Sunday, September 19, 2010

A bit of Inspiration – On Writing

Sometimes we just need a mentor’s kind words to get us going back on track again. And it can pay to have that mentor in a handy dandy book form. One of my mentors is Stephen King. Now I know it may be a bit cliché now, but I’ll tell you what, the man can write and he has millions of readers. You could do worse than study his style and his technique. You should also pick up his view of writing in his book conveniently called “On Writing”.

The first part of the book is something of a biography that gives you an interesting portrait of the man. It covers what he feels are some of his influences and some of the events that shaped the kind of writer he is. It also covers the details of his attempts to crack into the world of publishing and his following success. He gets into his drug addition and his battle to free himself from it. He also talks about the accident that nearly took his life. Frankly it’s pretty straightforward and clear cut, not coming across as indulgent but as a way to give advice about being a writer and telling a good story.

After that he gets into the nuts and bolts of the process itself. He recommends books to use (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style) and gets into his process for creating a story and revising it. Like most writers, he’ll tell you to find your own way of doing things, but he does provide some hard and fast rules that I found very useful. One was to step away from your first draft for a while (a month if you can help it) and come back with a more subjective mind. It does work wonders, you see issues with greater clarity and you also have forgotten some of the really good stuff you put in there.

I see “On Writing” come up quite a bit as a book that most writers recommend to other writers, and I agree. Its like having the man right there helping you along and providing his advice in simple clear terms. King gets to the point and keeps it short. If you’ve never given the book a read, give it a try. Even if you don’t like his advice on writing, his biography is interesting enough to make it worth checking out.

Have you ever read “On Writing”? What did you think of it? Do you have a favorite book or essay from an author about writing? Do you read it from time to time to get you energized about writing?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Edits – Editing Your Work

I recently had the pleasure of editing two very different novels back to back. The first was a space opera that I completed about a year ago. I had gone through it with the red pen earlier in the year. I found my usual issues of repetition and over-explanation were running rampant. I also found that my ending was really poor. So I reworked the ending completely and put the book aside for a month and a half. Then I went back and made the edits to the document in my computer, going over the new ending at the same time.

What was interesting about this editing adventure was that this book was written at my leisure over the summer. I didn’t have a deadline, I just wrote the story idea I had and worked my way through it. I did end up losing steam by the end of the story and that explains why I didn’t really end the story so much as let it whimper out. The editing process reenergized my excitement about the story and so I carried that over into the new ending. I think it’s a lot better than what I originally created.

I also found that certain plot resolutions I had forgotten about were actually pretty clever. I’m talking about plot points that I injected into the story as I wrote, and didn’t have a clear resolution for. Turns out I had a resolution for them, and I just needed to connect the dots and make it a lot clearer. I’m still not sold on the opening of the story. I think I take too much time introducing my main character and not enough getting the story rolling. This book Is supposed to be an adventure story that grabs the reader. In my concern to create an interesting character I spend too much time showing him in his dullness, instead of showing him in action. My wife is of the same opinion, and I’m already planning some editing at the beginning. But I’m hoping the middle and end work as well I felt they did. Hopefully this can shape up to be a fun book, exactly the goal I’m looking at.

The other edit was for my National Novel Writing Month entry for 2009. This was my supernatural thriller. I wrote the initial draft in 30 days and it ended up being a little over 50, 000 words roughly 250 pages. It’s also fragmented, choppy and lacking a real punch at the end. I think this is a direct result of the deadline and brisk pace I set for myself. I like the basic story and some elements work really well. This is actually a more character-based story than my space opera. Unfortunately my main character suffers in this choppy version, and I feel she needs some better scenes shaping her personality.

I also ran into issues where elements of her past were mentioned and never expounded upon. They are important to her character, but I’m not sure if I want to include them in flashback (something I try to avoid) or include a series of scenes at the beginning of the book spanning those moments. I don’t like that idea because the opening chapter of the book has a great punch to it, really grabbing the reader.

The speedy writing also created several issues with continuity. I didn’t have time to check of a character burned her left or right hand, and so the burn switches as you go through the book. So little things like that need to be updated too.

In short I think this book is going to require more work than the one I spent more time on. Makes sense, but the thing I liked about the short writing time from NaNo is that I didn’t lose the energy of wanting to write. I was still excited about the novel as I crossed that finish line and you can feel it in the ending. It felt explosive and fun. While the space opera felt like a slog by the end as I was writing.

So, very different experiences writing and editing. Still not sure what is the best, and if maybe I can create a happy medium. Maybe a month and a half to write the novel? I’m still keen on giving NaNoWriMo at try this year, but I’m not sure I have a new story idea yet. Can I wing it and survive? I think that’s another blog.

Have you tried different styles of writing drafts and how did that affect the editing process? Do you find editing interesting or more like a tedious part of the process? Do you have a problem keeping the energy going for a long work?