All About Editing: Plot

Hi everyone,

This is the first installment of a little series all about editing. The series will be based on my personal self-editing process, but will hopefully give you some ideas that you can apply to your own. It’s not a guideline or a set of rules–just an example of one person’s way of doing things. Always make sure you save every version of your draft!

Today’s topic is Plot, or the Substantive Edit. This is the first stage of my editing process, as well as the most painful, and the most rewarding. Below are three steps I take to stay sane and focused while tightening my manuscript. 

 

1.  Write a list of all the things wrong with your plot

Sounds fun, right? These are the things you always knew had to change eventually. Now is the time to make them squirm in the spotlight.

After I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I set it aside for a few days. During this little break, I compiled a list of every scene, plot point, character, and chapter that I wasn’t happy with. Gimmicks, coincidences, boring scenes, illogical reactions. I didn’t go easy on myself. It was liberating in a way, because it was the first time I forced myself to look at the major flaws, rather than glossing over them in fear of not making my target word count. These flaws were the things that spoiled my manuscript, and made me think the whole thing was worthless. I thought the list would make me feel terrible about myself as a writer, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, when I saw a physical list of all the flaws, I realised that I wasn’t unhappy with everything. The list made me feel in control, and showed me exactly what I had to do to improve.

Examples of things on my list: Opening of Chapter 3, Travis (the whole character), Chapter 7, Chapter 9, Chapter 13, The phone call in Chapter 20, etc.

2. Fix or delete?

Some things just have to go. Like Travis. He served no purpose as a character, except to create a problem for the protagonist later down the road. I found that a lot of the plot flaws in my manuscript came in groups. Travis was a plot device, for a plot point that was weak anyway. I deleted both Travis and that plot point, and found another, stronger way to bring across the information I was using him for. Although it was painful and time consuming, deleting Travis fixed more than one of the problems on my list. I was tempted to add him to a couple more scenes, and try to add depth to his character instead of deleting him. The more I tried, however, the more obvious it became that deleting him and the events involved with him was the only way to improve the plot’s cohesiveness.

I think the tip here is to try everything out. Have the original version of your draft saved, and in the second draft, delete what you want to delete, and change what you want to change. Don’t stop until you’re content with it.

3. Ask the hard questions

Does that backstory need to be there? Does that chapter add anything to the plot or the character? Is that logical? Does the climax happen too early/late? Is the resolution too predictable, obvious, abrupt, coincidental, etc? Does that character serve a purpose? Would your protagonist make that mistake?

If you read a lot of books, you most-likely already know the answers. For me, it was a matter of not allowing myself to dodge the questions.

 

Thank you so much for reading, and good luck with your manuscript!

– Tamara

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Printing a Copy of my Draft – Cover – Interior Formatting – Quality

Just to clarify before we get started: I am not a self-published author, and I’m not pursuing self-publishing. My manuscript is still in the drafting stage, even though it’s in book form. This post is just about my experience getting the draft printed through Createspace, not my experience with publishing through them. Ok, let’s get into it!

 

Hi everyone,

A couple of days ago, I got a very exciting parcel in the mail: two printed copies of my manuscript draft! I got this draft printed so that I could do the next round of editing on paper, and also to refresh my motivation just a little bit. It has definitely made the whole editing process more exciting.

COVER

I downloaded public domain images from Wiki Commons, and used Microsoft Publisher to make the front and back covers.  I don’t recommend this if you’re planning on self-publishing your work, because a professional looking cover is so important when it comes to book sales. I’m planning on trying the traditional publishing route, so I used Createspace as a printer rather than a publishing platform, which is why I just made a quick cover myself. I chose the matte cover option; the colours came out bright and clear, and the texture is velvety.

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INTERIOR

I found that the interior formatting was the hardest part of the process. First of all, you have to pick a trim size. Createspace has a default option of  6″ x 9″, but this was a little too big for me. I looked up the measurements of some of the books on my shelf (you can often find trim sizes in Amazon descriptions), and settled on 5.5″ x 8.5″. It’s still a little bigger than the standard trade paperback, but the extra space is perfect to add notes without it looking too busy. I downloaded the formatted template that Createspace offers, and copied and pasted the manuscript one chapter at a time.

The font I used was Baskerville Old Face in 11.5pt, with 1.5 spacing.

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QUALITY

I was impressed with the quality of the print and the binding. The paper feels great, the ink is dark, and there’s no glue oozing from the binding. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but I was worried that the pages wouldn’t swish nicely. This might just be me, but I hate when a book’s binding is too stiff, and the pages seem almost clumped together. For some reason, maybe because the printing cost was so low, I didn’t expect the book to feel like the books in the bookstores. I was very positively surprised. The only thing I had to pay for was the printing and the shipping.

I love being able to physically cross things out with a red pen, and having the draft printed as an actual book gave me just the push I needed to stay focused. I hope this was helpful to anyone interested in Createspace’s services, whether you’re going down the traditional, or self-publishing route. Best of luck!

Sincerely,

Tamara

Back Home – Adjusting to Life After a Residency – Printing the Book

Hi everyone,

I’m so sorry that I haven’t posted an update in a little while–I spent my last days at the residency taking everything in, and immersing myself in my work. It was really hard to leave Iceland, and particularly the Gullkistan residency. The cabin became my home, and although I was only there for one month, it felt like it had been my home for years. I’ll miss waking up to light snowfall, and finding new little trails to explore. I’ll miss the big windows, and view of Hekla, the snow-covered volcano. Now, after three days of travelling, I have made it back home to tropical Cairns.

Let me tell you–it feels bizarre. Nice, but really strange. It’s strange that my whole life doesn’t revolve around my writing anymore. This morning, while having breakfast, I was talking to my family, rather than scribbling down ideas, notes, and pieces of dialogue. After breakfast, rather than sitting down to edit, I took my clothes out of my suitcase to wash, and then sent an email to my university about enrolment (post about this coming soon). I’m scared that my focus is shifting too much, but at the same time, it feels really nice to breathe, and take a little step back. I just need to find a good balance.

During my last days in Iceland, I finished my second draft, and decided to get my manuscript printed so that I could do my next round of edits on paper. I used Createspace to get it printed in book form, to help me get a better feel for the pacing of the story, and to help to keep me motivated while editing. It’s not available online, as I’m going to try the traditional publishing route (after many more rounds of editing, of course). I’ll still write a post about my experience with getting the book printed, and the quality of it, for those of you interested in self-publishing.

I’ll also be writing a post to call for beta readers in the near future. I’m a little terrified, but excited to get some helpful feedback. Everything is happening so quickly.

I promise I won’t disappear again any time soon!

Thanks for reading,

– Tamara

Multilingual Poetry Event in Iceland

Hi everyone,

Yesterday, I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life. March 21st is the day of many things–World Poetry Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the final day of Nordic Multilingual Month. To celebrate this special day, Booktowns and Gullkistan got together to create Margmálaljóðakvöldi,  a multilingual poetry event in Hveragerði.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to represent Australia at the event, and read two of my own poems. I was extremely nervous, and my voice was a little shaky, but I had such a great time sharing my work. The energy in the space was incredible. There were people from Iran, Syria, Finland, France, Sweden, Iceland (obviously), and more, all there to read poetry in their native languages, and to celebrate art and cultural diversity.

You could really feel the love and warmth emanating from the readers and the listeners the whole night, and as we shared our work, we were all reminded of how beautiful human beings can be. The art museum, Listasafn Árnesinga, was the perfect setting, with thought-provoking modern art as a backdrop to the event.

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The Gullkistan family

It was such a heart-warming, nerve-wracking, and beautiful experience, and I am so grateful to Gullkistan and Booktowns for putting it together. It’s definitely an experience that I will always remember. Each reader was gifted a different book of Icelandic poetry, and I received a beautiful hardcover that is completely handwritten. It has quickly become one of my favourite things.

As always, thank you so much for reading.

All the best,

Tamara

(The pictures were sent to me by Kristveig Halldórsdóttir)

Introducing My Novel: “Juice of Half a Lemon”

Hi everyone,

Over the past year and a half of posting on this blog, I’ve gone into a lot of detail about my thoughts, my experiences, and my life as writer, but I’ve been quite tight-lipped about my actual writing. I’ve never really told you anything specific about this novel that I’ve been working on for almost exactly a year now, and I’m not completely sure why that is. I think it might be because, until I wrote the end scene only a couple of days ago, I didn’t entirely believe that I would be able to finish it. I didn’t want to introduce something to you only to scrap it a couple of weeks later. I’m finally at a place now where I can confidently say that this one’s sticking, and I’ve got no more excuses! I am currently working on the second draft, and will start looking for beta readers in the near future.

I have to start out small to avoid becoming a nervous wreck, so here are a few very vague details about the story:

Title:

Juice of Half a Lemon

A little introduction:

Adele Zimmerman hasn’t seen her brother since the night he told her he shot someone in the head. When she discovers that the victim was an identical twin, she sets out to find the leftover sibling and anonymously improve his life, as a way of settling her conscience and ridding herself of her second-hand guilt.

Juice of Half a Lemon is about how people cling to the things they lose, and how belonging can be both liberating and suffocating. It’s about things that can’t be fixed, mistakes that can’t be unmade, and connections that can’t be broken.

***

The tone of the story is slightly whimsical, with a bit of dark humour here and there. I plan on talking more about the protagonists, tone, P.O.V, inspiration, and editing process in the posts to come!

Let me know what you’re working on in the comments below; I’d love to hear about it! If you’d rather just talk to me privately, please feel free to send me an email at tamara.j.drazic@gmail.com  🙂

I hope you found this post interesting, and I wish you the best of luck with whatever you are working on.

As always, thank you so much for reading.

Yours sincerely,

Tamara

 

 

Residency Day 13: Finishing the First Draft of my Novel

Hi everyone,

Today is a pretty special day for me, because it is the day I finished the first draft of my novel, “Juice of Half a Lemon”.  I have written the entire second half, 37 000 words, in the last two weeks, all thanks to this incredible residency, and the time, space, and mental clarity that it gave me to work.

This afternoon, as I began to write the very last scene, it started snowing outside. Everything was completely, utterly silent, the kind of silence that only comes about when it is snowing. That moment has become one of my fondest memories, and it’s just one of the countless fond memories that I’ve made while being here in Iceland. I’m so grateful for this little haven that my mind will always be able to wander to.

The first draft is complete, but I know there is a lot of work ahead of me! I am incredibly excited to move on to the editing phase of this novel, as I’ve always loved editing–moving things around, cutting words, and making things fit together. I know I probably will lose a bit of my love for it after round number three, but we will see what happens.

On an unrelated note, I recently found out that I will be reading some of my poetry at a multilingual poetry event in Selfoss, Iceland on the 21st of March. I am so looking forward to meeting some members of the Icelandic literary community.

I feel like my word supply is in need of a recharge, so this post is going to stay short and sweet. Here are some pictures of the lovely Gullkistan Residency, the place that has grown so close to my heart over the past two weeks:

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Let me know how your writing projects are coming along. I’d love to get to know more of you!

All the best,

Tamara

Residency Day 10: Ups and Downs

Hi everyone,

Day 10 of my writing residency in Iceland is officially over, which means I’m a third of the way through! Time goes by so incredibly quickly while I’m working. I never have any idea which day of the week it is, because every day is pretty much the same. I wake up around 7:30, have breakfast with the incredible sunrise, check my emails, write, have lunch, go for a long walk, write, have dinner, chat with the other writer-in-residence, write, check my emails, catch up with friends and family back in Aus, and sleep.

Although I occasionally feel like I’ve fallen off the face of the planet and into some alternate dream-like universe, I have loved every minute of this residency. It has been the best thing I have ever done for my writing, full stop. I can see myself improving with almost every chapter. The rewriting process is going to be a lot of work, especially those earlier chapters, but for now, I’m purely focusing on getting this first draft down. It’s crazy to think that I am so close to finishing it now, this thing that used to seem like such a huge, impossible task.

Of course, I still have plenty of ups and downs with regards to this story. On a bad day, even the parts that I like the most can seem like the worst things ever written by anyone. But the good days make me forget all about that.

Reading through my journal always makes me laugh, and reminds me that my bad times never last very long. Let me welcome you into my mind:

***

4. March.

I think it’s really starting to dawn on me that I can actually finish this thing while I’m here. It was always the goal, but until now, I had my doubts. I have written three thousand words in the last three hours! Feeling good.

5. March.

HOW IS THIS THING GOING TO END? I HAVE NO IDEA. I hate everything I’ve written today. Why does it all just sound so clunky and flat? There is no actual ending in sight, because I just keep writing around and around in circles.

6. March.

I just outlined the rest of my novel. It’s so nice to know how the story is going to end, and so reassuring to have a little guide to which scenes I need to write on which days. Excited for tomorrow!

9 March.

This is really hard. It’s like spending all day every day focusing on the one thing you doubt about yourself the most. My mood is directly affected by how the story is progressing. I pretty much haven’t left my room in two days.

10 March.

I just came back from the most beautiful walk. It’s crazy that I’ve already hit my writing target for the day, and it’s just past lunch time! I am so excited to finish this thing! Not long now.

***

I don’t know if you are quite as extreme (or as melodramatic) as I am, but either way, I hope this post can serve as a little reminder that the bad times don’t last. If you manage to write through them, instead of giving up, you will eventually finish your novel. There’s nothing stopping you.

I hope you enjoyed reading. Let me know how you get through your bad writing days in the comments below!

All the best,

Tamara

 

 

Review: “Dreaming in Starlight” by Philip Elliott

 

Hi everyone,

Here is a short review of Philip Elliott‘s new book, “Dreaming in Starlight”. It’s so important to support new and up-and-coming writers, especially when their work is as special and as poignant as this.

 

“Dreaming in Starlight” is a book that I found myself wishing would never end, while at the same time, finding so much beauty in its brevity. The narrator, JJ, tells truths of life, love, and loss, using artful comparisons, spellbinding descriptions, and often surprising connections. The book is written in the form of letters from JJ, addressed to the people who have had an impact on his life. The unique form sets up the tone for the story, and emphasises the narrator’s loneliness, as well as his desire to belong without conforming. Philip Elliott’s prose is carefully constructed, yet exceedingly natural; unique, yet all-encompassing; and small, yet so large in scope.

I wholeheartedly recommend “Dreaming in Starlight” to any reader who also happens to be human.

For more information, and to purchase a copy of the book, head over to its Amazon page!

 

Yours sincerely,

Tamara

 

 

Residency Day 1: Exploring Reykjavik, and Arriving at Gullkistan

Hi everyone,

Wow. It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling right now. I am coming to you all the way from Laugarvatn, Iceland. I’ve thought about this experience so many times, for so many months, and I still can’t believe that I’m actually here. I spent last week in Reykjavik, and absolutely fell in love with the city. When I tell people that I stayed there for a whole week I always get a similar reaction. A week? What did you do for so long? 

Reykjavik may be a small city, but it feels so alive, even when it’s -6 degrees! I decided to stay for a week because I didn’t want to only see and experience things once. I went to the same spots countless times, in some cases every day, and I didn’t get bored at all. Especially because, in Iceland, the weather can change so drastically in such a short time. The lake Tjörnin is ever changing, as you can see in these pictures which were taken only one day apart:

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I wanted to be able to see things I loved over and over again, browse bookshops, and sit and read in the sun, without feeling like I was wasting time, and I am so glad that I allowed myself the time that I did. During my Reykjavik week, I also spent a day on a southern Iceland tour, and saw things that photos just can’t do justice. The contrasts in this country make it feel so otherworldly. I so wish I had the time, money, and driving capability to see all of the sights a million times.

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The day before yesterday, I saw the northern lights! It’s been a dream of mine since I was ten years old, when I realised that they were actually real, not just in books and movies. As I watched them, I just sat on a snowy bench and thought about how truly lucky I am (and also a little about how cold the bench was).

Today I arrived at Gullkistan, the residency where I will be living and writing for the next month. Putting my bags down in this quaint cottage, with views out to mountains, snowy pine trees, and a beautiful lake, gave me a sense of calm that I haven’t felt since being at home. The actual journey from Australia to Iceland was, let’s just say, not exactly smooth, and I realised that I haven’t had time until now to truly wind down in my own space. I feel like this is exactly where I need to be right now to have a clear mind, and to finish writing this first draft!

Today I sat down and wrote double my word target. Let’s hope things keep flowing. Thank you so much to everyone who has been here with me along the way. Now I’m going to put on all of the clothes I own and try to find the elusive northern lights once again.

Stay safe, healthy, and happy!

Yours,

Tamara

Reaching the Halfway Point

Hi Everyone,

I’ve finally reached the halfway point in my manuscript. It’s so hard to describe how I feel about it. On one hand, when I scroll through the pages I feel like I’ll never be able to do it all again. On the other hand, I feel like I can’t possibly already be halfway there. I think  I’m kind of afraid of reaching the end, having to cut everything that doesn’t need to be there, and then finding myself all the way back at square one. I know that the real challenge is going to come after the first draft is finished.

First drafts are free to do whatever they want. Finished manuscripts are rational, and cut-throat. First drafts know that they’re not good enough, and they’re fine with that because they know they can improve. Finished manuscripts are anxious that they’re still not good enough at their best.

Although I’m a little terrified, I’m still so extremely excited at the prospect of actually finishing the first draft of this story, and I’m trying not to overthink the whole process. In four days I will be flying off to my residency in Iceland, to finish this thing once and for all. Wish me luck!

I hope you’re all having an amazing 2017 so far.

Yours sincerely,

Tamara Drazic