Tying up loose ends

I’m terrible. I keep changing things constantly as the story progresses in my novel and thinking ‘ooh, that’s a better idea now, I’ll use that’ and then I have to make note of the change and go back through chapters to introduce the idea or cut out the previous idea from scenes as I feed the new idea in.

Anyway, as usual I got carried away with this on the current novel (perhaps this is one of the reasons the revisions seem to be never ending) and at a meeting with a literature mentor, it dawned on me that if my mentor has questions about the synopsis and I still have ideas that haven’t been worked into the novel then this novel is never going to end unless the ideas are finalised and stop changing.

It gets to that stage of writing that when someone else reading your novel keeps asking questions about it and even though you keep an open mind and accept the critique, you need to ask yourself – if this reader has to ask these questions, what other questions haven’t been answered?

Ok, most of the time I have the answers and sometimes I haven’t thought about it at all. But for every question that was raised, it meant that there loose ends in the novel that had to be tied up. And adding to this, there were also unanswered questions in my own notes that needed to be fleshed out and determined as well before I continued writing.

So to solve the problem, I made a new list called a Fact Sheet – a list of everything I was asked (yes, even if it seemed to be a silly question). Then I wrote about each item, clarifying and/or re-enforcing the facts about it.

The facts were about settings, characters, their backgrounds, the locations, the plot, and the subplots and I added two separate columns to indicate which chapter a fact is hinted at and when it is revealed in full. E.g. character X is married to Mary and has two young boys. Was B’s best man and got him current job at the Institute.

Now all that needs to be done is to review each fact and decide when and where it goes into the story line (Or even, does it need to be known at all – not all back-story needs to be told). Hints and reveals are shown via thoughts, dialogue, and descriptions from the point of view character, for example, as foreshadowing before a fact is revealed. Sort of drip feeding the information throughout the novel rather than going ‘ta da’ at the end and trying to reveal everything in one big chapter.

I’ve made up the Fact Sheet and I feel like I’ve cemented the unanswered questions now. Plus everything on the Fact Sheet is going to help me with my synopsis. Onwards we go…

The second draft edit

As we weave our way through the process of trying to get at least one novel published, many options are presented for editing that we try out to determine if they will work for us.

I watched a video about editing and in it an author said that you will have to cut out half of your book, cut out whole scenes, just cut, cut, cut. But he didn’t explain what you have to cut.

For a beginner novelist, I think that this is overwhelming advice. When I heard him say that, I thought why didn’t you tell them it like this, see below, which is a bit more realistic than just ‘cut, cut, cut’. So these are my thoughts…

During the editing phase of your novel:

1. You will cut, revise, and rearrange most of your novel to pull the best from it in the revision and editing phase.

2. Initially, using a top down approach, you will look at the structure as a whole, examining the scene and chapter intentions through the whole novel.

3. You identify which chapters and scenes were a nice detour during the first draft but now add nothing to move your plot along, unless part of interesting sub-plots. These will need to be cut unless they are revised to incorporate plot elements that move the plot forward.

4. You will look to see if additional material is required to improve missing sections or holes in the plot.

5. You will look at which scenes require revision of their structure to make the plot work better within them. Sometimes a scene can work harder by being combined with another one. This includes situations where you have too many characters – which ones can be combined into a single character.

6. When you have completed the overall rewrite to ensure a better structure for your plots and subplots, you analyse plot within each chapter and within each scene and then within each paragraph. Make every sentence in your novel work harder for every word contained within it.

7. And when your heart has stopped breaking with all the changes you’re going to make, then you will remind yourself that this can all be done in small bite-size steps.

8. You will learn how to flick between creator and editor continuously during this process.

9. You must also keep reminding yourself that you are a writer and you will complete this novel.

Does this sound closer to your editing process?

Struggling to revise

Revision is tough. I’ve done very little over the last week, couldn’t write at all for four days. Felt bad. Tried to be positive. Did not work.

I’d decided to aim for a target of 10,500 words to be revised every week and I’m not making that target. My aim was to complete the second draft in eight weeks but it’s not working out and I’m feeling a bit, more than a bit, de-motivated this weekend. I’m supposed to be at 31,000 by now and have only 25,000 worked on.

It’s a catch between – do I need a break or is the section I’m working on boring me senseless?

I decided that the idea was still sound and I needed a break. So I got four days and three walks in. Did loads of reading, a painting and free-writing. And telly and cooking and housework and general sorting out of things that should have been done if I wasn’t writing.

What did I get done since my break? Well, six pages of notes later and I suppose I did get two chapters written more the way I wanted them to be, new scenes added to reinforce one of the sub-plots and loads deleted and re-written. Revision is so gut-wrenchingly ruthless; cutting good writing because it doesn’t do its job. But when a chapter is revised and pulls the plot along properly, it really sings!

I’m not making my target but at least the chapters feel better written. I’ll tackle the next one tomorrow. Make a dent in it. Literally.

Scene intentions: or what I should have written in the first place.

Twenty thousand words into a second draft and I feel myself faltering. I look at the next chapter and think – what is the point of it? Honestly, what is the point, what is the intention of this scene, this chapter, what is supposed to be happening?

Scene and chapter intentions are critical. When I was attempting to do the second draft of my first novel I didn’t use them properly and I’ve had to put that novel aside because it’s not working. For the second novel, I’m using the information given in the book ‘Nail your novel: why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris, to produce a sheet with a timeline, scene and chapter intentions.

Note: This book was recommended in another publication called ‘The new author’ by Ruby Barnes who was a writer who’d completed the same course I did in creative writing, a year or more before me.

Every time I get stuck trying to figure out what I need to revise in the next chapter, I write out a mini-plan for it, remembering that the chapter will have a natural beginning (draw the reader in), middle section and end (leave them wanting more) and I think of the flow of the scenes within that chapter. I write down exactly what the scene is for. For example:

Scene intention for Chapter 6 Scene 2: B interrogated by C and David, B finds out about E.

I also jot down reminders of what exactly needs to be covered in that interrogation e.g. C asks B why didn’t he say anything? David takes control, shows video of E.

(I use the first letter of each main character’s name, faster than writing in full)

Revising the second novel is working better than I thought it would. Even though I wrote the scene and chapter intentions for the whole novel after the first draft (remember first drafts can’t be held up, write them without the inner critic), as I approach each chapter I find that I may revise those intentions or the intended purpose of the scenes to make the chapter work better – still keeping in mind the build-up of the overall plot and subplots.

The other book which I use for editing is ‘Self-editing for fiction writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve read it three times over the last year. I need that information firmly embedded in my brain.

So on we go…happy editing.

A moment of satisfaction

I have printed out a first draft of my second novel which I finished writing last weekend. (My first novel? I completed it to a second draft stage but after working on this novel, I feel a demotion coming on. It’s probably not as bad as I think it is. I wish!)

Anyway, after teasing two hundred and thirty-three pages through a printer that likes jamming every five sheets, I have a stack of paper on my desk that is a first draft of my second novel.

Ah…satisfaction…

Feeling good…

Mmm……

OK, the moment’s over.

Now, to take a look at the bugger and see if it’s structurally sound. On the first novel, I used a check sheet I called my Plot Structure check, which listed out what was supposed to happen in each chapter against the major and minor plots. I also used a Timeline sheet to plan out events to ensure I was consistent with what day I was on per chapter, what time, sunrise, sunset, twilight info and moon phase info in case it was needed in a scene.

For this novel, I’m going to try the idea of a Beat Sheet which I read about in a book called ‘Nail your novel: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris.

I like the ideas in this book. The Beat Sheet seems to be a combination of my Plot Structure sheet and the Timeline sheet with the aim of keeping the focus on scene intention, plots arcs, scene emotion levels and much more. So I’m going to give it a go and see how it works out.

It’s strange but last weekend when I wrote the last word in the last chapter and knew I’d finished the draft of my second novel, I felt really worried and had thoughts running through my mind like ‘the whole book is bad’ and ‘I’ve messed it up’. Anyway, I slept on it and didn’t feel so deflated the next day. (How bad can it be?!)

I think that if I could just get a novel, any one of my novels to a good publishable standard then I think I might believe in myself, know that I can do it. Even though I’m disappointed that I haven’t got to that stage yet, I’m happy to know that I can write another novel. In fact, the second novel was easier to write than the first one. Not easy, easy but it flowed better on some days, not all days, ok I’d say a lot of the things I learnt about writing came much easier-ish this time.

Right so, onwards with the novel writers quest…