Unravelling The Ribbons of Your Story

I’m a slow writer.  I tend to live with a story for a long time before putting it on paper, and I’ll read, reread, and re-re-reread chapters multiple times before moving on to the next section.  The problem is, all that familiarity can lead to … too much familiarity.  It’s hard to edit and revise when you are looking at a chapter for the 99th time.

But I’ve found a way to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes, and if you write in multiple POVs, it can work for you, too.  Once I’ve finished a complete draft that I’m relatively happy with, I unspool the story, chapter by chapter, until every character has his or her own ‘book.’  And then I read each book through from start to finish.

Braided Scarf Detail by LollyKnit
Braided Scarf Detail by LollyKnit

I’m using Scrivener right now, and I’m sure there is an easier way to do it, but here’s my procedure: 

  1. I back up my completed manuscript in multiple places, labelling the backups with the date and time.
  2. I duplicate the original manuscript.
  3. I go through and identify each character’s chapters in the duplicate (a task made easier because, when writing, I label each chapter with a number and the character’s name or initial).
  4. I create a new document for each character.
  5. I copy and paste the appropriate chapters into each document, saving each with the date and the character’s name.

Reading through my chapters this way has several benefits.  In some ways it is like reading my book for the first (not the 400th) time.  It also helps me to: [Read more…]

5+

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.

That Crazy Friend

Photo by Karol Franks

I have this GREAT story I want to tell you about, and … Oh darn. Can you hold on for a second? 

Okay, I’m back.  Where were we?  Right.  This GREAT story.  It has this amazing plot and you won’t believe… whoops.  Sorry.  Gotta go again. I’ll be right back.

Here I am. Sorry about that.  I’ve got this friend.  You probably know her.  She’s great — always around when I want to talk, the first to tell me interesting news, and when I need a laugh or advice, she’s right there.  But between you and me, the problem is, hanging with her makes it almost impossible to get anything else done. Like writing.  Or concentrating.  So, what were we talking about again?

Does this sound familiar to you?  If you replace the word ‘friend’ with ‘Facebook’ or ‘the Internet’ I’ll bet the answer is yes. 

A few weeks ago I was trying to write.  My email program kept dinging, reminding me I had new mail; I could hear Facebook burbling away on the posts I had followed; and one of my favorite authors had a new blog post up I couldn’t wait to read (so I did). 

Shortly thereafter I realized that if the Internet took human form, I could arrest it for stalking.

Seriously.  Most of us wouldn’t tolerate this type of interruption from real people — if a friend did this, calling us every fifteen minutes, constantly stopping by during time we’d set aside to work, we’d pull the plug on that relationship. But we’ll allow ourselves to be derailed by cute pet pictures, celebrity wedding photos, and memes telling us how important it is to stay focused.

Why?

I realized that if the Internet took human form, I could arrest it for stalking.

I think it is because writing is hard, and writers have always looked for an excuse to put off putting their butts in the chair.  Before the Internet, the excuses weren’t nearly as much fun, or as easily accessible.  Magazine or book reading eventually came to an end.  Friends, desperate to get their own work done, hung up the phone.  But with the Internet, the reading and chatting can go on forever, or at least as long as we have a connection. [Read more…]

17+

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.

KAPOW!  Cutting Scenes Like a Superhero

Incredible Bokeh by JD Hancock
Incredible Bokeh by JD Hancock

There’s a scene in my novel-in-progress that I absolutely love. It has magic, romance, and the flavor of a fairy tale — everything I’ve tried to accomplish in this book. When I reread it, I don’t get that ‘Oh good God, who am I kidding” feeling that comes from most of my draft work.  I’ve lovingly polished this scene until every single word shines, and the beta readers I’ve shown it to agree — it’s pretty awesome.

And next week, when I start revising my novel, I’m planning to kill the whole chapter.

Blame The Incredibles and Brad Bird.

The Incredibles, for those of you not graced with nine-year-old boys, is the Pixar movie that on the surface is about a family of superheroes forced by social circumstances to live undercover and hide their gifts.  But it’s also the story of a marriage that may be in trouble, of dreams deferred, of the sacrifices you make as an adult for family and what happens when you get a chance to take those dreams out to play again.  We watch it ALL THE TIME at my house, and all of us, not just the nine-year-old, can quote it. (You should hear me deliver the lines “Greater good? I’m the greatest *good* you are ever gonna get!”) 

But somehow I’d never managed to watch the extras included with the DVD until last month.

Last family movie night, the kids were angling to stay up later, as kids do, and after the movie we popped in the extras DVD, cruised through the shorts and were about to declare bedtime when my son punched the deleted scenes arrow.  Suddenly, producer Brad Bird was talking about why these scenes didn’t make the cut.

Bird and his team eliminated scenes for all kinds of reasons — to cut screen time, to amp up tension, to give other characters more impact.  Every single one of those deleted scenes was a tiny jewel, and it’s obvious it pained Bird to cut them.  In one take, you can hear the wistfulness in his voice. “When we lost it, we lost one of my favorite scenes in the movie. .. In my ideal version, I would have that scene back.”

But wait, you say!  Bird is the director!  And the writer!  Surely, if it is his favorite scene, it should make the cut, right?!  He’s the boss, and he carried the story in his head for at least 10 years before starting work on it. And cutting isn’t a decision he takes lightly:

“In the editing room, when you want something but know you’ve got no leg to stand on, it’s the worst.  Like expelling a kidney stone emotionally.”

“In the editing room, when you want something but know you’ve got no leg to stand on, it’s the worst.  Like expelling a kidney stone emotionally.”

So why, if it is so painful, the scene is his favorite AND Bird has the power NOT to cut it, would he do so?

[Read more…]

1+

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.

The Magic Trick to Landing an Agent at a Conference (Hint: There’s No Magic Involved)

photo from Microsoft Office
photo from Microsoft Office

You’ve revised your manuscript, sent it out to beta readers, revised again, and now it’s cards on the table time. You’re bringing your book to that fancy conference that’s coming up and shelling out the cash for a session with an agent.  But how do you make the most of your 15 minutes of professional attention?  How do you even choose which agent to meet with? 

There’s no magic password or handshake that will guarantee you a successful meeting — if there was, I promise I’d be sharing it here.  The good news is, if you’ve persevered to this stage, you already have the skills to maximize your chances.  Hard work and preparation may not sound flashy, but they’ll take you far. Ready? Here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful:

  • First, draw up a list of attributes your dream agent would have.  I’m not talking about a hotline to the heads of publishing houses or connections to Steven Spielberg — you’re dreaming, yes, but keep it realistic.  For example, are you the kind of person who needs the reassurance of a big, experienced agency in your corner? Or do you want an upstart agent who is setting up her own shop and is hungry for business?  Is having an agent with a solid social media presence important to you?  Or will you chew your nails and glug antacid every time your agent tweets about the manuscript she’s currently reading? Do you expect lots of hand-holding, or are you more comfortable with a strictly professional relationship?
  • Next, make a for-your-eyes only list of attributes that are important to you and keep it handy.  Use it as a guide to help you narrow down your choices as you do your research.  You make up half of the agent/author relationship, and you want to find someone you are comfortable working with, not just leap at the first agent who shows interest.  At the same time, try and stay somewhat flexible, and remember that agents are people too — they grow and change with time, just like everyone else.

Remember that agents are people too — they grow and change with time, just like everyone else.

 

[Read more…]

0

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.

What Are You Doing to Improve?

Equestrian and Horse JumpingAfter eight years off, I recently resumed riding horses.  I’m still relatively proficient — I can walk, trot, canter, pop over small jumps, and perform some simple dressage moves.  I’ll never ride in the Olympics, probably never even compete locally again, so my skill set is fine for my needs. Yet, I’m taking a weekly lesson in addition to my free riding time in order to improve.

Lessons are nothing new to me. When I rode BC (before children) I took weekly, sometimes twice-weekly, lessons. For years. Even though I had a horse and barn of my own, and very little disposable income. When I couldn’t afford to pay for them, I worked out a swap in sweat equity or stall space or whatever else I could trade. 

Why spend so much time and money on a hobby?

Because even if I can’t be Karen O’Connor, I can become a better rider. Because I love riding. Because riding makes me a calmer, happier person, and if it does all that for me, I owe it to myself to ride as well as I can.  

Substitute ‘writing’ for riding in the paragraph above (or, if you are from Massachusetts like me, just say them both really fast and they’ll sound identical) and we have today’s post.

Do you love writing, even if you’ll never be the next J.K. Rowling?  Does it enrich your life? Have you mastered a basic level of proficiency but want to get better?

Then what are you doing about it? 

There are lots of classes for writers just starting out on their fiction journey. But once you’ve written a book, once you’ve got the idea of plot and character development, it can be harder to find a place that will help you improve. And I’ve noticed that most published authors are scarce at workshops, unless they are there as presenters.  Partly that’s because many workshops are geared toward beginner writers, but I also think that once you’ve captured the elusive agent/editor/book contract, there’s a stigma against admitting you don’t know it all.  If you aren’t the perfect writer, why should anyone bother to read you?

My belief is that if you aren’t consistently striving to get better, your books aren’t worth your readers’ time.  Here are some of the strategies I use: 

[Read more…]

0

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.