Did I mention I need to work on my storytelling?
This week, for the first time since surgery, I had the chance to meet with my CPs again. I was both excited and overwhelmed by our session; as usual, I drew much-needed energy from our conversation, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m facing an insurmountable task. Why? Because, dear readers, they read a draft of the whole novel. If you’re a writer and you don’t think that’s a scary idea, then you’re made of sterner stuff than I.
Realistically, they were quite gentle with me. I knew going into the exercise that the manuscript was deeply flawed in some respects. After all, that’s the point of having CPs—to show you where the shortcomings of your work are, and offer potential solutions. So the fact that they didn’t immediately hate the core ideas of the story was, in and of itself, a win.
But there’s still a helluva lot of work to be done. The beginning is way too slow. The ending is way too fast. Too much exposition (nice stuff, but it doesn’t draw the reader into the story). Not enough tension (one enticing plot thread is barely explored). In other words, it’s still a hot mess.
I went into our meeting knowing that (1) this is where my Round Two major rewrite would come in, (2) there were plotting and pacing problems with at least the last several chapters, and (3) I haven’t yet got a good grip on storytelling. Even when prepared, though, having so many flaws pointed out to you in gory detail is ego-bruising, at best. (At worst, it makes you—or at least me—want to bury the files somewhere deep on the hard drive, to be lost in the mists of time.)
It doesn’t matter how accurate or insightful or useful the feedback, when you’ve put so much of yourself into a piece, hearing that it needs changes—many, extensive changes, at that—can feel like someone just sliced you open from navel to throat. Perhaps I’m being overdramatic (it wouldn’t be the first time a writer had done that), but I’ve never been one of those people who can easily separate herself from her work.
All of this adds to my general ennui regarding my writing. Aside from being the latest installment in a series of “let’s keep that ego in check!” events, it’s thrown a wrench into my longer-term plans. There is so much to do to get this novel’s quality raised even as far as “un-awful” that I’m not going to have time for anything else for the foreseeable future. I’d hoped to use the next two months to plot out its sequel, since”pants-ing” my way through clearly hasn’t worked very well. Instead, it looks like I’ll be skipping NaNoWriMo this year.
Now to perform some First Aid on my ego and get back to Round Two…
Wow. As they say in Japanese, おひさしぶりですね (ohisashiburi desu, ne). In other words, it’s been quite a while since I last posted.
Sadly, much of it is because I still get tired really easily, and sitting for long periods (more than an hour or so) makes my back ache. That’s not really conducive to the writing process, especially when I still have squirts at home on summer break from school to interrupt what time I do manage in front of my keyboard. (That, and the Internet, but shut up.)
Yesterday, more than two weeks after I last engaged with my dryads, I sat down to look over my three-part short story. The first two parts were created as “prequels” to the novel—a way to explore important aspects of the dryad culture I was trying to build before I needed to use them in my main story. The third came from a later idea, but together I think they explain a great deal about these particular characters.
I’ve had hopes of submitting this story to various magazines for possible publication (after all, it’s about time I start racking up rejections). So when I sat down with this draft again, it was for my next round of polishing. The big new twist for me, though, is that for the first time, I’ve had a professional editor evaluate my work, and give me her recommendations for improvement.
Let me just get this out of my system: I ♥ my editor.
Now there’s no denying I’m a n00b at this whole fiction scene, and at writing for publication in general. It seems to me, though, that one of the most important professional relationships a writer can foster is with their editor. If you don’t find someone who “gets” your work, and can find a way to pull your best out of you—improve what you’ve done, point out repetitive or erroneous tendencies, stretch your potential—then you’re not going to grow as a writer, or even get very far with any single piece of work.
That’s why I’m so thrilled I’ve found my editor. My Editor. I feel like she deserves capitalization, at least. I love her insights into clearer phrasing, better metaphor, stronger story—all while preserving my tender little artist’s ego (and I’ll readily admit how thin-skinned I am about these things). Yet she also doesn’t pull her punches.
She was straight up with me, letting me know that as it stands, this story probably doesn’t have a place in the current market. It’s too… nice. There’s lots of worldbuilding, and atmosphere, and character and such, but there’s no peril. No drama. No tension. If I actually want to draw a reader in, I need to make them anxious enough to learn the outcome of some particular conflict that they keep reading. That’s basic stuff, but I wasn’t doing it here.
On the one hand, it’s disappointing news; I’d wanted to submit, and get this story published. On the other, I may be okay with it; my original purpose was to get my own head around the particulars of certain life-changing moments for dryads in the world I was creating, and I’ve done that. Maybe I don’t need to put that out where the rest of the world can see it, especially if it’s not gripping.
Whatever direction I end up taking the story—rewriting it to add that key tension, or just polishing it to the best prose it can be as-is—my Editor has taught me some important things about myself. Foremost, I think, is the following:
- I’m already quite a good writer.
- I am not yet a very good storyteller.
That’s a pretty vital distinction, and one I’m glad to have learned. After all, the first step to solving any problem is identifying it. So next up: tackle that storytelling thing!
I’m feeling very out-of-the-loop. I haven’t visited my dryads in nearly a week, thanks to surgery and recovery, and it’s really strange. Even without my physical limitations, though, I’d reached a bit of a natural lull.
You see, I’m waiting to hear back both from my editor on the short story I’ve sent to her for review (with the goal of submitting it several places, one of which will hopefully publish it) and from my CPs on a complete (though not polished) draft of the novel. On the one hand, it’s great to feel like I’ve got some things off my plate—”woo hoo! mini vacation!”—but on the other, I’m at loose ends. It’s like I’m going through Dryad Withdrawal or something.
Obviously, the most straightforward solution is to move ahead with the next project. I’ve got a second novel (and eventually many more) planned; I should take this opportunity to begin outlining the plot. Since I plan to take advantage of the pre-existing motivational structure of NaNoWriMo to power me through the rough draft here in a couple of months, having the important details sketched out in advance should help me make less of a hash of that initial draft than I did out of the current one.
Welcome back to Square One, where I have limited mobility/access to a useful computer for the next N days. Convalescence is a tricksy bugger, and I’m having a hard time predicting just when and for how long each day I’ll be able to be upright—that is, what kind of time I’ll have to commit to such brainstorming. So far, those moments have been brief and infrequent, and dominated by such daily minutiae as eating.
I can see Square Two on the horizon, though. It looks like several hours restlessly awake in bed, too much an invalid to sit for long at my computer, but too bushy-tailed just to stare unthinkingly into space. Maybe those pending hours will be the ones I can bend to the task of letting my mind wander the paths of Mabel’s next adventure.
And hey—at least I’ve got a voice recorder.
Fighting with this latest short story has been good for me in several ways. First, it’s just plain good practice to keep writing until you get something you can use. But it’s also become a possible springboard for something more.
In the world I’ve created—seen not only in my short stories, but also in the novel I’m writing and its eventual sequels—I have a supernatural symbiont that is passed down matrilineally. Therefore, I’ve taken great pains to figure out exactly what that line is, for six generations. The trouble, though, is that somehow the paternal branches have fallen completely off the tree.
So far, the only male character in my fictional genealogy chart is the (plotwise) future love interest for my main protagonist. That leaves out her father, grandfather, and two further generations of patriarchs whose very existence is hinted at only through the fact that their offspring exist. If nothing else, this seems like an oversight because I’ve left her relationship with the men in her life utterly undefined.
Until now. This short story has been kicking my butt for the last few days—particularly the ending, which just wouldn’t cooperate—but while massaging one portion of it, I’ve discovered the barest nugget of a male character. I finally met her father.
Now I won’t lie; he’s still drastically underdeveloped. Heck, he doesn’t even have a name yet. But at long last I have an inkling of who he is, what he’s like, what drives him—and how his relationship to my protagonist has shaped her. That’s big! Not because I need him specifically—in fact, I’m pretty sure this first novel does just fine without so much as a whisper of him—but because it makes her richer in the long run.
Besides, it’s given me some ideas for Book Two. They might even be somewhat useful ones. I’d better go write them down before I forget.
Last time I talked about how the cover art I want to use for my novel is keeping me from leaping wholeheartedly into shopping it around once it’s done. Today I’m fighting different demons.
I’ve got a couple of short stories written (or at least drafted) about what it’s like to be a dryad in the world I’m building. I even quite like them. Before the demons popped up uninvited, I’d been thinking maybe it would be a good idea to try submitting a short story or two to some reputable sff magazines, just to test the waters. It would be good for me to start getting my work out there, get used to rejection, and maybe even get a little feedback. And, on the super-outside chance someone actually published me, it would look great on my artist’s résumé!
Then the latest demons materialized to torment me.
“Of course you like them; you wrote them!”
“You realize, of course, that compared to a real author’s work, your stories are complete crap, right?”
“No one is ever going to publish that schlock, so why are you even trying?”
~sigh~ Frankly, I’m tired of these little shits. I’ve had to listen to them for years; they convinced me not to bother even trying to write fiction for longer than I care to consider.
Eventually I found a way to sneak past them for my non-fiction work, and started blogging about my thoughts on my favorite TV show. I told them, “I’m not doing it for an audience; I’m just writing for me.” That seemed to work, and—miracle of miracles—a small but loyal audience eventually followed. So I kept writing. And kept considering dabbling in fiction.
Ultimately, the urge became too strong to ignore; I had to make an attempt at this novel. That’s when I found a magic spell to get them to shut up for a whole month, while I pounded out a really horrible rough draft. “That’s awful!” they’d shriek. “I know! Isn’t it glorious?” I’d reply with a grin.
It felt like a victory—and in its way, it was. I got past that first barrier and got something on the page. But there’s only so long one can afford the luxury of sucking, at least for any given piece of work. If you really want to write something that other people will read willingly, eventually you have to make it good.
So now I’m back to Square One, where the demons’ taunts are loudest, their slings and arrows sharpest. Deep down, I think I’ve got something worthwhile to share in these stories. Now it’s a matter of finding their True Natures beneath the labored words and banishing the cunning demons that so long obscured said truth behind a curtain of self-doubt.
Let’s see what I can find in my spellbook this time.
I’ve been a fantasy fan effectively for my whole life. When I finally gave in to the urge to write a novel of my own, then, it was only natural I’d choose the genre I’d read almost exclusively for decades. Nobody told me how much harder it would be than I even imagined.
Why is it hard? One word: worldbuilding.
I actually took it pretty easy on myself. My protagonist is a young woman like me (okay—maybe 10-15 years my junior), who grew up in roughly the same area of the US I did, and the story is set in a place I’ve visited myself. Further, my fantasy world is a “near Earth”—it’s almost our world, but there’s magic, and supernatural creatures.
So I don’t have to worry about creating a new landscape, a new sociopolitical structure, or an entirely new language/way of using language. That is, I only have to sprinkle in pieces that relate to the particular new elements my protagonist encounters as she comes to grips with having suddenly become a supernatural herself (a dryad, in this case).
I wrote my (extremely) rough draft using the “pantser” method (a la NaNoWriMo—plotting “by the seat of my pants”); I had an idea where it began and where it ended, and a couple of the situations/obstacles she would encounter along the way, but precious little else. Knowing there were a couple of key points in a dryad’s development that would come into the story, though twisted from the “normal” way those play out, I decided I needed first to figure out what said “normal development” was. I thus set myself the task of writing a couple of short stories (one of which you can read here on the blog) as worldbuilding exercises.
As a start, that was great. I like how the stories turned out, and they give me a better sense of how dryad culture in my world generally works. It was an excellent springboard for the climactic scene of the novel (which may or may not be recognizable as the same entity by the time I’m done). However, the further into the novel my CPs get, the more I realize I’m nowhere near done on the worldbuilding front.
“Tell me more about X!”
“I want more Y.”
“This is okay, as long as we find out more about Z as the story goes.“
Oops. You mean the six-generation matrilineal genealogy I devised for her wasn’t sufficient preparation? I need to be able to describe what a dryad does in her day-to-day life, not just at those critical moments? This vague idea I mentioned in passing needs to be fleshed out?
Guess I’d better come up with some details on X, Y, and Z—and PDQ!
With the launch of this blog, I am taking my first steps into the wider world in my persona as an “author.” It was probably about a year ago now that I finally made the decision to try my hand at fiction for real. I’d had some ideas knocking around my head for seven or eight years or so—maybe longer—but I’d never gotten up the nerve to try putting anything on the page.
All that changed last fall. In October I really started working on world building, and in November, I spewed my first ugly attempt at a novel into a Word document. For months after, I felt lost and out of sorts. I knew there was a kernel of something interesting there, and I could make it good, if I only knew how. Through a multitude of intermediate steps, I eventually found myself some kick-ass critique partners.
Now my CPs and I are helping each other make our work better, and I have real hope that my first novel, the story of a young woman coping with an unexpected supernatural inheritance from her grandmother, titled Dryad Down Under, will eventually be fit to share. I plan to self-publish, because I’ve commissioned a piece of cover art I adore and I want to be able to use it. (Also, who knows if a reputable publisher would ever buy it.)
So here I am. I hope some day to share what I’ve written, and that you will come to love my characters and settings as much as I do. Hello, world; I’m Rachelle. I’m a writer. May I tell you a story?