December is here. People are baking cookies, going shopping for gifts, and recovering from the month that was NaNoWriMo. Or are you recovering? Every person reacts differently at this point. For my part, this is where we see a lot of stigma that hits near people who compete in NaNoWriMo. As such, this is where I am going to jot down notes, resources and ideas to share at our wrap party at the end of the week.
You finished your novel, now what do you do?
Do not hit “submit.” I mean it. When you finished your first finger paint in school did you submit it to an art gallery? Nope, your mom put it on the fridge. Too bad most fridges won’t support the heft of a 50,000 word manuscript. But there is hope…
Revision. True, this step will require a thick skin. A common theme I have heard at the craft panels at writing conferences is, “Your story is your child, your beautiful little baby… find someone to tell you your baby is ugly and how to make it better.” Killing your darlings (another mantra from the conferences) will come later, likely in that part of editing, revising and seeking critiques of your work. If you submit, or self publish something without editing it, you’re shooting your story in the foot. With a 50 cal sniper rifle.
Find a critique group, or even just a partner. If you plan on self publishing, find an editor you can trust and afford. I hate to be the one to break it to you if you had other plans, but you will have to pay for an editor. A cover artist too. That’s part of the reason many people won’t consider self publishing. They like the publisher taking care of all that.
In the effort of revising, I have snagged a set of “writing rules” from a post written by Delilah S Dawson. I have reposted it here as I’m not 100% on board will all of them, or at least I have comments on them. You can see the whole nine yards over at Delilah’s original blog post on them.
Delilah’s 11 Rules of Writing
The caveat I’ve heard included here is “this is what worked for me,” which implies “results may vary.” Just because this worked for her, or that I agree with it, means this will work for you. But she is a published author and one whose writing I enjoy. So I’m siding on the side of caution.
#1 Kill dialog tags whenever possible.
She states that “said” is the only acceptable one. I still haven’t completely eliminated “asked” from my writing. Though I have made a conscious effort to eliminate “replied” as a tag. That said (see what I did there), try to remove as many of these as possible. In addition to tightening up your dialog it will help you to see if you are describing the scene effectively or not. If a beta reader or critique partner gets confused about who is talking, the scene needs work.
NO = “I’m going to do it,” he said.
YES = Ferdinand crossed his huge arms and nodded. “I’ll do it.”
#2 Kill adverbs and replace them with beautiful writing.
I support this one. Mostly. I don’t think adverbs need to be eliminated from your text with extreme prejudice. At the same time, I don’t think you should sprinkled them out over your text from the Adverb Shaker on your desk. Like with most things in life. Good in moderation.
NO = The old man stood painfully and carefully walked to the kitchen.
YES = Helga groaned, her bones cracking like popcorn as she navigated the cramped hallway.
#3 Kill all instances of these words: feel, see, smell, hear.
Did you always wonder what people meant by “Show, Don’t Tell?” Now you know. Make sure you’re giving it to us from their point of view. First person can muddy this up a bit, but that’s what a good editor is for. (See above about hiring an editor.)
NO = Leo could see the tiger mauling his pet parrot, and he could hear the rending flesh splatter against the wall.
YES = The tiger’s teeth ripped into Mr. Cheeky, the scent of copper pennies and raw chicken sending Leo into a gagging fit.
#4 Don’t end a chapter on a note of complete comfort.
The idea is that any sense of mini-closure is going to give the reader a place to stop reading. You want to keep them reading. While I agree the first few chapters shouldn’t do this (at least 3-5), I’m not sure I buy into it as much further in. As a reader I have gone past these endings and continued reading. But I am odd…
NO = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy.
YES = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy except for the strangest feeling that she’d forgotten something terribly important. In the morning, her maid had disappeared.
#5 Become a master at communicating important details with just a few words.
100% yes… While never a real fan of poetry (or having any real skill at it), I have taken to listening to some of the better slam poets that are uploading their performances to YouTube. Neil Hilborn especially. A good spoken word poem, displays an efficiency of words. Definitely something to strive towards. It will also help in writing good, tight, short fiction. (Something I am currently working on.)
NO = The burgundy and black damask wallpaper was ripped and torn, showing scarred wood beneath it that matched the destroyed furniture and pockmarked floors, all of which had once given the appearance of wealth and abundance.
YES = She hated waiting, especially in a sitting room that so obviously displayed Lord Wolfington’s inner darkness, thanks to claw-torn wallpaper and a well-gnawed chaise.
#6 Try not to use the same word twice in a two page spread.
Within reason. Some words are just used a lot. As she stated in the original posting “the” and “a” don’t count. Also, if you’re working at coming up with a word to describe it too hard, then either rewrite the sentence or just leave it. Do you really think your readers will all know what a troika is?
NO = The carnival called to her, from the sound of carnies shilling their wares to the merry song of the calliope to the alluring scent of carnival goodies.
YES = The carnival called to her, from the barker’s harsh cawing to the merry song of the carousel to the alluring scent of funnel cake and popcorn.
#7 Your ego will try to insert itself into the manuscript, especially in the form of exceptionally clever similes and metaphors. Kill them.
As Delilah originally stated this is the source of “Killing Your Darlings.” You read them and you’re proud of these quips. Each time you read through it though, you try and decide if it fits. I agree a lot of this can be distracting. Also, if it doesn’t fit the character, don’t include it. At the same time, some of the truly good snark that I really enjoy as a reader likely falls into the author’s “Darlings” category.
In short, this falls to your (and your editor’s) best judgement. After all, you’re creating the voice of the character. Know when you’re detracting from it and when you’re enhancing it.
NO = The mermaid looked a lot like Goldie Hawn, and not just because of the fish lips and her tendency to be thrown overboard by men wearing eye patches.
#8 To up the tension, add a ticking clock.
Yes, it’s a formula. But it is there for a reason. Not all formulas are bad. Even the cliche ones, like the marriage deadline for Lord Wolfington to inherit his fortune that Delilah suggested in her original blog.
NO = “Your happiness is important to me, Linnea. I shall support you even should you become a spinster and haunt my attic forever.”
YES = “By God, I am finished with your mucking about in the laboratory, Linnea. You will find a husband by Michaelmas, or I shall put you up for auction!”
#9 Torture your character in ways big and small.
I’ll admit it. I’m an asshole to my characters. This year I had thought the story had turned into a paranormal romance. I had forgotten the end scene… the climax… the part that kicked the can of happily ever after down the road and past the book for my main character. For now.
NO = Lulu was doing fine in school, she loved her job at the GAP, and her grandmother had the body of a forty-year old.
YES = Lulu’s chemistry grade had taken a plunge, thanks to a misunderstanding with moles, which meant she spent most of her shift at the GAP studying in a dressing room and praying Chase didn’t catch her and fire her. She needed that money to help pay for Grammy’s meds, which only seemed to cost more as time went by.
#10 Make a spreadsheet to plot out the story and make sure its interesting.
Replace the first three words with whatever works for you. I hear that Scrivener has awesome tools built in for this. I use Storyist, which doesn’t have the corkboard, but does have excellent tools for denoting your character descriptions to help keep them straight. Spreadsheet, Scrivener corkboard or actual corkboard. Whatever works for you.
As can be seen in the original post, she refers to a blog post by Chuck Wendig for further discussion on the subject.
#11 Think about sentence length.
I agree. Definitely when it comes to the first sentence of the book. That should hit you right about in the jumblies and keep you reading for fear of the follow-up punch.
I would take it a step further to include paragraph and chapter length. Though it did make me stop to consider it when I first read it, I recently finished a book with a single sentence chapter. Once I reread the end of the previous and the beginning of the following chapter, it totally made sense. Though in reality, that is rather extreme.
As many of the people in my NaNoWriMo region know, I chose my plot from a selection of three potential projects based on the fact that an editor I know posted she was specifically looking for the type of story that was a near elevator pitch for one of them. So that means there is an editor out there looking for the type of story I wrote. She knows me. I’ve given her a cupcake before. She won’t see this manuscript until late January at the earliest. It is rough, rough, rough…
I’m also jumping back in during January with another challenge. One started through a Roundtable podcast group of writers motivating other writers. Call it a sickness, but how many of you saw the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie Throw Mama From The Train? Quoting Billy Crystal’s character from his class on writing, “Writers write. Always.” Did you end November with an empty spot where your word count was? Did you find yourself wanting to go out to the bar or cafe to write and ask people if they were doing NaNo too?
If you know now how you can work in enough time to put even 500-1000 words a day to paper and have the drive to put down more stories, then you have a taste of what it means to be a writer. Most of them have day jobs. So, they are in the same boat you are in during November.
A couple years ago I started in on writing every day. Sure, I skip from time to time. But when I do, I notice it. If I’m slacking at home in the morning instead of showing up when the owner unlocks the door to the coffee shop, I know I am willingly wasting time. Even if I am showing up to work on edits instead of writing.
If you want to join in too, I will be posting information to the Madison Area NaNoWriMo Facebook page. You can also consider joining the RoTaNoWriMo group. They are pretty open, and work well for keeping me motivated.