Four allies in attacking the middle(of your novel)

A beautiful morning here in the Kawartha Lakes: sunny, warm, blue skies without a threat of rain, at least not yet. It is April, however, so I expect a downpour before tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m working on the middle.

No, I’m not talking about girth, but those vast pages from the end of Act 1 to the beginning of Act 111 in a novel. They should be vast, in number at least, but mine are not. I write short, too short and too fast. I need to get to the end, to see how it all comes out for my protagonist. Yes, I should have plotted it all out and I will next time, but this book is at 62,000 words, a little long for an outline and a little short for a novel and I’ve come to the end, resolved the crisis, packed everyone up, and sent them all home to bed.

The magic middle moment(see James Scott Bell happens at 36000 words, so I’m aiming for 72,000. Not long but a decent length for a paperback or an ebook.

I spent this morning plotting, searching websites for help, considering sub-plots, considering the sub-plots I all ready have and finally returning to Syd Field’s book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, not because I’m writing for the movies but because his approach is excellent for writers of genre fiction. I also searched out Sol Stein’s On Writing, which I’ve read before at least twice for his section on triage for editing.

Barbara Kyle recommended Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel and I’m in the midst of reading that as well. He presents a detailed analysis of ken Follett’s The Man from Saint Petersburg through all its drafts. Invaluable.

Too much reading and not enough writing? Perhaps, but I’m learning all the time. Revision has so many sections, so much detail to consider, that learning how others have done the job helps.

The Garden:

The miniature iris are blooming and the paeonia tenuifolia have sprung up. I pruned some roses yesterday and searched in vain for one of my clematis. Perhaps it’s just late.

Mark at Galetta Nurseries in the Ottawa Valley said this week that he hit frost a 4” when he tried to dig out some roses. The old saying is ‘plant when the ground is warm enough to sit on’. Good advice.

peony tenuifoliaPaeonia Tenuifolia, my garden.

Spring thoughts: Literary devices and Genre fiction

Spring has been creeping up, ambushing us with thunderstorms and lightning a week after a snowfall, with downpours that filled holding tanks and turned fields of clay to marshland, havens for the ducks. No flowers. Last spring at this time a solitary iris bloomed in the front garden. Spring Iris, 2014

It’s time to rake the leaves and twigs off the garden beds and plan a fresh covering of mulch. The chores of spring, a relief after a long winter of bone-breaking cold and ice and deep snow.

I’ve lost track of which draft of my work-in-progress I’m working on. It may be the 5th or 6th, but it’s growing closer to what I would like it to be.

That’s the problem, of course. What genre is it? Suspense, women’s fiction, commercial fiction, romantic suspense or my personal favourite: cross-genre.

My aim is a tightly-plotted page-turner that also says something about redemption and renewal in a woman’s life. Too lofty a goal, too literary for a novel that includes a brutal killer and guns?

In the U.K. newspaper, The Guardian,  Anita Mason, whose The Illusionist was shortlisted for the 1983 Booker prize, in an article that was adapted from an Oxford Literary Festival debate said:

So: of course there is a difference between literary and genre fiction. Our experience as readers tells us so, commercial practice says so. But it is not the difference between two continents separated by ocean. It is the difference between the two ends of a continuum. Between those two points is an infinity of fruitful positions.

In the Oxford Literary Festival debate, she spoke against the motion “Genre fiction is no different from literary fiction”. The article is worth the read and can be found here.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/apr/22/genre-fiction-literary-centre-anita-mason

That’s where I aim to be with this work-in-progress, on the continuum, moving a little closer to the hub where literary fiction lives.

Themes, symbols, literary devices of all types: all tools in crafting a novel.

Revision, Editing and Mark Twain

Easter Sunday Morning, and it snowed again overnight. A skiff of snow, my mother called it.

I’ve been searching my saved websites, blogs and so on, for advice on editing that I meant to read, I truly did, before starting the revision process again.

Today, I found a blog that Margaret Atwood wrote in 2009, Ten Editing tips for your Fiction Mss. Coincidently, I’m reading her book about the writing life, titled Negotiating with the Dead. Her teaching is always interesting and often funny. https://marg09.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/ten-editing-tips-for-your-fiction-mss

I liked her advice on dialogue, especially the use of contractions and cutting “that” from speech. I’m guilty of not doing the first and including the second far too often, which makes for a tedious revision.

Another difficult writing chore is producing the synopsis. One of the sites that I found to help with that is http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/04/17/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis/

The author of this section, Sooz, presents us with a template and three rules-of-thumb. The rules seem simple: Name only three characters in a short synopsis, tell the ending and stick to the main plot, only including subplots if space allows. The template creates a synopsis of Star Wars as an example.

A return to Mark Twain’s rules for writers is always amusing.

 

Twain’s Rules of Writing (from Mark Twain’s scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

 

  1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
  3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
  4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
  5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
  7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
  8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
  9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
  10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

The author should:

Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Eschew surplusage.

Not omit necessary details.

Avoid slovenliness of form.

Use good grammar.

Employ a simple, straightforward style.

 

 

Today, I’m remembering my grandmother Jane Callahan and my friend Dan Wilmot, both of whom died on Easter Sunday.

 

Three Sites to Improve your Writing

8:42 on Sunday morning. A big flock of robins came back yesterday, to feast on the fermenting tiny crabapples on the trees out front. And red-winged blackbirds. Now, they are reliable. Spring must be coming, even though it’s still -8C with the windchill this morning.

Sarah Selecky is a writer and teacher of writing. At the link, among other resources, you can sign up for daily writing prompts. As it happens, I like writing prompts and had some of my first success at Wynter Blue Publishing. They ran a monthly contest—24 hours to write a short story including three provided words.

Sarah asks that you write longhand for 10 minutes, daily, in a notebook, in response to a prompt which may be a word or a writing style or a pov. When I signed up, I wasn’t sure about spending those 10 minutes on a creative exercise. However, it turns out it’s not only a good way to jump-start a writing day, but fun. The prompts drag up long-buried memories and ideas. Today’s reminded me of the head nurse of the ICU in one of my training hospitals, more than forty years ago and her vendetta against orange peel in her wastebasket.

I was scrolling through my saved articles again today and came across one titled 5 Key questions to Ask as You Write your Novel. The author was C.S. Lakin, another writer and teacher. Good advice, worth posting on a sticky at your desk.

Ten Literary Devices and where to Find Them in Science Fiction, a post by Annalee Newitz on iO9 makes the devices clear by referencing popular movies and television. I especially liked onomatopoeia, demonstrated by the entire Klingon language, from Star Trek.

That’s about it for today. I’m about a third of the way through a revision of my work in progress and must get back to it.

2 Books on Writing and more revision

A gorgeous winter morning here in the Kawartha Lakes. Yes, I know it’s spring but somehow the weather forgot and sent us -20C temperatures(with the windchill) and 5 cm of snow, but a lovely day, none-the-less.

March, 2015

 

Lately I’ve been reading books on writing again, besides continuing to follow Janice Hardy’s 31 day novel revision. Today, her topic was “Sharpening the hooks and tightening the pacing. http://blog.janicehardy.com. Lots of useful information on her website. I recommend it.

Noah Lukeman’s respected The First Five Pages has a chapter on the sound of prose. I had one of those “oh no” moments after reading it last night and I’ve been struggling with the first 6 sentences of the 1st paragraph of my work-in-progress all morning as a consequence. It’s difficult to evaluate the sound of prose without reading it aloud. My computer will read the work to me, but what I need is a computer that will listen while I read to it. Or a patient friend.

I’ve started Margaret Atwood’s book on writing Negotiating with the Dead. I love her conversational, funny style.

My preferred writing programme is Scrivener, which is great, and during revision allows me to move scenes around. However, that can lead to further problems especially with the time line. Today, it meant dissecting, dismembering, destroying a favourite scene. There, alliteration again!

Back to work…

 

 

 

 

Signs of Spring amidst Revision and Marketing

Ides of March. For Americans, the taxman cometh. We’re waiting for spring, a spring the weather gurus tell us is going to be delayed. No one told the buds on the chestnut trees out front. They started to swell before the deep freeze ended.

Work goes on. Marketing and revision of my work-in-progress. In June, I’m joining Barbara Kyle’s Master class for revision of my first thirty pages.

The Child on the Terrace is still in advanced copy mode but soon I must send the final changes to the publisher. Most of my  reviewers, busy people all, have yet to get back to me.

Revision is difficult work, akin to juggling multiple objects rather than a simple set of coloured rubber balls. I’ve been following a blogger, Janice Hardy who calls her site Fiction University. She is half-way through a month of blogs on the process and very useful they are. Today’s is here, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/03/day-fifteen-clean-up-description-and.html#more but all the previous blogs plus a great deal more is available on her site. Well worth multiple visits.

This week I attended a dinner and lecture at the Canadian Club. The speaker mentioned a local artist, long-deceased, named W.A. Goodwin. As it happens we have one of his watercolours. When I bought it, I investigated him and found a lengthy newspaper record. He lived to almost 100 years old and was a well-know citizen. I did some of his family genealogy as well. Magpie that I am, I kept it all.

After the meeting, the manager of the local museum called me and asked to see it. The museum is mounting an extensive show from an archive of material the researchers acquired on loan from the family. I was pleased to contribute our painting and some of the information I’d gathered to their archive. Find the museum here: http://www.oldegaolmuseum.ca/exhibits.html

The museum created a Facebook page for W.A. with pictures, paintings, diary entries and more. An interesting and charming page.

https://www.facebook.com/W.A.Goodwin

 

Buds on chestnut trees, March, 2015

Buds on chestnut trees, March, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

10 Literary Devices

I was browsing my writing files today. You know the kind, a dump for every website or blog you come across that has information that might be useful someday. I have two: Writing about Writing and a catch all Writing Stuff. Interesting items in both, especially one about writing devices.

Writing devices have names like aporia and pathetic fallacy and if like me, you’re a writer whose last formal English course was in 1st year, the definitions are murky at best or absent at worst from memory. The website below discusses 10 and relates them to Science Fiction, mostly movies, that make the use clear. Annalee Newitz posted it in 2012 and it’s well worth a read.

http://io9.com/5930325/10-literary-devices-and-where-you-can-find-them-in-science-fiction

Beautiful day in Southern Ontario and the weather promises to be seasonal and sunny for the next week!

I’m revising my WIP and still marketing The Child on the Terrace while waiting for my reviewers. If anyone would like an ARC, please let me know.

http://booklaunch.io/10202081974970941/54ccf3fd68a94f561bcb20af