Killing Chapter 1

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My decision to cut the entire first chapter for The Muse came when I realized I had started my novel with just about every single thing most agents hate to see in an opening chapter.

After reading multiple articles and longs lists of tweets from agents, a definitive list of things agents hate in an opening chapter began to emerge:

  • Too much backstory
  • Describing the weather
  • Describing the sky
  • Main character waking up
  • Prologues

It’s funny how you think you are not doing these things as you write, re-write, and edit. Even after multiple rejections, I still believed I had a strong opening. However, once I compared the list to my novel, I realized I had committed every novel sin except for the prologue.

Then, I visited the YA section of my bookshelf and started scanning through all the first chapters of my favorite books. Keeping the list in mind, it was easy to see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. A change needed to be made and it needed to be big.

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I pulled up my manuscript on my Kindle Fire and read the first chapter multiple times. The biggest issues were backstory and weather description. Luckily, the solution for backstory was easy. I could track each segment of backstory to another section of the novel, so I truly did not need it in the first chapter. As for weather description, the foreshadowing was nice, but not entirely necessary. With these two elements eliminated, there wasn’t much left of Chapter 1. Hmmmm . . . that got me thinking,  why don’t I just delete the whole thing?

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just hitting the delete button. When I scrolled down into Chapter 2, it was promising in that as the new start, the reader is dropped right into the story. However, Chapter 2 begins with the main character waking up. Ahhhh! Another thing on the hate list. Two paragraphs down, a sky description shows up! Yet, another thing on the hate list!

Before total panic set in, it became clear that both issues can be easily fixed. A sentence here and a slight deletion there should clear up the hate list issues, while also transitioning Chapter 2 as the new beginning to The Muse.

I guess we’ll see how it goes!

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c.b.w. 2015

The Finish Line

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After four months, I’ve finally worked through all of my editor’s comments and my list of revision notes for The Muse. While the process took longer than I would have liked, I’m still basking in the accomplishment of reaching the finish line.

As I look back, I can’t help but laugh at myself a bit. When I first started this project, I thought I had a polished manuscript with my Third Draft. Ha! They say ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s a first class ticket to the slush pile. After reading a little more about the publishing process, I had the good sense to realize I had A LOT more work to do!

I got brave with my Fifth Draft and sent query letters to five agents. Looking back I probably jumped the gun a little bit, but I still got responses from all five. Even though those responses were rejections, the fact that they took any time at all to answer me told me I had something worth pursuing. After some reflection, I figured out two things: 1. I needed an editor. 2. I needed to research agents on a deeper level.

Hiring an editor turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done for my novel. The particular editor I hired turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done for me as a writer. Not only did my novel go from an okay piece of work to a beautifully polished novel, but I got some serious insight into my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

My editor, Kristen Fairgrieve, has an eagle eye for grammatical and word usage errors, but also for plot holes. I’m not going lie – there were a lot of grammar issues and a few plot holes. Not to mention superfluous sentences and paragraphs that she painstakingly condensed. Even now I sit in amazement at how she whipped my manuscript into shape!

While she fixed the majority of this issues plaguing my work, there were a few things that only I could address. Instead of offering a quick fix, she asked me questions or made comments to make me think. When it was all said and done, I probably spent more time thinking than I did typing. The process was enlightening and forced me to consider my characters and plot line with a new perspective. In many ways, Kristen showed me what me readers might be thinking as they work their way through the story.

So now comes the tricky part: getting published. In the midst of thinking and editing, I researched agents who might be interested in The Muse as well as self-publishing options. At the moment, I’ve pegged nine agents who might be responsive to a query package. I selected them by digging around in directories and checking the acknowledgment pages in YA books with a similar theme to The Muse.

My query letter has gone through several drafts, but I think I’ve finally got something that represents my novel in terms of voice and selling points. My ducks are all in a row, which means there’s only one thing left to do – Get brave and query!

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c.b.w. 2014

Yes, It Takes A Long Time

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There are questions every writer hears at one time or another: What’s going on with your novel? Why isn’t it published, yet? What is taking so long?! If I had a book for every time someone asked me these questions, I’d have enough to fill a library.

It’s easy to feel demoralized, but I keep reminding myself the people asking me these questions are not writers. They have no idea how long it takes to get from First Draft to Final Draft. Nor do they have any concept of how tough it is to break into the publishing industry. All they know is new books show up on amazon and bookstore shelves every week. What looks like a speedy process on the outside has actually taken years of hard work.

Aside from non-writers, my inner critic gets in on the game, too. She loves to point out that my novel still hasn’t found it’s way to print. It’s been three years – What the heck have you been doing all this time! Grrrrrr! This is one of the many frustrations I soothe with chocolate and lattes. In this instance, I have to remind myself of what I already know. Writing is a long process. Publishing is an even longer process.

To put things in perspective, the timeline for The Muse offers considerable insight into how long it takes to write a novel (when one holds down a full time job and writes on the side) and get it in publishable shape.

April 15, 2010 – The Muse shows up in my hard drive as a Work in Progress

September 26, 2012 – First draft complete.

September 27, 2012 – Revisions for Draft 2 begin.

March 28, 2013 – Draft 2 revisions complete.

August 4, 2013 – Draft 3 revisions complete.

August 2013 – March 2014 – Query packages sent and subsequent rejections received.

June 2014 – I hire an editor and send The Muse off to get gutted!

July 2014 – The Muse comes back fully edited and polished. It’s gorgeous, but needs a little more work.

August 2014 – Final edits begin based on editor’s notes.

October 2014 – Query letter rewritten. Researching agents and compiling a list of those who might be interested.

And the process continues! Here I am in November still working on those final edits. On the bright side, I’m down to the last item on my list of things to fix. Within the next month, I’m hoping to send out my new query package to the list of agents I’ve compiled since October.

It’s been long process, but I truly believe the end result will be worth the wait. Hopefully, my readers will feel the same way.

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c.b.w. 2014

The Last Line

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As I finished reading the last page of my edited manuscript, I was ecstatic to find my story was completely intact, (including my beloved last line). With this being my first foray into YA Fantasy, I’m taking this as a huge victory. This was not an easy story to devise or lay out given the large amount of detail in shaping an elaborate lie.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished. This novel started out as a fun little project and turned into something I can only describe as an outright passion. Everything about the story and characters reached deep inside of me and challenged my imagination to ask “what if?” From start to finish, this novel always felt like magic to me.

Thankfully, my editor saw the magic as well! Every scene I was willing to fight for remained in place with little or no adjustment. This was particularly true in the last two chapters, where I had the most fear of a major chop job. Like I’ve said before, this is the part of the novel where I told the biggest and most complicated lies. One major hole or misplaced scene could’ve ruined the whole story!

However, that’s not to say everything remained exactly the same word for word. After all, editors are supposed to go in there and fix the problems. My editor did some artful clean up on the text and eliminated unnecessary descriptions. I fully admit that I have a penance for adjectives and sometimes overly descriptive sections. My sentimentality for adjectives definitely needed to be tempered with my editor’s red pen!

Aside from deletion, she sometimes moved a sentence or a paragraph to a different location. The shift was usually subtle, but I was amazed at how much it changed the flow of a section. It just goes to show how important placement can be, even if just for a sentence. It’s something I couldn’t see for myself and has made me further appreciate the sharp eye of an editor.

Throughout this entire process, I had two key questions floating around in my mind:

1) Where are those 7,000 words I noticed were missing from my word count?

2) What is the fate of the epilogue?

The answer to the first question was very clear when I finished with the last page. No major scenes or sections were cut, which means this is a cumulative total of little deletions from the entire manuscript. After reviewing the first five chapters of the fully commented version of the manuscript, this conclusion is even more clear to me. A deleted word or phrase here and there adds up really fast! While 7,000 is a huge number, I find myself more than willing to let all those words go as my editor has left me with a clean and simplified manuscript that retains all the elements of my writing style.

As for the epilogue, it remains in place. Yet, I find myself in a fierce debate on whether it should exist at all. I love how it creates a cliff hanger that leads to the sequel, but there are a few holes in it (which my editor did point out). While those holes are easily fixable, I remain firmly entrenched in the Epilogue Dilemma: To epilogue or not to epilogue?

As I continue working on notes for the sequel, I’m realizing the current epilogue has cornered me in terms of plot development. There are elements in the epilogue that restrict where I can go with the continuing story and I’m not sure I like the direction it’s taking. My muse needs to start talking and I need to start mapping out some possible solutions.

All in all, I’m thrilled with the edited draft of my manuscript. While I admire writers that can self-edit, I’ve learned I am not one of those writers. I need that fresh set of eyes and the scalpel of a red pen to make my work the best it can be.

In the coming weeks, I hope to post an interview with my editor, Kristen Fairgrieve of Got My Red Pen Out. If you’re in the market for a freelance editor, I highly recommend her services! Stay tuned for insights on her process and editing style.

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c.b.w. 2014

Almost At The End

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It’s funny how the end can be just as nerve wracking as the beginning. I’m down to the last 35 pages of my edited manuscript and I’m starting to feel those knots in my stomach, again. I can’t believe I’m actually nervous about reading the end.

All I can think of is the three months it took me to write those last chapters. I’m talking hair-ripping out, gut wrenching, way too much coffee drinking evenings of trying to construct the perfect ending to my novel. This is the part of the story where I told the biggest “lies.” Already rewritten mythology delves even deeper into new canon and two major plot twists are supposed smack the reader right between the eyes. So many moving parts had to come together to make it all work. All I can wonder is whether I actually pulled it off with any sort of finesse.

Then, there’s the inevitable self-doubt questions. What if it isn’t good enough? What if there are too many holes in the story? What if it’s unfixable? Writers seemingly torture themselves with these questions endlessly, no matter how much they’ve accomplished!

Aside from typical writer neuroses, being this close to the end has me returning to the biggest question of all – Where are those missing 7,000 words and 23 pages? As I get so close to the end, I’m starting wonder if that’s where some major edits took place.  Those 7,000 words are either the result of a cumulative total of small changes throughout the story or they have disappeared because the ending got a major overhaul.

I keep hoping for the cumulative total option, but I’m also highly aware that the ending might have had a particularly bloody meeting with a red pen. Either way, procrastination and bowing down to nerves won’t bring me any closer to finding out the answer to my burning question.

Even though the knots are yanking at my stomach, my brain is busy reminding me that change has done my novel a world of good. If there are missing scenes at the end or a major chop job, I have to stay open to the idea that it might all be for the best.

As I gear up to read those last few chapters, the nervousness is balanced out quite nicely by excitement. Finishing this phase of the process brings me one step closer to my dream of seeing this story in print.

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p.s. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I cheated and skipped ahead to the last page (before the epilogue) to see if my last line was still there. I figured I better own it here as well! And for the record, I’m beyond giddy that my last line remains in place. :-)

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c.b.w. 2014