Action scenes (Rewrites part 6)

Sorry for the delay in updating- I got sick right around the second book launch for the Blood is Thicker anthology. Of course I was fine for most of that day, then right when I walked into the symposium my cough started to act up again. I was told by my friend who was in the audience that my increasingly scratchy throat just added to the effect of my reading. But then with the microphone bent oddly and the way I was standing, I had to kind of hunch my shoulders and crane my neck to look up at the audience. I was told by that friend in the crowd that I looked ‘like a water creature surfacing’. But I did not trip or lose my place. So it all evens out I guess.

Anyways, the action scenes went a lot quicker than the character turning point rewrites. I found that the action scenes were already pretty solid, and really only needed a bit of tweaking more than any serious rewrites or overhauls. It was helped in large part by the fact that I had a really good teacher who taught me all about writing action; keep the sentences short, but still varied a bit in length. Don’t bog it down with unnecessary details and choosing the right action word, rather than relying on lot of adjectives and adverbs, is critical. For example, there is a huge difference between someone running/sprinting/pelting down the street. They are placed in order of speed and sense of urgency. Having learned all of these techniques a while ago though meant that the vast majority of those scenes were fairly well constructed. The longest part of the whole process was actually finding and picking those specific parts out of my full-length manuscript. Ctrl-F can be a huge help, unless the word you’re looking for is too common and peppered throughout. Then its a nightmare. Your word has been found… 343 times. 

So I officially finished round 2 of my rewrites today (YAY!!!!), and starting tomorrow will be beginning of phase 3…the Journey Moments. These are the times where there is a lot of travelling/passage of time in one area. These moments are crucial for character interactions with smaller moments for training/talking, that kind of thing. It’s important to put them in, but not to weigh down the story with too much, so I’m thinking this part will be one of the longer sections to rework. Anyways, I already have my list of scenes ready, so I can hit the ground running tomorrow.

And I will keep you updated as that progresses.

I will this time.

I will.


Update to Rewrites part 5

Tonight I finished the first round of rewriting!! I am actually a bit ahead of where I thought that  I would be, so I’m feeling very accomplished right now. I already have the action scenes all listed out so I will be starting that next round of rewrites on Monday.

And the Launch at the Canadian Author’s Association writer’s summit is tomorrow! I’ve been asked this week to read part of my short story at the event, so I’ve been practicing that all night and I think I’ve figured out a few good tricks to help me read even smoother. I’ve had experience reading in some of my classes, so I think tomorrow should be a fantastic evening. I’m so excited to get to meet some of my fellow authors and all the new writers, editors and publishers who should be attending as well- I’ve got a whole purse of business cards I plan on handing out! I will keep everyone updated on how this goes, but I am feeling pretty good for tomorrow (it’s now two minutes past midnight, so I guess I’m feeling pretty good for today!)


The last of the first (Rewrites part 5)

So today I’m on track to finish my first round of rewrites; the emotional turning points. 200+ pages of new prose, and editing some of the old stuff, although I must admit I have left the two toughest parts for the end so it might be a long night.

Next week I will start round 2 of editing, this time focusing on the action scenes- got some pretty exciting parts I’m eager to delve back into!

I have to say I’ve really enjoyed breaking up the editing into sections like this. For the longest time I had felt so overwhelmed trying to just fix everything at once. This method has been giving me a sense of purpose each day. Even on the days I feel I don’t have as much time or if I ever felt unfocused, I would always just force myself to pick whatever point appealed to me most that day and just go for it. Now that I’m about to go to the anthology launch tomorrow for my short story, I can go in and talk to people about how the editing is actually proceeding, rather than having to turn a stagnant standstill of feeling burnt out into something positive.

I’ve learned having a list that I can check off has been the best way for me to keep making progress. It’s not one giant task of editing the whole book, it’s just 25 key scenes for character arcs and change, and that is something i can work towards and feel accomplished on!

Book Launch

There will be a public book launch and writing symposium on short fiction this Wednesday, June 20 at 7pm at U of Toronto. There will be authors, editors and publishers giving keynote speeches on the writing industry and some of the anthology authors (including me!) giving short readings of their stories.

The link is below for all the details and the registration (Free unless you choose to give a donation to the Creative Writing Bursary or buy raffle tickets).

Now I have to go practice my reading for this event!

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The best approach (Rewrites part 4)

When I first started my rewrites, my plan was to start at chapter one and work through the whole thing, one page at a time. Solidify all the characters and plot and world building ahead of time and then just work through it all at once. Read the first draft chapter at the beginning of the day and decide what needs to be tweaked and what needs to be redone. Needless to say, this was a terrible idea. I learned very quickly there are many types of edits and rewrites that need to be done, and you learn something new about your world for each one. You don’t need all the answers until you get to the end and you’re just wordsmithing.

Evidently when I started out, I found myself very quickly overwhelmed and burnt out. It seemed like the more I looked into what needed to be ‘fixed’ the more I doubted my worth as a writer. I was making list after list of fixes and still felt like I was no where near a fully developed book. Why had I put everything on hold for this? Why did I ever think I could write? Why was this so important to me if I was so bad at it?

But it’s all about stages of editing, I’ve come to see. Breaking it down into one aspect at a time and being alright with earmarking something and coming back to it later if it’s still being developed in my head.

So I have completed my first stage, which I called filling in the plot holes. When I finished my first draft, I restructured my entire outline, sometimes changing the order of things, clarifying purpose or character arc, but in a few instances, I wanted to write entirely new sections. So I wrote those new parts.

Now I’m writing what I call the pivotal character points. I picked out five or six points for my two main characters and a couple of points for the important secondary characters that really define the character. Moments of huge decision or change that alter their character arc, really focusing on their thought process to reach that choice.

But I’ve since realized that I made the same mistake. I wrote the points out in chronological order and I’ve been working through the list one by one, figuring it would allow me to build the characters’ frame of mind as the book progresses. A few of those scenes I struggled with, either because I still had some things I was working through or, honestly, because I just wasn’t too inspired by that scene at that moment.

But yesterday I was inspired to write a scene several plot points ahead of myself. I had heard a song that really brought it to life, and I could hear my characters talking in my head. I knew exactly why that scene was important and what each of my two protagonists was going through. It was some of the most fun and fulfilling writing that I’ve done in weeks. There is nothing like writing a scene that’s playing out for you as you go, and the only limitation you have is based on how fast you can type.

So I’ve taken it as a gentle reminder. Some people do write better in order, it may seem more logical and flow better, but I can’t forget either that sometimes it’s better to just see where inspiration strikes. Sometimes working from the end or the middle and realizing where the character will go, can help us better see where they start. And I’ve always found at the end of the day, when you’re really excited to write a scene, it makes the prose shine, whereas when you’re forcing yourself to do it, it can become stilted and mundane. After all, if we don’t enjoy writing it, how will anyone enjoy reading it?

So many characters! (Rewrites part 3)

So I have a lot of characters in my book. Some of them are introduced in the first novel but play a larger role in the other two books, some of them are pretty important to the first story, and some of them are somewhere between background character and secondary character (yes, yes, I know, they’re called tertiary characters but I’m learning that can be a very loose and broad term). You know, those character who are important for a chapter or two but once the protagonist leaves that setting, they most likely won’t make a comeback? But they are important in that short span of time.

I have made a few lists over the years of all my characters in Dragon Kin. Some of them I have managed to cut, and once i was even able to combine two characters into one, although if you’ll allow me a the cliche writer moment, it wasn’t entirely my decision. The side character took off his hood and suddenly it was someone who wasn’t supposed to make an appearance until the second book. I told him to go away, but he wouldn’t listen, and darn it if it doesn’t make the series stronger for it.

So lately I’ve been keeping a sharp eye out for stories that deal with large casts of characters and how they deal with so many people. I know giving the primary and secondary protagonists/antagonists an arc and purpose are crucial, but you simply cannot give every person that same journey or you’ll lose the characters that matter most.

I took my mother to see a movie for Mother’s day. It was a 2017 film called C’est La Vie, and it’s a funny French film about this huge wedding staff all trying to do their own jobs on the big day when everyone’s too wrapped up in their own problems to communicate with each other, and the poor boss who’s trying to keep everyone on track as things spiral further and further out of control. It’s an absolutely wonderful film, I highly recommend seeing it. But I paid very close attention to how they dealt with so many people in such a relatively small amount of time. And one of the things I noticed was the same technique Charles Dickens was famous for in his own stories. Give these characters a defining trait. That’s not to say you need to do something over the top, like always having someone wear a pink tutu even when they’re on the street, or wear a bunny costume and end every sentence with a nasally laugh. Maybe this would work for your story, and if it does I think you’re very brave for treading such a fine line between what is no doubt the hilarious and the unrealistically absurd. No, it can be something much more subtle. I think my favourite Charles’ Dickens character has always been the Artful Dodger, and although he tends to play a much larger part in movie and TV adaptations of Oliver he had much smaller role in the book. But he was always known for his contrasting appearance of a dirty street urchin child, wearing adult clothes of a top hat and an overly large man’s coat and corduroy trousers. In all the adaptations I’ve seen he’s always worn those hat and the clothes. In C’est La Vie, one of the characters used to be a teacher, and would always correct people’s grammar, even going so far as to change the seating labels.

I know I’ve read a few books where a character comes back and there’s a moment of who’s this again? And it always helps to get that little subtle reminder so I can go back to enjoying the story rather than searching for clues as to who the heck this one is. Was that the guy from the beginning or the one that sold them the lamp? But I’ve also learned its equally important to make that trait linked to who they are. Dodger was the street kid with men’s clothes because he’s always been a bit at odds with looking like a child and being forced to act like an adult from a very young age. If the little detail is something that tells us something about the character, we will remember them and connect with them better. The detail tells us something about who they are, they’ll seem a bit more human (or at least three dimensional for all of us Fantasy/Sci Fi writers).

I’ve also gotten the great advice to remember they have a life outside of your story. They aren’t sitting around waiting for the story to come to them, they’re out living and doing their own thing and our story happens to intersect with their lives. We don’t need to delve into their backstory or anything, but something little, like having them be on their way to see their sick grandmother rather than just having them standing around, waiting for us to write them back into existence can make them seem more fleshed out.

Anyways, these are just some of the ideas I’ve encountered so far on how to deal with large character lists. It’s still something I’m struggling with, but having a few ideas for those tertiary characters has really helped strengthen their interactions with the other characters. Just have a vague idea of who they are in your own mind, and drop a few humanizing traits and tidbits in dialogue or action to make their existence feel fuller.

Wisdom of the Rewrite (Rewrites part 2)

One of the other things I’m learning when working on rewrites is that I can be too hard on myself.

I’m very quick to say ‘Oh that part’s awful, just rewrite it all’,  but once I actually go back and read it, it’s not usually as bad as I remember. More often than not it needs some tweaking as the plot and characters solidify, rather than an entire rewrite. Some parts are as rough as I recall, and some parts do need a rewrite because too much of the character or plot has changed, but I’m learning its always best to carefully reread what you wrote for a particular section before just redoing it all.

To some people this seems painfully obvious, but never just assume a section is bad. There is usually something you can salvage in it. Improve what you have in any way you can, which means picking and choosing what is redone and what is improved. You’re often much better than you think, so take some pride in that!