Monthly Archives: August 2012

Editorial Blind Spots

As always, the best internet discussions are over at The Passive Voice Blog. Today on the chopping block is the word “snuck.” I am a Southerner, and I was raised with “snuck” as the past participle for sneak. “Sneaked” sounds…like someone trying to be grammatical but getting it wrong. It sounds ignorant. But yet to many people my word choice sounds ignorant.

Anyway, several of the commenters noted that they write snuck and their editor corrects it to sneaked.

I…have had a pretty ruthless training in line-editing, and I had to fight my English department in college to get the number of grammar/usage/editing classes I wanted. If I had the ambition I could edit professionally. But this kind of usage is a huge blindspot for me–it’s a colloquialism that I had no idea was a colloquialism. I mean, I get that “all y’all” and “used to could” are not in everybody’s lexicon of English. But this? It’s a word I would never have questioned usage on, because to me the “American colloquial variant” is the correct term, but to “proper” English speakers (and I don’t just mean Brit’s there, but also professional grammarians here in America) it is wronger than wrong.

I think my biggest take-away from this is a reiteration of the point that you don’t know what you don’t know, and also that you should probably vet your editor geographically in order to get some sense of their blind spots.

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#AmWriting Cross-Post: On Being a Writer’s Best Friend

Believe it or not, the biggest hazard of being friends with a (fiction) writer is not the chance they might write about you. Most novelists don’t write about people they know, except by accident, and even then it’s almost never a direct depiction of either the person or the incident that inspired part of a story.

No, the biggest hazard is having all of the writer’s stories spoiled before you ever get to read them.

My friends are varying degrees of supportive of my writing. Some will say “That’s so cool” but never want to read anything I write, while others seem interested only when I have written a story of the type they prefer to read. I am, however, blessed to have a best friend who is probably my biggest fan (aside from my mom and, on certain stories, my husband) and who actively, avidly wants to read everything I write, no matter the subject or the genre or the mood of the story.

She is my soul-mirror, like and unlike myself in all the best and most complementary ways. While not a writer herself, she has a strong sense of narrative and drama (probably from her love of film). She is the person I go to when I am editorializing a story and cannot tell if the instinct pulling me in one direction is my writer’s intuition or a plot will-o-wisp seeking to lure me into a murky quagmire in which I will lose my story and my way.

Her function as my sounding board is a hazard of the job for a writer’s best friend. She regularly enjoys the dubious honor of hearing the entire storyline before she reads a word of the story, because I needed advice on how the climax should play out. I know this is disappointing for her, because it takes from her the ability to read that piece of my writing just as a fan. For that reason, I try not to go to her for help with stories in her preferred genres—at least not before I have a rough draft she can read. I let her validate or question the direction I chose when she offers me her critique.

But for books in genres I know she does not read, stories that she will read despite the genre merely because I wrote it, I have no compunctions about blowing through the whole story in an email in order to figure out one tiny detail.

And she is an invaluable resource for me. I have found that when my intuition suggests a course the logical side of my mind did not come up with, the cognitive dissonance paralyzes me, creatively. If I solicit her help and she agrees with my instinct, that dissonance goes away. If she agrees with my logic, the instinct either disappears or redirects in such a way that it no longer conflicts with the logic. I don’t feel like my bouncing ideas off her is a taking of advice so much as a validating of my own suspicion: I tend to lean one way or another when I ask for her help, and if we incline the same way I know that way is right. When we diverge she still offers a valuable opinion counter to my own, and thinking through her perspective helps me clarify my own.

A recent example of this was my reaching the last 10% of a novel only to get cold feet about a subplot and the villain of the story. My intuition was suggesting that he was not a big enough presence in the story as a whole to justify his position as primary antagonist…that the events his behavior caused could easily be caused by other characters for different reasons, to the same ends. But I wasn’t sure! Removing him would take out one of the weft threads interlocking all the warp threads together. I couldn’t tell if the narrative would be as strong without that particular weft or if it would be left weak and full of holes.

I sent my friend my dilemma. She replied back with a gut instinct that matched my own, and her answer instantly clarified matters for me. The not-so-villainous villain was the dead weight I had begun to suspect he was; his absence would not only leave the narrative equally strong but also render it tighter, sharper, and more focused. The reasons I had for wanting to keep him suddenly felt like flourishes the Writer wanted—pretensions, not sound storyboarding.

Basically she helped me murder my darlings. What’s that old saying about best friends and bodies?

I think I even managed to find my answer without giving away the entire story this time….

Read it at amwriting site: http://amwriting.org/archives/13438

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Chopping Dead Wood

The verdict I came to after weighing the arguments for and against my subplot and its villain was that it was unnecessary. Not only that, but cutting it and having a particular event near the end happen for a different reason actually made it more powerful a motivator for my hero to make the decision he does.

I am going to worry about removing and/or rewriting the affected scenes in edits. I have to rewrite the beginning already; why not three or fours others, as well? I think the bigger challenge will be backshifting all references to reflect the new versions of the scenes.

In the meantime this is what my muse feels like (I can feel him whistling–he is very pleased with himself for this one):

Yes, indeed. He’s a lumberjack, and he’s okay.

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To Sub-plot, or Not To Sub-plot: THAT Is the Question

I am coming up on the end of the novel. I am staring page 200 (single-spaced page 200) in the face, and my narrative word count is up to 108,000 (AKA, pretty honkin’ long). That means, with the amount of scenes and events I have left to write, that the final draft will be about 130K (AKA, effing loooooong).

I haven’t gone back through the first, oh, two-thirds of the story since I wrote it and moved further on in the outline, except in bits and pieces to get the details of a scene I’m referencing later correct.  So I don’t know how much fat could be trimmed from earlier in the narrative…but my guess is, not enough to get this back into my goal range of 100-100K. 

A couple days ago the notion occurred to me that I might have built in an unnecessary sub-plot, and an unnecesary villain.  When I conceived the story, one of the running catalysts for bringing the hero back into the heroine’s sphere was the actions of a man who wants revenge on her brother. The only problem is that I’m not sure I have a satisfying explanation for why his harrassment is spread out over the course of three or four months, or why it seems half-hearted enough that no serious damage is ever incurred, or why pretty much all of the characters seem to forget about him except when dealing with the direct consequences of his actions. 

Really it was that last that made me wonder if his villainy was actually necessary, or if I had found my fat.  See, the problem is that I have two antagonists right now: the harrasser, and society (with a deep hat tip to Tessa Dare for pointing out how many romance novels don’t have a villain other than society).  I am not saying two villains are incompatible. I may well decide that both ARE necessary for the story. But I’m not sure. I think I’m resisting the idea of cutting the invidual villain subplot because there are certain events connected with it that I really love, but my instincts are saying he’s not necessary. Especially getting toward the end of the narrative, identical events can happen for different–and in all honesty, perhaps more dramatic and compelling (in terms of being a character motivator)–reasons.

Cutting him out now would require recalibrating very few of my closing events, but it would entail a fair amount of re-writing and perhaps re-envisioning of earlier scenes.

Dilemma, conundrum, quagmire, et cetera.

Anyone else struggled with this? What did you decide, and were you happy with the decision?

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Sales Considerations for Book Launch

I have never been on board with the idea of making my books exclusively available through one channel–see my post from last week about the only sure way to make pirates of honest readers.

But I was looking at numbers on my Smashwords earnings report for last quarter, and suddenly there are enough sales there that I would be losing about a third of my readers if I went exclusively through Amazon for ebook distribution.  I actually hadn’t looked at the extended channels sales for a while–not since before I revamped my descriptions in the spring, when sales were virtually nonexistant from any part of Smashwords. Suddenly, though, the number of sales in the extended distribution channels (though not Smashwords directly) is significant. Kobo is by far the biggest chunk, but there were quite a few from Apple. Almost none from any of the other channels, including Barnes and Noble.

So I guess this information also supports Kobo’s expansion and plan to become a major player in the ebook market. Seems like it’s working for them so far….

Anyway, even though I still haven’t finished the next book, it’s never too soon to start thinking of how its launch will be handled. Not that I had any doubts about distributing everywhere I could, but…it feels nice to have that instinct validated in sales as well as philosophical principle.

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Why I Love Writing Fan Fiction

Or, So I May Or May Not Have Cheated on My Novel-in-Progress with Something I Can’t Get Paid for Writing

Simple question, simple answer:  because it reminds me why I like writing stories.

My muse has dragged himself out of the gutter to actually help me on some words the last couple days, which has been great. Some of them were even on my novel. It felt less like pulling splinters from my brain with un-sterilized tweezers.

But last night when I sat down to write, and words wouldn’t come easily on the novel, I tried something else. Sometimes switching tracks is what you need to do to get in gear. So not any of my other romance novels–something completely different. Monty Python style.

I decided to start winnowing out a plot to a piece of fan-fic I had only the vaguest of ideas about.

It’s some sweet Hogwarts action, nothing to do with Harry and friends, and set…now, I guess. Basically just well after the demise of He Who, Etc., in order that it can be entirely unapologetic in its shallowness. So perhaps it’s less fan-fic and more shared-world fic. Whatever you call it, the words and ideas flowed easily. I didn’t have to think about the setting, because I knew the setting, and some of the constraints and situations the characters will face as a result of that setting.

I started writing the opening scene with only the mood of the heroine in mind. I didn’t need to know more, because I was happy to let her tell me about herself. I literally had nothing but the title (“Secret Slytherin”) in my mind when I started.

The ease of the writing reminded me how much I enjoy writing, which is a feeling that has been sadly lacking for me for a while with the current project. The flip side of having the story in place is that writing it out ceases to be an act of creativity and becomes an act of description. The creativity happened long ago; this is just describing what came out of that mental storm.

But with this piece I was writing pretty much as I had ideas. Just jotting notes and exploring facets of the characters as they came to me. It was a joyful piece of writing.

And it invigorated me on my other story, too. I am a little more inspired to keep going, because I’m reminded that there is a story I want to finish reading in there. I’ve just lost track of it under the weight of obligation and expectation. I needed a break, and I needed to be reminded why I love putting words down on paper not just into opinions but into stories.

So even if I can’t do anything with SS, it’s still serving a purpose for me.

And, hey, if it becomes a novel that no one can put down, I can always just start changing those 10% of details….

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Sometimes John Lennon Just Says It Best

I am in a funk right now when it comes to writing. I think some of it is exhaustion, and some of it is boredom. I’ve been working on this thing too long. I’ve lost the ability to hold it all in my head, and I can barely understand what I’m working on. I want to be done more for the sake of not feeling this story and the need to finish it hanging like a millstone about my neck than because I am excited to read it back. When I try to picture a scene that I’m writing, nothing comes. I write anyway, and it’s like tagging gaffiti in the dark, and sometimes it is leavable and sometimes I have to paint right over it.  You know how when you’ve been up for 20 hours determined to finish something, but you hit that point where you’re so tired it’s almost counterproductive to keep working, and it will take you three times the time as a task would if you were fresh? I think that’s where I’m at with this one. I just need it done.

At this point novel-writing is an exercise in stubborness more than it is a pleasure or an investment in something I think might pay me a reward. I’ve just…come this far. I can’t quit now. But god damn I’m tired.

That is all. Time to go erase the 500 words I just spent all afternoon dragging from my brain like splinters, because they are just not right….

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