Untimed – Two Novels, Two Drafts!

My second novel, Untimed, is a YA time-travel adventure.

And I just finished the rough version of my second draft. Whew! Happy to be done with that. The book grew to 84,000 words (it’ll probably get trimmed down a bit for draft three). It still needs polish, but the second draft is often the worst, and this one took 5 or so weeks of concentrated work. While I learned from my first novel and put the beginning at the right place, the previous draft still had a number of classic first draft problems.

Namely, character and motivation needed work. Plot can formally be considered the friction between the protagonist’s desire and the obstacles to said desire. The book is/was jam packed with conflict and action, but the desire line was a bit weak. I won’t say it’s perfect now, but it’s a hell of a lot better. As are the characters. For me it’s difficult in the first draft to flesh both of these out because as a pantser I don’t know exactly where I’m going with the story until I get there. Not that I write blind, but I like the story and the characters to take me where they want.

When writing the second draft, you have an end (even if you plan on changing it), so you know all the elements that you intend to put in the book. Therefore it’s easier to go back and foreshadow those and reinforce the important ones. You also know what the character is going to need to feel at different points in the story, so it’s easier to try and set up and reinforce those feelings.

Additionally, as a pantser, I actually get to know my characters in the first draft. The writing of them brings them to life in my head. Then in the second draft, I need to brainstorm extra elements in their past and present that reinforce the traits I know they’re supposed to have, then hint at the them in the book. Again, hard to do the first time around.

Now to see what some reader that aren’t me think — and trial and nail the third draft.

I’d also like to thank my story-consultants Sharon & Bryan for listening to every blow by blow change and my independent editors Renni & Shannon for pointing me in the second draft direction. Here’s to hoping I went far enough :-).

The second draft involved a few weeks of incubation (June), a full read and polish (also June), and then hardcore writing from June 30 until August 2.

And in case you’re wondering what the book is about, I still haven’t written a log line, but its a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother. And it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

For more posts on writing, click here.

Untimed – Two Novels, Check!

Today I reached a milestone and finished the first draft of my second novel, tentatively titled Untimed. Now this doesn’t really mean it’s done, revision is usually more work than the first draft. Still, it’s a book. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Untimed is the first book in YA time travel series. I haven’t written a log line yet, but it’s currently 70,000 words, and is a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother.

Oh, and it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

I started it Feb 9, 2011 and finished the first draft May 20, 2011. I took about three weeks “off” to work on revisions of The Darkening Dream. So that’s roughly three months. My output was actually slower (as measured in words) than with TDD, because a don’t overwrite now. If anything Untimed is underwritten and certainly needs a lot of character work in revision, which might make it grow slightly.

I learned a lot of things from problems with TDD (mostly fixed in my many many revisions). I learned to find a place to start your story that really hooks BEFORE starting to write. I learned not to write any scenes that involved merely going from place to place. I learned not to flash back. I learned to stick with the plot, not the sub plots. And a whole lot more.

And I tried to outline the entire story before I wrote it, failed miserably, and concluded that I’m really a pantser (a seat of the pants writer).

For info on my first (and completed) novel, click here.

ps. If you’re one of my many dedicated beta readers, and want to offer early high level feed back, send me a note.

Call For Feedback

As a writer, feedback can be essential to the process. You don’t necessarily want to spend months writing the whole novel draft to find out the voice sucks, or that your plot is boring. I’m a frantic high energy writer (I work 8+ hours a day and usually churn out 2,000 pretty good words), and one of my biggest problems is getting enough feedback fast enough. I want to find out how a chapter works NOW, or hash out what’s going to happen tomorrow. My plots are intricate and I have two people (one I’m married to) who ALWAYS read chapters in a few hours and are willing to spend an hour brutally arguing about how well they work.

Still, it’s not enough. I also use a number of professionals who provide awesome advice, but not only do the cost money, but they’re busy and often take a few weeks to turn stuff around. I’d give a nut for another conspirator who’s great at plot construction. Relatively few people are willing to say, “No, no, this whole branch of the action is boring, the villain and the hero need to be face to face.” Then actually provide suggestions to mull over or shut down. Most amateur critics nitpick on sentences or little inconsistencies. Those are useful, but the big picture criticisms — and more importantly suggestions for fixes — are harder to come by.

I’m looking for something analogous to a TV writers room where people know the story and characters to every last detail and can really yell and hash out ways to interject more power into the story at the plot and character level. This is the hardest part for me to do alone. I can take any basic sequence of events and turn it into a great scene, but building the perfect twisty-turny plot with engaging characters is hard. There’s a reason why you see this most often in great TV shows where they have a room full of brilliant people.

A good argument over the story fuels my creative fire. I suspect if I had more of it I could write even faster.

And I’m willing to pay for said criticism with highly responsive reciprocal reading and response on how your stuff could be better! 🙂

Seriously. I’m extremely fast and sleep very little. There’s no give it to me and have to check back a couple weeks later. I tend to turn stuff around in hours. I’m willing to talk at odd ball times. I can do everything from plot to line editing.

So if you’re another writer, interested, fast, dedicated, good at plots, like the fantastic (my stories always involve some supernatural/speculative element), and willing to dedicate a couple hours a week, shoot me a note and we’ll see if there’s any synergy.

or blog

Also, peek at my novel in progress: The Darkening Dream

Book Review: White Cat

Title: White Cat

Author: Holly Black

Genre: Paranormal YA

Length: 76,000 words, 310 pages

Read: March 12, 2011

Summary: Well written, fun, but a little contrived.

 

This is yet another foray into the world of paranormal YA (I am, after all, doing research for my own writing). Holly Black is a but best selling YA and MG author. This book, unusually, has a male protagonist, and he’s part of a family of “curse workers,” although he himself doesn’t do any magic. He lives in an alternative reality where a small minority of people are able to “lay on hands” in a bad way and curse people. They are known to society, it’s even illegal, and formed into criminal gangs in the 1930s just like the Mafia.

The premise is decent, although I’m not a fan versions of our reality with outed paranormal groups. I didn’t really buy the changes at a social level. The whole existance of this kind of power in volume would throw everything off, and here the only real social change is that everyone wears gloves (because it’s through bare skin that the magic works). We are reminded often of the glove factor.

The writing is very solid and straightforward, in first person present. So straightforward it took me awhile to even notice the tense. Or maybe writing it myself is acclimating me to it. The protagonist is likable and felt fairly real, although maybe not all of his decisions did. And I didn’t really feel the proper weight of his emotions. Big things happen, but without big feelings. By page three or thereabouts we discover he murdered his girlfriend. We’re supposed to still like him. And we do, but mostly because it’s totally obvious that he didn’t REALLY murder her, he only thinks he did. Oh and we quickly hear about the one flavor of curse worker that’s REALLY rare. And guess who’s from a magical family and doesn’t have any power…

But I enjoyed the book — quite a bit — I read it in half a day after all. Another book I attempted to read that same morning was so execrable that I only made it to fifty pages, so this was a vast improvement.

A couple other beefs. At times the writing was so lean that I felt like I missed something in the action and had to page back to find it — but it wasn’t even there. Now, it was then obvious moving forward what had happened, it just seemed that the attempt at leanness and/or agressive editing had taken the edge off the clarity. Then as we moved into the second half we hit the “after the big reveal” syndrome which many books with reveals often suffer from. I’ve mentioned this before (like HERE or HERE), but basically this is where after the big shocker no one really seems to act with appropriate emotional gravitas. I’m used to it, and it’s a tough problem to solve, so I moved on to the ending.

Which was the weakest part. Everything juggled into place such that the people were served the plot rather than their character. The plot wasn’t bad, it’s just that I didn’t really see some of the characters acting like they did.

Overall, the story was fast and fun. As I said Ms Black is a skilled writer, and the prose zipped along, with nice quick descriptions, and she isn’t afraid to be a bit dark or sexy (considering it’s YA). The gratuitous twist on the last two pages bugged me, but I ordered the sequel (which the Twitter/FB buzz says is very good) and another of the author’s books.

How different these neat little package YA books are from a meaty tome like The Wise Man’s Fear (which I finished the same day). There are subplots in that book about the size of this entire story.

For a review of Holly Black’s first novel, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, click here.

Done Again, Hopefully

My freelance editor, the awesome Renni Browne, has officially declared my novel, The Darkening Dream, done, and ready for agents!

Now bear in mind that “done” is a highly subjective term, and that as soon as anyone gives me an idea worth doing, I’ll probably do it, and that agents and editors are bound to ask for changes. Which as long as I think the ideas make the book better, is a good thing.

The new version is 5.00i, but this is my ninth full major draft. Woah.

I remember reading Sol Stein‘s awesome book on writing, where he mentioned that The Magician took 10-11 drafts (I was then on my second) and thinking: that’s crazy! I guess not. Totally coincidentally, Renni also edited that novel, published in 1971!

So it’s been a busy week, working only on The Darkening Dream (I’ll get back to my new novel shortly). In the last 10 days:

1. We finishing our big line edit

2. I rewrote the ending again.

3. I read the entire book and made minor mods.

4. Renni and Shannon (her additionally awesome co-editor/assistant) reread the beginning and the ending and did another quick line edit.

5. I went over that.

6. I got back a critique on the beginning of the book, and made some changes based on that.

7. This inspired me to write two entirely different beginnings.

8. We eventually decided the original was better, although I moved a few nice tidbits from the new stuff over.

9. I reread the whole first half of the book, and the ending again, and made some more improvements.

10. On Sunday I rested.

So now I return to the agent game (referrals very welcome), and to the agonizing internal debate about the relative merits of self publishing in the modern (and very rapidly changing) market. And back to the first draft of my new novel (about 25% done).

If any of you beta readers want a copy of the new improved 95,000 word The Darkening Dream, drop me a note.

Beginnings and Endings

The first thing I did after getting my line editing back over the weekend was work on the ending of my novel. Beginnings and endings are so important, and as is probably typical, I’ve changed them a lot.

The ending is important because it’s what has to wrap everything up, and what leaves the aftertaste in the mouth of the reader. But it isn’t going to do you any good unless they get there.

Which brings us to the beginning. So important in so many ways. First of all, agents and editors glance at the beginning,and if it isn’t awesome, they’ll just put it down right there. Second, so do many readers. They browse the first couple pages in the bookstore (or on Amazon), or even if they buy it, if it doesn’t grab them right away they might just move onto to another book. I know I do.

During revision, The Darkening Dream has already had three different beginnings. But I’ve never been totally satisfied with them. I took a new high level crack at rearranging the flow of my story’s first crucial day, and ended up whipping out two new takes on the first ~7,000 words. That puts three beginnings on the table if you include the current draft. Each have their plus and minuses.

Do I start with the violent supernatural event that kicks everything off?  Do I start with character development on the protagonist? How do I introduce my large cast of characters?

Now that I have a couple takes I’m trying to decide which one to pursue. IF YOU’RE ONE OF MY BETA READERS, HAVE READ THE BOOK ALREADY, and are interested and throwing your opinion into the ring, drop me a note and I’ll send you some options 🙂

The good news about my new novel, is that before I even started writing I found a totally awesome place to start the story. I LOVE the start of that book, and so does everyone I’ve showed it to so far. Lessons learned.

Juggling Brains

As the process of the revising my — hopefully — almost finished novel, The Darkening Dream, draws out the amount of work I have to personally do on it declines toward the limit of… well very little. More and more I’m just waiting on something to come back from someone else. When it does, I have a little flurry of activity and then it’s back to waiting. This is par for the course in the glacially paced publishing business, and I haven’t even seriously gotten into the game of waiting on agents and editors yet, which makes glacial look fast. Hell, publishers routinely (read almost always) sit on books for 12-18 months between signing and release. Of course, this is mostly because that’s how it was done prior to the computer and internet age, and must change very soon or they will find themselves in Chapter 11. One only has to look at something like this to realize that.

But in any case, the authorial solution to this process is to write another book in the meantime.

I’d had a really fantastic idea a couple months ago, as usual a hybrid between some new ideas and one of the forty-two thousand stories that have been bouncing around in my head for years. Often a great book comes out of the evil-mutant-mating of two or more half-formed book ideas. In this case the oldest of these is a time travel concept I conceived in the fall of 1994. Anyway, I’ve been doing some outlining work on it since the new year and finally began writing. Three chapters (5700 words) popped out in no time, as I’m very good at the process of converting a scene idea (as long as I know in my head roughly what’s supposed to happen) into the actual prose. I’d half-forgotten how fun first-drafting is. More fun for sure than line editing, and WAY more fun than outlining, and WAY WAY more fun than writing queries or synopses.

The tricky part when flipping back and forth between books is not getting the voice all confused. The Darkening Dream is in third-person past, and has six distinct character voices, while the new one is first-person present with very clipped immediate sentences. Good synaptic exercise for sure.

The Darkening Dream

Since I’m always cryptically referring to my novel in progress, I figured I’d post a few words about it.

The Darkening Dream is a historial dark fantasy. It’s currently 95,000 words and I’ve just finishing up the line editing and polish. [ Updated 3/16/11 ] I’m looking for a literary agent to help me start slogging through the process of publishing.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

As to the thing that matters — the story [ Updated 3/25/11 ]:

An ominous vision and the discovery of a gruesome corpse lead Sarah and her friends into a terrifying encounter with a fledgling vampire. Eager to prove themselves, the young heroes set out to track the evil to its source, never guessing that they will take on a conspiracy involving not only a 900-year vampire, but also a demon-loving Puritan warlock, disgruntled Egyptian gods, and an immortal sorcerer, all on a quest to recover the holy trumpet of the Archangel Gabriel. Relying on the wisdom of a Greek vampire hunter, Sarah’s rabbi father, and her own disturbing visions, Sarah must fight a millennia-old battle between unspeakable forces, where the ultimate prize might be Sarah herself.

To read about my second novel (in progress), click here.

Or here for the index of all my Creative Writing posts.