Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Revising the Novel - Nearing Completion

Autumn is almost upon us.

My favorite time of the year, I love it when the temperature cools, the leaves change, the sweaters come from storage.

And my novel is finished. Or will be.

My goal was to finish my final revision by the end of August. So far I'm near my target. I have, what, five days left. Hmmm, I'm on page 320 of 478 in the revision and I still need to remove 6,000 words or about 20 pages.

As I'm going through the book, I try to keep the Ten Point Revision Strategy in mind (for those who've asked, I have already written the Ten Point Revision Strategy as an article and submitted it to Writer's Digest and The Writer. I'll keep you posted on the results). Each day, before I write, I re-read the ten points, trying to concentrate on what each point really means in terms of what I need to accomplish. Character Motivation. Dialog tightening. Word Choice. And especially, Ending Chapters Earlier.

I continue to find the strategy to be useful for me, and as I get closer and closer to finally completing this draft, I'm taking the time to really focus in on each of these points.

I believe, in the end, the writing is sharper, tighter and more dramatic than ever. I hope you'll find that to be the case for you as well.

As always, please send me your feedback/thoughts on the Ten-Points.

I think we'll start an outlining section next.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revising the Novel - Sex Scenes - the Final Hitchcockian Word

We've had a few posts recently about writing that all important sex scene. Now, I'm not saying that every novel needs a sex scene, mine doesn't. But I have struggled over writing sex scenes before, so I wanted to bring it up here for discussion.

Previously, I've made two points about how to successfully navigate your way around this rather sticky subject.

1) Avoid cliche. Be very careful of cliche in every aspect of the scene, from the terms you use for male and female anatomy, to emotions, to setting, to tone. With so much bad daytime television and trashy novels, a sex scene will only work if it's novel.

2) Only introduce the scene if it a) doesn't interfere with the flow of the plot, and b) like all scenes, it must serve the story and move the plot forward.

So for our final discussion, I wanted to make one final point. Over at blogcatalog.com, I'd posted a thread in my favorite writing group, searching for opinions from fellow writers on how they handle this subject. After reading the responses, I was pleased that the general consensus matched my opinion and even gave me a great term to describe the best way to handle the scene.


What I mean by this is that the best way to write a powerful, dramatic sex scene is to think like the famous director, Alfred Hitchcock. What made his movies so compelling was the tension in the scenes. The lead up to the violence. The implication of violence. He usually avoided showing the violence itself. Instead, the viewer was left to fill in the holes with their own imagination, which can often be far more frightening than anything Hitchcock could have put on the screen.

I believe a great way to handle a sex scene in your novel is to follow that same advice. Really, unless you're writing erotica, it's not the sex in the scene that will interest your readers. It's the implication. The build up. The tension.

And just as importantly, never forget the ramifications. The post-sex scenes can be just as powerful or more so than the pre-sex scene. You simply can't (or shouldn't) have two characters fall into bed together without their relationship and possibly lives being irrevocably changed. Unless the point of your story is to show how a character can have sex and remained totally unchanged, don't pass up this opportunity to explore your character's feelings after sex; the embarrassment, the confusion, the insecurity, the building romance/love.

The possibilities are endless.

So my final advice on writing a great sex scene is maybe you don't need to write the scene at all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Revising the Novel - Intention

When I first started this blog, my original intention was purely to get my thoughts on the revision process down on paper to help me with my current work. I wanted to use this as a think pad, a guide book, to direct and focus my thoughts on what I needed to do.

The results so far, based on your feedback, has been greater than I ever expected. Thanks to all who've written with your encouragement and thoughts.

Now the reason I mention all this is that my intention directed my actions, and those actions led to results, perhaps even results I didn't anticipate.

That's a powerful statement and one that needs to makes its way into our writing. Knowing the intentions of your characters, in each scene, can be a vital tool to drive the drama and power of your writing. I mentioned this earlier in the Ten-Point Revision Strategy under "Know your Character's Motivation," but it's worth exploring deeper.

I don't know about you, but when I write, I often like to get into the feel of writing, the cadence, the appearance of the words on the screen. I have scenes set that I know are necessary to move the story forward; plot oriented scenes that bring conflict and drama. But quite honestly, I don't often step back and ask myself a simple question, "What does each character want out of this interaction/situation?"

Think how powerful those words are. From the main character to a bit player, the story will change if you spend some serious thought on what each character really intends to happen in that scene.

Say you have a big scene happening in a restaurant, I don't know, a meeting between two lovers on the verge of divorce. This is their last stab at trying to stay together. They arrive in different cars and flip their keys over to the valet. Now, in this scene, the valet obviously has little importance in the lives of our characters. But say for example, that you wanted to have the valet say something, just a sentence in passing, to build the scene. How can this affect the story?

If the valet is miserable at his job, just wasting his time away, pissed off that his big audition at the Broadway musical was a bomb, his demeanor, body language and sentence may be very different than if he's had a brand new baby boy and his wife is home waiting for him.

A minor character for sure, but it's easy to see how his one sentence, based on his intentions, can have a dramatic impact on our lead characters, setting the scene for their meeting. Say the valet is a snippy twit, sarcastic and angry as he takes the car keys. Now compare that to a happy, bubbling new daddy, spreading joy and love with every word. How could that impact the moods of our main characters as they step into the restaurant?

Now, I've just described how a bit character's motivation can impact a scene, imagine if you spent the time to really think about each of the main character's motivations as they enter the restaurant. There's a big difference between the male lead dying to get back together with her because she's the love of his life, and just going through the motions because he's head over heals in love with a waitress at the very restaurant at which they're meeting.

Character Intention. Motivation. Spend the time as you're revising each scene to make sure that you know exactly where each character is coming from.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Novel revision update

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments on this blog. I'll keep it, trying to publish 3 times a week until we all get our revisions done, and beyond.

Right now, however, I'm recovering from some abdominal surgery that has me laid up on the couch.

We'll get right back into the meat of our revision strategies next week, when I'm a little farther down the road of recovery.

In the meantime, please send me your suggestions on topics you'd like to see covered in the pages of this blog.

Upcoming topics include:

Plot structure
The heroic quest
outlining, yes or no
character arcs
story structure
how to research
drive the story forward
querey letters
novel synopsis

Please send me your suggestions for topics you'd like covered.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Revising the Novel - Best Word Choice or Big Guts and Belly Fat

Just finished a meeting of Mimi's Boys on Thursday night (don't worry, my bruises will heal) and a very important lesson came up.

Best word choice.

Now, I've already touched on this subject in the Ten-Point Revision Strategy, but it came up again in a way that was slightly different, and my writing was to blame.

In one scene, I have my character, the ER Department Chairman, a rather big man (or Jabba Browne as one of my group members calls him) lean back in his chair and rest his hand on his stomach. In that sentence I said something to the effect of "leans back and rests his hand on his large gut."

Doesn't necessarily seem like the that should be the focal point of a long discussion, but believe me, it was.

As we'd discussed before, each word, every single word, that we commit to paper (printer) has to be exactly what we wish it to be. It must convey exactly what we want it to convey. But more importantly than just conveying information, it has to be entertaining. After all, isn't that the point? To entertain? That's what reading is. Certainly reading a novel, particularly a thriller.

Les, one of Mimi's Boys, stated emphatically that we have to strive to make each sentence as entertaining as possible. That' right, our responsibility isn't just to write an entertaining book, but to make sure that each and every sentence in that book is entertaining in and of itself.

To be honest, I hadn't ever thought of it that way before. But he's right.

We can't rely on 2nd or 3rd tier adjectives or descriptors or cliches to finish our sentences. There are no "throw away" paragraphs, or sentences or words. Each word must count. And we need to make sure that each word conveys the information we need it to in as entertaining a way as possible.

Case in point, my large gut.

Sure it emphasizes Dr. Browne's large mass, but is it said in as entertaining a way as possible?

Les jumped all over that one, giving me his sly, one eyebrow raised look that states so clearly, "you can do better than this." And again, he's right. With effort, we can all remove these rather efficient but bland modifiers and interject some personality, some deeper level of description, some humor and some entertainment.

It's a lot of work. It means going back over the novel, word by word, sentence by sentence, and continually asking yourself, does this say what I need it to say? Is there someway I can write this better? More descriptive, more original, more entertaining?

In the margins, Les crossed out my large gut and interjected, "placed his hand on the roll of fat above his belt." Damn if that isn't better. More descriptive, certainly more original and even slightly humorous.

Do you agree? Do you feel that each and every word/sentence has to be polished as much as possible for maximal entertainment? Send me your thoughts.

Now I'm going back to work. I'll bet there's quite a few large guts in my novel that could stand being replaced by some rolls of belly fat.