donderdag 26 juni 2014

Leading your Reader's Imagination: Evocative Descriptions

Well-written descriptions can bring a book to life

When thinking of my favorite novels, it's usually the characters that come to mind first. I have a clear picture of them in my head: what they look like, how they act, if they would make good friends (of course they would). The reason for this is simple: the author has described his characters so well, that reading the novel was more akin to watching a movie.

When looking over my still too-slim novel, I noticed something I had missed completely when rushing through the first draft: I didn't describe any of the characters. The only thing I could find, is that one of the characters has blue eyes. That was it. Despite me knowing my characters inside and out, the readers would have to fill in the gaps for themselves.

And while something can be said for leaving things to the imagination (check out E. J Runyon's post), not giving any descriptions whatsoever can be off-putting for a lot of readers.

Though it doesn't come naturally to me to describe physical characteristics (since I tend to skip over them myself), this article on Creative Writing Now convinced me of their importance.

Description overload can ruin a manuscript

Of course, knowing you need to add descriptions is one thing, but knowing how much to add is another. Janice Hardy cleared it all up for me: balance is key. She gives some great examples, so be sure to check out the article.

The hardest part, of course, is incorporating descriptions while keeping true to the most important advice you can get on writing: show, don't tell.
If you haven't heard about this crucial element in writing, you're doomed. Just kidding! Although, do yourself a favor and look it up. And never admit to not knowing about it. Ever.

Denise Robbins gives sound advice on how to create effective, evocative descriptions. There are probably dozens of great articles about this, but hers is the one that got me motivated enough to start reworking my first draft.

Speaking of which, I set the goal of reaching 40.000 words by the end of next week. Better get cracking!

The Noveling Novice

How do you try to point your reader's imagination in the right direction? Do you naturally over- or under-describe?

woensdag 25 juni 2014

The Fabled Too-short First Draft

I'm done! Or am I?

For the last week or so, I have been pushing myself to write without thinking, and just get the novel on paper. Yesterday, I finally finished my first draft.

I celebrated a little, started dreaming about becoming a published millionaire best-selling author, and checked out my word count.

22.140 words.
I had to breathe into a bag for a while.

For those of you who do not obsessively research word counts: that's short, even for the YA novel I'm attempting. (I'll post about word count ranges later in the process.)

And not just 'push out a few more chapters' short. It's less than half the desired length. Less. Than. Half.

After the initial panic attack, I started doing some research and regrouped. I had been planning on having to pare down my novel excessively in the editing phase, and having to agonize over what scenes to cut. Instead, I would have to add even more words than I'd already written. How do you add words to a finished story, without writing a sequel?

The internet to the rescue

Even though most editing tips deal with too long first drafts (like 200.000 words - how on earth do you word-vomit that much?), there are a few excellent articles out there on how to flesh out a novel. The emphasis here is that you flesh it out, instead of just adding unnecessary padding. Since a lot has already been said about it, I'll just summarize the most salient points here:

Janice Hardy talks about how to check for things that might be missing in your novel: clarity, action, back story, etc. She also warns against adding characters and subplots just to get to a word count. Reading this, I realized that I had taken the reader's understanding for granted on some points, and that I should give them a little more clues into my main character's motivations.

Emily Wenstrom mentions the importance of pacing, and the pitfalls of focusing on your main character too much. People interact with others (unless they're complete hermits, which does not make for a very interesting story), so having a decent-sized cast of characters is vital. This was a reality check: my first draft is so fast-paced the reader would probably not be able to remember what it was about by the time they finished it.

Suzannah Windsor Freeman mentions the pro's and con's of short first drafts (and long ones too, for those of you who are interested). After stumbling upon this article, I relaxed. Rewriting scenes to include descriptions might be hard, but at least I know what the important parts of my novel are. Now I just need to add words that emphasize these parts, instead of detracting from them.

And last but not least, Lee Bross gives some examples on how to expand your word count to add intrigue.

After reading these posts, I have a pretty clear idea where the holes in my first draft are. I'll be posting later about my experiences with character development, descriptions and motivation/goals.

But first, I have to get writing to crank up that word count!

The Noveling Novice

Do you have trouble with word counts? Are your first drafts too short, or do they tend to be too long? I would love to hear from you!

donderdag 19 juni 2014

The Power of Procrastination

The blank page: a writer's worst enemy

Many beginning writers will have experienced the fear that comes with starting a novel. While everything is in your head, you can play around with characters and situations as much as you like, and everything will look beautiful. However, getting the first words onto a page can be terrifying.

One mistake I made, was thinking everything needed to be perfect once it was written down. That can be a paralyzing thought. I cannot count the number of times I deleted my first sentence.

Then, I came across a bunch of articles that deal with this problem. K. M. Weiland, Writing with Confidence, and Jon Gingerich all agree on one thing: don't overthink your first draft. It's all right for a first draft to be less than perfect. In fact, Anne Lamott sums it up quite nicely in her book Bird by Bird: 'Write shitty first drafts!'

Once I allowed myself to write badly, the blank page was just a sandbox for me to play in. And the words starting flowing!

Sticking with the schedule

During the last three days, I've written exactly 11.983 words. Not bad, for someone with a full-time job and a partner that detests cooking. I'm hoping this is not the writer's equivalent of beginner's luck, but I don't know if I will be able to sustain this pace.

The thing is, I'm a procrastinator. I've been talking about writing a book for years and have only just now started writing. Recently, I read an excellent article on how to turn procrastination to your advantage.

In short, you have to make a to-do-list. At the very top, you put something that's important, but not really urgent. In order to avoid having to do that task, you'll try to procrastinate. And since we love fooling ourselves into thinking we are being productive, you're most likely to pick one of the other items on your list.

It's a surprisingly effective technique, and it has helped me focus on writing. The only problem is that writing has now become my top priority, which means that I will do anything to avoid working on my first draft.

This blog is an excellent example of productive procrastination. You read a lot of articles about the importance of an online platform for aspiring writers. So what I'm doing right now can only help me in the long run, right?

Not entirely. It will become important later, but at the moment, I still only have 11.983 words. To get that novel written down, I'll have to put in a lot more hours. Hours that I can't waste on blogging, in other words.

This article on the importance of Butt-in-chair time (no, I am not making this up) illustrates just why I should be writing at the moment.

And on that note, I will glue myself to my chair for the next two hours. On to 15.000 words!

The Noveling Novice

How do you get started on a new writing project? How do you motivate yourself to reach your word count goals? I would love to hear from you!

How to get published: write a book!

The problem with 'aspiring'

A lot of people dream of being a writer. And not just any writer, but the next J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. They dream about being discovered, offered a publishing contract, and being able to retire to the Bahama's in a few short years.

I'm not here to crush those dreams. In fact, I'm all for dreaming. The thing is, these dreamers often forget about one tiny detail: you have to write a book to become a writer. Seems simple, doesn't it? And yet, I'm one of the many aspiring novelists guilty of putting the cart in front of the horse. If I never try, I'll always be able to say that I could have been a great writer, if I had just given it a go. Isn't that a comforting thought?

Getting started

That ends now. A few days ago, I decided that I couldn't just keep dreaming and wishing. I'm actually going to write a novel. It will be very hard work, and I will probably want to give up many times along the way. But if the novel turns out to be crap, I'll be able to put the dream to a rest (hopefully). Maybe I'll even chase a new dream.

I'm starting this blog to document stumbling blocks and frustrations, and hopefully some successes. I've noticed that there is a lot of information to be found on being a writer, or on editing and publishing a novel. And yet, there is little information on the day-to-day details of actually sitting down and writing. For those of you looking for a friend in misery, you've found her right here.

The plan

I'm starting the actual writing now, in June 2014. My hopes is to have a publishing contract by June 2015. While this seems optimistic (and somewhat unattainable), it's the first time I have actually set myself a deadline.

Realistically, if I can't manage to get a publishing deal by then (or at least have an agent and good prospects), I won't be able to make a living being a writer. I might still write on the side, but the ultimate goal is that pinnacle of writing succes: quitting the day job.

This means that I will have to:

  • Write the first draft. That means I will be writing at least 2000 words a day, preferably more.
  • Edit, edit, edit! I hope to rewrite my first draft at least 3 times.
  • Get an agent. I'm not really the type to go into self-publishing (though I'll keep my options open).
  • Get a publishing deal!
  • Promote the novel, so it actually reaches people.

Hopefully, this story will end with the publication of my first novel. In that case, I'll be happy to let you use me as an example.

And if I fail miserably, at least I'll have provided you with some entertainment.

The Noveling Novice 

Are you a dreamer or a doer? How and when did you make the decision to stop aspiring? I would love to hear from you!