Reading into things

You know, it was easier when I’d never finished anything, never expected to finish anything, and could just wander off in a trail of unconnected snippets and plot fragments.

Easier, but less satisfying.

I’ll keep reminding myself of that part. As it is, when health and stress levels did not help my creativity, my brain took a side detour through a haze of unrelated snippets and plot fragments. But now it’s coming back, and I’m looking at this lump of story, and going “who are you, and what do you want?”

Step one: print it out. Look in amazement at the finished product, and go “How did you get that big? Did anyone tell you that you were supposed to be a short story? Wait, I did, frequently. And you ignored it.”

Step two: three-hole punch and three-ring binder.

Step three: sit in the sun, in the back yard with a glass of water, and read through. After all these months, I can start to see bits where the words weren’t quite right, and how to change it. Also start to see what else it needs added in, now that I’m admitting it’s really not a short story, never going to be one, and should be treated like a novel.

Step four: get to the end of what’s printed out. Say un-lady-like word because now the complicate mess and tangle of the fight scene that stopped me is back and pressing at the back of my right eye like a muse-y little migraine. Poking at it like a sore tooth will commence.

Do any of you have a better, smoother process for reading back in to a work that was no longer in progress?

24 comments

  1. No. I mean, all these words, how can you give them up? There’s no smooth, although I do have a process.

    I haul out the Hero’s Journey and see if I can slot anything into something almost like that order, and check for try-fail sequences. And once I can see the problem driving the story, I can see who can solve it. That means they need to be the Main Character, which means I need to rewrite or add to the start to make that happen and make it clear _why_ this problem is meaningful to _him_. Then I go back and throw him into the mess of an end fight with his determination and desired end goal in sight.

    It’s really irritating when an interesting secondary character turns out to be the only person who can solve the problem.

    1. Unless it spins off into an entirely new subseries (Ebsa and Icka come to mind; perhaps even Xen, looking at the start of it all). Well, it may be irritating then, too, but I like it.

      1. Yeah, if they just want a new story all their own, that’s not so bad. But when they turn out to be the only way out of the corner I’ve written myself into . . . And then I have to rewrite the whole start, with them in the staring role . . .

  2. I generally start revising or writing. The big difference is that I read from the beginning or at least a few pages in — but I have the bad habit of hopping from work to work all the time, so it’s just a question of how long it’s been since I lasted worked on it.

  3. > “who are you, and what do you want?”

    Vorlons: “Who are you?”

    Shadows: “What do you want?”

    Minbari: “Who do you serve?”

  4. No advice for getting back into the story, but this did pop to mind….

    Crane looked at Jenna across the table and sighed “I know you love shopping in person, but I think maybe you need to hear about this new development, called ‘online shopping’. You look at things in a catalog online and buy them without ever stepping into a store. They are delivered right to your doorstep, or to an alternative location if you need more safety. It would make overwatch so much easier and we could keep you a lot safer.”
    Jenna glared at him over the top of her coffee and AJ considered the idea thoughtfully.

    1. No, no, no!

      You can’t check quality, fit, or color on line. Useless! All you get is a bunch of extra shipping and handling fees and trips to the shippers.

      I’m absolutely on Jenna’s side in this. Online shopping is only useful in cases where you already know the quality (like Dorothy Grant novels).

  5. “If it’s worth killing, it’s worth over-killing.” Alice Haddison speaking from hard-earned experience on the subject of hunting zombies and other not-right sorts of things.

    How to go from disorganized snippets to a whole complete book? Ask your characters “what the hell were you thinking!?” and they’ll probably tell you. Then you just follow them around and write down what they do. ~:D This is my ass-backward method, it seems to be working okay so far.

    Reading back and fixing the broken parts happens when characters are being lazy and won’t do anything interesting.

  6. Actually I kind of like your process… And I have a small sense of deja vu… Did you or didn’t you have trouble in one of your other books with a fight scene? How did you solve it then? Or was it always this fight scene that caused trouble …

    I’ve had a heroine stuck in a hay loft for two years because I don’t know how to write the stuff that needs to happen before she can get down again.

    1. This might sound silly, but try DRAWING a kind of cartoon of the action needed. It may tap into another part of the brain, and get you off the stalled point.

    2. Or, alternately, put in a temporary “fix”. Such as SKIPPING the whole “HOW does that person get down and past the opponent” and just writing “Later, recovering from my bruised and battered body’s many wounds, the whole episode was a disorganized and hazy memory for me. I would be hard put to tell just how it all happened, and how I survived. The important thing is, I did, and managed to get away (or defeated the enemy, or whatever)”.
      Then continue with the story. You can always go back and add in some more details. Or not.

  7. “Do any of you have a better, smoother process for reading back in to a work that was no longer in progress?”

    No. But I have a worse, coarser, and longer process for reintroducing myself to the work, and kicking the writing brain back into gear.

    Mostly I work my way back to it by something that is close to the book in subject matter. Well, sort of close. I’ve been listening to the Ten Realms on audiobook while cleaning and washing dishes. That has almost nothing at all to do with Dr. Z. I re-read Monster Hunter one night to re-examine something I thought might help a little. Then I sat down and did a little twenty-four sentence outline of something that *might* happen in the chapter.

    Then I thought about it for a while. Looked back over some of the old chapters. Started writing. It’s been over a week since I’ve been able to work on it, so it’s not exactly fresh, nor precisely stale. And this is supposed to be a somewhat major plot point, so I’ve had the idea for it for a while. It just hasn’t been coming together. The last stab taken at it was full of dumb. It had to die. So the newest attempt is in process.

    Once things get going, it’s not so bad. If I can get another weekend where I can put out another 20,000 words or so, I can rebuild the chapter backlog again in case of (another) future snafu. Sometimes I have to commit to writing crap. Crap that will never, not ever be in the story, but which gets me back into the writing of the story. If that makes any sense.

    Still feels like I am fooling myself into writing. Which is wrong. But if it works…

    1. I don’t think it’s fooling yourself into writing: You’re exploring the problem in prose. It may be less scientific than Edison and his lightbulb filament, but that’s alright. Sometimes your brain needs to hash something out. What? I’m not in your head so don’t know.

  8. Can’t say I have a lot of experience with this yet. Overall, what is hosting things on the fight scene? To much going on? Not sure how it gets resolved? Is a character balking at the whole thing? Not sure what it looks like from the characters’ perspectives?

    I know Larry Corriea and David Drake have excellent battle scenes. Might be worth reading through a few of theirs for ideas?

    1. For some fight scenes, I read (or reread) accounts of actual fights and battles. That gives me an overall framework to work detail, personality, and emotion into. I was also fortunate that I have done some basic fencing (both foil/rapier/saber and stage fencing [Renaissance Italian and English]) and riding, plus a little training in stick-fighting and knife stuff, so my body knows what can and can’t be done in a general sense. Not every fight scene needs a blow-by-blow description, but having an idea of, oh, “can I do this without violating the laws of physics and anatomy both?” is a big help.

      1. One of the other things I’ve noticed is that the same flight is very different from the perspective of a neophyte vs an experienced combatant.

        The neophyte typically seems to eh overloaded by the sensory inputs: sounds, smells, screams. By contrast, the experiences combatants will have filtered things down to the essential information.

        I’ve been playing a VR action flight game a lot lately, on the hardest difficulty, and I notice, I’m generally paying attention to very specific things, the AoA ladder, the missile warning indicator, the counter measures cycle time, and the weapons symbology.

        Meanwhile, there’re missiles going everywhere, things are exploding all over the place, everybody is yelling, laser beams are going everywhere, and, I genuinely don’t care, as long as it’s not going to hit me. About the only thing that triggers an oh oh oh is the realization that that thing in front of me is a suspension bridge that I’m about to smack into at 1000 knots…. I missed it.

  9. “Where was I trying to go with this? What was the point of this story/fragment/scene?” That gives me a sense of 1) what I can do with the chunk and 2) where I might have gone wrong. Sometimes I left the bit in the dead-ideas file. Other times I changed the characters and tucked it into a different book or series.

  10. Do any of you have a better, smoother process for reading back in to a work that was no longer in progress?

    Sadly I do not. And I wish I did given I am very much at the “ten unfinished things for each finished one”. I have never even read through the one novel I finished.

  11. I have enough paper in my day job to where I basically refuse to deal with it at the polishing/editing stage. Most of my polishing/editing is done in Scrivener.

    Polishing/editing for me looks like this:
    -long period of ignoring the WIP.
    -Do mass find/replace of proper nouns I’ve decided not to use (ie creatures, ships or people I’ve renamed).
    -Do a search for opening bracket symbols to pull out all the bracketed “change this” comments. I dump them into a sort of to-do/brainstorming area at the top of the scrivener project, outside the manuscript area.
    -Read through the whole thing, scene by scene. I will sometimes make minor tweaks at this stage, but this is mostly to get a feel for what needs to be changed at a pacing and character dynamics level, and maybe identify places that need more description. A few minutes before heading off to day job, a few minutes before going to bed: this is probably the most fun part of the writing process and the easiest to fit around other tasks.
    -a period of low-level tweaking and cutting (cut bits get dumped into the research area of the scrivener project, in case I need to repurpose it somewhere), interrupted by periods of ignoring the WIP when I get to something harder, until I force myself to face that piece of rewriting or expansion that I didn’t want to do.
    -It’s about at this stage that scenes get collected into chapters. For my earlier books, I just consulted my own artistic notions of where the chapter breaks should be, but for Shadow Captain, I took a piece of advice I’d read somewhere, and figured out the approximate average chapter length of the most similar Kindle book I’d read (something by Lindsay Buroker, IIRC) and used that for a loose role model.
    -When that’s done, I output it to Word, turn “track changes” on and submit it electronically to whoever’s doing beta-reading and/or proofreading for me. Once I get it back, I approve/disapprove changes as needed, correct any continuity issues anybody noticed, create a linked table of contents, and format to match Kindle’s print templates, and start work on publishing.
    -When I put it like that, it sounds pretty fast, but it is actually slooooow.

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