Last Minute Changes

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Hewlett suddenly realizes he messed up the chronology in his fanfic. Simcoe wishes he’d just  post the next chapter already.

We’re still working on our revisions. S is trying to get the timeline right for her massive Turn fanfic. This can be very tricky. A lot of TV shows play fast and loose with their internal timeline, and Turn is no exception. S is going back and rewatching every episode to make sure that her scenes match up with the show, as much as she possibly can. Last night, for example, she realized that she’d written a scene where Ben and Caleb have a conversation, after which Ben goes and has supper with other officers. The trouble is that on the show, there are some scenes with Abe in between those events, and it’s clear that—at the very least—a day and a night must pass between Ben’s conversation and the supper. So now she has to figure out how to separate those two Ben scenes.

These problems are not unique to fanfic. I’m revising a story that takes place in our own Myrciaverse, and I had a very similar problem come up. My latest novel (which might hypothetically be S’s birthday present) is actually a series of short stories that happen between Old Habits Die Hard and Called to Account during the Myrcian civil war. As I was reading through the book this past week, I suddenly realized I’d made a serious mistake.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers (S might be reading this), but basically what I did was this: in the fifth and last story, I had character A ask character B to help character C escape. And I hinted that in fact character B and her bosses had agreed to do so. The trouble is that Called to Account takes place about half a year later, and in that story, it’s a major plot point that character B’s bosses have no idea where exactly character C has escaped to, and are desperate to find him.

You can see the problem, of course. If I just kept my new story as it was, it would suggest that somehow B’s bosses helped C escape, and then, in the course of a few months, completely forgot that fact. This is, at best, extremely problematic. So I had to figure out how to change the new story to fit what happens in Called to Account. It wasn’t terribly difficult to fix—it just required deleting a few lines and adding a couple paragraphs here and there. But it still took me a while to work it all out in my head and make sure that the new story still made sense on its own.

Eventually it all worked out, and I think the story is better now. Just don’t tell S about it. I want it to be a surprise for her.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. Now we get to go do yard work—something that always makes even the toughest revisions seem like fun by comparison.

J

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Leaving Camp

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Having finished Camp NaNo, George heads boldly into revision.

It’s May now, and that means April Camp NaNoWriMo is over. S and I celebrated our customary double win. I finished Old Habits Die Hard, and now we’re reading through it. S finished her new Turn fanfic, which we have been slowly typing up. I believe there are still three chapters that haven’t been typed yet.

May means revision, and it also means starting on a new story that might hypothetically be a present for someone whose birthday comes at the end of this month. I’m not naming any names, you understand. I’ve got an idea for a series of stories, each with different POV characters, that together make up sort-of a novel. I don’t normally write short stories, and these stories won’t really be all that short, but it’s interesting to think in terms of shorter, episodic story arcs, rather than a single longer one.

The stories are all going to take place during the same period of imaginary civil war in our Myrciaverse, covering the five years between the end of the novel I just wrote and the start of Called to Account, which I wrote as S’s Christmas present in 2015. I once made up a timeline of everything that happens during that century-long civil war, and about a week ago, as I was trying to come up with something to write next, I was looking at the events that happen in the five-year gap between books. A lot of it was interesting, but I couldn’t think of a single storyline that reasonably tied it all together. Hence, a series of shorter stories.

Also, as our friend who blogs over at Philosofishal pointed out to me, May is Short Story Month. So there’s that, too. Of course, the Short Story Month people seem to be envisioning much shorter stories than what I’m writing, but whatever.

In case anyone is curious about the progress of our recent move, we’re still settling into New Unicorn HQ. Today S continued organizing our awesome new library. Yesterday we planted a bunch of daylilies, so we’re both feeling as if we’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. Our hope is that over time, the lilies will spread out and take over a lot of the empty space in our garden. And then with any luck there will be less yard work.

And now we need to go start on supper. The party just never stops here.

J

What Did I Say?

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George is especially careful about what he says. (Pic from farfarawaysite.com)

As Camp NaNo comes to an end, J and I are revising the projects we worked on during the month. J wrote another Myrcia ‘verse novel that I am very much looking forward to reading, and I wrote some fanfic. I actually posted a completed short piece a few days ago, but I have a longer Turn fanfic that needs some work. Where I want to focus most in revision is on the voice of one of my POV characters. (Who happens to be George Washington, by the way.) J has been helping me get it typed up, so he’s gotten a taste of what I’m doing and what I’d like to achieve. When it comes to fixing Washington’s voice, these are the things we’ve come up with me to focus on.

Word choice

This is probably the most obvious part of character voice—what words does the character use. Some word choice decisions are easy to make, like when a character has specific technical knowledge, they speak in technical terms. As an example, J has been to law school, so he makes jokes about things like “prior consideration” and “meretricious consideration” that someone who has no legal training would never say. (These are the legal reasons, he tells me, that I am not allowed to pay him in kisses when he does me a favor.)

But there are also harder word choice issues. As I’m going through my first draft, there are words that don’t quite hit the ear as well as I would like them to. Last night, J found one for me. Originally, I wrote:

But he could not stand the way Benjamin looked at him.

J, bless his heart, immediately suggested I change “stand” to “endure,” which sounds a million times more like the Washington I’m trying to write. So, it will be a slog, but I really need to go through all of his POV chapters, and look for those words that just don’t sound quite like Washington, and replace as many as I can.

Level of Formality

How formal is the character? This is a character voice trait J and I have been talking a lot about since we first started writing. Does the character always get forms of address correct? Do they lean toward being too formal or too familiar? Are they painfully correct in their grammar? (For this last one, we often talk about the possibly apocryphal statement of Winston Churchill’s about never ending sentences with a preposition, meaning, would the character actually say, “up with which I will not put”?)

If there is one thing J and I agree on, it is that Washington is very formal. And he is formal in a studied way. We both agree that Turn does an excellent job of translating what we know of the real Washington to the character played so brilliantly by Ian Kahn. Washington lacked much formal education, and he regretted this and felt self-conscious about it all his life. He attempted to teach himself as much as he could, but people intentionally trying to be correct often come across as stilted, as opposed to someone who learned proper behavior at a young age when it could become a seamless part of their personality. And yet, I don’t want my Washington to ever cross that line into awkwardness or pomposity, so it’s a delicate balance I’m not quite hitting just yet. But that’s what revision is for after all.

Dialog vs Internal Monologue

J also pointed out that characters’ internal thoughts do not have to have the same level of formality as their speech. Washington will definitely always be formal in his dialog, but we both agree that he might be slightly less formal in his own mind. He might even think about whether or not what he just said was the correct level of formal. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m going to see if I can manage it.

And that’s what I’m up to as we pack up and get ready to leave Camp. What I’ll be doing in May is anyone’s guess. Besides posting this fic once it’s ready, I’ll probably return to the Regency erotica I had been working on before Turn happened to me. I’m actually quite pleased with what I’ve done on it, and look forward to getting back to it.

~S

Revision at Camp

Washington Letter

George suddenly realizes just how much revision his first draft is going to need.

S and I are still hard at work on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, if all goes well, we might both finish today. I’ve got one more chapter to write in my novel, Old Habits Die Hard, and S has one chapter left in the big fanfic project she’s working on. We’ve both already hit our goals for the month, which means yet another double win for Team Unicorn.

Once we finish writing, it’ll be time to start revising. I already started rereading my book from the beginning, even as I was finishing it up. I had time to do this because I’ve been trying to limit myself to only writing three chapters a day. Yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, but in the past (particularly during November) I have sometimes just kept writing and writing, even long after I had done a reasonable amount of work for the day. It’s exhausting. The difference between writing 5,000 words a day and writing 8,000 or 10,000 is whether I get to do anything else besides writing.

In other news, we’re still in the process of moving. With luck (fingers crossed) we may have a buyer for the original Unicorn HQ. Once that’s finished, I think we will have to go out for dinner or something to celebrate. Or maybe just take a nap. It’s been a very long moving adventure for us.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us. Now back to writing!

J

Almost Birthday Time!

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This is your last Unbirthday until Wednesday.  Make it count!

I was supposed to post a blog yesterday, but we did yardwork, instead.  We have a small volunteer tree at the end of our driveway that had nearly engulfed our mailbox, and I’m sure our mail carrier will appreciate the fact that we finally trimmed it back a bit.  After that, I felt like I’d accomplished enough for one day, and I retired to my recliner in triumph.

Actually, I wasn’t just being lazy.  Tomorrow is a certain someone’s birthday, so I’m finishing my last read-through of her birthday novel, Unspeakably Wooed.  It’s a sequel of sorts to my April Camp NaNoWriMo novel, Black Eagle Rising, and it fits in with the Myrciaverse civil war timeline that features books like The Last Bright Angel and Called to Account.  It was a fun story to write, and I’m hoping S enjoys it when we start reading it on Tuesday.

A couple days ago, as I was listening to my new book with the Adobe Acrobat read-aloud feature, it occurred to me that I should write down what I’ve been doing to revise.  It used to be pretty haphazard, but over the last year or so, I’ve been developing a standard process, and since S and I are such dedicated outliners, it felt like I should make a revision outline that I can follow in the future, so I don’t accidentally leave something important out.  So here’s what I’ve been doing to revise Unspeakably Wooed.  Some of these things I’ve been doing for a while, and some of them I’ve started doing recently, based on what I’ve been reading on some of my favorite writers’ blogs.

Revision Outline

1. First read-through
-Fix inconsistencies, major typos.
-Take notes of potential major issues to fix later, but don’t fix them yet.

2. Second read-through
-Read by character.
-Last, first, second-to-last, second chapter, and so on, working toward the middle.
-Look for consistency, particularly of character voice.
-Fix minor issues; take notes of major problems.

3. Address the first round of notes
-Look at notes from first and second read-throughs, fix character issues and problems with plot.

4. Third read-through
-Using read-aloud feature in PDF, following along in the Word doc.
-Continue to smooth awkward phrasing.  Make notes of possible structural issues.

5. Ctrl + F
-Look for following words: “Only, Just, That, Immediately, Suddenly, Abruptly.”  Cut as many of these as you can.
-Check for sighs, eye-rolls, and any other physical movements that turn up too often.
-Ctrl + F for any other words and phrases that seem (based on first three read-throughs) to show up too many times.  Rephrase where necessary.

6. Structural issues 1
-Look for infodumps and backstory in the opening chapters.  If they’re necessary at all, make sure they show up no earlier than the end of Act I (ideally wait until Act II).
-Find logical places to reveal this information later in the story; move it there.
-Make sure each POV character has at least one chapter in which he/she shows up and is introduced with action, but without backstory.

7. Structural issues 2
-Look at character sheets for POV characters.  Look at their “Central Questions” (Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Goals).  Has each character achieved his/her goals?  Whether they have or haven’t, has this been mentioned in the text or reflected upon by the character?
-What was the “point” of the story (the “Thematic Question”)?  Has this question been resolved?  Where?  Clarify for the reader if necessary.

8. General tightening (Fourth read-through)
-Read through and tighten.  Try to remove at least 1% of the words (i.e. 600 words of a 60,000 word novel).

9. Reading out loud 1 (Fifth read-through)
-Ideally by yourself, reading out loud to an empty room.  If necessary, can listen to new PDFs using the read-aloud feature.

10. Reading out loud 2 (Sixth read-through)
-With a partner.  Fix minor mistakes as you go.  Keep notes for any remaining major problems.

If you’re wondering, I’m on step number nine right now.

What really stood out to me when I wrote this all down was that I read my books a minimum of five times before I even let S see them.  But even so, I’m sure I’ll find all sorts of typos and clunky phrases when we read it together tomorrow.  And that’s why we do that.

But first, it’s time to start the pre-partying for S’s birthday!  And also, we’re going to buy mulch today.  It’ll be a hoot.

J

Listening to Myself

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The felt goatee is the most important part.

With one thing and another, I almost forgot to blog again.  S has finished a giant fanfic project, so she and I were reading her story aloud together.  As we’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog, reading aloud is an important part of our revision process.  I’d go so far as to say, in fact, that it’s the most important part.  Reading aloud is the best way to catch little typos, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies of plot and characterization.  And, of course, it’s fun if you can do it with someone you like.

But what happens if you don’t have someone to read with?  Or what happens if your writing partner happens to be working on her own stuff at the moment, and you want to read something over again for the third or fourth time, and it seems like something of an imposition to ask?  Well, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a way around this.  You can make your computer read your story to you.

I’ve actually been doing this myself over the past few weeks.  In addition to all the other little revision and reference projects I’ve been working on, I decided to reread all our Myrcia books in chronological order, starting with Keara of Glen Taran and ending with S’s Oleg Omdahl mysteries (a span, in the internal timeline of the Myrciaverse, of more than 2,700 years).  Right now, I’m at A Fatal Humor, which is just over halfway through.  The point of doing this isn’t just to pat myself on the back for how much I’ve written.  It’s to make sure I can remember all those stories and keep everything straight in my head as I write more.

Now, I could just sit in my comfy chair and read them the normal way, off my computer screen.  But I’d also like to get some exercise occasionally.  So what I do is to connect my Bluetooth headphones and listen to the books, two or three chapters at a time, while walking.

The first step is to save a couple chapters of the book as their own PDF file.

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Next, you open the PDF and use the “Read Out Loud” feature (under “View”).  Choose “Activate Read Aloud,” then open the same menu again and choose “Read to the End of Document.”  (Note the “Pause” option here, too.  And once you’ve paused, you’ll see “Resume” in its place to start it up again.)  I’m using Acrobat Pro, but Adobe Reader has similar options, as well.

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If you’re in a hurry, you can change the speed, as well, under “Edit” > “Preferences.”

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I’ve got mine set at 280 words a minute, for example.  So if I do three chapters, each of which is, say, 3,000 words long, that will take me a little over half an hour.

Now, obviously it’s always more fun to read with S, but she’s got her fanfic project to work on, as well as—oh, yeah—her job.  So the “Read Out Loud” function is a good substitute.  And there is at least one benefit to reading aloud with the computer instead of by yourself or with another person.  The computer can’t guess what you meant, and can only ever read exactly what’s there.  Sometimes, when you read aloud, you can cheat; you can make a clunky phrase work by reading it with a certain intonation.  The computer can’t do that, though.  It reads what you actually wrote, warts and all, in a flat, utterly pitiless tone.

At my current rate, I figure it’ll take at least the rest of this month to get through all our stories.  Maybe a few weeks of March, too.  But in March, I’ll have to take a break to start planning my April Camp NaNoWriMo novel.  Yes, that’s right—Spring is just around the corner, even if it doesn’t particularly look like it just now.

J

All Over But The Wrapping

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And of course we still need to decorate our Troy.

A Merry, if premature, Christmas to everyone.  A Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Solstice, as well.  And to our imaginary friends in the Myrciaverse, have a safe and happy Seefest.

S and I went out yesterday and finished up our Christmas shopping, and I have to say I’m impressed at how efficient we were.  We couldn’t leave the house until well after noon, since we had an ice storm Friday night, and we had to clear away the small glacier that had formed on our steep driveway.  But even so, we managed to get all our presents bought in record time, and we got home in time to have a pizza and watch a few episodes of Rectify off the DVR (it’s a really good show, by the way).

We’ve already gotten ourselves a few gifts.  S bought herself some lovely new fountain pens that she’s really enjoying writing with.  Last month, the awesome Municipal Liaison of our local NaNoWriMo group loaned her one of these cute little fountain pens during one of our write-ins, and S loved it so much that she had to go to JetPens and buy herself a bunch of them.  (As an aside, how cool is it that there’s a website where you can order obscure Japanese pens from the States?  For those of you who don’t know, I lived and taught in Japan for three years, and yes, they really do take writing implements and office supplies in general to a whole new level.)

My old slippers had given up the ghost (the insoles had departed), so I got some new ones which are warm and fuzzy, which is really all you want out of a pair of slippers, especially in the winter.

In other news, we’re still revising here, and S is still plugging away at her latest fanfic story (using those awesome new pens, of course).  We might not be able to post quite as regularly over the next few weeks, since we’ll be visiting family.  But don’t worry.  The long, frigid days of January and February are right around the corner, when we’ll be cooped up inside with nothing to do but write and revise!  Isn’t that exciting?  I think so.  (Seriously, though, this is the time of year when S and I always ask ourselves, “Why didn’t we decide to live somewhere warmer?”)

J

I’ll Fix It in Post

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“Fix it in post.” The most dreaded words on set?

Often when J and I are writing, we will borrow from the world of film the idea that we can fix what’s wrong in “post.” Of course, this is just our silly way of referring to revision, but I thought about the idea, and the trope, more seriously when I was working on my ill-fated NaNo novel. Granted, unlike a film, a novelist can always go back and “reshoot” (rewrite) a scene to get what she needs, but I think there’s something to be said for having the raw materials you need before you get to the revision process.

Now, I’ve never made an exact study of the numbers and percentages, but let’s say in a novel that has been properly outlined and researched ahead of time and is drafted thoughtfully, it will have 10-20% changed significantly in revision. When I start a novel knowing that eventuality is coming, that is something I can live with at this point, because I’ve written enough to appreciate that writing is rewriting. But then on a novel like The Queen’s Tower, my NaNo book from two years ago, I went in with a tenuous outline and characters I didn’t know especially well. I finished the first draft of that knowing I would be changing around 20-30% of what had been written, plus adding about 30% entirely new content. That’s pretty daunting, and probably why I still haven’t finished the novel.

And that brings us to this year’s NaNo novel, The Swift True Road. Not only did I not start with the level of detail to my outline I prefer, but I didn’t do as much character work as I would have liked, and being my first historical novel, I quickly realized I hadn’t done even close to enough research. Because it was NaNo, I kept plowing along, but around 35,000 words in, I realized I would be completely reworking at least 50% of what I had already written. Knowing I would be chucking half of what I was laboring so hard to write became discouraging to the point that I didn’t have the heart to continue writing the novel. It also seemed to be a supreme waste of time.

As J pointed out last week, I decided to set The Swift True Road aside, and I went to work on other projects to see me through the month of November, and make certain I still wrote 50,000 words for the month. At some point, I absolutely intend to return to The Swift True Road. I still think it’s a great idea for a book, a romance between two mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, but I’m not going to pick it back up again until I’m sure I can successfully draft a novel that will leave me with the pieces I need to polish a good story in post.

~S

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

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Or at least “chicken flavored.”

Actually it was a chicken lunch.  Or chicken flavored ramen, to be exact.  (Those Maruchan Bowl noodles are awesome!)  It’s cold outside, and we’re trying to stay warm and not get sick.  But it’s December now, and that means it’s time for Team Unicorn to brag about yet another double NaNoWriMo win for us.

I finished the two novels I planned to write: A Tincture of Silver and When Uppance Comes.  The first one (after some revisions) is 76,837 words long.  The second one is 75,623 words.  Right now, S and I are reading through A Tincture of Silver, though we’ve got other things we need to get done today, so I don’t know how far we’ll get.  As we’ve mentioned before, reading our books aloud together is an important part of our revision process.

Once I was finished with those two, I decided to get started on a third novel, which will be S’s Christmas present.  Yes, we write each other things as presents—it’s the ultimate in unicorniness.  I can’t tell the title of that one, because it’s a bit of a spoiler for S, and she wants to be surprised on Christmas morning when she looks under the metaphorical tree and sees it waiting for her.  It’ll actually be in the shared folder of our OneDrive account, but that’s sort-of like finding it in your stocking, yes?  As of this morning, that third novel is sitting at 46,380 words.  If I subtract the words I’ve written in the last four days, but I include all the prep work, like character profiles and character prompts, that I wrote for it, you come to my grand total for the month of November, which was 225,182 words.  That’s the most I’ve ever done in a NaNo month, I think.

As for S, she decided to set aside her historical romance and go back to writing an ongoing fanfic project that she has, and she became much happier when she did.  Perhaps at some point she’ll blog about that.  Sometimes it’s just not the right time for a particular project, and this November apparently wasn’t the right time for historical romance.  It happens.

She also wrote a short story for my Christmas present, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.  But I have no idea what it is, except that she’s admitted it’s set in the Myrciaverse, which is nice.  Other than that, I’m completely in the dark, and I haven’t tried to peek or metaphorically rattle the box to see what’s inside.  I want a surprise on Christmas morning, too.

J

Character Possimpibilities

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Wait for it.

S and I are still at Camp NaNo, and we’re moving right along.  I finished my book, Written in Sand, and I’m still working on revisions of it.  S is working on her fanfic, and last night I helped her do some of the typing.  (If you’ve forgotten, S always hand writes the first drafts of her stories, so there’s always lots of frantic typing to do in NaNo months.)

I’ve talked before about my revision process, but this seems like as good a time as any to mention what I’m doing this time around.  I started by just rereading the whole thing, straight through.  This helps me see any gaping plot holes and judge the general tone and pacing of the story.  For instance, I decided that there needed to be a bit more tension before the big third act showdown, so I added some lines, and changed some lines around, so that the heroes were more worried about the villainess than they had been before.  Previously, they had been a bit too calm about the fact that she had successfully evaded them.  Now I’ve tried to make them seem a bit more anxious about where she’s gone and what she might be doing.  And I have them spending a bit more time trying to come up with a plan to beat her.

Now I’m working through the second read-through.  This is the one I do by character.  And I do this by alternating between the beginning and the end, working toward the middle.  So, to use a simple example, let’s say Bob is a POV character in a 20-chapter novel, and his chapters are all the even-numbered ones.  I would start reading at chapter 20, then go read chapter 2, then chapter 18, then chapter 4, and so on, ending at chapter 10, right in the middle.  I find this is really helpful for seeing character development and character arcs.

One of the main things I look at as I do this is whether a character acts believably.  And by that I don’t mean whether a character does the smart thing, or makes the best possible choices.  I certainly don’t mean that the character does what I would do in his situation.  What I mean is that the character should do something that seems in keeping with what we know about him as a character.  What matters isn’t the vast range of possible and impossible (or possimpible) choices he could make.  What matters is what he might actually do, given the sort of person he is.

This is something S has been thinking about lately, thanks to the third and last season of one of our favorite shows.  Perhaps S might write more on the subject here later, but I’ll just give a brief overview.  There has been, apparently, some controversy among fans of the show concerning how one of the main characters ended up in the last few episodes.  Part of the problem seems to be that some people think this character had more options in her life than she really had.

Yes, it’s true that there are all sorts of things that a woman in that particular time period could have done.  But that’s not the important question—the important question is what that particular character would have done in the circumstances in which she finds herself.  To use a real-life example, if S ever lost her job as a Librarian, she could, theoretically, become a wedding planner.  I mean, there’s nothing stopping her from doing it.  Other than the fact that she would absolutely hate that job, of course.

So that’s the sort of thing I’m looking out for in my own writing now.  I want to make sure that my characters’ choices aren’t just possimpible, but actually probable.

J