Tag Archives | How I Write

How I Write: The big black hole (or an open post)

(Click here for a list of participating writers)

What? I have to think up an idea for today’s How I Write post? Okay, fine.

I want to talk about the nitty gritty. The bleeding eyeball work known as revision. Not macro. Not rewrites. Not adjusting your plot arc, or character arc, or deleting a scene. Think smaller.

I’m talking sentences and words. Just as beginner writers aren’t sure how to approach revision, some might not be aware of the art of fine tuning the words on the page. (I’m still a student of crafting sentences that impact your story and character, and probably always will be. I don’t think it ever ends.)

I’ve mentioned Margie Lawson. Her courses are not about plot but about the sentences. And how to write sentences that impact your story. And today, Ansha is covering Margie’s classes more in depth. So hop on over, and then check out Margie’s online courses (or self-paced packets) – if you are looking to improve the power behind your sentences.

Thanks to Ansha for creating this summer writing series that forced all of us to really examine our writing process! She put a lot of work behind coming up with the post ideas, recruiting writers, creating the banner, and uniting all of us. Thanks Ansha! And thanks to all the participating writers. I loved learning from all of you!

Tell the truth time – how many of you truly examine every sentence and paragraph in the final steps of your revision process? Or do you just do a read through for awkward and poorly written ones?

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How I Write: How to grow in craft between novels.

Forget about between novels! How about between first draft and revising? And revising again. And throw in a total rewrite! How do we make sure we’re bringing something new to the table keyboard.

Write. Write. Write.

Pretty vague, huh? I think so too. More specifically: free writing, journal writing, writing exercises, writing prompts, letters or diaries from your main character – nothing can take the place of real writing.

Read. Read. Read.

Again, kinda vague. I read a lot too but it wasn’t necessarily improving my craft by leaps and bounds. But there are a few, okay more than a few, books that increased my knowledge of putting words to paper so people want to read them.

Drum roll, please. Or not.

  • Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King (Packed full of good stuff esp. for newbie writers and great reminders for the more experienced.)
  • Story by Robert McKee (OMG Totally awesome! It’s a book filled with screen writing tips and those seem to be the best kind. A bit technical – but loaded with storytelling basics!)
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Clearly he is the guru of writing craft books, even though I consistently forget the second ‘s’ in his last name. Sorry Mr. Maass. From tension to conflict to characters to making your writing BIG – this is a great resource)
  • Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. (As an experienced writer I didn’t get as much from the entire book. But there were a couple chapters on scenes and micro tension that made it worth it. In fact, one chapter steered my revision process in a completetly new way.)
  • Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham (This book doesn’t seem to get mentioned a lot. But it breaks down how to use the scene and sequel for pacing. And pacing is a huge reason manuscripts get rejected. – okay I don’t know the break down of why manuscripts get rejected for sure, but it seems pacing can be a bugger.) 

Did you know Jody Hedlund has a page listing books on craft? Check it out. I have to pick and choose which craft books to read or I’d never write.

And this wonderfully interesting amazing post on craft books and classes I’ve taken (not many) would not be complete without mentioning Margie Lawson. I purchased her packet for Empowering Characters’ Emotions and her Deep Edits system. Both worth it. You will be a better writer after her courses.

And, let’s see how many other things I can throw at you. Along with the read, read, read thing is the ‘read and break down, read and break down’ thing. Learning by breaking down published books. Check out Alexandra Sokoloff for details. And check out my post on Dissecting Frogs on the topic.

So, wow, about 400 words later, it’s time to wrap this baby up. What do you do in the inbetween to make sure you are growing as a writer?

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How I Write: Knowing and Growing (when to submit)

(Check out Ansha’s blog for participating writers.)

I finished my first draft of my first story. And I knew I was ready. (cough, cough) So I submitted. Yup. And I got rejected. Double yup.

Agents wish writers would wait before submitting. Unfortunately, after our first story with maybe some revisions thrown in, we think we’re ready. Because we don’t know any better. And I say kudos. Go ahead. It’s a brave first step. We need those form rejections to realize we have a lot of growing to do.

After several rejections and critical feedback, I stopped. I knew I had more to learn. I wrote another couple stories, maybe queried a couple agents, but then stopped and moved on. Yes, I could have rewritten those stories and rewritten and rewritten, but I needed to take what I had learned and apply it to something new.  I could have queried every agent on the face of the earth, but I didn’t. They were practice novels. I could do better.

If you’re a beginner and you’re not quite sure how to revise yet, (or you think you don’t really need to) I say query a bit. Get your feet wet. But read craft books, read books, and continue to write. Don’t stall your writing for your first story. Move on.

You’ll know when you’re really ready. The feedback from readers/crit partners will be more line editing. You’ll know the checkpoints of macro and micro editing. You’ll have figured out how to intertwine emotion and tension into the heartbeat of your story. You’ll know about scene and structure and goal and motivation. All that good stuff.

And if you mess with that manuscript anymore, you’ll kill your voice and any raw emotion you had. That’s when you might be ready.

All you can do is craft the best query you can and send it out there. Easy squeezy. (cough, cough)

How do you know when to stop revising and send your baby out into the world?

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How I Write: Macro editing, Me, and Light bulbs

(Check out Ansha’s blog for a list of participating writers!)

I have to be honest. It took me a long time to understand macro editing. I mean, it’s so much easier to line edit. It’s very concrete to look through my writing for weak verbs, over-used words, weak chapter endings, typos…etc.

I’d read phrases like adding emotion, inner and outer conflict, three-act structure, goal/motivation, pacing – and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. At some point, a light bulb flickered on inside my brain – and I got it.

As I just started macro editing, I’m going to share what I’ve done so far.

1. I let my story sit for 6 weeks while beta readers took a look. Then I read it and took brief notes of obvious stuff that needed rewriting. I also added smiley faces for parts I liked.

2. I wrote a few drafts of a query letter and the synopsis to be revised later. This helps with plot holes.

3. I wrote a new beginning with a stronger hook to tie in to my story goal.

Story Structure

4. I wrote a one-line description for each scene. I separated my scenes into the three-act structure. I took Alexandra Sokoloff’s wisdom to heart. I checked to make sure I had opening tension introducing the story goal. I checked for the Act II midpoint climax or big twist. I checked for increasing tension up through the climax. Her blog is a must read.

5. I plugged my story into the nine point grid I read about on query tracker.

At this point, I know parts need to be rewritten. Sentences cry out to be beefed up and rewritten. But I’m not doing anything yet.

 6. And this next step is new for me. I have a 4×6 index card for each scene. And here’s what’s on them.

  •  mc’s goal
  • action taken
  • opposing force
  • Outer (point of change)
  • Inner (point of change that corresponds to the outer)
  • Suggestions: (Here I write down suggestions for what I’m missing)

And so far, a lot of my scenes are missing the inner conflict, which means the emotion is weak. Geez!

This is where I’m at now. I do know the next few steps I’ll take.

7. Rewrite the big scenes that need to be changed.

8. Rewrite according to the index cards.

9. Rewrite according to my notes from my read through.

And there you have it – my long learning curve with macro editing. Is there anything I missed? What works for you? And I hope I’m not the only one who once thought revisions meant line editing. (Feel free to lie to make me feel better.)

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How I Write: Muddled middles and motivation.

I feel really bad for the “middle”. It has a bad reputation. Seriously, it must have a huge guilt complex. And I don’t blame it.

The middle will make or break your novel. (No wonder we curse it so often.)

If you craft your novel well, the middle is the part where readers give a contented sigh and race to the end with their fingers gripped on the ereader device book. If you have a saggy middle – a reader just might close the book.

I’m a plotter. So when I’m writing I have motivation to finish because I know where I’m going. I’m excited to see how everything unfolds and to reach the climax. But when I’m plotting I struggle with the middle just like pantsers who are writing through the middle.

What I think makes a good middle: (or Act II)

  • plants for later payoffs or revelations
  • main character hunting down false clues or trying to reach goals, and they make mistakes
  • introduction or furthering of the inside character arc
  • disasters and complications
  • plot points and information that push the story forward
  • developing relationships

The middle middle: the big twist, reversal, huge revelation; the part where the reader gasps and the story takes off in a whole different direction.

  • real clues and plot developments
  • increased stakes in the outer and inner plot
  • everything goes wrong
  • payoffs from earlier plants
  • any subplots or separate storylines start connecting
  • devastation and the main character’s dark moment
  • mc makes plans

After the middle, the story heads into Act III and the climax.

There you have it. I find motivation through the middle by constantly asking how I can make it bigger, better, more suprising  – while moving the plot forward.  

Do you struggle with your middles? And what aspect of the middle is the hardest? How have you learned  to perfect your middles? (Srsly tell all because I’m stuck in a middle right now.)

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