Tag Archives: Planning

Editing Progress Report – September

As I mentioned last month, things have gone slightly astray on the editing front. That is to say, August was meant to be a re-read, September a re-write based on it, October another read-through. Instead, August’s re-read highlighted an exciting and scary hole in the middle of the text and I’ve spent September filling the whole. Well, the second half; the first half of September I was away and did basically nothing writing-wise.

Somehow it’s now the end of September, and I’m patently not done. I’ve managed to write about 9,000 words of the missing chunk. I’m pleased with that, both in terms of the plot developments I’ve added, and the amount I’ve written, but it’s not done on either front.

So, October is going to be more of the same. Hopefully by the end of October, I’ll have a finished story, ready for some smaller-scale edits during the December read-through. Because November is bracketed for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to see whether it’s possible to complete a 50,000 first draft with a one-year-old in tow!

We’re 3/4 of the way through the year. How are your writing resolutions looking? It may not be going exactly according to plan, but I’m really happy with the progress I’m making on TPF. I hope you’re having similar degrees of success!

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Editing Progress Report

Another month down, and my editing process for the Phoenix Fire is going well, in a slightly scary way! This month was all about some off-text work, using the suggestions here to help me consider how best to reshape the novel. It’s been an enlightening process; I really feel as if I’ve now got a grip on what needs to change, be added and removed, be tweaked or recast, studied the plot arc, the character arcs, the balance of themes and the shape of the novel. I’ve spent quite a long time at storyfix.com‘s Story Structure articles, and I’ve started watching movies in a whole new way.

I don’t agree with everything I’ve read about structure (at these websites and others), but even by forming those opinions, I feel I’ve learned something which helps me to write better. I’ve also found myself checking how far I am through DVDs I’m watching, just to see if the “plot points” are where I’d expect them to be.

According to my original plan, April was about planning the rewrite, but in truth, I feel as though I’ve done a lot of that already. I still need to sit down and work out what I can import from the deleted scenes (I’m cutting almost the first third of the existing text, so a lot will need to be fed in at a later stage), but I feel much of the arc-work is done. So I might start the rewrites next month, or I might just give myself a break and work on a short story or two.

Still, I’m pleased with everything about March’s work except one elment. The first thing in March’s plan was the infamous “25 word pitch”. One or two of you have asked what TPF is about, and this pitch is supposed to answer that question. It’s also supposed to hook agents and publishers, get everyone excited about the novel and generally be the most important 25 words I could ever write. But as yet, I haven’t found a way to hit 25 words I’m really proud of. I’d love to receive your thoughts, input and suggestions.

Here’s the 50 word version:

Unemployed, homeless and heartbroken, Adam Heywood arrives in Wales looking for a fresh start.

What he finds is an ancient magic that caused its last discoverer to be burned as a witch.

Will he suffer the same fate, or will the phoenix fire bring him back to life?

And here’s all I can do with 25 words:

Adam Heywood is seeking a fresh start. Will the phoenix fire provide it,

or will he be burned as a witch like its previous discoverer?

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False Finish

This year’s editing plan has led me to really start thinking about story structure. I’ll post a few of those thoughts here over the next few months – do let me know if you agree or disagree with my conclusions, or have any wisdom to add to my musings.

One of the plot points which is often highlighted in structure plans is the “False Finish”. It has various names, this is just the one I prefer. The idea is that towards the end of the story, the hero either thinks he’s succeeded or thinks he’s failed. It feels like an ending, but it’s unsatisfactory for one reason or another and ultimately is actually the beginning of the true ending, which will tie things up much more convincingly.

If you think of story structure as a fight scene, this is the point when Hero lands a killer punch on Villain’s jaw. Villain falls down, apparently dead. Hero turns to Love Interest and smiles. It feels like an ending, but it isn’t because in fact, Villain isn’t dead and will suddenly appear for one last-ditch attempt to kill Hero, only to be foiled by Hero’s quick reactions or a Sidekick character dealing a truly fatal blow. (This is the true finish, leaving only whatever wrap-up scene is necessary to show Hero and Love Interest riding off into the proverbial sunset.

Alternatively, the same thing, but with Hero seemingly knocked out, Villain looking up victorious (false finish), only for Hero to actually be pretending and rise up to save the day (true finish).

I get it, and I get that a false finish can be a good plot point. I’m just not sure it’s there in every great story. In fact, outside the Action and possibly Romance genres, I’m struggling to think of many examples. I’ve read that if you want to study story structure, movies are just as useful as novels, but even in the movies, I’m short on examples outside those genres. Stand By Me has one: they find the body (false finish), Ace arrives and they stand up to him (true finish), but I’ve gone through an awful lot of movies in my head to find that one.

Can you help me with other examples of the false finish? Do you think it’s really imperative? I’d love to hear from you.

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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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Plan B

Every once in a while last year, I looked back at my targets for the year to see how well I was doing. The answer, to be honest, is not that well. At the beginning of the year, I had a lot of writing ambitions, then in February I discovered I was pregnant, and a combination of physical impairment and too much to do put paid to a lot of my plans. I had to back out of NaNoWriMo entirely, and a lot fo other plans went by the board too.

Now that Sebastian is here, and more settled, I have clawed my way back to three blog-posts a week and I’m starting to find time to write (indeed, breathe!) again. Having said that, things are different, and will undoubtedly keep changing as his needs and habits change. So, I need to be flexible in what I want to achieve.

At the moment, I’m finding more time to read than before – because I sometimes read to him and he doesn’t care what I’m reading, so I’ve got through a couple of novels and I’m now deep into How Fiction Works by James Wood. However, I’m not going to assume this will continue – it won’t be long before Sebastian is ready to take a more active part in the reading process, and then we’ll be on to Where’s Spot, which is hardly going to extend my literary experience very far. I would, however, like to read more this year than I managed last.HFW

spot

Apart from this blog, I would also like to work on more writing. This is where the dilemma arose. Last year, I tried to do a bit of everything. I wanted to submit every month again, edit Booker’s Seven and/or Eric AND write new pieces – in particular my nano novel. The result of these broad ambitions, coupled with the distractions mentioned above, was a lot of nothing.

I stopped submitting in the late spring, and the only new pieces I really created were here online. As for Booker’s Seven, I gave them a good go, but the feedback I received boils down to this:

For experimental pieces, they are good, with some well-written parts. The exercise was a worthy one, and didn’t fail. However, the stories should be viewed as exercises rather than stories to be polished and submitted … and you should put them away and focus on the latter if you’re serious about getting published. In short, not your best work.

Given that none of the other six writers involved completed the exercise, it’s not going to go anywhere as a project, so I’m going to heed this advice. A couple of them, Robin Hood in particular, are probably salvageable as short stories for submission, but salvageable, not complete as they stand. Others, to be honest, need to be consigned to the “Proof I shouldn’t meddle in this genre” folder.

I decided last year that Eric needed a little longer to ferment before I could bring him out for editing. I’m sticking by that this year.

So, what am I going to do? Well, at the risk of taking on too much, I have two plans for 2013. The first is to take out and look at Phoenix Fire. It was my first ever novel-length draft and has some definite issues. It needs more than tweaking at the edges – I think some serious rewriting is required, and a vicious attack with the editing pencil. However, I’ve let it rest for a couple of years now, and I think it might be time to bring it out and give that a go. Before I start, I’m going to formulate a plan for HOW to edit it, which I’ll hopefully be sharing with you in a week or two.

I don’t want to ditch the idea of submitting altogether, but I think I need something new to submit. I’m also conscious that the stories I write here are very short, and I do want to exercise my ability to sustain a story for more than a few hundred words. So I’d like to try to submit something once a month again, but it might have to be once every two months or a little flexible. I’m hoping that writing to prompts and word counts will help me to write new stories and vary the length I write.

I’ll let you know how it goes, but please leave a comment if you have any suggestions for any of the above, especially how to return to a first draft after a few years away – I don’t want to squander the fresh perspective that time should have given me!

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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 #4 – Planning Backwards

This is one type of planning I’ve never done, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work well for certain types of novel. For example, take a story with a crucial final scene – a great reveal which pulls together all the rest of the book. I’m not just talking about the ending of any book here, but specific types. Think, for example, Hercule Poirot, pulling all the characters into the Drawing Room and revealing the murderer. Alternatively, think about a major twist, whereby we suddenly realise that the main character is dead, or is Keyser Soze, or whatever.

These sorts of story revolve so much around that final reveal, that it could be argued you need to write the reveal before you can do anything else. It’s not how Agatha Christie did it, but many crime writers certainly go into the story knowing exactly whodunnit, how and why, and if that’s how you work, then starting at the end might be a good outlining method for you.

Here’s how…

Step 1: The Solution

Work out, clearly, and with diagrams and research if necessary, exactly what the solution is, how and why it happened, and – crucially – why this wasn’t immediately apparent at the beginning. Who was hiding something? How much will you just be playing on readers’ expectations?

Step 2: The Reveal

Decide how you want to get the solution across to readers. Do you want to do something formulaic, like pulling all the characters into one room? Do you want to have a sleuth-type character work it out, or someone who comes in knowing nothing about the background and has it all explained to him at the end? Will you reveal the solution through action, conversation or exposition? Plan the reveal scene in detail – you might even want to write it out in full (bearing in mind it will need a substantial rewrite by the time you’ve finished the rest of the novel).

Step 3: The Clues

The best mystery novels, and the best plot twists, give the readers half a chance to solve it before the reveal. For some readers, this will give them a sense of achievement when they do, for others it will give them a sense of recognition and of having been dealt with fairly when they realise that they should have known all along, but didn’t. They will want to read back and pick out all the clues and sneaky pointers you left along the way, whcih they missed at the time.

Think about how you might set up clues to the solution throughout the novel. Things people might say which have a double meaning, descriptions which point towards the solution, etc.

Step 4: The Red Herrings

Having sorted out the pointers you’re going to give everyone to the RIGHT answer, think about the traps you’ll lay to take them away from it. How can you keep them guessing, make other solutions seem possible, and then at the last minute, impossible. In a murder mystery, this could be other suspects, or apparent attempts on the life of the murderer herself. It might also include a list of things you DON’T show but allow the reader to assume – if your narrator is in prison, for example, you might mention them getting up, meeting friends, lining up for lunch, but miss out the things which would place those activities in a cell block.

Step 5: The Beginning

Finally, you can work out where the story starts. For a story with a twist, this is going to be where you set up all the misunderstandings you rely on for the rest of the novel; in a murder mystery, it’s probably the discovery of a body, or pretty close to it. Although not always, you might have Poirot bumble through some preparations for Christmas and if you’re Agatha Christie, people will still read on and make their way to the murder scene!

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