Category Archives: Behind-the-Scenes

An About Face

It’s really just about math. And a trip to the pool.

As I have “toiled” with the first two dilemmas (one & two) from my editor, he has started moving more slowly than expected on BC1. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. There are parts of the book that have been in there for 4-5 drafts. These tend to be the more polished parts, since they’ve been gone over more times. Then there are other parts that have been in 1-2 drafts and they’re, well, err, less polished. Also, as I’ve noted drafts 3 & 4 had some pretty substantial changes to the plot which caused a lot of ripple and, as my editor has discovered, some story discrepancies. Discrepancies are bad in any story, but I think particularly in a SciFi Detective story.

As a humorous aside, one wonders if maybe that’s why there aren’t more SciFi Detective stories?

At any rate, I’m swimming, you know, getting back to the old workout routine (minus the running, pending more PT) — Yay me! And much like a shower, I find a swim or a run a good time to just meditate on life. This time I found myself meditating on math. Specifically on the 4 pages an hour rate that my editor was working at. You see that translates into about 125 hours for my novel. So if I assume that I would be no faster than my editor at incorporating the edits, which I think is a safe conservative assumption since some of the edits will require plot changes/clarifications and that always takes a chunk of time.

Well, I swam a lot of laps and I’ll save you all the spluttering details, but here’s the summary:

  • 4 pages per hour
  • 125 hours needed
  • Average of 14 hours per week available
  • 9 weeks needed (assuming nothing goes awry <– Bad assumption)
  • 9 weeks from Saturday is Nov. 9th
  • I am on track to be 1 week late, assuming all goes well

That was a bit of an “Aw Crap!” moment.

So, I am buckling down as of today to see if I can’t punch through this a little faster. Stay Tuned.

The 2nd Dilemma from My Editor

Is whether or not to rewrite the first chapter.

For those of you who may already have downloaded that first chapter, well it may not end up being the first chapter. I’m not sure if that makes it less or more cool. Probably more, but I’ll let you decide.

So here’s the nut of it . . . when I sent my editor a sample (as I was trying to determine if I wanted to use him), I sent the beginning of my first chapter. Now at the time and still, I felt that it was a fine piece of writing that did a good job of beginning to show Kurt’s (my lead) character.

The trouble was that my readers kept telling me to pull the Science Fiction (SF) elements forward. After being bugged by that for a month or two, I looked at the first chapter of two novels that I thought were similar to mine and decided to write a new first chapter. I was pleased with the new first chapter because it allowed me to put the SF stuff right up front and I was able to rework the plot to keep the old 1st chapter in the book.

BUT, my editor liked the old one better and said that I’ve got too much exposition in the new first chapter. Technically, I think he’s right on both notes. So I am distinctly contemplating reworking my first chapter, again.

Since the beginning of a book generally determines whether or not people even make it to Chapter 2, I do support the idea of a good first chapter. The new problem is that when I moved the old first chapter it caused me to rework the flow of the first 50-80 pages. Overall, the new flow is actually much better.

What I’m really wrestling with is not “whether or not” to rework it, but how can I rework it and maintain the same flow? I think I can do it, but it has to make sense and reorganizing it last time wasn’t easy. This is a detective story, so things do need to progress with a certain logic. Now that said, as I write this I am a little energized because what I am feeling is that there is a way to rewrite the first chapter to make it better and use the impact to once again improve the flow of the story. After all, that is what happened last time I redid it. Now that’s exciting.

This is one that I’ll really have to think through, so there will most likely be another update. And much interim hand-wringing. Speaking of which, after thinking some more about the first dilemma I am now leaning toward working hard to write faster and finish BC2 with the idea that I can get it done before my editor finishes the rest of BC1 and I can still jump on the edits for BC1 early. We’ll see!

I Need to Take More Showers

But it’s not a hygiene thing, it’s a creative thing. Wait a minute, did that sound totally wrong?

So this whole week (and if you count the weeks I was avoiding this, really its about a month), I’ve been struggling with this section of my novel that’s roughly Chapters 11-19 (the book actually gets really good starting about Chap 19). Kurt (my main character) goes in circles a tad and I’ve been trying to work him out of that. One of the ways I am doing this I can’t describe accurately without creating a spoiler, but to be über generic — through happenstance he follows a suspect and ends up in a specific location. Once in that location, he loses the suspect. Recently I had been thinking that he could then, through happenstance, see a different person of interest there and that this would be a great way to introduce a newish plot line.

PROBLEM: When it came time to write it, it felt, well, too implausible. He “just happens” to see Mr. X and then just happens to see Mr. Y right after. Really?? Is that the best you can do (it’s that second-person-speaking authoritarian voice again, except this time it has taken on the persona of a junior critic at a small-time print publication with an over aggrandized sense of self). Bottom line, I couldn’t do it.

So after thinking about it Sunday, staring at it for 30 minutes Monday morning, then skipping past it, only to find myself staring at it for another 20 minutes Tuesday, and skipping it again. I repeated the process today. I felt a wee bit stressed and frustrated. But I knew it just wouldn’t work the way that I had been thinking about it.

Then I was in the shower, mostly thinking about how little time I had to finish showering, iron my clothes, and pack up my son and my self for the day And BAM! I just started seeing how Kurt would not see Mr. Y and how he would leave the location and what he would do next. I made a tie in to a minor character that some readers had wanted more from, brought a major character in, did some character building, and hit some of the points that my readers had been suggesting. All while fixing the original problem.

I almost tripped getting out of the shower. I had to get to my legal pad before this evaporated. I wrote down one key idea to trigger me later. Finished getting ready, making sure to pack the legal pad and two hours later while waiting for a meeting I grabbed the pad and sketched out the scenes that I saw while in the shower. I am actually excited to hit the writing tomorrow morning because I think I’m about to apply some ideas that will definitely improve my novel.

I’ve got another doozie like this in Chapters 30-40ish, but one step at a time.

Kill Your Darlings

I think that I finally had my first significant experience with that.

Kurt (my main character) is involved in two different investigations. As a part of one of them, he needs to interview the leaders of two delegations. After the interview with the first delegation, he gets a tip for his other investigation and tells Sudeep (a major character with whom he’s working) that he needs to follow-up on it and she agrees. This allows him to go chase after a lead in this other investigation.

So tonight I’m reading this and I get to that part and I say to myself, “oh no she wouldn’t.” Then I immediately apply the “would he really” rule from James N. Frey’s How to Write A Damned Good Novel. Would she really accept Kurt switching gears and putting off their investigation and the answer is “No.”

“Damn,” I say and put the laptop down and pace a circle in the room. I sit back down, reread the scene, and apply the rule again. Same answer. Now I feel more confident that it’s the right answer, NO WAY would she go for it. BUT that means the entire next scene doesn’t happen next. I read that scene and double-check my outline to see if I can just punch it in later and nope, it doesn’t fit. It’s now superfluous.

Another round of pacing. The bummer is that I “like” the scene and it might even be well-written. But it doesn’t matter. Sudeep would not accept that outcome and it changes what comes next and the change means the next scene is no longer needed in the book.

1,000 words deleted.

I hated to part with them. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I suspect that qualitatively I am still nowhere near the kinds of darlings Stephen King discusses killing in On Writing, but I do think that I finally got to experience killing one of my own darlings.

Now lest you fret that this is a downer post, it is not. Two extreme positives here. First, all of that time I invested over the years reading books about writing (ahem, instead of writing) is actually paying off. Second, as much as I didn’t like cutting the scene, I do believe it improved the novel both by making the character actions more congruent and by making the book tighter and the whole point of what I’m trying to do right now is make the book tighter.

Progress Update 2013.05.22 & 23

I have some success I want to crow about, but I’ll start with Wednesday to add some super supsense to this entry.

My goals for Wednesday were to finish world building, create an editing checklist, and start editing. I hit two out of three. I decided what I had for world building was good enough and I made the checklist. The checklist is not insignificant, it contains about 43 separate items most of which are not minor. Then I decided to put my manuscript in industry standard format all the way through (Note-to-self, do this from the start on the next novel, which means the third one since the second is already 75% written). Lump in a challenge at being focused and that about sums up Wednesday.

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback to pull my SciFi elements forward, so when I sat down to work yesterday afternoon I decided to focus on that. I reread the first chapters of a couple books that have some similarity to mine and afterward decided that I would change my first chapter. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted to change it, but then I wrote a new Chapter 1 in a flurry. I was so stoked about the change that I sent it to a friend to read and he told me that it was a definite improvement.

Now the problem is that the change in the first chapter creates a domino effect and the old Chapter 1 doesn’t seem to have a firm landing place right now, but it’s too good a piece of character development to toss.

My plan for today:

  • Find a spot for the old Chapter 1
  • Start on item 2 on the checklist and move down the list
  • Send the deposit to the editor (oops)

When In Doubt, Peanut M&M’s

This is purely a scientific test.

This afternoon, I posted “When in doubt Peanut M&M’s” as my FB status. In less than two hours, I had 12 Likes and the following suggestions:

  • Lindt
  • Peanut Butter M&M’s
  • Chocolate M&M’s
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Dark Chocolate Peanut
  • Dark Chocoalate . . . in the freezer

Since I am taking the coming week off to work on my novel(s), I suspect the main impact of this flurry of suggestions will be to help me fill out the bad portion of my Brain Food, Bad Food, Beer, and think like a bachelor novelist grocery shopping list.

That said, two days ago I made a post exploring next steps for the writing process as opposed to the junk food eating portion of the coming week. At the end of said post, I welcomed feedback and even though about 20 people have read it so far, no comments. So I am wondering whether my junk food shopping list or suggestions for my writing process list will fill faster.

Revised Plan for Book 1 & 2

Missing my Nano goal and running out of gas the last couple of weeks has created the need for a major change in my plan. That and I’ve taken next week off to work on Book 1. So I’m going to think this through “outloud” as it were because I feel like I need a firm plan ahead of this weekend as this weekend really begins my week off to work on the book.

So roughly the plan that I was working with for Book 1 had me plotting the changes I was going to make May 1, spending two weeks editing, my vacation week doing a full reread of the novel, and finishing editing the last week of May. In June I would hand off the fourth draft to readers while working on Book 2, which theoretically would have been done around May 1. Then in July it would roughly be the same process as May with the book ready to go to an editor at the beginning of August.

Although I do intend to continue working on both books, my priority is to get Book 1 finished this year and ideally by the end of October. So any adjustments I make, I plan on making with that idea in mind.

The easiest thing to do to keep me on track is either jettison the idea of giving my fourth draft to readers, which gives me back the whole month of June or I jettison the full reread of the novel next week. That’s a tough choice. Either I spend more time with it and get less reader feedback or spend less time with it to get more reader feedback.

I had envisioned a fourth draft where I continue to make plot and character improvements, followed by a fifth draft where I still tweak plot and character but focus primarily on atmosphere. I think I’m in a spot where to stick with my schedule, I may not be able to do both of those drafts quite as I had envisioned.

The other other thing is my readers suggested doing a Wiki page for one of the settings in my novel. I loved the idea, both because I could eventually post it and because it urged me to work out a detailed backstory for this setting. In a way, the setting is a character and requires it’s own backstory. Now the reason I bring this up is that it’s a big endeavor, ideal for a week off, but I’m already up against the wall with my schedule. OK new take, methinks I review my feedback Friday (after my U10 soccer team’s pizza party) and Saturday. Then I’ll put together an editing plan and maybe even start editing on Sunday. Monday I do my Wiki page, then I plug away at the editing. I think it will take me at least 2-3 days full time, but whether or not I’m right I have to plug away at it so I’ll do that and then see where I’m at by week’s end.

I may have to sleep on this one. Feedback welcomed!