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Revision Hell Begins

I stand at the formidable wrought-iron gates leading beneath the Mountain.  I’ve delayed too long already.  This novel has been complete for a year, just waiting for me to find the time — and courage — to enter into…  da da DUM ….

Revision Hell.

Okay, in all seriousness, this particular Revision Hell won’t be as bad as I’m making it sound.  I have a very solid and detailed (105K) first draft prepared.  It’s the third in a trilogy so I’d darned well better know my characters and my world right now.  Just as there are Nine Circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, there are various layers to Revision Hell, too.  For this particular work, I already know I have the following challenges to resolve:

1. A few scene holes, where I knew what happened but just wasn’t feeling it.  One is a fight scene, one was a potential sex scene that may be cut (e.g. if I didn’t need it written to finish the story, then maybe I don’t really need it!!)

2. A few wrong turns and rambling paths.  Even in a well-plotted story, it’s easy to write a scene and then later realize that maybe it wasn’t the best option.  I have that problem with a few scenes, in particular  with one  character, Jorah.  I don’t need them, they add nothing to the main plot of the story, and trivialize his character into a LKH stock character, which is not what I want.

3. Dropped threads. It’s like sending your character off with a backpack and then realizing she dropped it somewhere along the way — or needed it and I had no idea where it was.  (Inside joke: this happened with Isabella in Beautiful Death.)  For Return, where is Wind?  Sadly, I thought nothing of this special horse character until the very end, when I realized I had a way to make the ending incredibly powerful, but I had no idea what had happened to her.

4. Texture. This is a tough one for me, because I can add details, emotion, and worldbuilding all day long, and I’ve already got a 105K story.  However, there are a few scenes/details I’ve been thinking about the past few months that could really add depth and heart to the story, and in the end, that’s exactly what this story is about.  The heart.

I’ll post revision tricks as I think of them this month and next, since I have two full-length manuscripts to revise and kick out of the nest.  For now, this dark road descending beneath the Mountain requires a key to pass the gates, and that key, is a read-through.

  • Grab a notebook and pen and make notes as you go, recording page number or simply adding a comment in the Word file.
  • Since these revisions aren’t massive, I’m going to save time and smooth sentences and polish as I go.  This won’t be the final pass, but it’s like sanding a plank with the first, rougher grade sand paper.
  • Note all research items and find those answers.  For this story, that means I need to dig through Rose and Road looking for forgotten character names or places, etc.  I don’t have a series bible for this story — it’s all in my head.  Or not, in this case.

My MUST DO goal for this week then becomes:

  • Revise the first 100 pages
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The Best Damned Story I Can Write…Today

This morning, I reached a place in this writing journey that I’ve never been before.

Awhile back there was some blog storm about when a story should be submitted.  Jessica Faust at BookEnds wrote that Good Enough is Never Enough, and obsessive-compulsive writers everywhere panicked.  At the time, I totally agreed with Jessica.  I would never send out less than PERFECT work, but I also realize that perfect today is not what I will be able to write in a year or more. 

Heh, at one time I was perfectly happy with a little story titled “My Beloved Barbarian” and proudly sent it off to an RWA contest, only to be mortified when the judge sheets came back.  Head hopping?  What’s that?  You mean, the horse can’t have its own point of view?  *wails*


Personally, I’m always driven.  I’m in a rush to finish, and submit.  Now, not yesterday.  NOW! Go go GO!  However, I’m also painfully obsessive about making sure the work is my best. 

If you’ve been reading here long, you know that I’ve been struggling with the Maya story.  I’ve already detailed its long painful history, but suffice it to say that I just couldn’t get the blasted thing RIGHT.  Every time I thought it was done, I decided it needed yet another revision pass.  I’ve spent months in Revision Xibalba since the first draft in 2007, toiling over massive, painful revisions or struggling to whip out a synopsis that captured the spirit of the story.  I felt trapped in Xibalba myself — constantly drowning in this imperfect project that I simply couldn’t get off my back. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love this story, absolutely.  It’s a total heart-wrencher and satisfies my personal craving for Story and Mythology; however, even though it’s one of the most complex and rich stories I’ve written, I could not get it to a place where I felt like I could really say I was finished.

After at least four major revision passes and four different attempts at a synopsis, I made my declaration yesterday:  Synopsis or Death!  I wrote out that synopsis in painful, brutal detail, refusing to go to bed until a cohesive draft was prepared.  Nearly two full packs of index cards met their death in the attempt.

Braced for the worst, I re-read my synopsis this morning.  I made a few slight changes.

And then I kicked that blasted submission package out of the nest with the first query.

Yes, friends, I reached a point where I was so sick of a story that I knew it was time to let it fly, or crash and burn.  If I polish the manuscript one more time, I think its obsidian-mirrored shine will simply rub off.  If I dink around with the synopsis again, I’m going to cut out my own heart and offer it as bloody sacrifice at the peak of the pyramid.

It’s the best damned story I can write today, and so, farewell blithe spirit.  I wish thee safe travels out in the scary wilds of Queryland.  May your hunt for Agent be fruitful.

It’s time for me to move on.

Victor, here’s fair warning that Gregar and I are coming.  We’re coming for YOU.

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Synopsis Hell

If I can just get this blasted synopsis written, then The Bloodgate Codex is ready and waiting to go out and face the cold, cruel world once more.  I’ve never enjoyed the synopsis, but this one is proving harder than usual.

Maybe because I’m still iffy in my head about what genre this story actually is.  You would laugh, seriously.  I set out to write an Urban Fantasy. Nope, didn’t make it.  Since I’ve gotten rather tired of the kick-ass heroine, vamp, werewolf triangle–or some permutation there in with demons, witches, whatever–I tried to change it more for my personal reading taste–and ended up a long ways from UF.

So then I started calling this story a Paranormal Romance.  Nope, BGC ends on a cliffhanger, and although it’s a very romantic, heart-wrenching act, it is not “happily ever after.”  Plus, the book just isn’t as steamy as what I typically write.  Only one big O scene, if you know what I mean, and only after at least 250 pages.  [I think all will eventually end well, never fear; it just won’t happen in this book.  I’m too much of a sap not to give the good guys a happy ending.  Eventually.]

So then I thought, what the hell did I write?  Contemporary Fantasy? It’s strong  in fantasy, yes.  Tons of Maya mythology.  But it doesn’t exactly feel like a fantasy.  It sort of feels like Science Fiction (the original inspiration was Stargate), but it’s definitely MAGIC that powers the world, not SCIENCE.

May suggested Thriller.  *I always hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller when I type that*  I was like, huh?  Seriously?  Yeah, I balked, until she reminded me of some of the Preston/Childs books I’d read and enjoyed.  I could see some similarities there.  So I punted and agreed.  However, I didn’t think about “suspense” so much when I wrote the book, so that required another revision pass to try and make it as tense and thriller-like as possible.

It’s got a rather large cast, three major plot lines not counting the romantic thread, lots of bad guys, and even Melville references.  [I’m sure I’ll take a hit on that one but he’s not a professor this time!  No Shakespeare.] The plot stretches across Texas, Guatemala, and the Yucatan.  Ironically, it’s all in the same time zone.  (You laugh, but I had it in my silly little head that surely Guatemala was in a different time zone than Dallas, TX.  Nope.)

Because this really isn’t a romance, my normal synopsis methodology isn’t working for me.  I can’t describe one plot line without bringing in the other two threads, which means introducing those POV characters, which complicates everything exponentially.  It’s so much easier in a romance to introduce the heroine/hero and maybe the antagonist and that’s it!  I can’t even easily introduce the antagonist because there are so many LAYERS of bad guys.  Let me count:  1 cursed warrior with no heart, 2 betrayers, 3 demons loose,  more demons trapped in hell and dying to get out, one crazy cancer patient, and his wealthy powerful friend determined to save him at any cost.  Did I miss anybody?

Crazy, I know, complicated, messy and yet…..I found myself reading it eagerly last night, savoring the twists and complexities.  I haven’t written anything quite like it before.  Which I know is bad in a whole different way, but this book PUSHED me.  In a good way.  I have the spreadsheets and diagrams to prove it.  :shock:

So I’m trying a new synopsis method outlined here, only I think I’ll have to introduce the two other POV characters and highlight their plot threads too, or the final resolution makes no sense whatsoever.  Yes, this calls for index cards, colored pens, and maybe Post-It Notes.  Be very afraid.

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Synopsis Suckage II

When all else fails, return to pen and paper.

I sat down over the weekend with my favorite pad of paper — purple legal pad — and my favorite pen.  I pulled up the Synopsis Lesson with Dr. Connagher.  And I started over from the beginning.  Oooh, I thought Conn was a taskmaster in his classroom, but geez, he’s really been a hardass about this synopsis.  Even The Rock has been walking around on pins and needles, occasionally sneaking over to stare down at my messy pages to see if I’d written about his character yet.  (I haven’t.)

Haven’t seen hide nor hair of Gregar, the smart-mouthed Shadowed Blood.  Smart man.  I’m sure he’s tucked away nearby, laughing his ass off each time Dr. Connagher loses patience with me and begins cursing in poetry.

After about 20 sheets of scribbles on purple paper, I finally have a somewhat decent beginning.  I have the hook, my protagonist’s intro, background, and inciting incident.  A decent start. 

Where this synopsis is going to get tricky is the “suspense” or “thriller” angle.  There’s a TON of plot happening in this story, and it’s crucial that I capture some of that in the synopsis.  This isn’t just a Boy Meets Girl kind of story.  Demons are running amok, some mad scientists are making things worse, the FBI is on the case, etc.  I think what I’m going to do is treat each plot suspense thread sort of like a “love interest.”  I’ll write up a paragraph to set up the thread, and then see if I can neatly (hahaha) summarize in between the inciting incident and the resolution. 

The nice thing (groans) about writing a synopsis is that it forces me to see the story clearly.  I have to define the events and characters very carefully, fine-tuning threads into as few words as possible.  Often that makes a puzzle piece slide a little tighter into the big picture.  I realized tonight that I’d missed a slight opportunity to up the suspense a bit more once Jaid arrives onsite at Lake Atitlan.

*dies*  More revisions.  This is becoming the project that never ends!

When Dr. Connagher finds this synopsis satisfactory, I’ll write up a post like I did for the original “Letters” synopsis.  I’m sure it’ll be a hoot.

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Synopsis Suckage

I’ve almost come to believe that the synopsis serves as a “Gatekeeper.”  A finished story in hand isn’t usually enough.  It doesn’t matter how polished the story is.  If I can’t summarize the story in a concise query and synopsis, then I probably don’t know what my story is about.  Philosophically I know this and even buy into it…until I begin to struggle, and then I just want to whine and play the latest Diner Dash game.

I’ve written two versions of the Maya story synopsis and they both suck bracken swamp water.  Choppy, awkward, trite, boring as hell, you name it.  I’ve tried on paper, in a file, starting a new file, jotting more on paper.  Nothing is working.

And then I realized that I haven’t been listening to my own process.  Remember when Dr. Connagher helped me with his synopsis?  For whatever stupid reason, I forgot his lesson.  *headdesk*  So I started over again and I’m writing one paragraph at a time.  I didn’t get far tonight–too tired after long Evil Day Job (quarter-end deadlines on top of everything else).  Everything’s stacking up on me and the stress is really taking a toll.  Hopefully I’ll hit the sack soon, get about 10 hours of sleep, and then work on the synopsis first thing in the morning before anyone else is up.  That’s my plan.

With lots of coffee, peanut butter cookies, Clive Owen, the Rock, and scrap paper, I hope to churn out a good–hell, I’ll even take decent–synopsis.  I can make decent better.  Crap just has to be taken to the curb.

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Revision Xibalba: Asking WHY

The end is in sight!

I had some dialogue that contained crucial information the reader needed to know–but it was borderline “technical” or “infodump.”  I didn’t want the section to read like a Maya textbook, but if you didn’t understand the background mythology, none of the “Gate” magic would make sense. 

After reading Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction, I knew I needed to add some subtle tension between Jaid and another character to punch up this dialogue scene.  I’d already laid the groundwork with Dr. Reyes — I just needed some crucial details.   I knew he believed, but WHY did he believe?  It had to be more than “he’s Guatemalan.”

One of the most crucial questions in the writer’s toolbox is WHY. 

But I was really drawing a blank tonight.  I worked late for the Evil Day Job (I have a 6/30 deadline there, too, actually 6/29 because I’d like to take the holiday off starting 6/30) and I was just braindead.  I finally decided to read back through my notes on Guatemala City, where Dr. Reyes lives and works.  In the last revision pass, I created a crucial tie between him and one other “extraneous” character.  It would make perfect sense if I beefed up that connection, so I concentrated on the key event that drove Dr. Reyes meeting/knowing this other character.

Finally, the key hit me right between the eyes.  I bet you’ve probably never heard of Kaminaljuyu, even if you’re familiar with Tikal, Palenque, or Chich’en Itza, yet Kaminaljuyu has been called one of the greatest archeological sites of the New World.  It just happens to be in Guatemala City, too — actually beneath it.

So I completely fabricated a believable little plot element that explains why Dr. Reyes believes in the Gatekeeper.

Only one item remains for Revision Xibalba II — just a little Oedipus Complex.  *snort*  Then to the dreaded synopsis revisions and a careful read through, preferrably hardcopy but I’m low on ink and paper.

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Revision Xibalba & Project Update

Whew, that was some hard work!  I finally managed to cut a scene from around page 130 and move it very early in the story arc.  This scene sets the stage better and provides true motivation for Jaid, the “Un-Indiana Jones,” to risk going to Guatemala, even to save her father.  It wasn’t cut and paste, though.  For one, the character cast was entirely different in the beginning scenes.

More difficult, though, was deciding how much Jaid would say to other characters, in particular, Sam.  Would she tell him what she’d seen?  Why or why not?  Could I use the tape to complicate her doubts and confusion in one way, while providing better motivation on the other?  Turned out, I could.  At least I think I did.

There are only a few more items left on my list.  One is strictly emotional conflict.  I began worsening Jaid and Sam’s relationship in the last revision, but I don’t think I made it quite bad enough.  I missed some good opportunities to make Jaid squirm.  The other item on my list requires me to do a little more background work on Dr. Efrain Reyes.  I need to know in particular why he believes what he does.  Once I do, I can make some of his dialogue scenes with Jaid all the more tense.  She knows, but doesn’t believe.  He believes, but doesn’t know the details.  They could each hold the secret the other needs–or end up deadly enemies, depending on how the cards fall.

Good stuff.  I should be able to wrap these items up by the weekend as long as no new fires crop up.  That gives me a few days to revise my synopsis and query.  Gah, I dread messing around with the synopsis.  I know the draft I have sucks bracken swamp water. 

Meanwhile, I have a tentative title for both of July’s projects and I did some really good character work tonight.  This may show how anal compulsive obsessive I am, but I created Gantt charts for my projects through September, color coded by project.  June = 3 projects in various phases; July = 3 (one will be querying the Maya story); August = 4 (remember when I said I’d take some time off?  hahaha); and September = 3.  This includes major revisions to the Maya story, Return to Shanhasson (first draft was finished last year for NaNoWriMo), and Seven Crows, assuming I can get the first draft done in August.  Ironically, this schedule does NOT include the two projects I’m writing in July.  Assuming either is contracted, I’ll have to fit in revisions somewhere.  If anything slips, it’ll be Seven Crows, but only for a month or two.  I’d really like to finish it this year, along with Victor’s story.

Yeehaw, it’s going to be a scorcher summer!

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Schedule From Hell

July is going to be hellacious.  No time for the dog days of summer here!  Victor and Shiloh will need to wait just one month longer so I can get two shorter pieces whipped out by 7/31.

Right now, my number one priority continues to be Revision Xibalba.  After screwing up majorly this weekend (working on the WRONG file!), I need to grind through some fairly significant surgery.  I axed a scene from around the first 1/3 of the book and moved it up to the beginning, so there’s trickle down all through the story until I reach the original spot — which needs triage to blend.  Then I still have several other small revisions to make.  I’m getting there, but slower than I’d like.

Meanwhile, I’m doing character and plot work on two short pieces.  One will be anywhere between 5-20K.  I don’t think I can do 5K easily and I want to stay away from the high end just because of time constraints.  Guessing about 10-15K right now but I’ll know more once the plot is finalized.  All sorts of interesting research going on for it, which is good an bad, obviously.  I love research…but it’s a time hog.

Lastly, I’m working on a Christmas piece set at Beulah Land, Miss Belle’s B&B.  I have the characters and loose plot figured out, but it needs tightening and details.

Details, details.  They’re so important.

If…WHEN…I make both of these deadlines, I’ll probably crash a week or two in August and read everything I can get my hands on.  Then watch out Victor and Shiloh!  I’ll be ready to begin their first draft in September I think.  Or I might work on Seven Crows instead.  I’ve had some interest in it and I’d love an excuse to get it going…

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Revision Xibalba II

So here are a few of the details that I’ll be tackling this week in the Maya story. 

  1. Opening scene:  clarify the whole “video taping” element.  Smooth the dialogue so it’s not quite so stilted.  Goal:  eliminate reader confusion about what’s happening.  DONE last night.
  2. Opening scenes with Jaid and Geoffrey:  remove the office break-in element entirely.  Remove the missing Chilam Balam book entirely.  Build tension between how she “ought” to feel and reality.  Goal: make Jaid a bit more sympathetic.  DONE last night.
  3. Set up the home break-in element completely differently.  No obvious break-in when she and Geoffrey arrive.  Goal: make Jaid less callous and remove any chance at all for TSTL comments for going into a house unarmed that has obviously been burglarized.  DONE last night.
  4. Move the video viewing element from late 1/3 book up to this point.  Jaid will see her father disappear, see the hints of magic.  Goal:  better explain why she goes to Guatemala, buy in, motivation, etc.  IN PROGRESS.
  5. Quinn’s first scene:  clean up FBI procedure a bit.  Goal: remove doubts to Quinn’s competency.  DONE last night.
  6. Use setting to play off Jaid’s memory of the accident.  Goal:  add subtle tension.
  7. Increase tension in dialogue between Jaid and Reyes.  She knows, but doesn’t believe; he believes, but needs to keep everything secret.  Goal:  racket up that “info-dump” scene with subtext tension.
  8. Reyes:  WHY does he believe?  Goal: specific details in his past to anchor his motivations.
  9. Jaid and Sam: build torn emotions, conflicting emotions.  Goal: racket emotional tension.
  10. Revise the scene with Madelyn to remove the missing Chilam Balam thread.  Play off substitute mother threats/Cinderella aspect instead.  Goal: continuity and tension.
  11. Increase technology in Venus Star, longer descriptive passages.  Goal: ground the reader better and bring tech to near future.
  12. Remove the video scene with Jaid and Ruin — smooth corresponding hole.  Goal: continuity.
  13. Read as a “thriller” instead of “contemporary fantasy” and evaluate tension.  Goal: racket up tension at every point, whether emotional or external stakes.

Deadline:  by next Monday so I can return to queries.  That means I also need to revise the synopsis and eyeball the query again.

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Re-Visioning the Writing Plan

This month has not gone as I expected and June is far from over. 

I’m thrilled that I made the 50K mark for MayNoWriMo, but with preparation for Dear Sir, I’m Yours release next week, I lost all momentum in Arcana.  I’ve actually written a bit this month — already 15K for the prequel Letters — which reminded me of how much I love the Connagher family.

Victor, Conn’s older brother, has been on my mind a whole lot.  I’ve already got him cast as Adrian Paul.  I know some of his history (thanks to Conn) and I already know who his heroine is, although I don’t quite know enough about her to say I could write in earnest.  However, I do have about 10-20K or so of “pre-notes” — loose scenes that may or may not fit the story, etc.  I have the “hook” and it cracks me up.  Now, I have sooo many ideas to make that story deeper, richer, a killer fun story.

So here I am, dreading trying to get back into Arcana after it went totally cold.  Dreading having to re-evaluate my outline and figure out what I can cut since I’ve only covered 30 of a planned 100 sections (and already sitting at 50K).  Meanwhile, I’ve got a handful of revisions I need to do on the Maya story so I can get the next round of queries out.  I’d really really like to get cracking on the next Connagher story for Samhain to keep that pipe filled, especially now, while the ideas and voices are hot in my head.

And I realized that I really should probably shuffle my projects around.  The Maya story has a timeline built into it because of the whole 2012 end of the world thing.  I’m not using that at all — the story could be set at any time — but I like the idea of this book coming out BEFORE then to take advantage of all the hype.  I was really stressed out mid-May, wishing I could get those revisions done but I didn’t dare stop working on Arcana at the time.  Now, I might as well take advantage of that coldness and rip up the Maya story.

So for the rest of this month, my priorities are:

  1. Revision Xibalba II and return to queries.
  2. Prework on Victor and Shiloh’s story.  I don’t know what the title is, but I know the theme song, so I’ll refer to it by that:  Time is Running Out by Muse.