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?

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. šŸ™‚

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! šŸ™‚ 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.Ā  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.Ā 
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… šŸ™‚

The Dreaded “R” Word

I’ve come to a depressing but expected realization that is part of every writer’s journey–I need a rewrite. After getting denial after denial, it is time to look at the manuscript itself. I got an especially detailed denial earlier this week which contained some great, constructive feedback and I realized I am making some mistakes in my writing that turn agents off to a manuscript in a second. But..more on that next week.

I have to admit, it is a really daunting prospect to rewrite Capacitance. Even during college, I was never good at revisions. I wrote my papers really solidly the first time around and turned them in–usually for an A. So this will be a challenge for me. Obviously, trying to stand out and get published in a sea of query letters (not to mention the over-saturated dystopian genre), I need to do more than a really solid first try.

In the feedback I have gotten, a couple of themes are really standing out to me, and that is what first clued me into the idea that I might need to rewrite. It might be just a few first chapters that need to be restructured, it might need to be more. I am nervous about starting to try, worried about diving in and making it all worse. I’m sure these are normal fears that every author goes through, but they are tough to overcome!

So that is where I am at right now. I am not going to continue querying until I at least have the first three chapters rewritten. Then I can see if those get more results. Before I can start rewriting, I have to put myself in a strange position of distance from the material while at the same time examining it closely. It can’t be “my baby” as IĀ  have to think critically, but I also will be turning it over and looking at it from all angles.

It’s kind of like overcoming writer’s block a second time around, but I know I will overcome it and take on the challenge!

Beauty & Simplicity–James Herriot

About this time last year, I was out of things to read–a mournful and derelict feeling for a book addict like me. I was moping around my office disconsolately and asked my Dad what he would recommend to read. He went over to the office shelf and pulled out All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. At first I was skeptical. A book about a vet? I won’t be interested in that, I thought to myself. But Dad insisted it was a good read, and I being desperate for a read, took it off the shelf.

Almost immediately I was taken in. Herriot’s simple prose in which he tells his story is compelling and entertaining. His insertion of humor is wonderful. It feels like you are sitting with someone listening to their stories. The organization of the story is anecdotal, so the story line is not continuous, but this adds to the overall effect of familiarity the story presents.

Overall, I would recommend Herriot’s work to anyone–even if they are as skeptical on the subject matter as I was. His work serves to remind us all that sometimes the extraordinary can be found in simplicity.

Keeping It Real

Just a moment ago I was composing a tweet and it inspired today’s blog post topic. For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (you’re missing out! šŸ™‚ ), here is the tweet minus the ubiquitous #amwriting hashtag:

“Sometimes I worry about needing to keep my story too realistic and forget that sometimes characters need to be larger than life.”

As I was typing the tweet, I was impressed and surprised that I was able to gather that thought into 140 characters. Thus, I realized it is a topic worthy of a blog post. As I write I find myself wondering if the binds my characters get into and–more importantly–get themselves out of are too far-fetched. This is writer’s self consciousness manifesting itself in a new way, and it must be battled. However, there are so many times in books or movies where I find myself rolling my eyes as the main characters find themselves embroiled in some fantastical situation or achieving feats that are simply hard to fathom. Am I the only one that does this?

So I think it is a fine line to tread. While I certainly don’t want my story to be boring, I don’t want to add one harrowing situation+dramatic save too many and have readers become skeptical. Hence the last portion of my tweet. Characters are supposed to be compelling. Stories are supposed to be entertaining and transport us to new worlds. Every story needs to have a bit of magic. Magic doesn’t have to be spells and wizards. Magic can be the heroine grabbing the rock that conveniently appeared to be jutting out of the ledge she was just shoved off.

In conclusion, I am going to try harder to embrace the license we as writers are given. The license to use our magic and weave a tale that entertains, compels and allows readers an escape to imagine the impossible.

New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!