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dragging revisions

Oh, I am the easily amused type.

I will play with the snow on WordPress All. Day Long. Move my cursor back and forth to watch the flake flow change as if buffeted by breezes unseen.

That’s enough alliteration for one day.

I love the annual WordPress Snowfall so much I changed by background to a dark spacey thing to make it show better. Sure, it takes forever to load, but it’s just until January. HUMOR ME.

I am still in the revising doldrums, very soon done. And that’s my testimony about revising today:


I’ve been three chapters away from finishing this revision for about, oh, six chapters now. How does this happen? Am I futzing around, going in circles because I don’t know how to end the dang book?


Am I fooling around because I have a fear of finishing?



Here’s what has happened: layers.

I’ve discovered several more layers to my main character, which twisted the plot a bit. Which is ramping up the tension as I near the end, and of course, will make the climax sing like an opera.

I admit I’m a little impatient to be finished with this draft so I can be on to something else while it simmers a bit, then start fresh on the third draft. (I do love my own work. *cough*) But I’ve read an awful lot of books with hurried endings. It’s an easy trap to fall into, assuming the reader is as ready to be done with the story as you are.


You may have been working on your novel for a year by the time you get to the end, but your reader has been working on reading it a considerably shorter time.

You’ve got to maintain the same enthusiasm for the story you want the reader to have.




listen to your characters

Yes, I am still on my second draft.

No, I’m not stuck. I’m churning out pages like a house a-fire.

My plot has evolved and a lot of my revising has turned into rewriting. In fact today a COOL HUGE TYING-TOGETHER-TWIST has come to me.

How did this miracle happen?

I spent time with my characters.

Character and plot are inseparable–after all, who drives the plot? Your characters BETTER drive the plot. If they don’t, if they are simply victims of an outside force, it’s not a book, it’s a puppet show.

Plot is not a series of occurrences, it’s a story that happens to a particular group of characters because of who they are, where they’ve come from and the choices they make.

Let your characters guide you. They know the way.


forget sprockets: keep revising

Are we all revising like bunnies?

Yeah, I have no clue what that simile means, either. But aren’t they cute?

To recap:

  • First, I printed out all my chapters.

That concludes my recap.


Yes, yes, I know I am a sworn pantser. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when only an outline will do. My time is AFTER the first draft.

Bob is in pretty good shape, but there are threads in the beginning of the manuscript I’d forgotten about by the time I got to the end. Miraculously, many of them tie in nicely with later plot points.

I think that’s because I let my subconscious play.

Some ideas didn’t turn out well and were abandoned. When I’m first-drafting I don’t go back and rewrite unless I’m really stuck.  I try to keep moving forward in the story, as I tend to ruminate on perfect turns of  phrase. Which is ridiculous at a stage when I’m writing whole chunks of manuscript that might be thrown out.

After I write the outline of my first draft AS IS, I can go through and make the choices of threads to keep, threads to drop, threads to connect.

I make sure the plot is logical.

That the subplots ENHANCE the main plot.

Then I write  another outline AS IT WILL BE. This is what I’ll work off of for my second draft.

But. There’s one other thing I have to settle on before I start the second draft….



Hang on.

now is the time when we revise

Dance, revise, it’s all the same.

It’s finding the rhythm, weaving the patterns. Making art out of good ideas.

Haven’t been around much because of some legitimate reasons and some lazy reasons, but I’m here now, kids. And we’re going taking a ride on the revision train. Let me punch your ticket.


My tracks might be a little bumpy, but no catastrophic failures are allowed.

I’m going to loosely keep you up to date on what I’m doing, not because I’m such an expert, but because what I do might spark something that tweaks your own process for the better. We’re all learning.

I write in chapters. Not everyone does. I have a couple of critique partners who don’t. (One has a BIG DEAL AGENT NOW.) I need the structure of chapters to keep my plot chunks straight. I also like the ZINGO of dramatic chapter endings that make the reader either turn the page as fast as he can or put the book down and go, “whoa”.

So most of my manuscript has not been printed out. Oh, it’s been backed up on the external hard drive, baby. If you don’t have a big-deal terabyte external hard drive bought for your birthday by your darling children, you should be backing up on a thumb drive or in Dropbox or Google docs or some Cloud of some sort. You can even email your chapters to yourself, the old fashioned way.

As I print out my chapters I remember that–oh yeah–I rewrote some of them, and have three chapter sixes, four chapter twelves…and I curse myself for saving them as, “chap6bob.doc, chap6toobob.doc, chap6imeanitbob.doc”.


At least I saved them all in the same folder. THE SAME FOLDER.

So today I will find the most recently revised rendition of each chapter, print and collate them all together in a physical file.

Because my next step is to go through every chapter and write on an index card what happens in that chapter.


master writer #2–laura manivong, escaping the tiger

Last Friday I started a blog-series in which I look at kidlit books whose authors have mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.

This week it’s Laura Manivong’s Escaping the Tiger:

Straddling the Middle-Grade /Young Adult market, Escaping the Tiger tells the story of one family’s escape from communist Laos. 12-year-old Vonlai, his sister Dalah and his parents risk their lives to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. There, they discover life in a refugee camp is anything but pleasant. They will have to conquer hunger, violence, boredom and despair in their quest to build a future where they can be free.


She makes you feel as if you are physically present in her setting.

Maybe you’ve been in a refugee camp in southeast Asia, but I haven’t. After reading Escaping the Tiger, however, I feel like I visited there for a very long time.

1.  A great way to establish setting, especially in an exotic locale, is to USE DESCRIPTIONS THAT ARE ROOTED IN THE CULTURE WHICH YOU ARE DESCRIBING. Laura does this here, where Pah tells Vonlai on the night of their escape how quietly he must walk on the way from their house to the Mekong River.

“Walk like a tiger hunting a meal. Understand?”

Notice that Laura isn’t even describing “the setting”, per se, but this one line lets you visualize an entire jungle, and  Vonlai walking silently through it. As a bonus, the ferocious image of a tiger lets you feel the anxiety of carrying this order out successfully. It means life or death.

2.  Laura has the distinct advantage of being married to Troy Manivong, who escaped from Laos and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand as a young man. She had access to USE DETAILS  SO SPECIFIC ONLY SOMEONE WHO HAD BEEN THERE WOULD KNOW THEM.

“His bike that had a rolled towel wired and taped on for a seat.”

Even novels that are pure fiction contain details so well thought-out they appear to be true.

3.  An effective way to draw in your readers is to SHOW HOW THE SETTING AFFECTS YOUR CHARACTERS. Laura doesn’t describe the weather or living conditions anywhere in this passage:

“Inside the building, Vonlai tried to sit upright on the bench that lined the wall. Pah and Meh filled out paper-work. Dalah slouched over her own lap, her face buried behind a wall of hair that should have been washed a week ago. An oscillating fan pushed a blanket of air toward them every few seconds….

Vonlai swept palmfuls of sweat from behind his knees…

Vonlai rubbed a hand across his leg. A streak of clean skin appeared and a muddy drip of sweat fell from his hand.”

I would like a bubble bath and loofah sponge immediately, please. Ick.

Of course Laura Manivong has a lot of tricks in her bag. Pick up Escaping the Tiger to learn from her, my candidate to you as Setting-the-Reader-In-The-Book Master.

Did you know Escaping the Tiger started out as a Picture Book? What does Laura’s Manivong-family think of the book? Watch a mini-interview:

master writer #1–jennifer brown, hate list

I have a brilliant, new idea.

No, no, come back!

For the next weeks I’m going to profile different kidlit books whose authors have mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.  These are the books I go to when I’m stuck in revisions and need a refresher course.

First up:

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

A gut-wrenching YA, The Hate List is about the aftermath of a school shooting. Valerie and Nick, two high school outcasts who find each other, are bullied by just about everyone else in the school. As a way to blow off steam they keep a running list of people who treat them badly–the “hate list”. Near the end of junior year, Nick cracks. He shoots up the school, killing kids, using the hate list as a guide. Even though Valerie saved a classmate she’s implicated in the deed. She helped write the hate list. She loved Nick. How responsible is she? How much guilt does she bear?


She can make you feel sympathy for her villain.

Can you imagine a more unsympathetic character than a mass-murderer?

Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer doesn’t excuse Nick’s actions. Or blame them on society. But she does give us a reason to lament the loss of his soul. Nick is by turns repulsive and endearing.

1. The poor, misunderstood villain is a great way to stir up sympathy. Jennifer does it here, by CONTRASTING WHAT SOCIETY BELIEVES ABOUT THE VILLAIN vs WHAT THE NARRATOR KNOWS

How could Valerie have loved such an awful monster? Jennifer takes us back to when Nick and Valerie meet:

  • Society sees: “His clothes were ratty, sometimes too big, and never stylish.”
  • But Valerie looks beyond that: “He had these really sparkly dark eyes and a lopsided smile that was adorably apologetic and never showed his teeth.”

2. Just when you think you’ve got this guy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks pegged, Jennifer gives Nick AN UNEXPECTED INTEREST OR TALENT.

Valerie visits Nick’s room for the first time and stumbles upon his stash.

“…To you yourself, to us, to everyone”

“Alas, how shall this bloody deed be answer’d?” Nick said, quoting the next line before I had a chance to read it.

I sat back and looked at him over the top of the book. “You read this stuff?”

That’s right, Nick is somewhat of a Shakespearean scholar. All on his own. Now, I find that awfully endearing, don’t you?

3. And as you might imagine in a book about bullying, there is more than plenty of UNEARNED SUFFERING.

“I could almost feel the embarrassment and disappointment radiating off of him, could almost see him crumple into defeat before my eyes.”

Note that the most effective use of unearned suffering comes AFTER you have established your villain’s likability.

This has been a mini-crash course. Pick up Hate List to learn from Jennifer Brown, my gift to you as The Sympathy-for-the-Villain Master.

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