Revisions: World-building

Another month gone! Spring is on the way and I can hardly believe it! Of course, the arrival of March means I’m woefully behind on my revision goals already. Not for lack of incredible notes from my CP’s! Lack of time is the culprit: it’s busy season at work, and Kiwi is still a puppy, and we’re planning to move again (yes, again) because our commute is a horrendous 45 minutes each way.

In short, although I’ve done some brainstorming and planned a few key changes to improve my manuscript, I’ve had very little time to touch it. Instead, I thought this post could be about the world-building notes I received. I’ll leave the interpretations of Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful tarot cards up to you this time. Let’s get started!

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Of course when you’re constructing your world (whether it’s a high school or a continent of kingdoms) you have a list of things to figure out. Social hierarchy, locations, perhaps also how government works, and magic, and the politics between nations and people. But when all of that’s done, it’s not over–now you need to fill in the cracks!

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There are two kinds of cracks that can tear your world apart:

You didn’t answer all the questions your readers will have!

This is simple to fix–you’ve read your own story multiple times. YOU know what you want to happen and how everything effects everything else. But maybe you forgot that when Suzie came inside she’d been out in the rain. Why isn’t her hair wet? And wouldn’t her mother say something about it since she was supposed to be studying in her room? You didn’t notice because it’s imperative for Suzie to fool her mother or the next pin in your plot collapses, but you need to find a more believable way for that to happen now.

You do have the answer but you didn’t put it in there!

Congratulations, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board! You just need to include the information you already worked so hard to cultivate. I am especially guilty of this once I’ve gone through a draft a few times. I’ve caught the cracks, but now that I answered them for myself, I forget to sprinkle the answers in for everyone else. YOU know the secret history of Suzie and her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, but the few references you made are confusing and don’t convey what you wanted. Just find a way to add and clarify the information readers need.

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With good notes from beta readers and critique partners, you’ll have no trouble discerning where your cracks are and how to fix them. I’ve found each of my critiques gave me something both similar and different (everyone agreed on the issues but had different ideas of how to fix them). It’s wonderfully inspiring and takes the sting out of revising for what may feel like the hundredth time!

Good luck!

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Revisions: Squashed Potato to Sympathetic Protagonist

My monthly update from the revision cave is both better and worse than I hoped. Worse, because Kiwi is adorable but needs near-constant attention, which makes it hard to work. Better, because my writing buddies are definitely coming through with much-needed critiques!

I have been working on this novel off and on for about six years–I have a love-hate relationship with it. Right now it’s love, so I have motivation to revise it! When you’ve worked on something for so long, it’s easy to get tunnel-vision when it comes to making changes. I have many different versions of this story from the past few years, and the current version has remained largely static for about two years. The characters have been in my mind so long they feel real–and unyielding. They stubbornly resist my feeble attempts to cast them in a new light or really do anything else with them. They are rebels in a rut.

Thankfully, my pleas for help with my critique partners have pulled me out of these ruts and given me some fresh ideas for revamping and fleshing out character arcs and scenes! Having new eyes on your work is INVALUABLE and I frankly don’t understand writers who claim they work alone.

I sent my story off with only two questions: how do I improve the first half? And how do I turn my protagonist from a squashed potato trying to escape all the action into a sympathetic character with more agency? (Yes, I pretty much demanded the world and they delivered! THANK YOU Katy, Janella, and Erin!) The alternative is pretty much this:leslie1

But they saved me from it! Because they are awesome.

So I’ve spent a few weeks now implementing the changes they suggested (oh so slowly, during puppy naps) and I couldn’t be happier with feeling un-stuck! What have I been doing?

    1. Restructuring several chapters so that they make sense chronologically. I tried this flashback thing and it was not working.
    2. Giving my characters time to talk to each other without listening. The best conversations are typically one character saying something while their audience ignores it. Why do they ignore it? Because they are thinking of what THEY will say, and they are also disregarding any attempt the speaker is making to change their opinions on something.
    3. Re-working my main character’s relationship with her curse and…a secondary character I won’t go into here. <–cryptic note, check

All of this should make Mina more fun to spend 300 pages with, if I do it right.

Progress is slow but it’s happening, so my mood is A+ and my satisfaction is more like a C. My goal is to keep making the most of my weekends and random evening hours to get these done in the next week or two. For photos of the little rascal taking up all my time, check out my Instagram #kiwicam. 🙂

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2016 Writing Goals

It’s January, and new goals are required. Although I ended up writing more than I expected last year, I want to greatly expand on that this year. I’m overhauling my YA fantasy novel again, and I want to have it ready for submission this spring (i.e. by May 15th!). Having a goal like that instantly makes it feel like winter is already over and I’m out of time, but that’s simply not true. However, this is a huge reason why I chose to cut my book reviews down to one a week instead of two. I simply can’t prioritize both and get anything worthwhile done.

What do I need to do in order to have my novel on submission in 4-5 months?

1) Finish all writing revisions (minor plot tweaks, cut some bad scenes, rework other scenes, and make the first half as fun and exciting as the second half)

2) Do a final read-through of the entire manuscript

3) While I’m reading it, I will probably ask some of my amazing CP’s to look at the final version and get some feedback

4) Write an absolutely top-notch, kick-ass query letter, and a synopsis (this will be the most hellish part)

5) Compile an updated list of dream agents to receive my amazing query letter and first chapters

That’s the first half of the year. What do I want to do once I’m on submission?

1) Begin serious work on the sequel to my fantasy novel (finalize the plot and start writing a few scenes)

2) Finish revisions on my YA contemporary novel, which is currently sitting at 60% revised. I want this book ready to submit in 2017, if I choose to do so.

I’m reasonably confident that if I don’t get lazy or stuck in a really bad rut of zero inspiration I can accomplish these goals. Half the battle is committing in the first place, right? I also have an amazing group of CP’s to help me out when I’m stuck! (A big thank you in advance goes to: Akshaya, Janella, Maddy, Erin, Katy, Christine and Ella! All of their writing adventures are on their lovely blogs.)

If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work, trust me, so am I! But thankfully I have a new writing buddy to hang out with while I plug away at these goals. Meet Kiwi! She is a mini dachshund puppy and pretty much perfect. 🙂

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The two of us will be spending plenty of time cozy by the fire. ❤

A Tarot Reading of Your Novel

Raven's ProphecyWhen I first created this blog I intended to include some posts about the novels that I write – the process, the problems, the progress – and what do you know, it’s taken me this long to think of something I felt would be interesting (and not embarrassing) to contribute! My writing is slow and not always methodical, but this was something I did in a moment of inspiration during my first-ever writing retreat and I think it’s a fun way to re-imagine your project.

I’ve been an admirer of Maggie Stiefvater’s art for a while, and when she started creating these tarot cards I knew I had to have it! I know almost nothing about tarot, but the artwork was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. They’re done in colored pencil, which is one of my favorite mediums! Totally sold, end of story.

This is a way to plot your novel using the loose interpretations of tarot cards. This deck comes with a helpful guide on each card’s meanings and connections, so even if you don’t have them memorized you can align them to your story. Here’s how you can do this too!

Gather your main cast

Pull out some cards that you feel represent your main characters – for these I used the major arcana and pulled one for each of my characters’ key traits or flaws. In this example, my protagonist is The Fool, because hers is the most expansive character arc. She is full of potential, she’s brash, her ignorance gives her a fearlessness to take on the story’s challenges. Her best friend is represented by Strength. She has already come through her own journey in a previous story, so she has earned patience, self-control, and belief in herself. Finally, my last character is The Devil. He is full of ambition and selfishness, and these vices are going to come into play in this story.

Begin their journey

Now that I have my characters, it’s time to start Act 1 (or part 1, or the beginning of your story). For this I picked the Seven of Coins for Stiefvater’s interpretation of assessment, choice, risk, and reward. My characters are presented with an opportunity for adventure and reward, and the duality of the roses happens to align with this mission in my book. The mission involves an old love and a clash of values, so The Lovers was perfect here. And last, they attempt to start this journey with clarity and a successful plan, so the Ace of Swords fits in here. The best of intentions begin our plot. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - MCs act 1

Complicate their journey

We move on to Act 2 (or part 2, or the middle, or the plot thickens). As with all stories, nothing is as simple as it seems. The minor arcana tend to revolve more around events or actions than traits so I relied on these for my plot points. I chose the Seven of Swords because not everyone is on this journey for the same reason. Not only is there intense strategy going on, we have secret manipulation and deception. The Eight of Swords increases the drama with self-doubt and confusion. My main character is starting to realize there’s more going on than meets the eye, but she isn’t sure what to do. But then we come to the Page of Swords, and the truth comes out. My characters get some clarity regarding the reality of their situation. What’s the next course of action? Seven of Wands – sort out your priorities and begin a defense. Brace yourself for the storm. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 2

Complete their journey

We have reached Act 3 (or part 3, or the end). Now that specific actions are connected and moving towards resolution, I mixed the major and minor arcana to grasp the scope and tie everything together. The Five of Wands kicks everything off with some chaos. Everything they feared and prepared for in act 2 is now unleashed. The Tower captures the betrayal and divisions between my characters now that their different priorities are fully realized. Death is a dramatic card but this is the point where several characters undergo transformations and change–the end of their character arcs, the reason a story is told in the first place. Going along with this, The Sun takes them from change to self-awareness, clear-sightedness, and hope. This pairing is probably going to appear in every story, unless you are exploring the effects of a static character. Finally, The World declares that we have reached a conclusion. Characters have grown and changed (for better or worse), conflicts are resolved, we feel a sense of completion now that the story is over. My main character has transformed from The Fool to a self-actualized character, and in another story she would be represented by a new card, just like her best friend became Strength. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 3

The Final Spread

When you’ve chosen your cards and arranged them accordingly, you can see the character arcs and beats of your story as broadly or as detailed as you like. You can even see how the parts of your story are balanced, and whether everything is tied together in the end or not. As a bonus, you end up with a tarot spread that looks beautiful and that teases your story without giving away anything *too* concrete! (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary

There are so many styles and types of tarot decks, so you can easily personalize this project even more – have fun and unlock some inspiration!

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