50,000 words of leftover casserole

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^^This is why I only wrote one blog post in November.^^

NaNoWriMo was hard this year. There were a few days, lumped together, that I didn’t write anything. Playing catch-up really killed the creative juices.

During the last two days of the month, I had to write 10,000 words to reach my goal. To me, that’s five chapters. Five! Those last words I wrote are comparable to mashing all of the Thanksgiving leftovers into one big glob of chunky casserole.

Early on, I’d prepared a nice, detailed grocery list, recipes, and outline for my Thanksgiving feast of words. See my outline HERE. I prepared for my meal all month and lovingly sprinkled words here and there like seasoned salt and pumpkin pie spice. They were glorious and touched on all of my senses. “Writing is the best thing ever!” I thought over and over, when I was naive and visions of delicious words consumed my thoughts.

The deadline drew closer and I still flitted around the kitchen with a smile, writing words that were beautiful to behold.

But soon it got sweaty in the kitchen. I couldn’t cook up the words as quickly as I had. The flavors began to muddle together. But I kept at it. I cinched my apron tight and pulled up my sleeves. I was determined to create something edible. The timer dinged just after I put on the last of the edible embellishments.

Edible is relative. Everyone has different tastes. I shrugged my aching shoulders and sampled my feast of words.

It stinks. The turkey is dry. The mashed potatoes are blobs of goo. My delicious novel is finished, yes, but it is dripping with plot holes, spelling mistakes, and red ink. Even the crust of the pumpkin pie is burnt!

It stinks BIG time.

But unlike a ruined feast, I can go back and fix things. I can take out and add and make it delicious. I can deconstruct the stinky casserole! The words are at least there. The concept, outline, and rough draft are there. I can clear the air and put gravy on the dry turkey. Pumpkin pie is better loaded up with whip cream and without the crust anyway, right?

After NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a post on how to edit your novel. It is called “Whip it into shape.”  Here is the link.

I can fix this feast of a novel because I am determined to make it delicious!

Happy writing (and editing)

  • Tara

Info Dumping

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Last month while I was at a critique group, before I began to read my chapter out loud, I asked for them to look for Info Dumps. When I was finished I asked if anyone noticed any. Each person shook their head and said no. Phew, my little plan worked.

I had actually inserted a ton of info into the scene, but no one even noticed. The reason for this is because I turned it into a conversation between two and then three people.

I will describe what an info dump is.

Info dumps are chunks of information “dumped” into the story to bring in back story or information. They usually stop the story and interrupt the flow. They are often author footnotes that the author feels the reader needs to know. More often then not, it doesn’t sound like the character and feels like information shoved into where it doesn’t belong. The reader might begin to daydream or think “why is the author telling me this now?” Blah, blah, blah. An Information Dump occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative. Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. Blah, Blah, (have I lost you yet?) In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase “Previously on [name of series]”. blah, blah, blah (Half of this paragraph are my words, other half was found in Wikipedia)

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“What did you just explain to me?” the person sitting at the computer asked with glazed over eyes.

“An Info Dump,” I replied.

“What is an Info Dump?”

“When the author crams in a bunch of unnecessary detail that makes the reader bored to death,” I answered simply.

***See, isn’t that basically what I needed to say?***

??? How to fix Info Dumps ???

* For me the best way to fix this problem is to include large amounts of information into a dialogue or better yet, an argument between characters. This way, characters can debate and you can sprinkle in inner dialogue and body language to show the reader more details about the scene. Of course, don’t have the conversation last forever either. Interrupt the characters, etc. The scene will then become fast paced and, like the above example with my critique partners, people seem to not even notice.

* You can also sprinkle bits of information and knowledge along the way so it doesn’t become one long piece of narrative.

* You can have the info dump become a problem between characters that brings in tension. The scene and characters can change and react as more bits of information and backstory are revealed.

* Try introducing an uninformed character. This person comes into your novel mainly to uncover details and history. You can bring information into your story by having your characters explain things to this new innocent person.

* Relate the information to what is currently going on in the novel. Have your tangents be current in the storyline. Maybe something happens to your character that sparks a short memory therefore causing a conversation starting with “remember when…”

Sharing information in your novel is a balancing act between giving the reader enough information that they don’t become confused — and not giving them too much that they become frustrated and bored.

To illustrate my point, here is a tidbit from my work in progress.

*******

“Sage?” He was looking at me with eyebrows raised.

“Huh?” I asked. “Did you ask something?”

He rolled his eyes, “I asked if you have seen many wolves when you’ve been out.”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat and sat taller in my saddle. Good, small talk is good. “Not lately, but I’ve seen clues that the packs are growing bigger.”

He nodded. “Do you remember after all the lawsuits and debates, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995?”

I shrugged and he continued, “it was before we were born, but I remember my Dad cursing those dang wolves. He would always get a healthy check from Defenders of Wildlife from their compensation fund. His livestock decreased by 50% because of the wolves.” He adjusted his wide brim cowboy hat.

I smiled. I always loved it when he did that.

He shook his head not knowing I was watching him. “And that was years and years ago. I worry that they have a monopoly over the food supply.” He continued, “Did you know. . .”

I settled down into my saddle. Whenever he started a sentence with “did you know,” it was a sure sign that you’d learn something cool, so might as well get comfortable. Joe knew a lot about a lot of things, especially those issues he was passionate about. He was always reading from the countless books of my fathers. I knew this was going to be a long debate or lesson in wolves.

“. . . the gray wolf is one of the world’s most well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other animal  I found all these awesome old black and white sketches of wolves in Yellowstone before 1926. Because, you know, that’s when the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone.”

“Hmm, interesting.” I said wondering where he was going with this.

His eyes lit up when he realized I was kind of contributing to this conversation. “Well, when the wolves were no longer here, the elk population boomed.” He lifted up his hands and spread them out. “I mean so large that they unbalanced the local ecosystem.”

“That’s weird, how so?” I asked.

“The herds grew so large that when they grazed over the meadows and river beds, they trampled over all the new-growth and small trees. So in the end, that’s why the decision to reintroduce wolves won out.” He was quiet for a while as we watched night drip around us. “So in essence, wolves have the power to change the land. They are an apex predator, only humans are their real threat. But I am afraid, because now — there are more wolves then there are humans.”

 *******

This was also pre-edit. I will slim even more of this conversation to just get to the bones of the information. I left it in so you could see the full conversation. I would love to hear if any of you have other ways that you avoid the info dump. 🙂

Have a good day 🙂

-Tara

Whip It Into Shape

It only took me around eight months to write my novel Broken Smiles.

It took me three years to edit the same novel.

Yes it was my first book that I finished to the end, and part of that was the submission process, but towards the end, before I signed the contract, I was ready to shelf the dang thing. In fact, I did.

It was discovered because I submitted my second book, a Christmas novella, “Eight Birds for Christmas” into a few Christmas competitions. It was rejected by some, but I also had a couple publishers interested. When it came time to sign contracts, I sent in my full novel on a whim and said, “here’s something else I have finished.” Right away the publisher I ended up going with wanted to get started on Broken Smiles first and then release Eight Birds for Christmas during the holidays. So that’s what happened.

I guess the moral to that story is, after you have done all you can do and enlisted the help of others in your circle, if it’s your best possible work with where you are now… don’t give up. I almost did.

With NaNoWriMo (click to find out more) finishing up last week, I want to talk about editing. I have done that crazy, whirlwind writing competition a couple times before. One year I finished, another year, life got too busy and I only ended up with 35,000 words. That type of writing is so fun for me. Turning off the editorial brain thrills me and the words seem to bleed easily. But then comes December and you are left with a mess of a story. For months you revise, edit, and slash those words into something readable.

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Below is my editing process. I am much more faster now, and my circle of people who help me has grown, but I think that this can apply to anyone on their own personal writing path.

* Before you begin the editing process, you need to learn track changes in Word perfect. There is only one person who I print full copies for, and that is because she is fabulous and old school. Other than that, everyone else edits with track changes. It really is a great tool and has sped up the process tremendously. Plus it helps save trees!

* First – I must admit… I have a secret weapon… My mother. I mean, just look at some of the pages she sends back to me!

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She is not your typical mother when it comes to cheering your book baby on. Yes, she is kind and loving, but she is also critical and looks at it with an editorial eye. Whenever I send her pages, I imagine her arming herself with pen as a sword as she prepares for battle. Also, she has written eight books and edits for other authors.

So my first bit of advise is to ask yourself “who is your secret weapon?” Is it a fellow critique partner, neighbor, friend? Someone who owes you a huge favor. (because that is exactly what this is) Who is willing to look at your very first draft after you have done all you can do to whip it into shape? That person is key because they will get you to the next step, which is…

* Second –  Alpha readers. (If you don’t have a secret weapon, this takes place) I feel sorry for these guys, really I do. They are given a mess because they are given your second draft. I say second because the first draft should be all on you. Do not waste your Alpha readers time by giving them a complete piece of junk. Just kind of waste their time by giving them kind of a piece of junk. First drafts have heaps of problems and these poor people who you asked to help, hopefully know what they are getting into. These people find holes in your story and help with content and overall story line. I think they usually catch blaring line edits as well. But mostly they are readers who read a lot and know the basics, not necessarily writers.

* The time I spent between my Alpha and Beta readers spanned over a couple years for my first novel. I am faster now, but it was a huge learning experience for me and I went through the roller coaster of wondering if what I wrote was any good. I bit the bullet and hired a content editor during this time. She helped me slash 30,000 words, moved chapters, and killed many of my darlings. I suggest you hire a content editor before a line editor. Do your research when finding an editor. You want someone thorough and who will almost make you cry, but also will cheer you on. It can be very daunting when opening up track changes and seeing that almost every line, I mean every line, has either a comment or change to accept or delete. Oh, and as a side note, keep track of your different drafts. Hide the past drafts within a folder in a deep dark corner of your computer so you won’t get confused. Rename the drafts back and forth to your editor with numbers or dates.

* Third – Beta readers. These people get your polished draft. Once you have gone over the harsh edits from your Alphas or secret weapons, and the editors (both content and line) it’s time to move to the next level. After you have gotten over the shock of realizing your story might suck, these Betas can help revive hope again. They usually are experienced writers or people who work in the business. After you have gone over the returned suggestions from your Betas, this is when you submit to agents and publishers. Or, I am guessing this is when you self-publish your novel. Although, if I was to self-publish, I think I would hire a different editor to look at the final, final draft before it goes live.

* When you get an agent or a publisher, the process starts all over again. And oh yea, there will be deadlines! Doesn’t that sound like the funnest thing ever! I couldn’t believe the things my publisher and new team of editors, proofers, and readers found. For that very reason, I was glad that I traditionally published first. I now know that you can never be done editing. I think some people jump the gun too early when it comes to self-publishing.

* The final step is releasing it into the wild unknown. By this time you will have become so sick of looking at the words of your manuscript, that you will hardly remember the storyline. It all becomes a blur of punctuation, adjectives, nouns, run-on sentences, point of view issues, etc… By this time and after all that hard work, next you become a marketer. And if you thought editing was fun and relaxing — you just wait!

I don’t want to discourage anyone. I have never learned so much in my life — not in school, or college, or from any book. It is a whirlwind of information that is hard to explain until you go through it. It is an exciting journey that should be enjoyed. Yes it can be stressful at times, but you come out changed and better at the craft.

One of the main things to not change during this process, is to constantly be a humble student. Don’t ever let your head get so big that you are unteachable. There is always something more to learn or another way to see things being done. Just last month I went to a conference and sat through a class that was titled “how to write your first draft.” I learned so much because the presenter shared examples and things I had never heard of before. So now, as I tackle a new work in progress, I am armed with yet another tool of the trade.

Best of luck as you edit your book!

-Tara