It's crunch time in dissertation land. I’m aiming to graduate this June, so blog posts won't be as frequent this semester. Hopefully I'll come out the other side without too many dead brain cells. :-)
With the new year, it’s a good time to talk about new beginnings. Now that I’ve finished revisions on Midnight Thief for agent Jim, I'm starting a new novel.
It's a very different experience this time around. Three years ago, I was blissfully ignorant about the whole process. Seven revisions, two years of critique group meetings, and 178 blog posts later, I’ve learned a few lessons.
These some things I've learned and/or am doing differently the second time around.
1. I have a better understanding of point of view (POV). When I first started writing, I mistakenly misinterpreted “show don't tell” as "never say when a character feels.” My scenes were written from a distant viewpoint -- like a camera looking at the characters from the outside. While there's objectively nothing wrong with this approach, I've since learned the advantages of a deeper POV. After all, one perk of novels over movies is that the reader gets access to a character's thoughts. I now know more about incorporating internal narration and shading narration through a character’s eyes and worldview.
2. I'm spending more pre-writing time on characters. When I started Midnight Thief, I approached the characters mostly as "peopleI need to further the plot.” Characters in the first few drafts were pretty flat, and I spent a good deal of revision time rounding them out. This time, I'm building them up before I start writing. These are some of the exercises that I've been using.
3. Instead of thinking about how to keep readers hooked, I'm thinking about how to make readers care. I relied a lot on cliffhanger endings for Midnight Thief. While I love my cliffhangers dearly, they can only take you so far. I now see cliffhangers as part of a larger set of tools to keep readers invested. If readers build an emotional connection to the character, they'll keep reading -- plus, they'll keep thinking about the book after they finish. I'm still trying to figure out how to do this in practice. Some ideas are building emotional depth, making your character the underdog, and save the cat moments. Cheryl Klein has also a nice list of attributes that make a character likable. Any other suggestions?
4. In addition to plot arc, I'm thinking about character arcs and relationship arcs. Again, my first few drafts of Midnight Thief focused heavily on plot. The second time around, I'm also thinking about character journeys and the push-pull of character relationships as the story develops. The latter is especially good for building tension.
5. I'm using more setting to enhance the story. I didn't include much setting description in Midnight Thief because I'm the type of reader who skips over descriptive passages. But I've since learned ways to include setting details in non-obtrusive ways. For example, in props used by the characters, and small details that fill the beats between bits of dialogue and action.
So how is book 2 going? Well, for all those noble aspirations, the first draft is still pretty darn bad. But that's what first drafts are for, I guess. I do have to work a lot harder to silence my internal editor, but on the other hand it's very exciting to see a new story take shape.
So readers, what about you? What do you do differently now, compared to when you first started writing?
Hope you enjoyed this post! To get regular updates from this blog, use the subscription options on the sidebar.
Also, friend of the blog Gina Penn recently released her new novel The Dark Layer. Check it out!
Annemarie Lukas Bredahl has recently left her husband and moved into a small but cozy house in the lower middle-class city of Holly, Ohio. Alone except for her dog and scared of being on her own, she tries to adapt to her newly single life.
As if things couldn’t get worse, she starts noticing items moving around on their own and the plumbing in her new place needs work. On a recommendation she calls Jackson Terry, a local plumber, and he proves to be the perfect distraction from her failing marriage.
Annemarie knows something isn’t right with the house. Crosses appear and disappear on the walls. Her dog goes missing. She consults her long-time priest and although at first unwilling to personally help, he tells her that her house may be filled with souls trying to escape Hell by slipping through a hole in the dark layer-a layer between Heaven and Hell.
This is too much for Annemarie. She only wants a normal new life and new relationship with Jackson. Instead, she must learn why the dark souls slipping through want her and her alone to guide them to what any damned soul wants-salvation.