How Far Will You Go?


Last week, an acquaintance of mine challenged me and I couldn’t refuse.  It was what I needed.  My ability to move this third book along, as in adding at least 1,000 words per day has been nothing short of a daunting task.   I can’t seem to quit spinning in circles over the first 35 pages, reworking the beginning sentence ad nauseum along with every other word.

It’s all about getting the story down, and then going back to edit/revise, but you can’t do that until you know the story you’re trying to write.  And, my brain seemed to have stalled somewhere at the beginning.  Therefore, when she said, “you write, I’ll paint, and lets see where we are at the end of the week,” it was exactly what I needed.  Accountability to SOMEONE with just a little push to it.   I said, “you’re on!” and off we went.  But, in a strange twist, this challenge ended up giving me something unexpected and it had nothing to do with increasing word count, but rather just the opposite.

I didn’t write 1,000 wpd, but I did come close.  By the end of the week, I was quite satisfied to have added 3,500, and my word count had crept up from 7,500 to just over 11,000.  It felt good to look down to see that I’d surpassed a goal that seemed like it would never come – that first 10,000 words.

Like many writers, once something is down on “paper,” I have to step back from it and, well, I stew.  I’m really good at that, the old stewing thing.  It comes with the muttering, and mumbling, the drifting around in the house, the absent minded stare at the dinner table.  When I came back to my desk, I decided to further distract myself by reading. Funny how everything I chose (like karma) focused on the things to either, 1) get the start of the story right, or 2) dig yourself out of the hole you’ve written yourself into.  Hm.

Writer’s Digest (magazine and online site) just so happened to have a great article, called “How To Start A Novel Right, 5 Great Tips.  I read that.   http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/how-to-start-a-novel-right-5-great-tips

If you don’t have access to the above link, the main thrust of the message was this:

1) Create a Doorway of No Return for your protagonist before the 1/5 mark of your book 

So, if my book was going to be 400 pages, by page 80, I needed have my protagonist in some dire situation she couldn’t avoid.  Great, I had that part nailed.

2) To deepen your descriptions, add character-defining sensory details.  (the example they gave was to not just say “she wore Chanel No. 5 perfume,” but to say, “She was wearing Chanel No. 5, like in the old days, he noticed—that sophisticated, mind-coat-and-diamonds fragrance that always quickened his pulse.)

I do pretty good at that – I think.

3)  Make secondary characters significant.  

Yep, got the neighbor involved – even if only to get her to the “Doorway of No Return.”

4) Instead of “write what you know,” try writing what you feel

I always go back and work on this in a more focused manner once I have the full draft in place.

5) At the beginning of your story, include minimal backstory. 

Big fat OOPS.

You’d think by now I would learn.  As soon as I read that, I sat back and I knew, damn it I knew it, this was the problem.  So, I went back and read what I had, and sure enough, I was drowning the thing in backstory.  Then, I tended to get into trouble trying to re-write the backstory so it didn’t seem like backstory.  I fluffed it, plumped it, tried to make it oh so important, the reader must know this kind of thing, thing.  I tried fancy words.  I tried to twist the sentences around to the point I literally obliterated my original meaning, while sinking (SINKING!) the story further into the sewer because now, I can’t even figure out what I was trying to say in the first place through all the crazy details.

What to do, what to do?  Well,  CUT IT OUT.  And, that’s exactly what I did.  I effectively removed bout 2,000 words, knocking my WIP down to just over 9,000 and virtually landing myself almost to where I’d been at the onset of said “challenge.”

But, you know what?  It actually reads better already.  I’ve reworked the first chapter, worked on the “inciting incident” and then, in Chapter Two?  I’m shoving (SHOVING!) my character into a virtual hell.  I don’t even know if that 2,000 words I wrote with all of that great flavorful description of the drab house like a gray winter sky even matters.  Yeah, it was descriptive, but 10 pages of that kind of sh– won’t hold the attention of a publishing editor for long.

So, I gotta ask, when your story is stagnating, how far will you go to get it right?

Cutting-paper-board-with-scissors

 

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11 Comments

This is good stuf. I am not sure about #2. That may be more suited for the rewrite. Make the first draft a drive-by. Start patrolling the sidewalks in the second.

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    Good one J.D….love it and agree…get those fine tuned details in after you layout the draft…

    And…where’ve you been young man?? I guess that’s the fallout from no Betsy…we’ve all scattered to the wind to some extent. Good to hear from you!

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Hey Wry! Thanks! Yeah, that #5…a real jolt of HELLO? What the foxtrot (stolen from Averil) are you doing?

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    What the ‘foxtrot’, love it.
    I’m still grinding out my columns for the weekly. I post on my new blog. It’s not much different than Wry Wryter but the day I shut that one down just seemed right. Dec. 14th was an awful day for us in Connecticut and for my family. One of my daughter’s best friends was first grade teacher Vicki Soto. It’s strange but on that day as I commented, and posted and replied and basically tried to make sense of all the shit which was flying through the blades I had to step back from the bitching and moaning on my Wry Wryter blog and put it, and that kind of stuff, to rest.
    And then of course there’s Betsy. Gee, I miss her daily missives. All those people, their comments and on-line personas, getting to know each other like a bunch of hung-over, sleep deprived misfits sitting at the counter in the local 24 hour diner each morning. Who would-of thought a 24 hour diner would close?
    Anyway, I’m lovin’ Averil. Christ she’s funny and a hell of writer.
    I’m still keepin’ on. Thanks for asking.

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      Hahahaha…did you mean what the foxtrot am I doing, as in what am I working on or, what the foxtrot am I doing as in life? Because I answered as if it’s all about me. Huh, what the foxtroy anyway.

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      I wanted to know what YOU were doing so you answered just right. I visited your blog as well. I have to say the comment your hubby made about “first you have to sell a book…” or something like that, really struck a chord here. I’ll take this “dishing” about what the foxtrot I mean over to your site…curious as to your take on it. See ya on your side of the fence in a sec!

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Great post. I’ve pretty much nailed the first four as well. #5, I’m working on right after I finish this reply.

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My best tool for writing is to NEVER LOOK BACK. Ok, so sometimes I’ll take a peek at what I wrote. But mostly, I just keep moving forward with the knowledge that I can always revise later. I keep a pad of paper next to me so I can jot down key timeline points and certain details. But mostly, I just keep going. When I get stuck, I use that time to map out where I think I want this story to go, and make notes on what the characters should do to get to that point. But really, after awhile the characters just sort of come to life and take over the story, sometimes changing everything I had planned for them.

Don’t think too hard. Just keep showing up every day. The story will be there waiting for you to let it be told. 🙂 Good luck!

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    Thanks Crissi – sage advice for sure. What I’m still astounded by at times is…it took me years to write the first book, and only five months for the second. I followed the very same method you describe above – not allowing myself too much time to look back. I don’t know what happened to me with this third one…maybe I could blame sugar overload from the holidays?? 🙂 Thanks again…

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Thanks for the provocative and for me timely post. Just read the WD Five Tips myself; still squirming at the mention of drowning in backstory. I trimmed, I swear, but deeper cuts may be in order (see how I am still trying to get around that?).

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    Hey Cyndi – thanks for the comment – I hear you – and, like you, I know I’ll probably still cut some more…at some point, What I feel better about is I think I now have it in a better place…and can move forward. Sometimes I just need that proverbial kick in the pants kind of reminder and WD’s article with that one step was it.

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