Archive for March, 2005

3/27/05: A new strategy and a new attitude

Editing hours: 32.7 | Since last entry: 5.0 | Percent complete: 58% Looks like I’m going to come closer to 50 editing hours this month than I’d thought I would! Started the day with the annual 43rd Avenue Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch. This was the first time in about four years we were able to attend, because we weren’t at Minicon, Norwescon, or Eastercon. The weather was cold and rainy, so instead of setting up card tables on the sidewalk as usual we all crowded into someone’s house on the corner. Much discussion of kitchen remodels and the other joys of an eighty-five-year-old house. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors. The conversations at the party were all about where to find ecologically friendly construction materials, and how great hybrid cars are, and how nice it is to live in a part of the country where people are willing to tax themselves for the sake of the schools. We even met a couple of neighbors we hadn’t met before who are science fiction readers, and we might be starting up a neighborhood reading group. In the afternoon and evening I buckled down to editing, with a new strategy and a new attitude. The new strategy: I looked through my to-do list for the next few chapters, found items that I thought really needed to be addressed, and looked for places to address them. This was much more productive than going through each chapter in order, trying to keep an eye out for places to trim, places to add emotion, places to add description, and other to-do items all at once (which very easily shifted from “scanning for possible edits” to “reading my own deathless prose”). I made a lot of small changes and trims (though the overall word count is back up over 123,000): setting up things that come later, increasing the amount of emotion on the page, making the protagonists more active and less whiny, folding together sentences that say the same thing in different ways. The new attitude: the changes I am making now are tweaks. Nothing I am doing now, I think, is going to make the difference for an editor or agent in deciding whether or not to buy/represent this novel. Either it’s fundamentally salable for that particular editor/agent (in which case there may be additional edits anyway, sigh) or it is not (in which case no amount of tweaking will make a difference). I do want it to be the best it can be, but really I know that at this point I am simply not going to make any structural changes. So, for example, Jason’s going to continue to be an “insular tech-head.” That’s not the characterization I would have hoped for, but I think that it may be the best I can do with this character, in this novel, at this stage of my career. I need to keep in mind that I am not going to make every reader fall all over me with praise. Yes, my critters have found problems. That’s what critters are for. Yes, it might not sell. That’s a hazard of first novels. But I’m going to get the damn thing in the mail, at least. And soon. More tomorrow.

3/26/05: Writing retreat, day 2

Editing hours: 27.7 | Since last entry: 4.6 | Percent complete: 44% Today’s retreat was incomplete; we did some grocery shopping and went to a movie (Robots, it was silly and fun) and cooked some stuff for tomorrow’s Easter brunch. The editing felt a bit incomplete, too. I find myself extremely daunted by my large list of things-to-do. As I look at each item and read over the chapter, it becomes easier and easier to say “well, it’s not perfect, but it would be too much work to change it.” I did make some changes. One biggie was right at the beginning of the day, when I woke up thinking about the Jason jealousy problem mentioned yesterday. I wound up cutting almost all of that scene, and what was left I turned around so that Flea was jealous of Jason. This solution leaves the tension between them but strengthens Jason as a character, and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before. It also cut about 300 words, which is a good thing. Most of the rest of the changes I made today were small, sentence and paragraph level, mostly informational rather than emotional. I’m finding it very very hard to make substantial changes. I think I’m getting ready to let go of this novel. I’m certainly heartily sick of editing. More tomorrow, though.

3/25/05: Writing retreat, day 1

Editing hours: 23.1 | Since last entry: 5.7 | Percent complete: 29% As mentioned earlier, I’m taking a writing retreat for the three-day weekend. No television, no internet — everything just the same as I would do if I went to the coast and wrote, but staying home. So, apart from going out to the gym this morning and for pizza tonight, I’ve been editing all day. I spent some time following Clarity forward for a few chapters, then backed up and worked on Jason chapters for a while. I turned the telepathic conversation between Honor and Clarity at the first Council meeting around so it was her idea to go along with Raptor’s plan to name her as CEO. I added time cues to the beginning of each chapter I touched to help nail down when they occur (though I might still put the time maps back, since many people found them invaluable). In several cases I cut or moved the anticlimax of the chapter so the chapter ends on an emotional high point. Some of those anticlimaxes were among my favorite paragraphs — I think it was because I was trying so hard to keep up the level of excitement despite the fact I’d passed the actual climax. In particular, I lost Jason’s reminiscences of the sex scene with Sienna (only two paragraphs, told not shown) in favor of cutting off right when she bites his earlobe, and similarly cut the paragraphs of Jason driving out of Seattle after breaking up with Chris. I tried putting the sex paragraphs elsewhere, but by the time I’d edited them to fit in the new location all the sex was gone and there was nothing left but musings on why Jason couldn’t tell Chris about Sienna. That was needed, but it’s too bad about the sex stuff. (Oh well, the seduction scene before that is much hotter, shown not told, and that’s still there.) Something else I cut was Jason’s jealousy over Flea’s relationship with Sienna. Many people objected to this, on the grounds that it’s hypocritical given Jason’s many relationships with men, women, and aliens, but the first Jason/Flea/Sienna scene is pretty flat without the jealousy. I could cut the scene completely, but I think it contains needed information. I’m going to try to do the “co-sweeties who don’t like each other” thing instead of the jealousy. Needs more work, that. There’s a certain amount of worry that I’m making things just different instead of better, or that I’m breaking something that was okay before. I’m trying not to listen to that. If this were the Colonyhouse I’d probably be talking with other writers until the wee small hours, so I think it’s legit to take a break from editing now. More tomorrow.

3/22/05: De-italicizing

Editing hours: 17.4 | Since last entry: 1.6 | Percent complete: 16% Bopping around among the first few chapters, touching on both Jason and Clarity, trying to nail down the date at the start of each chapter, increasing emotion, focusing on strengthening Jason’s motivations. I put a paragraph of exposition near the top of the second Jason chapter, explaining how long it had been since he’d stolen the biocomputer, what had happened in the interim, and what he hoped to accomplish that day. It’s one of several places I’ve increased exposition in these early chapters. I know that generally exposition is a bad thing, but I’ve been trying to “use exposition as ammunition” (Carol Emshwiller) and I’m using it only in those places where I see I haven’t put enough information on the table (being too mysterious, or just too wrapped up in my own universe). I’ve also given Jason a ring to wear — his mother’s ring, which he found in his parents’ safe-deposit box, and which he will look at whenever he questions whether he’s doing the right thing. I suspect I’m going to have to find a big payoff for that ring in the last few chapters (along with Sienna’s father’s watch, which kind of vanishes), but it should be a useful tool… it’ll be interesting to see how Jason reacts to the thought of selling it when he and Sienna are on the run and short of cash. The other big change tonight was realizing that “I don’t want to do that, he thought” is a lot weaker than “He didn’t want to do that.” The former is narrative about the character’s thoughts; the latter is the character’s thoughts as narrative, and puts the reader more firmly in the character’s head. I did a global search for underlines and killed most of them, saving them for emphasis, foreign words, telepathy, and a few places where I want to indicate a character is thinking in words rather than in concepts. In general I see I used these underlines a lot more in the early chapters… I think this means I started realizing and applying this technique subconciously before I really understood it. I’m not going to make fifty hours of editing this month. So be it. I didn’t make 40,000 words during NaNoWriMo, either, and it was still worthwhile.

3/20/05: A good day’s editing

Editing hours: 15.8 | Since last entry: 5.2 | Percent complete: 16% Spent the entire day editing, while Kate went to Seattle for a square dance. By suppertime I was feeling rather as though I’d wasted the day, having spent much of that time just re-reading my deathless prose and fiddling with words here and there. But after supper I really buckled down. I moved the scene where Clarity sees her father in his sickbed for the first time up to the beginning of the second Clarity chapter, reducing a 500-word scene in which Clarity is hustled out of the auditorium (which I spent a whole evening writing earlier this week, sigh) to a four-paragraph flashback. I think that has ironed out the continuity problem I was so worried about in my last entry. Also killed a couple of other darlings — sentences I loved dearly when I first wrote them two years ago, and have survived every other attempt to prune them up to now. Here’s one of them, included for posterity:

“Cedar Point had once been nothing but a suburb of Denver, an undistinguished bedroom community like thousands of others across the country. But on October 23, 2050, Cedar Point had changed from a place to a point in time — a charred hole in history, like Wounded Knee or My Lai or Chernobyl.”

Reason for its demise: the new Prologue, which actually shows the Cedar Point disaster. I still like that sentence, dammit, but it had to go. The press conference scene that used to be the first major scene of the chapter is now in the middle, and I need to think about it a little while longer before I decide whether or not it’s needed at all. I think that’s all the major rewriting I need to do, huzzah. I may be able to go faster from now on. To help keep myself focused, I think I may write my editing goals for Jason and Clarity on an index card. My massive To-Do file is just too large to keep track of, and many of the items in it are just not going to happen. Primarily what I’m trying to do for both of them is make them more protagonisty: more active, less reactive; more angry, less whiny; and more emotion via description, less “I’ll describe what’s happening and the reader will know how the character feels.” (Though that’s all stuff I thought I was doing before…) One last thing before I fall over: my forte seems to be the “middle-sized picture,” both in writing and in user interfaces. My plots and layouts are conventional, not revolutionary, but I never mess up the continuity and my Apply buttons are always disabled when the inputs aren’t correct. In both cases my hope is that a well-executed conventional thing will be accepted better than a half-baked revolutionary thing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

3/18/05: Missed connections

Editing hours: 10.6 | Since last entry: 1.8 | Percent complete: 14% You know that cartoon of the guy driving in the golden spike where the two train tracks meet, but the tracks don’t actually meet properly? You know, the southern Westbound track connects with the northern Eastbound track, leaving two tracks unconnected? Ever see that happen to a novel? Having written the scene where Clarity sees Vigor collapse at the UN, I felt the energy dissipating as soon as Clarity got bundled up by Security and hustled away (which is what they’d do, despite any protestations of hers to the contrary). So I decided to amp up the emotions of the collapse and then end the chapter right after that. Not a bad finish for the first Clarity chapter. But the following bit introduced Raptor, plus some other key concepts (which used to be at the end of the Moses Lake scene, but I cut them from there to send Clarity to New York instead), so I moved that bit to the beginning of the following Clarity chapter. Where it collides with the beginning of that chapter, which is currently Clarity arriving in New York from Moses Lake. The first couple of scenes of that chapter are going to have to be substantially rewritten to match the new set-up. And if Clarity’s in New York when Vigor collapses, there’s no reason for her to not see him in his sickbed shortly thereafter, which means the following press conference scene needs to be exchanged with the scene where she sees him in bed for the first time, and switching those two around will probably create other continuity problems… I have this horrible vision of having to completely rewrite the entire book, or at least all the Clarity chapters, to iron out all these wrinkles. (No! There will come a point there the seam can be hidden. Sodesuyo!) I’m also not completely happy having the second Clarity chapter begin in the same calendar day the first chapter ends. In general, I don’t split days across chapter boundaries. Though, come to think of it, that might not be a bad change to make in terms of keeping the reader hooked from chapter to chapter.

3/16/05: Disease and frustration

Editing hours: 8.8 | Since last entry: 1.7 | Percent complete: 8% Still writing new text: 660 new words, showing Vigor’s collapse and its aftermath and introducing Raptor. Total word count now over 123,000 — too long, too long. Should not be adding words! Should be cutting! But the opening chapters are stronger, I think. This is not the place to end the chapter, but it’s where I’m stopping for tonight. I briefly considered ending the chapter right at Vigor’s collapse, but that seemed too abrupt, and I wanted to fight my tendency to go “naturally the reader will know what to feel here, I don’t have to describe it” and really show Clarity’s feelings. At the moment she’s mostly pissed that nobody’s telling her what’s going on (she doesn’t yet know that they don’t know either) — I need to get more concern and fear in there. Emotion has always been my bugaboo. One more good night’s work on this chapter and I should be done with it, and then things should progress more quickly as I shift into editing and cutting mode. I hope. I really hope.

3/15/05: Slow going

Editing hours: 7.1 | Since last entry: 1.5 | Percent complete: 7% At the moment I’m generating new text rather than improving or cutting, so progress is slow — even slower than it was when I was concentrating on generating new text, because everything I’m writing now has to fit into what follows as well as what has preceded it. At one point tonight Kate went for a walk around the block, during which I managed a single sentence. But it is progress. (I’m not quite sure how the “percent complete” score went down from last time. Rounding error?) I just reached the point where Vigor collapses at the UN, so the chapter’s nearly over. I’ll probably go back and trim a bit before moving forward. Spent the weekend in Seattle, at a square dance event. Much riotous humor. At one point we were in a Completed Double Pass Thru formation and the caller, Sandie Bryant, told us to do a Checkmate the Column, which naturally resulted in a grand kerfuffle. I asked for some help on the traffic pattern and she said “Do you all know how to do a Track Two?” and of course we did, so she went on to say “Then why can’t you do a Checkmate from here?” and we all laughed our heads off. There were two little kids looking in the doorway, and they laughed too, despite the fact that they didn’t get the joke any more than you did. (Okay, there are a couple people on my LJ friendslist who would get it.) As long as we were in Seattle, we visited the Science Fiction Museum. We’d taken a hard-hat tour during the Nebulas, but it’s much more impressive with all the exhibits and interactives in place. The spherical display in the first hall and the three-dimensional touch-screens in the spacecraft exhibit were particularly impressive, and I really liked the way they combined books and magazines with the TV and movie props in almost every display case. They also had the humungous X-Prize trophy and several early models of SpaceShipOne on display. It must be nice to be Paul Allen. We had only an hour and a half, but the museum’s actually pretty small so we were able to see everything in that time. That might be a disappointment for the $12 entry fee if you aren’t as much of a sci-fi geek as I am. (Harlan Ellison’s typewriter, gosh wow!) To me, the conversation between Robby the Robot and the Lost In Space robot was almost worth the price of admission by itself. We also lucked out on the timing and visited with a goodly portion of Seattle fandom at the Big Time brewpub. Friendly conversation and fanzines were exchanged before we hit the road back home. One last novel-related bit: I just received an amazing, unexpected, and unprecedented email, about which I unfortunately cannot tell you anything. Let’s just say that I am both jazzed and terrified, and also highly motivated to finish the darn thing and get it in the mail pronto. Therefore, I plan to spend Easter weekend on a writing retreat. I’m not going to go anywhere, mind you — I’m going to unplug the phone and computer and have a writing retreat right in my own house. We’ll see how well that works.

3/10/05: In search of joy

Editing hours: 5.6 | Since last entry: 0 | Percent complete: 8% I awoke feeling more chipper than yesterday, and my mood rose further when I opened the paper and saw this article about our kitchen remodel! Well, the article’s mostly about Kate’s blog, but it does have some photos of the kitchen. We’re practically famous! Unfortunately, by the time my work day ended I was feeling pretty pounded down again. I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of days about how to find my joy. One of the big problems is that everything I would like to do takes time (which is in very short supply right now) or calories or both, so whenever I’m tempted to do something just for me it turns into a stressor because it takes away time from some important thing or is bad for me. But I really needed a break, so I said “screw it” and walked down to Ben & Jerry’s with my sweetie and got a Chocolate Therapy cone (how apropos!). And lo, it was good. After that I did the taxes (well, filled out the worksheets for the tax guy), which is something that really needed doing, and a few other chores. So no editing tonight, but my load is lightened. And, really, isn’t that the point? Thanks to everyone who has sent emails and comments of support.

3/9/05: Sort of out of sorts

Editing hours: 5.6 | Since last entry: 3.2 | Percent complete: 8% Over an hour of editing tonight, but I’m still frustrated. I got in an hour on the plane to Potlatch, but nothing at the con and only a few minutes on the plane back. Monday was Japanese class, and yesterday I came home from work with a splitting headache and didn’t have the energy to do anything productive. Which is not to say I got to sleep at a reasonable hour. Grr. Potlatch was a pretty good convention — had many nice conversations and meals with friends new and old — but I felt rather out of sorts for the whole thing. Maybe it was just lack of sleep, but somehow I just wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it completely. At the moment I am trying to remember what in life gives me joy. (It’s not editing, that’s for sure.) I’m also wondering if, when I remember that, I will be able to find the time to do it. I’m bogged down with responsibilities and somehow not finding the time to focus on any of them. This will pass, I think. Sleep would certainly help.