Monday, December 14, 2015

A Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Revising the First Two Chapters of a Novel

Because the beginning of the novel sets up the rest of the book and, in a way, nearly dictates the everything that happens after it, I've been busy at work trying to revise the first two chapters of my novel. 

I'm pretty sure I have it all figured out.

There is a lot going into the process. This is a character-driven novel and the reader needs to connect to at least one of the characters and be at least interested in the others, while also having an idea of where things could go. Even if that's not where they go, the reader should be able to look back and recall that what happened was evident from the beginning.

At least that's what I'm going for at this moment.
Learn the simple steps to revising two chapters.   Image: "four eyes" (CC BY 2.0) by istolethetv
Today, I am sharing with you my easy 65-step process of re-writing the first two chapters of a character-driven novel so that the mystery behind revising will be revealed.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Revising is not the same as editing.

Many writers see the word revision as “to see again,” and then they re-read their manuscript for consistency, for errors, for overused words. They re-read for cliches and pacing. This is hardly more than editing.
Revision isn't just seeing again. Image: "Image from page 21 of ”Traité de chirur" (Public Domain) by Internet Archive Book Images
These writers are missing a key step: re-visioning.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

How to Revise a Novel—Step 3

In Step 2, we looked at how to use Larry Brooks' 4-part system for revising a shrunken version of the novel. Today we'll talk about utilizing the work you did there to manage a revision with multiple storylines.
4 story parts / 4 colors

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

7 Residencies You Still Have Time to Apply For

Need a little time away to finish up your manuscript? Will a month in the woods spark your creative mind? These residencies offer writers a chance to step away from the daily grind and get to work without distractions.

Duration: Mid-February through April 
Who’s Eligible: Writers in any genre
Location: Hambidge, Georgia
Deadline: September 15, 2015

Go rustic in Sheridan, Wyoming. Image: "Google Street View - Pan-American Trek -" (CC BY 2.0) by kevin dooley

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to Revise a Novel--Step 2

Last time, in Step 1, I took you through the process of shrinking down a novel and looking at it in three acts.

I had mixed feelings about this because I already felt I had a good idea that my draft disintegrated into a hodge-podge of random scenes in the third act. This was solidly upheld in the shrunken three-act process. It was useful in some ways, but I wanted it to be more useful.

I wanted an epiphany.
I wanted a miracle.
I wanted the secret to fixing a novel.

Logically, I know there isn't a magic pill that will solve my novel's problems, but it doesn't stop me from searching. I want to know something I don't already know.

So this is the next thing I did with my shrunken novel.
Okay. I didn't shrink it this small.   Image: "The Worlds Smallest Dictionary" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by practicalowl

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

7 Reasons to Learn to Love Revising

I meet lots of writers who say they hate revising. Others have told me they just write a draft and give it to an editor. Done.

I don't understand. Revising is writing. Therefore, if you love writing, you also love revising. Yes, it's a complex and difficult love, but it's just that which brings the greatest reward.
Love takes care. Image "banksy - peaceful hearts doctor - 3" (CC BY 2.0) by Eva Blue
And because I don't want you to miss out on this amazing love, I think we should talk about the reasons a writer needs to buckle down and commit his heart and soul to revising his novel.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to Revise a Novel—Step 1

If you're anything like me, your first draft is a giant mess.
Chapters? Who needs chapters? No. I don't have chapters yet. Image: "Adventures of Captain Greenland (table o" (CC BY 2.0) by earlynovelsdatabase
Before I began the revision process in mid-June, I knew I had out-of-order scenes. I didn't even have chapters. I knew that, as I pushed characters through a plot, they changed. No amount of planning prepared me for how my characters changedeven though I go through various revisions of character building and multiple character exercises throughout the process of writing so that I can understand them better. I just don't know what will come up. I knew my plot got messy and I became disjointed as a writer near the end. I knew I was not even close to committed to the end; it was mechanical, to get there and say, This draft is done.

I knew there were so many issues... so so many.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

8 Reasons Why Good Books Are Rejected

Your novel is brilliant. You know it is.

So why aren't any agents picking it up?

This is not a post about delusions of the quality of one's writing. It's about why you send your book out to 10 agents and another 10, and then 10 more, and you still haven't gotten a nibble.

It takes sending a book out to more agents than you would imagine before you find the right one. And that's what it's about: finding the right person, the one who will be as committed to your book as you are.
You're not represented ...yet. Persevere. Image "rejected" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by ☻☺

Thursday, June 11, 2015

5 Ways Your Dialogue Tags Suck: Dialogue Diatribe #2

Dialogue tags shouldn't be difficult. Trust me. As an editor who reads the work of new writers, dialogue tags can get really screwed up and entirely disrupt the flow of a story.

Don't take this lightly.

In my last post on dialogue, I explained the mechanics of dialogue. Today I want to talk about the tags themselves.
Make your tags invisible. Image "Memorias de un hombre invisible
(CC BY-NC 2.0) by 'J' Jose Maria Perez Nuñez
The thing with dialogue tags is that when people begin writing fiction, they often begin to see that they are writing he said and she said and it feels like a lot of repetition. As writers, we're taught to avoid using the same words too often, so we want to fix this problem. Unfortunately, in attempting to fix dialogue tags, many writers wind up with bad ones.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Courage to be Average Before Brilliant

I'm writing to you today from the Pima Writers' Conference in Tucson,Arizona. The ice broke on the Santa Cruz River on Friday. There is no water in the river; it just means the temperature reached over 100 degrees for the first time this year. It's been that way for two days now and it'll be that way today, too. Ugh. Take me to a writing oasis!
Refresh the writing soul. Image "Oasis and Wonderland" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Dean Terry

Monday, May 25, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 13 Activities: A Clean Finish

Hello. How is your week going?

Well, it's an exciting time—we're in our last week of the novel draft.
Get ready to write this! Image "3:10 to Yuma (1957)" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by twm1340

Monday, May 18, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 12: Thinking about the End

It may seem pre-mature to start thinking about the resolution of your novel when you have just been writing 2500 words a weekyou're barely over 100 pages! But with this plan, you've written a crappy first draft in 13 weeks, so you have approximately 32,500 words. It's short; around 130 pages. That's the intent.

When you write a whole story really briefly you have the skeleton to work with in the next drafts. And the drafts that follow. You have something to work with so that you can build a more complex and interesting story, so you can develop the intricacies and explore emotions with greater focus, so you can refine the language and the narrator. In my world of writing, once you finish that crappy draft, you finally have room for the joy of creating a story that is it's own.

Take some time this week to dream big. Image: martinnak15 on Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, May 11, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 11: Dialogue, Part 1

Why do so many "writers" not know how to write dialogue? I mean why don't they know how punctuation and capitalization in dialogue work?
If you don't know how the mechanics of dialogue work, readers question your writing ability. Image "Talking heads" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Gianni Dominici

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 10: Getting Past the Slump

Well, it's Week 10. We should all be close to the end.

I'd like to take this time to remind all of us that this is not perfect. It may not even be good. But it's a draft that we can work with in the revision.
Is your brilliant story wilting in the middle? Image "Drooping Tulip" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Lynn Friedman
By this point in the novel, I'm skipping scenes, or just writing summaries, or just writing something terrible that I want to erase right away. But I don't erase it. I tell people I want to delete it, but I don't delete a damned thing until I revise. Not even he worst crap.

Monday, April 27, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 9: The Middle

Yes, I know it's not the middle of 13 weeks, but it's probably the middle of your story right now. Or maybe a little past the middle. The part where focus diffuses, where the plot strays, where the story gets claustrophobic or entirely hijacked by something just introduced. The part where the writer begins to question herself. Thus, allergies kick in, stomach flu comes on, or migraines take over.

Here's the remedy. Now get back to work. Image: National Museum of American History Smithsonian

Monday, April 20, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 8: The Chaos of Figuring Out a Novel

If you started this 13 week process with a new book project, you're probably still in the happy I'm gonna get this novel done! phase. For me, this lasts until, approximately, page 78. It's funny that this number has a hold on me. I started two novels before I was 12 years old and stopped writing them both on page 78. I still find this number to be one where everything comes easily—I don't know what it is, but it flows without much effort.
"Almost all interesting systems are chaotic..." says Martin Sharman. I'd include writing a novel in that. 
Image: Martin Sharman, "Quantum Ripples in Chaos"
Now, as I muddle through the last quarter, everything takes a lot longer. Parts of scenes flow, but I'm not sure where they fit. Am I introducing new stuff? I really can't care at this point. When I reread, the new ideas that I bring in may be just what is needed to help me cut out the first hundred pages. Who knows? It's just writing.

If you're writing a novel with a strong physical plot, or a character-based novel working primarily with one or two characters, I'm jealous. I want a plot-driven novel right about now.

Monday, April 13, 2015

13 Week Novel-—Week 7: Setting as Character

6 Ways to Develop Setting as Character

Setting is critical to your story. To any story. To feel like we really are someplace, whether that place is on the moon, in ancient Mesopotamia, the White House, or Tucson in 1965.
Is your setting overwhelmed by words? Image: din bcn

Monday, April 6, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 6: Deeply Knowing Characters

For the novelist, the first draft is all about character and plot. Sure, setting, voice, dialogue, and all the other elements come into play because all of it is part of storytelling and without that we wouldn't be having much fun. But the reality is that if a writer pays too much attention to anything more than character and plot, he will slow down.
How well do you know your characters? How well do they know themselves? Image: Richard John Pozon

Monday, March 30, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 5: Scenes

What should scenes do?
What do they include?

I tend to say that since we have been taking a novel apart and annotating what is going on in each scene, we can easily look at the scenes we have summarized on our note cards and know. We are already so far ahead of anyone who has not taken a novel apart in this way.
Go from a skeletal scene to something more fleshy. Image: Kathy on Flickr
When looking at scenes in the rough draft, I insist that:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Writing Conference in Tucson

Arizona writers: There is a writing conference, Pima Writers' Workshop, coming up in Tucson this May. It doesn't get a lot of publicity, but it usually has a slew of agents and all attendees get a manuscript consultation.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 4: Exploring Structure

Oh god! It can't possibly be done in thirteen weeks! Can it?

I, personally, am overwhelmed and behind. I'm beginning to think that I should, at the very least, be one week ahead of you to say what has worked for me. But in truth, what works for me may seem ridiculous to you. And what works for you may be drudgery to me.
Get ready to dissect a novel. Image: Arallyn!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 3 Activities: Plots & Subplots

I've got several things on my mind this week. I know I'm late, and it's not from all the issues swimming around in my little human brain. The Tucson Festival of Books wore me out, and I think it added to the ideas lazily backstroking into my consciousness from my subconscious mind. 

I know you've been keeping up on working through the next 2500 words, though. 

And I've been thinking.

First, about the long novel process. (How unlikely.) I was at the gigantic Tucson Festival of Books. I only got to one panel. I couldn't get into two others because they were so crowded. Ridiculous. 
The size of this book festival is difficult to fathom. Image: Lars Hammar
Anyway, in the panel I actually attended, it was encouraging to hear one author say he wrote what he thought was a novel in six weeks, then he spent three years actually rewriting and shaping it into a novel. The other novelist on the panel was floored. “It took me six years to write my last novel!” he said. (Or something like that.) I like being reminded that it takes a while to struggle through this.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What I Learned During Week 2: First Chapters & Character-Driven Story

Week 2 has been a little crazy for me. Teaching, preparing for the Tucson Festival of Books, feeling ill, editing, writing the book, and trying to keep up with this blog. I have mixed feelings about week 2.
How did you feel about week 2? I have mixed emotions on the productivity... Image: Soren Rajczyk

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Write Your Novel Now! Week 2 Activities: First Chapters & Character-Driven Story

What do we expect from the first few chapters?
A great first line? Establishing the tone of the book and a character that readers care about? Some sort of conflict or trouble?
Do we get hooked into stories the same way each time? Image: Local Studies NSW
Some people think that the central conflict must be apparent of the first page. Others say that may be more about your style, your story, and your genre. Some think hinting at that conflict may be enough in the beginning and simply creating a question in the readers' minds can intrigue them into reading on.

What do you need in the first chapters of a book?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

6 Reasons Why "Write Your Novel Now" is a Better Process.

With Write Your Novel Now! you write 2500 words per week, read, and do some other activities. Why is this a good approach?
There's more to it than writing... Image: Roco Julie on Flickr
  1. You don't alienate your friends and family because you still have a life--living life is necessary to being a writer.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Write Your Novel Now! Week 1 Activities: Getting Started

Alright. It's Sunday and we're starting the 13 week novel. Three months and we'll all have a draft. Let's get moving...
Kill it in 13 weeks. Image: Vaguely Artistic on Flickr.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Write Your Novel Draft Now! Are You Ready?

Deadline Looms
Deadlines. Blergh. Image: Bora Bora on Flickr.
I've been working on this damned novel for long enough and I've got the deadline for finishing the rough draft set for the beginning of June.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What is a Writer's Voice?

          It takes a great deal of experience to become natural.
                                                                        —Willa Cather

As a writer, I want to be able to write anything, from any point of view, with varying voices. So why do I worry about my voice if I must immerse myself in my characters' voices?
Speaking loudly doesn't ensure your voice will be heard.
(Image courtesy of: Darwin Bell on flickr)
The importance of a writer's voice could be explained like this:

You read a book and can see that it is skillfully written. It has an interesting plot, strong imagery, likable characters, and all that. Yet it is still, somehow, unfulfilling.

The story is probably lacking the writer's voice.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Are you a messy writer?

How I start a novel: ...or this one, at least.

Some people are planners. They plan out every plot point. They plan all the arcs. They study formulas and beat sheets and structures and I don't know what. Then they get all over me for not knowing every single mark that my characters are supposed to hit.

Other people totally poo-poo the planning process. I've had people on various forums snidely tell me to Have fun planning because the rest of us are writing. (Or making troll-like comments on forums?)
Nature's model of the process of writing a novel. Image courtesy of Heber Farnsworth on Flickr.
Lots of people say, "I get to know my characters as I write."

When I used to write short stories, I also did that. I didn't plan. I just let the

Friday, January 2, 2015

What question is your novel asking?

Story Questions vs. Plot Questions

I ran across Karyne Norton's blog the other day. Karyne is a young adult fantasy writer. She hasn't tried pitching any of her books to agents and has not self-published. She wants the book she does that with to be good and understands that writing a book is a learning process. I respect this. (It might feel familiar to me.) In one of her posts on 

It's easier to answer when you know what the question is.
This was exciting because it was something that I had my novel group focus on when we first started out. When Pigs in Heaven first came out, I'd read that Barbara Kingsolver started her book with a question. The question for Pigs in Heaven was something like, “When their needs don't match up, how do you determine whether the needs of a single person or their community are more important?” Or something like that. Since I'd heard that, I'd always tried to ask a question that seemed vital, but which a person isn't able to answer quickly or simply.