January 6, 2012

WiP It Into Shape

I'm not sure what the topic is for Paper Hangover's Friday Fives, so I've decided to do my own today. The new year is underway and with a renewed DETERMINATION to make some serious headway with my WiPs in mind, I've decided to talk about:

Five Things I'm Focusing On In My WiP

I started rereading what I've written thus far on my first WiP, Watch of Night, a couple days ago. I had set it aside at the start of November for different reasons (NaNo, boredom, distraction). Now I'm ready to come back to it, complete the first draft, and clean it up a whole bunch. It's amazing how revisiting your writing with fresh eyes can make you excited about it all over again but also more aware of its shortcomings. Here's some of what I am and will be focusing on in my WiP:

1)  Punctuation
My overuse of commas, ellipses, and em dashes is kind of embarrassing. Seriously, I scatter punctuation willy nilly like Hansel & Gretel sprinkle bread crumbs. While rereading my WiP I kept asking myself: "Why the heck would I have put a comma there?" and "Does this really need an ellipsis?" Brutal. I think I may need a refresher course on the use of these types of punctuation.

2)  Inconsistencies
Awhile back, Veronica Roth posted about writing the scene that you're in the mood for right now. This means you'll likely be tackling your story out of order. I like this because it's like I'm giving myself permission to jump ahead and write the scene I'm most excited about today rather than forcing something I'm just not feeling. BUT, this does create potential consistency problems, some of which I've already stumbled across. Whoops. I think I've caught all of these errors, but who knows what will crop up on further rereads. At least now I know to be on the lookout for them.

3)  Character Actions
Biting lips, crossing arms, rolling eyes...you get the idea. Sometimes these are just the best ways of describing your character's actions (people actually do these things), but I think we can all agree that they get overused BIG time in YA. The trick is finding other ways of showing impatience, frustration, hesitation or whatever without being ridiculous about it (ie. telling instead of showing). My overused actions: crossing arms, narrowing eyes, and placing hands on hips. It's pretty bad.

4)  Setting
For whatever reason, I've failed to develop the setting in my WiP. Oh, I planned it alright, but it just seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Given the fact that my story is set in the future and my setting was chosen for a specific purpose, this is a fairly big fail on my part. I think I just got too caught up in my characters and moving the story along that I neglected to ground it in my chosen setting. Part of the problem is almost certainly the fact that I can picture it and I keep forgetting that my readers can't without me painting it for them. Because my story is futuristic, it needs to come across that way in a realistic fashion and setting seems the best way to tackle this.

5)  Voice
I've read some books lately that have nailed this and it really drove home just how important voice is in our writing. As an adult long past my teen years it's easy to come across the wrong way in my characters' dialogue. I read a YA book recently whose characters who were so not believable to me as teens that I ended up not finishing it. It bothered me that much. And I don't think it's because I'm out of touch. Only a couple of years ago I taught teens, I regularly watch TV shows targeted at teens (thank you, CW), and I read YA. Call it Teen Immersion, if you will. It's amazing how much more interesting a story becomes when voice comes through loud and clear. I'm working on this in my WiP and I think it's getting there. Even backstory (?!) is better when told in the right voice.

There are so, so many other kinks to iron out but these are the big ones. How about you? Care to share the faults you're cleaning up in your WiP? Any words of wisdom to offer me on any of these?

22 comments:

  1. Oh, elusive setting...(and ellipses) - I need to work on those, too.

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  2. I love the title for this post.

    My characters smile ALL the time! I don't even realize it until my CP points it out. Then as I reread I'm like how did I not notice this. As far as punctuation, I'm the opposite of you. I write like I talk which is basically one long run on sentence. I have to remind myself that other people breathe. lol

    Good luck with your edits :)

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  3. Jennifer: It's funny because setting isn't all that tricky to include. You can drop little things here and there to make it come alive.

    Theresa: How about I share some of my punctuation with you? I have more than enough to go around :)

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  4. Those are some good ones to watch for. I'm trying to revise for plot. Is there anything more difficult?? Seriously?? I've read so many different plot structures, but still, I am having a super-tough time whipping this current WIP into a story-like shape.

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  5. Crystal: I totally get that. I've been worrying about whether my story has enough to it, whether it has a good enough plot. I guess we'll see....

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  6. I always have a special round of editing in which I make my characters stop sighing and holding their breath. They are like a big bunch of hyperventilaters.

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  7. Rebecca: That's hilarious :) I'm bad for that too: releasing a breath 'I didn't even know I was holding'. Bleh!

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  8. I'm bugged if something I'm reading has excessive movement (descriptions of everything a character is doing, where their arms are, how their eyes look etc). I think it's common in a first draft and easy to pick out in revisions to see what slows down the story. I learned this the most from a critique group. There was an action mystery story one writer shared a chapter and at time, and the action was weighed down by the overexplanation of where every foot landed, and how each character moved, in painful detail. A few choice descriptions mixed in with dialogue without tags (like "she said" etc) keep the pace up. It's definitely recognizable when reading, but can be tough to root out in our own writing sometimes!

    I get it about the commas and elipses too. Elipses in general should rarely be used but they're so easy to write in!

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  9. Stephsco: I agree with you on the less is more thing. I'm removing dialogue tags when I can too. It all starts to feel clunky after a while otherwise :)

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  10. This is awesome that you have a list of things to focus on. I'm revising and currently I'm focusing on some of the secondary characters. Making sure they all serve a purpose in the story.

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  11. I feel you with puncuation. My second drafts involved a lot of comma removal!

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  12. Carrie: I'm big on lists and this one could have gone on a lot longer lol. I'm thinking secondary characters are going on that list too now :)

    Tara: What is it with commas? I think it's because we were always told to put punctuation where you take a breath. But that isn't really true, is it?

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  13. I've got characters I'm really attached to, and I know their personal arcs--but I'm starting to worry that their personal arcs and the tenuous plot arc/world arc I have in mind don't go together...is that a thing? Can my characters be in the wrong book? Eek.

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  14. Mrs. Silverstein: That's crummy, hey? Well, I guess if they're fully developed, if you had to move them to a different story at least it's not wasted, right?

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  15. It really is important to step away from the WIP for a while. Fresh eyes are good. Love your blog template by the way :) YAY for Insurgent countdown!

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  16. Jessica: You're right about stepping away. Thanks for the compliment on my template. I've been fiddling with it all day and I'm still not thrilled. Ah well :)

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  17. I think if you can recognize the problems in your WiP, you're doing pretty well. Voice is a big one for me--that one gets a lot of attention when I revise. Good luck!

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  18. Punctuation and I do not always get on that well. I also had some inconsistencies in characterisation.

    It's the little things that are the hardest to spot - incorrect numbering of days, contradicting something stated earlier in the story and messing up on characters' physical descriptions were some of the problems in my various drafts. Hopefully I'm weeding out the last of it all now.

    You've got a great list of things to look out for. I'm bookmarking it for future reference ^_^

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  19. Love your new header, so beautiful! Number 2 is the best-- so liberating and really can make writing more fun. Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a certain scene, so I dive in, no matter where it fits.

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  20. Meredith: Of everything I listed, voice is probably the toughest, but also the most fun. I made myself laugh the other day through something my character said. :)

    Miss Cole: You are so right about the little things being the hardest to spot! I had some of the same issues that you listed :)

    Katherine: Thanks (about the header)! I agree with you on #2 being great. It helps SO much with avoiding writer's block. Like I said to Meredith, voice can be so much fun:)

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  21. Oh, I am the queen of ellipses... and em dashes. :) I also overuse smile/grin and sigh/shrug. I write about very happy, twitchy people, apparently. Since I spent all last year editing and revising, it's been really hard to get into a first draft mindset where these little details don't constantly trip me up.

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  22. Katy: Well, at least they're happy, right? :) I know that in future WiPs I'm going to be a lot more conscious of the things I've listed above. Or at least I hope so!

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