Well, just got the official enrollment for my fall writing class which will have me working with my favorite instructor again. There was some question as to whether or not I would be able to enroll in the class, but it’s all official now. Which means I have only 7 days to get the first 50-pages of my novel-in-progress ready for the 1st day of class. I’ve known that I would need these pages ready for the first day for weeks, but the fact that my enrollment was up in the air kind of found me procrastinating on all the editing that needs to be done. So, now I have to go through those pages and chop and massage what I’ve already written, and add where needed.

One of the more complicated tasks is that I now need to go back in and weave two separate threads together. Earlier this summer I made the decision to write this draft of my novel in a chronological format even though my plan is to have the final product be a back-and-forth of present & past. So, to ensure that my structure is working, I need to piece it all back together again so that my readers are seeing it in the format I intend. While the structure is a bit complicated at times, I know it works. My instructor who I’ve workshopped this with before has assured me it does and that I shouldn’t take the easy way out and go straight chronological. But, I know I have to ensure an emotional consistency to the two threads which at times is unintentionally easy, and at others, irritatingly frustrating. Essentially I need the emotional tone of the flashback to mirror the present scene it sprung from. This was something my instructor dinged me on in the earlier draft he saw, and I really want to fix it before he sees this new draft.

So, work to be done and 7 days to pull it all together. On the upside, I thrive under a deadline. Seriously, if someone assigned me a deadline for this novel and could come up with a real threat that would cause me some discomfort–either emotional, physical, or financial–I would totally get this novel done in no time. But short of a publication date and a hefty advance riding on it, I’ll have to settle for workshop pressure and the need to impress my instructor. Whatever works I suppose.

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I’ve received some comments back on my recent submission. I fear the structure I want to work isn’t working. Part of it still could be that I need more to ground the reader in the present moment before I switch to the flashbacks. I definitely can see that. I’ve felt that those bookend scenes have been a little sparse. So, once I flesh them out some more, I might be able to keep the structure I want. But, I’m starting to see that maybe I’m complicating things too much. Maybe linear does work.

Regardless of the structure issues, I’m still getting good reviews for plot and character. So, I feel that the story is fine & keeping readers interested. The bulk of the comments I’m getting are about the structure; so, I know that is what I need to focus in on.

As an experiment, I cut up my draft & rearranged it into a linear timeline. Now, I have 2 versions. I’ll read both & see what I think.

Tomorrow morning I’m meeting one-on-one with one of the members of my writing group. I actually really love her writing & she’s really good at helping me work through writing issues. I sent her my pages today to see what she thought. Her comments on the first couple pages raised the same issues that my class has been raising. So, no big surprises. Thus, the cut & paste for version 2. I’m looking forward to talking to her about it face-to-face.

So, keeping at it.

Currently listening to: Frozen Angels by Zoe Keating

Turned in my second submission this afternoon for my novel writing class. A total of 22 pages. Four chapters. A little short of the goal of 25, but close enough. The first 10 pages were a revision of what I submitted the first time. So, we’ll see if they read any better. I think I smoothed out the transitions which were the major complaint. And I think I’ve worked out the structure for the first part of the novel. Those chapters will open in the present, then flashback for the bulk of the chapter, & then come back to the present at the end of the chapter. Hopefully it’s not too confusing and works. I really hope it works. I really really really hope it works because I’ve grown attached to this structure. I don’t know if I could go back to a totally linear timeline. This structure lets me do so much more setting up of one of the key relationships.

As for the other 12-pages, all new stuff. Well, not entirely new. The plot movement is basically the same as the 1st draft, but there were a few unexpected twists this time around. I’ll have to see if it works out as I go forward.

So, now I wait for comments. And then it’s onto submission #3 in 3 weeks. I need to hit 50-pages for that one. I definitely can’t leave that to the last minute.

Off to twiddle my thumbs. Actually, I need to work on an assignment for the grant writing class I’m taking. A completely different kind of writing, & a tad less fun. But, a good skill to have.

avlxyz via flickr

Image: avlxyz via flickr

I’ll gloss over the fact that today is Valentine’s Day. I don’t buy into it. Ok, I’m currently single which could be coloring my view of the whole thing, but I digress.

21 Saturdays now. Not any easier. I made an effort today to try & do something I would normally have done on a Saturday afternoon. More often than not the last 21 Saturdays I’ve found myself at home around the time that I found her. My writing group ends at noon, & I’m usually home by 1 to check on the dogs, & then I just tend to get stuck at home. I don’t have the motivation to do much on Saturday afternoons–especially right around that time. If someone invites me out for that time period, I’m fine. But if left to my own devices, I seem to find myself here. Sometimes I’ll read, sometimes TV, sometimes just sitting outside, sometimes on the laptop; but here. So, today, I made an effort. I went & wandered around a bookstore for the afternoon; something, I oddly don’t think I’ve done in months. I know I have been in bookstores in the last 21 weeks. I have the books & magazines to prove it. But I don’t think I’ve just wandered as I would have any other Saturday afternoon before. So, today I did. I found a couple books to add to my to read list: (more…)

Mood: Unsure

Currently listening to: Sometime Around Midnight by The Airborne Toxic Event (on repeat)

Still sitting here, rereading my last scene, trying to figure out if I’m at the end.

So, when in doubt, & since I’m in doubt, turn to the craft books.

#1: Plot & Structure: Techniques & Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell

According to Bell, there are 3 basic endings:

“…(1) the Lead gets his objective, a positive ending; (2) we don’t know if the Lead will get his desire, an ambiguous ending; and (3) the Lead loses his objective, a negative ending.”

At this point my ending would fall under #2. And for an ambiguous ending, he recommends that for it to be good it “causes strong feeling, feels right, and can generate discussion.” I think my current “ending” meets the 2nd & 3rd criteria. As for the 1st, not sure. I think it does. At least for me.

Bell also recommends that as your near the end of your first draft, you should stop and think up 10 alternate endings. Yikes. 10? Well, maybe if I’m still hesitating tomorrow. I guess I’ve already come up with 2. The one I thought I was going to write & the one I just did. Not sure where I would get 8 more. I’ll give this exercise some thought. Definitely a good idea for the 2nd draft.

#2: Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Novakovich writes:

“Give us another look, or angle, or thought, on what has just taken place in your fiction, something that will put it all in perspective.”

I think I’ve done that. He goes on to add:

“When you are about to end a piece, decide which image or thought you want your reader to carry as the last impression…. endings with striking sensory images are often preferable to abstract ones.”

Hmmm…I agree with this. I think I have done this to a certain degree, but I could definitely do more with the sensory image. It’s somewhat there, but could definitely be filled out, beefed up. He also recommends that the writer end while the action is still going on. I would say I’ve done that. My MC has come to an emotional epiphany, but there is still much action going on around her.

Novakovich elaborates on this further when he talks about the Open Ending and how a successful example of this “answers some psychological questions and yet leaves off without resolving the action.” It lets the reader get involved in imagining what came next in terms of the action, but they’re given a sense of what the character’s state-of-mind is now so that they have a better idea of what the character might have actually done. This is definitely where my ending is.

#3: A Writer’s Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon

Lyon writes:

“One of the most popular endings is the epiphany. This means that the character ‘comes to realize’ something fundamental about self or life. In an illuminating moment, the protagonist gains perspective on his or her life–the past, the struggle of the plot events that they have just finished, and of the potential for the future.”

As I’ve already realized & said, my ending definitely falls in this category. Not so thrilled that it’s one of the most popular types of endings, but what can you do. It is what it is. Lyon suggests ending your story in the same settings where it began. I like this idea, and in the ending I thought I was going to have, that was what I was going to do. While I haven’t done that here, there are parallels between the beginning setting and the ending setting & I can probably further develop the parallels to really tie it together better. She also mentions ending from the point of view of your main character and with “a sense of peace & hope.” I’ve done both. Definitely the former; I guess the latter is subjective.

#4: Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg & Laura Whitcomb

Rittenberg writes:

“As you finish your first draft, slow down when you get to the last page or two. The words you use to end your story flavor the whole novel…. Bring together all the power and beauty of your storytelling as you say goodbye to your readers. Show them where they’ve been–remind them what it’s all about–and save the best for last.”

Hmmm…well given that this is my first draft & that those 70,000+ words between the beginning & the end are of questionable quality, I do think the end is better than the rest. Some of the lines, maybe even paragraphs, might survive in the 2nd draft. While the exact words of the last sentence aren’t as powerful as I want them to be, for now, I can live with the fact that I’ve come to the place–physically & emotionally–that I need my MC to be at to feel that this is the end of this draft.

#5: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Maybe when all is said and done, Lamott says it best. She’s titled her chapter on endings, How Do You Know When You’re Done? And then in the second line of the chapter answers the question.

“You just do.”

I guess I just do.