Hello again, all you happy writers (and editors) out there! As I’m still knee-deep in edits (or neck-deep, or–when exactly am I certifiably drowning?), I’d like to address a problem I’ve been working on with today’s chapter revisions — the dreaded (and constant) use of the phrase “looked at”.
You’re probably familiar with the problem. You picture your scene like a movie playing out in your head, and find yourself inserting “stage directions” into your writing. As each new development occurs, characters swivel around to look at the person speaking, to stare indignantly at their rival, to gaze up at the source of a sound, to glance at a plot point. It all sounded good in your head as you were writing it down, but now that you’re reading the scene over again, the words looked and gazed, glanced and stared appear in almost every. single. sentence. What do you do? How do you keep your characters from constantly looking and staring and glancing and turning towards each other?
Hello, happy writers! How’s your summer treating you? Crushing those word counts? I’m still waist-deep in editing my WIP, and while it’s immensely difficult, I am seeing incremental progress — it’ll all come together eventually, right??? Editing a novel can be overwhelming, especially as you try to keep all your notes and your revised plot outline straight in your head. For every decision you make, there are about a thousand alternate routes the scene or chapter could’ve taken, and it’s a lot to wrap your mind around!
In an effort to take control of
my life this process, I’ve created a Revision Binder — a central hub for all of my notes, a way to track my progress, and a handy tool that offers a quick look at my plot, broken down into key moments.
Come on in, I’ll show you what I’m talking about!
Hello, lovely writers! It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another post about the weird, wonderful world of writing. Lately, as I revise this beast of a novel, I’ve been thinking about where my characters initially came from — and how far they’ve traveled since those original conceptions.
From first draft to tenth (or twentieth, who’s counting), some of my characters have changed gender, changed skintone, changed personality or physicality; some look exactly like my original idea but act nothing like them; and some are exactly the same as they were that first day I put pen to page and gave them life. Interestingly, some that have changed the most from my original mental image were characters that I had initially modeled after a random actor — either because the character itself naturally evolved, or because my interest in that actor, for whatever reason, flatlined, and the character morphed accordingly.
I’m wondering, have you ever based a character on a real person? An actor, maybe, or someone from your real life? Do you find that method more helpful, or more constrictive than creating them from scratch? I’m going to go through those three options below, and unpack my feelings about each a little more.
(Coupled with some peeks of my character aesthetics boards on Pinterest, because I can’t get enough of them, okay?)
It’s always good for writers to have goals, be they weekly word goals, to write a short story every month, or get a book finished every year — But I was wondering, lovely writers out there: What is your end goal? What is it that you’re working toward?
What are you writing for?
At what point will you consider yourself successful, or your writerly wishes fulfilled? When you hold your published book for the first time? When you see your work on the shelves of a bookstore? Why do you want your story to be published? To see your name in print? To make money? To tell a story you desperately want to tell? What makes you excited to finish your writing?
For me, I really want to know that I’ve entertained someone, that I’ve given them a few minutes or hours of escape. Reading has helped me out of countless depressive episodes; when you’re feeling listless and lost in the world, it can be so amazing to pick up a book, get engaged in the story, and remember how to feel feelings again. So, if someone reads what I’ve written and tells me it got them through a bad night, through a plane ride, that it cheered them up after an exam or long day, that something I wrote made them smile or laugh, I would be walking on cloud nine.
Consider your end goal often. Do something to remind yourself why you’re writing. Write your goal down on the first page of your writing notebook, or scribble it on a Post-It note that you mount above your desk. On days when the work seems endless and the story too difficult to wrangle, remind yourself that you’re doing this for a reason. You want to share your characters with the world. You want to see your name on a printed book. You want to sit on a panel of authors at a convention and share your knowledge as an equal, an authority. Or, you want to get someone through a bad night.
Hold onto why you’re doing this. Whatever your motivation, whatever gets that story out of your head and onto the printed page, it’s worth it. And it’s worth reminding yourself of, from time to time.
Creating a city from scratch can be an intimidating task for a fantasy writer — you want your city to feel like a living, breathing place, with its own personality, elements of fun and fantasy, and believable enough and descriptive enough that the reader can imagine themselves plunked down into the middle of it.
Consider some of the best, most vividly written cities in fiction. Closing your eyes, you can see the snow-capped cottages of Hogsmeade that look like illustrations on Christmas cards; you can see the colorful and extraordinary shops of Diagon Alley, cluttered with stacks of cauldrons, barrels of beetle’s eyes, hooting owls in ironwork cages; shoppers in ankle-length Wizard robes. You can see the stone buildings climbing up the mountainside of Gondor, you can see the shifting grass plains of Rohan, can picture the Shire with its farms and flowers and so many green hillocks punctuated with round front doors.
Ugh. You can literally smell the honeysuckle and the pies cooling on windowsills.
Fantasy villages, towns, and cities are scrumptious to read about, they’re visceral and eye candy and exciting. So, how do you go about creating one such (or many such) cities for your own fantasy novel?
We’ve all had those moments when we’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the character we envision in our heads isn’t quite the person staring back at us from the page. Their voice, their mannerisms, their decisions, aren’t quite what we imagined in our heads. Maybe your gallant heroine came out of your first draft with rather darker motivations than you intended, or there’s something about your love-interest’s behavior that, for no reason you can quite put your finger on, really makes you want to drop-kick the guy right out of your story.
Here’s an unexpected problem I stumbled across in editing my WIP—my main character sounded younger, more naïve, and, frankly, whinier than I ever meant for him to come across. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to identify why.
The dude asked too many questions.
Do you ever get irritated when someone treats what should’ve been a casual conversation as an opportunity to straight-up interrogate you? Since when did small talk come with a side order of psychoanalysis? Have you ever been trying to concentrate on something, only to have someone standing at your side asking you question after question after question, until your nerves are rattled? (Well?? Have you???)
My character spent much of the opening chapters of my WIP asking questions about the world around him. While a lot of the information imparted to my character during these exchanges is essential to moving the plot forward, there’s no reason this grown adult needs to sound like a precocious four year old ceaselessly demanding to know “Why?” all the time!
If your character is constantly asking questions, they can come off as younger, more naïve, and — frankly– more annoying than you intend. Find a more engaging way to impart crucial plot information than bland interrogations between characters.
Happy Monday, my beautiful writers!
Planning your story can be tough. Revising your story into something resembling an actual novel can be nothing short of impossible. I want to share a real quick Guide to Plotting that’s been helping me through my (near endless) revisions — a quick look at the basic shape of a story. Don’t take this as a cookie-cutter formula, nor as the End All rule all novels must follow. Rather, it’s a tried-and-true suggestion for the structure of a story that works, a story that moves along briskly, has coherence and cohesion to its plot points, and basically looks all pretty and book-shaped when completed.
At the end of the document, I have a handy PDF of the guide you can download — a perfect insert for your writing notebooks!
So, let’s get to it! I bring you Plotting in A Pinch: A quick, handy guide to the main plot points you’re going to want to hit for a beautiful, exciting story that actually feels satisfyingly like a story! (A possibility that can seem far off and whimsical when you’re drowning in revisions and sixteen different versions of a single scene, believe me.)