Category Archives: Book 1

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 4)

After the writing conference and my failed experiment with an editor, I typed up all my notes. In the process, I remembered a comment from one of the panelists that, somewhat derisively, suggested hiring an editing STUDENT if the author simply couldn’t hire a real editor for $30/hr+. It sounded like a good idea to me. I contacted an editing teacher at a local college and asked if he had any students who might be interested in a job with (lower) pay plus portfolio experience. I got an answer within a couple of weeks, and soon had an editor hired. (If anybody wants to hear about my experience negotiating the contract, let me know. No, it wasn’t scary or awful.)

She took a few weeks to read my book, then sent me some comments, some related to the ending and some not. Her first suggestion for the ending was also unworkable, but she seemed to have some misunderstandings, too. I took several deep breaths and wrote back, explaining what I had intended. Then I waited anxiously to see if I was stuck in another dead end.

Fortunately, her next email was a lot better. She was able to point out where I had gone wrong with what I intended and suggest how I could fix it.

In brief, I’d put stuff off-screen that should have been on, spent too little time on certain important things, and neglected a confrontation with the antagonist that would signal “climax” to the reader.

So I rewrote the ending *cough* times, and sent the most-changed chapter to a few old beta readers. They said it was SO MUCH better, but had a few minor suggestions that led to still more tweaks.

About then, I read a book that said many of the same things I had just learned. I probably still wouldn’t have found my exact solution anytime soon, so I don’t regret hiring my editor. The book did help me with some of the smaller tweaks as I rewrote, including upping the emotional impact. In case you want to read that writing book, I sorted through my list of 100 “read” writing books for you. You’re welcome.

Now I’m sending my book out to beta readers for hopefully the last time, to see if the ending holds up under new eyes…

In the meantime, I’m sending book 2 through my critique group and starting book 3.

My next “writing process” post will probably start covering book 2, unless something shocking comes out of my last beta reads on book 1.

Crossing my fingers…

Update: Apparently I still have a few issues. Deep breath. I can do this. I can, I can, I can.

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 3)

As I made changes in my book, my critiquers and beta readers started to give better and better reviews. Not perfect, sure, but better. Even the people who started off telling me that I can’t do four POVs (points-of-view) came back at the end and said, “But I loved all your characters so much!”

I was feeling pretty good until people finished the book and complained about the ending being much too slow. At first, I thought it was just an isolated opinion until almost everybody started saying it. (And those that didn’t, also did not say they liked the ending.)

I asked for suggestions for fixing it, based on where they saw the problem. Almost all of them advised chopping off the last three chapters “because the story is obviously over by then (see climax HERE), and your wrap-up is taking too long.”

Well, that was not going to work. Contrary to popular opinion, the “climax” was only the crisis, the real climax wasn’t until the next-to-last chapter, and the story wasn’t over until the last chapter. Obviously, something was indeed wrong, but it wasn’t where the story ended. If I hacked off the last three chapters, the theme would be ruined, the main story question would remain unanswered, and the promise would be unfulfilled. Nope, can’t do that.

Back to story structure research.

Ah, there’s something. Sometimes an ending will fall flat because it hasn’t been supported and set up properly in the middle. Okay, let’s hypothesize that I identified the problem. Time to revise again. (I bet you predicted that.)

So I rewrote half the book in “minor” but very important ways, and tweaked the ending while I was at it. Then I ran it past betas again.  Nope, still broken.

I rewrote it several more times. Still broken.

It’s possible I considered screaming.

Deep breaths…

Around this time, I was going to a writing conference and was notified that there were editorial consulting slots available. That seemed like a great idea, so I signed up. I spent that day of the conference reminding myself to calm down because the consultation was a job interview and *I* was hiring. Talking to an editor shouldn’t be so nerve-racking, but if you ever find yourself in the same position, feeling the same way, remember that you’re not the only one.

I brought a simplified synopsis (minus subplots that didn’t affect the problematic ending) and a writing sample with me, and sat down to talk about my ending. The non-scary editor flipped through my papers and then talked to me. My hopes sank pretty quickly as I discovered that her suggestions were also unworkable. Some of them revealed that she didn’t even understand the story. Okay, yes, I know she hadn’t read the whole thing, but I did give her the synopsis, including a lot of detail on the ending.

She suggested I hire the editing company to actually read the book and make detailed edits. I looked up her prices, and let’s just say, that wasn’t an option. Besides, I wasn’t impressed with her off-the-cuff answers and wasn’t convinced her in-depth answers would be any better. Perhaps that’s unfair, but we all make decisions based on what information we have.

So I went home, torn between screaming and crying. I might have considered giving up, since obviously, I was no good at this writing thing.

And that seems like a nice, dramatic place to stop for now. 😉

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 2)

Last time, I described how I started writing my first book, up until the point where I split the chapters for point-of-view (POV) and thought I had fixed that problem.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, it turns out there are at least two more levels of POV to consider. One is consistency. Three years later, I think my revisions might have caught all the times I accidentally slipped POV for a sentence or two. I hope. Sigh. It is harder than you think.

The final(?) level of POV is also called “character voice.” This is what makes it easy for the reader to identify when character A is speaking/thinking instead of character B, even without the author saying so. Of course, the author should still say so, but if one character speaks like a cowboy and thinks like a cowboy and moves like a cowboy, while another character speaks, thinks, and moves like a scientist, the story will be more realistic and authentic as well as easier to read. I’m still working on this level.

Okay, back to the story.

I now had 33 chapters of “POV-corrected” story. I’m ready to go, right? This is about the time that I heard about plot beats and story structure. I thought a story was structured however it was made, wasn’t it? And I had beats. Look, I could prove it.

So I took several different story structuring methods that mostly made sense to my warped brain and smooshed them together into my own little chart. Then I reverse-outlined every chapter of my book and marked every beat. I also marked whose POV was in each chapter.

Yep, that led to a round of revisions, too.

Then I learned about chapter goals for characters (I already knew about chapter goals for authors) and chapter twists/questions/cliffhangers/pageturners (whatever you want to call them). So I added those to my little reverse-outline chart, too.

That was a sad day. That was the point that it became very, very obvious why my story slowed down in the middle. I had four– FOUR!– chapters that had the same– boring!– chapter goal. Oh, sure, there was good stuff in the chapters. There was important stuff. There was funny stuff. There was… too much stuff without enough actually happening. Sadness.

It took me a week or three to go through those four chapters and slice them into little bits. This part stays, and all these parts go, and this part stays… It might have been around here that my “deleted scenes” file became my best friend. I told myself, “It’s okay to cut it because it’s going in the deleted scenes. If I end up needing it back, it’s a simple cut-and-paste.” In the process, the book dropped to thirty chapters.

Then, of course, I had to redo my reverse-outline.

I’d been taking my half-chapters to critique group all this time, and I’d gotten a few beta readers, too, but now seemed like a good time to get some more. So I did, which is a story all by itself, but I’ll spare you.

Early feedback complained about certain chapters having no conflict, no interest. “Boring!” So I took a deep breath and started revising. Again. Some of them ended up with (relatively) minor revisions, some with major facelifts and all-new scenes.

I was reading through a chapter myself and noticed that I actually said, “and over the next week they became friends.” Yes, just like that. Um… their friendship is actually a plot point for a character’s motivation. Did I really just brush over it like that? Face palm. Talk about unbelievable! What kind of author am I, anyway? (Don’t answer that.)

So I gutted the chapter and wrote an all-new middle where they actually had reasons to become friends. Just to make the rewrite more painful, this is a chapter I had ALREADY completely rewritten three times, in three different POVs, trying to get it right.

And on that painful note, I’ll end this segment. See you next time!

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my writing process has changed. If I record the development of my writing, maybe it will help someone else the way it helps me to read about other writers. Here we go!

I didn’t grow up convinced I was an author. Sure, I dabbled in stories and poetry, but they were either for school assignments or my own personal pleasure.

Then I had kids. Children change your life in so many ways. My middle child changed my writing life when she found some old paragraphs from a non-existent story and asked for the rest of it. I had to tell her that’s all there was.

That was purely unacceptable, so she quizzed me for at least an hour about my characters, world, and possible plot. When she thought I had enough for a story, she ordered me to write it. I protested I didn’t remember all my answers. She wrote them all down. Nope, no excuses.

So I “plotted” all six chapters of the short story I had in mind, and I started writing. From the beginning. One very slow paragraph at a time, starting in July 2013. Most of the time, I wrote strictly in order, following the simple notes I called a plot. On rare occasions, I’d skip around a bit to avoid difficult parts, then circle back to fill in the blanks.

At this point in my writing life, I had no intention of EVER going professional. In fact, I didn’t even tell my friends I was writing. This story was for my daughter, that’s all. Okay, fine, my husband and other children could read it, too.

As I wrote, I had to keep bumping plot notes from one chapter to the next as the middle of the story expanded. Pretty soon, I had eight chapters, and I wasn’t even finished. Then twelve, fifteen, twenty! It was now March of 2015, and I had myself a complete novel clocking in at 104,000 words.

Somewhere in the middle of 2014, I finally told a few select friends about my book. Then in late 2015, months after I finished, I decided that I ought to join a writer’s group and get some real critique. Just to make the book as good as possible for my daughter, you understand. I still wasn’t going pro.

So I found a group and shared my first half-chapter (word count limits), feeling like I was baring my soul. Sharing a creative baby is scary! It didn’t help that the guy who was critiqued right before me was told to kill his chapter and go back to the drawing board…

I shared anyway, shaking in my chair, and sure, I got LOTS of comments to fix things, but the readers also said they liked the story. I took their suggestions home and revised almost every day until the next meeting. Then I took in the next half-chapter, with similar results.

After several months, I started noticing trends in the comments. One frequent comment was “head-hopping.” It seemed I didn’t really understand point of view (POV). Oh. Okay. Hello, library, let’s do research. (I love the library.)

After a lot of reading and discussing and thinking, I decided I needed to split my chapters and stick firmly to only one POV per chapter, with the POV character named first.

One very long and tiring revision later (read “weeks”), I had thirty-three chapters that I thought were now single-POV. So now the big revision was over, and I could just work on the minor edits. Right?

I bet you experienced writers out there are now shaking your heads…

I’ll stop there and pick up next time.