Inside a writer’s brain
Keep in mind with this post, I’m still learning. I think I’ll always be learning. That’s part of being a writer.
SAying that, here’s how I actually go from an idea to a good novel. (I think.)
1. Come up with an idea. The idea comes from anywhere. Someone sitting with their hands covered in blood at night. My teacher saying “Save the Males.” An imagine conversation that I have while sweeping the floor.
Often, these ideas will eventually connect themselves. In September I made a space ship out of a piece of wood and some string. I had a rough idea about some guy who wants to run the mail route. Then a couple months later I had a conversation in my head that eventually developed the idea of Shad as a sweeper. The ideas I enjoy most are the spontaneous ones.
Sometimes, I need to force it a bit. Such as, why does Sagi hate the Yoni so? That took me a couple days of actual forcing to get, but it worked out.
2. Clarify the idea / write an outline. This section will include anything from writing an outline to learning about the characters. I have papers and papers where I’ll write comments about the characters, the motivations. If I need it, I’ll even write the timeline. This is all the pre-planning phase and this is where, if a story isn’t work out, I should drop it.
This is also my weakest area. I do not do enough planning because I rely too much on the characters eventual talking to me. Because of that, I end up having an extra step that I don’t always need.
3. Pre-draft writing: THis is the part of the writing where I actually begin the write the book. For some stories, I plan them well enough I don’t need to do this. However, this is my chance to take all my ideas and just spit them on the page. I need to do that. Otherwise, I’ll just keep staring at the outline and thinking, ‘This looks good. I’m ready to write.” when in reality I have no clue what their houses even look like. (Very important for science fiction stories, don’t you think?)
While writing this, I’ll put anything on the paper. I even changed my mermaids from fins into feet in the middle of it. Because I knew I would be going back, explaining, expanding and fixing.
Note: I’m sure some writers out there will call that actually my first draft. However, because it’s so bad and so vague, I call it the pre-draft. This is where I’ll drop a story if I need to.
4. 1st draft editing: Now, I go through my pre-draft and fill in everything. The things I learn about the characters are added. I add details of dress and mannerisms. Words become uniform throughout the book. By the time I’m done with this part, I have a first draft and a pretty good idea about where the story is and where it goes.
This is where I am at with my mermaid novel, if you care.
5. 2nd draft editing: Now I’m ready to actually improve the text. I’ll change things from, “Avi felt angry at Eyal for his betrayal.” To something more along the lines of, “Avi wanted nothing more to do with Eyal after his betrayal.” I remove passive words if I see them and overall just make it an easier read.
6. Paper edit: Now I actually need to invest money. I print out the novel on paper and begin the long, long process of editing it, then inputting the corrections. This not only lets me see my errors better, but I, for whatever reason, can play around with the words more. It gives me more freedom. Don’t ask me why a computer doesn’t do that; I don’t know. This is a really, really important step. By this time, I’ll probably show it to a few special people.
Right about now is also when I should start working on a synopsis.
7. Second computer edit: Now, I go through the story again, this time highly critically, and fix all of the errors I see. Anything! I remove as many passive verbs as I can. I keep the story tight and interesting. From that, I see what else I need to do and go from there.
By now, I pretty much get bored with my novel for one, and for two, I don’t see much of anything else that needs to be fixed.
Obviously, all writers are different. If you’re a new writer, you’re going to do less or more. I actually only did a one time read through–on the computer–of my stories and thought that was good enough when I began. So I’ve come a long way.
I’ve also seen how you can edit by putting on five different kinds of glasses. Something like, first you look at it just for structure, then you look at it for clarity, then grammar, ect. (I don’t remember them all.) That doesn’t work for me. I have to fix everything at once. Also, just because this is how it seems that I work doesn’t mean that’s how I do it for everything I write.
And, like I said, I get bored. But I’ve also heard that when you get bored with a story, that’s generally a sign you’re done with it.
I think I’ll always be learning how to write.
So, I’ve been working on the mermaid novel. There’s two things that make this a learning experiance for me.
1) My first novel I planned for a year before I wrote it. This one, I started planning for it about a year ago.
2) Multiple POVs.
I didn’t expect multiple POVs to make a difference. Boy, am I wrong!
The biggest one that it makes a difference in is AVi, because Avi doesn’t have a consistent appearance. I have about 45 chapters and of those, she only gets about seven. I need then to still be consistent but even when editing, I see her so inconstantly that I don’t get a good feel for her character.
Last night, I figured out the obvious solution. I edit them in order of character’s POV. As such, because I like Avi right now, I edit all of the Avi scenes. Then I move onto another character and another until I’m done.
I got this idea because while I was editing a scene involving Ronen intentionally ignoring her, I realized that when Ronen decides he’s going to actually show he likes her, he’s going to kiss her. This makes me really excited. Now, normally, I couldn’t do anything about that until I go from chapter 8 to chapter 25. Instead of having to wait that long, I now get to jump ahead and edit chapter 24 and 25 where that happens. Then I get to jump ahead to when Avi discovers that her real boyfriend betrayed her.
For once, the story doesn’t seem so completely overwhelming. And though I know that I used future scenes to motivate me to write current scenes, I have a new plan for the boring scenes. I ask myself a few questions.
This scene is boring.
1) Is this scene needed? Why? If no, delete and move on. If yes, go to question 2.
2) Would it be better to rewrite the scene how that I know the point or try to salvage what I wrote?
Typically, I find that if I’m finding a scene to be boring to edit, it’s either so badly written that I should just restart or, more likely, it isn’t even needed or can be combined with another scene. (I did that with Shad and the resulting scene was sweet!)
It’s funny, because even though I can skim the books in Barnes and Noble and say I know most of it, I can still discover things that I still need to learn. It’s partly what makes writing fun. Maybe that’s actually why I like it so much.
How do you write?
So here’s today’s fun survey. How do you write? And by that, I mean do you write one book the whole way, edit it, and then move on to the next? Do you write more than one? Do you write in forward motion or do you write each section as they come to you?
Moreover, why do you do it that way?
Personally, I write in chronological order, but much of me thinks that I shouldn’t be doing that all the time. I always gets stuck when I need to move from March to April, and nothing really happens. So then I postpone the writing. I think if I realize that the things I want to write are the really interesting things, well, then, the things I don’t want to write are obviously boring. Maybe?
Don’t know. Just a thought. The one time I did write out of order, the characters were completely different and I kept very little of it. I’m having a harder time deciding how to balance everything that I want to write.
Learning to Love Your Hates.
I’ve talked before, extensively actually, about editing. In short, I didn’t do it much as a beginning writer. I’d go from first draft to second draft and that then declare it finished. (I edited on the computer moreover.) When I made a list of the common mistakes new writers make, not editing was on the top.
Then I read a post about someone who hates outline. I do believe he called it the evil of evils. Albert proposes that we need to do the bad stuff along with the good stuff. That even though I love the ability to create a world, and the characters, and the plot, and write it all together, in order to be a good writer we need to do the parts we hate.
Which started me thinking: What do I really hate about writing?
• I love developing characters and worlds. Although recently I’ve been doing more developing characters than worlds, I love both parts of that.
• I love the ah-ha! moment that comes when I realize the full impact of something, say, how the elections beginning will rip power from Sagi’s hand, and Sagi’s reaction. Or that this one seemingly nice character is really a spy.
• I love writing it all down, watching the characters and the world evolve into something beautiful and yet simple at the same time. Of interlacing the plots together and finally finishing it.
• I really like going back, revisiting the story, and fixing the problems along the way. For those of you who don’t realize it, that is editing. There is something really fun about adding detail now that I understand the characters, their motives and all that.
In reality, that’s all I’ve done. This makes me sad but I can’t say about writing synopses or cover letters or anything of the like because I don’t really know how to do that, and as such, I haven’t done it.
Now that I’ve thought about it, there’s very little I dislike about writing now. The only time I really hate editing is when the story seems too bad to finish. But overall, I have come a long way from doing one computer edit to doing one to two paper edits per book. Hopefully, it has paid off.
What I consider before writing any story.
I’ll be presenting a workshop on creative writing at my school in about two weeks, so I came up with these things that I always look at before I start writing.
What is the goal of the character?
I don’t say plot because that implies that I know the plot. I’m finding that I typically cannot pinpoint a plot until I finish and I can look at the whole picture. But my character needs an initial goal and a plan.
How does goal and plot differ? In Shad, one of my stories, his goal was to win in the intragalatic race. As such, he worked towards that and kept struggling to make it through the race. However, the plot actually turned out to be Shad trying to break away being a sweeper and establish himself in the real world, something I didn’t even realize until I looked at the finish product and saw that, based on where the story ended, that had to be it.
What is the ending?
I will not start writing a story until I know the ending. Period. Because either a) I’ll never learn the ending or b) it’s not a good story. Either way, I need to have a clue on the ending.
Now, sometimes for me that ending is vague. Like, I know they are going to run the aliens off of earth, but I’m not quite sure how. Sometimes it’s quite concrete, like, the story will end with Kayla comes to the new home and Shad meets her.
Character’s Point of View (POV):
That seems strange. Well, of course I’m going to tell it in the character whose story I thought of. However, when I began to systematically think about the POVs, I realized that sometimes the obvious character isn’t the best.
For example, I’m going to post a story this week where a mermaid (Avi) has to convince her sister (Nessa) to join an underground liberation movement. Instead of writing it from Avi’s POV though, so Avi keeps having to tell Nessa everything that Avi already knows, I wrote it from Nessa’s POV, which ended up making a very interesting story.
This time also makes me realize whether I really need to tell it in one or two or five people’s POVs.
This goes slightly into the POV, but something I sometimes decide later and sometimes I don’t even decide until after I pick up the story. In general, I will write in third person. However, some stories call for first.
(Then you have the annoying stories that you write that you intend for it only to be a short story and so you write it in first person only to have the characters tell you its a novel, but you don’t want to write it in first person the whole way, so you need a new way of presenting the information without rewriting the whole short story/prelude.)
I think this aspect is a fundamental part of any story. However, I have discovered through a long and tumutious road that a personality doesn’t just come usually. If it does, it is usually perfect. As such, I automatically want to have a clue about how this character acts, is she/he shy, determined, stubborn, brave? And what is the character’s weakness?
Where is the story best told?
Generally, this is obvious. However, not always. And sometimes the setting doesn’t make a difference. But it is something to think about.
I should probably mention that I don’t look at tense. Typically, I’ll write in past tense. If I happen to start writing in present, it’s by mere accident but usually because I hear the voices so well that I just write as they tell me. (No, I am not schizophrenic.)
Why one-sentence summaries are the best.
As I mentioned a while ago, I have become, over the last several months, a fan of one-sentence summaries. Basically, you are to summerize what you have written in one sentence.
First, some guidelines.
- It can only be about 20 words long.
- It cannot contain any character names.
- It has to give a true overview of a story (or paper. I have been using this with research papers as well.) So in other words, you can’t say you’re paper is on abortion’s medical complications when it’s really more a persuasive piece explaining why abortion’s dangers have never really been researched.
- If you have more than one character, write an overall summary for the novel, and then another summary for each character.
I have done this, and it was actually a lot of work. So why would you want to all that hard work? I shall tell you.
1) It gives you direction in editing. If you have that summary in the back of your mind, you’ll be able realize what can be deleted and what you can keep. If you are only kinda sure, you still might need something kept.
2) It tell you when to stop. Oftentimes, newer writers go on longer than they need to, and the end stuff is all boring drivel.
For example: In Shad, my one-sentence summary is along the lines of, “A talented pilot tries to escape his life of condemnation after rescuing a doctor.” So based on this, he needs to leave his current life and settle down somewhere else for the story to be complete. However, and I can’t include this all in my sentence, in order do that he needs to race a big race and win it.
What if I just made my sentence along the lines of, “A talented pilot decides to compete in the most prestigious race in hopes of escaping his criminal background.” Based on this, when he crosses the finish line on the race, he should have just one more chapter to tie everything up. Instead, I have closer to four. Why? Various reasons along the lines of him telling me so, but more than that, the story isn’t done, because the story is truly about what I said earlier–him finding a new life away from criminals.
3) It tells you what to include in your introduction. This is more for formal writing and short stories. Both of these need the plot, or direction of the story told quickly. If you know what your story really is about through the one-sentence summary, then you’ll know what to say in your first page or so, in order to tell your reader what direction the story will take.
Example (again. I know. You can skip over it if you’re bored. :)): I’m writing story about mermaids, which I’m hoping to post shortly. (maybe by Thanksgiving.) Unfortunately, I didn’t write a one-sentence summery about this story but the plot focuses around the disappearances of Adamah’s, false alarms, who’s doing it, why, and the results of knowing that answer. But in order to make it so you can understand this background, I couldn’t have it start where I needed to. This informal, vital information, came much too late for the reader to understand it. Thus, I needed to make a new introduction, and it worked quite fine.
4) It makes sure that everything stops together. This goes back to number 2, butt the idea is that if you have summary, then you don’t leak the substory over onto the ending of the real story. Trust me–this is really important.
5) It helps other people edit your story. I work in the writing center at my school, so when students need help with editing their papers. they come to me. Oftentimes, I ask them what the paper is about. If they give me an answer along the lines of, “Well, it’s kinda a reaction paper about the education of athletic trainers and, yeah, that’s it.” it’s a lot harder for me to edit it than when you say, “It is a reaction paper of the educational requirements for an athletic trainer.” Make sense?
So that’s about all there is. I really do encourage you to consider trying to do one sentence summaries for your writing assignments. They have proved to be very helpful.
Research paper–meet Wikipedia!
With the rise of the internet, wikipedia has become a popular source of information of all kinds. An often-heard statement may be, “According to Wikipedia” or “I looked it up on Wikipedia.”
However, one of the first thing that people are told when writing a formal college paper is:
You cannot cite wikipedia as one of your sources!
Well, why not? And if we can’t, what good is it?
The general answer to why not is that it is user-created content. But what does that possible mean?
Let’s say you are to do a research paper on fezzes. So you start reading:
Now, since you know nothing about fezzes, that sounds reasonable. Maybe slight unprofessional but reasonable.
However, what it should read is:
What happened with that?
Someone edited the wikipedia article. That is what it means by user-created content. Anyone can create anything. Not only might have you put in your paper that fezzes’ name may come from the word “cool” in Greek, but you might have mentioned that fezzes are worn with bow-ties.
Another example, with less pictures. My brother and mom were having an argument about the word “bloke“. Bloke is an English term for basically a regular man. My mom did not like the sound of the word, and did not think that it was appropriate for use in South Dakota, USA. So my brother edited the wikipedia artile to say:
North America, except Quebec and South Dakota: dated, rare.
Now, since my mom was originally citing wikipedia, wikipedia now agrees with my brother’s side and thus, she loses.
Now that we’ve gotten it cleared up as to why we cannot use wikipedia as a source, what good is it in formal writing? There are actually several good uses for it.
1) A starting point. Say that you need to write a paper on a topic you know nothing about. You might not have even heard about the topic. You can go to wikipedia and get a background of the said topic. Say, also, that you are writing a position paper and you aren’t really quite sure what the other side is saying. On at least some topics, wikipedia will give a good foundation for what the opposition says, so you can counter their arguments.
2) A point of reference. Just because you cannot cite wikipedia does not mean that you cannot cite wikipedia’s citation. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can take a section of an article, say, here:
The Turkish word “fes” may refer to the city of Fez in Morocco, or to the name of the crimson berry, which was imported from that country and was used to dye the felt.
Go to the 2 source here:
- ^ Fez in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary
- ^ a b Rugh, Andrea B., “Reveal and Conceal: Dress in Contemporary Egypt“, p.13, (1986) ISBN 978-0815623687
- ^ “Byzantine and Modern Greek studies, Volumes 1-4” (IngentaConnect) p.91 (1975)
And type that up in MLA or APA or whatever format you need for your paper. I’m sorry, but you do need to actually read the source you are citing, because sometimes people will misconstrue the article’s meaning. But, if you are having a difficult time finding sources, sometimes wikipedia can be there to give you options.
3) Pictures. There are some terms that are really easy to do a search for. Say, beagles. I do a search for beagles and I get quite a few. However, if I do a search for fezzes I get some. Not that many however.
However, I do a search what the official weight of the kilogram stored in France looks like and I get nothing. Not a clue. However, I go to wikipedia, look up kilogram and I get:
Which is apparently called the international prototype kilogram. I didn’t know that.
Now that I’ve seen the picture, if I can’t include it in what I am writing (and most images on wikpedia are either licensed creative commons or public domain, so you can use the picture.), I can at least describe what it looks like.
So, wikipedia does have its place and is a valuable research tool, both to understand the topic at hand, and to get places to do further research. So now you know how to use wikipedia when writing research papers.
do it your own way
So, I have recently been attempting to try something called the snowflake method of writing. (Forgive me absence of a link. I have very poor internet at the moment so finding it is difficult. If you are very curious, look at previous Friday posts.) Basically, you write small summaries of your story, and summaries of characters, and you continue to expand them until you have a good enough synopsis of everything that you can just write.
So, I tired it. I got as far as step three, where I write a synopsis of a character, and got stuck. First, I’ve never actually seen a synopsis of a character and second, although I have upward of ten characters, the story I think is mostly only told from Daria’s POV. Third, some of characters were stubborn and didn’t tell me what I wanted to know when I wanted to know.
So i resorted back to my old fall back. I went back to paper.
I don’t know what it is about paper or why I can operate better with paper, but ever since I started writing, I have almost always done my brainstorming on paper. Just scrap paper with my microbiology notes works well enough. And I fill these pages with tiny, tiny little letters and sentences and thoughts.
And it worked. Mostly.
I figured out some of the characters’ names. I figured out what kind of scenes I need. I figured out a lot of plot holes. I figured out almost everything that i couldn’t figure out on paper. The only thing, that I know of, that I haven’t figured out yet is what happens to one of the character’s sisters.
So the only other question I have is if I want to change the POV. Orginally I was going to write this much like I wrote Shad, with only there being the main character, Daria’s, POV. But now that I’m looking at it and I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I want to put in more POVs. Particularly, if I can do it, the captain’s, because that would add a lot of tension if the reader knows why Daria suddenly got a promotion, but Daria doesn’t know why. (If you have any thoughts about putting the antagonist’s POV in a story, I’d really like to hear them.)
My only problem is it might make things weird, but I think it might be worth it to have it weird.
Anyway, lesson learned: If you know that something works, sometimes that is your best bet when you’re stuck in a story. Sometimes something new works, but sometimes the way you’ve always done it works too, and we have just stopped it for whatever reason.
I’m going to start working on the outline, and maybe I’ll be writing it by next week. (This is a real time post, if you care, so next week is really next week.) No such luck with Shad though. These synopses seem harder than I thought and I’m lacking the motivation to write it.