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?
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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.
Hi Livia, I've really been enjoying your blog since I discovered it a few months ago. You've learned some helpful strategies between your first and second novels. My second novel is coming out from Random House this spring . . . I've gone through a similar growth experience. Good luck and keep writing.ReplyDelete
David, great news about your second novel! What is it about?Delete
I love that--writing to make readers care insttead of hooked.ReplyDelete
I'm now on my fourth boo, with two published, and what I'm doing differently is taking my time. I'm always wanting to hurry and get the book out there, but that hurts the writing and doesn't build readership.
Anonymous, it's refreshing to see someone talk about taking their time, because it seems everybody is trying to write faster and get more books up more quickly these days. I'm still trying to find a good balance between writing quick and writing well.Delete
sorry for having to comment on someone elses post but i need some help making up a character for my book i need some insperation can you give me a few pointers?Delete
Best of luck on your dissertation - I am working on a memoir. For a time I put it up on Critique Circle, and got feedback - that strengthened my writing, the ending is better than the start, so I'm re-writing and making it all stronger. I wrote the story 25 years ago and am now revisiting with greater skills. My other book was a non-fiction and I didn't have a platform to support it. My memoir will give me a platform to re-work and present my first book. So I am learning as I go. I am taking some classes and reading a lot to learn how to better present my work. HeatherReplyDelete
Heather, is your memoir in a similar subject as your nonfiction book?Delete
These are actually very useful things for all writers to remember. I am especially guilty of point number one.ReplyDelete
Anyway, good luck with the whole graduating thing along with the book writing.
Jake, I always feel slightly weird when talking about point of view, because there are many good books written from all approaches. But it seems that the prevailing fashion is a deeper point of view, and I tend to prefer that myself. Especially in YA, it's hard to get past even beta readers if you don't write in a deep point of view.Delete
I outline and do lots of pre-writes. Hey, good luck on that dissertation too.ReplyDelete
Catherine, I'm an outliner as well. Random observation -- I've discovered that voice recognition software is very nice for pre-writing. I've done more than one character sketch while doing my nails. :-)Delete
Training that software to decipher my manner of speaking is a pain in the butt, though.Delete
I like #3. That's well phrased. And good luck on the dissertation.ReplyDelete
Joseph, thanks! And I will need the good luck on the dissertation :-)ReplyDelete
Your blogs are so insightful. After reading them, I feel smarter. And congrats in advance for your graduation! I hope we cross paths again soon so I can have my picture taken with you!
Also, thank you for the sweet mention! I appreciate your kind support. :)
Gina, Hehe, now I *have* to graduate soon, if you're congratulating me in advance :-) Good luck w/ your book!Delete
Loved # 3. I'm thinking about how to make readers care. Sometimes I think this is often overlooked by many authors. We feel a need to care about the characters we invest our time in reading about. After all the reader steps into the world we create to walk the path chosen. To care and feel rewarded for the journey is a wonderful feeling for the reader. Thanks for reminding us.ReplyDelete
JeanElaine, Yeah, I guess a book is almost like a relationship with a character -- a close one, since you're inside her head.Delete
Really appreciate your blog, so I wish you the best for this second adventure.
I find interesting your interest for point of view, and I share it. Somehow it relates to the theory of mind. From the outside, we want to be able to understant the character. But it gives such a deeper layer in addition, to have an access to his own vision of his world. All telling is build on this I suppose.
As for exercises to get deeper, the one I practise is writing all the story told by the main characters, sort of a journal, with their voice, style, expression, values. I find it a precious tool.
My best to you,
That's a great connection with theory of mind, Marc! I think both film and books use theory of mind muscles, but in different ways. Film makes you work for everything because nothing at all is conveyed, but I think books allow you to go deeper.Delete
My biggest mistake has been obsessive line editing. I started out as a poet, and I was used to finessing every single word...every sentence...every paragraph...and then large chunks of the book would be cut anyway. It's one thing to revise in order to find out where a story needs to go, but it's a waste of time to get too detailed for the sake of language. I think being in writing workshops can reinforce this if you take people's line edit suggestions and run with them!ReplyDelete
Best of luck with your dissertation!!
Ah yes, line editing. I find myself doing this more and more. I wasn't aware enough of voice in the first book to do it much. Now, my first draft's writing bugs me so much! But sometimes you just need to get the story out.Delete
Outlining. I have been much more meticulous about my outlining on the second manuscript and my storytelling has improved immensely as a result. Eventually, I'm going to have to re-write the first manuscript using some of the same outlining techniques.ReplyDelete
Here's hoping that all of your fiction writing lessons are useful to you in the dissertation. As much as I believed that it wasn't going to be my magnum opus, I still wrote my dissertation as though I wanted it to be. It did not help, but I still passed. For what that's worth.
You just gave me an eyeopener on #3. I'm always focused on keeping the reader hooked, but what really hooks a reader is the emotional connection to the character. We have to make our readers care about what happens. I already knew that, but the way you stated it in #3 made me realize it's not about technique, it's about people. I'll be keeping this in mind as I continue through the revisions of my novel.ReplyDelete
I've thought much harder about the second book than the first, and spent hours creating a bible and an entirely new world. But I think the smartest thing I've done is to join a writers' group, so I'll be involved with the critiquing process early, having to justify the decisions I make before eight or nine keen minds. I think the process will be invaluable.
I think you'll find working on character arc and twining it with you plot arc will solve #3. It will also turn a good story into a really good story.ReplyDelete
There have been a lot of changes for me between my first novel and my current one, but I believe the most important lesson I've learned is to throw things away. If something isn't 80-90% there on the first draft, I delete it. I use the ideas I've developed in the previous draft and let my imagination expand upon them. Tweaking is great for stuff that's pretty good already, but can't save stinky bits.ReplyDelete
One thing I use is to give characters little quirks that aren't relevant to the story. For instance, one character (who might turn out to be important, or might be a minor character) has something of an obsession with mints. He always has a packet of mints in his pocket and is usually eating one or offering them round.ReplyDelete
That sort of thing doesn't advance the story at all, but it makes the characters a little bit more rounded and relatable. Everyone has some little quirk or oddity and your characters shouldn't be exceptions.
Glad you've decided to embrace settings and good luck with your studies!ReplyDelete
Sounds as if you've figured out all of those writerly "secrets". I do exactly the same thing. Good luck on graduating and that draft!!!ReplyDelete
Glad I found your blog, Livia. I love how serious you are about method. You'll accomplish much, I think.ReplyDelete
This is great and detailed advice. Thanks. Fr OmReplyDelete
A writer still seeking a publisher. Helpful
Advice is always welcome. Good luck on dissertation. Cheers.