WiP Report: Hump Day

Yesterday my NaNoWriMo word count reached 23,147, and since I’m trying to add 2,000 words a day, I’ve almost reached midpoint or the Hump Day for Apart in April, the book I’m drafting this month. At this point it seems very chaotic, filled with brainstorms and incomplete scenes, not necessarily in the final order either. Also sometimes I’ve gone back and added notes in red to what I’ve already written. Going back and trying to rewrite while you’re drafting is something others counsel against. For that matter, I do too in Novel Basics, my book on writing the novel.

I must admit that I didn’t feel swell when I got up this morning. About six to eight weeks ago I did something to my right shoulder at my exercise class. Don’t nag. I’ve seen somebody about it and even had an MRI. Last night I dutifully took my painkiller and muscle relaxant for it before I went to bed early, so I could get off to a fast start to my workday.

But pain in my shoulder woke me up in the middle of the night, probably because I played Spider Solitaire on my iPad mini for an hour yesterday afternoon while I waited for my daughter to come home for supper. It really annoys me when something I do for pleasure turns out to hurt me instead.

And my physical frailty makes this whole business of having a career as an indie author at my advanced age seem stupid. Why can’t I just be happy volunteering at the library or a senior center like some of my friends do?

So I was gearing up to a rant when an idea popped into my head. What if Daniel is the Watkins Man in this book? And the thought made me laugh.

That’s the main reason why I write, you know. It makes me happy. And now I have to get back to it. I can hardly wait to find out what my heroine Minty does when she sees Daniel pretending to be the Watkins Man.

Best, Juliet

Juliet Kincaid’s historical cozy mysteries tell the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and dashing detective Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. The first four books in the series are available in both digital and print versions. Check them out at https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

NaNoWriMo2018: Day 7

I begin Day 7 of NaNoWriMo2018 with 11,211 words written so far and a big surprise for myself. (That’s something I love about drafting a novel. Really it’s a voyage of discovery into the untold reaches of my mind.)

Specifically, once I got started, I found out that Apart in April, Book 5 in my cozy historical mystery series, doesn’t follow the advice I give in Novel Basics, An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel.

What advice? you ask. Why, to Keep It Simple, Student. (Yeah, I know the second S usually stands for stupid. But I happen to believe the world could do with a bit more civility. Don’t you?)

Now back to the subject at hand . . . In the first section, Novel Basics presents my unusual method of brainstorming a novel with twenty 3” by 5” index cards. (It’s fun. It’s fast. Bet you’ll like it.) I call Card # 1 “the heart card” because it asks the essential question that every story must answer to succeed: “Who wants what?”

Well, I see that I need to back up a little bit and describe my Calendar Mystery series before I travel on. So far the series includes the novels January Jinx, Fatal February, and my personal favorite Mischief in March, plus six short stories, five published as Kindle Short Reads and all six in the collection Old Time Stories. (The collection also includes nonfiction about the people and places that have inspired my fiction.) And altogether the series tells the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. (Yeah, I’ve been working on the description for a while.)

Now back to the cards . . . To my surprise, early in working on Apart in April, I discovered that it has a double heart. That is, it has two answers to the question, “Who wants what?” Daniel wants to find his runaway wife Minty. And Minty wants to solve a case on her own without her husband’s help. What fun! Now I’m off to work on it some more.

Novel Basics, a compact yet complete guide to writing a novel from brainstorming through rewriting, is now available as an eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

You can also find the books and stories in my cozy historical mystery series at https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

New for NaNoWriMo2018

Novel Basics: An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel

Have you always wanted to write a novel, but haven’t even known how to start?

Or perhaps you’ve written short stories, but the sheer size of the novel scares you off.

Maybe you have a novel you drafted twenty years ago tucked away in a drawer or even several first chapters of novels you didn’t complete or a filing cabinet full of drafted novels you could never interest an agent or an editor in.

Maybe you started a novel during National Novel Writing Month, but didn’t finish it. Or maybe you did write those 50,000 words and got your NaNoWriMo diploma, but you don’t know what to do with those words.

Or perhaps you’re the author of a brilliant, published, and well-received first novel, but you just can’t get your sophomore effort together.

Perhaps you’re the author of a best-selling series for which you still have a ton of ideas, but the notion for a new novel has crept into your head and you’d like to explore its potential.

Maybe you’ve been working on a nonfiction book about growing up or a shocking event in your hometown and now you think it might work better as a novel.

Maybe you don’t fit any of these slots, but still you have an idea, probably sparked by that powerful question “What if?” that just won’t leave you alone.

Regardless of which category you might fit into, Dr. Juliet Kincaid’s NOVEL BASICS will guide you through the process of brainstorming a novel fast with twenty index cards. The book also includes practical tips on time management, the process of drafting a novel, and revising a novel as well.

As for qualifications, Dr. J, as her students called her, has a plenty of experience with the novel. She has more read than 3,000 of them and counting. Her dissertation on fiction in diary form was labeled remarkably free of jargon. She’s written more than a dozen novels and she’s published five so far. Thirty-five years of experience teaching writing at the college level have honed her communication skills.

The book NOVEL BASICS is based in part on Dr. J’s popular workshop of the same name. Here are two testimonials from former students of the course for Juliet’s unusual approach to brainstorming a novel.

Novel Basics is the perfect kick start for new novelists to prepare before writing the first line and continuing through the middle to the conclusion. Important story elements are presented in the logical, easy-to-follow order the writer should consider them. Experienced authors can also benefit from this new approach for their next projects. Mary-Lane Kamberg, award-winning professional writer, speaker, and editor and co-leader of the Kansas City Writers Group and founder and director of I Love to Write Camps for young writers.

Starting with a simple question (“Who wants what?”), this method offers writers a step-by-step guide to organizing and plotting a novel. Kincaid’s approach helps writers think about critical points beforehand so the writing process will be smoother and more productive. Cheryl Brinkman Johnson

NOVEL BASICS is now available just in time for NaNoWriMo2018 as a Kindle eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

The Case of the Mysterious Back Pain

Lately, due to back pain, I’ve gotten behind on my current Work-in-Progress,  a historical mystery short story called “Detectives Honeymoon.”  Now, back pain isn’t unusual for indie authors. Lots of you out there are indie authors, so you probably know what I’m talking about.

But my recent back pain isn’t the typical lower back pain that comes from sitting and typing for long hours. I’ve had that kind and I don’t get it much anymore because I’ve got a special chair with two cushions in it.

Oh no, this new pain was up under my right shoulder blade. It felt like some big guy stood behind me and jammed his index and middle fingers into my back. At its worst, my back started hurting within the first half hour of starting my morning writing session. Plus, one day when I was driving home from an afternoon exercise class, the pain of keeping my hands and arms on the steering wheel at two and ten was so intense it reached eight on a ten-point scale, way past the point of being able to ignore it, just short of my screaming out loud.

So I tried to figure out what caused it and how to fix it because, honey, I’ve got lots of stories and books to write before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I tried adjusting the height of my special desk chair, took both pillows out, put one back in and then the other. No help at all. I switched out my special chair with a kitchen chair. That didn’t help either. I quit using weights at my exercise class. I even took the Spider Solitaire app off my phone. Zip effect.

So finally I broke down and went to see a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. She said the problem was muscular not a case of bone scraping bone. That was somewhat good news. She told me to keep taking Ibuprofen, up to six a day, and apply heat or cold. I hated the cold, but the heating pad felt good. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a way to write with the heating pad on my shoulder.

These things worked, along with walking, but only for a while before really I couldn’t stand to type for more than half an hour at a time without the pain getting to me.

But then one day, at my exercise class, I had an epiphany about the source of my back pain when the instructor lifted her right arm, crooked at the elbow, and twisted around to her right. “Now,” she said. “You should be feeling this right where your bra strap crosses your back below your shoulder blades.”

“Aha!” I said to myself. “That’s exactly where my back is killing me!” And now that I know what caused the injury in the first place, I’ve quit doing that part of that particular exercise.

Now, I suppose you want to tell me that I wouldn’t have had this problem at all if I didn’t dance for exercise. But I’m an endorphin junkie who enjoys the rush I get dancing four times a week. I get an even bigger rush when my characters make me laugh or cry. So I’m very happy to have solved this mystery and I can keep on writing that story and all the other stories I have in  mind.

Best, Juliet

The Art of Rewriting Fiction

Right now I’m working on a new short story called “The 9th Street Gang,” part of my calendar mystery series set in Kansas City starting in January 1899.  Here’s the cover for the story that about twenty of my friends and kin helped me with.

Now I’m revising the story itself. And it’s taking me longer than I expected thought it would. Why I should be surprised I really can’t say given the length of this hand-out, one of my favorites from when I taught writing at the college level. This particular version that I prepared for a post NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) workshop focuses on fiction, especially the novel. But really you can use it for any kind of writing you do. Reviewing the handout today is helping me out, so I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first draft of your novel and the joy of creation still surges through your veins. But don’t rest on your laurels too long, for now you have to rewrite. No I don’t, you say. I just run the spell checker and shoot it off to an agent, right? Besides, did Shakespeare rewrite? Apparently not, but his contemporary and friend Ben Jonson said, “Would that he had blotted a thousand lines.”

So now comes the time to get busy “blotting a thousand lines” (or more) because rewriting is a vital part of writing, the part that “makes the work come alive,” to quote Nancy Pickard, author of several popular mystery novels including Kansas Book of the Year, The Virgin of Small Plains. During rewriting, you “re-envision” the work and bring it closer to your original intention, obscured or lost in the heat of creating the rough draft.

Though often the writer comes up with new material during the rewriting phase, generally this last stage involves more analysis than creation, less the right side of the brain than the left. While new writers often think they can’t write unless they get it right the first time, most professionals rely on rewriting to bring their work up to par.

Effective, interesting, and vital writing is clear, coherent, concise, concrete, correct, and varied. Rewriting helps you give your work these qualities.

Okay, okay, I’m convinced, you say. So how many revisions should I do? As many as it takes, the mentor answers. If you’ve completed a work that you first drafted largely in your head, such as a flash fiction short story, you might not need many overall revisions. On the other hand, many pros freely admit to doing up to twelve major revisions of their novels. The average romance author does two and a half to three drafts, but Nancy Pickard says that she rewrites virtually up to the day of publication.

To rewrite a piece of fiction, you cut, add, change, move, and combine. But verily I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT.

In rewriting, concentrate on these areas in this order: content, style, and mechanics. Why this order? you ask. Simple. It makes sense to get the content right before you spend hours polishing a sentence (paragraph, scene, chapter) that you might have to cut later–or worse, refuse to cut (though it no longer fits the work) because you worked so hard on it. Take the advice of Tony Hillerman who used to labor over his first chapters until he discovered that later chapters changed the first ones too much for him to use them. (He claimed to have had a drawer full of discarded but wonderful first chapters.)

On the other hand, if you’re rewriting the content of your novel and notice a sentence you can improve quickly or an error to correct, go ahead. Similarly, if you think of a great new bit of dialogue in a later stage of revision, by all means add it. (But be sure to reread this added section carefully, for often errors abound in such passages.)

ADVICE

1) To keep up your momentum and improve your chances of completing your novel, work on it everyday.

2) To minimize the number of corrections to make later in the process, initially format your manuscript in the correct form for submission later on to an editor or for production as an eBook or POD.

3) Follow the rules of punctuation like putting periods and commas inside quotation marks, etc.

4) For ease in rewriting, make separate files for all the chapters of the work.

5) If you use Microsoft Word, go to the Authoring and Proofing Tools in the Preferences menu, and in the Spelling and Grammar menu, click on “Show readability statistics.” Run your spell checker on each chapter as you complete revising it. The information will be especially valuable to you in later phases of the revising process. This document, for example, has 4% passive voice (much higher than my usual fiction percentage of 0%), 63.1% Flesch Reading Ease (considerably lower than my usual fiction reading ease of 85%), and 8.7 Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. No, I’m not related to that Kincaid, and my fiction averages from 3.5 to 5.2 grade levels.

6) Cultivate good stylistic writing habits like avoiding passive voice and employing showing writing instead of telling writing.

Still, generally, as John Braine advises, it’s best to write the rough draft as fast as you can and take as much time as you need for revision. Danielle Steele, for instance, takes six months to research a novel and six months to rewrite, but she blasts through the rough draft in a month of crippling twenty-hour days.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED CONTENT

When you’re ready to start rewriting your novel, be patient and don’t just dive into revising. Instead, sit down and read the book through. Then skim it and take notes on what you see and patterns you notice. For instance, does your novel have a clear “Who wants what?” established very early. Does your protagonist clearly “drive the plot car” overall? Is the outcome clear at the end?

Especially pay attention to the big issues of structure. For instance, does your novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? That is, does it have a hook in the opening and a plot point near the end of the beginning part to set up the major story line? Is there some sort of important development in the middle section of the novel, that is, about halfway through? Is there a plot point near the end of the middle part of the book that sets up the end of the book? Do some math to see where these plot points fall in relationship to the overall length.

Consider your narrative line. Once you start your story, do you continue in a straightforward line or do you switch back and forth in time, from past to present to future to past? Think about your audience and this maxim: The larger the market you want for your novel, the easier you want to make your novel to read. That is, employ the K.I.S.S rule especially when you’re writing popular fiction and want lots of people to read your book.

Consider the type of novel you’re writing and reader expectations for that genre. If you’re writing a categorical romance, for instance, do you have at least one love scene? If you’re writing a mystery, is there a body or at least a crime?

On the basis of your observations, prepare an outline or write a narrative synopsis. Advice: Do not consider your outline or synopsis as engraved in stone.

As you write a second draft and concentrate on content, you might want to CUT all or part of ground clutter (action that leads nowhere), sections of dialogue that run on too long, unneeded characters and everything related to them, sections of description that run on too long, scenes that contribute only slightly to the plot, extended sections of background or exposition, unneeded transitions between scenes, sections that tell the reader what to think instead of letting them draw their own conclusions, unneeded or overlong passages of thought, unneeded material between the climax and denouement, and any element that impedes the pace.

On the other hand, you might need to ADD details that explain later action, descriptions to make a character or setting come alive, character development and motivation, background information, more dialogue, significant action, reminders to the reader, foreshadowing, clues and red herrings, symbols and metaphors to highlight theme, and transitions between scenes.

Often you will want to CHANGE from telling writing into showing writing, from indirect to direct speech, from indirect to direct thought, or from one point of view to another.

Sometimes, too, you might find that, in drafting, you got in a rush and tried to do everything at once. So you might need to MOVE introductory exposition to later in the story, exposition closer to the action it relates to, and thematic commentary or epiphanies closer to the end. You might also need to move scenes and plot points.

Finally, you might need to COMBINE one character with another or one scene with another.

GETTING FEEDBACK

Once you have the content about right and can think of nothing much else to do to the work, let gentle, sympathetic, knowledgeable people (preferably not family members) read your novel and give you feedback on what it’s like to experience the work for the first time. When you get your novel back from your readers, look over their comments and rewrite to improve the content at least one more time.

Once the content seems about right, move on to the next phase of rewriting, the PEP phase. Advice: At this point it’s often best to put all your chapters into a single file at this point, so you can also spot glitches in formatting for your eBook or POD versions of your novel as you edit.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED STYLE

Now, you will P(olish the style), E(dit for grammatical correctness), and P(roofread for misspellings and typos).

Verily, again I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT. Overall, including cuts for both content and style, try to make your final version at least ten percent shorter than earlier drafts. (Some writers draft very long and cut out nearly half.)

For concision, CUT redundancies; one, two or even three adjectives out of every three; there is/are, which is/are, it is . . . that; excessive or elaborate dialogue tags; and most adverbs.

For clarity and coherence, you might need to ADD transitions and dialogue tags.

For clarity, vitality and ease of reading, CHANGE long sentences and paragraphs into shorter ones; big, fancy words into smaller ones; uncommon words into more usual ones; over-used words into less common words; passive voice into active voice; states of being verbs into action verbs; progressive verbs into straight present or past tense; general into specific; abstract into concrete; unclear pronouns into nouns; and fuzzy word choices into just the right words.

For clarity and variety, occasionally MOVE phrases from their usual spot into more unusual ones.

For coherence and variety, occasionally COMBINE many short sentences into longer ones and many simple sentences into compound or complex ones.

But as Strunk and White say in The Elements of Style, break any of these rules rather than commit a barbarity.

REWRITING FOR CORRECTNESS

Always edit a completed manuscript with extreme care because mechanical errors and misspellings betray you as an amateur to agents, editor and readers. If you can’t spell, learn! Use a spell checker (but still proofread for homonyms, like “too,” “to,” “two”). If you don’t know how to punctuate, take a review course. And no matter how sharp your editorial skills, always proofread your material several times before you submit it or publish it.

In the PEP phase, you might find it helpful to read your manuscript aloud. (James Michener and his editor read one of his big novels to each other five times.) Run your spelling/grammar checker and get your overall stats on readability, etc. It’s also good to use “find and replace” to locate your personal trouble spots (one of mine is over-using the word “then”). If you have fellow writers who proofread well, you might ask them to proofread our work. Or you could hire a professional proofreader or copy editor.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROOFREADING

As Jack Riley topped the final rise before town, he saw the buzzards circling above him. Not this time, he thought, a half smile on his face. He had just been through eighty miles of the roughest dessert anywhere . . .