Monday, January 25, 2010

What I Learned This Weekend

Way back before Christmas, I purchased The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I had intended to read it before now, but ya know things just got in the way. Anyway I finally started it this weekend and I'm about halfway through now. Can I just say that I'm loving this book! I've learned so much from the first part and I'm itching to finish it. Being the nerd that I am, I keep highlighter pens with me and highlight sentences or sections that I want to remember. And if there's something I really really really want to remember, I'll copy them down in my writing notebook. (I know, you don't have to tell me how weird that is).

One of the things I love about the book is that Maass uses tons of examples from literature to illustrate his points. I've always been one to learn by seeing how others do things, so this really helps me to crystallize the concepts in my mind. If I find a particularly good example, I draw a star next to it. (I did this kind of stuff in my college years. Don't know why, but it helps me when I want to remember something).

But there's one problem. When I hit the chapter about Scenes That Can't Be Cut I had one of those "Aha" moments. See, there was two key points that Maass made in this section that stood out:

1. Every scene needs two turning points - an outer turning point (or what actually happens to change your pov character) and an inner turning point (what the pov character learns and/or realizes).

2. You should identify your goals for each scene and make sure every element in every scene in some way makes the goals more likely or more remote.

Ya'll, it was like a light bulb clicked on in my head. All I could think was Have I been doing this so far in my WIP? I couldn't get this out of my head. And on Sunday I decided I couldn't write any new words until I knew for sure (I'm a little obsessive-compulsive about stuff like this). So I got out my notebook and proceeded to write a one page summary of each chapter I have completed so far. Then I tried to identify my goals for each section and the two turning points. Folks, let me tell you this took for-ev-er. Like about three hours to finish. Well, I do have three kids who like my attention:)

But in the end, it was sooooo worth it. I discovered that I was on the right path for some chapters, but I have A LOT to fix. I even remembered I had a character at the beginning of my ms who I haven't even mentioned again. Got to decide if I'm gonna bring her back in some way or just delete her. Then there's the whole info-dump, backstory riddled chapter 1. *turns bright red and cringes* By doing this exercise, I found a few places in which I could sprinkle that backstory to make things more interesting. Now I'm fighting the urge to go back and fix all of those things. I'm afraid if I do that then I'll never finish the first draft. *bangs head against desk*

So for now I'm going to *try* to resist the urge to edit and move forward. Yes, I know I have a lot of crap to fix, but I know it can be done. And the good thing is that I can use these two key points to make sure I do a better job of writing the last half of my WIP.

Alright people, here's the questions. How do you know if you're on the right track in your WIP? Do you use these key points to help you when writing? Do you have any writing resources or tips you would like to share?


  1. Wow! Great post! I think mostly I've been going on gut instinct to see if I'm on th right track. I'm totally going to read this book! :) Thanks for the suggestion!

    Jenn's Blogdom :)

  2. Thanks for this. I'm in the middle of examining 2 wips. I'm going to do a scene analysis now.

  3. Not weird at all. Writing things down helps to internalize them. That's why your teachers made you copy spelling words so many times! :)

    I've heard a lot of good things about this book.

  4. Oooh that sounds really helpful. I think Ill get a copy too!

  5. You go! Keep on going with your story, great advice, thanks for posting this today.

  6. Good for you! I would say just finish the first draft and then go back to edit. I can almost see the end of my first draft, even though it's going to be too short. And then the REAL work will begin.

    I'll have to get this book. I know I have some scenes that don't work as they should. I'm just trying not to think about how many mistakes I've made so far. It might make me cry!

  7. Jenn - I've been doing the same thing. But it's been hit and miss with me - sometimes I got things right, but I really messed up a lot of scenes, too.

    Elle - Good luck. It is time consuming, but it really works:)

    Caroline - You're absolutely right!

    Frankie - Run and get a copy! It's totally worth it:)

    Jonathon - Thanks and you're welcome!

    Jen - I'm going to try extra hard to finish the first draft before starting any edits. But it's soooo hard when I have the mistakes sitting there. And I can totally relate on trying not to cry. All I could think was "How in the world am I ever gonna fix this?"

  8. Every one is reading that book. Looks like I must add it to my never ending list of books to buy.

    Great post, by the way. : )

  9. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for writing it!

    I remember Roni mentioning that book, The Fire in the Fiction, and wanting to get it.

    Have I? No, not yet!

    Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Okay, you've convinced me--I'll buy the book.

    As far as editing, I guess I look for certain things in every chapter: I ask myself primarily how every sentence flows with other and how they tie to one another (this more at the copyediting level), and how they help to progress the plot or show characterization (this last point is by far the most important, I think). I also take into consideration pacing and the kind of emotional affect the scene will have on the reader.

    Great post, though. Forced me to think about these things in a concrete way.

  11. There are a lot of quirks people have... and I don't think it's weird at all!!!

    Great post! Thanks for the info!

  12. We definitely like to finish the first draft before we jump back in for major edits. But I guess we kind of edit along the way because we edit as we read eachother's chapters. But I'm definitely going to check out this book. I've heard it's really helpful! Good luck!

  13. Awesome post! Oh I loved that book - it was excellent. He is brilliant, he knows just how to put the advice he gives into language I can understand. That's a valuable trait to have :o)

    I tend to go back and edit too, I've been working on that - NaNo helped me get through that. Just remember that every word you write isn't set in stone. You can always, and probably will, change a lot of it in the rewrites. So.. truck along and get that puppy done!

    Good luck and enjoy the book :o)

  14. When I was writing the first draft, I went mostly with gut feeling... During editing? WHOLE new ballgame, ha. I think you already know this, but I'm a huge fan of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". Each chapter is amazing!

  15. I really need to read that! Honestly I just write. I've only read one book on the craft (Stephen King's ON WRITING), so I don't know any of the rules. I just write and edit and edit some more until I don't hate my manuscript!

  16. Kimberly - I know, it seems this book is everywhere, but it really does help.

    Amber - Thank you and I know you've been super busy lately:)

    Carol - Your tips are great! Sometimes I forget about the emotional aspect of a scene, and that is a biggie!

    Jen - Thank you!

    LiLa - Ya know, that's kinda like what I do with my crit group:)

    Erica - Yes, I do need to remember that. Thanks!

    Sara - You've convinced me to get that book when I really dive into edits (for reals)!

    Natalie - That's how I've been while writing all along. I'll write a scene or a whole chapter and change things until I don't hate it so much. Then it's off to my crit group!

  17. That's great! Ugh I am so afraid to do this for myself though - I'm scared of what I might find out! I usually just go with my gut and don't think too much about each chapter, but I'd probably benefit a lot from this method. You're the fourth or fifth writer who has recommended this book and I'm thinking I really need to check it out! Thanks!

  18. Great post! We all have things that need fixing, but it's way too easy for me to get stuck in revise mode so like you, I soldier on. Sometimes I can't help myself and do read the beginning, but it usually is a waste of time because by the end of the book I'm in such a different place that the beginning might need a complete overhaul anyway!

  19. I wish I had tips to share but I find that I'm still learning SO MUCH! I'm also reading a Donald Maass book, "Writing the Breakout Novel," and it, too, has been very helpful. I'll have to look for the one you are reading right now :)

  20. I know why you write down stuff in that notebook that you like...

    And I don't give this much thought to my writing, but it sounds like I should get this book! I think I do this, but most of what I do is unconscious. And it would take me more than three hours to find out. Le sigh.

  21. The Fire in Fiction, in my opinion, is the best book on the craft out there. I did a whole series of posts on it back in November. I haven't looked at writing the same since.

  22. Julie - Try it. You'll be surprised how much it will help you!

    Diana - You're absolutely right. I'm trying to tell myself the same thing:)

    Morgan - Ooh, I need to get that book!

    Elana - I've been relying on the gut instinct, but this way actually shows you if you're on the right path.

    Susan - Thank you for those posts you did. I got this book because of them:)