Literary Snowflakes

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Between my transcription and editing work, critiquing for one of my CPs from last year’s WriteType match up, and proofreading for an editor-friend, I haven’t gotten to do much writing lately. The last few days, I’ve been diving back into a short story idea that I thought of last year and only worked on briefly when the muse was particularly strong. (If you’d like to contribute to my research for that, find out more in this post.)

Today, I’ve been pushing through a synopsis as part of my “Snowflake” planning (credit: Randy Ingermanson).

Can I just say it? Development is painful. If you groaned with me at the word “synopsis,” I know you agree. But then, all growth is painful to some degree, right? My oldest kid is losing her baby teeth, and I frequently hear how uncomfortable that process is. I mean, bone is growing inside her jaw, hormones (or something) are causing the blood vessels and nerves attached to the baby teeth to dissolve so that this new bony growth can force them out. It sounds like something out of a horror movie or a flick about an alien parasite infestation. But nothing will burst out of her gut, thankfully–she’ll have new, strong, permanent teeth that, if she takes care of them, will last a lifetime.

It’s the same way when you plan out a story. Now, this one luckily came to me courtesy of a very bizarre dream. But for the sake of publishing it, I do still have to do some serious work with it. How many of our dreams actually make any sense, after all?

My favorite method for planning is by far this Snowflake method, whereby you start small and build outward. After I get the basics down, I may still go back and outline each scene as I did with Blaze in preparation for NaNoWriMo (which I highly recommend–the more you prepare in advance, the more easily you can stay on target). That, as it turns out, is also something Mr. Ingermanson discusses on his website–Dwight Swain’s Scene & Sequel combos. As this project will be a short story, I’m torn right now between wanting to map these out in order to be as efficient as possible and wanting to let myself write more organically so that I’m not going over my word count trying to squeeze everything in. It’s a balancing act, though. I could just as easily go over my target by not having enough structure to constrain myself.

Right now, though, I’m on Snowflake Step 4–turning my 1-paragraph summary from Step 2 into a 1-page synopsis. And as much as I really do love writing, I am really having to force myself to stay on task. It’s very much like what you learned in middle school about writing research papers, taking topic sentences and expanding them into full paragraphs, each with an introduction, body, and conclusion that are still somewhat independent while part of a whole.

It is my hope that by putting myself through this mental exercise, I’ll have the story fleshed out enough that the actual writing will be easier, clearer, and cover everything I want to cover so that I can deliver you–my hopeful readers–a quality story with which to entertain yourselves. For now, here is my 1-paragraph summary to tease your imaginations.

After watching his father deteriorate from cancer treatments, Jackson agrees to sponsor him at a remote retreat center that offers the promise of a peaceful, legal death. Once there, he begins to wish he had taken the time to research the place more himself, unsure how exactly the proprietors will be able to skirt the law, how the “transitions” will occur, and other details that seem strangely lacking. But it isn’t until another sponsor points out that several clients are “repeat customers” that he grows genuinely concerned: a good third of the retreatants were actually sponsors for one of their own loved ones sometime within the past year and returned to the Ranch when they suddenly fell devastatingly ill themselves. Jackson and his new fellow-sponsor acquaintances must use their limited time wisely to determine the link between the Rancher and the ex-sponsors’ illnesses in order to avoid a similar fate.

Stay tuned to my blog or follow me on Facebook for updates on this project. I’m very excited about it and hope to get it completed fairly quickly.

Back in the Saddle with Something New

IMG_9201bw.jpgPhoto by: bahenska at Morguefile.com

It’s been a busy few months here for me. I started working with an online editing firm in the fall, so between that, a private client, my usual non-editing work, and the mom/wife thing, I haven’t had an abundance of time for my writing–let alone my blog and social media pages. ∴swipes away a cobweb∴ Sorry about that.

For a while, I’d been planning March as the time for me to really get into another project I’ve been planning. I wanted to have Blaze finished first, but it got put on the shelf in all my busyness, so it’s not ready yet. Why March? Mostly because the spring equinox is about the time I start feeling more myself after a long dull winter. But in this case, it also has some special significance.

This other project (which has been on my mind since early last summer and gained its first 4,000 words in November) was inspired by a friend who died last year after a long fight with cancer. His birthday would have been today, March 22, and I have this tradition of finding a way to honor birthdays of people in my life who have died. Usually it’s a special food that I associate with that person, like Gumbo for my New Orleans grandmother and great-grandmother, a Coke for the great-grandfather who struck figurative gold by investing in Coca-Cola’s stock long ago, and so on. This friend, though, was a vegetarian and wine lover, but money’s tight enough that I’m not comfortable buying a bottle of wine right now, and my family won’t give up meat. So I turned to my writing.

He was very creative and shared a some of his writing from time to time, and I always loved reading it. Around the time of his death last year, I started dreaming about him. Maybe it was coincidence because he was so much on my mind, or if you’re more metaphysical, maybe it was him reaching out while the veil was thin. Take it how you will. One dream was just of him visiting me at my home and having a talk, but another was a terrifyingly vivid nightmare of me and a few of our mutual friends taking a road trip with him to a place where he could die the way he wanted. I woke up with the details still crystal clear in my mind and jotted it all down into my phone for later.

The Right to Die/Death with Dignity laws in his state had failed him, and I felt like this was something he was asking me to write about to help bring more awareness to it and maybe reform it. The story I’m writing will be entirely fictional, but to make it feel as real and plausible as possible, I’m hoping to gather input from people who have had more experience with these laws and programs than I have myself. I want to handle it delicately and tactfully, being sensitive to actual experiences and the emotions involved. I want people to read it and understand why we need legislation in favor of an individual’s right to die and why the obstruction and resistance (where it has been legalized) needs to be addressed.

To that end, I am seeking the opinions and experience of anyone familiar with the concept. Below is a survey that you can take in complete anonymity. If you include your email address to receive a copy of the story when it’s completed, I pinkie-swear that’s all it will ever be used for. No newsletters, no marketing. I hate spam as much as anyone.

Thank you for whatever insight you feel drawn to share. Most fields are optional; the only required fields are those that will help me organize responses better. If you are uncomfortable answering anything, please skip it. I have tried to make this as non-triggery as possible.

*Please be careful not to press Enter as you go through the questions–
I’ve had reports that this will submit the form before you are finished*

If you want to get updated on my progress with the story, you can subscribe to my blog or click on my social media links to follow my author page on Facebook.

New Milestone

If you’re prepping for next month’s NaNoWriMo marathon, the best advice I can give you is not to waste words and be prepared to do a lot of rewriting.

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is no small feat. NaNo 2012 is where Blaze came from. But when those 30 days were up and I had to get down to the business of self-editing and rewriting, the first thing I realized was how much junk I had put in it. In pushing myself to crank out that 1,667 words per day, I had inadvertently filled my pages with redundant dialogue, excessive description, and just plain wordiness, all of which turns readers off.

Very little of that original draft remains now, for as many revisions as I have put it through, and while I have slashed the excess, I have also added new scenes and extra bits here and there that help to flesh out what I’m trying to relate. This past week, I finally passed the 80,000 word mark; for a fantasy novel, that’s generally the minimum word count you’ll find. There is more revising to come, I assure you. It might even make it to 90,000 or more.

The truth is, there are standards in the publishing industry, and we would all do well to honor them, even if we don’t adhere to them religiously. If you want to go the route of traditional publishing with an agent and a big firm, word count will be very important, and it varies with your genre. (See this page for details.)

So regardless of what you’re writing–or when–be mindful of how long your finished product will ideally be. That rough draft doesn’t have to be there. In fact, I would say it’s easier to add to a manuscript than to pare it down. A friend of mine has been ruthlessly trimming away the fat from her novel so that more agents will give it consideration, while I, on the other hand, have needed to add more and more scenes and backstory and foreshadowing here and there throughout, which has steadily grown my novel nearer where I want and need it to be.

Best of luck! If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, leave a comment below, or share your badge when you win. I’d love to hear about it!

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