Tag Archives: writing process

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 3)

So I ran book 2 through two separate writing groups, trying to make sure I fixed all the problems. And it got a lot better! I mean, so much better. I love my writing groups. When I thought I had the book polished all shiny, I rounded up a few beta readers and turned them loose on it. Some pointed out a few little problems. Some loved everything except the cliffhangers and mean-author moments (which I promise I used for very specific reasons and not because I’m sadistic).

Then, after I thought all I had left was a little editing for grammar and so forth, my last, lagging beta reader turned in a blistering critique. Okay, I’m exaggerating. She was actually extremely polite, but she did point out what she thought were two *major* problems throughout the story. After licking my wounds, I asked a couple of trusted people which parts were true and which I could ignore. After some discussion, I decided that one problem could basically be ignored. She was judging it by a different ruler than I use. I did add a sprinkle of “fix it” for that problem, but mostly I crossed it off my list. The second one–well, unfortunately for me, she was mostly right. Sigh. I hate finding out that I did things wrong, especially when I think I’m done.

Anyway, I made a plan for fixing the problem that didn’t require me to rewrite the entire book (though it did stick its grubby fingers into almost every chapter and several chapter headings, and some chapters did get bigger rewrites). It took me two weeks to do the edits, and when I ran them by people, one of them pointed out another problem that my fixes had created. *bang head on desk* So I fixed that one next.

Then, as I’m running through “one last edit” to make sure I didn’t create more problems while I was fixing everything else, I ran into a couple more things that could be improved. Lucky me, they were pretty minor, but all this meant that I had to do another round, so I finished “final edits” a month later than I anticipated, and ending up working a lot of extra hours for weeks and getting to bed very, very late on the last day I had available. *no, don’t bother me, it can’t be morning yet*

Blech. There are some days I wonder why I write. Then my characters start talking in my head again and telling me how cool this next scene would be. (Come on! Shapeshifting spies! Pirates! Ooh, and…) And my small batch of fans ask for their next fix and tell me how my first book made it into their small collection of owned books. And I hover my fingers over the keyboard and take a deep breath.

Anyway, by the time this article posts, SEED OF WAR should be live in e-retailers all over the world, and available to e-libraries, too. As for me, I will be sitting at home steadfastly eating ice cream and telling myself that it will be fine. Really, it will be fine. I need another spoon…

Be kind to my baby,
Marty C. Lee

P.S. I don’t have an eating disorder. Really. But ice cream makes an excellent *occasional* stress reliever, and it tastes yummy. And I eat it out of a bowl, not the carton. With only one spoon, because I only have one mouth. 🙂

Forbidden Words

If you’re a writer, or a prospective one, you might hear a lot about “rules” of writing. What you don’t always hear is a good explanation of when to follow the “rules” and when to break them, or even an explanation behind the “rules.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen that lead to some really bad writing. I’ll work my way gradually through some of these rules, but the one I want to address today is “forbidden words.” (Did you hear the spooky theme music? No? Let’s try again… “FORBIDDEN WORDS…”)

You might think these are the kinds of words you disguise by typing on the top row of your keyboard, but that’s not what I mean. (Although you might want to watch those, too.) No, I’m talking about when other well-meaning people tell you to never use an adverb. Or an -ing word. Or was or were. Or “just,” or any other particular word. Don’t take their advice.

I’m not saying to ignore the advice, either. I’m saying you should understand it so you know when to take it and when to ignore it. I think it’s time for some examples. (Cue suspenseful music…)

If you search the internet, you can find lots of lists of “words to avoid in writing.” Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to look. Done now? They usually list words that are overused or nearly meaningless, like really, just, or completely. What’s the difference between beautiful and really beautiful? Maybe nothing, or maybe you want to use gorgeous as a stronger word choice for the second example. But sometimes you do need those nearly meaningless words. (They were invented for a reason.) For instance, “he slid into his seat just before the bell rang” is considerably more urgent than “he slid into his seat before the bell rang.”

Let’s look at adverbs for a minute. When shouldn’t you use them? When they merely reinforce a word that doesn’t need reinforcing. He whispered quietly. she smiled cheerfully, the bell dinged musically. Yup, we got the idea with the verb, thanks. When should you use adverbs? When it either clarifies something the verb can’t do alone (she painted frantically) or turns the verb on its head (“Death kindly stopped for me.”–Emily Dickinson).

In other words, if you CAN cut an adverb or a “meaningless” word, do, but if cutting it changes the sentence, keep it for the sake of the poor reader and your dear story.

Now let’s talk about verbs. You might have heard about “passive writing” and the horrible use of “was, were, and -ing.” Take a deep breath while I tell you the rumors of their demise ought to be greatly exaggerated. “If you can finish the sentence with ‘by zombies,’ then it’s passive writing and ought to be destroyed” (by zombies) is one I frequently hear. Okay, fine, I added the second “by zombies” because I wanted to make a point.

There are reasons to use passive sentences. Here’s one: you don’t know the acting subject. “She was murdered!” but we don’t know by whom. Here’s another: you don’t want the emphasis on the acting subject. “She was murdered!” and until we get over the shock, we don’t care who did it. Does that mean its okay to blithely sprinkle passive sentences all over your writing? No, I didn’t say that, either. Use them when you need to use them, and for the sake of your action, don’t use them when you don’t need them. (Which, really, is the basic rule for all writing techniques.)

One more point about was, were, and -ing. It might shock you to know that sometimes they are ACTIVE verbs, not passive! “The apple was red” is an active sentence. (Not a very interesting one, granted, but still active.) When you usually start getting in trouble is when you combine was/were/are and -ing verbs, because even if the verb is active, the sentence might not be as strong as it could be. “The robot’s eyes were glowing” is weak, while “the robot’s eyes glowed” is strong. But if you try to cut every being-verb in your story, you’ll end up with monstrosities like “She seemed a pretty girl, despite her plain brown hair.” She SEEMED pretty, or she WAS pretty? Don’t laugh; I didn’t quote, but I’ve seen sentences that were even worse, that didn’t make any grammatical sense at all because the author “heard WAS is bad” and cut them all without regard to necessary sentence structure. (Read the “pretty girl” sentence without either *seemed* or *was* to see what I mean.)

So, next time you see a writing rule, figure out the reason behind the rule before you start applying it wildly across your writing. Your readers will thank you.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Author Goals vs Character Goals

This morning, I woke up realizing what problem was behind certain recurring issues in the books of a friend of mine. With her permission, I’m going to use her work to explain the difference between author goals and character goals, why they SHOULDN’T be the same, and how the conflict between them makes a better story.

Let’s start with a basic definition of character and author goals. Characters want “something” that will make their life better. The lover, the job, the house, the winning goal. Whatever it is, they think it will make them happy. Authors, on the other hand, want their characters to be unhappy. Temporarily! Because good stories are made of conflict against desires. It is the tug of war between what a character wants and what they get that leads us down story lane. Will they succeed or will life/villain/better team defeat them??

Now, on to the examples.

Example #1: Author “Jane” (name has been changed) has the goal of a big reveal at a dance. The reader knows earlier that character “Hero” is turning his life around and coming back to church, but the other characters don’t yet know that. Because Jane wants a dramatic scene at the dance, she decides that Hero must also wish to save the reveal until then. He feels nervous and secretive and unready to tell anyone about the changes in his life, but thinks unveiling the surprise at the big dance will be exciting. That’s great writing, right?

Well, no. There are a few problems. First, Hero is hiding things from people he’s close to, which is odd for his character. Second, Hero is hiding things from his desired “Heroine” which would knock down some of the barriers between them, AS HE HAS BEEN WISHING. Third, most people who are coming back to church are relieved and happy and want to share the good news with their family and friends. (There are exceptions, but those haven’t been set up in this story.) Fourth, if he doesn’t want to reveal it now, privately, why would he want to save it for a public event? So all this means that his idea of hiding everything until the dance feels very unrealistic.

Does that mean Jane’s hope for a dramatic reveal is sunk? Not at all! In fact, by acknowledging Hero’s desires, yet making his life detour according the author’s wishes, we can make an even more dramatic reveal. Let me illustrate how it COULD happen, with “old” and “new” examples from the story.

Old #1: The desire. Hero doesn’t want to tell his family, friends, or wannabe girlfriend because… they will tease him? They won’t be happy for him? He wants to shock them? This scenario, besides being poorly explained, makes him seem selfish and weak and makes his loved ones seem like jerks.

New #1: The frustration. Hero wants to tell everyone (notice the change in character goal and how it opposes that of the author). He decides to do so in person, as such good news deserves. Hero calls, gets a busy signal or answering machine, and doesn’t want to leave a message. He goes by in person, but people are gone or busy with the doctor (in the case of the friend in the hospital). Hero tries composing an email, but it just doesn’t feel personal enough. He will have to try later. This scenario has us rooting for Hero, who is trying to do the right thing and keeps hitting obstacles. When is the poor guy going to get a break? Now when Jane does the big reveal at the dance, we cheer that Hero finally gets to tell his family, and the author’s goal conflicting with the character’s goal has made a better story.

Old #2: The weekend. Hero attends a different church to avoid seeing his friends and family. Ouch! Again with the selfish and weak…

New #2: The unavoidable weekend. Hero is sent out-of-town for his job. Obviously, he won’t be attending church with his family, but it’s not his fault. Again, we get to root for Hero.

Example #2. In this case, Hero has been trying to find “Lady” who saved his life and then disappeared. Author goal: Keep the characters from realizing the other’s “secret identities” until the big reveal. Character goal: Find each other! Remember, the way we’re going to get the two goals to meet is not by aligning the character goals with the author’s or by letting them give up, but by yanking our poor characters off their chosen path and ramming them into obstacles until the only way left is the author’s way.

Old #3: The picture. Hero, who is a reporter, sees a picture on Heroine’s laptop that makes him realize she is probably Lady. When he says he wants to ask about “some picture,” (without mentioning Lady or the rescue), she tells him to go away, and he does. He’ll ask later. Wow, a reporter who gives up when his source isn’t cooperative? Since when? He gave up much too easily. Author goal has taken over at the expense of the story, and we no longer believe his goal is important.

New #3: The investigator. In this scenario, our intrepid reporter wants to actually tell Heroine which picture he’s talking about and ask if she is Lady. Remember, we’re going to FORCE Hero into the author’s path, despite his desire to follow his own goal. So, some ways to do this would be to have Heroine cut him off mid-sentence and walk away or tell him to mind his own business (she’s mad at him), or to have someone else interrupt with something that can’t wait, or to have his boss suddenly call with an urgent message, or… You get the idea. Keep the goal, create an obstacle! Now Hero can say to himself, “Well, if I can’t find out that way, I’ll put my reporter skills to work on the problem.” Jane will string Hero along for a while longer with more obstacles, while the reader chews on his/her fingernails. By the time we get an answer to the dilemma, we’ll be excited for it.

What examples (good or bad) have you found (or written)?

Happy writing,

M. C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 3 & 4 (Part 1)

When I started writing book 3 around March 2018 (after plotting from January), I tried to be a little smarter than prior times. I made my usual beat sheet first (with an extra plotline for the romance), then cut it up (literally) to try a new step in my outlining process. I spread out all the beats and rearranged them several times to finalize chronology and chapter point-of-view. Once I had them the way I thought I wanted them, I typed them up again in my old chapter-tracking form.

I had finally noticed that one of the things that made me write more slowly was trying to figure out the “steps” of a chapter as I was writing. Sure, I’d know where I was going, but how do I get there? (The other thing that slows me, besides life getting in the way, is trying to make it perfect the first time, so starting with book 3, I gave myself permission to add [author notes] and fix it later.)

So I invented another new process step. This time, I thought I’d try outlining a little more detail for each chapter. After a little experimentation, I decided aiming for about 10% of the anticipated finished words for each chapter might be enough. I worked on this “tithe outline” at the same time I started writing chapters for book 3. That might not have been the best way to do it, honestly, since it slowed down both parts.

I got three chapters written between July and September, which was still pretty slow, and another two before the end of October. Not acceptable, even when I’m busy with the first two books. I finished the outline barely in time for NaNoWriMo.

(As for books 1 & 2, I was desperately trying to prepare book 1 for publication and get book 2 through my critique group. Lots of editing and rewriting. I was busy.)

In November 2018, I used my extended outline to zip through sixteen chapters and actually win NaNo, but the book still wasn’t finished. Fantasy tends to be longer than some genres, thank you, and I tend to complicate things. But the more I got used to my new outline, the easier it was to work with it, and the faster I got. I even had a few 3000-4500 word days. Yes, I know there are authors who can write 10-20K per day, but my brain doesn’t do that yet.

In December, I finished two-and-a-half chapters of book 3 and got the beats, POV/chronology, and four chapters of book 4 outlined. By the end of January 2019, I wrote another four chapters of book 3 and outlined 2/3 of book 4 before I discovered some major problems and had to start over. (But at least I found it in the outlining stage and not after I’d WRITTEN 2/3 of the book!) It took until May to figure out how to fix my outline, partly because of publishing and partly because I spent a month helping my parents. And it was pondering what kind of song I’d write for this book that gave me the clue. 😉

I finished the first draft of book 3 in February (excluding stuff to fix and things like chapter headings and Nia’s curses). Thirteen months for drafting is still pretty slow, but it’s half my time for book 2, so it’s still progress. Now that I have some experience at it, I’m hoping book 4 will go even faster.

Wish me luck!

M. C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 2)

With the help of my critique group, I improved the setting, description, and physical cues of my second book. But they still complained that the first third was too slow. (By the time we reached halfway, there were no brakes on the story and no complaints about pacing.) I tried this and that to increase the tension and the plot movement, and it improved, but people still complained.

After rewriting things several times, I wanted to tear out my hair. Yeah, being an author is sometimes not much fun at all. Then I had to go out-of-state to help my parents declutter–again. Since I knew I’d be too busy to actually write, I decided it was a good time to do a lot of brainstorming and figure out how to fix my pacing at last. One advantage is that my mom is very familiar with my stories and characters and is willing to talk to me about them.

We went over each chapter, one at a time. For some of them, we figured out small things to increase the tension and pacing. Then we got to chapter six. Plot: inadequate. Chapter character goal: missing and unfulfilled. Dialogue: lots and lots of that… Pacing: very, very slow. We tried to fix the poor thing, but eventually decided it was just broken.

*We will pause for a moment of silence for a dead chapter.*

I hate broken chapters. I really do. This wasn’t my first one and probably won’t be my last. Still don’t like it.

We talked it over for two days and still got nowhere. Though Mom knows my stories and characters, she’s a novice with story structure and beats and other writerly jargon. Then one of my author friends kindly offered to call and chat about the problem. We brainstormed several bad solutions (okay, not bad, just not very workable for the rest of the story) and then finally hit on something I hope works.

Yes, I still have to rewrite the entire chapter. No, I’m still not happy about it. Yes, I’ll do it anyway. And again, and again, and again, until it’s finally good enough to share with the rest of you.

What are the lessons here?

  1. When you get stuck, ask for help.
  2. Don’t give up.
  3. You won’t succeed without lots of hard work.
  4. Don’t call a book finished until you’ve fixed everything you can possibly fix and polished it until it shines.

My brain died on my “vacation,” but as soon as I get it back in working order, chapter six is up for a complete remodel, and I have a page of other edits to incorporate. (That doesn’t sound as bad, but they aren’t simple “change this word” things. Nope, more rewriting all over the book.) Once I finish (*pause for hysterical laughter*), I hope to have it ready for beta readers. Or at least alpha ones. My publisher would still like me to get it out in a reasonable amount of time after the first one.

(Update: That chapter passed my critique group. Another chapter still has to go through the process. Sigh.)

Wish me luck, and good luck in your own writing,

M. C. Lee

The Best Time to Write a Novel: Circadian Rhythms for Writers

While I attempted to not quote, this information is taken from The Power of When, by Michael Breus. I recommend you read the book for more details.

In the morning, sunlight hits your eyes and activates your circadian rhythm for the day. Your temperature, blood pressure, thinking, hormones, energy, creativity, and more, fluctuate according to this inner clock. This means there actually IS a best time for you to eat, sleep, write, and learn.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the early bird and the night owl. In reality, there are four chronological types. I’ll call them the Earlys (15-20% of the population), the Mids (50%), the Lates (15-20%), and the Chaotics (10%). Up until the invention of electrical lights, the Earlys and Lates served to guard society at either end of the day, while the Mids worked during the day. The lightly-sleeping Chaotics would wake at small noises and warn of danger. There is a range within each category, so you could be an early-ish Mid, for example.

Some of you probably know your chronotype already. Some of you might wish you were different and want to know if you can change. Well, sort of, but no. Let me explain. Babies tend to be Lates, toddlers are usually Earlys, children are typically Earlys or Mids, and teens are frequently Lates. Adults tend to be Mids before turning Early or Chaotic as Seniors. But between roughly the ages of 21 and 65, you can’t change your type. You CAN, however, learn how to do the best you can with what you are.

Before getting into the schedule, let’s cover a few interesting things about each type.

Earlys don’t typically have trouble sleeping or waking. Their main improvement goal is to stretch their energy further into the day so they can enjoy the rest of the world for a little longer.

Main challenges: a bumpy adjustment and frustration at slow results.

Mids need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. They have an advantage, because most of the social world is set up for them already. They also have the longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: get adequate sleep and exercise during the week, shift eating rhythms, increase energy in afternoons and evenings.

Main challenges: feeling trapped by a schedule, sleeping in/napping on the weekends, late-night snacking.

Lates frequently diagnose themselves as lazy or insomniacs, when in reality they simply have a different sleeping schedule. They have the second-longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: improve efficiency during work hours, shift eating rhythms, increase sleep, stabilize mood swings.

Main challenges: rebelliousness (but biochronology is law of nature, not arbitrary rules), impatience, and impulsivity.

The smallest group, the Chaotics, are biologically backwards from the other three groups. For most people, cortisol goes up in the morning and temperature falls at night. The Chaotics are exactly the opposite, which explains many of their sleep problems. They also have brains that don’t turn off while sleeping, so they frequently don’t feel rested when they wake.

Main goals from a new schedule: increase energy in the morning, decrease evening anxiety for better sleep.

Main challenges: unrealistic expectations for 8 hours of sleep (a good 6 hours is realistic), and inconsistency.

I tried to predict some of your questions, like:

What if my optimal schedule isn’t practical in real life? Do the best you can. See if you can get any part of your schedule to align.

What if I don’t want to be tied to a schedule? Then don’t, but if you give it a try, you might find the improvements worth the changes.

What do you do if your life doesn’t allow you to write at the ideal time? First try to pick a closely related time (by function). Can you use your brainstorming or creative thinking time to write? Can you use your professional time to edit?

If not, is there a just-before or just-after your ideal time that would work with your brain and your schedule?

If neither of those will work, then you’re going to have to use the time you have available, even if it isn’t ideal. But don’t use your editing time to write, or vice versa! They are opposite functions, and your brain will protest.

What do you do if the important people in your life *cough your family* have different schedules from you? Can you compromise on a middling time, between the ideal for either of you? Can you compromise on what activities you do together or how you do them? For instance, a Late could sit & talk for an Early dinner, but actually eat later. Can you compromise on whose schedule rules for different activities? Maybe you could give a little on sleep time in exchange for some writing time, or vice versa.

And, of course, “But when is the right time to write?”

Favorite Writing Books

Writing (Craft) Books:

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes, by Donald Maass

Story Pitch: The How To Guide For Using A Pitch To Create Your Story, by Scott King

You Must Write: Success Through Heinlein’s Rules, by Kevin McLaughlin (some craft, some business)

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, by Brandon Sanderson et al

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, by Debra Dixon

all the Emotional Thesaurus books, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson

Behind the Book: Making The Death of Dulgath, by Michael J. Sullivan

Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction, by Larry Brooks

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula K. LeGuin

No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells, by Alice Orr

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!, by Phillip Athans

How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat

Aliens and Alien Societies, by Stanley Schmidt

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman

Building Better Plots, by Robert Kernen

The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work, by Writers Digest Books

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card

Wrede on Writing, by Patricia C. Wrede

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester

Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read, by Dawn Parrett Thurston

Plotting Your Novel Workbook: A Companion Book to Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, by Janice Hardy

Writing (Business) Books:

Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print, by Joanna Penn

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Let’s Get Digital, #1), by David Gaughran

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki

Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream, by Craig Martelle

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, by Sheree Bykofsky

Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, by Joanna Penn

Author 2.0 Blueprint, by Joanna Penn

Pulp Speed for Professional Writers: Business for Breakfast, Volume 9, by Blaze Ward

The Secrets of Success, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (it’s a single chapter/booklet, but a lot to ponder)

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, by Mark Coker

HOW I SOLD 80,000 BOOKS: Book Marketing for Authors, by Alinka Rutkowsky

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, by Helen Sedwick

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 1)

I learned so much from writing my first book, that when I decided to write a second one, I figured I’d be smarter. For instance, I’d plan the beats first, and figure out POV assignments ahead of time, and make a REAL outline instead of a few lines for each chapter.

Well, some of that worked out, but now I look back and laugh at my innocent confidence. For the sake of the timeline you probably don’t care about, I started book two in September of 2015, and finished the first draft in November 2017. There were a lot of “not working on it” months in the middle, though. That’s one of the two things I remind myself when I feel like complaining that I should have gotten faster, not slower. (The other is that I was now consciously trying to incorporate a lot of writing techniques and elements that I hadn’t even thought about while drafting book one.)

I did plan the beats, all laid out in the handy chart I invented for edits of the first book. I thought I was doing so well. Then I got book two half-written (in random chunks) and had to redo half the organization. What had been the midpoint moved to the first quarter, and a whole new event landed in the middle. Granted, it was more exciting that way. You’re welcome. (Thanks, Kyle!)

I assigned every chapter a point of view, also on my handy-dandy chart. That changed a bit as I changed the beats, but I mostly got it right. That was a relief, since rewriting POV in book one was one of my many headaches, and I didn’t want to go through that again.

As for a REAL outline… now that I’m working on book three, I can see how pitiful my outline really was. But, hey, it was better than the one for book one! I’m learning. I hope. I keep thinking I’ve got it right and then discovering how inadequate I am. (That’s normal for humans, right?) We’ll see what my plotting looks like when I hit book four.

Anyway, I finished the first draft, with the new organization, for NaNoWriMo in November 2017. I knew it wasn’t actually “finished,” but I’d filled in the blank chapters and done everything I knew how to do by myself.

After some editing in December and January, I started submitting chapters to my new critique group. As we went along, it quickly became apparent that some of the missing bits were description, setting, and physical cues. Apparently, those aren’t naturally strong points for me. (Don’t worry, I edit them until they’re good.)

That seems like a good place to stop for now. Thanks for reading!

If you’re a writer, what’s your favorite part of the process? Readers, what do you wish your favorite author would do better, and what does he/she already do fabulously?

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. 😉