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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

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Writing

So, I’m working on edits for my Novel Now Finished…..

…..and have knocked out more than thirteen chapters (and leaving approximately thirty more to go).  Things are changing, words are being cut (sometimes whole paragraphs) and so far, I’ve removed more than 5000 words (which is about 22 or 23 pages).  I don’t delete these random sentences or passages – I keep them.  I put them on a separate Word document, in case there’s a gem of an idea for a scene, either in this story or the next one.

You just never know.

Sometimes the notes from my editor are simple enough for me to make the necessary changes without a lot of thought.  I dive in, make changes that not only clean up the scenes, but bring in a richer feel, as well.  Other times, it’s like pulling teeth and I’m staring at the computer screen, with my eyes glazing over.

You know. Like this:

This is the face of a writer in edits.

One of the things I’m hoping to incorporate into the Narrator are the aspects of someone who is on the autism spectrum, specifically, Asperger’s Syndrome.  This was a personal decision, one I had posed to my editor.  I’m an Aspie, myself, and I’ve never been shy about explaining this to the people around me. [1]  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, being frank about it helps me to navigate the world.

As for my story, I’d been considering writing about an Aspie character and in many ways, the Narrator in Novel Now Finished fits the bill perfectly.

Am I comfortable cannibalizing elements of my life for a story?  Of course I am.  There are things from my life that I’ve put into my stories that demanded to be there.  The more I resisted adding personal bits, the more they wound themselves into it.  So, in they went.

And as I go through Novel Now Finished, I’ll be looking for places to accentuate her Asperger’s characteristics, whether it’s her speech or her focused attention on a particular goal.  I’m also going to look at my own particular habits and peculiarities, in order to flesh the Narrator out a little more, ground her in reality.

It should be interesting.

Writing usually is.

[1] I make sure to identify my Aspie-ness in a moment that seems ideal, usually, when the conversation has gone from superficial politeness to an actual conversation, where the other person and I are getting to know each other a little better.  Most of the time, this engenders an acceptance from the other person.  Most of the time.

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So, I’m working on Novel Now Finished revisions……

…….adding snippets of information back into the story and taking a section that’s summarized and make it into a full-fledged scene.  The snippets are back in, after a couple of tense hours of wrestling with phrasing and word placement.  That was easy compared to what I now have to do with the summarized bit that needs to be a full on scene.

First, I had to print out the pages that contain all that summarizing.  Why?  Because it’s long enough that it actually requires its own scene.  Therefore, it’s too long to remember it without hard copy to reference.  Having a hard copy makes it easier to transform the summary into an active scene.  I will most likely be writing this out in long-hand, in a hand dandy notebook that I keep in my backpack.  I don’t like carrying my laptop around for something that I’ll most likely be spending more time thinking about than writing about.

The Manuscript in Question.

Simple, right?

It gets complicated.

How does it get complicated, you ask?  It’s just a summarized form of the action, it should be easy to flesh out.  You’ve got a pen, a notebook, the printed copy of the necessary pages.  There are ideas swirling and creative juice going.

How is that complicated?

I’m glad you asked.

I still need to figure out who’s Point of View this is being told from.  Is it the retired captain?  The vagabond?  The lovesick girl?  The vampire in the basement?  Professor Plum in the library with the knife?

So many questions……

So, after six years with nothing but an idea…..

…….a time frame, and one chapter, I finally found the story to the sequel to Secrets & Howls.  If Novel Now Finished gave me insight to its own sequel (and it did), as well as the first couple of pages, then I feel confident that it also gave me a window into two characters that featured prominently in S&H.

And I’m excited about that, because I genuinely like these characters.  I’d like to get to know their story better, of how they met, how they became lovers and what led to their decision to have their relationship play out as it did.  The questions I have for them run deep and I suspect that more than one surprise will happen when I finally dig in.  Of course, there will be plot threads from S&H running throughout the sequel.  Those threads will be tying into different time-frames that I’d set up for the world of Wolf’s Head Bay.

Some threads will be tied into a neat and tidy knot, others will serve to create more questions to be answered in succeeding books.  As is my plan for my other series, I’m planning five books total for the village of Wolf’s Head Bay, with a few short stories thrown in.  I have an overview of how my supernaturally themed stories tie in to each other and I think that’s why I like them so much.  These stories have a kind of depth that is demanded of me, and so I throw everything into them, including the kitchen sink. [1]

I’m interested in seeing how this sequel turns out.  One scene meant for S&H is being utilized in this story, but with some minor differences.  I keep everything I write, in part because these cut bits are really good when I read them.  And they got cut because, as it evolved, these bits no longer served the story.  But I knew I could use them elsewhere.

And I did.  And now it’s time to find out what happens next.

What secrets lie hidden in this small, coastal village?

[1] Not really, but it feels like it.

So, I finished revisions on Novel Now Finished…….

…….and I feel pretty good about it.  Granted, I merged to short chapters to make a more robust single chapter, effectively losing one.  And I had to go through the tedious process of re-naming two minor characters and almost missed a couple of places.  Also, there was the general clean-up of the timeline and removal of dialogue that conflicted with said timeline.

The Manuscript in Question.

Still, it was well worth the effort and I feel very pleased.  As soon as I’m able and depending on availability, it then goes back to my editor with her laser gaze and keen intellect.  If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have gotten Novel Now Finished to its current state.

Now, as I set it aside once more to percolate, I’ve found myself thinking about two characters who appear only once.  They have a short scene that takes place in 1924 and both characters figure prominently in my first published novel, Secrets & Howls.

Outside the narrator of Novel Now Finished, they are my favorite characters.  I’m fascinated with their relationship, their passion and their places in the world.  In Secrets & Howls, they are older, wiser and still very much in love with each other, though they live their lives separately, a choice that seems to suit them.  In Novel Now Finished, they are young and impetuous, bold and secure.

I think they deserve their own story.  I want to get to know them and their world a little better and see how their lives unfold.  Maybe a short story, or a novella.  It needs to be something that will compliment the world I’m building.

Something to chew on, anyway.

So, I’m about thirty chapters into Novel Now Finished revision…..

……and it’s going.  I’ve finally worked out the timeline of the novel from beginning to end and it comes out to about a week.  While there’s a lot going on, the bulk of the action seems to be happening on the weekend, beginning on Friday and ending on Monday.

A lot always seems to happen on the weekend.

Had I thought about it a little more, I would have set up Novel Now Finished much in the same way that I had set up Secrets & Howls.  In that book, I had designed it to take place over the course of a week.  To clarify this point, I placed an independent page stating the day of the week, followed by the chapters that took place over the course of that day and then ended the day with a segment of a letter from 1852.  Then it would start all over again, until the novel ended with the final fragment from 1852.

But it was also a different kind of story than Novel Now Finished, which had always felt more fluid with its time than structured.  This is in part due to the fact that Secrets & Howls is told primarily in third person, with the ability to dip into the lives of various other characters and places without breaking the narrative.  Novel Now Finished is told in first person and, with very few exceptions, remains that way throughout.

Still, in keeping a timeline for any novel, it helps to keep the story’s continuity flowing and if you’re really on top of it, you’ll catch errors before it goes into print.  Whether it’s in third, first or second Point of View, it’s a helpful aid in keeping track of your characters and their actions within the story.

All I can say now is, whew!

The Manuscript in Question.

 

So, I’m revising Novel Now Finished…..

……and apparently, it decided that, yes, there is indeed a timeline.  Which I already knew about, because the bulk of the story takes place a few weeks before summer.  I wasn’t particular about the exact dates beyond the number of days between separate incidents.  And for the most part, it seemed to work swimmingly.

Except, now I’m going through and cutting needless words and cleaning up paragraphs that are left behind.  And the more I cut and revise and clean up, the clearer the story becomes.  And the clearer the story gets, the more details I’m finding about the timeline.  Vague, throwaway lines like “Oh, it happened a few days ago” will find it harder to survive.  Concise statements like “It was on Sunday” will take over.

So now, I’ve got a Word document in place to keep track of the timeline and help minimize confusion (which would be mine). This will also help keep it clear and concise for readers (which would be you, if I may be so lucky).  As of today, I’ve managed to track one week, beginning with a case of vandalism.  It’s a few sentences long, with the timeline basically being the day of the week, followed by a dash (-) and a short sentence describing the event that occurred on that day.

I haven’t decided on actual dates beyond the month, but that will change at some point.  I’m a little over a hundred pages into the revision as I write this blog, but as I go along, that timeline will grow and become as detailed as necessary.

And then I’ll go back and do it all over again.

The Manuscript in Question.

So, I’ve been brushing up on my editing skills…..

…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel.  It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.

There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”.  But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.

Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched.  Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath.  Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.

My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter.  And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions.  It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously.  I feel confident in that skill again.  And I plan to move forward and keep doing it.  Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.

Complementary skills, writing and editing.  And useful.

Suggested reading:
On Writing by Stephen King

So, I’m plugging along on my Ancient Greek Comedy….

……and I can feel the tangents wanting to take off and create something new.  This is exciting to me, because it means that this play has a lot to say, that there’s more depth to it than I had originally anticipated.  But because these tangents are too nebulous and without form, I’m making them wait until this revision is finished.

I know, I know, I’m being terribly mean to these tangents.  I mean, they only want to help my Ancient Greek comedy become something truly magnificent.

And I can’t argue with that, because I want the same thing.  Still, this revision has to happen first and then the tangents can come in and do as they please.  If it makes anyone feel any better about it, I write these tangents down to remember them.  That is, if there’s something solid enough to write down.

In any case, I’m delighted to see characters that I’d written out make their way back in,  One character has regained his speech after I took it away from him.  Issues that I have strong ideas and feelings about are working their way in, which is only right.  Theater, and the arts in general, are about exploring ideas (good, bad, ugly) and politics and feelings.  The arts are here to make us think, not just make us feel.  There is something at work within the confines of this play that I can’t readily identify, but it’s exciting to me.

And that’s a very good thing.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

So, I’ve begun a new notebook of ideas……

……for the sequel to Novel Now Finished.  This is new territory for me, because I’ve never actually written a true sequel before.  I’ve written many stories that developed into multiple novels (written or in summary form), but never upon completing a manuscript.  I know who’s returning, who’s new to the story and I even have a story to go with the idea.

I’d known from the start that this would be a five-book arc – I didn’t want to write more than that involving these characters.  Part of that is because of my own experiences in reading several different series – by the time I get to book six, I’m bored and wishing the whole thing had been wrapped up in the previous book.  This is not the fault of the writer – I’ve read many authors whose series spanned multiple titles and have always enjoyed them.  But lately, my attention span has petered out at book five and I’d rather leave my audience wanting more than losing their interest (this is also an old theater saying).

While writing Novel Now Finished, I had no idea of how I was going to carry this character into another book, let alone four more.  I don’t usually plan my stories out to the tiniest detail nor do I use an outline – I tried the outline once and found it to be more of a hindrance than in any way helpful.  [1]  I was a little worried about how I was going to stretch this character’s story out beyond this one novel, regardless of how much I enjoyed her world.

The idea came to me while I was rearranging a snippet in Novel Now Finished – a simple image of the character standing at the entrance of a seldom used road.  Suddenly, I had an idea of what the story would be, of what the mystery would entail and who was going to be involved.  I also knew that there would be some character dynamics at play that I hadn’t tried before, so I’m curious to see how that works out.

And a few days ago, I wrote the first page of what’s to eventually become the sequel to Novel Now finished.

The character showed me what’s going to happen next in her story.  Now all I have to do is pay attention and write it.

The Manuscript in Question.

[1] I’m not suggesting that outlining or planning out a story to the smallest detail is wrong in general, just wrong for me, specifically.  If it works for you, then by all means, keep doing it.

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