Tag Archives: writing technique

Tricks, tips, revelations, and anything else related to the art of fiction writing.

Taking a break.

Ever since I got Alpha Female back from my beta reader (who was wonderful and quick and cool about everything), I’ve been taking a bit of a break.  There were alot of things missing, due to the wordcount limit of the antho, and while I had a feeling that might be a problem, I thought possibly that I could pull it off.  I tried, right?  I made my goal of finishing the draft on time.  However, I can’t submit it because 1) it’s too long at 27k, and 2) the story would be better served by expanding it vs. cutting 2k and then trying to fill all of the holes AND keep it at 25k. 

So here’s my plan.  I’m going to expand it to about 40k and submit it to the e-publisher’s regular submissions or another e-publisher altogether.  It’s okay — the story is far darker than the antho wanted.  Sometimes a story unfolds and as it unfolds, it mutates into something else.  Also okay.  I had a feelng that was happening, and I didn’t fight it.  I trusted my muse on this one.  And, after rewriting it 3 times, I wanted to make it work this go around. 

Am I happy with this?  Actually, I am.  I learned alot about my process and got a peek at what it’s like to write to a deadline.  Obviously, there was no contract-stipulated deadline so there were no consequences to speak of, but I took it very seriously and buckled down and got it done.

The only real variation in it is that I rewrote it 3 times before finishing the draft, something I rarely ever do.  My feeling was I didn’t want to continue to write a story that feels wrong, and then have to turn around and rewrite the entire thing.  Possibly several times.  It seemed like an exercise in futility.  Normally, I’d write straight through.  But I had a deadline, so things changed a bit.

So the next thing is to expand/rewrite/edit Alpha Female, addressing the problems that my fantastic beta reader found.  And adding a few things I couldn’t fit in this go around.  I’m thinking of cutting the death of the main character’s spouse from the entire thing, or make it already happened when the novella starts, as per the original draft.  I wanted Natasha to have a reason to be emotionless and distant, and a deceased spouse could do it.  But then while writing the ending, I thought, hmmm, what if he died in the fight that injured Natasha?  Killed by the same race as the man who wants her as his mate?  Brilliant, or so I thought.  But I had a wordcount limit, so I couldn’t let it play out the way it should have been.  I could put it back in and try to make it work, or cut it altogether.  Decisions, decisions.

And then there’s Natasha being a “latent” werewolf — aka she doesn’t — can’t — shift.  My beta reader felt it was a convenient plot device, and nothing more.  I needed Natasha to have another strong reason to allow Luke to turn her — besides dying, that is.  She’s an enemy of his race, and I would think she’d balk at it — even if it saved her life.  Stupid?  Nah.  She’s just very stubborn.  So I gave her the latent thing so the idea wouldn’t be so abhorrant.  She was already part werewolf, so going that extra mile wouldn’t be so bad.  I don’t know.  In some ways it works, but then again, my beta might be right.

So that was the idea behind my break, and to rest my brain.  I’m still really tired from dragging my cast around.  And I suspect a bit burnt out, too.  I just need to recharge the batteries, you know?  Let it come, but slowly.  This weekend, I might take a crack at it.  If I feel up to it.

But what about Pirouette?  you ask.  Well — that’s happening, too.  I actually think this “rest period” has given me alot of insights.  I have the first scene somewhat figured out and a few other things.  I’m almost ready to start the big revision.  So it’s Alpha Female next, all the way to submission (my one goal for last year and this year was to submit something to someone) and then Pirouette.  Maybe some Pirouette pre-work in between.

And as usual, I got smacked upside the head with the perfect NaNo idea — except I’m not doing NaNo and I can’t do any new stuff right now.  But, it’s a doozy, and pretty unique I think.  Oh well.  It can get into line with the rest.

So…hopefully I’ll have more to report in a few weeks.


So I’ve begun the notecarding process on Pirouette.  I’m on scene 43, page 230 of a 771-page document.  Yikers.  I’m already seeing some stuff that needs fixing, tweaking, and changing.  I’m using Holly Lisle’s HTRYN notecarding for this so I can get a handle on each scene.  There are a few that I’m cutting, and quite a few so far that need help.  I knew this would help me a great deal, so this will all be worth it.

I’ve done a rough draft of the timelines and Alisia and Lucien’s and Raelan’s (the villain) arcs.  Note I say rough draft.  These should help me with getting the timing and pacing down.

This is kind of exciting and terrifying at the same time.  I’m revising a novel.  A novel that I’ve been working on for 5 years.  And I’m learning alot of new, helpful things.  It’s a process.  I can’t wait to dig in and do more, make the book better. 

On Alpha Female, I’m up to 11k and there’s a chance it might run long (no kidding, with the way I write) but I’ve been able to keep the plot tight.  As for the plot, it’s pantsing all the way for me.  Last night – or the night before, I don’t remember — I couldn’t get to sleep right away so I brainstormed.  Been doing alot of that.  My hope is that it still fits the anthology theme.  If it doesn’t, it’s not a big deal.  I can submit it elsewhere.  But it would be good to submit it to the place I originally wanted to submit it to, right?

So lots going on, although my Inner Slave Driver seems to think I’m going to slow…..

Alpha Female.

That’s the working title of the novella I’m going to write for possible inclusion in an anthology.  Deadline is Nov 1st.  I think I have enough time to do this, and it’ll give me some practice working on a deadline.

Alpha Female is set in the Pirouette world.  It’s about a Faerie assassin turned werewolf.  The protagonist, Natasha, was a character that showed up in draft 2.  She totally intrigued me, so much that when I took her out, I continued to wonder what she’d be like as a protagonist, and what her story is.  So far, it’s coming along.  I’ve given myself a starting date of August 1st.  Thing is, I’m not sure if I should pants this or not.  Typically first drafts take longer this way and need pruning.  I have just the inciting incident.  Nothing in the way of an actual plot.  Going to try to get something rough figured out, so I at least know what I’m aiming for.  Needs to be simple, as the wordcount limit is 25k.  I’ve given myself a month to write the first draft, and the rest of the time will be for critting and revision/rewrites.  Kind of tight, but we’ll see how it goes.  It’ll be interesting.

In between I’ll be working on Pirouette’s revision.  Can’t let that languish.  Still want to get it out this year.

Reassessing and making decisions.

Whilst on vacation, I did alot of thinking and brainstorming and figuring.  I did a bit of writing and a bit of revision, but mostly kept things open because it was vacation.  Luckily, the Inner Slave Driver was actually in agreement with me this time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to work on one book at a time.  Working on three wasn’t difficult, but it was cutting into the time I could be working on Pirouette (we’re back to Pirouette now, no third draft or 1.0).  While it was good to take a break, I’m now starting to feel the urge again.

Considered doing another rewrite for the sheer amount of stuff that needs to be changed or fixed.  A lot of people I asked about it strongly suggested against not doing a rewrite because I should learn how to revise.  Flamebound is the first novel/novella I’ve attempted to revise since a failed attempt in 2004ish.  Unfortunately, with the amount of work I still have yet to do on Flamebound (before even making the changes and such), it won’t be ready by the end of the year.  I just can’t see it happening. 

With Broken, that can be done whenever.  I have no set deadline or timeframe.  When I can, I will continue work on it.

However, my one big goal was to get something out THIS YEAR.  With the year half gone, I need to get moving.  And I feel the urge with Pirouette.  I’m using a mix of methods for this.  Some HTRYN methods and some of my own.  Also Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision methods. Going to be notecarding soon, to figure out how the scenes are working (or not working).  I need to get a handle on Alisia and Lucien’s relationship arc.  Also Raelan’s (the villain).  I may go through them separately and then string it all back to together once it’s good.  I’ll be rewriting some things.  Refiguring others.  I’m also going through every single crit I got and making notes.  I thought I’d remember and I didn’t remember alot of it (this is from last year on the 2nd draft).  Some things I fixed in the 3d draft, but there’s still alot that’s messed up.  I’m also going to be doing some Tarot readings and some journal entries in Alisia’s voice.  I might write some in longhand.  Basically, I’m using a bunch of things that I think will help.  And I want to get through this rather quickly (not crappy, mind you, just quickly) so I can get it to my critiquers. 

I hope this will be it (ha, I said that last time) and I can move forward.  My idea is to get it to be the best it can be, using all of the things I’ve learned and using my critters’ insight.  I’m hoping I can nail it, or at least come close, this go-around.

I made a discovery while reading one of my critter’s notes.  The 2nd draft sucked.  Yeah, it had its good points, but most of it was awful.  Granted, I wrote it in 2007 almost completely with voice recognition software (and, despite my fearsome editing skills, I still missed a ton of mis-recognitions 😦  ) and well….I’ve gotten better over the past 3 years.  I think I can do a better job.

But I believe in the story.  I wouldn’t be working myself into a tizzy if I didn’t.  Sure, I could move on, but regardless if this book gets published, I need to learn to revise/edit.  Although I might be one of those writers that just does multiple drafts.  Hopefully, I’ll get a clue.  Meantime, I’ll be plugging away at Pirouette.  It needs to shine.

Why I love pantsing. Why you should do it, too.

For those of you not familiar with the term, “pantsing” refers to writing “by the seat of your pants” or “winging it.”  Some writers, like me, use a rough outline while others will not use one at all.  I actually considered myself a hybrid between pantser and outliner because some of my outlines can get detailed, whereas sometimes I’ll just have a vague idea of where I’m headed but nothing is EVER in stone.  EVER.  If a change I come up with on the fly serves the story better, than I’m all for it.

The thing with pantsing is that there’s so much discovery.  In my first drafts — especially those — I discover, literally, the story as I’m writing it.  Sure, I might have a rough outline that says “Susie gets married” and “Jenni goes to the store and meets someone there” but then maybe it’ll mutate and become something different, but something similar.  Usually, when I’m doing this, I’ll subconsciously (almost magically) combine things differently than the outline, but the result is usually pretty close.  Other times, it’s completely different, and that’s okay.  Now alot of writers need an outline.  They have to have that security — and that’s okay.  Hell, I feel pretty solid if I have some ideas of what I’m doing.  For Broken, I’ve got a pack of notecards with possible scenes on them that aren’t even in order.  They’re just ideas.  I might use them, I might veer off.  But I would hesitate to call it an outline.  And that’s okay, because sometimes, that’s the way I like it.

My characters work best as they hit the page.  I’ve done alot of prework on characters in the past, and in Survivor, that prework was invaluable.  However, I consider that to be the exception.  Because with all my other projects, nothing I did ahead of time stuck.  Alisia in Pirouette was supposed to hate her magic and herself.  Huh?  She doesn’t, although she does take pains to conceal it from everyone for different reasons.  I’m not entirely certain how it would have worked if I’d forced that part in.

So my characters show me who they are as we go.  The reason for this post is part of a revelation about Claire.  The main one touched down a few days ago and it left me stunned.  But today, going about my day, the reason why — which had eluded me so far — hit me.  And it made perfect sense.  As if I’d friggin planned it.  And that, my friends, is the power of pantsing.

I believe that the Muse (or subconscious) knows all.  She may not let you in right away, or never, or she might toss up hints here and there and then lightning will strike.  I learned about this in Holly Lisle’s How To Think Sideways class and I am a total believer.  In one of her lessons, she talks about things that you’ll be compelled to write that you don’t understand at the time but then later, it all makes sense.  It’s kind of like that.  My muse knew what the deal was, and tossed me that clue, and BAM! Today it came together beautifully.  I couldn’t have planned it better.

So now I know something fundamental about Claire, an elusive, enigmatic character.  And I didn’t have to do up any character sheets, or questionnaires, or anything.  Not that that’s wrong or bad, but as I’ve said, my process doesn’t seem to work that way.  And it worked well and almost too perfectly.  i can’t recommend this method enough.

If you’re an outliner, and you’re stuck, try this.  If it doesn’t work, fine, but maybe you’ll discover something you never knew before.  Maybe you’ll find out that this works, too.  And no one says to give up outlining — but sometimes writers need to be open to new things.  Hell, the idea of having a conversation with a character stuck me as odd, but now?  It’s one of the first things I do when I’m stuck.  Or freewriting.  That’s another cool trick I discovered just by being open to new things, new ideas. 

So that’s why I love pantsing.  Broken is at 9k currently and there’s very little that I know for sure, but for me, that’s where the magic is.  Where the story lies and where it leads.  It may take some twists and turns and detours, but I’m always amazed at what I can come up with on the fly.  It’s really amazing. 

So, pants it.  You’ll be glad you did.  😉

Writing theme songs

All of my projects have at least one theme song attached to them, be it the whole book or an aspect of it.  I thought it might be interesting to list what they are and why.

Pirouette – all drafts (3rd draft in progress now):
 “Space Dye Vest” by Dream Theater.  I used this as Alisia and Lucien’s main “fighting” song.  It’s sad and torturous, and it brings up all kinds of heart-wrenching images in my head.  It just seemed perfect.

“Walk in the Shadows” by Queensryche – Raelan and Alisia’s theme.  In the last third of the book, [something spoilery happens] and for a time, Alisia and Raelan (who’s the villain) are….aligned.  This song, which talks about walking on the dark side of life, giving ino the darkness, fits the feeling of those scenes perfectly.

“The Killing Words” by Queensryche – Alisia and Lucien’s theme.  Just screams tragic, love, betrayal, heartbreaking stuff.  Sniff.

Flamebound (currently in revision):
“Take Hold of the Flame” by Queensryche.  The entire story is based on the song — or rather, my interpretation of it.  So many things tie to the world and story.

Survivor (recently finished first draft):
Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche.  Yes, the entire album.  The book pretty much wrote itself to this awesome, magnificent album.  Since alot of the themes ran parallel to my story, it was almost eerie how the entire thing seemed like a metaphor for Survivor.  Some of it, like the brainwashing and mind control, were literal.

“Eyes of a Stranger” by Queensryche (on Operation:Mindcrime) – Amber’s theme.  Amber is the main character, and as she goes through some painful, traumatic stuff, she’s kind of transformed….and thus truly has the “eyes of a stranger.”

Requiem in Blue (2007 project)
“The Hands” by Queensryche – Meredith’s theme.  Meredith, the main character, is saved by someone.  “The Hands” makes me think of that, and salvation in general.

“Suite Sister Mary” by Queensryche – Some of the story was inspired by this song.  Especially one part about two people joining together to “make it through the night.”

Broken (currently in progress):
“Broken” by Lifehouse.  Also the why of the title, at least for now.  The song talks about being broken, and Amara, the main character, and the antagonist are both broken in a sense.

“Unbreakable” by Fireflight.  New band that I just discovered.  Totally Amara’s theme.  I realize that the songs seem contradictory, but it works, I swear!

Eowyn (perc’ing project for future):
“Ordinary World” by Duran Duran.  Theme of the book.  Because we’re dealing with quantum mechanics and alternate universes, and a “home” universe, it seems appropriate.

MindBound (future project):
“Lightning Field” by the Sneaker Pimps.  I saw a video of it and HAD to have the song, even though I’m not into that type of music.  Went on a wild goose chase and finally just today got ahold of it.  It’s THAT close to what this story is to me.  It (the story) has to do with an empath and pain and brainwashing, and the song is so perfect.  First words are “Strike me down…”  Can we say perfect?  Literal or figurative, it works. 

Soulfire (The Nano That Never Was):
“Lady Strange by Def Leppard.  Liana’s theme.  She’s the main character, and she isn’t exactly human and has non-human goals and wishes and such.  She’s a bit offbeat in her own way.

“Baba O’Riley” by The Who.  Book’s theme.  Completely encapsulates the dystopic future-Earth setting and the insidious reach of the New Regime.

Hereafter (Nano ’08):
“Women” by Def Leppard.  For no other reason than it gave me some compelling images inside my head, and somehow spawned plotty things.  This one I don’t really understand, but don’t question it, either.

At the moment, that’s all I can think of.  Will add more if I remember anything.


Been meaning to get back here and post, but time has been a slippery thing as of late.

Nanowrimo isn’t going too well for me so far.  I’m at 6k, when I should be at 20k.  😦  On day 2 I made the decision to not worry about making 50k.  I’ve been under alot of stress at work, and been having migraines and wrist problems.

And my family’s in crisis right now.  Can’t really get into it for privacy reasons, but basically someone very close to my heart betrayed us (not the beloved!). Someone who I never thought would ever do something so …..awful.  Family has always been important to all of us, and well….I just don’t know.

Been mostly numb, although I’ve had a grand total of two meltdowns, one at work which really sucked.  I’m coping. I’m trying to make sense of this, trying to handle it best I can, and not go crazy.  It’s been a struggle as of late.  The ones left standing and the beloved have been great, and I am damn grateful for that.  We are lucky to have each other.  And I take comfrort in knowing that at least that will never change.

So…..writing and Nanowrimo haven’t been at the top of my list.  I stopped writing for 4 days immediately following the inciting incident, but felt the urge and started writing again.  Was okay till Nano day 2, and it all broke down.  I feel broken.  I feel as if a critical part of me has gone away, and it won’t be coming back.  Grief?  Not really.  Strangely.  I’m mad more than sad at the moment.  I haven’t spoken to this individual since the incident, and I’m not sure when — if ever — I will.  There are just some lines you just don’t cross, EVER.

Of course, as if I needed more ideas, the muse twists this up and hands me an intriguing — very intriguing — idea.  Loosely based on the incident, but beyond that, pure fiction.  I’m thinking paranormal or horror.  It’s tentatively called Unforgiven (yes, a nod to Metallica) and I might just handwrite the damned thing.  Been meaning to try that method, but always thought it would waste time.  I just read an article about how writers write and guess what?  Most of them draft by hand!  I was surprised, especially in today’s day and age, but whatever works, right?

Just for the record, I almost decided to put Soulfire on the back burner.  Why?  It just wasn’t gelling, until last night.  Now I’m good with it, after a great writing night, if only the wrist would cooperate.

I’ve also been poking at Pirouette the Third  in the middle of all this.  It’s been coming along.

So that’s the lowdown.  Wish I had better things to say.

A quote: The heart remembers what the mind tries so much to forget.  Might be the first line of Unforgiven.  I don’t know.

Tricking the muse.

For the past 2 weeks, I’d been blocked on the climax of Survivor.  I was crawling along, writing maybe 100-200 words a day if that, and it ws painfully slow and difficult.  Something wasn’t gelling.  All of my ideas about what could happen seemed stupid or cliche.  Usually, I’d plow on through, but this time, I took a step back and looked at it in a different way.

There was a barrier keeping me from my muse–or, maybe a barrier keeping me from  my muse’s knowledge.  We talked.  She whispered stuff in my ears.  In the shower, we brainstormed.  But nothing fucking gelled.

At the end of those 2 weeks, I was desperate.  Scared, b/c I couldn’t remember being this blocked.  Testy b/c writing sucked.  And, sleep deprived, due to a new medication.  I’d love to blame it, but I think it might have been a contributing factor, but not the cause.  Anyhoo, drastic action needed to be taken, or I’d stuff the whole thing in a drawer and forget about it.  And after 5 years of working on this puppy, there was no way I was going to abandon it that easily.

Soooooo I remembered something from somewhere (clear as mud, huh?) that said that switching to Notepad makes the writing seem not as serious.  It’s not a Great American Novel.  It’s just fun.  Playing. 

So that was my first step: I switched to Notepad.  I used to use it for poetry drafts, so maybe that connection has always been there. 

Then I thought, hmmmm.  I need to change something about this, to further trick the muse into thinking it was playtime.  I decided to use a POV I use rarely for protagonists AND present tense, which is a bit awkward, but what the hell?  I was desperate for something, anything.

Put on Queensyche on the iPod and went to town.

And….it worked beautifully.  It worked so beautifully that after I was done (in less than an hour), I sat there wondering if I’d dreampt it all.  And didn’t remember writing it all.  It just….poured out of me.  It was as if the story was already there, waiting for me, waiting for something to let it come to the surface.  It was fantastic.

I’m convinced that if I hadn’t done that, many of the cool things I came up with on the spot wouldn’t have come, or maybe would have taken longer to come.  The muse is a funny thing.  Our communication is usually really good, but something just wasn’t right.  And by removing the indicators that it was Serious Fiction, my muse thought she could come out and play. And play she did!

It did take an edit pass to clean up the typos, change the POV, and change the tense.  I ended up adding about 100 words to it in details and such.  It’s not perfect, but it’s words I didn’t have before, and that was good.  Very good.

I highly recommend this.  I don’t know if it will work all the time, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

Also, I wrote a prologue/backstory thing for Soulfire.  Liana, the protagonist, has been whispering to me for a week.  I wanted to get it down before it disappeared.

Soulfire is my next new project, after I’m done with Survivor and Pirouette the Third.  You hear that, muse?  Focus, focus, focus.

Type in done, final edit begun.

I’ve been insanely busy, and have been wanting to post forever.  I finished the Type In on May 4th.  Took a few days off to recharge, and I’m 26 pages into the final edit.  At least I hope this will be it.

All that’s left are some cuts and tweaks I want to do.  I’d like to have it done in a few weeks, but I have no idea how long it will take.  The revision, start to finish, took 4 months.  Then again, it’s my first one, so there’s a bit of a learning curve.

One Pass Revision is an interesting way to revise.  Would I do it this way again?  Absolutely, except mine would be something like a Four Pass Revision.  I can’t hit it all in one go like Holly Lisle.  Maybe with practice, I will someday.

I discovered something interesting.  While I was editing, both on paper and on the screen, I was able to see it more clearly.  What I mean is that I saw my awkward phrasing and such and was able to correct it.  Now when I did some rewriting, I found that I’d already improved just from the One Pass alone.  I was able to look at it objectively and see where it needed work.  I did alot of awkward phrasing and repetition.  So on that count alone, it has helped me tremundously.

Now, looking at the entire draft as a whole, I feel like a sculptor.  I have to chip away at the material until it’s final shape reveals itself to me.  It’s still a bit elusive.  But, you’re thinking, I’ve already done the one four pass, how could I possibly not know?

It’s my process, and it seems to carry into One Pass.  I never know everything, even after finishing.  I still need to chip away at what’s left.  And I have to cut another 28k.  I was hoping to get it closer to my goal of 120k, but that just didn’t happen.  I have some ideas, though.

Is Pirouette any better?  I’m not sure.  My gut says yes, this is an improvement, but we never really know until we send it out into the world, do we?  I hope. 

And I’m getting very antsy to work on something else.  Most likely Survivor.  I also have a few plotbunnies nipping at my heels, and that’s never good.  I figure if I don’t finish Pirouette now, I never will.  It’s easy to get into the trap of always writing first drafts and never editing.  Editing isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s the hardest part in my opinion.  The first draft is more for me; the rest are for the world, and with that in mind, it’s tough.  ‘Specially when you’re a perfectionist like me.  I’m terrified that it won’t be good enough.  I’ve put almost 5 years into this book.  But whether it gets published or not, I’ve learned so much about my process and the process of editing and revision that it will be worth it regardless.

So, that’s where it’s at.

I recently got an iPod (!) and day-um, talk about inspiration!  Music and my muse get along very well.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Hmm, not sure yet.

When revision becomes rewriting

Things have been a bit rough with Pirouette.  I completely rewrote Alisia and Lucien’s first scene together, which makes the others different, which requires more rewriting.  I think the change makes it stronger.  I’m also dropping one very important part of the plot, which will also require some scenes to be rewritten.

It’s looking more and more like I’ll be rewriting stuff.  Why?  Because I have gut instincts that are telling me so.  And plot.  Is this scene moving it forward?  Is it necessary?  If the answer is no, I rewrite.

I have cut about 25k so far.  Still need 40k cut, so I’m tightening things up.  At the moment, the book is a mess.  The chapters are all wrong, and I rearranged some scenes for pacing.  I’m not even sure if it makes sense right now.  But I will look at that after I’ve made the changes, when I proclaim this revision done.  I can put it back together and make it pretty once that’s done.  I need to see the entire thing before I do anything else.

So that’s where I’m at.  I’m trying not to look past the day’s work because it seems so overwhelming right now.  I’m on manuscript page 108 of about 900 (double spaced!).  Scary but true.

I’m thinking of calling this draft 3.  Or would it be 4, after the hard copy revisions?  No clue.

I WILL finish this.  Hopefully by the end of the month.  It’ll give me an idea of what it’s like to be on a deadline.  And with my process, I need all the practice I can get.

And……I have two new plotbunnies clamoring for my attention.  Been trying to resist the pull as we speak.  But it’s strong.  But Pirouette is the most important project right now.