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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Phew! And we're back!

The radio silence is over. It's been a long one, but it's been for a good reason: my novel is done.

I repeat: IT IS DONE.

Lest anybody think I'm jumping the gun, let's go for candor. This has taken me a long time. Probably longer than it should have. Because, even though this is technically my "second" novel, it is the first one I've gotten into read-able shape. I learned a lot in the editing process to take into my future writing projects. And yes, I've decided to share these with you.
  1. Slow down. NaNoWriMo is great. No, I mean it. Without it, I never would have gotten this story to the page in the first place. But it still merits mentioning that a novel that took me one month to write then took me three years to edit. Three. Years. And the main reason is that I really didn't know WHAT I was doing. While I had the concept down when I started writing, I didn't have a plot. Let me tell you, going back and trying to inject more plot into a "finished" work is a lot harder than just getting your ducks in a row in the first place. So next time, I will slow down on my first take.
  2. Don't put another obstruction between the reader and the story. This was one of the biggest messes I had to clean up. I think it was on round three of editing that I finally caught this. Yanna, my MC, was framing EVERYTHING. Meaning, nothing just happened. It was "Yanna saw" this, "Yanna heard" that, "Yanna thought," "Yanna knew," "Yanna felt". And when it wasn't Yanna seeing/hearing/thinking/knowing/feeling, it was because something was busy "seeming". The grass wasn't just green. No, it seemed green. Adding these frames to everything puts a wall up between your reader and the work. If it is only warm outside because Yanna feels that it is warm outside, then your reader isn't experiencing anything firsthand. Nothing exists with immediacy. Nothing happens to your reader without being filtered and responded to by someone/something else first. Also, this is just repetitive writing, which you want to avoid when you're penning 70,000+ words. 
  3. Give your character a personality. So. My next big dilemma. I enjoyed writing my MC, but as a read and reread and edited and re-edited, I kept being struck with how bored I was. Not because of the story. Not because of the writing. No, it was her. Yanna. I was downright bored by her. And then when I realized: I'd given all of the personality to the supporting cast. I liked every other character, even the bad guys, more than I like her. Yikes! After finally getting an honest response by prodding one of my beta readers into confirmation, I had a big task ahead of me. I needed not only to figure out what her personality was, or how I could tweak it to make it more interesting: I also needed to go back and write it into her. A lot of headache could've been avoided by getting this figured out ahead of time.
  4. Find a helper and do some worldbuilding. And here's the ultimate lesson: writing isn't a solo project. For as solitary as it is to be at your computer typing out a story that no one else knows, creating a world that no one else lives in, you can't do it alone. Or, better put, you shouldn't. As smart as you are, as well as you know the world you're creating (which is certainly better than anyone else does), somebody out there is going to ask a question that you've never thought of. Luckily for me, I know that person's name. In my case, I'm married to him. My partner has the sort of practical mind that, as a fantasy writer, I occasionally find infuriating. While I'm busy creating a world of magic and wonder and mythology and gods, he's over my shoulder asking me where the sewage system is. What kind of metallurgy do they do? Have they invented bronze? Where do they get their copper and tin? Do they have irrigation systems? Where are the cattle kept? Do they have cattle? Crops?
    As much as it raised my hackles and I sometimes maybe just wanted him to GO AWAY ... his questions really improved my worldbuilding. Until he asked, my approach to many of these questions had simply been to ignore them until the novel required them to be answered. But by knowing the answers ahead of time, I was able to build a much richer, much more consistent world. So find someone to ask questions. Bonus points if they are not your intended audience -- odds are, you are at least a little bit your intended audience so you've probably answered all of those questions anyway.
And those are the big ones! I'm sure that there is a lot more, but just keeping in mind these four lessons is going to make book two that much easier. Because there is a sequel, and I will be starting it soon. And in the meantime, my query is nice and polished, my synopsis is getting a final spit shine, and I'm off to the races for a literary agent.