The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘first draft

We love her exacting, exquisite romantic fiction. But according to research by Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, some of Jane Austen’s prose benefited from a little help from a friend. In deed that friend was editor William Gifford, whose talents may have improved the classics we’ve read and watched turned into film.

Jane Austen

After studying 1,100 handwritten pages of Austen’s unpublished work, Sutherland suggests they contradict the claim by Austen’s brother Henry that “everything came finished from her pen.”

The pages Sutherland reviewed contained “blots, crossings out, messiness.” In fact, the research confirms Austen as a writer who “broke most of the rules for writing good English,” Sutherland suggests.

This is good news for unpublished novelists like myself, who constantly question how perfect our prose must be before sending it to a would-be agent. I’ve always suspected that a talented editor may be the difference between a pedistrian novel and a blockbuster work, like Austen’s that lasts through the ages.

Austen was a writer experimenting with her craft, and according to Sutherland, she was “even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest.”

If you’d like to view Austen’s handwritten manuscripts visit http://www.janeausten.ac.uk.

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If you’re anything like me, music is an integral part of your life.  I’m one of those people who steps out the door and wishes there was some kind of soundtrack going to greet me along with the day.  I also wish that sometimes, an entire street would break out into song like they do in a musical or a Bollywood film.  Especially since I work downtown, and that might make the whole misery of seeing endless ghost malls and the increasing number of homeless folks seem…well, just a little less dreary.

I tend to have music that I gravitate toward when I write different things, but I can pretty much listen to anything while I write because music is far less distracting than complete silence.  I can’t stand complete silence or blank walls.  I even have to sleep with a fan on at night so the white noise will lull me to sleep and keep me there.  But, sometimes, certain genres of music work better for certain pieces or certain characters.  I really got into big band swing when I was writing my first novel since it took place in 1940.

I find myself developing soundtracks for my novels.  Like I can hear certain songs and think of a particular character or scene.  For example, my bodysnatching ghost villain, Tristan Thorn, has a theme song.  It’s “He’s Evil” by the Kinks.  Every time I hear that song, I think of T.   Especially the line: “He wants your body, not your mind.”  It’s as if they’d written it for Tristan, even though that song was released when I was a tiny child.

The Kinks: "Preservation Act 2" Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws

I’ve taken to developing soundtracks for my novels recently.  I know, it’s just another one of those things that writers do when they should be writing, but it helps sometimes.  Those songs can set the mood I need for the scene I’m about to write.  Whether it’s “Know Your Enemy” by Rage Against the Machine for the big showdown scene, or “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison when the characters start to fall in love, the music gets me where I need to go.

So, go ahead and turn up the volume or strap on your headphones.  Let the music take you.  I swear, it works!

Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a dry streak.  I’m nearly finished with this first book in a series and I know what I have to write, yet…I cannot write it!

I’m a pretty careful plotter (especially with this one because it is the introduction to a series, and a whole new universe!), so I always have a skeleton to work with when I sit to write.  Sometimes I even have the key dialogue planned out.  So, really it’s just a matter of filling in the whole scene with the stage directions and setting.  And still I have been sitting in front of my computer with the cursor blinking accusatorily.  Or I get a good spurt for a few minutes, then start picking apart every word I’ve written.

I turned to my lovely counterparts here at PaD and they consoled me, even suggested that I go with a little break and feed my muse.  It has been an incredibly good stretch with no writer’s block.  I’ve even had one day when I wrote nearly 10,000 words!

Good times!

The ladies were right.  My muse needed…well…to muse a bit, I guess.  I’ve been trying to feed her over the last few weeks, and not just a tiny amuse-bouche.  No, Siree!  We’ve been going whole hog over here!  It’s the least I can do, giving my muse all the sustenance she needs so she can continue to spin new tales.

Since this little glitch happened over the holidays, I’ve had the occasion to socialize a lot more too (and eat more chocolate!).  I keep forgetting how much of a vacuum we writers live in, only occasionally looking up from our work to check in on our friends and loved ones.  It’s good to get out and have a few drinks, chat with others, even co-workers!  I’ve also been in full recharge mode, as I call it.  Reading a lot more again, and watching a lot of movies/TV series.   It’s strange, but I think the video has been more helpful for my particular problem.  I have a bit of a ‘telling’ problem (I know, I know, don’t we all!).  I’m discovering that watching what directors decide to ‘show’ in a shot is really helping me decide the same thing.  Looking at the backgrounds too, seeing the moods they create.

This has given me the perfect excuse to indulge in my addiction to other imaginary universes.  Catching up on my Harry Potter film watching.  I was woefully behind!

Sorry kids.

And of course, there’s my Joss Whedon addiction.  That man gives great universe!  Too bad most of the American public was only down with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  I just watched the whole Firefly series in addition to the feature film Serenity and I can’t believe that show got cancelled!!  It’s like The Wild, Wild West in space!  Also bummed that Dollhouse got the ax.  At least he got sufficient warning so he can still wrap it up to the viewers (and his own) satisfaction.

What amazes me about Joss is that he builds such a complete universe and he never slips.  Sometimes I think he’s made a mistake, but he always has a reason for the strange inconsistencies in his universes (e.g. the addition of Buffy’s sister, Dawn, in season 5 seemed odd.  Buffy was an only child!  But then she turned out to be a plant and everyone’s memory had been altered!  Good one, Joss!)

Maybe this is what’s plaguing my mind (in addition to doing an entire rewrite of a manuscript for an agent and still being rejected! *sob*).  I think I’m so afraid that I will miss some important universal element that will seem ham-handed if I try to slip it into a follow up book in the series.

I guess what I’m driving at is that we do need to take those breaks occasionally, amuse the muse.  I’m beginning to feel her come to, and I hope I can allay my other worries long enough to let her take off!

At my editor’s suggestion, I’ve bumped a scene from way back around chapter 20 to the very front of the book. She’s right, it is a stellar opening line and much more effectively sets the scope for the entire adventure in Tattoo. But that leaves me with scads of cutting, pasting, rewriting and reimagining to do. I’ve so far managed to condense about 5 chapters into two, heeding my keywords “short, sharp and brutal.”  I want to incite to leave readers feel strung out and remembering their own very awkward and heartwrenching breakups but plunging immediately into an emotional maelstrom doesn’t work in the opening position. More shuffling and sorting required.

On top of it all, I’m juggling two main storylines for one character. Because Soryk/ah is a Trader and spends time as both a woman and a man (neither of whom has much awareness of the other), each has her/his own life with its own complications and confusions. Getting confused? So am I.

I’ve gone round and round, looking at it from all angles to pinpoint the inciting incident for each of Soryk/ah’s genders. What specific event sets the story in motion? Do they have the same motivations, the same goals and desires? Do those feelings and ambitions counter or support the other gender? All of which leaves me feeling like I’m juggling a big ball of snakes.

Years of writing has taught me one vital lesson, and that’s the importance of brooding. Stewing, fermenting, bubbling, gestating. You get the idea. I see my creative mind as a deluxe stovetop with six flaring gas burners. Some of the pots and pans are filled with rich, creamy succulence, boiling and steaming, carmelizing and crackling away. Those are the stories I’m most excited about. There’s always a giant soup pot or two on the back burner, simmering over a low flame, it’s flavors and elements breaking down, interacting, creating new flavors and textures. When I feel stuck, I turn down the flame, pop a lid over the whole kit and caboodle and let it work itself out. This means working on other, less troublesome parts of the story, all the while, the soup pot bubbles.

Ultimately, I trust that my brain’s conduits to these characters’ lives will untangle themselves and by some mysterious alchemy, the mishmash of ingredients I’ve thrown together will be transformed into something so ultimately delicious, it leaves us all begging for another helping.

I think you may have to let this entry simmer in your own pot until my ramblings begin to make sense. I’ve been writing in between bubble-blowing breaks for the boy in the bath, who has informed me that he’s going to stay in the tub until midnight.

Anyway, here are two extrememly helpful links to discussion about the inciting incident and writing gotcha-grabber opening scenes/chapters.

http://www.floggingthequill.com/flogging_the_quill/2006/02/your_inciting_i.html

http://www.writersdigest.com/article/hooked-excerpt

Kirsten Imani Kasai

I feel you Sharon! Sorykah and Chen are currently vacationing in my brain and it I’m right there with them. They’re in the country and the air is warm, heavy and sweet. I can see and feel every detail, from the peeling, sun-bleached travel poster at the train station to the gold rim on the china cups at the inn where they’re staying. They’re emotions are intense and they swirl around me as if I am a rock in an eddy, washed by the cold current. Pacific Ocean-San Diego, CA

Today I realized that being in this frame of mind, half in and half out of the real world (straddling the border line between countries fictional or actual) is like standing waist-deep in the sea. Have you ever been to the ocean and waded out in the surf until the water rushed around your belly? Mentally penning the rough draft to “Asta Requited,” the third book in my series (dare I call it that?) keeps me spellbound. Landlocked, but yearning for the ocean’s depths. You can stand in the ocean and fix your gaze upon the horizon, or turn towards the beach with its blithe frolicking families. Whichever possibility you choose, there is always the tug of the tide pulling you away from safe shores and sucking at your clothes, beckoning you to go deeper, and deeper still.

I would love to lie on my back and float right into the heart of my story, but the real world is an anchor and will not let me go.

Kirsten Imani Kasai


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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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