Free eBook: The Revision Process

Revise

When you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, the fun is over. Now, it’s time to get into the real work: re-writing.

This is a multi-step process and the steps have a very distinct order. Break that order and you could be letting yourself in for a lot of heart ache. Re-writing is where the real writing begins. Everything up till now was getting an idea out where you can see it.

On the other hand, there are those writers who seem to get everything down on the first draft. I hate those people. Fortunately, they’re rare. Rare enough that you’re likely not one of them, so this ebook might just help you to get through the revision/re-writing process with your sanity relatively unscathed.

You can download a free ebook on the the revision/self-editing process from my website. Just scroll down to Free Stuff.

Advertisements

The Novel Revision Process – Step by Step

Revise

When you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, the fun is over. Now, it’s time to get into the real work: re-writing.

This is a multi-step process and the steps have a very distinct order. Break that order and you could be letting yourself in for a lot of heart ache. Re-writing is where the real writing begins. Everything up till now was getting an idea out where you can see it.

On the other hand, there are those writers who seem to get everything down on the first draft. I hate those people. Fortunately, they’re rare. Rare enough that you’re likely not one of them, so this ebook might just help you to get through the revision/re-writing process with your sanity relatively unscathed.

Download the ebook at: www.biffmitchell.com

Free eBook on Writing Sex, Violence, Humor and Foul Language

WHLH Difficult

You don’t have to be a successful standup comedian to write convincing humor. In fact, you don’t even need a keen sense of humor. And you don’t have to worry about your sex scenes turning into pornography once you know the difference between romance, eroticism and pornography.

Humor, sex, violence and foul language are elements of writing that can cause problems for writers. How much violence is too much, or too little? Where do you draw the line with profane language even when you have a character based on a real-life person whose foul language almost obscures everything they say?

Four of the sessions in my Writing Hurts Like Hell workshop deal with these topics. This little ebook presents those sessions along with some exercises to help you tackle these problems in your writing.

You can download the ebook free in the Free Stuff section of my website.

Become a Writer

Do you want to write a novel, play, short story, poem, annual report?

Cover_wo_border

This workshop will show you how to conceive an idea, develop it, and turn it into a finished piece of writing ready for publication. The focus will be on writing a novel, but the techniques you’ll learn apply to all forms of writing.

Presented by Biff Mitchell, author of Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story, this workshop is based on 10 years of teaching writing workshops through UNB CEL, the Maritime Writers Workshop, the Muse Online Writers Conference and others.

Fee is $95 and includes a free digital publication kit.

There will be four 2-hour sessions (June 12, 14, 19 and 21) from 6:30 till 8:30. For more details, email biff@biffmitchell.com. Enrollment is limited to 10.

 

Writing Hurts Like Hell – Breaking the Story Board

Cover_wo_border

I encourage my writing students to create a story board before starting their novels. I stole the idea from Walt Disney, who created a visual story board for the animated cartoon movie Snow White. I think is was something like a half mile long. This isn’t exactly what I do, not having half a mile of wall space.

I use one large card for each scene. Each card indicates the names of the characters in the scene and, very briefly, what happens in each scene. The cards look something like this:

3

 

The story board is a form of visual plotting. You can see how the story progresses. You can see where you might need more development, where scenes are missing, where you might need a previous scene to make a later scene make sense, and where you might need to delete a scene because it doesn’t advance the story. It gives you new ideas for more scenes and new directions for the story.

The story board creates a structure for your novel, so that when you start writing, you know where you’re going and how to get there. Starting off with that structure burned into your head saves a hell of a lot of time, cuts down the chances of getting writer’s block and makes it possible to get back into the writing if you’re away from it for a while. It also allows you to put together a realistic writing schedule because you can see what has to be done and the scope of what has to be done.

All this said, there may come a time when the story itself takes over, when the actual writing reaches a point where the story board doesn’t make any sense and you just have to write.

OK, the blood-sucking editor of the Twisted Tails anthologies, J, just said, “But Biff, you spent all that time sweating and suffering over a story board…and then…and then…you have nothing. Ha ha!”

And the fox said, “Ha ha!”

“Hey fox,” I said. “Guess how J writes a novel?”

“With brilliance, insight and feeling,” said the fox.

“Thanks, fox,” said J, smiling like a self-satisfied Canadian, who’s actually an American living in New Mexico.

“No!” I said. “He sleeps. Yes, he goes to sleep with a laptop in his lap and dreams. And while he’s dreaming, he records the dream and when he wakes up…presto…novel finished. And perfectly formatted.”

Just as J and the fox were about to say nasty things about me, I ran into my bedroom and crawled under my bed with my desktop computer. I can hear them shuffling around my apartment looking for me, but I know they’re afraid to look under my bed, fearing whatever stuff a writer hides under his bed. Like the stuff I got from my stag party about thirty years ago. I won’t get into details that might even scare me.

So yes, this just happened to me. I had the story board completed for my next novel, the details of which I won’t get into because they might even scare me. I estimated a short novel of about 60,000 words. I had everything worked out, plotted, carded, and on the wall at my studio.

But, as I approached the 60,000 word mark, things started to happen. The characters started doing things that I hadn’t planned. The story line started finding new paths that wandered far away from the story board. Tomorrow, I’m going to break the 80,000 word mark…and I’ll be nowhere near finished.

So, am I sorry I bothered putting all that time and effort into a story board?

No.

Now, I should mention one other thing. I created that story board three years ago. Then, I took three years off to study photography. I came back to the novel a few months ago. I had the story board to come back to for re-orientation. But more important, I had a structure in my head that had three years to simmer and evolve. I dumped the opening chapter for something that, after three years of second thought, worked much better, and then continued with the original plan.

But, like I said, around 60,000 words things started to get out of hand.

I think J and the fox are looking for me in my refrigerator, and eating everything in it as they look. I didn’t know foxes ate avocadoes. I didn’t know editors ate.

But get this. It’s working. Each day when I start to write, the words are gushing out. New ideas and new directions are falling into the manuscript line inspired rain.

The fox said, “Did someone just say ‘inspired rain’?”

“That sounds like something dumb that Biff would say,” said J. “He’s still here. The refrigerator is empty. Let’s find him.”

So I have to make this fast. The story board gives you a structure to start with. It organizes your brain, and your creative instincts, around that structure. And once you have that structure, you can toss it when the story goes its own way. Without the structure to begin with, you would never have gotten to that point where the story would have taken off on its own.

Now, having said all that, there are writers who never use a story board. I mean, some writers just all asleep with a laptop in their laps. The story board is meant for people like me…busy people with fulltime jobs and myriad other things to do.

If you’re not writing fulltime…take the time to do a story board, especially if it’s your first novel. Get that structure in your head and, if the time comes, dump it and just let your story take you where it will go.

“Hey J,” said the fox. “Biff’s under his bed. And…holy shit look at the stuff…oh…the stuff!

Oh, shit.

Finishing

Tree 2

There is nothing more orgasmic than writing a beautiful sentence…even if you’re the only one in the world who can appreciate its beauty. But then…then…there’s compiling all those beautiful sentences into a complete whole. In my case…like…Biff Does Vegas. But my kids might be reading this blog, so we’ll leave it at that.

OK…I like the trip there. I always have. I wrote something on my LinkedIn to the effect that sitting at the top of the mountain with a beautiful view is cool but, hell, the adventure’s over. So I’m not a big fan of finishing. I’m into the trip.

But then, things finish. If they don’t, the journey’s going nowhere. Such is the hell we have to live with in this universe that never seems to make sense.

Let me tell you a story.

“Please do,” said the fox.

Guess what, fox? It’s fuck off Thursday. So…please do.

I’ve written novels that took me up to three years to write. Hey, I work and do lots of other shit. My last novel, Reality Wars, took exactly three years.

But then, I’ve written short stories that took me longer. One of them, The Nickel, took ten years. And it’s like…twenty or thirty pages.

I was traveling out to Vancouver with a friend who’s car broke down on the busiest street in Winnipeg during rush hour traffic. The engine fell out. We sold what was left of the car to Trapper John’s Used Cars, Best Deal In Town, or something like that. Got $99.

Took a bus the rest of the way. Glad that happened though, because it inspired the best story I’ve ever written or ever will write. It was in Saskatchewan that the bus passed an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there was nothing but flatness for a thousand thousand miles in every direction. But there was this intersection where two roads crossed paths.

And there was a sign. It read: D NAT ONS. I mean, wtf, in the middle of nowhere? Donations for what? And there was a donation box below the sign. Did I mention wtf? That image suck to the inside of my mind like the worst booger from somebody else on the elevator that ever was that sticky.

I carried it out to Vancouver where things got so hot I had to leave and come back to New Brunswick where the woman I loved still lived. I carried it through about another day or two before I was hit by 50,000 volts of inspiration and started writing about it.

I wrote furiously…like…I burned the letters off my typewriter (remember those? those things that didn’t allow you to cut and paste, and if you burned the manuscript for a novel…without a carbon copy…well…goodbye novel). But I stopped just short of finishing. It was like the journey with no end in sight. No reason to continue. There was no ending. So, I put it away for a while. About three years. And brought it out again…and got another few pages. But no ending.

It wasn’t until several years later that I took my type-written manuscript to work with me that the juices started flowing again. And, boy, did they flow. I was a bartender in a the games room of a night club. (NOTE: want to learn about people…spend a few years working as a bartender. END OF NOTE.) It was quiet that night. Well, it was still early and the only customers I had at the bar were three members of the Princess Pats regiment. There was a military base close by.

I started to work…with pen…on the next page of the story. And the next page. I’d already passed the work up till then to the three guys at the bar and then passed each page to them as I finished it. I got three or four pages done that night…before things started to get busy and I had no time to write. Boy, were they pissed that they didn’t get to read the end of the story.

But I knew I was close to the end, close to finishing. I put the pages away and got people drunk for the rest of the night. Those pages stayed as they were for another few years, teetering on the edge of finishing. Until one day or night…I honestly don’t remember…I finished it. It was just one more page.

One more page. I waited years for that one more page. Waited that long to finish it. The story won an award in an Australian literary magazine site and was later re-published in the Projected Letters Literary Magazine (now defunct until the publishers get off their academic asses and do something useful). But the journey was over. I knew the ending. It was a beautiful view.

And this is why I drive everything I’ve written out of my mind and focus just on what I’m writing now.

The adventure.

I’ll put that story here tomorrow. It’s an adventure itself.

Tree 3

Active Story Research: Making It Real by Doing It Real

I was sitting in a coffee shop one night working furiously on a short story for one of the Twisted Tails anthologies (The editor, J, had mentioned that, if I didn’t have the story to him pronto, bad things would start happening to me.) when I felt someone nudge my shoulder. I quickly grabbed my Saint Christopher’s cross to ward off evil editors before turning to see who it was. It wasn’t J.

It was a pimply faced middle aged wide eyed short paunchy balding man wearing the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil your appetite by describing the sweater. He asked if I were Biff Mitchell. I said no, but he just ignored me and waved two crumpled sheets of paper in my face.

“I need you to tell me what’s wrong with this.” He sounded pissed off and disappointed at the same time. I thought for a moment on whether or not I should take the paper out of his hand and shove it up his nose, but I don’t do things like that anymore, so I took the sheets and looked at them.

“There’s something wrong, but I don’t know what it is.” His eyes looked like they were almost ready to burst into tears. “Ashley, my sister, read it and laughed.” I think he called her a fucking bitch, but I’m not going to use that kind of language here. I told him to calm down and I started reading. He moved to the empty chair on the other side of the table as though he was going to sit, but I told not to sit down, that it would ruin my focus. I read the first page.

Surprisingly, the writing wasn’t bad. In fact, it was good enough that I continued reading into the second page. And that’s when I almost started to laugh.

He described the cockpit of a Formula 1 racing car going full out as smooth as a bar of soap sliding across ice. Now, I’m not going to get into a critique of the imagery, but I will take issue with the description itself. I’ve never driven a Formula 1 racer myself, but I once saw a video clip of the inside of one going full out…and it was anything but smooth. In fact, it was bumpy as hell and it seemed to me to be a miracle that any car could hold together under that kind of stress. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve had my Accent up to 100 miles an hour and it was plenty shaky.

His sister obviously saw the same video clip. In his case, a simple search through YouTube might have given him a little more insight, but, obviously, he just used his imagination and figured that a car built for those speeds would probably drive smoothly at those speeds. His research obviously sucked.

Good research is one of the key ingredients in a well-written novel. Lack of it shows, not just in terms of inaccuracies, but in terms of convincing descriptions of settings, procedures, operations, cultures and everyday rituals…just to name a few aspects of convincing fictional world-building.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to scour the web for information, or even to read books. Sometimes you have to get up off your ass and do things. I know this because I’ve done it.

Heavy Load

In my first novel, Heavy Load (a laundromance) I got up off my ass and plopped it down in a laundromat pretty much every evening and a few weekend days for about a month. I took a notebook with me and recorded every sensation I could imagine as I sat on hard plastic chairs, leaned against washers and dryers and strolled around the laundromat examining everything in minute detail. I noticed lint balls in corners, gum under the folding tables, pint bottles of vodka and rum in the trash cans. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of buttons clicking in the dryers, water gushing into the washers. I felt the rumble of machines and noted the smell of detergents and clothes. I watched a woman reach orgasm with her thighs pressed against a washer. I noticed there wasn’t a lot of conversation, even between couples and friends on a night out to restore their wardrobes to wearable condition.

I studied the people in the laundromat, the students, single mothers with kids attached, elderly couples, middle aged career men and women and a strange array of people who, like me, seemed to be there for more than just the suds and duds. Some people actually go to the laundromat to meet people, chill out or just read. There were three people who frequented the place to read books. Never saw any of them show up with laundry. Just books.

I drew maps at the laundromat, recording the movements and paths of my characters as they moved through the fictional laundromat in my novel. I drew on the regulars for minor characters and incidents in the novel. For that month I steeped myself so deeply in that laundromat that I dreamed about it. At work, I could close my eyes and read the signs on the walls and hear the tick tick tick of small buttons in the dryers. I could smell the bleach.

I didn’t use all the material from that month, but it’s like gold mining: you collect a few billion pounds muck and harvest an ounce of gold. If you’re lucky. In the end, I had all the material I needed to make the laundromat in my novel real and I had enough character studies to populate my laundromat with real people.

Active research can take you in new directions, add substance to your writing and give you new ideas.

RealityWars-510

For instance, my last novel, The Reality Wars, was set 2000 years in the future and the central action took place in what I initially envisioned as a futuristic triathlon. So, after six weeks of training, and one month after my 58th birthday, I participated in an Olympic level triathlon: 1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer bike ride, 10 kilometer run. I survived, but just barely. Best of all, I finished, but just barely.

There was a particular character I wanted but couldn’t quite see in my mind. I had a vague picture of someone sleek, muscular and blue, with a sleek blue helmet. Or maybe someone dressed in black. But I knew it was someone bad. Evil. Nasty. Someone out to not just beat the protagonist, but out to do her harm. As I trained for the triathlon, I started to get a more complete image of this evil someone. Suddenly, one day when I was being chased around Killarney Lake by the biggest horse fly in the world (did my best running time ever that day), the evil one came to me. She was a woman and she had red eyes. She was running right beside me as I ran from that damned horse fly.

Other things came to me as well. Things like events that might constitute a triathlon 2000 years in the future. In fact, I pretty much scrapped the idea of a triathlon and opted for a series of deadly games played in the real world and in cyberspace.

None of this would have come to me if I hadn’t put myself into the situation I started writing about. I probably would have kept with the idea of a standard swim/bike/run triathlon and not even thought of the much more interesting series of games that were to be called The Reality Wars. And I would never have had one of the novel’s most compelling characters, the beautiful but evil Loac.

Oh…BTW…below is a picture of me finishing the triathlon…alive. Sort of. Proof positive that anyone can be a lunatic.

Tri9

I wrote a novella called Ladies of the Fountain that was published in Twisted Tails VII: Irreverence.

71sOsqSADXL

In the story, three sculpted women holding up a fountain in a park area come to life and spread havoc through a small city after a very lonely man wishes for them to come to life and be his women. The fountain actually exists in Freddie Beach, where the story is set.

One Saturday morning, I walked to the fountain, looked around, made notes and took pictures. Then, I walked down the street, making notes and taking pictures of all the spots where things were going to happen in the novella.

When I started the actual writing, I had my notes (which included descriptions of smells, sounds and impressions) and a few dozen photographs to draw on as I wrote. In effect, I had almost lived the story before writing it.

And now things get a little weird.

murderbycoffee

I plotted a series of murders in coffee shops throughout the downtown core of Freddie Beach. These were for a novella called Boston Jonson in Murder by Coffee.

There were three coffee shops and one coffee house. (There’s a difference. Just ask Molly.) I sat in the exact locations where the victims were found and then in the locations where the witnesses were seated. While I was sitting in the victims’ seats, I closed my eyes and tried to visualize what it would be like to have just been murdered. I tried to visualize what it must have been like for each of the victims in those few seconds before they died, knowing that they were just about to die. I tried to get into their heads in those few seconds after they died, you know, those seconds where the recently deceased’s soul hovers over their former body and wonders, “WTF?”

I put myself in their heads that morning when they were getting ready for work, not knowing that this would be the last time they would ever get ready for work, that this would be their last day on earth. And, of course, I made notes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t use any of this material. All that weirdness for nothing. Well, not completely nothing; everything you do to get into any part of a story you’re about to write puts you just that much closer to the story and to making everything in it real.

Now, the locations where the witnesses sat were much more productive. None of them actually witnessed the murders taking place (or, at least, they weren’t aware of the murders happening) but they saw the victims in their last moments. Some of them saw the victims at other times and were able to give the sleuth, Boston Jonson, information for his investigation. I imagined seeing the victims and how I felt about them. I put myself in their shoes as they were being questioned. I answered the questions, either truthfully or not truthfully. I became the witnesses and, as I did, I came up with ideas about how the murders were committed and who might have been behind them (something I didn’t have a clue about until I was well into the story). And, of course, I made notes.

I know this seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to write a novel. I mean, it’s not exactly the ideal of sitting in a coffee shop with your laptop and spewing out sentence after sentence of brilliant prose, all of it culminating in a novel that will knock the socks off the entire literary world and have movie producers pounding at your door. But, it just might lead you into a few brilliant sentences that’ll knock your own socks off.