First Writing Milestone for 2010

Only one more day to go for my first writing milestone of this year’s Writing Action Plan, and alas, I won’t meet it.  It’ll take the rest of the week, I think.  This is because I started out revising by trying to fix things up as I went along, and have now learnt this is not the way to go.  Once I started writing myself notes instead, things went much faster.

There’s a fair bit to do, more than I would have liked.  However, I’m happy that I’ve found where the low points are and have an idea of how to pick them up.  I’m at the point of the manuscript where I will need to find the parts where things just hurtle along and I need to build in rest points for the reader.  I remember I was utterly exhausted after finishing the first draft last year, and I suspect it was because I was writing so many high energy scenes. 

And this is the thought I’m going to sleep on tonight – what makes a good rest scene?  If I ask myself that right before I go to sleep, maybe I’ll have some answers in the morning.  Wish me luck!

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The Difference Between Revising and Editing

I had a bit of a light bulb go off today.  I realised that while I had been thinking that revising and editing are the same thing, this is not the case!  They are two separate steps in the writing process.

Revising is when you’ve finished the draft and you’re reading through it for the feel of the story, which might involve dealing with the structure, logic or flow.  You’re testing to see if the characters are strongly enough developed for the storyline you’ve chosen, if the story is grounded enough in setting to feel real and if the plot accelarates at the right pace.  These are all big picture things, like playing with the large shapes of a painting making sure you’re getting the composition right.  You’re looking at the big blobs to see if they balance each other and make you feel easy.  It’s not about detail.

Editing is where you’ve done the big picture work, you feel comfortable the story is balanced right and you’re looking at the finer detail of language and sentence structure, as well as picking up those stray typos we all miss.  This is where you’re getting down to the nitty gritty of ‘is that the right word there?’ or ‘would that character really say that?’, and it can only really be done when the revising has finished.

Now that I’ve figured it out, it seems so obvious!

Getting Started

I had an interesting conversation with another writer the other day.  He said that for him, the language has to come first.  I have read some of his writing, and it doesn’t surprise me because the language is truly beautiful. 

It struck me that voice is one of the last things that comes for me.  In the first draft, the narrative voice floats in and out because it’s not what I’m concentrating on.  I can’t say that I concentrate on anything except getting it down.  Nothing seems to make that any easier except plugging away at it.  Sometimes I might ‘hit my stride’ for a bit, but more often than not I’m just slugging away, bit by bit, til it’s done.

And to be honest, I’m not unhappy about this, as there’s not much that stops my writing (other than sickness, tiredness, business, and any other procrastination excuse I can think of!).  However, it does make me wonder if I found that magical thing that pulled my work together, maybe the first draft would happen more easily and require less revising later on. 

Does anyone else have anything that they have to work on before they can start writing?

2nd Draft Update

I’m finding a lot of things to fix up in this second draft, I must say.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because it makes me feel like I know my craft.  On the other hand, it’s daunting, because there’s so much to fix I think I might need an extra draft to make the writing beautiful.  That’s what I’m aiming for – not just good writing, but really gut-wrenching make-you-howl-when-something-bad-happens-to-the-protagonist writing. 

Things that I’ve found to fix up so far include:

  • characters dropping in or out
  • point of view imbalances
  • scenes not going anywhere obviously meaningful for the plot
  • events dropped in without any background or transition
  • reordering of chapters, events or scenes

These are all major re-writing areas, not just a nice bit of copy editing.  It looks like the second draft will be closer to a new novel than a fixed up one.

The Importance of Voice

I don’t review books on this blog (who cares what I think about a new novel or film?) but I recently read a book that had such a distinctive voice, it got me hooked from the first sentence.  The book is The Whale Road by Robert Low.  It’s the first part of a trilogy in the genre of historical fiction, something I don’t often read.  The story is set in 965AD and is about a group of wandering warriors looking for a fortune in a world that no longer needs them. 

Low uses language in a clever and engaging way, and I’ve learnt a valuable lesson.  Low uses Norse names and words to give the reader a sense of place while keeping the sentence structure clear and straightforward.  The voice of the narrator, fifteen year old Orm Ruriksson, is uncomplicated but with the lilt of the storyteller.  I was particularly impressed with the first couple of chapters of the book, when Orm is both relating events in the ‘present’ while referring back to his experiences of the near past without my getting confused. 

While the book is clearly written, the psychological and political dynamics it portrays are anything but, and I was captivated by the push and pull of desperate men struggling to live with an oath that binds them to each other, all presented through the honest voice of young Orm.  I’ve probably not done the book justice here (another reason why I don’t do reviews!), but it has got me thinking about my own writing style and how explanation and emotion can be woven into a story seemlessly without it feeling like a lecture.  I can only hope to achieve that myself.