Action Bits

I walked away from social media last week after finishing the revisions, and it was…pretty nice. The Maiden’s Blade is now back with the editor, and I thought I’d give it a couple days before diving into the next huge task.

Instead, I spent a few days watching documentaries, cleaning the house, and spending long dinner hours with the kids. I kept glaring at my to-do list, hoping that something on it would begin to sound vaguely do-able, but I was so drained and exhausted the thought of starting another round of revisions–or pushing to complete a zero draft–made me want to spill out of my chair and rest, weeping aimlessly, on the office floor.

So, yeah. It was time to do some cleaning. All the loose paper is off my desk and filed, I hoovered twice, plants have been watered and the kitchen scrubbed, the windowsills have been dusted and polished, I drank a LOT of coffee, and the dogs got twice-daily walkies.

Which all means I’m ready for something new on a Monday. The next thing on my list is Steelflower 3 revisions–at least that bloody zero is done–but I might spent the day working on Incorruptible instead. I’m in the mood for writing romance, and I’ve got the main characters in a truck heading west. It’s about time to start getting them into trouble, and maybe I can stage a shootout in a nice hotel or two today. Or a falling elevator, that would be swell. Add in a car accident and there will be lots of room for love to flower, right?

…I may have to just write the action bits, I’m not sure it’s in me to write any smexxors today. Though, as I’ve said before, the two are very close–you want tension rising to a crescendo1 and a short curve downward after. Tension, explosion, falling action.

Regardless, it’s time for another jolt of coffee, some deep breathing, and getting my running shoes laced. Sir Boxnoggin needs some fidgets burned off, and Miss B might even get to come along if she promises to behave reasonably.

She probably won’t, but that’s a problem for later. Right now I’m off for more coffee.

Over and out, Monday.

Bridging

The season has turned; it’s much cooler at night now and the crickets, cicadas, and frogs are taking notice. There’s a frenzy of insects eating and mating before it gets even colder, and the spiders are well placed to take advantage. A spiderweb is math and engineering made flesh, and it delights me. (Though I really hate math, and have since myself second-grade teacher used to shake kids who got the wrong answer.)

Between the two pillars of birth and death, we weave. Fall is a time to remember that, and look up from our work before winter’s long nights arrive.

Very Little Brain

On Monday, I added net 8k words to The Maiden’s Blade in the process of getting the last third revised. Yesterday morning I finished a few small detail bits and sent the whole shebang off to my editor, who was no doubt relieved that I hadn’t run away with the manuscript clenched firmly in my jaws never to return.

I mean, I thought about it, but the prospect of carrying that 180k motherfucker for even a mile makes me tired. I spent the rest of yesterday doing errands and staring at a Resident Evil movie or two.

Today I am a bear of exceeding little brain, and will be folding laundry or doing other chores that don’t require much in the way of decision-making. I am all decided out, my friends. And tomorrow I move to the next thing on my list–revisions on the next Steelflower book.

No rest for the wicked or the weary, but there might be a day of little brain to perform all the minutiae of daily life that adds up when you spend weeks buried inside an epic fantasy. Things need to be dusted, hoovered, washed, dried, put away instead of just in a pile. The dogs, no doubt, will be very interested in the process, and Sir Boxnoggin in particular will want to help.

He is a dog of Very Much Help. If his nose isn’t in whatever you’re doing, just wait thirty seconds. Miss B, today, is a Dog of Very Much Herding, and she is nipping at Boxnoggin’s heels to induce him to be Even More Helpful.

…I’m already tired. Maybe I should go back to bed. Except then the dogs would pile on, and any rest I achieved short-lived indeed.

Onward and upward, my friends. Onward and upward, over and out.

Scene of the Crime

Ouch.

So yesterday while I was blogging the dogs took it upon themselves to show this rabbit–and its belly-squeaker–who was boss. They worked together in true pack fashion and stuffing-guts were strewn in multiple locations. Forensics would have a hell of a time piecing it together, but we think the attack started in the living room, moved to my bedroom, and finished in the office, where you see the corpse’s final positioning here along with some splatter.

We still haven’t found the squeaker. And neither dog shows any evidence of contrition. In fact, this morning they’ve moved on to a tiny stuffed bear…

Zero to First

Yesterday afternoon the east grew dark, and the first rumble of thunder drove both dogs under my desk. Apparently the safest space in the world is between my ankles–Odd always thought so, Miss B is continuing the tradition and furthermore teaching Sir Boxnoggin its ways.

Which means both my feet had largish doggos resting upon them, and turned into numb bits of meat by the time the sky cleared. It also meant I had to coax both of them outside to pee.

The things we do for love, right?

I should tell you guys about how BattleJay discovered Batgirl’s theft of his ill-gotten peanut gains, but that can wait for a different day. Instead, let’s talk about revision.

I’m currently in the wilds of The Maiden’s Blade, going sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, to make it better. The first draft was okay, and when the edit letter landed it was full of ways to make the entire book better, stronger, faster, deeper. You can’t fix problems you can’t see, and that’s the purpose of edit letters: to show you the holes and the thin-paper bits.

But there’s that spot between the zero draft–when the corpse is finally out of your head, whole and entire, lying on the table–and the first draft, which is the version you can finally let someone else (a writing partner, a long-suffering agent, or an editor) see. I tend to produce really clean first drafts and by the time I get them done I’m sick of the book and can’t see the forest for the trees, so I feel confident enough giving them to my agent. Your mileage may vary, of course, but there comes a time when you can’t chew the piece anymore and have to get it out of your teeth one way or another. Figuring out when that time is takes practice and finishing your pieces, however short, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.

So, here are some things you can focus on to turn a zero draft into a respectable first.

Set it aside.

This is in many ways the most important step. You’ve finished a zero draft, a large and very intense expenditure of mental, physical, and emotional energy. Give the engine in your head some time to cool off and come down from redline. Give yourself a prize for sticking with it and crossing the finish line, and put the damn thing in a folder or a desk drawer for at least a week. (A short story or poem may take less time to recover from, but don’t bet on it.) The time away is necessary for recovery, a sense of proportion, and whatever sanity those afflicted by the Muse can lay claim to.

Kill “that” and dialogue tags.

When you do go back, there are simple things you can look for to tighten the draft immeasurably. “That” is unnecessary nine times out of ten, it is largely a weasel word and I despise its use. If you can delete it, do. And dialogue tags (he said, she whispered, they moaned) do very little to move the story along. A dialogue tag is almost always a missed opportunity for a descriptive or action tag, and since every sentence ideally must advance the action, show us something about the character, or provide us with information about the world the story inhabits, you do not have time or space for unnecessary “they said”s.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Yes, ideally every sentence, no matter how small, fulfills all three requirements. But screws fall out, the world is an imperfect place, so on, so forth, so try to aim for getting two out of three as often as possible. This is far easier to do when you have the whole corpse of the story out so you can see the direction events are tending and have a structure already in place to work with.

Look for “crutch” words.

One of the things I’ve grown to like about Scrivener is the project statistics function, where I can look for crutch words–those words I’ve fallen in love with over the course of a story and use with improper abandon. They change with each piece, and only the Muse knows why this happens, but unless you’re deliberately playing with a word for artistic purposes, the repetition will be off-putting for your readers.

Crush passive voice.

This one has been covered extensively. Unless you’re deliberately slowing the pacing down or need passive voice for a defined, conscious reason–for example, to highlight that a character is abdicating responsibility, especially inside their own head–passive voice is weasel voice, and it will only slow you down and bore your reader.

Make conscious choices.

Writing takes different mental muscles than revising. When I’m in the heat of creation, I don’t care if I’m using passive voice or if I’m using a crutch to get along. Anything that gets the story out of my head is permissible. While revising I need to make sure that if I’m breaking rules of grammar, story, etc., I am doing it consciously instead of slapdash. Part of an editor’s function is to challenge a writer’s choices to make sure the imperfect ones are deliberately imperfect, so to speak, but between the zero and first draft the onus is on you-the-writer. You can certainly break the rules, but you need to know them in order to break them effectively, and the transition to zero to first is the best place to begin questioning every choice and making sure it’s the one you want.

Notice I don’t say the “right” choice; I say “the one you want.”

Say it out loud.

If it’s dialogue, does it honestly sound like something that particular character would say? Reading aloud is also good for combat or sex scenes (if you can overcome blushes at the latter) because it will show you where the pacing is off. Controlling how fast the reader moves through a paragraph during a combat or sex scene, where you want the rising tension and the payoff in specific places, is hard. Noticing where the natural breath-stops are in dialogue and in action will help you nudge the reader further into caring about what’s going on by making them hold their breath through a long sentence or chopping things up into short bits to achieve a strobe effect. Punctuation isn’t just a necessary evil, it’s a means of helping your reader extract the most from your story on a very basic level. Plus, if you have to do a reading, you’ll thank yourself for the practice.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but squeaky toys can only keep the dogs occupied for so long and I’ve got to get them out the door for a run before their fidgets drive both me and them crazy. The space between zero and first is fraught, but it’s also a chance to get the worst unconscious mistakes out of the way so the conscious ones aren’t lost and so your work has a shot of impressing someone who’ll pay you cash for it.

Because even writers have to eat, you know. Let alone a writer’s children, or their wonderful, maddening, energetic dogs.

Over and out.

Hooky in Lacey

I needed some time off from eighteen-hour revision days, so my writing partner said, “Lacey. Let’s go to Lacey.” What the hell is in Lacey, you ask? LOTS OF STUFF.

Let’s just go.

For example, there’s Shipwreck Beads. A warehouse. Of beads and beading supplies. Lest you think, well, that’s not so amazing, let me just reiterate: a WAREHOUSE. Bigger than my own domicile. In fact, multiple domiciles stacked on top of each other, because there were two floors. (We did not head upstairs, the bottom floor was more than enough for multiple hours of browsing.) I’m glad we made a circuit once, looking over everything, and then decided on purchases, because if we’d taken a cart (yes, they have CARTS, for BEADS) neither of us would have gotten out with any money left at all.

BEEEEEEEEADS.

I sent that picture to the kids, and the Little Prince responded with, “You’re hitting the right…beads!”

Punning is apparently in his genetic code.

Anyway, once our endurance was exhausted there we broke for lunch and found the continent’s sketchiest Mexican restaurant right next to a biker garage. (The number of Harleys in the shared parking lot was approaching critical mass.) We also found a much less sketchy restaurant, and if I could ever drink tequila that would have been the place for it.

*sigh* I can’t drink at all anymore, but it’s nice to contemplate, I guess.

Then it was time for the big flagship Cabela’s.

The top floor of redneck heaven.

“I just wanted to see your eyes out on sticks,” my writing partner said, and they were. That particular Cabela’s is warehouse-sized too, but an order of magnitude larger than Shipwreck. And it was packed, both with goods and with people. You could do a lot worse than settle on one of the benches there and people-watch, listening for dialogue snippets. (All things feed the work.)

In the middle of the vast space was a two-story fake hill covered with taxidermy animals. Yes, you read that right.

Find the squirrel?

What I didn’t take a picture of, though I should have, is the hollowed-out interior of the hill, where the aquariums are. Sturgeon, trout both rainbow and speckled, pike–and big fish, too, just swimming around. Oh, and catfish. Boy howdy, were there ever catfish. I’m pretty sure that when the poor things get large enough they’re hauled out and consumed by the employees. There was even a polar bear (shot in 1970, according to the placard) and–are you ready?–a whole zebra, which was not on the fake hill but on a platform jutting out from the mezzanine.

We did not see a huge chunk of pink camo, which my writing partner assures me is otherwise a staple of the place. (She was a bit put out by this, to tell the truth.) But I scored some good hoodies for a fair price, which is what I wanted out of the place. Now, along with new jeans, I’m totally ready for winter. Which is good, because today began with grey skies and glorious rain, finally.

The weirdest thing about Cabela’s was in the loo. There was a biohazard sharps container on the wall, and it was pretty full. We figured there’s probably a lot of diabetes in their customer base, because it had a bunch of blood sugar testing strips among the insulin needles.

Cabela’s is also where my writing partner found a stuffed wolverine while I was writing Weasel Boy. I had to go by and say hello.

I’ve heard so much about you…

We returned home with plenty of crafting materials, a squeaky rabbit toy for Sir Boxnoggin, a smoked rawhide bone for Miss B (which she is guarding assiduously while I type this) and various other odds and ends. It was good to get out of the bloody revisions for a little bit, all the characters were starting to blur together and I needed something other than chewing the bones of an epic fantasy for a few hours. And now, of course, along with proper hoodies I’ll live in come winter I have enough earring material for MONTHS.

Today, of course, it’s back to the grind of revision–taking each sentence, turning it upside down, shaking it, using a scalpel to pare it down to bone. I’ll work better for having had a brief break, and I might even get this bloody revision done. I’m so far in the weeds I can’t even think about what it will feel like to have this book off my plate, and it irks me every time I look at my task list.

So that was my weekend, my hoopy froods. I hope yours was similarly enchanting and terrifying.

*wanders off to go back to work*

A Wooden Road

On a ramble with both dogs, I rounded a corner and found a wooden road leading into sunshine. I wondered where it went, and if I hadn’t had two leashes wrapped around my waist and a healthy aversion to possibly falling and breaking my fool leg, I might have followed it just to see.

Adulthood means walking away from a possible leg break. But, more importantly, it also means I can choose a time and go back, and climb that road. Maybe just a little, maybe more, maybe just to see where it leads, maybe to peer through at the end and catch a glimpse of the Good Folk at their revels.

Not that I wish for such a thing…but I could, if I wanted to.

And that makes all the difference.