
  •  Conflict
    • main conflict
    • are there too many, not enough
    • is each conflict worse than the one before
  • Pacing
  • Tension/Suspense
  •  POV
    • are the POV’s distinct?
    • consistent
    • is each scene told in the right POV?
    • too many?
  •  Characters
    • consistency of physical appearance, personality, attributes
    • motivation
    • name spelled consistently
    • too many/not enough side characters
    • side characters enhance or distract from main protagonist
  •  Dialogue
    • purposeful
    • natural or contrived?

Second Stage: Mechanics and Grammar

After your first pass, you’re probably pretty tired–but you’re not done. To be honest, the first stage of editing might take two or more passes. Now that your ducks are in a row, it’s time for everyone’s favorite editing stage: grammar and punctuation.

What to Look For

  • Capital letters
    • first word in the sentence
    • proper nouns
    • names
  • Spelling
    • names of places, characters, things
    • check commonly confused words it’s/its, effect/affect, etc
  • Grammar
    • punctuation
      • commas
      • semi colons
      • colons
      • periods
  • Sentence fragments
  • Subject verb agreement
  • Verb tense
  • Hyphenation
  • Numbers
  • Quotations

The editing checklist might seem longer than your manuscript, but think of it as your polishing guide. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Beta readers can help spot plot holes and other content issues. Likewise, you can relieve the burden of editing altogether with an editor, though I highly recommend going through once yourself to remove obvious errors. This will save your editor time, which will save you money.

How many of you use an editing checklist? Did you find this helpful?

While I’m editing my sister’s manuscript, most of my Tuesday Tips will be about editing. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working my way down the list to discuss each part in more detail. Join me next week when I discuss plot.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Last Tuesday’s tip was about character interviews, which is going to tie into this Tuesday’s tip. Compare the interviews of your secondary characters with your primary character’s interview. Which one is more interesting? If you didn’t answer in favor of your primary, there is a possibility that your secondary characters are stealing the show. Here’s how to spot those pesky spotlight stealers and how to put them back in their place–second place.

Let’s look at a few classic examples of when secondary characters run the show. Most of you are probably old enough to remember Steve Urkel from Family Matters. The nerdy neighbor was only meant to be a one-time gig, but his popularity with the audience won him an appearance on almost every episode. When I was a kid, I didn’t even realize the show was called Family Matters. I thought it was called Steve Urkel. That’s how little the family mattered to me. 

For those of you who don’t remember TGIF (I pity you), you are probably more familiar with Daryl Dixon from the Walking Dead. The silent, arrow-shooting side character is personally my favorite. What’s not to like? He has an interesting backstory, an ongoing conflict with his brother, and the potential for a romance (fingers crossed). In comparison, Rick’s conflicts seem to be wrapped up too quickly or dragged out too long. Who cares if Rick and his family die as long as Daryl lives. Let me know if you see any shirts that say “if Rick dies we riot.”  I thought not.

And who can forget the loveable Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Jack was a fun relief from the tiresome storyline of Elizabeth Swann and William Turner. Other fans must have agreed, because William and Elizabeth weren’t even in the final movie. Instead, we get an entire movie centered around Jack–except for the dumb side plots (don’t even get me started on the mermaid).

Before you take all the color out of your side characters in an attempt to regain your protagonist’s glory, remember, interesting side characters are not a bad thing. You want your side characters to be sympathetic and have their own arcs, but they shouldn’t shadow the main character.

So how do you know when a character is taking over?

If you answer yes to several of the following:

  • Does you secondary character have several exotic features?
  • Does your secondary character have interesting quirks?
  • Does your secondary character have too many aspirations/conflicts?
  • Are they really fun to write? By this, I mean do you write most of your scenes from their perspective instead of your protagonist’s viewpoint?

Remember, your protagonist is your primary character. Primary means FIRST. Secondary means SECOND. Now, let’s keep them in order. If your protagonist is standing in the shadow, here’s how to pull them back into the light.

  • Your primary character should be the one with the most at stake. If your main character fails, does he/she lose more than the secondary character? If not, you might want to up the ante. The main character should have more conflicts or at least greater conflicts than the side characters. If the side character teams up with your primary to obtain lost treasure, the main character should be after something more precious than gold. Arguably Pirates of the Caribbean did this well. William Turner wants to rescue Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates. Jack simply wants his boat back. A person is worth more than a boat …ship.
  • The protagonist, not a side character, should be responsible for the resolution of conflict. This means the protagonist destroys the villain or instigates the outcome. Does the protagonist always defeat the bad guy? Not necessarily. Let’s look at Gladiator and Braveheart. In Braveheart, William Wallace doesn’t defeat the villain directly. The king dies of an illness. Heck, he doesn’t even make it to the end of the movie, but his followers are so inspired by his sacrifice they charge the battlefield to win their freedom. Likewise, in Gladiator, Maximus defeats the villain (10 points for villain conflict resolution), but it is ultimately Senator Gracchus who will reinstate the senate and bring Rome back to glory. In both these examples, the heroes die before the end, but the victory could not have been gained without them taking action.
  • Make sure most of the book is told by your protagonist’s perspective. Narration from a side character can be beneficial to learn more about the main character and give away information the primary does not know, but if the scene can be told better by the protagonist, it should be.
  • Make sure your protagonist gets more stage time than the secondary. Keep a list of scenes and record the characters who appear. Go back and count the number of appearances each character makes.
  • Make sure your audience will connect with your primary. Readers need to empathize or sympathize with the character. Usually the main character wants something difficult to obtain. They need a plight, a conflict, a reason to do everything they do.
  • Make sure your main character has a complete arc. Did they change in the end. Did they act upon this change? If they didn’t, this is probably why your main character lost his charms.  An arc is like a lover. The more stale and stagnant it gets, the more you look elsewhere for satisfaction. You might find yourself cheating on your protagonist with his sidekick. Dun-dun-duuun!!!
  • Find out what your supporting character means to your protagonist. All characters should have a purpose. Does he highlight a flaw your main character has, does he help or hinder your main character, are his conflicts connected to the plot? If you said no to any of these, your secondary needs to be changed.

Go through both these lists to identify why your main character is not holding a candle to your secondary character. Is this secondary character more interesting because they have more flaws and your main character is too perfect? Do they have more at stake? Do they have more goals? You might have to go back and redesign your characters. You may even have to do the unthinkable–remove them.

Finally, Something to Write About

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NO IDEA PICSo for days–more like a week now–I’ve been struggling to find a topic to write about. Sadly inspiration did not come from skimming my old writing journal or browsing other blogs as it usually does.

So while I smacked my head for ideas I realized I had a topic to write about all along: What do you do when you have nothing to write about? All writers periodically must wrestle with their brains for ideas, which can be like beating a  piñata with a toothpick. You’ve probably all had staring contest with a blank page, thumb wrestled with your pen, spent hours tapping your fingers on your keyboard (making music but no words).

Inspiration can be found everywhere, even the app store. Today I found the The Fiction Idea Generator (FIG). This is a fun resource to help writers come up with ideas from the very first sentence to the master plot.

To give you an idea of how it works, below are the ideas it gave me in each category.

Masterplot: A lawless person, being put to a test in which love will be lost if more material fortunes are advanced, emerges from a trying ordeal with sorely garnered wisdom.

Tense: past

Narrator: 3rd person

Period: 3 days ago

Situation: a kidnapping

Protagonist: a female street sweeper who is insensitive

Tritagonist: a male psychiatrist who is arrogant

Their Relationship: insecure

Character: A male millionaire

Key Trait: he is in love

Ethnicity: Irish

Name: Cavan Robinson

Word: guile

First Sentence: It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young ladies in her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea.

Emotion: tense

Item: Cat

Location: A Pub

Hints and Tips: Creativity is 99% perspiration and only 1% inspiration. However; a good amount of perspiration is essential before any eureka moment. Inspiration never just happens.

So according to my hint, I just wasn’t perspiring enough to write.

From the example above, this could be a great tool to develop ideas for novels, short stories, or writing prompts.

I’m not saying this app is going to plan your entire story for you, but it will certainly help get the brain cogs going. Give this a try. It’s free to download and very easy to use.