This month has been spent in revision hell. I’m revising two novels and trying very hard to get them ready for a March 31 submission. One is a hard deadline; the other is self-imposed (important if we ever want to get our stories out there–there’s always a reason to not be writing if we let there be).

But there is no hell for the writer like Revision Hell.

I currently reside on the seventh level, the ‘this book sucks’ level where plot points and dialogue I thought were so cool in the first draft now strike me as vapid globs of desperation. Oh lord, deliver me from my woe!

–Writer Unboxed

Here’s this excellent post by Holly Lisle (my personal hero) on revising in one shot.

Here’s what she says on revision hell:

And let’s debunk one bit of writer myth while we’re here: Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.

Because this is isn’t a real post, other than to gather resources I need (and you may need), here you go.

I hate revising more than anything in the universe. More than cleaning up cat puke. I am done with this book and do NOT want to work on it anymore.

This is where I’m at, y’all.

Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.

Digging Right Now 716I haven’t done one of these in a while. For one thing, I’ve been busy writing! I finished all three of my fifties novellas (and I’m in the middle of editing them right now), I’m just (like this weekend) finished with second round edits on my novel, Infamous, contracted with The Wild Rose Press, and I’ve started the second novel to follow-up Infamous.

I’ll have lots more info for you on all of that in the coming months. But for now, what I’m digging this month.

Click it.
Click it.

First, we have to talk about Game of Thrones. In my opinion, it was the best. season. ever. In fact, it was so good that when I finished it on the last Sunday, I started watching again on the

following Thursday and rewatched the entire season.

The Battle of the Bastards! Daenerys and dragons! The taking back of Mereen! Killing the khals! Bran and Whitewalkers! Hodor! “I drink and I know things,”! The Green Trial! I could go on. And on and on. The point is, it hit every structure and pacing note imaginable. Every episode was top-notch. If you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, I not only suggest you do so immediately (get HBO Now for a month or two), I’m wondering what the hell you’re waiting for.

Next, let’s talk about what I’m doing in my down time. I’m playing video games, of course. I play lots of what’s called casual games. I play Happy Street and Hollywood University on my iPad. I’m an Animal Crossing fanatic. (My AC:NL dream code is 4600-4766-5087; go ahead and visit me.) Yes, I’m blushing as I admit that.

I have lately been investing a lot of my free time in The Sims 4. In many ways, it’s not as good as it’s predecessor. I mourn the open town and the color choices, particularly. However, other than loading screens, TS4 has its own high points. Being able to do more than one thing at once and great graphics on low-end machines are two of them. All the same, it amuses me, and that’s all that matters. Maybe in a few years, when computers catch up to higher end gaming, we can have an open town again. For now, I’ll play both versions.

Finally, let’s circle back around to writing. A book was recommended in the crit group I belong to called Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. It’s to the right there and that’s an affiliate link. This book was everything I’ve ever looked for on story structure for romance novels.

I read an article recently from BookRiot that the forumalaic elements of romance are like the elements of a sonnet. Yes, there are certain beats you want to hit if you want to write a good kissing book (what the author of the book calls them), but that’s no different than a lot of other writing that is revered. So what? It doesn’t make them any less enjoyable to read, if they’re your thing. They’re definitely my thing, and understanding why they work is, as well.

What are you enjoying this July? Also, happy birthday to me: I’ll be 42 on Sunday!

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(I say in theory because I’m sure I’ve read and loved a few. I’m definitely not putting down anyone else’s writing. I think the right person can tell any story and make it great. But, back to the subject.)

ducklingPygmalion. My Fair Lady. Pretty Woman. You can call them transformation stories, but at their heart, it’s ugly duckling syndrome. And they just get under my skin. Here’s why:

There’s something ‘not enough’ about the hero/ine.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that protagonists need to have flaws. There’s no character growth without imperfection.

What I take issue with is the unlovableness (I made that word up) of a woman until she is made prettier, or shinier, or softer around the edges.

It’s so shallow.

Which leads me to this problem. When we’re talking flaw, we’re discussing a deep issue. It’s not something a haircut is going to help the heroine change.

A person shouldn’t have to change to be acceptable.

Did Julia Roberts need to not be a prostitute to be in a relationship? Sure, that’s fair. But didn’t he like her realness, the parts that made her different from the society women he had already discarded? Yes. Yes, he did.

A change doesn’t need to make a person lovable.

It needs to make them able to love as a fully-developed, healthy human being.

Do you have any books or movies that you think did this well? Or, conversely, did it badly?

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Four reasons ugly-duckling syndrome makes me want to wall-bang a book. #romance #blog Click To Tweet

 

Starting Your Story Too LateI’ve recently been puzzling over a story that seemed to have everything going for it… and it just faltered. I’d written a hundred pages and blah, boring, and the heroine was just bitchy. It wasn’t working. Then I realized I started the story too late. We’ve all heard the warnings about starting a story too soon, but this was different. All the good, clicky stuff happened before the story started. And I just figured, hey, great backstory. Except it should’ve been story.

I kept playing with it in my mind, turning it around, and I would always come back to what if I wrote about the before? And then I decided that’s how you make a story dull, because the story starts when the action starts. Except, obviously, actions happen in a backstory, right? I felt like the serpent eating its tail.

I sort of wondered, is this a common problem? Do other people make this mistake?

If you open the window too early, your readers have to drum their mental fingers waiting for the action to start. Open the window too late, and you’ll find yourself desperately filling in with flashbacks and infodumps.

caroclarke.com

Trust me--I hate flashbacks almost as much as infodumps. Click To Tweet But dumping is what I did–what I had to do. The story didn’t make sense without that info. I mean, a tried to dole it out slowly and hide it in conversation, but a dump is a dump.

That story has gone from a benched story to a to-be-written one. At least, once I figure out how to change those first 100 pages. Anyone else got battle scars like these? Have you ever started too soon or too late?

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More Reading:

Then

12.19.08
The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


Now

I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.

siglori

Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet

Note: This was written yesterday. Hope your holiday, if you celebrated one, was fabulous.

I have been with my family for about 45 minutes. I have had wine, Cheetos, and coffee– my basic coping mechanisms. I adore my family. If I didn’t like them, I could avoid this altogether!

It got me thinking, though. Families are complex. I love them and I want to smack myself in the face with the turkey roaster lid. I’m including someecards below to show you how common these feelings can be.

As a writer, these days can be pure gold in research. How does it feel? What do people say to each other instead of, “I don’t care to see any more pics of your dog? or “Mom may have had a little too much pink moscato.” Take note, and include it in your novel’s next family scene.

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Then

09.17.2008
Structural Integrity, Baby

When I start a story, I figure out pretty quick what that first turning point is going to be and where the plot (and subplots) will have to get to for it to happen. I’m a pantsy plotter. That also sets me down the road of “What happens next?” Well, the whole world just turned on it’s side–for good or bad, or both–and people (characters) are going to be scrambling to figure out how this new world works, where they fit in it, and how the heck they get to their goal now.

Don’t think of it as outlining, which still makes me cringe, and doesn’t really allow for narrative structure, anyway.  It’s a road map.  It’s where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you’re going to get there.


Now

I am a die hard plotter and outliner. I plot the story. I plot the acts. I plot the scenes. I plot the beats in the scene. Not all at once. At first, I immerse myself in the story with pictures of the characters and settings, a soundtrack, and handwritten biographies. Then I write several thousand words. Then I stop. Then I get annoyed because it’s going somewhere I don’t even get and what is the stupid motivation here, anyway? Then I rip up what I have, plot the entire story, in acts. Then I start writing. Before I start each scene, I note the beats of the scene. What happens, what changes, where does it get all twisty?

I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.

“I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.” ~ Click to Tweet

Image courtesy of Kimberly Vohsen via stock.xchng

I found my critique partner through a website (Ladies Who Critique) about eight months ago. We exchanged a chapter to see if we would be a fit. We decided to chat on Google a week later and about five minutes in she said, “Can I just call you? I hate chatting.” Feeling slightly awkward about my West Virginia accent, I reluctantly agreed. (She doesn’t know I was reluctant. I’m shy. Shh, that’s a secret).

That night, we went over our crits, answered questions, brainstormed. Then we spent three hours talking about writing, and story, and good books. And life. It was like we were meant to partner up.

Now, she’s my writing partner. We write our own stories, but we help each other by brainstorming, critting, beta reading, and motivating. We talk at least weekly. We actually talk a lot. Like, we usually run down the battery on my home phone and my cell phone.

The thing is, besides acquiring a loving, accepting, genuine friend, my writing has improved. A lot. Because when you have someone to throw around ideas with, who will say, “Your hero is acting like an asshole,” (her) or, “No, I’m sorry. Internal conflict doesn’t count as scene conflict. Something has to happen. Period,” (me), then you up your game. You have someone, in real time, to call you on your flaws, to draw out your talent. It’s like creativity crack.

Before I end this with crazy, random quotes, I encourage everyone to find a writing partner. It should be someone you trust. It should be someone you connect with. It should be someone who is committed at the same level you are. But do it.

Crazy, Random Quotes:

  • “I think my hero’s hair is going to be troutymouth blond.” (Cool points if you get this reference. See a couple of posts back for a clue.)
  • “That’s okay though. The important thing is you were creatively…creating.” (Yes, I’m a writer. I use my words so well.)
  • “I think my inappropriate dead crush is Yul Brenner.” (Mine is Rock Hudson).
  • “I’m a writer. I can make those fantasies happen all over my mind.” (Let’s not even go there.)
  • “But we’re not normal people.” (It’s true.)
  • “Trust me. You’re going to love conflict boxes so much, you’ll want to marry them.” (She’s almost there.)
  • “I have the perfect song for your story. Go buy it.” (It was).

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Robert Linder.

We all know (or should) that I love me some Lani Diane Rich (@lanidianerich on Twitter). I read her book, Ex and the Single Girl, a couple of years ago, and mentioned how much I loved it in another A Glance At post. Personally, I admire her, I’d love to take one of her Storywonk classes, I listen to Storywonk podcasts on the way to work. Kinda. Love. Her.

But, whatever. It doesn’t negate the very awesomeness of this book. So, like the other glances (which,  you know, isn’t an in-depth look), I’m just going to go into what I loved about this book. But, first! The blurb:

 When Tucson Today segment producer Carly McKay visits the quirky artist’s community of Bilby, Arizona, to do a story on a psychic quiltmaker, she receives an odd reading… and her life falls apart in eerie harmony with what the quilt foretold. Her best friend professes his undying love; her show gets canceled; and the mother who disappeared seventeen years ago appears on their doorstep, getting instant forgiveness from the entire family… except Carly.

Carly rushes off to Bilby to return the cursed quilt, and then surprises herself; she stays. She rents a cabin, gets a job, and meets an artist who shows her new ways to look at life, and love. Can she run away and start a new life, or should she go back and stitch her old one back together?

And why is it so hard to get a straight answer from a psychic, anyway?

The best thing about this book (and this book has a lot going for it) are the characters. You’ve got a psychic quiltmaker. And her ex-husband, who is now the owner of the art supply shop in town. And a woman. An adorable beta artist as love interest. Sisters who are all so individual. A mom who disappeared 17 years ago and suddenly comes home. There is a big cast. And they all contribute. And they’re all real, complex, fully-formed. And yet, they don’t overpower the story.

And, at it’s core, it feels good. There are messages about accepting oneself and forgiveness that are very personal and moving (mostly because you come to care so much for these people. Um, characters.).

It’s one of those books you’re satisfied in a deep way when you put it down and yet a little sad to leave that world. And that, my friends, is kinda the point of storytelling.

Buy it: The Fortune Quilt