Any tips for revising? Right now I read it and fix the parts I don’t like, then my beta reader reads it and I fix the parts that she doesn’t like. Which works good for putting out a finished product that is lacking in bad parts, but seems a little lacking for putting out a finished product that is rich in good parts.
I trust my antenna for revising. If something bothers me, like the 707 above, it’s wrong. Needs to be fixed. I print out every 25,000 words or so and get the red pen out because it looks different on paper. With this new mss I’m going to print out a good draft, then randomly pick individual pages and line edit those without focusing on story until I do them all.
First figure out what the main plot of the book is. If your discovery drafts are like mine, they’re all over the place. Nita had a romance plot and a supernatural mystery plot and one of those had to be the main plot making the other a subplot in service to the main plot. It’s a romance, so I could cut a lot of the mystery stuff that couldn’t be connected to the romance.
Then sort everything into acts and find the turning points and make sure the turning points come from the main plot. Then makes sure the turning points turn all the subplots and character arcs, too. That’s hugely helpful for focus. Quick and dirty analysis: Boil every act down to a one sentence description of the main plot in that section, then put them together to see if they make a four-sentence summary of the plot. Do the same for subplots and then go back and look at those things in the story to see if you can focus those elements even more.
Then look at your important characters’ arcs and make sure they’re all active throughout the acts. It’s very easy to drop a supporting character you’re going to need later, but even if that character’s arc is minor, you need it in every act for that sense of continuity and so that the reader doesn’t forget the character and wonder who the hell they are when they show up again. You can also do the four-sentence exercise to make sure your arcs are smooth.Read the story on the screen, read the story on paper, read the story out loud. Then send to the beta readers. Look at what your betas tripped over, not at the solutions they propose (you’re writing this, they’re reading it, all that matters is what threw them out of the story as readers).There’s a lot more, but that should help get out of the piecemeal rewrite problem. Look at the shape of the big picture (collage really helps me here).
Everyone has to find their own process. Try different things.
Could you be more specific? I know you rewrite these days.
I start over several times in the course of a mss. Especially if I have a moment of enlightenment that something needs to change. So I’ve always rewritten. I’d say by the time I get done with the “first” draft, I’ve rewritten most of it five or six times.
That’s in addition to the print outs every 25k or so.
which brings us to Mary’s question:
Mary M asked:
How often do you and Bob print out your works in progress to review? Do you notice things on the printed pages that you don’t notice reading on your computers?
I usually don’t do a print out until I’m on the final-final draft or thereabouts. It’s such a waste of paper otherwise.
And the differences are HUGE. I always find a ton of stuff on the paper draft.
Another way to find things you’ve missed: Read it out loud. (Again, not until you’re in final-final range.).
Seeing it on paper is completely different from seeing it on screen; hearing it is completely different from seeing it.
Around every 25k. Also I convert the mss to mobi, or the new epub, for Amazon and read it on my kindle. Looks different like that. And self-publishing, always have to read on Kindle before hitting publish.
Oh, that’s an excellent idea.
Jenny has said that plot is not the part of writing that comes naturally for her. Any tips for a non-natural plotter trying to learn how to plot mysteries? (Why can’t a book be 100% great banter?)
The four-act structure with turning points is the only thing that saves me. Pairing four acts of main plot structure with four acts of subplot structure and four acts of character arc is what gets me through, along with clear goals and arced sub-goals. But I can’t do that until I have most of a discovery draft done. Also doing a genre read helps with plot: I was all over the place with Nita until I reminded myself that it was a romance and therefore every scene had to attach to the romance in some way. That’s a huge help for focus.
Plot is not a problem for me. I’ve never run into a plot I can’t fix. I trust my subconscious more. If I put something there, even if it doesn’t make sense, I leave it. Because it will make sense later. That works both ways though. By putting it there, my brain remembers it and then later on I start connecting the dots and looping. I think looping is a key thing to understand. That means everything you write is important so there are no throwaways. I did cut something from Shane yesterday, but it was because my reason for putting it in was stupid: I had the royal couple fly in on a purple 707— why? Because there is a purple 707 lots of rock bands, including Led Zeppelin used. Cute right? Does it add to the plot? Now that I’m near the end: Nope. It’s a distraction. And the big thing is the 707 doesn’t fly any more so I had someone explaining why this one was still flying and did it have anything to do with the story? Nope. Cut it. Only two paragraphs, but it was a distraction. Kill your darlings.
So if you’re still looking for questions, here’s mine. I’m sure you’ve been talking about clichés before, probably sending them to writer’s hell. But what I observe is that a lot of readers seem to like them since the bestselling books very often have them. Maybe we could talk about them a little more – how to evade them, how to put them to good use, and what is the main difference between clichés and tropes? (Forgive me if I ought to know that by now.)
Mega-bestselling authors can sell their laundry list. Well, maybe not, but often I find some writers get to a point where their books blur together and are full of cliches.
Twisting a cliché is fun. For the climactic scene of Shane I’m going to pit two people against each other that are totally different.
When I read a book or watch a show and I can predict everything that’s going to happen? That’s all cliches. I like it when I get the unexpected.
Let’s start with the differences which are, uh, fuzzy.
A trope is a plot, phrase, metaphor, whatever that has been used so often it has become a literary genre or standby. The marriage of convenience plot, “it’s better to have loved and lost” phrase, fire as a metaphor for passion, etc. A trope is usually literary although I see no reason not to define in terms of storytelling in general.
A cliché is a trope that has been used so often it’s basically worthless, worn out, devoid of any deep meaning. It’s that t-shirt you love that you should have thrown out five years ago. “Cliché” is also a kind of insult which “trope” isn’t.
Having said that, the word “trope” is so general that I’m not sure how much good it is in actual analysis. I think you have to give examples so people know which subset of tropes you’re talking about. “I find the trope of the marriage of convenience is overused to the point of cliché.” “I think the Fake Date trope is just a modern variation of the marriage of convenience.” “I’m really tired of the trope of the character who’s been hurt so much in the past that she/he/they can never love again.” “I really hate the trope of the one-night stand who finds out the next morning that that person is the new boss.” So to answer your question:
Readers like tropes because that particular trope is the kind of story they like, it fits their fantasies best.
But readers don’t like tropes because they know what’s going to happen, so they’re boring and predictable.
What readers want are the same old tropes made new, new wine in old bottles. The same but different.
The mistake writers make is writing the same, but not different.
I always go back to Shakespeare for this because he stole most of his plots, but he’s still a genius because nobody wrote them as well as he did. So assuming you don’t write as well as Shakespeare (me neither), the things you do to make tropes new are your author’s voice, the world view of the story, turning a key part of the plot upside down, fabulous characters the reader wants to spend time with, great worldbuilding . . . the list is endless. Anything that makes the reader say, “I love this kind of story but I haven’t read anything like this before.”
So the Chosen One story is a trope, but Harry Potter when he hit the scene was a new take, well-written. Same with Neo in The Matrix.
The Sinner Trying To Outrun Hell is a trope, but The Good Place zigged and zagged with a compelling protagonist and cast of misfits.
The Superhero trope has been around forever, but Iron Man made them snarky, fun, sexy, and rebellious and started a movie dynasty for viewers who’d never read a comic book.
Generally speaking, you can look at any story that caused a stir, that became water cooler talk, and it’s probably a trope that’s the same but different.
Example from my writing:
In a late rewrite, I realized I’d subconsciously taken the very old trope of the Demon Lover for the Nita book. It’s usually about a woman who takes the Devil as a lover, but when he leaves her, she marries someone else so that when he comes back to find her years later, he punishes her for her unfaithfulness in a horrible supernatural way (I think the first one was drowning her in the middle of the ocean to take her to Hell). Needless to say, the Demon Lover is not a romantic comedy trope, so I had to work the “same but different” approach: Nita falls in love with Nick, who’s going to be the Devil, but at the halfway point, he “goes away” because he loses his memory, and keeps coming back to her as a new Nick, becoming a new lover each time, annoyed because she slept with the other Nicks while she tries to convince him that they were all him. And she does go to Hell in the end, but it’s a romantic comedy so she comes back to Earth with him and lives happily ever after.
Same: Devil as lover, abandoned, tormented by his jealousy when he returns, ends up in Hell.
Different: Doesn’t betray him, chooses to go to Hell, returns triumphant with a happy ending.
Also change in the writer’s voice:The Daemon Lover ballad, 1648
“O what a black, dark hill is yon,
“That looks so dark to me?”
“O it is the hill of hell,” he said,
“Where you and I shall be.”
The Devil in Nita Dodd, god knows when it will published:
“It was dark, pitch black, and even though Nita knew she was screaming, she couldn’t hear anything.
“You’re okay, Nick’s voice said in her head. You’re safe, I’ve got you. Nothing can touch you here.
“Where is HERE? Is this Hell?
“No, this is between Earth and Hell. This is a hellgate. We’re just staying here for a few more seconds, then we’ll go back to Earth.
“Nita thought about it. It was quiet. And warm. And her mother wasn’t there. And Nick was. I like here better.”
The same but different.
I know, long answer. I am a wonk.
Interesting. Yes. Readers do have a set of expectations. If they’re reading a mystery, they expect a mystery, not something else. If you go too far out of what they expect, most of the time they go WTF? Every once in a while, someone breaks that and it works, but those are few and far between.
jenny 5:38 PM
So, the same but different. Good luck with that.
Bob Mayer 5:39 PM
Yeah. It’s like when someone tells me they’ve written a thriller mystery.
Pick your poison.
The problem with trying to combine two different genres and probably two different tropes is that you have to pick a lane, one has to be dominant, and you to do it while you’re subverting the genre/trope to avoid reader boredom. Yes, that’s difficult. Pick one.
Same with a plot. You have one main plot. One thing pulling the train. Not two. I’ve found science fiction writers have so many good ideas, they lose track of what’s pulling the plot. Unless its Snowpiercer.
Do I want to know why Snowpiercer is the exception?
It’s a train.
And that’s it. We’ll be back next week if more questions pop up in the comments.
Same bat channel. Same bat time. Is that how it went?
I don’t know. I don’t remember that.
Regardless. Batman survived. That is all.
I do remember the Superchicken theme song.
“Fred, if you’re afraid you’ll have to overlook it,
Besides you knew the job was dangerous when you took it”
I use that all the time.
“Overlook the fear,” I tell myself. “You knew the writing gig was dangerous when you took it.”
There’s much to be learned from the television of the last century.
And now, really, we’re done. Say hi to Gus and Scout for me.
Jenny: You, too.