Category: Writing


For the last week, I’ve been digging through my old chapters and re-writing them. My first two chapters were over 7000 words each, and quite frankly, I don’t need even half of what I had written. I trimmed away the fat, fixed some scenes, and have moved on. The first chunk of my novel is almost rewritten, and I’m still not happy with it.

I know the first few chapters of the pages should accomplish several things:

  • Introduce the plot.
  • Introduce the protagonist and her personality.
  • Give the readers the setting, tone, and overall mood.
  • Start with a catalyst that immediately changes the character and forces her to work.

So far, the only thing I’ve accomplished is the plot. I’m writing a novel about changing, being narrated by a control-freak who refuses to acknolwedge change. Naturally, she should change right from the start of chapter one. Cross that off the list.

I think I hate my main character. I hated her before, and then she and I got along for a little while, and then I hated her again. I feel like she’s too stagnant and too boring, and as a result she’s not very realistic. She’s in denial about everything- she’s the sort of person who will be in a sinking submarine with water spewing in, but completely calm. “It’s all under control,” even when everything is clearly not okay. She intentionally isolates herself because she can’t control what other people do and she does a good job of pretending she’s not lonely.

How the hell is anyone going to relate to her?

Sure, when she changes she opens up, discovers that it’s okay to care about other people, that it’s okay to ask for help when things go out of hand, and maybe admitting she’s wrong isn’t such a bad thing.

I worry that no one is even going to get to the point-of-change. It happens pretty quickly; by the end of chapter 5, her personality has already shifted while she copes with the events of the plot. Act 1 is mostly action- this happens, then this, then this, now BOOM DEAL WITH IT- but the changes feel a little too subtle. Protagonist in Chapter 1 and Protagonist in Chapter 4 are different, but only barely. Protagonist in Chapter 1 isn’t very likable. Protagonist in chapter 4 isn’t very likable, either.

I don’t always want a likable character narrating a story when I read, but I do want someone relatable. I guess she isn’t struggling enough, but it’s hard to acknolwedge a struggle when she won’t acknowledge anything else.

It’s also hard to scrap her and get a completely new character when it’s her voice I hear telling the story.

Even though it’s a re-write, these are still technically rough drafts. I don’t expect them to be perfect, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting.

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Finishing a book in ten Days: Day 6

I’m done.

It’s official.

I’m not thrilled with the ending, but that’s what rough drafts are all about. I’m staring at the last line on the page, and even though my brain and fingers both know I’m done, I can’t really believe it. This is a rough draft. I’ve got editing to do. But I did it.

I feel a lot like I did when my college acceptance later came in the mail. My fingers tore open the envelope and my brain registered what the paper said, but I didn’t get it at first. It had to sink in.

I wanted to write a novel since I was 7 years old. I wanted to do this before I turned 20. Then, I wanted to finish it before 2012.

I did it. I wrote a novel.

I celebrated my reading the second to last chapter in my critique partners novel, then blew up her facebook page demanding the last chapter. This new year will mark the end of so many things in my life, and I’m vastly excited about seeing what’s in store for next year.

I want to write another novel. I now know my pitfalls. I’ve done it once. I can do it again.

The Complete Rough Draft:

18 Chapters.

68,088 words; Approximately 70, 100 words due to missing chapter.

 

You’ll notice I skipped day three. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I had planned on skipping Day Five, since that’s Christmas, but some unexpected events mean that I’ll be on my computer tonight and tomorrow.

I started Chapter 16 Thursday night and nearly finished it until I realized something.

I had deviated from my outline.

While not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it meant that I skipped some explanation and events I really can’t do without. I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how I could remedy this. I like the new parts, but I need the old parts.

The new parts are extremely short, too. If I kept the chapter as it is, it’d be under 2,000 words. While not a bad thing, that means my super epic awesome climax has only 2 pages of action. The fight scenes in the middle of the book are longer than that, and the stakes are higher. I hate books with bad climaxes, since I feel like I (the reader) was just jipped.

Two of my favorite YA books, Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver and Barry Lyga’s Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and GothGirl, don’t focus so much on action. The climaxes in these books had little to no fighting, but I was turning the pages as quickly as I could to see what happened. Since these books had little action, I found myself looking back to R.A. Salvatore’s Legacy of the Drow collection. In these books, the climaxes center around action. The whole books have fighting, but the last fight is the biggest and the stakes are the highest.

Honestly, I can’t remember jack shit about how Drizzt or Cattie-brie fights. I knew they had to fight, even if they didn’t want to, because they’d hate the alternative. I knew Fanboy was fighting to save Kyra by using his intellect. I remember Grace was fighting the weather to save Sam. I don’t remember every single sword stroke or path they took to reach the end, only that they did.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if everything catches on fire or happens on the edge of a cliff. It just has to happen.

Chapter Sixteen, Version Two:

Progress: 10%

 

Update, 10:58 pm EST

Progress: 100%

Onto chapter 17!

I completed Chapter 14 last night.

Technically, it was at 1 am this morning, but since I didn’t go to bed I considered it yesterday.

Today, I need to finish chapter 15. My usual 3-5000 word chapters are now averaging about 2000 words. I’m okay with this, since not only does it make the chapters easier to label, but it makes them easier to send to my critique partner, Anjulie. I feel more motivated when I can call something quits after 2000 words. I don’t get hung up on feeling like I need more words then, either.

These last 15,000 words or so are all part of the climax, so this should be my favorite part of the story. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay for these last few chapters to not be as polished as the first few. These are rough drafts. All I need to focus on is getting the words on the paper.

1000 words now, then I’ll bake some cookies for Christmas this weekend, then 1000 words tonight. It’s a lot easier to sleep knowing its finished.

Chapter 15:

Progress: 2%

 

Update:

9:54pm, EST

Chapter 15 Progress: 100%

Goal reached. Chapter 16 started.

Finishing a book in Ten Days: Day One

Back in November, I toyed with the idea of trying to finish my novel in a month. If people could write an entire rough draft, surely I could finish a few chapters. Unfortunately, I had other priorities, such as teachers realizing we only have a few weeks until finals, so let’s cram everything into these few classes. Finals week came up, I scraped by, finished my lats catering shift, hung up my uniform, and went to bed.

Now, it’s officially the first day of my winter break. I want to finish this novel before 2012.

That gives me ten days, though it’s technically less than that thanks to Christmas Eve, Christmas, and new Years Eve being large family/party days. I wonder if I can host a party and somehow still type out the last 15,000 words.

So my plan for Day One:

Correct and finish Chapter 14.

My progress: 20%

Here we go…

 

The Amateur

The second writing prompt from October 25th. The prompt asked us to pick a job and right about a struggle, either in or out of the workplace. I chose an amateur dog-trainer who clearly has no idea what they’re doing.

 

Jobs are absolutely great when you perform them at work. It’s when you start to do your job outside of work that becomes a problem.

The German Shepard was sitting on my bed. While I knew that, technically, it was the guest room bed, for the duration of my stay it was my bed. The dog stretched out, uncurling his toes and digging his claws into the floral print comforter. Already the spot was littered with brown fur, a light dusting on the sheets like snow on a car window.

“Max,” I addressed the dog, using my ego to inflate my voice. I was a badass, an alpha, and I wouldn’t let some spoiled German Shepard lay on my bed when I had jetlag.

The dog lifted his head in my direction, his brown eyes boring into my own. He arched an eyebrow, then yawned lazily, his cocky expression showing that, while he looked at me, he really didn’t give a damn what I wanted.

“Down.” I pointed to the floor for emphasis.

The dog put his head back on the bed and closed his eyes.

That son of a bitch!

“Max! Down!”

He rolled over and put a paw over his face. I clenched my fists. The dog gave a contented sigh, clearly enjoying his spot on my bed. I eyed the comfortable pillows and soft, downy blanket with the intensity a starving man looks at a cupcake.

Dogs don’t belong on the furniture.

I grabbed him by his collar and gave a tug, trying to do this the easy way. He rolled to face me and we stared into each other’s eyes. He tucked his paws underneath him and started to rise.

In an ideal world, he would have responded to the tug and plopped to the floor. In an ideal world, there’s no such thing as a pissed off German Shepard, either.

The shepherd launched himself at me.

One hundred thirty pounds of fur crashed into me. I fell backwards, my head slamming into the floor with a crack. The impact knocked the breath out of me and a spam of pain shot through me when I tried to inhale.

I ignored the gasping, wheezing sounds coming out of my mouth and grappled to push the dog off my chest.

He snapped at me, spittle flying from his jaws and hitting my face. I pushed his head out of the way, but he snapped it back.

What resulted was almost a silent battle.

With my breath knocked out of me, I couldn’t call for help. I wouldn’t call for help even if I could, though. I couldn’t stomach the thought of Aunt Lindsey’s smirk as she had to help me yet again. Or maybe I couldn’t stomach the thought because I heavy paw rammed me right in the gut.

The shepherd didn’t bark, but the snap of his jaws was way too close to my face. I pushed his head away and struggled to get my feet under me. I was almost on my hands and knees when he tore into my sleeve and shredded the fabric right off. Damn dog.

               I made a grab for my sleeve, trying awkwardly to use the same hand to yank it out of his mouth while my other fought for his face. He shook his head to dislodge my hand, ripping the sleeve right off. He jumped upwards and swiped a paw. His nails scratched my face, my cheek burning with the familiar sting as blood welled forth.

 I was stunned for just a moment, but it was all the time he needed to drop my first sleeve and make a grab towards my other, still-attached sleeve.

I shouted and dismay and yanked my arm away, immediately twisting to put the dog in a headlock. He squirmed and we crashed into the dresser together, ignoring the crash of china as Aunt Lindsey’s favorite vase crashed to the floor.

I was starting to gain the upper hand when the door opened. Max literally gained my hand and had it crushed in his jaws.

“What’s going on in here?” Aunt Lindsey asked, wiping her hands on her apron as she surveyed the wrecked bedroom.

I had a mouthful of dog-ear and couldn’t answer.

A Thousand Dogs

A response to a prompt from a writing workshop on 10/25/2011. The prompt asked readers to “describe a puzzling image, event, or memory.”  The following is an un-revised rough draft:

            Every evening was the same.

The sun set and I knew that soon, be it in minutes or hours, the dog would have to go out. On the surface, it sounds simple: Take the dog out. I just have to follow the three easy steps to having a happy collie and a clean rug:

1.)    Open the door.

2.)    Wait for the Dog

3.)    Call him back.

It was the terror of calling him back that turned the evening task into a trial.

I opened the porch door. Kai scrambled from his corner and ran towards me.

               I sent one dog out into the dark.

               But what if one dog didn’t come back?

               What if two, or three, or twenty dogs came back?

What if a thousand dogs came back?

I wiped my hands on my jeans. It didn’t matter if I was standing on the porch while the autumn wind sent leaves dancing around me, or if the warm summer rain pelted against my face. I would sweat just the same.

It happened every night.

Every night, there was a thousand dogs.

Every night there was one.

“Kai,” My voice broke the hush of the evening. “Come.”  

Somewhere in the dark, nails clicked off the driveway. A collar jingled. Slow, easy breathing came out in short pants. Somewhere in the dark was one dog. He was invisible in the night.

Briefly, something cut through the security light at the edge of the yard.

That one, brief moment was enough to send a thousand dogs running towards me, each one vanishing into the paws of the next. They ran on the sides of the garage and flat on the ground. The dogs disappeared into one another, multiplying and dividing faster than numbers punched hastily onto a calculator. A thousand tails wagged and a thousand tongues lolled. They were infinite and they were one. They were coming towards me, faster now, urged onward by the porch light like moths to a flame.

        Never would a thousand dancing dogs fit onto my porch.

I’d take a step back-

Just in time for one wet nose from one dog to press into the palm of my hand.

I attended my first writing-workshop yesterday afternoon. I would have died for something like this in High School. We met in a small room in the campus center, sat at a huge table and pulled out our notebooks. The president read prompts from a book and we had roughly 10 minutes to write a response. We where on a time crunch so we didn’t have much time to review and critique each others prompts. **

None the less, the entire event really made my think about my writing process. (And the cupcakes being sold upstairs for a fundraiser.)

When I write, I start with the rough draft of a rough draft. It’s a lot like making cupcakes: First, I have to gather the ingredients.

The first attempt at writing chapters is often several paragraphs of jotted thoughts, feelings, and dialogue without tags. More than half of my sentences are run-ons and the tense varies profusely. Pieces I wrote in second grade are more coherent.

My next re-write, however, is now 10x easier. I have the basic “ingredients” of my chapter. Now I put them in order, decide how much I’m keeping and how much is really nonsense. I do another re-write a few days after and fix the obvious mistakes- I “bake” my chapter-cake. Finally, I send it to my critique partner. While I can’t send her cupcakes, she can “taste” my chapter and tell me what there’s not enough or too much of.

And then I start the entire process all over again.

Read last night’s prompts here and here.

More Procrastination

It has been over three weeks now.

I have deleted another 5000 words from my novel. Clearly, this chapter is not working. I need to re-think it completely. After all, I need to get this information across, but I’m not doing it well.

Instead of writing my story, I’ve written 5-8 papers a day for a few days to catch up on school work. I selected my classes for next semester- guess who’s duel-majoring now. I can get that English-degree I really wanted. Looked online for used copies of books for the MCAT tests since I can’t afford a new one. Looked at graduate schools. All in all, it has been a productive week, just not productive in the writing-sense.

I also made a friend at college. I met her in the parking lot. We had chicken together.

How much is too much?

The last (published) writing-related post dealt with an issue I’m still having: Word-count.

At that time, I was almost at the halfway point in my novel and I felt like I didn’t have enough conflict. I was afraid of my word-count. Some people are afraid they don’t have enough words; I’m terrified I have too many. Then, I was looking at the over-all picture. Now, I’m looking at a smaller section.

I am one chapter away from starting the climax of my novel. Great news, except that these little pre-climax scenes are somehow much longer than I expected.

What I anticipated as being half a chapter has suddenly sprawled into a chapter and a half. I need this scenes to progress the plot, but I don’t need them to be so long.

The logical step is to cut them in half.

So, naturally, instead of cutting them in half I’m here updating this blog. Hitting the ‘delete’ button on 5000 words is a terrifying prospect.