Fully Empty


For most of the time I’ve been a writer, I’ve crowed about the virtues of story planning. I started singing this song in 2009, just before joining it with the harmony of the ePublishing revolution, and I’ve not stopped singing it since.

And now, befitting irony and justice, it comes back to bite me in the a$$.

I took a look at my finished manuscript last weekend, and a couple of times this week. If you don’t know me well, let me clue you in on something. I’m very good at looking at things and contemplating them. Getting stuff done? That’s someone else’s expertise. Mine’s the staring and thinking. I do a lot of writing in my head, too. Just staring out the window or into the middle distance and letting the mind write fantastic stories certain to change the world and entertain the masses. For which they will throw piles and piles of money at me and I shall forever be wealthy and happy.

The fingers freeze up when they hit the keyboard though, so there’s not a lot of actual  writing going on. Just mental writing.

Now you know more about how I write than you ever wanted to, right? Let’s get back to the main point, which is the a$$-biting.

I looked over my manuscript, as I said, and I set out to do a couple of things in making it ready for publication.

  1. Get it done as quickly as possible;
  2. Remove the tripe without editing the life and vibrancy out of it this time;
  3. Shoring up the structure with the story architecture tools I’ve been touting.

I figured, if I can do those things, I’m in like Flynn, right?

Nope.

As I started editing I came across a couple of more tidbits of information, which I knew but somehow misplaced in the jumble of clutter which composes my brain.

  1. Fiction work should not include chit-chat dialog and every agonizing angst of travel, setting and descriptions;
  2. Fiction writers must start their scenes at the last possible moment to keep the reader entertained and turning pages.

Alfred Hitchcock, in my opinion, said it best: “Fiction is life with the boring parts removed.” Or something like that. Don’t quote me trying to quote him.

Anyway, as I started editing my so-called “manuscript”, guess what I found? Not only did I include chit-chat (the “banter” between my two primary characters), but I included boring parts, and travel directions, and setting and … uh-oh.

I’ve not looked at this dog in a long time, and baby, it’s got fleas aplenty.

So I sort of had this panic attack about how I’m going to do this. Not only is the structure sucky, but the writing itself isn’t stellar either. I went through this thing back in 2010 and hacked the hell out of it, removed everything not story-moving, but that left me with something barebones and sort of lifeless. More like a “Fun with Dick and Jane” reader than something you’d want to sit beside a fire with on a chill autumn eve. I took out too much, which is why I was re-editing instead of re-writing.

I sat back in my chair and tried to ask my wife about it. I mean, I had a dilemma. On the one hand, most folks who read it really loved it. Just as it is, with all its embarrassing mistakes and adverb-laden prose, boring description and dialect-transliteration, the readers I had really seemed to enjoy it. But my writer acquaintances found more than a little fault with it, and I knew in my own heart it needed work. So I queried my first and constant reader, my wife, for help. Which put us, somehow, in a position of not speaking to each other, and no progress was made.

For the next two days, I fought to try and figure out what’s better. My wife felt I should leave this story alone, as it is, and start over, with “Chapter 01: It was a dark and stormy night…” (Not literally, of course, but she seemed to be in favor of a complete rewrite from scratch.) I kept fighting that, because as easy as it is to say “rewrite it,” it’s quite another matter to sit down and start pounding the keyboard until a novel drops out. I guess I can use the analogy of pregnancy, but I don’t know anything about that. I’ll just leave it at easier said than done.

Especially daunting is the idea that I wanted to have a trilogy done by year’s end. HA! I wanted this book and its sequel Witch Hunt (which may not need quite as much help) ready for Halloween, and figured I’d write the third book while these two cooked online (Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, and if you know of any others I don’t, please clue me in; I’m on Kobo too, because they work with Smashwords, and supposedly I’m on Apple, but I have no clue).

That, quite succinctly, ain’t gonna happen.

Then, to make the revelation even more startling, my wife offhandedly points out how we really don’t have a title for this one yet either. I almost fell out of my chair. I completely forgot about that. I can’t call this book Ghost Hunters without inviting a law suit, and despite the fact I didn’t even know a television show existed by that name when I wrote it (I know, living under a rock, what can I say?), the fact remains they had the name first and probably aren’t going to take kindly to me using it.

So, when I summed up this manuscript I found:

  1. It has no title
  2. It has little or no story structure
  3. It has too much chit-chat (any is too much and I have lots)
  4. It has too much description
  5. It has scenes started much too late
  6. It has proper names used in dialog (a huge no-no, apparently)

So, here I am stuck with a “manuscript” (and I use that term loosely) which betrays several of the core competencies a writer should have to be considered a writer.

Um…oops.

Therefore, I have some very difficult decisions to make.

  • Do I really start over from scratch? Can I do that at this point? If so, there are several things I need to do before I set fingers to keys.
  • I need to put together a story architecture map. This is not negotiable. I have to have some direction for the story. I’m not interested in writing six or seven drafts until it comes close to right.
  • I need to identify and completely understand the motivations of the characters. I think I’m closer on this than I used to be, but the story must revolve around what the character wants and how he’s going after that, and then shifting those goals as the story moves and the character changes.
  • I need to cut the scenes down to the chase. Get to the point, dammit!
  • Add some spice – I need more… I dunno. Pizzazz. I want the book to at least be a little creepy if it can’t be scary.
  • Put the humor back in. Somehow. Without adding banter and chit-chat. Yeah. Good luck.
  • Get it to novel-length and polished to a gleaming shine by Halloween.

Hey, nothin’ to it, right? Piece o’ cake.

For those of you who enjoyed the story as it was (both of you), I can send you an electronic version of it as it is right now. It’s a more-than-rough draft, but you’re welcome to it if you’re interested. The reason I’m offering it is, I won’t be able to retain it this way no matter what. I can abandon the project altogether, which may just be the best idea considering how lame this particular duck is, but one way or another I’m going to be writing a new book instead of this one, unless by some miracle I can think of a way to salvage this one. And no miracles are forthcoming at this point.

So, anyone have any opinions on this? I mean, if you’ve read this far you must have something to say, right? I’m sure no one who’s a “writer” still reads my blog, but all of you are readers of some sort (blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, news, something), right?

Sound off and let me know.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Fully Empty

  1. Coming up with new titles I would think is the easiest part.

    Eh… harder than it seems, for sure, especially for a title which makes a promise and then delivers in the story. Should probably be done last, thinking that way.

    Ghost Killers
    Ghostly Mists
    The Ghost Record
    Cunningham Manor (or whatever the family name was in the book, I can’t remember)

    It never had a name, but that’s a good idea. The issue is, I have another project about a sentient pair of houses with names, so I wasn’t sure if that’d be problematic in some way. You know, all my books have the same name, theme, story, whatever.

    And as to the big question, whether or not to rewrite, reedit, or start something else entirely – I think the story definitely has merit, but you should probably decide what to do based on your feeling for it. If you think it’ll just sap your energy every time you work on it, then you should scrap it and start a new project (even if you use the same characters). If the thought of doing rewrites sounds like something you’d be excited to do, then go ahead an revisit it.

    Interesting. My feelings, eh? I generally ignore them. I’ll have to think about that one. Thanks B!

  2. Hey punk! I’m a writer! And I still read your blog! 🙂

    OMG! How could I forget both you and Bryce, my two writerlies who still read this blog?! For shame on me! LOL! Sorry, V. R.!

    Here’s the thing…there may be a compromise in there somewhere. Here’s an example. When I started writing my manuscript, I was learning a TON as I was writing. Subsequently, the final chapters are loads better than the preceding ones.

    I wish I could say that. The sequel is tons better than the original, but not the chapters within the original.

    When it came to revisions, I was faced with what you were faced with…I’m a much better writer now, but these first several chapters don’t show that at all. Do I just re-write the whole damn thing?! Yes and no…some of the chapters were exactly what they needed to be, just edited. Chop out the chit chat etc…just fine tune what is already there.

    I tried this to some degree. I went too far, I think, but I did try it. Maybe I can salvage some. I doubt entire chapters are going to survive, but I might get some scenes.

    Other chapters benefited from a re-write. It was easier than you might think. Read what you have, write down the characters and what you want them to accomplish by the end of the chapter. Then stare out the window for a while (yes…I write this way too) hell, even talk to yourself for a while and then get it on paper. The original idea you had when you wrote it the first time will be there, and the writing will be much better.

    That’s a GREAT idea! I’ll have to try that. Thanks, Vanessa!

    So look through the whole thing, and decide which chapters just need some polish and which ones could be torn down and built back up.

    Just my .02.

    It’s worth a lot more than that now. 😉 Thank you so much.

  3. I think rewriting is, by far, the hardest part of writing. Stephen King said something along the lines of if you’ve left it alone for too long and it sounds wrong, rewrite it. Of course, how he said it made better sense, but I’m not King (haha).

    Do I really start over from scratch? Can I do that at this point? If so, there are several things I need to do before I set fingers to keys.

    — Starting over isn’t as bad at this stage. Make notes on each section you have now and what you think needs to be there instead. It’s what I’m doing with my rewrites. I realized the beginning sucked and it needed a huge overhaul, so I made a note in One Note and wrote the chapter around it and what I already knew I wanted to happen. It made everything fall into place a lot easier, especially with your five-point system.

    Which is exactly what I’m saying, and which, frankly, sounds an AWFUL LOT like starting over from scratch. I’ve got an idea; now I have to flesh it out. But I’m hoping you’re dead-on correct, and it won’t be as hard as it sounds. *fingers crossed!*

    I need to put together a story architecture map. This is not negotiable. I have to have some direction for the story. I’m not interested in writing six or seven drafts until it comes close to right.

    — What happened to your five point system, hmm? Creating muscle and flesh around that skeleton is a lot easier, especially if you talk out your story with someone. My husband is my best inspiration because I’ll rant about my story for hours and hours, and he’ll sit there, giving me feedback, some useless and some very important.

    Nothing happened to my five point system, Ms. Snark. When I wrote this story, I didn’t KNOW the five-point system I taught you. What’s YOUR excuse? Hm? HMM?!

    I need to identify and completely understand the motivations of the characters. I think I’m closer on this than I used to be, but the story must revolve around what the character wants and how he’s going after that, and then shifting those goals as the story moves and the character changes.

    — That takes character mapping and planning. Get to know your character. What do they want? Ask yourself that stuff, and devote a few days to figuring that stuff out. But again, that’s just me.

    A few pages? Of what? A notebook, a separate document? Can’t do that in the manuscript. Where do you do this, normally? or abnormally?

    I need to cut the scenes down to the chase. Get to the point, dammit!

    — Worry about that after the rewrite. Think of this as another draft for now, and the hardcore edits will come. You’re still trying to get the story out! =)

    NO. DRAFTING. Period. I have to worry about that NOW. I refuse to do this the pants-seat writer’s way.

    Add some spice – I need more… I dunno. Pizzazz. I want the book to at least be a little creepy if it can’t be scary.

    — Sorry, can’t even give you any advice there. Wish I could.

    Me either. 😦

    Put the humor back in. Somehow. Without adding banter and chit-chat. Yeah. Good luck.
    Get it to novel-length and polished to a gleaming shine by Halloween.

    — Sometimes, for humor’s sake, banter (not chit-chat) is necessary. That funny part that’s pointless, could’ve been cut out, but it was so perfectly placed that you can’t help but savor it. At least that’s how I see it. I’m a newb though, so what do I know?

    My wife said the same thing. I simply took out too much. But this is hard to gauge, because it’s a cardinal sin in writing. What’s too much? What’s enough? That’s subjective. And I’m clearly not the right judge, or I’d have done it right the first time.

    Thank you for all that valuable feedback! I really appreciate you taking so much time. It’s nice to have the encouragement. 🙂

  4. Gah, editing. I heard it was the best fun ever, but I didn’t find it so at all, precisely because of these types of problems. How much do you take out? How do you confidently identify the parts that ought to be taken out, and the parts that are good as they are? When do you stop?!

    Ah, editing. The joy of man’s desiring. Not.

    There are no answers to any of that, of course. Alas. But on your specific problems:

    – Humorous banter definitely has a place, as long as it’s doing some work. I find it a fun way of revealing things about characters’ personalities and how they feel about each other. I’m actually a big fan of good humorous banter in fiction.

    I had a lot of it. Made some folks laugh, others not so much. It’s so hard to gauge when enough’s enough! I don’t know if the humorous banter revealed any characterization though. Great point; if I can have it do that maybe it’s all right after all. To a point.

    – Agree on too much travel info. It’s one of my biggest complaints with a lot of modern fantasy/sci-fi fiction. (Don’t know if that’s what you’re writing – sounds like a horror mix?). Some is necessary though, or the book can quickly get confusing.

    This is problematic because I have to decide where and when it’s okay, and how much. I’ve never been great at those things. Yes, sort of a horror mix; paranormal, I guess. (NOT paranormal romance, however. Ick.)

    From your post, this quote sums it up for me: “Remove the tripe without editing the life and vibrancy out of it”. Hard, very hard. I think listening to your own feelings about it is good (as another commenter said), but sometimes your ‘feelings’ are really your doubts and they aren’t telling the truth. (I’m speaking from recent experience here…).

    I’m glad you liked the quote. I’ve edited this manuscript about four times. One was mostly lost when my flash drive died and took almost all of my work with it. The next time I did it I cut an 82,000 word document down to 27,000 (or was it 24,000?) words. Too much. No life, no vibrancy left. Now I’m set to begin again, and it looks like I’ll need to start from scratch instead. I want to trust my feelings, as you suggest, but as you have discovered, feelings lie.

    If your readers loved it, then you’ve done really well, and maybe some of those small details don’t matter as much as we’re often encouraged to think they do. I’d be inclined to rate the honest opinions of readers pretty highly, because writers are trained to nitpick in a thousand different ways and we can never agree with each other about what’s important. Readers just want to enjoy the story. And presumably, we’re writing for the readers.

    Not all my readers loved it. I met two very good friends through it, however, and they both appeared to enjoy it tremendously. I’m thinking of converting the raw draft into a print book to send to them as a thank you, and just rewrite the story from here. And you’re absolutely right — we write for the readers, so why worry so much? Trouble is, worry is what I do. 😉

    Short version: maybe it’s not as bad as you think.

    I’d be happy to send you a Kindle-ready version via email if you’d like to help beta the rough (VERY rough!) draft and see what you think.

    PS I-as-a-writer still read your blog, even if I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to comment lately.

    And I owe all my wonderful writer/readers an apology, you among them. That’s coming Monday. Thank you. I understand how busy you are/have been, and I appreciate how lovely your comment is. Thank you, Sweet Charlotte.

    • Much of my earlier reply is a classic case of the hypocrisy of offering opinions, because I spend way too much time on the worryworryworry as well. I suppose it’s the perspective I wish I could make myself take!

      I’m sure you’ll get there! Editing and rewriting isn’t ever as much fun as I’ve heard, and while I normally do enjoy editing my work, this time the rewrites are daunting. And you’re no hypocrite! You offered encouragement and commiseration, which I appreciated!

      Actually I’d love to beta read. My email is chaelenglishATgmailDOTcom

      I’ll send you a PRC copy of the original manuscript at first chance (daughter’s birthday today), but PLEASE be merciful. It is a a largely UNedited rough draft!

  5. I’m much more of a reader than a writer, since right now my only creative outlet is my blog. I’ll say this: I FINALLY got around to downloading A Fine Cast of Characters to my Kindle and I’m really enjoying it. I especially liked the story set on the spooky boat. The pacing on that one was bang on. Just the right balance of false alarms to actual hair-raising threats to make it uber-creepy. Obviously you have the chops!

    *Blush* Oh, Spark, what a sweetheart you are. Thank you so much. If I’d known you were interested I’d have given you a copy. But if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon when you feel able. I’d be so grateful, as if I could surpass the gratitude I feel just knowing you did this. I’m so honored. If you’d like to read the other book, A Moonlit Stroll, just say the word and I’ll send it off to you post-haste. The best thing someone can do is word-of-mouth advertise me tot heir reading friends, so I’m glad to have friends get a review copy with my compliments. 🙂

Hey, what's up? Tell me whatcha think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s