Revision: 3 problems, 3 fixes

cover of manuscript revisionI’m deep in the revision of my YA SciFi manuscript VERITAS. Much of it involved minor mechanical fixes and flew along. Then I got to the ending.

My denouement  section was too long. My developmental editor suggested trying to get it to around 25 pages. After reviewing everything, I decided 30 pages was more realistic. I set my goal: trim from 64 pages to 30.

Once I dove into the revision, I found 3 recurring problems that inflated my ending.

Segmentation

I had several storyline arcs which I spread over multiple chapters. The love story had 3 chapters. The “consequences” storyline had 4. In addition, these events stretched over several days. Did I need to spend all that time and all those words?

Repetition

This revision problem piggy-backed on the segmentation issue. Having so many similar scenes meant I covered the same ground over and over. Even outside those chapters,  I tended to repeat myself, so repetition was an issue throughout the book, as well as the ending.

Addition

The denouement of a story should wrap up all the major loose ends. Taking place after the climactic scene, the denouement serves to allow the protagonist to process what has happened, and to settle into the new world she has helped create. Any major subplots also need to be resolved. What should NOT happen in a denouement is the introduction of new story questions. Leaving some minor things open is fine, but bringing up new “in your face” storylines is frowned upon.

So how do you fix those three problems with the ending?

Marked-up manuscript in revisionCombining

Segmentation can be solved by combining scenes. Creatively find ways where one scene fulfills the goals of what is now two related scenes. Sometimes it is as simple as shuffling two scenes together like a deck of cards, weaving bits of each to make a new whole. Other times it means throwing out the old scenes and writing a new scene from scratch.

Excising

Repetition is often most easily solved by cutting. Pick the moment that most poignantly embodies the idea or information you want to convey, and cut the rest. Alternately, you may be able to combine several of your favorite repetitive moments into a single scene that gets the point across.

Seeding

I added new storylines in the denouement of my story because I wanted to set things up for future books. The problem was not in wanting to leave clues for future books, the problem was visiting these potential storylines in deep detail. Instead, seed your denouement with hints that readers will remember when reading the next book. For example, I took a chapter and a half that examined new storylines and turned them into 4 lines of dialogue.

When your revision starts, look for these issues in your manuscript. Use these tips to fix them and make your manuscript tight and compelling.

Did I reach my goal? Not quite. I cut it from 64 pages to 34 pages. And unless my critique group sees a way to tighten it further, it will likely stay that way. I’m happy with it. The length feels right, and everything I needed in there is there.

What recurrent issues do you find in your manuscripts when you edit?

My manuscript before revision

Thanksgiving 2017

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the USA! I hope that you are having a good time with family or friends, that you have someplace warm to go, and that you enjoy a feast tonight.

I have much to be thankful for this year. I have a healthy family, including a husband I love and a daughter who is my heart. I have a snug home and enough food. I have a career I enjoy and which is moving in good directions.

I am lucky. I have all I need and more. There are many who are not as lucky. During this holiday season, may we all take a moment to lend a hand to those in need. Contribute to a food drive, donate to a charity, give items to Goodwill or the like, clean out your closet and give your lightly-worn clothes to a charity, volunteer at any organization that stirs your passion and compassion. There is so much that can be done with little effort.

My thankful list is a long one, and includes all of my readers. It is my wish that all of you have everything you need and more.

Have a safe and happy holiday, and I will see you back here next week!

Slimming Down the Ending

I have been revising my YA Sci-Fi Veritas, guided by developmental edits from fabulous editor Kathryn Craft. I chopped the first 4 chapters down to 2, then cruised through the next 70 or so chapters.

Then I got to the end, which is too long. I knew it was too long when I sent it in, but I didn’t want to believe it. After all, tightening my work is hard and everything I wrote is so perfect and necessary, right? I blame editing fatigue.

So now I’m at the end, and I need to cut about 40 pages from the 64 that currently exist. Kathryn suggested many cuts, but I cannot cut everything she suggested, because I need some of it to set up future books. So how am I going to do this?

1) I’m going to highlight all the information I need to retain and number each.

2) I’ll put each number and a short reminder of what it is into an Excel sheet so I can see all of the pieces at once.

3) I will then see what information can be woven into existing scenes that I will be keeping and what information might be combined into new scenes.

4) As I put that information into the story,  I will mark it in the spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally leave anything out.

5) When I have done all that, I will whisper an invocation to the goddess of writing and chocolate and hope the page count is okay.

6) If it’s not, then I will go back and try again until I get it right.

That’s my plan for yanking 40 pages out of my denouement. I will report back once I have completed the process.

Do you have a specific process when you need drastic cuts to your manuscript?

 

 

 

 

Destroying the Schedule: How Wrecking the Routine Improves Story

Daily work scheduleI like my schedules. Whenever we change the clocks, I don’t feel right for days. This week, my daughter woke up at 4:45 AM Monday with a cold and fever, and didn’t go back to sleep. Monday lasted for about 2 days. Plus, since she didn’t go to school, it messed up my weekly work schedule. Finally, Wednesday was the last day of school this week, so I spent the day thinking it was Friday.

Humans are creatures of habit. A million little things can derail our comfortable routines. When anything knocks us off the rails, it can make us irritable or anxious or leave us feeling unfocused.

This got me thinking about our characters. They have their routines, too. Having something disrupt their day is a great way to add tension great and small.

Not getting their morning coffee can make them angry, which perhaps makes them mishandled a situation, which leads to further unhappy consequences. A larger incident, such as a car accident, can change their whole world.

Inciting incidents are the ultimate shakeup of our character’s schedule. It alters their world in such a way that they can never go back to their comfortable cocoon.

The one that comes immediately to mind is from Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke Skywalker’s routine is broken when he has to hunt down runaway R2D2. As a result, he is not home when the stormtroopers murdered his family. With nothing left to keep him on Tatooine, he embarks on his adventure to the stars.

Knowing how discombobulated even a minor change in schedule leaves me, I want to make sure my characters display a similar disorientation in proportion with the incident they are facing. Too often protagonists seem to take such shakeup in stride, which makes them less realistic and less relatable. So I want to work on that in my characters.

Meanwhile, I am waiting for my internal clock to readjust.

Monthly schedule

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November 1st: The Most Wonderful Date of the Year

And no, it has nothing to do with NaNoWri Mo. I have never done National Novel Writing Month in November, although I would like to at least once in my life. This year will not be the year, however.

No, I love November 1st because that means October is over! The last 10 days of October are a whirlwind for me: parents’ anniversary, my anniversary, my daughter’s birthday, then Halloween and all the concurrent festivals and festivities. For an introvert like myself, that’s a lot of socializing in a short amount of time. It’s also quite a bit of planning and errand running to pull off the birthday and Halloween so close together.

So when November 1st dawns, I take a deep breath and revel in the sudden silence of my social calendar. Not that November won’t be busy—I am the mom of an elementary school child, a working author, and there’s that whole Thanksgiving thing—but the month goes back to the normal level of crazy.

Although I am not doing NaNoWriMo, I plan on doing NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month. I got my latest manuscript back from my editor in August, and didn’t get to look at it until October. So now I intend to buckle down and finish the revisions this month. By the end of November, I want to have a shiny manuscript ready to be sent out to agents.

Then I can spend December compiling my list of agents, readying the materials needed to send to them (query, synopsis of varying lengths), and be ready for a query storm in the New Year.

So now that I can breathe, that is my plan for the month. We shall see how well my plans pan out, since we all know how often life derails our plans!

What are you doing for November?

VPL FanCon 2017

at VPL FanCon 2017Last week I spoke about having a selling drought at book events, and how even a “dry” event could be worthwhile. I pointed out that I had learned of the FanCon event while at an event where I didn’t sell a single book. I called the next day and they still had table space, so I got in under the wire!

VPL FanCon 2017 was my first ever actual “con” event. All of the rest have been more typical book festivals or other bookish occasions. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The first thing I noticed was the variety of vendors. A couple of us had books, but there were also comic vendors, artists, game sellers, paraphernalia hawkers, toy sellers, and even a ghost hunting table. Literally something for everyone.

my table at VPL FanCon 2017

Costumes ruled the day. Kylo-Ren and Stormtroopers walked the halls next to the Flash and Green lantern. A man dressed as Wonder Woman balanced a woman dressed as Alexander Hamilton. Pint-sized Pokemon mingled with various gaming characters near the life-size TARDIS.

at VPL FanCon 2017

Panels, drummers, games, caricatures, and making your own lightsaber kept people busy all day. The staff of the Vineland Public Library ran around all day, making sure everything ran smoothly—including ensuring the vendors got lunch from the food trucks outside or the vendors upstairs.

VPL FanCon 2017 was a smashing success. As the first year of this event, no one was quite certain what the turnout would be like. One staffer confided that she had hoped for at least 25 people. Far more than that came—the crowd milled all day, and many of the con-goers stayed for the bulk of the day. As one person said to me with a sigh, “The sight of all these nerds under one roof makes my heart happy.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Con, and hope to go back if they repeat it next year. Aside from meeting interesting people, both vendors and con-goers, I not only broke my book drought but sold just one shy of my single-day sales record.

And to think that I would not have been there at all if I hadn’t gone to that “dry” event the week before.

photo courtesy of Vineland Public Library

 

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The Value of “Dry” Book Events

Book Events - River ReadsThe reality of the book business is that sometimes you go to book events and end up selling zero books. I had two events this weekend, and I hit a sales drought. However, I would never call those events “wasted” time.

There is much to be gained from every event you attend, whether you sell any books or not. Not least is your expanded geographical knowledge. I am not an explorer. I do not like going where I have never gone before. But because of these events, I know places now that I never would have gone to otherwise.

Marketing knowledge is another reason to go. I learn a lot from watching other authors. I get ideas for display, for giveaways, for ways to entice people to your table. I also listen to other authors. How do they pitch themselves and their books? How do they hook the customers?

Networking happens at events, too, unless you don’t talk to anyone. This weekend I met cover artists, illustrators, librarians, and people creating a podcast. I found out about another event I can attend, and a podcast that specializes in interviewing authors. You never know who you will meet, or how they will eventually impact your career.

The final reason I like events, even when I don’t sell, is because of the camaraderie. There’s something special about being in the sales trenches together. Spending time with other writers, sharing war stories or marketing advice or craft tips, is invigorating. Being surrounded by people who “get” writing is comforting, relaxing, and uplifting.

Book events are what you make of them. If sales are your end all and be all, you are missing out on the myriad other benefits of spending time with other authors. We’re all on the journey together—let’s enjoy the company.

Book Events - Indie Author Day 2017

Book Event Season Begins

New Providence book event

With J.R. Bale, founder of the New Providence Book Festival

September through Christmas tends to be a whirlwind of book events for me. In the last few weeks, I have done 3 events, and I have 2 more this weekend.

The first event was the inaugural New Providence Book Festival. It was well attended and enthusiastically embraced by the locals. We had sunny, if hot, weather, but whenever your event us outdoors, heat is preferable to rain!

I was supposed to be on a two-person panel, but a last minute cancellation gave me my first ever solo reading and Q&A at a festival. I was up first in the morning, and the handful of people who came to my panel were interested and knowledgeable. The event went well, and I look forward to next year!

My next event was Eastampton Day. Once again sunny and hot, but a good crowd, better attended than last year when it was chilly and overcast. I shared a tent with the local PTA, and we had a fun time together—although I think I would have sold more books if I had stuck some on their table. They were selling machines!

Collingswood book eventI also had good neighbors at my last event, the Collingswood Book Festival. This year the weather cooperated and we were outside! My neighbors helped put up my tent, and we passed the time chatting about books. It was a good day overall, but the best part for me was the young boy who came up to my table and said, “I read that book. It was amazing!”

Nothing lifts the spirit more than a happy reader!

By busy run continues this weekend with Indie Author Day at Vineland Public Library on Saturday, and the second annual River Reads Book Festival at Prallsville Mills on Sunday. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

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Public Speaking: 4 Circles of Fear

Speaking at a Christmas time author eventOne of the scariest things for many authors is public speaking and public reading of their work, but it is a necessary skill for the author toolbox. I am no exception to this fear—I hate being out in front of people. Since my book came out almost 2 years ago, however, I have had to deal with this issue, and I have learned quite a bit about myself and being center stage.

For me, there are 4 circles of fear when it comes to public speaking/reading:

  1. Reading
  2. Panels
  3. Speaking
  4. School Visits

Speaking at my book launch in 2015I’m not too bad with the reading. As the mom of a 7-year-old who loves books, I have had many years experience reading aloud, and my daughter assures me that I am “the best reader ever.” When reading my own words, I get excited because I can read them as I meant them to be read, rather than how the reader might interpret them in their own heads. Reading has the added advantage that I am, well, reading, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting what I’m supposed to be saying.

The idea of panels made me very nervous at first. After all, they weren’t scripted, and often you don’t know the questions ahead of time. As an anxiety-ridden individual, the idea of not coming in fully prepared shook me deeply. My very first panel ever was at my high school alma mater, where I sat onstage with 4 other alumnae authors and faced some 500 girls and their teachers. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Being up there with other authors meant I was not the sole focus of attention—I could “relax” while others were talking. And I didn’t have to carry the entire weight of the conversation—I could bounce off what another panelist said, not always be the original thinker. I am a writer who enjoys collaboration, and in many ways a panel is a synergistic collaborative effort.

Public speaking solo is another story. Now we are moving past trepidation into panic attack areas. However, thanks to a mandatory semester of Speech class in high school, I can give a good speech. When I have time to prepare and practice, I can not only get through a speech without a meltdown, but give the audience an enjoyable presentation. An extemporaneous solo speech, on the other hand…

Speaking at a writing workshopFinally, we have school visits, which are awkward for me because they land somewhere between a speech and a performance. While I can give a speech, I am not much of a performer. My skill set is in being invisible, not in keeping people riveted to what I am saying. My single experience in teaching a workshop was rewarding but did not do much to bolster my confidence.  I have not yet done a school visit, and frankly, the thought of doing one terrifies me. My greatest fear is that the kids will get bored. After all, I do not consider myself all that interesting—imposter syndrome rearing its head. When I finally break that last barrier, I will tell you how it goes!

I have found that the more casual the encounter, the more at ease I am. I enjoy chatting with the kids, because the kids that come up to speak to me are already interested and engaged. Perhaps the key is to make even the more formal occasions seem casual.

What I’ve learned so far is that usually my intense fear is unfounded. So go through those circles of fear confident that you will emerge stronger and with a new skill in your author toolbox.

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5 Ways Writing is Like Physical Therapy

I’ve been getting physical therapy for frozen shoulder since summer, and I’ve come to realize that physical therapy and writing have some commonalities.

1. No pain, no gain

Physical therapy is rarely painless. In my case, therapy involves a great deal of aggressive stretching to break up the joint encapsulation. The pain at the beginning was intense, shooting down to my fingers and taking my breath away. Now it is more of an ache or a tightness.

Writing is similar. In order to continue to improve, we must stretch beyond our comfort zone. Such stretching can be painful both emotionally and mentally. But improvement depends on pushing through the discomfort.

2. Get help from experts

Now, many times frozen shoulder will resolve over time on its own. But that can take years, and the condition is painful to live with. In addition to the pain, the inability to use your shoulder makes many daily tasks very difficult. So I sought out doctors and then therapists who could hasten my healing.

Seeking out expert guidance in writing can also speed up your writing skills. Having a mentor or group of fellow writers who can help you correct your mistakes—or even better, keep you from making them in the first place—can lead to faster improvement in your craft.

3. Structured process sees results

In physical therapy,  I could do random shoulder exercises and probably make some progress. However, having a well-thought-out, structured process ensures the pieces all build upon each other with no wasted effort, and makes my work more productive.

Having a structured writing process can help make your writing more productive. If you have a process that flows, your word count will increase, and your revisions will take less time. Every writer’s process will be different, but if all the pieces build upon each other, the writing will come easier.

4. Details make a difference

Physical therapy is a science of nuances. Many of the exercises must be done exactly right, or they will not strengthen the muscles needed—and may cause additional damage. Exercises target specific muscles or joints, and the amount of weight or resistance used in the exercise must be carefully controlled to avoid strains and setbacks.

Attention to the details of a story is necessary, as well. Everything from proper punctuation to choosing the precise word makes a difference in the experience of the reader. The myriad craft  skills needed are also detailed, and you can carefully target skills you are weak in to increase your overall strength and flexibility.

5. Persistence pays off

Even with the most diligent exercise program, frozen shoulder takes a long time to thaw. Most people are 80% or better by 6 months, but it can take up to 2 years. So persistence is key.

Persistence is rewarded in writing as well. Continue honing your craft. Don’t give up when you try to publish and rejections piles up. Push through any problems or setbacks, and eventually you will reach your goal.

Keep exercising, trust the process, and your work will improve!

 

 

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