Guest Post Up On Ian. T. Healy Blog
Today my guest post, The Ten Critiquers that you Meet In Heaven is up.
Go check it out!
I’m working on a chapter of Steam Palace (still looking for more beta readers! email me if you’re interested) that my critique group thought was a bit flat. I basically follow my main character through a major event, and I’ve been thinking of ways to spice it up. I needed more emotions in play, more motivations for all the characters, and perhaps some additional backstory.
Most good scenes contain more than one character, as the various characters play off each other. They each have their own agenda which is generally not aligned with each other. It seems obvious that any scenes containing the main character should be written from the main character’s POV, but that deprives the reader any real insight into the secondary characters.
So what I decided to do was to switch POV on a couple of scenes in the chapter. All of a sudden, new ideas burst into my head. Previously, Viola and Mary were just sitting in the back room playing cards. Now, in Viola’s point of view, Viola is sizing Mary up as her next victim. Previously, Sophia gets reamed by Dunstan for her song selection. Now Dunstan is up to his neck in troubles, and the last thing he needs is some hitherto unknown woman messing up his fancy ball. The stakes are much higher, because I can demonstrate the emotional state of the other characters, while leaving enough POV scenes alone to still let the reader follow the main character.
It’s kind of a showing vs telling thing. Why have a secondary character just speak and act when we can just dive inside their head to really grasp their inner conflicts and motivations?
Sometimes there is so much written in our main character’s POV that each individual scene doesn’t add that much to their character development. Things become predictable. The readers know what’s going on for that character. But take an important scene for your main character and write it from another’s POV…suddenly the reader is like, “OMG, I can’t wait to find out what Sophia thinks about all this.” I think if the reader is sold on your main character, then they will feel the scene even without the inner dialog and insight of POV. It also can create more sympathy for your main character by exposing what others think about them.
Now don’t go to extremes…your main character should still have the plurality of the POV of the book. This is still the character readers should care about most. Their inner conflict drives the book and the story forward. But don’t starve out your other characters either. They deserve their moment in the sun too.
So if you remember this post, you’ll see that I included my character/scene map, with the POV scenes in red. I also have the scenes summed up at the bottom of the map so I can compare each character. With my main character in the leftmost column, you can see where I include POV’s from other characters. (Note that though the boxes are the same size, they don’t represent equal sizes of scenes so it’s a tad misleading). My goal is to take maybe ten scenes overall from the left column and distribute them to the other POV characters.
So my advice is just to try it now and then. Take a scene that’s a bit flat, and change the POV. You’ll be surprised what you learn about your other characters…and you can always change it back. Have fun!
Well, I’m finally in edit/critique phase of Steam Palace. I’m still looking for a few more dedicated beta readers to help me hammer this into a final form, so send me a note if you’re interested! I’m still looking at Labor Day to start sending out queries. Ambitious, but I can do this, but I could use your help!
So here go the important lessons.
Thanks for listening, and don’t forget…NaNoWriMo starts in 100 days!!!!
So as some of you know, I’ve been engaged in cutting scenes right and left, and this one unfortunately fell on the cutting room floor, but now it will live on forever on the internets. Bad Girl Viola has fled to the Southland, and now lives in a woman’s dormitory at the Great Southland World Exposition for Peace in Richmond where she works. She shares a room with Charlotte, a college student. She’s also taken a new name, Violet. But make no mistake…she’s still Viola through and through. Let’s just say she’s taken a liking to Charlotte and feels protective of her…very protective.
Violet jumped up. “What? Am I late?” The dawn was still dim.
“No, look at this!” She handed Violet a news-graph. “Two women, murdered in their beds last night. It’s Frenchie and Barbara!” Violet glanced at the crude drawings of their unfortunate friends. Charlotte tore the graph away, her eyes wide. “You did it. You murdered them!”
“I was here all night!”
Charlotte sniffled, huffing her breath.
Violet stood and wrapped her arms around Charlotte’s waist. “Listen. I’m sorry what I said last night, about killing you. That was stupid. I was hurt. I could never do such a thing, even in anger. I’m not like that. Come, let’s dress, find breakfast, and talk about it. We mustn’t let such things interfere with our day.”
She reached up and kissed the girl on the cheek but Charlotte turned from her.
“Violet,” said Charlotte, her dark eyes wide and accusing, “please swear to me you had no involvement in this.”
Violet’s mouth dropped. “I swear! And I can’t believe you would think such a thing. I am as shocked as you. How could something like that happen to people I just met?”
Charlotte attempted a weak smile. “Okay. Sorry.” Did Charlotte believe her? What did it matter? The poor girl could never understand these sorts of things.
Violet gathered her green Expo uniform. Of course, she had no involvement at all, except for creeping in their window and stabbing them in the hearts as they slept, holding their mouths shut as the life left their bodies. Barbara, for hating Americans and Africans, and Frenchie, for touching her friend. Violet protected hers. She tousled Charlotte’s head and smiled.
Today is Cut Day!
Okay, for the last two weeks, I’ve tediously analyzed my story with the primary intention of finding what can be cut. So over on the left side is my heat map of every scene in the book. Green is good, red is bad. The first column is “importance,” meaning how important is the scene to the story. The second is “tension,” which is how tense the conflict is in a scene. I have about 10 more measures of each scene which I didn’t bother to chart (yet) but maybe I should.
To give you a better idea, I have these numbers summed up by chapter (each chapter is a 8-10K section of the story):
That hump around chapter 4 is a little exaggerated, but you can see the hump at chapter 4 is the end of Act I, the second hump at chapter 9 is the crisis point of Act II, and of course Act III just goes off the chart at the end. Is this more or less right?
Also it appears that the tenser scenes are more important. Or the important scenes are more tense. Hmm….wonder if I’ve discovered something….
Here is the same chart, but by word. (Sorry if it screws up my blog formatting).
So you can see that overall I’m doing okay, but individual scenes vary. There is no reason to have a scene with an importance under 8, so you can see where I will start looking at cuts.
So my next step is to look at all those low points and decide what to delete. Out of 119 scenes, I am targeting ~20 for deletion. It may come to more, because it’s easier to delete the smaller scenes. But I need to remove about ~20K from the novel, and my scenes average ~1K each.
Here’s one last chart, the distribution of characters by scene. Red is the POV character of that scene:
I’m going to count all those up and see who’s getting shafted and who’s hogging the stage. Can you guess whose column is whose?
The last thing I’m doing is writing a first-person account by my main character reviewing the story from her perspective. It’s opening my eyes to what’s important to her, and will help me polish off my keep/cut decisions. Wish me luck!
Every November for the past 11 years, hundreds of thousands of writers huddle around their laptops and notepads with a singular goal in mind—write fifty thousand words in thirty days…specifically from 12am Nov. 1 to 12pm Nov. 30. Can it be done? Yes.
The “idea” behind NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is that many aspiring writers talk about writing, think about it, but never actually complete a novel. The challenge is to actually complete a novel in one month. Here’s how it works: you sit down and write 1667 words a day, more if you can. That’s about 7 pages of published text every day. Once November is over, you will have a shiny new manuscript to brag about, and you will join the ranks of those with first drafts of their novels.
Here’s why this works. By forcing yourself to write every day, and write a lot every day, you must be creative. The sheer tension of the exercise translates into your text. Your characters usually face deadlines as well. You must throw them into danger and find quirky ways to extricate them. Your life and your characters’ lives become intertwined, and you start living in both worlds at once. This is total immersion into the world of your novel, where the ideas flow out as fast as you can think them up. You don’t have time to ponder proper grammar or punctuation, let alone metaphor or point-of-view.
Now let’s be serious for a moment. Most of the stuff you will come up with will be crap (whether you write your first draft during NaNoWriMo or not). Characters will show up and disappear. Threads will be left hanging. Scenes will be as empty as a Christmas store in May. Your villains will be as hollow as a later Schwarzenegger movie. Don’t worry about it. Your magical First Draft is simply a milestone on your way to a publishable masterpiece. Consider it as a detailed outline, subject to edits and revisions. The point is that you now have something you can work with, the first step in creating something bigger. You’ve written a novel, and no one can take that away from you!
Despite the fact that NaNoWriMo starts Nov. 1, I highly suggest starting earlier—not writing, of course, but plotting, planning, thinking about characters and conflicts, the general gist of the story, settings, world-building, etc. The more you have ready-to-go before Nov. 1, the easier it will be. Character sketches, backstory, maps, descriptions, scene ideas, whatever you think might make it easier.
To help you out, I’ve assembled some of my other posts on NaNoWriMo:
Good luck, and I hope to see you all November 1, 2010!
1. Are people losing interest in Blogfests? I’ve noticed a downward trend in participation lately. Is it the themes of the blogfests or have they lost their luster? I ask this because I’m thinking of hosting one end of August/beginning of September. And the idea I have is a doozey. Let me know what you think. Should I bother? Maybe when there are 2-3 a week it’s just overkill.
2. Have you check out my sister’s new web site, The Red Dress Club? It’s a new writer’s community (for women grumble grumble).
3. Why does writing take forever? Why can’t I get everything right with the first draft? Why are revisions endless? Hmm…Maybe those are rhetorical…
4. Better question: Why do I endlessly underestimate how long any task I do will take? Why don’t I ever learn?
Okay, enough questions for today.
Well, for those of you following along at home, two weeks ago I posted Revision Indecision, where I spoke of how my story ran off the rails. Well last night I wrote the two most special words in all of literature, “The End.” I have somewhat officially finished the second draft of Steam Palace, and it wasn’t easy. It was like a wrestling-style Battle Royale with my characters, trying to force them into some semblance of a conclusion to their adventures while they fight each other tooth and nail.
Here’s the thing. I’ve given myself a deadline (hence the guillotine). September 1. I want Steam Palace completed by 9/1/2010. Done. Out the door. That’s 60 days to go from draft to finished product. I have other projects to work on. This revision has taken forever, and right now I don’t feel much closer than I did on Dec 1, 2009 when I finished the first draft.
So what have I been doing the last seven months? Beats me. Endless analysis followed by endless planning followed by endless rewrite. My characters are way better, the story is better, and the ending, while not quite as dramatic, probably is better as well. More meaningful.
Here’s the situation. I finished with ~115K words, up from 80K in the first draft. That’s 35K additional words. I need to cut it down to at least 95K. I know I’m still a little sparse on description, setting scenes and transitions, so I need to cut first before I flesh out those problem areas. Then cut some more. This is clearly the most painful part of the process, but it’s a key skill I will need. I must be ruthless. Heartless. WWVD?*
My plan is to run through every single scene, writing down all problem areas, and scoring the scenes. Check out this example of what I do. Then anything with a bad score—cut. Any characters not pulling their weight—cut. Any subplots not supporting the main plot—cut. Then patch up all the holes, rework all the scenes into a tight POV and clear prose, and send it out. Simple, right?
And, to incent myself and keep myself focused, I’ve decided to host another blogfest, tentatively on August 31 ( but I might push it to Sept 3). I must be finished by this date or no blogfest! Stay tuned for more details. It will be the bestest blogfest eva!
On September 7, I will be sending out queries. Look out world, here comes Steam Palace!
*What Would Viola Do? Okay, I know the answer to that…cut all the scenes with Sophia.