Monthly Archives: January 2015

Three Dirty Birds on The First Read-Through


We’re over at Ana’s blog, talking about what we do after we’ve finished our first draft, and what James Scott Bell recommends.

Tuesday Tickle: Kev ‘n Mo

Kev pulled into the parking lot and held his breath as he hunted a decent parking spot. The best ones were right at the end of the building where the back doors were, or on the edge, in the shade of the trees that dotted the campus.

Score! He tucked his seven-year-old Mazda into the rim of shade thrown by a big horse chestnut between Badlam Hall and Truford Residence. He glanced up at Badlam’s brick and steel facade, and couldn’t help a silent wish that he’d be assigned as Residence Assistant somewhere else this year. If he was going to get the marks he needed in order to get into the Fourth Year Honors, he couldn’t be dealing with the crap that went on in there. One year in ‘Bedlam’ was enough.

Andrews would be wonderful. Small, mostly older students who had their eye on a Master’s degree, just like him. He should be so lucky. Kev crossed his fingers, then uncrossed them because that was a silly childhood superstition that didn’t change anything. But, as he shouldered his backpack and locked the car, he self-consciously crossed them again, just in case.

I can hear Ana’s dun dun dun! already…

Three Dirty Birds Before You Revise


Three Dirty Birds are chirping about what you should do before you revise your book, and what James Scott Bell thinks you should do.

Zoe: First I want to say that I did some of the exercises in the Theme chapter last Sunday, and ohmygod. What a help! It led to me rewriting the current WIP in a different POV, and totally unlocked it. I’m so happy.

Kate: So that’s where you disappeared to this week. I was wondering…

I liked this chapter, mostly because it validated my own workflow, and I always like that. 🙂 I like to edit the last couple of pages from yesterday in order to get back in the mindset of writing, and remind myself of the details of the story.

Zoe: I’m usually a first-draft-fast person, but I’ve changed it up with the current WIP because I love the rewriting process, and the first-drafting process is fraught with frustration and anxiety for me, so this time I’m doing a lot of revising as I write, bopping back and forth between new and old. It’s been enjoyable, and if it takes two months instead of one to finish the draft, it’s not really a problem because the time will come off the other end of the process, when I do fewer revision drafts.

Kate: I’m more like the Susan Meissner quote he included in this chapter–I’m constantly revising, so that by the end, when I have my finished product, it really is finished. It’s not really a first draft, because some of those sections have been gone over 20 times.

Ana: I’m… all over the place. I often have to do major rewrites once I’m done with the first draft, but with the last story that wasn’t necessary as I revised it as I wrote it, kind of like what’s Kate is doing. Heaven only knows how the next ms will go…

Zoe: The only thing I get concerned about with the revising-as-I-write thing is that I go over the first part of the book a bazillion more times than I go over the last part of the book, just because the first part is around longer. It gets peeked-back-at way more.

Ana: Which is probably why I currently itch to rewrite my ending….

Kate: That is a concern. Where I move around within the storyline, writing beginnings, then ends, then chunks of middle, I get parts all around the book that get combed through a lot more, then parts in between that probably get only five passes or so. It does worry me that there are uneven sections, and I try to go back to those spots a bit more as I finish up, but it doesn’t always make a difference. I think, because those tend to be ‘connecting’ sections, in between the ‘tent-pole’ sections. I’d like to think it’s not so big a deal, but the back of my brain says, “No.”

Zoe: In the 20,000-word step-back section, he talks about a book he was working on where “the feeling that I hadn’t quite connected with the book persisted,” and I have a sticky note there that says “Oh God I know that feeling.”

Ana: Hah, yeah, me too. I thought that was an interesting idea though, the 20k step thing. I’m not actively writing a novel, but revising one. I got about 23-25k into it this week, so yesterday was my day off, and today I’ll be going over that section again. Probably after doing some writing exercises from the deepening chapter.

Zoe: (I really liked the Deepening chapter. Looking forward to talking about it when we get to it.)

Ana: He talks about using the Word comments feature. I don’t write in Word, but I love the little window-thingy at the left hand side in Scrivener where I can scribble document notes.

Kate: I never noticed that before! Woohoo! New toy!

Zoe: I love that too. When I actually use Scrivener. It’s so handy. I always forget how to get to the overall document notes area vs. the current-chapter/scene document notes area.

Ana: I think you click the headline where it says document notes and you can switch to project notes? Not sure if it’s the same in Scrivener for Mac.

Zoe: That sounds right. Next time I run into that problem, I’ll come back and ask you again. 🙂

Ana: You know where to find me. Just follow the trail of chocolate.

Kate: Mmmm, chocolate.

Zoe: “Why are all these candy wrappers lying under this tree branch???”

Kate: I choked when he started talking about tables and spreadsheets. Freezes me up completely. I just cannot do that.

Zoe: I can’t either. It’s a sure way to get me to start on housework.

Ana: I quickly skimmed over that part and pretended it doesn’t exist.

Kate: What I’d like is a giant whiteboard I can write and erase on, where I can brainstorm and make notes and none of it is permanent, so I don’t feel trapped. More of a warm blanky feeling than a straitjacket sensation.

Zoe: Sticky notes are my best friends. Messy, disordered sticky notes. Many of them with the sticky strip and the writing on the same side because I didn’t notice the pad was upside down when I started scribbling.

Kate: Lol. You artist, you.

Zoe: It’s my warm, yellow blanky. (Speaking of which…I tried the tip for writing down a story question before I went to sleep last night. Didn’t wake up with any answers—I guess I’ll try again tonight, if I don’t solve it during my writing today. On the plus side, I didn’t have a bunch of dreams I remembered on waking, which for me is heaven. I don’t feel like I’ve slept well if I feel like I’ve been up and running around all night. This is the first night in months I’ve woken refreshed.)

Ana: Zoe–too lazy to bother with dreams. The question thing didn’t work for me, but I only tried once.

Kate: I should try that.

Zoe: At the very least, I have my question jotted down on a note, so I’ll keep thinking on it every time I shuffle through my stickies.

Kate: Writing out questions helps me figure things out. I’m very verbal, so I have to actually say or write a question before my brain turns on.

Ana: I do that, too, Kate. I have a ton of notepads just for talking to myself and never reading it again. Is anyone keeping a running outline?

Zoe: Not me. I’ll do a synopsis at some point, like he suggests in a later chapter, but no running outline. Feels stifling.

Kate: I’d like to try one someday, but not at this moment. Of course, the story I’m currently wrestling with is short enough I can hold the whole thing in my head. When I get back to Knight, it might be a different story.

Ana: How long is Knight?

Kate: At last count, 95K and climbing.

Ana: Nice.

Kate: It’s a good size, there’s a lot of story in there.

Ana: 90k has been my upper limit so far.

Zoe: I’ve pushed close to 100K, but I prefer not to go over. It’s a lot more work, revising (and even writing) those big books! I’m shooting for around 50K with the WIP.

Kate: I really want to break up the werewolf one into three novellas, but I don’t think LI will let me.

Ana: I’ll be revising my 90k book in a few months… Not really looking forward to it! (It’s already kind of broken up. The ‘prequel’ is 70k. There may be another book in the series, but I’m not sure about that yet.)

Kate: That’s going to need a chunk of time.

The last thing Bell talks about is critique groups. I really like mine, though I’ve been inactive in it for the past year, what with work and life and stuff. But the support has been a big boost for me, especially when I’m feeling iffy about a work.

Zoe: I recognized myself somewhat in the quote from Robin Lee Hatcher. I really need to do the creative process alone. I’m not ready for anyone to see anything until it’s a few drafts in, until I get to the point where I’m like, “Okay, what am I not able to see for myself?” And then I go to beta readers instead of a group, because…I’m just more comfortable with the one-to-one thing, with giving drafts to them at separate times.

Ana: I’m with Zoe on that I prefer one-on-one feedback/critique over public execution, but I don’t mind sharing early drafts or incomplete things… probably because I started out by posting incomplete first drafts on the internet.

Kate: The critique group tends to keep me on schedule. We have an upload every week, I try to upload every two weeks, and you HAVE to upload every month. Plus, the practice going through someone else’s manuscript and explaining why something didn’t work is good for going back and revising my own work.

Zoe:: Editor deadlines keep me on schedule. (Which reminds me; I need to get with my editor about when he’ll need my current WIP so I have a deadline for it.)

Kate: I love deadlines.

Ana: I need more deadlines. This self-discipline thing is hard.

Zoe: It’s for the birds! 😉

Kate: Not this bird. Especially since our next topic is “The First Read-Through”. Strikes terror in the heart.

Zoe: I don’t like sharing incomplete drafts because everyone has their suggestions and ideas for where the story should go, and I can’t hear those until I’ve gotten down what I want the story to be. Ooh, the first read through! I’m always excited about that. We should talk about that chapter. 🙂

Three Dirty Birds Talk The Philosophy of Revision


Over at Zoe’s blog, talking about James Scott Bell’s Introductory chapter to the second half of the book, on revision.

Three Dirty Birds Talk about Theme


Ana, Zoe, and I talk about finding the theme in your novel and what James Scott Bell thinks of it.

Tuesday Tickle: Kev ‘n Mo

The Bedlam–I mean, Badlam Hall residence assistants are having supper and talking about things that college kids talk about…

Paul raised his glass in salute. “There were a more than average number of cute ones.”

Dawn snorted. “Really? That’s what you were looking at? I saw a couple that we’re probably going to have to keep a closer eye on.”

“Oh my God, the parents of one of them, that guy with the reddish hair… I bet he’s going to be drunk all week, if he can find anyone to buy for him.”

“There’s a couple of girls I’m thinking the same thing about.” Dawn pulled a small coil-bound notebook out of her pocket. “I made notes.”

“Of course you did. Mom.”

“Fuck you.”

“Right now? I’m game. Table or floor?”

She scowled and flicked a forkful of peas at him. “Don’t be a sexist ass.”

Paul pointed at Dawn with his chicken leg. “Bradon has a MILF fetish. You’re going to need to put a bit of gray in your hair if you plan to keep him.”

Kev put his fork down and shot a glance around the table. “Guys, I’m trying to eat. Stop putting nasty pictures in my brain.”

Bradon held his hands up in a defensive motion. “Hey, there’s some good-looking moms running around here right now.”

“I’m not saying there isn’t. It’s the idea of your hairy butt hanging out in the open while I’m trying to finish my lasagna that’s making me queasy.”

The whole table laughed and Larissa poked Kev in the ribs. “Can’t have that, scrawny-man. Eat. I’ll make sure Bradon keeps his mouth shut.” She paused and then, with a wicked smile, asked, “So, you didn’t notice any cute dads running around? Would that be a FILF fantasy?”

Kev put his fork down and finished his coffee. “Okay, I’m done. There isn’t enough brain-bleach.”

“You wait until you’re a practicing psychologist, listening to everyone’s secret fantasies. You’ll be thanking us for the practice, getting a strong stomach.” She grabbed his arm and made him sit down again. “Eat. We’ll be good, promise.” She directed a glare around the table.”

Kev smiled and picked up a forkful of lasagna. “Yes, Mom.”


Three Dirty Birds Talk Exposition


The Dirty Birds are chirping about James Scott Bell and Exposition.

Kate: I thought it was ironic that the chapter on exposition was one of the shortest in the book. 🙂

It really was very short. Does he not know we need to fill up a discussion here?

Ana: It’s like he doesn’t even care.

Kate:I think he just applied his own rules about exposition to it.

The chapter really needed to be just four bullet points long—they’re perfect. It’s info the reader needs, but it will slow your story down if it’s not handled well. Cut anything that isn’t necessary. Drop exposition in a little at a time. And hide it within dialogue.

Kate: His first example of using it in dialogue made me laugh. Mostly because it was a lovely example of the “As you know, Bob…” trick.

I liked how his third example shows you how to add some conflict into the exposition dialogue to make it more interesting/energetic.

Ana: I think the conflict into the exposition dialogue thing is something the Story Trumps Structure book mentioned too. I’ve since successfully used it in one of my WIPs. Well… we’ll see how successfully if I ever get around to actually publishing that one.

Kate: I think that’s something that newer writers often miss. You can tell who’s at certain levels of professionalism in their writing by how they handle stuff like that. But it’s nice to be reading along through a writer’s work and suddenly see them pushing the conflict through the dialogue and getting the info we need in there as well. Everything in a well-thought out book should be doing something, and the important bits need to do two or three things.

I like the “Act first, explain later” rule, though, as with any rule, I’ve seen it sorely misused—book openings that drop you into the middle of action that makes no sense and has no emotional pull…followed by chapter two of tell, tell, tell.

Ana: I always have to watch not to fall into that trap, because when writing I’m very much an ‘act first, explain later’ kind of person. (I’ve actually just had a discussion with my editor about the first chapters of my latest story because I was being paranoid about whether my character’s actions made sense before the ‘reveal’ )

Kate: I like that, though. As long as there’s enough in there to keep you reading. I’m reading “The Girl in the Road” right now, and it starts off with a bang, and she’s running away, but I still don’t know what the conflict is. The author explains a little bit more on every page, though, so I haven’t gotten frustrated and thrown it aside.

Yes, when it’s done well, it works really well (though, not so much the nothing-but-tell follow-on chapter, but when the opening is done well, the author usually isn’t the type to do that). More often, it seems like it’s not done all that well. (Though I can rattle off books that do do it well, I’ve forgotten the names of every book that didn’t—I didn’t bother buying past the Look Inside on those.)

Kate: I wonder if we’ll ever find a book that provides some guidelines for deciding that something isn’t necessary information. All the books seem to say that you have to pick and choose, but don’t give any idea how. And I think a lot of the people that overdo the exposition aren’t doing it from ‘whatever’, but just can’t figure out which information is useful, which is necessary, which is color, and which is too much. All the first three of those are necessary, but if you don’t know where to stop…

I’ve seen some guidelines that have said to leave out what the reader would already know—readers know what bathrooms contain, so if there’s nothing specifically unique and/or important to the story in a bathroom your character walks into, don’t describe the bathroom. But there can be a confidence issue when trying to figure out what readers might or might not know, especially in spec fic, historicals, and exotic locales.

Ana: Damnit, I totally missed my chance to describe high tech Japanese toilets in my last story.

Kate: There’s always edits, Ana.

I love high tech Japanese toilets. And I’m still amused by my time in Okinawa, where in a single day I could wind up using a toilet with a heater and remote control and more buttons than I could ever know what to do with…and a hole in the ground.

Kate: I liked his idea in the exercise, using the Wikipedia article. Especially, I liked that he said to put it away for a couple of days and then come back and edit it.

Yes, that looked like a very useful exercise you could use any time you have info to weave in. Write down the facts, then use the facts to write a scene that’s not all fact-y sounding.

Kate: For some strange reason, I’m more likely to try the exercises he gives than any of the ones in the other books. I’m not sure why they resonate with me more. But they do.

Zoe: I haven’t done anyone’s exercises, but I read them and think, “That’s a nice exercise.”

Ana: I’ve actually done one of the exercises in this book, which is a first for me. It’s one mentioned in the ‘themes’ chapter, which I think comes up next.