Sunday, September 27, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
- On p. 266, Ms. Lyon offers a list of criteria against which to assess each of my characters. I'm only going to list a smattering of the elements she mentions, but I definitely plan to work through all of them with each of my principle characters before tackling my re-write.
- Physical Appearance: Aside from age, weight, eye color, etc., she suggests considering such characteristics as the shape and fullness of a character's lips, his/her habitual stances and gestures, and voice quality (timber and pitch).
- Emotional/Intellectual Disposition: This list includes "most dominant emotion", "operating mode" (logical v. intuitive thinker), and "orientation to life" (cynical, optimistic, etc.), among other things.
- Ms. Lyon also points out that each viewpoint character's narration must have a distinctive "voice." I have to be particularly mindful of this because I am writing in 3rd person limited, which means that I follow my characters' thoughts closely, however I am not writing as if I were them (i.e., 1st person). Likewise, scene/character descriptions should not be generic, but rather, slanted toward the viewpoint character's personality and the thrust of the story. What this means is, don't just start writing about trees in the forest if those background details bear absolutely no relevance to what's going on in your character's world. [That said, Ms. Lyon does suggest the more-is-more approach to scene-setting in order to immerse the reader in the novel's universe; she says overwritten description can always be pared down in the final draft.]
- I really liked what Ms. Lyon had to say about dialogue, so here's a direct quote: Dialogue "needs to sound like natural speech, [but it] should not replicate everyday speech ... it must meet two primary functions: (1) to characterize the speaker, and (2) to move the story forward." p. 278. She also warned against describing dialogue (those awful adverbs!) and over-use of attributions (e.g., "he said/she asked"), especially "clever" ones (e.g., "she giggled/he extolled."). Here's an example that incorporates both offenses: "If that's the way it must be, so be it," Sue grumbled sulkily. I was already well aware that if you can tell who's speaking without an attribution, don't use one. But when I do use them, I must admit (to my great shame) that I often have my characters "harrumph" and "guffaw"ing their words. Never again! I'm also a lover of adverbs (I know, I know, I might as well have NOVICE WRITER stamped on my forehead). Ms. Lyon suggests using action where the dialogue leaves doubt as to the character's emotions. So in my example, I might try something like this: "If that's the way it must be, so be it." Sue slumped down in the armchair and scowled out the window. In trying this little exercise, I'm already getting a sense of how a writer can communicate much more interesting information by ditching the attributions in favor of description.
- And of course, Ms. Lyon addressed my Achilles tendon - excessive exposition. "So often in early drafts of a novel, exposition takes the form of what editors sometimes call 'an information dump.'" Manuscript Makeover, p. 294. She suggests weaving between showing and telling to make the passage meaningful and to push the narrative along. I wish Ms. Lyon had spent a bit more time discussing this, but I have a feeling that, with all the other tips and techniques I've gleaned from her book, my inclination to babble tangentially about a character's past will subside during this next re-write.
Lila Payton, seduced by the promise of a glamorous city life, finds herself repeating the dangerous patterns of her ill-fated, wild-living parents.
Marcus Torrington has lived too long in the shadow of his flashy, debonair cousins to not be bitter. Losing the woman he loves to one of them is almost too much to bear.
Rosemarie Dauber never thought she would have to break out of her role as the good little minister’s daughter. But life, and love, have other plans for her.
Ophelia James believed she had left her devil behind when she escaped the Jim Crow South. She never dreamed that he could find her up here.
Cora Morse is a prisoner of her own failing body, but like any prisoner, she has a plan for escape. It is, however, not without casualties.
Arthur Morse does not ask a lot out of life, tacitly accepting the secrets that are kept from him. And carefully guarding a secret of his own.
FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO: Characters are the heart and soul of most fiction, so you cannot do enough to improve upon them in your second draft. Again, learn your "novice writer" tendencies. Come up with techniques to catch those tendencies as you write and re-write so that you can substitute them with better literary choices.
Here ends my overview on characterization ... now onto the research phase ...
- Finish the chapter on characterization in my how-to book by the end of this week.
- RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. My cursory internet trolling while writing the novel didn't cut it, so I have ordered a number of books that I think will greatly aid me in fleshing out the essence of the time period. Several of my Brilliant Editors felt that my novel lost some of its 1920s feel in parts, and could have been taking place in modern day. That's not good! My challenge is to maintain a steady and unmistakable Jazz Age backdrop, without seeming gimicky. I also plan to visit the local historical society library in the next week or so to get a better flavor of this particular region during that period. My research will likely be ongoing, and I will continue to trudge forward with the next steps while I'm reading.
- Storyboard each viewpoint character's narrative. This is going to be a time-consuming and incredibly valuable endeavor. I need to chart the storylines for all 6 characters, paying special attention to their motivations, personality traits, and dynamic interactions with one another. This will be the first time I will be reading my book with a "slash-and-burn" mentality. In other words, I'm not going to be approaching my manuscript with a pencil for tweaking lines here and there. It's bold red pen time!
- Storyboard a new narrative plan. I'm already committed to re-writing my whole novel. I believe that not only will the characters benefit from this, but my style and tone in general will benefit. That's not to say that I won't lift passages from my first draft, but at this stage, I'm beginning to see my first version as a 400 page character biography. It provides an excellent road map for the task I'm about to undertake, but it in itself is not a publishable product.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
- Give character relationships depth and conflict. Specifically, he did not understand the initial attraction between Cora and her husband Arthur ("Being a 'nice guy' just doesn't cut it.") He also wanted me to bring the growing tension between Lila and her best friend, Rosemarie, to a head, instead of allowing it to subside and letting life return to normal between them, which is the way the subplot is currently written. There were several other relationships (Marcus-Edward, the playboy; Arthur-Ophelia) which my BE also thought needed heightened conflict and climax, and he's right.
- Work on dialogue and narrative style. This is technically two comments, but they both deal with my overall writing proficiency. My BE said I need to shorten some of the dialogue to make it more punchy and engaging, and also to pay attention to my point of view. He says I pull the reader away from the viewpoint characters' impressions by asking a lot of rhetorical questions. When he called my attention to this, I thought, by golly, he's right. What I had considered to be a clever little stylistic device was apparently not only ineffective, but distracting.
- Finally, my BE confirmed that nagging hunch that has been lurking in the back of my mind for some time. My story would benefit from less viewpoints, and more honed central storyline(s). And what's more, he wanted to see more of two of my ancillary characters - Rosemarie and Marcus - and thought that their stories could actually carry the novel, with Lila being more clearly defined as the antogonist. I still have not completely worked out how to go about this shift in narrative vantage points, but one thing I do know is that the change feels right.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
- To chronicle my novel revising journey by offering others helpful tips and lessons-learned -the-hard-way on how to go about it. My goal is to blog at least once a week, because let's face it, nobody is going to want to read a day-by-day account of this process!
- Read the relevant chapters of the "how to revise your novel" book that my mom was so considerate as to get me. I probably would not have even considered such a thing had she not thought of it, and I'm hoping it will make this whole process seem a bit more approachable and cohesive. And by relevant chapters, I mean the stuff that I think applies to my particular writing skills (and lack thereof). After receiving a substantial amount of feedback from my amazingly sharp friends, I have come to learn that I definitely have certain strengths (relatable characters, plot, pacing, structure) but I also have clear weaknesses (tendencies toward predictability, tone, scene-setting, and my biggest challenge ... showing not telling!)
- Go back and do more research. Because I'm working on a period piece, this is, of course, essential. While I did a multitude of research while I was writing (any time I had even a vague doubt as to the accuracy of something, I researched it), most of that was done on the internet, with only a few calls to local historical societies and the like. My next step is to plant myself in the county historical society one morning and not emerge until I have stumbled upon some previously unknown gem of information. I also plan to browse the historical magazines that 2 members of my 5 Brilliant Editors team have recommended.
- Now is a good time to explain the role of my 5BE team. I have five dear friends who have taken the time to not only read my book, but to patiently provide me with detailed feedback on what they read. They have also agreed to help me through the revision process by acting as a sounding board for my new ideas. Which leads me to step 3 ... I will periodically be emailing the 5BE team questions based on the feedback they have already provided, as well as whatever new inspiration pops into my mind.
- Re-read my manuscript with a thick red pen in hand. This step is pretty self-explanatory.
- Start revising. Hopefully what this actually entails will be clearer to me once I come to this step.