Hurry up!


Ever had a itch between your shoulder-blades? The sort that is driving you nearly mad, but which you know can’t be scratched because the act of scratching will only make matters worse and you will end up itching for the rest of your life?
 
Or, perhaps, wanted to treat yourself to some forbidden dainty – and known – just knownthat you won’t be able to stop eating?
 
That’s a little like my current position with Mourningtide.  The story is nearly finished, it’s almost ready to go – but it just is not quite ready.  There are things to do, things that mustbe done if I don’t want to release a book that is not my best effort.
 
Well, as with any itch, if you ignore it, it will go away.  The story will be finished, people will like it, I’ll like putting it out to be read, the cover will look good and I’ll smile.  It’s happened before, but I’m one of those people who likes to show folks their gifts before the proper date. 

In the mean time, I can laugh at myself, plug in my laptop, fire up Scrivener (did I mention that I love it?), and make corrections, and add scenes that occur to me.

And I can commune with my editor.
 
Have I mentioned my editor?  Everyone needs one, especially one like her.  Even if she is a pain in the neck, she’s about as charming as they come.  …and here she is!
 
I call her my ‘attractive nuisance’.  (Interesting legal concept: something that can cause a lot of annoyance, rage, damage, you name it, while being simply irresistible.)  Notice the position of her posterior?  Yes, on the pile of manuscript.  That is her clever way of keeping me from hurrying too much.

Polishing a Draft


So, you have finished your story.  It is complete.  The tale has been told and was done rather well, if you say so yourself.  You ‘compile’ the manuscript (for, after all, you are using Scrivener) and you then print the thing.  The result is a two-inch thick pile of bright white paper with printing on it.  The manuscript.  Finished!  Hurrah!



Wordsmithing as I do it.  The logic is hidden by the lack of prettiness…
The delight lasts only as long as it takes you to flip to a random page, and read…
“Did I say that?  What a passive construction!  What was I thinking?
You seize a pencil/pen/whatever, circle the offending phrase, write in what you should have written if you had not been under-caffeinated, and then sit back, scowling, and look at the rest of the manuscript.
…And now you are in ‘polish’ mode.
It’s been a while since I did this, and I had forgotten how enjoyable it is.   Wordsmithing, pure and simple, is a pleasure in itself.  It is, however, annoying when you have been envisioning a finished manuscript and, looking down at it, pen in hand, realized that the thing is anything but.
So you sigh, assemble the things you will need, and go to it.
What do you need?

Just the basics, ma’am, but in all available colors…
Pens.  Lots of them.  They tend to grow legs and walk.  I have one that was made by an artisan using chestnut wood salvaged from an colonial-era house on the seacoast.  Chestnut isn’t seen any more since the blight destroyed most of the chestnut trees.  That’s a pity because the wood is very rot-resistant and has a wonderful color.  Then there are the gel pens that are a delight to write with and have thick, visible ink.  The problem is that the ink tends to sink into paper and go through the other side.  Not pretty. 

Authentic Marvin
the Martian Pen

I also have a special Marvin the Martian pen I bought years ago at a Warner Brothers store and carried to various meetings over the years.
You need highlighters in various colors.  Why?  Well, what if you highlight something in pink and then think of something else that needs to be done with the highlighted passage, but is different?  Pink won’t work, it’ll be confusing.  Besides, hot pink is something of which I can only stand so much.  Purple, I think.  Or maybe blue…
Post-it notes, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are very useful for marking places (‘Oh – that’s right!  I edited to here!’), marking thoughts (make sure you don’t get cheap imitations because they’ll fall off, and you will face your greatest fear: that your inspired edit will be lost forever and your powerful intellect, having decayed rather badly, will not be able to retrieve the perfect word in the perfect location.)
But you go cooking along, making corrections – until it suddenly occurs to you that the reason that the beginning of the novel seems to plod just a wee bit, with lots of information being made available rather quickly is that you have been going about it the wrong way, and it would work out better if you start in with the third chapter, scrap the first and second chapters, and then adjust as necessary.  You greet this revelation with a cry torn from your very entrails as you realize that the entire beginning of the @#$%! story has to be reworked.

Is it a disaster if it makes the whole story better but drives the writer mad?
You brew another cup of tea (did you read my post about tea?), get out the materials, and go to work, muttering under your breath even as you see that it truly will do better.  You bid farewell to the end of year release, the editor’s feedback, the new story that has been nudging at your elbow and presenting lusciously tempting scenes…  You buckle down –

Will pester for catnip…
And pray that your work is not interrupted by the dreaded ‘attractive nuisance’ that likes to grab your hand as you mouse…

On hold…


So… Manuscript is at nearly 90K words. Filling in and expanding where necessary will bring it in target. I’m sold on the story, like the characterization – In other words, I seem(ed) to be clicking along on all cylinders, allowing for flexibility in polishing.

But still, while the projected release date of November 1 is gone by the way (I decided to retain a cover artist whose credentials and work I really love, and to hire a line editor for this one, so that pushes things back…) I thought a 2012 release was not out of the question. Just in time for Christmas.

And the story was heartwarming (I thought, at least).

But then…

I was pushing on with the initial polished (draft=> first finished draft=> polished draft=> final MS => OMIGOSH ICAN’TBELIEVE IFOULEDITUP SOBADLY!!!

=> final polished manuscript [friends and relatives having tied the author to a chair and taken matters into their own hands. “It’s FINISHED, Diana! You CAN’T edit any more!!!”] )


I was, as I said, pushing things along, but I wasn’t happy with the setting of the first chapter. Father leaving for a protracted journey, leaving eldest son in charge. Eldest son voices dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Father gives good speech. and leaves.

The story is about the eldest son’s decision to get out of there and leave his brother to run the family business. He gets killed, and his family and loved ones pick up the pieces… It actually is a bright story.

I was scowling at the first chapter, which seemed lifeless –  I sat back with a mingled groan and wail.

Start the story with the son out of the country progressing toward his death, which happens within the first chapter – second at most. Backstory can be put in there easily. THEN switch back to the threads of the younger son and the father.

Groan! A rewrite. Admittedly, it doesn’t alter the true meat of the story, which kicks in around chapter three, but still…

Well… I could still retain the cover artist, I suppose…

*sigh* And I said I LIKE writing…

First Final Draft Finished….


    I  have just (this morning) finished the First Final Draft of my latest, Mourningtide.  That means I’ve filled in holes, the narrative flows, I’ve found most basic mistakes, and I’m satisfied with it as it stands at this moment.
    It also means that I’ll be doing a beta read (and perhaps inflicting it on associates to do the same) and will be tweaking and deepening and possibly, coming up with another title.
    My earlier works were over ten years in the making.  That is to say, I finished them, copyrighted them, sent them around and then went into a dry spell.  During the time I tried to decide what to do with them I picked at them, re-edited them, deepened them…  They are  in good shape.

But I don’t have ten years to spend on this one.  Actually, it came together more quickly than the others (thank you, plotting-by-the-seat-of-my-pants) and I think it will be a year’s project, since it started November 1.

It will be available in Kindle, but I’m also thinking of Smashwords (and the others), and I’ll have it available in paperback, too.

Whew!  I’ll be missing these characters, but I am finding it easier to move on now.

Using Visuals When Writing


One of the things I really need when I’m working on a story is something that I can actually look at, that will give me an idea of how something looks, works, is sized.  Several series of books are chock-full of photos and explanations, and they are invaluable.
The Shire Egyptology series is a good example.  It is published in the UK and each book covers a subject – food and drink, household pets, medicine, textiles, weapons and warfare, Akhenaten’s Egypt…  They are not written by the same person.  The photographs and explanations are especially useful.
Their website is here
Ancient Military history is covered by the Men At Arms series published  by Osprey (here is a sample of one of their books on New Kingdom Egyptian military). 
I have similar sources for other books; one series set in 1830’s Paris was helped immensely by a book of old photographs.
 
Time-Life books put out Echoes of Glory in two volumes.  This is one of the most useful books I have ever encountered.  It is separated into sections covering edged weapons, firearms, soldiers’ life, the home front.  Modern photographs of arms and equipment are paired with period depictions.  It has been invaluable to me, being, as I am, rather visually oriented.
In Mourningtide, I write of the effect of the death of a son and brother on his family.  One of the characters is Ramesses, the younger brother of the man who died.   He became the pharaoh Ramesses II, one of the great rulers of his age.  I have seen his statues and photographs of his reliefs, but finding anything that has him pictured as a living person in the flesh is difficult.  Fortunately, I have succeeded.
Here he is, Ramesses himself, as depicted by Yul Brynner in the movie The Ten Commandments.  He is not a prince in this photo – the golden headband with cobra and vulture tends to indicate that he has succeeded his father.  I find it a very enlightening photograph, something that I will have to refer to over and over, I think. 
One more item for my toolbox…

How on Earth Do You Write – Some Observations


Snippets from discussions on process and necessities in writing:
I seldom visualize the beginning of a novel. Usually I have an idea for a happening or series of happenings upon which the novel is based. Writing their progression almost always leads to clarification of their point of origin (as to the story flow..)
cough! cough! Gosh, I’m sorry. That was a horrible bit of talking.
What I mean is that the flow of the story helps to clarify things that have caused its course.

An example: I’m working on a story right now involving the death of a young man and its effect on his family, including a younger brother and his father, who receives the word late. My first image of the story was the young man’s death and his father’s initial reaction. As I filled that in, I was able to picture how the fellow ended up in the position in which he was killed.

Ultimately, I realized that the best way to start the story was to show the father taking leave of his sons, with some instructions to the older one. The older son (who dies) has shown uneasiness with his situation, which ultimately leads to his death. It works, but my first image was of the father’s initial, anguished reaction.

Another story involves a colossal statue crashing down into the middle of a festival throng. The mystery progresses from there. In that case, that scene is chapter 1 – but there is a prologue set several decades before the provides clues to the mystery. 

Must Do’s

From what I’m reading, we all have some sort of ‘routine’, however loose, and some sort of absolutely must do’s, no matter how loose they seem.

It’s delicious when an idea catches hold and the words come flowing out faster than your fingers can move. But why, oh why, does this happen when you’re going hammer and tongs with something that absolutely must be finished within a certain time frame?

You give a shout of joy and then start swearing. Or, I do.

My ‘Absolute Must’ is that I must somehow, in some retrievable way, capture the idea, the snippet of speech, the scene setting, the plot twist. Thinking ‘I’ll remember this, certainly!’ doesn’t work. I speed-jotted a scene that I was delighted with in the manuscript that I am finishing up. Delighted – and I tried to tell a friend just what happened in the scene.  Here’s what I said…

He goes on to patrol the upper path, and she goes with him because she believes he needs the company after the extreme danger and stress of the morning.
He says… Well, he tells her… Um. He apologizes. She says he doesn’t have to. No, wait! I forgot! She insists on going with him because she is a soldier’s widow and knows about how things work.

Gah! I’m telling it wrong.

Anyhow, he tries to apologize and her heart turns over. I think that’s how I phrased it…
What did he apologize for? Why, for being emotional a couple days before. You mean you couldn’t figure that out? What the heck?
Well, anyhow it was a great scene and I captured it before I forgot it. What do you mean I’ve forgotten it? I have it written down! ‘Mind like a sieve???’ Now just a minute! OK, OK, I’ll let you read the scene once I print it.

Sheesh!”