Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writing Pains...

They say every author has them. Moments of frustration. Moments of breaking down crying (if the author is a girl.) Moments of wanting to throw in the towel. Moments of wanting to print off one's manuscript and tear it into pieces just for the sake of tearing it into pieces.

Well, maybe not that bad.

But in any case, I got 'em! Or had 'em. This morning.

An acquaintance of mine, Maggie Woychik, referred me to a most wonderful Christian Writer's forum so that I could glean from published writers, have people critique my work, et cetera. She also recommended me to a particular lady on there who would be able to give me some good tips.

So I got a hold of this lady, told her about Airborne, and sent the first chapter. This is what came back.


Melanie, I just got through the opening paragraph this evening. Please don't be discouraged by all the suggestions, they are ONLY suggestions! I know the first time I had something come back all marked up my heart dropped to my seat, but I learned so much from it. I hope you will too.

Read just the highlighted areas first, straight through.

red = out, blue = in, suggestions/comments in green
Jeff Scharlacken stared dismally out the window of the fast-moving, high-flying airplane. (I would remove these because you don't want to “tell” dismally, you want to show it, and all airplanes are fast moving and high flying. I'd probably rewrite the sentence to “Jeff Scharlacken stared out the airplane window.) Below him for miles and miles spread the brown-green, or sometimes snow-laden and snow peaked, terrain of the Andes. (I'm breaking this long sentence up because long sentences, before the reader is hooked, can be off-putting. Don't make the reader work too hard until you have them in your hand.) The mountains climbed higher and higher, looking like a blanket that had been dropped haphazardly on the earth by a child. (This is simpler imagery to get the point across and set the stage for the reader. I'm a minimalist for words, sometime.) Occasionally the plane passed over a snaking river or a deep, wide canyon. The plane passed over rivers and canyons that creased the jagged landscape. Whenever (Always be specific if possible, “three times” or “a dozen times”, avoid the vagueness of “whenever”, you can even leave it out entirely, as I would in this case.) Jeff saw what looked like the lights of a city up ahead., He felt His stomach stirred with a mix of hope and dread. that it might Could that be their destination: Bogotá? (Short sentences and turning this into a question raises the tension a little bit. Tension perks interest.) Then The plane would pass passed over the a small city and continue the airborne trek over the endless mountains—whether to Jeff’s relief or to his distress, he could not tell. (I know this looks like I slaughtered your opening and please don't be discouraged. Remember, these are ONLY suggestions on my part. In my opinion, you bogged the opening down too much in detail. The reader doesn't need that type of picky detail at this point in your story. Trust that your reader knows about how planes fly, what mountains look like, etc. Too much “purple prose” slows the reader down and you don't want him/her going to sleep before getting interested in your story! The reader doesn't know your character or why they should feel anything towards him. You added a nice emotional bit there at the end and tightening up the sentences brings that out. I think rewording the end of the very last sentence could add even more emotion, but I'll leave that up to you. I'm off to bed for tonight, I'll look at this more tomorrow.)


Oh dear. Well, that wasn't really that bad. I need critiquing, I want critiquing, and saying "fast-moving , high-flying airplane" really is just plain dumb! :-P Okay, so I need help, and P. is going to help me. I can do this.

Then I got this today:



I glanced through the rest of your chapter this morning and I have a suggestion I think will help you out. You have a good solid story idea and a good grasp of language. What you lack are the skills to put those together in a format acceptable to publishing. (Trust me, I know because I was there myself.) Writing for publication is nothing like writing a paper or a short story for school. It has more rules and restrictions than I ever imagined when I got started.

Two books helped clarify this for me and I highly recommend you read them before posting your work to the forum.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
by Renni Browne and Dave King
The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman

Both books are worth the purchase price, but I'm sure you can get them through your local library as well.

In my opinion, after reading both these books, you'll see more clearly what type of writing publishers are looking for. You'll learn what to remove, what to leave in and how to tighten up the tension/drama of your story.

If you post this as is, you're going to get a lot of feedback that may not direct your story exactly where YOU want it to go. It needs a lot of changes and you can make these by yourself once you understand the concepts in the books above. Trust me! It's not hard, it's just different than the way teachers taught you to write.

Once you do that revision, then it's time to post to the forum. Then people are seeing your best work, and will give comments that only fine tune, and not completely rewrite your work. I hope I'm making sense with this. I don't want to discourage you at all because your writing does show a lot of promise as a rough draft. Rough drafts, however, are not what you want to post to the forums. . . .

Until you get the books, go read through the forums at the critiques given to the works people have posted there. Pay attention to any criticism you see repetitively given. Learning from the mistakes of others is less painful, if more difficult to remember. :)


I might have taken it better earlier that morning, but I had just had some stressful things happen and I was already upset at a person, and getting this critique was just a little much for me! I closed my computer, bundled up, went outside, tracked through the snow to the woods, sat down on a [very wet, snowy] log, and cried! I was so upset. Rewrite Airborne? AGAIN??? The very thought was daunting. I have gotten so far in re-writing, and now to go back and do it all over again?

But I knew-- and know-- that God does not want us to get into the dumps about these things, but to look to Him for strength and help. So I looked up at the tangled mass of apparently dead branches networking across the cloudy sky above me and whispered, "God, please help me. I am so discouraged-- please help me." Then I picked myself up, realized my seat was quite damp from the snow I had been sitting on, and went back inside. When I shared with Mommy a while later, she encouraged me to just put aside Airborne today and not work on it until my brain had cleared a little.

So this evening I googled the books on P.'s list and found Self-Editing for Fiction Writers online at Google Books (with some pages missing). That was exciting.... So I read the first chapter. As I read, my mind cleared and my heart grew more encouraged. Finally...

THAT'S IT!!! *tumbles backwards Peanuts-style*

I saw what I needed to do; I saw how I could stop "telling" and start "showing".

There's no need for me to start with Jeff on the plane to Colombia and then go back into a long narrative history of his life, just because that's how it was when I first started writing this book when I was fourteen. I suddenly began to picture it: Jeff packing some last-minute items, coming across the photo album of his parents and thinking about them, then stuffing it in his bag hurriedly when he hears his aunt enter the room; his aunt talks to him some more about why she made the decision she did, revealing some of his history through their conversation and thoughts rather than a narrative; then Jeff and Jerry ride to the airport, and then begin Jerry's annoyingness.

That's just a rough idea, but that's what came to my mind. Suddenly the thought of re-writing didn't seem quite as daunting as it did before. I have an idea of where to start, and now just need to read a little further in that book to see more of what I can do.

Critiquing is a hard and scary thing. No matter how much I may want to make my book the best it can be before it is published for all the world to read, it is still hard to have someone point out a major area that I can improve. I would not ask P. to take back her words for the world, because they helped me to see something I needed to learn! (Many thanks to her!!) It is hard at first, but "joy cometh in the morning". ;-)

How this can be applied to all aspects of life! It is easy for us to think that we are moving along just fine, and then when someone points out something to us, or God's Word sheds light on a hidden area of our hearts.... OUCH!! It hurts!!! But hurt is sometimes good. It helps us to know the underlying problem. And it helps us to know to get help or start taking the write medications or whatever we need to do to change that underlying problem. I am glad that God does this in our lives. Wouldn't it be terrible if He just left us to ourselves and did not tell us what we so desperately need to know? But He doesn't leave us to ourselves, but graciously teaches us, corrects us, points things out to us, shows us what to do, and best of all, helps us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move ahead! THANK YOU, LORD!!!

Before I close, I might just tell you what I wrote P. and what she wrote back. ;-)

ME: Hm, your email hit a chord. At first, I was overwhelmed with the idea of rewriting/editing again. However, I was able to find the "Self-Editing" book... [and then I told her about what I got from the first chapter, and my ideas for improving Airborne; then I thanked her.]

She wrote back: "Melanie, I'm so glad I didn't step all over your feelings. I'm not the most tactful person on earth (understatement of the year there), so I'm glad you waded through what I wrote and came out unbruised."

:-) Well, I wasn't going to tell her I cried after I got her email! :-P (I should add, she then gave some good encouragement that helped me to be even less scared of re-writing...)

Hope you are all having a wonderful week so far! Thanks for letting me ramble! God bless! :-D

(Sorry about the messed-up font...don't know how to fix that.)

"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:
nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness
unto them which are exercised thereby."
(Hebrews 12:11)


Teddy said...

My reaction:
1.) Sick feeling as I fully commiserated w/ you.
2.) Acute annoyance that this total stranger had made you cry ("-you VILLAIN!!!!!!!")
3.) This sorta "breathed prayer" went heavenward...
4.)Then it started making sense and looking like this woman really was going to help you...
5.)THEN I was SOOOOO happy for you.
6.) THEN I laughed picturing you flipping backwards like Charlie Brown. :-)
7.) Then I totally freaked out over how cool the new beginning of Airborne sounds...praise the Lord that He takes us through hard things for our own good!!!!!!

Melanie said...

*big smiles* My dear girl, I enjoyed reading your delightful comment. :-)
And P. is far from villainous, I assure you. ;-) Glad you like the new idea for the beginning of Airborne! I am excited about it! :-D

Bethany A. said...

Wow, Melanie!! That was great...I needed that post, and you put it all perfectly. :)

Anonymous said...

I love your new ideas for the first chapter, Melanie; I can't wait to see it!

Gabrielle Renee said...

I LOVE the new beginning ideas for "Airborne"! I can just imagine it in a movie! :D

My reaction to this post was just about the same as Teddy's. :D

Love you!

Rosebud said...

Hurt is always difficult, but very often good - thanks for posting the verses to go with that! And you can DO IT with Airborne!! :D