“The Bully Trap” (http://bit.ly/SWBully) is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !

The Bully Trap is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !
The Bully Trap is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !

We interrupt your normal blog for a brief commercial message:

The 9th annual Smashwords “Read an Ebook Week” kicks off this Sunday, March 5, and runs through end of day March 11.

My book The Bully Trap will be free during Read an Ebook Week! Just use coupon code SFREE at Smashwords.

Thousands of other indie authors will also be offering free and discounted books. Browse www.smashwords.com/ebookweek and find an exciting new author!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.


On Outlining, How-To Books, and Swordplay

Not my forte... Image courtesy of Chatchai Somwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Not my forte…
Image courtesy of Chatchai Somwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I was in university, I was on the varsity fencing team. This was mostly because there were so few women at my school that anyone female who showed up on time for each practice made the team. 

I wasn’t very good. I enjoyed it, though. After graduation, I joined a local salle near my squeaky-new job. 

Fencing master after fencing master told me I needed to be faster on the lunge. So I practiced my lunge until my thigh muscled rebelled, but I never got faster — until a new master showed me how to start the lunge by lifting my leading toe first. Immediately I was able to hit opponents who had danced out of my way (presumably laughing behind their masks) before.

The point of this little story? What seems obvious to me may not be obvious to someone I’m trying to instruct. I try to remember that whenever I need to explain something. I’d forgotten the inverse of that lesson — if I’m having trouble learning something, sometimes what I need is not more study or practice. I need an instructor with a different perspective.

Which brings me to “Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing” by Libbie Hawker.

IMG_2658When I first picked up this volume, I was underwhelmed — more literary terms like “character arc,” “inciting event” and “theme” that put me to sleep in my undergraduate humanities classes. Fuzzy terms. Not actionable. 

I was wrong. Ms. Hawker explains these terms with precise definitions and examples that even an engineer can understand. As a result, I now have a theme for my novel. I have a plot developed from a character arc. I believe that by this time tomorrow I’ll be actually drafting the novel that I couldn’t outline for two months — and all with work I’ve done in the last week. 

It’s not that the how-to books I’ve read on writing process are wrong. They just didn’t tell me I needed to “lift my toe.” Lifting that “toe” was so obvious to them that it didn’t occur to them to mention it. I’ve cross-correlated with my other books, and nothing in Hawker is contradicted by anyone. But everyone else assumes that outlining a book is so obvious that the detailed description in Hawker is, well, overkill. Or it may come so easily to them that they’re not conscious of the detailed steps. 

It doesn’t matter. I’ve found an outlining master at last.

Revision Progress!

20140107-121950.jpgLeticia is beginning to come into focus from the pile of undifferentiated scenes. I’ve gotten about three-quarters of it into the scene chart/outline now, and I anticipate doing character descriptions over the next week.

I’m gradually getting past the paralyzing fear of “no right answer.” It can still strike me at odd times, but it helps if I just get off my butt and take a walk.

After all, once you get out of school, the “right answer” pretty much goes away. As a software developer, I accepted the fact that there would be flaws in my product — indeed the most interesting part of the product life cycle for me was “maintenance” where, like a detective, I would track down those nasty bugs and stomp them. I suppose that “revision” is the equivalent in fiction writing. Maybe I really will look forward to revision, once I’ve done it a few times. I can hope, anyway.

Now that I think about it, this is not at all unlike writing a major chunk of computer code. The first phase, which I hated, was designing and structuring, and writing the initial lines of code. Then I would compile it, find out that it didn’t work, and the fun would begin. Really. I never minded being told I was stupid by a machine; I knew I could out-think it and it was only doing what I told it — not what I thought I told it, not what I wanted to have told it, but what I really told it.

Now that I have a process (thank you, Ms. Yardley,) novel writing is not dissimilar. I write the first draft, which process I dread so much that (so far) I need NaNoWriMo to do it. Then I start the revision process, in which I retroactively structure and design (yuck) and also find out what’s broken. Once I get THAT done, I get to find and stomp the bugs (yay!).

Meanwhile, life is good. I spent a bundle for a full-time month at Kleverdog and a 2014 Metro transit pass (one of the perks for Kleverdog full-timers.) As a result I get to come to Chinatown every day, and will have a year to go wheresoever I will in the L.A. County Transit System. I look forward to much saving of gasoline. And Chinatown is a delightful part of urban Los Angeles, with old buildings and clean streets designed more for pedestrians than for cars. Every time I get off the bus here, I smile. I’ve never had a job I could say that about before.

I hope I never have to be an employee again.


Finished the scene chart! Onward to the story-level character GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) charts for all my major characters.

Leticia and the No Right Answer Monster

I just realized that I’ve been blathering on about doing revision, and I’ve never said exactly what I’m revising. Other than it’s a novel, but then, you knew that.

It’s my Camp NaNoWriMo draft from July, code-named “Leticia.” It’s a political thriller, and very hard sci-fi. I wrote a little about my main character in this post from July. Having stopped floundering, I’m now creating a scene chart as suggested in Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Revisions. It’s slow going, in part because Leticia is first-person, and Ms. Yardley’s outline allows for switching point of view. There are no POV switches in a first-person novel… and I’m using that as my current excuse.

Partly though, I’m daunted by the amount of work left to do. I’ll need some serious research–the state of the art has changed since I worked as a rocket scientist in the Dark Ages. And there are whole sections of plot and characters that are just, well, given a quick drive-by blast in my draft.

One scene at a time, Sandra… I need to focus on creating a scene chart of what I’ve got. Then I can see where I need more scenes–and I will need more scenes. I suspect I’m not going to get out of this for fewer than 100K words before cuts. Then I can revisit my characters’ motivations. Then I can realize my Martian setting more fully. And then….

Well, you get the picture, I’m sure. It’s a slog. I know some authors find this to be the most exciting phase of writing. Maybe later I’ll agree. For now, not so much.

All I can say is that I am far more impressed by published authors than I was before I started this journey. This stuff is not easy. Doing a structural analysis of a rocket engine part–that’s easy. Writing automatic exam software to accompany a textbook–that’s easy. This is hard, because there is no “right” answer. There are no written customer specifications other than what I glean from my own reading and the advice of other writers. I fight my terror of “no right answer” every step of the way.

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