Category Archives: writing advice

The More you write, the better you get.

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While I was looking for a novel to write during NaNoWriMo 2014, I did a little archeological foray into my older, unfinished stories. Not only did I find a project to work on, but I also learned something new about my writing.

I read a lot of writing blogs and I talk to a lot of writers on Twitter and Facebook. All of them say that the more you write, the better you get. Up until now, I was skeptical about that, because I wasn’t seeing progress in my own writing. Other people, notably my beta readers, have told me that they noticed an improvement, but I just couldn’t see it. Maybe because I was too close to my work to notice the difference: I usually let my first drafts rest for only a week or two before I dive into edits.

Well, I understand the truth of this saying now. Choices is a story I had last worked on back in 2012. I got stuck about 25k words into the story and abandoned it. Last Monday, I decided to read through what I already had to see if anything could be salvaged. Well, two hours later, I was forced to admit that I was better off just scrapping the whole thing and just starting from scratch.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

But that reread wasn’t all negative. It made me realize how much I had grown as a writer since 2012 when I had tried (and failed) to first write that story.

Back in 2012, I had no idea what I was doing, or what writing a novel required. I had no idea about story structure, tension and plot or character development. Most importantly, I had only a very vague grasp on what my writing process was. The result was a barely reanimated corpse of a novel.

I had no outline. I had no idea where my plot was going or if I even had a plot at all. I had a backstory only on my two main protagonists; everyone else, even the antagonist, was just vague shadows in the background. No wonder I got stuck and abandoned that story!

I have learned since then that I can’t write without a detailed outline, a good backstory on most of my characters, and a lot of worldbuilding. Oh, and I absolutely need a clear idea of the ending. So that’s what I will be working on during October, and once I’m done, I have full confidence that I can write this story to the end without problem.

Editing woes

Reading through my failed first attempt, I also noticed just how many rookie mistakes I had made. In fact, I might keep that draft as a perfect illustration on how NOT to write a story. I started with a small prologue that didn’t bring anything to the story and would have been better situated at the end of Chapter 1 or cut out of the story altogether. Most of my worldbuilding and character backstory were huge info-dumps that almost managed to put me to sleep during my re-read. All the dialogues had some truly “creative” dialogue tags when a simple “he / she said” would have done just fine. And, most importantly, I told about my characters’ reactions instead of showing them.

Back when I wrote those words, I didn’t know any better, but now, one finished novel and several short stories later, the flaws of that draft stood out like a sore thumb.

For me, it was an eye-opening but also reassuring experience: I did become a better writer in the past two years, even if I hadn’t noticed it. And I did that by sticking with my stories, not being afraid to write crappy first drafts that I would later edit within an inch of their lives. And I was not afraid to start all over again with a brand new story each time the old one was done. I also read wildly about writing, editing, and publishing.

I think as writers, we need that sort of reassurance from time to time, especially if we are querying our first novel and getting only silence or rejections back. So my advice would be – do not lose hope. When you feel like giving up, open that dusty box where you banished all of your older failures and read through one of them. See how much you have grown since then and feel proud of what you have accomplished. Then put your pen to paper or your fingers on the keyboard and start working on a new story!

One day I might be confident enough in my skill that I might even unearth some of my unfinished stories from 2004-2005, though I rather dread the horrors that might be lurking between those pages.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

Know your story or the importance of world-building.

Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero
Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero

There are many elements to a good book. I have already talked about the importance of a good antagonist and fleshed-out secondary characters, but none of this will do any good if you haven’t bothered with the world-building.

As authors, we are the absolute gods of the worlds we create, and as such, we NEED to know how those worlds function. We need to know the physics, the magic and religious system, the races and customs of the people we populate our worlds with. Because if your knowledge of this world is patchy, trust me, the reader will know.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to prepare long ancestry lists for all of your characters. The reader doesn’t need to know about your protagonist’s great grand-aunt Bessie, unless she is relevant to the story somehow. But you, as an author, need to know where your characters come from and what they believe in. Your character’s background will help you determine how they will react in different situations. It will also prevent you from making a character act extremely out of character. Trust me, the readers will notice that as well.

If magic exists in your world, you need to know how it works better than the best Magisters in the best Magic Academy. You don’t have to reveal all the rules, you can even mislead your characters (and the reader) about some of them, but you need to know them.

Same goes for different gods and supernatural beings. You need to know their strengths and weaknesses. You need to know how they interact with each other and the humans that inhabit your world (if you have any).

Image courtesy www.tuku.cn
Image courtesy http://www.tuku.cn

That’s why I consider the world-building to be the most time-consuming process when brainstorming a new story. Creating a character’s backstory is a walk in the park compared to everything you need to take in to account when you start describing the world he or she inhabits. It becomes even more of a headache if your story requires your characters to travel long distances and visit different cultures. Because you can’t just say, “Hey, they are going to cross the Elf Forest. Elves like trees and are extremely arrogant,” and stop at that. Well, you could, but your character’s visit to this Elf Forrest would be extremely shallow and boring. And the readers will notice it.

Even though it’s a time-consuming and demanding job, I really love world-building. I feel like a child in front of an unopened Christmas present – can’t wait to peel off the layers of wrapping and discover what lays underneath. I think it’s the most exciting part of the whole process – discovering a brand new world that nobody has ever visited before and setting its boundaries.

Before I wrap this post up and let you all return to your reading or writing, let me leave you with a word of caution though. NEVER break the rules you have created, even if those rules put your characters in a seemingly impossible situation. Readers will know, if you introduce a Deus Ex Machina to save your protagonist at the last possible moment, and they will not like it. If they are anything like me, they will feel cheated and walk away from your book frustrated with the story.

The importance of secondary characters.

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We all know that in order for the readers to want to finish our book, we need to create a compelling story. A major part of that is coming up with an engaging and fleshed out protagonist that they would want to spend time with. So as writers, we spend a lot of time creating a backstory for your main character. And since a protagonist needs a good antagonist to create conflict and drive the plot forward, we tend to spend just as much (if not more) time fleshing out our villain as well.

But I have noticed a tendency in the last few books I read which made me go back and look over my own stories with a critical eye. See those books I read were good. The protagonist was likable, the story interesting and fast paced, the villain sufficiently evil, but not insane enough to totally put you off, but something was lacking still. Then I realized what it was – those two were the only fully fleshed out characters in the whole story. The rest of the people the hero met on his journey or who traveled with him were just talking heads with no personality whatsoever. They were just there to toss a few lines of dialogue and help the protagonist along the way. Other than that, they were non-entities. And you know what? That made for a boring read.

Human beings are social animals. We can’t exist in social vacuum. Well, neither can our protagonists. They have a family, they have friends, they have co-workers, acquaintances, people they like, people they don’t like. Heck, even if they were raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves, there would still be certain wolves they would consider friends and others they would consider enemies.

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I think the mistake we tend to make when we are planning out our stories is not focusing enough on those secondary characters. We spend so much effort on the backstories of our protagonists and antagonists that we tend to forget about the rest. We feel content to just put labels on them, like the best friend, the love interest, the slightly annoying but useful sidekick. What we forget is that in order to be interesting and to add depth to the story and the world-building, those secondary characters need to have lives of their own, independently of what our protagonist is doing. The best friend doesn’t cease to exist once he leaves the protagonist’s side. The love interest doesn’t just go into her room and stare at the wall for the rest of the day once the hero is off to save the world.

What I am trying to say is that the books that I read and absolutely loved had one thing in common – fleshed-out secondary characters. Sure, they were there to help the protagonist and drive the story forward, but I could feel like they had stories of their own as well. They had their own concerns and goals. They were living, breathing people, not cardboard cutouts. And you know what? It made the books more engaging, because I really cared about what happened not only to the main character, but also to all those other people as well. Heck, I wouldn’t mind reading a standalone book about some of them.

A few examples of good books with a plethora of secondary characters are Three parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (and the rest of the Expanse series), or all of the Malazan Books of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (starting with The Gardens of the Moon).

I think a good indicator of whether a book has good secondary characters is to see how much fanfiction is written about them. Because if readers empathize with your characters, they will want to know more about them, thus they will create their own stories for them. Just look at the hundreds of stories written about secondary characters from the Harry Potter books.

I know it’s a lot of work to plan out and write backstories for often a large number of characters, but the reward for it is well worth it, in my opinion. First of all, your world will feel more “lived in” if people inhabiting it are tridimensional. Secondly, it gives your protagonist more inner depth if he or she has to interact with people who have their own opinions and are not afraid to disagree with him / her. And finally, you never know when you might fall in love with one of the “sidekicks” you created and make him the hero of your next story.

Of Broken Things – five things I’ve learned revising Part 1.

pen-and-paper

I have passed yet another milestone on my long journey as a writer. Last night I finished rewriting / editing Part 1 of my novel Of Broken Things. Yes, it took me the better part of three months, so some might consider that I’m moving at the speed of a tortoise. But it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I’m moving forward.

It’s interesting to look back and see just how far I’ve come on my journey. Last October, I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to write 50k words necessary to win NaNoWriMo, but I did. Then I was convinced that I would never be able to finish the first draft, but I did that as well.

And when I looked at the 300 pages brick that was my finished first draft, I was convinced that I would never be able to edit that. Heck, I had no idea how to even begin making it better…

Well, three months later, I am a third of the way through with the revision, and it’s not as bad as I thought. Yes, it’s long and painful and rather soul-draining at times, but I can really see my story getting better, so it’s all worth it in the end.

So now that I have some editing experience under my belt, it’s time to share with you a few essential things I’ve learned. Those tidbits of wisdom are, of course, personal, and might not reflect your writing experience, because hey, we are all different, and so is our writing process.

1. The first draft sucks.

My first draft was a hot mess. It doesn’t help that when I write my story down for the first time, I just go with the flow. I never re-read what I wrote the day before or look back to edit, I just charge on ahead. Sometimes I follow my (very loose) outline, sometimes I go on a tangent and get lost in the woods before I limp back on the long and sinuous road to The End. So the end result is full of typos and repetitions, ravings and plot holes big enough to swallow a semi. There is a good story buried somewhere in there, but you need to get out your mining gear and be willing to do some hard work in order to dig it out, clean it up and polish it till it shines.

Which brings me to the next tidbit of wisdom:

2. Editing the first draft = rewriting 90% of it.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

I had noticed that when I edited my short stories. I had dreaded that when I started editing Of Broken Things, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be the same. Sadly, it was. If you look at my printed copy, you would think that I bled all over the pages (that is if I my blood was blue), there is so much ink on them. I have moved scenes around, rewritten some of them from scratch, hacked and slashed and merged some of them together. Some pages might have maybe one or two untouched sentences, but most have none.

3. If you didn’t use an outline for the first draft, you better make one before you start editing.

Seeing how many things need to change during the editing process, having a detailed (preferably scene by scene outline) is essential. Starting a major revision without one is like going into the woods without a map or even a compass – you will most certainly get lost and probably do more harm than good. You have already finished this story, so you should know what it’s about (or I hope you do). So re-read it, outline it, mark the scenes that advance your story, those that need to be changed, and those that have no business being there at all. Take notes. They will really help you once it’s time to beat this baby into submission, ahem, start editing.

On a side note, it’s also good to keep a list of all the names and places, as well as a good timeline of your story. After all, you are working on filling in those plot holes, not creating new ones.

4. Save your original version before you start hacking and slashing.

ALWAYS save the original copy of your work before you make any changes. You never know what scene you might desperately need back two days after you happily threw it into the incinerator and pressed the Burn button.

And while you’re at it, save your progress regularly as well… in multiple places. That way if your power goes off expectantly, or your laptop shows you a blue screen of death and refuses to be revived, all that hard work is not lost forever.

5. Keep going.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

It’s hard work. I had thought that writing the first draft was hard; well, it was a walk in the park compared to editing it. There are moments when I want to bash my head against the wall because I have I know a scene sucks but nothing I do makes it any better. It would be so easy to get discouraged and just give up. After all, you’ve done it already, right? You finished that story. You got to THE END once. Why not just leave it and write something new next?

Don’t give up. Leave that scene that makes you want to pull your hair out. Take notes on what doesn’t work and continue with another scene. You’d be surprised at the wealth of ideas you come up with when you come back to it the next day. Even if you’re not happy with something during the first revision pass, you can always change it during the next one. That’s the good thing about writing – nothing is set in stone until the book is published. Once you realize that, the whole process becomes very empowering.

So what do you guys think? What is your editing process? What problems have you encountered during your revisions? What lessons have you learned? I want to hear from you!

Do you need to be married to your job to be good at it?

This post was born out of a brief exchange I had with a friend on Twitter. She had mentioned that in all the popular TV shows, the cops always hang around the office after hours (and sometimes late into the night), even after the case is done. Why don’t they go home? Don’t they have a life outside their work?

That conversation made me think. I also took a hard look at the shows I like on TV to see if I could confirm or deny that statement. Well, the verdict isn’t pretty – it seems like the TV wants us to think that you cannot be a good specialist (be it a detective, a CSI, an agent, etc.) unless you are literally married to your job.

 NCIS crew courtesy CBS NCIS crew courtesy CBS.

In NCIS, for example, Gibbs has been divorced three times and the relationships he had during the show never lead anywhere. He lives in a house that looks more like a cheap and ran down motel and spends most of his time in the basement working on a boat. Ducky was sharing his home with his mother until she passed away and now lives alone. As far as we know, he has never been married and is not in a relationship. Tony’s romantic life had been a train wreck after train wreck. All of them practically live at work.

CSI, another popular series, also shows us a group of workaholics with almost non-existent social lives or failing relationships. Nick, Greg, Julie and Morgan are all single. Sara’s relationship with Grissom ended a few seasons ago and Brass still has problems with his ex-wife and step-daughter. Heck, even the family man D.B Russell is starting to feel the strain in his personal life.

CSI courtesy CBS.
CSI courtesy CBS.

And there are plenty more shows like that. Heck, the latest example of this was shown in Rizzoli and Isles, when Jane chose her career over marriage to the man she loved, because it meant following him around.

My problem with that portrayal is that it slowly convinces the viewers that if you want to be good at your job, you need to prioritize it above everything else, personal life included. You need to be married to it, even obsessed with it.

Well, I have a beef to pick with that. First of all, obsession is never healthy. Also if you structure all your life around one single thing, once this thing taken from you, your life crumbles. Have you noticed that when those series show us a retired cop, he is usually either a heavy drinker, struggles with depression or bitter at the world? And how many characters took their own lives when they were declared unfit for duty for one reason or another?

I don’t agree that you have to sacrifice everything to be good at your job. I think that in order to be good at something, you need to be a healthy and balanced person. That means having more than one “obsession”, a hobby that you would enjoy doing during your free time, plenty of friends (and not only colleagues), and a good family life / personal relationship. That way, if disaster strikes and you fail at one aspect of your life, you still have all the others to fall back to and help you through. And your work won’t suffer too much, if you leave on time to enjoy a good dinner with your family. On the contrary, you might come to work happier the next day and ready to tackle oncoming challenges.

So that’s the characters whose stories I want to read and watch. I want well-rounded people. I want people who are not defined only by their job, who can balance profession and personal life, and be happy doing both. Those people are not boring. They have their own challenges to overcome. And there is so much more that can be done with characters like that as an author.

So what do you think? Do you think that being married to your job is unhealthy? Do you think that we, as authors need to create more in-depth characters who actually have a life to come home to? I would love to hear from you all.

The more you write, the more ideas you get.

 

pen-and-paper

I remember reading the excellent book On Writing by Stephen King sometimes in 2009, when I had just moved state-side with my husband. And I remember feeling so pumped up and excited to start writing something, because the great Stephen King said that ANYONE could write a story, they only had to start.

So I sat down with my pen and paper, already thinking about printed books and glory and fame… and I hit a wall. I had nothing to write about. My mind was blank. Not a single interesting story idea to be found anywhere. But I wanted to write! So I grabbed the first half-baked story that had the misfortune to wander into the spotlight and tried to run with it. The run quickly became a walk, then a crawl, and finally it died in horrible convulsions. That was my first effort at becoming a writer and, as you can see, it was not a very successful one.

Then in October 2013 a good friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you try doing NaNoWriMo with me?” I looked at the site, I read the rules, and I decided why the heck not? But the last disastrous foray into the land of writing was still fresh in my mind, so I was rather freaked out to just start on November 1 and write 50k in 30 days. And I still had NO IDEA what I would be writing about! Needless to say that the closer that first of November loomed, the more stressed I got.

And then a miracle happened. Around October 15, one a character literally barged into my dream, knocking the door down with his military boots, and said, “Ok, you will write this, and you will write it now.” I woke up with a half-formed idea, three fully-formed characters and an almost feverish need to put pen to paper and get story out, because it was burning me from the inside. I spent the last 15 days before the start of NaNo frantically outlining the story, I hit the month of November running, and I didn’t stop running until I finished the first draft around January 15.

During this exciting journey, I learned a lot about writing in general, as well as what worked and didn’t for me (outlines are a must – I can’t pants it for the life of me). But something even more extraordinary happened in the process as well – all of a sudden, my mind was bombarded with stories clamoring to be told. I was writing one, and at least three more were knocking more or less politely at the door, waiting for their turn. Where I had suffered from lack of things to write about back in 2009, I was overwhelmed with possible ideas now. It was like the trickle had transformed into a downpour!

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I now have a list of stories I want to write, and it’s getting longer every month. I must admit that it’s exciting. I am in the middle of the first rewrite / edit of my NaNo novel, and I have a finished short story waiting for a second rewrite, but I am also writing a brand new story that might turn out to be a novella. And I have enough plots for at least two more short stories set in the same word as another short story I just started sending out to magazines. Not to mention, another half-written novel I really want to go back to, because I have finally figured out the outline for it.

I guess it is true what everybody says – the more you write, the more you discover stuff to write about. It’s hard to start the ball rolling, but once it’s on the move, it gathers all sorts of interesting things along the way.

Editing my novel – first steps.

Editing woes

 

My big adventure as a writer started November 2013 when I attempted to take advantage of NaNoWriMo to write at least part of my first ever novel. I plowed ahead and even won NaNo with a nice 55k word count. My novel, however, was only halfway done. So I persevered. I applied butt to chair for the whole of December (well I made a break for the holidays) and half of January, until I had finally put THE END on my manuscript. I ended up with a 100k word brick and an immense sense of satisfaction. I did it! I had finally finished something. For the first time ever. Yay me!!!

So I put my first draft in a drawer and busied myself with writing a couple short stories. That was also fun and challenging in a different way than writing a whole novel. When you have a very limited amount of words to tell your story, you have to be a lot more careful about the choices you make.

Short stories were also my first serious attempt at editing a piece into something good enough print (still working on that, first story is on version three so far). I had tremendous fun editing and rewriting them, trying to see if I could tell my story better.

But now I am faced with the 100k brick that is my first draft, and I must admit that the task of editing it is daunting. I mean it took me two weeks to tweak a 5k words story well enough to be able to send it to my critique group, how long would going through THAT many words take me? I admit that I am terrified. I have been circling around this text since beginning of March, unsure where to start.

I even sent it to my wonderful beta who had been there with me every step of the way while I was writing the darn thing. I think she sensed my rising panic, because she advised me to break the story into manageable chunks, to re-outline my novel now that it’s finished, breaking it into scenes, and go from there. That’s what I have been busy doing for the past week.

I must admit that this advice was invaluable. Not only do I have a clear Excel spreadsheet with every scene making every chapter, but I also have a better understanding of what is going on in my story. I now know how the events unfold and link to each other. And I already see a few problems that need fixed. I didn’t notice them when I read through the manuscript before, even though I felt that something wasn’t quite right.

So now that I have that clearer picture, I can start working on my plan of attack. Hopefully, I will manage to make my novel better (and not get paralyzed by fear in the prospect of the cheer volume of words I have to edit).

But this is the first lesson I learned about editing a novel – a detailed scene by scene outline is a must.

The process is ongoing, so stay tuned for more!

A Newbie’s reflections on editing

Editing my short story.
Toss and rewrite.

As far as editing is concerned, I am what the gamer world would call a total “noob”. I have only started seriously applying butt to chair since October 2013, and so far I have a finished first draft of a novel and two short stories to show for that. So I have minimal experience with editing my work (even smaller than my experience in actually writing it).

However, I started this blog not only to share my thoughts and opinions on books and shows I like, but also to track how I progress and evolve as a writer. So based on editing two short stories and finishing the re-read of my first draft, I have made several observations about my writing process.

So far, when I sat down to edit both of short stories, I ended up keeping about 10% of the original text and rewriting everything else. When I noticed that, at first I was depressed, because I felt bad for all that time I wasted writing the first draft only to toss most of it away. But then I started analyzing the differences between the draft and the end product, and the result was not as abysmal as I had thought. Yes, I had tossed 90% of what I had written, but the bones of the story remained the same – the plot stayed in those 10% that were left in its entirety. So I got the structure of the story right the first time around, but it’s the presentation that needed reworking.

Doesn’t that realization make you feel better instantly? I know it did for me. I didn’t waste that time writing the first draft. I put the skeleton of my story together instead. And those scenes that I tossed and rewrote? They served a purpose too. They showed me that first setting / event/ character reaction that came to my mind didn’t work. If I hadn’t put it down on paper and re-read it, I would never have noticed that. Guess what, that made me think of a different way of telling the story. And if the critiques I received on Critters are to be trusted, the story only became better because of that.

And now I am faced with the daunting task of taking the first draft of my novel (which about 95k works longer than my short stories) and trying to make a decent story out of it. I must admit that I am scared: if I have to toss and rewrite 90% of the original, that would be about 90k words. That can potentially take me A LONG time. But I have learned one thing from the short story editing exercise and the read through my draft – the plot is there, the characters are alive and their POVs are visible, so the “bones” of the novel are solid. Now I just need to make sure to flesh it out and dress it in Sunday’s best before I let it fly into the world.

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.

On editing – did I really write this crap?

When I was in the middle of the first draft of my novel, I ready many blog posts about writing, first drafts, rewriting and editing. I read somewhere that first drafts sucked, and that you were lucky if you kept about 10% of it on the rewrite. I remember thinking this can’t be true! That would be absolutely horrible and heartbreaking to spend months putting one word after the other just to have most of them end up in the dust bin.

Well, once I finished my first draft and put it in a drawer to marinate until I come back to it in February, I decided to distract myself by writing a short story. It was set in a completely different world than my novel and it was fun to write… Then I decided that before I could dive into editing a 100k words manuscript, I should probably try and tackle a 4k words story first, just to see what it entrails.

I read my short story with a critical eye and realized that it had all kinds of inherent problems.

First of all I was so focused on putting the story down and fitting it in a short story format, that I didn’t give my main character a chance to say anything. Basically, it was like I gagged her, tied strings to her arms and legs, and marched her down the story like a brave little puppet. She did all those wonderful deeds and never got a moment to tell the reader why she did them or how she felt about them.

Then I noticed a second problem with my story. My heroine encounters an old dying werewolf and, after hearing the creature’s story, takes pity on it and puts its soul to rest. Well, the werewolf’s story frankly sucked. A woman scorned by a man who turns into a monster and destroys the entire village where the man lived? Including innocent women and children who had done her no harm? No way in hell my character would empathize with a monster like that! But the fact that she connected with the werewolf and understood her pain was important to the story. The conclusion was – the werewolf needed a better story.

 Editing my short story.Editing my short story.

So I sat down with my printed short story, lots of spare paper and a blue pen and went to town: changing, adding, crossing out and rewriting. In the end I think I kept maybe 5% of the original first draft, everything else had been drastically rewritten. I think the story is better now, but that still a lot of words that ended up deleted.

 

This also kind of scares me when I think about the 100k words 350 pages monster waiting for me in my desk drawer. If I have to rewrite my novel just as drastically, it will take me months to accomplish this.