Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Musings: Grappling With Spring Clean Up

Spring brings storms. Lots of storms as the ground prepares for the growing season. Aside from the storms, spring brings lots of extra work. We have weeding and preparing those garden beds for planting, cleaning up the debris of winter rains or snow, and working on the outside buildings and the house itself. Finally, we see the yard clean and looking good. Granted it’s still bare bones but it’s ready for the next step, beautifying it.

The work we did in the past, the planting and pruning, is now showing evidence of growth. Shoots from the bulbs we planted are pushing through the dirt. We can almost see what everything will look like when it’s done. We’re not done but we’re on the way. Now comes the mulching, trimming, and weeding.

Isn’t that just like our writing? The initial work is showing promise but there is still much clean up we have to do. Trimming, weeding, fertilizing, and mulching. Not always the fun part but necessary if we want it to match our vision.

I've been writing this winter plus I’ve pulled out some of my older manuscripts and I’m analyzing them. Some are good stories and have good bones but the execution is poor. Editing, pruning and weeding, is necessary. Some are close to the query stage and actually I’ve had some good feedback on them.

Now it’s a matter asking myself questions. Am I telling the reader the story, or are am I putting them on the spot to feel and see things unfold. I learned quite a bit by some of my recent 5 star reading.

  • The Second Duchess puts me in Barbara’s mind and environment so I trying to answer the same questions she is. I had no warning that a certain dish would kill a character close to Barbara, but I was there and felt the shock when it happened. My mind was reviewing who would or could have done it and why.

  • The Dawn Country puts me in each scene and again I’m there on location as the story unfolds. I’m running with Koracoo and Gondo. I see by their actions they’re terrified as to whether they will be too late and the actions of their guilt for being unable to protect their children. I watch in horror with the kids as their captor orders the death of a twelve-year-old child.

  • Rock Hard doesn’t tell me Sed is a controlling man, the author shows me and allows me to see and draw my own conclusions. Ditto with the fact Sed has a heart of gold. I’m in the scene so I’m seeing him pull on the SOB persona to protect his heart. Jessica demonstrates by actions her distrust of Sed and his motives and her own.

Each of these authors has a different writing style and choose different words and phrases to place me there, but all three are highly skilled at showing me the inner character by their actions and connecting me emotionally to the characters. None of the three bog me down in info dumps, their characters are distinct, and everything done moves the story to the next level without losing the momentum or the richness of the setting. To me, that ability is a five star read, or like a friend mine who is also a contest judge, says; that’s a winner.

I want to be a winner too. That means I have to look hard at what I’ve written. I have to step back and not be emotionally attached to what I’ve written. As with my garden, if it’s meant to be for lilies then the daisies, as pretty as they are, don't belong there. I can move them to a place it fits better. So it means being able to analyze the theme of each flowerbed or, in this case, chapter, and pulling out what doesn’t belong or detracts from the theme I’ve developed.

So, I’m grappling with manuscript clean up and questions:

  • Am I starting the story in the right place? How do I know? Do I have a hook that draws the reader forward? Do I have a hook at the end of the chapter to make the reader feel they just can’t stop here they have to see what happens?
  • Is having your character reflecting on something that happened an info dump? Could I show that worry in a better way? Like my friend said, a well thought out sentence can signal the problem better and give the necessary clue to the reader there is problem without a page or so of reflection.

  • The contest judge says, “Goals, motivations, and conflicts are laid out in the first 7000 words, without TELLING and without infodump/backstory. They are simply integral to the character descriptions.” Have I done that?

  • “Each of the characters has a unique voice, that's conveyed mostly through subtle turns of phrase, word order…” Do mine? Or is the reader lost without tags?

  • What the heck is an inciting incident and how do I know if mine is a valid one?

Ah, spring brings a lot of work, both with my gardens and with my writing.

What are you grabbling with? If you participated in Nano, as I did, what are you doing with your Nano entry?

Up coming guests, Stacy Netzel, Linda Wisdom, and Olivia Cunning and her Sinners


Jo said...

I must admit, I am very glad we live in an apartment these days when I read things like this. After reading so many author's comments I couldn't go through the hard work and angst to produce a book. Much to difficult thank you. I'm glad other people do though.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Me, too, JO. I love to read. Hope Spring is preparing to spring in your area soon.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia .. Spring is quite clever .. she gives us more to do, while giving us longer days to do it in ..

Clearing and sorting give us clean slates .. or cleaner ones?! Love the gardens ..

Cheers Hilary

Tonya Kappes said...

What a beautiful analogy, Sia. I decided a couple months ago to take a manuscript I had years ago and take the plot, but change all the names, places etc...Since I've redone it, and with all the "stuff" I've learned in the past few years, the story is much better and so is the writing. Good luck!

Mason Canyon said...

The stories that can place the reader there with the characters is the best. Those are the kinds of books you had to put down and when you finish the book, you can't wait for next. The fact that that's the type book you enjoy reading and you know what needs to be done, I'm sure your story will flow like that. You will have your reader feeling as though they are a part of the story.

BTW, so glad spring is finally here. :)

Thoughts in Progress

Anonymous said...

Sia, spring cleanup is an apt metaphor for the part of the writing process where the writer edits, prunes and tries to make the story flow better. It's necessary work to help better engage the reader.