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The Writing Life [Aug. 28th, 2015|06:30 pm]
[Current Mood |awake]

Closing in on the end of the main draft of the new book, another Vatta book.  As usual at this stage I like some sections a lot--they came out doing what I wanted them to do, and they read well (not perfectly--more drafts to come--but well for this point in the process.)  Other sections are OK but in the wrong place.   Other sections represent blind alleys--something I thought belonged in this book but, on consideration, doesn't.  Some that seemed OK as I was writing do not do what I wanted them to do.  And some sections are...not there.  I jumped ahead, which seemed like a good idea then, but the gap is too big for any reasonable transition.  It's going to take one or more full scenes.

The way I work, I have a strong idea of how the story begins,  a sortakinda idea of how it ends, and some probable things that will be somewhere in between.   None of this may survive to the final draft (exactly where the story begins may shift back and forth in time.  In first draft I may start too early or too late; the ending may be similar to, but not exactly, what I thought it would be, and the events in the middle may change sequence, with some dropping out.)  So this current draft, still quite messy (messier in some places than others), is "normal."   Normal for me.  Not for every writer.

First to main drafts are often partly fun--the story is galloping ahead strongly, full of its own energy--and partly maddening, frustrating, and downright difficult.  Again, that's my experience.   When a story hits a bad patch and bogs down, I have to figure out why (did I go charging into a blind alley?  Did I misunderstand a character's motivation?  Something else?) and then figure out how to fix it.   The techniques for fixing first-to-main draft problems are somewhat different from those needed for revision, where the story itself is fixed, but needs work to make it better.

This particular book has uneven energy levels; the story is much "slower" in some places than others.   Some of those things will have to wait for revision, when the story itself is set (or I hope it's set)  because the energy needs to feel more intense in some places and exactly where will depend on the whole story being out there for me to see as one piece.   "Where" is not only a matter of what percent of the book, front to back, but "where" in terms of depth: which layer of the story(and how many layers)  is carrying the energy.   The energy of motivation shifts within characters, and between characters:  A may be acting out of a different level of motivation than B, not merely in opposition to B.    But other places may need an "energy boost" even before revision, if I've failed to show a character's complexity early enough.

For me, a good main draft, growing out of the first awkward lunges into the story,  puts more in than it needs--more of everything--as if making the block of marble from which the statue will eventually freed, as revision "just cuts away everything that doesn't belong."   So it needs bulk, made of everything that occurs to me while working on it: incidents, thoughts, motives, characters, arguments, long later-defined-as-boring sections of musing by this character or that, descriptions, straight narration, the dreaded (by rule-makers) "as you know, Bob" explanations, backstory for everyone...all piled up into a vast file (these days), supported by another file of notes from research (and the books that accumulate on or on the floor by my desk, so I trip over them sometimes when I get up), files of names that appeared and were used in the book, and so on.  And on.

And still it never quite has everything, so there's first-drafting inserted into the second main draft, to be shaped and chiseled and sanded into place, and then a complete front to back for the third main-draft, and additional partial drafts, and...one day suddenly the thing is done, for good or ill.  It's sick of me; I'm sick of it. It gets another run through the spell checker and another fast read and check that the header is OK and there's not a hidden [needanameforthisguy]  note to myself somewhere in the middle.  And it's off to Editor, who will find things to say that require more revision.  But in the meantime I will take three days off of that book, one day at least completely off, on which I should (but don't always) get all the research sources for the book off the floor (at least) and off my desk.   Then start the next.   Sometimes with a couple of hours of actual first-drafting, sometimes with a walk outside to let whoever is carrying most of the story in the next book talk to me.

I'm not there yet, with this one.  But getting the first/main draft down, enough bits of this and that compressed into something large enough to hold the story I want to carve out of it, is the longest part of the process.   And I am almost to that.  Best get back to it.

[User Picture]From: carbonel
2015-08-28 11:39 pm (UTC)
Ooh! I am so looking forward to a new Vatta book!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-08-29 05:41 am (UTC)
It's intended to be a solid action-adventure-thriller kind of thing, but with more depth. We aren't there yet. One of the difficulties being that even with viewing YouTube and PBS videos of wintry scenes regularly, and re-reading Shackleton & Hillary and so on, it's hard to write sustained scenes of serious cold when it's very bright and very hot outside and the AC is struggling to cool us below "sweating in underwear" temperature. I know, it should be wish-fulfillment, right? Imagine the cool, cooler, cold, colder air...and that lasts for about 40 words and then I'm back thinking "How long until the first real norther?"

However, there are tunnels and strange machines and mysterious languages and cultural conflicts and old quarrels familial and economic and new betrayals and some interesting weapons possibilities (thought up during my husband's birthday party.) Secrets some will kill to protect, and others kill to expose. Robots. Good guys on the bad side, bad guys on the good side, some of Grace's near-lethal fruitcakes, a huge shark, a very large form of a fish that on this planet is much smaller, some unexpected information about terraforming and those who do it. The weird number system I devised for the heck of it, however, is coming out. A minority would be interested, and for the rest it would be a PITA to have slowing down the story. It also slowed me down writing. Instead, political shenanigans, military...um...well, that's enough to suggest what you'll be getting into.
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[User Picture]From: tuftears
2015-08-28 11:44 pm (UTC)
*cheers* Looking forward to it!
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[User Picture]From: fair_witness
2015-08-29 10:28 am (UTC)
A new Vatta book! Huzzah!
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[User Picture]From: thewayne
2015-08-29 12:50 pm (UTC)
YAY! My wife will also be happy to hear about it.
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[User Picture]From: seekerval
2015-08-29 04:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that fascinating look into your extended writing process. Mighty interesting for one like me who plays at writing.

The prospect of another Vatta book is certainly exciting.
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From: paulliver
2015-08-30 07:16 pm (UTC)
How to rewrite, and how to see the flaws in one's own work, is the biggest mystery of writing for me.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-08-30 09:47 pm (UTC)
For seeing flaws, two things help: time (time elapsed since writing it--varies with both writer and writer's experience) and good readers.

On the time thing: allow yourself time to release ego (or some of it) from that story. Look at it again a week later. Does it still seem all *shiny* and 24 k gold studded with rubies? Wait another week, or two. Keeping writing something else, so your ego is glued to the new project.

Readers: Meanwhile, find someone who likes the kind of story you write, and who generally likes your writing enough to be willing to help out. That reader should be experienced (this is not his/her first SF/F story or whatever genre you write in.) Ideally this is someone with YEARS of reading behind them, both in-genre and out. Ask that person some guide questions before they start. Does it feel like a story? Is there any part of it that is boring or confusing? Are there inconsistencies (Jim is said to be even-tempered here, but there he blows up at one little thing after another...) You're signaling that you're not looking, at this point, for typos or the wrong punctuation...you're looking deeper, at structure-level problems. Unless your reader is a professional editor (and a good one!) you will need more than one reader, because any one reader (even an editor) can be wrong about what's wrong with your story. They're less likely to be wrong if they like the same stories you like, but they still can be. Not all stories with "gritty military detail" will appeal to all readers who think that's what they like.

When you find a few good first-readers (ideal is at least one male, one female, younger and older both) bring them donuts or chocolate or babysit their children or whatever it takes to keep them. One thing is that you don't blow up at them for what they say. My rule for myself was that if two first readers found the same thing a problem, then I had to fix it until they didn't. It might be a rough transition, or a place they found confusing, or a passage they thought was dull. They should NOT tell you how to fix it--that's your job--but they should tell you where it is, and what they felt reading it--bored, confused, disgusted with the story (not with a character), annoyed by a cliche or easy out, etc. You hold readers with their emotional response to a story, so what you want is the first-reader's emotional reaction. Ho-hum, ICK, unbelievable, etc.
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