Tag Archives: nanowrimo

Editing Progress Report – February

In this post, last month, I set out my plan to edit my first NaNo novel, The Phoenix Fire. I planned to post an update on the last day of each month, so here we are.

February_calendar

The plan for this month was simply to read through and make some notes. I was looking for big-picture faults and I tried to go into it open to anything – changing characters’ genders, adding or removing characters, altering the POV, amending the plot and adding subplots… anything you could imagine. I finished doing that yesterday and along the way I’ve had some useful revelations.

1. The POV needs work but is probably the right choice.

I wrote the story in a close third person style, in other words “Adam did this” but with a strong bias on what Adam experienced and how he experienced it. Occasionally, the text wanders away from this, seeing something Adam couldn’t have seem, and that needs fixing. I also need to put a little more distance between the narrator and Adam in places, and I’ve been reading “How Fiction Works” to learn how to better achieve that. But fundamentally, it is Adam’s story.

2. The Plot needs beefing up

As I mentioned on Monday, the plot needs more to happen: more tension and drama, more suspense and interest. I’ve thought of a couple of ways to do this, including introducing a new character for Adam to play off against, but also, bizarrely, I’m hoping to achieve this adding richness partly by cutting. Specifically, two things.

a) I have a habit of writing EVERYTHING that happens. You know that saying that nobody ever goes to the toilet on TV (except to have important conversations at the urinals)? Well, Adam goes to bed and gets up about 50 times in this novel and it’s BORING. So I need to have the confidence to drop him at the end the interesting part of a day and not pick him up until the next interesting thing happens, even if it’s hours or days later.

b) The first third of the novel drags. And isn’t very interesting. Things only really get going around the mid-point and actually the most interesting and well-written part of the novel is a massive tangent about his niece. Either that needs cutting, or it needs to take on a new importance. I’m going for the latter and starting the novel there(ish).

3. The Themes are all over the place

I’m a little suspicious of anyone who suggests that novels need a central Theme, or a Hypothesis, or whatever other words they choose to use. A lot of great novels don’t have this, or only have it in the sense that somebody has clearly come along after the fact and announced that it’s all about whatever.

However, TPF doesn’t have anything resembling a theme, or a point, and it’s poorer for that. The writing style isn’t too bad, but it’s impossible to tell anything about the target audience or what you want them to get out of it. If I had to give a one sentence summary, it would sound like a Romance, but the writing fails at that on several fundamentals and it’s not what I wanted. So as part of stripping out the chaff, I’m cutting much of the romance and making it a novel about the Phoenix Fire. Which is helpful, because that’s the title!

4. The writing isn’t bad

Most of it isn’t actually badly written. Apart from the specific problems I’ve mentioned above (and a few over-used words where I’ll need to do a find/replace sweep later), which lead to me having written “BORING” next to various paragraphs, it’s actually OK on a writing level. Even the sex scenes are less cringe-worthy than I feared, and I *know* I’m cutting them!

What it needs is a lot of big-picture work.

Still, that’s what this edit was all about, and I’m brimming with ideas on how to fix the problems. It will take a lot of new writing and some difficult edits, but I’m ready. Next stop, some planning away from the text!

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Editing The Phoenix Fire: The Plan

My first NaNoWriMo novel, The Phoenix Fire, was a real learning curve for me. I wrote it at speed, left it for a month or so and then tried to edit it. In terms of length, it was about right, the plot largely matched what I had planned, and after a month I was still far too close to it to do more than edit the text.

I let a few friends read it, and their response was mixed. The biggest issue they had was with the main character. I saw him as troubled but ultimately redeemable, they all hated him or, worse, didn’t give a damn about him. Still too close to it, I dealt with their more specific comments, picking at the text but ignoring the big issues of character and structure. Then I had a single copy printed, stuffed it on my bookshelf and left it there.

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We’re now almost 3 years later and I’m going to let myself take it down from its shelf. Because, in spite of its clear failings, I believe it’s a story worth telling and I believe I have the skill to tell it. I’ve learned a lot about writing over the last couple of years, I’ve honed my craft and more importantly I’ve put a lot of mileage between myself and this novel.

I’m dreading reading it, because I think much of it will make me cringe. But I’m also looking forward to giving it another chance. My goal is to do this slowly, over the course of 2013, so I’m setting up some not-too-ambitious targets for each month. I’m going to try to post on the last day of each month with an update on how that’s going.

January: Plan the plan. So far so good, here it is!

February: Read through the whole thing once. If I spot any textual errors, I will pacify my inner editor by highlighting them, but this read-through is intended to reacquaint myself with the story, the plot and the characters. And to identify the big-picture problems. I’ll keep a notebook beside me to keep a record of anything that strikes me as wrong, then if I have time at the end of the month, I’ll try to organise what’s in it into different elements – plot, character, style, etc.

March: Complete steps 1-9 of the planning plan here (http://fandelyon.com/?p=329). This is about identifying problems, not fixing them, so by the end of March I don’t intend to have made a single change to the text of the novel.

April: Taking the notes from February and March, plan out the structure of the novel as if writing it afresh. Work out which scenes, chapters or subplots need to be cut / rewritten / added. Re-assess the character arcs and work out if characters need to be cut / changed / added. Again, this won’t involve any work on the text itself.

May – July: Rewrite, based on the plan from April. This is likely to involve quite a lot of new text, so I’m allowing three months.

August: Read through the whole piece. Again, I’ll have a highlighter for textual errors, but the focus will be on big-picture stuff and on making sure I’ve fixed everything identified in Feb – April.

September: Rewrites based on August’s read-through and picking up any textual errors highlighted in previous read-throughs.

October: Read through. Look for big and – in particular – little errors, check for things like: clichés, anachronisms, repetition, overuse of adverbs / adjectives.

November: Leave it alone. I’ll hopefully be doing NaNoWriMo again this year, and a month away from PF will give me the breather I need before December’s read-through.

December: Final read-through. Careful check for typos and minor textual issues.

Are you editing anything this year? Is there anything here you think I’ve missed or should do differently? I’d love to hear from you.

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First of November

It’s the first of November. Many of you will be setting out on the path that is NaNoWriMo. Some will be clutching a map for this terrain, in the form of an outline you’ve written, detailed character sketches, a calendar filled with targets and rewards or whatever else it is you believe will carry you across the line. Many will have a backpack stuffed with tools and equipment – everything from a special notebook to a thermos filled with coffee. A few will be setting out alone, most will be part of a team of other writers – all battling their own writing challenge, but supported by the company of others in the same boat.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve done this before. But even if you have, each year it is new in as many ways as it is old. Each November brings its own challenges, each plot has different stumbling blocks. And that’s before you’ve changed the goal posts by increasing your target word count, challenging yourself to write a new genre, or changing the way you plan.

Everyone wants something different out of NaNoWriMo, and nobody can tell you that what you want is wrong. That’s why I think it’s a good thing there’s no prizes for winning, and I think it’s a good thing that the only one who can really validate your achievement is you. There are a million ways to win – technically you can write the same word 50,000 times and call it a win. No-one will know. Wrimos set their own goals and determine their own rules. Ultimately, we take part because it is something we want to do and we stand or fall on that basis alone.

At the time of writing, my 2012 NaNoWriMo document doesn’t even exist yet, let alone have 50,000 fresh-pressed words of fiction on it. But my goal is that in 30 days, it will. And I’m going to try to post every Thursday this month with an update on how that’s going, in the face of everything else this month holds. InMon and the Submission series will be taking a backseat until December, but I’d love it if you could stop by and cheer me on!

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Goal Setting

According to my local radio, 47% of us forget to floss our teeth daily. 47%? That means more than half the population is lacerating our gums with mint-flavoured string every single morning. I don’t believe it. (Straw poll – leave a comment if you floss every day, proclaiming the fact loud and proud. I’ll send you a bag of sweets to bring you down to my level!) Personally, I discovered a long time ago that if I aim to floss daily, as recommended by my dentist, I just never do it. Maybe once or twice a year, just before an appointment with him.

But here’s the thing (and also the point at which this blog post becomes about writing again, rather than oral hygiene), if I set myself a more achievable goal, like flossing once a week, suddenly I hit the target. I even occasionally over-achieve and do it twice in 7 days! Crazy stuff.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, lots of writers are setting themselves ambitious goals right now. 1667 words in a day is actually not as much as it sounds, but doing that every single day, on top of your day job, life and normal writing commitments, for a whole month, is a challenge for many people. Winners of NaNo are right to be proud of themselves. Those who use it as a springboard to kick-start their writing for the rest of the year, even more so.

I enjoy NaNo and I hope to keep doing it for the foreseeable future, but for the rest of the year, I’ve discovered I work much better with achievable goals than crazy ones. When I started this blog, I promised myself one post a week. Now I’m up to three, with occasional daily projects like Voice Week, the 12 Days of Christmas and my recent series on Novel-Planning. And I still enjoy it, I still find topics to write about, and (most amazingly of all) I still find people reading them all!

Starting small works for me – give me a to do list with 5 things on it and I’ll do them all, by lunchtime. Double it to 10 and I’ll achieve 3 across the entire day.

So what I need to do now is work out how to apply this self-knowledge to my long-term writing goals, and in particular to the editing process which a couple of my longer pieces are waiting to undergo. Suggestions are welcome. I’m also interested: how does goal-setting work for you? Do you work better under the pressure of too much to do? Or are you a small-starter like me?

And how many times a week do you floss your teeth?

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Novel Planning #5 – Pick n Mix

Planning a novel is as much a matter of personal preference as writing one. Some people don’t like to plan at all, others like to do everything they can to set their novel up so that by the time they actually sit down to write, it’s almost all on the page already. The Snowflake Method is great for the latter, NaNoWriMo’s Dare forums are probably the best place for anyone who wants to just play it by ear!

If you’re still pretty new to long-form writing, a plan can help you to produce a decent first draft, especially if you’re under a time constraint like NaNo. If you’re still developing your craft, trying different methods of planning is probably the best way to find what works for you. Reading the wisdom of published and even prolific writers can make you feel like there is one way to succeed, but I firmly believe that each person has to find their own way, and even if you are trying to become the next John Grisham, his way of putting pen to paper might just not work for you.

So, if you’re interested in planning a novel, try one of the methods I’ve outlined over the past week. Or, try something else. Or, try a combination of multiple methods – you might decide tha tyou want to use just Steps 1 and 2 of Tuesday’s suggestion, and then delve into your characters’ psyches from Wednesday.

There are a hundred (thousand) other ways to plan / outline / plot a novel, and if you feel I missed your favourite, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Similarly, let me know how you get on if you use one of these methods.

For now, I’ll leave you with another option, best suited to a Friday. A few of my fellow Friday Fictioneers are writing long stories in 100 word chunks. Each week, they take the prompt provided by Madison Woods and right the next scene. Check out Craig Towsley’s Owl and Raccoon Fables for an excellent piecemeal example of this, or The Winger Chronicles of Adam Ickes to see how it works doing it chronologically.

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Novel Planning #2 – Plot-Type

Yesterday, I introduced this week’s series of posts about planning for novel-writing.  Step back there for one method, or read on for another method of planning your forthcoming masterwork. I refer to these masterworks as novels, but these methods would work with a bit of tweaking for other writing formats too.

Today, let’s look at plotting the Christopher Booker way.

Those who have been following my Booker’s Seven project will know the basics here. Christopher Booker says there are only seven basic plots in the world, and all stories fall into one or other. You might not agree, but if you do, you can probably identify which of those seven yours falls into. They are:

Overcoming the Monster

Rags to Riches

The Quest

Voyage and Return

Rebirth

Tragedy

Comedy

How, you have to be a bit slick, because Comedy doesn’t necessarily mean funny; it ties in more with the Shakespearean definition, and has a lot to do with large casts of characters, and situations caused by miscommunications between them. Think Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night. Similarly, Overcoming the Monster might not involve a physical monster, but more something internal or an external (but non monster-y) challenge like an asteroid heading for earth.

Anyway, once you’ve picked out which Booker Plot you are intending to write, you can use it to plan your novel. Ideally (certainly in Mr Booker’s mind) you’d go out and buy his book, for a full breakdown of what that plot entails. Alternatively, you can go online and google search some summaries of his ideas. Like this one at tvtropes.org.

The plot is neatly broken down for you into stages, and your task is simply to take each stage and write a couple of paragraphs detailing how that stage will look in your story. Take time to think not only what will happen, but why, how the characters will react and – particularly if you have a target word count for the whole piece – who long that stage will be. Remember, as we saw yesterday, not all stages should be the same length.

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Novel Planning #1 – Chapters

Back in February (wow, February, almost pre-pregnancy), I posted about my intention to produce a series of planning-related posts. Since then, other things have got in the way, and now it’s October, the time when lots of writers are planning their NaNoWriMo novels, so it seems like time to revive that idea. And as I have 5 possible suggestions for planning, I’m going to publish one a day for the next week. If you prefer to write without planning, these posts are unlikely to be for you, but you might still find something of interest for editing and redrafting stages. I’d love to hear what you think about any of these methods; or other planning techniques that have worked for you!

I posted a long time ago about the snowflake method. This first method of the week is similar, but slightly less time-consuming. It features our old favourites: the Beginning, Middle and End.

Step 1: One sentence story

Many planned novels start with a single sentence premise, or a question, or a hypothesis. What would happen if…? This is the single sentence story. It contains nothing close to everything, and may not even be a spoiler. I was reading today, for example about the plot of the film Hook, which apparently came about when the writer’s kids asked him “What would happen if Peter Pan grew up?”

Step 2: One paragraph about each of the beginning, middle and end.
These paragraphs don’t have to be long, but they should give you an idea of where the story is going. The paragraph about the End should definitely include a spoiler – what happens? What’s your resolution?
For Star Wars: A New Hope, for example, a condensed version of Step 2, might look something like this:
    Beginning: Luke Skywalker wants to be a famous and heroic Jedi Knight. He buys a droid which holds a strange message addressed to Obi Wan Kenobi. He takes the message to OWK and when he gets home, finds his farm and family destroyed. The two men set out on a quest to help the beautiful Princess who sent the message.
    Middle: There’s an evil force ruling the galaxy known as the Empire – lead by the Emperor, but his right-hand man is the cruel and powerful Darth Vadar. Good is represented by the Rebels, led by Princess Leia (of the message in part 1). She and Luke must join together, with rogue pilot Han Solo to fight the Empire.
   End: The message contains plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s big and scary weapon. The Rebels launch a campaign to destroy the Death Star, but it all proves to be harder than it looked and many pilots die. Ultimately, Luke is one of few remaining pilots but the enemy forces are upon him. Han reappears, destroys the enemy ships and Luke manages to blow up the Death Star. Everyone celebrates the victory.
Step 3: Expand the middle to the 3 (or more) major events which take place in the middle of the story. Give each one a paragraph of its own.
It’s a myth that stories divide into thirds. If you look at the beginning, middle and end model, the beginning and end will probably each take up maybe a tenth of the final novel, possibly not even that. The bulk of the story, and the place where a lot of writers suffer from writer’s block (or a bad case of tangentitis) is in the middle. Many people who write without a plan know where they want the story to start (Luke has to leave home and become a Jedi Knight) and end (Good conquers evil), but they don’t really know how to get from A to B, or how to put enough interesting obstacles in the way to make a good story.
This method recognises that plotting is mostly about the middle, and gives it a lot of attention. Think about various challenges the characters are going to come across in getting from the beginning to the end. Make each one different and ideally escalating. Perhaps some of internal challenges (the main character feels like giving up) and some are external (he comes across a difficult obstacle or a new enemy).
Even a pretty basic novel will need at least three of these challenges, most will need many more. If in doubt, add more not less – you can always take them out once you start writing. For each obstacle, include how it comes about and how the main characters overcome it.
Step 4: Work out roughly how many chapters each part (beginning, middle 1, middle 2, middle 3, end) needs and write one sentence (or very short paragraph) for each chapter.
The chances are, once you start writing, this portion will largely go out of the window. It’s hard to plan chapters in advance, and I feel it hampers the writing a lot. So if you prefer, stop after Step 3. However, if you do go ahead and write a chapter plan, it will help prevent writer’s block and of course it doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to the plan once you come to write.
If you do use Step 4, I suggest you stick to short descriptions for each chapter, along the lines of an old-fashioned Jerome K Jerome heading: “In which Luke first meets Yoda”, rather than trying to plot out the whole chapter in detail.

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