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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Knock, knock, knocking on 10,000…

… words, that is. As of today, I stand at 8,673 words in my first draft — and it’s been only 18 days since I started.

For others, that may be a very low word count, but for me, it’s very much a small victory. I’ve always struggled with my productivity when working on original fiction. It took me 6 years to finish the first draft of my only (so far) completed manuscript, remember? I think it may have taken me months to reach this word count with that other manuscript. So yes, I will sure take it :).

And speaking of first drafts — or rather, this specific one — I think it might be time for me to give you a little more information on the story and its cast of characters. For weeks now, I’ve talked about the giddiness it’s inspired in me, and though it will still be another year before this first draft sees the light of day — and longer before it’s been revised and polished enough times for it to be ready to be shared publicly — I do want to begin to share with you what’s got me so excited in the first place.

So… I present to you a primer on The Polaris Trilogy.

Intrigued? Follow me on WattPad, where I’ll be posting prequels set in this world, and you can begin to get to know the characters you’ll be meeting in a few years’ time.

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Just keep swimming…

Now that I’m about 4K words into the first draft of my WIP, it’s all slowly coming back to me: first drafts blow. A lot.

Seriously, they’re not very pretty at all. The prose is clunky, the dialogue is stilted, the pacing is off, the voice and tone are all over the place… Reading a first draft, you’d think you’re entirely incapable of producing anything that’s worth putting in front of a reader.

And yet, you keep going. You have to. Because the only way you’re going to get to that novel you’re visualizing in your head–the one with the gripping story you just can’t put down and characters you want to spend all day and night with–is to muddle through the hard part of making some sort of semblance out of that block of clay, and then spinning and spinning and spinning some more until eventually, you start to see a vase instead of, well… clay.

When I was working on my first novel, I didn’t understand this concept. Oh sure, everyone kept telling me that the best possible thing I could do was to silence the inner critic and just push through to the end, and THEN start revising. Pish posh. What did they know about my working style? I wasn’t going to keep pushing through if I saw things that needed fixing now. What if I got to the end and forgot all the things I needed to improve? All of the things I wanted to stick in there/take out/tweak? No, I was going to revise as I went along so all I would have to do once I completed my first draft was to polish it.

Two things happened with that particular approach. (1) It took me 6 years to finish that first draft and (2) it still wasn’t the bright, shiny draft I was expecting when I finally did type the very last word of the very last chapter. And in the end, I was just left exhausted, numb, and, quite frankly, totally devoid of passion for the thing. It took another 4 years before I pulled that thing out of the dusty drawers of my hard drive and started the revision process, and by then, I think it was already pretty much too late to salvage it.

Have I learned my lesson? You bet I have.

This time around, I put in the necessary work upfront to make sure I outlined the hell out of this thing–to make sure I knew exactly where I was going and I had worked out every single plot hole and could articulate everyone’s motivations for every action they took. I made sure to approach the first draft as just that: a first draft. A draft that isn’t going to be pretty or elegant or anywhere near perfect. I’m not expecting this thing to look like a vase. Not even close. If at the end of this, I have a mound of clay that only vaguely resembles something with a decent shape, I’ll be satisfied that I’ve done what I needed to do–and then I’ll get to work with getting it to look the way it’s supposed to.

At 4K words, I’m a long way from finishing this first draft. But I know that if I just keep pushing through it and don’t allow myself to pause or look back too many times, I’ll finish it a whole lot sooner than 6 years. With any luck, I’ll finish it in under a year, but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to meet that ambitious goal, either.

I’m just going to follow Dory’s advice in Finding Nemo. I’m going to just keep swimming. Eventually, I’ll reach the shore.

 

dory

Who knew that Dory would have such good advice for writers?

Searching for Superman

When it comes to plotting a novel, I seem to always want to leap tall buildings with a single bound. But the reality is, there’s a lot less leaping and a lot more eking out. Progress is made bit by bit — sometimes millimeter by painful millimeter. And I do mean painful.

Well, maybe it’s not all painful. I mean, it is — there’s no denying that — but the process of plotting/outlining also brings with it a lot of joy and giddiness. There’s nothing quite like the magic of making those unexpected discoveries that transform your story. Those little gems you uncover always make up for the dirt and gravel you have to sift through in order to find them.

So maybe not being able to leap tall buildings isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not if leaping them means missing the nice landmarks in between those buildings.

Plotting is foremost on my mind right now, since I’m in the thick of the outlining stage. I naïvely thought that it would take a week or two at most, and then I’d be ready to dive right into writing the first draft. Maybe a few months ago, that might have been the case, but since then, I’ve gotten a lot more disciplined about trying to establish a sound story structure before starting my first draft. And while I’m convinced this is absolutely the right thing to do (and I can already see it paying dividends!), I’m also adjusting to the fact that… it’s hard.

Like, hard. 

Did I mention it’s hard?

It’s like trying to use a new muscle I’ve never really used before. It takes a while to strengthen, and as we’ve established many times before, I have very little patience. There I go wanting to leap tall buildings again.

Part of the difficulty I’m having is translating the story structure to the actual scene creation. Using Larry Brooks’s fantastic Story Engineering, I was able to come up with my key story milestones — a feat in and of itself, because this is the first time I’ve attempted to do this for a novel, and it’s made all of the difference in truly solidifying the story for me. Now I thought that identifying these 9 story milestones would make the process of developing the actual scenes super easy. A reasonable assumption, no? After all, I’d now identified my 9 buildings — shouldn’t I be able to just leap from one to the other with apparent ease?

Um… not quite.

I have  been able to develop the scenes much more easily than I did before I adopted this method, yes. But I’m still left with big gaping holes where there should be scenes, and of course, they’re in that dreaded “middle” part of the story, where details always seem to be murky for me. I tend to have a good vision of the beginning, a good idea of how the story will end, but the middle part… scary territory.

If I were working on a movie, I’d probably have more than enough scenes to work with now. Screenplays are like half marathons (hey, there’s that running analogy again — I just can’t seem to get away from those :)); the progression is similar to a full marathon, but fundamentally, there are just fewer miles. It takes much less time to your halfway point and much less time to get to the finish line.

A novel, on the other hand, is much longer than the average screenplay, and just as a full marathon has twice the number of miles as a half, a novel has about twice as many scenes as a screenplay, too. Which means more scenes to develop. Gah, it’s enough to make my brain freeze up.

Just as I’ve completed every full marathon I’ve ever run, I know I’ll get to my finish line with this, too. Millimeter by millimeter movement may not be the same as leaping tall buildings, but it’s forward motion, and having run 5 marathons, I know that any kind of forward motion (I don’t care if it’s running, walking, or crawling!) will get you closer to the finish line. One way or another, you get there.

 

index cards

Scene gaps are no fun. But the only way to get rid of them is to keep chipping away at them.