Archive for the ‘Revision Techniques in Writing’ Category

Losing Your Way in Your Novel

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Question: I’m in the middle of writing my novel. Help! I’m stuck. I know what is going to happen later, but I’m not sure how to get there. I’ve lost track of some of my story. What do I do?

Writing a novel with characters and their various problems without a plan is like driving with a flashlight in the fog. It’s exactly how I write. It’s one process. But even if you don’t plot every moment in advance – - and many authors don’t, there are techniques that help us.

After you’ve written scenes or chapters, create a diagram or at least various pages of your threads and subplots. Where do you character’s lives intertwine? How will your symbols re-enter the story?

Mystery author Camille Minichino uses colored markers to help her stay organized. Anne Lammott wrote about stringing a clothesline across her office and clipping important novel notes there. One friend of mine use color-coded cards: one for characters, another for symbols, and a third for subplots. What is my device? I have lists around my office that only make sense to me.

Next, the stuck problem. Once you’ve got a list of characters and their conflicts, you’ll want to increase suspense as much as you can. Prove your main character’s life is filled with emotion and difficulties. Which characters and problems can you throw at your protagonist to reveal depth of your main character with relevance to your plot?

To keep from writing stock characters and bland stories, you won’t create these lists before you write but after your quirky characters have sprung from your creativity.

Writing Prompts:

1. Check your scenes. Do you have a small moment that is memorable? Important truths are found here. Don’t tell them. Show them through the sensory details and the character’s thoughts and actions.

2. Change a scene you already have written into poetry. Use as few words as possible. Next, put it back into prose. How many words do you REALLY need in this scene?

3. Write a chapter where your protagonist has a small epiphany. What has she learned through something she has experienced in the scene?

On Writing Crappy and Writing Great (or at Least Better)

Friday, May 24th, 2013

I guess reporters don’t know which column will be published when, or else the California Writers Club Young Writers Contest article and photo just didn’t make it into my edition of the Contra Costa Times on May 23.  Next time I’ll only post it here when I see it in the paper myself. 

***

As I’ve been working on a project, I’ve found myself being concerned with the marketing aspect and how the publicist would  react to the story.  After the day’s work, I closed my computer and purposely didn’t re-read my words. 

The next morning, I printed out my chapter and took a clipboard to revise and work on another scene.  Reading what I had written, my jaw dropped.  Who was this stilted writer who had composed these awkward sentences?  Do I know this person?  Where did she come from? If she was in my writing class, I’d take her aside and tell her to forget the final phases of book production, and free herself by going back to the basics.  Think about character!  Relax.  Wonder about the story, don’t let the final outcome block the writing process.

I set aside my previous day’s disaster, and started over.  This time, I let my mind wander over my characters and their world.  “No worries,”  I told myself.  “Have fun with these people.  Get to know them.  You don’t have to write the very next chapter.  Just write a scene where they talk to each other. What’s the worst problem they can get into together?  What will they do?”

Writing Prompts:

1.  What is a dramatic or interesting conflict you can have your character get into?  Can it somehow be based on her greatest fear?

2.  What emotion does your scene evoke?  What do you want your reader to feel?

3.  What is the motivation for why the characters in your scene act the way they do?

4.  Write about your characters BEFORE this scene.  What is their back story?

5.  Within your writing, can you locate where you are showing and where you are telling?  Highlight the telling.  If you have too much highlighting, where can you show in a scene rather than tell?  Or where can you cut out the telling all together?  If it doesn’t move your story forward, cut it out.

Workshop on Writing the Novel in Contra Costa County

Monday, April 8th, 2013

WORKSHOP & BUFFET LUNCHEON

Architecture of Long Works in Fiction and Nonfiction

Saturday, April 13, 2013

9am to 1:30pm

Jane Vandenburgh is the author of two novels, the award-winning Failure to Zigzag and The Physics of Sunset. Her nonfiction includes the memoir A Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century and The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance, a memoir recently published by Counterpoint Press.

Based on many years of teaching writing, Jane wrote Architecture of the Novel on the craft of structuring the longer narrative.

From it she will share such tips as:

*The elemental nature of narrative: a story consists of its events, told in scenes

*Placing scenes along the natural arc of the story in an order that provides suspense and mystery

*Drawing characters toward the inevitability of their destinies

*The maps and mechanics of any long work

Sign-in is 9 – 9:30 am, workshop 9:30 – 12:15, and luncheon from 12:30 to 1:30 pm Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA. Registration is $35, or $40 for non-CWC members; contact Jean Georgakopoulos at jeaniegpops@comcast.net, or phone 925-934-5677 for reservations.

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

A week ago, my husband and I took a couple of days and drove to Santa Cruz, one of our favorite towns to wander about communing with sea lions and pelicans, eating clam chowder at Stagnaro Brothers, and people-watching throughout this wonderful community. The locals here were able to support their fabulous independent bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz and close the large chain one who moved in to close them.  Hurrah Santa Cruz! 

We stayed in a motel we often visited when our son was young, but we hadn’t been there in years.  Away from the bustling crowds at the beach, the motel is quiet, not outrageously expensive or especially classy, but it suits our needs just fine. 

Settling into the room, I began unpacking, but paused as I heard my husband chuckling. 

“Liz, take a look at this,” he said, gesturing to our surroundings. 

The left side of the room had been painted maroon with blood-red flowers stenciled along the top near the ceiling.  A print hung near the desk with matching colors; the bedding corresponded too.  But the sliding glass door’s curtain shouted bold green, along with its wall.  I swear I heard loud screeching in my ears just  like I did whenever I walked by a middle school band room during a practice session. 

“So the question is, did they forget or run out of money?”  I asked as we laughed at the look the decorator achieved. 

When you think you are finished with your writing, it might only be half done. Set it aside for a while.  Your eyes have grown accustomed to seeing it and you might miss those big, bold errors that are glaring to everyone else.  Later, read it aloud to yourself.  Print out the pages for revision.  A paper copy is tangible and real.   After that make your computer corrections. 

Do you have too much narration?  This technique works best for your less dramatic scenes.  When it’s emotionally important, slow-down-the-moment with your senses with action, reaction, thoughts and dialogue. 

Highlight your favorite parts of your manuscript.   Why are they your favorites? 

Analyze the rest of your piece to discover how you can make this writing as resonant as your best, favorite parts. 

Don’t over-use tags.  If it is clear who is talking, you may not need to say “he said,”“she said.”

Do you have “pet” words?  If certain words come up over and over again, get rid of them!

If you were reading this in published book or magazine, what questions would you have?  Critique it as a reader, not as you, the author.  This is where the “giving it time” will help you.  If you’re still too close to it and can’t revise, call in a trusted colleague or pay for a professional editor to help you.

And finally this from George V. Higgins from On Writing:  “Reading your work aloud, even silently, is the most astonishingly easy and reliable method that there is for achieving economy in prose, efficiency of description, and narrative effect as well.  Rely upon it; if you can read it aloud to yourself without wincing, you have probably gotten it right.”

Writing Prompts:

  1. Revise one of your older manuscripts you THOUGHT was already perfect.  How can you make it better?
  2. Meet with another writer and revise the other person’s manuscript.  Share some of your favorite revision tips.
  3. Write something new inspired by this time of year.  Look around you for ideas.  The first object you see outside – - the first word or photo in the newspaper – - the first page in a book you open that is near you can be a prompt for a story.  Write as many drafts as you need on your computer and then print it out.  Revise with a pencil and then go back to the computer for another draft.  Did printing it out help you find more ways to improve your writing?

************

For those of you children’s book lovers, here is a great link for you:

The Kirkus List of Best 100 Books for Children of This Year

 https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/2012-best-of/section/children/=