Tag Archives: Novel Writing

Friday Links for Writers: 19 Dark and Quirky Research Sources for Writers No. 4

 

Listen, I’ve seen some gory things in all the research I’ve done for writing, so don’t go blaming me that this week’s Friday Links for Writers: Quirky Research Sources #4  goes a little dark. Fact is, most writers joke that they’d get more than a raised eyebrow if anyone caught a peek at the things googled in the name of research. And this week’s collection of odd sources I’ve come across in my reading goes just that dark.

Whether you need to know the actual metabolism of an overdose, or the bureaucratic processes a body goes through after death, there’s a link here for you. Half a dozen relate to journalism in conflict zones. And, if you’re squeamish, no worries: there’s one on art restoration and a couple on our community connection to the bodega, and one to help you track extreme weather happening at the time your story takes place. None of that fits the focus of your work? Find links to the last 3 Quirky Resource posts at the foot of this article, for more.

As you jump in, feel free to share your own favorite research links, or let us know what you’re working on this week, so we can cheer each other on. Have a great writing week, all.

*     *      *      *      *

Often, Writing Requires Knowing Processes That Happen After Death:

192 Days as John Doe

Deborah Halber writes about a campaign to use current forensic processes to identify bodies that have remained John/Jane Does for decades. Interesting details of the processes and obstacles.

Learning to Speak for the Dead

Journalist Winnie Hu writes about the training and process of forensic pathologists in this 2016 piece on the Forensic Pathology Fellows Program, which she says “helped resurrect a long-troubled agency, the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner.”

Silent Witness: What Human Remains Can Tell Us

It’s a shame that this article by the Irish Times was triggered by the discovery of dismembered remains in the Wicklow Mountains. For anyone writing crime or mystery in the Irish Republic, it traces some of the bureaucratic and forensic processes that follow to resolve the crime.

Crematory is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels

Motoko Rich’s New York Times article reveals a funeral trend in Japan, provoked by changes in community lifestyles and a cremation industry unable to keep up with demand. Well-researched, it is interesting in revealing funereal traditions of a crowded island nation, Buddhist burial traditions, and demographic trends.

Sure, Setting’s Great, But What Drought, Fire or Storm of the Century Was Going On?

Global Hazards – NOAA

Reading Tana French, I noticed the million different ways she describes rain in Ireland. Living in Florida, I know how extreme weather is a part of seasonal culture. Visiting a friend overseas, I remember the drama of hiking through acres of trees blown flat by a hundred-year storm, climbing thick trunks suspended 10 and 20 feet off the ground… Got me thinking: what major weather events were taking place the year or months surrounding my novel? Sure enough, there’s a site for that. The “Global Hazards” page of NOAA allows you to search major weather events worldwide, by year and month. When reduced to simple ledes, I could quickly see how NOAA’s brief reports of massive weather events — from a tornado wiping out Happy, TX, to droughts, wildfires and monsoons — could inspire story ideas.

For Writing Authentically About Resistance, Reporting & Conflict Zones:

CJ Chivers' article is accompanied by stunning photography by NYT's Devin Yalkin

CJ Chivers’ article is accompanied by stunning photography by NYT’s Devin Yalkin @dedecim

The Fighter

I was gripped by this long read by war journalist C.J. Chivers in New York Times Magazine, which peels back layers to the story of the service, crime, PTSD and substance abuse treatment, and sentencing of Marine Corps veteran Sam Siatta. Chivers’ research is eye opening into training, engagement, battlefield protocol, citizens vs. targets, returning to civilian life, subtle development of PTSD (and alcohol dependency), as well as phases of trial, sentencing, prison and appeal. It’s an interesting read for anyone whose writing encompasses military life or veterans, an increasingly common detail even in non-military writing.

2017 Resistance Actions – Week One

How do you grab hold of issues that are unfolding as we speak? This post by Maud Newton is an example of some of the concrete daily actions people began undertaking in response to threats against human rights since the start of 2017. A couple other sources of info (or to support) include the ACLU (e.g., filing cases against unconstitutional legislation, lawyers manning airports during travel bans) and Women’s March.

“Experts in authoritarianism advise you keep a list of subtle changes”

Want one source for tracking the societal changes that have taken place, week by week, 2016-17? Amy Siskind has achieved near-legendary status for having started this weekly list. The link above takes you to a cumulative list, searchable by topic. You can also receive Amy’s updates by following her on Twitter or Facebook

CPJ Journalist Security Guide

I’ve followed the Committee to Protect Journalists in the (unfortunately) nearly 5 years since journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria. The CPJ is admirable in providing a voice and conduit for information related to persecution of journalists around the world. This link takes you to a collection of 55 guides and checklists for safety and survival for journalists and photographers working in heated environments.

Turkey’s Crackdown Propels Number of Journalists in Jail Worldwide to Record High

This article and others on the website for the Committee to Protect Journalists provides statistics, profiles,  to the capture, release, and deaths of journalists, worldwide. Overall, the CPJ has been one of my leading sources for events and resources impacting journalists in the last decade. On Twitter: @pressfreedom

Drugs & Forensics:

Best Websites for Writers – Guns, Polices, Forensics & More

I’ve shared a link from this blogger before. This post includes links to multiple resources for researching forensics and more.

Everytown for Gun Safety

While writing has occasionally had me researching weaponry or forensics, I am in fact a strong advocate for gun safety and antiproliferation, so should provide a source for that as well.. Everytown is one source of information regarding the escalation in gun deaths in the U.S., particularly since the end of the ban on assault weapons in 2005.

The Opioid Epidemic:

This is Exactly What Happens When You Overdose

While it’s not a topic I’m interested in writing about, I’m sure the current opioid epidemic has some writers interested to write authentically about drug risks. In clear terms, this post walks through the exact bodily processes from drug ingestion through the ways it can go wrong. All the details you’d need to know that get your character calling 911.

Latest Harrowing Statistics of American Opioid Epidemic

If you didn’t know there was an opioid epidemic or wanted further statistics, this recent Vox post suggests that, “in 2016, drug overdoses likely killed more Americans than the entire wars of Vietnam and Iraq.”

Quirks and Specificity – Getting Your Cultures Right:

15 Behind the Scenes Secrets of Art Restorers

I loved the details of this piece on art restoration by Jane Rose at Mental Floss, which connected to my artist in Breathing Water and my museum display expert in “Jar of Teeth.” I can see writers riffing on these processes for characters in the arts, quirky concerns about a setting, or, dare we say, solving a crime.

Secret History of Victorian London’s Dirty Book Trade

In old cities and cultures, it can be hard to see beneath contemporary gloss and acknowledged history to find those remnants of more… textural elements of the past. This article is intriguing, that way. Victorian London your focus (it’s not mine)? Look for more on the site, as The Public Domain Review is a not-for-profit project “dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.”

What do You Call the Corner Store?

In a year I spent focusing on subtle ticks of spoken language between characters moving through foreign countries, I found Dan Nosowitz’s piece at Atlas Obscura as a great springboard for noticing specific character linguistics. “In many places, you’d be laughed out of the building for calling it a ‘convenience store’. It’s a bodega. It’s a packie. It’s a party store. What you call the store on the corner says a lot about where you live.” He may be talking corner stores, but it’s great prod to work more specifically toward character linguistics.

Earning a Spot in the Neighborhood

Continuing on that thread, Kristen Radke’s piece at Electric Lit had me thinking about the way community stores, pubs, and other locals are such a key identifier for the characters we write. Kristen captures the nuance of this relationship, specific to identifying with one’s bodega, neighborhood to neighborhood, in NYC: “Bodegas represent so much a neighborhood’s mood and energy… They also become beacons of safety, sometimes the only place open and brightly lit late at night, and makeshift meeting places in a city with such limited community space. It’s a mark of belonging… ‘that place is going to see you through some shit.” Beyond literal insight to NYC, it had me wondering: what locals would my characters trust to ‘see them through some shit’?

In the Ashes of the USSR: 5 Books to Understand Russia

In reading Anthony Marra’s Tsar of Love and Techno, I was impressed with his subtle and deep understanding of Russia’s evolution, which went way beyond my views, even having been a huge fan of Eastern European and Russian lit from the 80s on. So, this list by Matt Staggs struck me as that kind of insight.

 

Want more?

Here are the first 3 posts from this series:

*     *      *      *      *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or use the email subscription button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

At work on novel revisions. c. Elissa Field

More on this site:

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture + World, Friday Links, Research

Friday Links for Writers: 06.03.16

tsar love techno 

It’s been a busy week for writing — some new work, some work for clients, and a ton of editing. I’ve made it through about half of draft 10, with draft 11 coming together with the fierce and authentic punch that broke through in the last rewrite. This makes me happy… albeit, with tons left to go.

Just as many hours go into reading. I recently shared my Spring Reading List — go check that out for the books that powering my writing world. Pictured above, a favorite: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (on my desk so I could transcribe a scene I wrote in the end papers while reading late).

This week’s Friday Links for Writers shares some of the most exciting, inspiring or useful links I’ve come across recently. 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!

*    *    *    *    *

Jimin Han on Rethinking the CW Workshop

I felt like this piece by Jimin Han on Pleiades is one of the most important ideas I’ve seen for those leading writing workshops. I’ve been struck, in forums with writers applying to MFA programs, the frequency with which minorities and marginalized voices feel unheard in MFA and other writing programs. Han and her teaching partner have a great approach to first learning a writer’s intentions and connecting all feedback to those intentions. Highly recommend this – not just for workshop, but critiquing peers, editing for clients, reading slush, etc.

CjQOA7_WYAE5aJW12 Things I Noticed While Reading Every Short Story Published in 2014-15 (or, Extremely Long Titles That Are Complete Sentences Are Still Very Much a Thing)

Ok, so this was another of the best things I’ve shared online lately. So often, writers are puzzled by what editors react to — something that felt powerful in draft didn’t light off sparks on submission. Kelly Luce’s piece at Electric Lit reveals surprising patterns, overused tropes, and useful insight into the most successful fiction in one year’s reading.

24-danai-gurira_w245_h368Danai Gurira’s Advice to Young Female Writers: ‘Go Where You Are Loved’

Here’s another one I absolutely loved and highly recommend reading. It’s easy to be inspired by Danai Gurira’s self-aware, fierce calm in The Walking Dead. How much more amazing, then, to find she is also a Tony-nominated playwright. She offers great inspiration to go where others embrace you and to get it done.

17 Best Flash Fiction Contests

On his Bookfox site, John Fox shares a list of details and links for 17 flash fiction contests. Are you thinking, “But I don’t write flash fiction”? Common thread among my novel writing friends is how novel edits can be repurposed into flash. Hmm…

Tell Me More: Creating Suspense with Information

This short piece by Marlene Zadig at Carve Magazine does a great job of challenging the idea of withholding information to build suspense. In my focus on reading suspenseful literary fiction this spring, I can attest to it. Readers appreciate being in on the story, not “ta-da!” moments when info is revealed.

Noir is Protest Literature: Why It’s Having a Renaissance

I found inspiration in this article at Electric Literature, as it relates to an idea I’ve been exploring in the shift in safety felt during the first decade of the millennium. “The classic crime story…takes place in an essentially orderly universe, with a common understanding of good and evil. Crime here is a dangerous anomaly, but order can be restored,” contrasted with noir: “Noir, as it emerged in the middle of a violent century, said to hell with all that. Its world was chaotic, baroque and hypocritical. Crime doesn’t disturb this world, it’s foundational to it.”

Crowdfunding Usually Doesn’t Work for Writers – But it Can

This is an interesting piece by Jane Friedman. One could assume it is for writers intending to self-publish, but in fact connects to more clever usage I’ve seen, such as a friend whose successful, traditionally published novel used a Fund Me campaign to support production of a high quality audiobook. She gives great approaches for targeted use.

*    *    *    *    *

What Are You Working On?

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.

*    *    *    *    *

cElissaField

cElissaField

Need Motivation?

I’ll be on Twitter all today, and each Friday June-July, with Wordsmith Studio  to host hourly writing sprints.

Find me @elissafield, follow hashtag #wssprint.

Learn more from my post for our last event: Join Wordsmith Studio’s Live Writing Sprints on Twitter.

Or, you can find saved feeds from prior sprints — complete with some incredibly productive prompts for developing fiction — on my Storify.

*     *      *      *      *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

copyright Elissa Field (use w written permission only)

For more Friday Links for Writers:

More on this site:

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

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!

*    *    *    *    *

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.

*    *    *    *    *

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.

*    *    *    *    *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

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

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

For more Friday Links for Writers:

More on this site:

2 Comments

Filed under Friday Links

Friday Links for Writers: 04.29.16

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

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

It has been another busy writing week. New fiction. Book editing for a client. Research and academic work to finish a masters class. Digital portfolio…

My biggest writing priorities this week have been getting my novel printed for read-through, and hosting #wssprint.

On the novel: I’d made it through the 9th draft of my novel, appreciating the ability to shuffle new chapters in Scrivener. But that also means I spent an undue amount of time this week hair-pulling in order to compile the novel back out as Word document. God love Scriv — a difficult child, requiring deep digging into its Advanced custom menus to simply ask it not to reformat everything in order to print (smh). I’ll still be working through this much of today, to get the 10th draft in printed form, ready for big read-through revision.

What is #wssprint? I’ll be hosting the last of 6, all-day live writing sprints on Twitter with my writing group, Wordsmith Studio. The sprints run from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. EST, starting at the top of each hour. It’s been a fantastic experience each week. But also requires preloading 72+ organic tweets through twitchy Hootsuite, finding or originating prompts that take novels deeper, plus manning the live event. So do come visit, if you’re reading this 4/29 — or look for periodic events in the future. (On Twitter #wssprint or blog post)

But as with any week, time writing includes time for reading…  This week’s Friday Links for Writers includes advice on pitching, relevance, freelancing and more. Let us know what you find meaningful, or share your own favorite links.

Have a great writing week!

  *    *    *    *    *

22 of the Best Single Sentences on Writing

As Lit Reactor puts it: if good writing is succinct, shouldn’t the advice be, too? 22 single sentences with advice from Chekov, Gaiman, Oates, King and more.

Tips for Writing the Perfect Pitch

This piece by Estelle Erasmus on BlogHer is insightful as to what makes for an effective pitch — advice that resounds among my freelancing friends.

Thoughts on Pitch Contests

On the eve of another Twitter pitch madness event (#PitchMad or #pitchmadness), agent Julie A. Weber gave her thoughts on the process for pitching novels in these events, including do’s and don’ts.

Relevant

Agent and writer Donald Maass has a way of cutting to the heart of what makes breakout fiction today, and his posts on Writer Unboxed tend to stick with me. This, on “relevance,” came to mind as I was reading a recent bestseller and could see how, without particular threads of relevance the novel would have fallen flat.

Freelancers Roundtable

Interesting Longreads conversation between three freelancers — Josh Dean, May Jeong and Jason Fagone — about the state of freelancing and their experiences on various aspects of the business, from finding ideas to negotiating, and more.

Ontario

Colin Barrett is a slick & insightful writer whose collection Young Skins is described as voice of today’s young Ireland. Irish Times shared “Ontario” as a short story — to me, it’s more depiction of how we write (and don’t write) from reality. Here or elsewhere, Barrett’s worth reading.

Another Hidden Message Box on Facebook

This isn’t specific to writing, yet ran wild through writers’ posts recently. So, you know there’s a message/inbox in Facebook, right? Some folks freak out to discover there’s also a second inbox (called “message requests”), catching attempts to message you by people who are not your friends. Look at the foot of that: click the link that says “see filtered requests.” That’s a third inbox — and friends have found everything from letters from readers to requests from agents in there. Thanks for the confusion, FB.

*     *      *      *      *

What Are You Working On?

Chime in to share your current writing goal or link to a recent favorite read in the comments. April has been a month with friends using a range of challenges to work through writing and editing goals. A group of published friends merely start a FB post each week to keep accountable, keeping each other going. Others have used #AprWritingChallenge, Camp NaNoWriMo, Poem a Day Challenge, A to Z Blog Challenge and others to claim time to write with the camaraderie of others. In conversation (#wschat), writers traded personal strategies for finding time.

What do you do to claim time to write?

*     *      *      *      *

Need Motivation?

cElissaField

cElissaField

Don’t forget: I’ll be on Twitter with Wordsmith Studio all day today (4/29) to host hourly writing sprints. Find me @elissafield, follow hashtag #wssprint or read more in this prior post.

Even if you’re past the live date, you can find prior sprint days (with prompts) on my Storify — and continue to follow #wssprint and Wordsmith Studio, as we offer these events periodically throughout the year (current plans for a summer and October series)

*     *      *      *      *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

For more Friday Links for Writers:Thinking of Him

  • Friday Links for Writers: Quirky Research Sources for Writers #3
  • Scan summaries of the links shared on all Friday Links posts: hover over individual post-titles listed on the Links & Where to Find Me page

More on this site:

3 Comments

Filed under Friday Links

Friday Links for Writers : Quirky Research Sources for Writers #3

cElissaField Happy bunny son watches crystal being finished, Waterford factory, Ireland.

cElissaField Happy bunny son watches crystal being finished, Waterford factory, Ireland.

This 3rd installment of Friday Links for Writers: Quirky Research Sources for Writers gives nod to the #Youknowyou’reawriter truism of worrying what the FBI might think of your random online search history.

Best ways to hold a battle ax. How long does it take to bury a body. You know, as one does.

Even without the excuse of writing thrillers or horror, I confess an undue number of searches related to weaponry, terrorism, reporting from conflict zones, specific jails, specific dangers. Particularly researching for Never Said. I’ve read and watched some shocking things. (It took awhile to get over the morgue tour — our ME is big on gravedigger humor and indelible images.)

jps norton 1990 robert dunlopAlthough, equally, my searches include finding unedited dashcam footage of TT motorcycle road races from twenty years back (in awe: pre-GoPro). And sweet things like sound of the native birds on a particular hillside, or finding a picture of the inside of a small village church. (Pinterest board for Never Said)

This week’s Friday Links for Writers shares the odd articles writers come across in weekly reading — a cross section of authentic info for everything from the gruesome to the sacred, the timely to the de ciecle.

Have a great writing week, all.

*     *      *      *      *

Smelling Death: On the Job with New York’s Crime Scene Cleaners

A long read in The Atlantic. Some things you just can’t imagine accurately without hearing from the pros.

The Lonely Death of George Bell

A touching exploration on what occurs when one dies alone – but also unusual insight, tracing the various vendors and entities that go into resolving unidentified estates, or even just the path a body travels.

 Beretta-92Best Handguns for Detectives

This article is just one post in Benjamin Sobieck’s Writer’s Guide to Weapons.

Writing Tips from the CIA Style Guide

This won’t get you all 007 about how to speak 20 languages with ease or kill a foe with dental floss… but certainly is a twist on your average “how to edit your prose” advice.

Free Historical Costume Patterns

Thanks to Diana Terrill Clark, a writer in my circle, who shared this website with patterns for clothing and undergarments from historical periods. A good visual when describing historic apparel.

Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts of the Syrian War

An infographic and map-imbedded article breaking down the layers of conflict, useful to anyone writing about impacts of the war in Syria in the 4 years leading to October 2015 publication.

3 Maps that Explain America

The map that got me was the second, which shows the predominant national ancestry for each county in the United States.

Cfwc2XoWQAAuyoQWhy Are There Sea Monsters Lurking in Early World Maps

Here’s where we start to see what a map addict I am. Dory Klein of the Boston Public Library is amazing in revealing the layered stories behind sea monsters at the fringes of early maps.

17th Century London- by Air

This Open Culture piece shares link to an award-winning animation: “Six students from De Montfort University have created a stellar 3D representation of 17th century London, as it existed before The Great Fire of 1666.”

Church Architecture Glossary

Whether you grew up in churches or not, knowing the proper terminology for narthex and apse can be outside one’s grasp. Along comes this handy glossary from Ken Collins.

Glossary of Islam

Wikipedia offers this glossary, which provides an extensive list of definitions for terms related to Islam and Arab traditions. Want another great introduction to Muslim traditions? Check out the American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook, written by an American Muslim mother and her teens, with instructional insights intended to increase understanding for those inside and outside the faith.

Want more?

Friday Links for Writers: Quirky Research Sources #2

Friday Links for Writers: Quirky Research Sources #1

*     *      *      *      *

What Are You Working On?

Chime in to share your current research challenge or favorite source in the comments below. My own challenges have included finding recordings of specific dialects, down to a county, or the sound of a particular engine during a race. Lately, I was searching to figure what alternative rock would have been playing in Dublin ten and fifteen years back. Often, it’s getting details of a specific process (taxidermy, for an unfinished story). What are yours? Share links, a challenge, or your best research strategy.

Need Motivation?

Don’t forget: I’ll be on Twitter with Wordsmith Studio all day today (Friday, April 15th) to host hourly writing sprints. Find me @elissafield, follow hashtag #wssprint or read more in yesterday’s post.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
*     *      *      *      *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

For more Friday Links for Writers:Thinking of Him

More on this site:

4 Comments

Filed under Friday Links, Research

Join Wordsmith’s Live Writing Sprints on Twitter: #wssprint

cElissaField What we love about writing: constantly changing corner office view.

cElissaField What we love about writing: constantly changing corner office view.

Do you use word counts, hourly goals or other motivators to reach your writing goals? April is a great month for joining in any of a variety of writing challenges. Wordsmith Studio brings them all together with weekly writing sprints, every Friday in April.

*    *     *     *     *

Join Hourly Writing Sprints Every Friday in April

Along with a fabulous group of writers, Elissa Field is a Founding Member at Wordsmith StudioYou may know I am a founding member of Wordsmith Studio, an awesome group of writers and artists who share craft resources and support each other throughout the year. We celebrate each other’s writing, keep each other going, and laugh a lot. This month, we are celebrating our 4th anniversary.

My part of our month-long celebration has been planning and serving as a moderator for all day writing sprints, live on Twitter every Friday in April. Look for camaraderie, motivation and some seriously smoking keyboards with hourly writing sprints, each Friday from 11am-11pm EST.

How #wssprint Works

The live sprints take place on Twitter. Follow #wssprint , or find via @WordsmithStudio  or @elissafield. (If you’re a Wordsmith member, we repeat some tweets in Facebook, as well.)

Beginning at 11 am EST, sprints start with a kick-off tweet on the hour. Write or edit for 45 minutes, then share your success — word count, page count, plotting solution, a favorite line, whatever — using #wssprint at :45. We take a break for 15 minutes (time to chat, share, ask questions, invite a friend, cheer each other on), then start again at :00, up until 11 pm EST.

Optional Prompts

Every hour, there is an optional writing prompt.

The prompts are great — more than 13 a day. I am a huge fan of novel prompts shared by Donald Maass in 21st Century Fiction (highly recommended for building depth, power and tension, when building or revising a novel), so we share some from him. Here is a favorite – you can see why I think he’s awesome.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Sarah Turnbull (@thesaturnbull) and I wrote the prompts that aren’t credited to Maass, based on writing advice that has impacted our work. There are also photo prompts and ones coordinated with challenges our members are working on (see below).

But there are no rules. No prompts required. Lots of our writers are editing, rather than writing. Use the time however gets you going. Most say it’s just nice to feel like someone else is writing or editing with you.

Do take time to say hello, while you’re there.

What Goals Are Writers Working On?

Some of our participants are using the sprints for organized writing challenges, such as Camp NaNoWriMo, Poem a Day Challenge, A to Z Blog Challenge, or the monthly 500-word-a-day challenge (#AprWritingChallenge this month).

But most — including our Wordsmith Studio Goals Group or visitors from Writer Unboxed and Binder subgroups — are using sprints to keep going with existing goals.

I am using sprints to keep moving from draft 9 to draft 10 of my novel, Never Said. The first week, I finished transcribing handwritten scenes, incorporating new work and changes into the draft. Some writing sprints are chance to anchor scenes with more developed setting, now that I’ve fully developed character and plot. Sometimes I’m working on nonfiction, writing for education or editing for clients.

We’re all jumping in to inspire each other.

Oh, No. I Missed It!

Not all of our participants write along with us “live” — jump in to use the sprints whenever it works for you. You can scan #wssprint to find the prompts and share your success any time. Or, visit previous #wssprint days via Storify. And, considering the success this month and when we ran Fridays Are for (Spooky) Writing last October, be sure to follow @WordsmithStudio for sprints we run in the future.

*     *     *      *     *

How About You?

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what strategies help you reach your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

*    *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

Thinking of HimMore on this site:

4 Comments

Filed under Motivation to Write, Novel Writing, Writers on Twitter, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Wordsmith Studio Blog Hop: Writing Challenges, Successes & Strategies – Part 1

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

I’m joining in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop, today — responding to a great Q & A about my (recent) writing challenges or successes, and the tools, strategies or resources that help me succeed.10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_n

Being a little funny, there, calling it a “great” prompt, as I was actually the one to write it. This is the third week I’ve hosted the WSS blog hop for writers, for our anniversary month.

I encourage you to go over and check out the hop. You don’t have to be a member of the writing group to join in. Do jump around and read the various posts. Particularly this week — it would be great if you shared a post with your own writing challenges and your tools or strategies for success. I’ll post links to the hop down below.

But not yet. First, here’s the interview.

*     *     *     *     *

Q & A: My Writing Challenges (or Successes) and the Tools, Strategies or Resources That Help Me Succeed – Part 1

1) What are you currently working on?

My work is split between my business (freelance nonfiction, writing & editing), my Masters (writing and research related to curriculum & learning) and fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, or what is referred to as crossover or book club fiction — literary fiction with commercial appeal.

I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

As tools go: I use Outlook to block out time for business, masters and fiction, and to keep to do lists with weekly steps that help keep me moving forward in all 3 goals. I share goals with friends and with a life coach, to organize my goals and keep me accountable.

2) In recent past, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?

I have been impatient to complete this novel — but it was challenging, as it was the first one I attempted where the idea wasn’t that clear when I started writing. I knew the main characters and understood an essential tension, but had to go deep into research to understand the international context, and then deeper into character to develop the motivation and parallel stories that drive each.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

It’s easy to get impatient when you feel like you should be able to have finished by now (twice, I thought I was revising a final draft), but as I work on this 8th draft, it is obvious that I had to work this long to understand the story that I had only sensed in the earlier versions. A fast version would have “worked,” but wasn’t compelling. Being willing to pull up and start over let me find the real story. And, of course, hard work teaches valuable lessons.

The greatest joy is that I love the newer material.

As resources go: 2 books on writing offered some good tools for targeting and addressing weak areas in my narrative or characters: Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions, and Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

3) What challenge are you working through now?

Time is always an issue — especially right now, as I restarted my business and am busy with my kids — so any time delays are aggravating. I had a tree fall across my windshield 2 weeks ago, so groaned over the time spent getting it fixed. Same goes for lags in technology, or time spent marketing for work.

It’s not just about having time to write every day, but wanting those writing hours to be end-zone-level productive.

Transitioning between drafts means that I am pulling successful scenes from several documents in Word to build the new draft. Last summer, on the last draft, I did this simultaneously in Word and Scrivener; Scrivener has won me over, so I may be assembling this draft just in Scrivener. Although it sometimes slows me down to have to set up all the preferences, I like the ability to see each scene as a discreet piece in Scriv. Much of my writing in recent months involved re-envisioning existing scenes — the ‘notecard’ view helps me locate, compare or replace previous versions, and to readily sort scenes that will be re-ordered in the final draft. The challenge, though, when working from multiple drafts is staying organized.

As tools go: I believe in Scrivener enough that I’ve include a link to their site in my sidebar. If you don’t know much about the software, click the picture here to check it out (if it takes you to a “buy” page, click the banner for the homepage for more about…). They are generous in offering a 30 nonconsecutive-day free trial, which allows you a lot of time to play with it before having to pay.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

4) For work you are just planning or starting, what challenges or growth are you expecting or hoping to encounter?

I’ve drafted novels and met with agents face-to-face before, but this will be my first foray into blind querying. I’ve practiced pitching and spitballing at conferences and workshops in the last year, and gotten an agent’s feedback on a query draft.

As for strategies: It’s worth noting that attempting to draft a query or plan pitches and log lines during different face-to-face activities with peers and agents is part of what helped me know when I didn’t have a clear sense of the story. Writing pitches and queries ended up being a great strategy for understanding my narrative structure.

5) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?

Well, the thing I just mentioned. Having come from a literary background where these things aren’t brooded on as much as word choice and such, I was surprised how important plot structure, narrative arc, suspense and other elements more typically suited to screenwriting have been, as tools in my revisions.

As resources go: the sign at the top of this post was from a workshop I participated in last January (Blue Flower Writers Workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts), where Ben Percy was the clearest I’ve heard in talking about structure and suspense, even in literary writing.

6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you? Is there a “magic wand” you would invent to solve this problem?

Yes, I want Hermione’s time turner — to be able to use the same hour to address multiple priorities. It’s not that I don’t have the time. Keeping time to write (fiction) every week is a nonnegotiable for me — I am stubborn in crafting the rest of my life around it, even while running a business or when I teach full time. But I still get frustrated to not be done yet.

As tools go: A magic wand that pulls the story straight out of my head would be great. As strategies go: here are other posts I’ve written on time management strategies for writers.

To Be Continued…

There are 2 more questions to the Q & A, asking how I would define a great writing week and what specific tools and strategies help me succeed. Those answers are long enough that I’m going to let them be a second post.

*     *     *     *     *

How About You? Join in the Blog Hop!

What successes or challenges are you working through, and what tools, resources or strategies help you succeed?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.  Better yet, if you are reading this 4/29-5/4, join in the blog hop by using the linky tool below.  Visit the initial prompt, with all 8 questions and more explanation of “how to hop,” on Wordsmith Studio’s site: Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop – Week 3.

Powered by Linky Tools

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.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

More on this site:

3 Comments

Filed under My Work in Progress, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Writers’ Homecoming: Participating in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may know how much I value my writing community. I am way overdue sharing some of the great interactions I’ve had with new writing friends at writers’ conferences and workshops over the winter, but today is all about jumping in to participate in a Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of my fabulous group of writing friends, Wordsmith Studio.

What is Wordsmith Studio?

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nWordsmith Studio came together 3 years ago on the heels of one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen online: poet Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Building Challenge. Every day for 30 days, each of us learned about how to make the most out of a different social media tool in building platform (that is, readership and genuine connection). We learned not just how to blog, but how to create authentic interaction with readers and other writers. How to participate in comments on others’ posts and encourage comments on your own, to create authentic dialogue. Likewise, how to understand the formats of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more to, again, create authentic connection through each of those venues.

Since then, the group has created a formal affiliation. We have a website with weekly posts and member bios. We have a Facebook page with numerous smaller offshoots (there’s an events page for this month’s anniversary activities, and subgroups — my favorite is the Goals group, where we trade our monthly goals and cheerlead each other through successes and pitfalls). Wordsmith Studio is on Twitter, hosting 2 weekly chat sessions (#wschat), as well as other periodic activities, like wordsprints or live events. These are where I participate most, but we have members who are more active in other venues, like Google+ or Pinterest.

The group is formal enough to have a process for joining, and is administered by a 6-member Advisory Group (I am one of the 6 members; we each serve for 2 years).

We have been glad to add in new members over the years, whose writing interests have broadened us well beyond our initial platform building challenge. Our group has seen several book releases, through traditional and self-publishing routes. Our writers share expertise on drafting, revision, conferences, querying, signing contracts, readings, publication, promotion… and blogging, photography, graphic arts, crafts, fine arts, music and much more.

That said, we are above all supportive of each other. We have diehard founding members who have been active the whole 3 years, and many more who we have seen come and go as other life’s priorities take them away and bring them back to us again. Someone is always apologizing for having been absent, but we’re just glad to see them again and to catch up on what they’ve been working on.

Which is what our “homecoming” theme is about, this month.

What is Homecoming? And What is the Blog Hop?

We celebrate each anniversary with events that help us rekindle any skills we want to work on and renew any connections that have drifted apart over the past year. We get to know each other’s work and current goals again… And we get to know new members, who may wonder how to get involved (it’s easy — just jump in).

As part of our Homecoming events, I agreed to lead the kickoff of our group’s first official blog hop. To participate, read the instructions here at the Wordsmith Studio site.  Or use the Linky Tool at the bottom of the post.

Worry you missed it? The Homecoming Blog Hop takes place every Wednesday this month. Look for a kickoff post each Wednesday, then you can participate anytime through that Sunday.

My Homecoming Interview

Running manHere are my answers to this week’s optional interview questions:

1) Are you a WSSer (a member of Wordsmith)? I already answered this one above: yes, I’m a founding member of Wordsmith Studio. I really value some great friends I’ve made through the group… and really miss a few members who are no longer active!

2) What medium/genre do you work in? I make a living writing nonfiction (freelance writer/editor, and a teacher), but my focus is fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, and am also inspired by the intensity of young adult and the intrigue of mysteries, and that kind of energy seeps into my work.

3) What’s the name of your current project (ok multitaskers, give us your main one)?  I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

4) What is your favorite detail, sentence or other bit you’ve written lately? My main character was grabbed from behind as she dashed away down a street in a scene I wrote this week. At the time, her mind was unraveling, it was late at night, and the street was full of carousers, so you assume she’s being attacked. There is this awesome, immediate tension when she realizes it is actually the taciturn, armed man protecting her lover, who she does not realize followed her out into the night. I didn’t mean to write it that way, but the physicality of the scene managed to increase suspense and bridge an emotional storyline. All this year, writing has been like that. If you’ve read any of my prior posts on revising this novel, you know that there have been at least 2 drafts where I thought I was almost done… but each time, I am so grateful that I pushed myself further, knowing I did not yet fully understand the story. I feel the texture and layers in scenes now, in ways I did not in those earlier drafts. One of the biggest a-ha moments that steered me in the right direction was when I started to distance myself from the main character and let her get down and gritty, as I wrote about in Writing Character: Say the Things We Never Say.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

5) Any obstacles or I-hate-this-chapter moments? I would roar like a T-rex to say this adequately: I hate that I work so slowly. I met with Ben Percy in January at Blue Flower Arts Conference and finally spilled out my frustration: I’ve had a novel almost done before, with agents who had asked to read a full… and never made it that last 10% to cross the finish line. His advice was to just set a 30 day deadline, break it into words/day and threaten that I’d have to eat a dirty sock if I don’t make it. I have legit excuses (just finished 3 classes for my masters, plus client work & am a single parent), but that’s not it. I write 10-40 hrs a week, even with that workload. And I write fast. So I don’t know if I am too much of a perfectionist, or just slow in fitting the whole thing together, but I am routinely irritable about wanting it done, now.

6) What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned lately from your writing?  Interestingly, as a ‘literary’ reader and writer, the biggest things I’ve learned lately have to do with plot structure, screenplays and suspense.

7) In what ways do you hope to grow in the next 6 months/year?  I’m moving on to stages of how to market. I’ve been drafting queries and gotten feedback from an agent. I want to have a full draft done soon, and then on to beta readers or I may find a private coach or mentor to work one-on-one. Then time to query.

8) In what ways do writing friends and communities help you do that? I am as much of an introvert as any writer, but I have learned more and grown more by interacting with other writers than I would have alone. It can be lonely work, so it’s powerful to be able to shout out, “I hit my word count goal for the day,” and have someone cheer you on. Time is always limited, but it’s worth stoking those friendships and building these communities, because you can’t wait for the day you wish you had a writing group or friend to share work with — it takes time to find people and build connections. While I talk about Wordsmith here, some of the writers in my network are people I first met in Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum 10 or more years ago. It’s worth the time it takes.

How About You?

Please do click through to the Wordsmith Studio 3rd Anniversary Homecoming Blog Hop. Jump in and connect — write your own answers to the questions above or otherwise let us know what you are working on. You do not have to be a Wordsmith member to participate. Here are some options:

  • From 4/8-4/12, you can join this week’s Blog Hop using the linky tool.
  • If you are reading this later, just share the link to your post in the comments beneath the kickoff post.
  • There will be new blog hops each Wednesday this month. Follow Wordsmith Studio or me to see links when those posts go live.
  • To find out about more Wordsmith Studio activities, follow the group website, Twitter or Facebook using any of the links above (you can ask to join the group via the Facebook site – mention you heard about it here).

Linky Tool for the Blog Hop


*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

More on this site:

9 Comments

Filed under My Work in Progress, Relentless Wake, Social Media, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Friday Links for Writers 09.25.14

Ah, the dreaded "blah" in the margin. c. Elissa Field

Ah, the dreaded “blah” in the margin. c. Elissa Field

It’s been a busy week for reading and writing — from a Hedgebrook application to receiving acceptance to a Masters program, to finishing one client project and starting a pro bono project… In the meantime, I’ve been shifting gears to take a season off from teaching which has meant taking on new writing and editing clients once again. Networking with fellow writers has been a great (and fun and inspiring) resource and I’m getting ready to head into New York for a kickstarter conference of women writers, the BinderCon (Binder Women Writers Symposium) the weekend after next.

With all the business in play at the moment, it’s not surprising that this week’s Friday Links for Writers includes some great writing resources I’ve stumbled across for working writers: two on freelance writing or editing, one on Twitter pitch wars and another on the kinds of topics to write about when building platform. Work on the novel continues to be the heart of my work, so the last two links are for fiction writers: on critique partners and endings.

As always, let me know what resounds with you, what you wish you could find more information about, or share your own links in the comments. Have a great writing week!

*     *      *      *     *

From Full Time to Freelance: How to Make the Leap

This feature by Laura Lin via Forbes is a great cross-section of concrete advice for anyone contemplating jumping from traditional employment to freelancing — and serves equally well as a diagnostic for any freelancer, with ways to make sure your business is on track for success. Related articles are available in the footlinks.

Negotiating: Theory and Practice

While on the topic of freelancing, the Editorial Freelancers Association is a great resource for writers and editors. As part of a weekly #EFAchat, the association shared this article with tips for negotiating rates and scope for client projects. Other resources on the site include contracts and job listings.

 The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests

As a guest blogger on the site Writers in the Storm, literary agent Carly Watters shares some great advice for anyone throwing their novel into the fray in any of the half dozen or so pitch wars that take place on Twitter. First off: pitch war? These are scheduled days for writers to tweet the pitch for their novel — that’s right: your beloved masterpiece in less than 140 characters — using an established hashtag for the event (for example, #pitmad). As with all query tips, Carly’s advice boils down to, “You only have one chance to impress an agent.” She gives concrete tips for writing your pitch. Overall, she say, ” My big advice is that if your book isn’t done, don’t jump in. There are many Twitter Pitch Contests every year so don’t feel like you have to be involved in every one. Wait until your book is ready.”

34 Blog Topics Just for Writers

This post by Frances Caballo at Social Media Just for Writers is a great resource for writers wondering what topics are best to share about on a blog, to give a sense of their work and direction as a writer. The post includes topics for nonfiction, fiction and poetry writers.

Cheerleaders vs. Critique Partners

This piece by Heather Jackson at WriteOnSisters.com does a great job of establishing the difference a cheerleaders of our writing, who constantly eggs us on with praise, and an effective critique partner, who pushes us to craft our best work. Complete with a tool to assess which category your writing partner tends toward, the post also helps one appreciate the value in having both cheerleaders and critique partners in your corner.

An Anatomy of Endings

“Endings haunt us because they are mortality formalized,” concludes staff writer Adam Gopnik in this great piece on types of endings in the New Yorker. “Endings are what life cheats us of. As long as a sense of the ending hovers, the story goes on.” I love the philosophy of this line — but any writer working on the structure of their novel or story’s ending will appreciate the concrete type of endings his article identifies. (Karen Joy Fowler mentioned this article during a workshop at Brisbane Writers Festival.)

Want more?

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

Check out yesterday’s Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City.

Or, for great reading recommendations, check out tomorrow’s My Fall Reading List 2014 (link will go live Saturday).

If you’re curious what I’ve been working on, here are two recent posts sharing work or inspiration: Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice and Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said.

*     *      *      *      *

What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week — or what great reads did you stumble across? Feel free to share links (including to your own posts) in the comments.

Do you ever blog about the books you read or post your Must Reads list? Let me know in the comments or by using the contact sheet on the home page if you would be interested in participating in a reading blog hop.

*     *     *     *     *

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 or on Facebook. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:word hoard post

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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?

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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!

More on this site:word hoard post

7 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Revision, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said

Running man

Some of you may know that I participate in a variety of writers’ groups online, which has been fabulous company and motivation as I pound through novel revisions this summer.

Novel Revision Process

I haven’t been posting about my writing process as often as I did last year, but regular readers may know that part of my obstacle is that I’ve taken on a daunting but very thorough revision process: rather than just continue tweaking draft 4-5, which I’d worked on through the winter, I am fully retyping the current draft. It has been an extremely effective process… but s-l-o-w, in the sense that it’s August 1 and I only have 24, 700 words in (last winter’s ms was 176,000).

What has been particularly exciting about the process is it has benefitted from the concentrated power of scenes written later in my understanding of the story, and I’ve been really excited, in particular, about the layer of meaning that have come about from expanding viewpoints.

I have been sharing about this regularly on Twitter (#SumNovRev), within Facebook groups and during daily writing activities at TeachersWrite! but have posted little about it here.

Sharing an Excerpt of the Work in Process

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonThat said, today I am sharing an extended scene from the last third of my novel in progress, Never Said. (I shared a short excerpt from this as part of Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback; revision to this scene was prompted by character description activity on Kate Messner’s blog for TeachersWrite.)

About the Excerpt

Michael Roonan is an elusive main character as the novel takes place at a point in his life when he appears resigned to his own death despite the community around him absolving him from blame. He goes along with his best friend’s insistence that he go on the run, but there’s the unspoken undercurrent that he doesn’t disagree with the man who is after him (Sean).  This excerpt is from Sean’s POV, but really is lead up to the reveal of secrets Roonan has been keeping all along.

I’ve written before about how I like to play around with POV, writing from several different viewpoints as I discover a story. This antagonist, Sean, was a fun surprise, as he had insights I hadn’t thought of.  (Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict).

 

*     *     *     *     *

Excerpt from Never Said

(The following is an excerpt from an unpublished novel. Do no copy or use without express written permission from Elissa Field.)

Sean saw the back of Michael Roonan’s head from a distance, across the thin stream that split the village center.  Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair and Sean saw his face in full profile. Definitely him. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. It calmed his anger to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

Unrecognizable from the man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against the headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried far south by the inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to sit facing out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting in the frothing waves. Not behind him in the car park, where Sean  leaned back for a smoke. A think.

Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed military-short, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead.

This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor. One summer in Ridell, there’d been one of the younger brothers – he was sure it was Mick –pulled in an undertow jumping off the tower at Blackrock. The black shadow of his head, like the back of a turtle or a skate, pulling deeper and sideways along the Irish Sea bottom that would be exposed, smelly with the decay of exposed mussels and whelks at low tide. Sean was the one to dive for him, a bolt through the current, wrenching him to the surface. Clear vomit of seawater sprayed over his forearm as he held the boy’s chin in the crook of his elbow, rolling onto his back, the boy buoyed on his chest as he waited out the current to let them go. The little brother’s head gagged and sputtered and cried, gasping for air. Struggled to get free, to swim, not knowing all you could do is relent and float until the current gave you up. “Easy,” he’d told the top of the boy’s head, fixing his face to the sky. “Look, there. See the gulls? How many is that?”

He was sure it was Mick. The Roonan son who covered his ears at the high engine whine of his father passing in a race, even as others took pictures or shook their fists to cheer.

There was no rush. Wait him out.

Mick’s head was down when Sean came upon him, nearly dried, on a bench along the roadside not quite into the adjoining village. Mick said, without looking up, without surprise, “How is it going for you, Sean? I’d heard you were out.” It was barely discernible: the faint shift of posture to check peripheral vision, clear enough one wolf to another, to be certain Sean was alone.

“You killed Stephen.”

There was a long silence. Cars passed, their headlights bilious green in the odd fog come in from the sea. That color got to him, always – color of the dead boy in the canal – and he wanted to shake Mick, to shake the whole world, the way Man and Ulster vibrated in the high-revved videos of Gerry Roonan at 200 miles per hour. How did Mick take this for granted? How did he not know how lucky he was, for what he had? Him and Stevie: they’d be famous racers, just like their da. What hate makes you blow that all apart? For what? Not even a cause.

Mick turned fully to him, no avoidance in his eyes. “I killed Stephen.”

“What the fuck, Mick. Can’t you even deny it to me?.. Why? Why would you do that to your own brother?”

Roonan didn’t answer that. Not yet. “How did you know?”

“I watched you. I saw you do it, you stupid fuck. Watched… I saw him…”

Both were in it, then. Graphic memory. Two men, brothers to Stephen in different ways, watching from opposite sides as the universe sucked inward on Stephen then exploded infinitely outward. The only two to have seen it plainly, true. Night stills for them as it does in sacred moments, letting damnation seep in.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

A man climbs fully inside his eyes when come upon his truths. Sean knew as he stared into Mick’s face waiting for an answer: it was there. Mick was walking around inside it as if visiting an old room, testing what was remembered, what was broken, what was new. He wanted to punch him, deflate silence by crushing his head like a collapsed football. Fury at such deliberation, such unhurried reflection. Michael was a big man now: past twenty-two Sean guessed, strong from pulling nets on the trawler, taller than Stevie would have been. He’d heard stories of Roonan crushing an undercover cop’s head against a rock to stop the man from beating an informant. He’d heard rumors of his calm shadow in a doorway being enough to scare off provo gunners.

“You need to run, Mick.”

The man’s eyes rose to his face, but he was not there. Somewhere else, some other time, and a chill went through Sean. Remembering the boy in the hedgerow, when Rodgers hit the tree. Sean and Stevie and Mick were the first to the body, the racer’s attached hand still opening and closing in a fist, as his severed arm was further down across the road. The man’s eyes met their three faces through his visor, pleading for help. Mick would have been just eight when he heard that first gasping groan of a body giving up life, and his father’s road racer had passed them just after, front wheel lifting in the air at the surprise of finding Rodgers’ spent machine broken apart across the road, then whining away up Perry’s Hill.

He did not give away the gun tucked into his waistband. Did not acknowledge he could pick up a rock or that broken sign post just feet away and bash his skull. Could have done it then, that evening, as the high pressure sodium lighting came on over their heads, lighting them in a glow as if good friends reminiscing before walking home from the pub. He said as if he had yet to make a plan, so Mick had the benefit of a warning: “You need to run, because I’ll have you dead for it.”

Mick had stood. His feet were bare, having kicked off his white rubber fishermen’s boots when they filled like anchors with the sea. He looked up and down the street like an animal dropped from a car, dazed and recalibrating for home. He took a step toward the street to read a sign, he looked back to the car park where he calculated Sean’s car was parked. “I know you will,” he said to Sean. “But I won’t run. Not when you come.” Mick met the man’s eyes, held them to be certain Sean understood, and he’d walked off slowly in the direction of the main road.

If you want to share your feedback in the comments: 

If anything resounds with you, do click “like” or leave me a comment to let me know what you liked — it’s hard and lonely work, so I will love you forever for any encouragement. Seriously. Of course, the impact may be lost a little,  since this piece is from 2/3 through the book, and some details may reference earlier chapters (for ex: “hedgerow” is a frequent reference to where the boys stood when watching Roonan’s father race motorcycles) — but still, find kind words to let me know if any of the scene didn’t work for you and why.

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

What are you working on this week? Are their aspects of your writing process or writing community that help you get it finished?

*     *     *     *     *

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

More on this site:

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

 

4 Comments

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

Writing Process: How to Write on the Beach

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

One of the best parts of being a writer is supposed to be our ability to do our job from anywhere.

It’s true: I remember getting an assignment while on vacation with my family at a resort in Mexico. I wrote and submitted the piece while lounging in the most gorgeous cabana beneath bougainvillea overlooking the infinity pool with a swim-up bar.

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.

Likewise, as a mom with sons home from school for the summer, I don’t want to spend all of my novel revision hours holed up beneath my laptop while the boys are stuck watching TV complaining about just what a drag their mom is.

(What unfair irony: I’m researching motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland or writing about a furtive flight into Havana or a photojournalist lost on assignment in Syria… while my boys see just me staring at a laptop. You get my quandary.)

So it is that I spent much of June writing with my boys at the beach.

Today’s post is a pictorial “how-to”, as it turns out there are some tricks to being successful at writing on the beach.

Enjoy your day, wherever you write!

*     *     *     *     *

The Basics

tree topsThe best advice for getting any writing done on the beach is similar to advice I’ve shared in Motivation to Write: Keep Writing While on Vacation.

It’s a twist on staying focused to write at home: you’re still removing obstacles and distractions, setting goals, and working in a format that keeps you productive.

1) Bring your work in a format that is conducive to actually getting something done.

Just like writing on the subway or anywhere else on the go, you have to think through your current writing goal and the format that makes that goal most portable.

Beach writing is great for generating new work — whether longhand in a journal or on a tablet or laptop. The clarifying environment loosens up many writers’ creativity, as might a run on the beach.

Since my goal this summer is novel revision, I use beach time for read-through revisions. For this, I bring a full, printed, bound copy of the manuscript.  Of course I have a pen for writing edits, but have found a highlighter most useful — I highlight just the words that are working and focus on those when typing revisions. I don’t bring my whole editing kit of colored pens, post-it notes, etc., though. I keep it simple.

My novel, Never Said, was mistaken to think this would be a vacation. c Elissa Field

My novel, Never Said, was mistaken to think this would be a vacation. c Elissa Field

But, whoa — that binder is bulky and messing with my tan lines.

If I weren’t working on a full read-through, I might take a short printed section (or a short story). Or, I’ll address working on a laptop, below.

2) It’s not Survivorman…Take only what you need

You can tell the locals on our beach because they carry the least gear. I know: you’re heading to this exotic workspace and all the “seasonal” aisles at the store suggest you need floaties and an umbrella and special blankets and a cooler and…

Get past the marketing frenzy. It’s the same drill as if you were getting writing done at home: you have to limit obstacles and distractions. The more you schlep to the beach, the longer it takes to just get going.

Option 1:  The calmest form of beach writing is if you’re staying at a resort, in which case: casually walk to the pool or neatly raked private beach with your writing materials. Use the towel they give you, the chair adjusted for you, and drink they bring you. Write your work, then leave everything there; they will clean up after you. Return to your room for a massage and nap, dine in the nice restaurant. Repeat. One added obstacle: time needed to brag and Instagram pictures of the waiter bringing you snacks

Option 2:  Sometimes you’re on vacation or staking space at the beach for an entire day. Fine, then recruit your little minions (aka family) to carry a cooler with drinks, lunch, an umbrella and all you need to be comfortable all day.

office equip bonus shells 2Option 3:  For every other beach trip: take just the basics to be comfortable for 2 hours. Even your beer won’t get hot without a cooler for two hours. Stop complaining, just sip faster.  You need: you, sunscreen already applied, a chair (yes, it keeps you off the sand), a towel, your work, a drink. If you can’t carry it all in one trip, you’re carrying too much.

Okay, fine… Here are a tropical writer’s tricks to take a drink that does not require a cooler. (Some of these assume it’s ok to have adult drinks at your beach. I will not come to bail you out.)

  • That’s what frozen drinks were invented for. Margarita, daiquiri. Mix, then refreeze so they melt more slowly. (Don’t get loopy while writing: frozen margarita mix by itself makes a great beach drink.)
  • Freeze your nonalcoholic beverages (water, lemonade, juices) but make sure to do it in BPA-free bottles.
  • Make a great beach “sangria”: Near fill a water bottle with frozen berries or frozen sliced peaches, mango or papaya. Top with half juice (or even lemonade) and half chardonnay.
  • My favorite beach drink is a 50-50 shandy of Peroni and Pellegrino sparkling limonata. Semi-freeze the limonata to keep it cold, or float with frozen berries or a chill-cube.
  • Freeze grapes to use as ice cubes in nearly any drink. They don’t dilute the drink as they melt. Or, freeze cubes of margarita mix, lemonade, juice or whatever you will be drinking, and use those to cool your drink.

Dealing with glare.

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No matter what the ads say, it is harder to read a laptop screen in bright sunlight. But it is manageable. The glare in this selfie of me was cured with a simple tilt of the monitor.

  • Turn up the brightness on your monitor. Most laptops are set to dim brightness when unplugged in order to conserve battery power, so you need to turn this up manually (on my Dell, that’s a combination of Fn+F5). This does reduce your battery life, so close unneeded apps. Save battery power for the manuscript by reading email or Twitter on your phone.
  • Wear sunglasses. Well, duh. Polarizing colors will serve you best. A hat won’t do it.
  • Target what you work on. Glare will be hardest on fine-tune editing work, like commas and spacing.  The least effect will be on typing in new material. Do your fine-tuning at home and use beach time for new writing or read-through’s.
  • Edit in print. Easiest adaptation is to go old school and use beach time for handwritten edits on a printed draft. My best beach work has included rewriting a scene in longhand or highlighting the best text to keep in a novel in process.

Dealing with sand

Despite best efforts, I was typing with sandy hands.

Despite best efforts, I was typing with sandy hands.

Heh. Good luck with that. I distinctly remember the day, my first year in Florida, when I gave up ever having no sand in the carpet in my car. It’s just a reality of the beach.

Some tips for managing sand intrusion into your work:

  • Nothing precious. My print copy of my novel has a bit of permanent sand in its binder. Another draft has a wet splash from a  morning by the pool. They’re working drafts. Honestly: a little water or sand is nothing compared to the red ink, post-it notes and highlighter scarring their pages. I can live with that. Just another badge of courage.
  • Swim last. I don’t swim until after I’m done working, which helps with sand management as my towel and I are dry, attracting less sand.
  • Oops. Flipped my laptop and binder into the sand. No damage though - it dusted off.

    Oops. Flipped my laptop and binder into the sand. No damage though – it dusted off.

    Have a safe seat for your laptop. I carry a separate bag where my laptop stays unless I’m working on it, and an extra towel to rest it on, in a safe place out of direct sun. I don’t leave it unattended while out swimming for hours; I don’t bring a laptop on days I’ll be distracted for long stretches with that kind of activity. (I also don’t leave it in the car as police say beach parking lots can be targeted by thieves who figure beachgoers left purses and wallets in the car.)

  • Only out when you need it. Don’t let sand or water be an obstacle (or you’ll get no work done), but have alternatives so you only need the laptop out for certain work. I leave the laptop in a covered bag while working on a print draft, and use my cell phone rather than the laptop for tasks like checking email, my website or Twitter.
  • Select your seating. While I used to sit picnic-style or lay out on a blanket or towel, a beach chair raises you off the sand. I use a lightweight, adjustable one that folds to carry backpack-style. My boys keep their splashing and gear away from my work area and we don’t settle in right next to someone’s digging dog.
  • Avoid wind. It doesn’t just blow the sand – it makes you squint and wrestle with your work. Enough said.
  • Go resort-style. No one said the beach has to be off-roading. Even if you are not staying at a hotel, resorts often let you rent a cabana or lounge chair for the day, which certainly civilizes the experience. Some of my local friends have paid for a beach/pool membership at local resorts. Sitting poolside gets you off the sand altogether.

*     *     *     *     *

How About You?

What strategies do you use to write in unusual locations? I wrote about the beach, but I’ve heard friends with awesome solutions to writing successfully in traffic, in the grocery store, or… How about you?

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:Running man

15 Comments

Filed under Motivation to Write, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

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!

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:Running man

On my educator’s blog:

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Friday Links for Writers 07.04.14 – Quirky Research Sources for Writers #2

 

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

One of our favorite editions of Friday Links for Writers was the 3.14.14 edition that shared Quirky Research Sources for Writers. Whether writing a novel, a short story or researching a memoir or long form journalism, any of us who do research for our writing have a particular affection for the fascinating rabbit holes research leads us down.

You know what? A long holiday weekend (here in the States, at least) seems like a good day for Quirky Research Sources for Writers – Round 2.

Thatcher Wine of Juniper Books at http://juniperbooks.com/

Thatcher Wine of Juniper Books at http://juniperbooks.com/

If you’re celebrating the 4th of July, enjoy this, my favorite clip from HBO’s John Adams: the vote and reading of the Declaration of Independence.

And then make the most of this quirky set of research resources for writers. As always, share in the comments to let us know which links resounded for you, what kind of information you wish you could find more of, or share your own favorite links, including your own posts.

*     *     *     *     *

Last Name Meanings in English

I took particular satisfaction in stumbling on this article as I’ve always had a linguistic curiosity in the origin of last names. My dad’s family name (Field) ironically has nearly the same meaning as my mom’s family name, Aho, which means “glade” or “forest clearing” in Finnish. Her mother’s maiden name, la Tendresse, is French for “a wave of affection.” For historic writers, the article touches on the history of when last names first arrived; for any writer, it’s creative fodder for character naming.

Thrill Writing

Fiona Quinn’s Thrill Writing site is about the most comprehensive blog I’ve seen, sharing the ins and outs of forensic detail specifically for writers. Individual posts give everything from detecting trace evidence in fur or hair, to surviving in a desert.

The Final Trip Home of Pfc. Aaron Toppen

Sad but true: war has touched many of our characters in current times, and begs to be portrayed with accuracy. Need to describe the path a fallen soldier takes, in being returned for burial? This Atlantic photo story documents the dignified transfer of Pfc. Aaron Toppen, killed this month by friendly fire in Afghanistan, from soldiers in mourning on his FOB to graveside. Shared in all respect for the soldier lost, as I feel some hesitation in photographing private grief.

Journalists Killed in 2014

Conflict around the world — possibly in your setting — has created significant dangers for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists centralizes information on journalists missing or killed, and advocacy. This page: those killed in 2014.

SkyVector: Flight Planning – Aeronautical Charts

While writing Breathing Water, we had a pilot-friend staying with us, and I couldn’t help but find the aeronautical maps he spread across the coffee table fascinating. Cuban MiGs had shot down civilian planes that flew out of Miami on a humanitarian (some say “spy”) mission and, as I followed the trail of stories, his aeronautical maps assigned different names to air space than land maps, and identified legal borders set by international treaties. Whatever your research motive, SkyVector is an interactive site for flight plotting.

Audubon: View All Species

While we’re on the subject of flight… Growing up in Michigan, even as a little kid, I recognized and knew the names of all our local birds, including the seasons they were present and absent. Huh. Would that be a detail of setting your character noticed? Here’s a central resource from the Audubon Society, with facts about bird species. Some include sound recordings.

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

Birdwatch Ireland

And, because one of my novel settings is in Ireland, here is a resource for native birds in Ireland. (More about my story line’s Irish roots here: Celebrating my Irish by Writing)

Spice World

Now that you’ve stocked the skies of your setting, how about the smells? In 3 manuscripts, I’ve found myself writing a foreign culture and one of the first things I turned to was cookbooks, to know the tastes and smells of native cuisine. Knowing the spices used in native cooking can give you a quick resource to adding scent details, as you can raid your grocer’s spice aisle and get samples firsthand. This link gives you a simple listing that groups spices for several national cuisines.

Want more?

Elissa Field fiction Jar of Teeth

c Elissa Field

Here is the link to the prior Quirky Research Sources for Writers.

Overall, what is Friday Links for Writers? In my near-weekly column, I share the best links I’ve found with every range of writing and publishing advice, great reads and tools. For more, here are 3 ways to read more:

  • Most recent post: Friday Links for Writers 06.20.14
  • You can read all Friday Links for Writers – this link will load all current posts, including those posted after this one.
  • But… that loads dozens of posts. Here’s the best trick to search contents of all Friday Links: within the Links & Where to Find Me tab, there is a listing of Friday Links. As you hover over the title of any post, the topics of included articles will display so you can select posts that interest you.

*     *     *     *     *

How About You?

What are you working on this week? Does it have you following quirky research trail down the rabbit hole?

Share any questions you have, or advice and favorite links in the comments below.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Recent Posts:

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

1 Comment

Filed under Friday Links, Research

Friday Links for Writers: 06.20.14

Thanks to the tropical showers that trapped me in a coffee shop long enough to make headway. c Elissa Field

Thanks to the tropical showers that trapped me in a coffee shop long enough to make headway. c Elissa Field

Getting into the thick of novel revisions this week has felt like parenting a belligerent preteen – not that I have one of those (apologies, boys).

Landlocked friends, this is for you: beach writing isn't always pretty. c Elissa Field

Landlocked friends, this is for you: beach writing isn’t always pretty. c Elissa Field

On the way back from a meeting midday yesterday, I forced myself to stop and write at a coffee shop for a solid hour. I’ve put so much pressure on myself to complete this novel revision and be ready to query agents by summer’s end (I’ve been sharing this goal and inspiration using #SumNovRev on Twitter – jump in, if you share that goal!).

Luck of nature: I was trapped at the coffee shop by a tropical downpour. It took headphones, a great play list and a good hour or more to get to a point where I wasn’t fighting this manuscript.

As I hit a groove (sympatico: just as Cristina Aguilera belted into “Fighter“), I tweeted: “Not in love with your WIP? Skip to a part you love. Work from there, build on strength.” So much gets deleted anyway, so why sweat the scene I hate? Still lots to go, but I’m probably about 20% through that project of retyping the draft, using the only the parts I really like.

That said, it’s time for me to share some of the Friday Links for Writers that were my favorite inspiration this week. As always, feel free to share your own favorite links (including your own) in the comments.

*     *     *     *     *

Interview with Kate Kristensen

One of the interesting things revealed in Amanda Green’s Rumpus interview with Kate Kristensen — who has written several novels and nonfiction books, as well as freelance and magazine writing — is the ways she used blog writing to interact with, develop and be relief from other forms of writing.

The Writing Workshop Glossary

In this great New York Times piece, Amy Klein shares a great cross-section of writing advice under the guise of “defining” the feedback used in writing workshops. It’s great as a morning read to inspire revisions, with classic questions such as, “What does the character want?” This article is part of an ongoing series called “Draft,” on the writing craft.

We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome

With all the talk about diversity in the publishing industry, I thought this piece by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve was one of the more interesting discussions. Tasha casts doubt on stories that simply add a female lead, even if it’s a strong, well-developed character, where the power in the story still remains in the hands of the male lead.

How to Get Published: 4 Debut Novelists on Elevator Pitches and More

I loved this Buzzfeed interview by Lincoln Michel with four debut novelists, for its down to earth insight into those publishing hurdles like phrasing the pitch.

How to Become a Literary Agent

This may be particular to my own interests in agenting, but I loved this piece by agent Juliet Mushens on Marie Claire’s blog, with her list of what it takes to be successful as a literary agent.

A Literary Expert on Driving in the Dark

Despite the ubiquity of Neil Gaiman advice articles, I loved this interview in the New York Times for some of his confessions of inspiration and his confidence about writing ahead, like “driving in the dark.”

 The Bridge and the Tunnel

This article by Donald Maass at Writers Unboxed is a repeat (included in Friday Links for Writers 07.05.13) but it’s one of my favorites — and kindred spirit with the part of the novel draft I fell back in love with at the coffee shop yesterday… So, enjoy. If you want more, this post shares some of Maass’s great novel writing prompts.

*     *     *     *    *

Writing Communities

I can’t go without mentioning the explosive activity in my writing communities this week. You may have seen this show up as odd hashtags about #binderwomen or #binderwriters, and a couple others intended to go below radar. This isn’t the post to explain this completely, but I do want to take a second to give a shout out to the hundreds of women in my writing community who share such talent and energy. It’s great to connect with you (say “hello” in the comments!).

Elissa WAGI’ll also be explaining later the addition of the WAG Advisory Group badge that’s been added to the sidebar on this site, but for now, you will recognize Wordsmith Studios as the fabulous, supportive and talented group of writers I’ve been part of for two years now. Shout out to my Wordsmith friends. Find us in Tuesday chats using #wschat.

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week? What resources or writing communities inspire you most? Please share any great links — including your own — in the comments.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Finishing the Novel: Daily Task of “Getting it Done”

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

 

Ah, blissful! After a demanding spring of teaching, summer has arrived — and with it, long days of novel revision. As often as I post about Novel Revision Strategies, one of the biggest strategies is how to manage time to get the most out of time to write.

Today, this had me reflecting on the strategies that help writers work long days on novel writing or revision to successfully reach writing milestones but not burn out or kill energy for the work.

*     *     *      *      *

1)  Purge all those distractions.

If I were only going to write for 30 minutes before going to a day job, this step would be considered a distraction. But, on days when you plan to write or revise all day, there’s only so far you can ignore other tasks (trust me, I’ve pushed it). Here’s a quick cycle I let myself run through to remove distractions before writing:

  • Get refreshed. For me, it’s coffee. For some writers this might be push-ups, a quick run or walking the dog.
  • Keep it clean. Allow a quick 5-15 minutes to make a pass at household tasks. Picking up after the boys, dishes, laundry — whatever handful of things keeps the house going. Generally, this fits in while coffee is brewing. Sometimes I use “count to 10” for this: pick a random number like 10, 20 or 25 — and quickly knock out that many of something. As a parent, this step usually involves cleaning; another writer might need this time to schedule an oil change or other kind of maintenance. Or be so lucky as to be able to skip this one altogether. Jealous.
  • Follow up for 10. We all hear warnings to stay away from email, social media and other distractions. But look, we take time to build important connections – so while I agree it’s important to write first, I give myself 10 minutes to tend the fires I stoked the day before. I don’t tend client projects here; those I schedule other times in the day.
  • Know your plan. Whether you have a written to-do list or a general idea in your head, have a sense of your writing goals for the day, with all materials on hand.

Everyone good? Kids busy with an activity? Somebody fed the cat? Nothing is on fire? Then hunker down.

2)  Write. One hour (or two). Uninterrupted.

For the work I’m doing today, 1 hour works. You might rather 2 hours. Whatever your number, it’s pure writing time.

Somewhere in the fidgeting above, I will already have in my head what the morning’s work should be. This week, the goal is to get as far through a complete read through (and revision) as possible. I’m working from a printed draft, so I will have shot that print job to the printer in 100-page chunks while checking email or some other menial task prior to writing. Yeah: no “I couldn’t write because I spent my hour fixing a printer jam or replacing print cartridges.”

No chat. No email. No phone or text or social media. No pausing for drinks or bathroom. If you’re a clock-watcher, use the timer on your cell phone to remove that distraction. Fall purely into writing for one straight hour.

Ding.

3)  Time for a break.

When I’m draft-writing, I write for hours on end, as long as the ideas are flowing. For revision: blocks of time. In the breaks in between, I might be revisiting some of those same tasks from morning’s distraction purge. Check the kids. Switch the laundry. Walk the dog. Get a snack. Another coffee. A phone call. Short tasks from other areas of my to-do list.

Again, I’m not a proponent of staying away from social media, so I would check Twitter, Facebook or my blog. I might share an accomplishment from the morning — connecting with other writers working on their goals at the same time is a great way to keep yourself going.

But I aim for a break to be 30 minutes, not longer. Sometimes it’s just a stretch, refill coffee and…

4)  Back to it.

Lots of successful writers will say their complete writing goal for a day might be 2 hours’ work. For me, during summers away from teaching, my aim is 4 hours on a short day, but as long as 8-10 hours for a full day of writing or revision. I get there by repeating these 2 hour blocks of work.

Do I have to stick with the clock? Not precisely.

Using time blocks helps structure the day and keep you honest – both in your discipline and the need to stop for breaks. But the day’s goals may dictate more organic work-blocks: retyping chapters one and two might fit neatly into one hour, or might prompt a sidetrack into research over the actual date the TSA was started. Maybe that block will be 1.5 hours, and maybe another block will be just 30 minutes, since it involves an intensive re-evaluation of my character’s inner motivation that requires a breather for reflection afterward.

I don’t stop to a factory bell if I am in the middle of something. Likewise, sometimes a task goes more quickly — or is more draining, so you need a break sooner than expected.

Having minimum or maximum time blocks can help you stay on track. If I planned to write an hour, I’ll push myself to keep going if it’s been less than 45 minutes. If I planned an hour but keep going off on tangents, I might control this by stopping if it goes past 2 hours.

Are you working at home with family? Honoring time blocks also helps to manage that temptation to get lost in writing and forget a promise you made to take kids to the pool or go out to dinner with your partner.

5)  Break up the work

To achieve 8 and even 10 hour days, I’ll keep repeating breaks and time blocks to stay refreshed but productive throughout the day.

Time blocks also help to create natural shifts in the work.

For me, this might mean 4 hours on the novel, then 2 writing for my blog or clients, or to work on submissions. Or I might break it into hours for revision, versus hours for research or drafting new material. Shifts in work help keep you from burning out.  I use a color-coded Outlook calendar to keep a visual of the time needed and available for each, throughout the week.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my "office" view for the afternoon.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my “office” view for the afternoon.

You can also shift location. This morning I have certain work (like this post) that has to be done on household wifi. But I’ve packaged afternoon revisions so I can take them with me to the beach, which allows me to honor time with my boys. Flexibility in where you work is a great strategy for buying time to write.

6)  Celebrate an accomplishment.

Keep yourself going by celebrating a milestone. Intrinsic rewards can be something as simple as flipping through all the editing marks you’ve made on a printed manuscript or reviewing your word count for the day. One friend kept tally of her word count on her mousepad at the end of every day.

Make it social by sharing this. Lots of us keep each other going by posting our day’s milestones to Twitter or a goals group with writing friends online. Some share their word counts on NaNoWriMo software during challenges throughout the year. Tell your partner or your kids. Build in a fun reward, like a festive drink or night out with friends.

Or… yes, there are days when the “celebrate” step is replaced with “chastise.” Do reassess goals for the following day if a milestone wasn’t reached or new issues came up.

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

What time strategies do you use to reach your writing goals? Am I alone in trying to work 8-hour writing/editing days (I doubt that)? How do you keep yourself both refreshed and moving toward your goals?  Or, post a question if you think readers here could help you solve your writing-schedule challenges.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:

(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

3 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*    *    *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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

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

More from my Novel Revision series:

Recent Posts:

11 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Revision, Writing Process & Routine

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Recent Posts:

c. Elissa Field

c. Elissa Field

Leave a comment

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

Friday Links for Writers: 08.30.13

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Heading in to Labor Day is a bittersweet time of year, as end of summer and back to school signals lots of creativity around here at the same time my long writing days of summer come to an end.

Not that writing stops, but it fits into a different time strategy.

What never ends is great reading, and this week revealed some great resources for writers. Here are a few, below. As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

*     *     *     *     *

But I Digress

In this great post at Beyond the Margins, Nichole Bernier takes on the effective use of flashbacks with a list of questions to ask to determine when digressions are effective and when they impede the narrative.

Freedom and Structure: Matt Bell’s Seminar on Revision and Rewriting

In this post at Grub Street, writer Susi Lovell shares nuanced advice for revision and rewriting that she took away from a Grub Street seminar with Matt Bell. Beginning with the advice, “Don’t try to ‘tackle the whole story’, he said. ‘Take one element at a time,’” she shares the lightbulb moment that came in revising her work.

How Not to Write a Novel: the Quiz

I’m sharing the link to this quiz just for fun — but the concept behind the full book, How Not to Write a Novel, is certainly valid. Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman offer a different perspective on writing advice by sharing 200 classic mistakes and how to avoid them.

14 Writers Handwrite Their Writing Advice on Their Hands

Need a boost? Take inspiration from one of these 14 writers and the advice they’d give if distilled only to what fit on the palms of their hands.

Guest Blog Post Strategies for Writers

This post at Galley Cat offers link to Jared Dees’ Book Launch Guide, with 33 solid strategies for authors to let the world know about their book. Get started with the strategies given for pitching and writing guest blog posts.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Recent posts:

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Writing Process: Where Do You Write?

writing ct 1-

One of the cheery questions that writers seem to like trading experience about is, “Where do you write?”

There are those who are passionate café writers. There are those who post long reflections on their experience writing at a weeklong or month-long retreat where trees block view of the closest human being. There are those who write on subways. There are those attending conferences this summer who will imagine long hours writing in the Adirondack chairs on a grassy mountainside.  There are those with full fledged home offices or equally meaningful cubbies with small totems that inspire them to write.

One of my most productive places to write, ever, has been sitting in bed in my house, which is that kind of new construction where the master bedroom is huge and airy, on the second floor with a bay window looking over treetops so it feels like sitting in a treehouse. Chi moves so well through that room that I am neither bored nor distracted.

More often, as single mother, I am in the corner of the sectional sofa in the family room in the middle of my sons’ action, so I won’t someday hear them in therapy saying their mother spent their childhood with her nose in a laptop locked away in her room. I’ve written in other busy places: conferences, courthouses, schools, train stations, airports.

I’ve written in spectacularly beautiful places — on a cliffside balcony looking over the Mediterranean in Positano, Italy; in a beautiful hotel room; at famously photogenic beach. Few places are as beautiful as that empty chair in the picture with this post, where I am sitting right now on the sun porch of my mother’s house in Connecticut, looking out over her gardens as she and my son weed.

ard na sidhe blogBeautiful places and busy places have often left me with ideas to write from. My current WIP began with an image from a gorgeous mountain lake in County Kerry, Ireland.

But, ironically, my philosophy about “where to write” is the same as my philosophy on buying notebooks or pens for writing: the best writing places are equivalent to or more boring than the writing you’re doing. If you’ve ever had writer’s block, then never buy some heirloom-gorgeous writing journal because you’ll be too afraid to write a wrong word in it. I’d rather a boring composition notebook, any day.

As beautiful as this seat is in my mom’s sunroom, I’ve spent more time photographing it and writing about it than working through the list of revisions I’m supposed to be making.  As we get ready to drive back south tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll lament leaving this beautiful location many times. But the truth is, it does me well to dip in such beauty and then retreat to the quiet where the words I need to work on are the main attraction.

As a final thought, I think the best writing seats have good chi — air flows readily so your ideas feel free to unravel — yet are not in the main line of that energy. For example, that seat pictured in the window demands the action of looking out onto the world, in the traffic flow of the main door. In reality, these last two weeks, I’ve written better when snugged into the sofa set back in that same room, with a similar view and still in hearing of all the house’s activity, but sheltered behind the main traffic and action.

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

Is your writing space important to you as you write, or are you portable in your work? Do you have rituals, like favorite quotes or icons on your desk, or other ways your writing space gets you going? What would you change, if you could? What would you recommend writers look for or avoid in a good writing space?

If you’ve posted about your writing space in the past, feel free to leave your link in the comments.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or use the email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Recent posts:

Or, here is the current series on Novel Revision Strategies:

21 Comments

Filed under Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine