The Rabbit Hole of Revisions: guest post by Ferrell Hornsby

Alice and the white rabbit.

So, you’ve finished the first draft of your current work in progress. The hard work is done now, right? Not quite. Just because you’ve typed “The End” doesn’t mean your work is ready for the world to see. There are sure to be typos, missed punctuation, and (gasp) even plot holes that need to be found and fixed.

If that sounds daunting, it can be. Too many potential authors get stuck down the “rabbit hole of revisions” and never find their way out. It’s tempting to read our work and rewrite and revise. Then, we go back and read it again, rewriting and revising as we go. The cycle continues over and over. Somehow, we never feel our work is quite ready for anyone else to see. It’s not perfect. That’s the rabbit hole. Like Alice in Wonderland, we get lost in our own words, constantly finding that one last mistake, one misplaced word. Eventually, we may decide that it will never be perfect and thus does not deserve to enter the esteemed world of literature.

My advice: don’t go there. It’s a trap!

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct and improve our work. We definitely should. But we should have a plan (a map, so to speak) so we don’t get lost along the way.

Here’s the revision map I use. Perhaps it will help you as you devise a plan that works for you.

Alice at the center of a circle of characters: the queen of hearts is to her left and the white rabbit is at the bottom right.

Take a break

Let your story rest. Don’t jump right into revisions. Your original ideas are still too fresh and will cloud your objectivity as you look for problems that should be fixed. The amount of rest time will depend on you. Some authors need only a day or two. Others need a few weeks to let the original ideas fade a bit so they can look at it with fresh eyes. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Read as a Reader

When you’re ready, think about your target audience and read it as they would. You’re not looking for every mistake. In this round, you want to see if the story engages you. Does the plot flow? Do your characters develop through the story? Do they stay “in character” or do some of their actions and words feel out of place? If any of those things need fixing, rewrite as needed.

Let Your Baby Crawl

When you like what you’ve written, let a few people read it. Often, these are called beta readers. Family and friends may be your first go-to for this, but many times, they are like the Cheshire Cat. They will grin and tell you what they think you want to hear, sometimes in gibberish that doesn’t make any sense to your story. That’s great for the ego, but it isn’t as helpful as constructive feedback would be.

You don’t want overly critical beta readers, either. They may seem like the Red Queen. If it’s not written her way, it’s wrong.

The roses must be red. This is rubbish. Off with her head!”

I recommend finding a group of authors and/or readers in your genre who are not connected with you emotionally. There are many groups on Facebook and other online venues. You might find a local book club or author group, as well.

When considering anyone’s feedback, remember that they are only making suggestions, not issuing commands. Read them carefully, apply those that feel right, and let the rest go. Generally, if I have several people commenting on the same thing, I’m more likely to make changes than if there’s only one passing comment. When that’s finished, let it rest again.

Tackle the Typos

Do a proofread for correct punctuation, typos, etc. This time around, focus on the technical aspects of your writing. Do all your dialogues have matching quotation marks? Are there words that should be capitalized, or not? Are your teacups placed just so for your perpetual unbirthday tea party? (Hm. Maybe I carried that analogy a bit too far.) Time to let it rest again.

Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

Turn It Upside Down

At this point, I recommend an inverse read. There are several ways to do this.

Change the colors (white type on black background, for example). The change in appearance can really draw your attention to the mistakes.

Read it backwards, the last paragraph first. That way you don’t get so caught up in the story that you overlook the errors.

Read it aloud, or have the computer read it to you. Hearing the words can bring weak word choices and other overlooked defects to your attention.

Personally, I like to combine two or all three of these methods. It’s amazing how many tiny mistakes would have slipped by if I didn’t stand on my head at this point. (Not physically, mind you.)

Let a Professional Take a Look

Now it’s time to send it to your editor.

What? Why do I need an editor if I’ve done all this revision work?”

Basically, for the same reason you use beta readers. More eyes on your work can bring flaws to light. I put a lot of stock in my editor’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, they are only suggestions. If they feel right, I incorporate them, if they don’t, I won’t.

Almost Finished

Many authors skip this step. I find it important for me to do a final read-through. I will generally do this one away from my computer. That keeps me from rewriting what doesn’t really need to be rewritten. I download the digital manuscript to my tablet and read with a paper and pencil by my side. If I find a really bad spot, I’ll jot it down, but this last time through is for my own peace of mind. When this is done, I’m confident that we’ve rooted out most of the errors.

Let your baby fly!

That’s it. Once I implemented this revision plan, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with the amount of work still to be done on my first drafts. Step by step, I was able to rewrite, revise, improve, and prepare my books for the world.

This isn’t to say it’s the only way to revise your work. Each author must find their own path to publication. Keep in mind, I have yet to find a published work that has zero flaws, so don’t let that stop you from moving forward. If you have a plan, a map, you’re less likely to join so many others who never publish because they got lost down the rabbit hole of revisions.

Books by Ferrell Hornsby https://www.facebook.com/authorferrellhornsby

Cover of If We're Breathing, We're Serving by Ferrell Hornsby

If We’re Breathing, We’re Serving, Lifting the World series, Book 1

An inspirational story about a man’s journey through multiple sclerosis, and how he learns to serve others again. (Based on my husband’s real-life experiences.)

Ferrell Hornsby’s Amazon author page

Books by Emily Daniels (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/EmilyDanielsBooks

Lucia’s Lament

Devlin’s Daughter

A Song for a Soldier

Emily Daniels’s Amazon author page

Books by Nana Ferrell (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/hoppityfloppity

To Cry or Not to Cry

C is for Courage

She’s my Friend

Search for Claire’s Talent

Hoppity Floppity Easter

Hoppity Floppity Christmas

Nana Ferrell’s Amazon author page

Ferrell Hornsby has been writing stories and poetry since she could hold a pencil in her chubby little hand. Encouraged by her grandmother, she continued writing, even after receiving her first rejection letter at age twelve. Since then, she’s explored many genres, children’s literature, historical fiction, and most recently, inspirational fiction. Her own life experiences add a depth and emotional connection to her characters that is both rare and fulfilling.

Ferrell married her soul mate in 2011, and her life hasn’t been the same since! Together, they enjoy music, movies, eating out, and ice cream (the more chocolate, the better).

Revision Process: An interview with author Shelly Campbell

Cover for the book Under the Lesser Moon by Shelly Campbell

Last week I really enjoyed the TBRcon21 writing conference. The editing panel was fun and informative and the moderator even asked my question–Did you ever receive a piece of advice that made revision easier or more enjoyable for you?– near the end. If you missed the panel, you can watch it on Youtube.

After the panel, I asked one of the panelists, Shelly Campbell, if she would be interested in sharing more about her revision process here on Experience Writing and she so kindly agreed to answer some more questions I have about revision. So today, we are in for a treat!

My Interview with Shelly Campbell

After you finish your first draft and you are letting it rest, what are you up to? 

When I’m letting a manuscript rest—three weeks usually does the trick for me—I tend to take a total break from similar writing. Right now, I’m working on a fiction manuscript and, when I eventually reach the final pages of that first draft, I have a non-fiction project waiting in the wings. 

I also enjoy drawing and painting and find that I am usually inspired to create art when I’m taking a break from authoring. Visual art provides an almost instant gratification compared to the slow-burn fulfillment of novel writing, because I get the satisfaction of a finished project after a few hours, days or week, as opposed to the months or years of effort leading up to a completed book. There’s the added benefit that, if I’m really wound up in a draft I’ve just put down, I can always tackle character art, letting me revisit the story while still giving my brain time to switch gears into a more objective editing mode.

After (or during) your first read, how do you go back in? Do you summarize, outline, scene card? What are your tools?

I was very much a discovery writer when I wrote my first two novels, and I hadn’t done a lot of research into structure and form. While it was fun to just build a world with no restrictions and then play in it, it resulted in some long-winded, slack-paced manuscripts that needed significant developmental edits. I knew the books needed work, but in my inexperience, couldn’t pin down what they needed. 

My first reads for those books consisted of a lot of line-edit polishing, make-every-word-shine sort of thing. I didn’t know any better. But I would learn later that, without the bones of good structure and pacing, eloquent prose that doesn’t go anywhere won’t hold a reader’s interest! Much of those painstaking line edits were wasted when I trashed or changed large chunks of the manuscript later on.

With some resources under my belt, and having learned some of my own fallibility, I now have an editing bullet list that I run through on first reads. I’ve moved from pantsing to more of a three-act screenwriting structure, so the first thing I like to do is compare my manuscript with my initial outline. I chart out my chapters and their word counts and look at the big picture items first. Have I started the book too soon? Do I need to chop initial chapters and dive in closer to the inciting incident? Are all my major beats falling where they should? Is my midpoint a big enough pivot point—and is it actually occurring midway through the manuscript! 

When I’m comfortable that the draft is hanging properly on its structural skeleton, I dive into my first read with nothing on my mind other than, does this hold my attention? Anything that I’m tempted to skip over or skim needs work, because if it doesn’t hold my interest, it certainly can’t be expected to hold anyone else’s, right? After I’ve tweaked my tension, I read through again. My first drafts are skimpy on conveying internal emotion, need trimming when describing physical actions, and benefit greatly from tighter dialogue, so I’ll have a read through focusing on all of those things. Then I’ll go through my list of crutch words (words I overuse) and trim those out. After that, it is off to my beta readers to see what they think of the project! 

How do you approach your characters once you know them? Are they like friends that you talk to and hang out with, or is it more like sculpting, chipping the rock away for the fine details? Or something else?

Initially, it’s very much a chipping away process as I get to know the character. Often, by the time I’m ready to read through a first draft again, I can pick out things early on that I now know is out-of-character for this person, because I know them better. Many times, when I get stuck, I realize it’s because I’m trying to push my character in a direction they just wouldn’t take. Usually a re-examination of their goals, biases, fears and misbeliefs will point me in the right direction. So, yeah, my characters let me explore dead-end roads a lot, while patiently waiting for me to turn around and follow them onto the proper path.

What was the most challenging part of revising your novel? How did you come to a solution?

Honestly, my first novel was a mess. It was discovery writing. It wasn’t even one novel, it was two rambling manuscripts full of dead-end roads, but it had potential. My beta readers enjoyed it. Editors liked parts of it. I was fortunate enough to find a small publisher willing to take a chance on it with the caveat that I needed to do some significant developmental edits. I heartily agreed. My editor there, suggested a new outline for the combined manuscripts, and once I saw it summarized step-by-step, it didn’t seem so overwhelming to cut out a novel’s worth of words because I could see that the same story was still being told, just far more effectively and entertainingly than I had originally written it. I had a road map. And that’s when I realized, I really am a writer that needs a map! I need to outline or I end up exploring all those dead-end roads and lose my destination. 

When you get bogged down with the work, what do you do to get out?

I listen to my characters, or I revisit my outline. If my characters are responding in a believable manner, I have a look at my outline and see if I need to tweak tension. I normally get bogged down when I can’t pin down the intention of a scene. Is this supposed to further character growth? Provide a quiet moment to contrast with coming mayhem? Ratchet up tension by showing our reader something our main character doesn’t know? Ideally, each scene can multitask and, if I’m stuck, I often find I’m at a spot where this particular scene doesn’t need to be here at all, or what I’m trying to accomplish can be done by merging it into another scene. I’ll often enlist the help of my critique group because sometimes you just need a different lens on the problem to see the way out!

To what degree and at what point do you use beta readers or outside feedback during the revision process?

I rely heavily on beta readers because I’m lucky enough to have found a wonderful online group of writers and readers in my genre who offer great constructive advice. It’s hard finding good beta readers. You need someone who reads a lot in the genre you write in because they all do follow certain structures and rules that readers may not be able to list, but they certainly sense when you get them wrong! You need someone who is not your friend or family—in most instances they are just going to tell you your work is great because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And you need beta readers who you just jive with. If you can’t take harsh criticism, a heavy-handed reader who only leaves you scathing comments is probably not a good fit for you. Unfortunately, this means a lot of trial and error finding the right beta readers for you, the ones who are able to help you lift up your work to a level you could not get it to on your own while still keeping your individual voice in there. I have been exceedingly lucky to find a crew of people who are honest in their comments and who each look at my work from a different angle, giving me the confidence to send my manuscripts out into the world.

I also want to point out that more beta readers is not necessarily better. Every person will have a different opinion and the more people who comment on your work, the more conflicting the advice will be. I use the rule that if multiple people comment on the same issue with the same feelings on it, it is likely something that needs to be fixed. If the correction would go against my character’s grain or cause my work to totally lose my voice, I tend to stand firm in my initial choices.

Where do you find your motivation to finish?

Initially, I didn’t! What eventually became Under the Lesser Moon rattled around in my brain and on my computer for decades. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but I had a story in my head that wanted out and, damn it, if I wasn’t going to finish it! So, I suppose, at first, what motivated me to finish—very slowly—was the fact that I’d put so much work into this one story and I felt I owed it to myself to at least finish it. 

Now, since the first book in the series is out, I’m motivated by deadlines (as well as readers who contact me to let me know how much they loved the first book and are looking forward to the second. Readers, have you any idea how very much that boosts a tired author?)

How do you know when you are finished?

I have to stop after I’ve addressed all my beta readers’ comments to the best of my abilities and have run through my own editing list. If I can write a good query letter that sparks interest when it is sent out, then I know I’m finished…for now.

Any other advice for writers new to or struggling with the revision process? 

What works for me may not work for you, but you do have this in you, revising. You learned how to write and revising is a skill you can learn too, one that you can hone with a bit of practice. Find a book on writing craft that resonates with you. Find a writers group. This is a lonely journey, but there are other people who are struggling just like you, and writers are some of the most helpful people I know! Don’t forget to feed your imagination. Often when you can’t write, you just need time to fill that creative well elsewhere. Read, garden. Do you! The well will fill. It always does 🙂


A headshot of Shelly Campbell.

At a young age, Shelly Campbell wanted to be an air show pilot or a pirate, possibly a dragon and definitely a writer and artist. She’s piloted a Cessna 172 through spins and stalls, and sailed up the east coast on a tall ship barque—mostly without projectile vomiting. In the end, Shelly found writing fantasy and drawing dragons to be so much easier on the stomach.

Shelly’s tales are speculative fiction, tending toward literary with dollops of oddity. She enjoys the challenge of exploring new techniques and subject matter, and strives to embed inspiring stories in her writing and art.

Her debut grim dark fantasy novel Under the Lesser Moon released with Mythos and Ink Publishing in November 2020.

https://www.mythosink.com/books/utlm/

She has a horror novel releasing with Silver Shamrock Publishing on April 2021.
You can find her here:

www.shellycampbellauthorandart.com 

https://twitter.com/ShellyCFineArt

https://www.instagram.com/shellycampbellfineart/

https://www.facebook.com/shellycampbellauthorandart

#WriterInMotion ~ Final Thoughts

WIM A Storys Journey Banner

I entered the Writer-In-Motion Challenge hoping to get some big break-through information from a professional editor. I wanted that sword that would cut down rejection and get me to YES!

Truth is, I got more than that. I got, “Wow, Maria, the voice in this is amazing!”

Voice. That magical, unteachable thing. That how do I get it, thing!

And then I got– Now take out a lot of it. You have to choose.

The fun part is, it made sense. It was not that hard to choose what to keep. I even asked my mom who never reads my blog and she and I agreed on the way to cut, but she still wanted the first one (blockade).

This story was huge. It could be a novel. I over-wrote, over-double-wrote, for the first time. I am usually concise in my writing, like the lyricist I am, but for some reason this image created a real idea on so many levels that I care about.

The original word-count cut wasn’t easy, but it was a great exercise and I think the final cuts I made, were personal experiments to see how people would react. I chopped in unnatural ways and my readers did not find them interesting or experimental. They were awkward. Something to think about for future awkward characters. I know how to make a reader uncomfortable.

Overall, I think I learned that having to prune so many words, I was able to get to what was necessary to the story.

Thank you again to my critique partners and editor for their time. And thank you Writer-in-Motion for the experience.

 

 

 

#WriterInMotion : The final draft

Writer in Motion Week Four

This week I received feedback from professional editor Jeni Chappelle of Jeni Chappelle Editorial. Jeni is the co-creator of this challenge as well as #RevPit on Twitter. I want to thank her for her time, encouragement and suggestions.

Here it is. The final draft!

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on Josette and me.

Who is it, Daddy?” the child said from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day,” the man said.

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you. I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile door.

What?” he yelled.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced Social Services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass, telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out, axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. A sudden square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace,” the man was saying. “He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel-and-coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

The man addressed me cautiously, “Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

Did you hear that, Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

Eugene tried to interject. “But–”

And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

She jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut, and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned to me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran back outside.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open.

I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.”

She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

 

Fun news!

While I was writing this post I received an email informing me that Writer Shed Stories: Vol. 1 which includes my story “More Than He Could Chew” is now available in paperback.

#WriterInMotion: Critique Partners’ Feedback Revision

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Three

This week was exciting. I sent my story to two people and received their stories to critique. Based on their feedback I made revisions, creating this new draft of my story that will now go to a professional editor.

Before talking about the changes, I want to thank Neta of NetaQBlog and Nicole of The Usual Bookspects for the time and consideration they put into critiquing my story.

Because I had to cut so many words out of my original draft, I experimented with some cuts that I thought might be interesting. Turns out they were just awkward. Luckily, my critique partners suggested some other lines I could cut, so I could reword the awkward places and smooth them out. They also pointed out some areas that needed rewording for clarity.

Now the newly revised draft:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on us.

Who is it, Daddy?” we heard from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Did you hear that Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

Writer In Motion: A five week writing and revising challenge

Levi at work

Summer is here. The weather is gorgeous, but sweaty-hot. Levi and I are adjusting though motivationally-challenged. He gets away with napping and bathing all day, but my stories won’t write themselves. So, I found a challenge to keep me working through August.

For the next five weeks, starting August 1st, I will be participating in the Writer In Motion blog project. I’m excited to give it a try.

The Challenge

I will receive a prompt on August 1st and write a first draft of a story. Then I will revise it to a piece of flash (up to 1000 words) and read and provide feedback with other participants.

I will be posting each version here as I revise and talk about my revision process, so you can join in the experience.

By the end of the five weeks, I hope we’ll have learned how to turn a draft into an amazing story and be able to apply what we learn to our other work.

Anyone and everyone can participate. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Revising with scene cards

finished scene cards

Hello everyone. It appears my hiatus is over as I’m excited to get back to Experience Writing. But I’m not going to get back to the planner pages quite yet. While I took an extended break from blogging and social media, I finally found the excitement and energy I needed to return to revising my novel.

I will be following Janice Hardy’s “Revise Your Novel in 31 Days.” It looks like exactly what I need to stay motivated and do the work every day until it’s done. With that in mind, I read her workshop prep and set out for the store to pick up colored 3X5 cards. However, my local store had moved their office supplies and by the time I finished shopping, I had forgotten all about them.

Making scene cards – the design

I was positive I had some in the house somewhere, so I began an extensive time-suck search instead of just returning to the store. And I’m glad I did because I found a bag of paper supplies I had stashed and forgotten about. In this fabulous bag I had card stock and resume papers of many colors. They gave me an idea. I could make my own index cards with guiding questions already printed on them. This way I will know exactly what I am trying to do in each scene and be able to evaluate the scenes in the same way each time.

Making scene cards tools

Here’s what I did:

  1. I created a word processing file with the page in landscape and separated the page into four sections.
  2. I used the scene evaluation questions that Janice Hardy proposed in her prepping lesson “How to create an Editorial Map” and fit them with plenty of space to write answers  repeated in the four sections.
  3. I printed onto different colors of the resume paper
  4. I glued the resumed paper onto the card stock
  5. I cut them apart

And voilà! Custom scene cards.

 

Using the scene cards – they work!

Using the scene cards has helped me see my draft differently. I’m finally understanding the big picture edit process more clearly. As of today, I’m half way through my draft and I’ve already found:

  • Unintended POV shifts
  • Chapters that do not move the story along  (completely removed)
  • Places to split a chapter to increase suspense
  • Places to rearrange chapters
  • Places to add character development and tie plot lines together
  • An unnecessary character and a character that is necessary that needs more development

Here’s an example of a scene card I filled in:

filled in scene card

Things to remember when using scene cards

Chapters may and often do have more than one scene. Fill out a card for each scene. You may have many cards for one chapter.

I’m filling my cards out in pencil and it’s freeing. My original answers to my POV character’s goals and motivations are often not the correct answers after I think about it for a while. Also, I like to number the cards in the top right corner and as I cut scenes and rearrange scenes, I can easily renumber them.

Having several different color cards can be used as a great organizational tool. Because the novel I’m working on has different POV characters in different chapters, I’m using different colors to represent my POV characters. That way when I’m done, it will be easy to look at each of the different narratives by putting same color cards together. You may want to use different colors to represent your main plots and subplots, or different settings if you’re writing a story that takes place in three different countries for instance. There are a bunch of fun possibilities, but remember that the color of the cards is also a tool, so be consistent in whichever plan you choose.

Other Uses

I’m going to try using these scene cards to plan and outline my idea for NaNoWriMo this year. In the past, I haven’t been great with outlines, but that could change. Knowing my POV characters goals, motivations and conflicts for each scene ahead of time should make writing that draft a lot easier.

I also had some star-shaped paper, brads and stickers I look forward to adding to the cards in some way. If I have an epiphany, I’ll let you know.

I hope you find using scene cards as helpful and motivating as I do.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Reading as a writer: Deconstructing a scene

image of the book Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen and a filled in scene deconstruction worksheet

This summer my wonderful local book store, A Good Book in Sumner, Wa, not only had a Summer Reading Bingo card, but came up with a Bingo card for writers as well. It looked daunting at first with squares like: Write your manifesto (turn your excuses upside down); Write seven days in a row; and Finish Something; but the more I worked on it, the more inspired I was to continue.

One of the final squares on my card before I got my blackout was, “Deconstruct a Scene.” The instructions were to read a scene from your favorite book/author and find what makes it work. I picked out scenes from different authors I enjoy and put the books on my desk with the scenes I’d chosen dutifully marked, but kept moving on to other squares of the Bingo card. Finally, I searched the internet to see if there were any forms or worksheets out there to guide me through the process of deconstructing a scene. I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I went to work creating my own.

I had recently attended my first meeting at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) cottage. I’ve been a member for years, but only watched some meetings online. I’m glad I went. Pam Binder gave a presentation on critique groups and created a hand- out with her ideas of how to evaluate a scene that were helpful. I also incorporated ideas from Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Edition) by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French and The Twelve Questions in Frencesca Block’s The Thorn Necklace: Healing Through Writing and the Creative Process.

Deconstructing a scene

Evaluating a scene is similar to evaluating an entire story. A scene encompasses the same elements:

  • The point of view(POV) character, in a specific setting, wants something
  • Something or someone stops them from reaching that goal
  • This leads to crisis
  • Which leads to reflection and/or insight
  • Causing the POV character to change and/or come up with a new goal

The point of deconstructing scenes by authors you admire is to look for the techniques they use to make a scene stick with you. You want to identify the choices they make that appear so effortless and keep you reading like:

  • How do the characters express emotion?
  • What invoked emotion in you the reader?
  • Did something surprise you? Why? How?
  • What kept you turning pages?
  • Was there a hook at the end of the scene?

The Worksheet

I tested my worksheet on a scene from Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. I chose this for my exercise because my current work in progress (I finished the first draft two days ago. YAY!) is in that vein: A murder mystery that brings a lot of eccentric characters into wild situations. The scene I chose did not specifically fit the scene and sequel structure, and I realized this by using my worksheet. I also discovered a technique to show emotion that I liked and may use in the future.

Filling out the worksheet didn’t take as long as I thought it would and the insight gleaned from filling it out was well worth the effort. The great thing about this Scene Deconstruction Worksheet is not only can I use it to read as a writer, but I can use it to evaluate my own scenes.

You can get a copy of my worksheet to use in your own reading and writing by signing up for my newsletter.

I want it button

When you do, you will receive a link to the file and a special message from me about once a month.

I hope that you will use this worksheet and find it as informative as I have.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Craft Book Review: Story Fix

Story Fix coverStory Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks is intended to help authors “reinvigorate” rejected novels, but I found it lacking in tangible instruction and full of discouragement.

Why I picked it up: I was looking through Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors at Writer’s Digest and started looking up the different authors who had written chapters. Because I am focused on editing and revision, Larry Brooks’s book looked like a good choice.

My Expectations: I was expecting a book on revision and editing with specific guidelines to follow as I revise my draft. With the bold title STORY FIX, I expected a plethora of tools and boxes to check.

Intended Audience: This book is for writers whose manuscripts have been rejected so many times that they are facing a major re-write or abandoning their novel to the drawer of despair, or the locked trunk in the basement. The author also assumes the reader has attended conferences.

What I liked: The examples of Mr. Brooks coaching authors at the end of the book are  worth reading. Before I got to the three case studies, I was having trouble finding anything I liked, but they were interesting. I recommend reading the case studies first and then, if you’re curious about Mr. Brooks’s terminology, going back and reading those sections of the book. I found the questions Mr. Brooks asked the authors during these story coaching sessions to be eye opening while evaluating my own manuscript.

What I didn’t like: Until the coaching examples (and somewhat during), the book comes across as very negative. Mr. Brooks appears to think he’s being honest and frank, 200 pages of tough love, one might say, but it comes across as cynical and impugning. Until I read the case studies, I felt like I had read 150 pages of how to write an elevator pitch and fifty pages telling me I might as well give up trying.

 

Rating:  ♦ ♦   2 out of 5 – only because of the coaching examples at the end.

 

Books on revision and editing I would recommend instead:

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I reviewed this book as my first Craft Book Review. It is not only for authors of children’s and YA novels.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

Craft Book Review: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

The Magic Words book cover

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book for writers who are ready to take their manuscript to the next level. As an editor for Scholastic, Cheryl has experience that makes her an authority on the subject of revision and editing MG and YA novels. She shares first hand stories about the revision process that bring difficult subjects to life.

Why I picked it up:

It was one of the books recommended by Denise Jaden at the end of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days for when you’ve finished your draft and you’re ready to edit.

My Expectations:

Because the book is about writing for children and because Magic is in the title, I expected it to be focused on magical thinking and getting back to the child mind. I expected exercises in discovering stories that appeal to children and using language geared toward different age groups. This book wasn’t like that at all.

Intended Audience:

The ideal reader is a fiction writer who has finished a first draft of a novel fomiddle school, high school or adult readers. To get the most out of the exercises, you will want to have read through your draft and created a “book map.” The book map is a lot like the story grid from The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne that I talked about in the Editing Focus sections of my Final Days of 2017 posts. Cheryl Klein uses a post from Anita Nolan as an example. The book map is also a lot like Susan Dennard’s index card outline.

What I liked:

I liked the examples from her work as an editor working with authors. Her experiences were informative and brought the concepts into the real world. I also liked the extensive exercises in every chapter. The exercises raise poignant questions to get you analyzing your work.

Since I focused on plot last fall, I enjoyed that this book presents a fresh take. I learned yet another plotting structure called Freytag’s pyramid. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Based on Poetics from Aristotle, it describes the five act dramatic structure of classical plays, but also works as a model of rising action.

The Magic Words is thorough, covering every aspect of writing and revising your novel.

For your convenience both the plot chart and the character chart discussed in the book are available on the book’s page of Cheryl’s website.

What I didn’t like:

I got tired of Harry Potter references. If I didn’t write adult fiction as well as children’s fiction, I would have found most of the examples (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight) to be geared toward older kids and I would not have found this book very useful. However, as a book on the craft of writing, it was excellent.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  5/5 Highly Recommend

 

Writing Reviews

I have a favor to ask. This year, I plan to write a review each week. I’m trying to come up with a format that is both fun and informative so I would appreciate your feedback of this review.

  • Did you like the layout?
  • Was the review helpful?
  • What else would you like to know about the book?
  • What didn’t you like about the review?
  • How could it be better?

Please respond in the comments. Thank you.

Happy Reading and Writing!