Today the delete key is my friend.

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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Just call me the Duchess of Deletion.

I started to blog about how it hurts to see one bad review even if forty-’leven other people have given your book raves.  I decided I didn’t feel like being depressed about it, and I didn’t want people to think I was begging for sympathy.  I erased that post.

I started another post about what I’ve learned from doing book signings, and realized I haven’t learned enough yet.  Let me do some more, and then I’ll have something entertaining to say.  That one’s gone.

So now here I am, the clock ticking on my day, and me without a decent topic.  I’m opening the floor…what do YOU want to know?  Ask one of us, ask us all.
Play nicely, please.  :D

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20 comments to Today the delete key is my friend.

  • Chris Branch

    Okay, since you asked… I have a question. Reading through some of my writing (and others’ too), I am sometimes struck with a thought that what I’m reading seems somehow “amateurish”. I’m not talking about misspelled words or bad grammar, or even factual errors – everything looks fine on the surface – yet somehow I can’t see it as a “professional” book. But I can’t seem to quantify just exactly what’s wrong with it. What do you guys think – do you detect this sort of thing, and if so, what turns out to be the root cause – what is it that you find needs to be changed to eliminate it?

    Thanks!

  • Todd Massey

    For any of the authors that want to answer.

    Was it one of your life-long dreams to be published?

    How long of a process was it for you to be “discovered”? How long to find an agent to represent you and/or how long till you became published once you had an agent?

  • Mark Wise

    For those who still work, what is your other occupation?

  • Chris,

    I’ve been wondering the same thing lately. I think it might have to do with familiarity – we see our own words so many times during revisions and line edits and all, it’s a little like that kid’s game in which you say your own name over and over until it ceases to have any meaning and becomes a noise. Other people’s work is a surprise to us from start to finish, because we haven’t been looking at their words on a daily basis for months. Does that make any sense?

    Todd,

    I can’t claim it was a lifelong dream, since I spent a good long time in my youth wanting to be a singer instead. I started writing stories in junior high school, but it never occurred to me that I could write actual books until Faith got hold of me. :D As for the ‘discovery’, that depends on who was doing the discovering. As I mentioned Faith knew early on (before I did) that I had the talent, and she didn’t let me give up on myself. And on agents…I found one, who offered to rep me then vanished into thin air. Literally. I have no idea to this day what happened to her. After a few months of no contact, I accepted representation with Holly McClure of Sullivan Maxx. And the rest is history.

  • Mark,

    I’m a media assistant in a middle school library. That means I;m in charge of the circulation desk, I run the laminator, I build displays and play videos for teachers. And I get summers off!

  • Todd Massey

    Chris Branch said: (paraphrasing) my work looks amateurish.

    Partly it is reading over your own work so many times. You constantly second guess the words you have used and the way they are arranged.

    Partly it is everyone’s own self-doubt and lack of confidence. I have rarely been pleased with anything I have written. Excited about the ideas, yes, but not how they became to be displayed upon the page.

    But thankfully there have been critique groups and others who have both said my work was good or liked most of it but “just this part here could use some tweaking”.

    An objective, knowledgeable, independent eye goes a long way in helping to remind you that your work is good.

  • Great questions!

    *Was it one of your life-long dreams to be published?
    SInce 10th grade, yes. I had no talent and longed to find something in me that was…gifted, I guess. When a teacher told me was a talented writer and should make writing my profession, my future was set in stone.

    *How long of a process was it for you to be “discovered”? How long to find an agent to represent you and/or how long till you became published once you had an agent?

    I got in on the last year of the old school of publication houses, when they had jr. editors who did nothing but *discover* new talent. But it took me a *lot* of rejections to find the right book for that one editor. After that, getting an agent was a breeze.

    *For those who still work, what is your other occupation?

    I work in a hospital lab for the benefits and the regular paycheck. The day congress makes it possible for us buy health insurance at a reasonable price, I’m sooo outta there.

    *(paraphrasing) my work looks amateurish.
    The main and usual reason is that you are telling not showing. The second reason is loss of character voice.

    Telling Ex: Chris was sweating, the day was muggy. The fan didn’t help. (note: no voice)

    Showing Ex: Sweat trickled down Chris’s back, sticking his shirt to his skin like salty glue. The fan was welcome, but more as a distraction than anything else. Nothing was going to combat the muggy August heat. He turned his face to articifial breeze and tried to think of snow. Or maybe a working air conditioner.

    Faith

  • I have an interesting question, well at least for me that is. How do you know that a plot that you have figured out is original as far as to start with it (original is a stretchy concept) and do you have your own tips to take things in a new angle like a formula or something?

  • You might laugh, but…
    Something has to happen every 10 pages.

    That is my formula. And that *something* has to drive the plot, not just be an apple cart scene.

    Speaking of apple cart scenes, you writers know what that is? Literary term.

    It is the scene in the movie (or book) where veggies go flying, the hydrant becomes a water cannon, and yet, nothing plot-important happens. I remember a Star Wars movie where it was 40 minutes or so of solid apple carts, albeit in a flying *car* with great special effects.

    You can only have one good apple cart scene per book or movie or the reader knows you just wasted his time. Like that scene in the movie wasted my time. I use that movie often when I do seminars on plot. And not in a good way.
    Faith

  • I don’t have a set formula. I usually start by talking an idea out with my husband, and over the course of the conversation, ideas that might drive the story effectively show themselves. Then I sit down and write the bare bones of the tale in a sort of outline. At which point I realize I only have about 100 pages of story, and I need a subplot or three. Another conversation ensures, which often involves truly ridiculous suggestions, since at that point I’m feeling a bit desperate to come up with something, anything, that will work.

    I honestly stopped worrying about the originality of the idea. There is nothing new under the sun, as the poet said, so it’s about making the execution of the idea fresh and entertaining. Read what others have done, then take it a step beyond, or sideways.

  • Michele Conti

    Not to mention, showing gives way for a lot more words. I mean, just look at the example…. Two sentences versus a paragraph. Dun Dun Dun….

    Ok, so, it’s been written on the forum that you can’t just wait for inspiration, that you just have to sit your butt down and write. That’s all well and fine, but the idea for the book has to come from SOMEWHERE… so, do you get your ideas for books from your own lives and just make them a little more fantastical, or others lives, or is it just some random thought that pops into your head making you go “What if…”?

  • Hi all. Late to the conversation, as usual. I’m on the road this week, in Virginia for a book festival. Interesting discussion — good questions.

    On plot: A couple of tidbits of wisdom that I’ve gotten from various mentors over the years. The first comes from my thesis advisor from grad school, who intended it as academic advice, but it extrapolates (sp?) to fiction as well. Harry asked “How do you know that a plot you have figured out is original?” I asked my advisor a similar question about my dissertation topic: “How do you keep from doing something that someone else has already done?” And he said (paraphrasing) that if your dissertation topic is just like someone else’s you’re conveiving it too narrowly.” What he meant (and how this relates to fiction) is that if you don’t outline too closely, if you give your topic (or plot, or characters, or world) room to grow as you engage with it, it will become utterly original. Faith and Misty and Catie and I can write books beginning with the exact same characters and plot ideas, and ten pages in we’ll have utterly different books. There are people who say that, broadly speaking, there are only three plot lines in all of literature. I forget what they are, but the point is that originality is a product of the writing as much as the conception. As we delve in we create characters and put them in situations that make our work our own. That’s where the originality comes from. Write your book, Harry. It will be yours when it’s done.

    The other piece of wisdom comes from award winning author Vernor Vinge, by way of my editor at Tor (who is also his editor at Tor) Jim Frenkel. Jim calls it “Vernor’s Law.” Basically it’s this: As writers we do three basic things in our books. We propel our plot forward, we develop character, and we provide background to help our readers understand the action and the decisions our characters make. Plot, Character, Background. Every scene we write in a book or story needs to be doing at least two of those things simultaneously. Preferably all three. If a scene is only developing character without furthering plot or providing useful background, or if it’s only giving background to the exclusion of plot and character, or…. you get the picture — then your story is losing momentum. Two out of three, or better, all three at once. Vernor’s Law. Something to keep in mind.

  • Good question, Michele. I’m totally a “what if?” guy. I’ve actually blogged about this on my Amazon blog. “What if?” is my bread and butter. I’ll get these random thoughts occasionally along the “what if?” lines and before I know it I’ve got three books outlined. That’s how all my series have gotten started.

  • Michelle,
    My favorite ‘what if?’s come from the news. If you read the news, there are always funky little stories (especially in the science section) that make my brain spark. I’m working on a short story (when I get time) about the roaming ‘dead zones’ in the Pacific Ocean, and that came from a report on CNN.

    Or the crime section…wow! Last year there was a murdered woman whose four-year-old kept telling police that mommy was in the carpet. He meant the murderer had rolled her up into a carpet, but all I could see was the woman dropping into the floor, as if the carpet had opened up into another world.

    As I mentioned in another post, a great many ideas come from bouncing thoughts off my husband, who is brilliant and a poet, so he comes at things from a different perspective. The original concept for “Mad Kestrel” was worlds away from where I ended up (and the end result is far better) because of trying out ideas on him.

  • Oh, wow, thank you for the great discussion over the question. I am asking this, because I have come alone to the conclusion that there is nothing new under the sun and the bible has summed everything just nicely.

    I am a big fan of the “What if” and my personal strategy is to combine the incompatible and create a hybrid of a new sort and get some subtelty, when it comes to worldbuilding, even in short fiction. Thank you once again!

  • Suzane in VT

    Since starting perusing the numerous author’s blogs and the writing tips posted on their various websites, this ‘how do you come up with ideas” question is something that seems to come up frequently. Always interesting to read.

    The one thing, however, that I’ve failed to see mentioned is where everyone comes up with the names for the people, places, things, etc. they use in their stories. Is there a ‘meaning’ symbolism to them? (ex: Suzane, a derivation of Susan, means ‘lily’ ) Do the names have a special significance to the writer? Does the sound of the name somehow ring true to the character, realm or society you are developing?

    Also, regarding the ‘delete’ key, how much of your writing ends up suffering a quick death from that dreaded ‘key’ after you’ve looked at something you’ve written and then realize it’s nothing but crap?

  • Suzanne, I rarely have to hunt for names for my characters. They seem to pop up with names attached already. In the book I’m about to turn in to my agent, I did have to do a little research, since I wanted the name of a secondary character to have a specific meaning. I used the baby name sites online, since they’re convenient. ‘Course, I panicked after naming her and then discovering that Scott Lynch had chosen the same name with a different spelling for one of his characters. But I’m not going to stress about it, since that’s where the similarities end.

    I’m a big fan of the delete key, but if I suddenly decide the whole chapter has to go, I’ll move it into another Word file, to keep just in case. I have a prologue I wrote ages ago that I dearly love, but that just doesn’t fit into the story. I’ve got it set aside, because it might be useful one day.

  • Ideas and names.
    My favorite is to combine the *what if* question with anything on news, movies, TVs, books.

    Names come from different sources. Some just pop into play fully formed with a character who seems to fit the name. Others I struggle with. In a recent novel I changed a character’s name after the book was finished. Did a search and replace and that was that. And I don’t even remember what prompted the change.

    In one memorable long-ago novel, published in the UK, my southern names were too *South London* for the pub. They said no one would read a book about a girl named Michele. Honestly. And it’s one of my favorite names. They changed *every single one* of them. Yeah, they asked first, but what was I gonna say,

    No? No.
    Faith

  • Faith said, “Did a search and replace and that was that. ”

    Tim Powers told a funny story once. He’d named a character David, then decided to change his name to Dondi. He did search and replace to change all the instances of the name, and sent off the manuscript.

    His editor got in touch later, though, to tell him that he’d inadvertently invented a new vehicle…a Harley Dondison motorcycle! :D

  • OMG!
    That sounds like something I woudl do.
    Harley Dondi-bike!
    Faith