Tag Archives: WIP

The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It – Part 2 – Hands-on Rewriting

We are going to try something that might be very painful for me: we are going to revise the first few paragraphs of my WIP, Battle Cleric.  With your help, we might make it shine.  If we do, then I might continue the revising on parts of the rest of the manuscript.  None of this has been seriously revised—it is raw material.  So…below is the beginning of Battle Cleric’s first chapter, entitled “Whispers of the Lost Scroll.”  Before you start, I heartily recommend that you read The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It here.  Then you will know what I am talking about.

 The sun shifted shadows of dancing leaves across the walls of my tower office.  I had flung the window wide open to let in the early summer breeze, knowing full well that I was tempting myself to play truant when I should be reading urgent reports from my network of data-gathering agents and answering politely worded demands from the Shemaran Council.

 I sighed and went to the window, regarding the sweetly homey scene.  Molly, our young Halfling cook, sat outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti housewoman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.

 I had just returned to my desk and picked up the first report, an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  It boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect reports.

 It was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside with a sigh.

Okay, I am going to rewrite the above passage.  Everything I change will be bolded – at the end of the change, will be the item number of the mistake I am correcting (Nos. 1-6 from Part 1, and Nos. 7-13 below).

Sighing, I pushed away the stack of urgent reports from my data-gathering agents.  Just once, I’d really like a day off.  Getting up out of the carved and padded chair at my desk, I slipped over to the window and watched (1, 2, 6) Molly, our young Halfling cook, sitting outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti house woman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.  Yet I found my mind wandering to the latest demand from the Shemaran Council and trying to formulate a politely worded refusal. (2 and smooth transition)

 When my mind commanded and my desk beckoned like that, I usually answered the call. (10, 11)  I returned to my chair, deciding the agent reports were the priority and picked up the first one, (smooth flow) an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  They boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect missives.

 The report was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside. (deleted “and sighed” to avoid repetition of a word)

From the pain of having experienced every single misstep I listed in Part 1, here are my additional suggestions to help in revising:

Overheated manuscript cooling off.

 7. Make sure you give your manuscript some cooling off time before you read it with a view to revising.

 When you write, give it everything you have – don’t stop to research or do any revising.  Write and write hard!  Try to make sure you are not interrupted during this process.  Then when you are finished the manuscript, put it away in a drawer and do not look at it for at least a day.  If you have pressing deadlines, refrain from looking for an hour or more.  If it is a book length manuscript, put it away for a week or longer.

 The reason this is necessary, and the reason it works, is because you use a different part of the brain for revising than for creating and writing.  The cooling off period allows you to disengage the creative part completely from the project and tune in to the critical editorial part.  If you try to revise while you are in the creative mode, you will still be too in love with your words to do any effective revising.  I wish I had known about this earlier in my career.

8. Show, don’t tell.  Well, this is partly true.  Many emerging writers tell far too much and show not enough.  However, there is a happy medium.  Stephanie will probably correct me but I believe that the ratio of show vs. tell is 66%.  However, you have to be happy with the result.  Still, if there is too much tell, at some point you will lose your reader, because honestly the prose gets boring.

9. A good way to test dialogue is to read it aloud.  Play all parts yourself and differentiate between each voice.  Then you will be able to hear the mistakes or the stepping out of character that you might have given one or more of the players in your story.  Many writers, including Alison Croggon, the brilliant fantasy writer of The Naming series, advocate reading your entire manuscript out loud, perhaps chapter by chapter if it’s a novel.  They say you can really hear the mistakes and do it much better than trying to catch them visually.

10. Along with number 9, be true to the voices in your story, including your own as the creator of the storyline.  You have to admit that an Oxford graduate in literature will talk much differently than a cowboy on a Montana ranch.  Or a construction worker than a nurse.  Or a suicidal homeless woman than a religious fanatic.  So be true to your characters.

And be true to the voice you use in your writing.  My style is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  I often write in the first person, so my main character is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  These characters can be wise or shallow; old or young; queen or peasant, but that cheerful narration and dialogue must remain consistent.

11. Have due regard for supporting the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.  This happy state is required for all fiction, but especially so for fantasy and science fiction.  The reader is willing to put aside certain of his own beliefs and thoughts if the story is logical.  You can’t just plunk magic into a story…you have to think of why magic works in this particular story, what are the steps to create this magic, and what are the consequences.  Then you have to stick to these “rules,” or once again you will lose your reader.

 12. Once you have finished revising to the best of your ability, have another person with a good grasp of English grammar and spelling read it.  If you have a writer friend, one who is familiar with your style, so much the better.  I am absolutely convinced that two heads are better than one.

13. Avoid repetition in proximity of words or phrases.  I once was editing a story for a friend and found the word “battle” nine times in the first two paragraphs.  Not acceptable.  In the same vein, be wary of favorite words that you use that stand out.  I once revised my own manuscript by deleting about ten “however”s.

 Try practicing these revisions, along with the ones in Part 1.  I guarantee you will see a difference in your work.

Also, if you see more areas in the above selection of Battle Cleric that could use revising, by all means let me know!

All text and writing excerpts are copyright © 2008, 2010 by Sandra Bell Kirchman.  All rights are reserved.
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Where, oh where, has my main character gone? – Describe the locale where your main character finds him/herself.

We entered a clearing where the path was broader and more firmly packed. As the clearing widened, it became more like a meadow bordered by trees, with the sound of water slapping against a shoreline beyond; on the far shore of the blue lake stood the tree-covered slopes of the Challa Mountains. I expected to find rough village huts such as one would find in a goblin encampment, but I found I had underestimated the Strakkin and their esthetic senses. As a matter of fact, despite my turmoil, I had to stop and appreciate the loveliness of their town.

Houses were spaced along a broad avenue of packed earth, with a large lodge at the end of the avenue, which I mistakenly took for the chief’s house. The smaller buildings were made from hewn logs that came from the slender birch trees scattered throughout the forest. Each house, raised from the ground by framework closed in by open latticework, had two or three rooms, which were visible from the ground. This was because the end wall was open and strung with beaded hangings that glittered in the sunlight.

You could see into the home’s main area, but the other rooms were private, closed off with brightly colored woven cloth. The roofs were made of split wood, tiled to prevent leakage and seamed with some kind of dark material, like tar, except where on Athero would these people find tar? Certainly not in the northern woods of Challa. The whole effect was rather ethereal with the weathered silver look of the birch, the filmy latticework of the open foundation, the beauty of the beads and gaiety of the colored cloths within.

The picture above left is one of the pictures I collected to help me visualize the area that I have described. This description starts shortly after Emerald, the High Priestess, and main character of the story, has been captured by the Strakkin, an undiscovered race of dark-skinned people on Athero. Emerald is on a desperate mission to save both the benigns of Athero from a savage coup by the maligns, as well as her own eyesight, and cannot spare the time to be captured. But there she is. This is her first glimpse of the “natives’” home and she is quite taken with it. The reason this description is important is that it starts giving clues as to where the Strakkin actually come from. I won’t tell you more, though, and spoil the story.

So here’s a little exercise for you…look at that picture and place your main character in it. Describe the scene through his or her eyes and little by little reveal why s/he is there. Try doing it in 275 words or less (the above quote is 276 words). If you wish to share it with us, we would be delighted. If not, that’s okay too. If the above picture doesn’t work for you, find another one that will. Good luck and have fun!

How to develop your character from random words and avoid premature grey hair

Not only can staring at the monitor turn your hair grey, but it can turn you into a robot. Really!

Staring at the blank page on the monitor can turn your hair grey early.  Okay, I don’t really know that because I have dyed my hair for a long time now and have no idea what color it really is.  But I can remember sitting and looking at the blank page on my screen and grinding my teeth in frustration.  That can’t be good for you.  Still, nothing was coming; I had a deadline and it was drawing ever closer.  A friend of mine had posted this little exercise on the forum that I manage, and I decided to try it out.  Here’s how it works.

Below is a list of five words.  You take each word and write a paragraph (one paragraph only) about that word from one of your character’s perspective.  You don’t have to use the same character.  If you would rather write a description of a place, do so, but keep in mind the story you are writing and the voice you are using (we will talk about voice in another post).  Note:  You can write more than one paragraph if you are including direct dialogue, since you need to use a new paragraph for each speaker in turn.

1. Air
2. Apples
3. Beginning
4. Bugs
5. Coffee

I know it looks very simple but you would be amazed at what you find out about characters just describing something simple.  Here, I’ll show you (this is right off the top of my head and not pre-written).

AIR

I couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs.  It was as if something dark and heavy were sitting on my chest pressing me into the ground.  Even my healing powers had deserted me.  My vision was growing dim, with intermittent flashes of light in front of my eyes.  Even so, I noticed that the rest of the group hadn’t noticed my distress; I was being left behind.  I knew they would come searching for me once they noticed, but would I be able to hang on until help came?  I gasped and strained to gulp in the air, but it was no use.  The darkness grew complete and I knew no more.

This is a very interesting little bit.  The speaker is Emerald Verity, the former Battle Cleric of the title and the main character of my WIP (Battle Cleric the Novel).  So far though, I have not written anything about this episode.  I have no idea what has happened, but it is intriguing enough that I might follow it.

APPLES

Feldspar reached forward and took an apple out of the bowl on my desk.  Holding it delicately, he took a huge bite out of it and started chewing, the sweet juice dribbling down his chin.  It annoyed me that he hadn’t asked permission but just helped himself.

Perhaps he had read my thoughts, for he said, “Sorry, milady, that was rude of me.  I’ve had naught to eat for the past twenty-four hours, and the apple promised to stop those miserable growling noises of my stomach.”

How can you stay annoyed at someone like that?  “It’s fine, Feldspar,” I said.  “Help yourself to as many as you need to stop the hunger noises.”  I found I had to hide a smile as his stomach rumbled like a catapult being winched up.

Same here.  So far there is no episode like this in the story.  However, it is a good character bit for both Feldspar, a rogue that Emerald used in her spy system, and, of course, Emerald.

You get the idea.  Just let it flow, keeping in mind that the paragraph must have some connection to the word.  You don’t have to post your paragraphs here, but it would be great if you did.  I love reading these snippets and people are so creative with them.

P.S. The exercise saved the day, I wrote enough paragraphs to get me going, and I made the deadline 🙂

How to describe a fiction character by finding her face

Woman's face, selected for Kyan.

The face to the left is a reasonably pretty face, older, say in her late 30s or early 40s.   However, there is nothing tremendously remarkable about this face.  So why do I have this picture featured in my post?  Easy–it’s an exercise I do to not only find or develop a character, but to then have a simple, visual way to identify one of my characters rather than reading a bunch of description.

It’s okay, if you only have a few characters, but if you have a lot of characters, as I do in my WIP, Battle Cleric, the Novel, then I need a quicker way to identify the character and pull up some characteristics i might need for my next scene.

Here’s how it works.

Decide which comes first—the chicken or the egg.  In this case, do you have a character you want to explore more fully?  Or are you looking for a character to fill a certain spot in your story?  In this case, I have a character, and I know a fair amount about her.  She is an Eslin elf, ex-soldier formerly under the command of Emerald Verity, erstwhile battle cleric, retired, and now High Priestess of the Maker in the Eslin elf city of Shemara.  She is now Emerald’s personal assistant and her name is Kyan.  Since she is a minor character, albeit an important one, I have not fleshed her out more than that.  I want to do it quickly and get on with the story.

So I went looking for a character in all the magnificent galleries that allow free use of their photos.  I had a vague idea in mind about what she looked like, nothing really concrete, and I also knew approximately how old she is.  I searched through gallery after gallery of pictures of women’s faces.  Nothing.  I didn’t think I was being too particular, but no photo reached out to me and said, “This is your character, Kyan.”  Then suddenly it happened.  There was the perfect Kyan.

I studied the picture and began writing down what I saw in the picture—age 37, light brown hair and eyes, pretty face that is unmarred by the horrors of battle, a strong personality, very loyal, innovative and creative, a lover of the outdoors and animals both wild and tame.  This last part made a perfect set-up for Kyan to be the keeper of the puppy that finds its way on board as Emerald and her crew search the oceans of Athero for the elusive green Sea Rose.  I won’t tell you more about the puppy now, because that will spoil it, but it is a very special puppy and needs a very special keeper.

Who is this character and what does he look like?

The serendipity of uncensored writing comes into effect when you are looking for one thing and find another plot point or character or both pop up because of the stimulus of the face of your character.

I found out quite a bit more about Kyan, copied it all down, then linked the picture with Kyan’s name to the description, and placed the picture on the page of character pictures I have.  I can now look at that page and at a glance tell a lot about the character.  If I NEED more detail, I can go to the full description via the link.  It works beautifully for me.

If I had been looking for a character to be Emerald’s personal assistant, I would have done the same thing, only perhaps I wouldn’t have had to do a little prep work first—sex, age, physical condition at the very least.  If I found a great photo that didn’t match, that’s okay, I could change it.  The visual backup here is very comforting for a writer who deals nearly exclusively with words and text.  It rounds out the picture of the character and makes it easier, at least for me, to write good action scenes and dialogue involving the character.

Try it yourself.  I would love to hear back from you how it works for you.