Have you ever read a review, and the rating made zero sense to you as a reader? Some use stars, or there’s the ever-famous thumbs up or down. But I need a system that I can connect with, otherwise it’s pointless.
Here’s how I know when a book is really, really good: when I have such a hard time putting it down that the dishes aren’t washed, the diaper can isn’t emptied, the laundry basket is overflowing, the kids are still in jammies, and I don’t have my “real” face on. Following that line of thinking, my ratings should be something like, “Hey, I give this book four laundry baskets, it was awesome!” Or how about, “This book is riveting, I give it five out of five dirty children!”
I haven’t settled on a rating system yet, but I have to say that Last Light, by Terri Blackstock hits two sinks full of unwashed dishes. Yes, it was that good.
It’s about catastrophe meets raw, human nature. The story opens as a cataclysmic event strikes the Earth, leaving the world without electricity or motorized power of any kind. The book hit a nerve for a non-survivalist like myself, causing me to question my own ability to cope under dire circumstances. After reading Last Light I’m reassessing the things of this world that I perceive as valuable, that aren’t.
As a writer, I made special note of the pacing used in this book, and how the shorter chapters added to the overall effect. Many times in suspense/action-adventure-type books I come away feeling like I read a good story, but without a sense of characterization. This book skillfully combines action and characterization, centering the story around distinct personalities, and their individualized responses to disaster.
If you enjoy suspense or adventure, this is a must-read, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
Years ago, when I worked as a retail manager, we would have to work these long, dreadful weekends. As managers, we'd work from open to close, sometimes as long as fourteen grueling hours. On Fridays it became a tradition for the managers who weren't working that weekend to find the managers who were working, and do a great, big happy dance--rejoicing that their own work for the week was done.
It's been years since I've done the happy dance, but I'm doing it tonight. Can you see me from where you are? This time it's for a totally different, and much more satisfying reason:
I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT!!!
It's not like this is the first manuscript I've completed, it's just the first one I think has a chance to sell...if I can edit and polish all the garbage out.
Which brings me to my next point: my rough draft is, well...rough. Not only is there structural problems, but I've got characterization issues, a few plot holes, and let's not even discuss the whole grammar situation! I have a lot of work ahead of me to turn this manuscript into something that someone besides myself will enjoy reading. Because really, I don't want to be the only one who gets a kick out of this book.
How rough is your first draft? Am I the only one who cringes the first time I read over my work when I start to edit? Please tell me your rough draft is rough, too. Humor me, just this once.
This weekend I read The Whitney Chronicles, by Judy Baer, and I was laughing so hard by the second page I nearly popped a button. (And if you've read it you get my reference!) Now that, my friends, is a sign of a good book. The book came out in '04, so I know I'm behind in reading it, but hey, in this town I'm lucky to have come across it period.
The Whitney Chronicles is the first book I've read that's in a diary entry format. At first I thought it would annoy me, but it actually worked well for setting the pace and tone. The heroine, Whitney, is believeable and her faith comes across as genuine. There's a cast of quirky characters who land in some funny situations. If you haven't read it, I recommend it, especially if you like to laugh.
As for my own book, it's still a WIP. I've made some major structural changes to put the "black moment" in the proper place. Right now it's a big mess, but the changes were critical. I know I said a couple weeks ago I'd be done with my first draft by now, and at the time I believed I was coming in for a landing. As it turns out, I'm still circling the airport.
BIG PILE Look at me, I'm going all high-tech now with pictures and everything! But that's besides the point.
This is my TO BE READ pile, henceforth referred to as TBR. I don't know about you, but I'd like to do a lot more reading than I have time for. I only have a few sparce minutes during the day (IF my babies happen to be sleeping at the same time) to dig into a good book. How will I ever finish all of these? To make matters worse, my husband, precious man that he is, brings home books for me to read. The James Patterson on top is courtesy of him. How will I ever unbury myself? It's amazing I ever make time to write, when I have so many books to read. And I'll admit that reading is a heck of a lot easier to do than writing.
You'll notice my TBR is an eclectic mix of Christian and secular fiction, crossing all genres. I used to flee from secular books because of all the garbage in them. Now I glean from them what I can about plotting, characterization, style, etc. And these days there's a lot more garbage going into my brain than I'd like to admit.
Do you read secular fiction? If so, do you skip over all the yuckies, or do you become desensitized to it like I have?
Picture me thirsty and crawling toward an oasis, only in this case it's a mirage. That's the situation tonight with my writing. The words just aren't coming, and every word has been a struggle. I eeked out 1300 or so words, and couldn't squeeze out another one if my life depended on it. OK, maybe if my life depended on it I could...but they wouldn't be any good.
Last week I thought I was cruising in for a landing, and that I'd finish my WIP by the end of this week. That's SO not going to happen. What's wrong with me? I want desperately to finish, but I seem to have a serious case of writer's constipation. (Sorry to be so graphic, I'm whacking myself with the newspaper now.)
But now that I think about it, I know exactly what's wrong with me. Every weekend I take time away from my WIP, and every Monday I have a hard time getting back into the flow. Yes, I know that it's Tuesday, but I've still got the Monday blues.
I’ve done a lot of reading lately, and if you’re a writer, I’m sure you have too. Some weeks I’ve read as many as 3 books, but on average I read 1-2, depending on the length. As I read I wonder where the author got such and such crazy idea, and how much might have been sparked by their real lives, and how much is pure wild imagination.
So, I scoured my brain to think of all the places where I’ve gotten bits of inspiration. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Eavesdropping on conversations, or secretly watching people…like my neighbors. (Oh come on, you know you do it, too! Whether or not you’ll admit it is another story. It’s not like I’m a peeping Tom. Really.)
2. News stories: newspaper or TV. There was a time when I was a journalism major; just one of my many majors in college, but not the one I finished with. I realized I should switch because I despised reading the newspaper daily. I’ve recently started at least browsing through the paper, because it can be a good source of ideas, especially Dear Abbey and the police log. Besides, it’s a small town and I like to look for people I know, in the police log, that is.
3. Personal experiences. The first short story I wrote—very poorly, I might add—as an adult, was loosely based on my horrific experience being trapped in a bathroom stall at the County Fair when I was nine-months pregnant. It’s called Desperation in Stall Number Three, and it’s not likely to ever see the light of day again. I would venture to guess that most ideas for stories come, at least in part, from personal experiences of some sort.
4. A funny name. My current WIP started out when a funny name popped into my head, and an idea that matched the name grew based on what I though a person with that name might have happen to her. When you read the book, it won’t occur to you that that’s how it came down, but it did. And no, I won’t tell you the name, you’ll have to read the book. Start praying that this one will see the light of day.
5. “What would happen if…” This is where my wild imagination comes into play. I don’t know about you, but I’m always having imaginary conversations in my head based on something that’s happened, or that I’ve heard. I like to replay it in my head that way I think it should have gone, not necessarily what actually happened. I suppose this relates to numbers 1,2, and 3, but what the heck, I needed 5 to make a proper list.
SO WHAT ABOUT YOU? Where do you get your best ideas? Your list is most likely longer, and way more creative, than mine.
This is it! I’m closing in on the end of the first draft of my book. I’m about a week away. (Although you probably can’t tell by looking at the word count on my sidebar, because every time I try to change it, it changes the whole look of the page. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a techno-dunce.)
My book will be 80,000 words, or at least in that neighborhood. I have a creeping suspicion that my final draft will only loosely resemble this first draft that I’m working on now. I have major structural changes to make, as well as adding in the details that I’ve sort of skipped along the way. Of course, my characterization needs work, too. And my pacing. Evidently, I still have a lot of work to do.
The anticipation of starting the revision process is kicking my butt to keep writing, even when I want to quit for the night, and just watch TV or read. At the same time, revising a work of this size will be a new experience for me, so the task is daunting, and I’m not quite sure of the best way to approach it.
I’m scouring websites and books to find the best ways to handle the revision of a book-length piece. Any suggestions? How do you handle the editing process of your larger works?
I finally did it! For the first time in months (and months and months) I went for a walk. Like for exercise. I forced my teenager to go with the babies and me, and even she’ll admit that we had a good time. Of course, I was panting before the end of the block, but we won’t go there.
Exercise is just one of the things that’s gone by the wayside since I started taking my writing seriously. (See related post on Writer’s Spread.) There’s a lot that I’ve let go of in order to make time to write: TV, other hobbies, my hair (I’m very low-maintenance these days) and SLEEP.
Because writing is so time consuming, something’s gotta give. So what have you given up?
Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, ice cream, Gummy Worms…you know what I’m talking about. It plagues me every night when I sit down to write, especially if I’m stuck in my WIP. Writer’s spread.
Surely I’m not alone in this. It’s that feeling that says, “Hmm, a little bit of chocolate never hurt anyone. It’s brain food, it’ll help you get through this next scene.”
And you know what? It works. There’s a direct correlation between my word count and the quality of snackage in the house. Take tonight, for example, I had a sherbet treat from the freezer, AND a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup. The result? 2429 words. (Probably just as many calories!)
I’ll sacrifice almost anything for my writing, including my size 12 jeans.
At strange thing has been creeping into my fiction lately…reality. Or maybe it’s been creeping in all along and I’ve just now started to notice. I’m guessing it probably happens to all fiction writers at some point in their work. It goes to show how big a part the subconscious plays in what we write.
It’s little things, for example my main character has parents who are middle class, but insist on keeping a maid even though they don’t especially need one. In real life, my parents don’t keep a maid, but they hire a maid service to come in every other week. Also in my current WIP, my main character has a brother who isn’t a Christian, and she has to work extra-hard to find common ground. I don’t have a brother, but I have a sister with a similar (but not identical) situation. The more I analyze my characters and situations, the more I see small similarities popping up.
Since my discovery, I’ve been battling with myself over whether or not to mask the similarities, or leave them in. Certain things I need to leave alone because they are integral to the plot, other things I’m sure I can drop…but I’m not so sure that I want to drop them.
While most of the similarities are harmless, the readers may not take it that way, and I would never purposely offend any of my loved ones. I’m sure I can always say, “It is just fiction, you know!” But that’s a little like making a snide comment to someone then saying it was only a joke.
What lengths do you go to in order to keep people and incidents in your real life from creeping into your writing? Or do you just run with it?
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m addicted to writing. Maybe it’s because I’m not a professional, and I don’t have the option of writing during the day to get it all out of my system. All I know is that I have some kind of endorphin rush when I write, and I can’t live without it.
This weekend I discovered just how much my husband loves together time. The look of disappointment on his face when I mentioned that I wanted to write last night was so devastating, that I had to make the choice to spend time with him. (Drop your mouse and back away from the computer…) Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly thankful to have a husband who wants to spend all of our free time together, and I cherish every minute. Who wouldn’t?
But the keyboard beckons to me on the weekend, and it’s hard to look away. By late last night I was breaking into a cold sweat and running short of breath, frantic that I’d lose the flow I’d worked all last week to establish.
How do you deal with time away from your precious work of art?
Even though I have to wait until tonight to really dig in, I might try to add a few lines now that my husband is off to work. Excuse me while I get my fix….
Georgiana Daniels resides in the beautiful mountains of Arizona with her
super-generous husband and three talented daughters. She graduated from
Northern Arizona University with a bachelor's degree in public
relations, and now has the privilege of homeschooling by day and
wrestling with the keyboard by night. She enjoys sharing God's love
through fiction, and is exceedingly thankful for her own happily ever