Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Confession: I posted that cute little "heart's tiny flag" post, started revising, and hit a snag. Quickly I realized my book was crap. The action didn't come fast enough, the protagonist was not believable. I put the manuscript aside to think up a major change or solution. And Aha! I came up with two. First, I needed to quit hating myself quite so much. It's possible that I could write something that (if not an instant classic) works.

Second, I made my not-believable, bland main character switch places with a minor character--a cousin--that I liked better. I made the former main character into her twin. The protagonist is now female instead of male, a twin instead of an only, sassy instead of earnest. Needless to say, I have major work to do before I can get down to the nitty-gritty readthrough, but at least I have hope again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Heart's Tiny Flag Will Wave

I've finished Sol Stein's first-priority revisions to my novel as well as I could without reading through the manuscript. Now it's time to read through. Yikes!

In Stein on Writing, Stein suggests reading it as if a friend of yours whose taste you doubt recommended this book to you, and you're reading it with reservations. Given my tendency to judge myself more harshly than I judge other people, I think I'll be reading with "reservations" at the very least. But not to worry. I'll be able to recognize the good writing as I go through. Enough to wave my heart's little tiny flag of joy when I encounter it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Woman At Work

I've gone ahead and jumped into revision. It's only been four or five weeks as opposed to the six weeks I planned to set it aside, but I had a good reason to start. A week or two ago thoughts began to pop into my head like, That novel probably sucks, and, It's not on the right reading level, and, You put in too many confusing plot points, and, That novel really is going to suck when you read it again. The thoughts were getting me down and I could tell I was approaching the point when I would give up on it altogether. Without even reading it over again!

There was only one remedy: Start revising. It's a good feeling; I see tons of things that are not going to work in the manuscript, but on the plus side, I can dive in and try to fix them. I'm using the Stein method of triage like I posted here. The good and bad thing about his method is that I'm working on the really big elements before I read the whole manuscript through. That means the hard work comes first. It also means a lot of the hard work will be done by the time I read it through word by word.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Steinish Writing Exercise

Stein says to ask yourself, "How alive is my main character?" He says it's one of the most important factors in whether or not people will want to read your book.

Here's an exercise meant to flesh out a main character.

Think about a movie you watched or a book you read. Insert your main character in the place of the main character of the movie or book. What would your main character have done differently? How would the plot have changed as a result? How would your character have related to the other characters in the movie or book? If you feel stumped, go back to developing your main character into a multidimensional, likeable, flawed person. Or at least a character you can imagine in settings other than your manuscript.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Sol Stein Month

It's Sol Stein Month in the No Shame Novelist Project. You can find out exactly what that means here.

I'm about to begin revising my novel draft, so I'm going to focus on what Sol Stein has to say about revising, though he gives plenty of advice on other aspects of writing in his book, Stein on Writing, and through the products of his company WritePro. The revision plan I summarize below can be found in his book.

Stein calls his approach the triage method of revision, because it attends first to the errors that most often cause editors to reject a manuscript. I'll summarize the steps here, but I refer you to Stein on Writing for a very detailed plan for revising fiction and nonfiction.

1. Think about your main characters first. Do you ever think about them when you're not writing about them? If not, they may need some work.

2. Think about your villain. Does the character have more than one side? Is there anything interesting or like able about him or her (or it)?

3. Take a look at your minor characters. Make sure they are characterized adequately.

4. Check the conflict between the protagonist and the villain for credibility.

5. Find the weakest scene in your book. Cut it. Then find the scene that used to be the second weakest but is now the weakest scene. Think about cutting it. Continue as long as necessary.

6. How are the main actions in the story motivated? Strongly? Weakly?

And that's the bare bones of Stein's triage method. When I begin to revise in two weeks, I'll use this method. In the meantime, I'll work on another project using the mix of L'Engle's and Lamott's suggestions that I've been focusing on: following my vision, sitting at the keyboard and letting images and phrases flow through my mind before beginning to type, and keeping an honest, everyday journal.

Ending Madeleine L'Engle Month, Beginning the Month of Sol Stein

Yesterday was the last day of Madeleine L'Engle Month for the No Shame Novelist Project. As I lay awake early this morning between episodes of putting my son back in his toddler bed every five minutes, I realized I need to take another piece of her advice that I haven't mentioned here before. She encouraged writers to keep an honest diary, one that will never be published. I've been writing this blog instead of the rambling, mundane, sometimes insightful, usually anal journal that I often wrote in prior to starting this blog. The problem is I have trouble knowing what I think, believe, and feel until I write it down. Going back to my journal can help me follow my vision by helping me figure it out.

My next post will summarize some of Sol Stein's writing advice. To get a head start, visit his website or the website of his company, WritePro.