There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Tools for the Busy Fantasy Writer April 16, 2014

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 10:23 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Finding time to write in the middle of everyday life can be almost impossible sometimes. I have two little boys that take up the majority of my time, and every writer I know has just as much or more demanding their time every single day. So I wanted to share with you a couple of ways I cheat time — when I’m in the car, standing in line at a cash register, watching the kids in the tub, or trying to get them to nap, I need multiple ways to get my creative thoughts down so that I can maximize the 1-2 free hours I get to write per day (if I’m lucky!).

Notebooks — Of course! We writers tend to be notebook addicts. I usually have a separate notebook for everything. One for every novel that’s about 5×7, small enough to tuck in a purse but big enough to write outlines and entire scenes if I want to; a 6×9 that I keep in my car in case I get stranded somewhere and need to write about ten pages of brain vomit because the scene just won’t wait; and a little 2×4 to remain permanently in my purse for any random thoughts.

Evernote App — This is perfect for all of the above, only it fits in my pocket no matter where I am, because it’s an app. But not just any app, Evernote actually syncs with your computer, your tablet, your Kindle, whatever you need! so that you can write outlines, scenes, dialogue, anything, and then simply copy/paste it into your doc or Scrivener when you get home. It’s too easy, and all you need is an internet connection and an Android device because it’s FREE.

 

Dropbox App — Dropbox is, in my experience, the best way ever to back up your stuff online. I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved my butt to have a backup on the internet when my files get mixed up on my flash drives (always a good idea to backup things on a physical drive as well, of course). Dropbox is also free, and you can get it for Apple and Android and choose which files sync where so that you can always have your most important documents with you. It’s awesome (although, it also scares me because what if someone stole my phone?! So I don’t keep more than my current work in my Dropbox).

Scrivener App — I know some people love Scrivener, and some people hate it, but I happen to love it so I’ve got to mention it. Dude, the way you can organize and color code everything on the side? I don’t know how I’d write a four-part series without being able to give each scene a million identifiers. They get shifted around so many times, sometimes from book to book, that I need the outline-within-an-outline-within-a-binder-within-a…that Scrivener offers. It’s positively lovely to just click “compile” when you’re done and get it shuffled into a nice, shiny Word doc. It does cost money, but it is so worth it. Available for both Windows and Mac.

What are some of your time-stealing devices? How do you catch and save all your thoughts and get them shuffled neatly into a manuscript?

Rachel O’Laughlin

Advertisements
 

That’s How It’s Done: Siege and Storm March 12, 2014

This past month I finished reading the fabulous Leigh Bardugo‘s second installment in the Grisha Trilogy, Siege and Storm. I actually didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book, Shadow and Bone (for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the first book is pretty hard to top), but the fact that I wasn’t thoroughly engrossed gave me the chance to read it slowly and really parse the writing style as a whole.

There are certain things we are told are against the rules of writing, and usually they’re fairly good points. But sometimes these rules of thumb are based on what’s in style, so it’s a good idea to know why and to what you are conforming. Don’t just take advice because it’s thrown out there as advice — always determine whether or not it’s right for your novel, and keep aware of the reasons these trends are circulating and to what audience[s] they apply.

As I read Siege and Storm, I noticed a bunch of things that broke *sacred* rules, and yet worked well for this novel, and I felt I just had to point them out.

— Telling v. Showing
We’re always told, “Show, don’t tell,” and generally speaking it’s a wonderful rule. But guys, there’s boatloads of telling in Siege and Storm. BOATLOADS. Whenever there’s a folk tale or history that needs to be explained, it’s usually done right there in the middle of the narrative instead of in the voice of a character or in relation to the stakes. Sometimes the description is so dry that you could swear Alina isn’t observing it herself (as we might assume she must be, since the entire series is in her first person narrative). Sometimes characters’ powers and attributes are described in a drifty, blank, who-the-frig-is-talking voice instead of Alina’s. But somehow, it works. It feels very classic, old school, and large scale.

— Lots of Action, followed by lots of Nothing
Usually pacing is a huge concern for us writers. We want to be sure our action is interspersed with reflection and dialogue in a thoughtful manner so that the crescendo at the end of the book can hit the reader with maximum force. Siege and Storm opened with seven solid chapters of pure action, then slowed to a lilting, description-heavy pace for almost the entire novel until the very, very end, where we again encountered intense action just in time for the story to wrap up. I’m a huge fan of tension throughout an entire story, so this unusual pacing should have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet it felt unique and truly endearing. I was pleased that the book hadn’t unfolded as I expected. Surprise is nice. Very nice.

— Passive Voice
This one is the kicker. Passive voice, passive voice, passive voice. Everyone hates passive voice. We all do. It feels lazy when we find it in our own manuscripts, and it looks lazy when we see it in others. If we could make it die finally and forever, we would. But it always creeps back up on us and lurks in the shadows whenever we’re having an off-day. To be completely honest, when I first encountered passive voice in Siege and Storm, I switched into critique mode and was tempted to take out a red pen. “Passive! Kill it with fire!” But I couldn’t. I was reading the novel of an author I admire, the second in a series I was breathless to hear the end of. So I kept reading. After awhile, I started to realize the passive had a gorgeous part to play in the story. Alina is going through some really unusual struggles with her own psyche in this middle novel. She often isn’t sure who she is or what she wants, and she starts to view others with a detached lack of empathy. The Passive Voice is just that — detached, lacking the full experience. It’s very Alina, it’s very true (in this case), and it’s very freaking brave of Ms. Bardugo to put it out there right now.

This book reads like a classic, and I love classics. I have to admire it to pieces for being able to pull a Crazy Ivan on some of our modern writing rules and still be a huge success in today’s market.

Rachel O’Laughlin

 

Line Edits! And why you need them. November 13, 2013

Filed under: Publishing,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 7:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

All right, here is my much anticipated (dreaded?) line edits post!

I first heard about the existence of line edits via Leigh Ann Kopans’ blog, where she chronicled the publication of her first novel, ONE. I had never heard of them before that, but now that I’ve done them for both Coldness of Marek and Knights of Rilch, I can’t imagine having not done them. My novels would be far less stellar pieces of work.

If you read my post last month on revising for publication, I sum up one final revision you’ll want to do if you’re going to self-publish a novel. The next step after that revision is line edits. But line edits are also a great idea if you’re querying agents/subbing to publishers, because they’re just so nifty.

Most of the revisions and tweaks you’ve been doing up until you’re ready for line edits have been macro — as in, whole paragraphs being moved or deleted, if not chapters — but you’ve probably already done plenty of line editing in the middle of all that. Line edits are all about the phrasing, the word usage, the OVER-usage, the placement of line breaks, etc. These are different from copyedits. (Copyedits involve grammar and punctuation errors, as well as other little magical things that we mortal writers might not know about, and no matter which publication path you choose, you’re not the one responsible for them. Your copyeditor is! If you’re self-pubbing, get thee down and find thyself an excellent one.)

So. How do you go doing a full-on line edit? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Once your manuscript is in what you deem to be ready, publishable form, go through it line by line and question every sentence. Is it passive? Is it repetitive? Is the phrasing just right? Is there a better word for fleece, or did you really mean fleece? Did you start too many sentences with, “She” or “I”? Would mentioning the chair first be more powerful? Would it be more in character for Henry to say “I will kill you” or “I will end you”?

All these decisions are likely to make you half crazy, and I have a lovely, perfect solution for that as well. Employ your CPs. Are there any of them who are extra good at catching little line issues like this? Did they notice little things on their first pass? Great. Ask one of them (and I say one, because you can only use so much input on the line-by-line basis before you go insane, but there’s really no set limit) — bribe them, trade with them, pay them with cookies or favors — to go through slowly and laboriously and pick on every. Little. Tiny. Word. You can hire someone to do this, but the reason I say pick a CP is because you already know that they understand your voice and your writing. They’re not going to steer you wrong. Tell them you want ALL THE NOTES. You want them to be brutal. Remember, you’re releasing this novel into the wild. It needs to be nice. It needs to shine.

After you get those notes back from your trusted CP or beta reader or whomever, the ball is back in your court and it’s time to do your own line edit. Even if you did a picky edit before, it’s good to look at it again with fresh perspective. Take this:

I stepped inside the room. It was quiet — too quiet. “Jenna?” I whispered. There was no reply. Not even the sound of breathing, or the clatter of her stirring in bed.

There’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s all a matter of taste and mood at this point. I could do this:

I stepped inside. “Jenna?”

It was far too quiet. No Jenna. Not even the sound of her breath or the clatter she made when she stirred in bed.

Or this:

I stepped inside the room. The sound of my shoe echoed, then disappeared into eerie blackness.

“Jenna?” My voice almost startled me.

But there was no answer. Nothing besides thick velvet silence.

See what I mean? You can get more wordy, or less, cut down on the line breaks, or multiply them, etc. Is one of them better than the rest? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But there are all kinds of possibilities that you may never have noticed until you got all the little pieces worked out to the point you can be micro. Teeny tiny. It sounds like it will be hell, but I swear to you, this nit-picky pass is so very freeing you will get addicted to it.

And then? A final read-through. If you can find someone who can stand to listen to your whole novel aloud, I recommend reading it to someone, not just to yourself. Because you’ve read it so many times, there might be something you say aloud that causes the listener to go “huh?”, but you would have glazed right over it. Work this thing. Work it really hard…

When you’re done? SEND IT OFF. Whether it be to your agent, your copy-editor, a final beta reader, or a pile of queries, get that thing sent off before you have a chance to question the brilliant fire it just came through.

Of course, mix and match these steps as they work for you. I found that what I did with the two novels* I’ve released so far varied slightly, and I’ll probably do something a little different for my third book. Everyone has a different process, so don’t take any of this as gospel. Just use what you need, and happy editing!

–Rachel O’Laughlin

*I went through line edits with my longsuffering CP, Darci Cole, on both of my manuscripts, line-edited myself, and then asked my incredible editor, Rebecca A. Weston, to keep an eye out for anything weird that might have slipped through us both (not all freelance editors offer this, but mine does).

 

Drawing Inspiration From Other Genres March 13, 2013

Hello fellow fantasy writers!

I am a brand new addition to There and Draft Again, and I’m super excited to be here. *waves*

The first time I ventured into fantasy was a total flop. I was thirteen years old and I decided I was going to finish an entire novel. (I had started about four of them, but couldn’t get past the first five chapters or so before I got excited about another story. This was pretty much the theme of my teen years. Too. Many. Ideas.) It was supposed to be a dystopian fantasy murder mystery with a disappearence/kidnapping subplot and family issues driving the overall current, along with a spy saga going on the side. The resolution would include a wrap-up of who committed the murder, why the random brother had gone missing, some mended relationships within the family, and the spy saga would carry over to the next in the [seven book?] series.

Turns out I didn’t have any space in my brain left for worldbuilding. Literally, it was just too much story, which of course presented too many possibilities. So how did I turn that into an 80k complete draft? I took out the fantasy elements and the kidnapping, and it went down on paper pretty nice as a simple murder mystery. (I still need to go back and take out the spies.) I felt as if I’d had a near brush with disaster and swore I would never attempt fantasy again. I’d stick to historical and sci-fi where it was safe.

But then something funny happened four years later. The first time I tried National Novel Writing Month, I put my fingers down on the keys, and guess what came out? Fantasy. The story was character driven and the world building was effortless. I was so proud of myself when I finished. It was whole and complete. But it still felt a little empty. I stuck so closely to what I imagined high fantasy had to be that I hadn’t allowed for mystery, suspense, comedy, horror, romance, you name it — nothing that wasn’t strictly classic fantasy. It took me awhile to realize what was bugging me was that I didn’t incorporate other elements.

I’m sure there are some of us who heart our fantasy so much that we just don’t read anything else. And that’s fine! But I think there is a lot to be learned from other genres. Each one augments a part of the human experience that is important even if our characters aren’t human, because honestly, our readers are human. Of course, a lot of us will include essences and influences from life without even thinking, or maybe even go overboard like I did on my first novel, but the next time you feel stuck, or like something might be coming off a bit stale, don’t be shy about picking up a book from a genre you don’t typically read. You just might see a whole new dimension inside of your fantasy.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve asked myself that have helped me broaden the spectrum of my stories:

— What is the commonly known history of the places and families in my world? How does everyone remember it, and do they disagree on how it happened? Do the characters who don’t know the history need to learn more about it?

— Can I up the action anywhere? Take the adventure to the next level?

— Has anything horrific happened in the lives of my characters? Have I thoroughly explored these experiences and how they would affect those who had them?

— Are there any characters that ought to be attracted to each other that I’ve missed? Any backstory romance that is relevant?

— Is there anything funny or ironic that I can make more real? (Children, especially, can’t help but add some comedy.)

— Are there any strands of mystery in my story? Something that the reader will be wondering about already… can I make it more pivotal to increase the suspense?

Are there any other genres you’ve drawn inspriation from? Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors, and are there any you could name who’ve incorporated some elements of other genres? Did you feel it enriched the story? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this!

— Rachel