Writing and sewing

My sister is an amazing sewer of vintage patterns. I was talking with her about how I’d just started the 4th draft of a short story. I had a great title, a great protagonist and a solid plot. So why was I on attempt #4?

Just like a sewing machine, it was the tension. If you’ve ever sewn, many times the problem is the tension–thread is too tight or too loose, so the fabric bunches up or gets stuck or the stitches won’t hold. 

With some digging, I realized what was wrong. The tension in my story was off because the murder took place in the heroine’s past, distancing the reader, and the victim wasn’t important enough to her. 

With some tinkering, I adjusted the plot and wrote it again–this time, the beta readers were delighted.

Here are some more great tips on upping and maintaining tension from Writer’s Digest: up the stakes, reduce backstory, more emotion.

Any other good tips to fix a story’s tension?

Rejection #4: The Zen of Rejection

It took 4 rejections to feel acceptance and even a hint of gratitude. How often I’ve written something, only to improve on it a few days later–the same theory surely applies to my book?

Besides motivating me to polish the book, I’m also encouraged to write short stories in the interim. It feels so good to get something done quickly compared to 75K slogs!

They give me an excellent chance to practice my craft. Quick character studies, story arc, plotting, all of the same principles apply for mystery stories.

I’ve gotten through 3 completed short stories and 2 partials that I’m trying to fix. That’s 3 fully realized plots with clues and suspects and such, which ought to help me with the longer books. 

Next up… my 300 page novel needs a major revision… whew! 

Rejection #3: Suffer in Happiness

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Today’s rejection feels a bit like this quote from Harry Potter. I was really excited about how responsive this agent has been. But she was awesome in rejection, at least. She gave me detailed feedback on major issues she saw with the manuscript.

One issue could be solved with some thorough editing of voice, but the other requires a potentially massive rewrite of the plot. I’ll certainly let the manuscript rest for a few weeks before starting.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing short stories. After the pacing of 75K word novels, a 4-7K short story seems to fly by! Hopefully it is good practice with plotting and characterization, a chance of publication and a quick-but-positive outcome.

What’s the tipping point for rewriting a novel?

Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd

deathfair.jpgAn ancient grudge turns to murder in a quiet English village, 1817.

Book 4 in the Regency series finds the spirited rector’s daughter Lucy Harrington and her protective fiance Major Kurland preparing to marry. While judging vegetables at the local fair, Lucy warns him to be diplomatic in his choice of winners. His refusal leads to a storm of outrage among the villagers, who are furious when the verger at the rectory wins.

It isn’t long before Lucy literally trips over the verger’s dead body in a tragic accident. Lucy grows suspicious when they discover a cursed charm by the body and they soon realize that the death was actually murder. While trying to uncover the killer, Lucy must deal with the unpleasant cook who shares her father’s bed, and the frustrating delay in her nuptials. The village’s darker side begin to surface and the couple themselves are placed in grave danger as another body is found.

The murderer’s reasoning is somewhat weak and the couple lose a little of their previous fire, but it’s a light, enjoyable read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.

A slow writing week

This week has been particularly slow on my plot study for NaNoWriMo 2016, I’ve only managed 6,500 words when I ought to have reached 20,000 per the schedule.

I did a bunch of novel related things like write a synopsis for my first book, research, editing and adding to my second book, but these only count morally.

I’ll keep writing, as even a fraction of the goal is better than giving up early. You know what they say about “slow and steady”… and who knows, perhaps I’ll magically catch up by the end of the month!

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Rejection #2: Moments of Concentration

Another kind set of words that the book is engaging but not right for them. Because I did a lot of research into the agents and editors, I know that they have chosen a lot of books like mine.

This is telling me I need to make the story more unique, my protagonist’s voice stronger. While I wait to hear back from all the agents and editors, I’m focusing on creating moments of concentration.

Haruki Murakami said: 

“The great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.

I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower.”

 

Rejection #1: Feedback is Gold

After just under 3 months, I’ve heard back from the first person out of 6 editors and agents I pitched. I’m deeply appreciative that they read the whole book and provided insight into why they’re passing on it.

They liked it, but didn’t think it was unique enough in a crowded market. I know my pitch worked enough to gain attention, but the manuscript didn’t follow through.

Getting feedback from an industry professional is like gold.

I hope that all my rejections come with something to help me learn.

The Art of the Plot Study (NaNoWriMo 2016)

National Novel Writing Month is such fun – writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. This year I’m using it to complete a 50K “plot study”. I hope it becomes a great way to give the inner critic a much deserved vacation.

I like the idea of a new term for this, how about “plot study”? In art, “a study is a drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, or as visual notes. Studies are often used to understand the problems involved in rendering subjects and to plan the elements to be used in finished works, such as light, color, form, perspective and composition.”

I’d define a “plot study” as “a study is a draft done in preparation for a finished piece. Plot studies are often used to understand the problems involved in rendering characters and to plan elements needed, such as story arc, characters and plot techniques.”

Hope to see everyone working on something fun, whether you’re in NaNoWriMo or not. 

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

perilous.jpgThe second book in Deanna Raybourn’s new series is a romantic suspense with elements of mystery. Her prose and story-telling is excellent, very beautifully rendered, so that even if you’re not a big fan of the smoldering chemistry between the protagonists, you’ll stick around for the writing.

Set in England in 1887, Veronica Speedwell is a butterfly collector with a secret past and a passion for observing. She’s a cross between Flavia de Luce, Sherlock Holmes and a romance heroine. She habours a not-yet-consummated longing for the handsome Stoker, who may look like ruffian but acts not at all like one.

Veronica is asked to do the impossible – clear an artist convicted of murdering his pregnant mistress in one week before he hangs. Caught between the royalty and attractive but morally questionable artists, Veronica and Stoker have their work cut out for them.

If you’re a mystery lover, then the murderer will likely be obvious in the first few chapters. There are certain things you just know how to look for. But how Veronica and Stoker discover and trap the killer remains an interesting and satisfying read.

(Review of book #1, A Curious Beginning)

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Behind the Lines by WF Morris

behindlines.jpg“Her eyes were shining like stars – stars in the mist.”

A moving account of a kindly, decent soldier who accidentally kills a cowardly senior officer. Instead of trying to explain, he makes a run for it, leaving behind friends and his ambulance-driving fiancee.

He ends up living among the deserters. Not unlike the military, the deserts have their own code and pecking orders. Rawley goes from a decent officer to an unkempt but decent deserter, filthy and ragged.

Between scavenging and run-ins with the military, the casual moments of horror are made all the more stark. When Rawley runs into his financee again, she wants to have the honeymoon before they are drawn apart. But Rawley is “clinging to decency” by the barest thread in refusing. She says “two weeks of happiness out of – perhaps a whole lifetime. It seems such a little to ask of life.”

But the ending, so poignant, is well worth the read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.