Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Editing the Novel's Opening-A Novel Matters Video



The take home message of this video:

1) Just start writing. At some point after the planning, you must start writing. It's important to remember you will come back and change your beginning.
2) Editing happens. Editing is a part of the creative process, not something that happens outside of it. You are supposed to make changes. They are supposed to be big. It's normal.
3) Be kind to yourself. Kill the darlings in your manuscript when editing. Don't kill yourself! You haven't missed the mark simply because you needed to make big changes. You're just finding the perfect path to tell the story.
4) Share your thoughts about writing a novel's beginning!

27 comments:

Megan Sayer said...

Yes. Yes! YES!!!!
Wow. Bonnie it's so refreshing to hear someone else going through exactly the same process as I've been doing these past few months. I was holding back on starting the writing (or, at least, the rewriting) because I couldn't figure out how to begin. A friend encouraged me to write anyway, which was the best advice ever.
I've been through three beginnings so far. The first two times I got to around the 10k word mark and thought "nah, that's just backstory" and filed it away and started again. The third beginning I'm happy with, except that I don't think I can successfully introduce my main character there - so I think I've inadvertently written the beginning of Act 3 already. Right now I'm writing what I originally planned as Act 2, except it seems to fit as a beginning quite successfully.
All of this is so freeing though! I'm more than happy to write it all as it comes, print it out and sit on the floor in the sunshine with some scissors and a glue stick and patchwork it into shape.

I'd always presumed that this was the book I was learning my lessons on, and that future writing would be some miraculously smooth process. I guess not.

Lori Benton said...

How encouraging! Thanks, Bonnie. Love these video blogs--and your accent, but you didn't say "eh?" even once! ;)

We're at the same point in our WIPs. I just put mine into double space, which I don't normally work in (way too much white) to check the length and it came in at 253 pages. "Beginning my descent" is a perfect description of how I feel at this point. I'm staring down at the end, the last Act, the physical and emotional climax. The fasten seat belt sign is about to ding.

My beginning has been slightly rewritten once so far, but I've learned you just dive in and trust the process, or the subconscious, or a better understanding of the book, to spit out the right beginning when it's time. If something's niggling at me but I can't put my finger on it, I just keep writing. Eventually it'll shout (sometimes through a crit partner's voice) if that's what it takes to get through to me.

Sometimes I've hit the right note (as far as I can tell) from the get go. Sometimes I've completely rewritten the first scene. Sometimes just the opening lines 5 or 6 times. I'm pretty sure the beginning I have right now isn't going to be the beginning once all is said and done. For weeks now something's been niggling....

These video blogs make me feel like I'm sitting in a class at a writer's conference. Since I won't be attending one of those this year this is a treat (I even took notes, Bonnie!). Will anyone else at NM venture into video blogging?

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan: I'll overlook the mention of Acts in novel writing (I'll have to do a blog about the three act formula!)--but you've nailed it when you said that we're not learning all this in order to one day be able to produce a perfect ms right out of the gate. Creating art is always a dance of many partners, and the steps are always changing.

Lori: I very much hope other Novel Matters ladies will be creating video blogs! I've been nudging them, but each of them is experiencing some time crunches lately that has made producing a video blog post difficult at the moment.

I'm so glad you mentioned that this felt like a writer's conference, Lori! The Novel Matters crew will be meeting soon to discuss putting together an online writer's conference! We'll give details as soon as they are available!

Kathy said...

This video on editing the beginning of the novel was very timely for me. I had started a ms but the group I meet with was critical of the content and as a result, I stopped entirely focusing on articles and poems. Now I think I need to revisit this ms and start anew and keep on writing and go back if necessary in the editing. Thank you for this encouragement.

susiefinkbeiner said...

I love the freedom that you just allowed us. To just start and fix it later. I can't tell you how many beginnings I've written for my novel. Sometimes it feels like a game of red rover. I just keep calling over ideas to see which one can break through.

Just so you know, the Novel Matters family makes me so glad to be a writer.

Bonnie Grove said...

Kathy: I'm thrilled that you're feeling encouraged! Some of the hardest criticism I've received has come because I shared my work too early in my process. I got all excited about what was happening in my novel that I wanted to share it with others. But doing so too soon can crush tender hopes. PLEASE keep writing! :)

Susie: Red Rover. That's awesome! Love that.

Megan Sayer said...

Hmmm. Bonnie is "Acts" just confusing to people, or do you have something personal against the 3 act structure? I actually wrote "part" and then changed it because I didn't like the ambiguity.

Susie I had to google Red Rover (how tragic is that???). And I still didn't get it. One cup of tea later and I do. Yes. And I agree too. That's exactly it!

Megan Sayer said...

Oh and p.s. A video writer's conference would be really REALLY cool!

Marian said...

Here I thought you had the ability to write right the first time, everytime. You just seem to know how to say things. Thanks for disillusioning me. There is hope for my work.

PatriciaW said...

A year ago this might have produced an A-HA! moment. But I've hung around and listened and learned. This year, it's simply affirmation.

I've learned not to show anyone my ugly first draft. In that draft, I'm still finding my story.

I have four beginnings to my current wip. Still not satisfied, but that's okay. I'm writing anyway, and I've got just under 30k, about half my story. (It will lengthen in revision, before it contracts again during polishing.)

Thanks for good writing advice.

Marcia said...

Bonnie, what a delightful and unexpected surprise—a video from you! I'm with you, hoping some of the other ladies follow suit. It creates a feeling of intimacy to see your face, observe your expressions, hear your inflections and accent. Feel like I know you better now.

Also, I was encouraged by your example of hard work and perseverance, and your vulnerability in being transparent enough to share your W.I.P with us. That takes guts. You gave me umph to push myself harder. Loved it when you held up your edited first page. Looked kinda familiar.

A couple of months ago I trashed my millionth first chapter and am scribbling notes for a new one. But before I complete it I'm plotting (re-plotting) the novel in its entirety.

Anyway, many thanks for going to the extra effort of making a video.

P.S. Hey, for what it's worth, I actually liked your forth draft better than your fifth. It began with live people doing something unusual in the here and now, which excited me. IMHO, the fifth draft sounded like a flashback or history lesson. But what do I know? I've never had a novel published.

P.S.S. Megan S., did you receive the e-mail I sent you last week? Hope I had the right address.

Karen Llewellyn said...

Very helpful. Charlotte Cook,of Komenar Publishing was once kind enough to sit down with our critique group and talk about how "the end informs the beginning"--exactly what you were saying--that the seeds for the ending need to be in the beginning of the book, and once we reach the end of our story, we need to make sure those elements are there in Chapter one.

Megan Sayer said...

Marcia - an email for me? no, I didn't get it.

Send it again?
megan (underscore)sayer (at) netspace (dot) net (dot) au

Looking forward to hearing from you : )

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan: No, 'act' isn't confusing. And the three act structure has been popular with modern novels. My opinion is it isn't the best way to tell a story. That second act always drags and sags. :)

Marian: You know, there is still a part of me that thinks I should be able to write it perfectly right out of the gate. Still. I know myself better, but still think that. I can't decide if its the part of me that is super-optimistic, or the part of me that is too hard on myself. :)

Patricia: I'm honored to be someone to confirm what you know about your WIP. I'm cheering you on!

Bonnie Grove said...

Marcia: Thanks for that feed back! The part I read where the people are marching through the forest is still in chapter one, just down a page. I'm happy you enjoyed it and that it gave you a sense of intimacy. Perhaps I will play with what I have a find a way to weave the two elements together. Thanks so much!

Karen: The end informs the beginning. That's a great way to put it. Thanks for sharing that. When I was writing essays in university, I always wrote the introduction last. Then it was a simple matter of pulling all the threads from the body and placing them in order into the introduction. Writing a novel doesn't work exactly that way, but it certainly true that the end speaks into the beginning.

Megan Sayer said...

Bonnie sorry to be a pain and spam your inbox again, but I'm really curious now.
I'm still pretty new to this whole book-writing game, and so far everything I've read and learned about the 3-act structure is making a lot of sense. Promise - problem - resolution. Am I confusing plot with structure again here?
What sort of structure do you prefer?

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan, no you're not confusing plot with structure. I know I go against the grain when I say I don't prefer the three act structure for novels. What ends up happening is every novel forms into a predicable pattern of introduce, examine, resolve. And while that pattern may serve specific genre novels, it doesn't suit non-genre writing, in my opinion.
Non genre novels require a broader approach where structure and plot play an intricate game with one another throughout the entire book, and the resolves are always surprising yet satisfying.

I'm not alone in thinking this way, and one book I've found that has helped me further develop my sense of structure is John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. A difficult, but important book for anyone who tells stories.

Marcia said...

Megan, I just re-sent the e-mail. Let me know if you got it. Thanks!

Megan Sayer said...

Bonnie that's really interesting - thanks. The John Truby book is coming up on my radar a lot lately - I'll have to read it.
I have this theory (because I'm such an expert in writing...HAHA!!...no seriously, I have this theory anyway...) that even books that appear to throw the whole idea of 3-act structures out the window on the surface actually follow it subtly anyway.
Have you read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey? He does some awesome deconstructions of Hollywood movies in terms of traditional mythic structure. He does the traditional, recognisable ones like Star Wars, but he also does a mythic structure deconstruction of Pulp Fiction, which was fascinating, because that's one that throws everything to the wind and succeeds anyway.

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, this is amazing. Yes, we are all experiencing time crunches, AND we are awed by what you have done with these videos. We'll get brave soon. Honest.

Karen Schravemade said...

Bonnie, I LOVED this. Lori's right - it does feel exactly like sitting in a class at a writer's conference. Everything you said was so true and so encouraging. And how excited am I about the idea of an online writers conference??!! YES PLEASE!!

I'm freaking out a little... okay maybe more than a little... because I too am at nearly exactly the same point in the story (243 pages) but I am NOWHERE NEAR finished. I'm barely pushing halfway. And this is my second rewrite, from scratch, to try to cut it down. I've already taken it from multiple to single POV and slashed entire sections in the process. Unfortunately the story is kind of a saga, covering long swathes of time, and it's hard to skim through when everything feels so essential to the plot and characters.

Anyhow... thanks so much for sharing your real examples with us. I so appreciate it. Your writing is incredibly beautiful. I will be the very first person in line to buy this book when it releases. For what it's worth... I liked version 4 best as well. It drew me in instantly because it raised more questions than it answered. I wanted to know who these people were, what had happened to them, what sort of a community they lived in. There was something very intriguing about what you chose to reveal of their reality. Version 5 gave me more answers than I had questions, at that early stage anyway. But you're such a talented writer that I know your choices must all have very good reasons behind them. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

Bonnie Grove said...

Karen: Thanks so much for that input. I'll chew on your thoughts. I woke this morning thinking about chapter one (a sure sign something isn't working), and I got thinking that the entire chapter may be unnecessary. Chapter two has such a neat beginning -- that may be the true beginning?
Ah writing. Gotta love it.

Steve G said...

And you all haven't met Fish yet!

I mean, what I meant to say, "Great Stuff!" Your first book started with a funeral, maybe this one needs to as well. That is certainly something you could use as a trademark...

I really like the video format too. 10 minute video blogs are great - they are so much more real than just words on a page too!

I also appreciate reading the comments of those who are becoming regulars. What a great community we have here!

Anonymous said...

I printed my WIP yesterday. 1007 pages. (Poor trees) Karen, make it sing to the end then see what is too much. Or make it a series.
May I add my vote for a video conference? I'm sure I'd love the others' smiles as much as I love Bonnie's.
Everything in my first 116 pages should probably be integrated into a later portion but I just don't want to write a flashback novel. I like the chronology to flow forward, always forward. But the more I read here the more tempted I am to try it out. It could be quite powerful...
When I began I told myself I would make it as good and polished as I could and then submit it to an editor. The more I read here (I love reading here) the more convinced I am that writing should be done in community, in process with knowledgeable and gentle people.
Thank you for the tempting taste of your Fish, Bonnie. I'm behind Karen in line!

Bonnie Grove said...

Anonymous: Wow, that's quite an endeavor! It sounds like you are deep into the creative process of writing and at the same time forming the novel. There is a great deal to be learned doing it this way. And loads of freedom and creativity! I hope it goes well for you.

Latayne C Scott said...

Sorry to log in so late, but for some reason neither Safari nor Firefox would let me view your video here, so I did a search on YouTube and watched it there. Thanks for putting it in two places!

Your all-marked-up first page gave me great hope..for all of us, for fresh beginnings.

Ellen Staley said...

Great video, Bonnie. Love the idea of an online writers conference!
What is it about finishing 260+ pages and then. . .? That's where I've been the last few months. Stymied. But I am ready to reenter the world of writing. Now am trying to catch back up on all the blogs I missed at NM.
So much good stuff!