Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work I Go

Disney Bldg 007Are you ready for some news?

This is probably the hardest post I’ve ever had to write, but as of Monday, I’ve gone back to “work.” Like Jack Sparrow, I’ve searched the oceans for treasure and found a job. Yes, most people would be super-excited about started a new job. I mean I am, but at the same time, I’m really disappointed that my writing career is screeching to halt. (BTW I’ve sprinkled clues at to my new employer throughout this post).

This doesn’t mean my dream of being a published writer is over. I have not LOST.

This is my plan.

Write on the bus. Read on the bus. Give up a couple iPhone games I love. Give up at least 1 of the 3 writing groups I’m in. Give up watching a bunch of TV shows I like. Give up going to the gym (kinda was forced to give this up anyways due to ankle issues).

What I’m not giving up:

  • My dream of being a published writer with multiple published novels.
  • The wonderful world of NaNoWriMo (won twice while working full-time)
  • Steam Palace. I will publish this one way or another.

Give up yet on my new employer? Well it’s a small world after all, so keep your mouse ears on.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Manuscript Surgery

hand surgeryAt the PNWA Conference last month, most of the agents and editors I spoke to about Steam Palace suggested that I not submit my ms until it was closer to 100,000 words. I was at 142K. That would mean a 30% reduction in wordcount. How do I cut a third of the story?

Well, I could have just cut Act 3. It was around 40K. But it would leave too much hanging, too much unresolved. Not great for a first novel.

I could cut characters, arcs, sub-plots, anything and everything. So I took a hacksaw to the story. I wound up cutting 19 scenes out of at total of 101. It was hard. My recent visits to the dentist have been easier (although he’s threatening to remove teeth which would trump this in suckiness).

Some of my favorite scenes are now in the dustbin. Sophia and Thomas’ first kiss? Gone. Sophia’s mystical dream? Vanished. Sophia’s duel with the pirate-like Captain Dawson? Trashed. Sob.

Here’s the thing to consider when cutting scenes. How much does it affect the rest of the story? With many of these scenes that I cut, I found that they either duplicated other scenes, or could be summarized in a line or two in a later chapter to explain the gap. In the case of the first kiss, removing that scene simplified the story and allowed me to take out later scenes that followed up on it. Furthermore, it’s not the kiss between Sophia and Thomas that propels the story, it’s the kiss between Sophia and…well you’ll just have to read it.

The next step in the process was reading every scene and trimming, especially lead-ins and conclusions. I have a tendency to summarize at the end of scenes, so I cut this out. I also have a tendency to over-explain, so I found duplicate sentiments and emotions. Why do I have to do all the work in explaining everything? Let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting. So I found a lot of stuff to cut that way.

After this, I’m at 112K. Pretty good, considering where I started. 30K words gone. The story moves much faster now, without so much development and side-routes. We get right to the meat of the issue. And it keeps moving.

So how will I get rid of the last 12K? Well, I don’t know if I can really cut much more. It’s pretty bare bones right now. I do have about 3K of epilogue which I could drop in a pinch and save for Book 2, but I think it’s mostly there to sell Book 2, so it’s more strategic than tactical.

What I’m using is Ken Rand’s 10% Solution. (112K-10% (11K)=101K). It’s a method of scanning your story for junk words and long phrases that can be made more concise. Here are some examples:

  • The door of the car-> The car door (remove “of the”)
  • A burst of fire->A fire burst (remove “of” in “blah of blah” expressions)
  • She wanted to but she didn’t->She wanted to. She didn’t. (remove “but”, “then”, “so”, “as”, “and”, etc. that join sentences)
  • Remove adverbs (“-ly” words)
  • Remove said, told, cried, etc. dialog tags when the speaker is clear.

There’s a bunch more, so I highly recommend grabbing a copy. Another huge area I’m looking at is adding contractions. My characters don’t use them. If it means not cutting more scenes, I may add a few select contractions to the mix so they have a few “it’s” (or tis), “I’m”, “’s” (She’s gone vs she is gone) but leave in stuff like “I shall” to give it flavor. There are literally thousands of contractible phrases in my ms waiting to be reduced.

Unfortunately this process is tedious and mechanical. Given that it takes maybe 10 seconds to find and fix each cut word, I’m looking at 33 hours of work to remove 12K words at a minimum.

And I may not have the time. Stay tuned for a special announcement in the next few days.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It’s NaNoWriMo Season!

nano kittehYup, it’s already that time of year, for those of us infected with write-a-novel-in-a-month fever. September 1 is the date when I officially log on to and start planning my next big novel.

Right now I’m in the midst of final edits for my 2009 NaNo novel Steam Palace. I may pick up my 2010 NaNo novel Dead Air and edit that soon.

So what’s the big deal about NaNoWriMo? For me it’s something about the pressure of writing ~1700 words a day no matter what. It gives my writing a sense of urgency, and it also limits my ability to go off on tangents in the story. 1 week for Act 1, 2 for Act 2, and 1 last week for Act 3. No 50,000 words of backstory. Keep to the script as it were.

Now why start planning my novel on September 1? Why not just sit down on November 1 and start writing?
3 main reasons:

  1. Characters. Start inventing characters. Now. You don’t have to stick with them. You don’t have to use them. Think about reasons why the reader should care about these characters. Figure out strengths and weaknesses, needs and blind spots. What’s the most important thing in the world to them? What would they rather die than see happen?
  2. Setting. Where and when does this take place? What are the special rules of this world? Where are all the special places? If it’s the real world, visit that location. If it’s historical, start your research now. If it’s 2nd World, start drawing maps!
  3. Backstory. What’s already happened? How did everyone get where they are now? Heck, create resumes for your characters. What are the defining moments of their lives? What are they proud of? Their regrets? Who are their heroes? Who did they vote for?

The next step is to figure out a general plot. What happens. What must happen. For me I thing of the beginning and ending. What’s the premise?

For last year’s NaNo Dead Air, my premise was something like this:
“Invalid woman solves crimes without ever leaving her bed.”

For Steam Palace it was:
“Girl has to choose between love and power/fame/fortune.”

For Teen Alien (not written for NaNo BUT written in 30 days):
“Girl with extraordinary abilities discovers she’s an alien and must choose between her friends and the aliens who come to claim her.”
—although it was actually simpler than that:
”What if there was a planet populated only by women?”

What-if’s are a great way to imagine story ideas:
What if there’s this secret parallel land of wizards/elves/zombies/Republicans right in our back yard? What if you could secretly inhabit a dog/fly/cat/convict’s body and control them? What if there was a plot to assassinate the pope/president/Queen of England/your boss/Seinfeld and you were the only one who could stop/do it?

Don’t want ‘til the end of October to start imagining this stuff. Imagination starts now!

So what am I going to do for NaNo? I have no clue. I have a couple original story concepts (well, one of which is essentially Tarzan fanfic if you can believe it), a couple of sequel concepts to stuff I’ve already written. Right now I’m leaning towards a sequel to my Mystery novel from last NaNo. I really like the characters and the conflicts that are inherent in their lives.

One way to choose is to consider your options and ask which one you are most passionate about. Don’t think about which one will sell, which one will be “easier”. Find a story you care about so much that you are willing to abandon everything else for one month to write this story. A story you cannot wait to write. Then spend all the time you can between now and November doing character charts, plot outlines, world building, and whatever you can do to prepare yourself.

Or just wing it. Just be prepared to put pen to paper (finger to keyboard/quill to parchment) on November 1, 2011.