I’m of that age, yes, when the Muppet Show was on broadcast television. I’m also of the age when The Sims first came out. My first Sim experience was a disaster, a sad and lonely little digital guy who tended to sit in his bathtub and cry because he had no friends. Moving on.
I have been trying to get back into wanting to write, which is odd because I wrote like my butt was on fire last year. So, with editor’s block firmly situated, I’ve lost the burning desire to write the Chocolate Romance–a good enough working title for now–in my soap-opera chick lit series (maybe more “Hen Lit” because most of the heroines are in their early 30s). The supernatural series, a dozen books which possibly will be my first series with the backstory pre-written before I start up again with the new overarching story. I definitely am going to be adding many many more cryptid species to this series rewrite, which I have committed to making lighter than the first-drafts-as-written. The huge Soap Opera series is going to be a bear, and it’s going to require a whole lot of work setting up dates in order to make the rewrites work. That calendar feels overwhelming, but I actually think that if I commit to it? I can get it done in one week. Only one week instead of leaving it for me to fret over. Both series, of course, will be published only as digital media. Well, unless there’s demand for a bound imprint in the future. I have no idea.
So, what about The Sims 3, which I am using as a stress-reliever?
Well, in Sims 3, characters can become novelists. It’s a hobby, to add extra income, in the game. As my wise and able spouse (who has chosen to create a Sim who is a novelist by trade, which means “unemployed” to the game) has complained, “Why does my Sim want to work for ‘The Man’?”
My complaint, of course, is that those crafty little digital buggers sit down, write first drafts, and they get paid. In reality, the process is painfully long and tedious. For example, the Dome Trilogy was started in November of 2003, as a bloated mass of words set down in the digital landscape for the purpose of being a National Novel Writing Month “winner”. I thought it would be easier to publish. Put it out, get it out. Nope. It took years of editing and proofreading. Even then, I look through those two books and see some wretched errors which make me groan in frustration. Over these past eleven National Novel Writing Months, I have completed the month’s goal with words to spare. One year, I wrote 223,100 words. Another year, I wrote 50,050 words. Both were very hard to do. My average is about 150,000 words in a month, starting with perhaps 2,500 words per day and ending with between 10,000 and 20,000 words per day. It’s a challenge, to say the least, to edit down any of it. The Sims don’t have to deal with the writing process I have to deal with. No, they get to sit down over a week, toss out a book, and they get to be financial winners. Or maybe not. Five payments of $20, plus six more weeks of $20 weekly isn’t much of a payoff. However, when they do get a payoff? It’s not so bad.
So, this comes down to my writing style. Some people are great at first chapters and can get a publisher to sit up and take notice. Of those, a decent amount can maintain that. I have friend who does book reviews online, and she has dealt with books which don’t do that at all. One book in particular got thrown multiple times while she was reading it. The first chapter, she was content with. The rest of the story took a turn which she found unreadable to her. To be honest, I have a similar problem, despite being different. I will edit a first chapter to death and make it unreadable and definitely uninteresting. As soon as the reader gets past those first few pages, all-of-a-sudden I am writing interesting prose. So, my writing style requires limited editing. No editing, and I leave those wonderfully brave readers with too much backstory and repetition. Too much editing, and it reads like a very dull college text.
In learning the craft of writing (okay, self-teaching combined with the insomnia of having characters in my head which nag me until the story arc is over), I have learned more about myself as a writer. I think I’ll write them down here, since I’ll forget them and start whining that I have 35 books to edit and probably a half-dozen more to write. Oh, yes. I have YEARS of this to work on. Years. However, I really do need to start publishing–even if it’s not perfect.
So . . . What Have I Learned About My Writing Style?
1) I take far too long to get from draft to publication because I will write sequels before I’ve set down polished second drafts.
The Dome Trilogy was begun in 2003, from a dream I had in 1996. That’s pretty long to even start writing. Beneath a Sunless Sky was published, I think, in 2007. Nightmare Specters was published in 2012. The third book, Solaray Dawn, is still waiting.
The Soap Opera series was begun in July 2005, with its first book: My Own Monsieur. It was a one-shot, it was loosely based on my personal experiences (very loosely), and I wrote it to entertain a friend of mine. Okay, not just a friend. The aforementioned book reviewer. My Own Monsieur got a rewrite between 2009 and 2012. It’s actually much better. Unfortunately, it has almost 30 friends which are clamoring for my attention.
I have an unwritten fantasy series which was hand-written over 2011 and 2012. Twenty composition books are filled with cramped writing, in pencil, of this epic fantasy. This series, were I to write it, would be about twenty books. Honestly, I have no idea what was happening in my brain when I did write it, but I hand-wrote that, and it’s likely never going to see the light of day. Its working title is: Wonderland.
I have a half-written cryptid-supernatural series which was started in 2012, though the initial notes were started in 2011. I drafted the first three for National Novel Writing Month in 2012, and I came back to the series for National Novel Writing Month 2013.
So, I’ve learned that I can get a draft out in a week (like a Sim), but I have so much editing to do that I abandon them to my own personal entertainment–even as I am constantly asked to publish, Publish, PUBLISH! Grr.
2) I write notes for myself as story, often repeating myself.
This discovery is a good one, actually. While rereading my Soap Opera Series, I realized I tended to have characters repeat themselves in conversations. Now, repetition isn’t such a problem if it’s part of the character. I have a couple who repeat themselves until they realize that it’s just not working. The character evolves, and I get resolution. Yay!
Most of those repetitions are changes to the story. While I write, it flows, and I learn about the story as it evolves under my fingertips. I start with a direction, some characters, a theme, and a setting. Then, I write. And write. And write. Ideas flow as I bring in conflicts (especially when things are going too well far too early in the story), and all-of-a-sudden the character has a skill or an interest or a flaw I was unaware of when I started. This isn’t bad, because the character is a far-richer one for the addition of these little details. Unfortunately, these mid-story changes leave me with tons of character-notes-as-story.
Another problem is that I put information which should be held back until later in the story or series. Discovering the character is part of the fun of writing it, and I enjoy books where the character evolves smoothly instead of in fits and starts. So, I know what I have to do. First, I have to tuck into the realm of story notes and character notes a whole mess of scenes. Instead of the scenes, I need to write hints of what’s coming, through action.
3) I get caught up in reading the story instead of doing any sort of editing.
This is one of the hardest parts of editing, because I write in series. So, I will “edit” from a book and end up reading the series instead of taking notes on the book I am trying to edit. On the upside, I know my stories pretty well and can identify where I have series conflicts. As a series writer, I know readers point this stuff out. For example, I remember the hullabaloo over J.K. Rowling writing (I think in Book 4) about how the spirits of people killed by a wand come out last-to-first. For the story’s sake, she sent out Harry’s parents in accidental reversed order. It flowed with the scene. Unfortunately, the Continuity Crew slammed her for it. I learned this lesson. Continuity in series will be shoved into my face. As I have a story flow which would be considered Terry Pratchett-esque? If I am going to be writing a series, I am going to have to take that series seriously and make sure that when a character talks about the past, it’s not changing as the wind blows because I changed the retelling of the tale to make it more interesting.
Well, unless the character is a liar by nature. That works, but I have to know the truth and have the truth consistent with the series, itself. Even if that truth is behind-the-scenes for a while (which is happening in the cryptid series), it still makes sense when it’s in context. Also, it allows the reader and other characters who know the truth to enjoy being part of the inner circle.
For that, I need continuity.
4) I write dialogue-heavy stories.
If I knew how to write scripts, I would probably do better as a scriptwriter. Well, not more financially successful. I doubt I will ever truly have that “Illustrious Author” accomplishment, myself (even if my spouse’s Sim is being driven toward that dream in Sims 3). I once read that the perfect formula for a book is 1/3 setting plus 1/3 action plus 1/3 dialogue. This is very difficult, because I have it all in my head, and I can access it by setting triggers when I read my own work. Lovely for me, but it doesn’t help anyone who reads my books. So, I have to write more setting, more action (without dialogue), and more pithy and concise dialogue. Monologues which last two pages just aren’t interesting. Being a reader as well as a writer? I skim dialogue. So, my characters have to DO more in more PLACES. It’s not easy, because I have trouble trying to make the locations so perfect. I tried to think out a map for my Soap Opera Series Location and drop it into its location in reality. It can’t be done. So, I have to relate places to each other based on what I picked-and-chose from real places I’ve been.
The Dome Trilogy was easier, because I set it all in a future arcology. Yes, in the second book, the character does leave the arcology for the real world, but it’s not the real world as anyone would recognize in a set time and place.
Oddly enough, I think that the Cryptid Series won’t be so bad, because everywhere is realistic. Also, where I have no idea will get broad-brush description. Unfortunately, that makes me frustrated, because I want it detailed to the last pebble on the ground or I want it as vague as possible. With writing, there has to be a happy medium in all three (setting, action, and dialogue). Or not. I’m not sure, but that rule is the one I beat myself up with most often.
In conclusion, I’ve reached a time when I have to get myself in an editing mental state. Writing requires personal internal chaos, and I can manufacture drama in my life pretty easily–which makes life easier around the people who interact with me if I use a creative outlet for that drama instead of causing trouble. Editing and proofreading requires personal internal satiety and lucidity. I can get there. I did for Nightmare Specters, which I am actually proud of. Yes, there are editing mistakes, but that’s a 500-page book with tiny print. I exhausted myself preparing it for publication, and a few errors were missed. Curiously, those errors tended not to be with writing but with chaotically editing the work. I write complete sentences; I edit poorly punctuated clauses. So, since my editing really is the problem, I have to wait until my writer’s hat has been set aside and my editor-and-proofreader hat is on my head. So, while I’m transitioning from writer-mode, I have to wait to publish.
I hate that, having to wait even longer. Perils of being one’s own publishing house, I suppose.