Thursday, July 28, 2011

When the Story Just Doesn't

Last night, all my kids were out of the house at the same time. This almost never happens. It felt rare and eerie, the sort of things are slightly off here sense you get when watching a total eclipe. No plates of snacks, no teens lolling on sofas, no small mountain of fragrantly wet boy-socks on the rug, no Lady Gaga pulsing from Emma's room. No noise.

No noise. Astonishing. My house like a Zen monastery.

Understanding this time would be very, very finite, I sat down to confront my WIP. Recently, I had been avoiding its chapters and it was time to come clean. I didn't like the last three chapters and I had to figure out why. I kept attempting to wrangle them; they responded by wrangling right back.

I've reached this stage with other work, so it wasn't unfamiliar. I kept staring at the sentences. They were fine, really. All grammatically correct, the story went along at a good pace, but there was something I just didn't...I couldn't find the word. The story just didn't. It was sort of like this ~

When I wanted this ~

So I took Mazy for a walk, played with the cats, and folded laundry all the while trying to think of ways to fix it. Only I couldn't name what was wrong with it. It was a perfectly respectable story yet I didn't respect it.

Then Christopher texted me. He was worried that I might be lonesome so he came home with friend in tow and towed friend had a pile of books she gave me. I had just donated half a carload of books in an attempt to renovate my writing space. I am removing the desk, most of the books, and just about everything in the space since I am going to be spending more time writing.

I started one of the new books that night. It was wonderfully written, lyrical and inspiring, and I respected it. I stayed up way too late, in love with the author's imagery. At that moment, I understood that sometimes, just like the space I was writing in, instead of a little revision, you need to take the plunge and chop. Those last three chapters, all those hours of work, the entire direction of the novel, was off.

It was painful to press that delete button. I thought of all the time I had spent getting the dialogue just right, the atmosphere, the language - all gone. But now there is space, and with space comes possibility.  Instead of revision,  sometimes you have to raze.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Deleting the Obvious

I was reading a middle grade book last night, and what struck me about the author was the way she used very simple language to create surprise in her writing. Her style struck me because the last few middle grades I read used a lot of repetition to get ideas across.

I think repetition is a pitfall of any YA or MG writer, maybe especially for MG writers. We are never sure if kids are connecting with the ideas we are saying, so we, as adults, tend to hammer them in a little too strongly sometimes. We do it in life, so it's pretty natural that we do it in writing. Kids, of course, pick up on this instantly. Case in point:

The other day, Christopher, who is now nineteen, came with me to run a few errands. He works about 30 hours a week, maintains a good GPA, has a steady girlfriend, and just completed and passed two summer classes. So, really, I should know better. Dashing into the library, I looked over at the semi busy road and called to him, "Be careful crossing that street!"

He looked at his friend, grinned, and said, "Aw hell, Mom, I'm just going to shut my eyes, run into traffic and hope for the best."

I know. I pretty much deserved that.

So now that I am writing more full time, I am doing a lot more revision. (Writing to me really IS revision - I can't go forward until I've gone back and tinkered for a bit) My new editing eye is to delete anything that is not only obvious, but anything that is predictable.

This is harder than it sounds. I remember reading assigned novels in college and skipping over long passages of dialogue or description because I pretty much knew what it would say. That's the other piece: you want to make your characters consistent, but you also don't want to make them dull. And a lot of what I had to read in college were the kind of books where characters represented ideas or theories, so it may have been worse. In kid lit, the cliched characters are lethal.

All this being said, I will leave you with this bit of advice:

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm back. .. and I didn't actually finish my novel, but I got the first third of it down, at least the draft of that first third. Actually, I'm sort of saying it's the first third because it makes me feel cool and organized and all sorts of in control.

The first time I went for a sonogram when I was pregnant with Christopher, the incredibly dour ultrasound tech barked at me to "evacuate your bladder until it's only one third full." She was one of those efficient human machines who work in medical lab kinds of places and she scared me more than the whole business of pregnancy did. I remember standing in the bathroom, wondering if other people (even you men) knew how to do such a thing.

So what does that weird anecdote have to do with writing? Well, I never really know how long or short anything is going to turn out until I'm done, and it was the same in that bathroom. (Just in case you're wondering, I was sent back to the bathroom because I had not estimated correctly) Some writers know they are writing a 50,000 or a 120,000 word novel. I just know I'm writing a story.

Anyway, I've been spending a lot of time reading books I don't normally read, like chic lit (sorry, not a fan), steampunk which I'm undecided about, a couple of mysteries which I found formulaic, then back to YA and MG which I loved. The problem with broadening your horizon is it makes you that much more comfortable to stay in your own little spectrum of color. Really, who can beat the likes of Robert Cormier or Harper Lee?

And I've been spending a fair amount of time walking with the kids on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. This is pretty much what it looks like:

What have you guys been doing this summer? I have to visit everyone's blog to see what's been going on. It's nice to be away from the Internet, but it's also nice to come back.