Sunday, November 28, 2010

Second Draft Miracle

There's something wonderful about being able to write when you know exactly what's going to happen. It allows you to think more about what you're writing now, rather than "where the heck do I go with this next?"

Some would argue that is what plans are for. But for me, I do a first draft which is mostly worry and "good god, what have I done". Then I get to the end, and I rather pleasantly know my characters, and have a plot.

But there's something strange about second drafts. Sometimes, there are big problems in the first draft that have to be corrected. Logically speaking, you don't know if your corrections are going to work - you just know that they're fixing the current problem. How then, is it that the corrections work themselves out? How can removing an entire scene, which would have effected the MC in a variety of ways, and driven the plot in a variety of ways, not actually change the book so much that you end up with another first draft?

This happened to me recently - I realised that I had a scene I didn't need. I cut the scene, wrote some other stuff. Not once was there any guarantee that the other stuff would bring me directly back into the plot line, but it managed to. I've been a little perplexed as to how it worked out so well.

I think it comes from my changing of my MC's main motivation.

At the end of the first draft, I knew my MC and her motivation didn't fit. Her motivation didn't drive her to do what she was doing by the end of the book. So I went and changed it, to fit her actions at the end of the book.

This new motivation not only drives her to those actions in the climax, but keeps her on task for the rest of the plot line. There is no other way she can go, given her circumstances, who she is as a person, and her motivation.

Neat, huh? I was quite pleased with this revelation, and quite heartbroken by the fact it means that I've got to go in search of motivation in another WIP. But this revelation provides a tool for fixing things, and that is always useful.

So when you know how things are going to turn out, and you know who your characters are, make sure their motivations are going to drive them towards the appropriate actions. If they are of a certain character, that character, paired with the right motivation, will keep them on track.

Enjoy creating~


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Change of Motivation

Now, this is a rather recurrent problem with me. I tend to think of the action of my MC first, and then their motivation. Side characters, other main characters - generally fine. But the MC is the one I start off with, and it is quite literally impossible for me to know them before I start writing them into a situation, because I don't do a heap of planning when I first start out.

The question is, what do you do, after powering through the first draft to the end, after realising your characters motivation is flimsy? How do you even recognise it as flimsy in the first place? (I had a lot of trouble with this one).

It all boils down to one very simple point. If you start the first draft without a plan, or without background information on you characters, you're going to get a lot of contradictory traits and motivation within your characters to start off with. Somewhere around the 1/4 mark, you'll figure you're main character out, and foget about that bothersome motivation that started the story off.

But it's still there, waiting for you when you get back. So how to fix it?

Just to clarify, you should not really be asking yourself what motivates your characters halfway through the book. If you still don't know them by then, you should really stop and think about what sort of people they are, what sort of history they have. but otherwise, there is normally one of a few things (or more) wrong with your character's motivation:

The motivation doesn't fit the character. It fits the plot, but not the character that you have by the end of the book.

There is no motivation, the character just does what the story requires

In both cases, it is a matter of deciding what you wish to change. It's your story, you can change everything in it. So do you change the motivation? Do you change the character so they fit the motivation? Or do you change the plot, so that the character that you have discovered by the end of your first draft now dictates a new story?

All of these can be done. Changing motivation is easier than changing an entire storyline, or changing a character to fit that motivation. For example, say Jane wants to get into a big business because she wants to get rich. By the time you get to the end of the book, you realise Jane doesn't care about money - she cares about her brother's health, and she needs to be in this business, because they're creating a drug that will help her brother with his illness. Now, you can go back, and change the motivation, make Jane want to get in to reassure herself about the drug from the start. Or you can make it so that she's originally interested in the money, but subconsciously, and gradually conscientiously, she becomes concerned about the medicine that her brother needs. That's changing the character so it fits both the motivation at the start, or the character they become. Or you can give up on the idea of the business entirely, and have this character, who you now know intimately, do something else to guarantee her brothers health.

In the end, the question is what do you like most about your first draft, and which solution is most believable? The character at the end, the new motivation you can come up with, or the old motivation. It all comes down to both personal taste, and believability.

I find it hard to believe that Jane would enter the company purely to check up on her brother's new experimental medicine. But join the company because she needs and wants money, and then slowly get drawn towards information on the drug? that I could believe.

Enjoy creating~


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inner Demon - just a quite note :D

Might as well. Here we go, inner demon of doom :D

My writing will suck. It will be terrible.

You know what? I'm going to make it better.

There will be characters as flat as ipods, with very little in the way of 3D resolution.

You know what? The main characters aren't flat, and I love them. And I can improve the minor characters.

There will be subplots that have no business being there. The main plot will undoubtable twist inexplicably.

I can manipulate the plot, I can fix it. Hell, it's my plot. That's my job.

Just thought I should let you know that, Inner Demon of Hell, before I started on the second draft process.

Now go F*** yourself. :D

Coming Back

You may have noticed the odd quiet hanging around here of late. That is mainly due to the fact that, well, I've been writing a first draft, and it does tend to rather consume one's life.

So. I have mentioned my writing process before, but here's something else that starting a new project taught me. I may be getting just a little bit better.

Why? Well, this time round, there was a certain level of detachment and experience. I knew when I did things that were wrong, I knew when I had to go back and fix things. But I knew that as I wrote it, which has never happened for me before. It's always been the process of getting incredibly attached to something, then not being able to see it's flaws until a month afterwards.

This time round, I expected it's flaws. I still have a little voice inside my head informing me that "this is crap, this is crap, this is crap". I have ignored it thus far, and will continue to do so. But it's there, which means I'm on the look out for mistakes. I'm making notes in my head as I go, I'm still loving the story, but looking at it with a much clearer perspective then before.

Frankly speaking, I'm gearing myself for the next haul. The first draft took me 20 days to write, and it's not entire crap. this is always a good start. Over the next two days, I go through, make notes on character, plot, motivation, sub-plots - pull it apart and and analyse it, as it were.

Then we start on the second draft. And by the end of that, I should have something that's not embarrassing. Still needs a lot of work, but you get the idea.

So yes. I'm back. :) It feels wonderful, a bit like work sometimes, but satisfying work.

Enjoy creating~


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Effect of POV on Detail in Description and Narration

It's funny, really. When I first sat down to write a manuscript, I didn't realise the process I was entering in to. I mean, I was 13? What 13 year old realises all the effort, the multiple drafts, the world building....

It was a wonderful, innocent time.

Regardless, I'm writing a new peice again, and it's the same as it was the first time. I feel like I'm dancing on the edge of a cliff, making up new bits of the land as I go.

But it's getting easier. The characters, plot and world are gradually coming to me. It's good. And because I know that there's a long process in front of me, I'm thinking about the next step. Which is the addition of detail.

But where do details come from? I think this has a lot to do with POV, myself. Each character is going to notice something different. When you're writing in first person, you can only describe what the characters see and what the characters think about them. So when you're narrating from the POV of a character who is used to the world you're in, you can't explain things that they already know about.

This presents many problems, which I think I'll talk about later (a post of first person will be forthcoming, me thinks :) ) But I think that it's interesting that you have something similar going on in third person limited. You can explain slightly more outside of the characters head, but I think the third person limited works best when you think about the world of the story from inside the characters head and embellish it with what they notice.

So what's the different when it comes to detail? Well, IMHO, it is that in third person limited the narrator can inject. They can tell you things about the world and story that the character couldn't. This can become overused and badly done, but it can also be done well. When it is, it lends itself to both easy description (you can explain things that need to be explained that the narrator wouldn't explain) and you can make your writing come alive (as in you can describe things in a way unique to the MC.) The best of both worlds. :)

Third person omniscient, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. You can dive into characters heads, describe what they're seeing, describe things in their POV... but the way things are explained, exposed and described is in a different voice entirely. The voice of the narrator, the teller that sees all drives the story and the descriptions.

I experimented with this in a short, and it was amazing. I still had to think about how the characters would describe things, but... it was me describing it. I didn't have to immerse myself for every single word (would they use but, or would they say however?) in the characters minds, it wasn't as exhausting.

Because that's what POV writing can be. Exhausting. Utterly so. I once started a story (Varrick, actually, for those who have been following along) and it was told from the perspective of a forty year old man who had seen way too much and had way too much death on his hands. I remember coming out of a chapter and falling asleep for the next two hours, irrespective of the coffee consumed before hand. It was draining in a way I never thought a book could be.

I think it warrants thought before you start. How intense it this POV? Is it going to be able to tell the story I want it to tell? Am I ready for the investment that 1st person requires?

Anyway, I'm off to get ready for work. It's going to be another late night - I have at least 5k to write, and now that I've been called in for work, it's going to be interesting trying to fit it in.

Enjoy creating~


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Sudden Realisation: Steam-punk

You know what? Before now I was operating on a very loose idea of what steam-punk was. I thought it was just about steam in the Victorian era. So it made no sense for me to have trams or bi-copters, or to even contemplate airships, because, well, it's just not possible to load a massive steam powered engine onto an airship. Gravity would get you quicker than you can think about it.

But that's not what steam-punk is about. Definitely, there a lot of steam, and cogs and brass about. But there is also electricity. The difference being it is applied to the ideas of the Victorian Era.

The ideas of the time knew nothing about the modern ideas of cars or computers. Their sense of magnificence was always present, trying to make an impression was vitally important in a class bound society.

So steam-punk, in my mind at least, is the principals of technology, the science behind the technology, applied to a Victorian Era. Or in my case, colonial Australia in the Victorian Era.

And you know, my hunch was right. The unions were playing funny buggers about the late 1800's. They're most definitely a good start to the revolution.

I need to get to the state library some time. I also need to design a airship tomorrow. That will be... interesting, given my previous attempts at designing verticals.

Wish me luck,


My Problems with Description.

This seemed timely, as the same problems are cropping up again and again. So I thought if I explained things through to everyone else, I might explain it through to myself at the same time.

I have read books for such a long time. And I read fast. Super fast. Never, once, in all that time, all those books, have I ever had a book play itself out in my head. Ever. I don't get images from prose unless I'm really concentrating on it. Details matter little to me unless their wrong (funny that it works one way and not the other). When I read, I somehow skip the "seeing the book play out in my head" bit, and just absorb the characters and the plot. That's it.

When I write, however, things are different. I see things play out in my head - but they are still very shaking images, very much things made up as I go along. And that is all I need to be in the head of the character - shaky images. You tell me I'm in a room, or a fort, and that is all I need to be drawn into the character's stories.

Turns out this is quite uniques. One Beta who read "the Manda" put it as "You under-desribe as opposed to over describe. I can't tell what's happening." Another Beta put it as "this feels like a first draft - I'm not being drawn into the story."

Now. I logically understand their problem. But having never experianced it myself, I find it incredibly confusing as to how to know when it's too much, and when it's too little. I just don't get confused when I read through my stuff, because I don't need that sense or orientation of place that other people need. I just don't.

So, how to deal with it. Well, the first thing I did was find the most descriptive books in my genre I could find, and read them. Multiple times. Then I listened to a bunch of podcast on descriptions. And I have finally come up with something that may help.

  • Set the scene
  • point your descriptions to what is important.
  • Don't leave out the outside bits (the bits outside the action). Describe them as succinctly as possible. Choose only certain details.
  • Imbue your world into those descriptions
Will this work? No idea. But it can only be tried.

Enjoy creating~


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Update: 4/11/2010 我真的很高兴!!!!

First things first: 我真的很高兴! (I am very happy)

Why? Well I got into contact with my Chinese host family, and my Chinese wasn't so terrible that I couldn't understand them. I used a dictionary a heap, yes, but... they miss me! And I miss them, and everyone's all missing everyone else, and they're all lovely...

I just feels great that I was able to contact them, have a proper conversation with a minimum of misunderstandings, and that they still like me.

*runs through blog throwing happiness about.*

Secondly: nanowrimo is going well. Both my books are at the first turning point, which is great. Now I've just go to figure out where to go from there, but it'll come. I've got two random new characters in the steam punk novel - one that is entirely new, and is going to be a major character. I love it when things go well.

Viva la Revolution! Well, in colonial Australia, anyway.

I've also figured out how to fix a major plot issue in my other book (The Manda). I am tossing up whether to get to that now, or after november. It's probably going to be after.

But things are still percolating. I think I may be at the stage where I can start sending this thing (The Manda) out December/January. And then, if it doesn't get any bites, I can put it away in full knowledge that I have other things happening.

The only bleak note on the horizon is that the accommodation people at my university have not gotten back to me. Ahh well, you can't have it all in life.

Tomorrow, I am word warring with a fellow writer, who writes 5k a day without fail. I'm going to be slaughtered. But I may get more done then I was.

So all in all, a pretty good update. :D

Multidrafting! (Or the Most Insane Fun you can Have With a First Draft)

I have never looked forwards to a blog post with more anticipation. Here goes.

This is how I approach the topic with multiple drafts - generally with much dancing and skipping around in happiness. This approach may turn some people green, but it is how I do it.

The first time I ever wrote an entire, original novel, I approached writing like this: write what ever comes to your brain, fix it afterwards. This is all very well and good, as long as you don't mind at least 6 total rewrites (I kid you not. And by rewrite I mean starting from page one on a blank sheet of paper).

Another method I have devised, which seems to work better for me involves three stages: Planning, writing, and fixing.

Planning, for me, consists of knowing what happens at the first major turning point, knowing my characters, and that's it. Nothing more - otherwise it just kills the story for me. It must also be noted that I do a lot of "percolating" before hand, where I think about the story and the characters non-stop for about a month. Some would call that planning in the head, but I think that's different. Planning requires structure, and there is no structure to my thoughts. They just... are.

Then I sit down, and write to the first turning point. I know what this turning point is, and I don't worry about the quality of writing to start off with (this is we the other drafts come in later). I don't really worry about world building either - if I have something fantastical/out of the ordinary that I have to describe, and don't know how to, I'll do something like this

(Insert description of slum here).

I do this because I know any attempt to describe it will be crap, unless I take a significant amount of time and put a significant amount of thought into writing it. There isn't place for that in my first drafts - it slows me down, and it makes writing hard.

After I reach the first turning point, I stop, and think about my second turning point and end. By this stage, I know my world and my characters, so I think about where I want both of them to end up. I think about potential conflict between characters. And then I sit down and write. And write, and write, and write. I don't describe anything that's too hard, I do a terrible job of the show don't tell rule, and my writing is generally atrocious.

But that doesn't matter - as long as the character motavations make sense, and the plot keeps going, all is good. (First time I wrote The Manda, I ignored both these things. Thus the 6 total rewrites)

Then comes the fixing : I look through the book, try and make sure I get rid of any plot holes, any character discrepancies. Large chunks, especially the middle, will be re-written. This is the second draft. I still don't bother with the writing all that much.

Now we're into third draft territory. This is where I sit down, realise no-one else is going to be able to understand this, and go through the entire thing slowly, chapter by chapter, filling in all the descriptions I left out, doing all the research necessary.

Then I leave it. And come back to it. This is the fourth draft - it isn't a rewrite like the others, but a revision. I strike out all the descriptions that hold the story back, rewrite the ones that don't work. By this stage, it's about ready for Beta readers.

They will find a heap of problems with it, I'll go and fix it, and the whole thing will start over. By the end of the Beta revision, I am done.

And that, for me, is multi drafting. Each draft has the possibility of extending into multiple versions of itself - for example, I may have three second drafts, each for a major plot hole or character inconsistency.

But for me, multi-drafting presents me with an immense amount of freedom. I can stuff up some stuff while I get the other stuff right. I'm only concentrating on one thing at a time (notice also that I start with the hardest things - plot and character - and work my way down to concise sentence building) It won't work for everyone, but I find it immensely helpful.

Enjoy creating~


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Can You Learn How to Write?

My answer to that is: well, depends what you mean by write.

If writing is stringing words together in a way that it summons an image in a readers head? Yes, you can learn to do that. If it means plotting, and the sweep of story, and how the characters evolve? Then yes, you can learn how to put a plot together, you can learn how to make realistic characters. You can learn how to come up with ideas, to extrapolate those ideas until you have a plan, and then you can learn how to put words on it.

But in my mind, there is one thing you cannot learn. And that is how to get the characters to talk to you, how to get your books unfolding in your head. You can learn all the separate elements of this, you can learn how to twist plots, how to formulate characters, how to write well. But you can not learn how to put those together. You can learn how to put them together better than you already do. But there has to be a certain level of "story cohesiveness" that is acquired by instinct.

My reasoning for this is simple. A story is made up of so many different elements. Truely, there are more than I can think about and know of. To learn how to perform all of these elements and then to try and figure out a way to tie them all together using a plan or a method - it would make your brain explode, truly it would.

Imagine a musician. You can learn how to hold an instrument, you can learn how to make sound, you can press keys, make notes, perform music on a sheet of paper. But when it comes to creating something of your own, you either manage to create art, or just sound out notes.

I beleive that anyone can learn the tools and value of writing. But you must intrinsicly have storytelling in your being. Now, if you're a plotter, with every point and character twist plotted out, this is not writing by numbers. It simply means your first draft is in a form that is different to my first draft. If you have to figure out characters before you start, then this is not what I'm talking about.

regardless of the amount of information you have to have before you can start a story, regardless of how hard it is to put a story on paper, regardless of how many times you fail - this storytelling ability is there. You know you have it the moment you put it on paper.

Because you are writing. You are writing and characters, or plot, or your outline just speaks to you. there is no proper way to describe it. It just happens. Maybe only for a chapter. Maybe the rest of it is a terrible slog through nothing. But for a couple of brief moments, you feel as if the thing is alive.

This doesn't mean that your characters are running away from you and making their own decisions. I know plotters who have never had that happen to them. But their ideas are alive for them, the way they think about things are alive for them. For discovery writers, things have to be alive from the get go, otherwise you're never going to progress to the next chapter.

If you want to prove me wrong, if you have the need to write, although you haven't had things come alive for you - well, chances are it's already happened, maybe only for a brief moment, and you missed it. Because I can't think of any other reason why someone would put themselves through the agony of writing a story.