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Carolyn W

That "in over my head" feeling

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Hello friends,

It has been almost a year since I joined our community. I was so blessed and felt so edified in a variety of ways. I'm grateful for each of you.  

 

Though I've always wanted to write a book, I had no clue what it entailed. Learning the aspects of writing fiction has been like facing in a rubber raft the ocean swells I've only ever seen in movies.  After initial feedback on this site, I was encouraged and figured I would set out on a huge learning curve toward at least leaving my children and grandchildren with a book. Then my writing was interrupted by a move into a new country and language group. But by that time I knew I wanted to stick with the book idea to the end- so writing has now been a significant part of my life for close to a year even though I've been mostly absent on the forum for many months. I want to start posting chapters but I'm holding my breath, wondering a few more things. Will you speak from your author hearts and help me out?

 

The first chapter changed too many times to keep up with. Likewise the others. I feel like I'm about half way through with the idea that is leading down a hard-to-find path. I also feel like I'm sitting in a fog or in a tail spin or both. What I have thought of as the inciting incident is now 12000+ words in. What I thought was the first plot point is now over 44000 words in (if I don't count possible backstory info of another 7000). I feel like the story I have so far is about a third bulkier than I want. I don't know whether to keep writing out everything I can think of in a press to some sense of an ending, or to stop and focus on putting up chapters for feedback.

 

I'm still trying to understand what a beta reader is and when to seek those. And I don't think I can yet deal with feedback on commas etc anyway.  But I am feeling challenged to keep the threads of the story woven and I know I already have some slipped stitches. I have this fear that if I begin seeking feedback, attending to it will be overwhelming. And how do I know what type of feedback to request?  How do you keep up with feedback and changes? Do you print out feedback and work through the stack? How often do you seek feedback? And, seeing how much the story has morphed already, how many times revising becomes something of a red flag that I'm wasting time and energy? 

 

And at what point do I print out the whole thing so I can quit trying climb into the laptop every day?

 

Also, I am not sure how much research to do. Is there a red flag of too much? My story is set in a certain period which I have experienced but there are still aspects I did not experience first hand and so I have done a lot of research to see perhaps where I should draw the line and limit the story. And what about naming specific provinces or towns? Must I? I suppose. But it seems threatening to take that step. 

 

I would appreciate your tips and suggestions and prayer. I think I have a story that will work but I'm not sure what is most important to do next. 

Long post. Maybe I'm just having a weary day. A four-day lock-in just finished, so people can go out for walks again. That might help. But I really look forward to hearing from yall. 

Grace and peace,

Carolyn

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From one newbie to another. The learning never stops and just when you think you understand, it all changes. 

 

I can tell you that every one here has helpful information and yes, sometimes it's daunting. They may contradict some of the things I'll tell you, I'd trust them. I still get it wrong sometimes. 

 

One thing I've learned is that everyone has a different perspective so take it in stride and learn from it. They may be seeing something you or someone else hasn't yet.

 

That said, not everyone will enjoy your story. Be ready to hear that. 

 

I've been told you need to hook the reader in the first page or two.

 

Do as much research as you feel is needed. 

 

Try not to name real people or places,  unless you're quoting facts that can be verified or proven. It may be a lawsuit if it's not and even if it is you may want to stay away from it. So if it's fiction make up the specifics. 

 

A beta reader is someone you TRUST to tell you the truth even if it hurts your feelings. The book will be better for it. Trust me on that one. And they will not try to steal your idea. Yes, I'm told it happens all to often. 

 

As for feedback, be open unless you're looking for something specific. Then ask for it. You probably get more than you asked for though. 

 

Another thing to consider when reading through the story is to ask "is this really important to the story?" Sometimes it's not, you put it in because "it sounded good", don't be afraid to cut it out.

 

How you deal with feedback is however it works best for you. I did print some out for review. Sometimes I made the suggested change, read it through and then put it back the way it was or changed it even more. 

 

I can't tell you how many reams of paper I've been through. It's always different reading from the screen than paper. To save money I'd suggest reading on screen until you think it's good then print it out and read it two days later. You'll be surprised. 

 

I'll tell you what everyone told me. In the end it's your book, do what you think is best. 

 

For marketing start getting people interested now. Just talk to them about it, bits and pieces.

 

Use or lose any or all of this as you feel necessary. But I hope it helps in some way. 

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Z has given you some solid tips.

 

In many ways, I'm also a newbie, only a few stories further down the road than you. Here's my thoughts on some of your questions:

 

I find that getting feedback while I'm writing the first draft actually distracts and interrupts me and my work process. When I'm writing that first draft, I need to just write it. 

 

Editing or worrying about word count and where the plot points are has the same effect - it distracts and interrupts me. So while I keep an eye on word count, I try to ignore it. When writing, I need to write. Without worrying about details. 

 

While I haven't sought out Beta readers on any of my work yet, they come after the writing and editing process. They are there to spot what you missed - plot holes, things that don't make sense, things that don't flow nicely. 

 

First chapters are notorious for changing often. You're not alone there. I always find the opening scene easier to get done when I've written the end - knowing where the story is going helps me see where to begin. 

 

Having said all that about writing and not looking for feedback - that's my writing process. There are times when I've been stuck and needed to get feedback in order to carry on. You might be at a point of needing that for yourself, of needing to hear someone say "you haven't missed it - you're on the right track". You've already taken a huge step by posting these questions. 

 

If you would like someone to take a look at what you've got so far, feel free to private message me. 

 

Hope these thoughts help you, Carolyn. 

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4 hours ago, Carolyn W said:

I would appreciate your tips and suggestions and prayer. I think I have a story that will work but I'm not sure what is most important to do next. 

Long post. Maybe I'm just having a weary day. A four-day lock-in just finished, so people can go out for walks again. That might help. But I really look forward to hearing from yall.

 

Glad to see you're still around, Carolyn.

 

I remember the bits of your story you posted some time ago on the Critique Forum, and I'd love to see more. Especially since the people and place you are (or were) writing about are very dear to my heart. I'd love to help if there's any way I can, either on the Critique Forum or as a beta reader.

 

I have to say, I probably have an inside view of at least some elements of your story that many other readers won't, if that could be helpful.

 

And three cheers for another lockdown lifted!

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And I forgot to say--can I PM you? I'd really like to know where you are/were.

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You have some good advice already. Let me just put in one thought: Write it! Just write it! If you find yourself in a sandpit, back up a ways and try from there. (I think golfers get to do that when they drop the ball into the water.) And keep going until you reach the end, whether it's 50,000 words or 150,000. That's called a shitty first draft. (Rebecca, am I allowed to use that adjective?)

 

Then you can go back and redo whatever you need to redo. That's when you get to worry about unnecessary scenes and extra verbiage. Then do it all over again, until it says what you want it to say in the best way you can. 

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A "First Chapter Purgatory," member here.

 

Write the first chapter, set it aside.  Then re-read it and find something you like in the chapter, and use that as your opener instead.  Someone, somewhere is not going to like your first chapter - you will not make everyone happy.  So give it your best shot with something that makes you happy.  That's the best advice I can give you.

 

If you leave a question in the reader's mind from the first couple of sentences - other than, "Why am I reading this?" - then you have them for the rest of the chapter.

 

Likewise, I am a programmer, which is akin to writing stories in many aspects.  I've been doing it for nearly 30 years now.  I tackle a LOT of huge projects.  There are two rules I live by.  The first is: if you don't know where to start, pick something and start there.  If Chapter 1 is your nemesis, start with the chapter you most clearly see in your head, and write that.  Build back from a starting point, and then forward in to there.  Things DO NOT have to be done in sequential order.  The reality is that, at some point, the light will go off, and everything will become clear.  At that time, you may decide to start with a clean slate, or you may adjust what you already have.  At the very least, you have the raw material at hand to work from.

 

Maybe this is my Autism speaking.  I never do stuff in a straight line.  It amazes my wife to no end how I can keep all of the stuff I have in my head sorted out.

 

The second rule is: don't ever look up to see how much more of the mountain you have to climb.  The reality is, you'll know when you get to the top.  It's the same thing as, "a watched pot never boils."  When you ain't got nowhere to go but down, then you've reached the top.  It's as simple as that.

 

Now as for bulk: don't worry about that.  Just write.  Again, at some point the light bulb is going to go off.  You can then regroup, and revise or redo.  But you now have a WEALTH of material you can draw from.  So, it's not like you're throwing anything away.  I must have a dozen starting bits by now.  I write them, then let them sit while the concept ferments in my brain.  Then, when I can't stand it any more, I pound it out onto a page.

 

I also do research on-the-fly.  YouTube is great for that.  Start with a story bit, write something down, then go back and research for informational bits.

 

Writing and developing is essentially clawing your way in the dark until you can find some light.  You can either look at it as frustrating or fun.  I find that it is only frustrating when you place undue pressures on yourself that inhibit the creative process.

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14 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

Build back from a starting point, and then forward in to there.  Things DO NOT have to be done in sequential order.  The reality is that, at some point, the light will go off, and everything will become clear. 

Good tidbit of advice. I wrote my first story based on the ending I had written down first. Talk about a lot to fill in. 

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On the other hand, as a pantser, someone saw something strange on the highway (a goat in the back of a pickup which was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and pulled by another pickup). Starting from there, with absolutely no idea where I was going, I wrote the story, a short story, 1500 words. I don't think a novel works as well that way.

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My first few experiences with sharing my work with a critique partner were painful - not because they were cruel, but because there was so much red ink. There is no substitute for being confronted with your flaws as a writer. At times, I was almost ready to give up.
 

As a new writer, I began sharing after I wrote a few chapters. It is easier to change course when you have less written. Now I wait longer before I put out something to critique, because I am surer of my writing. 
 

On one book I rewrote the beginning four or five times. I rearranged the first chapters, then added a prologue, it was torture figuring out where to begin. 
 

Let your heart lead you. I put one story aside for several years before returning to it. Something wasn’t right, and I eventually figured it out. I was weak on theme and an action scene was going to be too typical and I needed the hero and heroine to have a fight at a bad time.

 

One scene I just couldn’t get into and it got me hung up. The solution was setting. Sometimes you must change the setting of a scene. Others times you need to delve deep into the setting to figure out props to use to make the action interesting. Find descriptions that are emotional. Tie elements of the setting to your themes. 
 

For example, I had a high school dance scene just before the big armed robbery Action scene. I bet you can name four or five movies with a big, climactic dance scene. It is so cliched. I had to throw all my creativity at it to make it magical, funny and dangerous. I even wrote the lyrics to a rap song for the scene! (And I hate rap!) In the end, I loved the scene. Do not settle for a weak scene. Stretch yourself.

 

Read poetry. When I began writing, I seldom read poetry. However, one of my characters was a literature professor, so for my research I read some poetry to develop her character. Poetry really helped my prose. Don’t turn the poetic on too often or you end up with florid, purple prose. I find a clever rhythmic line great for ending a chapter, making a philosophical point, or adding a little pizazz to a speech. 
 

Read history. Real people do the strangest things. I get some of my best ideas not from fiction but from fact.

 

Add lots of disasters. Don’t make your characters too nice. Conflict moves stories. Inflict pain upon your heroes. In one of my novels, I had a capable heroine with a sensible plan for exposing the truth and beating a murder rap. I planned for her to win her court case at midpoint, enabling her to pursue the true villain for the second half. By the time I got to that point in my writing, I had discovered a character flaw in my heroine: jealousy. The best way to accentuate this was for her to be found guilty of a lesser charge. The court’s sentence placed restrictions on her that made pursuing justice much harder, and she had to face this personality flaw which she had been blind to. This change complicated the story going forward but it made all the difference. It heightened the drama in almost every chapter going forward because so many characters did not trust her now.

 

God bless!


 

 

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On 5/22/2020 at 8:06 PM, Jeff Potts said:

The second rule is: don't ever look up to see how much more of the mountain you have to climb.  The reality is, you'll know when you get to the top. 

 

 

Well put Jarad. That where I am at present. Slogging up the mountain.

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