Monday, December 29, 2014

I'm not very good at this

I tried to wait two weeks, I really did.

I lasted eleven days.

The first draft was finished on the 14th of December, which means I should not have looked at it again until yesterday. Yeah, that didn't work. I started the first read-through this Saturday past (the 27th) and finished it this morning. Although, if you want to be picky, I did the comment read on the 22nd, so perhaps it wasn't even twelve days?

The first time I go back to a manuscript (mss), I take a look at all the comments I've left myself and deal with those first. For this mss, that meant finding street names for some of the locations as well as double checking some information. Concerning the street names, there's a wonderful map of the city that's recently been released and I used it often for reference. Not only has the shape of Manhattan changed as the city has been constantly re-invented over the centuries, but most of the street names were dropped after the Revolutionary War, replaced with more patriotic ones (Queen's Street, for example is now Pearl Street). I used the original names, so if you, like me, like to reference a map as you read, you'll have to use the above link, not a modern-day map of the city.

So that first pass, back on the 22nd, just involved finding information and taking care of those margin notes. Not really an edit, more of a "filling in".

But on Christmas Day, after all the presents were unwrapped, the dinner enjoyed, the merriment shared, the house quieted and I came upstairs with the intention of putting away boxes and wrapping paper.

And then it called out to me from the depths of my computer. "Look at me," it called. "Come, see what you have wrought."

I caved.

This read is primarily for continuity. For example, I have a minor character who comes in about halfway through the book and has some small action in several scenes. First he was Tommy, then Bobby, then Billy. Mostly in that order, although I did go back and forth between the two B names for a while. Reading it through this time, I decided on Tommy - and made all the appropriate changes.

I'm really not good with character name continuity. When I started, I wasn't sure of the proper address for a Baronet, so I often had people call him "Baronet St. James." Nope. Should be "Sir Christopher." I think I could even get away with the occasional "my lord," although I chose not to. Despite their loyalty to England, these are Americans after all, and it seemed some of the formality might have started to wear off. So those got changed.

Mrs. Galloway (a busybody who has lots of news to bring) was Jane to begin with, then Grace when I learned she really existed. The book is a mixture of real and fictional people, so making sure I stayed true to their names was important. Elizabeth Floyd, our heroine's best friend, for example, is a real person. Her story is partly told in this book (I'm thinking the rest of her story might be my next book - there is a fascinating tidbit about her in the footnotes of history. Don't look it up if you don't want spoilers, though!). But those historical footnotes alternately call her "Elizabeth" and "Eliza". So I made it so our heroine call her by her nickname and everyone else by her more formal name. Or by "Miss Floyd" if they don't know her well at all.

So you can see, the naming conventions alone were enough to warrant a separate read-through just to make sure I got them all. And that's not even including the military ranks of several characters who come and go toward the end!

In the process of this read, I also found places where more action or description was needed. I'm not a linear writer, so now that the story is done, I found the places where a reference could be made that set up something later in the book. Likewise, I found places that needed setting up, and wrote lines or, in one case, an entire new scene that did just that.

The first draft came in a 75,760 words. This second draft (finished this morning) stands at 76,750 words - which is 990 words longer. I took out words, sentences, sometimes entire paragraphs, and added others but the result is a slightly longer novel. At this point. We'll see what happens during the next several passes.

And what's in store for those? Habit words, I think. You can see the original counts in my last post. I'll do a second pass at them for comparison's sake before I start, but I doubt there will be any significant changes.

Off to edit!
Play safe,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Okay, I looked!

No excuses except: I have the time, so I peeked.

I know I said I wasn't going to look at REVOLUTION until next week, but I find myself this morning with time on my hands. I don't want to start a new story until I've put this one to bed, my Christmas presents are all wrapped, the house is clean...what else is there to do but edit?

First step was to go through all the comments I'd made myself and deal with them. This morning I spent looking up small details I wanted to include but needed historical references. In other words, I spent about a half an hour looking up things like, "What did young women read for pleasure in 1777 New York?" and "What is a good dock for a smuggler to use?" Fun stuff!

I had already created my Wordle, but I have other habit words I know I'm overly fond of using. So my next step today was to go through and do a quick word count of each one so I know if I actually succeed in getting rid of any instances of these words.* The counts are somewhat alarming:

was - 729 instances (includes "wasn't" but not "Washington" - which would make it 10x worse!)
back - 183
just - 191
hand - 141 (my char. are always using those darn appendages!)
one - 353
know - 149
man - 259
way - 110
thought - 151
see - 133

LOTS of editing needed here. Nothing like seeing the words in a visual format to alert you to your laziness!

I haven't highlighted the words in my mss yet. I'll do that later, after I've done a read-through for continuity and plot holes.Might as well fix those first, then go back - these word counts could get a lot worse before they get better. :(

But I like having a baseline. I'm all about the data, so, for me, this is part of the picture of the story in it's first iteration. Painters use brushes, knives, paints to create art, For me, comments, Wordles, word counts, even the story outline are all tools I use to work on my art (the manuscript).

Not going to do too much more. I'm sure there's something around the house that needs cleaning...

Play safe!

* If you want a quick tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word's feature that lets you do this, click here - the directions are in the second part of the post.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Don't look at it!

That's what I have to keep telling myself. Don't look at that manuscript for at least a week. Two weeks, if you can stand it.

I finished the first draft of REVOLUTION four days ago. The very next day I did the story board/chapter analysis and found the holes and imbalances that need to be addressed. Today I did my Wordle to look for my habit words...gee, you think I got some work to do? :)

If you've never used Wordle, you should. It finds the most-used words in your text and makes them quite large, as you can see. Obviously, I like the words "back," "just," "hand," "one," "know," and "man" the most. They're my habit words and, in one of the several passes I'll take over the next few weeks, I'll get those words to be a lot smaller. I always print out a first Wordle before I start editing so I can see just how far I have to go.

NOTE: one of the features I like about the Wordle website, it that it lets me delete all the names and titles, reorganizing the remaining words and adjusting their sizes. Since I refer to my characters by name all the time, "Clara" and "St. James" were the biggest words on the thing!

But for right now, I'm putting it away. Giving myself at least a week away from it so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. It's a technique I recommend for everyone. When you haven't looked at something in a while, you are more objective - and that's what I want. Right now I'm too close to the story, to the characters and all their foibles. I know what I meant when I wrote each sentence.

Distance, however, will tell me if I actually SAID what I meant.

And, if I'm being honest, the timing for this is perfect this time around. Not only are the holidays here, but I'm having arthroscopic surgery done on my knee tomorrow. I'm counting on those pain meds to keep me loopy...and one never wants to edit when one is not entirely in touch with reality. :)

So, the analysis is done, the first Wordle complete. Now I'll stay away from the manuscript. You have permission to slap my hands if I don't. 

Play safe!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Writing The Black Moment

Welcoming Lexi Post to the blog today. She's got a great piece of advice for those of you struggling with The Black Moment! Here's Lexi...!

I have to chuckle to myself for choosing this topic. As my critique partner will tell you, I dread The Black Moment when writing a book.  Sure, as a reader of romance, I enjoy living through that terrible time when it looks like the hero and heroine may not make it together as a couple. That’s because as a reader, I have complete faith in the author’s ability to bring these characters through to a glorious happily ever after made much better by having gone through the worst of times. Maybe that’s why I love epilogues, because The Black Moment makes them so rewarding.

But as a writer, I dread The Black Moment. Unlike my lovely critique partner who is very good at torturing her hero and heroine (emotionally, that is), by the time I come to that part of the story, I have so fallen in love with my two main characters, and so want them to have a wonderful life together, that it kills me.  Okay, obviously I’m still alive, but it does wipe me out. For me, The Black Moment is many nights of anguish at the computer.

In an effort to handle this significant obstacle, I have developed some tools for tackling this part of my stories. If The Black Moment is a tough spot for you as well, these may help. I’ll use some of my books as examples.

First, since The Black Moment is the most difficult piece for me to write, I make sure before I start writing that I know what it will be about. For plotters, this is a no brainer, but I am 90% pantser. This is one of the key elements of the other 10% that I must know before I begin, so I can write toward that dreaded moment. All my characters’ goals and motivations must direct me to that one point in time. For example, in MASQUE, I knew ahead of time that my hero, Synn, would betray my heroine. I know! That’s how I felt. But having determined that would happen, I then had to figure out how to still make Synn honorable and his betrayal somehow understandable. In the end, his goal was incredibly worthy, to help 73 souls cross over, his motivation solid, and even if the reader didn’t agree with him, Synn’s 150 years of guilt certainly made him sympathetic.

Second, I have learned to have faith that I will figure out how the characters come through the darkness and into the light. That’s right. I don’t always know how I am going to get my two characters through The Black Moment when I start writing. If you can determine how to overcome the dark for the good of the couple ahead of time, you are in a lot better shape. For me, as I’ve written more and more, I have learned to trust myself that I will figure out how they will overcome in a legitimate way. Basically, if we can get them into this emotional mess, we can figure out how to get them out. In PASSION OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, the hero looks just like Katrina’s past fiancé, so when she calls him by her late fiancé’s name, he has had it. I knew that would happen when I started the book, but had no idea how the two would come back together. In this case, Katrina had to let her past go. Of course, that’s easier said than done when she still lives in the 1790s and the hero lives in present day :-}

Third, I find that it is important to determine if the cause of The Black Moment is going to be an outside force, an inside force, or a combination of both. What I mean by an outside source is something like the villain forcibly marrying the heroine, or the hero is shot, bleeding and no one can find him, or the evil witch changes the lady into a hawk. These can cause some significant angst on the part of the main characters. On the other hand, I consider an inside source one that comes from the characters themselves, be it his honor refusing to forgive her, her loyalty to her family trumping their love, or his duty to the Grand Wizard making him give her up. I think this inner force is truly gut wrenching for the reader.  A real roller coaster of emotion can occur when both outside and inside forces come together at that pitch black moment in the story . In PASSION’S POISON, the outside source of conflict is Bea’s condition. When she has sex with a man, she releases poisons that make him sick but if she doesn’t release her poisons, she will die. If she has too much sex with one man, she will kill him. The outside source in this black moment is critical because when she almost kills the hero, she discovers she loves him too much to go back to one-night-stands (here the inner source comes into play). Not a good position for her to be in.

Fourth, whichever source for The Black Moment is chosen, it is important that the moment and its consequential outcome be significantly emotional. If the fact that the heroine is now a hawk has the hero simply becoming determined to find a way to break the curse, it is not enough. He must feel to the depths of his soul the loss of the woman he loves.  He must be willing to do whatever it takes, including losing his honor, to restore her. He must be devastated by the turn of events. He must do and say things he has never done before nor ever thought he would do, but will now because of his lady love. In CRUISE INTO EDEN, an erotic ménage, The Black Moment is partially internal and partially external. This occurs when the heroine discovers Nase and Ware are responsible for her celibacy for the last 11 years. This discovery after she has fallen for them is devastating for her. However, it is also devastating for them and they turn on each other. In the end, they approach the situation in the complete opposite way than they do anything else in life as they will do anything to get her back.

Fifth, and last, thankfully, (even writing about The Black Moment is exhausting for me), is the timeframe. I find this to be extremely tricky. How long to leave the two estranged lovers in anguish?  If the situation is rectified too soon, then it doesn’t appear to have been truly black and more of just a grey moment. Leave the two separated and hurt for too long, and the reader loses patience.  In my most recent release, COWBOYS NEVER FOLD, Wade is faced with the woman he loves planning to go nude at her nudist resort. For him, this is a core, though unexamined value and it is so deeply rooted in his upbringing that he can’t reconcile her action. This means he can’t just have a change of heart. Something must convince him or her, if they are to have a happily ever after. Oh yes, and then the villain must intervene as well. Can’t have the happily ever after come too easily, now can we? So it takes a number of scenes and outside influences to get Wade to come around. Inside sources for The Black Moment tend to take longer to resolve than outside sources to make a truly satisfying happily ever after.

And that is the reward, is it not? The happily ever after? The blacker the moment, the brighter the finale. The more trials and tribulations our characters go through to find and hold on to love, the more rewarding for our readers. Wow, after all this talk of The Black Moment, I think I need to read one of my epilogues again. Did I mention I love epilogues?

Author Bio:
Lexi Post is an award-winning author of erotic romance. She spent years in higher education taking and teaching courses about the classical literature she loved. From Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Masque of the Red Death” to the 20th century American epic The Grapes of Wrath, from War and Peace to the Bhagavad Gita, she's read, studied, and taught wonderful classics.

But Lexi's first love is romance novels. In an effort to marry her two first loves, she started writing erotic romance inspired by the classics and found she loved it. Lexi believes there is no end to the romantic inspiration she can find in great literature for her sexy love stories. Her books are known as "erotic romance with a whole lot of story." In 2014 she won both the Aspen Gold Readers Choice Award and the Passionate Plume Award.

Lexi is living her own happily ever after with her husband and her cat in Florida. She makes her own ice cream every weekend, loves bright colors, and you will never see her without a hat (unless she is going incognito).

Website        Lexi Post Updates      Facebook    Twitter    Amazon Author Page   Blog  Email

 Whew! Methinks I need to revisit some of my epilogues as well! Play safe, everyone!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Using a story outline...or not

Yesterday I finished my NaNoWriMo novel. The working title is still REVOLUTION, but that's really a description of the setting rather than the action. It takes place during the American Revolution but the conflict is really between two people who each have their own agenda and secretly conspire to use the other as a cover for illicit activities.

I'm a pantser. I've confessed to that many times (here and here, for details). One of the things I learned during this intensive month and a half of writing is that, perhaps because I'm a pantser, I do not write in a linear fashion. I write, think of a scene or part of a scene I want to insert to set up the current scene I'm working on and go do that, then come back and move forward again. Sometimes I even write a scene totally out of context and then write "bridge" scenes to get the characters to that point.

But I don't write in a straight line, and that's something the NaNoWriMo focus on getting the story out promotes. Write the entire novel, in thirty days' time, from start to finish. I'll tell you, it was an interesting experiment.

What I found, in writing that way, was that I'd leave myself a lot more notes in the margins ("Insert Comment" became my best friend in Microsoft Word) about: 1) things I needed to look up because its a historical and I didn't want to stop the flow of writing to remember a street name; or, more often, 2) scenes I'd need to insert later or a loose end I'd have to deal with once the first draft was done. Now that the draft is finished (YAY!), I have those notes to deal with.

But I also found I started to lose the characters partway through. Not that they changed a lot, just that I gave them feelings/thoughts/ideas, that I hadn't set up in any way. Traits and sometimes words that came out of the blue. Not so much for me, because I knew what they meant. But the reader would look at that speech and say, "What? Where did THAT come from?" By the time I got near the climax, I found myself just writing stuff down to get finished so I could go back and fix all those notes. They were hanging around in the back of my conciousness, pestering, asking when I would get to them. "Fix me! Fix me now!" they would scream at me until, sometimes, I ignored them so long I totally forgot what needed fixing.

And so, late last night I started a story plot. The voices in my head kept me awake until I gave in, got up, and started it. If you're a writer, you'll understand. If you're not, you probably think I should be committed by this point.

Now, I've never done a full story plot for any of my books. I have notes on scrap paper, doodles to myself to remind me of something, but no full, honest-to-goodness, story plot. Axl Rose developed one he shared at Romanticon 2014 and, since it was in Excel and I'm good with that program, I decided to give his a shot. I didn't use all the pages he developed, only the Timeline By Chapter. He broke the timeline down into several categories, including a synopsis of the chapter, the character conflict, the story conflict and a line for a subplot.

After plotting out four chapters last night, I realized I needed another row: Main plot (romance). The sub-plot was the revolution and their secret activities. I also added a row for characters that were introduced in that chapter, more as a reference point than anything else. I tried to add a page numbers row, but Excel gave me fits at that point and kept changing my numbers to dates no matter what I did to clear the formatting of the cell, so I added those afterward by hand (more on that in a bit).

To plot out the entire 75K word story, took me about five hours. An hour last night, followed by four this morning. And what did I learn by doing this activity? Plenty.

I learned I changed the names of some of the minor characters (there's a servant who goes from Tom to Bobby to Billy. I like Bobby and will edit to fix that).

I learned I introduced characters and then let them drop without another reference. Likewise, I had characters show up out of no where who need more of a set-up.

I learned I have a bit of a timeline problem right near the end. It's clear on my calendar (yes, I downloaded a calendar from 1777 and have kept track of the action on it to keep it straight), but I don't think it's as clear in the story as to what happened to a pair of days. They didn't just disappear. Honest.

I learned that, by taking the time to go back and look at story and character arcs, I can tell where I need work on smoothing them out. Something I teach but don't always practice (slaps own hand).

I learned that I didn't write even chapters. Usually my chapters are between 10-14 pages. This book the chapters are between 6-18 pages. A little out of balance for my tastes. Will look and see if some re-dividing is necessary.

I learned that I stayed pretty even between action regarding the romantic plot and the political plot, but I do have some parts that are solely focused on one or the other. Will revisit those chapters to determine if I need to beef up one plot or the other in that area.

And I learned that, despite all the holes I found that need fixing, the story is in much better shape and is far more consistent than I thought it was. A positive! When I write without stopping, I CAN still keep most of the story in my head and stay true to characters.

Overall, this is a tool for revising more than editing. I know I tend to use those terms interchangeably, but editing is more about keeping the same character name, the same hair color, the right spelling, punctuation and grammar. Revising is more about character and plot arcs, about the organization of the story, and the balance of the action (i.e, the chapter length). While this did alert me to some editing that's needed, it really has shone a light on the revising I have to do.

So, a full, 75,000 word novel in six weeks for the first draft. I'd say that was a good use of time. I'm expecting to take about a month with the revision/editing process and then it'll be ready for my beta readers. As to the publishing? Still haven't made decisions, but I thank those of you who sent me ideas. Keep 'em coming! This is NOT an erotic romance, so EC is not the right venue. Self-pubbing is an option, but I'd like to hit a wider audience with this. Keeping an open mind!

I'll post more about using a story outline/ story board, as I go through the revisions. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot just by creating it!

Play safe,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I won NaNoWriMo!

Okay, so we're ten days past the end of NaNoWriMo and I'm just finding time to write about it. Why? Because the writing habit started in November has carried over into December...just as I hoped it would. While it actually takes longer than 21 days to set a new habit, my hope was that I'd see the fruits of my hard work and want to keep going. Or that the story I started in November would bug the heck out of me until I finished it. I was fine with either excuse as long as I could keep up the writing habit.

Because ultimately, that's what writing is for me. A habit I don't want to break. I can't *NOT* think of stories, so I might as well write them down. Then edit them. Then decide what to do with them.

I actually wrote just over 52,000 words on REVOLUTION (the working title for my current work-in-progress) during November. Today I broke the 70,000 word mark and I'm thinking it'll come in somewhere between 75-80K by the time I'm done. There's only one problem.

It isn't an erotic romance.

I tried to make it one. The suggestive glances, the appreciative stares...and the characters rebelled. Both the hero and the heroine informed me, in no uncertain terms, that THEY weren't like that. THEY were a proper lady and gentleman and, though they might occasionally have thoughts of that nature (him more than her, since she's barely aware of how babies are formed) neither of them are into BDSM of any sort.

And yet, I still managed to write a novel that's over 70K - without a single sex scene! To be honest, I usually count on my sex scenes to go for three to five thousand words. Put four sex scenes in a novel and it's half written right there. Characters have always been of primary importance to me, rather than plot, so it's probably not really a surprise that I can turn them loose in the bedroom and watch the fireworks happen. The windows get steamy, but I don't care - I'm in the room with them and we're all having fun!

REVOLUTION, however, has turned out to be a more traditional historical romance. A "sweet" romance, if you will. And therein lies my problem...

Where in the world do I publish it? Diana Hunter readers expect BDSM scenes -- and there aren't any. Mystic Shade readers expect very naughty scenes of hard bondage and pain -- and there's none of that, either. So maybe I publish under a different name entirely...although Diana Allandale hasn't had a lot of success with her short stories (in fact, I pulled them at one point, intending to write a few more and repub it under Diana Hunter, but I got busy with other stories...).

So NaNoWriMo was a success for me. I wrote (am writing!) a novel of over 50K - and, let's be clear here, I really, really like this book. Christopher St. James and Clara Simpson are two very independent people who have an incredibly strong attraction to one another, even though each of them is hiding a secret from the other. I've had fun doing the research, fun learning about the British occupation of New York in 1777 and fun getting to know these two and their many friends.

Here's the most current blurb for the book:

Baronet Christopher St. James provides the perfect cover for Clara to slip a note through enemy lines and to her brother in the Continental Army. The man is such a fop, with his lace sleeves and fancy bows, he'll never realize how he's been used.

But the Baronet has problems of his own, and using Clara Simpson to worm his way into the elite echelon that is New York society, gives him the perfect way to spy on the Loyalist enemy, right within their very own parlors....

So, after years of trying, I finally wrote a book in a month...and a half. By this time next week, it'll be done and ready for edits.

And then I have to decide where to publish it.


Play safe!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Cyber sale!

Read all about the Diana Hunter titles on sale this well as sales on Mystic Shade and CF Duprey!

And while you're there, join the newsletter to get advanced notice of new releases and other sales.

Play safe!