Rules of Thumb vs Tech Talk


[Quick note: as Laura reminded us {and Misty} rooms for ConCarolinas 2014 are going fast. Make your reservation today.] On to the post. 

I just finished the rewrite of BLACK ARTS. And honestly it was the hardest rewrite I have ever done.

“But you say that every time,” you say.

“Yes. And every time it is true.”

Why so hard? Lots of reasons. For one, I no longer am writing standalones as I did as Gwen. (Except that 6 book medical series. And the 3 book saga. Except those.) Each book in a series is built on the plot arcs of previous books and yet there can be no similar plot lines or inciting events. There has to be lots of action. And character stuff and plot stuff that happened in previous books and was left unresolved has to be resolved.

No, “stuff” is not an appropriate technical term. I really mean unresolved character arcs and unresolved plot threads. But “stuff” makes me happier. Kinda like a the way I feel when a doctor walks into a patient’s room and gives a differential diagnosis and gets ready to leave. At which point I always pipe up, “So, did you understand all that?” Patient says, “No.” And I grin. And doctor frowns. Now he has to think and talk like his patient and communicate in monosyllabic English instead of doc-speak. They hate me. The docs. Fortunately no one here at MW hates me for my digested rules of thumb or lack of use of technical writing terms. I hope.

Anyway, back to story stuff.

When I had to put myself through school, and money was problematic (read nonexistent), yet I wanted to be a writer, I studied writing. I studied writing a LOT. I studied the terms and the meanings and the technical methods and the great teachers (and the way writers lived and were paid and sold books). But I didn’t bother to remember the terms and the technical stuff. I just absorbed the meat of it all and internalized it and created rules of thumb to go by.

But with book 7 of the Jane Yellowrock series, BLACK ARTS, the rules of thumb let me down. 

In BA, the plot threads (as presented to the editor in the proposal) were similar to 2 previous books in the series and the editor nixed that. I retooled the entire overarching, main plot arc, which the editor approved. But then I had to write a book I didn’t want to write. And because I started in a different direction from the one that “felt” right, the relationship arcs broke down. And the individual small plot arcs were clunky. And the book simply didn’t work. My editor recognized that right away when I turned it in. Like right away.

Fixing a broken book takes time that I didn’t have. I had 4 weeks for a rewrite that needed at least 8. I squeezed out 5 weeks. The book still wasn’t ready.

But with my editor’s help, I made it work on rewrite number 3 and in the 7th  rewrite week. And here’s how. And here’s the point to all this “stuff”.

Rewrites are hard. They should be hard. Someone with no love for your book but with a lot of education and with a very critical eye is reading your book according to all the rules I digested when I was learning to write. That editor knows how stories affect the reader and what the reader needs to get a satisfying reading experience. To that editor, your book ain’t your baby. It’s a product. But that editor (hopefully) also knows you, the writer, and can see what you wanted to achieve. And a good editor finds a way to blend it all so it works.

With my editor’s direction, I went back and put in the similar plot arc that I had taken out at the proposal stage, but I tweaked it so it felt different to the reader. I needed that arc for the whole book to work. With her help, I dumped a lot of clunky stuff I had added to write a book without the plot arc I needed. And with my editor’s help, I wrote the book that I wanted. That was the most important thing. The editor recognized that the book I wrote for her was faulty. She steered me back to writing the book I wanted, but with twists and tweaks that made it original.

The result was a paranormal urban fantasy thriller, with a bang-bang-shoot-em-up opening and a mystery (or 3) that get solved with action and fighting and investigating. A book that is original but keeps to the heart of the character and the series.

In any book, something has happen every ten pages or so or the reader will lose interest. (Yes, my rule of thumb.) (“Something” meaning advancement of the plot or advancement of the character arc.) I was able to go back and (I hope) make that happen.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that writing the book the writer wants does not always work. Some people have only one plot line in them and every single book is that plot line, with only the names and settings changed. But I have a lot of plot in me, and my editor knew me well enough to shove me in the right direction, make some course changes, and let me go with it. I think it worked. Maybe. I sent the book off to her yesterday (Tuesday), after the third rewrite, and…yeah. I think it worked. We’ll see what the copy editor says.

So when you see our technical jargon here at MW, absorb it. Let it become part of you. And then BIC. Write the book that itches under your skin, that whispers into your dreams, that begs you to write it. And let something happen every ten pages. Faith’s rule of thumb.

Oh – here’s the cover of BLACK ARTS. I love it!





13 comments to Rules of Thumb vs Tech Talk

  • That cover is absolutely gorgeous! I love how Beast is on it as well.

    I know what you mean about sometimes not remembering the jargon, but absorbing the rules. A lot of that for me came from fiction reading. I love re-learning the rules and words, though, because in beta-reading, it’s better to have those lessons ingrained rather telling someone that something’s not working because it doesn’t feel right. My critique partner and I have been intensely revising (and boy, is it *hard* sometimes), but the explanatory notes we leave for each other as to *why* those changes should be made really help.

    And thank you for sharing that info about ConCarolinas, too. I’m glad the word is out and that hopefully our clan can get the rooms we need at a reasonable price. 🙂

  • I love the cover, too, but then again, I love all your covers. And I agree with Laura: it’s about time Beast got some jacket space.

    As you say, Faith, rewrites are just hard, and not feeling comfortable with the direction a book has taken makes them that much more complicated. Early in my career, the toughest thing for me was being honest with my editor, and telling him when his feedback was helpful and when it wasn’t. It sounds as though you and your editor have a good working relationship. When you can question and express your artistic needs and opinions everything is easier. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  • I’ve already reserved a room for ConCaro for next year, and I LIVE here!

  • MykaReede

    Love your rule of thumb re action. If an average paperback page is 250-300 words, then every 2500-3000 words or so should contain a moving-the-plot-forward action scene (obviously differs w genre, etc). I decided to test it out on a beta-read WIP where I’m finding that I’m skimming certain parts (forcing myself to go back and read/edit) and it is closer to 5000 in those places. Interesting. Now to do that quick analysis on my own WIP. Hah! Always harder on your own stuff 🙂

    I would need to ponder some more, but I could see a similar rule of thumb for romance and general character development arcs. Every 2500-3000 words or so, the main couple (or protag if not a romance) needs so be interacting, bantering, and growing. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer incremental development with maybe one doozy jump in the character arc. And I get frustrated reading/skimming subplot/arc for more than ten pages (screaming get me back to the real story or romance).

  • Wow, just let a girl go for a massage and then lunch with dad and you guys write!

    Laura, my editor does remind of the rules, sometimes, but we’ve evolved to, “Suggestion: do this…” It works for us. But yes, *relearning* the rules (as I get to do here at MW) and the terms is helpful — always. Writing should be a lifetime of learning. Kinda like the ongoing ed I do for the lab…
    And yes, Beast is quite happy. LOL

    David, I am sooo happy it’s over and that my editor was patient with me. Covers? With the exception of one cover, I’ve been very happy and *very*
    lucky with JY artwork. And I got *okay* with that cover when they covered up Jane’s boobs. Covers make a such a huge difference in the sales of a book, and the sales of the book with the big boobs were lower than any others. Duh…

    John, I have my room reserved too. LOL RVing it!

    Myka, that rule of thumb sits heavy on me sometimes, and sometimes I let it slip for a few pages, but it really does seem to be *the* rule that resonates best with me and with my style of writing. I agree that different genres change it, but still, a reader needs something to happen. You know it!

  • Johnathan Knight

    I’m somewhat confused on two points.

    1. What does BIC mean? I googled it, but I’m just getting lighters.


    2. If something has to happen about every ten pages, what’s going on during the other nine pages? This is a serious question; I’m not (intentionally) being goofy. I feel like I’m misunderstanding. I’ve always heard that every line should advance characterization or plot, so it’s difficult for me to absorb the ten pages idea you’ve presented. Perhaps you’re saying that every ten pages should see a new goal met or established, or should present a new twist or revelation. While the other nine pages are dealing with those goals, twists, and revelations.

  • The turn-around time on that last edit is scary. I don’t know how you weren’t crippled from all the hours of BIC that must have required. But, I also can’t wait to read Black Arts and I’m loving the cover with Beast.

    After hearing all the news for next year’s ConCarolinas, I DID NOT want to miss another year, so I booked us in.

  • Johnathan Knight

    BIC, butt in chair. Never mind on that question.

  • Johnathan, some writers spend 20 pages on backstory, or 10 on setting, or, god forbid, 15 on internal monologue. My rule of thumb is, every ten pages something has to *happen*, an event that moves the story arc forward. That twists the character into more misery. A happening whereby the character makes a decision or a movement that counts insofar as the primary conflict is concerned. It is story arc / character arc / macro-pacing dumbed down to rule of thumb. Ten pages.
    And yes — Butt in Chair!

    EK, it was … difficult. And I do have sitting-at-computer issues, physically speaking. However, I do have one more chance to look it over, after the Copy Editor gets her claws into it, so I can still fix more stuff. Thank god!

  • Your every 10 pages rule is why I can usually read Jane books in a single sitting (I read so much we got asked to write book reviews for a magazine). Gerald can even manage your books which is a great compliment because the only adult books he reads now are those of our mentor and sometimes parts of yours. Most adult things move too slow and don’t have enough action to keep him interested. Regular fantasy which tends to run into epic proportions puts him to sleep. He spends his time writing and now revising also. We have to finish the revisions we got from a publisher so we can try again.

    Butt in Chair is a common issue at our house too. Hard to get a days work in when you are like a rubber ball.
    We have a laugh over that sometimes though, because one morning Gerald said something about putting his butt in the chair. However, when he sat down his office chair broke and his butt was on the floor, so now its “butt in chair, not in/on the ____”. You can imagine the places he can think of to complete that sentence, not all of them PG either.

    I also like the new cover and while it is good that beast is on there, I still think she should get a cover of her own with a tiny Jane in the background. Also could use some of those hunky guys from your love triangle on there too.

  • Angela, it sounds like you and Gerald have a wonderful relationship — laughter and togetherness and fun.

    Revisions are just hard. And not fun. No matter how they go. But yes, you should revise and keep writing. It seems to fulfill you both and really — that is what writing is for, to fulfill that need inside us. As I said in the post, “Write the book that itches under your skin, that whispers into your dreams, that begs you to write it. And let something happen every ten pages. Faith’s rule of thumb.”

  • mudepoz

    So mu h stuff to grok.

  • mudepoz

    So much stuff to grok. Never mind. Stupid phone. The sea is stuk.