Saturday, February 26, 2011

In need of some action

The last two months have consisted of gearing up for the great revisioning of DISTILLATION. I received some feedback that was so specific and so right on hurt a little. Well, okay, a lot. But I learned, from two separate readers, what my strengths were and my weaknesses. They agreed on almost everything, independently. I was pleased to finally see, once the nasty bits had stopped blinding me, that the strengths were many, and that the nasty weaknesses few, but alas major enough to take me more than a month to process and come to the point where I could create a plan.

I planned, and I planned. I used large art paper to construct detailed outlines of what I have and what I need. Finally, this week, I started the revision. The first fifty have been charged with a task. Within them, I have to get to a certain event, one that all along people have told me to move up, but one I felt needed a slow, smouldering build. This event started at page 150. Yikes! Then it moved to page 118. I thought that was an improvement. And now. It has been cut away with a boning knife (pun intended if you know my hook) and is waiting in the wings for its reveal somewhere before page 50.

OMG. Can it really be done? It has to be. The problem, I have discovered, is that atmosphere, setting, and mood are my thing. That is what I am most comfortable writing. I've always thought of writing novels and making a movie with words. Maybe that is misguided, but I think in scenes, I think in images. That is not to say that character and dialogue are not important, they are and I have always put a lot of focus on those parts as well. Plot too. Now that is REALLY important. If you don't have a story that moves forward with events and questions and discoveries and a good ending - well then, your story is boring.

No, these things I have always thought about and I think are elements that are in my story, if not perfected. But...what I didn't really think about, at least not in the terms that are apparently required, is the ACTION. I have been happy to spend five or fifteen pages describing a scene in which there is plot happening, but I love the description of shadows, of light, of smell, of sound, of facial expressions, of feelings. I am a sensory writer. No surprise I started out in poetry. And I think many of my scenes are beautiful, chilling, ominous, filled with...atmosphere... and like I said - there IS plot happening, but I think I sent it to the back of the room too often. I spent too much time creating a world, and it took too long to make the action happen. Slowly, it has been coming to the forefront. But now, I am the kamikaze writer. I'm going in and bringing ACTION to my novel - no matter how many darlings I have to kill.

This task is harder than it sounds. This week, on vacation, I spent a few days, whole days, writing the first chapter. The first 16 pages. If at least 3 chapters must come before page 50 then, I have at most 16 pages for each. So I wrote the first chapter, and I needed to "disrupt my character's ordinary world." I am trying to provide the reason for her departure and introduce Objective # 1 - which is to resolve internal conflict. I wrote it and I thought it was good - but I wasn't sure of it. I read it to my husband - and for once - he gave me really good feedback. "I don't care about the mother or her husband right now. I care about that guy she saw outside the building. What's up with that? Cut the conversation short and get on to the next scene." He was so right. What happened was that I got caught up in the description of my MC and her conversation with her mother. Throwing in some back story, trying to draw thematic parallels, all the while painting a picture of every nuanced move. Arg!! It sneaks in there even when I try not to do it. How frustrating.

So, today, I re-wrote. I cut it down by six pages. I stuck to the action. I moved it forward. I established my MC and her main inner conflict. I introduced an important supporting role, but only introduced, and I set the stage for the novel's themes. In ten pages, I got my character to the door of leaving her normal world. Now the next chapter will start right in the new world, and the third chapter will close the door behind her so she can't go back. I vow to stick to the action. I vow to make every paragraph, every page move my MC forward. I vow to tell myself over and over - less is more - do not digress - keep - moving - forward. No paragraphs of back story, no paragraphs of ambient description. One foot in front of the other. By page fifty - a major discovery will have occurred and a major objective of solving the main mystery will be securely on the table.

This doesn't mean I will abandon my love of atmosphere, nor will I ignore the past that drives my character's decisions, but I will pepper them in, one sentence at a time. No more.

Revisioning is hard - is also exciting. Once you have the plot set out and fleshed out with all your wildest desires, and then pared down to something better. A firm, clear headed revisioning is...almost freeing. I get to take what I loved and make it so much better.

How do you revision your writing?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you in it for the Muse or the Marketplace?

So, I've registered for The Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, April 30th and May 1st. This will be my second year going. I heard about from one of my critique partners two years ago when we first started our writing group. (Woohoo! Anniversary this month.) When she told me about it, I thought I would never be able to attend such a behemoth of a conference. Over 500 hundred participants, famous writers, established agents and editors, and even a few recent literary notables in the mix. Last year I was very nervous to meet with an agent face to face. It was pre-query and it was the first time I would present my query to anyone. It was not a pretty picture - but I learned a lot. I was also less interested in the workshops as I was in meeting an author of choice.

Now, I am less nervous about meeting an agent, and am approaching that whole business from a new angle, not looking for a query critique - but more for some answers on common page critiques. The author situation is pretty much the same, as I am going to meet Alice Hoffman, the author that got me started writing in the first place.

But this year, the main reason for going is to get some insight from seasoned professionals on how to rework my WIP. I am more interested in the Muse aspect, specifically the revisioning Muse, than I am in the Marketplace. I am hoping to learn something about pacing, structure, and the essential elements of keeping a reader guessing. This, I think, is the natural progression of the process. I wrote the novel, I thought I did my best, I submitted it, and I learned I could do better. So now I am working hard to do just that.

In any case, I know that it will be a blast. If you are in the Massachusetts area - I strongly suggest you check out the site. As my husband said to me today, it may not be easy, but you don't learn anything from that which comes easy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Horns - Contest - I want it. You should read it.

I've blogged about Joe Hill's Horns before and if you haven't read it - and you like horror type novels - then you should read this. It's original and really awesome. AND...if you want to enter a contest to get a copy...go HERE.


And just a side note - if you are unfamiliar with Joe Hill - it is a neat little fun fact that The Shining is dedicated to his dad. But his writing stands alone.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Message for Beginners

I came across this today at The Chocolate Chip Waffle and it was exactly what I needed to hear at just this moment. I love Ira Glass and now I love him more. Thank you Terresa Wellborn.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."

~ Ira Glass

Monday, February 7, 2011

First Line

My actual first line is as follows:

"My mother told me never to start a new endeavor on the full moon, but as was my nature then I didn't bother to pay attention."