NaNoWriMo, Day 30: How the story turned out

It is finished! I have once again defeated the odds and crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line with more than 50K words – 66, 781, to be exact.

Of course, when I say that it’s finished, you know I don’t mean that, right? I have at least 4 more days of writing until I get to the end of the actual story. My new goal is to at least be done by my birthday (Dec. 7, if you’re planning to shower me with birthday goodness).

pixiestuffThis year’s NaNoWriMo has been kind of a whirlwind. I actually considered skipping it this year because I had so much stuff going on. I was certain that everything was going to get in my way, and that I probably should just take a break. Besides, I had just finished writing a book in October (which I’ll tell you more about at a later date), and I was exhausted from that endeavor. But as November came closer and closer, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing out on all the fun. So days before Nov. 1, I decided on a story idea and I plotted the story.

And then, just because writing 50,000 words in one month isn’t crazy enough, I decided to LIVE WRITE my novel. That’s right, I posted my messy rough draft for everyone to see. It was the equivalent of walking around in my underwear.

And you know what? It was completely freeing.

Suddenly, writing became fun – really fun. Not that isn’t fun every other time. But this time, I wasn’t worried about if it would be good or not. I was just writing for the heck of it.

It turned out what I was writing wasn’t good. It was GREAT! I don’t mean that to brag at all. As the writer, my job is just to get out of the way of the story and let it tell itself. And so I did. This year’s NaNoWriMo novel was a Peter Pan fan fiction, told from the eyes of Tiger Lily. Peter Pan is only my favorite childhood story of all time. So to be able to spend a month with these characters has been kind of a dream come true.

But it’s even more than that. This novel is my love letter to JM Barrie’s epic story. The characters have become like real people to me, and I feel Neverland all around me throughout the day. It’s funny, I’ll be just doing the mundane, and then the wind will pick up or the moon will rise, and suddenly, I’m second star to the right and straight on till morning…

At any rate, I am so glad I didn’t decide to skip this year. I’m really happy with the way this novel turned out, and I’m glad I get to live in it for a few more days. I’m excited to see it come to fruition.

fairyAnd yes, this novel will be published. 🙂 It’s going to be a few months, of course, as it needs to be edited and all the other fun stuff that goes along with putting a book out into the world. However, you can read it NOW if you can’t wait that long. I have published the rough draft over at Wattpad. At the moment, I have 12 chapters posted. I will be posting a new one every 1-2 days until the book is complete.

If you’d like to read along, go to http://w.tt/1RicP40. The story is called LOVING THE WIND. It will be posted until sometime in January. After that, I am taking it down until the book is published.

So that’s how I did for NaNoWriMo. Did you participate this year? How did it go?

P.S. I have some book news to share with you. First, Come Here, Cupcake is now available in the Amazon Prime Lending Library! If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow this book and read it for free. (The Road to Hope is also available in the Lending Library)

Second, both Come Here, Cupcake and The Road to Hope are being offered as giveaways on Goodreads. Go enter for a chance to win a paperback version of either one of these books (just click on the hyperlinked title in this paragraph)

That’s all! 🙂

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Being chased by a novel (NaNoWriMo prep)

Earlier this week, I had the extreme honor of chatting with a 4th grade class in Virginia (via Google Hangout from California) to discuss NaNoWriMo, and how they could write a novel in 30 days. The class will be trying their hand at this challenge, with an appropriate word goal for 9-year-olds, and had so many great questions about the experience, and about my own creative process.

One boy asked me, “Do you ever doubt yourself?”

“All the time,” I told him honestly.

And it’s more than the truth. At the time that we talked (it was Tuesday), I had 5 days left to figure out what I was going to be writing for NaNoWriMo, and nothing was coming to me. Usually by this time, I have my whole entire novel mapped out, and have been carrying on personal conversations with my characters. This year, my original plan was to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake. But last week, I chose to save that novel for a time when I can be more diligent and give it the detailed attention it deserves. I decided to, instead, write a novel that was more fun and carefree, not even worrying about whether I would publish it or not.

Problem was, nothing was coming to me.

Do you ever doubt yourself_So when that student asked me if I ever doubted myself, I couldn’t have been more honest by saying yes. I was currently doubting myself. I was starting to think I would never come up with a novel idea, and that I would enter NaNoWriMo on Nov. 1 already a loser.

And then, later that day, my novel idea barreled at me, tackled me, and wrapped itself around me so tight, I could barely breathe from excitement.

In her Ted talk, Elizabeth Gilbert relayed a conversation she had held with the late American poet, Ruth Stone. Ruth described how there were times when she’d be working the fields (ironically, in Virginia, where the students I talked to live!), and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She would actually feel the earth shake, and she knew she needed to get to a pen and a piece of paper as fast as she could before the poem thundered through her. She would, in her words, “run like hell” toward the house, the poem at her heels as she ran. Often, she’d make it, and was able to collect the words as they moved through her and write them on the page. But other times, the poem would barrel through her before she got to the paper, and then would continue over the landscape, looking for another poet. And sometimes, she would almost miss it, and feel it go through her just before she got to the paper, and at the very last second, she’d grab the pencil with one hand and the end of the poem with the other. She would then pull the poem back through her, transcribing as she did, so that the poem would be written from ending to beginning, completely backwards on the paper.

When I first heard this Ted talk, I thought it was utterly amazing. I also thought how poetic it sounded, but not very realistic. I mean, really?  A poem chased you?

But on Tuesday, it happened. My next novel chased me as I drove into work that day. I felt it thunder down the hillside, and the air around me shake. And I was suddenly consumed with it, with no paper or pencil around to write it down. Ideas kept pouring through me, and I begged them to stay with me until I could get to my desk and write them all down. I tried to memorize each thought and idea, trying to retain everything. And while a few fragments dissipated on the walk from my car to the office, the majority of them stayed so that I could capture each lingering thought and place it on paper.

Since Tuesday, the ideas keep coming, thundering over the hillside and barreling through me. And I keep doing my part and writing them down. My notes are a mess of ideas. My soul is consumed with this new story. And last night, I finished mapping out the entire book.

I am now ready for Nov. 1.

What time is it? NaNoWriMo time! Can you tell I’m kind of a Peter Pan fanatic?

Because we’re all friends, I’ll reveal what I’m writing here. I’ve decided to write fan fiction by retelling part of the story of Peter Pan from the eyes of Tiger Lily. Like all great literature, this has been done by a couple other authors. But I’m not worried about that. Like I said, this novel is for fun, and may never be published. Or maybe it will. For now, that’s not a decision I care about. I’m only concerned with enjoying the next 30 days as I fine tune my writing muscle with a piece of writing I couldn’t be more excited about writing.

To prepare, I’m re-reading Peter and Wendy, which has been a completely enjoyable experience. Man, I love this story! Of course, the parts about the Indians show a different sign of the times, so a few details will be changed (like the way they speak, and the name of their tribe).

During the next month, I will try to blog about my writing process as much as I can. I will be spending a lot of time writing my novel, you know. I’m also considering sharing the novel publicly as I write. The jury is still out on that one, however, as rough drafts are often terrible things. But wouldn’t it be fun to see the process of a novel as it’s being written?

Are you doing NaNo? Share what you’re writing in the comments!

P.S. Be my NaNo buddy at nanowrimo.org/participants/crissi.

Come Here Cupcake, FINISHED!

I finished my novel.

As in, I FINISHED MY NOVEL!!!!

After 4 and a half months of writing, rewriting, adding words in, taking words out, crying, whining, complaining, throwing in the towel, picking the towel back up, and….writing, I can finally say that Come Here, Cupcake is “finished!”

But what does that mean exactly? Will it be available to be read any time soon?

Short answer, no.

There’s still plenty of work that needs to be done on this novel. While the story part is finished, there’s still a massive amount of editing to be done by me and my editing team to ensure that all details add up and that my grammar doesn’t suck. Plus, the cover still needs to be finalized.

So I can’t give you a date just yet for when you can expect to be able to read this book. I can’t even give you a sneak peek….yet. But I will tell you that we’re close. We’re really, really close. And you guys, I am not exaggerating—this is the best book I have ever written in my life.

So stick around for more updates on the book, and expect me to be a little more available here.

Oh, before I forget. My main character, Morgan Truly, insisted on setting up her own Instagram account. She’s still kind of a newbie to the whole thing, so I pop in from time to time. But you can follow the both of us at @truly_cupcake and at @crissilangwell.

Being a lazy writer

Photo by AquaSixio on DeviantArt. Click for more of his art.
Photo by AquaSixio on DeviantArt. Click for more of his art.

I’ve been a lazy writer. I admit it. I have not done any book writing since NaNoWriMo, or book editing since December. I keep seeing other authors I follow in blogs and on Facebook talking about their work-in-progress, and the green-eyed monster in me wants to be doing what they’re doing.

But I’m not.

I guess I can chalk it up to catching up on my sleep. When I’m in writing and editing mode, I wake up at 5am and spend the two hours before I need to get ready for work on my book. Do that for several months straight, getting only 6 or less hours of sleep a night, and things get a little crazy. Plus, my hubby was getting the short end of the stick, since I was so tired. Patience tends to wear thin when you’re overtired. And other things tend to be lacking as well.

Second, I’ve been reading a lot. And I mean, a lot. I’ve already read three books this month, and I am currently in the middle of reading three more at the same time. I blame it on my brand new Kindle. And I thank my Kindle for it. This past year I forgot how to make time for reading. And as a writer, reading is soooo important. It serves as inspiration, and it’s pretty cool to see how other authors go about painting a scene and develop their characters. However, I should be reading AND finding time to work on my own books.

(Btw, my favorite book I’ve read so far this year is “The Fault in Our Stars“. O. M. G. That book was amazing….)

Third, I’ve been sort of focused on preparing for the release of “Forever Thirteen.” I say “sort of” because I feel like I’ve done a lot, but there’s still so much to do. Call the local bookstore, plan a launch party, gather blogs who will help host a blog tour (any of YOU bloggers interested?), get the sales pages worded right, finalize the book cover…. Everything I didn’t do with “A Symphony of Cicadas” (because I just didn’t know), I want to do with “Forever Thirteen”. I want to expand this title to even more people who might enjoy this book.

But then, I want to start on the next project. And then the next. And then the one after that….

So there is no one to blame but me for my writer’s envy. This week I start getting serious about my writing and editing. Hello 5am wake-ups. Hello finished manuscript in need of serious editing. Hello and goodbye to wrapping up the final things on my Forever Thirteen to-do list.

(and sorry in advance, hubby. love you!)

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Are you one of the lucky 7%?

Only about 7% of NaNoWriMo participants crossed the finish line with 50,000 or more words this year*. If you were one of the lucky few, you deserve a pat on the back and a million publishers** clamoring to get you to sign with them.

(*Note: According to NaNoWriMo, 300,000 people signed up, and only 41,940 stuck it out till the end.)

(**I wish I could send them your way…)

And if you didn’t cross the finish line, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s not an easy task, and perhaps this year wasn’t your year. But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Look back over your work-in-progress (WIP). Somewhere in that scribbled down text are a few nuggets of gold that deserve expanding on. You can save these nuggets for next year’s NaNo.  Or…..you can pick up where you left off NOW, and make yourself a book.

I’d go with the second one, if I were you.

This year, I managed to cross the 50,000 mark on Nov. 22. And at 5 p.m. on Nov. 30, I was able to type the words THE END, making my grand word count total 71,593.

Am I bragging? Heck yes, I’m bragging. As a person who tends to try and stay out of the spotlight when it comes to my own accomplishments, this is one area where I want to shout it out loud. I write more than 70,000 words in 30 days! That’s huge. And if I don’t crow about it, who will?

Needless to say, a novel written that fast is going to be filled with details and scenarios that need a ton of grooming before it can be presented to the public. But all that is going to have to wait. I’m not even going to read what I wrote for a little while, because my focus now is on Forever Thirteen – the book I’m editing that will be published in the spring.

But I’m going to remain in celebration mode for the next several weeks as I come back down from the NaNoWriMo high. And I hope you all will celebrate your feats with me, too. Hope to see the published version of your NaNo novels soon!

P.S. Cyber Monday sales alert! I’ve significantly reduced the price of my poetry book, Everything I Am Not Saying, taking a full 25% off the original price at Amazon.com. To do this, I had to take it off expanded distribution, meaning it’s temporarily not available at other book stores, like Barnes & Noble. But it’s worth it, so I can keep the price as low as it can go. And when I say low, I mean I’m only making $1 off each sale. But I’m doing this for you, because I think this book is something everyone should read, and be able to give as a gift.

There’s more, too. If you type in BOOKDEAL for the promotion code at Amazon, they’ll take off another 30%. And if you purchase a print copy, you can get an eBook for free. That means you can give a book, and keep one for yourself!

So consider supporting a local author and giving the gift of words to someone on your gift list. It’s a great way to spread the love all around. 🙂

NaNoWriMo WIN, and how I did it

2013-Winner-Vertical-BannerToday the validator was posted at the NaNoWriMo website, allowing those of us doing this crazy challenge to validate our novels when we reach 50,000 words. I reached 50K on Nov. 22, but am still going with the story. Still, I couldn’t help jumping the gun and validating my novel, just so I could get all my “Winner’s goodies”, and see that lovely purple bar under my name, stating “Winner!”

You can find me over at nanowrimo.org/en/participants/crissi.

I’ve been asked how I write fast enough to get to 50K in 22 days. First of all, if you think that’s fast, you should check out the Beyond 50K Forum. There are folks over there writing 250K words in 30 days, which is absolutely insane. When I try to think about how they do that, my brain explodes.

But for me, writing 50K in one month is a challenge anyone can do. But you have to have a plan, and stick to that plan. Here’s what I did:

1. I wrote every day, even when I didn’t feel like it.

2. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day instead of the usual 1,667 NaNoWriMo recommends. This way, if I get behind one day, I’m still doing okay.

3. I wake up at 5 am every morning to write. After all, sleep can happen next month. I also bring a notebook with me to my day job and write on my lunch break, and then type what I wrote during lunch in the evenings.

4. On the notebook thing – it’s crazy how writing a different way than you’re used to can totally increase the amount of words you’re writing. I thought it would be the opposite. But when I’d sit down to type at night what i had written during the day, I’d be amazed to find 2,000 words or more at times. I think it also helped that I didn’t know how much I was writing at the time, and that I had no internet to distract me.

5. A change of venue (where your kids, spouse, or furry friends aren’t hanging out) can do amazing things for your noveling success. And it’s also much more interesting than your kitchen table.

6. A puppy in the lap makes the novel writing process something to look forward to every early morning. I highly recommend it.

He's so sweet when he's sleeping...and not trying to sit ON my laptop.
My neurotic little monster puppy is so sweet when he’s sleeping…

7. If you can take any vacation days from your day job during NaNoWriMo, DO IT! I took a week off of work, and it was the best week of my life. I got to pretend I actually earn a living writing novels, giving me a taste of what the future is going to be like. And it allowed me to get in a couple of 5K word days.

I know there are a bunch of you who have either reached 50K, or are well on your way there. What are some of your tips to reach 50K and beyond in 30 days?

It’s finished! The anatomy of a novel, from start to THE END.

Last night, I wrote out two words I’d been striving to reach since I started the journey of “Forever Thirteen” a little more than three months ago. To make the moment even more ceremonious, I had ditched the computer and scribbled the last 5,743 words into a spiral notebook, feeling every single word as it flowed from my pen. At one point, I had to stop and sob as a character received an answer to their issue that neither one of us had expected.

I’d holed up in my bedroom, using the bulk of my Sunday to finish the story. My husband came through the door as I was writing out the final thoughts of the novel. I held a finger up to him, signaling my need for him to wait before saying anything so that the spell wouldn’t be broken. And when it was done, I wrote THE END in large letters, circled it, and then held it up for my husband to see (actual picture above). Both of our eyes filled with tears at this moment – the cap of three long months of waking up early, writer’s block frustration, real life merging with fantasy worlds I’d created, and a lot of really, really hard work.

Yesterday’s total word count ended up being 7,026 – the most I’d ever written in one day (making the grand total 80,877). But I knew if I stopped, the ending would have been fragmented.

Because I “wrote like a motherfucker“, the ending was better than anything I ever planned for.

I started this journey on May 27th, 2013. I hadn’t planned on writing it, but questions were left unanswered in the first book, “A Symphony of Cicadas”. One of my friends inquired about the possibility of a sequel, and I insisted that there would be none. I had other books I wanted to write, and one in the hopper that I’d been dying to edit and turn out. My actual words to her were, “There probably won’t be a sequel, because where does one go after this ending?”

Apparently, a lot of places.

A month later I had a skeleton of an outline mapped out and began typing the very first words to a story that would take me 100 +/- days to complete. In that time, the outline changed drastically. I even started over about a month into the project, The original storyline becoming much darker than I’d planned. So with my teenage daughter’s help, I came up with a friendlier storyline that twisted and turned in the mind of a teenage boy caught in the afterlife – telling his story as we (the character AND the author) discovered new things about him.

(Not the cover, but an idea contender)
(Not the cover, but an idea for a cover)

There’s still a lot more to go before this story becomes a full-fledged book. Editing is a finicky process that may strip the story of scenes I once thought vital, perhaps even characters who end up being more of an intrusion than a help to the storyline. But the bones are there, waiting to be shaped into something beautiful. And when it’s done, I know I’ll have another novel I’m proud of to share with the world.

P.S. To celebrate the rough draft finale of “Forever Thirteen,” I’m offering book #1 of the series, “A Symphony of Cicadas,” for 99 cents for Kindle. Download your copy today —-> http://amzn.to/16qHpm0

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The argument for hiring an editor

I remember when I first started writing for the newspaper. I was pretty green at it, and would turn in pieces I thought were flowing with ideas and beautiful language. My editor would look over my work and let go of a good 30% of what I had said by striking out redundant thoughts, simplifying sentences, and deleting all the extra words I liked to use (like “that”, as in “I thought THAT she was going to cry” – and it still slips into my work, even after all these years!).

I learned a lot about writing from this editor, and there soon came a time when her edits consisted of changing a word here or there, and allowing the rest to remain the way it was.

When I decided A Symphony of Cicadas was finished enough to be a published piece, I knew from experience I couldn’t just put it out there without seeing a professional editor first. I figured my many years of writing for the newspaper gave me a little bit of an edge, and she wouldn’t find much to change. I had already gone over my novel several times, and had handed it over to my husband and even my mom (who is very meticulous in proof-reading). I changed all the places they thought needed work or could sound better. By the time I gave it to the editor, that thing, in my eyes, was pretty near perfect.

And boy, was I mistaken on that sentiment.

I found a fabulous editor through WritersMarket.com. We exchanged emails, and she had me send her a sample piece of my work so she could get a sense of my writing style, I could get a sense of her editing style, and we both could decide if this was a good match.

I had her edit my 5th chapter, because that was the one I was most proud of. In it, I had really gone to town with my description and prose, and the characters in that chapter were fully developed. But when she gave it back to me, I saw she had quite a few suggestions for edits. She left her edits marked, and added comments as to why things were changed. She noted where things didn’t “sing” for her, when she couldn’t picture what was going on, or when certain sentences seemed to interrupt the flow. She also mentioned a rule about adverbs I should be aware of – how I should show what’s going on instead of summing it up with “happily” or “morosely” or “softly”…you get the point.

Check out my post on adverbs for more.

I ended up hiring her, and sent her my completed manuscript to edit. I had gone through it one more time to implement some of the suggested changes she’d mentioned. But truth be told, I left many of those adverbs untouched because I still didn’t quite believe her on the adverb rule.

I came to regret this.

When she handed the manuscript back, she changed a few of the adverbs in the beginning to show me how to strengthen a sentence with the “show, don’t tell” rule. But she left the vast majority of them up to me so I could A) learn my lesson and learn it well, lol, and B) keep my voice in the piece when I changed those adverbs into “showing” sentences.

Along with the adverb situation, she also revised many of my sentences so they flowed. Here’s an example (click to enlarge):

This sentence started out as:

“…The sarcasm has left her demeanor, replaced with a sense of seriousness I had never experienced from her. I got the sense that she would do her best to answer any questions I had in the moment, but I had so much confusion I didn’t even know where to start….”

It was changed to:

“Her sarcasm was gone, replaced with a seriousness I had never experienced from her. I sensed she would answer any questions I had in the moment, but I was so confused I didn’t even know where to start.”

In the world of self-publishing, it’s tempting to take a few shortcuts to get a novel out there and into the public’s hands. We indie authors are working on a much smaller budget than those with a traditional publishing deal. Everything we do for the novel comes out of our own pockets – cover design, editing, ISBN numbers, marketing, etc. Editing doesn’t run cheap. Depending on the word count, it can cost $500 or more! That’s not chump change, especially when most self-published novels won’t come close to making up the cost of producing a novel.

Some authors get around this by trusting their mom or a friend to do their editing. Or they send it to beta readers and make the suggested changes from those avenues. There is nothing wrong with utilizing these ways to help edit a book. But if that novel doesn’t see a professional editor as well, I can guarantee your words aren’t going to flow as beautifully as they could.

A good editor is trained to use the red pen without mercy, ensuring your story is going to be told without anything distracting the reader. An editor has the ability to see your work through unbiased eyes. They are not your mother – they don’t love you enough to try not to hurt your feelings. They’ll give you honest corrections of what works and what doesn’t work. And they don’t hold your story so close to their heart they’re unable to let go of certain paragraphs that just aren’t jiving.

Let me put it this way. Stephen King uses an editor. JK Rowling uses an editor. Every great author you have read and loved uses an editor. I think it’s a safe assumption to say you are not a better writer than they are. So how can you expect your story to be told the best way it could without a professional looking it over and making your words sing?

Hire an editor. If it’s too expensive, push back your anticipated pub date and save for an editor. It’s the one expense you can’t afford NOT to spend. Waiting to publish something that’s been properly polished will be far more valuable to you in the long run then rushing to put something out there that could be considered sub-par. If you don’t hire an editor, it will show in your work. You will be judged for what you publish. And in the long run, taking the shortcut of NOT hiring an editor could murder your aspirations of making it big in this business.

Bottom line: HIRE AN EDITOR.

Crissi Langwell is the author of fantasy novel “A Symphony of Cicadas” and single-parenting memoir “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Elmore Leonard on writing

Elmore Leonard, a crime novelist who penned many popular titles, including “Get Shorty” and “3:10 to Yuma”, died on Tuesday, August 20th. He left a legacy of bad-guy characters we loved, and a long list of adapted to screen stories. He also shared his ten favorite rule on writing with The New York Times. In honor of his passing, as well as his sage writing wisdom, I am re-posting his rules here:

Elmore Leonard, 86, stands in his Bloomfield Township, Mich., home in 2012.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Elmore Leonard, 86, stands in his Bloomfield Township, Mich., home in 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle
By ELMORE LEONARD
Published: July 16, 2001 in The New York Times

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.
If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s ”Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ”I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ”full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

Elmore Leonard, 1983  (AP Photo/Rob Kozloff)
Elmore Leonard, 1983 (AP Photo/Rob Kozloff)

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ”Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in ”Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ”Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, ”Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled ”Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter ”Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ”Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

”Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Let your characters hijack the storyline

It was a month ago when I tossed out almost everything I had written in “Forever Thirteen,” the sequel to my first novel, “A Symphony of Cicadas”. Nothing had been working, I couldn’t connect with my characters, and the storyline was heading down a dark path of the afterlife that made the story more sinister than beautiful.

That was not the direction I wanted to go in.

“A Symphony of Cicadas” was, underneath it all, a story of hope. If anything, the sequel should hang on to the hope and run with it. So I cut more than 12,000 words and started over.

The first book told of Rachel and Joey dying in a car crash and being sent to the afterlife. Joey was never found again, and the story focused on Rachel’s journey. “Forever Thirteen” will follow where Joey was. So the first thing I did was to think about Joey and his reality of dying at thirteen years old. And I thought about what life was like when I was thirteen.

It sucked.

I took one of my memories of being thirteen and I played with the details. What if Joey went through something similar? I placed him in the scenario, and I gave him a friend. Suddenly, things started taking shape. Joey and this friend started talking, and out of the blue, new characters began showing up – characters I hadn’t even planned for! Soon, things were just happening in the book and I was merely writing them down as they occurred. It was like the characters said, “We’ll take it from here,” before they hijacked the storyline. I tossed any form of timeline – the one that kept me chained to my own ideas for the novel – and I started to just write freely.

Sometimes we aren’t the captain of the ship we are sailing. Sometimes we are the ship itself.

It’s every writer’s goal to reach that point when the story is just happening without them molding it a certain way. But to get to that point, it takes a little bit of strategy. For me, it was putting my characters in a scenario and then letting them work it out. Get your characters talking, and then just listen to what they come up with. Take notes on what they’re saying – it might lead to a rabbit trail you can use later in the story. And besides that, it’s guaranteed that anything they come up with will be much more interesting than what you had originally planned out.

At any rate, I have more than made up the lost words from my first attempt at “Forever Thirteen”. And the storyline is touching on that same hope that existed in “A Symphony of Cicadas”. I can see glimpses of where the story is heading, but I’m letting go of all expectations as I write.

In the book, “On Writing,” Stephen King mentioned how writing fiction was like rowing the Atlantic in a bathtub. I’m still slogging along in my own little porcelain vessel. I can’t quite see my destination yet, but the journey is proving to be quite an adventure.

xoxo

Crissi Langwell is the author of fantasy novel “A Symphony of Cicadas” and single-parenting memoir “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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