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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

I would much rather be lost in the heat of the moment, my fingers flying over the keyboard in a desperate bid to keep up with the story flowing through my mind.

When I’m really into it, the story comes out so fast all I can do is skim through it, putting down the premise of what is happening.  All the rest is lost. The details, conversations, and descriptions.  It is the worst form a blatant tell don’t show, the opposite of what you want.  But, the root of the story is there.

Then, when it’s done, and probably after letting it age like a fine wine (or those Christmas goodies you forgot are in your freezer), I revisit it for the dreaded first round edit.

However, I have so many of those first drafts that my story aging folder has more stories than I can know what they are.  Everything from novels to flash fiction.

So, I have made a vow to those forgotten stories.  I will give you life.  At least some of them.  I will re-focus time to that dreaded task of editing, and make myself work through editing them into being publishable.

Except for one problem.  I’d rather be writing than editing.

I hate that first round edit.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not just the first round edit I would rather avoid.  But it has its own special place.  I despise it like I despise cleaning up fresh steaming hot dog vomit.  I loathe to touch it like I loathe to touch and clean up the slimy cold in your grossness of cold dog vomit that you found only after it cooled and likely set the stain in your carpet.

And yet I thrill in it once I have started.  It is a revisit to a once time friend.  The creation of a story, because that’s what I have to do if I only wrote the description of what is happening and not the real story.  I have to recreate that story from an idea.

As the story is recreated, scenes evolve into a real story, are moved, added, deleted… the story changes and becomes something new.  Sometimes it is simply more.  Sometimes the original story is lost.

And then there is that first round edit editing pitfall.

I edit myself into hating my own story.

I have revisited a story I wrote in 2012.  The Gypsy Queen.  The idea came to me while listening to a song of the same name.  The song has no relation to the subject of the story, but that’s just how inspiration sometimes works.

 

First, my first mistake.  I get only so far in that first edit, ideas are flowing, I am adding, moving, deleting, reworking scenes.  I get ideas of what needs to be earlier in the story and I go with it, jumping back and forth over the parts I have edited.  Then I feel I have to go back and re-edit what I did.

I do this again and again, and never make it past the halfway point of that first draft.

And then I do it.

 

My second mistake.  I edit myself into boredom.  I’m bored with the story.  This is only one of the reasons I generally do a big edit and let the story age some more while I work on another one.  Once you have read and re-read the same story too many times, it is all too easy to lose interest in it. Seriously, how many times can you re-read the same lines without them losing their luster?

I did this with the Gypsy Queen with re-editing that first half over and over and over.  Without even skimming the second half of that first draft.

I’m bored.  I don’t like the story now.  And I’m thinking, “Oh hell.  If I don’t like it.  If I can’t get into it.  There is no way any reader is going to want to read this crap.”

At this point I am thinking it’s crap.  It’s dull, uninspiring to read on.

I am ready to scrap the book and leave it to molder, wither, and die the slow death of the un-read in The Forgotten Folder of Stories Told.

 

It is time for resolve and doing something.  I decided to hell with it.  I haven’t even gone past that halfway point.  I am going to force myself to finished that damned first round edit on the rest of the story.

And so I push on.  I force myself to go beyond that point I kept stopping at.  And I hate it.  I hate the story.  I resent it.  It is cold slimy dog vomit on my carpet.

It is boring.  I don’t want to recreate the scenes.  Now that I made myself bored with it, I feel like it is a waste of my time.  Nobody is ever going to read this rubbish.

And still I force myself to go through that first round edit.  I admit, I cheated.  I skimmed scenes and left them as a description of what is happening instead of fleshing them out.  I did it telling myself it is okay because the book is going to be too long anyway, so I need to speed up and shorten the word count somewhere while still telling the story.

It is lazy writing and something I know I would fix later anyway on a later round of edits.  And if the scene never does flesh out, then it probably isn’t necessary to drive the story forward.

At this point I am pushing myself on with the promise that finishing that first round edit to the very end will let me figure out what is wrong with this story and how to fix it.

Still, I am bored with it.  It has no life.  No oomph.  No I want to read on.

 

And then I discovered something.  I reached a jewel.  That gem in a whitewash of blah.

Up until now, the story is pretty much what I remembered writing five years ago. But now.  Yeah.  Oh yeah.  I hit a scene I completely forgot writing.

It is like finding that treasure in the lower end thrift store, the kind that carries the stuff the better second hand stores would have tossed in the trash.  It is the filet mignon hiding under the label of the machine tenderized to make them edible tough “fast fry” steaks.

I devour the scene and suddenly the story comes to life.  Now I am, “Wow.  This story has promise.  This is going somewhere.  This can be good.  The possibilities just opened and they are endless.”

Now, as I push on to the end, I just need to figure out how I am going to completely re-organize the events and move this scene up.  Because, unfortunately, it happens much too close to the ending.

It would make a good mid-point scene.  It promises.  It also promises to breathe a new life into the whole book with new ideas for new scenes, new drama, new ways to torment the characters.

Like the untold story you sit down to write with no idea where it is going to take you, the possibilities are endless.

 

This, my friends, is only one of the reasons I tell my mentoree to never completely give up on a story idea.  (Yes, I am pretty sure I just made up that word.  Mentoree.  My dreaded evil-minded Word spell check agrees.)

Just because you don’t like the way it is going.  Just because you are not currently feeling the passion.  Just because you cannot see where it is going.  Whatever the reason you feel you should abandon it, no story is truly hopeless.  And, you might one day regret deleting that story file.

 

And now, just for you, I will give you a glimpse inside a work in progress.  There are still many edits yet to go before the Gypsy Queen can come to life, just as she does in the story.

Disclaimer:  You will note, and this is a big distraction from the story, that I have not yet even named the characters.  Meet “Man1” and “Man2” and others yet to be named.

 

The Gypsy Queen

 

 

The Gypsy Queen

1    All That Glitters

 

YEAR (TBD)

 

Two men hunch inside their coats as if to protect themselves from the cold.  They are huddled against the worn wooden wall of a building at the edge of the docks.  They are too wired with adrenaline to feel the chill in the air.

The shrill cries of the ever present seagulls add to the cacophony of noise as they hover above, gliding in the air with the occasional flap of their wings.

Man1 looks across the crowded docks, taking the sight in, his eyes eager even as he tries to keep the eagerness from showing in his expression.

“Are you ready?”  He turns to his partner, looking for a response.

Man2 shakes his head grimly.  His eyes are nervous, not sharing in Man1’s eager excitement.  “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

“It will be a piece of cake,” Man1 grins.

“We won’t get past security.”  Man2 frowns doubtfully.

“She’s launching soon.  We have to make our move now,” Man1 says.

Man1 studies the dock once more, looking for some sign it is the right moment.  He gives his partner an encouraging nod and a “let’s go” signal, and bolts through a gap in the crowd as it opens.

With a resigned sigh, Man2 follows, the crowd closing again to swallow them both up.

The stink of the river hangs over the docks with a thick musty odor that clings heavily in the nostrils.  People bustle about the crowded dock like bees buzzing around each other in a hive, their movements bumbling against each other in a jumble of bodies moving past each other, each with their own purpose.

Large barges lay waiting to be loaded with goods and passengers for transportation.  Most of the boats that dock here now are large river barges transporting goods.

Heavily laden trucks trundle through the crowded docks to have their cargo transferred to the boat decks by looming cranes; their hooks dangling from above like giant fishermen’s rods waiting to hook one of the two-legged fish below.  Longshoremen reach for the hovering cargo containers dangling from the crane with their longshoreman’s hooks, swinging them into place before the crane settles the heavy load on the boat deck.

More longshoremen work together to roll heavy trolleys piled high with smaller containers up the gangplanks to fill the boats’ bellies.  Other workers are arriving and making their way to their respective boats.

Adding to the confusion crowding the docks are the hopefuls.  Men standing in groups in their work clothes, some holding their hats in their hands and wringing them anxiously, watching for anyone who might be in a position to offer them work. The depression has put a lot of men out of work.  Desperation has led them to be wiling to take any job, experienced or not, and to do anything to feed their families.

 

A man sits at a heavy mahogany desk inside a richly elegant over-decorated stateroom in the upper floor of a three story paddlewheel riverboat.  His chair is turned backwards to the desk as he sits looking out the window.  The view allows him to watch the river retreat behind the boat, churning beneath the blades of the paddle wheel.  Now, moored at the dock, the view is the hull of a massive river barge looming next to The Boat1, the metal sickening with rust and the growth of the river life that always clings to anything that spends too long soaking in its depths.

It is not a view he enjoys.  It makes him anxious to be moving and to return the splendor of the river to his view.

A knock at the door interrupts him.

“Enter.”

Man3 Man3lastname turns his chair around as the door opens silently to face the intruder of his thoughts.  Looking dapper in a well-tailored dress suit, his hair slicked back in the current in-style fashion hiding the salt and pepper of his hair,his expression is cold and calculating.  He is past his prime, now on the downward slope after reaching the mid-point of life.

Man3 smiles at his visitor. The smile does not reach his eyes.

The man who enters with a deferential bow is dressed in the formal uniform of a boat captain, his hat held respectably in his hands and the balding crown of his head laid respectfully bare.

“Sir, we are almost ready to cast off,” the captain of the boat says, unable to hide the inevitable nervousness he always feels in his boss’s presence.

“Right on time.”  Man3 glances at the ornate clock on the wall.  “I do like promptness.  Keep the ship shipshape and all that, right?”

He smiles at his own poorly quoted cliché.  The captain only nods agreement.

“All right then,” Man3 dismisses his own attempt at a joke, “let’s get started loading the money.”

The captain bows and backs out of the room.  He waits for his boss to lead the way to the wheel room.

Man3 gets up and leads the way.

 

Dodging through the crowd, Man1 leads the way towards the boat slips where the barges are being loaded.  Moving swiftly to avoid being run over by a large heavily loaded truck, he looks back for Man2 and pauses.

Stepping back a few steps quickly, he urges Man2 to hurry.

“You are a fool,” Man2 says when he catches up.

Man1 grins.  “But I’ll be a fool with money in a couple of hours.  Come on.”

He grabs Man2’s arm, dragging him along and trying to speed up their pace.

Man2 lets him drag him along, still regretting his choice to follow his friend.

Man1 ducks into the line of wealthy people, dragging Man2 with him and causing their neighbors to give them sour looks.

“There she is.”  He stares up at the boat with awe.  The Boat1.  She is larger than the average paddlewheel boat, and ugly in her richly ornate decorations.

Man2 shakes his head.

“You and your get rich quick schemes.  The only thing they ever get you is in trouble.  This won’t be any different.”

“Positive thoughts, my friend.  Positive thoughts.”  Man1 grins at him.

 

From his place of honour in the wheel room, Man3 looks down at the crowded dock, smiling.

“Look at all that money getting ready to board my boat.”

This particular pleasure boat has been converted into a floating casino and is owned by Man3 Man3lastname.

Man3 is a powerful man in more ways than his wealth alone could explain.  Man3 owns the waterways.  He owns the port officials, the Dock Workers Union officials, and the Dock Master.  He also owns all the gambling houses in the state and is confident in his ability to keep the gaming officials in his pockets.

The line of people waiting to board The Boat1 starts at the top of the gangplank, descends the length of the plank, and stretches in a snaky line through the endlessly moving crowds of workmenand trucks filling the docks.

A scrawny ill-kept young boy darts through the crowd below, looking for the chance to steal anything he might eat, his presence ignored by all.

Unlike the rough looking dock workers, thewealthy people lined up to board The Boat1 are conspicuously out of place on the docksin their fancy dress clothes, showing off their wealth with the men finely dressed in well-tailored suits and hats and silver-tipped custom carved walking canes.  The women are older women, since it is unseemly for a young woman to be seen at a place of gambling or any other less than respectable public place.  They wear fancy dresses and hats and glitter with gem-laden jewellery dripping from ears and draping from overstuffed necks.

Two young men waiting in the line are conspicuous both for their overly exuberant eagerness and their clothes.

While the rest of the passengers are dressed in their finest and standing there looking haughtily superior to the dockworkers surrounding them, these two men are more likely to be mistaken for dockworkers than passengers.  As if the poor quality of their clothes is not enough, their excitement is out of place in the crowd of bored wealthy gentry waiting in the queue to board.

Their eager antics, gesticulating, talking too loud, and even drumming on the railing make them all too noticeable, particularly to the security guards who are also watching the passengers from on deckon The Boat1.

People around them give the two young men annoyed glances, purposely not looking right at them, making it clear they do not belong among the upper class citizens.  The two men seem oblivious to being out of place.

Man3 frowns at the two unwelcomed guests attempting to board his boat.  He is not concerned.  His men will not let them board.

He turns his attention back to the string of wealthy people lining up to lose their money on his gaming tables.  They are not just the wealthy.  They are the moneyed influential people;corporate leaders, politicians, and those whose wealth is enough to be influential on its own.

 

Two beefy looking dark-suited men lean on the upper deck railing, looking out over the docks.  They study the guests waiting to board.  One of them has a stout straight cane with a heavy ornate carved ram’s head leaning against the rail next to him.  He does not look like he needs the support to walk.

On the main deck below them, two men in lesser suits resembling a ship-mate’s uniform stand next to the closed gate at the head of the gangplank.  They are watching the crowd snaking down the plank and through the crowdof dock workers while waiting for the signal to start letting the people lining the gangplank board.

Theyare not seamen.  They have one job and one job only, security.  The men aboveare the head of security for Man3 Man3lastname.   All of the security guards are dressed in business suits, except those few imitating the ship’s crew for the amusement of the guests.

One of thegate security men nudges the other, indicating the two overeageryoung men with a motion of his head and a smirk.  The other man shares his smirk.  It isnot unusual to have a couple of working classindividuals trying to board.

Part of their job is to keep them off the boat.

One of the gate security men turns to look up.  He can just make out the hands of the two men watching from the deck above, their arms resting on the railing and their hands protruding before them.  He has been glancing up every minute, watching for the signal to start the boarding.

One of the hands moves.  It waves.  That’s the signal.

He turns to his partner and nudges him, indicating the gate.  He moves to take his position on one side of the gate, while his partner takes the other side.  Placing his hand on the gate, he lifts the latch and swings the gate inward against the railing.

The first sign of eagerness stirs through the bored crowd as their murmuring voices move down the line, announcing the opening of the gate.

 

Man1 is staring up at The Boat1 wistfully.  Images play in his headof the anticipated grandeur of what he imagines the casino room on the boat will look like.  The dealers calling out for bets, bells ringing, and the dull bop bop of the roulette ball bouncing around the wheel to the silky ticking of the wheel spinning.  The soft sliding of cards being dealt and clink money changing hands.

“You can walk in with little and walk out rich,” he thinks hungrily.

The eagerness slithering down the line of the bored wealthy elite stirring them to life sends excitement washing through him when it reaches them.

“Here we go.”  Man1 looks eagerly at Man2.

“It’s not too late to turn back,” Man2 says.  “They aren’t going to let us on.  Look at us.”He looks Man1 and himself up and down for emphasis.

“Everyone knows they won’t let anyone without a large bankroll on The Boat1.”

“You only live once, my friend.  You only live once.”  Man1 nudges Man2 to move in anticipation of the slow forward motion of the line reaching them.

Gentlemen and ladies start the slow shuffle up the gangplank, boarding the boat with a regal air of entitlement.

The burly security guards stand to each side of the opened gate, silently watching the passengers board, nodding a greeting to the occasional guest.  They miss nothing, ready to give silent signals to others waiting discretely on deck in case a passenger is to be quietly removed after boarding or taken to see the boss in his private office onboard.

Man1 has eyes only for the goal ahead.

Man2 keeps looking back anxiously, keeping an eye on their path out of this.

When the line of boarders finally brings the two unlikely pair of young men almost to the front of the line, one of the security guards raises a bushy eyebrow at their less than proper clothing.

Seeing the reaction and knowing it is meant for them to see, the nervous young men try to stay calm, not looking at the security men but not looking away either, as if they too are just another pair of bored wealthy passengers.

They hope by ignoring the guard’s look the guards will decide to ignore them.

Just as the young men are about to move through the open gate, amazed that they are actually pulling it off, a heavy stick thumps down across the opening and blocks their path.

They look down at it. It is made of stout wood, rod straight from tip to tip, and crowned with a heavy deadly hook on one end.  The other is attached to the meaty hand gripping it.  The gaffer hook bears scars that they prefer not to find out how they got there.  They follow the arm attached to that meaty hand up to the stern face of the burly man dressed as a seaman.

Behind them, they can hear snickers at their expense from those waiting to board.

They glance at the other man dressed in an identical faux seaman suit, and back to the larger man.

Without a word, the security guard shakes his head ‘no’ and points back the way they came, down the gangplank.

Man1 opens his mouth to plead their case, but Man2 gives him a warning jab from behind.

With a regretful shrug,they sheepishly turn around and squeeze their way all the way down the long gangplank past the glares of annoyed passengers who have to wedge themselves against the railing to let them pass.  Looks of relieved disdain and a few nasty snickers follow them down.

When they finally reach the bottom and break free of the crowded gangplank the pair burst free of the confines of the crowded path, turning to look back with regret.  The crowded dock isn’t much better.

“Well, Man1, we tried,” Man2 says.

Man1 shakes his head.  “We will find another way.  Man2 Man2lastname, there is one thing you need to learn in life, and that is when there is a will, there will always be a way.”

“They will never let us on board,” Man2 says.  “The whole idea was crazy.”

“We just have to not get caught,” Man1 says with a grin.  “What are they going to do once they are under way?  Toss us over the side?”  He shakes his head.  “We sneak on board and hide until they are on the river, then they are stuck with us until they dock.”

“How do we get past the security?” Man2 asks.

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Man1 admits.  “I will find another way onboard,” he vows, looking lustfully at the ornate paddlewheel boat.

They wander dejectedly around the dock, man1 unwilling to give up just yet on their hopelesscause.

Man1 spots another gang plank running across from the dock to the rear deck and an open doorway into the bowels of The Boat1 instead to the passenger deck.  This plank is much wider and longshoremen are struggling against gravity with the weight of heavy crates being carefully drawn across the plank into the boat, gravity trying to pull them down with dangerous speed even as the men fight to control the slow steady pace of the rolling cargo.

Man1 stops, the grin coming back to his face as his eyes twinkle with mischief.

“Oh no,” Man2 groans.  “I know that look.”  It is a familiar look that his friend always gets when hecomes up with some crazy idea.

“There, the cargo door.”  Man1 thrusts his chin towards the gangplank.

Man1 and Man2 exchange a look.

Before Man2 can try to talk him out of it, Man1 quickly lowershis head and pullshis hat down low to cover his face.  He rushes forward purposely, moving eagerly and having to force himself to slow down.

With an unhappy sigh, Man2 follows suit, following him into the crowd.  They lose themselves in the group of workers. Man2 following Man1’s lead, they each grab a corner of one of the heavy crates being rolled into the boat’s belly on wheeled trolleys and lean into pushing it, putting their backs into it.

“Won’t get far with hats like those,” one of the longshoremen struggling with the cargo mutters.  He assumes these two are trying to press their way into getting hired instead of waiting for the Dock Masterto pick them out of the group of hopefuls.

“They must be inexperienced if they ain’t even got no proper hats,” he thinks, “probably just laid off elsewhere and desperate for work.”  He shrugs.  It’s not his problem to chase them off.

Once inside the boat, Man1 and Man2 take advantage of the hectic activityin the rush to load quickly, breaking away from the workers and sneaking off down a narrow passage.  They cross to another, looking back with relief to find they are not being followed.

“Okay, now what?” Man2 asks.  He feels a little dizzy and out of breath with the rush of sneaking onboard.

Man1 looks up and down the passage. His heart is beating fast with excitement and his eyes are bright with his eagerness to make their way up to the deck.

“This way,” Man1 says.  “We’ll hide and wait until the boat is moving before sneaking up to the casino floor.”

They move down the passage checking doors.  Most are locked.

They come to one marked “Utility” that opens and slip inside the very tiny closet.  The two of them barely fit, Man1 standing with one foot inside a large bucket that luckily is empty at the moment as Man2 tries to squeeze in with him.

Man1 looks down at the awkward spot his foot is wedged in, thinking that lady luck is already shining on him.

The closet turns black as the door clicks shut.

“I hope this doesn’t take long,” Man2 says, trying to shift so that whatever is digging painfully into his back will stop.

They wait, holding their breath every time they hear someone approaching and exhaling in relief each time the person continues on past.

“How long is this going to take?” Man2 whispers after what feels like an hour wedged in there.  “I’m getting a cramp.”

“It shouldn’t be much longer,” Man1 whispers back.  He pushes down an urge to open the door and peek.

At last they realize that they feel a rolling pulling that might be the motion of the boat moving down the river.

The two men listen, feeling out the pulling sensation, and finally decide to risk it.

“I think the boat’s moving,” Man1 whispers.

“I’m not sure.  It might just be the waves against the dock,” Man2 whispers back.

“No, this feels different; I think it really is moving.”

After an uncertain pause the decision is made.

“We have to check it out,” Man1 says.

“Ok,” Man2 agrees reluctantly, but with anxious relief.  He doesn’t think he can spend much longer wedged into that cramped closet.

Man2 slowly opens the door a crack, peeking out and expecting to have the door yanked from his hand at any moment by one of the two burly security men up top.

Stepping out of the closet, they pause in the passageway and listen, feeling the motion of the floor.

“It is definitely moving,” Man1 nods.  “Let’s go.  They open the tables as soon as the boat leaves the dock.”

He leads the way up the passage and down another until they find a sign marked “Stairs”.  Looking cautiously around the open doorway, they see a narrow set of steep stairs leading up.

“This place is big,” Man2 whispers, amazed at how big the boat seems below deck.  And this doesn’t even include the cargo hold, the galley, or anything else that may be down there.

They duck through the doorway and up the stairs.

The top of the stairs opens to the deck level of the boat.

Hiding in the doorway, they look around.  Behind them is a walkway between the railing and the wall, behind which they are sure the casino tables are housed.  Ahead of them the open deck portion at the front of the boat sprawls. Lights that would be lit before dusk closes in are strung elegantly above the deck.  White clothed tables with elaborate settings are strategically scattered at one end near a closed door that has to be the galley.  Dinner will be served on this cruise.  An open space that appears to be a dance floor is bordered on one side by chairs, presumably for musicians.

Man1 nudges Man2, nodding towards the path between the railing and wall behind them.

They both look that way.

The ringing and clanging of machines, babble of bets being made, and calls of the card hustlers running the tables of the casino floor comes from doors left open to the railing and cooling river breeze.

The young men imagine they can feel the warmth of that room already embracing them with its warm lights and the heat of sweating bodies clamouring to win or lose their money.

With a grin at each other, they sidle up the passage and slip into the room, sticking close to the wall as if that might prevent them from being seen before they are ready to start trying to gamble.

They stare in slack-jawed awe around the casino room.

The walls are painted in off white with gaudy golden trimming everywhere.  The thick trimming seems to roll in every direction.  Carved trimming runs parallel to the floor around the entire room.  It runs up and down the walls every six feet, bordering every doorway and window, and matches the heavy painted carved bases of all the wall lamps and trim circling the ceiling lights.  Large elegant glass chandeliers drip from the ceiling.

In contrast, the carpet is a dark patterned red and black mosaic.  Richly red heavy curtains hang open and drawn back with golden tasselled tie backs at the sides of the windows and open doors that lead to the deck.  Staff doors are painted to blend in with the walls.

One-armed machines lined up against one wall glitter in the lights, their bright colors and rolling wheels of pictures of cherries, grapes, and coins promising happiness and fun.

Dark stained wood tables with rich red felt table tops suggest wealth and prestige with the fine dark leather stools sitting stoically before them.  Men in striped dress shirts and slacks call out the chances as men and women lay down their bets in the form of colored discs.

Like a carnival game, the roulette table wheel spins, clicking and clacking around and around like a spinning wheel that ran out of wool, its dark wood and elegant frame giving the impression of something meant only for the wealthy.

Statues and plants are placed strategically, adding regal elegance to the room.

Even more awe inspiring are the people themselves.  Wealthy men and women showing off their status with their rich clothing, gold watches, and gaudy jewelry dripping from the women, all flashing their money around.

The two security men dressed in business suits standing unobtrusively in a corner notice the two conspicuously under-dressed men the moment they slip into the room.  The guard with the stout ram’s-head topped cane nudges his partner, nodding towards the two intruders.  They move together, working their way discretely towards them.  They are already moving in on them while Man1 and man2 are still taking in the room’s ornate gaudiness.

Man1 and Man2 are drawn forward, nearly salivating in their eagerness.  They move away from the wall, moving through the crowded casino room, looking around like little farm boys who have never seen the wonders of a bustling city.

Their presence has not gone unnoticed and curious looks are already being passed their way.  It is not proper for deck hands to be seen on the casino floor and a few of the guests are even feeling a little alarmed that something might be wrong.

On the floor, they are even more awed by the flagrant wealth being tossed about and lost on the gaming tables.  Stacks of high value colored discs pass back and forth between dealers and players as bets are called and closed, cards are played with deft precision, and dice are tossed.

Their eyes sparkle and their minds reel with the imagined possibilities, Man1’s in particular.

Man1 is dazzled by the sheer sickness of wealth surrounding them.  Just making money betting on the tables is no longer enough.  He burns with a new desire.

“This could be us.  What if we could be running the show and raking in all this easy money?” he thinks, excitementcoursing through him as he absorbs the elaborate furnishings and money everywhere.

“Let’s try this table first,” Man1 nudges his partner.

Man2 looks doubtfully at the wealthy people playing at the table.

“Maybe we should try the machines first,” he suggests, nervous about going face to face with these people.

Grabbing his arm eagerly, Man1 pulls Man2 along to the blackjack table.  The people there shift over nervously, giving them space but unwilling to abandon their game, uncertain about their presence.

Man1 fishes some bills out of his pocket and plunks them down on the table.

The dealer looks at the crumpled handful of bills then up at Man1, his mouth creasing into a snide grin.  He makes no move to touch the offered money.

A heavy hand falls on Man1’s shoulder followed by another on Man2’s.  They both turn to look at the burly suited man standing between and just a little behind them.

Man2 gulps, his eyes immediately moving down, half expecting to see the man somehow holding some weapon in a third hand.

Man1 smiles sheepishly at the guard, although it is more like the sheep who just found itself surrounded by wolves.  He is trying to look casual, like he belongs, and is failing.

“Well now gentlemen,” Guard1 says with a smile more suiting a shark about to eat a baby seal, “how are we this evening?”

Man2 reflexively glances at the open doorway and the sky beyond.  The sky is still bright with the late afternoon sun, the deeper evening dusk still a couple of hours away.

The security man continues without pausing to let them answer.

“If you fine gentlemen wouldn’t mind coming with me for a moment, my boss would like to meet you.”  His hands resting heavily on their shoulders tighten into a vicelike grip as he directs them around and away from the game table, leaving the crumpled bills behind.

Man1 glances back at his money, wanting to reach out and snatch it off the table, but he is drawn away too quickly and isn’t given the chance.

“Damn,” he thinks, “that was all the money I had.”

As they turn and walk away, Guard1’s hand releases their shoulders and he casually grabs the heavy cane he left leaning against a table behind them on the way past.

The other guard waits behind them to follow them away from the table.  The moment the other three step away, he reaches out and casually pockets the crumpled bills.  He nods to the dealer to continue with the betting.

The dealer immediately goes back to business, calling out the bets.  The gamblers close their ranks on the hapless pair as if to prevent them from intruding on their table again.

“Mr. Man3lastname is waiting for you gentlemen in his office,” Guard1 says as he leads them casually out of the casino room.

Instead of taking them to the deck as the two men expect, he directs them to one of the staff doors blending in with the walls.  On the other side lies a narrow passageway with doors opening off it.  They pass those doors, not given the opportunity to pause and see what might be inside any of them, and round a corner that brings them to a set of stairs leading up.  At the top of the stairs is an elaborate smoking room for special guests, and Mr. Man3lastname’s office.

The dark wood lustre of the smoking room beckons to them as they pass through it, pausing at the closed door to the office.

The guard with the cane knocks on the door and a voice beckons them to enter.

Opening the door, he directs the two men to enter ahead of him.  The two security guards follow them in, closing the door behind them.

The office is as richly decorated as the rest of the boat with oiled wood panels and a large mahogany desk.  It is more richly decorated and substantially less gaudy than the casino floor, flaunting wealth, not flamboyance.

Elegant pieces of art are displayed safely behind shallow glass cabinets.

The man sitting behind the desk is wearing an expensive suit.  His carefully barbered hair has not a strand out of place and smile wrinkles crinkle at the corners of his eyes.

He isnot smiling now.

Man3 Man3lastname looks them up and down with a steady gaze, measuring them up.  His disdain for the pair of loafs sneaking onto his boat is clear.  His confident air also makes it clear he is not accustomed to not being obeyed.

“What makes you pair of nitwits think you can come on my boat?” he asks, his eyes deadly cold on them.

Man2 looks at his shoes, trying hard not to fidget awkwardly.

Man1 tries to meet his eyes, shifting nervously.

“Um, sir,” Man1 starts.

Man3 holds up a hand, stopping him.

“Did you have a good time down there?” he asks.

Man2 swallows the lump in his throat.

Man1 nods, stiff with fear.

“Now, how do you think it looks to my guests, people who can afford to be on my boat, when I let someone like you on board?  It’s not exactly good for my reputation, now is it?”

“Um, no sir,” Man1 mumbles.

“People like those pompous asses below don’t want to rub elbows with the likes of you and I, now do they?”

“N-no sir,” Man1 manages.  That the man they’d been brought before is putting himself on the same level as them with that last comment makes hope stir in his chest.

“Ok, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.  Maybe the guy is reasonable after all, a regular guy like us,” he thinks.

Man3 continues.

“The wealthy clientele who come to a boat like this,” he spreads his arms to indicate the luxuriousness of the vessel, “donot want to taint their reputation by being seen appearing to cavort in an establishment with penniless oafs who donot know their station.”

Man1’s heart sinks.

Man1 only hopes they will get out of this with only minor injuries.  He knows Man3 Man3lastname’s reputation. Unfortunately for Man2, he had kept that information to himself.

“I have to protect my reputation, and that of my establishment,” Man3 says.  “You understand, don’t you?”

He leans forward, raising an eyebrow in expectation of an answer.

Man2 nods, swallowing the bile threatening to come up his throat.

“Yes, sir,” Man1 stammers.“We are sorry sir.”

“You won’t try something like this again, will you?” Man3 says, more a statement than a question.

“No sir,” Man1 says.

Man3 looks to Man2, waiting for a response.

“No sir,” he mimics.

Man3 nods.

“See, we are all reasonable gentlemen here,” Man3 says, smiling.  He turns his smile on the two security guards, a signal he expects a response from them.

They both nod agreement, their expressions as bland as before.

“Yes, reasonable gentlemen,” they say in unison.

Hope stirs again in Man1.

Man2 feels it too, but pushes it down, afraid that any hope is futile.

“Now, please remove these gentlemen from my boat,” Man3 says, dismissing them.

“Thank you sir,” Man1 simpers nervously.

Man2 nods.  “Th-thank you,” he manages.

The two security men step forward, one opening the door, and they indicate the two young men should come with them.

Man1 and Man2 go submissively, following the two larger men’s leads, one security man ahead and one behind them.

After they turn down the second hallway and are still unharmed, Man1 daresto breathe an internal sigh of relief.

“So, how are you putting us ashore?  Are you docking?  A dingy?”

The security men remain silent as they lead the pair down a set of narrow stairs to the deck.  They exit to the deck towards the front of the boat.  A narrow passageway leads the way between the boathouse and the railing towards the front of the boat.

They are led along that narrow walk,the wind whipping at their clothes and rustling their hair.  Here, mooring lines are carefully coiled and lifeboats are hung.

“Ah, so on aboat then,” Man1 says, eying the boats doubtfully.  None of them have been prepared to be set in the water.

The security men stop next to the rail where there is a space between two boats, the two young men between them.

“It’s time for your departure, gentlemen,” Guard1 says.  The emphasis he puts on the word ‘departure’ makes both their stomachs turn sour.

Man2 leans over the rail, watching the fast moving current slipping by the boat.  He pulls back.  The current is strong and the waves seem higher than they should be.

“Is it from the wind whipping them up?” he wonders.  “I thought the wind I felt was only from the forward motion of the boat.” He cannot deny the stronger buffeting of a real wind thatis blowing.

Man2 starts turning towards the others.

Before either man can react, the two security men grab Man2. Using the railing as a focal point to spin him over the railing, they drop him over the side of the boat.

He vanishes with a shocked cry and a splash.

Man1 stares at them in surprise, flapping his mouth a few times before he manages to find the words to express his shock.

“But, the current-.”

The security men step forward.

“We will never be able to swim against it to shore!”

They grab him just as he moves to flee, each on one side.

He struggles.“We won’t make it, we’ll drown!”

Guard1 presses his face close.“You are not expected to,” he says wryly.

They fling him overboard using the same motion, flipping Man1’s weight over the railing like a teeter-totter someone forgot to fasten down.

His scream is swallowed by the splash below.

They turn away from the railing, satisfied with a job well done.

“How much did they have?” Guard1 asks.

The other man grins in amusement, jamming his hand in his pocket at the crinkled bills.

“Enough for a couple of drinks I think,” he jokes.

 

 

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overworkedI spent endless hours editing, re-writing, and editing Garden Grove.

I then spent endless more hours editing, refining, and polishing Garden Grove.

Then I spent endless more hours doing it again.

Finally, after more months than I’d care to guess, Garden Grove was ready for publishing!

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betareaderAnd then my beta reader apologetically (and maybe a little afraid of facing my wrath) told me I had written parts of the book in the past tense.  “Shouldn’t it be written in the current tense?” my beta reader cautiously asked, perhaps afraid it would offend me.

My first response was to deny it.  I didn’t actually tell my beta reader, “No! I’m right! I spent too much time on this for it to be wrong!”  But that’s what I felt.  Seriously, WTF, how do you just accidentally write entire parts of a book in the past tense and not notice it through all those endless hours of editing?

I wanted to argue, to say that my beta reader was obviously mistaken.  I told myself that it must have been parts I wrote in the past tense on purpose.  After all, tenses exist for a reason.  Sometimes you want past tense, because the scene is about something that already happened.

It was constructive criticism, though, and offered with helpful intentions.  That is what you want your beta reader to give you.

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constructivecriticismConstructive criticism is about having someone who does not have their whole life and being wrapped up into the writing and editing of the book taking an objective look at it and making helpful suggestions.

Let’s face it; you are way too wrapped up in the story to be objective.  And you have gone over those same words in those same paragraphs so many times that your mind just slips over some things without even seeing them.  It’s just the way the human mind is made to work, overlooking the inconsequential to see the more important things.

Unfortunately, when it comes to editing, there really is no such thing as an inconsequential mistake.

SPOILER ALERT!  THIS IS WHY BETA READERS ARE IMPORTANT.

So, I did what I knew I had to do.  I graciously accepted my beta reader’s suggestion and took a look.

HOLY CRAP I WROTE THE WHOLE FLIPPING BOOK IN THE PAST TENSE!

Really, I did.

So, now my mind reels with this new discovery.  How in Sam Blazes did I manage to write the entire book in the past tense and not notice?  Not once.  Not during a single hour of editing.

(Now, since you never read this before your mind is probably taking a side trip into wondering who is Sam Blazes.  Whereas, if I wrote this while lost in the flow of a writing spurt, it might not even click for me during editing that those words might have an unintended meaning to the reader or might lose a reader’s focus.)

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I could have decided to live in denial.  Maybe try to convince myself that no one will notice the whole book is written in the past tense.  Or maybe they’ll think I’m terribly clever.

I would still know it’s wrong.

So, off I go back to the very beginning of the book to start a whole new round of major editing to fix it, and so delaying Garden Grove being ready for publication.

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So, how did this happen?

wtfI mean, WTF happened to my writing style?

It’s not that hard to figure out.  I read a lot of news articles.  I took notice of how those news articles are written the next time I read articles from my usual sources.

News articles, if you didn’t notice, are often written in the past tense because they are reporting on things that already happened.

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You are a writer.  You are a sponge.

Have you ever heard the writing advice to read writing that is similar to what you are writing?  If you are writing poetry, read poetry.  If you are writing romance, ensconce yourself into romance novels.  If you are writing horror, crime, drama, etc, embroil yourself into novels of that genre.  The same for biographies, autobiographies, etc.

Your mind will soak up the nuances of the genre, the pitfalls of the characters lives, the writing styles, the happy, dark, oppressive, and the highs and lows that pull you into that genre.

Your mind will also soak up other subtleties, writing forms and mannerisms.  Just the same way you might find yourself mimicking people you have spent time with, other authors’ writing will rub off on you.

Just like the old saying goes, “You are what you eat,” you write what you read.  Reading a lot of poorly crafted stories will hurt your writing style.  Reading good quality writing will help your writing style.  And, apparently, too many news feeds and not enough time for novels has turned my writing style into something of the past (tense).

Just as I have said so many times, that reading blog articles, interviews,  et al with advice on how to write better will have an unconscious effect on your writing, and so will reading other authors’ stories.

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There is a time and place for past tense.  Don’t be too hasty, though, to turn your back on the past tense.

When do you want past tense?  When you are backfilling story.

Back-story can take many forms.  A character can be mentally reliving a moment from their past, or relating a story from it.

Sometimes this calls for the use of past tense.

Switching to past tense triggers the reader’s mind to know that this is what happened before.  It’s not the current moment in the story.  You are jumping to a previous event.  It’s also only one of the ways to do this.

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fixmeHow do I fix my writing style?

First and foremost, I need to cut back on the newsfeeds like an insomniac needs to cut back on the late night caffeine.  That won’t help reduce making lazy word duplication mistakes like using the term “first and foremost”, two words that have essentially the same meaning.  But that is a post for another day.

But, it will help cut back on the past tense influence of the news feeds.  Unfortunately, news feeds is something you can do in those few minutes time you get to yourself that are not enough time to do anything else.

I need to find a way to spend more time reading novels.  Not just any novels, but good ones of the right genres to have the effect on my writing subconscious that I want.

I need to make a conscious effort while editing and writing to watch those tenses.  Making a round of editing dedicated solely to fixing tenses will be necessary on every story until writing in the current tense becomes as natural for me as writing in the past tense inadvertently became.

It will come.  I went from writing as laughable as your old high school hairstyle looks to you in your forties, to something so much better using this method, together with a lot of practice writing, rewriting, and editing.

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chatperoneThe beginning of your story is the most important part.  This applies no matter what you are writing; an epic trilogy, a novel, a short story, memoire, fiction or nonfiction.

Now that I said it, I will tell you that this is a statement I personally do not agree with.

Some writers, publishers, and agents will argue that if you don’t hook the reader in the first sentence then you failed.  I’ve heard variations of this same idea multiple times.

But what kind of a first sentence does it take to have that instant hook?  And, is it even possible?

Advice will run between keeping it short and simple to using a complex sentence including multiple ways to draw the reader in with those few first words.

Set stage and tone, time and place, conflict, theme, foreshadow, tell a truth, surprise the reader,  shock them, promise a reward, don’t start with a question, relate to the reader, do not start with dialogue, be funny or absurd, raise a question, start with an action, incite an emotional reaction, connect the reader with the main character, it must be vivid, offer a tease, introduce your main character, get them fascinated with the scene, sum up the novel.

This is only a sampling of the advice you might see on how to write the perfect first sentence.  None of it is either wrong or right.  It’s also probably impossible for you to pack all of that into a single sentence without making it incredibly long and unwieldy.

As with everything about writing and every other form of art what is good, or as seems to be demanded of us the perfect reader trap, is subjective to the individual’s taste.  And each individual’s tastes are determined by too many factors to count, including their personal tastes and preferences, culture, experiences, and so much more.

So who is to say what is the perfect opening sentence?

Best First Lines from Published Novels

Consider this list: “100 Best First Lines from Novels” by American Book Review.  How many of these lines made the list simply because of who the author is or because the book became a classic?  How many of these lines would even be considered for this list if they had been published today by a less famous author?

Given the single first sentence and no other reference, which first sentence from this list would you have been hooked on, driven to read on?  Of course, many of these lines are dated and were probably red hot in their day.  But it is also too easy to look back and say that first line must have been perfect because the book was a classic.  For me, more than a few of these invoke a response of “meh”.  So they are certainly someone’s perfect first line, but not mine.

So ask yourself this: if you take the top 100 current worldwide bestsellers and poll a group on a list of only that first sentence with no reference to the author or what book it was taken from, how many would be voted as perfect first lines?  How many would instantly hook the reader, driving him or her helplessly forward to read the rest of the book?

The publishing world is full of books of every type.  Those whose perfect first line went on to set the tone for a fantastic piece of writing, those that fall flat into abysmal blandness after a great opening line, those whose opening line was only the opening to something that draws you in and hooks you as you continue, those that flop on every level, and everything in between.

Let’s face it; it takes much more than an epic first line to make a story a success.  And there are very few readers who would stop at the first line and make a judgment without reading further.

The internet is full of advice on how to write that perfect first sentence that Snaps, pops, and otherwise grabs your reader’s attention and refuses to let go.  Even WikiHow gets in on the action.  But as you research how to make that first line that promises to make your story and career soar to unimaginable heights, you will also quickly learn that this advice is neither absolute nor universal.

Here are just a few articles on writing the first line:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/writer-wednesday-first-sentences_n_820512.html

http://thewritepractice.com/first-line/

http://www.missliterati.com/blog/tips-on-writing-first-sentence

http://www.fuelyourwriting.com/the-most-important-sentence-how-to-write-a-killer-opening/

http://writeworld.org/post/26731524562/in-the-beginning

While some people tell you that first line is all important, others will argue that it is not the first sentence that is the most important; that the first sentence is not the do or die of your story and writing and publishing career.

Like this writer, Chuck Sambuchino, who says this of the often pushed list of alleged literary first line masterpieces, “So here’s the deal, or my theory of the deal:  These authors didn’t worry about the opening sentence; they just started telling their stories.  There has to be a beginning.  That beginning might indicate time and place, might introduce a character.  Might reveal a thought.  Present a fact.  Drop in on some event or action in the middle.  Whatever starts the telling makes the first sentence.  Just as whatever concludes the story will make the last.”

So, how do you write that perfect first sentence?

The best advice I can give you is to just jump in and write the first sentence.  Don’t even think of it as the first sentence.  Just sit down, think about where your story starts, and start writing.  But don’t stop there.  Keep going and write the next sentence and the next.  Keep the momentum going.  Do not let yourself get bogged down and lose the feeling of the narrative worrying over whether or not that first sentence snaps.  If you feel the flow, just keep going and worry about perfection later.

Now put it aside.   Let your mind take a break before you go back to it.

Read it and ask yourself, “Would I read this?”  Does the first sentence do justice to the rest of that first paragraph?  Does that first paragraph make you want to read the next?  Do you feel compelled to turn the page when you reach the bottom?  Do you yearn to learn what happens next when that chapter ends?  Do you feel bored or confused anywhere?

Your first sentence sets the stage for the paragraph.  And the first paragraph draws the reader into the chapter.  But it takes so much more than one person’s opinion of whether or not your first sentence is perfect.  It takes more than the opinions of your writer’s group, your mentor, or even your publisher.

Why?  Because the truth of it is that there is no such thing a perfect first sentence.  I would compare it to the search for the ever-elusive perfect man or the perfect woman.  Every individual’s needs and ideas for what makes that ‘perfect’ are different and ever changing.

From first sentences that invoke emotion to those that set place, time, and mood, the first sentence is only the beginning of something much deeper.  What makes it right depends on what your story needs it to be.  What makes it right is not obsessing over whether or not that first sentence is perfect enough, but rather how it works as a foundation for that first paragraph and the story as a whole.

What makes it perfect is making it feel perfectly natural.

Research what others recommend, take advice from different sources, and most importantly, know that every story is different and that means that what works for each story is different.  Every piece of advice is exactly that, it is that individual’s personal opinion, their recommendation and offered guidance.

Now go out there and write the first sentence that is perfect for your story.

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balancing timeWho isn’t balancing time?  Life is full of commitments and responsibilities.  And then there are the things we just want to do.  Family, work, school, friends, Game of Thrones, Vikings, you name it.

Sometimes balancing time for writing and editing can seem almost impossible.

For myself, I juggle full time work, being the “housewife”, a term many detest but nevertheless is the reality for the majority of married women working or not, the kids who take first priority, being on the daycare board and involved in our local crime watch group, and writing and editing.

Life is full of challenges, and time is only one of them.

As a necessity, we all have to prioritize our time.  Work, family, and kids take up the most.  Unless you want your home to be declared a disaster zone, as it sometimes feels like it should be, housework chores likely has to come next.

So after everything else, how do you find time for writing and editing?  Sometimes you have to just take it where and when you can find it. I spend my lunch breaks editing.  My smart phone notes app has become both my best friend and worst enemy.  Particularly after I recently deleted the most important note with all my writing notes, thoughts, and excerpts when the phone decided to highlight the whole note and refused to release its grip of death on it while I was trying to add some thoughts to it. (p.s. like a computer, smart phones also have a “cache”, a secret temporary memory stash that the right third party app can hack and possibly retrieve some or all of that lost data.  Also, listen to your gut feeling and back up regularly!  If your gut says, “I should email myself this note as a back up just in case.” – do it immediately!)

Fifteen minutes, ten, half an hour.  If you are like me, in a small house with nowhere to go to escape the mini me minions who have to do everything under your feet, every minute you can grasp for writing and editing can be precious.

The most important thing in time management is knowing and understanding your priorities.  You cannot push your kids and partner aside so you can write.  They have their own priorities, and you are probably one of them.  Bills have to be paid, laundry done, and life managed.  But you also cannot neglect yourself and your own needs, including your need to write.

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newbieI’m pretty new at the publishing game by any successfully published author’s standards.  So far, my publishing credits include a number of flash fiction and short stories published in writing e-zines, one short story in a mystery anthology published by Second Wind Publishing, and a novel also published by Second Wind.  My contribution to publishing them involved writing them, a great deal of editing, and pressing “send” on the email.

While I’ve been writing for years, I’m a publishing newbie and there’s a lot I don’t know.

With the ever-changing landscape of the publishing world, no matter how much any of us learn there will always be more to learn.

Articles discussing the finer points of how to write fill the internet in droves, but there seems to be very little information on the other side of writing – the business side of writing.

The how-to articles on writing better also tend to be a confusing overwhelming glut of opposing opinions.  Do you listen to the blogger who vehemently insists you must mercilessly gut your writing of all of what they consider unnecessary extra words, streamlining it to a tight bare-bones written masterpiece?  Or do you listen to the blogger who just as passionately says that it is the flow and artistic expression of the writing that matters most and that you must not sanitize it by worrying about gutting it of what another might consider extra words?

The truth is that regardless of the area of the writing advice, what you need to follow will probably lie somewhere in the middle.  It can be difficult to decide which advise to follow and when.  Too much contradicting advice can leave you feeling even more confused and uncertain.  The best writers will take the advice to heart and figure out what is best for their self and each particular story.

Writing is entertaining, can help you explore questions and issues in your life, and can be used as an outlet for the unpleasant emotions we as humans tend to bottle up inside.  But if you want to be published, writing is a business too.

While exploring the answers to my own questions it occurred to me that I’m probably not the only one asking these questions.  So, I decided to share my discoveries.

I make no claims to be an expert.  Actually, I definitely am not an expert.

Like a lot of writers, I’m learning as I go.  Mostly from researching online articles from various sources and comparing notes on what they say.

The first rule of thumb with online information is “take it with a grain of salt”.  In other words, never assume the information is accurate and always question the quality of the source.  So with that in mind let us go forth and learn the business together, and be forgiving when I do get something wrong.

Corrections are always welcome.  You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t know you made them.

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I get incredibly lazy about character development in my first draft.  This especially happens when it comes to secondary and background characters.

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When I’m in the throes of pounding at that keyboard, the words flowing through my fingertips as the story flourishes, or banging my head on the contraption in frustration, my focus is on the story.  The big question of what happens next is what drives that first draft.

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 In most of my stories I have no better idea than the reader does about what is going to happen next or even who the characters are.  The story often changes from that initial hunch of what it will be about as the events play out.  Hell, I’m just along for the ride, wherever my imagination decides to take us.

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Just like the reader I’m experiencing the story and meeting the characters as the events unfold.

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This is why it is perhaps even more important for someone who writes like I do to never forget that every character is somebody, no matter how small a bit part they play.

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What is more memorable?  The story where everyone is a faceless nameless blank except the three or four main characters?  Or one where old Mrs. Appleblossom down the street always wears a white flower either in her hat or tucked into her button hole, the absence of which could be a hidden (subliminal) hint of trouble to come?

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What about Mr. Commely, who’s only purpose in the story is to deliver the letter that gives your character the bad news?  Does the reader need to know that Mr. Commely has returned to work after retiring because he’s lonely after his wife passed away, that he always has a gentle pat on the head waiting for even the most fiercest of mailman hating dogs on his route, or that his behavior is sometimes strange and erratic? It doesn’t drive the story forward, so some would argue this is just extra words that should be cut.

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The girl serving coffee through the drive through window probably doesn’t need to tell you that she’s having a bad morning.  You can see it in her face.  You don’t know her name and you probably don’t need to.  But you can make the reader wonder why she’s having a bad day.  Did she have a fight with her boyfriend?  Was she reprimanded at work for being late again when she’s dealing with a serious crisis at home?  Maybe she has a parent or child who is deathly ill.  Why she looks unhappy isn’t important to the story.  But just making the reader notice her sadness and wonder about it because your character did draws the reader further into becoming one with and sympathizing with your main character.

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When you go through the drive through yourself, that girl behind the window touches your life when she hands you your coffee and takes your money.  It may only be a thirty-second moment, but those thirty seconds still touch your life.

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None of these bits about small characters drive the story and most of it can be left unsaid, back-story for these people who make only brief appearances.  But dropping these little observations can add a depth of understanding and reality to the world your characters live in.

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If you write with a sense of familiarity will all your characters lives, the reader will pick up on it.  Like watching someone waving to someone walking by from across the parking lot, you can get a sense if they are familiar with each other or just passing a friendly wave to an acquainted stranger.

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Some characters develop through the writing of that first draft.  The main characters mostly get a lot of their character traits and flaws because their reactions and needs are what push the story forward.  But with the rest they are lucky if they get dubbed as “frontdeskguy” or “girl2” as I write.  Sometimes they are nothing more than a mention of “the other guy”.

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As the story unfolds, so do little hints into the characters that show up for repeat appearances.  And as I learn more about where these bit players fall into the story, I also get a better understanding of how each of them can bring more life to the story.

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Like the young man in Men of Twelve (working name of a W.I.P.).  The young man is an unimportant player, like the Start Trek guy who wears red to beam down to the planet.  I know he’s going to die and the reader may get a sense of it too.  That the trees mock him for being a nameless bastard without a father moments before his death does not drive the story, but it does add a layer of depth to the scene and the world the characters live in.

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It’s in the editing, when I go back over the story to re-write, revise, develop more, and delete than I put the emphasis on picking out each character from the biggest to the smallest and give them a little touch of personality.

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Bringing your characters to life brings the story to life.  And, remembering that behind that blank nameless place holder in the story every character is somebody adds a touch of real life to your work.  Behind the blank nameless face every person you see today is somebody too.

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Tomorrow is the first day of March; the month legend has it Mother Nature totally plays us with a game of lions vs. lambs.  If it we enter into March with weather that is calm and quiet like the lamb we can predict the month will end with the weather roaring like a lion, wreaking Nature’s vengeance on us all.

Of course most of us don’t actually believe any of this stuff and year after year Mother Nature has let us down and forgot her game by the end o f the month.

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I do have my own prediction for March and it has little to do with the weather.

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March is three months after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where writers around the globe pledge to put aside the daily vanities of life and throw themselves heart and soul into trying to write a 50,000 word novel from start to finish in only the thirty days of November.

If you are like me that is three months during which you have completely put that NaNo novel out of your mind to focus on other things.  For myself December is spent stressing over Christmas, worrying over the lack of money to afford what is required of you, and getting little else done.  The other two months I focused on writing and editing other projects, giving no thought at all to The McAllister Farm.

Three months sounds like a good break to me.

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March also happens to be a free month, falling between Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever you celebrate around that time and the busy spring and summer time.

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I predict March is as good a time as any to go back and tackle that first revision of the NaNo novel.  A no holds barred attack in the same spirit of NaNoWriMo.

After three months of pointedly not looking at it or even thinking about it, it’s time to give that NaNo novel its first dose of merciless and aggressive editing.

Don’t stop to think or analyze.  First impressions are everything.

This is not a carefully thought out edit meant to fix grammar and spelling or smooth minor flaws.

MAIM (March Amend & Improve Mayhem) that NaNo novel.  Attack it without care with a big fat red marking pen (or the electronic equivalent).  Cut and slash anything that on first impression is off, weird, doesn’t work, or just seems like extra baggage.

Scribble notes all over it, whatever strikes you as you tackle the beast.  It doesn’t matter if the notes make much sense, impressions can lead to something later.

Anything that comes to mind: observations, ideas, questions, random thoughts, character traits, back story, behind the scenes story, what should have been, things you should link, etc. Anything goes.

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EDIT: edit, deconstruct, improve, and transform that novel like you don’t care how perfect the final outcome is.  This is only a first edit anyway.

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Take one month, March, to completely go over the WIP start to finish and tackle the obvious.  Amend, research, and outright challenge yourself.  “What the hell was I thinking when I wrote THAT?!”

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Starting tomorrow you have thirty-one days to beat that NaNo novel into submission, the iron master pounding a strip of iron into a shape that resembles the finished sword it will become.

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It’s madness, but it’s my madness.

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So tomorrow grab that NaNo WIP, put on your Mad Hatter hat, and pour the tea (wine in my case) and let’s have a writers’ editing party.

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And maybe just for fun, the next time you write/edit using the services of your computer accessed dictionary and thesaurus, try running it in a foreign language.  Oh, the madness just never ends.

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