Revision thoughts

After days of staying stuck on some technical aspects, I’ve finally gotten back on track with my revisions. I’m now past a quarter of the way through. So I’m pretty thrilled with my progress. 


Still, having an Internal Editor who is alive and well can have its side effects. 

I almost decided to cut out two of my favorite supporting characters. Because they’re supporting characters that only really find their places in Book two. But as I was about to write down the memo, I realized that I couldn’t get rid of them. Because introducing them in Book two will feel wrong in the story that I will want to tell. So they stay. 

On the other hand, I realized that I’ll have to emphasize the stakes a little more on one of my story line so that I can get the Epic back into my Epic Fantasy. So there will be some serious changes later on in the book. Very close to where I am right now. This change is one I embrace, though. One I look forward to. 

Still, those thoughts above reminded me of something that is becoming increasingly scary to me: Killing my babies. There might still come a point where I will have to cut out characters and scenes. I’ve already cut some, but none of them have been particularly important to me. But I know that the day will come that there will be a scene that I love that will have to go.

And that gives me the jitters.

So… who else is revising? How do you decide what goes and what stage? What do you do when you have to cut something you love?


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A guest a guest, my kingdom for a guest!

Hi all! I’ve been checking up on my calendar just now and got struck by a terrible realization. In three weeks, I have no one to post on Friday.

For those of you who are new and have no idea what I’m talking about, Guest Post Friday is a feature where followers on this blog can guest post about any writing/literary world related topic.

Now I must ask… Do you guys enjoy and/or appreciate Guest Post Fridays? Because I know that it attracts hits. But do you really enjoy it?

If you guys aren’t all that keen in it anymore, I’ll have to end the feature (but I will put up the few guest posts that have been booked for the rest of the year). So please let me know what you think.

Stories for Sendai Blog Tour

Hi all! Today I have the honor of welcoming J.C. Martin to My First Book. She’s here on a blog tour to market Stories for Sendai, a charity anthology where the proceeds will go to the victims of Japan’s tsunamis. So please click here for more details.

In the mean time, here’s J.C. on writing short stories.


STORIES FOR SENDAI Blog Tour.jpg


Big thanks to Misha for hosting a leg of the Stories for Sendai Blog Tour de Force!

As some of you may know, Stories for Sendai is a charity anthology containing twenty uplifting and inspirational short stories. Despite many major publishers being reluctant to publish short story anthologies, claiming that they just don’t sell, they have remained alive thanks to the efforts of smaller publishing houses.

Personally, I adore short stories. They are short enough that I can complete one or two stories on my commute to work. While a novel is one long story from beginning to end, a collection of short stories gives me lots of different stories for the price of one book—now how awesome is that? Plus, most writers I know of started their writing career with short stories before they wrote full-length novels: Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway…Edgar Allan Poe is famous predominantly for his short stories.

Short story writing can be an art form in itself; because of the restriction in length, every word needs to count, to deliver maximum impact. While I have written a number of short stories, with a few in print, I don’t profess to be an expert in the art of writing the short story. However, I am willing to share with you what I know.

By classic definition, a short story is a work of fiction that can be read all in one sitting. The actual definition, by word count, is shady, but anything below 7,500 words is safely in short story territory. Any longer, and it strays into the gray limbo of the novelette…

Unlike novelists, short story writers do not have the luxury of a generous word count to indulge in much back story and world-building. This does not mean that there is no character development in a short story—far from it. Rather, the challenge is to be able to convey this change in as few words as possible.

Most of the following advice can be applied to writing fiction of any length, but I feel they are particularly important in a short story:

Leave out unnecessary details

Have you ever noticed that in a well-written short story, you very rarely read a description of the characters, yet somehow get a vivid image of what they look like in your mind? In a way, a short story is a more interactive read than a novel. We rely on the reader’s imagination to picture the scene. There is no room to wax lyrical about wavy blond hair, striking blue eyes or dimpled, chiseled jaws. Let the reader cast their own actors in the story. By all means, include a feature if it is integral to the plot, but omit all unnecessary descriptions—leave them to your readers’ rich imagination.

Start close to the end

A novel could involve a series of different events, but a short story revolves around just one key event. So start as close to the thick of action as possible to grab readers’ attention, and end it at the earliest logical point.

Have a beginning, a middle and an end

Follow the basic steps of a story: have an inciting incident (call to action), a climax (turning point), and a resolution. A graph of the action as your story progresses should follow a bell curve. Many short stories have an open ending, for readers to draw whatever conclusion they wish. That is fine, as long as there is some attempt at a resolution.

Show, not tell

Short stories, more than any other form of prose, requires a lot of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. Infer what is going on rather than coming right out and saying it. This helps draw the reader into the story, put them into the thick of action rather than making your reader feel like an outsider looking in.

Stick to only one or two scenes

Since a short story centres around just one event, it should not involve anything more than one or two different scenes. If you find your story moving from scene to scene to scene, perhaps it would work better being expanded into something longer, like a novella or novel.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to bear in mind when writing a short story. What else should you consider? Have I missed anything important out?

Once again, thanks to Misha for hosting this, and thanks to everyone for reading! Stories for Sendai will be on sale by June 30th. For more details, including purchase links, the blog tour schedule and details of an awesome prize draw, click here!

Writing with our eyes

Today on my blog wanderings, I visited Claudia’s blog and found this quote:

A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.
Gertrude Stein

Now, I’m not so sure about the painting part, but the first part really got me thinking today.

Not only is that part true, but it’s a vital part to our writing.

So how does one write with our eyes?

It’s a two step process.

The first step involves paying attention to our surroundings. Wherever we go, there are objects that surround us, people that move about in our awareness, things that happen. That’s the first part of our learning experience. Noticing how people move. Noting how they air their emotions. The big movements, the slow movements.

Then of course (and this is just as important) we notice people interacting with their surroundings. Some keep their heads down on rough ground, because they don’t want to injure themselves. Others are so secure in their ablity to navigate the dips and bumps that they go about with their heads up, walking about as if they own the place. Have you noticed how people act when they walk into a crowded restaurant? Some never walk in alone. Those who do tend to avoid eye-contact with the masses and dodge their way to a table and find something with which to keep themselves busy. Books are dug out almost before the menu is opened. I-pods are switched on as soon as the order is placed.

People’s interactions with their surroundings can, if we pay attention, tell us a lot about the people.

The second step to writing with our eyes involves applying what we saw on the pages of our writing. Does the bolt for the nearest table and attempt to vanish in the masses or does he walk in as if he owns the place? Those actions can be especially important when the writing isn’t dealing with a VP character. They give the reader impressions to work with to build a picture of the character’s personality.

Writing with our eyes also serves another important purpose (that I know I forget sometimes): Grounding the scenes. I’ve read more than a few stories where there’s wonderful conflicts and brilliant tension. The characters are interesting. The plot has me intrigued. But there’s a big problem.

The action is taking place in a white haze of nothingness. I can’t work out where they are. Or if I am told, I have no clue as to how it looks.

BUT this is not a problem solved by pages on pages of description. It’s solved by smart interactions by the characters.

For example, if something happens outside, we shouldn’t be describing the weather. Our characters should be stamping their feet. Their breaths should be coming up in white puffs floating up to the clear moon…

And so on.

It places characters firmly in relatable surroundings without giving readers the feeling that it’s a stage set.

Do you write with your eyes? What does the phrase mean to you? How do you do it?

Strains of Woe

 “…so shall I taste

At first the very worst of fortune’s might,

And other strains of woe…”    (Sonnet 90, Shakespeare)


What beautiful words! But, to an unpublished author, they are no consolation when the lash of fortune’s might is another rejection letter (or e-mail) from a publisher.

I’ve been writing since 1997. That’s fourteen years and seven completed novels. That’s a lot of rejections I’ve had to learn to live with.  Rejection becomes easier when a new writer finally realises that rejection letters are all part of the process of becoming a professional story teller. Rejection letters can be worn like a badge of honour, but they can also bring the curse of self-doubt.  And self-doubt can become your greatest enemy, for it freezes your creativity and weighs your writing down with your most secret fears.

What can a fledgling author do to overcome the rejection blues? Here are five stepping stones that can help you find your way from rejection to publication:

 

Seek Emotional Detachment

·         Rejection isn’t personal. Really, it’s not. Even though it feels very personal when you all you receive for your efforts is a bland form letter. But you need to be able to separate yourself from your writing. No writer, no matter how brilliant or famous, is able to produce a mistake-free manuscript.  Not even you.

·         Be neither too critical nor too generous when you chip away at the tiny flaws in your manuscript. If you’re too critical, your inner critic will delight in freezing every future creative idea you have. If you’re too generous, your ego will never allow you to admit to yourself that your work still needs improvement. To gain an objective view of your manuscript you need to fuse your inner critic (which can’t see anything right in your work) with your ego (which can’t see anything wrong in your work). Recognise both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in your story. And then start again.
Take Positive Action 

·         Continue learning: Read a book on the craft of writing. Attend a live webinar on writing. You can learn something new about your craft every day.

·         Get active on Social Media: Start a blog or, if you have one, write a blog post. Visit other blogs. Submit your work to on-line communities (but check their credentials first.)

·         Join a writing group: Search your local papers, or the Internet, for writing groups in your area or on-line forums. Find one that suits your needs and your personality and join in. Be pro-active; participate in doing critiques of other’s works as well as in submitting your own work for critique.

·         Go to the movies: Or watch your favourite DVD. Follow the plot. Watch the characterisations. Listen to the dialogue. Then think about how you can do the same in your writing.

·         Read: Go back to your favourite authors’ books. Find their best book and their worst one. Every author, no matter how great or ordinary their creative talent, has that one book which is the pinnacle of their art…and they also have at least one book which just doesn’t “work”. Reading the first will keep you humble. Reading the second will inspire you. And being An Author will, once again, become a reachable dream.
Write, Write, Write:

·         Taking positive action can easily become non-action. Reading a book on “how-to-write” can seem to be very “writerly”.

·         But no matter how useful, there is no substitute for actually doing your own writing. Even if the story you create is half a page, the sheer act of writing again will start your creative juices flowing. All you’re trying to do here is unblock any inner resistance or fear of writing again.

·         Write what you want to write without worrying about what someone else will think. Just have fun!

Avoid Comparisons:

Only your unique voice counts. Maybe that voice isn’t as profound as some; maybe it’s not as humorous, but it’s yours. And your job as a writer is to strive for the best work you can produce at the current level of your skill and talent. It’s not your job to decide on how good or bad your writing is. Only the readers and, ultimately, history, will decide how your writing compares to others. All you have to do is let your voice soar across the page and fill the woods with your unique song.

Choose Another Path:

With the advent of eBooks, and the rapidly changing face of the publishing world, many new paths are opening for writers. You can traditionally publish or, like me, you can become The Fool and take the leap into independently publishing your own work. Whichever path you choose, make sure it is the right one for you.

Once these five steps become second nature, the next rejection letter (or the reader’s equivalent, a bad review) that you receive won’t feel like the worst of fortune’s might. Instead, you’ll continue writing and soon rejections will be nothing more than a conquered woe and you will be A Published Author.

***

Misha, thanks so much for hosting me here. I really enjoyed my visit and, to say thanks, I’d like to ask you to draw the name of a random commentator, who will win a US$15 gift voucher (from their preferred choice of book store.)


If anyone would like me to do a guest post on their blog, please email me at judy@judycroome.com to discuss a suitable topic and a mutually agreeable date.

***

Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her short stories have been published in ITCH magazine and “Notes from Underground Anthology”.  She was recently shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition. Her independently published novel, “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” is available from Amazon and Smashwords.






Thanks so much Judy. I will be drawing the prize for the US$15 gift voucher on Wednesday, 29 July. To stand a chance to win, all you need to do is comment. You have until 1 pm GMT on Wednesday to enter.

So… How do you deal with rejection?

Twenty Questions With…

Hi all! I had another idea that I wanted to try…


Twenty Questions with


Basically it will be a game involving one of my favorite writing-related exercises: Character interviews.


It’s a really good exercise to do, be you a plotter or pantser, because the answers help you to know your characters on multiple levels…


So how does it work?


My friend, Theresa and I are picking ten (this time eleven) questions, alternating who’s asking. Then we’re letting one of our characters answer then. After that, we have a more specific section where we ask the characters specific questions. 

Her character’s interview will be posted here. My character, James Braden from Doorways, will be on her blog.


So, without further ado: Please welcome Mia to My First Book.


OK, Mia, we’re going into some easy questions first.


1)  How old are you?

I’m not sure.  Nobody ever told me and since I was so young when I was taken from my mother  that I can’t remember.  I am of “indeterminate age”.  I guess I am about 18.  Maybe a bit older.

2)  Where were you born?
In a small house near a river.  My first memories are of bright light shining off the surface of the calmly flowing water.  It is still my favourite place.

3)  Do you like animals?

I guess so.  The only pets I have ever had are the rats that share my room.  They are really kind creatures once you get to know them.  My owner had a dog once but it was vicious and dangerous.  I avoided it at all costs.

4)  What is your favorite pass-time?

I like to think about what it is like out there.  I see people walk about without someone guarding them.  I wonder what it is like to go to the park.  I walk around the city in my imagination.

5)  If you could take a holiday anywhere, where would you go?

Home.  I would go back to where I lived with my mother.  Maybe she is still there.  Then we can go to the beach like we used to.

6)  Who’s your best friend? Be honest.

My best friend is Charlie.  We don’t talk much.  He is actually my guard when I get to go outside the compound.  But he once bought me an ice cream.  I think I like him *blush*.

7)  What really gets on your nerves?

Incessant drinking.  And people who treat you like dirt.  I know I am just a servant, but would a little kindness and consideration really hurt that much?

8)  Have you ever wished anyone dead? Who?

I have wished that Jules was never born.  He is my owner.  He treats me like dirt.  Please refer to previous question.

9)  Have you ever been in love?

Not officially *smile*  Maybe a little bit with Charlie.  Please don’t tell him!  He would hate me forever.

10)  What would you rather have: a house or a car?

I would prefer a house.  Who needs a car when you can walk?  But I would love to one day have a place of my own.  With a bit of garden.  I know it is highly unlikely that that would happen though.  Unless Jules sells me as someone’s wife.  I think he’s up to something…

11)  Describe yourself in three words.

Strong but frail.

That’s an interesting combination. OK then, on to the more personal questions:

12)  How did you end up working for a beast like Jules?

He bought me from my mother when I was three. She had to pay off my father’s drug debts. I was all she had to pay with. He would have killed her.

13)  Three?! Wow. How did you survive growing up like that?

I had to. My mother wouldn’t want me to give up. The important thing is to not draw attention to yourself.

14)  You said earlier that you think Jules is up to something. Does he get up to stuff a lot? What does he do?

Jules is a drug lord. He has gang wars, orgies, you name it. But lately he talked about getting rid of me. At first I thought he would kill me. Now I think he has something much more sinister in mind.

15) Like what?

Strange as it may seem, I have never been … Used. I am very valuable as a wife.

16) You mentioned that Jules might sell you. Would you see that as an escape?

It depends on who he sells me to. I don’t think his usual business partners would treat me well. But maybe a stranger… I don’t know.  This is all I’ve ever known.  I am afraid that a change would be for the worse.

17)  Rather the devil you, know…
Something like that. Still, maybe I could get away one day.
 

18)  Why would you wait to see what happens? Why don’t you escape right now?
Where would I go? Who would help me? I am no one. The police would put me in jail because I don’t have papers. Nobody would give me a job for the same reason. I am on my own.

19) I see… And Charlie? Does he make you want to stay too?

Charlie.  In a way I want to stay with him. But he made his choice. He is here because he wants to be here. If he wants to leave I would definitely go with him.

20) But if you had your chance, you’d leave him to Jules?

I… I would leave him *sniffs*

Aw. I really hope things work out for you, then. Best of luck, Mia!

Thanks for lending me your character, Theresa. It was fun!

So, ladies and gents. What did you think of the characters and the interviews? Anyone else interested in playing? I’ve got plenty of characters who’d love to talk. Let me know if you’re interested. Extra reminder: Tomorrow’s post will have a voucher up for grabs. So don’t miss Guest Post Friday!