Back After New Year

So I guess this has been some kind of unannounced blog hiatus. You just need a break every now and then. What have I been doing? I spent about two weeks wasting my free time with Morrowind. I hung out. I worked on a story until I realized the plot line was marginal to the story at best.

But I do have several books to review and several authors have been in touch about guest reviews, so things should heat up in January. That is a good time for beginnings, I think. Or re-begins.

See ya then!

Recent Research — Irish Convents

First, a note. Posting here is going to continue to be sporatic until after the new year. You never know when I’ll post, but it will probably only be once a week or so. However, I am lining up guests for January, and hope to be in the swing of things with the start of 2012!

~*~

Sometimes research leads you to abandon a promising plotline.

I was writing my Beauty and the Beast story and realized that the Beast’s aunt needed to be in the story. So I threw in an older middle-aged woman, and made her slightly cantankerous and bossy but with a heart of gold, and then I realized she was a dreadful stereotype. So I tried to think of a distinctly Irish-type character who was not a stereotype.

That’s when I thought about making her a nun.

Yeah, so among the Irish, having a nun for an aunt is kind of stereotypical. Even I have one. (Well, she was a great aunt.) But not all of us are Irish, are we? And my experience reading in fiction certainly does not include many nuns.

I wish Aunty Peg were still alive, because she would have been a girl during the time I am writing this story. She would remember what it was like. I know what nuns and convents were like when I was a girl; I very much had an Irish upbringing, despite being born in the United States.

I even stayed in a convent for a week when I was 11. We were in the midst of moving during the Christmas, and Sr. Gabriel was one of the only nuns who stayed behind that year during their annual trip back to Ireland. So we stayed with her in the mostly-empty convent. We ran around through the graveyard, played in the choir loft of the adjacent church, peeked into the convent chapel, and drank kettlefuls of tea. You can’t even imagine how fun it was.

This took place in the late 70s, after Vatican II, so the 20th century changes to convent life had already taken place. Reading the Vatican II summaries was interesting, but didn’t have what I needed. Since I didn’t have Aunt Peg, I interviewed my mom to find out if nuns back then were free to move about the community, which I needed in the story. And according to her, they always went about in twos, and were pretty restricted outside the convent. (Although within the convent was another story.)

So it looks like my nun character might not work out. I think I need to dig up some letters or diaries to be certain, or maybe find a nonfiction book. Or maybe I’ll just write her to keep the story going and make any adjustments later. She wouldn’t be the first character I’ve written and thrown away.

Most likely, I’ll morph that character again. She needs to come from a wealthy Irish background. Any ideas?

Recent Research – The Perils of Invisibility

My NaNo project was a fairy tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It started with a bang and I churned out 3500 words in a week. It was a solid start, but I decided to go ahead and finish my semifinal draft of Snow White, so I can hopefully submit both of them in quick succession. So technically, my first foray into NaNoWriMo was an abject failure. But I DID get a finished manuscript by the time November was finished which, for me, was the important thing.

Anyway, for my B&tB story, I have been researching the medical impacts of invisibility.

(If you ever wondered why certain people become writers, then the above sentence should give you all the answer you need. What other useful thing could I do with this imagination of mine?)

First, some background. In the original version of Beauty and the Beast, all the servants were turned invisible as part of the same curse that turned the Beast into a beast. Now, imagine the servants fifteen years later. Surely, there would have been adverse effects from prolonged invisibility.The biggest, I think, would be problems from lack of sunlight. If the sun passes right through you, then you probably don’t absorb much of it.

The biggest problem, I’ve found so far, would be a vitamin D deficiency. This would pose a terrible problem for children, as they would probably develop rickets, a horrifying condition in which the bones soften and twist. Legs become either severely bowlegged or knock-kneed. Ankles turn in. Spines twist. Elbows misshapen. Rickets can also affect adults as their bones soften and warp under the influence of gravity.

Other problems, I think, would include depression and arthritis. In my research stack is a notation to research cabin fever. I will also be tapping the knowledge of my nurse sister, my niece who is studying nursing, and fellow RWA members in the medical field.

I am also brushing off some old research on the history of blood transfusions. B&tB is turning out to be a sort of medical steampunk story, and once, long ago, when I wrote for the Bathroom Reader series (seriously!), I wrote about blood types. So I know all about the long and tragic history of how we discovered blood types and the complexities of Rh factors. Way back when, a blood transfusion was only for the desperate, because there was always a chance you would get the wrong blood type, and then you die.

The young lady at the left is my Aunt Matilda (or actually, my great, great Aunt Matilda), and she was a nurse during the time period in which I am setting this story. Maybe she had personal knowledge of these risky transfusions. Maybe not. But the picture is cool, anyway.

So imagine, if you will, being invisible for fifteen years. Can you think of any adverse affects that I have not thought of?

My Manuscript Clean-Up Process – In 10 Steps!

So I finished my Snow White story and it’s off to beta readers. While I was finishing it up, I took notes so I would write a blog post on my MS clean-up process.

First, back in the middle of October, I decided I was finished with the rough story. My first draft actually includes making about 3 passes through the manuscript. I tend to write a very bare-bones first draft, because the story is coming fast and furious, and I just want get it down. My actual first draft was about 15,000 words. When I finished in October, I had added about 10,000 words. It was at that point that I set it aside.

Why set it aside? Back in the spring, I took an online course by Angela James entitled Before You Hit Send (well worth the money). Part of what she stressed was giving your manuscript time to just sit. You cannot effectively edit unless you have a fresh viewpoint. And you get that by giving yourself a break from it, for at least 3 weeks. So I did. I worked on my time travel story, plus I wrote 3500 words of a Beauty and the Beast story. Then, I went back to Snow White, printed it out, wrote all over it, and did another draft or two. I ended up with a draft of about 33000 words, plus a discards file of 5000 words (my smallest ever!)

That was kind of a long preface to the meat of this blog, but over the weekend, I did my manuscript clean-up. Here’s what I do:

  1. Remove scene titles. I make heavy use of the Document Map in Word (now called the Navigation Pane), and I name all my scenes so I can just point and click the map to jump to a scene. When I clean my doc, these are deleted.
  2. Ensure scene break formatting is consistent. Usually I’ll use a hash (the old-fashioned way), but since I know CP uses *** scene breaks, that’s what I use for stories I intend to submit there first.
  3. Ensure chapter break formatting is consistent, and chapter numberings are correct. There is no right way, just pick a way and be consistent.
  4. Name chapters. I did this for The Sevenfold Spell, so I needed to do it here. Make sure the chapter names are not spoilery. They should “go with” the beginning of the chapter, not the end.
  5. Skim for unnecessary scenes. These are the scenes that don’t drive the plot forward. I found one scene during my final clean-up that had to go, thus swelling my discards file past 5000 words.
  6. Skim for pacing. Page through the story by scrolling it with your mouse wheel. If one scene requires notably more srolls than the others, take a closer look. Same goes for short scenes. You might even want to zoom way out on your MS so you can just take in the scene lengths without getting distracted by the words. (Set your zoom to 10% and you’ll see what I mean.)
  7. Check chapters endings and beginnings. Do the endings end on a cliffhanger without seeming gimmicky? Do they flow? Do the beginnings progress naturally from the ending, and if not, do you have a good reason for it? I had to change the order of two scenes because I didn’t want to get through the morning, and then go back in time to an earlier point and get through the morning again for my other character.
  8. Fuss over the whole thing, backwards and forwards. Review the todo list that is in your mind, and get’em done. Try to think of any last minute tweaks you need. Make sure the tweaks don’t change the story more than you intended.
  9. Go into Document Properties and fill out the author, title and any other information you desire, such as the series title.
  10. Send to your beta readers. Yes, you have to be prepared to again sit back and wait. Find some good readers–they are hard to find–and send them off, and give them a good long time before you expect anything back. I gave my readers till the middle of January. In the meantime, I get to work on my other stories. Yippie!

Also, while waiting for feedback (an eleventh step!), I read the whole story aloud. This helps more that you would believe. My husband listens to me (and makes suggestions), but even reading by myself clues me in to so many voice problems.

What will I do when I get the feedback back? Another draft, of course! But this one–unless the feedback was “major work is needed”–is the final one before I submit.