How to rewrite a novel using scene cards

The most important of my New Year’s resolutions was to rewrite my first novel. I thought it’d be long, sure, but I hadn’t realised how difficult it would be.

I tried in January, failed, then proceeded to write something else. I’d let the story rest so I could see it with new eyes. I tried again in March and failed again. I figured I’d edit the thing after I was done with my creative writing courses… which I plan on starting this fall.

Eventually, I realised that stalling wasn’t the solution. I needed a method: baby steps to bring me where I wanted to go. There is no doubt taking creative writing courses will make my writing better. But so will writing on my own. Stalling, on the other hand, just makes me lose time.

I had the idea that I should do several rounds of edit: IMG_20170717_110113a
1) A rough edit, in which I correct anything related to themes, conflict, story structure, and anything related my overall appreciation of the story.
2) A finer edit, in which I correct anything related to character development, facts checking and scenes fine-tuning.
3) A language edit, in which I correct mistakes, remove unwanted repetitions, tighten sentences, and basically make every sentence as elegant and effective as possible.

Each of those rounds may, in turn, be divided as necessary.

I suspect rounds 2 and 3 won’t give me too much difficulty: character development is my greatest strength, scenes fine-tuning can’t be all that different from short-story fine tuning, and language, well… I’m a language professional. It’s round one that’s a bitch.

The main problem I was faced with was that a novel is so long that it’s difficult to remember every little thing that happens in it. Yet, as a perfectionist, I feel the need to know everything that happens. I don’t want scenes to get repetitive, for one; I don’t want to hammer my themes into the reader’s head, but I do want them to be clear; and finally, I want my characters to be consistent and to evolve at a natural pace.

I had seen “scene cards” here and there, but I thought people mostly used them to plan their stories. I can’t use them in that manner yet, my plans are not detailed enough and I do like to surprise myself while writing the first draft. However, I figured I could use them to summarise everything that happens in every scene of the book.

scene card

I found Ingrid Sunberg’s scene cards and printed a bunch of them. But as I filled them, I realised they weren’t optimal for my needs. Scene cards should probably be tailored to every writer and every book. So I made my own version in MS Word, three per letter-sized page. Feel free to use them or modify them. Here’s a PDF version in case that works better for you.

My novel has a little over 60 scenes in it. Just like that, I reduced an 85,000 words novel into a very manageable 20 pages.

boo-yah

However, as awesome as it may be, it’s still just a way to make a very detailed summary. There is almost no visible relationship with rewriting or editing. I must admit I spent a few

I must admit I spent a few minutes hours staring alternatively at my cards, then at some part of my manuscript, until I figured the next step: reread the book from cover to cover and critic every scene on the back of the page. Critics include everything from very precise comments about a detail to “rewrite the whole thing” to “delete this scene” (I can safely delete stuff because I’ve kept a copy of my first draft from which I can restore deleted scenes if need be). This method has the added benefit of making me see every scene in relation to the rest of the book. This process doesn’t take too long: I can do a few scenes every day.

The next step will be, most likely, to look at my detailed scene cards and reflect upon the story and everything that happens in it and add even more comments on the back of my scenes and in a note book that I keep for more general comments about the story.

When that’s all done, I can start rewriting efficiently, because I’ll know exactly what needs to be done. And efficiency is important because… basically the whole thing will have to be rewritten to some level.

Yep, you read that right. I honestly thought, when I finished the first draft, that it was “clean” and didn’t need too much editing. But in the meantime, I’ve read and critiqued great books, and I’ve raised my expectations for this novel. That also allowed me to take some distance from my beloved first draft and see it’s worst flaws, at least. For the rest… I’ll find alpha/beta readers and hire an editor.

There is no great writing, only great rewriting.
– Justice Brandeis

 

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale 01Context

As part of a class assignment, I’ve read an essay titled Never Heard of Them… They Must be Canadian* by Mel Hurtig. The “never heard of them” applied to Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence among others (read the essay if you get the chance, it’s great). I’m sorry to admit it was true for me too: I had never heard of them before. I swore to myself, there and then, to read at least one book from both these writers someday.

When I joined Twitter several years later, I went and followed a few Canadian writers, including Margaret Atwood, whose tweets I enjoy. At last, I became too curious about her and looked for her “best” novel, which seemed to be The Handmaid’s Tale. I can’t tell whether it is her best, but one thing’s for sure: it’s great.

I had no idea what the book was about; I hadn’t read so much as the back cover. I had only a vague idea of the genre, even: something about a dystopian society, somewhere between sci-fi and history, and I’m quite amazed I got even that “close enough”.

Review

The book is a speculative fiction, but there is a non-genre quality about it: it studies human nature in depth and leaves you to make your own opinion. Main themes include power, sexuality and feminism.

The pace is very slow, especially in the beginning. I don’t always like slowness, but here it was welcome. The events are so terrible, I was grateful that the information about “the new world” was given one drop at a time. I’m also glad that I started reading the book early this month, because I could not have binge-read it; it would have affected my mood too much.

The worst thing – or the best thing, but for your feels it’s the worst – is that this dystopian society is set in our own world and is very close to our own society. You feel like it could happen. Actually, horrors like those in the book did happen before, are happening right now in other parts of the world, and most likely will happen again somewhere else in the world. That is what makes it so hard to read.
Offred
That and the fact that the characters are deep and complex and… human. I loved how even those most probably responsible for the worst atrocities were not depicted as overly sadistic monsters. The worst acts can be committed in the belief that they are “for the greater good”.

However, the author is kind: she doesn’t dwell on the atrocities. On the contrary, she constantly diverts your attention toward some little thing, a funny expression, a flower, a dream, for you to get some relief before the next wave of pain. I didn’t cry even once, which I’m thankful for.

Bottom note: this novel is as horrifying as it is brilliantly written.

Now it hits me even harder: how have I not heard of this book or its author outside that one university class? This is the first novel by Margaret Atwood I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.

Rating: 10/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everybody over 16 could enjoy this, but it might be of particular interest to women, amateur sociologists and fans of dystopian fiction.

Reference

*Hurtig, Mel.“Never Heard of Them… They Must be Canadian.” The Harbrace Reader for Canadians. Ed. Joanne Buckley. Toronto: Harcourt Canada, 2001. 279-284

The Harbrace Reader for Canadians(By the way, there’s an essay by Margaret Atwood in The Harbrace Reader for Canadians about utopia and several other excellent essays on various subjects, including creative writing – my absolute favourite being MadmanArchitect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process by Betty S. Flowers; this is one of the best books I’ve bought for a university course and I warmly recommend it. Obviously, it is of special interest to Canadians.)

Back to writing!

beesy smallSometimes things look almost perfect: you make a schedule for yourself, you stick to it and get brilliant results. You’re thrilled and want that to last forever. But then… life happens and you get overwhelmed again, running in all directions like a headless chicken: precisely what I’ve been doing for the past, uh… 3 months? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do actual running, which I usually do during the spring to shed the extra pounds gained during the winter; I only got to make money, which admittedly had become my top priority: going hungry from lack of money is not my preferred weight loss strategy.

Sigh

It’s okay; I know I’m not good with changes, and going from unemployment to working over 50 hours a week is one drastic change. But now, things are settling down, I’ve reduced my working hours to 40-50 hours maximum, and now I’m ready to rethink my schedule. It’s irregular because of my husband’s schedule… but upon the whole, here’s how my time is distributed:

weekly time distribution

Okay, so this doesn’t look too bright (aside from the colours I chose): 5.5 hours is short for me to research/write/edit/revise a blog post, but it’ll have to do. I’m not too happy with having only 7 hours a week to write fiction either, or only 3.5 hours to read, but there isn’t much I can do about it. It’s more than I have for, say, exercising.

I’ll try to steal a few hours when my daughter is playing alone (I’m encouraging her to play alone because that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to her) and the necessary house chores are taken care of to get some writing or blogging done. I might consider handwriting short stories or making detailed plans on paper during those times. I’ve been thinking about writing a series of “episodes” for Wattpad or this blog, or both. That might not even be possible considering speech is the one thing that makes it impossible for me to focus and my daughter is talking all the time, but… I’ll see.

I could also go jogging with my princess in the stroller when it doesn’t rain.

I wish I could cut my hours of sleep to 56 (8 hours/day), but with the pills I take, even sleeping 9 hours a day is a stretch: ideally, I’d sleep 10-12 hours a day. So much time lost.

I can do this!

tiredI hope. Very honestly, I feel tired just thinking about it. But I have to do this. I want to. That’s the way forward, the one leading to my someday being able to call myself a professional writer; the one that won’t make me feel like I’m wasting my time. Not to mention that this schedule will end with the summer: this fall I’m taking a creative writing course and so I’ll free 8-10 hours/week off my work schedule for that purpose. My schedule will still be tight, but a bigger proportion of it will be devoted to writing and that’s encouraging.

Seriously, I can do this.

Fathers are underrated

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In parenting and in children development books, fathers are awfully rare. Those books all about the mother and the child. I guess historically that was mostly true; maybe it still is in some cases, but not in ours.

My husband is the one holding the family together. Without him, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t think I’d be able to be a single parent.

He didn’t have it easy, either; my postpartum depression was has been almost as hard on him as it’s been on me. For months, he had to take care of a baby and a very sick spouse. He still feels emotional whenever he goes to a hospital to see a doctor, whether it’s for himself or for our daughter…

Even after I was out of the hospital and working again, he was almost our daughter’s sole caretaker for another year. Even now, when he’s there, he’s mostly the one watching over her. No wonder our daughter goes to him for emotional comfort.

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A father is also, most of the time, a spouse, and he does a great job at that, too. He’s the one holding my feet on the ground when I’d otherwise get carried away with the wind. I’m sometimes so lost in my own fictional world, that I start considering life decisions in terms of what would be interesting to read about instead of what’s best for me.

He’s also there to remind me, among other things that I’m human… Metaphorically, of course: I tend to forget that, like anybody else, maybe even more than most people, I need breaks and days off to remain mentally healthy.

Whenever I have a mildly important decision to make, I always seem to want his approval. It’s not like I actually need it or like he’d lash at me for not asking him first, which I wouldn’t tolerate, it’s just… I know he sees things differently than I do and I feel like we need to communicate each other’s points of view so that we have a full 3D view of the situation.

He has his own faults, of course, but in the end, I don’t mind those so much because my own qualities more than make up for them. I don’t believe in such a thing as soulmates, but  what I do believe is that there is nobody in this world whom I’d rather have as a husband.

Happy Father’s Day to the love of my life, and to all other wonderful fathers whose work is so underrated.

Review: More Than Neighbours

Context

More than NeighborsA few months ago, I saw several offers for ghostwriters in the romance genre. I wasn’t qualified for those, but that gave me the idea that maybe it would be easier for me to get published through Harlequin than through finding an agent and then a publisher (not that I even tried finding an agent, but it does look awfully hard).

So I looked up Harlequin guidelines and then found they offered free trial books in each of their romance series, so I downloaded them and looked through the blurbs to find one that would possibly be acceptable to me and chose More Than Neighbors, by Janice Kay Johnson.

In the end, I gave up the idea of writing Harlequin romance books because that could probably not hold my interest very long, but the particular book I read was… quite alright.

Review

The book was better than I expected. Although it mostly focused on romance like all Harlequin romance books, there was more to it. It touched themes like parenting, autism, labels, grief, self-esteem and abusive relationships. I didn’t find them very powerful: I found the melodrama a bit too much at times and didn’t like that everything was spelt out, but still, it’s much better than what I expected.

The story is slow, with a lot of descriptions. It’s a slowness that makes you dream about those countrysides landscapes, woodworking and cutting horse competitions, not one that makes you wonder where that story is leading (anyway, you know where it’s leading: it’s a Harlequin). There are, however, some possibly irritating repetitions.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11The romance is also fairly slow, which is a definite plus with me (probably a minus for most Harlequin readers). It was a nice romance, too. I’m sometimes disgusted by romance books when the relationship doesn’t look healthy (or is downright toxic), but this one is as healthy as could be. It reflects my idea of a great, empowering relationship.

There is one very explicit sex scene plus a few other sexy bits that I couldn’t enjoy, but I know I’m the exception rather than the rule: for me, it’s like I met these people, you know, went to their house a few times, and then eventually they just stripped naked in front of me and start going at it… nope. Not something I wanna see.

The characters are fairly stereotypical and the gender roles are as traditional as could be, but I expected as much. Ciara sews and cooks, Gabe is a woodworker owning horses. They both have their own issues and are rather believable, but they didn’t jump from the page either. The one really fun character, in my opinion, is Ciara’s son Mark. He’s one of the main reasons why I liked this book.

In conclusion, it’s a decent light book for when you want to relax and not think too much.

Rating: 6/10

Who would I recommend this to? Women who enjoy light romance, especially if they also like daydreaming about rural settings, horses and cowboys.

Confession of a hopeless hobbyist

I’ve talked in several posts about how I gave up most of my hobbies to focus on writing, but that just made room for new hobbies to appear.

Remember in February when I said I had learned how to knit? Well, in March I accidentally learned how to crochet. Late April I’ve started practising the piano regularly again and am even shopping for an actual piano (I only have a cheapo keyboard). And now I’m considering taking horseback riding lessons and trying my hand at woodwork. Not to mention there’s a dress I really want to sew (sewing being an old hobby).IMG_20170209_161210b

Sigh.

There are some definite advantages to being like this: I am fairly polyvalent. Reading a makes me an open-minded and knowledgeable person. Writing keeps me sane by helping me express feelings I would otherwise no know what to do with.

I’m glad I’ve learned how to sew, knit and crochet. They’re both useful and anti-anxiety. That’s also the case for gardening, and I’m sure I would find woodworking extremely useful as a homeowner.

Jogging, cycling and yoga are also useful hobbies for my health. Karate, Judo, Aikido and Muay Thai contributed to making me able to defend myself if I ever was attacked. Swimming and dancing kept from becoming way overweight when I was in high school and ate a lot of junk.

Lolita fashion helped me stop apologising for who I was and feel better in my own skin. Donjons and Dragons is my one regular activity with friends and that is tremendously important, considering I’ve never been so close to being a shut-in.

Even watching TV, while not super useful for most people, is okay for me as a writer. It’s also one of the few things that still brings my husband and me together. However, I don’t tend to indulge too much in it, because it’s too closely related to reading and writing: it triggers pop-ups in my brain regarding the different stories I should be reading or writing instead.

However, I fail to find a tangible usefulness to my learning Japanese, Russian and Korean (I mean, I have no ambition to work for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or anything), collecting BJDs (dolls like the one modeling my handmade scarf above) and Lego bricks, drawing, playing guitar and piano, playing video games, etc. I guess they help build my general knowledge and can also be anti-anxiety, but… so would a much, much handier hobby like cooking. But for the life of me, I cannot stay interested very long in that. It takes too long, and it bores me, and I don’t even like eating to begin with.

cloud-2I know that this, like my perfectionism, can be as much of a quality as it can be a fault: it’s a quality because it makes me a very polyvalent person, but a fault when it makes a scattered person. It makes me resourceful, but it’s also a sign that I have my head in the clouds when I not-so-secretly wish I had my feet on the ground.

I’ll have to accept that, too, and just focus on keeping some balance.

Besides, knowing a little about a lot of things can come in handy when writing stories. Actually, I’m sort of planning a story about a woodworker and a… not sure what the guy’s occupation will be.

Thank you for passing by, and please feel free to share about your own hobbies: I’d love to read about them.

On a side note, I’ll now post on Mondays, instead of Sundays.

Related post: Confession of a recovering book snob

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time coverContext

I have first heard about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon in a university class. The teacher’s sales pitch was that the narrator was autistic and therefore his view of the world was quite unique.

Now, the main character of my first novel is autistic too. I didn’t mean to make her, it just happened. That being said, I became curious about how this other autistic character was portrayed and consequently bought the book.

Review

I was hooked from the very first chapter’s number: 2. Yep, who cares about conventions, right? I’m all for throwing them through the window when they don’t suit my taste and have no disastrous consequences for anyone. So I started bonding right there and then with the narrator and protagonist, Christopher Boone.

It is nowhere mentioned that Christopher is autistic – although it is obvious to anyone who has basic knowledge on the subject – so I don’t see why people insist on using autism as a sales pitch. It is quite obvious that the writer didn’t want to put a label on him. And in fact, I wouldn’t even say that his autism was one of my favourite aspects of the book. On the contrary, I found him very “textbook” autistic – as in very stereotypical. Which is okay, but there is so much more to this book than that.

Christopher might seem very different at first, especially for a close-to-100% neurotypical reader (which I’m not, I’m 50-50 so to me he wasn’t that much “weirder” than the 90%+ neurotypical characters I read about all the time), but as the story progresses I think most people could realize he’s more like them than they would ever have thought. Which is often the case with anyone you think is “different”.

The characters are all unique, believable and not always very sympathetic. I had very mixed feelings for almost every character in the book (except Mrs Alexander, she’s the best). They were mostly loveable, but then they did that thing of which I disapproved (a different thing for each). However, that’s part of what made them so realistic. I felt deeply, in particular, for Christopher’s parents.

That being said, to me the most interesting aspects of this book were the plot and theme. Although Christopher keeps saying that “this is not a proper novel”, I think it is. There are several interesting mystery and adventure elements, but mostly it’s a story about life and how different people deal with it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time cover 2The main theme, to me, was that of courage. In the later half of the book, Christopher shows the kind of real-life courage that cannot fail to have an impact on me. Some other characters also show their courage… or lack of it.

Finally, this novel is refreshingly non-moralistic. Good people do good things and bad things. They care for the people they like and want to protect them, but they hurt them too, sometimes. They don’t mean it. Sometimes emotions cloud their judgement, sometimes they can’t understand how the other person thinks, and sometimes, one person’s needs are simply too much for what the other person can give. There are all three examples through the story and I loved that

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Except if you’re reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time because there are spoilers. And yes, of course I was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time or it wouldn’t have been funny: I had meant to finish it before reading this book, but then lack of time happened and I didn’t want to review two classics in a row so I put Sherlock on hold only to see my mistake when Christopher told all there was to know about its plot. Oh well.

Psst! I also posted a “life update” on my Facebook page.