Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Untangling Plot Threads

I spent yesterday wrangling the unwieldy plot threads of one of my scifi WIPs. Just about all of them. It was intense work, but absolutely necessary if I wanted to, you know, finish the book.

Photo by Gurms at Flickr

My plotting was compounded by the fact that I hadn’t really worked on this story for nearly a year. Sure, I workshopped a couple of chapters over the summer with my writing group, but, for better for worse, this year has been about getting my historical romance ready to query (check) in addition to writing and revising a half-dozen speculative fiction short stories (check check).

Now, with those goals well in hand, it was time to turn my attention back to this particular story. It has a lot of potential—well, at least I think it does—but it also has a lot of problems, some of which I talked about way back in Exorcising Demons.

But it’s not hopeless, which I established after reading through the whole story start to finish. That doesn’t mean those 60k words are beautiful, mind you, but (I think) I can work with them.

The bigger issue is that I essentially have three versions of the story I’m trying to juggle:

Version 1 – my initial draft, with two viewpoint characters, simplistic plot, overblown romantic subplot, and mustache-twirling villain.

Version 2 – partially revised draft (note partially), with three viewpoint characters now including the antagonist (note shift from villain to antagonist), reduced romance, and more plot events of the variety “something cool happens here”.

Version 3 – the supercool idealized version that lives in my head, with new character quirks and backstories, set pieces, and ambitious socio-cultural details to be included.

And yesterday was all about resolving these different versions. Good times. Especially since I never finished resolving the second version with the first version. Note to self: Never do that again.

So how did I make it work?

1) Stew – I always kept this story in the back of my mind, stewing over the characters and plot until I had the time to fully devote to it. This is how Version 3 came to life.

2) Reread – Rereading what I had already wrote helped to clarify what changes had been made and what ones hadn’t, as well as gave me the confidence to tackle even more onerous ones. Also, the refamiliarization was essential for getting me back into this story since it had been so long.

3) Write – I actually tried to pick up where Version 2 left off and make the changes I had originally planned to while working in Version 3 details as well. Got about 4k in, then decided I really needed to start from the beginning.*

4) Outline – Yep, I basically sat down yesterday and wrote out a rough outline for the entire book, synthesizing elements from all three versions. And now I feel confident enough to begin the revisions in earnest.

*This is why I have trouble with Nano – I get to a certain point in a new story then realize that I need to step back and revise from the beginning. I don’t start over per se, but I tend to write a discovery first draft, usually a partial draft, until I really understand what my story is about. When that realization comes, I can’t make any forward progress until I resolve the issues that linger in the first part of the story.

I won’t say I have things figured out with absolute certainty – I’m sure I’ll be switching out plot points and what not, but for now, I finally feel I have a handle on this story instead of the other way around. Which makes me excited to actually dig in and make the changes the book needs.

We’ll see how much progress I make this December.

How did you work through a problematic plot? Have you ever had to straddle different story versions? How did you make it work?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When this year started, I promised myself I’d start querying my historical romance this summer.

Umm…that didn’t happen. I was too busy incorporating feedback from my writing group and fretting about, well, everything.

Then I said I’d query this fall for sure. October came and went. (Where did October go? I really want it back.)

Then I told myself I’d query before December—because everyone knows agents automatically discount December queries as half-baked Nano novels and if that’s true, I didn’t want that to happen to my story.

I started querying last week.

Delight or Terror. That is the Question.

And the last few days have been full of Exhilaration (A request? They like me, they really like me!), Despair (Form rejection? Form you!) Second-Guessing (No auto-reply? Maybe I should send again.), and now impatience as the holidays take their toll on the industry.

But that’s ok. I met my (oft-modified) personal goal for querying and know the novel is the best I can make it right now. And for that, I’m thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

30 Seconds of Self-Promo

We interrupt our weekend radio silence for a special announcement. Ahem...

I just found out my drabble "Evolve" was accepted for publication by Luna Station Quarterly. It will appear in their drabble issue out on December 1st.

Luna Station Quarterly is a magazine focused on speculative fiction written by up and coming women authors. They have some amazing stories available, so check them out.

Also, my short story "The Tradeoff" will be appearing in the Fat Girl in a Strange Land Anthology from Crossed Genres Publications in February 2012. The pretty cover is below.

For your further edification, there's a great post by a fellow author at Following the Lede on why this anthology is so important.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Social Media Considerations

The digital age has given writers amazing opportunities – connecting them to other writers and potential readers, facilitating the exchange of information and resources, and creating new channels to distribute content.

But there are implicit assumptions we all make about social media. After my Social Media Guilt post a few weeks ago, I said I wanted to explore this topic in greater detail, so here it is.

People engage in social media to connect first and foremost.
  • to find like-minded individuals. Ex. I like to write, you like to write, so let’s be friends.
  • to find experts and tastemakers. Ex. I want to stay on top of the writing industry, so I follow publishing professionals.
  • to find consumers for their own content. Ex. I’m a writer so I’m going to build a blog to reach out to potential readers.
In all of these cases, writing could be substituted with, say, knitting or Civil War reenactment, or French cooking, or what-have-you. Most of us have interests outside of writing, and use social media to stay on top of the things we care about.

It is also important to note that there is a degree of self-interest associated with each of these reasons to connect with others. People use social media because there is a benefit to them using it. If there were no benefits, or if the benefits didn’t outweigh the negatives associated with social media, it wouldn’t work.

And there are degrees of involvement:
  • Invisible consumer – Someone who seeks out content but does not engage with the creators/sharers of the content. Your classic lurker.
  • Masked consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content on some level but uses an online persona to do so. For example, people who leave comments or follow people, but don’t use a real name or have any contact information.
  • Visible consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content without hiding their true identity.
  • Masked creator – Someone who creates content but does so using an online persona (like me).
  • Visible creator – Someone who creates content and does so without hiding their true identity.
These are simplistic categories, and not mutually exclusive. And chances are, if you have a blog or a website or what-have-you, your followers are combination of all of these types of people.

So what does that mean?

Well, we have people connecting with each other for different reasons with different levels of involvement on the one hand. And on the other, we have analytics that only capture (or imperfectly capture) parts of the activities that comprise social media use and consumption. Things like blog hits, number of followers, RTs and mentions, likes and +1’s. Numbers, quantities, that supposedly illustrate the value of someone’s blog or twitter stream, whatever constitutes their social media presence.

And frankly, regardless of whether they are right or accurate, numbers matter in social media.

We are told ways to increase our followers, comments, etc. We are told that the numbers don’t really matter so long as you have an online presence. We are told numbers only matter depending on what stage of your career you are at.

We are numbers-obsessed as content creators, but consumers of content also rely on numbers to determine how relevant the content is to them. Especially with the glut of writing-related content out there, the importance of numbers and the endorsement of influential experts in the writing blog-o-sphere is huge.

As a content creator, I pay attention to:
  • my number of blog and twitter followers
  • comments on my blog posts
  • RTs and mentions of my tweets
  • Overall blog traffic
  • Referring/incoming links
  • Relative influence of my followers (based on, in part, you guessed it, numbers)
  • Relative influence of people who RT/mention my tweets (based on numbers)
As a content consumer, I pay attention to:
  • Who created the content (how visible are they?)
  • Who endorsed the content (how influential?)
  • How many followers do they have?
  • How many people commented?
  • Quality of blog layout
  • Quality of content
Quality content, for me, is always king, but I’m more likely to give a post a chance to grab me depending on the other, primarily numeric, factors.

Lots of followers? I think, hmm, maybe this person really knows what they’re talking about. Lots of comments? I think wow, what an engaged following they have. But if I scan the comments and they are all clones of each other or bland “I agree” or “Author, you are so awesome,” I tune out.

Same with Twitter. I don’t auto-follow back someone. I see if they are relevant to me, and then I look at their followers to tweets ratio. Lots of followers but a small number of tweets? This is someone on a follower blitz, relying on people’s autofollow policies to inflate their numbers.

These are some of the things I look at when evaluating online content. There’s no right or wrong here, and I’m sure you look at content in different ways or weight things differently than I lay out here.

But I think it is important to analyze your own behavior when it comes to social media consumption, not only to better understand yourself and your online habits, but to also examine your own content and the way it can engage consumers.

So the next time you engage in social media, ask yourself what are your implicit assumptions in consuming and creating content. How are you really evaluating what you consume online?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking the Time to Tinker

My father is visiting me this week. It’s been a good visit so far, and tomorrow we’ll be having an early Thanksgiving, making a mini version of the turkey, stuffing, and other goodies since we won’t be able to celebrate together at the end of the month.

But there’s a twist. Instead of pumpkin pie, we’ve made a key lime pie. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, we’re having a sweet potato and butternut squash gratin. And we’re trying out a new recipe for cooking the turkey instead of the traditional standby method we’ve used for years.

Part of this is for practical reasons. As great as Thanksgiving is, two full-blown meals just a few weeks apart is just too much for any mortal. Changing up the menu is a way to preserve the symbolism of the meal but keep it fresh for the palate.

It’s also an excuse to try something new. Something different. It's also a way to practice something we both love to do: cooking. Maybe we’ll find a new method or recipe that will replace the old one. Make a new tradition for ourselves. Or, then again, maybe not.

But we won’t know unless we try.

Just like revising, until you take the time to rework that problem scene or brainstorm ways to invigorate the third act of your story, you won’t know what works unless you try.

And in the mad dash to produce a draft, to get an agent, to get published, time is at a premium.

This November, even with NaNoWriMo in full force, I encourage you to take the time to tinker. Take the time to try something new, something different with your writing.

Give yourself the mental headspace to consider the possibilities of what can be in your story.

Your craft will thank you for it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 2)

The Story behind the Story is a blog post series where I share the behind the scenes info for each story I’ve had published.

Last time, I talked about my story Summer in Exile, published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash. Well, I am fortunate enough to also have another story in the issue—Elegy, my first published speculative story, which is also available online.

Elegy explores the use of implants – think wireless devices linked to your brain – in a religious context. Implants are something that both my speculative fiction WIPs deal with in some way, but I never looked at them through a religious lens. Then on one March 2010 evening, my prompt-based writing group chose to do a writing exercise on religion, and I thought aha! here’s my chance.

I then took my draft, polished it up, and shared it with my now-defunct writing group at the time. Every one liked it, but they wanted more. I’ve talked before about how my writing friends sometimes think my short stories are really novels in disguise, and feedback suggested Elegy was the same.

Later that summer, a different writing friend was visiting me and I was lamenting how people kept telling me to expand this story and how I didn’t want to. He told me, “You are the author. It’s your story. You know best.”

In subsequent months, I tried expanding the story, but nothing seemed to work. I remembered my friend’s advice and focused all my energy on revising that original scene that got me excited about the story in the first place and made it shine.

I started submitting the story in Spring of 2011. On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted the same day as Summer in Exile.

The Numbers:

First Draft – 326 words
Final Draft – 878 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance – 420
Rejections – 2 form
7-day acceptance

The Lessons:

Know what advice to accept and what to reject – This kind of thing can only come with time and experience, but remember that not all feedback you get on a story will necessarily help make it stronger.

Remember that YOU are the author of your work – Sometimes determining the size or focus of a story is as simple as deciding what story you want to write, and then concentrating on every aspect of craft to get it there. Simple, yes, but not always in practice.

No revising or redrafting is ever wasted work – I wrote a couple thousand words trying to expand Elegy, and then threw those scenes out when I decided they weren’t working and that the heart of the story I wanted to tell was in that initial draft. But I wouldn’t have come to that realization if I hadn’t taken the time to try to expand the story in the first place.

Happy writing!
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