A Thought

Writing in this piecemeal way is turning this novel into a play: dialogue, free of all encumbrance of description, and the barest of stage directions.

“Your talk of postscripts makes me sad. Let us dance, if we aim to.”
[they dance]

Literally how I just wrote (“wrote”) that scene. Clearly everything composed in this between-computers and between-drafts period will have to be rewritten later. What joy is mine.

At least slogging through all the narrative signals is easier when I know exactly what needs to be there and am not trying to envision the scene as I go….

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The Progression of a Scene

Since my original post of this excerpt was a true rough draft - which for me means basically dialogue, void of physical grounding, blocking, and character thoughts – I thought it would be fun or at least informative to show what I do in editing* to make it an actual narrative scene and also how I tweak it to make it that 3% better. (*I say editing…in reality it’s what I do when writing. I have mentioned before that I have two modes of writing, compositional and inspirational. This scene was written in the inspirational mode, so primarily what the changes will be are what I add when I integrate it into the narrative in compositional mode. I also tend to tweak wording as I go along, rather than only in a formal editing pass, so most of these word swaps would naturally occur in the drafting phase rather than the editing phase.)

I will copy this post and publish a new version as the scene changes, so that each layer of tinkering can be viewed discreetly.

LEGEND:

[bracketed comments] = editorial aside explaining what I did if it’s not a textual change that can be noted by changing the color of the words involved

black = original words

blue = compositional mode additions

red = editorial change

To recap the scenario: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind [line break - trying out a means to emphasize the poetry. Not sure I will keep it]
to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse  quotation employed, with a slight pause to emphasize her phrasing – she meant to speak in verse. It was a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met,
my lady fair?”

“Well met, indeed, my lord.” [increased indent, again to emphasize verse...all or none will be kept in the end]

Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance
to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

“A feather to your cap, my dear, for I
cannot compete with prose so fine.”

“A sorry piece of prose, good sir,
for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?”

“For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind I have I encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.”

“Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke spake my heart’s confession – pax! I concede.  oh, damn all! Pax; I concede. You have mastered me.”

“’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

“No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.”

“Mayhap. But I prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

Ever a Always the man of action.”

“Better a man mere master of action than a king of unmet dreams….”

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A Parlor Game in Iambic

I don’t normally post exerpts from a work in progress. It seems dangerous to assume any of it will remain the same between the writing and the publishing…arrogant, perhaps, like I could jinx myself. But this one tickled my nerdy bone, and the amusement of it does not rely on context but simply on the text. Also this started entirely by accident…I knew he initiated a conversation with that particular quotation, because I knew she replied about ingratitude, and I just let them talk from there and scribbled down what I “heard.” After about two exchanges, I noticed they were both speaking in iambic, or damn near it. Always fun when characters do something cool without your intention! So I ran with it. You can see below the point where I stopped writing in full prose style and just started transcribing their conversation. The main point of the scene is them having two different conversations via subtext, hers about what happened between them in the past (well, between her and the man she thinks he is), and him about what he assumes will happen between them in the imminent future. Pray, enjoy my deathless prose verse!

The scene: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse employed – a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met, my lady fair?”

“Well met, indeed, my lord.”

Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

“A feather to your cap, my dear, for I cannot compete with prose so fine.”

“A sorry piece of prose, good sir, for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?”

“For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind I have encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.”

“Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke my heart’s confession – pax! I concede. You have mastered me.”

“’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

“No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.”

“Mayhap. But I prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

“Ever a man of action.”

“Better a man of action than a king of unmet dreams….”

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How To Not Sell Me Your Free Book

One might think making a book free will net oneself as many readers as encounter said book. Not so! Below are a few ways to convince Lily not to download your free book and waste her precious time attempting to read it.

Put any of the following plot elements in your novel:

  • Time travel (certain SF scenarios excepted)
  • Love triangle*
  • Real historical persons
  • Famous fictional persons (e.g., Holmes, Darcy, King Arthur, etc.)
  • Deities or their divine representatives (such as angels) as essentially human characters
  • Unrealistic gaps in station in a setting where such things matter
  • Patently anachronistic behavior or attitudes for no clear reason
  • A do-gooder hero or heroine, or one whose attitude feels politically correct
  • Any sort of secret society responsible for keeping order in secret (historical spy societies and paranormal hero councils equally despised!)**

*I don’t consider obviously false love interests to be triangles. But actual triangles are a deal-breaker.

**One of my friends is convinced I am destined to get propositioned by just such an order because I find them so insufferable in fiction.

Alternatively, you can present your story in one of these ways:

  • Spell a character’s name two different ways in the description
  • In fact, have any sort of typo or grammatical faux pas in your description
  • Have a description longer than 300 words
  • Use so many generalities in your description that I have no real notion what the conflict is
  • Use so many details in your description that I have no idea what the real conflict is (or feel like I have now read your entire book)
  • Fail to clarify by cover and summary when your novel is set
  • Give your characters ridiculous names vis a vis their time period
  • Employ gratuitous diacritical marks (especially random apostrophes!) in the names of people and places – looking at you, epic fantasy

I suppose this is also a list of deal-breakers for books NOT listed for free, as well, but the more salient point is that I don’t make exceptions to my taste just because a book is free. I make exceptions only when a book sounds truly extraordinary.

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Google Docs, My iPhone, and Creative Atrophy

I had a eureka moment yesterday about writing on my iPhone: Google docs. Derp. Not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me before that I had a phone-accessible writing method more robust than the little built-in notepad (not to mention one that could be synched with a laptop doc without extra steps!).

So today I started rewriting that novel. Had some nice clarity on how to link the prologue to chapter 1 opening, and got the first section of chapter 1 written out. I don’t know how many words it was – likely between 500 and 800 – but it was enough to make my brain hurt when I was done.

I am definitely going to have some work to do to get back in writing shape…a year ago I’d have to write 5-6 times that to put myself in the same state. Creativity really IS akin to a muscle.

I am just pleased to have that set of muscles returned to me postpartum along with the ones that let me run and sit up without using my arms. :)

Edited to add: it was actually kind of hilarious working in G-docs. I started writing on my husband’s laptop while the baby was napping in his Moby wrap, and was still going when baby woke up and demanded a feed. So I pulled up the doc on my phone and kept going…and I still had it pulled up on the laptop, which was sitting on the coffee table in front of me, and I could watch the words I was tapping into my phone appear on the screen like I was remoted into the laptop, even though of course in both cases I was remoted into the document itself. It amused me.

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Don’t Fear the Reaper

My post yesterday (was it yesterday? says the new mom) about how a pretty major plot point in my rough-drafted novel has reverted to an earlier form switched the track on my creative train of thought. I woke up today unable to stop thinking about that story…the state it’s in right now and what the actual work will be to fix it. As with any large project, once my brain parses it out into available steps, I feel much less frightened and overwhelmed, no matter how large the actual to-be-done list.

The steps, as I see them:

  1. thinking through what the actual plotline will now be
  2. determining what scenes that storyline requires
  3. examining which scenes from the original draft can be salvaged
  4. tallying the scenes which need to be written whole-cloth
  5. writing those scenes
  6. adjusting the scenes that can be saved to fit the new events/timeline
  7. reading work as a whole with an editorial eye
  8. tweaking scenes, characterizations, etc. to trim flab, preordain the consequences, make all coherent, etc.
  9. send to beta readers
  10. feel ill until reports come back
  11. adjust to reader issues
  12. line edit for clarity, murdering darlings, tightening, reworking dialogue to be more unique to characters and right for time, etc.

Only the first six items (heh! “only”) are outside the normal workflow of turning a rough draft into a finished book. Not too terrible when spelled out like that.

This morning I sat down and did the first four all in one brainstorm. Took half an hour and one cup of tea. Suddenly half the list is gone, and I feel a lot more in control of what comes next.

I was surprised at how few scenes need to be written from scratch. Seven or eight big scenes (though some will consist of 2-4 smaller scenes), and another 5 that will need revising, if I recall the original draft correctly…and that’s it until I move on to corrections based on reading it as a whole.

Having the actual number before me helps with the intimidation factor. The finity conferred by a numbered sequence is comforting to someone like me who fears the unknown more than any known terror; the smallness of the number is even more comforting.

Aside from merely not having as much to write as I feared (something less than 20K vs more than 30K), I am pleased with the brevity of early events now. The drafted beginning is a sprawling ramble that has about ten different plotlines it introduces, and doesn’t begin tangling any (much less all!) of them until something ridiculous like 40K words in. Way too long of a set-up. Figuring out how to compress that was damaging my calm and making me not want to move forward with revisions. So seeing the opening tightened up just by virtue of cutting one or two of those threads enthuses me about getting to work on this thing.

And the best part is, since I am writing from the beginning, I don’t need what I previously wrote to find my place in the story, so my current lack of immediate access to the document files is utterly irrelevant to the work at hand.

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The Evolution of a Conflict

One of my current writing projects (I have three) is revising the long novel I finished rough drafting about a year ago – the one I had been writing for 2 years off and on. I put off jumping into an immediate revise because, frankly, the prospect intimidated the heck out of me due to sheer volume (still does, to be honest). I knew all along the opening was weak, and I dropped a subplot halfway through the drafting process, so the first order of business in revision is rewriting the opening third of the book and retooling a couple scenes in that middle third to match the final plot. After that I can go back through and refine characterizations, character mannerisms and motivations, pull threads forward sooner or weave them back so they foreshadow with more subtlety. I have never had to revise like this; all my other finished stories were plotted better initially, rather than partially discovered as I went. Damn. Plotting is so much easier.

Ironically, plotting was what got me into trouble with this story.

The basic premise is a disgraced young lady deciding to eschew social redemption and go into trade – specifically as a modiste, after her gambler brother receives a fortune in imported fabrics as payment in kind for a debt. My original subplot involved the man whose cargo the brother won seeking revenge, but I found it didn’t quite work…turns out the brother himself is the one causing her problems as he spirals into self-destruction. Simple enough to remove the pointless villain. But now the beginning is off.

Without the threads of the revenge subplot, the opening unravels. See, originally I conceived the fabric scene as it being delivered to their residence almost as an insolent joke, and the girl is in heaven thinking of all the new dresses she can have while her brother scowls and stomps around pissed off that he has this inconvenient volume of stuff he has no notion how to sell and no use for, but he can’t complain to the guy about it because he himself agreed to take a non-cash payment. When I decided the guy was going to get revenge by sabotaging the sister’s shop, I knew he had to deliver the goods there – otherwise how could he connect her to his gambling loss – so the girl had to know about the fabrics before delivery and hatch her plan overnight. So in order to make things work, the brother received a voucher for a share of the ship’s cargo that he could select, and for fun brought his sister to do it. But without a villain who needs to know what she is doing with the winnings, and where, that excursion is both cumbersome and narratively unnecessary.

Which is why I say plotting messed up the beginning in the first place. (Or second place. Damn. What am I up to here, the third place on this plotpoint? Gah!)

I tend to use the Occam’s Razor test for my stories: is this the simplest and most direct means for that to happen? If not, what is? If the more complicated way is necessary for the story then it had better be built on an ironclad piece of necessity set up by previous events with consequences borne out by later ones.

Occam’s Razor said without the revenge subplot there is no reason for her to see the ship or know in advance about her brother’s win. And the more natural playing of the scene was always “What is all this, Robbie?” and a slow-forming idea for her business rather than a lightning-fast one.

So back to the beginning it is…and a host of other moments to be rewritten now they are no longer supporting that particular consequence. They have better consequences to be inciting.

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