Chapter 35, A Time Capsule


q1Right now I’m editing Chapter 35 of Old Souls. That means I’m about 90,000 words deep in what currently stands as a 138,146 word novel. This isn’t the first editing run for Old Souls, and it certainly won’t be the last. Likely, the book will require two more passes before the manuscript is forwarded (again) to my critique partners, and yet another draft before it goes to betas. The good news is that each editing endeavor becomes substantially easier than the last. As every gaping plot-hole gets filled, the characters become sharper, and the stakes more clearly defined.

And that acceleration of pace is more than welcome, because the last time I edited Chapter 35 was in 2015.

The first time I saw that “previously opened” date on my file, I was a little floored. How is it possible that so much time has passed?

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We all know that writing a book is hard. Writing a fantasy book can be even harder—much harder than I ever suspected. Typically, fantasy novels are longer than books in other genres (which is great; because 138,146 words). Not to mention (except I’m mentioning it) fantasy novels play by different rules. Case in point: Old Souls is about a man who forgot his past lives, and the “great family” who claim he abandoned after a massacre ten thousand years before. So, reincarnation rules must be made. Worlds must be built, and details must be maintained throughout the manuscript to create a cohesive, believable story.

While digging into this particularly dust-riddled section of my story this week, I realized that allowing work to rest for two years had created a sort of time capsule of my previous strengths and weaknesses. The last time I edited Chapter 35 was at a time in my writerly journey when I’d obsessed over the writing tips and tricks I’d picked up in critique groups. And, it showed. The draft had become clunky. Seeing how this obsession had affected the story led me to reflect on how I had grown as a writer since then.

6a9252e5fdc632e1f48cbc9fe22647e8When I first started to write Old Souls, I obsessed over the sentences. I wanted to write beautiful words, and subsequently thesaurus-ed the shi@% out of my work. As a direct result, shooting out the first chapter of my “beautiful book” took forever roughly a year, and the chapter was absolute garbage.

To stand a hope of writing “The End” I needed help. So, I to turned to writerly books and blogs in search of answers. Everyone seemed to say the same thing: just write. Write for yourself. Write to get something, anything, on the computer screen. So that’s what I did. And when I finished, I had a rambling string of words which no one–including me at times–stood a chance of understanding.

But, I had created something from nothing. Which was outstanding, even if that something needed a LOT of work.

I found that to improve on what I had, I needed to follow an outline. Many writers “pants,” their scenes, writing at whim. My whims had whimmed up a mess. I bought several plotting books and selected my favorite outline for Old Souls: writersjourney3rddropThe Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, an outline based on the ideas brought forward by Joseph Campbell in, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And while some writers might argue using an outline inhibits their creative freedom, I found structuring my story within the steps of the Hero’s Journey to be infinitely liberating.

By the time I completed the draft of my story utilizing Vogler’s words of wisdom, I had been working on the manuscript for years. To be fair, I had also brought a couple hellions into the world and moved across the country. There had been large gaps of time where I never worked on the book at all.

Throughout all the time I worked on Old Souls, I hadn’t shown a word to anyone. Except for four people, no one knew I was writing a book. I was fiercely self-conscious. But, the time had come to ask for help. I found a small critique group based out of Western Canada; and when I outgrew that one, a larger critique group, where I met my writerly besties. At first, I soaked up every bit of advice offered, ecstatic that other writers were taking time from their own work to improve mine.

And that’s where I left Chapter 35, two years ago.

Since then, my writerly abilities have grown. And, a lot of that growth can be summed up in one word: Confidence.

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Anyone who’s written anything decent can tell you writing is hard. But, the hardest part isn’t learning to choose the active voice over the passive. It doesn’t have anything to do with dialogue tags, showing vs. telling, or the multi-faceted characterization of villains. The hardest thing about writing is trusting your voice and your story.

It’s a truth that packed a punch when I saw Chapter 35 was probably better before I started taking advice. There are no dialogue tags, there is no passive voice, and no adverbs. But, the story has a stuttered flow, and the action tags read like the characters are participating in a play instead of a book.

So, what has my time capsule taught me? A good story uses writing rules as an aid, not a crutch. Yes, excessive passivity is cumbersome to read. He said, she said can become annoying. The overuse of adverbs is slovenly. These are terrific guidelines. But sometimes, to paint the best pictures, we have to go outside the lines. What has to matter the most–before anything else–is the story. Because, your reader will forgive almost any “mistake” if the story is good enough.

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26 thoughts on “Chapter 35, A Time Capsule

  1. Hi again Jenny!
    Sounds like you have found your style, your way, your voice … I wasn’t sure if my ‘voice’ worked so I’ve just had a professional editor critique the first few chapters of my work and find the words work, my characters suffer, my chapters tense but my punctuation crap … I do so love a comma! I’ve taken advice to equi-balance narrative and dialogue scenes to give more depth and now working with this editor one or two chapters at a time to drive this story to print! I find paying a professional helps to clarify my mind! All the best to you and yours. Good luck with all those words! Eric.
    ps has Canada built a wall yet?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Eric, I’m so happy you’ve found what works for you. It seems we have been muddling along together for a while now, and I can’t wait to see the story you’ll come out with.
      Canada does not have a wall. I read somewhere yesterday that Ikea sold out of wall building supplies, so Canada is a little hooped right now. That said, I think Prince Edward Island has enough snow right now to build a wall across the entire country . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • Muddling along together for sure since I started blogging … you one of a handful who followed me from the beginning … I guess we have exchanged a few words over the years! I think I’ve mellowed … okay that’s a maybe!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can really relate. I am struggling right now, ok for the last year, with edits to my sophomore book. Everyone has a different opinion on what’s wrong and how they want it fixed. I didn’t have this issue with book one. Sigh. Makes me wonder if book two is just broken.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Editing is from the devil. I’m certain of it.
      But, I don’t think your story is broken. Other writers have told me that they’ve had to give up on certain books, but I don’t think it really has to do with the book at all, it’s the author’s willingness to untangle the clutter.
      I have come to think the trick is asking only one or two critique partners who you really trust for their opinion until you yourself are satisfied with the writing.
      Keep plugging away. You’ve come so far already, and nothing is unsalvageable.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post!! I know exactly how you felt when you revisited your work after a couple of years. The same thing happened with my manuscript and after revising and querying and then revising some more after great feedback, and even hiring an editor to work with and then revising some more, I’m really happy with my manuscript now and it is back to the querying game 🙂 I know that was a run-on sentence but that period of revisions does feel like a run-on sentence that just won’t end. Good luck with yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s great, Julianne! You’re absolutely right, this period of revisions is well marked by a run-on sentence. It looks as if you’ve taken every step you could to ensure your book is at it’s best. It’s amazing the effort that great writers put into their work.
      I’ll keep my fingers crossed your querying goes well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Jenny! Keep us posted on your journey to finding an agent too. It always helps to hear other writers stories on the road to success too!

        Like

  4. You say so well what I’ve thought for years. So often our writers’ group goes into great detail about sentence structure and word usage, when what is important to me is making the story interesting for the reader. It’s good to know the rules, but sometimes they need to be broken.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right, knowing the rules is important. When I last wrote this chapter they had become an obsession, which is never healthy. No one wants to read fiction by a goodie-goodie. 😉
      Might as well go grab a text book.

      Like

  5. Great post! Can’t wait for the book to come out. (It’s brilliant. Stop depriving the world of it.)

    Often, critique partners can only tell you what they have learned for themselves, in the hopes of helping you get through the learning curve a little faster. It’s my personal belief that if you incorporated the vast majority of suggestions by quality critique partners (as opposed to people who are just rule Nazis) your story is better and your voice is still there.

    Whenever a great story outshines its flaws, as we saw on the case with many of JK Rowlings stories, everyone assumes “the rules” don’t apply. Maybe they don’t. But those so-called rules were not passed down to give people a hard time; they were told to us by other people who had journeyed down the path before us, as a way of saying this is the best manner we know right now in which to communicate ideas. Like using proper English. And periods at the end of sentences. Quotation marks around dialogs. (We are still hammering out the details on communicating conversations that take place over text messages.) We as a group have decided this is the smoothest way to communicate a message without confusing it and to allow our reader to become immersed in the story. It does not mean every writer was able to flawlessly executed as every time. The fact is, many stories we read on critique group sites are mediocre at best and they are burdened by things like adverbs and dialogue tags. The removal of those flaws doesn’t necessarily improve the story, just the delivery of the story to the reader.

    I never let tags and other minor flaws prevent me from putting out my early works (and they may have sold better if I had) just as I won’t let my next story be delayed by whatever new style comes down the pike. I delayed publishing three different stories while I learned to be a better writer – a better storyteller – in hopes of breaking through to a new level. And I did! My writing is better today than it was a year ago and I hope it’s better a year from now than it is today. But during the year that I learned to improve, and during which time I revisited early works to improve them to the best I could produce today, they could still be said to have flaws. That’s fine. I’m not trying to be perfect, I’m just trying to be the best I can be. And if I wait, if I keep waiting, I have to weigh the benefits of improving a handful of lines that may read as something less than really really good, against delaying my story for another length of time. And stories take long enough to put out as it is. The fact is, I don’t write for other writers, I write for readers. And most of my writing has been very well received by readers. So I may not be Hemingway, and I don’t profess to be, but I am going to take another step towards the summit on Mt. Hemingway while I continue to produce material for people to read because that’s how I’m going to learn. Others may go a different route – and I will help them any way I can because they will help me through what they learn on that journey, that different path.

    I see absolute beauty in the way their storytelling style differs from mine. I love it the way I can look at a Dali painting and a Van Gogh and Rockwell and enjoy them all. I respect it. I admire it.

    When others ask for my input, they will get my unvarnished appraisal. They will get what I consider important but it’s up to them to choose which ideas fit with their unique voice. It’s fair to say what Mark Twain might have suggested and what J. K. Rowling might have suggested for ways to tweak a story might be different. As far as which one is better for that story, that’s up to the author. Providing choices helps some and confused others but weak stories usually suffer from lack of storytelling talent, not dialogue tags. You don’t have a weak story OR a weak voice.

    I can’t achieve perfection but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try to produce the best way I can produce; it does mean that at some point I have to put the book out there and let it fly on its own. I have more than one good story in me, so this one will have to leave the nest so there’s room for the next one to start.

    You have more than one great story in you – and I can’t wait to read it – but only you can decide when your story is ready to leave the nest.

    I will keep saying your story is ready now, but it’s not my story, is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Alatorre,

      It’s important that YOU know how much your input has helped my story. This chapter gave me a lot of grief. When I last worked on it, I edited the heart right out, relying on the rules of writing I had been taught to carry the story to the next chapter instead of the tension and the plot. That was my fault, and was in no way the fault of any of my critique partners.

      Taking advice from critique partners–the good critique partners, anyway–is a great way to improve a manuscript. But taking every piece of advice offered can be problematic to the story. You wrote a blog post once while editing Poggi, about how you hate critfolding . . . wait, I think I can find it.

      Ah, here it is–

      “Critfolding is where I add in the many suggestions from critique partners and try to remove passive voice from my story. I have to look at each suggestion and decide on its merit. Part of me says just fold in everything, it’ll be fine and it’ll still be 99% your voice. Another part of me says DIE, YOU WORD NAZIS! DIE! DIE! DIE!”

      You’re very funny, btw.

      While editing Chapter 35, I was struggling with the balance of listening to every bit of advice that was offered to me and trusting my voice. Because, I was still developing my voice, figuring our who I really was as a writer. Like, I was hanging out with the cool kids and emulating their every move, thinking their coolness would rub off.

      It just made me look stupid, kind of like smoking did in high school. I’m older now, so I know better than to smoke; and I’ve been writing longer now, so I know better than to adhere to every single “writing rule” all the time, at the cost of my story.

      Thank you for being such a great critique partner and helping me find my voice. You have become my greatest writerly influence, and will be the second person thanked in the acknowledgments when the bloody thing comes out (because you know, divorce is a messy business ;)).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hey jenny, this is a stunning post! i love everything about it, especially how chapter 35 is a time capsul. i recently experienced the same thing in a WIP that i picked up after a while, only the way you articulated your experience brings mine into better view. thanks for that! i’m so glad you’re making progress on old souls. i love the cover! looks awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

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