Three Dirty Birds and the Revision Checklist Pt 2

threedirtybirds-400|Master List|

Three Dirty Birds chirping about the second part of James Scott Bell’s Revision Checklist. Today we’re talking about Endings, Scenes, Exposition, Voice, Style, and Point of View.

Kate: Phew! That’s a lot!

Ana: ~takes a nap in preparation~

Zoe: And so we begin with the end. Tying up loose threads, creating resonance, and manipulating readers into feeling what you want them to feel. Maybe “manipulating” is too strong a word. 🙂

Ana: Sometimes it feels like that though, doesn’t it?

Kate: I think that’s part of the job, though, isn’t it? You’re choosing words and plot events to evoke specific emotional responses on the part of the reader. To create that sense of resonance, like the story has come full circle. I’m setting that up in the WIP right now. (Well, one of the four stories I’m playing in, anyway.)

Ana: I think I’ll spend the next few days writing several versions of my last page. It has to be just right!

Kate: I’m looking at twist endings, though I’m not sure that the twist I’m considering will be appreciated by the readers.

Zoe: I’m nervous about the ending on the current WIP because at the moment, I feel like I need two epilogues. Who does that? *sigh*

Ana: Lol. It could be revolutionary!

Kate: Redshirts has three. I think you’re safe.

Zoe: Oh good!

Kate: His sections on Scenes made me cringe, if only because it looks like so much work. And we all know how little cats like work…

Zoe: Yes, the part about determining which your ten weakest scenes are, throwing the weakest out, and then going through the remaining nine scenes twice…and then do the rest of your scenes too! I needed a nap.

Ana: Ah yeah, I immediately thought… oh well maybe I’ll do a couple problematic scenes. I’ll probably end up doing one. (Maybe more if I’m like really impressed with the result)

Kate: Yeah. I mean, I have two novel-length works that need some attention–they’re just sitting around waiting for my revision-brain to come back online. The thought of combing through them and rating each scene…*sniffs sadly*

Zoe: I was happy to have permission to stretch the tension. I could stretch tension all day long. I will be looking into the cores of my scenes, and how I can heat them up a bit more.

Kate: I get the sense that he really likes Koontz.

Zoe: I haven’t read Koontz in years, but I remember reading The Voice of the Night (published at the time under his Brian Coffey pen name), and being absolutely riveted. Koontz can do tension.

Ana: Heh. I tried him once, didn’t like it, and haven’t picked up a book by him since.

Zoe: Yeah, I haven’t been able to get into him for a while. But during that one perfect point in my life, I got some white knuckles reading his stuff. (Oh, and the one where he absolutely made me fall in love with/feel complete sympathy for the bad creature.)

Ana: I don’t even remember which book I tried… I left it in Japan.

Kate: If I’ve read any, I don’t remember it. I probably have, though–I’ll try anything once.

Zoe: So, exposition. I was just rereading the section. He says, “Now, put the chunks [of exposition] you have left in dialogue or character thoughts. Even better, put the chunks in confrontational dialogue or make them highly tense thoughts,” and I thought, “I should do that.” And so I thought about the info I needed to convey in the WIP. And then I went, “Oh, I did that. Never mind!”

Ana: He’s mentioned it before. And so did Story Trumps Structure.

Zoe: Yeah, but I didn’t have this WIP, written to the point it’s at, then. Geez. 😉

Kate: I thought his key questions for that were really good.

Ana: I’ll keep those in mind for my next wip. So far I haven’t written stories that required a lot of exposition, so I can’t remember struggling with it. It could also be that I’m too lazy a writer to write infodumps. I tend to under-explain rather than over-explain. My editor just asked me if I’m sure we can assume all readers will know how earthquakes and tsunamis are interrelated…

Kate: If they’ve been through junior high, I would think they’d have some idea. I’ll have info-dumpy sections, but generally they get cleaned up because they’re more like note-taking for me. If I miss any, my beta readers will catch them and make me feel bad. 😛

Zoe: In Voice, Style, and Point of View, Bell asks if your POV is consistent in every scene, if you slip into describing something the POV character can’t see or feel. I won’t say I don’t slip POV in the current WIP, but I will say if the POV character seems to know too much, there’s a reason and hopefully I can set it up well enough at the end so it makes sense. (And hopefully readers will stick with it that long. I don’t really get obnoxious with it. It’s very tiny things. Rule-breaking though; it makes me panic.)

Ana: ~flicks Zoe off her perch to make her calm down~

Kate: The best books break rules, but they do it smart. *dusts Zoe off*

Zoe: Mostly this section should have been called Point of View. There isn’t much style-wise.

Ana: It was rather thin.

Kate; I thought the bit about getting into the character’s attitude by exploring his emotional response to something was pretty nifty, though. I might try doing that a little more consciously.  Boy, there’s so much to keep in mind when you’re writing!

Ana: Good thing you can do multiple editing passes. So is anyone going to write an essay about their theme?

Kate: I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader…

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.

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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.

Three Dirty Birds on Dialogue

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Three Dirty Birds are dialoguing about tweeting…no, wait, I’ve got that backwards. (Too much blood in my caffeine system…) We’re twittering about dialogue today, that’s it!

Zoe: I have to admit that I skimmed this one. First, dialogue’s something I’ve always been strong in, so I’m less interested in reading about it (I want to read about all the stuff I fail at!), and second, it was just a lot of examples.

Kate: I felt the same way about it. I’m also strong in dialogue, so a lot of this seemed like so much filler to me. Points that were really, REALLY obvious, and I wasn’t sure why he even addressed them.

Ana: I don’t know, on the off chance that for some people this is the only writing book they’ll ever read? Honestly, I feel like we’ve discussed all this before. At least once if not twice.

Zoe: It is a good primer for people who don’t have a handle on dialogue. Or a natural ear for it.

Kate: And there are people like that out there.

Zoe: In some ways, I think that dialogue problems that people have are actually wider problems related to scene and tension and all of that. It shows up in dialogue pretty acutely when they meander around, trying to figure out what their characters should be saying. They don’t know what their characters should be saying, though, because they haven’t figured out the important structure of the scene—objective, obstacles, etc., especially the wants/needs/problems of each character in the scene.

Kate: I think you’re right. You have to know what your goal for each scene is, or you really don’t know what to write. It’s okay to wander and write loosey–goosey stuff when you’re first drafting and trying to figure out your story, but by the end, you should have tweaked everything much tighter, and every scene and line of dialogue should be there because the story needs it.

Zoe: Right. In the first draft, you might be like, “I need to have a scene with the coworker, because I need to show her at work,” and by the time you know your story better, you need to figure out what that scene needs to be doing in the story. And then you can get rid of the “Did you get that report done on time?” “Yeah, I had to work late, but I got it.” Blah blah blah.

Kate: I didn’t agree with his take in the section on dialogue needing to be compressed. I thought the dialogue gave us an excellent image of the kinds of people involved in that conversation, even though the dialogue itself kind of meandered. But this is the kind of conversation where there would be repetition of ideas, since the guy was trying to convince a reluctant girl to sleep with him. You could follow his thought processes as he snuck the idea up on her, knowing she would say no, and how he kept picking at the issue from different directions. I think he would have lost a lot of the characterisation if he’s compressed it to its essential bits.

Ana: I guess you have to judge each scene / dialogue individually considering the characters personalities and their goals. As I’m reading Heart Shaped Box, there’s this girl who asks a lot of questions… A LOT OF QUESTIONS. And that was a point, but I did feel he didn’t need to make that point multiple times. (Also, keep in mind the example you described, a guy trying to talk a girl into having sex… that would never sell for 2,99 / 20 pages on Amazon these days! You need to get to the action quicker. 😉  )

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: When I saw the heading—”Dialogue is Compressed”—I thought he was going to tell us to leave out the filler and stuff that makes real-world conversation mundane when translated to the page, but the examples didn’t support that. In fact, his examples were the thing that made me panic with an earlier book whenever I had someone speak for a whole paragraph. But how can you have a deep talk in one-sentence bites??

Kate: You can’t. I’m not sure he really knew what he wanted to get at in this section.

Zoe: What did you birds think about Parent—Adult—Child?

Ana: Again, something I can’t see myself using. Especially since it shifts around in one conversation so much that I don’t even find it all that useful for myself. For me, what I need to see how a conversation goes is the personalities of the characters involved, their goals and their respective moods.

Kate: I liked most of the 12 Tools for Great Dialogue, but that one just flew right past me. I didn’t get all of his explanations, even after rereading, and it sounds more like a revamp of Id, Ego, and Superego to me.

Zoe: Reading it, I felt that the characters’ motivations, etc., were far more important considerations than who was taking on the role of parent, adult, or child, at any given point in an exchange. It just seemed like something you’d waste time and drive yourself crazy with.

Ana: I like to think people are more flexible than that.

Kate: Those roles shift all the time in conversation, anyway.

Zoe: I skipped over “Act it Out” entirely because there are just some things you know aren’t going to happen in your life.

Kate: I thought that might be useful if you were working on a scene that was giving you fits. Sometimes switching modalities will activate a different part of your brain, which lets you see things more clearly. (I’m a verbal learner.) But I’d for sure not be doing it when anyone else is around!

Ana: -quietly sets up a webcam in Kate’s office-

Zoe: ~gets the pot going for popcorn~

I liked the sections on sidesteps and silence. Dialogue does have more energy when it’s not on-the-nose. More tension.

Kate: Those were good. Your characters are very rarely ever on the same page, metaphorically speaking, and sometimes that has to come out in their speech.

Ana: Or in the things they don’t say.

Zoe: The section on using words as weapons went way long.

Kate: Did it ever… It’s all about choosing your vocabulary.

Zoe: All you have to do is listen to your characters. (~She says as someone who has a natural ear for dialogue~ Apologies to the people who don’t!)

Kate: And deciding whether you need to up the tension, or de-escalate.

Zoe: Once again, I did find the key points at the end of the chapter useful, even in a chapter I didn’t get a lot of use out of. (Index cards, Mr. Bell! Index cards!)