Saturday, January 26, 2013

Novel Craft: Polish

Hi folks, this is last in my series of novel craft.  I'm offering tidbits of advice to those that have completed solid drafts and want to take their novel up a notch.  This week I'm going to chat about polish. I'm dividing this into three categories: the global, mundane, and the sublime.

First the global look. Here are some questions to help you add polish followed by my fun answers.
  • Is the timeline solid? It takes longer than five minutes to drive to Boston from Houston. Really.
  • Does your story make sense?  You can't leave a character in a closed car for hours in a Texas summer. Nope. Highly illogical, says Mr. Spock.
  • Does your pacing make sense in a global way? If all the action bunched at the front then nothing for pages and finally something happens at the end, you have to fix that.
  • Does your character cry all the time? I hope not.
  • Do you have any info dumps? You spent five pages revealing the backstory of you character through a guy talking to a basketball. All info dumps have to go. ALL! Dribble out the details 
  • Did you add sufficient texture your characters to rise them up above the level of cliche? Add some quirks and makes some unusual decisions.
  • Is your protagonist a snot at any time during your book? No one want to read about a snot. 
  • Is any side character taking over the plot? Stop them! Perhaps they need their own book. I'm thinking sequel.

This list will add some shine to your story.

And now the mundane. My friend Kathy Whitehead has a saying: "Make the writing pretty." You have a solid story and know you are going to pick apart each line from beginning to end.  Is your language clumsy or wordy?  Purple language goes. This isn't 1920.  You want to clean up frequently used words  like there, was, it, -ly, had, have, feel. Next, check for words you abuse regularly. Clean it all up. I find tools like the fee based AutoCrit Editing Wizard can help with this stuff. Lovely writing is important and don't assume that your writing is lovely unless you analyze it.

And finally comes the extra polish; the sublime or the pixie fairy dust or the superhero power -- whichever way you roll. Stare out the window, take a nap, go for a walk and think about what your book is about. Is there another twist that would just take your book up to another level. Have you achieved what you intended? Warning this takes absolute honesty with yourself.  The sublime is just that. You are seeking out spiritual, moral, and/or intellectual depth in your story. Do you have any idea what were you were trying to say?  Did you get it across?  Here's the trick -- I'm sure you don't need to put this into words but you do need to know it. Is there anything in the universe that would make your purpose more clear?  Add that and then breathe. Well done!

I hope my polish thoughts help you. I hope you achieve your best book. :)  Seize the day.

Here is the doodle: Yellow-horned Thang.

Here is my quote for your pocket:

"Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude" ("He who has begun is half done: dare to know!"). Horace

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Novel Craft: End Games

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series of Novel Craft. This series is to help writers that have a solid draft and want to bring their work up another level. This week I'm going to write about the "End Games."

Today I'm going to offer three games I play to make my ending stronger, to make it more memorable, to make it more influential. This is going to be short to write. It will take you a while to do...

Okay, this is first game. Take your novel, your beloved perfect novel, and write a new end for it. I go to the last chapters and write in black marker: MAKE THEM SUFFER.  (Thanks to Gail Carson Levine for this enduring advice.) I go over every scene and I ask myself, "Am I avoiding agony?" I take every risk that I can think of when I play this game. I write the whole thing with again upped stakes. I don't keep all of it, but I do end up keeping some of it.  You will get very good at this game.

The next game is Reinvention. I write the end from a different point of view. Yes, go to the last three chapters and switch narrative mode.  If your are in third person, go at the whole chapter from first. Try it from the antagonist's point of view. Try it from the best friend's point of view.  Try stream of conciousness. You will find surprises. I guarantee it.

Now the final game, is called "What came after". I don't know why, but I try to tie things up too early.  This game is about writing what happens a week after your story ends, then jumping ahead a year, and finally jumping ahead a decade and writing what happens. Did your characters stay hooked up? Bummer, I thought this was everlasting love. Did your character end up being more awesome than you thought? That's a good thing.

I hope one of my "End Games" helps you create a stronger book. Be brave and inventive. Don't hold back!  See you next with more Novel Craft.

This week's doodle: Sock Monster.

A quote for your pocket:

I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end. Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Novel Craft: The Big Picture

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series of Novel Craft. This series is to help writers that have a solid draft and want to bring their work up another level. This week I'm going to write about the "Big Picture."

I have noticed that writers whose books sell have really thought about their novels in global ways. Much of writing is micro-driven. It's about the words and the sentences and the paragraphs. Then it is about the chapters.  At some point you need to pull that camera-eye back so far that your is looking at the book. Embrace the macro.  

How do you refine the big picture of the book?  It takes massive blocks of time.  You must read your novel from end to end, a few times running. It's the only way to get an accurate sense of what is going on in your novel. As you read, keep tabs on through-threads in your story -- this includes endowed objects, themes, side plots, and the timeline. Look for incomplete promises. Did you promise to solve something but never get around to it? Either pull the promise or complete it.

You also want to be sure that you characters are working. Do your characters grow organically, or is all the growth clustered in one area of the book.  You do want some stops and starts -- a book is a little bit like a roller coaster ride. A very tame ride that putters through a colorful but uninteresting landscape is not worth a reader's time. Throw your character off some cliffs. Wreck their car. Kill their best friend. Betray them. Add surprises, twists and falls to strengthen your characters. The usual stuff: find humanity in a baddie, find a monster is a goodie, have everyone really mess up. Note places of blandness and think of ways to add emotional drama and exciting action. Don't forget to lighten things up, dashes of comic relief will help reader's embrace the story journey.

The most important thing is to read the book from cover to cover a few times. What needs to be done will be glaringly obvious. I promise.

Come back next week for more Novel Craft. Meanwhile, seize the day!

This week's doodle: "Blue Fox."

A quote for you pocket.

Love is the outreach of self toward completion.  Ralph W. Sockman.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Novel Craft: Side Characters

Hi, folks, I'm a novelist and like to spend January chatting about novel crafting.  Novels are huge undertakings and take some serious work.  This series is about practical advice for those with a complete novel draft.  Once you have a substantial draft, you must fine-tune your novel.  During this stage of novel crafting, you must leverage each element of your novel. How is this done? I will spend this month offering tips and suggestions to add texture and depth to your novel. This week I'll focus on side characters.

Solid drafts have powerful main characters that are fully realized. They have interesting and complex plots. The settings are also rich and detailed. Even with all this in place, your book is not complete. This is the time to add dimension to your story. One way to do this to pay close attention side characters. It's important to make sure that each one of your characters is uniquely distinct from all other characters in your story. There is nothing more annoying than a story with one-dimensional side characters. Stereotypical side characters will also weaken your story.  You must take time to bring these side characters to life.

Look at them closely. Are they always making obvious choices? Consider letting them make unusual choices that clash with the choices of the main characters of your story. What can your side characters do to surprise your reader?  Allow side characters to steal scenes. I learned a lot about side characters from Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. This classic comic strip is packed scene stealers.
Main character Charlie Brown's friend Linus clings to his security blanket but speaks eloquently about matters of faith. His sister, Lucy, is the bully of the story, but is also the manager of the psychiatric booth, offering five cent advice. On top of that, she's an awful baseball player. These side characters shine.

Allow your side characters to grow. A side character can become quite significant. Think about Snoopy, Charlie Brown's pet dog, who began as a conventional dog but acquired alternative personas -- the Red Baron and Joe Cool. Snoopy is a struggling writer and is an excellent baseball player (note the contrast with Lucy-- defintely look for those opportunities.) . All the Peanuts characters have a unique slant.  Are you using your side characters to add color and depth to your masterpiece? 

Look at stories that have an ensemble approach for the best examples of side characters. Not every story needs an ensemble approach but every story will benefit from more complex side-characters. Come back next week for more advice to fine-tune your novel.  

Here is a doodle: "Rainbow".

A quote for your pocket!

A book is never a masterpiece: it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man. Carl Sandberg