Getting to a Coherent Draft

The structure of a novel can make or break it. If it’s well-structured—as in the pacing is good, the events happen in the most logical order (even if that’s not necessarily chronologically), and the characters do things you’d expect them to do—that’s more than half the battle. And if you’re lucky, the structure is pretty good starting with the first draft. Most of my novels/novellas are like this (now—maybe not in the beginning), but not all of them.

One of the novels I’m working on now wasn’t so lucky. The first draft was okay. It was actually pretty good until about 2/3 of the way through. And then it kind of fell flat. The ending sucked, to put it bluntly.

So on my first round of revisions, I rewrote the ending entirely. My protagonist made a better decision to start with, and then I added in a new twist after that, and then everything wrapped up more or less neatly. But I still didn’t really like it. I kept looking back at my original ending, wondering if there was something there after all. Continue reading

Rewriting, Revising, and Editing: My Strategies

Considering this blog is “Cameron Chapman On Writing” and not “Cameron Chapman Promoting Her Books and Nothing Else”, I thought it was time to get back to writing about writing. Besides, there’s a nice, big, shiny link to where you can buy Aboard the Unstoppable Aerostat Fenris in the sidebar.

So today I’d like to talk about my strategies for revising and editing my work. Some writers have very set techniques for editing their work. Others are sort of all over the place. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle. Continue reading

Reviews and Interviews

In the traditional publishing world, reviews and interviews are generally lined up ahead of launch. That’s because it’s important for books to sell well in the first week or two after they’re released if they want to maintain shelf space in bookstores. Many bookstores only give new releases three weeks or so to prove their worth, and if they don’t sell in that time, they’re returned to the publisher.

Indie authors aren’t as affected by initial sales. We can be in it for the long haul, especially with ebooks. There are countless stories of indie authors who only sold a dozen books in their first few months, and then suddenly took off and have now sold thousands (Lexi Revellian is just one such author, and I’m proud to say I was a beta reader for the book that has now done so well—if you like mystery and/or romance novels, go check out Remix!). So lackluster initial sales are nothing to fret over. Continue reading

An Excerpt from Aboard the Unstoppable Aerostat Fenris

This is just a quick post to let  everyone know that I’ve added an excerpt from the first chapter of Aboard the Unstoppable Aerostat Fenris under the “Fiction Excerpts” page in the main navigation (under “Steampunk Novella”, cause the full title doesn’t fit on one line). Or you can just click here to get to it. It’s the first scene, which makes up half of the first chapter.

The novella is now completely formatted, and I’m just waiting on the artwork for the cover. My husband is doing a digital painting of part of one of the scenes (I’m not so good at digital painting, so I’m leaving that part of the design up to him). We collaborated on what the image would include, and I’ll likely be doing the text layout and such for the cover (though he keeps trying to convince me to let him do it; this is what happens when designers are married to each other).

I spent a bit of time today formatting the ebook for Kindle. I’ve still got to do the formatting for epub and Smashwords, which I’ll do over the next few days. If all goes well, the book will be out on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords by the end of this week. Stay tuned!

NaNoWriMo Day 18!

Here we are at day 18 of National Novel Writing Month and I’m proud to say that I’m still on track to reach 50k words by the end of November. So I’m upping the ante a bit: my new goal is that I want to have this novel complete by November 30th. I’m thinking it’s going to come in somewhere around 70k words, which means I’ve got to basically double my word count for the remaining twelve days.

But that’s okay. Yesterday, using Write or Die, I managed 1,000 words in 15 minutes. If I just do four sessions like that each day, I should have no problem completing this novel. The prose isn’t perfect, but I’m so into the story at this point that what I’m writing in those short bursts is actually pretty good. I just think about it for a few minutes before I start, so I have an idea of what I want to write in those 15 minutes, and then I write. It’s been working really well so far. And if I’m even more pressed for time, I’ll do 500-word sessions (which take me about 8-9 minutes).

I’m hoping that even after NaNoWriMo is over, I can keep writing 2-4k words each day with this method. I’ve been neglecting my fiction for too long. But if I can’t figure out a way to spare a few 15-minute blocks during the day, then I don’t really deserve to call myself a writer, do I?

NaNoWriMo Countdown, One Week to Go!

NaNoWriMo will start in just over seven days. We’ve talked about character, and we’ve talked about plot. Let’s talk about research. ‘Cause let’s face it: if you don’t start researching pretty soon, you’ll be out of time.

How much should you research?

This is always a tricky question. If you’re writing historical fiction, you’re probably going to need to do a lot of prep work before you start writing. The same goes for hard sci-fi. Honestly, if you haven’t already done your research or aren’t already very familiar with the subjects in these genres you want to write about, you may want to pick something different for NaNo.

Now, let’s say you’re writing mainstream, contemporary fiction. How much research do you need to do? What if your novel takes place in a town/state/country you’ve never been to? What if your main character has a profession you’re not familiar with? What if you’re a seventeen-year-old high school senior and your protagonist is a detective with twenty years on the job? What do you do then?

Two words: Fake it. That’s right. Just make stuff up. Here’s the thing: you probably know enough to get by. I’m guessing that if you’re writing in a particular genre, you’ve read at least a handful of books in that genre (hopefully more). You probably know as much about any of the subjects above as your average person. So to start out with, just make up whatever you don’t know. Reason out what’s most likely to happen in a given situation, and then look it up later. That’s what revisions are for.

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do any research at all and can just wing it entirely.

What should you spend time researching?

If your entire plot hinges on one particular fact, make sure you have that fact straight! There’s nothing worse than finishing a novel only to find that what you’ve written is completely implausible. Some genres are more forgiving than others, but for the most part, if something is impossible, your readers will have a hard time believing it works in the world of your novel.

Consistency is vital

Let’s say you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi or some other genre where you have to create your own worlds (or even if you’re writing a “real-world” novel that’s in a fictional setting). The most important thing here is to be consistent. Just because something has been entirely fabricated from your own thoughts and imagination doesn’t mean there aren’t still facts. The difference is that you’re the one who creates those facts.

Keep a running file of facts you establish in your story. This could be something you create ahead of time, using one of the many world-building questionnaires and guides out there, or it could be a file you add to as you write. It’s helpful if you make the file searchable (digital), so you can search for things as your file grows. It saves a lot of time over having to sort through pages of hand-written notes. Either way, make sure the notes you keep are organized and can be referred to whenever you need them.

As long as you’re consistent, you can create whatever kind of world you want. You can even be consistently inconsistent, as long as that’s what your reader is expecting and as long as it fits within the confines of the world you’re creating.

As always, if you have other tips on researching, world-building, or organizing your research, please share in the comments below!

NaNoWriMo Countdown, T-8 Days: What About Plot?

Yesterday I covered character development, and talked about how it’s vital to any good novel, but especially to a winning NaNoWriMo novel. But that doesn’t mean you don’t also need a decent plot.

There are a few ways to approach “plotting”, depending on your goals and aims. Stephen King has a great method. He doesn’t “plot”, he just puts characters in a situation and sees what happens. It’s the ultimate “What if?” approach. This kind of organic plotting obviously works brilliantly for him. There’s an element of it in a lot of the best novels out there. If you’re going to try this, make sure you know your characters inside and out so you know exactly how they’ll respond when different things happen.

Other people like to plot things out, beginning to end, knowing every step along the way. I do this sometimes. It’s what I’m doing for this year’s NaNo project. The first year I tackled this project, I started an outline, then quickly abandoned it and just went with whatever came to mind. It worked better than I expected, but still not as well as it could have.

Some people only have an idea of where they’re going to start and where they’re going to end up (hopefully). And others have no clue other than a basic idea.

I generally wouldn’t recommend that last one for NaNoWriMo (especially if it’s your first NaNo) unless you’ve written a novel before and know that it works for you. Having at least a general idea of where you’re going and where you’re starting serves as a guidepost so you know what needs to happen. It’s easy to get lost or boxed into a corner if you have no idea what needs to happen next.

At the same time, don’t stick rigidly to your outline if you choose to use one. Sometimes the best ideas occur to you while you’re writing, and require changing around some things. Go with it. Adjust your outline if you need to, or just toss it and go with the new idea. An outline is there to help you write. If it’s getting in the way, it’s not longer helping.

But again, how you plot is a very personal choice. What works for one novelist fails miserably for another. Here are a handful of plotting resources you might find helpful:

How to Write a Book in Three Days – And you’re complaining about having only 30 days? This method is incredibly detailed and has a lot of useful information about how to outline a novel and what you need to have handy to make sure you don’t get stuck. And it’s the method used by a published novelist.

Evil Overlord Devises a Plot – A fun plot generation tool. Not necessarily useful.

Novel Outlining 101 – A great outlining article, with examples.

How to Plot a Novel for Beginners in Writing – A short overview of the classic three-act structure.

StoryToolz Generators – Two useful plot generators: Story Ideas and Multiple Conflicts.

About Conflict

Conflict is the backbone of a good plot. Whether it’s internal or external, without conflict, you don’t really have a story. And you’ll bore your reader to death, even if your prose is beautiful.

Conflict is relatively simple, though: Your protagonist wants something. Something is in his way. There you go: conflict.

My favorite analogy for conflict within a novel is to chase your character up a tree. Then throw rocks at him. Then throw bigger rocks at him. Just when you (or your reader) think he can’t take any more, light the tree on fire. Whether he gets out is up to you.

As always, if you have more useful plotting tips or links, please share them in the comments!

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated over the course of any long-term project can be tough. Writing a book is no different. When you’re looking ahead at weeks or even months of writing, maintaining momentum gets tricky. My novels generally go pretty quickly, but this new nonfiction writing project is moving much slower than my previous books. With all the research involved, I’m only managing a couple thousand words a day. Continue reading

Writing A Non-Fiction Book

I am currently working on my first non-fiction book. While I’ve completed somewhere around a thousand blog posts and articles over the past couple of years, this is my first attempt at book-length non-fiction. It’s a bit of a daunting task, the idea of writing 250 or so pages about something that I didn’t make up. And the idea that I will not be judged just based on my words and their ability to entertain, but also on the accuracy and usefulness of those words, is kind of scary. Continue reading