Monthly Archives: May 2012

Going With My Gut


Decisions, decisions. About five months ago, I had some feedback on my YA fantasy novel advising me to delete a couple subplots because they weren’t going to be resolved in Book 1 (it’s part of a series). I resisted the notion because I thought those scenes were really organic to the story, regardless of whether or not they bore fruit in the same book. But I know I sometimes resist good advice, and I was also looking at a manuscript that tipped the scales at about 165K. So I started looking for things to cut and couldn’t help but notice those subplots were eight thousand words I could cut in one fell swoop–so I cut it and polished the rest at a more svelte 122K.

But I felt something important was missing in the middle, but couldn’t put my finger on it until last night, when I thought about resuming work on Book 2 and realized I was dead in the water even worse than I’d thought I’d be when I cut those scenes. It pushed my inciting incident back too far, so I had second thoughts about those 8K words.

The first thing I saw was that they no longer fit where they used to be–I filled in the holes they had left very well–but if I changed the order of introducing the two subplots, they both reinforced adjacent plot points and put back that missing something. So the book sits at 130K, but I finally feel happy with the final manuscript. (Though the typo hunt is still on.)

So today, when I put Book 1 aside (waiting on the last couple pre-readers’ feedback) and started work sketching out the scenes for Book 2 (I’d already written a significant portion of it about a year ago) everything just fell into place beautifully–which it could never have done without that 8K back in Book 1 rather than in Book 2.

So today was really exciting–a complex story like this one can be a bear to wrestle into submission-worthiness. I’ve spent the last two and a half years grappling with Book 1, and it’s a nine book series–I really don’t want to spend the next ten years on just this one series. I’ve got a huge backlog of novels I really want to get through, and at one book a year, I’d be 110 before I got them all finished–assuming that I didn’t have more pop up.

Now, if I can finish two per year, I’ll only be 82.

Yeah, maybe two a year is just a fantasy in itself, but my feeling is that I’ve gotten through the worst of the learning curve, at least for this series. I know I’ll always be learning something new, but now that I know what “done” feels like, I think I can get there faster.

So, what’s my point? That sometimes generally good advice can be all wrong for a given situation. Before this, I’ve been fussing at the manuscript, nibbling away with little edits, changing a word here and a sentence there, never really happy with it; now I’m suddenly at peace with the manuscript. It’s a good feeling, and it never would have happened if I didn’t ultimately trust my gut feeling about what was right for this story.

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Technological Indigestion Leads to Something to Feed “the Beast”


Well, I’ve reached a point with my novel where the only thing really left to do is sit and wait for a couple critiques to come in. I need to let my query and synopsis chill for a few days until I can get some distance on them. I’ve finished a couple promised critiques I owed that have been gnawing at the back of my brain (which could explain a lot!), so I thought this might be a good time to wrestle with technology a bit–i.e. make audio from my novel that I can listen to on the way to/from work. (In hindsight, there was already an essential flaw in my thinking–what was I going to do when I inevitably heard things that needed to be changed??? Make an audio note to add to all the other ones I never listen to later?)

What was I thinking?

I was thinking an audio format might make it easier for my mom to “read” and critique, and of course, the possibility of podcasts some time in the future.

One audio software package, eight hours, six .mp3 files, and one car CD player coaster later, I thought, well, I could use the mp3 files for a podcast now rather than later. One measly 5 min sound byte of 9 MB out of 3 GB of storage seemed a no-brainer–until I found out I’d be required to add more space just to use that extension. Not happening.

So what to feed the beastie?

In the course of finding things to record (my only two short stories and four chapters of the novel) I thought of my recently rediscovered first short story, written nearly 28 years ago–when I was a junior in college.

It was, and still is, the weirdest thing I ever wrote–which might explain why it received an honorable mention in a literary contest, despite being science fiction. I’m sorry, despite my English degree, I still don’t “get” literary fiction, even if I accidentally write some. I think some of the judges might have taken it for a political statement, since it might be construed as anti-war (is anyone except Dr. Strangelove pro-war?).

Since I went on to have a military career, and had a couple years of ROTC behind me already at the time when I wrote it, it’s safer to assume it wasn’t a reflection of anything more profound than the need to write a story short enough to be a short story.

You see, the competition was announced right after I had just changed my major to English, (much to my father’s dismay). It seemed a good omen at the time, only there was one difficulty–I didn’t have anything to enter. All my stories are novels–or part of a saga–so the obvious solution to how to prevent that from happening to my short story idea was to kill the protagonist. I didn’t even give him a name, for fear of growing attached to the doomed character and giving him a reprieve! Even better, I started with him already (going to be) dead when the story starts. Since I like SF, something futuristic was appealing, ¬†and Only the Birds and the Bees was hatched–essentially, one long death scene; I don’t hate it–after all, it was my first completed story and the first published–but I didn’t shed any tears when it went missing for 25 years. Someday–soon, I hope–it will have some company.

Until then, check out Margo’s Writing Page for Only the Birds and the Bees

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