Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pet words

Revisions, revisions, revisions. I've been talking about them for the past two weeks, but what I haven't mentioned are the great pet words that pop up (over and over) with each book.

Two books ago, my characters were constantly in a "sleek car" for some reason. In my last book, the characters were smiling and grinning so much, I thought they should be on "Hee-Haw." I seriously could hear "Clang-clackin'-clang-clackin'-clang-clackin'-clang-clang-clang" in the background. Maybe even a "Salute!"

I'd thought I'd stopped the amateur hour. Surely, my readers do not need to have every facial expression described to them. They do not need to have every vehicle described as sleek. Does there really need to be that many mention of vehicles at all?

Yes, this book would be different, better.


I accrued a new pet phrase: perked up. She perked up. He perked up. The dog may have even perked up. Every chapter has someone perking up!

Why? Why do I feel the need to repeat these words or phrases constantly? And why is it a new word or phrase every book? It's like a Where's Waldo for the writer--who can spot the pet phrase? Uggh.

There is hope. Maybe my next book will have the magical first draft which is pet phrase free? Until then, I'll keep my eyes open for the offenders.

Enjoy your week!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chapter-By-Chapter Revisions

Last week I explained my broad revision process. This week I'll describe my nitty-gritty, chapter-by-chapter process. This is the most intense stage of revising for me.

My entire book is printed out. I separate the chapters and put each one in a vanilla folder. Why? It gives me the illusion that the job won't be as enormous as I think. Any way I can trick my mind helps. The red pen comes out of hiding. I grab the vanilla folder marked "Chapter One" and take the stack of papers out. There may be a bit of hyperventilation; there may not be. It really depends on my general state of mind. For this book, I got lucky--no spaz attacks!

I begin reading through the chapter. Chapter One always takes a long time because I analyze my opening. A few questions I ask myself are "Have I started the book at the best place?" and "Is this compelling enough for someone to want to continue reading?" More often than not, I've opened the book at a weak point, or at the very least, not the strongest point. The red pen moves furiously.

Once I've nailed the opening scene (and worried about it, because hey, I thought I'd nailed it before--sometimes several times for the same story!), I read through the chapter with these questions in mind:

1. Do the opening line and paragraph pack a punch?
2. Do they reflect the main reason for the book?
3. Do the closing line and paragraph pack a punch?
4. Does the chapter entice the reader to want to keep reading?
5. Are the characters interesting? Are they necessary? Did I refer to each character by only one name to avoid confusion? Ex: Jane Simmons could be Jane, Mrs. Simmons, Tim's wife, etc...
6. Is the dialogue snappy? Have I eliminated all commonplace dialogue such as greetings and goodbyes?
7. Have I written boring scenes where the character is thinking while eating, or brushing his teeth, or thinking in the shower? All boring, everyday routines can safely be eliminated.
8. How many scenes does the chapter contain?
9. Does each scene have a start and a finish? Does each scene contain a change that moves the story forward? Is each scene written in one time, one place, and from one viewpoint?
10. Are at least one of the five senses engaged in each scene?
11.Does every scene in the chapter belong in the book? Can any be safely cut?
12. Is the setting adequate in each scene? Is the description too short or too tedious?
13. Is the pace appropriate for this point in the book? Is there a point where it feels too fast, too slow? Jarring?
14. Have I avoided cliche's?
15. Have I wrapped up all loose ends? I don't want to throw clues in the book and never address them again.
16. Have I stayed in deep point of view as much as possible?

Point 16 means a lot to me. When I've analyzed the chapter for the first 15 points, I go back and read through each scene, mentally replacing third person with first person to make sure I haven't accidentally switched viewpoints. It also helps add the deep point of view so necessary for romance writers to connect with the reader.

I repeat this process for each chapter until the first draft is no longer white but blood red. Then, I type in all of the changes, replace all of the lazy and repetitive words throughout, tighten up all of the writing, and read it aloud as the final step.

So there you have it. It sounds and looks much harder than it is. Many of the chapters have little wrong with them but need more description or tweaks to the deep point of view. I try to revise three to four chapters a day after I've completed the first chapter.

Wish me luck as I continue on the revising trail.

Enjoy your week!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finished the first draft. Now what?

The first draft is finished! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Elated? Of course!

Not so fast.

Writing the first draft always fills me with joy--but then--reality comes crashing down. When the first draft is finished, it means I have to enter the next stage of the book. Revisions. Blech.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lots of writers love revisions. In fact, many writers I know actually revise as they go. They adore playing with their words, getting each scene just right. Too bad I'm not one of them. It's not that I don't want my story to be polished and wonderful and perfect. It's just that if I revise as I go, I never get very far; I certainly don't finish the book. Instead, I run in circles, chasing my own tail. That's why I write first, revise later.

Even this causes dilemmas. Yes, it's true. Should I print out the whole book and read it straight through first? Or should I find and replace the words on my "generic" list before wasting all that paper? Maybe I shouldn't read the whole book, but revise chapter by chapter. Do I revise it on the computer or on paper?

Do you see why my head spins on the first revision day?

There is a solution. I've devised a revisions checklist with step-by-step instructions for myself. No need to make lengthy decisions about what order to perform the necessary tasks: it's all written out for me. Are you curious to find out my revision process? Of course you aren't, but I'm not going to let that stop me!

The first thing I do is write out the basic theme of the book in about 20 words. It may have changed from my original intention, and now that the book is finished, I want to be clear what the book is about. The second thing I do is write a short blurb about the book, similar to what you would find on the back cover. I've already written one before the first draft, but the final product will have subtle differences. The reason I do these two things is to have the book, in a nutshell, in front of me. This helps me focus when revising.

Now I'm ready to begin. I print out the entire book. The printer usually gives me trouble; today is no exception. At this point I feel like I deserve a caffeine jolt and take a quick break. Next up I face my biggest challenge. Reading the entire book without changing a thing.

Try it. It's next to impossible. Do you know how hard it is to read your own first draft without a pen in hand? Oh, the things I want to change. I can't even describe the difficulty level of this exercise. But I'm not looking for the nitty-gritty at this point; no, I'm looking for the overall tone, pace, characters, theme, plot. I need to analyze the big picture.

So now you know the first steps in my revision process. Next, I'll revise the draft chapter-by-chapter. When that is finished, I'll find and replace all of the generic words on my list and really tweak the writing to shine. Finally, I'll read the entire draft out loud and give it another once over.

By the time I'm finished revising, the entire book swims in my head and I never want to look at it again. Until six months pass, I open the book and get lost in a world of my own creation... Bliss.

Next week, I'll detail my process of chapter-by-chapter revisions.

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bad Writing Week

Having a bad writing week. The more I procrastinate the more I dread adding to my current book. How do I know it's bad? Well...I just filled in a scratch in my cupboard with a wood wax crayon thingy. I've had that crayon for 7 months and hadn't felt the urge to use it until this morning. You do the math.

I know, I know. So what? One little scratch...not so fast. Our good coffee maker broke a few days ago; this morning, I took apart the entire thing and cleaned it--thoroughly. Every dirty dish in the house was scrubbed this morning. Every counter wiped down. Lint was picked up off of the stairs. Here's the worst: I was actually considering cleaning out the cat litter. Or stripping every bed and washing all of the sheets.

Window washing entered my mind. I stopped to get an oil change this morning, but drove away when they quoted me an outrageous price. Even toyed with returning a few items to Walmart. I'm on my second ginormous cup of coffee--usually a writing help. Not today. Can I just go take a seven hour nap? No? Fine.

I will write. But it won't be pretty.

So there.

Enjoy your week!