Monday, June 28, 2010

The First Draft

It's the final week of First Drafts Month here at Writer Musings! What does a first draft mean to you? How do you write yours? Does it change for each project, or is it the same each time?

So far, we’ve heard from Jennifer Hubbard, Sherrie Petersen, and PJ Hoover. It’s been wonderful hearing about how differently everyone attacks a first draft, how differently we all feel about them, and what we do with them! Today, I’m going to share my ideas on the first draft.

I hate them. They are my least favorite part of writing – but I think that’s mostly because of how my writing process has evolved. When I first started writing, I thought the first draft would be the only draft. As in, the first time I wrote ‘The End,’ I thought I was done! HA. I can now look back on those days and laugh at myself. :)

After I realized I’d have to actually revise, I tried revising as I went. It kind of worked, but I was still missing big pieces and couldn’t figure out why. So I took a few steps back and looked at the big picture...and I realized that’s exactly what I was missing: the big picture.

Now, when I begin a first draft, I have to have all the pieces of my big picture, plus a few extra (just in case). To do this, I sit down and explore every single possibility for my story. I write down every possible outcome, character, pivotal scene, main plot piece, characters, relationships, everything. Even the ridiculously stupid things. It’s a lot of work, and can sometimes take weeks until I feel like I have everything I need. But, for me, it’s necessary. Here’s why.

In doing this all this work, I’m essentially creating the pieces to a puzzle. I don’t know what the final image is going to look like yet, so I don’t know what I’m going to need. So I kind of gather up everything that I think I might need, and then guess at in the order in which they need to fit together. If I’m missing a piece, then I get frustrated. Or, if I have to create a new piece to fill a hole in the puzzle, it doesn’t usually fit right – which means I end up forcing it in, and that makes the story feel forced. But if I have more pieces than I need when I begin, that eliminates some of those problems.

When you sit down to do a jigsaw puzzle, how do you start? Personally, I separate out all edge pieces and put those together first. I don’t particularly like this part of puzzle-building, because I don’t get to see the image forming in front of me. But putting the edge pieces together first gives me a framework with which to build the rest of the puzzle.

I see my first drafts as the same kind of thing. It’s a framework that I can build upon, and it’s absolutely necessary for it to be solid before I start adding new pieces. Otherwise, it will come crashing down. For me, it’s not fun at all. But I get through it by telling myself that, once it’s done, I get to add in the fun stuff like characterization, subplots, snappy dialog, etc. Sometimes, I even end up using those ridiculously stupid pieces I mentioned above (slightly modified, in most cases). :)

Then, I get to watch the image of my story blossom in front of me, often surprising me. But I wouldn’t have that without the solid framework of the first draft.

HUGE thank you to Jenn, Sherrie, and PJ for sharing so much with us!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Winner of the June book giveaway!

I can't believe June is nearly gone already.  I just sort of blinked, and it was already time to announce the winner of this month's book giveaway...


So, via Random.org, here is the winner of Jekel Loves Hyde and Nomansland:

Khristine Delgado !!!

I will send your books along asap.  Enjoy!!

For everyone else, don't forget to stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away in July!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

I’m torn. I absolutely loved parts of this story, and really did not like other parts. So, overall, I’m pretty lukewarm about it. And kind of confused, so there is much I want to explore here.

When I first started reading, I really didn’t like Sam. At all. She is everything I am not, and that I vehemently disagree with. I set this book down three times, reading other books instead. But I kept picking it back up because this is the kind of story that requires a lot of character growth, and the promise of that kept me reading. Still, I had a very hard time with the beginning, and I’m still torn about that.

On the one hand, I can see that Sam’s character needs to be established so that we can see, and truly appreciate, her growth later on. So, I agree that we need to see her so unlikable, otherwise we can’t fully appreciate her growth. I truly believe the beginning needed to be this way...and yet, I still didn’t like it. This is unusual for me. The needs of the story can usually persuade me into overlooking things I might not like, and that just didn’t happen in this case. I think that if she had grown just a little bit quicker, then I might have liked it better...it was difficult to dislike her for so many chapters, and I found myself mumbling ‘come on, grow up already.’

The middle is the best part of the whole book. Sam’s growth is very natural to the story, and very well done. I loved seeing her open her eyes to the world around her, and acknowledging how her actions have reactions. Sometimes severe reactions. When she realizes this, she grows leaps and bounds. I started rooting for her to figure out how to end her predicament, and was glued to the pages.

But then we got to the end, which I completely disagree with. Granted, the last couple paragraphs are powerful and leave you with a contented feeling of finality, but the events leading up to them didn’t fit with the rest of the story.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

Throughout Sam’s growth, she works very hard to help others, one of them being Juliet Sykes. And Sam is relentless in trying to get Juliet to understand that she can’t give up because her actions will have reactions that can severely affect others. This is one of my favorite parts of the story, and I eagerly anticipated the ending because I wanted to see how Sam would succeed (and I was convinced she would succeed). But then everything fell apart, because Sam was the one who gave up. Everything she says and does on her last day screams that she’s given up. In doing so, she disregards everything she’s learned about actions and reactions.

Again, this is a part of the book where I’m torn, because I do believe the story needed to go in this general direction, and the ending was right for the story--except for the part where Sam gives up. She accepts her fate way too easily and lets herself slide away with no thought to those who love her (one of the arguments she uses on Juliet). If she had fought and struggled and regretted at least a little bit, then the ending would have been far more powerful, even if the end result had been the same.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so torn over a book, and can’t even decide whether or not to recommend it. Some parts are amazing, and other parts really turned me off. It’s not a book I’d want to read again for enjoyment, but it is a book I’d like to think about more with respect to learning the craft of writing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The First Draft: PJ Hoover

It's Week Three of First Drafts Month here at Writer Musings! What does a first draft mean to you? How do you write yours? Does it change for each project, or is it the same each time? For the entire month of June, we will be hearing from various writers in various stages. And each of them will share what a first draft means to them.

Today, we'll be hearing from PJ Hoover, author of The Forgotten Worlds trilogy: The Emerald Tablet, The Navel of the World, and forthcoming The Necropolis.


FIRST DRAFTS: Be the Hare. And the Tortoise.

I live my life like the tortoise. I strive for consistency. I don’t like to start anything I don’t plan to finish. And as the years go by, I’ve come to understand the best way to do this is to live like the tortoise. Want a black belt? Go to Kung Fu three hours a week for two years and you’ll have one. Trying to memorize a poem? Learn a single line each day. By using this tortoise methodology, almost anything can get accomplished from painting the house to—you guessed it—writing a novel. Yes, you can write a novel by writing a single page each day. And this is a great plan!

But then the hare reminds you he’s in the race too. And he demands attention.

I give the hare proper attention in my first draft stage, because though he doesn’t always use the best judgment, he does have one great thing going for him. Forward momentum. The faster he runs, the less likely it is he’ll slow down. (The secret for the hare is to not let him get distracted.) And so, when I’m writing my first drafts, I write them as quickly as possible. The words start flowing, and I never want them to stop. I want to take that forward momentum and run with it.

Why? Because, for me, there’s nothing quite so motivating as seeing the pretty words fill up page after page quickly. And the more motivated I feel, the more I write. And the more I write, the more motivated I feel. Yes, you get it, I know. It’s a perfect circle.

So I have this process. I plan for a bit. I get through that first draft as fast as I can. And then what? What have I really accomplished?

For me, the first draft represents the skeleton of my story that will come in revisions. I’m willing to take the time to fill in all those sinewy details as I revise, but knowing I have those bare bones grants me that huge feeling of accomplishment. If someone asks if I’ve written another book, I answer with a resounding “Yes!”

But, you might say, what happens when my story idea changes in the middle of the first draft? What if I decide on page 75 that the main character really needs a dog? Do I go back and add in the dog from page 1 onward? Not a chance. That’s why Microsoft Word has the comment feature. I insert a comment wherever I am that I need to add in a dog, and then I move onward. I don’t give in to those distractions like the hare.

So be the tortoise. And be the hare. Be consistent but move forward quickly.

Take Newton’s First Law of Motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

And modify it for writing:
Words flowing toward the completion of a first draft tend to continue flowing unless an external force is applied to them.

Resist the force and finish that first draft!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

In the Enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future.
Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty.

I enjoyed this book fairly well. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it, either. I think, really, that I won’t know how I truly feel about this story until after I’ve read the next book, because it’s obvious there will be a next book. But I am intrigued enough to want to read the next book, which is a good thing.

Gaia’s character is very na├»ve and accommodating, sometimes too much so. But she wasn’t raised to believe anything was potentially wrong with her way of life, and she trusts the Enclave implicitly. So I found this part of her personality believable. Her journey to discover what the Enclave is really like was both interesting and appealing, and her motivations fit the story well. She didn’t grow as much as I was hoping, but perhaps that will come in the next book.

Some of the plot elements didn’t make logical sense, like the lack of record keeping or the level of genetic testing available to the Enclave. I didn’t quite believe that the Enclave could do certain types of genetic testing but not others. And, considering how important genetics are to the Enclave, someone, somewhere, would have kept some kind of minimal record keeping of the advanced babies. At the very least, they would have kept track of who was related to whom. Also, the Enclave’s obsession with appearance and need for certain genetic backgrounds seem too conflicting. But, perhaps that will be further explained in the next book.

Still, I’m curious what will happen next, and will definitely read the next book. I’m hoping then I will be able to form a more solid opinion of whether or not this is a story I can recommend.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The First Draft: Sherrie Petersen

It's Week Two of First Drafts Month here at Writer Musings!  What does a first draft mean to you? How do you write yours? Does it change for each project, or is it the same each time?  For the entire month of June, we will be hearing from various writers in various stages. And each of them will share what a first draft means to them.

Today, we'll be hearing from Sherrie Petersen, author of the blog Write About Now.
***
I’ve always been a perfectionist.

This would be a good thing if I were an accountant. (Numbers—ugh!) But I’m not. I’m a writer. And when it comes to first drafts, perfectionism can be a huge problem.

Take this post for example. I’ve written the opening at least ten times in my head. Then as I typed it out, I deleted and rewrote it three times. We’re talking about a little post here, five hundred words, tops. Apply that tendency to a 50K novel and you’ll see the problem.

I know in the back of my head that first drafts are supposed to be messy. I know that I can’t expect every sentence, every word, to be perfect. But knowing this doesn’t make things any easier.

So I’ve come up with a few tricks to motivate myself to keep going:

1. Rewrite or Die
I like to edit as I go. It helps me get back into my story each day. Of course, I can get hung up rewriting the same chapter every day. I have to remind myself that by the time I get to the end, I’ll probably need to change a lot of things, but I’ll never get there without moving forward. On days when it’s a challenge, Tactic #2 is very helpful.

2. Freewrite
I give myself permission to write a bunch of stuff that I know is not going to end up in the final version. I sit in front of the computer and put down everything I know about each character and how they relate to each other. This often works better for me than an outline because it clarifies motivations and highlights conflicts between my characters. But since it’s not going into the actual story, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

3. No unrealistic minimums
Sometimes setting a huge page or word count goal can be more paralyzing than motivating. Writing one, double-spaced page each day is a big enough goal to get me going and (shh – don’t tell!) I usually end up with more.

4. Placeholders are a good thing
I’ve had days where I keep rewriting the same sentence, over and over. Rather than make myself crazy, I’ll use a placeholder like [insert more anger here] and keep writing. I highlight it so that when I’m ready to edit, I don’t overlook this by mistake. Then I’m free to keep churning out the story in spite of myself.

First drafts thrill me. There’s always that urgent desire in the beginning. I love the story. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Fifty pages in, the real work starts. This story sucks. Why am I writing this? Plowing through the middle is difficult. That’s why there are way more people who want to write a book than there are actual authors.

But persevering to the end is worth it. Even if the story needs work. After all, that’s what second (and third, and fourth) drafts are for.

For a first draft, just finishing is close enough to perfect.

Thanks, Sherrie, for sharing such fabulous insight with us!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

Jill Jekel has always obeyed her parents' rules--especially the one about never opening the mysterious, old box in her father's office. But when her dad is murdered, and her college savings disappear, she's tempted to peek inside, as the contents might be the key to a lucrative chemistry scholarship.To improve her odds, Jill enlists the help of gorgeous, brooding Tristen Hyde, who has his own dark secrets locked away. As the team of Jekel and Hyde, they recreate experiments based on the classic novel, hoping not only to win a prize, but to save Tristen's sanity. Maybe his life. But Jill's accidental taste of a formula unleashes her darkest nature and compels her to risk everything--even Tristen's love--just for the thrill of being...bad.

I had a hard time writing this review, but not because I was conflicted in how I felt about the story. I really enjoyed it, but I had the hardest time trying to figure out why.

First off, I want to say that I haven’t read Fantaskey’s first book, Jessica’s Guide To Dating on the Dark Side. It seems like many who liked that book didn’t like this one. Perhaps the two are too different from each other, and there was a certain set of expectations that weren’t met. But I’m just guessing. :)

I read Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in high school and I remember enjoying it, but that’s about all I remember. So I was looking forward to this book, because it sounded like an interesting twist on the classic. And it was. There are so many books that use vampires and werewolves as a way of introducing the monstrous characters, but Fantaskey uses the monster within ourselves – man’s dual nature, and the lure of power that comes with it.

Many reviewers have complained that Jill didn’t stand out enough as a character, but I think that was done on purpose so that we could see the complete change after she drinks the formula. Her desire for power, or to at least to not be walked all over anymore, drives her to be more reckless than usual. The formula provides an easy and quick path to that power, which is extremely alluring and very believable.

The romance was probably the weakest part of the story. They yo-yo’d back and forth between love and hate too much for my taste.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

I love that Fantaskey explored the monster within (as the original classic did), but I loved even more that she implied embracing your inner monster will keep it from taking over. Moderation is the key.

Definitely recommended.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The First Draft: Jennifer Hubbard

It's First Drafts month here at Writer Musings!  What does a first draft mean to you?  How do you write yours?  Does it change for each project, or is it the same each time?

For the entire month of June, we will be hearing from various writers in various stages. And each of them will share what a first draft means to them. Today, we will hear from Jennifer Hubbard, author of The Secret Year.

First Drafts: The Raw Material. And I Do Mean Raw.
Jennifer R. Hubbard

The first draft is a an adventure. It starts with an idea, some idea, any idea. Character, plot, setting, situation. It may nestle up in a corner of the brain for weeks, motnhs, years, or it may burst out after only a few minutes. That germ of an idea may make its ifrst appearance on a candy wrapper or in a notebook, or it may have the patience to wait until a the writer is sitting before the computer. [titles of first drafts]
The first drtaft appears in a computer file, single-spacesd, flush left, no spaces between paragraphs. W And not much attention to captitalization, puncutuation, typos, either. It flows like a stream of consciousness, very little editing on the fly, with idea s of what to include later put in brakcets [like this].
I may have an idea, but a first draft has no traction until i have the voice, the narrative voice, the voice that tells the story. For that reason, I rarely shift the POV later on, although it’s beenknown ot happen.
I amade a note above to mention titles of first drafts—the first draft gets saved in the computer under any old name: the naem of the main character (which name generally proves temporary), or the spark of the idea that made me write the story even though that concept or thing may ultimately vanish from the final drfaft.
***

The above is what a first draft of mine looks like. I cringe at displaying it uncorrected that way—what I really want to do is put a watermark through it saying “First Draft, Deliberately Uncorrected to Illustrate a Point!” so that it can never be quoted out of context as an example of what a sloppy writer I am. I don’t think I’ve ever shown anyone a first draft of mine—there’s no reason to, since first drafts are for my eyes only. My critiquers never see anything until it’s been through multiple drafts.

But I’m leaving this example the way it is, because it’s as close as I can come to conveying, in its most raw form, a real first draft. The first draft is fun because my only mission at that point is to get something down—anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, if you believe Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), it should be considerably less than perfect.

As you can see from the above, my first draft offers opportunities to the writer in the same way that certain cliffs offer handholds and footholds to a rock-climber. There are obvious mistakes that need correction; there are bracketed comments with notes about paths I need to follow or problems I need to fix. I don’t have to think too long about where to jump in: anywhere is fine!

One reason so much is uncorrected in the above section is that my goal with a first draft is to keep moving forward. As I type, I’m aware of making mistakes, but I know they can be fixed later. It’s more important to chase down the next sentence before it gets away.

My first drafts are also spare. Including the details of the setting, building up symbolism, tinkering with the rhythm, deepening the character motivation, and perfecting word choice can be done in later drafts. As I revise, I can also move text around so that it’s more coherent (as opposed to just writing down ideas in the order they occurred to me, as I did in the example).

I realize that I’ve strayed here into talking about revision, but I think that’s the point. And what I mean by that is: The purpose of a first draft is to be revised. A first draft is a milestone, a way station. I may decide to abandon the journey without taking the draft any farther, but it doesn’t make the first draft a completed work.

The first draft is the beginning. It’s raw material, the hunk of clay I cut off and plunk down on my worktable, ready for shaping. It lives to be changed.

Thanks for sharing such amazing insights, Jenn!
 
For more First Draft goodness, come back next monday for another perspective.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

June Book Giveaway!

I forgot to post this yesterday! I'm terribly sorry about that. I hope the books I'm giving away will make up for it. :)

This month, I'm giving away two books:
ARC of Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey
ARC of Nomansland by Lesley Hauge

Just fill out the form below and then come back here on June 26th to see if you've won. Good luck!

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren.

I got two books for review this week:

Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson
Claire is having the perfect sixteenth birthday. Her pool party is a big success, and gorgeous Matthew keeps chatting and flirting with her as if she's the only girl there. But that night, she discovers something that takes away all sense of normalcy: she's a werewolf.
As Claire is initiated into the pack of female werewolves, she must deal not only with her changing identity, but also with a rogue werewolf who is putting everyone she knows in danger. Claire's new life threatens her blossoming romance with Matthew, whose father is leading the werewolf hunt. Now burdened with a dark secret and pushing the boundaries of forbidden love, Claire is struggling to feel comfortable in either skin. With her lupine loyalty at odds with her human heart, she will make a choice that will change her forever?

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Release Date: June 8, 2010
Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn't mean that she's averse to breaking a rule or two.
But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian's basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents' murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs.
But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she's shaped?

What books did you bring home this week?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Gemma, 16, is on layover at Bangkok Airport, en route with her parents to a vacation in Vietnam. She steps away for just a second, to get a cup of coffee. Ty--rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar--pays for Gemma's drink. And drugs it. They talk. Their hands touch. And before Gemma knows what's happening, Ty takes her. Steals her away. The unknowing object of a long obsession, Gemma has been kidnapped by her stalker and brought to the desolate Australian Outback. STOLEN is her gripping story of survival, of how she has to come to terms with her living nightmare--or die trying to fight it.

The best way I can think to describe this book is this: powerful, well-written, vivid, riveting, gritty, and heart-wrenching. It’s an amazing, in-depth exploration of Stockholm Syndrome that will leave you feeling just as confused, scared, and frustrated as Gemma does.

On the surface, the story looks like this: boy loves girl, boy steals girl, girl grows to love boy. If it had gone this way, I would have hated it. Fortunately, it didn’t. It’s a more realistic view of a disturbed young man and a terror-stricken teenager.

Gemma doesn’t start out as completely likeable, but her confusion and fear are palpable. I connected with her through those emotions, and cheered her on each time she tried to escape. Her will and determination are refreshingly strong, and she doesn’t give up even when her attempts fail.

Ty is also a vivid, multifaceted character. He is clearly disturbed and delusional, but he’s also beautiful, gentle, and loving. He goes out of his way to keep Gemma from harm, even though he won’t let her go home. These traits show how he isn’t evil. He’s just a person with major problems who is trying to deal with them the best way he knows how. I found myself understanding him, even if I couldn’t agree with him...

The ending is the best part of the whole story. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because I wouldn’t ruin it for anything. :)

This isn’t an action-packed adventure, even with the dangers in Australia’s Outback. Instead, it’s an intense, psychologically twisting story that kept me reading until two in the morning. Definitely recommended.