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Just Write the Doggoned Draft!

old typewriter by menken at morgueFile.com

photo credit: menken at morgueFile.com

Everything I am about to say can be boiled down to the title of this post. Just write the doggoned draft! But I can’t post that all by itself, right? I need to expound a little bit.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of handwringing online and in various places about “Am I writing this the right way?” Questions like these:

  • How long should my chapters be?
  • Can I write a prologue if I want one, even if literary agents say they don’t like them?
  • What should I name my characters? Is such-and-such a good name for a hero/heroine?
  • What point of view should I write this in? What if my editor likes first person and I hate it?
  • Do I have to write the first draft in order or can I write chapters or scenes out of order as I think of them?
  • How about tense? Should I write in present or past tense?
  • Do I have to wait till the very end to edit or can I edit after every page?

My philosophy when it comes to first drafts is to write however you need to write to finish the darned thing. You can revise even the worst spaghetti-like scramble of prose, but you cannot revise something you never wrote. 

If you write a whole novel and decide you don’t like the characters’ names? Change them. Easy. If you write a prologue and then decide you don’t need it, kill it. Add the bits you need to the body of the novel. If you want to keep it, keep it. (My own preference is not to write prologues. Just start where you need to start and call it chapter one. But that’s just me.) If you start writing in first person and find you don’t think it suits the story, change it – in the draft, and when you finish, go back and revise to bring the earlier part of the story into line with the latter part.  Same with tense. You can ALWAYS fix things.

As to editing after every page, in my opinion, you can do some. I edit as I go, cleaning up bits of grammar or finding a better word here and there. I do it every day when I start work, going back over yesterday’s work and tidying. I don’t do major revisions or go haring off down rabbit holes. That way lies the road to Never-Finishing-The-Doggoned-Draft-Land.  Other people work well by doing a first draft that is filled with bad grammar, clunky phrases, and notes of “Something Needs To Go Here When I Think Of It.” 

As a friend of mine, a very good writer, is wont to say, “There is no one true way to write.” I agree with her absolutely on this. What works for you might not work for me, and vice-versa. The trick is to write until you figure out what does work for you.

Write.The.Doggoned.Draft.

Then revise it as needed.

Then write another book.

GUEST POST BY LEIGH M. LANE

 

 

Mary Ann here: I’m turning over my blog to the amazing Leigh M. Lane today so she can tell you a little bit about her new novella, “Jane the Hippie Vampire: Love Beads.” I will be reviewing this book in a few days, too. Spoiler alert: I am enjoying it a lot. :) Without any more yattering from me, here’s Leigh:

Jane the Hippie Vampire: Love Beads

Jane the Hippie Vampire: Love Beads

 

Why a Hippie Vampire?

It came to me one day, name and all, while I was brainstorming for a completely unrelated book, and immediately I shifted gears to explore the idea. What captured me was the juxtaposition of theme and composition. When people think “vampire,” usually the first images to come to mind are black-clothed, gothic icons; compare that to the imagery that comes with “hippie”: colorful, carefree, let-the-sun-shine-in, free-lovin’ burnouts. Stereotypes (as accurate or inaccurate as some may be) aside, Jane’s character came together surprisingly quickly, and I fell in love with her tortured yet quirky nature as soon as she hit the page.

Jane is the iconic flower child. She’s spirited, generous, and lives in the moment. Unfortunately for her, “the moment” has become one long trek spent seeking out a glimmer of light in a world of darkness. Still, she sees the good in people and does her best to be good to those around her—unless, of course, she’s got munchies of vampiric proportions.

Jane is a slight shift from my typical writing. I guess you could say her personality ended up shining through on multiple levels. She’s got a dry sense of humor, but she’s also tormented by her dark past. She believes in karma, and that point of justice drives her stories. She wants to do right by humanity, but trouble seems to follow her wherever she goes. She doesn’t let that get her down though; for Jane, life is an adventure, and I can’t wait to share more of her journey with you.

 

About Love Beads:

She’s broke and homeless. She’s a vegan. She’s undead.

Jane has had one hell of a time ever since she bumped into the wrong guy during the Summer of Love, but she’s taken it all in stride. Wandering from town to town, she seeks out the needy and the broken in hopes of breaking the curse that’s left her bloodthirsty and forever seventeen.

In Love Beads, Jane crosses paths with a middle-aged man who’s encountered her kind before—but he seems happy just to have the company. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and his secret might just prove to be the end of her.

Love Beads is the first novella in the Jane the Hippie Vampire series.

Excerpt:

THE LATE AFTERNOON SUN negated any relief the light breeze might have offered, and the mottled shadow cast by the massive oak tree stretching overhead wasn’t much more helpful. Jane slumped on a park bench, dozing on and off, a wide-brimmed hat and boxy sunglasses obscuring her face. Her backpack sat beside her, one arm threaded through the shoulder straps to deter potential thieves, and she crossed her legs at the ankles. She wore a ragged pair of blue jeans and a Doobie Brothers tee shirt so old the applique had cracked and faded beyond recognition. Her bare feet were calloused and in desperate need of a good scrub.

She’d find a decent place to crash soon. There was at least one Good Samaritan in every town, and they were usually easy enough to spot. Patience was the key. That—and a practical sense of when the local heat had decided she’d overstayed her welcome. Hanging around anywhere long enough to be recognized was a bad thing. Recognition led to suspicion, which led to a slippery slope that began with harassment and ended with the gas chamber. She’d seen it happen before, and it was a pretty hellish fate for those on the difficult side of killing. There was no respectable place left in this world for vampires, not at least that she’d found, and it was not at all hospitable to a burned-out flower child who couldn’t seem to pull her head out of the sixties.

A handful of adolescents infiltrated the park, putting an end to the peaceful quiet she’d been fortunate enough to have enjoyed for the last couple of hours. The disruption had been inevitable, and she took it in stride despite her exhaustion. She sat upright, watched the kids play flag football for a few minutes, and then donned her backpack and made her way to the sidewalk. It was a sunny day, not at all comfortable, and the heat instilled an aching desire to curl up on the side of the street and slip quietly into a coma. Such extended exposure would undoubtedly do just that—before it reduced her hide to burnt leather—so she moved as quickly as her sluggish legs would take her to the shady overhangs of the buildings across the street.

The town she’d found herself in was small and quaint, with boutiques and small shops packed within a tiny radius. The smell of fried food permeated from a nearby greasy spoon. She considered going in, but she only had a few bucks and some change on her. Moreover, a diner was far from ideal for mingling with the locals. Mingling was the objective; luxuries like food—“people food”—were secondary.

Not like food wasn’t a necessity in its own right, just like water and doobage. A girl could only go so long without her doobage. Life was mundane enough as it was. A little variety, beyond blood type, was all that stood between her and insanity.

About the author:

Leigh M. Lane has been writing for over twenty years. She has ten published novels and twelve published short stories divided among different genre-specific pseudonyms. She is married to editor Thomas B. Lane, Jr. and currently resides in the hot and dusty outskirts of Sin City. Her traditional Gothic horror novel, Finding Poe, was a finalist in the 2013 EPIC Awards in horror.

Her other novels include World-Mart—a tribute to Orwell, Serling, and Vonnegut—and the dark allegorical tale, Myths of Gods.

For more information about Leigh M. Lane and her writing, visit her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.

Love Beads is available on Kindle for .99: http://www.amazon.com/Jane-Hippie-Vampire-Love-Beads-ebook/dp/B00L0J8ROQ

 

Leigh M. Lane

Leigh M. Lane

Danger Zone

Polly entered her living room and stopped to study the familiar surroundings. She gazed at the colourful floral wallpaper, a veritable garden growing on the walls, complete with dancing blue and yellow butterflies. The drapes at the double windows that looked out onto the wide front porch needed to be changed, she thought moodily. They were looking a bit shabby. The polished hardwood floors shone in the sunlight. A vase of irises, both purple and yellow, graced the cocktail table in front of the sofa. Sitting on the sofa were the two police officers who’d come to see her, right where the housekeeper had left them.

They stood up as she came closer, holding their hats in their hands. The younger officer shifted his weight from one foot to the other, the sound of his shoe leather making scuff-scuff sounds against the wooden floor. The older officer cleared his throat and rubbed one hand across the top of his crew-cut head. Then he drummed his fingers against the brim of his hat.

“Mrs. Jones. I regret to inform you that your husband was in a car wreck and is deceased.” The officer’s mouth pulled down at the corners, and his eyes reflected the gravity of his news. He rubbed the side of his nose with his thumb and ducked his head slightly.

Polly cocked her head, placed one hand on her heart, fluttered her eyelashes, and whispered, “Are you sure?” She moved her hand from her heart to her forehead. Her shoulders drooped, and her knees sagged.

 

Okay, I’ll stop there. What’s wrong with that section of writing? I’ve stayed all in one point of view, kept everything in one tense. But something is still wrong. A couple of somethings,in fact, though they’re related

I’ve indulged in overwriting. Too much description at entirely the wrong time. Polly (and this is in her POV) wouldn’t spend any time looking at her wallpaper if there were two cops waiting to speak to her. She knows this room. All she would see as she came into the room would be the new thing: the two police officers.

The other form of overwriting I’m guilty of in this section is telling every movement, every twitch, every facial expression that my characters make. Trust your readers a bit; let them work with you to fill in some details, some of the actions.

Also consider whether or not we need any of those descriptions. Do we need to know that the wallpaper is floral with butterflies? If so, tell us, but choose the right time. The right time is not when the POV character’s attention should be elsewhere.

Here’s one time a character might stop and stare at his surroundings.

K’lorg landed with a thud, still crouched in a defensive posture, sword half-raised in one hand, shield on the other arm lifted to protect his face and throat. What was this place? Where was the foul Nemishman he’d been dueling? The gravel of the battlefield had been replaced by some hard, shining substance. Bright flowering plants climbed the sides of the box he was in. Keeping an eye open for enemies in this strange place, K’lorg reached out a hand to touch the bright plants. He jerked back. Flat! Not plants. Just pictures of plants. Long strips of cloth hung from rods on either side of openings in the box. A long bench stood against one wall. K’lorg sniffed the air. He smelled food. The Wizard of Karth had sent him time-traveling again, this time to the oddest place he’d ever been. Muttering curses against the Wizard and all his kin, K’lorg followed the scent of food.

Well, that wasn’t very good, I suppose, but perhaps you get the point. K’lorg has never seen Polly’s living room – or any living room – so he’ll notice these things, though he won’t have the language to describe them very well.

Long story short: Don’t give too many details too quickly or at the wrong time. Don’t telegraph every eyebrow twitch your characters make. It slows down the action and tends to make you seem unsure of yourself. A reader wants to know she’s in safe, confident hands.

Write like you mean it. Bad grammar but good advice. Smile

The Backstory Blues

 

Kristen Lamb: Instead of dumping a crude flashback in the beginning so your reader will understand Such-and-Such…let them wonder. It’s good for them and it’s good for your career.

 

 

Backstory is the part of the story that takes place before your novel, novella, or short story begins. It’s the past.

I’ve heard writers say, “But if my readers don’t know all the events in the past that lead up to the events in the book, they won’t understand.”

Now it’s true that some parts of the past must be made known, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend pages and pages dropping that information on the reader’s head. Pick a few details, a few important bits, and sprinkle them through the book. Do it when and where the reader needs to know. And give the reader only what she needs.

Too much backstory will bog a novel down and throw your timeline all out of whack.  It will kill the forward momentum of your story. Nothing — or almost nothing — will provoke me into throwing a book across the room and marking the writer down as one I’ll never read again more quickly than too darned much backstory.

Adverbs: Friend, Foe, Switzerland?

 

Typewriter

Typewriter

Photo credit: Richard Edwards at FreePicturesAtoZ.com

Stephen King: The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Mark Twain: I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.

Graham Greene: There is almost a complete absence of the beastly adverb–far more damaging to a writer than an adjective.
Theodore Roethke: In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs.
Wow. Why do some great writers get their knickers in such a twist over adverbs? Writing should involve the use of the strongest, most vivid verbs. Adverbs enable lazy writing. Instead of “He spoke loudly,” try “He bellowed,” “He yelled,” “He shouted,” “He blared.” Each one has a slightly different meaning, and each one is more specific than “He spoke loudly.”

Another place writers often misuse adverbs is in tags. “I am afraid,” she said, fearfully. Don’t tell us (with the adverb) what the dialogue has already shown us. She’s afraid. Don’t gild the lily.

I’m not opposed to the occasional adverb. I am opposed to lazy writing and telling. The overuse of adverbs enables both of those bad habits.

 

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