Tips and Tricks: Creating Revision Goals and Preparing For First Readers.

 Crater Lake July 4th 2015

The hummingbird moth drinking after dark.                                                                             photo by Maria L. Berg

I apologize for my time away. I needed a break and an adventure to fill me up with new energy, so I could return to you with insight.

I can finally see an endpoint to my revisions, at least an endpoint that will allow me to send a draft to my carefully chosen first readers (I chose my first readers for many different reasons. I chose eight people who will give me honest feedback and may see my content from different points of view. I will talk more about first readers in October). Here are the revelations occurring in my writing life that have brought me to this exciting point in the writing of my novel.

Tips:

1. Listen when a good friend asks if you need to be held accountable.

There is nothing better than a fellow writer and good friend wanting to read your book. When my critique group asked how my revision was going and I said I kept writing other things, Sherri stepped up and said, “Do you need me to hold you accountable?”  I am obstinate and rebellious, so having someone else hold me accountable was not an option, but wow did she set a fire under my seat .

As a self-motivator, I interpreted her words as, “you are not doing your work” in a way that I needed. I realized I had to set goals and make deadlines to see my draft become the novel that I want it to be.

2. Make your goals real and tell others.

The first thing I did to become accountable was to choose a date that had meaning to me. I didn’t map out the time I thought it would take and then set a date.That never works for me. Large dates like birthdays, anniversaries of important events, important holidays, are ways that I challenge myself. This time, I have a difficult anniversary (Ten years since evacuation with no return) and I want to turn it into a celebration.  Once I imagined I could achieve my goals by that date, I set personal goals for each day. For the first time ever, I tried to be reasonable and create achievable goals. Believe it or not, I procrastinate and have impressive skills in self-sabotage.

Then I talked to my first readers. I told them the date I chose and asked if they still wanted to be my first readers. This made me accountable, not only to myself, but to eight other people. And now to you.

3. Break your goals into little pieces and attack!

Knowing what I had left to accomplish in a short amount of time, I had to break down the last of my goals into daily work. To do that, I created weekly themes that I could break down into little projects. The first hurdle was typing all of my hand written edits from my last read through and from my critique group into a new draft. The perceived tediousness of the task had been the stop sign that had me wandering into different styles and story ideas. I gave myself two days to only type in edits. However, for every little comma or word choice, I saw larger problems that I either changed or got stuck on.

One of the greatest tips I have to give you is when you get stuck, change your text to red, type a note about what you want but can’t get to or why you’re stuck and move on. Typing up all the editing ended up taking five days instead of two, but I discovered how prepared I was to finish. For every sentence that was confusing, I knew how to change it into sense. For every chapter that was weak, I had a plan.

great reflection on Crater Lake

Reflecting on reflection                                                                                    photo by Maria L. Berg

Which leads us to my new (and newly applied) tricks:

1. Character Development through dialog: A personal breakthrough and a lesson in rereading my own blogs – This was my original name for this post because I felt like I had a major epiphany and wanted to share, but realized I had already posted about my use of dialog to get writing to the page in a previous post Getting words on the page. Dialog as a warm-up is the third tip in that post. My epiphany, however, is a little different. My protagonist is a self-proclaimed hermit who has very little interaction with anyone outside of her house. She has a lifetime of reasons for her hermithood and layers of associations as motivations, but I found it hard to get any of this across to the reader because my character didn’t want to think about those bad experiences. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had already established that she talked to a friend every day on the phone, but I hadn’t written any of their conversations. I started writing their conversations as part of my morning pages and suddenly my protagonist’s world opened up. I found it awe inspiring how a quick phone conversation could let the reader know twenty years of back-story. My critique group found some of conversation unclear, but I think leaving some parts of the conversation up to interpretation leaves space for the reader (to relate to or not, to imagine something different in the space between).

2. Let yourself go through research- After finishing my edits, I created a separate document for each of the seven section I had left in red ink that need further writing. I noticed that the sections I need to really dive into are the areas I have little to no experience with, or contain behaviors that are outside my purview. I needed to get outside of myself.

Even if your novel isn’t historical fiction or science fiction, finding an avenue for research can inspire. In my case, a textbook on criminology and Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (Samenow is a great last name!) inspired pages of notes. Inside the Criminal Mind also showed me that many of the behaviors I had already written were right on track which felt great! It’s not often a writer manages to find her own positive feedback.

3. Names: A new fun technique for me– One of the most important things I have left to do is come up with names for the tertiary characters. Looking through lists of baby names or name engines online did not inspire me. I enjoyed looking through the most recent local candidates and trying to mix lasts with firsts, and talented friends have told me to look online for another country’s white pages, but these techniques were not what I needed either. Today, I found an unlimited fountain of names in my piles of old records. If you don’t have records, CD liners or movie credits will do just as well. Think of all the people that work behind the scenes to make music and film happen, then think about the multitude of combinations you can make by mixing and matching those first and last names.

For my example, I had a sampling of my old records and my parents old records. I had records from Sweden and France. I had a selection of Pop, Rock, Musicals and Classical. I made three columns in my notebook: Last names, Male character and Female character first names. This way my lists created unique randomized combinations as I wrote them down so when I look at it later, I won’t have to worry about using an actual name.

4. Those pages you don’t want numbered – When I send out my draft, I want to make it very clear to my first readers that I wrote a piece of fiction, so I created a page with the well known statement “All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. After typing it into the center of my new page after the title page, I had a major page numbering dilemma. This bugged me. I knew how to not number my cover page in Word, but I hadn’t figured out any extra pages until today. The magic? Section breaks.

How to: Delete your header. Create all the front pages you want: I created a disclaimer, but you might also want a couple quotes and a dedication; like I said this is for my first readers, so I might make a page of my expectations for reading time, editing/commenting expectations and easy directions for making notes inline. Once you know how many pages you do not want topped with a header or page number, make a section break. To do this in Word, leave your cursor at the end of the text that does not want a number, select the page layout tab, click on Page Breaks and scroll down to New Page. That will most likely create a break and a blank page. I recommend clicking on the Home tab and clicking on the paragraph symbol to see the backspaces needed to delete the extra page.

Once you have created a new section, click on the page you want as page one then click on the Insert tab and select Header. Make sure to click (unclick) Link to previous. Once you’ve created the header that you want, click pages and choose your style and placement then select format page numbers and select start at and enter 1. That should do it.

(I had to go back to the beginning of my first section and edit Header and delete it, then recreate the second header in the second section, but that is most likely because I was making changes instead of starting from scratch. Happy news, it worked).

So there you have it. The tips and tricks I am using to finish my revision and prepare for first readers. I hope you found something useful. Happy writing.

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Sources For Guided Revision

A grassy path through the woods  Since my first read-through of my novel–in which I could barely read it for all the horrible typos and grammar issues and ended up hating my manuscript–I have been actively avoiding my novel. However, having given myself a strict deadline which is rapidly approaching, it’s time to get to work. As I am still in the early stages of this project, I thought I would look for some guidance to plot my course and hopefully find a call to action.

Searching the tag “revision” in WordPress led me to :

Nicole Dacanay’s blog Team Wanderlust – which recommended Brandon Sanderson’s videos and Susan Dennard’s in-depth information on Revising Your Novel complete with worksheets

and

The Write Shelf  blog – which recommended Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

While picking up Mr. Bell”s book from the library, I also checked out How I Write by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof

Having armed myself with all sorts of new tools, where will I start (after I fix all my typos and address my previous notes)?

Both Susan Dennard and James Scott Bell recommend printing out your manuscript and putting it in a binder. For my first read-through I thought it would help to print it to look like a book, so I printed horizontally with two pages to a sheet, double sided. This time, I’ll still go double sided but with larger print, double-spaced, vertically and put it in a binder. I’ll also print out Susan’s Worksheets to help keep my notes organized.

I think I will start my process by following Susan Dennard’s system supplemented by Mr. Bell’s “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” while keeping a copy of Ms. Evanovich’s “A Rewriting Checklist” close-by.

The most important message from my research today is : Stop sweating the small stuff and start with the big picture. It is more important for me to look at the plot, characters, and scenes in my story, so I need to stop staring at each sentence–that comes later.

Reading as a Writer: Today I learned something I do NOT want to know!

Writing in a nice outdoor setting.Recently, while reading a manuscript, I came across some dialogue that looked to be punctuated incorrectly, so I made a note about it that I intended to give to the author. This morning, I got online to find reputable sources that would back my claim. To my surprise, honestly horror, I found seven different sources that said: the rule for quotation marks in dialogue, if one person is speaking continuously over multiple paragraphs, is to start the speech with quotation marks and continue to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, until finally putting closing quotation marks at the conclusion of the speech. Only one source agreed with me, that if a single person is speaking, no matter how long their speech, the writer puts quotation marks at the beginning and closing quotation marks at the end.

I looked over the pages of dialogue in the manuscript again, since the overwhelming majority of style informants told me I was wrong, and I still couldn’t stomach it. Each time I saw the quotation marks at the beginning of a paragraph, it triggered new speaker in my reader’s brain. I tried to recall any memory of seeing this form of monologue before. I started tearing through the books on my shelves looking for just one other example, but didn’t find one. It looked like the characters in the books on my shelves didn’t give speeches–especially not the kind that would have separate paragraphs.

I wondered if this was an evolution of style, something new that I missed, but that wasn’t the answer: I’ve been reading a lot of current fiction lately. Those extra quotation marks just looked so wrong.

Another thing that bothered me about “the rule” was the reasoning. In all of the informative posts I read on the subject, the reason for the extra quotation marks was so the “lazy reader” wouldn’t forget that someone was talking. Honestly?  I’m supposed to put weird, out of place quotation marks within one character’s monologue–as a rule– because someone thought my readers would forget someone was talking? I’m going to go with rules, once learned, are meant to be broken.

I can’t imagine what it would take for me to put those distracting, confusing marks in my dialogue, but I now know better than to tell someone else that it’s wrong. At the moment I don’t see any of my characters giving long-winded speeches, but if they do, I’ll make sure they won’t speak in paragraphs. I do not foresee my readers ever being described as “lazy”.

Have any of you come across writing “rules” that you can’t abide? I’d love to hear about it.