Tag Archives: editing

Villain POV and editing

I can’t believe it’s already the end of September. My eldest daughter got married one month ago, and my twins have been back in school for three weeks.

Writing the second draft of my novel (which I’m calling the first draft since I’m calling the novel-like pile of words I completed my zero draft) is going much slower than I expected. I think this is because when I wrote that initial draft I did more “discovery” writing than I thought – the story crystalized as I wrote it.

It took me two-and-a-half weeks to write/rewrite the first 5000 words in which I introduce two of the three POV characters, their goal, the world, and foreshadow the third main character.

I got stuck when I started writing/rewriting the next chapter of the novel in which I introduce the third POV character, his goal, another part of the world, and the main villain. I realized I had no idea how this third hero would interact with the villain initially, before he is aware of their conflict. In my first/zero draft I worked out the what/why/how for the villain later, but not so much in the beginning.

My solution: Summarize the novel from the villain’s point of view.

That brought so much of the story into focus for me. It also clarified the motivations for another character… the one who betrays my main characters.

Miriah Hetherington maple leaves

It’s Autumn! Teddy gets to help rake leaves.

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Shiny first draft

(Why, yes. It HAS been a long time since I posted a blog update. Shut up.)

I entered the Writers of the Future contest for the first time, third quarter (deadline June 30). I heard on September 15th that my story got an “Honorable Mention” status. I feel pretty good about that.

The next entry deadline is almost here, September 30th. I just finished a new short story that I think might be a contender – after some serious revision.

The beach at Fort Worden

The beach at Fort Worden

I thought I’d share my internal dialog:

Right Brain: I finished it! This is the best story I have ever written! It’s so shiny! I love it so much! I have to submit it RIGHT NOW!

Left Brain: No way. We just finished it. This is a rough draft. Do you remember what happened last time we did that?

Right Brain: Okay, yeah. But we revised that story later and, well, THIS story is SO MUCH BETTER! It’s so fluffy! We sent it to Mom and she LOVED it.

Left Brain: Mom loves everything we write.

Right Brain: She said it made her cry.

Left Brain: It was supposed to. But we already know the characterization of the protagonist is inconsistent. And we still have some fact checking to do…

Right Brain: So, let’s do it! Let’s start right now!

Left Brain: We need to catch up on everything we let slide while we were finishing the story. Plus, we already sent it off to our crit group. We need to wait for their feedback. Those women are smart. They always catch stuff we miss.

Right Brain: Okay, okay. But after the crit group meeting we still have two days. Plenty of time. We can revise that sparkly story and get it in before the deadline.

Left Brain: Whoa there. We have to wait for the sparkles to fade, so we can see the flaws.

Right Brain: This story doesn’t have any flaws. I’m sure of it.

Left Brain: Oh, the flaws are there alright, we just can’t see them. Yet. We have to put that story aside for at least two weeks, a month would be better, so we can see the flaws and fix them.

Right Brain: But, but…. okay, you’re right. I guess we have to wait until next quarter to send it in.

Left Brain: Sadly, yes.

Anybody else ever had this conversation with themselves?

Slushy Confessions

I resigned from my position as a First Reader at Strange Horizons. I held the position from mid-September 2012 to the end of July 2013, so that’s about eight-and-a-half months (SH was closed to submissions in December and January.)

Slush: crushed ice and syrup. Tasty.

the other kind of slush

I’m a bit sad it’s over. Slushing was a good experience, and I learned a great deal.

Writing instructors will often say slushing will benefit your writing. They’ll say it’s good for you. But I have to admit that when I applied I was a little vague about exactly what that benefit would be.

Here are a few things I learned from my first reader experience.

First, I learned that all of the standard advice about writing good fiction that gets repeated in every writing class and how-to-write book is actually true. I knew it on an intellectual level. Now I believe it, on a gut level.

Second, a form rejection letter/email means exactly what it says. The magazine has decided not to publish my story. That’s it. Really. As a First Reader, I sent form rejections most of the time. A thoughtful personal comment for a rejection letter takes time to write. Time that could be spent reading the next story in the FR queue, or writing, or reading that neglected novel.

Third, a personal rejection doesn’t necessarily mean my story is “close” or my submissions are getting better. As a first reader I occasionally added a personal comment to the rejection email because I thought I had something useful or helpful to say about the story. But even then, I only wrote that comment if time allowed.

Fourth, I think I’ve gotten better at giving feedback to members of my critique groups, at least when it comes to identifying story problem areas. Whether or not I’m better at identifying problems in my own writing, or figuring out how to fix them, remains to be seen ;-)

Lastly, I learned the secret to getting your story past the slush reader, and into the hands of an editor. The secret? Write a fantastic story. So simple in theory, but of course difficult in practice. As a first reader, it was the best feeling ever to read a story that I could pass on to the editors with a note that said I loved it. That made my day.

And now that I’m retired from slushing, I’m looking forward to spending more time writing, and making a dent in the piles of books that have accumulated around my house (at a faster rate) since I started slushing.

Happy Writing!

Writing a Guest Blog

I recently wrote a guest blog post for Penumbra eMagazine. When I received that email from the blog manager asking if I was interested in writing a guest blog, I felt really pleased and flattered they asked me. That was my first reaction. My second reaction was panic. What would I write about?

View along the Little Si Trail, North Bend, WA

We went for a family hike up Little Si, North Bend WA, on August 25. View of an interesting part of the trail, with criss-crossing tree roots.

I often think there is a certain arrogance or audacity to keeping a blog about becoming an author, especially since I am not in any way an expert on (well anything really, but especially) writing. There are many other blogs on the internet written by widely published authors who can give far better advice than me. (Links to some of my favorites appear in the “Resources for Writers” table on the right.) When I blog I try to stick to my own experience and the perspective of a writer just starting out and trying to get published.

So for my guest blog, I wrote about something that was going on in my life (sorting through my family’s collection of children’s books) and related that to writing speculative fiction.

But first, I read all of the entries on the Penumbra blog for the last three months to get an idea of what other blog posts looked like. (That actually increased my anxiety, because the site has interesting posts written by some very noteworthy people.) I also did some internet research, searching on “guest blogger etiquette”, to make sure I didn’t do anything really stupid or embarrassing. Then I wrote the post.  Lastly, I submitted my guest blog post early (just-in-case it needed editing or revision:-)

If you read that guest blog post on Penumbra, you may be wondering which picture books among the collection were my favorites. I have many, but here are a few:

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw I cried every time I read this to my kids.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara CooneyWhat will you do to make the world more beautiful?

I Love You, Stinky Face, by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore This is the very last picture book my kids asked me to read over and over.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko Princess Elizabeth is one of my all-time favorite heroines!

So now I’ve written a blog post about blogging. (Hopefully that’s not as lame as it sounds.) What are your favorite children’s books, and how have they influenced your writing?

Happy Writing,

Miriah

Alien and Bagpipes

Drawing of bagpipes held in tentacled arms

Tentacles and Bagpipes (sounds like the name of a pub)

In every writing class I’ve taken so far, right after the subject of editing is covered, someone always asks:  how much editing is too much? How do you know when you’re finished editing and the piece is ready to submit? Usually a fascinating discussion ensues, because everyone has their own opinion. But I never felt like I left with a satisfying answer. Under-editing is usually my problem. I know there are perfectionists out there. I am not one of them.

I suspect the real answer is something like this: when you know what you’re doing, you’ll know when the story is ready to submit.

I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I submitted a  short story to a speculative fiction market today anyway.

Since I’m still trying to learn, I brought this story to the point where I think it’s ready through a long process of trial and error. The title has changed a couple times, but if you are one of the people I begged to critique it, you will recognize it as the “Alien and Bagpipes” story. The current title is “Earth Music” (about 1100 words).

It started as a writing prompt from one of Cat Rambo’s classes, something like: “Describe an earth object from the point of view of an alien.” So obviously I chose to describe Highland bagpipes from the point of view of an octopus-like alien that lives underwater.

But, a description isn’t a story. So I added background to explain why the alien had the bagpipes, and what he was planning to do with them. I thought the story was finished, and I submitted it too soon. Re-reading that “story” now, it is clear to me that not only did it need more editing, but it wasn’t complete.

So after it was rejected the first time I added a conflict. I added an unhappy ending. I edited. I took out the extra adjectives and adverbs and did my best to make sure any remaining adverbs were pulling their own weight. I submitted to another market. By the time it was rejected, I had joined a critique group, who were kind enough to work-shop it. I got great feedback, and one writer suggested that I take the circumstances that led to the unhappy ending and “really go for it”.

The story sat on the back burner for a couple months before I came back to it. I re-wrote it so that the entire story builds up to the ending. I asked for critiques and was lucky enough to get some extremely helpful input from a total of six people.

This afternoon I convinced myself it was ready to submit. Again. If I had tentacles I’d be crossing them now.

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P.S. I sincerely hope that no one who reads my “Earth Music” story is offended by what happens to the bagpipes in the end. Cha d’rinn cròn air pìob sam bith ri sgrìobhadh na sgeulachd seo. (No bagpipes were harmed in the writing of this story.)

One added comment:  Except for the photo of me on the “About” page, so far all of the photos on this blog were taken by me. For this particular post I tried to find an image of tentacles and bagpipes on the internet. I was shocked to discover there weren’t any. I had to resort to making my own. What’s up with that? Really, interwebs, you let me down this time!