Character and Structure, by Chris Andrews

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

I ditched my original plan for today’s blog post yesterday afternoon after reading the first seven chapters of Chris Andrews’ new writing “how-to” book, Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. The book was released on Friday. Since I’d preordered it for my tablet, it downloaded at 12:01 a.m.

Chris Andrews is an Australian fantasy author. He has much more experience than I have in writing fiction. He has helped me a lot on my journey as a writer.

This book is aimed at writers, but I can imagine a fan of fiction also reading it and getting a better understanding of what goes into writing a novel. Clue:  There’s more to it than typing.

In Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Mr. Andrews writes about how important it is for a novelist to reach his or her readers by getting them emotionally invested. You can write a book with perfect punctuation about a perfect person with a perfect life but, if you don’t write it in a way that prompts your reader to care what happens to this character, your novel will fail. Your character must face challenges and problems. Otherwise, no one will care.

The following are two quotes from Mr. Andrews’ book:

“Mastering the mechanics of writing doesn’t automatically provide the entertainment factor.”

“You’re the architect, so unless you’re building your story purely for yourself, you need to consider your audience.”

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance reminds writers that readers come to a novel with certain expectations regarding structure. If a writer is going to deviate from the expected structure of a novel, he or she better be an outstanding writer to pull it off. Different genres adhere to set patterns or sequences of plot. Readers are uncomfortable with any deviation and book sales and reviews will reflect that.

As Mr. Andrews states early in the book, “This book will help you balance your story so the beginning, middle and end work to your advantage [and] create the emotional high and low points your audience expects.”

He addresses how authors approach the writing of a novel in different ways. Some writers are outliners, while others are “pantsters.” (Outliners map out their story before they write it. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants.)

Mr. Andrews writes, “One process favours emotion while the other is all about logic. You need to be a master of both and that means doing the things you don’t want to do.”

I’m an outliner. That doesn’t mean I adhere to the rigid way I was taught in elementary school to outline. When I’m plotting a story or novel, I outline with sentences and paragraphs, scene-by-scene. That’s what works for me, so my bigger challenge is mastering emotion.

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance is the first writing “how-to)” book I’ve read that focuses on this important aspect of creative writing. I wish Mr. Andrews had written it a few years ago! As I continue to edit and polish the manuscript for what I hope will be my first novel, The Doubloon OR The Spanish Coin, I will keep the lessons learned from this book in mind as I work to put more emotion in my writing. If my readers don’t care about my characters, my book won’t be successful on any level.

Mr. Andrews states, “It depends on your own strengths and weaknesses, but whichever path you take the end game encompass character, conflict and a coherent and emotionally engaging structure that makes your audience feel what you want them to feel.”

Also, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”

Mr. Andrews’ book has helped me have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the necessity of a marriage between character and plot in a work of fiction.

In his book, Mr. Andrews gives questions that fiction writers should ask about their manuscripts in order to get insight into the stories they’re writing.

Here’s one last quote from Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance“Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers that will help you emotionally engage your audience.”

Can you believe all that came just from reading the first two chapters of the book?

The book goes on to say a writer needs to put himself or herself in the place of a character and in the place of the reader. How will your story come across? What will make your reader care about your character(s)? Will your reader be satisfied with how the core problem your character faces is resolved? What’s at stake for your character?

In addition to giving us questions to ask about our manuscripts, he provides entertaining exercises for writers to do in order to consider how character and structure are presented in a variety of well-known novels. He challenges the writer to back off from their story’s details and to look at the whole story as the Norse God Loki could.

If you look at your story or manuscript as a whole and see a perfect world, you’re looking at a world that will bore your reader. That’s the last thing you want! Mr. Andrews then offers a list of things you need to answer or address regarding your book in order to – as we would say in a baseball analogy in the United States – “cover all the bases.”

That brings us to the end of the sixth of 32 chapters in Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. I can’t wait to see how much I learn from the remaining 26 chapters! But don’t expect me to summarize the rest of the book for you. You need to buy it for yourself. It’s available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon.com.

If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend that you purchase it and slowly and thoughtfully work your way through it. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I trust my novel in progress will benefit greatly from the pointers in this book.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed some wonderful time with three precious family members who live 300 miles away, so I don’t get to see them often.

Before and after their visit, I did a lot of reading.

Until my next blog post

If you’re interested in learning more about Chris Andrews and his novels, visit his website at https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Fifth Column, a historical thrilled by Andrew Gross and have started listening to The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Next Monday’s blog post will be about the other books I read in September.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’re a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster? Do you find it easier to get the mechanics of a story right or do you prefer writing the emotion?

If you’re a fiction reader, does it upset you when an author deviates too much from the expected? For instance, if you like to read romance, does it upset you if a romance novel doesn’t have a happy ending? That’s what is meant by deviating from reader expectations.

Janet

Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Everyone needs self-discipline, and most of us learn it from an early age. Daily schedules must be met even by infants. At my age, one would think self-discipline would no longer be an issue.

I’m in awe of writers who also have full-time jobs. They have to be intentional in finding time to write. When I hear a writer say she gets up two hours earlier than is otherwise necessary every morning in order to write, I’m blown away. I’m not a morning person and the thoughts of getting up two hours earlier than necessary send shivers down my spine. Plus, there’s no way I could write a complete sentence in the early morning hours. My hat’s off to each and every writer who has to do this.

Being retired, I have “all the time in the world.” For that, I am the envy of every working person. If I only had “all the energy in the world” or the energy of an average child or teen, I’d be living in a perfect bubble.

Deadlines

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I’ve always been motivated by deadlines. I finished term papers the night before they were due. I tend to finish (or not finish!) reading library books the night before they’re due. Self-imposed deadlines don’t usually work for me.

Every time I’ve tried to work out a writing schedule on paper, I’ve had limited success. I tend to over-schedule my days. Now that I have the freedom to do as I please, I want to do it all. I can’t do it all, and that’s a lesson I’m trying to learn. Everything takes longer than I think it will take.

Is writing my job?

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Everything I’ve read about writing and self-discipline says a writer must have it. Without self-discipline, the writing won’t get done. I’ve read that I must treat my writing like it’s my job. I’ve taken these adages as truth, but I’m here today to rock the boat.

I never had a job I truly enjoyed, so the word “job” carries negative connotations for me. I love to write and I enjoy doing the research historical fiction calls for. When my writing or research becomes a job, I’ll probably lose interest and move on to something else. The problem with that is:  I can’t imagine not writing.

Self-discipline tips

I’m probably the last person who needs to give others self-discipline tips or advice; however, I can’t be the only person out there with the same or similar roadblocks. Illness happens, and age slows most of us down.

Trouble with self-discipline and things I’m feeling pressured to work on:

1.  Writing Time

2.  Building My Writer’s/Author’s Platform

3.  Sleep  

4.  Reading Time

5.  Weight

All five things I listed above require self-discipline. What I’m seeking is a balance of self-discipline and self-love. I must love myself and like myself before I can find productive self-discipline. What part does motivation play? If I’m happy with myself, I’ll be more productive.

Making time to write

Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio on Unsplash

Instead of scheduling writing time each day, I think I’ll write better quality prose if I give myself the freedom to write when the mental and physical energy come together. That might not happen every day. Criticizing myself on the days those don’t come together is not productive. Most days I’m in a brain fog, and there’s no point forcing creativity.

Making time to build a writer’s platform

I’m taking an online course about building a writer’s platform. I’ve learned that I’m doing some things right, but there are many things I need to start doing. It seems overwhelming, but I’m learning a lot about what an author needs to include in his or her website and blog.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

I have a couple more weeks to complete the course. It will take longer than that to implement all the things I’ve learned. What I’m trying to learn is to not be too hard on myself about the things I don’t get done. Again, that’s not productive. I need to concentrate on what I do accomplish.

If you want to know more about the course I’m taking, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/. Click on “Classes” and then scroll down. The course I’m taking is Karen Cioffi’s “Build Your Author/Writer Platform.” It’s offered again in September and November.

Sleep

I have a medical condition that mess up my circadian rhythm. After 32 years of wrecked sleep, I’m going to a sleep coach. She’s helping me get on a regular sleep schedule.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

The process involves getting a certain amount of full-spectrum sunlight for at least 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening, eating meals and carbohydrate snacks at prescribed intervals, dimming the lights and not sitting near the TV for three hours before bedtime, not looking at an electronic screen for two hours before going to bed, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, and turning the lights out at an appointed time to make my bedroom so dark I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face.

Not looking at my computer or my tablet for two hours before bedtime and getting up at the same time every morning have been the most difficult facets for me.

As of last week, I’m supposed to drastically curtail my “to do” list and allow myself more time to accomplish each task. You see, each thing I’m feeling pressured about relates to getting my sleep regulated. Getting my sleep regulated will give me the opportunity to have a better quality of life and will make it easier for me to do the things I want to do.

Making time to read

Photo by Glen Noble on Unsplash

In order to be a good writer, I need to be an avid reader. For a couple of months now, I can’t seem to set aside enough time to read what I want to read, or I fall asleep with the book or e-reader in my hands. (Those “dim lighting for three hours before bedtime” and “no electronics for two hours before bedtime” rules aren’t helping!)

Since I report on my blog the books I’ve read, my reading is in some ways becoming a job. I don’t want to feel that way about reading, so I might lighten up on my TBR (To Be Read) list. If the books on my TBR were gathered together instead of just being a list, they would probably look something like the above photo!

Weight

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

I need to lose weight. I’m trying to limit myself to 1,200 calories each day. Most days I’ve succeeded, but I’ve only just begun. Counting calories is a time-consuming endeavor, but I need to do this before things get out-of-control.

Until my next blog post

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might recall that I first mentioned Jennifer Ryan and her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, in my March 10, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/10/11-things-ive-learned-about-social-media-since-february-21-2017/) and again in my April 1, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/) when I reviewed that book.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have the self-love, self-motivation, and self-discipline to finish your current WIP (Work in Progress.)

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Do you schedule reading and/or writing time? If so, how is that working for you? What works for you?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #2: Scene Outline

From the beginning in June of 2010, this blog has generally been about my journey as a writer. It hasn’t been a smooth ride so far, and some days the destination doesn’t appear any closer than when I began.

This reminds me of an experience my sister and I had on a trip to the western part of the United States a few years ago. We saw our first butte. It didn’t look more than a mile or two away, so we turned off onto a dirt road that looked like it would take us to the butte. We don’t have buttes in North Carolina, so we wanted to see one up close.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

After driving on this straight, flat road for a half hour or so, the butte didn’t look any closer than it had when we turned off the main highway. We gave up on reaching the butte and turned around.

As for the manuscript for my Doubloon novel, I haven’t given up and I haven’t turned around. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. I’m still learning about the work that has to be done after the rough draft is finished.

Scene Outlines

In my mind I thought I could evaluate every scene in my novel manuscript of more than 90,000 words by mid-July and be ready to send a detailed scene outline to a professional editor for a critique. In the meantime, I discovered a scene outline template on C.S. Lakin’s website.

(Ms. Lakin’s February 1, 2016 blog post, “Using a Scene Template to Craft Perfect Scenes” can be found at https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/02/01/using-a-scene-template-to-craft-perfect-scenes/#more-7387, in case you’re interested in looking at her template. Click on “Resources” and scroll down to the clickable list of free writing resources she offers.)

I wrote an outline before writing the rough draft of the The Doubloon. After finishing the rough draft, I modified my outline into a scene outline for reference purposes. Then, I found Ms. Lakin’s template. It includes details and questions I hadn’t thought about being part of a scene outline.

Expanding my outline based on Ms. Lakin’s template has been a beneficial process because it makes me state how each scene drives the plot forward, what background details are revealed, and how the point-of-view character grows or changes. It might even tell me that one or more scenes aren’t necessary.

Novel readers won’t stand for boredom.

With today’s blog post topic in mind, I wanted to see what other writing experts had to say. My basic takeaway from K.M. Weiland’s June 17, 2019 blog post, https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-write-interesting-scenes/ was that every scene needs to hold the reader’s attention.

Ms. Weiland goes on to list five things every scene should contain. She wrote, “Basically, the art of writing interesting scenes is the art of preventing reader boredom.”

Douglas W. T. Smith is an Australian fantasy author. In his blog post on May 29, 2019, “How To Bring Life And Fluency to Each Scene In Your Novel” (https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/how-to-bring-life-and-fluency-to-each-scene-in-your-novel/)  he gave four important tips for writing scenes.

My favorite takeaway from Mr. Smith’s blog post was “Each scene should stand alone, make it dazzling enough to inform your reader of the necessary plot information, exciting enough to create interest and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going.”

I will continue to work on my scene outline. As a hope-to-be debut novelist with my The Doubloon manuscript, I think it’s a good idea for me to hire a professional editor to evaluate my scene outline. I’ll let you know when that happens.

In case you missed #FixYourNovel #1:  Read it Aloud

Here’s the link to my May 24, 2019 blog post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still pulled between several books and not able to finish any of them.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are the “buttes” in your life – those things you want to accomplish that seem to always be out of reach?

Janet

Delving Deeper into Dialects and Accents in Fiction

My blog post last week, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/10/a-wake-up-call-from-dr-henry-louis-gates-jr/, was about how reading Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. tipped the scales for me in writing dialect and accents in fiction. One thing led to another, and that post became too long. Today’s blog post includes what I deleted from last Monday’s post.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

If this is a topic you’re struggling with, I hope these two blog posts will trigger some questions in your mind and lead you to try to come to terms with this aspect of fiction writing.

If you are a reader but don’t aspire to write fiction, I hope my thoughts on the subject will spark a new awareness in you. It’s not just about literature, it’s about how we view our fellow citizens.

My wake-up call

The awakening Dr. Gates’ book prompted in me helped me realize that, except for using an occasional “ye” or “’Tis” for an Irish character’s speech, I wasn’t using any sort of dialect in the white characters’ dialogue. So why in the world was I using dialect in the dialogue of the slaves in the novel I’m writing, The Doubloon?

A device in writing is the use of attributing certain words or phrases to a particular character. This is done to help the reader distinguish one character from another. There is a way to do this without using “Plantation Dialect.”

Thank you, Dr. Gates, for turning that light bulb on in my head.

Another resource for writing vs. not writing accents in dialogue

Images from Louise Harnby’s “Writing Natural Dialogue & Thoughts” blog post from May 20, 2019.

I looked for additional professional advice on the topic of writing accents in dialogue and found the following blog post by fiction editor and proofreader Louise Harnby:  https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them.

She stated, “Bear in mind that dialogue tells us what words have been spoken, not how they’re spelled. Phonetic spelling can turn dialogue into pastiche, and offensive pastiche at that. It’s also difficult to absorb and distracts readers from your story.”

That led me to edit the dialogue I had written for a Frenchman in my novel manuscript. There is so much to learn. Times are changing. What was acceptable in fiction years ago or even last year, might not be acceptable now. Some people call this political correctness. That term has taken on negative backlash connotations, so I prefer to say, “When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

A piece of advice I took from Ms. Harnby’s blog post is this: “Use location rather than pronunciation to enrich characterization – how where they’re from affects the story, their perception of the conflict or their approach to solving it.” I think this is harder than writing phonetically, but nobody said writing a novel set in the 18th century American South would be easy.

Reinforced by listening to Iron House, by John Hart

My awareness of this matter was reinforced a couple of weeks ago as I listened to Iron House, by John Hart. Listening to the novel drove home the question about the use of accent in fiction. I did not finish listening to Iron House because I became completely distracted by the over-the-top Southern accent used by the professional reader.

Iron House, by John Hart

The way in which the professional reader exaggerated the speech of at least two characters in Iron House reminded me of the extreme Southern accents used by the actors in the old television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Since the series was set in Mississippi, the actors used such slow and pronounced “Southern” accents that it was irritating to my North Carolina ears. It came across as Hollywood making fun of the way I talk.

Iron House is set in North Carolina. I’ve lived my entire life in that state, and I’ve never heard anyone talk with the extreme drawl of Caravel and Abigail in the audio edition of that novel. It piqued my curiosity, so I checked out the printed version from the public library just to see how Mr. Hart wrote the words. Sure enough, he did not write the book phonetically to convey over-the-top pronunciation in any words of dialogue Caravel or Abigail had. So why did the publisher think it was acceptable for the reader of the audio edition of the novel to use a fake accent?

In all fairness, Iron House was published eight years ago. Perhaps an audio edition recorded in 2019 would be done differently.

This has all been quite an eye-opener for me on my journey as a writer. Sometimes I’ve wished I’d started my writing career as a young adult, but now I realize I would have been a very different writer at 26 than I am at 66. I think the 66-year-old me would be embarrassed by the fiction written by the 26-year-old me.

Thinking about my reading experience

If I’m reading the dialogue of a character from Boston, my brain knows what a Boston accent sounds like. I’ve known people from Boston, so I know they pronounce some things differently than I do but not like the over-the-top Boston accents we sometimes encounter on TV or in movies. The writer doesn’t have to spell a Bostonian’s dialogue phonetically for me to catch on.

Outsiders tend to paint everyone from New Jersey with the same phonetic brush, too. I know people from New Jersey, and they don’t sound anything like Vinny in the 1992 comedy movie “My Cousin, Vinny.”

But somehow, there is a difference between an actor conveying a regional accent and an actor portraying what Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers to as “Plantation Dialect.” Although, I don’t appreciate an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a Southern character, it’s not the same as an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a black character. I think regional accents should be celebrated, but there is no place for “Plantation Dialect” in fiction in 2019.

I don’t have a problem with a Southern character saying “y’all” in the printed dialogue in a novel. I say it naturally. It rolls right off my tongue like butter. But I do have a problem with printed dialogue in a present-day novel having a black character saying “Nome” instead of “No, ma’am.” “Gwine” used to appear in the dialogue of black slaves in literature. I never did understand how “I’m going to” or even “I’m gonna” got translated into “gwine.”

Literature evolves as society evolves. When you know better, you should do better. I still have a lot to learn.

It will interesting to see how the dialogue in my novel is accepted or rejected by literary agents, editors, and publishers. When that time comes, I’ll let you know.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Prayer Box, by Lisa Wingate and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like reading fiction in which dialect is expressed through the spelling of words in dialect, or are you turned off by this practice? Do you think it’s time for us in 2019 to reassess how dialect is used in fiction? Should writers give readers enough credit to assume they can imagine how a character from a certain region would pronounce certain words?

Those of you who live in countries other than the United States are urged to chime in on this topic. Is this something authors in other countries are faced with as they write about regionalisms or even a past history in which certain groups of people were enslaved?

If today’s blog didn’t interest you, please come back next Monday for a different topic.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #1: Read it Aloud

In my blog last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/20/the-hard-work-lies-ahead-what-did-i-mean-by-that/, I said this:  “Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.” I’m learning as I go, so maybe you and I can learn together.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Today let’s grapple with “fixing” the rough draft of your novel by reading the entire novel aloud to yourself to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes.

I know, many of you bailed out on that last sentence. If you’re still with me, though, I thank you. If you aren’t interested in today’s topic, just scroll down to see what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading, and what my blog has in store for you next week.

Purposes of reading aloud to yourself

Among other things, the purposes of reading the rough draft aloud to yourself are to:

            * See if the story flows naturally;

            * Make sure there’s the right amount of backstory;

            * See if the pacing is good;

            * Make sure the story makes sense;

            * Make sure events are in proper order;

            * Make sure there are no information dumps;

            * Catch obvious typographical errors; and

            * Look for plot holes.  

Some things I found on my read-through

I’m writing what I hope will be my first historical novel. The working title is The Doubloon. I recently typed “The End” at the end of the rough draft, let it rest a couple of weeks, and then read through it out loud last week. “Out Loud” is very important.

One thing that came to light in my read-through was that some of the scenes weren’t in the best order.

Once the location of a scene is changed – especially if you move it to a point later in your book – you must carefully review the scenes between its original location and its new location to make sure there are no references to what happens or is said in that moved scene in the in-between scenes.

For example, if you reveal a clue in the scene you moved from the end of the first chapter to the beginning of the third chapter, you must make sure you don’t refer to anything in that scene in the second chapter.

There were places where sentences weren’t in the best order. You might not catch those instances if you don’t read your rough draft out loud.

There were instances where a word didn’t do the sentence justice. Sometimes a sentence needed a stronger verb or more accurate adjective. If you can’t think of a better substitute immediately, just highlight it in red and keep going.

I discovered cases where I had not told the reader something they needed to know in order for a scene to make sense. As the author, I knew the background, but I had failed to give the reader enough information.

A number of scenes take place in the meeting house. In my head, I knew exactly what the log meeting house looked like inside, but I had not described it well. That task was added to that running list I mentioned above.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I was surprised to find some typos, which means I’m too confident in my typing skills. There were several cases where I’d typed the wrong word, for instance, “where” when I meant “when” and “of” when I meant “in.” (What was that about?) The spell-check function on your computer won’t catch these errors.

How to deal with problems you find

In some of these cases, I edited the rough draft. In some cases, I highlighted the word, phrase, or sentence so I can go back later and take time to make corrections or changes. I started a running list of things I need to research or be sure to check on later. I only made changes that could easily be done without taking much time. I didn’t want to get distracted from the read-through to the point I got bogged down in editing.

Nice surprise in the read-through

It was a pleasant surprise to find some humor in the manuscript. I wrote all 85,000 words, so how could I forget? Maybe you can keep up with such things, but I obviously did not. I was really pleased with some of the humor and the liveliness of some of the dialogue.

Based on my meager experience, I would say this read-through of your novel’s rough draft should be fun. It certainly was for me. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with some of the characters’ personalities and events in the book.

In addition to the humor in this novel that deals with several serious issues, I hope my readers will try throughout the novel to figure out “who dunnit.”

One of the most important things I learned

One of the most important things I learned through this rough draft rewrite and read-through is how to get words on the page and move on. For years I was guilty of trying to write perfectly the first time. If I had something I needed to research or go back to look for in my research notes, I would stop right then and chase after the answer.

I’ve finally learned to throw in a red question mark or type my question in read red, and keep writing. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I hope you have learned that or will learn it faster than I did. It makes a huge difference in how quickly your writing can move along.

#FixYourNovel

Look for the second installment in my #FixYourNovel blog series in mid-July:  Scene Outline Critique will probably be the topic.

Since my last blog post

We had house guests and also tried to get as much yardwork done as possible before the heatwave started on Saturday with 95 degrees.

Until my next blog post

I hope you’re reading a good book. I’m reading The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Next Monday’s blog post will be about the books I’ve read in May.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading?

Janet

“The hard work lies ahead.” What did I mean by that?

In my May 6, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/06/the-only-book-i-read-in-april-2019/, I announced the completion of the first rough draft of my rewrite of The Doubloon. Then I made the following statement:  “The hard work lies ahead.” What did I mean by that?

I meant it was time to take all the steps it takes to get a novel published. There are many additional steps. I am, no doubt, blissfully unaware of some of them. Today I’ve listed many of the individual things that need to be done when polishing a novel manuscript. I’m sharing it here in case it will help someone else who is just starting out.

Steps to polish a novel manuscript

Most of the items I list below apply no matter what genre your novel is, but several of them are specific to writing historical fiction. Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have more questions than answers, but I’m learning every step of the way.

Things I’ve done since last Monday’s blog post include the following:

  • Moved the inciting event from page 45 to page 28 and made necessary scene adjustments due to that change in timing;
  • Changed several character’s surnames so they won’t be mistaken for persons who lived in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in the 1760s;

 What’s left to do? Plenty! I need to:

  • Read entire manuscript aloud to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes;
  • Reading or Listening? With what I recently learned about the difference in reading a book and listening to a book, I need to look at the hook and scene and chapter beginnings to see if they work well for the book listener; (See my May 13, 2019 blog post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/13/how-listening-to-a-book-and-reading-a-book-differ/.)
  • Characterization: Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
  •  Check Point-of-View in every scene;
  •  Tweak Scene Plot Outline;
  • Consider hiring a Scene Outline Critiquer;
  • Take professional editor’s recommendation into consideration and make those changes;
  • Authentic Details: Add details where needed to make sure the reader will feel like they are in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in 1769-1770;
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
  • Backstory:  Have I included just enough, too little, or too much?
  • Dialogue:  Have I used words not in usage in 1769?
  • Narrative and Dialogue: Have I used any words too often?
  • Fine tune every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter, checking for things like cause and effect, strong verbs; use of passive voice; character act first, then speak; and the overuse of adverbs;
  • Check spelling;
  • Check all punctuation — the most difficult task for me; and
  • Read through the novel aloud again. Have I told a good story?

After I do everything I can

 After I do everything I can do to make the manuscript the best it can be, there is still hard work to be done. I’ll list some of those in a blog post seven or eight months from now. I’ll know more from experience by then.

Meanwhile

I need to continue to build my writer’s platform. That’s one thing this blog is doing for me. Along the way, I hope my blog readers will discern the kind of writer I am.

The road to publication

It is daunting road that lies ahead and there will probably be some potholes and detours along the way. I’ve worked on this historical novel manuscript for something like 15 years. I’ve lost track of time and can’t say with certainty when I started working on it.

Until recently, I referred to it as The Spanish Coin. In an effort to give it a two-word title, I changed the working title to The Doubloon. If I’m fortunate to get it published by a publisher, as opposed to myself, I will lose control of the title. I’m trying not to get too attached to either working title.

#FixYourNovel

In the coming months I plan to address these steps writers should take as they work their way through the novel writing and traditional novel publishing process. From time-to-time, I will blog about the steps I listed above in blog posts titled “FixYourNovel #_,” and that’s “#” in the pre-Twitter numeric.

Look for the first installment in my “#FixYourNovel” blog series next Monday:  Read entire novel manuscript aloud.

Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Perhaps I can help someone out there who is also writing a debut novel, and some of the process might be of interest to those of you who like to read fiction. If my blog readers start dropping like flies, I’ll know you’re not interested.

Until my next blog post

I’ll read my manuscript out loud and see what it sounds like from start to finish.

Let’s continue the conversation

When you read a blog written in first person point-of-view, do you feel like you’re being talked “at” or not? Do you feel more included when you read a blog written in second person? Does it depend on the topic? Have you ever thought about it?

Janet

How Listening to a Book and Reading a Book Differ

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Until I read Jules Horne’s guest post on Jane Friedman’s March 25, 2019 blog,https://www.janefriedman.com/writing-for-audio-understanding-attunement/ ­­­­­ , I had not considered how a listener of an audio book approaches a book as opposed to how a reader of the printed word approaches a book.

Jules Horne teaches method writing. She has even written a book about writing books for the audio audience:  Writing for Audiobooks:  Audio-first for Flow and Impact. I haven’t read it but maybe I should. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ms. Horne and her books, her website is https://www.method-writing.com/. Most of her work appears to pertain more to nonfiction than to fiction writing, but her guest post on Jane Friedman’s website gave me some things to consider as I write fiction.

I’m fairly new to listening to audio books. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it stems from how I learn things. I’m a visual learner, as a rule. A few years ago, having to listen to a book being read was torture for me. I felt like someone was talking “at” me and they wouldn’t shut up. It got on my last nerve. This became an issue because my sister is my traveling companion. She loves audio books and I hated them. That’s not a good combination on a vacation.

Over the past six or eight months I’ve made an attitude adjustment. I’ve listened to several books and enjoyed the experience for the most part. I am hearing impaired, so it is helpful to me for there to be few erratic changes in volume. That goes for people talking to me, the decibel levels on the TV, and very much so if I’m listening to an audio book.

All that being said, that’s not what today’s blog post is about. It’s about something called attunement. The above-referenced blog post by Jules Horne brought two important things to my attention as I learn the fine points of writing:

(1)          If the hook of your story is in the first several words of your book, the audio book listener might miss it. It takes a few words for a book listener to attune their ears to the sound of the reader’s voice – the volume, the pitch, the accents, and the cadence. A writer doesn’t want the book listener to miss the hook; and

(2)          The same thing applies to the transition into the next scene and the next chapter. The listener, more than the printed word reader, needs a few words of transition to ease into a new scene or point-of-view.

A comparison Ms. Horne makes is that of someone verbally giving us the news. Words like, “meanwhile” or “in other news” alert the listener to a switching of gears, a change in the story. Someone listening to a novel needs similar cues that give their brains a moment to prepare to hear something new.  

The current opening line in the manuscript for the Southern historical novel I’m writing, The Doubloon, is

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

After reading Jules Horne’s thoughts about writing for audio, I need to rethink that sentence as well as the opening sentences for each of my chapters and scenes. There are a multitude of things a writer has to keep in mind when editing the first (otherwise known as the “rough”) draft. I plan to address some of them in my blog post next Monday.

Since my last blog post

I let my rough draft of The Doubloon rest for several days, and then I started working on the second draft. I changed the timing of an event mentioned on the first page, and that meant adjusting references to that event throughout the rest of the book. 

Getting this book published is going to be a long process, but please stay tuned.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth and Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I’m listening to The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women compiled by NPR (National Public Radio.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer listening to audio books or reading the words yourself?

Do you prefer holding a book in your hands and turning a paper page or reading a book on an electronic device?

What do you think of the current “hook” in my novel? Do you think it would work as well if you were hearing it instead of reading it?

Janet