Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Novel Writing’

Chugging along with NaNoWriMo (and finding inspiration!)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation on November 14, 2015 at 9:00 pm

During the second full week of NaNoWriMo, I had taken a week of vacation, meaning I could dedicate at least two hours a day to writing (or that was the idea). I planned one of my weeks of vacation to align with the month, just so I could have a week of living the writer’s life without having to go to a day job.

Though I wasn’t sure if I was going to take part in National Novel Writing Month, I knew I wanted to do some work on my literary novel, “The Heat of Trouble.” I decided to go for it and do NaNoWriMo after getting encouragement from some of my writer friends.

I found during the first week of NaNoWriMo I liked how it gave me a goal to keep me on track, even if I fell behind in word count toward the goal to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words a day. I wrote 8,240 words up to that point, but to be on track, I needed to have written 11,669 words, so I was short 3,429 words as of Sunday.

Here’s what I wrote during week two to try to catch up (and maybe even get ahead):

Day 8 (Sunday): I wrote 2,608 words, bringing the total to 10,848 words. (To be on track, I needed to be at 13,336 words). My word count was a personal record, besting out the top of 2,182 words from last week.

Day 9 (Monday): I wrote nothing, like 0 or zilch. I had plans all day and not a moment for writing.

Day 10 (Tuesday): I wrote 2,245 words in one-and-a-half hours, bringing my total to 13,093 words.

Day 11 (Wednesday): I wrote 631 words in an hour in the early afternoon and another 2,114 words in one-and-a-half hours in the evening. My total reached 15,838 words, still short of the on-track word count of 18,337 words.

Day 12 (Thursday): I wrote 3,352 words in two-and-a-half hours. My total reached 19,190 words, short 814 words for the goal of 20,004 words. I threw my arms in the air, at least mentally, exclaiming, “I’m almost there!” and “I beat my best!”

Day 13 (Friday): I didn’t write a thing, instead spending the entire day with my mother, which was totally fun. When I got home, late, I felt like I should write something, so I wrote my Christmas letter.

Day 14 (Saturday): I wrote 1,759 words in one-and-half hours in the morning and another 1,022 words in the afternoon.

By the end of the day Saturday, I needed to be at 23,338 words to be on track. I was at 21,971 words, short 1,367 words, so not too bad, though I would have actually liked to have pulled ahead.

As I worked all week, I found NaNoWriMo gave me something to work toward, and a community as a source of motivation to put in the daily hours toward the same goal. I thought about the writing as work, or fun-work, because in my day job, I write daily, so I figured I could write almost every day for NaNoWriMo and set aside the project for a couple of weeks, as recommended, edit it and start the sequel to my young adult novel about a 16-year-old girl who works in a coffee shop to save her and her sister.

In other words, I found the inspiration and motivation to continue with a project I’d set aside to work on something else. With that extra push, I expect by the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ll be done with my first draft or close to it.

Revision Dread

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

Revision can be the writer’s least favorite part of the writing process, but it is what turns a sloppy first draft into something marketable.

Reading your work multiple times, asking friends and co-writers to give it an edit and bringing your work through a writer’s group are a few options to identify structural problems, address issues with any of the elements of your writing and find grammatical and style errors in the copy.

Currently, I’m editing my young adult novel, “The Money Finder.” I’ve taken the first 50 pages through my writer’s group, Mountain View Writers, and got comments on minor characters that were flat and clichéd, factual errors in the plot because I lacked the experience and hadn’t done enough research, and areas in the storytelling that needed to be cut, moved or added to keep readers engaged.

One of my friends, who has no desire to write but has read extensively, is reading through “One April Day,” which is literary Christian fiction. He said the beginning drags, reading too much like a journal entry of this happened and then this happened without an overarching reason for him to want to find out what will happen next.

From his experience, most books are awkward during the first 50 pages but get better after that. His theory is that the writers are trying to find their story without going back later to tighten the telling down to the most essential, basic elements.

To edit for the needs of an experienced reader who doesn’t write, give him an opening scene where something happens right away, without putting in too much setting, summary or backstory that causes that dragging effect.

When editing for this and other readers, I like to do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. I like to look for any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I like to ask if the overall story make sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits, including:

• Looking for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
• Cutting unnecessary words, sentences and even scenes that do not move the story forward or clutter what you’re trying to say.
• Using the active voice whenever you can.
• Varying the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
• Getting rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
• Writing visually and making sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
• Tightening the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.
• Checking that the characters are well-developed and seem real, not two-dimensional?
And most importantly, make sure your showing and only telling when necessary.

More Tension (in Novels)

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

As a yet-to-be published novelist, tension seems to be the banal of my existence.

I understand what the concept means when I think of a taut rubber band, compared with that element of writing that keeps readers turning the pages. But when it comes to applying the concept to writing, I struggle with the required maintenance.

Though I already addressed tension last month in my blog challenge to write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, “52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty,” I now realize that I have to tweak my understanding.

A writer friend of mine who has read the first few chapters of my novel, “Dropping Colors,” wrote in her comments, “Think about tension all the time: maintain micro-tension throughout the story, in conversations, within Kate’s head. You always need conflict to drive the story forward.”

Kate Letts is my protagonist, or point-of-view character, who loses everything she owns in an apartment fire and tries to replace her lost things only to find something better.

My writer friend loaned me her copy of “The Fire in Fiction: passion, purpose and techniques to make your novel great,” by Donald Maass, published in 2009.

In chapter 8, “Tension All the Time,” Maass states that conflict is story, but that one large, overriding conflict is not all that drives the story. Conflict also needs to be present in smaller ways through micro-tension, or the tension within each moment of the story’s unfolding that keeps readers curious about what happens next.

Tension is not a function of plot, Maass said. In dialogue, it comes through the emotional friction between the characters speaking; in action, from inside the point-of-view character experiencing it; and in exposition, that character’s conflicting emotions.

As I understand what Maass is saying, tension boils down to feelings and emotions in each moment of the story. And as stated in my earlier blog on the same subject, tension is the result of character conflict: internal conflicts are about characters, while external conflicts are about plot.

Tension is what turns cardboard or cliché characters into sentient beings that experience the world through the filter of their own emotions, experiences and worldviews.

As soon as you put the point-of-view characters in a setting, what makes the environment become real? It’s not just the details, but how the character experiences them. This character feels his or her world, just as we all do.

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