Alice recently tried to do six impossible things before breakfast and no one accused her of being too pessimistic in labelling them impossible.
Impossible seems to be a big no-no at the moment. It seems by pointing out that something is impossible you are being overly negative.
It may not seem like a nice thing to do but sometimes pointing out the highly improbably nature of certain outcomes can be a kindness. Of course it can also be tactless, mean, cruel and spiteful. I guess it all comes down to motivation behind the statement and the delivery.
But whether or not you like the word impossible, do your characters? Are they the negative type who likes to think that doors are closing everywhere around them when in point of fact they have millions of unrealised opportunities? Or are they optimistic to the point of insanity? Somewhere inbetween perhaps?
When people discuss character they talk about motivation and they talk about appearance and goals and all of these other sorts of things but the idea of them being an optomist or pessimist doesn’t seem to come up. The basic underlying personality that should motivate most of what they do.
I’ve actually been trying to figure this out for a character from one of my WIP’s that I’ve been playing with lately. The character is inconsistent at the best of times but I’m starting to see an underlying logic in her actions. She’s ridiculously optimistic. Her erratic actions and seemingly illogical behaviour actually come down to the fact that she genuinely believes that things will work out okay so you might as well jump. Now that I know where she’s coming from I can probably clear up some of her more bewildering actions and make it all kind of work out okay.
How about your characters? Optimists or pessimists?
I seldom read over what I’ve written immediately after I write it. Mostly because I usually hate every single word and delete it rather than giving myself the space I need to read it and see the good in it and preserve the good while carefully editing.
That said, I read a scene that I drafted the other day immediately after finishing it. Not so much because I wanted to delete it but because I had a nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong and the feeling wouldn’t let go of me until I’d read it. For once I didn’t reach for the delete key right away. Instead I started thinking through all the sensible questions. What was I trying to accomplish with this scene? What perspective was I trying to tell the story from? How did this scene fit into the overall story I was trying to write?
Then I reached for the delete key. Not because I hated what I had written but because I suddenly knew exactly what was bothering me about the scene.
The point of the scene was to introduce the character of a new player in the story and establish her relationship with an already established character. This relationship is going to be built out and has quite a history that will unfold throughout the story but at this scene just needed to establish where their relationship was and not how it got there. So the question I was left asking was why exactly this new character’s family history was being explained in extremely dull exposition, meanwhile the relationship was so played down as to be non-existent within the scene.
Two rewrites later and I think the scene is now serving its purpose. It still isn’t good. It is very much in a rough draft stage and no doubt I will have to rewrite it many more times before I’m actually happy with it, but just getting rid of all the excessive and useless information that was cluttering up the scene and making it drag has made it that much better and easier to read. It’s also helped to highlight what is actually important within the scene.
I don’t think I’m going to do this with every scene during the first draft stage. I’d probably never finish the first draft and end up in an endless cycle of rewriting, but an occasional surgical look at specific problematic scenes definitely served its purpose.
What’s your drafting process?
Sometimes it is difficult to know.
What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time.
For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I’ll correct typing errors as I see them and move punctuation that is truly being offensive, editing the nitty-gritty is kind of the last ditch run through, mostly because if I revise or rewrite I know I’m just going to put more errors into the text.
So I begin with the rewrites. I may stay in the rewriting stage for the rest of forever with some manuscripts. Rewrites, for me, are the massive changes. The adding characters, taking them out, changing direction entirely, cutting scenes, adding scenes, moving scenes. All of the things that give you a huge headache when it comes to checking for continuity errors and will usually have you rewriting chapter after chapter to accommodate the change you made way back in the beginning.
Then I revise. These are the more surgical changes. Adding an emphasis here, changing the wording of that exchange of dialogue there, altering a description in that chapter. Sometimes these have carry on effects but normally it is just tightening up the overall story that has already been rewritten (many times) and checked for continuity.
Then, should I have made it this far and not put the project aside, comes the editing.
Still, despite wanting to work from one layer down to the next, down to the next, I end up jumping back and forth between the three.
How does your process for revisions work?
I’m not using it and I haven’t referred to it – but a plan exists. Surely that counts for something.
In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it is the old to plan or not to plan argument in writing. As always, I outline, know where I want to go, and then dutifully ignore any of it and write whatever anyway. From the number of unfinished projects I have stacking up, this may not be the most effective method, but it works for me. I don’t want to lock myself in if I’m not feeling the characters lead me in a certain direction. And I don’t want to be endlessly worried that they haven’t progressed as neatly from point a to point b as I would have liked.
I love to write. I love words. If I can eventually tidy them up enough to make a story, great. If not, I’ll have enjoyed the writing anyway and maybe at some future time I’ll return to the story and figure it all out.
That’s kind of what’s happened at the moment.
I came across a fairly old story (in fact I don’t remember when I started it). I didn’t even have it on my computer any more. I only had the paper copy I printed out. It wasn’t finished and as I was reading it I realised I really wanted to know where this story ended. Only I didn’t remember.
Fortunately I also printed out the plan and included it in the file.
Unfortunately having just read the first act of the story, I realised why I abandoned it. The plan didn’t make any sense. There were entire sub-plots that were clearly leading to X but just didn’t appear in the plan at all. The main character was clearly not motivated by D but by P and those two characters over there were as likely to be conspiring as a spider with a fly. I’d had a plan but the way I’d written that first act just made the plan entirely irrelevant. The story was better than the original plan and the characters a great deal more interesting but it made the second act almost impossible to write without an entire overhaul of the over all goal of the story.
So now I need to figure out where the story should be going and how I’m going to get it there and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it written. I’m not going to commit myself to it but I have a strong feeling that I’m going to spend quite a number of sleepless nights thinking about it in the near future.
I’ve jumped works in progress for the time. I wasn’t making progress on one draft and I wanted to write so I decided to have a look at an earlier abandoned project (rather than starting yet another never to be finished project). Interestingly, even though I abandoned the project because I felt it was too flat, reading it after having a fairly lengthy space, I was drawn in to the story and the characters again and when I got to where I’d abandoned the project I was disappointed that the story didn’t finish.
So working between project I am now trying to reacquaint myself with some of my earlier character creations and it is amazing how fast they come back (all giving me dirty looks and muttering about being cast aside).
One of the characters I particularly enjoyed reading about again and getting to know all over again is the sycophant. This isn’t actually his name though it may as well be. It is what he is called by pretty much all the other characters and even though he is only a minor character in the story, he manages pretty effectively to be despised in the most amusing of ways.
I’d clearly also used the thesaurus when writing the draft originally because I noticed I was very careful not to endlessly repeat the word sycophant, even though I really enjoy that word. It rolls right off the tongue and always gives just the right amount of contempt and loathing.
Anyway – alternatives to sycophant:
All of them very flattering words.
Incidentally, when introducing the character I don’t tell the reader that he is a sycophant. I have one of my other characters call him one within the first few lines of him entering the story and then back it up by having him carry out some very toady like actions. His character is established and I haven’t once said to the reader (by the way, you’re meant to dislike this character).
I’ve since also moved on from this project but I think the time will come very soon when I’m going to have to finish this one.
Reading over some of my favourite childhood stories I realised that a lot of them have dated themselves terribly. I also note this when watching Buffy or other television shows that I loved in highschool. Just every now and then a line comes out and you just wince – wow! That’s dated.
I didn’t need to worry about this so much when writing Death’s Daughter because I set it in an entirely fantasy world that doesn’t directly link to any of Earth’s time periods. There were no references to current events or trends or anything else that would make it feel old within a few years and that was one less thing for me to worry about. Not so much with my current WIP.
Once again I’ve set it entirely in a fantasy world but this time there is a cross over element and one of my characters does come from modern Earth. How modern? Well, he is insisting on carrying his phone everywhere even though he hasn’t a chance at getting reception because the thought of leaving his phone behind is all but paralysing. What is this going to do for the story in terms of it getting dated?
Given the story and the fact that none of the other characters have current Earth knowledge I’m not throwing one-liners in referencing current events although he does occasionally reference television shows and notable characters. I’m resisting the urge to label his phone as any particular type because that would certainly date the story fairly quickly. His clothes are pretty basic and would fit most of the last twenty – thirty years and hopefully fashion isn’t going to completely change in the next ten.
What I’ve realised is that having any connection to the real world is adding a whole other set of problems to writing that I didn’t have to deal with previously and I’m walking a fine line between leaving it fairly non-specific as to when he was living on Earth in order to prevent the story being dated and just not giving the reader enough details to hold on to the story.
So I am seeking advice from those of you who have considered this previously. Do you worry about your stories getting dated and how do you deal with this?
Okay I’m undecided as to whether I should be setting goals or not. On the one hand I feel I need something to aim for at the moment, on the other, I know how incredibly busy I’m going to be at work and I can already see any time-line I decide on for writing being utterly destroyed very quickly.
So here is me keeping my goals fairly loose.
1. I am going to read at least 3 novels a month until the end of the year. I will not actually make the 100+ goal I set but at least I will have a read a fair number of books. Having only read 30 this year I think I can say goodbye to the 100+ goal and I’ll just focus on the 3 a month.
2. I am going to finish the first draft of this WIP I’ve been working on, although the decision to start over writing in first person is going to make this one a bit of a time-crunch. I could probably finish the draft as it is in a few weeks but I would hate it and so I am starting over and will aim to finish the draft by the end of the year. That gives me plenty of time to procrastinate and get caught up in other things and still have a chance to accomplish this goal.
3. I am going to submit my completed manuscript to various agents until I find one for it. As I have to wait to be rejected from one before I try another (sometimes that is their rule but it is mostly mine) this may take a little while but I’m not going to shelve the project again.
4. I am going to try to set up a blog tour for September. I’ve been wanting to do one and just haven’t found the time and now I’ve decided it is definitely something I want to do, the only question is how to go about organising it. To that end I am asking anyone who could stand hosting me sometime in September on their blog to let me know either in the comments or by email – cassandra (dot) jade (dot) author (at) gmail (dot) com – and I can start to think about a schedule for that.
That’s probably more than enough goals to keep me busy until the end of this year. Now I just have to work on not feeling guilty for falling behind or away from any of these.
What are your goals at the moment?