Header Image - Getting the words out by any means possible.

Closer. Warmer.

by Jonathan 9 Comments

These boots were made for revision.

Draft #3 is in the books. Now all I have to do is print the sucker out. It’s a little on the heavy side, weighing in at just under 130k words (520 pp. give or take). I’m sure that’ll shrink as I get into edits.

The good news is that it’s finally approaching a story that I find interesting. The bad news is that it’s taken me three full drafts (about 400k words) to get here. You can bet your ass that I’ll be outlining the hell out of the next novel.

After a read-through from my lovely wife and a bit of polishing, I’ll send this sucker out to beta readers and see what rolls in. Should be exciting/daunting/humiliating/illuminating.

When the feedback comes in, I’ll put on my good revising shoes, roll up my sleeves and get to work. For the time being, I’m off to work on some more short fiction, reading some Mervyn Peake and maybe begin outlining novel #2.

Layers and Texture – Revising Your Writing

by Jonathan 5 Comments

Hidden portrait is seen under the Vincent van Gogh painting ''Patch of Grass'' from 1887

Check out the cool Van Gogh picture to the left. Using high intensity X-Rays, Scientists discovered the face over which Van Gogh painted Patch of Grass. Cool. Even cooler is, unlike scientists at Delft University, you’re the one adding the layers and your readers get to uncover them.

I’m a little over a third of the way through the second draft of my novel and it reminds me of  creating amazing textures in Photoshop. Like Photoshop, the writer begins with pretty ordinary stuff: A story, some words, some images floating around our imagination. By themselves they don’t amount to much. Heck, even your story is a collection of bits of stories that have already been told.

Good thing it’s the telling that sets your story apart.

My first draft, which I recounted here, left much to be desired. Through the first third of my second draft, I am focusing on getting the story down – tighter story arc, fewer characters, plausible motivations. I’m looking to write something that I can build on during my next round of revisions. And you can be sure there will be more revision.

So far, I’m please with the results. As I write, I’m conscious that my prose is pretty bare at this point, but that’s okay because I’ll be teasing out the tone and moods I want to create, as well as character story arcs and the characters themselves. Carol Benedict over at The Writing Place blog offers this perspective on using revisions to add layers to your story:

Adding layers to the basic story serves several purposes:

1.  Characters can be fleshed out so they become more realistic.

2.  Foreshadowing can be inserted to give the reader clues about what lies ahead, so when events occur they make sense and seem believable.

3.  Relationships can be strengthened or clarified so they are easier to understand.

4.  Descriptions and sensory details can be expanded to make the setting more authentic.

5.  Word choices can be refined to elicit the desired tone, and make the dialog more realistic.

Having a solid foundation to build upon is crucial, but adding in layers of subplots, exposition, and specific details can transform a basic plot into a complex, unique story.

The endgame is to provide a richness to my writing that not only compels the reader to turn the pages, but also resonates with said reader after the book has been put back on the shelf – or better yet – passed along to the reader’s friend with whom they want to share the experience.

Part of the effect of layering can result in what Donald Maas calls bigness over at Writer Unboxed. As he puts it at the end of the post:

Crafting a big novel is a big commitment. But then, who wants to write small?

First Draft is a Snot Rocket.

Snot Rocket

The devil is in the nostrils. Art by Cliff Rickard

Knowing what I know now, I’ll be happy to blow out a disjointed, gangly mongrel of a first draft in the future if only to clear my mental sinuses. I mean, if that’s what it takes to get a tighter second draft that I might actually enjoy reading, then sign me up.

Lemme ‘splain:

The words are coming on the second draft of my first novel, Shadow of the Black City, and they’re not all bad. I’m almost to the quarter mile post on a mile-long track (I’ve got a new writing progress bar on this blog that motivates me even more to see it fill up). I’ve more or less discarded the first draft without even finishing reading it and am rewriting the second draft. This time around, I’ve done more planning and have a better idea of how I want the story to go.

If I had known it would be that way from the start I don’t think I would have forged ahead. The one piece of advice I read on blogs and in books was to write. Period. Get the first draft out and work from there. It turned out to be very true, but not in the way I thought. As I wrote my first draft, I thought I’d have this ugly duckling that would need lots of TLC and nurturing. Instead I got an unlikeable creature that I smothered and buried in a dark corner of the yard.

Once I stopped rationalizing why I should love my first draft, I began thinking about the story in earnest. I really wanted my story to be pretty good from the get go, but my vanity, pride, desire to not shame my family, whatever it is, dictated that I own up to the tripe I created and learn from it so that I didn’t recreate it the second time around. Now, I’m using first draft more of a means of determining what I didn’t want in the story, how I didn’t want the story structured and how I didn’t want to the characters to act.

Here’s a bit:

Men and women lay everywhere — as if an army of ancients had stood against the Djinn and, seeing their doom, laid down and died. The Bedu mages had drawn their energy from the lives of their own soldiers to send the spirits of air and fire back beneath the Jashem. They burned through lives yet unspent, aging soldiers where they stood. They bled the land as well, bleaching sand, stone and dust, leaving only dried, brittle skeletons of grass and plants and shrubs and trees — as if Hazriyah herself salted the earth, forever damning the valley to desolation.

Shadow of the Black City Blurb v.2

Nomad Khyrg al Wahid witnesses an airship crash in his arid highland home known as the Jashem. Two survivors emerge from the wreckage: an ethnographer and his assistant from Bogozechi, a dark industrial city rife with intrigue. Khyrg’s clan rival, Anwar ibn Masaud, having also followed the crash, arrives at the crash site moments later and demands the traditional punishment for trespassing in clan territory – execution. Khyrg is torn between his people’s ancient code and the compassion in his heart. Anwar forces his hand and attacks. Khyrg deals Anwar a mortal blow and flees with the Bogozechians to a defunct rail yard where he uses forbidden magic to coax an old engine to life. As they steam into the heart of the Jashem and beyond, Khyrg learns the true nature of his companions’ expedition. Too late he realizes his choice has placed him between the anvil of the Bedu – the people of his heart – and the hammer of Bogozechi’s grasping Magnate Lords.

The Revisionatrix is a Cruel (and Cool) Mistress.

by Jonathan 7 Comments
Richard Rush's Dominatrix 6x6

The Revisionatrix messes with your vision and your mind.

I didn’t know what to expect when I began revising the first draft of my first novel, Shadow of the Black City. Right now, I feel like I’ve got even more questions than when I began. Sweet.

Truth is, it’s not all bad news. Sure there are page long deletions (alright, pages upon pages, but still) and a general wandering of the plot and awful writing (kind of like being trussed up like a slave – not that I’ve ever been, of course). However, with the Revisionatrix looking on with all her imperious malice, I’ve got my big picture editing machete and am hacking away furiously, methodically.

As the detritus falls away, and the clichés with it, something lean is emerging, something with form. As I think more about the structure of the story, other things materialize that can add muscle. That thrills me. I don’t let you-know-who know that.

I’m still a long way away, but I hope to have a yearling after this round, as opposed to the fawn that just learned to walk minutes ago. I hope to stop comparing my novel to deer.

I have to say, it has been easier to remove chunks of story, characters — pretty much anything — than I thought. I imagine each subsequent revision and rewrite will be a more difficult challenge than the previous and the Revisionatrix will ratchet things up a notch. And that’s cool. Each revision provides an opportunity to explore more and find the depth I enjoy so much in books that resonate with me.

So if you find yourself with a platform pump on your neck or the lash upon your back, take time to derive joy from the Revisionatrix and keep her stiletto heel out of your eye. And do try to keep the smile you feel inside from creeping across your face. The Revisionatrix will not like that at all.