Tag Archives: Writing

Revision: How to get started?

After the wonderful news earlier this week that Perceval’s Secret had won the Silver Medal in the “Thriller/Mystery/Horror” category in Connections eMagazine’s Readers Choice Awards 2018 (thank you, Melanie Smith!), I spent some time publicizing the news, and I continue to tell the world (of course!). It’s the first time Perceval’s Secret has won anything — indeed, the first time I’ve won anything! Another effect of this award: my work on the first revision of the Perceval Shadow first draft has become urgent. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, actually, and working through various issues and scenes in my head. But now it’s time to pull out the manuscript and get cracking.

How do I start the first revision?

First of all, as daunting as it might be, it’s not nearly as scary as the blank page all writers encounter when starting a first draft. When the first draft is done, there’s material to work with, to sculpt, to massage, to add to, and to smooth. I have pulled out the manuscript and my working file, what are the next steps?

Steps for First Revision Work  

Read through: It’s been a while since I’ve lived inside this novel, so my first step is to read through the draft. I had printed out a hard copy before. Now, I’ll curl up with it and my purple pen to read it, write notes on the page or on my handy legal pad, and dream about the scenes and characters.

First Chapter: This chapter will almost always need a lot of work (along with the last two chapters of the book). Writing the first chapter can be a nightmare, challenge, or pure joy, depending upon how it goes. What I’ve learned about my own writing is that the first chapter is the most problematic and scares me even more than the ending. I’ve learned that it’s best to pay close attention to what I’ve written, but to not do too much work with revision until after I’ve been through the rest of the book. There will be threads in later chapters that need or have some connection to the first chapter, and I need to know what they are.

What is the purpose of the first revision? Good question. I approach the revision work as steps toward the summit of completion. Each step has a purpose. What each step’s purpose is can be completely up to the writer. For example, one step could be for scene work. Another step could be for narrative structure and character development. Another step could be for line editing. Another step could be for checking for inconsistencies, e.g. a character’s eyes are blue at the beginning and inexplicably brown in the middle of the story. It is helpful to decide at the beginning of revision work what the purpose of each revision will be, and then focus only on that revision’s specified purpose as the work progresses.

The purpose of the first revision of Perceval’s Shadow is scene work. I need to take care of fleshing out scenes including crucial details, looking at character motivation in each scene, and resolving problems within scenes. I expect this will be slow work, and anyway, it shouldn’t be rushed. Because this novel is part of a series, I also need to make notes about what happens in each chapter and how it might relate to action in subsequent books in the series.

How long does a revision take? Forgive me while I have a good laugh at my own question. I’m not a very patient person, and of course, I want the revision to go really fast so I can get on with the next revision. But then I look up at the neon pink sticky note above my desk on which I’ve written “Pay attention.” This is from Zen Buddhism — the goal of staying in the present moment and paying attention in that moment. It’s amazing what can be observed by being still and paying attention. The same holds true for revision work. In order to pay attention to the words, how they build into the structure of your story and the development of your characters, it’s necessary to go slow and proceed with care.

And now, chapter one, page 1….

Who among my readers here are doing revision work right now on a large piece of writing? Do you have your own steps? What is the most frustrating thing about revision work?

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Mid-Year Writing Update

Last week I was working hard on revisions and used all my weekend time for that kind of writing rather than writing blog posts. This week it’s time to take stock. How’s the writing going this year? Any significant accomplishments?

Non-writing Employment: The first three months of this year, I was working hard on the search for a fulltime job after losing the job in December that I’d landed in April 2017. In March, I accepted a fulltime position with a state health licensing board as their office administrative support. It’s a small office (only three of us) and the work doesn’t follow me home which is wonderful. It’s also far less stressful than the previous job had been. The schedule is not very conducive to writing at the computer during the week but I do an awful lot of writing in my head. Being happier and more relaxed at this job has given me more energy to pour into my writing on the weekends. I may still need to sell some possessions for my financial health which is fine — cleaning out the clutter is always good!

Perceval Novels:
Perceval’s Secret remains on sale (only $2.99!) at Amazon and B&N.com. After running a “Free” promotion last spring and seeing where people went to get their copy of the novel, I removed it from Kobo International. The reviews continue to be good to excellent!  I’d love to hear from readers through reviews at Amazon and B&N, or at Goodreads.

I continue to research and plan promotions for 2018.  I participated in a BookBub promotion also last spring that increased my number of followers there. BookBub also provided a list of those followers from that promotion who are particularly interested in thriller fiction.

As for the other novels in the series, I’m now starting to work on the revision of the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series. This is the year of revision work!  I’m sure that as I work on the revision, I’ll also be writing notes for the other three novels in the series. It always amazes me how my opening one door in my imagination can also open other doors to other projects.

Marketing: As I mentioned above, I ran a “Free” promotion for Perceval’s Secret this past spring.  I learned that most people gravitate to Amazon despite the book also being free at B&N and Kobo. I wrote about the results of this promotion and my response to it here.

I’ve been happy that people at my new job have been interested in my writing. I know of one person who bought Perceval’s Secret and read it. She talked with me about her response to it and I loved hearing from her! I still need to utilize the marketing tools at GoodReads, LinkedIn and Publishers Marketplace.  I continue to promote the novel on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve been writing more posts at the Perceval Novels Facebook page, too.  Please go and like it, and visit often for updates on the novels.

New Novel Project: This project remains on the back burner this year. I still plan to transform my original screenplay, Over the Rainbow, into a novel. I love the story, the main character, and the potential of it, so I hope to be able to work on it soon.

Debt from Publishing Perceval’s Secret as an e-book: I finally finished paying off the credit card debt that I incurred when I published Perceval’s Secret. I still have substantial debt, but it’s not from publishing. I don’t know when I’ll publish the novel as a paperback. It’s still one of those things that I want to do but don’t have yet the money to do.

Short Stories: Lots of success to report here! I finished the revisions of Light the Way.  It is now ready to submit. I spent some time researching possible markets for it, and now I just need to pick one and start the submission process. I also finished the revisions of The Negligee. I’ve decided that this short story falls within the horror genre and I need to research markets for it. I finished the first draft of Aanora and two revisions. Right now, it’s in the hands of a beta reader. I expect that I’ll be doing at least two more revisions before it will be ready for publication.  I’ll be very happy to start getting more of my fiction out in the world.

Blogs: I’ve been participating in a blogfest called #We are the World Blogfest at the Eyes on Life blog (as Gina Hunter) for the past year or so, finding positive stories about humanity and sharing them on the blog. That’s all I’ve been writing at that blog and I’ve lost readership there. So, I will probably end my participation and return to my former commentary format with “The Successful Patient” posts as well as the current events and society commentary. I’ve been struggling with time — having the time to work on my fiction — and blog writing has taken more of a back seat to the fiction writing this year. I still continue to write posts here at Anatomy of Perceval on Saturdays.

Essays/Paid Gigs: I’m only now beginning to figure out if I have the time to do some of these personal essays for ClassicalMPR or other online sites. So far this year, I haven’t had the time.

Journal Writing: I’d hoped to establish a regular habit of journal writing every Sunday, but have failed miserably at this.

The Successful Patient Memoir:
Nothing has changed on this project — still on the back burner.

Reading: My daily conmute during the work week gives me lots of time for reading and I’ve been enjoying that aspect of being back to fulltime employment. I shall exceed my 2018 Reading Challenge at GoodReads. Reading is such an essential part of being a writer, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful and provocative books so far this year. You can check out my reviews of them on GoodReads, and give me a holler while you’re there!

I’m really looking forward to submitting the two short stories and the Aanora novella, and spending the rest of the year on Perceval’s Shadow!

Have You Ever Made Yourself Cry?

After spending all of July 4th working on the first revision of the Aanora story, I wasn’t certain when I’d get that much time again to work on it. I completed over half, exceeding my goal by 18 pages. So it was a good day’s work. Then, as it worked out last weekend, I ended up having all of Sunday afternoon to devote to writing instead of the piecemeal work I usually do on weekends. So I decided to finish the first revision of the Aanora story. And I did.

And I made myself cry.

A complete surprise! As I came to the end of the novella, immersed in that world and the characters, what I’d written made me incredibly sad. I hadn’t thought of it as a sad ending, actually, which is the reason for my surprise. I didn’t think the ending had any kind of emotional punch. It was the ending of that story. Period. But as I was reading that last scene, I started crying, sad for the characters who were saying good-bye. I wasn’t sad that I’d finished the story because I still have work to do on it. I wasn’t sad that I’d never see the characters again because I will.

Now I’m really interested to know how other people will react to the ending, and it will be something I will ask my beta readers. Is it a sad ending?

I’ve wondered also if it’s truly a good thing when something I’ve written affects me emotionally. Is it a good thing when the writing makes the writer laugh? Or cry? Or angry? If it’s someone else’s writing, that’s different. But what about my own writing? If my writing triggers an emotional response in me, does that mean it will trigger an emotional response in readers?

Some time ago, I remember vaguely reading something on the internet somewhere, perhaps a blog post or maybe it was a craft article in a writing magazine, that if a writer’s own words can make herself respond emotionally, especially when the writer knows the characters and story inside and out, it’s a particularly good sign that it will emotionally move readers. What immediately pops into my mind is the opening of the movie Romancing the Stone when Kathleen Turner’s romance novelist character finishes writing a novel in tears. (As a writer, I always wondered which draft she was finishing.) Will it really?

When I finished the first draft, I didn’t cry. I was kind of relieved. I’d finished it. I had already begun to think of the stories that the novella had suggested to me, mulling over when to write them or not, and which one to write first. Then I turned to the two short stories I was also working on. Then I also had a brief period of frustration about working on everything else but not Perceval’s Shadow. It was imperative to leave the Aanora story for a while to ferment. It fermented for 6 weeks during which I rarely gave it a thought. Coming back to it for the first revision felt extremely good, and I was excited to have a whole day to start the work. So my emotional state was not anywhere near where I ended up when I finished the first revision.

Where is Aanora now? I’ve put it away again to ferment some more. I wonder if the ending will make me cry again when I do the second revision?

A Powerful Emotional Combination

Yesterday morning, while at work, I was listening to my local public radio station and a program interviewing the two singer/actors who are playing Tony and Maria in the Guthrie Theater’s production of West Side Story. The movie of this musical is my all-time favorite movie musical but I’ve never seen it produced on stage, so I’m looking forward to attending a performance of it at the Guthrie. As part of the program, the two singers each sang one song alone, then one together. At the first notes of the first song, “Maria,” I was crying.

Maria, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

I knew why. It’s not only the words of the song, but the music. It was Leonard Bernstein’s genius the way he fused music to the words in the songs of West Side Story. After years of listening to this music, I also think the music itself tells the story of Tony and Maria, their tragic love, as well as the tragedy of New York’s West Side in the 1950’s. This musical, though, is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in a different time, place, and with two families played by two New York City street gangs. I saw a production of Shakespeare’s play at the Guthrie last fall, and despite the tragic story, it didn’t elicit the same powerful emotional response from me as West Side Story does. What little music there is in the Shakespeare, often at the director’s discretion, usually has little to do with the emotional themes of the play.

Composers and writers have known for centuries the power of words set to music. Does that same power exist when words describe or evoke music? I’ve been thinking about this question this week because I’m reading a mystery novel about musicians, music, and murder. I’ve also been writing, with the Perceval series, novels set in the music world in which music plays a role in terms of setting, characterization, and subtext. So, reading Gerald Elias’ mystery Death and the Maiden this week has me thinking about words and music in a different way.

The title of Elias’ mystery is also the title of an extremely famous string quartet by Franz Schubert, which he based on a song he’d composed using the poem “Der Tod und das Maedchen” by Matthias Claudius. The poem is an exchange between Death and a young woman as Death tries to win the young woman’s trust and life. So, as I’ve been reading Elias’ mystery, I’ve had the subtext of the song as well as the string quartet in my mind. However, I’m not as familiar with this string quartet as I am with other chamber music, so I’ve bookmarked a lovely performance of it at YouTube for my own reference. Elias does a good job of describing the music as well as its challenges for the musicians playing it, and using language that is encouraging to the reader to seek out the music and listen to it. I highly recommend listening to it, focused only on the music and nothing else, with eyes closed.  The second movement is the “Death and the Maiden” theme and variations.

Elias uses the interpersonal and musical dynamics of playing in a string quartet as the core of his mystery. Each musician has his or her own perspective on the music, and in a quartet, the four perspectives are melded to form the whole in performance. When there’s conflict about the music, or among the lives, the music can reflect that, often with great intensity.

Looking at Elias’ mystery novel as well as my own Perceval series, I’ve realized that I am using music in my writing to illuminate character as well as making it Evan Quinn’s profession. The emotional connection is more between Evan and the music, not between a reader and the music. So writing about music is one degree removed from words set to music. It would be different if the music I mention in the novels could be playing at the same time of the reading. Elias uses the music to educate about music, music history, and music performance. In Death and the Maiden, he also adds the dimension of the string quartet and its unique performance experience. I’ve enjoyed Elias’ mystery novels, his curmudgeon protagonist, Daniel Jacobus, and the different perspectives on the classical music world that he brings to each book. If you know nothing about classical music, you can still enjoy the stories as murder mysteries, and Jacobus as a unique, entertaining character.

I Need to Write Fiction Today

Photo: Margi Nutmeg Lake

Saturdays tend to be so crammed full of house chores, business chores, online chores, that my fiction gets relegated to the end of the day. Well, it’s happened again today and I’m a little annoyed with myself about it. So, this week, I am doing a brief blog post then moving on to work on a short story that screams for my attention for revision work.

Still a Finalist!

Perceval’s Secret has been nominated and is a finalist for the Reader’s Choice Award presented by Connections E-magazine. if you haven’t yet visited the site to vote — yes, it’s a reader’s choice, dear readers, so your vote counts — click on over and give it a vote!

I finished a story!

Yes, indeed. Last weekend, I listened to the satisfied and settled feeling in my physical body as I put the last polishing on the sci fi short story Light the Way. My next task is to find a home for it so everyone can read it.

My Independence Day

I have blocked out July 4 to begin work on the revisions of the Aanora novella. I am so excited. But it’s also another reason I’ve had so much to do this weekend that’s not writing related. My original plan was to have finished the first revision of the Aanora novella by the end of June — obviously I’m way behind with that. The revised plan: finish the first revision by the end of July.

Perceval’s Shadow

The second novel in the Perceval series has also been battering around in my brain and my imagination has been begging to come out to play with it. I realized a week ago, just after finishing Light the Way that I finished the first draft of  Perceval’s Shadow about 10 years ago this summer. I don’t remember exactly when that summer. I have gotten it out at different times over that long period to work on it, read through it and make notes, and do some additional research. But now I’m feeling really ready to finally jump into its deep end and get it done. I expect then that next year the task will be to finish the first draft of Perceval in Love, the third novel in the series of five novels.

And now, folks, on to writing fiction!