There’s a saying in the military which is also particularly apt for the publishing business: “Hurry Up And Wait”.
It means things can happen in an instant, all of a sudden, and need your attention now now now, and when the rush is done you just… wait.
After a weekend flurry of emails back and forth, contract slinging and review, negotiations, and finally signing, I had to wait two whole months to announce this deal!
Back in November, I had a meeting with a television writer who had come to me to discuss the rights for The Skylark’s Saga . She’d read the first book (as well as some of my other work) and saw great potential for the tale to be translated into an older-teen/YA aged animated series, rather like The Dragon Prince or She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, but aimed at a slightly older audience.
We met in a pub and talked about all of her ideas for the series, and with my agent, hashed out things like compensation, deadlines, and contracts.
And I have been sitting on this news since then!
So what does this mean? Basically, a shopping agreement is not a dramatic adaptation option. The studio Alpaca VS Llama has secured the rights to make a package of materials based on The Skylark’s Saga – treatment documents, series outline, character designs and illustrations, and a pilot script – for an animated series to take to production houses and networks. They ‘pitch’ this idea, and if someone picks it up, then it becomes an option.
Right now, I’m working with studio head Elize Morgan to fill in her questions about the backstories of characters and the worldbuilding (yes, she’s got book #2 already… no, I can’t share it with you yet. 😉 ) and from there she’s going to start working with an illustrator to figure out the best way to mock up our beloved characters.
I’m extremely flattered by AvL’s interest in the series, and wish Elize all the best when she heads out to start sharing the world of the Skylark with potential studios and channels.
This is a question that came in from social media, and I’ve been pondering the answer for a few months. I could say something glib like “When I’ve hit my publisher’s word count!” but of course, this question is, I think, more about when you know that you’ve finished telling the story you wanted to tell – beginning to end and with all the adjustments and edits added during the drafts.
I think, if I may projet, what you’re really asking is, when are you satisfied enough with the manuscript to call it “done” (or at least, done enough to start pitching around or to give to your editor/agent.)
And that’s a hard, hard, hard question for any author, but a doubly hard one for me – see I nearly always write the ending first.
When I start a novel, I usually start by writing the scene that is, for me, the most powerful, the most attractive, the most fun and filled with the most flavor of the book. Usually it’s either the first act, second act, or third act/novel climax, simply because of the way my brain works. By that point I more or less know where in the timeline of these character’s lives the story needs to stop, and where it needs to start. But of course those things can slide depending on edits and the need for background info, epilogues, a better tie-up, etc.
For other writers, they plot the whole book before they sit down, so they know before they start where the ending is. And for others, they just write until it seems done, and solidify that endpoint during the editing phase.
But as for knowing when the story is finished?
That’s a hard question to answer.
Don’t laugh, but for me it’s when the story stops squirming. There’s this feeling I get in my stomach, under my skin, that’s like a wiggly itch – it’s the physical manifestation of knowing that something is off, I just don’t know what yet. When I read the book and there’s no squirm? It’s done. You could also be really morbid and compare it to a pinned live butterfly as well – flipping and flopping all over the place, shedding wing-dust and scales all over the velvet. I have one pin in it – at the tip of a wing – but I have to get another pin into the other wing, and then another in the bottom wings, and another in the thorax and … yeah, okay, I know I sound like a serial killer.
But the idea is the same. When the story is pinned in place from all corners, and the full picture is spread out, beautiful, and legible, then the story is done.
A good way to check is to write the meaning and beats of each scene down on note cards as you re-read the book over, like this:
The Untold Tale
Chapter One: Scene 1:
Beats: Forsyth sees Mother Mouth approaching with Pip through study window – goes down to meet them in the foyer – they check for/neutralize spells on the body Mouth has brought – body is alive, it’s a woman – Forsyth brings her into the house and they set up a room for her – Forsyth stays by her bedside, ostensibly as a host but really to keep an eye on her in case this is a ploy
Needed Because: Sets up Forsyth as caring and overly servile; intros world, Turn Hall, Mother Mouth; sets up Forsyth as spy (readers don’t know yet); introduces Pip’s scars.
When you have all your cards for all your scenes, pin them to the wall and connect them with color-coded string – for example, anything scene/card that builds Forsyth as the Shadow Hand will be connected by, say, Purple, while anything about Pip and her scars is connected in green. You can also do this with color-coded highlighter marks, sticky notes, stickers, etc.
(I do it digitally via Scrivener, which has a pin-board and color coding built in.)
When you’ve done this all, step back and look at it – does every card have a string attached to it, or a color coded dot in the corner? Do all the things you’ve set up pay off? Do you have a scene that is a repeat of another, does it re-establish something that was already established once, or drags, or is superfluous? Did you describe the same place three times or did the character growth arc flipflop?
And if it doesn’t serve the overall story? Cut it. Or fix it. Or rewrite it.
I call those moments “decks” – we build a lot of decks for our characters to hang out on in fiction, but we should really be building staircases. Your staircase can have some landings, some places to rest up and catch your breath, but ultimately they should be going up up up. If your characters / plot / forward momentum is chilling on a deck with a frosty bevvie, then the deck needs to be rebuilt, tilted upward, and forcing your story back into motion.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to book has to plow ahead, no-holds-barred. Your story can meander, and linger, and be slow, can treasure quiet moments and have multiple episodes that feed into the main narrative – that’s fine. So long as everything needs to be there. So long as it goes.
But a book should be waterproof and air tight, no matter how many words long it is. Looking over it shouldn’t give you squirmies. Everything should connect, no scene or moment or even sentence should be meaningless.
If you can say that you have ruthlessly reviewed every plot point, every scene, every sentence – going from macro to micro – and can confidently and honestly say that everything that is there is something that needs to be there for the sake of the story, or the plot, or the character arc, or the world and/or word-crafting… then I think that’s when the book is done.
When all of the story that needs telling to make it a story is told, then then the story is complete.
I know it sounds complicated and rigorous, but with any luck, you’ll have your own intuitive version of the squirmies that will let you know when there’s still one more draft to do.
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTIONS
Interesting. For me if I'm ready to write the final chapter, all the rest is already done. I tidy as I go and want all the threads ready to tie. Because writing the ending is THE BEST!
So, perhaps I’m a bit of a fool, with the Tumblrpocolypse potentially coming, but I was backing up all my Tumblrs and sideblogs (see the above-mentioned Tumblrpocolypse) and realized that I never really did anything with my sideblog about my short story The Maddening Science. I never got around to producing the short film, and I had to back-burner the full-length novel version when I got the contracts for The Accidental Turn Series and The Skylark’s Saga.
I considered just deleting the sideblog – there were only a few posts – and then I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to form a Writing Process Blog so my readers could follow along with my new novel from the very moment I begin it.
I plan to use this blog to archive articles, photos, and any discussions of interest pertaining to the themes and events of the novel. I also want to use it to chronicle my writing process and accomplishments (or failures!), and share snippets of the novel in sneak previews. I’m also be open to questions, suggested articles from readers, and conversations about the book in specific or writing in general.
#NationalAuthorsDay falls on the start of National Novel Writing Month. This is my 16th NaNoWriMo and I want to talk a bit about what this ‘competition’ has meant to me.
I have ‘won’ a total of 12 times – that is, I have hit the 50k word mark 12 of those 16 years. The years I did not, I failed for a few different reasons. In 2011 I ended up in the hospital just hours after the kickoff party due to Sudden Organ Death (weee). Luckily, I still managed to scrape a short story out of the idea, which was published in an anthology. That story actually helped me win a grant last month to write the full version next year (so I guess I know what I’m doing for my 17th NaNoWriMo already!)
The rest of the failure years, I had signed up and plopped down a few thousand words. But things like a thesis or deadlines for other books due to publishers got in the way (ironically, all of them past NaNo projects themselves). I did sign up with the intention of at least trying to win those years, but I just couldn’t make it happen.
And I’m going to be really honest – how I do NaNo now is not at all how I did it at the start. In the beginning, I followed “the rules” pretty stridently: new project on November 1st, started nothing before that date, outlined or pantsed (tried both). And that was fine. It worked. I wrote two novellas and the lion’s share of two or three books like that.
But the more I NaNo now, the more I find myself Rebelling. One year I wrote some shorts that I had promised folks and never finished. A few times, I wrote scripts (one now signed with a prodco). One year I wrote pitch documents and starting chapters for a few different projects, as this is what was due. Some years I’ve finished novels I’d already started (pausing when I hit about 20-40k in August/September to finish the last 50k in November). This year I am revising an existing novel, rewriting huge swaths of it, and in some case just out and out deleting and utterly redoing full chapters. This will likely be at least 50k New Words anyway, so I’m comfortable with Rebelling in this way.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not cheating.
Because while the aim of NaNoWriMo is to write 50k on a brand new novel, the real true value of NaNo is not in walking away with a stack of papers. It is in learning about what you need to write.
Committing to 1667 words per day means that you need to carve out time, space, and mental energy to devote to the story you want to tell. Over time you develop habits, and figure out how to correct or accommodate them. You learn what kind of planning you need to do in advance (if any), what sort of environment you need to write (I can’t attend write-ins because I find them too loud and busy), what time of day you write best (I like quiet, at night), what sort of writing you prefer to do (I jump all over the manuscript instead of writing the story completely in order – thank god for Scrivener).
But these things that I know about myself as a writer, these things that I do and I need? I would never have discovered them if I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t tried it at least once. In fact, if I hadn’t tried a few times. Practice makes perfect, they say, but practice also reveals process. Like granite revealed as softer soapstone is worn away by the elements, the core things that you need as a writer – writing environment and time, kinds of pressures, outlines or pantsing, types of edits and beta reads – will remain.
NaNoWriMo can also introduce you to other writers, who can mentor you, or become your beta readers, or teach you new methods, or processes, or just plain help you (just as you’d help them in return) along your storytelling journey. Publication may not be your ultimate goal, but having friends who understand and support you as you create is still valuable. Community and support networks are so important as a creator.
Why bother at all if you’re just Rebel Writing every November, you may ask? Well, part of it is just straight up nostalgia, I’ll admit that. But part of it is that I do actually like the deadline. I say it every year: 50k words does not a novel make. But it’s a lot more words on the page than 0 words. There’s value to at least having that much, even if it isn’t a full complete novel. (Novellas, on the other hand, are 50k so that might be a complete story when you’re done it!) In that same vein, you can’t edit what doesn’t exist, so it forces you to at least get the darn thing on the page even if it sucks. That’s what editing is for.
Deadlines do genuinely help me as a writer. They give me motivation and a target to aim for. And who doesn’t like putting a gold star sticker on a chart, or a checkmark in a ticky box? There’s a sense of accomplishment that I treasure in watching the stats bar go up. That works for me.
But deadlines like this are horrifying for other writers, and I accept that.
The big truth about NaNoWriMo is that it’s not for everyone; but trying and failing at NaNo and learning that this form of writing is not for you is just as valuable as succeeding at NaNo. The stress, the deadlines, the community, the way it’s all set up – it doesn’t work for everyone and that’s okay. Now you know that about yourself, and you didn’t know that before. So in a way, you still won.
While getting those words on the page it important, the real thing you win at the end of National Novel Writing Month is not a novel, but a better understanding of yourself as a storyteller.