Emily M. DeArdo

writer

The Undesirables

After the First Draft, Now what?: Revising vs. Editing

behind the scenes, fiction, The UndesirablesEmily DeArdoComment

Revising vs. editing--what's the difference? @emily_m_deardoSo you've got the first draft. Yay! Now comes time to let out your inner editor. This can be hard, because the inner editor can be a beast, and think that everything you wrote is crap. So I recommend--and so do other writers, like Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones--that you take time away from your piece for a little while. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's a year, but that time away allows you to refocus your vision and recalibrate your inner editor. When you come back to the piece, you'll have fresh eyes, and this enables you to see both the good and the bad in what you wrote. When I was recently going through The Undesirables, there were places that were great--and places that were just crap. I deleted the crap and attempted to write new and better things.

This brings us to an important distinction between editing and revising. Revise means (among other things) "to alter something already written or printed, in order to make corrections, improve, or update." Edit means "to revise or correct, as a manuscript."

Essentially, revising comes before editing. When I used to "edit" papers in college for other people, what I did was revise and edit. The first reading was usually for revisions. I made sure that the paper flowed, the argument presented was made, and that everything moved in a sequential, logical fashion. If an argument was weak, I noted that, or if there was too much repetition, I noted that. Sometimes I would circle entire sections in red pen and note that they should be moved around--either forward or farther on--in the text.

When I revise novels, I delete sections I don't like, I add things that need further exposition, and I can re-imagine the timeline, if I have to. Revising is more about the grand shape of things. Editing is about the nit-picky details--spelling, punctuation, grammar, things like that. So if I've revised a paper, the second pass is usually for editing purposes, unless the person wanted me to read it again to make sure the revised copy worked.

I really like revising and editing. To me it's the process that turns the coal into a diamond, if you will. Now, there does have to be the one good sentence in there to begin with. But if it is there, then you simply have to build on it in revision. I find the first draft the hardest part in my own writing, because I haven't gotten everything down yet. The ending is still ambiguous, and I might just have one scene in my head--how can I create an entire novel out of one scene? The writing gremlins are usually pretty present in my first drafting experiences. It's probably the effect of the blank page, or the blank canvas. But when I'm revising, I have fresh eyes and I'm ready to tackle the manuscript head on again.

It's Alive! Creating a Vibrant Novel Part III: Dialogue

fiction, The Undesirables, writingEmily DeArdoComment

How to write convincing dialogue @emily_m_deardo Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. Putting words in people's mouth is always a fun thing to do, especially when it's part of the job. Characters need dialogue in order to really exist. You can dig out the caves, you can do all your pre-writing research, but your characters, eventually, will have to talk to each other.

Having a good ear for dialogue is a bit of an unearned talent. Some writers have it, and some don't. There was an entire period of novel writing when dialogue was pretty spare. Henry James is a great example of this. You have pages and pages of text, without any dialogue, and to be honest, this sort of writing drives me crazy. I don't need pages of internal monologue. I need dialogue. Detail is helpful, yes; but there is a place where it becomes burdensome (see Moby-Dick....this is the main reason why I so dislike Melville).

Knowing your characters will tell you a lot about how they talk. If they're lawyers, they're going to talk different than Eliza Doolittle. An Earl is going to speak differently than a shopkeeper, and someone older is going to use larger words, and more sophisticated sentences, than a two-year old.

Here's an example from The Undesirables, where we have several characters of different ages interacting:

I found Jack in the kitchen, spreading batter into a cake pan. “Guinness Cake, for Kate,” he said.

“Her favorite.”

“We’re going out for dinner?”

“Yup.” The strands of Aladdin, and the girls’ singing, came into the kitchen. “Sweet. I’m off duty.” Jack placed the pan in the oven and tossed the mitts on the counter. “Where to?”

“We need to decide.”

“CHEESE,” The girls cried. LeAnne and Margaret were of one mind--they wanted the place that served grilled cheese down the street.

“Something a bit fancier, my ladies,” their dad said, picking each one up under the arms. The girls squealed and the threesome fell on the couch.

“Wendy’s!” They squealed in concert.

“Even fancier than that,” I said, tickling Margaret.

“I don’t know that it gets much fancier than Wendy’s,” Emme said as she tossed her keys on the counter.

“In their world, probably not,” Jack said as we let the girls go back to the movie. The Rug was playing checkers with Robin Williams’ Genie.

I actually love writing in kids' voices, so this scene was fun for me to do. But it's an example of adults interacting with kids, and kids being kids.

Dialogue is a place where stealing is a great idea. Charles Schultz said that if you didn't have a funny dog you didn't know how funny a dog could be, and it's the same way with dialogue.

If you're writing in an accent, it can be hard to catch that accent, so definitely do research beforehand. Don't throw in words or expressions that wouldn't fit that particular culture/social realm.

Jane Austen, of course, is a master of dialogue. There's a reason we find her and Shakespeare so quotable. It's because they knew how to write in a way that captured our ears and our minds. Stilted dialogue can kill a scene really quickly, and it's something I'm always obsessing over.

A really good example of stilted dialogue? The Star Wars movies, especially the prequels. I like them as much as anyone else, but George Lucas' gift really is not writing dialogue. It's just not. Even the best actors can't save bad dialogue.  They can try, but ultimately it's probably always going to sound stilted.

Do you have favorite writers who excel in dialogue? Do you ever have problems writing it?

let's talk about creating great dialogue in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

It's Alive! Creating a Vibrant Novel Part II: The Characters

behind the scenes, fiction, research, writingEmily DeArdoComment

let's talk about how to create great characters in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

Last week, we talked about how important research is to a novel. Today, we're going to talk about the people that populate your stories--the characters.

There are a plethora of approaches involving characters. Virginia Woolf talked about digging a cave behind hers:

“I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humor, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, & each comes to daylight at the present moment.”

 Diana Gabaldon writes about characterization at length on her website. Some authors prefer to know everything about their characters, from the time they were born to their favorite childhood breakfast, while some wing it as they go along. Some characters have things borrowed from people I know, and some are created out of whole cloth (like Ariel, a minor character in The Undesirables--I just worked on a scene with her yesterday, so she's fresh in my mind. And yes, her name is Ariel for a reason.)

Generally, I know my main characters well. I write down details about them--eye color, hair color, height, general body shape and composition. I know how they like to dress and what they do for fun, and I can picture them as I'm writing. Secondary characters tend to spring up because the main characters need them to populate their world. For example, in Undesirables, Kate (the main character) has a best friend, Paige. David (Kate's husband, and the other protagonist), has a best friend, Eric. While I might not know as much about these guys as I do about Kate and David, I still need to know how Eric and Paige will react in situations with Kate and David. How do they talk? What is their relationship with my main characters? What is their physicality--how they enter a room, how they sit, their mannerisms.

In Pilate's Wife, for example, I knew there were things that Pontius and Claudia wouldn't do. They wouldn't slouch or be slovenly people. They wouldn't talk with their mouths full. They have a certain sense of breeding and carriage. I also had to be careful of their dialogue. I couldn't put twenty-first century idioms into first century mouths.

But the main characters have "caves" behind them: I know when they were born, who their parents are, their siblings. I often sketch out family trees for these guys, and have birthdays for their siblings and parents. I know where their parents live and where the characters grew up. I know their best and worst school subjects. To me, that's all very important,  even if I will never use this information. I still have to know it.

The last piece of creating a vibrant novel is dialogue, and for this, I'll have to devote another post.

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters? If you write fiction, how do you create your characters?

let's talk about creating great characters in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

Writing Updates--May 11, 2015

behind the scenes, current projects, fiction, memoir, The UndesirablesEmily DeArdoComment

Writing updates from my desk pile @emily_m_deardo

The latest updates from the office:

  • First, I'd like to state that, as much as I love the new baby princess's name, I named my royal character Charlotte years before she was born (The Gift of Snow). So when the novel comes out, don't be thinking I stole her name, guys. ;-)
  • Blog: The blog has its own tab here (look up--it's the furthest right), but if you want blogging posts when they're published, please go over there and subscribe. Here's what I wrote about last week: How to handle life's curveballs; knitting and reading. Two weeks ago, I had a post about books you need to read before you die, so if you're looking for some summer reading, I've taken care of it for you!
  • Some of you have been asking about excerpts of the novels. I'm in the process of working on finding good sections and I will post those under the "excerpt" pages, above (they're currently empty). I'll update you when there is something there!
  • I'm doing major revisions to The Undesirables. When I first wrote it, my objective was basically to get a beginning, a middle, and an end in 50,000 words for NaNo. To do that, I wrote quickly and skimmed over some pretty large plot developments. Now I'm going back and filling all of those empty spaces in, and I'm having a ball.
  • As a gift for subscribing to the page, I've sent y'all a copy of Pilate's Wife. If you did not get it--or are a Wordpress Subscriber, in which case you didn't get an email because I don't have your email--please let me know so I can send you a copy. I want to make sure everyone who wants to read it can!