Three Dirty Birds on The First Read-Through

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The Three Dirty Birds talking about the First Read-Through after you’ve finished your draft, and how to make it work for you (instead of cower under the bed like it does to Kitty.)

Zoe: I have a reallyreallyreallyreally hard time not making changes while I’m doing the first read through. I do it on paper, and I just can’t not have a pen in my hand.

Kate: Mine are all electronic. I kill enough trees in the dayjob. (It’s a constant joke about the death of the old growth forest, though it’s not really a joke.)

Ana: Hah, whenever we get useless paper copies of anything in class my best friend goes ‘I can’t believe trees died for this.”

Zoe: I’m at the computer 18 hours a day. When I get to print a manuscript out and take it to a comfy chair, it’s a treat. (Mr. Rider does complain, however, that I don’t print on both sides of the pages when I hand him his draft.)

Kate: Someday, I will have a printer that will automatically double-side stuff. That is my goal.

Zoe: I’ve tried doing the read-through on a Kindle, but since my pen doesn’t write on the screen, it’s just an exercise in frustration.

Ana: I actually like reading on my kindle for that reason. I can’t scribble in the margins. … I still highlight things.

Zoe: I’ll give up the read-through if I have a bunch of little things nagging at me I can’t fix.

Kate: I really didn’t ‘get’ his preparation phase, where you make a book cover and put blurbs on it. I don’t know, there’s a strong Calvinist streak where I grew up–maybe that’s what makes it fit like a pair of wornout socks wrinkling in my boots, but the idea makes me cringe.

Zoe: I guess it works for him, but I don’t really feel like sitting around making up pretend glowing review blurbs (unless I’m joking around). I do work on the actual book description copy in preparation, though. It helps me make sure I know the throughline and helps me see where the book does and doesn’t match up to it.

Kate: I like to do that too, and to work on the synopsis. I’ll catch stuff doing the synopsis that I don’t catch in revision. I think, because I’m not looking to change the story, just distill it, so I read it differently.

Zoe: Yes! It’s so easy to see if something doesn’t work in the synopsis—when you get stuck and start to spin your wheels about how to get this part in, it usually points to a story problem.

Ana: That’s why I’m always terrified of working on the synopsis. Scared of finding plot problems when I think I’m done!

Zoe: (I’d rather find them when I think I’m done than have a reviewer tell the world about them later!)

Ana: While I agree with that, it doesn’t change the fact that I dread finding plot holes. (Though I’d rather find them myself than have others point them out.)

Kate: It always leads to more work.

Zoe: Yeah, it’s like going for a physical—you’re scared they’ll find something wrong, but if they do, it’ll be good that they caught it (hopefully) early.

Kate: Exactly. So much harder fixing big things after you send it to the editor. (And way more embarrassing!)

Zoe: Bell talks about summarizing (writing a synopsis) in the Analyze section of this chapter (after you finish the read-through). He suggests actually writing several—playing around with the plot points and viewpoints and stuff.

Kate: That’s something I do beforehand, sometimes. Kind of a brainstorming exercise. And then the story turns out to be nothing like what I came up with. ☺

Zoe: I may try it after the read-through of this WIP, playing what-if with quick summaries (though it’s something I do in my head during revision anyway, and it’s led to some great changes).

Ana: The what-if exercise usually leads to my major rewrites. Especially those that go ‘What if there were another character? What if this character actually wanted something different?’

Zoe: Bell talks about The Mess Factor—what to do if your manuscript is a big fat mess. He says it’s more common with pantsers, but I find it happens whether I thought I knew what I was doing ahead of time or not. It can be really frustrating—even to the point of feeling demoralizing at times, when you have this story you want to work, and the manuscript just doesn’t, and you have no idea how to make it work.

Kate: Oddly, I don’t feel my final draft is ever a mess, but that may be because I jump around in the story and am always tweaking. There’s generally a point where it feels like a mess, about halfway to three-quarters through, but then it gradually tidies itself up until I’m done and it’s all pretty. (or mostly pretty–there’s still some editing left to do, after all). But it’s nice to see my ping-ponging between projects validated.

Zoe: Every draft of Man Made Murder was an unworkable mess until finally the last one. And the last one shares only the basic premise and a scene and a half with any of the other drafts. I hope I never go through that again. But yes, ping-ponging helped. It at least made me feel like I was accomplishing something on other projects in between new terrible drafts of MMM.

Ana: Usually, my first drafts are messes. Then my second draft is still a mess, but a mess that I can work on.

Zoe: It’s pretty amazing, though, when you get to the final draft and you’re like, “Oh my God. It all worked out! It’s actually okay!”

Ana: Especially when you’re a pantser -coughs-

Kate: I love that feeling when you look at it, and the snarls are all (mostly) gone, and the edges are nice, and it you just want to sit and pet it for a while, because it’s cute like a baby platypus.

Zoe: Mine aren’t so much cute, but… Most of the frustration, especially in the first draft, is the gulf between what’s in my head and what’s going down on the page. I’m satisfied when I get to a draft that makes me go, “Hey, this idea actually turned out better than what was in my head.”

Ana: Oh yes, that’s a beautiful feeling!

Zoe: That’s what I reach for. I figure if I can keep pulling that off, I’m a success on a personal level, whether I make it as a success in the rest of the world or not.

Kate: But that’s the starting point, isn’t it? You have to be happy with it, because if you aren’t, no one will.

Zoe: It’s definitely why I can’t get to the end of the first draft, polish it up, and call it done. I haven’t stretched if I’ve done that, and if I haven’t stretched, I haven’t achieved the personal satisfaction I need to keep doing this, year after year. “Done” is what I accomplish when I wash dishes or finish a dayjob project. With the precious free time that I hoard for my writing, I need to challenge myself more. I need to make it worth not spending time with my husband or the good books I want to read or whatever else I could be doing. When I die from lack of exercise, I want to be like, “Yeah…but it was worth it.”

Ana: I’m sure you’d be exercising all the time if you weren’t so busy writing!

Zoe: I did used to exercise when I wasn’t writing. (I was thrilled to have an excuse to give it up.)

Kate: Lol. Exercise time is brainstorming time for me. Got a plot problem? Hop on the treadmill. Trying to figure out how to get a character to do something you need them to do so the plot works? Go clean the barn. Burn calories, solve problems, all at the same time.

Ana: I love thinking through my plot while skating. Can’t do it right now, though. Roads are covered in snow.

Zoe: I can’t brainstorm when I exercise. My brain goes all cranky. I could probably do it on a leisurely walk in nice weather…but I live on a mountain. There are no leisurely walks. I daydream about living in a flat city. Or at least flat-ish.

Kate: But then where would you put your pool table? You need space for that puppy.

Zoe: Yeah, but I don’t need space for a dining table, and really…everything but the bed and the desk are negotiable. I could get by with a pool table, a twin sized mattress, a desk, and my writing couch. Mr. Rider might feel a bit left out though.

Kate: Mr. Rider might make you give up the pool table. (He’s smart enough to be sure you keep the desk. I wouldn’t come between Zoe and her desk.)

Zoe: Mr. Rider won’t leave the mountain, so he doesn’t have to worry about it. I just need to get rich enough to afford an apartment away from home. For my health! So I can walk and bike! I have thought about renting a place in the nearby city for like a week a year, for a personal writing retreat where I can stroll and eat croissants and then pound away at the keyboard in my little rented room.

Ana: I like the part about the croissants.

Zoe: Chocolate croissants.

Ana: Of course.

Zoe: Someday. I really get a lot of writing done in hotel rooms, when I’m alone. (And so I’m looking forward to World Horror Con in May. And my hotel room.)

Happy 2015! And stuff.

So I realize this is pretty late for a new year’s post, but what can I say? I’m a lazy bird. I’m also a busy bird; I just deleted about 10k spam comments from this website. If you left me a comment and it got caught up in the purge, I’m sorry!

So what’s on the menu for 2015? Lot’s of fun things, it seems!

For starters, I have one novella coming out with Loose Id in (probably) early spring. IN MEMORY OF US is New Adult m/m romance set in Japan following a tsunami-survivor and his teenage crush. I’ll post more about this as we move closer to release.

I’ll also be attending two conventions. Euro Pride Con in July and UK Meet in September. Haven’t done that kind of thing before, so really looking forward to that. Though, knowing myself, I’ll probably be too anxious to actually talk to anyone! Heh. Oh well, I’ll try.

My writing goals for this year include the revision of three novels (some fantasy, some contemporary), as well as the writing of two complete new ones (one NA, one paranormal/low fantasy). I’m all pumped up! 🙂

Three Dirty Birds on Theme

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The Three Dirty Birds are talking Theme today, Chapter 12 from James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication.

Kate: I never pay attention to the theme until I’m in something like my third round of revisions. I don’t usually have a clue until then. And some of my stories never seem to develop one.

Zoe: I’m antsy until I know what the theme is. I never know going into a story what it will be, and like you, it takes me a couple drafts to see it. Up until I do, the story feels kind of shallow and surface-y: things happen, so what? I am always relieved when I’ve figured out the what and can build on it and deepen the story. My endings don’t begin to approach resonance until I’ve figured it out.

Ana: I never know what the theme is going to be when I start a story either. But I don’t particularly worry about it. It always seems to emerge naturally at some point… and inspire a lot of rewrites in the second draft. I do think I usually have some idea by the end of the first draft.

Kate: Maybe that’s my problem now, is that I haven’t come up with a theme for some of the stuff I’m working on.

Zoe: When Bell said “Look to the characters, and what they’re fighting for,” it hit a chord with me, because that’s part of the restlessness I feel when I’m still trying to tease out the theme. I know what the characters are doing, and I know the surface reasons they’re fighting, but I’m trying to get underneath that. What are they really fighting for?

Ana: This is what I’m currently struggling with in the story I just started rough drafting / outlining. I usually know my characters’ motivations and such at least to some degree before I start writing, but this time, MC2 isn’t giving me enough to go on, and that makes the whole thing infinitely harder.

Kate: I really need to get the first draft done before I know my characters well enough to pick out what their underlying motivations are. Glynn was a hard one to figure out in some ways, and the more I poke and prod at him, the more clearly the theme of that story comes to me. But I’ll freely admit the weresquirrel has me baffled.

Zoe: I liked his suggestion of freewriting your character waxing about his philosophy. I may try that.

Ana: I tried the one where he said to write about a character telling you what makes them angry.

Zoe: Was it helpful?

Ana: To some degree. I tried it with the elusive MC2. It gave me a new direction to look in, but I don’t know if I’ll use it yet.

Zoe: I think I may try all the exercises in this chapter today. I need help with the book I’m working on, which has way too much potential to be just a surface-y story about a funhouse. So I’m starting to feel that hand-wavy “I’m lost!” feeling again.

Kate: You’re still only in first draft with it, though, aren’t you?

Zoe: Yes, but feeling especially sensitive about it because of the subject matter. So it won’t hurt to spend some time freewriting with the characters today.

Ana: Zoe’s playing with her imaginary friends today!

Kate: It’s never a waste of time to hang out with your characters off-screen.

Zoe: I can always tell when I’m hitting potholes because instead of spending time with the imaginary friends in the story I’m writing, I’m meeting new imaginary friends in nice, safe stories I’ll never bother writing.

Ana: My brain does this annoying thing where it turns to thinking about characters of stories ALREADY TOLD.

Zoe: Oh, that would drive me crazy. Those characters need to stay in their boxes!

Ana: It does drive me crazy sometimes. I get these ideas for super cool scenes for stories that I can’t work on anymore. It probably contributes to the paranoia I’m currently experiencing as I head into edits for my latest story. (I think I may drive my editor insane with my cat-attitude about changing or not changing scenes.)

Kate: Lol. It’s a good thing our editors are patient. 🙂  My old characters have a bad habit of sitting down and saying, “Did I ever tell you about…” And then off I go, with a sequel, or an in-between-quel.

Zoe: I wish my characters were better at sequel stuff. They just want to hang out in nice, safe, Already Written land. I’m dreading starting book two of the trilogy I’m working on.

Ana: I have almost an entire plot mapped out in my head for a potential sequel to Lab Rat’s Love that I’m probably never going to write. I think my brain just likes to play in safe, familiar places when life’s being stressful.

Zoe: All I have is a main, vague arc and a bunch of scenes that may or may not have anything to do with the actual story. #grumpywriter

Kate: I like having a main, vague arc, and a bunch of scenes. But that’s how I write anyway. (By the way, Scrivener seems to be much better suited to how I write than LSB. I think I’m getting a divorce…)

Zoe: Oh good! Scrivener is really flexible. I just wish I enjoyed the actual writing screen as much as I enjoy Word. (Well, that and I always forget how to do formatting and styles and things whenever I come back to Scrivener.)

Ana: I have to admit I don’t know how to use styles in any program. I know some basic formatting in Libre Office for school work, but that’s about it.

Kate: I’m still on the learning curve for that. The writing screen is a bit of something, isn’t it? Haven’t quite decided if I like it, but it’s okay. The organizational factor is the best, though.

Zoe: The thing that bothers me most with the writing screen is that a 12pt font in Word is bigger than the same font in the same pt size in Scrivener, on my screen. I can’t get it zoomed to the right size either. As far as styles go, omg they save my life. When it comes time to format for print or ebook, having the styles already set is so nice. (Even just doing a manuscript for submission, it saves time.)

Ana: That’s good to know about the pt size. I was worrying about my eye-sight. When I format a ms for submission all I really do is export to rtf and change the font to 12pt TNR. At least LI doesn’t ask for more, luckily. I use the indents Scrivener puts naturally. We don’t have them in German, so I never learned how to play with them.

Zoe: The other thing about using styles in Word is it lets me navigate the document by chapter titles in the sidebar. (Which of course Scrivener lets you do without styles. But…I’m generally using Word, unless I jump to Scrivener to get unstuck with a new view.)

Kate: I’m still a noob. I just open it up and get going. Sometimes.

Zoe: Other times you play Candy Crush?

Kate: Yep.

Ana: Did anyone else feel that in the part about Resonance he points out the importance of it, but doesn’t really give any pointers on how to create it? I’m actually in the process of rewriting the ending lines to the story I just got accepted to work on just this. (Though I have a good idea how to do it, this section fell kind of flat for me.)

Zoe: He did say to write alternative endings, but I agree; the section felt a bit short and lacking, perhaps because it’s a topic I’d really like to read more on. (Also, I think he attempted to show us a clue by wrapping it up with a description of the Chinese tapestry…but it didn’t carry a lot of resonance for me. Seemed gimmicky.)

Kate: I didn’t get a lot out of that section. It was like he was promising something, and then I opened the box and there was nothing inside. I liked the metaphor part, but felt it hung too heavily on religion.

Zoe: Yes, I wasn’t sure why it was about “Fiction that draws from the well of a religious tradition,” as if nothing else could rely on metaphors, motifs, and symbols.

Ana: I actually use a Shinto talisman as symbol in my story! But it’s not religious at all.

Zoe: (Do we want to know what your characters are doing with that talisman?)

Ana: (I can assure you it is not in any way banana-shaped.)

Kate: I use colour a lot, or plants that have specific associations. Shapes, etc. It’s not all religious.

Zoe: I use holes in the book I recently sent off to the editor. (Not that kind of holes.)

Kate: Lol. The second exercise looks useful. I may do that with a couple of my characters.

Ana: Yeah, I’ve thought about doing that one.

Zoe: I’m definitely doing that one today. (If I get my audiobook proofing finished. It’s tough to listen to an audiobook all at once!)

Ana: Yay, audiobook!

Kate: I’m excited for your audiobook.

Zoe: I am too! But also…looking forward to when this is over. It’s a little exhausting. (Though I’m sure it’s not nearly as exhausting for me as it has been for my narrator/producer.)

Kate: I’ll bet. But so worth it in the end.

Three Dirty Birds on Voice and Style

The Dirty Birds are Voicing and Styling all over James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. This time, it’s chapter 9.

threedirtybirds-400|Master List|

Ana: Look, I styled my feathers blue for this talk.

Kate: Now Ana truly has tweeted until she’s blue in the face.

Ana: All for you.

Kate: 🙂  This was another fairly short chapter, but my favourite of the three we read this week.

Zoe: And what did you like so much about it?

Kate: I thought he had some good advice about letting go and just writing, and how style has changed and the whole ‘nuke all adjectives and adverbs from orbit’ was maybe being taken a little too seriously by new writers.

Ana: That’s a good point; never believe in absolutes. Never.

Zoe: I thought he explained voice and style well—two concepts that can be elusive to newer writers.

Ana: I liked how he differentiated between them. It’s not that obvious how voice differs from style, and he did a good job explaining his take on it.

Kate: I’ve always thought that voice stayed fairly consistent between books, but style would change, depending on the demands of the story. I like how he recommends emulating pieces of prose you really like, but not imitating them. Basically, figuring out what the author did that you like so much, then applying that technique to something of your own.

Ana: I used to do that unintentionally when I read something I really liked. There’s some chapters in my first novel, just by reading them I remember what books I was reading at the time because I kind of copied that style.

Zoe: I used to copy style when I was younger. Now I find that reading a style that excites me before I start writing opens me up to being more playful with my own writing, in my own way.

Ana: Nothing inspires me to write like reading a good book. It’s like “I wanna play too!”

Zoe: Yes! Exactly that. Bad books make me think, “I could do better than this,” but good books make me want to play.

Kate: Nothing like reading a book that gets you right in the emotions to make you want to rush to the computer and start typing. I didn’t agree that his first-person story, flipped to third, was actually better. I thought they were both kind of flat, to be honest, but the first-person version had more character.

Ana: I flipped from first person to third once because I wanted to add a second main POV. I really liked the voice I had for my first person narrator at the time, so I was reluctant to do it, but thought it was better for the novel overall. In the end, I didn’t manage to retain all of that voice I’d had at the start though. (Maybe a more experienced writer could have.)

Kate: It’s hard to retain a first-person intimacy in third.

Ana: It’s definitely not as easy as just flipping pronouns.

Zoe: I think first-flipped-to-third could be a good way to get someone who’s used to writing in first to see how to convey emotion in third without telling, and flipping any POV is useful for getting unstuck, but it’s definitely not something I would do just to do.

Kate: Stories happen in a certain POV because it’s the best one for them. Flipping POV isn’t something to be done lightly.

I like the bit on Similes, Metaphors and Surprises. Those are the bits that stick out in your mind, the surprising usages of words that say in better than any of the normal methods of stringing words together can do. (On a side note, anyone else keep reading that as Smiles?)

Ana: (Every time.)

Zoe: I guess my day wasn’t as happy-go-lucky because I just saw similes. 🙁

Kate: Poor Zoe. 🙁 No smiles for her. (I’ll give you one of mine.  🙂 )

Ana: This is why I keep posting stickers on facebook. Just to brighten up Zoe’s days when all she sees are similes.

Zoe: The “clutter and flab” section of writing books is usually one of my favorites, but the one here was a bit of a disappointment. 🙁 (But then if I had my way, the whole book would be about cutting clutter and flab. :D)

Kate: What didn’t you like about it?

Zoe: It consisted almost entirely of an example of his writing followed by an example of his editing that writing, and it was just “meh, whatever” to me. It was a case, for me, of too much show, not enough tell. 😀

Ana: Oh yeah, I remember skipping that section.

Kate: I liked seeing what he did for editing, but I’ll admit, I was disappointed there wasn’t much more to the section. Maybe some information on how he decided that each of those sections needed to be reworked?

Zoe: Or we could have used a third example: the sample text after he made the changes he noted. Because that’s the missing piece. He has “tighten” for a note in one place and “confusing” in another, but we’re left hanging as to what he meant by them, without a final section of post-editing text.

Kate: That would have been helpful. I liked the exercises, though I only tried one.

Ana: It’s kind of funny to give writers advice on how to write their writing books. 😀

Zoe: We should write that book. “So You Want to Write a Writing Guide.”

Ana: The Dirty Birds’ Guide to Writing a Writing Book

Zoe: Ooh. Even better.

Kate: Add that to the list.