Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Your Novel - Where to Start

I've decided to take a more definitive direction with my blog thanks to a twitter post I found couresy of @elizabethscraig (  If you're a writer and you're not following her on Twitter, you're missing out on a lot of really great information. Until now, my postings have been mostly random topics usually related to what I'm currently working on - either a particular chapter I've struggled with or a step I've taken toward publication. To kick off this new beginning I thought I would start at my own beginning.

When I first decided to write a book, all I had was a story in my head. I'm a nurse. I've never taken a writing class, and I don't have friends who write. Needless to say, I had no idea where to begin. So, I did what any other ambitious newbie would do- I copied what already existed. That translates into- I formatted my Word doc to trade paperback size, made the font small enough to look like the books I had on my shelf, and counted the average number of words per page and pages per chapter. Then, I started to write.

Let me save you other newbies some trouble.

Take a fresh new Word doc and make the margins 1" on all sides. Double space, and set the paragraph to a 0.5" indent on the first line. Put your name on the left side of the header and on the right put the book title (call it "Title" to start if you haven't got one) followed by the page number. If you want to, in the footer, put the copyright symbol, the year, your name and the words "All rights reserved."  Mine reads (c) 2009 Michelle A. Luce-Kobayashi.  All rights reserved.  If you can't find the copyright symbol, look under Insert -> Symbol.

Now that you're done with that, put "Chapter 1" at the top and on the next line, start writing. It's that simple. What you start with will suck. You may decide it's great, but if this is your first attempt at writing, I can almost guarantee whatever comes out will not be part of your final manuscript (MS). Don't let that hold you back. It takes thousands of words to really find your groove and that's okay. It's not what you start with that matters. It's what you're left with after multiple drafts, edits and rewrites that counts.

A little secret- I wrote 17 chapters in a document that looked like a mini-paperback novel, and I threw it all out and started over. I did some research, learned a few things and here I am, over two years later with a MS being polished for submission. It won't happen overnight, but if you keep at it you'll someday get there.

So keep writing, and most of all, have fun! Your imagination will thank you for it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meaningful Critiques

Whoever said that a critique doesn't count if it's from your mom never met my mom.

I've been working mostly with my critique group, editing and revising what I thought was a complete manuscript. I've been polishing, searching out typos and grammar faux pas. And I thought I would be submitting this fantastic manuscript this weekend after finishing the synopsis. Then mom called.

Turns out, Marc's character is underdeveloped. Way underdeveloped. I knew I was having trouble writing Marc, but I completely underestimated his shortcomings (and my own, come to that). Apparently there's nothing redeeming about him and mom spent the book wondering why Hannah was with him in the first place - clearly not something I want the reader doing.

So, it's back to work to iron out this "minor" kink. And if all goes well, then I may actually get to say that it's done!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lather, rinse, repeat...

Life has been moving at breakneck speed and it's all I can do to keep up.  Since writing those two HUGE little words I'm struggling to keep up at home, working day and night shifts in the same 24-hour time period over the course of a week while covering other units (I'm a nurse manager), completing yearly evaluations for my entire staff, and reading multiple works from my beloved critique group friends.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I've found time to think about my own story, finally making some progress on that pesky chapter.  I kicked a few ideas around, sparked by that critique group I mentioned, and last night I finally poured the scene out of my imagination and onto my computer screen.

Now, the technique that made it possible is NOT a substitution for sitting in front of a keyboard or pad of paper and struggling through the tough times.  Lord knows I've had more than a few of those days.  But when it works, the result is a scene that jumps off the page and sucks the reader in.  At 4am, I sat back, scanned over the new addition to my manuscript and fell into a deeply content sleep.

It's sort of an immersion strategy, when it comes down to it.  I know I have a good idea if I can picture it in my mind.  Flashes of conversation are happening, people are moving around in the setting, acting and reacting to each other.  When this happens, I seize the moment (if at all possible), grab something to write with and close my eyes.  I sort out the launching point and then write it until I catch up with what I just watched in my mind's eye.  Once caught up, I close my eyes, sink back into the scene and let it play out a bit longer.  I write that and so on and so on.

I really put myself into the character's shoes - I see what Hannah sees.  I feel what she feels.  I imagine touching and tasting what she's touching and tasting.  How would she react?  What does she say next?  What does Marc say?  How does he react?  How do I want them to react to make the point I'm trying to make?  Sometimes they make it easy and play right into my hands.  Other times they are hell-bent on going off on their own tangent and the scene just won't go where I need it to go for the sake of the plot.  In those cases, I either throw it out and start over, or I've found that I may needed to tweak the plot to get it all to fit.  I wrote that plot before I really knew these characters.  Turns out, they're a lot different than I thought they would be.

It's a draining experience, and I usually need a nap or a good night's sleep afterward, but it's worth every word that's generated from the session.  I wrote Emil's death this way, and I was thrilled to find out that two of my critique group friends actually cried during that scene.  I did it!  I sucked them in and took their emotions where I wanted them to be with nothing but WORDS!!!

And that's what I love about reading and writing.  That simple words, if put together in the right pattern, can affect people - incite them to action, soothe their soul or take them on an emotional adventure simply for the sake of feeling.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The End?

That's right, I finally typed them.  Those words that mean I brought my characters through their story and to - the end.  Then I messed around with where they were on the page.  Too high?  Too low?  Ah, now that's just right.

And with that, my manuscript is (very nearly) complete.  There's one pesky chapter that is just plain not coming together.  So, I'll edit and revise around it.  Maybe then it will figure itself out, because sure as heck I can't figure it out.

Now it occurs to me that I have a lot of tidying up to do.  My manuscript has been through changes in point of view - first person to third back to first, and I've thrown out and rewritten things that are mentioned in other chapters.

I've evolved Hannah and Marc to the point that I must expunge any remnants of their former selves, although I do have to say that I never really changed Garrett.  I always knew who he was and what he was all about.  And Hannah's mom suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the story.  Perhaps it would be better manners to introduce her officially?

I'm excited to submit my samples to three of the four agents that requested them.  The fourth will have to wait for me to fix the middle, because I still have to get the suck out.  I'm also wondering if the ending is too much of, "and they lived happily ever after, the end."  It may be too short, but I need a day before I can go re-read it.  I'm still too engrossed in last night's accomplishments.  It probably does need some development, but then that means my "the end" really isn't "the end" and the thought of that right now is too depressing to contemplate on any real level.

So, I'm going to spend the rest of my night happily fooled into the belief that I'm done writing Near Mrs.  And when I'm ready, I'll face the demons that await.