Revisions: The Second Step

So you have finally finished reading your magnificent work of art and managed not to die from the shame of having written it (or maybe that’s just me). You have underlined and annotated and shred apart your self-esteem until all that remains of it are fading memories.

You have questioned your every plot point and identified weaknesses that make your magnum opus slightly less magnummy. Now what?

Well, if you are me, you isolate those questions:

Stage 2a

Then you answer them:

Stage 2b

Obviously every writer will have their own set of rules of what works for them and what doesn’t. But for me, the act of writing out things works similarly to thinking out loud. When I put my questions into writing, I can answer them better.

I usually don’t pants my way through a book and this experience was horrific enough that I hope never to do so again. However, some stories demand to be told in certain ways and for me The Wild Ones demanded to be told in a wild away: forging ahead often blindly.

Now that the book is written, I can go back and recreate a more solid foundation and build from there.

But man, the plot holes.

Happy writing!

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Revisions: The First Step

A Twitter friend of mine, Patrice Caldwell, recently shared her revising process which led me to share mine and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to not just me but other people if I were to collect those tweets in a post and elaborate on them.

I am revising the novel I finished less than two weeks ago because clearly I can’t stop writing/revising for more than a week without feeling like my life is ending. I haven’t spoken about the novel much on here (but then I haven’t spoken about much here on this blog) but The Wild Ones is part social commentary, part fiction, and entirely feminist.

The novel is vastly different from anything I have written so far and I feel like it could offer the literary establishment something new but only if I manage to whip it into shape. To be completely honest, it is somewhat terrible right now but then, first drafts usually are. Add the fact that I actually the pantsed the entire thing (I’m an outliner through and through and you have a novel that is barely held together.

The good thing is, I am entirely aware of the faults. The bad thing the faults are many. Hah.

Which brings me to Step One When Revising a Novel (any novel):

The First Read-Through

Say you finished your novel one bright November morning and after a torrential outburst of tears at making it through alive, you resolve to leave it alone for at least a month before returning to it. However, you cannot leave well enough alone and send a copy to your poor agent and ask she read it and critique it so you can revise it.

Then barely two weeks later, you decided you have had enough rest and decide to start revising your masterpiece. You read the first page and it’s well enough so you continue reading and make conscientious notes–it’s not perfect but it’s close.

And then you read the page and you realize that what you have written is nowhere near perfect, not even in the same galaxy to perfect. In fact, it’s about the same distance from perfect as the earth is to the sun.

So you leave yourself mean notes because the embarrassment is crippling.

first read

Another tip is to make chapter summaries. This will help you see structural deficiencies and figure what each chapter lacks. A CP suggested that I chart emotional highs and lows but that can come at a later stage.

Ask yourself the hard questions at this stage because you will be able to answer them without much penalty. Trying to answer the hard questions at a later date will make you cry. Loudly.

Chapter Summaries

This is where I am at the moment.

Another thing I suggested paying attention to at this stage is the subtext. I don’t know if authors normally pay attention to subtext but since I’m first an academic, what the subtext says is important to me. There are many ways to use the subtext to add an extra dimension to your writing, an extra layer that will satisfy those readers who tend to read more deeply (like me) and maybe if your book is studied at a university sometime in the future, someone will discover that one esoteric fact/technique you used.

Sometimes the subtext can be harmful entirely unintentionally. Try not to be resistant to the idea that you could be unknowingly problematic. It happens. Though your CPs will be far more helpful in this instance to make you are of any problematic elements in your work.

Just keep in mind that while this book is something you have slaved over, dreamed about, and wept for, at the end, it is not perfect. You will need a certain level of detachment and distance from this novel to craft it into the best it can be. You will need to cut away things that you absolutely do not want to and you will need to sometimes submit to a vision of the novel that doesn’t match the original vision you had of it but that fits it better.

Don’t excuse or try to hide the novel’s flaws. Rip it apart and then put it back together. As I am trying to do.

Lord help me.

I will be back once I move on to Step Two (if Step One doesn’t kill me, that is.)

Happy writing!

On Writing: Figuring Out Your MC

Every writer has their M.O but if there is one advice I am going to give (and you know, if you think I am worth taking advice from), I would tell you to know your MC character factually at least before you start writing their story.

You may think this would be obvious but you would be surprised. I am not saying that you have to know the colour of their eyes or their physical measurements (which you do) but that you have to engage with your MC on a deeper level.

A person is the combination of nature and nurture. Their landscapes shape them as much as the people around them do. So have a conversation with your MC before you start writing their story. What’s their favourite colour? What’s their deepest fear? What flavour of ice cream do they prefer? Sometimes what they don’t like is more revealing than what they do.

Are they afraid of the dark? If yes, then why? Is there a childhood trauma or incident? Do they have any triggers? There’s no reason your main character cannot be as complex and layered as a person.

Chances are, figuring out your protagonist will give you insights into the story you are writing. So open a word doc or a fresh notebook and have that conversation with your MC. Write your notes. Watch them grow and come to life before you. It’s a grand feeling when they do.

On Writing: A New W.I.P and A New Method to my Madness

I took some time off between restarting the job search (erghhh) and finishing the first draft of The Fire Within. Just one week. And realized that I am most happy whenever I’m writing. I miss being sunk into a different work, miss my characters, and miss their lives. No matter how much I whine and whinge (sorry), writing is what makes me happiest. It only took me 33 years to make this realization. Heh.

So I decided to start a new WIP.

\_(ツ)_/¯

So this new WIP is inspired by Peter Pan in exciting ways and I’m super keen to begin it except you know, I’m kinda still working out the structure. Somewhat.

I mean, also, the story.

The actual meat of it. The thing that will make people invest their emotions and care and right now, it’s really too early to say. So, like fungus, I’m in my absorptive stage. I’m going to read and read and read and see what I can come with.

This will be my 4th novel and I have learned that each one requires a different method, i.e. what works for one probably will not work for another. This one in particular is totally experimental and unconventional which is exciting but at the same time requires a lot of thinking.

Anyway, so I have decided to create a reading list for The Wild Ones. So far, I have read:

  1. Bone – Yrsa Daly-Ward
  2. I’m Judging You – Luvvie Ajayi
  3. Here We Are – Kelly Jensen
  4. A Bestiary – Lily Hoang
  5. The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley

More titles to be added as I read them.

 

On Writing: The World According to the World

A decade ago I wrote a little snippet about a girl running through the streets of a city, desperation on her heels, her face contorted in an expression of anguish, the skies dark and threatening, the roads dirty and wet. Her name was Fatima.

As I grew up, the girl grew with me. Much in the same way that Croi, the protagonist of my first novel grew with me, so did Fatima. She learned from my lessons, learned from my mistakes. She hurt when I did, she knew the same joy and happiness I did.

Now I am writing her story.

And it humbles me. The idea that I am writing her story–who is so much a part of me but is her own person at the same time–humbles me. I could make some analogies to explain this feeling, give a sense of this experience, but I don’t think I want to.

A lot of Fatima Ghazala’s story is shaped by the world today. Even though the setting is fantasy and ultimately an escape from the real world, I have peopled it, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally, with characters going through the same things as we are.

It occurred to me that there are more females in my book than males (with major speaking parts anyway) and I worried about that until I realized that so many books exist in which women are present at the periphery, often limited to roles as wives, girlfriends, maids, or whatever subservient position is available.

There are a host of different cultures in The Fire Within and I get so much pleasure in exploring, even slightly, the different facets of that culture. Just the greetings alone are so different and give so much information about the kind of people they belong to. I grew up in a hodgepodge of cultures and I live in a place that is incredibly diverse. I wanted to convey that in my book so I did. I also want to present all the women as fully realized as possible but also reflecting their different cultures without any commentary on the disparity that exists between how the white feminists expect all women to be and the reality of how different women exists as feminists in their culture of origin.

Perhaps I have made the book more political than it ought to be. I am almost 48k words into the book and feel so very determined to make it as beautiful a piece of literature as I can.

I will just forget about how the sentences don’t sentence very well right now and just get the story (in all its dubious glory) out on paper.

On Writing: This is YOUR book until it isn’t.

It feels remarkably self-indulgent to be still concerned with the lighter things considering everything that is happening politically across the border and around the world but here we are. Still concerned with art and the making of it. (Also the marketing of it but that is a different post for a different day.)

I am still working on my current project for which I wrote the back copy as:

“You are a child of flesh and blood and I am a being of fire and ink. Were I merciful, I would bid you run and end this tale here. But I am Ifrit and my stories are eternal even though I am not. So come here child, and in return for the kindness I have shown you, become the ink that writes my tale.”

Qirat is a country ruled by the humans who claim its forests and the Ifrit who claim all that is desert. The City of Noor, located on the border between the forests and the desert, is the seat of power for both the human and the Ifrit rulers. When Fatima, a human citizen of the city of Noor, delivers a letter to the Name Giver of the Ifrit that ends up fatally wounding him, she becomes the unwilling recipient of an ancient power not meant to be wielded by humans.

The days following the Name Giver’s murder are full of fire and smoke. Fatima is stalked through the city by the Djinni Guard which is led by an Ifrit called Zulfikar. The Name Giving power she received from the murdered Ifrit leads Fatima to discover a name and its associated Djinn fire that, inexplicably, belongs to her. She is captured by Zulfikar who finds himself drawn to Fatima for reasons he cannot understand or accept.  (This doesn’t happen because things are a bit more complicated than the above sentence implies.)

Old enemies resurface and chaos threatens to submerge Qirat into war once again. Fatima is thrown into a world where danger wears many faces and all roses have thorns. She learns that those who love often have the most to lose but that those who don’t love are often the most easily lost. With the war coming, Fatima has to decide which loss is more palatable to her.

Today I will talk about how your book is your book and no one else’s book and how you are writing it as the person you are and not the person you wish to be or the person you will be in a couple of years.

And obviously all these thoughts pertain to me because I am self-absorbed like that but perhaps these thoughts will help you reach some clarity in your own work so here goes nothing.

I spend a lot of time reading articles and posts on writing, taking in advice, talking to people about writing, and generally just learning the craft. So sometimes when I sit down to write I don’t know where to start because sometimes the advice I get is contradictory. I flail, I eat cookies hanging upside my bed, I have heart to heart conversations with my nephew whose entire lexicon is a variance of the word “goo.”

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is my first draft and I am going to make a lot of mistakes writing it. And that it is okay to make mistakes. This is YOUR book and you are allowed to write it the way you want to. Sometimes that will mean not taking the advice given to you and sometimes that will mean doing exactly what people told you not to. Because this is your book and it is the first draft.

So write it. Get it all out. Make all the mistakes. Flail. Cry out loudly. Scream. Get it done.

Because it is your book.

And then, once you’re done with the first draft, woman up. Because as soon as it goes to beta readers, editors, critique partners, it becomes their book too. Learn to take critiques, take all praise with a grain salt ESPECIALLY if it comes from your mother.

Then jump into rewrites. Buy lots of chocolate.

Good luck.

On Writing: The Process and What it Does to the Writer

That is a very ambitious title for what I want to talk about and I have no confidence at all that I am going to be able to express myself with any clarity but…

what the heck… it is past midnight and clarity is optional on this side of the night.

Last autumn, I experienced autumn as if for the first time in a while. I crunched through the leaves and watched winter bloom and wane all as if I had skipped the previous year. Which was odd because I hadn’t gone anywhere.

Everything felt new to me. I felt more alert and more present in my own reality than I had been for a long time.

This made me realize what writing does to a person. Fiction writing specifically because it’s the only one I am familiar with. And okay, I am generalizing so this could totally be my experience alone. I’m sure other writers will pitch in if they read this.

I feel like to write somebody else’s story, you somehow have to thin yourself out so much that you exist as nothing but the pen which is doing the writing. Your you-ness is cast in shade and you become nothing but the reflecting lens for the characters whose stories you are writing.

And it’s bloody exhausting.

But in some ways this process of writing is deeply fascinating. I wonder if someone has compared the brains of writers with the brains of non-writers. What differences exist? How do our brains differ? Are the differences significant?

I should probably sleep. I always get into trouble when I think about things like these…like thinking about writing a book about writers writing books. Hah.

And you know, this also makes me understand how people married to writers suffer. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who wrote if I wasn’t a writer myself because they’d always be selfish of their alone time which would differ from their thinking time and their writing time.

I should stop talking to myself now.