Monday, June 29, 2009

First draft is done ... now what?

I've finished the first draft of my work-in-progress. It's about 6,000 words of near-future sci-fi. On the first draft, I simply tried to get it all out on paper without much attention paid to the language I used or whether I happened to write in a contradiction here or there. If it worked, I left it and moved on because if I worry about the details in this stage, I never reach "the end."

So, now onto the first rewrite: a macroedit. This is the time I focus on the big things: plot holes, inconsistencies and contradictions, character mistakes and such. I'll work on making the overall package a more believable whole, so a reader doesn't stop and say, "Wait a minute, that doesn't make sense."

The second rewrite will be the microedit. I'll look at individual sentences to fix grammar, tighten the language and replace weak words with better ones. The goal in this rewrite is to cut the story's length by 10 percent while not losing anything important in the process.

And after that, the story will go off to critique, to be ripped apart by a group of well-meaning writers. Whatever they say will go into rewrite No. 3.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three by three

In writing, three is the magic number. Why three? I'll let Algis Budrys explain it:

"Because anything less is unsatisfying, because anything more is redundant, because Aristotle and Lewis Carroll said that what I tell you three times is true. Three times, on a rising scale of effort, commitment, and depth of knowledge of the problem and one’s self, is the correct number."

I noticed this at work in my own writing this morning when I put this paragraph on paper:

"When the next volunteer saw the extraction chair, she stopped. Her eyes widened and muscles clenched as though in stasis. Any moment now, Mark knew, she would do a 180 on those expensive black heels and hightail back to her comfortable life. But she didn't run. Instead, she made the sign of the cross and stepped into the room."

I'm not going to go into how good or bad this paragraph is. What I do want to call attention to is the last sentence. Read it out loud. To me, it feels unfinished and therefore leaves the entire paragraph unfinished. Why? Because the volunteer does two things, not three, which is simply not enough. So I rewrote the sentence: "Instead, she made the sign of the cross, took a calming breath and stepped into the room." Much better.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The day after

I spent the morning not doing chores or working on my writing but on watching Michael Jackson videos. I felt nostalgic, remembering the first time my parents let me watch "Thriller" -- back when MTV aired it at specifics times of day and warned that the content might not be suitable for younger viewers. My youngest watched "Thriller" on YouTube this morning and afterward wanted to watch the "dancing monsters" over and over and over. So much for unsuitable material.

My latest short story is coming along nicely. And I'm about halfway through "Think Like a Dinosaur." What amazes me the most about Kelly's short story collection is that many of the pieces aren't solidly sci-fi. The supernatural or sci-fi angles are subtle and sometimes don't appear until the very end of the narrative. But these stories all have strong characters, which I love, no matter the genre.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Honorable mention again!

The Writers of the Future contest this afternoon posted its honorable mentions, semi-finalists and finalists for the second quarter 2009. For the second quarter in a row, I received an honorable mention! I really wasn't expecting it, seeing as a WOTF blog post last month indicated the contest had received a huge number of entries. Now I just have to work to get myself up to the next level.

What I'm reading

I'm working my way through "Think Like a Dinosaur and Other Stories" by James Patrick Kelly. I have to admit I'd never heard of Mr. Kelly until this past summer when I attended my first (hopefully not last) WorldCon. I highly recommend this collection. I'm reading it from the POV of a novice writer trying to learn from one of the best.

I'm also plugging away on a new short story. This is my third attempt at using an idea I came up with several weeks ago. The first two attempts were fantasy-based and neither one ended up working for me. This attempt is more sci-fi. I hope I have finally found a plot and characters that gel with the original idea.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What I like and don't like in a novel

A discussion over at the Hatrack writers forum (on bad books we love and good books we hate) got me thinking about what turns me on or off to a novel. I'm finding that genre doesn't matter much to me anymore. I used to read nothing but sci-fi and fantasy, but I've branched out to mystery, mainstream fiction, classics and romance. I enjoy them all. Here's what does matter.

What I dislike (this category is much easier to do):
-- Bad copy editing.
-- Dumps of background information. (I recently read a romance in which the first chapter was the heroine's life story and the second chapter was the hero's life story. The actual story didn't start until the third chapter. And this book is nominated for a RITA. Ugh.)
-- Deux ex machina. No excuse for it, unless your name is Homer.
-- Writers who take several pages to describe what characters are wearing and how their hair looks and what color the carpet is. I tolerate description only when it advances the story or adds to character development. I'm pretty sure knowing that the carpet in a room is red shag doesn't fit either of those categories.
-- The writer holds back a critical piece of information until 50 pages before the end of the book. Even worse if the book is written from the POV of a character who has that information for the entire length of the story. (Again, I ran across this one recently in a RITA nominated book. Not the same book as above.)
-- Glacially slow pacing, to the point where I can sum up 200 pages of narrative in 25 words or less. (Major offender here: Robert Jordan)
-- Mysteries that I figure out long before the POV character does. This serves to make the POV character look stupid.

What I like:
-- The opposite of everything listed above. Basically, if you give me a believable, well-plotted, well-paced story, I'm on board.
-- Also critical: likeable main characters with emotional depth. Bonus points if I feel empathy toward them without feeling like the writer is manipulating me.