Wrapping Things Up

To end this drought of blog posts, I am exploring another kind of ending which has occupied my thoughts not just today, but for several months now. How do you end a series of novels? I am coming up on this with the Capacitance series as I am about halfway into the manuscript of the final book. It’s an issue that I have avoided since the first word I put on the page of the first novel. My characters came out onto the page and began their stories, got more developed and are all hurtling towards…something?

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that my writing style is improvisational. There is no master outline in my office delineating each twist, turn and conclusion of the Capacitance series. My mind has continually surprised me as I go through the writing process by providing these different plot twists and basically showing me where the story is going next. However, here at the end of all things (to quote Frodo Baggins) my improvisational brain is not coming through for me.

As a writer, I go through a lot of self confidence issues with my writing. My mind must turn each idea over and over and go back and forth with an argument on whether these words or ideas are even fit for paper before I can sit down and write. Ending my series is like a giant combination of all these insecurities combined. Will readers like this ending? How the heck do I take so many big issues and solve them all in a satisfying way? Is this idea exciting enough? These are just some of the questions hindering my progress.

Unsurprisingly, I am thinking about it too much. WAY too much. I have half a book left to get it done, after all. The biggest challenge here is just sitting down and getting back to it. I know I have talked about getting into other genres, but I really want to at least take the plot in Resistance to the next step so that it doesn’t totally lose momentum.

If anyone out there is interested in CP’ing or just reading 2.5 manuscripts, I think something really helpful here would be having someone to bounce ideas off of for a potential ending. If this sounds like something you would be interested in doing, drop me a line! 🙂

Holiday Magic

I believe that magic truly happens sometimes, and when you’re a writer, that sometimes occurs on a more regular basis. I had one of these moments the other day when I was (finally) working on Chapter 17 of Resistance.

I won’t give any spoilers away, but my MC was thrown into an extremely trying scene unexpectedly. I puzzled for a lot longer than I should have about how he would handle the challenge. Finally, I sat down to write still not knowing what would come about but putting my mind to the task anyway.

What happened was something unexpected and great. A plot twist came flying out of my mind and onto the computer screen as if by…magic. It was a crazy turn of events, the kind of thing that makes a reader say, “Oh my gosh, what are the chances?? Yikes!” Plus it added depth to my MC. Thus, I overcame both the fear of the blank screen and my difficulty to implant truly larger than life twists or elements into my book for the sake of realism.

The twist got me excited about my book again. The product of my mind reminded me why I enjoy writing fiction–it pushes my mind to amazing limits and surpasses them. It also instilled a sense of peace about my inability to agent, sell and publish Capacitance as of yet–if I had a published book 1 in this series, the twist/element I just introduced would not be viable as it would contradict character development and history introduced in the first chapters of Capacitance. In fact it contradicts information that you all have already read if you’re keeping up with my chapter posts on here (don’t worry it doesn’t totally change the story, it’s just one of those minor details that isn’t vital but would be noticed if it didn’t match up).

True to my prediction, the holidays have put the printing press that is my mind to a standstill, but it feels good to think, “I can’t wait to write again.” If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. Happy Holidays!

It is Wednesday, and on this Wednesday I am going to take the theme of a book that inspired me as a writer and twist it a little bit. Today I am going to talk about a book that didn’t exactly inspire me, but it definitely made me think as an author!

The book–or series, rather–that I am going to discuss is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. My unpopular opinion: it wasn’t that great. However, I did (eventually) feel compelled to read all 8 books that the series has so far. And it did inspire me to write an entire blog post on the series, so there is something to be said. Let’s dive into it.

First of all, I picked the first novel in the series up at an airport (on my way to the Vegas writing conference), and I nearly ditched it in the plane when I landed. The writing was slow and wordy, the plot didn’t catch me right away, for the first time in my life I was about to abandon a book! But I didn’t. However, it took me a long time to get through the first book for reasons I already named added to the fact that I found the story line implausible. Maybe this is my cynical side taking over, but who would stay in the 18th century over the 20th century simply for love? This isn’t very generous to more romantic sensibilities, but throughout the entire series I found this to be a hard hurdle to get past. If it were me, I don’t think I would give up present day safety and technology advances.

Secondly, the books made me angry and frustrated on my journey as a writer. Here I am all year desperately trying to get published while reading these books that have been wildly successful. Should have been an inspiration, right? It was not. While I got back letters from agents admonishing my use of adverbs and exposition, Gabaldon’s prose mocked me with its casual use of verb modifiers and excessive description of her characters’ hair color. Most pointedly in contrast–her characters used elevated language and highly eloquent word choice, while Capacitance was being criticized for characters “not talking like actual people.”

Essentially, it seemed that Gabaldon does not follow the so-called “rules” that are supposed to apply to aspiring authors. While I admire her intelligence and obviously vast knowledge of the historical periods about which she writes, I found her characters and her choices for the plot a little hard to swallow and, at times, to stay awake for (over 100 pages dedicated to the events of one day, hmm..).

Now to give Gabaldon credit, which I must do! I did read every one of the books, and I will read the subsequent books when they come out (I believe there are supposed to be 2 more). This speaks to her as an author because she has created a compelling story line (even though the plausibility doesn’t sit right with me at times). I want to know what happens to these characters and I will slog through the slow parts just to finally see what happens. At the end of the day, Gabaldon is a successful author and businesswoman because of this–she has created a marketable product and essentially has free range to “break the rules” and write however she wants, and isn’t that the ultimate goal?

First Page Trepidation

I’ll be the first (and not the last *ahem, agents*) to say it, my first page and pretty much my first chapter of Capacitance blows. It really sucks. There is too much exposition, it lacks any immediate grip to draw the reader to turn the page, and it contains a confusing flashback.

I’m somewhat embarrassed that it is included here on this blog, bar the fact that I hope to one day post a marvelous revision that will showcase my growth and effort as a writer. Someday.

For now, all my attempts at re-writing my first pages have been second rate at best. At worst, they haven’t even happened and have resulted in me staring obstinately at the computer screen refusing to mutilate the first stirrings of life in the brain-child that is my book.

There is a huge mind block for me in revising my first pages. In fact, there is a block in writing them in general. Each of my three books (perhaps with the exception of Inductance) the beginning is very weak. The writing is insecure and it’s obvious that I am just trying to get past that blank page anxiety and get my words on paper. Fast forward to the middle of the book and the prose is clean and engaging, things are moving much more quickly.

However, even if I am in this great writing style flow, the moment I go back and try to write the first chapter in the same style, my brain freezes up. I wish this post could turn from the struggle to the solution, but as of yet I have not been successful in revamping my shoddy first chapters. Does anyone out there have tips?

Processes.

I’ve been off my writing grind for awhile, caught up in a busy time for my other job (driving grain trucks for harvest, believe it or not). It has given me time to realize, in a much more prolonged way, the processes I go through as an author. It was nearly a year ago that I made the big step which started me on the transition to “someday I will do this” to “I will do this now.” Over the past year I have learned a lot–to say the least! A lot of this learning has been about the industry, but much more has had to do with myself.

I go in cycles with my work. It starts out in trepidation, a lot of doubt and not much self confidence. But the need to write builds up and eventually I put words out there and feel an immense sensation of mental release.

Then I go back and read the words. This is an essential part of my process. When I’m writing I get so involved in the flow that I scarcely remember all the details the story accumulates. Thus, when I go back not only does it remind me of the plot twists, but it also builds my self confidence. I read my own words and my mind allows a not so humble thought (“hey, this doesn’t suck!”) to emerge.

This gives me confidence to write more. In my most confident moments I will go on a writing spree, accomplishing a chapter a day. I am high on the feeling of actually accomplishing my goals, and doing them well. This is how I got two manuscripts (rough drafts admittedly!) done in only six months.

After the high necessarily comes the low. For me, this comes with the denials, and the frustration of being stuck in the plot. When the writing isn’t flowing, I feel like it never will. When denial after denial flows into my inbox, I despair that is the only response my work will ever get. This is a recipe for sluggishness, a part of the process where I shy away from my Word document.

Thus, I’m back to trepidation and lacking self-confidence. Square one of my process. However, it is fascinating to inspect this circular way I work, and it is heartening to know that the next step is one in the right direction. Happy Friday!

I am in the midst of my busiest time of year, so I know the posts have been few and far between, but I wanted to drop by and give an update on the literary side of my life. 🙂

Most of my work on the trilogy is happening in my mind right now. I have a very dialogue-heavy chapter to finish up, but I haven’t found much time to sit in front of the computer and focus. The characters will be talking about some pretty heavy stuff, and one of the characters is going to undergo a major shift in perspective. Thus, it is good that I have some time to meditate on how to carry that off and make it believable. This character has been rather one-dimensional before–a pretty shallow asshole, to be honest!–but now he is going to gain some dimension. Whenever I have time to actually sit and give the words the focus they deserve, that is!

I also have started to finally, finally, loosen my grip on the structure of Capacitance. While I was running yesterday, I found myself toying around with possible ways to restructure and give a different pace to the opening. For the longest time, I haven’t even been able to accept the mere thought of changing the way the story is told. However, I am glad that my mind is becoming more open to the idea. I am a long ways from actually sitting down and creating a new draft of the story, but I will get there eventually. Knowing what changes to make is the first step to going there.

I’ve also been doing some editing on Inductance; that has been eye opening! I am noticing so many more things I want to correct and clean up even beyond my original edit! Semi-colons, overused adverbs, and overused character names are the problems that I now am on the lookout for!

I have been reading and I’ve fallen off my alternating between fiction and non-fiction as I have been plugging away at finishing up the Outlander series so I can finally write a cohesive blog post on my opinions of that particular saga. My opinions are still not fully formed, but I will say the 6th book is slightly redeeming. More on that later! 🙂 When I forget to charge my Kindle, I have been picking up The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of short stories and essays by Marina Keegan. I will definitely have to write a blog post on that as well. I haven’t read much of it, but the writing is wonderful and the subject matter is great for millennials (friends my age, seriously pick this up!).

My birthday is next Tuesday, and I must say, even though they remain unpublished, it feels amazing to have two manuscript drafts and a good portion of a third under my belt by the age of 26. For the longest time writing novels had been a distant dream, and I’m so glad it is no longer a dream but a continuing process. I’m excited for what the future may hold!

Game Plan

Last week marked some great progress in my writing journey. As I already reported, I finished the dreaded Chapter 14. After this hurdle, I then went on to complete Chapter 15 and a part of Chapter 16. I feel my mind humming with ideas once again and I am feeling much more centered and confident about finishing out the trilogy.

That is my strategy, I have decided. Finish the trilogy is my first priority. This activity will be interspersed with editing the still-unpolished Inductance manuscript. Once the trilogy is complete, I will begin the process of rewriting from the beginning. I decided to do it this way because I think rewriting will be much easier if I can think of the story cohesively as a whole rather than as separate books. Since I write from improvisation for the most part, it is difficult for me to see the big picture and overarching plot of the story. Once this is in place upon the completion of the trilogy, it will be easier to go back and find places that can be repaired, omitted or added to.

At times, it is rather like feeling my way through the dark when it comes to writing. I am not sure where I am going, or if I am taking things in the right direction by the right methods. All I can do is find my path with what feels right, and I am glad to be back on a solid path with this plan. Truly my mind has not been able to commit itself to the rewrite, and having a first draft of Resistance completed will allow it some vacant space to devote to rewriting.

Coming Unstuck

Last night I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I finally, finally, FINALLY finished chapter 14 of Resistance!! I sat down to write for an hour; two hours later I called it quits and the dreaded chapter was behind me after nearly two weeks of halfhearted attempts resulting in paragraph length progress at most.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that Resistance has been a slow process in and of itself due to many reasons that are explicated elsewhere in the blog. But chapter 14 holds a special place in my heart as being especially difficult. I felt the writer’s block coming back. I was avoiding my computer and second guessing my ideas. For the first time in a long time, I made excuses not to write and let myself use them. These are the components of an unhealthy relationship with the manuscript. There is a large difference between taking some time to actively think about the next move for your story and just taking some time off because you “don’t feel like it.” Just like it becomes easier to get in the habit of writing regularly, it is easy (if not easier) to get into the habit of not writing. So last night was excellent for me–I overcame what could have been a potential writer’s block event and rekindled my interest in the story now that I am over this hurdle.

There are some legitimate reasons (besides just falling into a lazy spell) that this chapter was so slow coming. First of all, I struggled with pacing. I had so many events I wanted to cram into this chapter. I knew the initial scene and the final scene I wanted to set. Thus, I became frustrated sorting out how to deal with all the events that needed to play out in between chapter end and beginning. Essentially, the chapter was to encompass an entire day, starting in the early morning and concluding 24 hours later. Major events would be happening in the early morning and late night of the day. While I had a rough outline of what Mara would be doing during the day, my mind couldn’t place enough significance on these events to flesh them out for the text. This is where the halting writing habits commenced.

The answer to this pacing problem was obvious and took me an embarrassingly long time to come to. Simply do not write the parts of the day that aren’t sparking interest. If they seemed boring and superfluous to me as a writer, they certainly would to a reader. When reading a novel, every single event of every single day is not related–this is the very essence of pacing. My hang-up was that I felt the potential to incorporate importance into the events that I ultimately decided to leave out. However, in the future I can always come back and add details or scenes as necessary. The important thing for now, I realized, was to get the chapter written.

So I cut out the chunk of events that was holding me up and segued from one key scene, building up suspense and then arcing it back down, to the next end of the day scene where I once again started the build-up of suspense. The chapter climax came at the end, and will hopefully keep the reader hungry to turn the page. Ending chapter 14 has certainly given this writer fuel to keep the story alive.

Realistic Speculation

I’m at the point in my writing that I am heavily into the scientific side of my story.  Resistance has generally been living up to its title and being a very slow writing process, and now is no exception as I am having to once again do research. The story has cycled back to the Meditrinum mutation and since it is at the forefront of the story’s conflict, I have been doing research about DNA, the cell cycle, mutations and the construction of treatments once again.

I think research is fascinating and I actually enjoy that part of the process as it allows me to write more freely when I am well versed in the topic. However, I am struggling right now trying to decide where to draw the line between speculation and facts. Since my story is set in the future, I have some flexibility with the scientific aspects of the situation. Yet, as I have mentioned before, I want the story to be believable, for people to read it and pause to think, “This could be not so far off from where we are now.” Thus, I want to create a perfect mix of facts and fantasy.

The challenge continues in the fact that I challenge myself and want to know what is most likely too much about the subject. I was researching how vaccines are made and found myself on a website describing the preparation of chemotherapy. This was not exactly related to my research but I had to read it anyway. It’s always a good thing to know more about your subject than you need to, but I also need to remember to make the technical details accessible to readers as many of them are not likely to head to Google and delve into a full scale investigation.

I am hoping I can find that balance in all these areas and get past this particular scene because I have some really exciting ideas backing up in my head behind this one research-contingent scene and I can’t wait to let the floodgates burst.

Anatomy of a Denial Letter

Usually there isn’t much to a denial letter. They tend to be single-celled organisms consisting of one line of text with some variation of, “this isn’t for me.” However, last week I got a really good denial letter (if one can consider such a thing to exist). It is always gratifying to hear why the manuscript you slaved over for eternity and the query letter that took nearly as long to perfect aren’t “for” someone. So today I am going to share this more detailed denial along with some of my thoughts.

“–There is a lot of telling instead of showing. Telling informs the reader but also distances him/her from the story. For example: “She listened to music” is very different from “She tapped her leg to the beat of her favorite song.” One tells while the other immerses the reader in the moment.”

I think this makes a very valid point. Definitely something to look out for while editing. Although, I think this might a more prevalent problem in the beginning of Capacitance as I was not truly in my narrative stride. Good red flag to go back and look for!

“–There is a lot of backstory–information given solely for the benefit of the reader that does not fit with the character’s natural thought patterns. Decide what’s essential, what you can reveal later, and what you can cut. A lot of the internal and external dialogue is unnatural. Try to write the way real people think and speak”
How does one find the balance between drawing the reader in and not giving too much backstory too soon? The struggle! However, I am getting this a lot when I do get feedback–that too much of the plot happens too soon. It seems to be conflicting advice sometimes. One guideline will say “immerse the reader in the story” while the other says “don’t give away too much too soon.” Frustrating, but since I have heard this critique more than once a restructured opening might be something to consider. I really disagree with the latter portion of this section. Yes my character’s internal and external dialogue is more elevated than what today’s average person uses. However, this is a world building element. The students of the University (especially Meditrinum users like Mara) are more elevated than the average being. They are smarter and more mature and thus use speech that might come as “unnatural.” Perhaps I need to drive this point home in the text–the University is selective and its students are above average. Unfortunately no non-University characters come into the text for awhile; maybe that could be something to add for contrast.
“–Your character’s name is overused. Use the name sparingly, especially when “she” would suffice.”
Solid editing advice. I never would have thought of this problem on my own, but when I read it I definitely felt like it was a true statement. I will definitely scan the text and correct overuse problems.
–Adverbs are overused. Adverbs should be used quite sparingly in fiction writing. It’s considered a “no-no” in the publishing world. 
I had heard this once before, and hearing it again saddens me. I love adverbs, but lesson learned. I will go back and revise accordingly.
“We think your story idea has merit and encourage you to continue revising it.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!”
Nice end note that doesn’t feel like it is part of some automated response! If only all denial letters were like this… 🙂