Musings

Weekly Musing: Reference This

In the past I’ve talked about a variety of resources I found helpful at the time. Re-reading it I realized how much my idea of what is useful has changed. Some of the tools I listed I no longer use. Either outgrew them or decided to try others.

One of the biggest changes has been in the kinds of books I consider to be valuable reference materials. I’ve expanded my scope beyond grammar and editing books to books on such topics as superstitions, what various traumas to the body actually look like, to how to better write emotions. No matter what genre you write, be it general fiction, mystery, fantasy, historical fiction, etc. below I’ve listed a few books I think every write should have on the bookshelf.

Story Elements and Novel Writing – Writer’s Digest produces several books on story elements.  These are great for strengthening your strengths and providing help on weaker areas. For example, I think my biggest strength is dialogue yet I still have a book on it. I also have a book on characters, emotions, and viewpoint. Never know when characters might start sounding alike or when I struggle to find the right “voice” for a character.

What I personally focus on is having multiple books on my weak areas. For me I believe that it is setting and descriptions as well as plot and structure. I struggle to translate the world and people I see in my head onto paper. Also, since I consider myself more character-driven, making sure the plot makes sense and has scenes that support it I struggle with.

I think every writer should have at least one book on beginnings, middles, and endings since very few writers, if any, are proficient in all three. I think it’s also great to have a book on these since I see so much emphasis placed on the first sentence, opening chapter, or first 50 pages that it’s no wonder books fall apart in the middle and sputter to an end. If we want our readers to keep coming back we need to look at our manuscripts as a whole.

And like any writer, I have a few books on how to write a novel. There’s an overwhelming amount of books out there. Some claim you can write a draft of one in as little as a month, others set more realistic goals (unless you’re slow like me) of 90 days. Still others focus on how to write the kind of novel that will get people’s attention. I decided to go with a couple because too much information can be a bad thing.

Emotions and Personality Types – I was naturally born with a gift/curse to empathize with both real and fictional people. In my head and heart their emotions tend to be felt as much as if they were my own. Yet I frequently struggle to set those emotions on paper. This makes me feel as if I’m not doing the characters justice.

I heard about a book called The Emotion Thesaurus via an article. What I really appreciate about this book and the subsequent follow-ups The Negative Emotion Thesaurus and The Positive Emotion Thesaurus is that they aim to help writers get out of the rut of describing the same emotions in the same way. In the original book the authors include physical signs, what a particular emotion feels like internally, and mental responses to name a few of the categories. In the two follow up books they take things further. They include associated thoughts, behaviors and attitudes, related secondary emotions, positive and negative aspects, and even examples from TV and film.

Another book I’ve found useful is the Writer’s Guide to Character Traits. Unlike the emotion thesaurus series, this books provides deeper analysis. In addition to listing various personality types, the author offers how personality differs in children and adolescent. Other features which appeal to me are discussions on psychological disorders, criminal types, creating a family, and love, marriage and other kinds of relationships.

The Human Body – I’m not necessarily referring to having Grey’s Anatomy nearby, but I do think it is important to have books dealing with the human body. For example, I have a book on poisons, body trauma, and more than a few books on weapons. Although not quite related, I even have a book on survival. Never know when a character will wind up on their own in the woods or desert or ocean.

If you think only crime and mystery writers need these kinds of books, think about this way. Say you write historical fiction and have a scene involving a battle. The time period dictates the weapons and equipment involved, but you’ll want to make sure injuries and deaths inflicted are plausible.

Or if you write fantasy, perhaps the book on poisons can be of use. Maybe your protagonist likes to coat a particular kind his or her weapon of choice. What would using poison plus their weapon of choice due to a body? Again, having a book on body trauma can be helpful for describing the wound.

Myths, Symbols, Superstitions, and Legends – Again, no matter what genre you write in, why not consider adding a few of these books? While I’ve yet to use my books on superstitions, symbols and signs, and mythology, I feel they are valuable. Who knows, maybe I could have a character obsessed with Nordic mythology who uses it guide his or her life.

Think only fantasy or horror writers would benefit from these? Think of it like this. Say you write mystery. Perhaps the bad person leaves behind a series of symbols. Maybe instead of using the most recognizable symbols in your country, you cast your net wider and look to another part of the world. What does this say about the antagonist? Is he or she from that area? A person obsessed with the culture? How do you go about narrowing your field of suspects? Maybe your cast includes an archeologist who has worked in that region, an anthropologist specializing in that culture, and a native of that region. Maybe the real culprit is none of them and is someone who wants to frame one of those people for an unrelated personal reason.

 

Having a variety of reference books beyond the usual writerly ones is a great way to get inspired. If you’re stuck in your story, consider perusing through a book of superstitions. Or when you’re editing and want a better way to describe a character being sad. Grab your books on emotions. Not only does it add more realism, it can make our work more interesting and unique. And you don’t need a ton of books to help you. All the books I listed are condensed and brief, general information. Many of these are geared toward writers and are easy to understand. Their just jumping off points and can be used in conjunction with websites and other books.

Musings

Weekly Musing: 2015 NaNoWriMo Update

Unlike the previous two years I decided not to do a weekly NaNoWriMo update. With monthly updates regarding revising a novel I didn’t think posting about a different WIP would be interesting. Instead I thought just one post would be sufficient.

As of when this hits, I should be close to that glorious 50,000 word mark or beyond it. However, this doesn’t mean the story itself is done. By my rough estimate I’ve got probably a couple more weeks left to finish it. Not sure how many words it will be in the end but it certainly won’t be anything close to the behemoth of a rough draft my historical fiction book was.

Going into NaNoWriMo this year, I had a vague idea story in my head. I wrote down a few key scenes on notecards and was prepared to wing it. Since my focus the last few months has been on historical fiction I wanted this book to be in a different genre. I like doing this because it gives my mind a break as well as allows me to play around in a completely different world.

Primarily inspired by Halloween I decided to the main character should be a witch. I wanted to stay away from some of the familiar tropes. For example, she’s not an ugly old hag yet she’s not overly pretty or beautiful. Also she’s not either purely good or purely evil and she’s not part of a coven. Definitely more of a loner type as she lives in the woods with her faithful dog until an old acquaintance appears on her doorstep. Adventure ensues. Not very well and probably not very coherent in many spots, but the story is for fun. I’m not sure at this point if I want to revise this or not.

A few differences I’ve noticed this year from the previous two years is I feel like I have a far better grasp on the concept of what makes a chapter. I also feel like I have a better idea of how to end a chapter on a note that makes a reader turn the page. Again, this is a very rough, terrible draft but as I’ve been writing, I can feel a natural rhythm dictating each chapter. This is most likely due in large part with working on a chapter a day for the other book so my mind has gotten into a grove.

Another difference is this hasn’t been as stressful as years past. In 2013 I was in the process of planning a cross country move. Last year I used NaNoWriMo as a jumping off point to write my historical fiction novel. Going into that I knew it was going to be vastly longer than 50,000 words. This year, with the exception of the last week or so, it hasn’t been that stressful. There’s no pressure I’m placing on myself and as I mentioned above, I’m not sure I’ll be revising this next year. I’m enjoying the story and the characters for what they are and trying something new.

The other big thing, and this is something that’s been developing more over the whole year rather than during this month, is I’m able to consistently able to write above the 1,667 words/day goal. I’ve always been one of those people able to write well over a 1,000 words/day just because I’m incredibly wordy to begin with. But this year I seem to have upped the ante a bit.

So for everyone out there who participated in NaNoWriMo, I hope the month went well for you. And even if you didn’t meet the 50,000 word goal or finish the story, that’s okay. Look at November as the month you began your novel. Use the momentum and routine you developed this month and carry that over into December and beyond.

Musings

Weekly Musing: Ding, Ding, Round Two is Over

Well, I am done with the second revision of my novel. Hooray! This will be the last post about it. It’s a relief getting it before the end of the month. This gives me a few days off to rest my mind before I start prepping for NaNoWriMo.

As before, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned going through the process of learning how to revise a novel.

Realistic Expectations for My Process: I’ve already promised myself that for round 3 I am going to allow myself about 6 months to get revisions done. All my deadlines have been self-imposed because without them I fear I won’t ever actually learn what my process is. It’s also a kick in the ass to get over my anxiety and get it done.

But I think the 4 month deadline isn’t very healthy for me. That’s why for round 3 I am going to give myself more time since it will be the first time I will be revising the story from point A to point Z instead of by character. I’ll be truly reading it as a reader would be reading it.

Plugging Plot Holes: While I think I’ve managed to plug up some of the plot holes, especially as I switched from one main character to the other, there are still many more. This is another reason why I’m going to give myself 6 months to get through the round of revisions. I’m sure I will be drafting new chapters unless I can figure out a way to convert what I’ve already written. Sooner I can get those holes filled in, the better. It is my goal that once I am done with the third pass, each revision after will be more in line with simply polishing the manuscript and getting feedback.

Realistic Expectations for the Manuscript: This ties in a little bit with plugging the plot holes. Right now the novel is still quite a mess. That’s okay. I finally feel like the time line is coming together as well as my understanding of the characters.

I realize that my chapters as they stand are far too long. I have numerous chapters which are over 2,500 words which may not sound too bad but when an overwhelming majority of the chapters are that length, reader fatigue should be considered especially nowadays. That being said, historical fiction books tend to be pretty lengthy and long chapters aren’t unusual.

On the other hand, it’s about the flow of the story. Will having long chapter after long chapter really serve the story? Can I get away with paring down several of the long chapters and still get the story across? What chapters can be sacrificed? Already I cut several from the rough draft. I also added in several scenes.

Looking back at the breakdown of words per character, one of the two main characters has about 20,000 more words than the other does. At this point I don’t feel this is a bad thing. I’ve never been shooting for a perfect 50/50 for the story, but is that balance fair to the story and the characters?

Research: It’s a bitch at times. I’m sure it will continue to be going into round 3. However I hope to continue to utilize cheat sheets of info. I think it will be great to do this for important historical events so I can quickly refer to what would be key to my story.

It amazes me how often I looked back in my books and previous research for more than just a simple line about a battle, for example, and not finding much. Or being able to nail down people’s movements after a major event. I have a hard time believing people just disappeared for a few months. You would think the books I have would contain such valuable information. Apparently not. And these are history books written by well-respected historians on this particular subject.

Or realizing that there are some seemingly easy questions I’ve asked but had problems finding the answers. A lot of hours spent on different websites to find these answers or cross-referencing answers only to discover conflicting information. That’s when I whipped out my privilege as a writer to go with my gut keeping in mind it is fiction first. If someone wants historical fact then read history books.

Playlists Don’t Help: Oddly enough, listening to music somewhat of the time period or which match with a mood didn’t actually help me. If anything it was a bigger distraction. Didn’t matter if it was playlist I created or someone else’s. Eventually I gave up and went back to listening to classical music or non-annoying electronica music.

Briefly, just a couple of stats of my book as it stands. So far I have 51 chapters for a total of 127,759 words. That is a lot of words but again, one of the beauties of historical fiction is longer is fine. That doesn’t mean I want to pad the pages with fluff. This is also down from the initial rough draft which was about 155,000 words.

I’m getting there and do think the second draft is pretty much the story I’ve struggled to get just right. Overall I’m hopeful for each revision from here on out. I don’t know if I think things will get easier. I want them to as I had no clue just how much work this was going to be. At times it was frustrating but ultimately, it is incredibly satisfying. Not sure when I will start again; not until 2016 and probably no sooner than February.