Writing in Reverse: The Beginning

I’m finished drafting!

Cupcake

I treated myself to this cupcake after a draft a few years ago. I really wish I had it now …

Anyway, my draft came out at 55,716 words, which was not quite as low as I expected. I had set an initial target of 70,000 words, but as I stated earlier, I’m fine with a sparse draft. I know I’ll add when I revise as I tend to leave out important parts like setting descriptions.

If you missed my first two posts in this series, you can find them here:

I realize the way this panned out, I’m only writing this a week after my last post, but I still feel I have some worthwhile lessons to impart as I finished the draft.

I no longer feel the need to jump right into revisions. Last week I was riding on the high of a brilliant twist I’d decided to implement in the first plot point. And I do still believe it’s brilliant and will greatly improve the tension throughout the rest of the manuscript, but since I forced myself to move on, I no longer feel the burning urge to jump into the revisions immediately. So it turns out that was a short-lived fury.

If I hadn’t outlined so completely, I would have rushed to the first plot point much too soon. As I’ve been drafting, I’ve been reading a lot, and much of that reading has been on my Kindle. It’s so handy to have that little percentage marker in the bottom left-hand corner. And I’ve noticed something. I can actually pinpoint an inciting incident around twelve percent and a first plot point at twenty-five percent and a pinch point around thirty-three to thirty-seven percent and so on. And working backward has given me a unique perspective on this, being able to think about what is happening in each scene and then go to the scene immediately before and make sure what happens then provides the right framework. I can tell that if I hadn’t done it this way, I would have a first plot point around fifteen percent, and the problem would be that readers wouldn’t care enough about my character yet, or they wouldn’t be meeting the important secondary characters at the appropriate time. I am sure this method is going to benefit me in the long run.

I had to remind myself to insert backstory in the early chapters. By the time I got to the first couple of chapters, where the characters were being introduced, I had to remind myself to insert bits of description and backstory to ground the reader in the world. Because I’d been writing about these characters for six weeks already, I knew them so well that I definitely wasn’t putting too much in. But I was right about knowing the voice and mannerisms. That part is good. As to whether it means I nailed the first chapter more quickly? Well, that will be up to my CPs to determine.

I still spent more time on the first chapter than the others. I just wrote it today, but whereas I drafted the other chapters quickly and wasn’t as worried about the first lines, I carefully considered every word of this first chapter, even in draft form. But I do think it was easier writing the first chapter last. Because I not only knew how their stories played out but had already written the details of them, I had a much better sense of what needed to happen at the beginning–who the readers need to meet and what they need to know about my main character and how she’s been shaped by the people around her. I wasn’t feeling my way into her the way I have been in the past. Because I already did that in the last chapter🙂.

So what’s next? I’m going to let this manuscript sit until after Thanksgiving. I usually do a month, and depending on what else lands on my plate, I may still give it until mid-December, but I definitely need to let it settle. Either way, I’m definitely glad I decided to write in reverse. Drafting is always a struggle for me, and although I still had to sit and force myself to do it some days, I had better direction this time around.

How about you? Have any of you tried drafting in reverse? Did you like it or not?

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Writing in Reverse: 45,000 Words from the End

I’m actually getting pretty close to the beginning of this draft. (I apologize to those of you just starting NaNoWriMo, but I did start a month before you.) Here are a few more things I’ve learned since the check-in at 25,000 words.

No matter how much you plan, you’re as likely to come up with a new twist writing in reverse as you are writing forward. This actually just happened to me, and what I find interesting about it is that it will require the same amount of revision either way. The difference is that instead of the twist occurring to me later in the story and having to go back and plant seeds in the revision, it’s something that occurred to me to change early in the story and I now will have to deal with all the ripples throughout the rest of the story. But having already written what comes later, I can see how this early change will make the middle stronger.

When you make a change early on, it’s so much more tempting to fix everything that comes after in the draft. Usually when I’m drafting I just want to get to the end. Occasionally when I make a change I’ll be tempted to go back and fix something it affects earlier in the story, but it’s usually just a twinge. I’ve had a different mentality drafting in reverse. I’ve been going through and adding to the later scenes–still not revising the existing text–if something in an earlier scene calls for it. This twist I just added in the first plot point has me itching to go through the whole manuscript and revise–because everything that comes after is already there waiting. But if I do that I’ll never finish the draft, so I’m putting it in writing here so I will keep moving forward to the beginning.

I’m probably not going to be able to let this draft sit. Because of the above point, I have a feeling this first draft will turn into a draft 1.5 before I’m able to let it sit. But if the reason for that is an inconsistency I already know I wrote in that I can fix before I set it aside for a month, I can live with messing up my usual system. Then when I return to it after that month, it will be a stronger draft to attack.

I think that’s it for today. Probably my next post in this series will be Writing in Reverse: The Beginning!

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Writing in Reverse: 25,000 Words from The End

I started writing my new project at the beginning of October as planned, and I’m now 25,000 words in (or back?), so I figured it was time for an update on how this writing in reverse method is going. As I mentioned in my pre-drafting post, I prepared to write in reverse by creating a much more detailed outline than I’ve ever used in the past. I structured it using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL. First I placed the three acts with the major plot points, then I layered in the scenes within those major plot points, working backward from the resolution and climax. Yes, that means I outlined in reverse as well. I found thinking backward very helpful from the standpoint of figuring out what needed to happen to get to the climax.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far and some predictions as well.

There’s less pressure writing those first sentences. Well, obviously the end of the novel is important, but it doesn’t have to grab the reader the way the opening lines do. By starting with the end, I didn’t have to worry about what backstory should be loaded into the first words I wrote, how soon certain characters should be introduced, etc. Instead, I got to wrap everything up (because you all know I don’t like sad stories, right?). It was a much easier place to start.

It takes time to get in a groove with your character’s voice whether you start at the beginning or the end. I fill out character worksheets before I start writing. I’ve been doing that for the past few manuscripts, so it’s not new to this one. But even with that prep, it still takes a while to get into a groove with the character’s voice. I was feeling her out in the closing few chapters, but writing her is familiar now. By the time I get to the beginning, I’ll have the main character’s voice down so well that those opening pages should really flow. And when it comes time to revise, it will be much easier to fix any inconsistencies at the end.

I’ve already figured out my character’s issues. This point sort of goes along with the one above, but when I outlined the story and filled out my character sketch, I had a particular character arc in mind for her. As I wrote the end and started working backward, I realized there was another issue she had to work through. If I’d started at the beginning, I wouldn’t have laid the foundations for that flaw, and it would have been something I had to solve in revision.

The first draft is going to be short. I always write sparsely in a first draft, but thanks to my detailed outline, I see that I’m not going to be anywhere near the word count goal I set. Which is fine. I’d rather know that everything I’m putting in this draft is essential to moving the story forward–which is what my outline tells me–than be trying to figure out what scenes have to be cut later. And that’s what I’ve had to do with every manuscript in the past, I think partially because I didn’t outline enough, but also because I was working toward a word count goal and thought I needed to fill the space. Looking at my outline as I draft, with the major plot points in front of me, I’m not tempted to try and fill the MS with unnecessary scenes that won’t add to the forward momentum of the story.

I’m adding as I go, but it’s ok. Usually when I draft I don’t allow myself to go back and revise any chapters I’ve already written, but I’ve been more flexible with this one, and it’s entirely due to the reverse nature of the drafting. I find that I’ll write a new scene, and because of something that happens in that scene, I now need to add to the later scene. But because I’m writing in reverse, it’s not really an edit. It’s more that I left something out of the later scene because I hadn’t written the earlier one yet and didn’t realize the character needed to reflect on a particular incident or hash something out with another character. Because even with my outline, there’s still flexibility for little incidents to be added. I’m sticking to my guns about not changing any text that’s already there, but adding more totally works. Plus it helps with my sparse draft🙂.

I’m less likely to give away information too soon. I noticed this benefit within the first few days of writing. When you’re writing forward, you’re planting seeds for a later reveal. Writing backward, you get to just put it all out there right away, and it’s a lot easier not to talk about it the further back you go because you know you’ve already written it and the characters either don’t know or can’t talk about it yet. I love this! I already feel like things are being revealed at the right times to produce the most conflict, so as I keep working toward the beginning, I’ll be creating more tension as I find ways for my characters to stay in the dark. Plus, I’ll know exactly where to plant those seeds.

I still look ahead (or behind) when I begin writing for the day. I worked with a much looser outline in the past, but I would glance ahead to see what I was working toward before I started writing each day. Since I’m writing backward, I look at what I’ve planned for the scenes leading up to the ones I’m writing each day. That way I have an idea what the characters were doing immediately before the scene began–what their emotions should be, where they physically are, what they’re working toward. I thought this might be trickier working backward, but with the outline, I’ve found it only takes me a few minutes to get in the right mindset for a new scene.

So, with the manuscript close to halfway drafted (at least according to my outline–I said it was going to be short!), I’m pretty sold on writing in reverse. Now, I’ll be completely honest. I still don’t love drafting. I have to make myself sit at my desk and do it every day, and I stop when I reach 2,000 words, even if I’m on a roll. I do that because if I’m in a great place, it will be easier for me to start again the next day. I don’t think I will ever be a writer who loves drafting, but at least this method is helping me feel good about where this draft is headed.

Have you ever tried drafting in reverse? If so, how did it work for you?

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YA Review: TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman

I love books–and movies, for that matter–that play with time and space. When I came across the description for TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman, I was intrigued by the premise. How much difference can one decision make? I really liked the way this story explored the question.

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender…

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises… 

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue—but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can’t hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – I so love a clever title, and you can’t get much more perfect than this one. Because her name is Summer and it’s summertime, so she’s experiencing two summers and there are two Summers in the two realities. Anyway, I’m sure you got it before I explained it🙂.

2. The descriptions – I loved the descriptions, particularly of France (a country I’d love to visit again), but also of her home town, and the way Ms. Friedman would slip in the slightest hint each reality could be a dream.

The wind rustles the leaves on a lemon tree above us. I feel detached from the table, separate, watching myself having a conversation with this handsome French boy. That can’t be me, I think hazily. It’s another Summer. One who isn’t scared. Over Jacques’s shoulder, I notice a tableful of girls blatantly staring at us, their mouths half open. I totally understand their shock. I share it.

3. The friendship – In both realities, Summer experiences the uncertainty of a changing friendship. It’s much more confrontational in the Hudsonville storyline, but it’s still there in the Provence storyline. On the other hand, there’s another relationship that’s much more prominent in the Provence storyline, but explaining that would give away a major plot point.

4. The romance – There are two very different romances happening in the two storylines, and yet I found them both sweet in their own unique ways. As with the other point, I’m really holding back here so I won’t give anything away.

5. The ending – I loved the ending of this. The story is set up as: here’s what could happen if she goes to France or doesn’t go to France. Certain events happen on certain dates no matter what, and then you get to the end and … well, it’s just brilliantly done. Enough said.

Have you read TWO SUMMERS? What did you think?

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MMGM: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE Interview & Giveaway!

If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here🙂. But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me🙂.

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!

 

Posted in Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Before the Draft: A New Approach to Outlining in Scrivener

It’s no secret that drafting is my least favorite part of the writing process. In the past, I’ve been what you’d probably call a plantser. I did a fair amount of planning in advance, but I left a number of details open during the drafting process. I had enough filled in that I’ve never felt like I had writer’s block, but I would still start most drafting days with a feeling of dread. As I began brainstorming this new project, I decided to explore a new process, and I drew inspiration from two sources.

1. K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL

I’ve been following Ms. Weiland’s blog for years, and she’s written several posts on using Scrivener to outline and edit your novel. One particular post on flagging the major plot points in your Scrivener file caught my attention, so I ordered her book to explore it more in-depth. As I read through STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL, I felt reassured that my previous novels hit these major plot points, BUT I’m positive they didn’t on my first draft. I had to go through several revisions before I was hitting the inciting incident, first plot point, second plot point, etc., at all the right areas of the manuscript.

So what am I doing different with this manuscript? I set it up in Scrivener the way Ms. Weiland suggested. I laid out my major plot points first, and now I’m filling in the necessary scenes to reach each point. I’m confident that my first draft is going to be so much more solid from an overall pacing and structural standpoint than it’s ever been before. Here’s a shot of how it looks, minus the specific scenes of course🙂.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-40-53-am

2. Writing in Reverse seminar by K.R. Conway at NESCBWI

When I read the description for K.R. Conway’s seminar, I was intrigued. How do you write in reverse? The main idea is to plot in reverse–to figure out the climax of your story and work backwards. This concept made a lot of sense to me, so I’ve been using it to plot out this story, and I’ve found it quite beneficial to start with where the characters end up and work backwards to the beginning. It’s helped me figure out how they reached the tipping point at the end and actually who they are as characters. (The reason you only see generic scenes in the screenshot above is because I’ve plotted out everything after that already.)

I intend to take this one step further and attempt drafting most of this in reverse. Like many writers, I believe the beginning is the hardest thing to write. I think by starting at the end, I’ll know my characters so well by the time I get to the opening of the story, I’ll be less tempted to info-dump and have a better sense of how to introduce them to readers. We’ll see. I’m excited to find out!

Now there’s something–me excited to draft. I shall be starting next Monday … at THE END🙂.

 

 

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MMGM: THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone

I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best🙂.

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers🙂.

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

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