Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Revision Series - Part 2: Writing with Betas, which is like swimming with dolphins

Today is our second stop on the Revision Tour.**

Now armed with my plot grid and discussion questions, I went back to the beginning of my manuscript and started the actual writing part of rewriting.

There are two things that I found invaluable during this process. The first was Scrivener, a writing program for Mac that is so awesome it makes my teeth sweat. It's so awesome in fact, that it deserves a whole blog unto itself and I will endeavor to do that sometime in the near future.

The second was my beta readers.

As I wrote each chapter, I tried to police my own bad grammar and weak sentence structures. Of course, it's impossible to catch everything. So, I did the best I could and wrote all the new material I needed based on the holes I'd identified in the story during my first draft review. Some chapters came easier than others. There were times I wanted to throw my laptop across the room, and there were times I was filled with doubt about this new chronology.

Thank Heavens for my beta readers. I sent them each chapter as I finished, and in due time, they'd get back to me with notes. Each of them had something to offer, and I'd like to take some time to introduce them so you can get a good idea of what niche each of them filled.

One is J.A. Souders, who is a fabulous detail reader. She was the one who corrected all my weird punctuation, rearranged weak sentences and made encouraging comments in the margins. I can always count on her to take me to task on failure to show emotion and action. I got tons of notes like "What is she feeling here?" "I'd like to know what's going on." She's also got great eyes for finding those spots where characters start acting out of character. She was also open to going back-and-forth in e-mail until we ironed out any sticky issues. Sometimes I'd send her just a revised sentence or two to see if I'd clarified.

The other is Eleven-Eleven, who is like the Secret Squirrel of the writing world. She even has a wonderful blog that no one knows about. You should go there. But I digress. 11-11 is unbeatable for big picture stuff. She didn't give me a lot of in-line notes, unless something sucked so bad she couldn't contain herself. What she did give me was character analysis and accountability to the story arc. Her notes were more like, "Is she purposefully ignoring the 'burden' it might be to her own psyche?" and "Victim of circumstance is not nearly as interesting as boycotting men or throwing herself into the fray to no avail." We had endless chats through gmail, dissecting each scene and making sure those characters stayed true to what they wanted and needed. She talks about the story like it's really happening, which despite sounding insane is actually really helpful, and makes me feel less insane for feeling that way about it, too.

Suffice it to say that I could not have done it without their help, tireless attention to detail, and willingness to suspend disbelief with me for weeks on end. In case they haven't picked up on this by now: THANK YOU SO MUCH, JESSIE AND ELEVEN!!!

Now, tomorrow, I'll tell you all what I did with those copious notes.

Do you have any betareaders or critique partners you'd like to give a shout-out to?

- Liz

** This post is the third in a series about my process for revising a manuscript. Check here if you want to see the first (which was an overview), and here if you want to see the second (which was about reviewing the first draft)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revision Series - Part 1: First Draft Review, or The Grid

Today is our first stop on the Revision Tour.

When I finished my first draft, it was 63,000 words (not quite long enough for the adult market) and involved a present time-flashback-present time-flashback-etc. format. Some of the feedback I got indicated that flashbacks were weak writing so I decided to go with a chronological timeline.

The concept was overwhelming.

Being a very visual person, I needed to see it laid out. So, I wrote each finite scene on a small piece of paper (I would have used Post-Its if I'd had any) and spread it all out on my coffee table. Each slip of paper only said a few key words, but it was enough to trigger my memory. I wish I'd thought to take pictures at this stage, but I figured it wouldn't be very interesting to anyone else. (It probably isn't - HA!)

Then I started shuffling scenes around. All the present time scenes went to the end, and a few of the flashbacks got rearranged into a more workable order. Some of the considerations that went into the placement of scenes:

1. Does this scene push my Main Character (MC) and the Love Interest (LI) together or drive them apart?

2. What changes or growth does my MC undergo in the course of this scene?

3. Is this scene strictly necessary? Does it move the plot along or stall the action? Am I keeping it just because I find it funny/entertaining?

Once I had everything in the order I wanted, I created a table. I used Word, just because I'm comfortable with it. I made it four columns wide with twice as many rows as I had slips of paper.

The columns were labeled from left to right:
The Story
Suggested Changes/Additions
What We're Achieving
What We Need to Achieve

They should be self-explanatory, but basically I used the squares to suggest changes that I should make in the existing chapters as well as any new scenes/chapters/ideas that I should add. The last two columns kept me focused on the overall character arcs and helped me keep the big picture in mind as I revised.

I sent this grid to one of my betas (we'll call her Big Picture Beta, or BPB) with some questions listed at the bottom. She made notes on the whole chart in red so I could see her thoughts.

By the way, she'd read the whole original draft, so she knew the story inside and out. She'd also read the rather extensive editorial letter I got from one agent and had given me her sixty-seven cents (because she's worth way more than two cents).

It should also be noted that I'd already discussed the upcoming revisions with a few people and hammered out some initial ideas in my mind. This was just the first time I wrote them down.

So there you have it. That was the first step for me. It was scary, because I'm not someone who writes from an outline. I have a basic plot in mind, with a few pit stops along the way, but that's all I know when I start a first draft. It was also scary because I knew I had a ton of work ahead of me, but as they say "Writing is rewriting."

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about doing the actual rewrites and working with two betas along the way.

Everybody clear on how this went down? Anyone else have an easier method?

- Liz

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How I Became a Grown-Up and Learned to Revise

The key to revisions is feedback. Without it, you can only see so much. In the case of THE SORBET GUY, I got lots of wonderful, cheerleading feedback from readers who loved the story. But, I knew it was too short, and I knew there was a reason it wasn't grabbing the interest of any agents. Luckily, one agent gave me major editorial notes on the complete manuscript. Of course, that hurt, but he had a lot of good ideas.

With all of that information in mind, and having let the manuscript get some distance and maturity in an oak barrel (or, I didn't touch it for well over six months while I wrote another novel, revised a second, and started a third) I went back to it ready for some neutral assessment and adjustment.

Over the next few blogs, I'm going to discuss each stage of the process that I went through. For today, I'll just give you the rough outline.

1. I looked at the overall draft and flagged those areas that needed help.

2. I did rewrites and sent each chapter to two designated beta readers as I went along. One was a fabulous detail reader, who always took me to task on failure to show emotion and action. The other is unbeatable for big picture stuff.

3. If my betas found any issues that would affect the progress of the manuscript from that point, I paused to revise. Most of their suggestions, however, were stuffed back into that oak barrel to wait for my final draft.

4. Next, I created to-do list from all their suggestions, as well as my own thoughts.

5. Finally, I started back at beginning to do final draft.

So, we've got our work cut out for us as I go through this series. And when we're done, I'll talk about the querying process. Because I sincerely hope to be well into that stage by the time I finish telling all of you about this.

Hope you get something out of it!

- Liz

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I've been MIA, AWOL and incommunicado on most fronts for quite some time. The main reason is that I've been finishing a major revision on my project The Sorbet Guy. (There have been a few Teaser Tuesdays featuring these revisions.) I'm mostly done now, just doing a final run-through with notes from my critique partners, but that work is easier and lets me venture out of my Fortress of Solitude.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some of the things I did and learned during this rewrite. Maybe there will be something in it for you, maybe not, but consider it's all I've been up to, I feel the need to put it out there.

I'm also about to get back in the query saddle again, and I'll give you all updates on how that goes as well. Fingers crossed for requests galore.

So, I thank you all for your patience with me of late, as I have been a terrible blog reader as well. And a Twitter has-been. I hope to get back to it all with a bit of moderation. Writing will stay my number one priority, but I miss the community, so I'll be around. Promise.

- Liz

Friday, June 4, 2010

Link-a-Palooza: Contests and Questions and Book Releases, Oh My!

Back for another installment of LINK-A-PALOOZA, in which I give you the lowdown on some great places to go instead of working.

First I bring you Writing Out The Angst, joint blog of Amanda Bonilla and Suzy Haze (who are totally follow-worthy, by the way). To celebrate their new venture, Amanda and Suzy are hosting a CONTEST.

All you have to do is follow their blog(s) and leave a comment. When they reach 100 followers, they're going to offer up Query Critiques to ten lucky followers. Easy right? Go for it.

The same two lovely ladies have a new feature at their blog. Ask an Agent. You can leave one question for an agent (the first is Julia Kenny at Markson Toma Literary Agency) in the comments of the introductory post, then Amanda and Suzy will compile the questions into an interview and post the answers straight from Ms. Kenny's mouth. This could be invaluable, people, so start thinking about your #1 question.

Next up, we have an announcement. MJ Heiser, who kindly let me interview her right at this very blog, is available for pre-order! That's right, CORONA, previously only available in e-b00k format is now rarin' to go in Hardcover. Get yours now!

I just finished listening to Stephen King's Under the Dome and I have to say it did nothing to relieve my literary crush on The King. Whether you love him or hate him, you gotta give the man he's prolific. And I adore him (for many reasons) because he continues to innovate. He's using his clout in the publishing industry to push the envelope. Graphic novels, small publishing houses, audio-only, serial format--the man has done it all. Personally, I loved the book and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Particularly in the audio format. This is an undertaking, people. Forty hours, I think it was, but it was worth it. I really enjoyed the reader, and he did a masterful job of creating unique voices for the whole cast of characters.

I downloaded it from, and if you like audiobooks at all, I can't recommend this place highly enough. We have a subscription, which earns us 12 credits a year. A credit gets you a book (sometimes longer ones cost 2 credits), and the subscription gets you a discount on all books, even if you don't use your credits. Best of all, you can download it right to your iPod or several other formats.

And I think that's about all you need to hear from me today.

Have an awesome link to share? Hit me in the comments.

- Liz

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

--Megan Rebekah's THE WRITE STUFF--: The Elusive Voice

One of the lovely and talented writers I follow is Megan Rebekah. Today, she has knocked my socks off with the most straight-forward explanation of voice I've ever seen.

Read it, memorize it, print it out and hang it over your desk. Trust me, this is the real deal.

--Megan Rebekah's THE WRITE STUFF--: The Elusive Voice

- Liz

Why I Write What I Write

I've said in this forum and others that I wish I could write something "more meaningful" than light romance. This is a position I've slowly eased away from over the last two years as I realize that every writer has their niche and forcing anything else will land you with nothing more than forced prose. Yuck.

So, then I had to wonder--WHY do I write light romance? Considering that I've never dated, it's kind of an odd genre choice for me. Maybe I'm trying to fill some psychological desires, who knows? Then, the other night, my husband and I had an interchange in the kitchen that made me realize where my inspirations come from.

The scene: I'm in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, when my husband wanders in for a glass of water.

He presses his glass against the dispenser in the refrigerator door and gets the usual cacophony of the ice machine. Nothing falls in the glass.

"Huh, that's weird," he says.

Comprehension dawns, and I stifle a laugh. "I may have put another Popsicle in the ice chute."

(The important fact here is that I put a Popsicle in the ice chute the day before, which resulted in his receiving the plastic tube of partially eaten red juice along with a handful of ice cubes in his glass--an incident which confused him a great deal until I explained.)

His expression goes from confusion to annoyance in the span of a second. "Why did you--?"

I cut him off, "I won't do it anymore!"

He makes a huffing sound that would make a thirteen year old girl proud.

"Would it help if I flashed you?" I offer.

"It wouldn't hurt," he says, but he's not looking at me, because he thinks I'm lying.

So I flash him.

He catches the movement out of the corner of his eye and snaps his head around, grinning.

Then he opens the freezer door. The Popsicle has formed a dam (pretty damn impressive consider it's about a half inch thick) and all the undispensed ice is backed up behind it. Ice explodes out from the tray, rattling across the floor, and cracking him on the knuckle of one bare toe.

This time, I get the full stank eye.

"I said I won't do it again!" I protest.

Another Junior High huff. "I just hope it isn't broken."

"I highly doubt one Popsicle could break the whole ice machine."

But when he's got all the ice scooped out of the chute and the door closed again, the dispenser only churns, but doesn't drop a single cube in his glass. He glares at me.

So, I have to throw a Hail Mary. "Wanna see my boobs again?"

* * *

Romantic? Not really, but I can certainly imagine myself writing a similar scene in one of my books. So, I guess I'm writing what I know. With a heavy coating of imagining to fill out the rest.

I'm going to get the stank eye for writing this in my blog, I'm pretty sure. Luckily, boobs never seem to lose their charm.

Does your art imitate your life?

- Liz