Tag Archives: edit

Friday Links for Writers: 05.13.16

copyright Elissa Field (use w written permission only)

copyright Elissa Field (use w written permission only)

I’m midway through a 4-week break between classes, at the tail end of my Masters. This perfectly coincides with having a printed draft to complete a read-through revision, which makes this a busy writing week.

I’ve been wrestling with technology — finding the most efficient ways to keep track of complicated novel structures while moving large chunks around. I’ve written about mid-level novel revisions often, here, and this revision has had its own insights.

This week, I’m debating moving my outline (the structural spine devised to guide the revisions) into Excel. Complete nerdfest: that allows me to not only graph the chapters and parts, but graph key reveals, reactions, crossing of internal and external conflicts… Not word-nerdy enough? I’ve been obsessively analyzing concepts of action-reaction — the dialogue and external conflicts comprising actions, and all the modes by which characters react, in layers. Worth its own post — a post requested by another venue — but for today…

It’s time for Friday Links for Writers. Not surprising at least one link is a piece on character action. As always, share in the comments to let us know what resounds with you, what you’d like more of, or share your own favorite links. Have a great writing week!

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Character Reaction — Make Your Character Respond

On The Editor’s Blog, Beth Hill discusses the need to reveal character in the written responses to action and events. While I’ve been considering a dozen different layers to response, she covers the big 4: action, dialogue, thought, and emotion.

Pixie Dust

Okay, so this will be, what, the third Donald Maass piece I share lately? Yeah well, he must be good at getting one thinking. His latest post at Writer Unboxed talks about using the most emotionally charged details to power your writing (and delete the rest). Experiences shared in the comments are just as inspiring as the initial piece.

a8b42ebd1d57086a0349245db28cc008Found on Pinterest: Plot Timeline Infographics
Plotter or pantser, I strongly believe in understanding (or planning) the best structure for the novel you’re writing. In revising Never Said, that backbone has been key to building a more complex story than would have been possible without it. The link above goes to pin for the “first act”. Click here to find Act 2 and here for Act 3. Want more? Clicking the pins takes you to the original articles.

How Mapping Alice Munro’s Stories Helped Me As a Writer

And, hey, if I’m confessing my inner word nerd… well, look, Elizabeth Poliner was geeking out on diagramming Alice Munro, too. For me, it’s been a mix of Anthony Doerr and Tana French – but, point is, if you’re diagramming your favorite writer, you’re not alone.

Print Products: Turn Your Book into a Notebook or Workbook

Many of my readers may already have stumbled on Joanna Penn, who has been generous, as her self-publishing career took off, to share creative ways to make a living with your writing. This post is just that, with advice on how to create accompanying workbooks or other print materials from your existing book (especially nonfiction). This would be a great approach for speaking engagements and workshops.

Santiago Caruso via The Guardian

Santiago Caruso via The Guardian

 

On Charlotte Bronte’s 200th Birthday: Illustrating Jane Eyre

This one is just for a little inspiration, for any of us kindling a love for the Brontes. A Guardian piece, featuring the Gorey-esque artwork of Santiago Caruso depicting scenes from Jane Eyre.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: the Privilege of Writing from in the Mess

I loved this answer Ta-Nehisi Coates gave to a Howard University student who asked him what responsibility he thought writers have. The link above gives that one answer. Or, here is the full conversation between him and professor Greg Carr, including a reading from Between the World and Me.

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What Are You Working On?

April seemed to be a huge month for writers using challenges to reach writing goals — and just as many of my friends hit May (and look forward to summer) with editing now on their mind. What is your current writing goal? What challenges or strategies keep your going or make hurdles in your work?

Have you come across any great writing links or resources lately?

Do share your thoughts or links in the comments.

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Round tower bend, Waterford, Ireland. copyright Elissa Field.

Round tower bend, Waterford, Ireland. copyright Elissa Field.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.03.15

“Thinking of Him” & its neighbor, by Roy Lichtenstein, photographed with students at the Yale Art Museum by Elissa Field 2015 (copyright, repro w written permission).

I am posting this on a raucously beautiful day in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I am rushing to finish morning writing in time to go gather a picnic dinner to walk down to the beach for tonight’s fireworks. That’s right, fellow patriots, the 4th of July weekend kicks off today.

And with this Friday off, you have little excuse not to be writing.

My morning was a hectic finish to a busy writing week: research for the intro to an academic paper, paperwork for a great new freelance client, wrestling with recording a screencast for a digital portfolio… I love the diversity of the writing I’ve been doing the past month — some great content and PR writing projects, and a great new educational client.

But draft 8 of the novel is also going like gangbusters, spread in ungainly documents all through my computer.

How on earth does one steal time to get that novel done? Rally your online communities! The folks at Friday Night Writes gave me excuse to pause for #writeclub word sprints throughout the day. And the fabulous and generous young adult author, Gae Polisner, lent motivation to take time out to find an excerpt to share as she kicks off Friday Feedback today, as the start of Teachers Write. Any excuse is a good excuse to take a break from other work to get this novel reassembled.

(Still pondering the relevance of Lichtenstein’s “Thinking of Him”? It’s from a trip I took as a volunteer with 5th graders who’d used fine art all year to extend understanding of how visual texts construct meaning, same as literature. I love how the diversity of my work takes me everywhere!)

Every busy writing week is also filled with great reading and resources, which brings us to another edition of FridayLinks for Writers — some of my favorite recent reading online. As always, let me know in the comments what was particularly helpful, what you’d like to read more of, or share your own favorite links.

Have a great writing week, all!

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Checklist: Is Your Novel Ready to Query?

In response to a writer wondering if it is okay to withdraw a query, the inimitable literary agent (and Query Shark) Janet Reid answers the question, but then also offers a 5 question checklist to know if a novel is actually ready to query. Also available on the page are several other useful query resources, such as a link to her query checklist and query letter diagnostics. If you are in the market to query, her site is a good place to start for tips.

 Writing Idol: Not for the Thin-Skinned

Speaking of testing queries, Melissa Cronin shares about the experience of participating in Writing Idol in this guest post on Brevity from last fall. With the intensity of American Idol tryouts, writers sit by as their story is read aloud to see at what point a panel of agents or editors would stop reading. This kind of event has popped up at a few conference venues.

Dear Writers: None of Us Know What the F We’re Doing

Forgive the expletives in this one, but Chuck Wendig usually makes them worthwhile. This piece on his blog is one of my favorites — an acknowledgement that we all have ideas about what works or what to avoid in writing, we know certain protocols about submitting… but, in the end, writing is not defined by rules or guarantees. A non-advice piece that has you wondering if there really are ice weasels, and also inspired to get to work without waiting for clearer instructions.

Writing Basics: The Act One Problem

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that screenwriting, plotting and structure have been a source of intrigue for me in novel revision, and this piece by Janice Hardy on her Fiction University website clarifies the concept of the problem that carries plot from inciting incident to door one. Understanding plot concepts is a good way to test for weaknesses in a story.

10 Resources for Writers and Bloggers

Nina Badzin shares a great list of resources, and on each of those links you’ll find multiple options for new publication routes, writing groups and more. It’s been a frequently shared resource among writers and bloggers.

Colin Barrett Talks About His Approach to the Short Story

I’m really intrigued by Colin Barrett, an Irish writer whose story collection, Young Skins, won last year’s Frank O’Connor International Award and the Guardian First Book Award. A silky paperback copy of the collection just arrived into my reading pile, having had to order it since it was not readily available in the U.S., and this interview shares some interesting insights.

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How About You?

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

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Friday Links for Writers: 05.01.15

 

c Elissa Field

c Elissa Field

I am writing this while looking out the window at nodding daffodils after a week spent appreciating the season of spring blooms, driving through 10 east coast states. Apple blossoms, weeping cherries, dogwoods, azaleas, forsythia, Bradford pears, redbud, wild wisteria, and the last bedraggled heads of tulips.

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nNo small deal to me, as this was my first spring back in the northeast after years in South Florida’s tropics.

It’s also been a great week for writing. Two new business writing clients. Writing academic curriculum. Analyzing the structure of recent breakout novels. Celebrating the creativity of my clients and my writing community (including Wordsmith Studio’s continuing anniversary celebrations). And — no offense to all of that, but — most overjoyed by work on my novel. Revision to this story is like discovering hidden doors. This story — the one coming vivid, the writing on a roll, where it dragged when I knew the story was not yet ready — is the one I knew was there all along, so I couldn’t be happier.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

That said, this post marks a return of Friday Links for Writers, which was on hiatus during my winter masters work. This week shares some of my favorite recent reads on process, form, inspiration and publication. As always, let me know in the comments what resounds with you, or what you are currently trying to learn more about. Feel free to share your own links. Have a great writing week!

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Tips for Non-converging Parallel Plot Lines

In a recent workshop, when trying to simplify my narrative to a logline to practice pitching with workshop peers, I realized that one of the complications I was working on is that my novel unfolds in nonlinear, parallel, converging plot lines. While conventional advice tends to steer toward linear lines, there are several different forms for parallel plot lines, in linear and nonlinear forms. This piece takes on one of the more interesting: non-converging (two stories that don’t cross). I share it as much for that discussion as the additional links on other structures.

 496 Words on Writing Flash Prose

Some of my writing friends are kings and queens of writing flash prose, and I can’t help envy them. Envy the crossing of all those finish lines, all those publications come to light. It’s therefore no surprise that I loved this short piece by Rebecca Meacham on Ploughshares’ blog about how she yields flash prose from her novel scraps.

The One Word You Should Probably Add to Twitter Searches

This was one of my favorite pieces on research this week, as Daniel Victor shares some common sense but not obvious advice for honing in on first person sources. The trick isn’t just the word to include, but the simple logic behind it. This was frequently shared by my journo friends.

Done is Better than Perfect

I am sure I’m not alone in appreciating this piece, in which Nanea Hoffman confesses how a need for perfection in her writing has held her back. It’s a great tonic if you need permission to let go and just get something submitted.

Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice for Struggling Artists

Close on the heels of that theme, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner reassures emerging artists by pulling back the veil that implies real genius is effortless. The Fast Company essay suggests all masterpieces involved false starts, deletions and revision, saying that “hiding brushstrokes” does a disservice to emerging artists.

Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers

To be on the receiving end of an editorial letter from Julie Strauss-Gabel may sting, but I can’t help think how empowering it would be to work with an editor with such vision. You might know her as the Dutton editor for John Green, whose experiences working with her are shared. In retracing the arc of her career, this is also a fascinating glimpse into the growth of young adult fiction.

This Week in Fiction: Colm Tóibín

I usually try to end with the perspective of one writer. Here, it’s interesting to read Colm Toibin’s observations and creative process as he discusses writing his story, “Sleep” with Deborah Treisman, in the New Yorker.

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How About You?

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

Better yet… Have you read my posts for Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hops? Whether you are a member of the group or not: share your current writing process by responding to interview questions in this week’s blog hop post. Here are links:

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

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Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I am a very visual person — I think in pictures — so writing setting is perhaps the last aspect of storytelling that I worry about. In writing a story set in India, details crept into every line without me thinking about them. I knew the exact color of shadows, the moment a bird would flush out of dry brush. A lot of writers can relate to this, especially if their drive to tell a story is inspired by place.

But that’s not always the case. In Friday Links for Writers: 3.21.14 , I quoted Anne Enright from a bit of advice where she said, “description is hard.”

Describing setting can be a powerful way to engage readers, conjure up surprising sensory details, reveal character, add resonance to a scene, develop internal and external conflicts… but it has do so in a way that moves the story, and that fits the voice and character(s)’ point of view.

Continuing the series on Novel Revision, today’s post shares a prompt for developing an important setting in your story, making it work to build character, motion and greater resonance. While many details may have come about in a first draft, midlevel revision is a great time to revise for ideas that were not yet clear in your first vision.

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Find a Place to Stand

Anne Enright’s advice was: “Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.”

This is a great starting point for thinking about setting: begin by knowing your character(s)’ point of view and seeing your setting from where the character stands.

Colson Whitehead on New York

Some of you may know I am working from my family’s house outside New York City at the moment, and felt the impact of this year’s anniversary of 9.11.01 in that context. On the anniversary, Jodi Kantor shared on Twitter a link to Colson Whitehead’s beautiful article from the New York Times that ran November 11, 2001.

As a New Yorker living in the city as it recovered, Colson wrote not directly about the event, but about what defines one’s connection to and identification as being from the city.

Read it because it’s beautiful — and because we’ll use it as our prompt. (Read it now, or in the prompt below: The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01)

The First Brick in Your City

Colson says, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” Anyone who’s spent time in New York knows what he means by “private New York,” as everyone comes to define their own sense of the city — a city so large that any of us sees it only in pieces.

But isn’t that true of each character’s response to setting?

In the paragraph that follows, Colson lists a handful of ways a person might have experienced their first moment in the city.

Freeze it there,” he says; “that instant is the first brick in your city.”

There is so much about writing setting that can be taken from his words. The point of details in your novel is not to inform a reader of what to see and do when visiting the place; you are not a glorified camera taking a picture for the reader. What matters about the places in your story are the ways your character(s) perceive and respond to them.

In Colson’s essay, each example of a newbie arriving in New York City presents a character you can view clearly in your mind, despite being limited to the details of a single sentence. They are details of setting, but they clearly define the interaction of people within that setting. The details involve objects, structures, qualities and even the kinds of actions and thoughts a character has within that setting. A detail could be as mundane as holding a piece of paper or a communication between friends, but the detail is not left vague. “The phone rang,” could happen in any city, but Colson made the same detail of a phone call place-defining, as: “there was some mix-up in the plans.”

Prompt for Developing Details of Setting

So let’s turn his essay into a prompt for your own writing today.

Interpret this for whatever you are working on: a novel, a short story, a poem, a detail in your memoir, a detail in an essay, details fleshed out for a travel piece, or start something new.  You won’t be recreating Colson’s format; you’ll just use the prompt for generating details in whatever scene you imagine.

  1. Read Colson Whitehead’s The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01
  2. Have in mind the place you will write about, thinking of it first as it is in the story’s present. Tip: Have in mind a specific place. For existing work, this will be an important location in your piece. For new work, be sure to have a single place in mind before writing. While Colson writes about a city, yours could be any kind of a place, real or imagined.
  3. What is the “first brick” in your character’s experience of this setting? Be vivid. Be true. Likely part of your backstory, what first memory comes to mind as the moment he/she began to define their own private version of their place? Freeze there. Think, then write where it feels revealing.
    • What emotion attaches to that first brick? Awe? Horror, pain, fear, injury…? Joy, excitement, beauty, anticipation, faith…?
    • What details attach to that first brick? Think of the stub of paper with a new address in the hand of the New Yorker arriving at their first address, or the limited view of a toddler in a carriage.
    • What actions or motion are involved? Are there details of arrival, communication, cross signals, movement? Are there broad sights or limited senses?
    • What does your character want (or think they want) in that first moment? This may be very different — distorted, more basic, more naïve — than later in the story.
  4. Moving through your story, how does your character continue to build their definition of the setting?
    • How does that first brick define the setting for your character?  Does it leave a ghost of emotion through later events? Does it start memory on solid or unstable footing? Do regrets haunt, long after, no matter how much success follows? Do later moments never live up to the first glow? Is there a sweetness the character carries from that first memory that lends forgiveness or blind faith in later experience? or..?
    • Does your character (or do you) come to measure later scenes against that first experience, or is it nearly forgotten as others take priority?
  5. Options for how this might create tensions, conflict development or structure in your story – where you might take it next:
    • What other “bricks” of memory, detail or experience define the setting for your character? Does this possibly suggest a structure for story events?
    • In what ways do these details define your character’s “own private” setting? Is your reader aware of a contrast between that private vision vs. other perspectives?
    • Do different characters perceive contrasting “private” versions of the setting? Does this lend structure, tension or just details to scenes? Would these different perspective ever cause missed understanding in dialogue between characters?
  6. Going beyond a single scene, how could you use this different private viewpoint to add details of how characters dress, what they carry, how they speak or what they do?

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What About You?

Are you working on setting this week? Did you use this prompt or what other inspiration helps you envision your setting clearly? Several of my friends work in photography or other media — how do you reflect on setting in your work?

Let us know how your work is going in the comments. Feel free to share a link to your own post, if you want to share an excerpt or other writing.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Friday Links for Writers 07.11.14

My beach writing this summer: 2 novel manuscripts in print, laptop and a pair of flamingos guarding editing supplies.

My beach writing this summer: 2 novel manuscripts in print, laptop and a pair of flamingos guarding editing supplies.

It’s been a busy week of nonfiction writing, blogs, novel revisions, restructuring in Scrivener, software upgrades, query drafts and… have to say one of the best parts has been some great connections with other writers online.

So this is a shout-out to all of you working on your writing. I’m going to busily get back to the draft I’m retyping (read more about that process here: Novel Revision Strategies: Retyping the Novel Draft).

But in the meantime, enjoy this week’s Friday Links for Writers, which shares some of the best resources I’ve come across. Best wishes with your work!

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Find Dialogue Daunting? Expand Your Character Talk

Whatever your focus in writing or editing your dialogue, this post at Lit Central is a great examination of all the options available to vary how you communicate your characters words or thoughts.

To #%&* or Not to #%&*: Profanity in Fiction

I’ve drafted a post about this myself… Have you ever wondered about the need or inappropriateness of swearing in your writing? Check out this post by Roseanne Parry at the Loft Literary Center for a discussion and options for how to make your language-level fit your work.

MS Wishlist

Ever seen those #tenqueries series on Twitter, where a literary agent shares their review and replies to query submissions? Well, how about a central site that takes the greatest wishes of all those agents? You can search them on Twitter using #mswl – or check out this link for a summary of all those posts.

Is it My Query or My Sample Pages?

On her blog, literary agent Carly Watters answers what she says is the most common questions she gets in workshops: “How do I know when it’s my query or whether it’s my sample pages that are stopping me from getting full manuscript requests or offers?” In a list of solutions, she helps you identify likely answers. Definitely check this out – it has been one of the most recommended shares on Twitter this week.

How to Tell if Your Story is on Track

Kristen Lamb’s post on her blog addresses the importance of being able to summarize your story within a couple sentences. She is not alone in the advice that, if you can’t summarize your story in three sentences, agents and editors begin suspecting structural problems. She offers clear components of effective log lines.

How to Write: A Year in Advice from Franzen, Hosseini and more

This post at The Atlantic shares advice gathered through 2013 from 50 different writers for the By Heart series, including Khaled Hosseini, Tracy Chevalier, Andre Dubus III, Aimee Bender and Amy Tan.

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How About You?

What goals are you trying to reach this summer? Are you using any online communities, camps, challenges or communities to help motivate your writing? What works best (or worst) for you?

If you’re looking for writing community…

I’ll be posting separately about some of the inspiration I’ve found in connecting with others in some of the writing camps and challenges going on this summer.

On Twitter: I’ve been sharing my own goals, motivational prompts and revision activities in order to finish a novel by summer’s end using the hashtag #SumNovRev.  Say hello or share your own suggested strategies if you visit the thread.

 

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Novel Revision Strategies: Retyping the Novel Draft

At work on novel revisions. c. Elissa Field

At work on novel revisions. c. Elissa Field

 

This week, along with spending time with my boys for their spring break, I am working full days on novel revisions. The first 2 days, I was writing new material and then integrating all new “add ons” into the existing draft, then printing it out. Deep breath. Then, yesterday, I decided to try out a whole new strategy for novel revision.

First off, as with other posts in my Novel Revision series, this is a revision strategy intended for a mid-level revision. That is, at least one complete draft has been accomplished (more about that below). If you want other ideas about novel revision, click this link for a full listing of posts in the series or look for links at the end.

If this novel revision strategy doesn’t work, you’ll hear me cursing. But, so far, I can see merit, so let’s try it out.

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Stage in Revisions

The novel draft I am working on has held together as a novel for at least a year and has gone through several revisions to develop the internal and external conflicts, so that I have my permanent story line in place. The characters are fully developed. It is at the revision stage of working together scenes from multiple revisions, purging out weak portions from early drafts, and working toward smoothing out what will be a final version (prayers skyward).

Where did this approach come from?

Within recent weeks, two writers I follow each shared this piece of advice, here in a tweet by Alexander Chee:

By coincidence, I had just heard the same strategy in this New School interview with Anthony Marra, whose Constellation of Vital Phenomena I’ve been reading (look for link to my review of Constellation below):

At about 7:30 into the interview, Anthony answers a question about how he came upon the narrative style of the award-winning novel, in which there are no minor characters.

Explain the Revision Strategy

In sharing how the style came about, Anthony explains his writing process this way:

I retype everything.  That is sort of my revision method: just retyping and retyping. I’ll print out a draft as soon as I’m finished and put it down in front of the keyboard and go back and retype the whole thing…  This process of retyping, I feel like it’s the way some painters paint the same landscape again and again because… you start seeing it more through your memory than through your eyes…”

Wait, What?

Tell me you didn’t say, “retype the whole thing.”

I know. Isn’t “retype the whole thing” the great nightmare we all have of what would happen if the computer crashed, losing all but that one print copy?

Do the math: Type 30 words a minute? Maybe you’re lucky and type 60 or even 100? Yeah, divide your novel’s word count by that. Starting from scratch on all those finished pages – you’re staring down the long road of WEEKS worth of typing.

As the groan ebbs, the more patient writer inside — the one who genuinely wants excellence — toys with the idea, thinking, “What might I fix more authentically if I were typing this manuscript in from scratch?”

My Manuscript Tests it Out

My novel draft is in a good place for this kind of revision.

  • I want to read the whole thing through.
  • I want to make major revisions to resolve differences in voice that come from working on a novel over a few years’ time.
  • I’m willing to drop any scene or sentence or word that isn’t working.

This is a great point to be recreating the story on a blank page, rather than just tweaking an existing draft.

And I type nearly as fast as I think. It may be faster for me to retype what I like than to mark up a draft and have to go back and implement those changes, knowing they still won’t perfectly fit with neighboring text.

So How’s It Working?

Two days into this approach I’ve typed in 6,993 words (or 19 pages) which is essentially the first chapter (or first chapter and half).

Pros

Retyping has been a great approach for this section of revisions, as 1) I needed this part of the novel perfected to submit as writing sample with a couple applications, and 2) the existing draft was made up of a handful of draft options.

Retyping went very smoothly. I typed in the first 4 pages exactly as they were, as I’ve revised them several times, although I discovered some obvious sentence errors in a couple places. I then cherry-picked 4 old scenes to rescue just key details and wording. Then I typed in, nearly verbatim, a couple recent drafts, which are closest to my intent with the narrative voice.  There was one small chunk that I cheated and used copy-paste to transfer. Sue me.

There were several pages of text I willingly dropped. In particular, it was good to see those “explainy,” psychology-heavy sections from early drafts falling behind on the cutting room floor. This is why I wanted to use this process. I kept only the best wording — only wording that felt strong enough to be worth typing again.

Cons

It does take a bit of time. I did the math but refuse to accept it would really take me 219 days to retype this thing. I’d like to claim faulty division and tell myself I can do it by May. (Update in June: nope, not finished by May. I haven’t given up the approach, but did not have time to devote to it while busy with students the past two months. Getting back to it…)

Have issues with your eyesight? I don’t normally but would empathize with anyone who does, as I injured my eye last month, which has made my vision more sensitive, and it is a little demanding on vision to go back and forth between the print draft and on-screen draft.

Worry about losing one of those darlings you slaughtered? I have a longstanding practice of saving a “cuts” document for anything I delete from a draft, because I can just cut it and paste it there. With this retyping process, I technically still have a record of those lost words as I have the printed draft, but, in order to move quickly, I was not clearly marking the printed text to keep track of words or sections I chose to exclude while typing. Keeping colored highlighters on hand would help with this: highlight one color for deleting and another if you are thinking to move something to another part of the manuscript.

Ah, typos. For anyone who’s already gone through a draft correcting dropped letters, misspellings, capitalizations or dropped words, this is the little nightmare: retyping exposes you to a whole fresh round of typos. I’m sure that writers using the retyping method just address those on the final version, or aim to do their best correct them with each round. < Note the irony of typos in that line? Point made.

Overall

Definitely, I see a value in this revision process, so will keep it in my toolbox, although I don’t know that it will become my one and only process.  I’ll post an update over the coming weeks to see if I stick with this process through the whole draft.

My biggest concern, overall, is that it is very tempting to make drastic revisions when retyping. This could be good — it lets you release those outgrown darlings readily — but that also means that the current revision can only be as good as I am on the day I’m retyping any revisions. Although, just as easily, one could tune out and simply type what’s there without real revision. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update 6/8/14: I can’t update with a fabulous success story, as I went back into the distractions of teaching for the 2 months since that post, so have not made it far through the manuscript. However, I did finish reading Anthony Marra’s novel (look for link to my review, below), which I praise for its clean narrative and ability to accomplish a complex narrative structure. The strength of his narrative control is a nod in favor of his revision technique. I’ll update again as I move ahead with long revision days now school is done.

Read more about Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena in my June 7, 2014 review.

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How About You?

Are you at work on revision? Have you tried this strategy? Or, what strategies do you recommend? Feel free to share links to your own posts if you’ve written about your own favorite approach.

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Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

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Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict

Running manOne of the great things about my online writing community is the way we keep each other motivated, often in ways we don’t expect.  Last week, I shared how it had motivated me to re-set my 2014 goals after I shared a brief excerpt of Wake and gotten feedback that pushed me to think, to have confidence and above all, “Keep going.”

My 500 wordsToday’s post is sort of Jeff Goins’ fault, as the day 19 prompt at his 500 words challenge was to write in another voice. So it is I spent the day evaluating a process I have been going through in deepening internal motivation of a novel character.

This post serves as follow up to several novel revision articles posted over the past year. I’ll include the relevant links to individual revision steps for anyone looking for more on the revision process.

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Revision in Process: Internal Motivation of a Main Character

Throughout my series of posts on Novel Revision last summer (this link takes you to all posts on Novel Revision, or find links to individual skills within this post), I revealed how deeply I felt the need to push my main character, Carinne (Revising a Flat Character).

Motivation for the male protagonist, Michael Roonan, was clear from the get-go. He’s killed people; guilt and loss compel his self-castigation. But, in early versions, Carinne’s written motivation was only that she was getting out of a bad marriage and she fell in love with Roonan.

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Truth: as I wrote about in Can Literary Fiction Be Hot, the romantic element is often the most compelling and memorable aspect of fiction that sticks with us.  Still… My gut told me there had to be more to her motivation than “failed marriage” and “he’s hot.”  Kind of lame motivation, right?  Too thin, too predictable, too linear.

Many of my novel revision posts have shared the ways I’ve challenged my own understanding of Carinne and character motivation because, one way or another, my gut told me that I knew something more about her than I had written.  (Did you pick up on that when I distinguished her “written” motivation, above?)  But I needed to go deep to put it into words, and part of that included distancing the character from my own experience.

copyright Elissa Field; all rights reserved, no repro without written permission

Father and son. copyright Elissa Field

The eye-opener was in an exercise I completed (October Challenge: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation), where I kept assessing and re-assessing stakes for the internal conflict of the main characters.  For Carinne, the written stakes were only whether she raised her son alone or if she could get her lover back with her. Then I realized it wasn’t her own stakes that drove her, but those of the little boy, Liam, she had conceived with Roonan.  The driving motivation to go find Roonan had to come from a place beyond romance — she was off to find him so that her son would not grow up without a father.

Along the same time, I wrote last summer that I had come to understand a crucial backstory for Carinne that distances her from myself.

This is something I have not written about, but have felt deeply in the year and a half since a young photojournalist went missing on assignment.  His last tweet — from a birthday celebration with friends — and the pride in photographs he shared in his online portfolio — have stuck with me as an eerie, disembodied voice over the months his parents and sister worked through international channels to discover what happened to him.  As much as the news speaks of military or civilian losses, lost journalists has been a major piece in international affairs of the past 20 years.

The thing with this novel I am writing is, it has to do with why people get involved in violent international affairs. Roonan became a murderer while doing everything he could to avoid involvement in paramilitary activity in his family’s Irish border town. Carinne meets him years after the violence, finding the ghost of the man. A failed marriage is not her motivation; I quickly wrote that out of the early draft.  Carinne came to life for me last summer when I stopped apologizing and making excuses for her and let her behavior be entirely contrary — then let the missing reporter be the loss that drove her chaotic behavior.

True Revision Can be Messy

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

I began last summer’s revision-series with a post titled Work is Messy, Book May Bite.

What a mess new motivation makes of a draft, but slowly the 2 internal storylines have been laying themselves out clearly in parallel to one another, as the external conflict brings the story to resolution that genuinely resounds with meaning, as Carinne unites father and son.  Yeah, okay: it can be romantically hot, too, but the resolution now resounds on a more universal level.

I once watched my stepmother unravel a month’s worth of knitting to correct a missed stitch in a complicated fisherman-knit afghan, and I couldn’t believe the patience and insistence on perfection it took for her to do that.  Taking apart this main character, Carinne, has felt like all that unraveling — pulling the whole novel apart and putting it back together.  But I knew in my gut that it wasn’t “there” yet.  I love the characters and their story, but I just knew that the resolution of an international conflict could not be just romantic happily-ever-after. The little boy was symbolic of something in the opening, and he had to be the core of the resolution, as symbol of something greater for the novel to resound.

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The Work in Process

That’s a lot of thinking out loud.  How does it play out?  One approach that brought me closer to understanding the mother’s motivation was to write scenes from the child’s perspective.

In final revisions, I’ll be deciding between a close-omniscient or alternating third person narrative structure, which means I am not yet sure if I will keep the boy’s voice or just let it inform the mother’s perspective.  But, for the sake of sharing a piece of the writing process, here is the scene I shared at Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback last week.

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Excerpt from Work in Progress, Where the Wolves Find Us (nicknamed Wake)

Context:  This excerpt is from a rough draft rethinking an opening scene from the son, Liam’s, perspective. The novel opens with the mother (Carinne) finding her son burying something in the back yard. As Carinne is in the process of washing mud from his hands, he asks, essentially for the first time, if his father is dead.  This becomes the inciting event; by the end of the chapter, Carinne is searching for the missing father.  The drafted scene below is from a long riff that came out when I took time to see “life with his mother” from Liam’s perspective. What would he see, hear or feel, growing up with a mother isolated and obsessed with missing people?

His mother’s shoulder was warm against Liam’s back, the water glittering beneath the sink-light as she sudsed his hands. He clapped his hands so bubbles sprayed and he tracked them, her voice murmuring in his ear as each iridescent orb floated up and sideways and down, each at its own rate so that his eyes measured them as if racers toward a finish line. Plik! Hope. Plik! Each popped, no matter he’d resisted the urge to touch them. Each, in its own path, flicked a mini explosion of its membrane and ceased to exist in the vacant spans of light.

Carinne’s voice reached a pitch – Liam’s feet had kicked dishes stacked in the sink – then went silent, replaced by the constant curt voice of men and women from the television playing in the next room. News. Always the news, and he hated it.

He patted suds onto her cheek. She took it as a joke, laughing, her eyes smiling at his.  He hit her again,  harder, wanting it to stop: the man chopping news into his head.  An airport. A warning. A plane stopped along a runway. Heads talking. The plane. More heads. A fire truck.  She would look: study the stream of words at the bottom. Flip three channels forward, pausing on each. Each, more news. Then back.  Even she didn’t care, he could tell. She took in what was happening the same way she studied the noise of trash men arriving for the blue bins or the neighbor’s garage door motor starting: look to the noise, see it for what it was, and disregard it as not affecting them.  But most hours of the day, he could not make her change the channel.  “Just let me see what’s happening overseas,” she would tell him, “Then we’ll change it.”

She corrects him now, “We don’t hit!” gripping his hands together in her own as if for prayer. He twists his head away and pulls his hands. “Hands are not for hitting,” she recites.

He says very quietly, as if to an unseeable friend, “I hate the news.”

She lets go, relieved. The smack makes sense, as it hadn’t a second ago. He leans into her shoulder, his dried hand reaching along the back of her neck to where her hair is softest, her baby again. “I hate it, too,” she says.

She will change the channel, this time, but he doesn’t believe she hates it. The firemen spraying foam on the plane by the runway did not interest her, but other times she has watched the same repeating footage, over and over.  A black uniformed policeman being interviewed in a mist of rain, dark clouds rising behind him.  A white SUV driving between sand-colored buildings in a cloud of dust behind a reporter cloaked with a checkered scarf. Over and over, she might watch these. Study the images to the corners of the screen. Study faces blurred in the background. Over and over. Then flip channels in hope to see the same scene from another angle.  Not notice the stack he’d made of his cars: three tall, now four, his eyes widening, willing them not to topple.  His mother frozen silent, remote clenched in her hand. Sometimes tears. He hated it as she did not. So easily, she could have flipped to another channel. Thomas the Train. Even Dora.

“I hate the men,” he said once.

She had turned away from him like she did when he broke something and she was mad even though she said she wasn’t.  “Never hate the men,” she said.  She left the room, crying and trying to hide it from him, as if these men were her own friends, her family, as the empty house of the two of them showed no sign of.

Have Feedback?

Of course this piece is in draft form and out of context, but constructive feedback is welcome.  I am on the fence whether it is helpful to actually use the child’s voice, as I think it would be tough for a toddler to carry the opening voice of an adult novel. Would you try to use his voice, or just let his insight inform the mother’s POV?  Hmm.

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What About You?

Are you revising fiction this week?  What challenges do you run into or what has worked well for you? If you’ve also been sharing your work or revision strategies, feel free to add your links or comments below.

Are you exploring issues of conflict or stakes in a character you are writing?  What challenges or obstacles do you find?  Or, what tactics have you found that get you more authentically or deeply into your characters’ motivation?

For more posts on this site related to character development:

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

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c. Elissa Field

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Novel Writing, Relentless Wake, Revision, Writing Character, Writing Process & Routine