Branching Out

Having just finished an invigorating round of adding changes on the Antiquity’s Gate manuscript, and whilst awaiting further revisions from others, I thought this might be a good time to share some of my thoughts on editing for any of my fellow writers that have found their way here.

Editing, a crucial element to any good story, is difficult.  In the beginning, when you first finish writing and hand it off eagerly to third parties for their feedback, it sometimes can seem like a personal affront when their constructive criticism comes back.  However, you shouldn’t take it as one!  Constructive criticism is vital to a story that people can immerse themselves in.  One misspelled word, one convoluted, hard to read sentence, is enough to jar them out of a state of suspended disbelief.  What about that small but glaring plot hole you missed?  Or that phrase that you use far too repetitively?  Imagine rushing to try to publish something full of such errors.  You want their reading to be smooth, easy, and most of all—enjoyable.

Under no circumstance should you attempt to single-handedly edit your story.  There are several glaring reasons why, as the author, you are uniquely UNqualified to do so.  For one thing, if you have tendencies toward a certain grammatical error, you aren’t going to notice it as you’re reading through.  I, for one, use entirely too many commas when I’m writing quickly.  Oh, great.  Now you’re looking back through this post and nodding to yourself.  “She’s right,” you’re thinking.  “That’s a lot of commas.”

You’ve also got much too much invested in the story to be a credible source of information.  You know the characters and the environments too well to be able to immediately spot problems.  Perhaps you’ve failed to describe a relationship between two characters, and your readers are left wondering how the two have anything to do with one another.  You know, in your head, how they are related.  You may not see the lack of written evidence of said relationship when you’re reading through.

There are dozens more reasons why editing on your own is simply a bad idea.  Certainly, you should go over your work.  You want to write, and rewrite, until you have as polished a draft as you can possibly create.  You want to take some time away from it, so it isn’t so fresh, and then return to rewrite some more.  Ask yourself hard questions about what any given passage adds to the story—if anything.  And, when it feels complete, hand it off to someone else.  I guarantee that you’ll be shocked when it gets back to you, all marked up with red.  You’ll read through the comments and think to yourself, “How could this be?  How could I have missed so much?  Maybe I should give up on writing all together!”  You agonize over each change, contemplating them as you painstakingly work your way through.  Satisfied at last, you hand it off to someone else—

Who has discovered an entirely different set of issues.

Don’t worry, my friend.  You aren’t alone.  Everyone needs the invaluable input of others in order to craft a finished product that they can be proud of.  Don’t rush the process.  Instead, try to enjoy it!  Be thankful for all those willing to take the time and effort to help, whether they are an objective acquaintance, a paid professional, or both.  Preferably both. 🙂

 

Who is Ripley Prior?

In the not so distant future, mankind has been brought to the brink of extinction…and to the brink of the world.  Ripley Prior, our protagonist, is a mid-level, pencil-pushing worker in Sigil, the authoritarian power that rules over Santuary, a domed city located in Antarctica.

Ripley has always dreamed of being an Engineer, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Those jobs are always reserved for the Elves, who have the longevity and know-how to run the city without the need for the help of Human wannabes.  Day after day, he records numbers from vital system gauges, wishing he had the ability to do more with his life.

Ripley’s best friend, Felix, is an unmotivated Halfsie (half-Human, half-Elf).  He’s the one who is always stirring up trouble, which inevitably involves Ripley.  But when our story begins, his benign shenanigans give way to something much more ambitious…

 

A Pravacordian Nursery Rhyme

The children ran along the shore,
The sea rose up to greet them.
“Take care, beware, don’t linger there!”
Their elders did entreat them.

The sun shone down, the sand was warm,
Their words rang out, beguiling.
It seemed a dream, so right and clean,
What could the sea be hiding?

A step they took, into the surf
No fear found in their hearts.
So free, to be, upon the sea,
To never be apart.

Into the gentle froth they dove,
The sea rose up to greet them.
Too late, that’s that, no turning back,
The sea rose up to eat them.

The Things I Do for Coffee.

This morning, I headed to the kitchen, where my MoccaMaster was waiting for me, calling out.  I went through the motions almost subconsciously.  Fill the reservoir, grind the Death Wish (that’s a coffee, by the way.  More precisely, THE Coffee.), and grab the box of environmentally-friendly bamboo coffee filters…

Only there were no filters.  My children, bless their tiny, chaos-loving souls, had made a pot of coffee yesterday afternoon…and not only neglected to share that they’d used the last filter, but also went ahead and put the empty box back on the shelf.

You see, I’m past all that denial nonsense.  I know I have a problem.  Coffee doesn’t give me the jitters, or have any noticeable effect on my energy levels.  It isn’t something I do in the morning because it’s a nice, relaxing ritual.  Most mornings, I am fighting off tiny beings with varying levels of actual need, just to take a few delicious sips.  But if there is no coffee, I get a little anxious.  Okay, a lot anxious.  I spend entirely too much time, when we are going somewhere, wondering how and where I will get my next fix.  I believe water was created as a vehicle for coffee.  So now what?

Coffee does not enhance my writing process–it is my writing process.  And, more notably, perhaps, it is my favorite non-sentient thing in all the world.  If there is a coffee in my hands, iced, hot, espresso, doesn’t matter…I can just tell that everything will be all right.

I had to think quick.  I remembered our emergency box of dried goods in the basement, which had sat untouched for, oh, a decade or so.  I remembered that, of course, coffee was a vital component of any good emergency kit.  I pulled it out, rummaging through until at last I found it:  A ten pack of vital, life-giving instant hazelnut coffee packets.

“Oh, cute!  Can I try?” my daughter squealed in delight.

“Um, no, you most certainly may not,” I responded, with a wild glint in my eye and a cold, heartless tone in my voice.

Was it delicious?  Not really.  Did it sooth my psychological needs long enough for me to get dressed and head to the store for filters?  Yep.

I’m so glad that no one is writing a book about me.  Remember when I talked about the importance of a character’s drive?  I think the amount of coffee drinking scenes in that book would make for a boring read.  Some things just don’t translate, you know?

Motivating Factors

Do you have any pet peeves? Of course you do. It’s okay to admit it–we all do.

One of the things I feel strongly about when I write is a character’s drive. When I am reading a story, there are certain things I can let slide. If it’s a good read, I can look past a few weak plot points. I can push through an introduction that doesn’t move me, giving it a chance to pick up later on. I can slog through those chapters, you know the ones. Full of explanatory dialogue, as if the author couldn’t trust his or her readers to pick up the subtle hints along the way, and felt the need to lay it all out, effectively killing the book’s replay value.

But one thing that just makes me sad is a book with a strong premise and flat characters. It feels like so much wasted potential. If you can’t relate, can’t connect, can’t feel what the characters are feeling, then what is it that keeps you reading? I want to know what drives the characters. What motivates them to do–or not do–certain things. What is their passion, and in what ways does it affect the flow of the plot? I like characters that become so real, so alive, that I feel as though they could walk into the room, and we could sit down and have a conversation like old friends. Or even, perhaps, mortal enemies.

What are the things that you look for in a story? Is it the fresh, unpredictable plot that keeps you turning the pages? Do you live for the adrenaline rush that accompanies a long-awaited climax? Is it description so lush, that you can close your eyes and effortlessly transport yourself to that fictional land? Or are you like me, driven by driven characters? Whatever it is that makes you passionate about reading, ultimately we all want the same thing. A story that’s memorable and moving. And that is a noble goal, indeed.

How It All Started

It was raining, that first day at the library. Sheets of water poured down the panes of glass, obscuring my view of the swollen river just beyond the parking lot. The chair was comfortable, and a warm coffee kept me company as I absent-mindedly chewed on the end of my (very expensive!) Apple Pencil. The first scene was so simple to write. It had been written for a long time, but had never been put to paper. I knew exactly how it would end, too. But would everything in between be up to snuff?

What began as a short story quickly outgrew the mold into which I had hoped to place it. As the story progressed, the world became larger. The background, lore, and plot lines blossomed into an impressive array of colorful sticky notes that adorned my bedroom wall. The more I wrote, the more the characters came alive. In the end, the dialogue practically wrote itself. I wrote it in two parts to begin. It is the first in a series, and while I slog through the tedious stages of editing, arguing with my husband over the necessity of commas after conjunctive adverbs, I have already begun crafting the next novel. I cannot wait to share my work with you!

Where To Begin?

Dear friends, where shall we begin? At the beginning? It’s a long story. How long do you have? Perhaps another time, then.

Do you have children? Do you remember life before them? For me, I remember it as if it were a dream. It’s a little hazy. I’m certain it happened. I can remember specifics, I have some fond memories, and some sad ones. But to really think about it, to really imagine life before these little people even existed, that’s more difficult now. From the first moment you become a parent, it’s as if they’ve always been there. As if they’ve always been a part of you. A piece of the puzzle that had been hiding under the couch, which once found completed a picture that you didn’t even know you’d been creating. Sure, you had a general idea. You’d placed all the edges, painstakingly put all the pieces right side up, pressed them together in faith, with nothing more than a promise of the vision they would reveal. And yet, even if the picture seemed clear without that piece, once it has been set into place, that is when you are able to see it as it was truly intended to be.

Writing a story, breathing life into the characters, is a lot like that, too. There are certainly similarities. The same thing happens when you read a book that really resonates with you. The characters, the world, the adventures…once they’re there, once you’ve written it down or read it, you can’t unread it. They will always be with you, forever a part of you. Think of your favorite story. Can you remember a time before you had been to Mordor and back again with Frodo and Sam? Before sneaking through the wardrobe with Lucy into the wondrous land of Narnia? Before you loved to hate Professor Snape? The stories that we read become a part of us, a thread in the tapestry of our lives. They can make us feel deeply, and run our emotions through the ringer.

I hope you enjoy reading Antiquity’s Gate  someday as much as I am enjoying writing it. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me!