Stick Figures

Bad Metaphor Monday: Writing a Book is Like Crocheting a Blanket

imageThere’s a blanket on my bed I made seven years ago.  When I started it, I didn’t really know what it was going to wind up looking like.  I experimented with different colors and made a plan–the results of which I was very pleased.  It was fun to watch the blanket come together, and I can still see that learning/growing part of myself tangled in its threads.

When you’re learning to do something and you have passion for the subject, you breathe life into your work.  Put a few years into something, and you risk losing touch with that creative spark–that is–if you don’t make an effort to approach what you are doing from a new angle and keep an open mind.

Case in point, I decided to put together another granny square blanket.  Having completed the first blanket, I thought it would be a snap.  I planned it all ahead of time–picking the yarn and drawing a diagram.  There was no room left for experimentation, and though this blanket I’m piecing together now isn’t ugly…it’s not alive.  Perhaps I should’ve ditched the granny squares or blankets altogether and made–I don’t know–a wicked awesome hat with one of those giant pom-poms to smack me in the face when I walked down the street.  That, although dumb, would’ve been more exciting.

The same principle applies to writing.  Writers each have their own “process,” but if the book I’m writing now is any indication, that process needs to be flexible.  It would be nice to be able to plan everything out ahead of time, but I’m sure that is seldom the case with even the most seasoned authors.  I go through a long developing stage before I sit down to actually draft, but even then I find myself changing, changing, changing.

“Wouldn’t it be better if…”

“This part isn’t working…”

“Oh, I know.  I’ll…”

“Cat!  Get off the keyboard!”

Every new book is a new baby, and it’s our job as writers to give that baby what it needs.  My current baby would rather set fire to my scene cards than use them.  She coos when I begin writing off track into something completely different and, incidentally, better.  Hmm.

Michelle Joyce Bond

P.S.  My apologies for the second bad, cliché, book-is-a-baby metaphor.  Can’t help myself. 🙂

By the way writers, how is your book baby coming along?  Is he/she being fussy or is everything coming together as planned?

Stick Figures

Bad Metaphor Monday: Weeding My Manuscript

imageIf writing a first draft is like planting a couple of marigolds…

and if revising is like ripping out those marigolds, moving them around, and going back over time to add in more varied, layered, vegetation so that everything tangled beautifully together as in an old English garden…

and if you finally realize your damn garden’s too big…

then re-editing is like finding the unnecessary vines, carefully following them to their source, and then ripping them out.

Thanks to the encouragement of my awesome critiquing partner, I finally came to terms with my way too long 133,000 word manuscript, and though I’m still short of my goal, I was able to rip out 16,000 words.  In the past, I’d deleted bits and pieces here and there, but I had to think bigger.  Out came almost three chapters, one secondary character (killed that darling dead), four tertiary characters, and a mess of other not-so-bad-but-uneeded details.

The result?  It’s so much tighter!  I didn’t think I could do without the above for so long, but once I started cutting, I got on a roll.  Now I’m seeing my manuscript through different eyes.  How much more can I cut?  I’m hoping to get down to 110,000, but we shall see.

Shout out below if you’ve ever had to cut a huge amount of words or if you know you have to.  I’ll cheer you on!

Stick Figures

First Draft Manuscript Goes Up In a Glorious Blaze

imageYesterday, I dumped 16,000 words of my latest WIP in my never-to-return folder and started over again.  Did the writing suck?  I like to think not, but I’d gotten to the point that I could see a better way to write the book.  When this happens, dump the old manuscript and start over from scratch.  You will thank yourself.

Really, 16,000 words isn’t a big deal. I’ve rewritten entire books (one of them twice).  This time, it came to me that I could strengthen the entire story if I changed the basic make-up of my antagonist.

“What?” you say.  “You’re changing the entire story to work around your antagonist?” Well…yeah.  As a serial revisionist, I make changes to my manuscripts all the time, but there was no way to work around something this big.  Here are the reasons:

  1. My characters’ actions are married to the plot—antagonists included.  If the antagonist does something differently or is a different person altogether, the plot must change.
  2. The major antagonist’s traits echo the protagonist in some ways (personal preference), so when he changes, she must change.
  3. If the protagonist changes in her desires and actions—even small shifts—the plot is directly affected in fundamental ways.

I know I don’t have to do the above—that my characters’ basic make-up and the plot do not need to be so closely connected…but I can’t help myself.  I am not a writer who sits down and speedily bangs out a book (though instinct and discovery writing definitely have their place in the drafting process).  I am a writer who spaces out while leaning over blank notebook pages, and—let’s be honest—at various other points during my day.  Only after weeks of this daydreaminig will I sit down and begin to write about characters, settings, plot points, experimental scenes, etc. in a notebook.  Often, I’ll write through half the notebook and start over again because I figured out a better way to plot it—a way in which everything was connected. Then, and only then, do I begin drafting.

And now I’ll start over again.  Happily. 🙂

Have you ever burned it all to the ground and started from scratch?  Share below!

Stick Figures

Delete Your Darlings…Or Save Them in Another Document Because They’re Really Annoying

imageYou may already be familiar with the Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but I bet you seldom find yourself shouting “Kill!” into the open book before you.  Your sudden ire is unfortunate since you picked this book to help you relax and get away from your own crazy writing for a few hours.  Overall, the book isn’t bad.  It’s just…this scene.

You read on, growing more and more confused because—over the course of this lovely scene where two characters are sharing a pizza or whatever—nothing is happening. Sure, there’s dialogue and the author might argue some mild character development, but…no.  The whole thing is nothing more than an excuse for two people to make eyes at each other and joke about cheese.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t count as a “scene” because there is no goal, conflict, or disaster…but it’s not a “sequel” either.  A sequel is the aftermath of a scene and includes a reaction, dilemma, and decision.  None of that exists in happy-yummy-pizza world.  The only reason these pages haven’t gone up in a glorious blaze is because the author can’t let them go.  Then again, maybe the author isn’t aware of his or her own shortcomings.

Three things can help with this:

  1. reading a lot of good books on the craft of writing
  2. reading a lot of well-written books that exhibit these features (and books that fail to)
  3. critique, revise, rinse, repeat

If you are a writer working on a manuscript everyday, you are probably in love with it.  That said, you need to accept that the book you’re writing may never meet with more than a few sets of eyes.  But even if your book baby never “makes it,” tangling with the words can turn that project into a really good learning experience—a stepping stone on the road to possible success with a future book.  This only works, however, if your process improves.

You can learn a lot from looking at a published book, but keep in mind, you are looking at a product.   One cannot see the hours of planning, revision, reimagining, and re-revision the author went through to “finish” that product.  That’s why we need the three-punch combo listed above.  Read, apply, work toward mastery.

For most writers, the longest and most difficult part of the process is revision.  Be your own worst enemy first—tear your writing to pieces and make a better monster out of what’s left. Then, get others to go through it with their own sharp eyes.  Please, not your mom.  She would love that pizza scene.

Writers, do you have a particular “darling” you had a hard time deleting? I’d love to hear about it!

Readers, is there a particular not-scene in a book you’ve read recently that makes you want to scream?  Tell all below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

We Spin Out Like Galaxies

imageThere is likely a point in your life when you were alone under the night sky, and you felt its pull.  You were on a roof, in a pool of water, or simply looking out a window.  Regardless, you can put yourself back there because that was a moment you felt…something.  That underlying buzz.  Personally, I was always a window-watcher, but when the weather was right, I’d go out and bounce on the trampoline in the moonlight.  As an adult, it’s harder to find time to get to that reflective place where my mind spins out into the twinkling darkness.  If I can find the time to stargaze, I listen to music.  Atmospheric songs like “Bulletproof” by Radiohead ignite my memories and take me back to age thirteen when my brain was more plastic and forming its own thoughts about the complexity of everything.

I’m curious–where you or are you still a stargazer?  How do you get back to that place–with music?  If so, what are you listening to?  Does it help to inspire your writing?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Draft-Like-I’m-Crazy Stage

imageForgive this bitty blog, but I’m past the character-building/world-building/insane-looking-first-notebook stage and onto the draft-like-crazy-in-my-horrible-handwriting-second-notebook stage of writing.  I’m off to lose some sleep giving life to a character who’s a bit of a world-builder herself…though in a more literal sense.

What stage of writing are you in right now?  Be cool and give it to me with a lot of hyphens and/or backslashes!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Back Into the Notebook

imageIt’s that time again–to stare off into space like I’m catatonic…and then move like a whip, snatching up the first sticky note, receipt, torn envelope, or candy wrapper to blow in my direction.  I’ll turn over my purse, spilling markers, Sharpies, and broken pencils on the floor (wondering briefly what my cat did with all the pens), and then I’ll tear at the paper scraps until the words let me go.

Next, I’ll tape all the scraps in a notebook and write around them…past them.  I will eventually run into the more attractive sister of my first idea, and build her up.  Up!

Five different colors of ink.  Sophisticated cursive on one page and animal scratches on the next.  Staple surgery and pages torn from other notebooks.  That’s my little monster.

Now, time to share.  How do you get down ideas?  Do you keep a “little monster?”

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Scene in a Song: How Fiction Explodes from My Head

imageHopefully, you’re one of the lucky ones whose imagination explodes into vivid motion picture when you hear good music.  Everyone has their own kind of music with which this “works,” so if you’re one of these fortunate souls, please tell me what you’re listening to in the comments section below.

Music is an integral part of my process.  When I hear it, especially songs with a lot of atmosphere, I see disconnected scenes.  I call these scenes set pieces because they are emotionally charged  whirlwinds of narration that accelerate the plot.  Here, I become my characters for the first time and then build a story around them including an immersive setting and conflict.

Well, these are the first steps at least.  By the time I’m finished with a story, it may look a bit different than the original idea (rewritten and revised TO DEATH), but the spirit of these set pieces stays in tact.  I keep in touch with a handful of anchor songs as I write, and it’s fun to return to them when I’m finished, reflecting on how much the narrative changed after being stapled down by details.

Does your imagination that move to music?

Michelle Joyce Bond