How I Edit

As I mentioned last week, though I haven’t been blogging and haven’t been writing as much as I want to, I have managed to edit a few chapters of Oil and Boiling Water. I sent that novel out on query a couple of years ago and got some feedback from agents, several of which didn’t send a form rejection. The novel ended up on standby while I worked my way through my burnout from my old job and then flew my way to Germany.

Because I truly believe in this story,  I figured that I could ease my way back into writing by doing a new pass of edits on the whole thing. It helps that the story sat for a while. Before I set out on my edits, I made a list of my goals. At first, I focused on the feedback I had received: simplify the voice, clarify the opening, age it up (some people thought it was YA and that’s not the story I want to tell).

I read and tweaked, pulling details together into more visible elements, straining relationship a bit more, and cutting down some of the overly lighthearted moments. These tweaks, though rather minor in the grand scheme of things, messed up the progression of the relationships between my characters a little bit. I decided to dig into this a bit more and track the ups and downs of relationships in an Excel table.

Why stop there?

The table grew quickly to help me satisfy additional objectives I added to this pass of edits: check the rhythm of action and drama, make sure the key elements of the story show up regularly in chapters, validate that the longer chapters deserve to be this long, etc.

This is what it looks like now for chapter 1 to 10.

Analyzing my novel in Excel

Building a table out of key elements of my novel.

The colored chapters numbers flag the length. Elements that evolve in the story get a variety of numerical values, while tertiary characters/key plot points get nothing if they are not mentioned in a chapter, a 5 if they are briefly and a 10 if they play a significant role in that chapter. I should probably at least mention the Scholars (my main antagonists) in chapter 5 or 6 because they currently disappear for seven chapters after their first apparition.

Then, that table turned into a series of graphs.

Visualizing the progression of drama and action.

Visualizing the progression of drama and action.

Chapters 12, 21 and 24 are clearly a problem; no drama or action. And to top it off, 12 and 24 are some of my longest chapters. My midpoint does what it should: high action, short breather, high action. There should be high drama close after that and that’s not happening.

These tools have allowed me to paint a clearer picture of what my edits need to accomplish and I’m confident I can fix these issues with rather small changes. The elements of potential drama and action (for example) are in there, but they don’t shine so I’ll point a follow spot on them. ;)

In case you’re curious, here’s the new first 500 words of Oil and Boiling Water. You can compare them to the initial draft (which hadn’t changed all that much in the previous revisions).

The door slammed shut in my face and shook for a couple of my angry heartbeats. I looked down at my bulging breasts, cursing them per my new habit. I had tried everything to get into the University.
Everything.
“You don’t learn, Lady Seymour,” said the guard perched on the high marble wall. The coal-charged drizzle tarnished his apprentice robe, a hybrid between cassock and nobleman’s wear. “If your female brain can’t comprehend the meaning of ‘never’, how could it handle calculus?”
“How would your weak will handle celibacy if I walked your halls?”
The guard scoffed.
Even when I strapped my breasts, borrowed my brother’s clothes and tied my hair in a fashion appropriate for educated lads, my body wasn’t humble enough to pass for a man’s. It was the crux of my predicament, to be sure.
“And you are one to talk,” I continued whilst I had an opportunity to vent some frustration. “The Scholars’ teachings were your birthright and your stupidity squandered it.”
The drizzle had ramped up to a downpour and its drumming on the slate roofs covered whatever the guard mumbled. The angry slant of his brow left no doubt that I had hurt him. Everyone knew that the University’s guards were noblemen who failed one too many classes. He had attacked my ego first.
“Hurry back to your fiancé, my Lady,” he yelled over the din. “You will come closer to science by birthing Britannia’s heir.”
That smarted. A lot.
I wiped the rain off my face with my sleeve. “Expect me back with a working iteration of the prototype your master stole. They will invite me in.”
The guard burst in laughter, and I did the only ladylike thing left to do; I spun on my heel and walked away.
Since the soft spoken words, patience and fluttered lashes couldn’t get me through the mahogany door, I had hoped my gift and the coming storm would get gentlemen to offer me shelter. My scheme failed to consider that Scholars put chauvinism before manners like they put their thirst for knowledge before diplomacy. I wouldn’t make this mistake again.
Time for plan B.
I gathered my petticoats in my arms and stomped down Maryott Avenue, my head held high, as befitted my rank. The thunder roared and my knees buckled, thwarting my march with an ungraceful stumble.
“Do you intend to cripple me before I run away?” I said to the uneven cobblestones. “In league with the Scholars who would cover you in blood?” Steadying myself on a lamppost, I removed my high-heel shoes and stockings before resuming my escape.
The Scholars’ iron grip would bring Britannia’s to its knees before I got pregnant. Already, riots reddened some nights and France watched with coveting eyes. I couldn’t wait for a maybe heir who may grow into a wilful man who could keep chipping away at the Scholars’ walls. No. I had to be the battering ram.

What do you think? How do you plan your edits?


The Importance of Routine

Last time I wrote here was at the beginning of April, a few days after I moved my life across the ocean. Since then, I’ve been trying to find my footing in Germany, but working between Hamburg and Berlin has made it hard to put down roots. So I gave myself some leeway on blogging, writing, the gym and other activities that are usually part of my routine; new job, new country, new language, I’m allowed to lower my expectations toward myself.

By sacrificing my routine on the altar of circumstances, I’ve realized how much these simple things that give rhythm to my days and weeks are important for my creativity. I’m significantly less productive in my writing even though I do spend some time working on that.

Almost four years ago, I wrote an article about the importance of having a Writing Time, but other routine elements matter too. They help bring order to the multitude of actions I take everyday, so that when I sit down to write, my brain can focus (instead of building a To Do/Most Not Forget list for the next day). Routine gives me a feeling of control and security, and makes it easier to let go and let the words flow.

It doesn’t mean that I need every minute planned and every week to be the same, but a certain cadence to my days goes a long way.

Until I move back to Hamburg full time in August, it makes no sense to start certain things (like finding a gym I like). One habit I have kept is to have breakfast with my netbook at a restaurant once every weekend –I found a good Turkish restaurant with a tasty breakfast plate and upbeat music that just bring the ‘sun’ in Sunday. It helps, but I’m not being especially productive at that time, my mind wandering between ‘nomnomnom’ and ‘laundry-grocery-cleaning-sightseeing’. A similar thing happens during my weekly back-and-forth train ride between Berlin and Hamburg.

Long story short, I’m reintegrating blogging into my routine so that it serves the same initial purpose behind the start of this blog in 2010: get me to sit down and write. Though I don’t intend to return to Strings of Retaliation for now –I’m focusing on editing Oil and Boiling Water– I want share thoughts, tips, tricks and shorts on a regular basis and reconnect with hops like Weekend Writing Warrior. That should be a good start on a more productive writing schedule.

What about you? Do you have parts of your routine you need in order to have the mental space to handle writing?


Blau ist sehr schön!

So I’ve been in Germany for three days now and there are a few things I’ve learned/experienced:

1. German people are not particularly cold and distant. The small community of my apartment building invited me for tea and cake, and then barbecue on the roof terrace on my very first day. Also, most strangers are super helpful and tend to squeeze my arm gently as they say goodbye.

2. Turn the key the other way to unlock the door, damn it! When will you learn?

3. That awkward moment when people walk up to me, start speaking enthusiastically in German, and then turn crimson when they realize the only words I understood were “blau” and “schön”. Apparently, my hair is internationally liked.

4. The simplest things are an adventure since I barely understand German (though I’m working on that every day). Just figuring out how to operate the washing machine will be interesting.

Aside from that, my desktop computer needs some love and care before it agrees to feed an image to my monitor, and the first day at work was a busy blast; I had a To Do list before I set foot in the place! That’s perfect for me since nothing bores me more than two weeks of training/thumb-twirling.

That’s it for now!


The Big Move

Oops… I’ve just realized that I informed my critique circle that I would disappear for a while due to a major life change, but didn’t inform you guys.

Don’t hate me! Here’s the skinny!

After a significant amount of time looking for a job, I got two offers: one in game production in Germany and one as a full time teacher in India. Though I enjoy teaching, I’m not ready to do that full time so I picked Germany (it also really clicked with these future coworkers when I interviewed.)

So for the past couple of months, I’ve been selling/giving/trashing 80% of my stuff, and prepping all my paperwork for the big move.

Which happened today.

Yep. I’m currently writing from Hamburg, DE while jetlagged from my flight over from Quebec City.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be spending my time between finding a more long-term alternative to my temporary apartment, starting my new job and grading my students’ last papers. I doubt I’ll have much time to write until May or June (when I’ll move in my other apartment). I’ll probably chronicle my adventures once a week in French and English for your sake and my family’s.

So that’s the big thing that’s kept me away from my writing, blogging and Internet-socializing. The dust will settle and then I’ll be back for real with a ton of new sources of inspiration. ;)


Whatya Working On?

You may remember (or may not, my bad for not being around) that I like to cheer people. The success of people that I know genuinely makes me happy, so I like to help when I can. So tell me, dear reader, what’s your current project? What are you working on and how is it going? Any New Year writing resolution?

On my end, between the hunt for a full time job and the part time teaching of Storytelling in Games, I write. Or edit, actually.

After almost a year of not touching it, I’m dusting off and re-polishing Oil and Boiling Water (steampunk adventure) before sending it on another round of query. Then, it’s back to The Phoenix’s Wake (urban fantasy mystery), which I finished during NaNo. I want the down time in my video game career to be an up time for my writing one. ;)

You’re turn now. Share something that I can comment back on with way too many exclamation marks. It’ll boost your moral, I swear!


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