‘licking it to death’

I learned that lovely turn of phrase from a sculptor who let out his studio twice a week– one day to draw or paint, one week to sculpt. The clay was a soft tan that melted under heat. To work it, there was a studio microwave were we softened blocks up. The artist, Terry Lee, would walk among us and give advice. Mine was, “You’re licking it to death.” Trying too hard to make her skin too smooth, too perfect, inspecting the exact proportional measures, putting on clay, scrapping it off again to achieve the same result.

Jody is virtually my only sculpture. The first time I tried, and perhaps the last. Not that I dislike sculpture, but it takes a lot of time, and I have too many things to do. Going over the last version of my book being one of them.

I didn’t really like the first chapter. I wrote a prologue to balance it, but I’m not happy with that, either. I got another idea. Started another prologue. Stopped. Got another idea. Started again.

After showing the revised versions and the samples to my fiance, he wonders if he didn’t like the original better. Now I’m conflicted.

How do I know if the book might have been already good enough? I was convinced it wasn’t. Now I’m not so sure. When do you realize you’re not doing anything to improve it any longer?

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accents in writing

I don’t usually write down accents.

Part of this is from my knee-jerk reaction to written accents from when I was a kid. There were these ‘Redwall’ books, see, and entire paragraphs that needed to be sounded out to figure out what the dang characters were saying. Perhaps not all accents are that annoying, but even so, I don’t tend to use them. That said, I can name a number of very good authors that employ accents to great effect. And an equal amount of great writers that won’t touch them.

In the case of my book– and this is where I’m debating the issue– my main character has trouble speaking clearly. And this is a major part of the book, as it affects how others see and react to her, how she was raised. There are three letters that her mouth can not make at all. It’s important. Up till now, I’ve been trying to get away with keeping her dialog short and to the point, occasionally asking her to repeat herself… but I have to wonder if the written accent would be to better use.

For instance, here’s a clip without the accent:

“Wyrren?” Rylan asked. She would be the one to decide, and he thought that he had made his point.

His lady had moved to lean on a bedpost, where she rested her chin on the head of her staff. “Rylan will go,” she said. “Saffira will accompany him.”

“What?” Dacha asked.

Saffira turned to look at them. She nodded once, then went back to meditating.

Wyrren continued. “It is in the giving that we receive. We will aid, though we need it ourselves. Be safe, Rylan.”

Now, here’s what I’m considering.

Wyrren can’t move her face. Her tongue, throat, and jaw are all perfectly functional. But she can’t say ‘b’, ‘m’, or ‘p’. So instead of a full-blown accent, I’m going to try replacing those letters with ‘ marks. Here’s the same quote, with the new marks. Does this work? How annoying will this be, having all her lines like this? (Keeping in mind that this character knows what she sounds like and likes to let her companions do the talking for her.)

“Wyrren?” Rylan asked. She would be the one to decide, and he thought that he had made his point.

His lady had moved to lean on a bedpost, where she rested her chin on the head of her staff. “Rylan will go,” she said. “Saffira will accom’any him.”

“What?” Dacha asked.

Saffira turned to look at them. She nodded once, then went back to meditating.

Wyrren continued. “It is in the giving that we receive. We will aid, though we need it ourselves. ‘e safe, Rylan.”

Or, another, with more of the ‘bad letters’ in it.

“What has the ‘aster ‘een saying of ‘e?”

Ana shrugged and avoided Wyrren’s eyes.

“Tell ‘e, Ana.” She couldn’t do anything about a vague offense.

Thoughts?

three steps forward…

… Then a shepherd’s crook about the neck from off-stage, Bugs Bunny style. Yoink!

I’ve been working on my revisions (and not posting so much, admittedly… but the deeper I go into the actual writing/editing of the book, I find I have less and less to say here). Chapters one through three have been revised, fixed up, polished (and chapter one and two sent off to my test readers).

Chapter one was unavoidably awkward in spots, a lot of world building and introductions very quickly, and chapter two extended that, but with plot. Chapter three was a dream: varied, interesting, fast paced.

And then I reached chapter four.

I don’t see any way around it. I’m going to have to rewrite most of this from scratch. Fifteen pages or so, 8-9k. Flat characters, dallying plot, and… well, let’s call it ‘plodding’. Trudging through to the interesting parts. This might take a bit longer than I thought.

editing: wyrren jadis versus distraction

It’s been quiet over here, I realize, though that doesn’t mean it’s been unproductive. I actually like the editing process; I have a very strong internal editor, a good laser printer, and a supply of red pens. Chapter one has been gone over; I’m midway through correcting chapter two. Really, once I get down to work, I can go pretty darn fast.

I had a birthday earlier this week– I’m twenty-five now. Kindof shocking, really; this firmly establishes me as a grown-up. I celebrated by riding horses and playing video games. The Sims 3 doesn’t work so well on my computer, but I’m bullying it into behaving anyway.

To those of you who don’t know, The Sims series is like a game of dolls that fight you for control. You make houses for them, buy them furniture, and set up dramas, careers, hobbies… I love this sort of thing. But last night I’d made a Sim-Eliza, put her in her house, and realized partway through the evening that Sim-Eliza was hunched over her computer with the same bad posture, working on her novel, and making better progress than I was. Her ‘writing skill’ bar was filling up, little by little.

I turned off the game and went back to my word processor.

To the point! I’ll be done polishing up chapter two soon, onto chapter three (there are thirteen chapters in the book) and I’m coming to the point where I’ll need test readers to go over the story chapter by chapter. I’ll send off a chapter, they’ll read it and make comments. … And the editing afterward will be the last before I start agent shopping.

Anyone interested? I have a few test readers already, but I wouldn’t mind more. Anyone who hasn’t been following along with the project should know that this is gritty fantasy, and can get quite violent.

In the meantime, ‘Revision 1’ progress is now on the sidebar.

sin boldly

Also subtitled, stop stacking adverbs for ‘extra precision’ and make up your mind already.

I should preface this thought: I am the worst offender you may meet in some time. I have an illicit affair with ‘clambered carefully’ and ‘the actual [noun]’, as if readers can’t distinguish being close to something and interacting with it directly. I feel the need to clarify points in time before all actions, less someone’s inner head-real be off by a few minutes or seconds.

Why is this a nasty habit? Because it’s cloudy writing. Because if the weather of your prose can’t change with the mood, someone is going to notice that it’s a static element, and therefore dead weight if used constantly.

Rather than presenting this idea as a rule (I still hate the writing-rules, never fear), I think that modifiers and description styles need to be examined and better understood, rather than defaulted to. Practiced, even. If anyone is willing to try out the idea, try a writing sketch in both styles and note the difference. (And let me know how it goes!)

checking in

By tonight, I’ll be at or above 35,000 words on my novel, roughly 1400 from where I’m standing now. I’m frequently a bit below par, but I blame that to writing late at night, past the midnight line. I’m not dead, just very, very focused. Sorry I haven’t been around a lot!

I’ve said this before, but I think I need to say it again. Complete rewrites are beautiful, wonderful things. They’re a lot, a lot of work, but the improvement to the plot and composition are fabulous, and well worth it.

Since I’m finally very happy with my plot and the balance between characters, I’m going to keep up my NaNo pace through December (I’ve heard of a NaNoFiMo– National Novel Finishing Month– next month). Depending on how long this new draft takes me, I’ll be done a little before or a little after the new year.

So, based on that, January through March are going to be editing and revising months. I’ll start agent-shopping this April.

Wish me luck!

writing the second draft

I had a request to share how I went about writing the second draft of my novel. As a disclaimer, this is just how I did it; I’m certain that others try different methods that work well for them.

My first draft was written during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month— I highly recommend participating) last November, 50,000 words in one month. It took another week after November to finally finish it, which brought it up to approximately 52,000 words. As expected of a NaNo novel, it had several major problems.

First, there was the pacing. I was writing furiously for four weeks to produce volume, not good craftsmanship. My first test reader said that the book felt like it needed to be about twice as long, which I agreed with. The city was an undefined blur, the castle equally nondescript. My prose rambled, got distracted, changed ideas halfway through sentences.

Some of the characters were very fleshed out. Others were flat and uninteresting. My two protagonists, Rylan and Wyrren, were not very consistent. My villains showed up when inconvenient for my heroes, the characters were sidetracked at several points. Some characters I had decided would be important, but seemed to decline their part in my plot.

And speaking of plot… the entire middle of my story sagged terribly. I had the ending I wanted, the beginning I wanted, and I got to keep my tiger-fight… and yes, I could see what I was going for in that first draft. It was also an unholy mess.

Now, I’m a terrible critic. I’ve been spoiled by literature, and I’ve read too many good books to be impressed by mediocre work. This might even be the reason that I’m so hesitant to start reading something new… I have a fear of being let down by a book, as if they were a new friend that I was entrusting myself to. When I read a book or watch a movie, I ask myself things like, “If I had written this passage, would I be satisfied with it?”

I also have an excellent memory for words on paper. I can still quote poems that I memorized twelve years ago, regardless of length. So I don’t forget the things I write in a hurry.

In January, I read over a few pieces of my printed first draft, put it away, and began writing the second draft. From scratch. No references, no list of absolutely required scenes. After the second chapter, I felt that I needed to be reminded of where I was going. Instead of going back to the first draft, I wrote a detailed outline of the book and kept going.

To those of you who practice art, I compare the first draft to a thumbnail sketch. It’s enough to let you know what you’re going for. But if you draw from the sketch, you’re just going to get a bigger sketch. Best to have worked out your thoughts ahead of time and begin fresh, looking forward to other references other than old, and quick, work. I can say that my second draft is far superior to the first in every way, but still not perfect.

That’s what the third draft is for.