My Novel Draft is Done! (Now What?)

Hi everyone,

In August, I talked about my progress in writing my urban fantasy novel and my plans to self-publish it by May 2020. At the time, I was at 46,000 words, and I was optimistic I’d get through my draft sometime in the fall, but I knew I’d need to carve out more time to focus on my writing.

Today, I am thrilled to be able to say I have already finished it! At 69,000 words, I have written my very first novel! I can’t believe it. (I’ve been doing happy dances all day.)

It helped me a lot to know that my alpha reader was patiently waiting to receive the final section of the manuscript after I’d mercilessly left her at a cliffhanger. (Sorry about that, Suzanne!)

For some reason, the last few chapters kept flowing—probably because there were exciting scenes for me to write, and I couldn’t wait to get into that desk chair so I could follow my characters to the final showdown.

Coming in at 69,000 words was also wonderful because I’d targeted for 70,000 words. So close! I’d like to have a final version that’s around 80,000, and that shouldn’t be a problem. One of my discoveries as I’ve gone through this process is that I write lean. Every time I tackle a new scene, I start with reviewing and editing the scene from my previous writing session, and every time I did this, I found I was adding more words rather than taking them away. This surprised me at first, because most of the writers I know tell me they have the opposite problem—they keep needing to cut things out. It turns out I have a tendency to focus on character, dialogue, and plot, while some of the nuances of setting and description are things I fill in later. (I know there will be some cutting during my self-edit, though—including all the flabby verbs and unnecessary words I have inevitably written. There’s a reason why Anne Lamott calls it the “shitty first draft” in her excellent book Bird by Bird.)

So…I’ve written a novel now. (And eaten some chocolate to celebrate, of course.) Now what?

It would be so lovely if writing a draft meant you were done. (Ha!) It’s only the beginning. I outlined this story fairly thoroughly, so I feel like it’s in relatively decent shape, but I want it to be the best I can make it rather than rushing it out the door. So I’m setting it aside for a little bit, and then I’m going to do some self-editing before sending it on to some beta readers sometime in November. I’ve already lined up a couple of folks who love the urban fantasy genre, but I’m hoping to get more readers, so I can get a broad set of opinions from my main target audience. I also have a sensitivity reader on board. My novel is set in a fictionalized Canadian lakeside town that’s modeled after the diverse communities I’ve lived in, and I want to make sure I’m doing a good job of representing some of the characters who have experiences that are different than mine.

Then it’s on to professional editing! One of the nice things about being a member of Editors Canada is that I already know a lot of super friendly, highly qualified editors, and I’ve already booked a stylistic/copy edit in February with someone I admire who edits a lot in this genre. I’ve also reached out to another of my fantastic colleagues (who is a Certified Professional Editor with the association) for final proofreading in April. The best editors have a tendency to get booked up, so I wanted to be sure to grab them early!

The other key action I’m working on is booking a cover designer, since it’s a critical aspect of a self-published book. It’s amazing to think about seeing my main character on a cover next year!

Is that all that’s left to do? Nope!

Sometime between now and when I publish, I’ll need to work out the logistical details, including setting up a publisher name, grabbing some ISBNs (which are free for Canadian publishers, hurrah!), figuring out distributors, and so on.

Oh, and I also need to settle on the final title!

Right now I’m not finding this intimidating at all. Well, except for maybe the title thing. (Although I may have changed my mind in a few months!) Instead, I’m looking forward to exploring the entire process and joining my indie clients and friends in self-publishing my work. I know this is the right approach for me, and I also think it will be a fantastic learning experience.

Thanks, everyone, for listening to me babble on about my book. I hope this summer has treated you well, and I wish you all the best on your personal projects, whatever they may be! I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how things are going as I get further along. (And if you happen to feel like beta reading an urban fantasy set in a small lakeside town that features a musician and her best friend, family challenges, quirky local characters, Buffy-like banter, and a ton of magical mayhem, then just drop me a line!)

Cheers,

Sue

Thoughts on Writing My First Novel

It’s been well over a year since I’ve posted anything on my blog. Every time I felt the urge to write something, it seemed like the wrong time. I was too busy, or I’d stared at a computer all day and my eyes were tired, or I just didn’t have anything meaningful to say.

So my blog went dark.

But there’s another reason why I’ve been silent here. Whenever I actually managed to get into a writing mood, I made a deliberate decision to channel that creative energy into writing my first novel.

In my high school years, I played around with novel ideas and started a few chapters, but I don’t think I ever got past Chapter 5. Then life happened, and I left the dream behind.

This year, I decided I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from picking it up again. I didn’t care that I had a demanding day job and family obligations. I’d been carrying around an idea for an urban fantasy that was lighting up all the corners of my brain, and I needed to get it down before life happened again. The only question was whether I would have the staying power to achieve it. After all, I didn’t have a good track record.

It helped that I forced myself to set aside a weekly writing time. If I wasn’t going to be able to write during the week because my eyes were tired from all the computer work, then I was going to get my butt in the chair every Saturday morning and try to write one scene. One scene over the weekend, and I was off the hook.

So I wrote. And plotted. And bought Scrivener. And crossed my fingers that my idea wasn’t going to fizzle out. Was this a real book? Or was I just fooling myself? Had I lost any storytelling capability I’d ever had? Could I really fill a bunch of blank pages with 70,000 readable words?

When I reached 16,000 words, it hit me: This was turning into a real book. I started to get excited. But there was so much to still figure out. It helped that I’d come up with some plot milestones to write towards, based on Save the Cat. Without going from Point A to Point B and then to Point C, I don’t think I would have been able to make it. Even if things changed later, those story beats were beacons that helped illuminate my path forward. (Honestly, I have no idea how you pantsers do it.)

I kept writing. And reached 25,000. Then 35,000. I was at the midpoint! I had written half a novel!

Of course, then I had to figure out how to write the second half. Ha ha. The characters had changed the plot I had originally planned, and now I needed to adjust everything. My original ending wasn’t going to make sense. Now what? I started to be afraid again. Was this it? Was this all going to end up being a colossal waste of time?

Then the best thing happened. I went on vacation.

Suddenly my mind was freed up for two whole weeks. I had time to write, and think, and plan, and then came a wonderful moment. I thought of one idea, and then another, and then it all popcorned into a bunch of related ideas. Kernels of ideas everywhere! I scribbled everything down, and by the time I was done, I’d figured out the path for all the remaining chapters in my book. Hurrah!

Now I’m at 46,000 words, and I can say with confidence, enough to finally post this on my blog: I believe in this story. I LOVE this story. And I’m going to finish it. It’s happening.

And then I’m going to let it sit for a little bit. And then review and edit it. And get it beta read. And professionally edited. (Yes, I am an editor, but it’s a true fact that no one can edit their own work.)

I have a personal goal now to self-publish my first novel by May 2020. I can’t believe I just said that!

What I was realizing today is that I never would have made it this far without being part of this blogging community. Writing my creative communication posts was a labour of love that sparked the creativity in me, something that I had worried was dead. And reading all your comments gave me the courage to take this leap.

So thank you, everybody. I might be going dark again for a while, but I wanted you to know I’m still thinking of you. And I would like you to be the first to read the draft logline for my book, even though it won’t be out for a while:

On the verge of losing her day job, a grieving singer who desperately wants success makes a wish that magically turns her life around; but when the path to her dream gig goes horribly wrong, causing chaos in her hometown and hurting the ones she loves the most, she must face the truth of her family’s past before everything she cares about is destroyed – including herself.

Thanks again for being there for me. I wish you success in your writing, and I really hope to see you again sooner rather than later. (But not until I’ve finished this draft. Otherwise it will never get done!)

All the best,

Sue

What’s New for 2018?

Hi everyone,

In case any of you have been wondering what the heck happened to me, and whether this blog is still alive, I wanted to give you a bit of a personal update.

Since I last posted, I have been busy editing fantasy novels and novellas for some wonderful clients – so busy that I had absolutely zero time for writing. I also moved into a day job that has been personally rewarding but extremely busy, so that even finding time for editing has been a challenge.

I came to the realization that this isn’t a great way of balancing my life, particularly since one of my long-time personal goals has been getting back to my creative side. Editing is wonderful, and it’s always inspiring to read the works of others, but darn it, I want to write my own!

So as of 2018, I have decided to put editing on the back burner, and am now focusing on writing my first urban fantasy novel instead, with the hope of self-publishing it in 2019.

I also want to pick up posting here again, providing communication tips through the lens of sci-fi and fantasy, while taking more time to read the posts of all of my blogging friends!

I expect it will take some time for me to get back into regular posting, and that “regular” will probably mean something like monthly, but it’s a start (or shall we say, a return!).

For those reading this, thank you for all your past support of my blogging, and I look forward to chatting with you as we see what the year brings!

All the best,

Sue

Describing Setting Through Your Character’s Eyes

Hi everyone, it’s been a while! I hope all is well with you. For those of you who write fiction, you may be interested in this post I wrote for my editing blog today. I hope you find it useful!

Sue Archer

Think about one of your favourite fictional stories. Why did you like it so much?

I’ll bet a key reason you liked it is that the story had a character you cared about. Someone who felt real to you. Someone who drew you into their adventures and kept you captivated right to the very end of the plot.

It’s not easy to create a character who is consistently three-dimensional throughout a story. That’s why there are so many articles out there on strengthening the main character’s point of view.

woman's eyes Source: Wikimedia Commons

One item that is sometimes overlooked, though, is the relationship between character and setting. This is particularly important in stories that are intended to have a narrow narrative distance between the reader and the character.

When I edit scenes involving setting descriptions, a common piece of advice I give is to think about the scene from the character’s…

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Conversation Corner with James Pailly, Sci-Fi Writer and Science Blogger Extraordinaire

I’m thrilled to have James Pailly as a guest today on Doorway Between Worlds. I’m a devoted follower of James’s blog Planet Pailly, where he shares knowledge about science in a way that never fails to make me laugh while I learn. James also writes science fiction, and I thought he might have some interesting ideas to share about how to communicate sciency concepts to readers. I was right! Here is our conversation about high school fears, molecular personalities, and the art of bringing science into science fiction.

On your blog Mission Statement page (I love that title, by the way – very science fiction!), you talk about how you’re working on improving your scientific knowledge, so you can grapple with its complexities in your writing. What prompted you to share that research on science with others through your blog?

First off, thanks for inviting me!  I could never resist crossing a doorway between worlds.

I guess I started my blog because of a deep-rooted sense of insecurity.  As a kid, I loved Star Trek and Star Wars, but I hated science class.  Especially chemistry.  Chemistry and I are old, bitter adversaries.  So I grew up really wanting to write science fiction and knowing next to nothing about actual, factual science.

Most of my writing instructors reassured me that it didn’t matter.  Good storytelling comes first; just make up the sciency stuff.  But I couldn’t shake the fact that when it came to physics and astronomy and biology, I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  I felt embarrassed by my ignorance, and that stopped me from writing anything at all.

I believe the best way to overcome that kind of insecurity is to face it directly.  So in a moment of either extreme courage or extreme foolishness, I decided to teach myself science.  In order to ensure that I’d stick to it for more than a weekend, I also decided to blog about my research.  I figured regular blogging would keep me from getting lazy and that readers would hold me accountable if I made mistakes.

For the most part, it’s worked.  There’s still loads of science for me to learn, but I don’t feel so insecure about my ignorance.

That’s fantastic. I’m ignorant in a lot of areas of science, too, and I love learning about all the different things you talk about through your blog. How did you end up developing the ideas for your various series?

I’ve had multiple special series come and go on my blog.  Sciency Words is by far the longest running.  The original idea was that I’d write brief, dictionary-style definitions of important scientific terms.  Now Sciency Words posts are much longer and usually include what I describe as “highly technical scientific diagrams.”  Like this one:

Earth: Ahh!!! What are all these things crawling on me? Moon: I think some of them got on me too.

Image courtesy of James Pailly

The other currently active series is called Molecular Mondays.  Every other Monday, I focus specifically on that subject I dreaded most in school: chemistry.  This is another case of me directly facing my insecurities.  I’ve tried to talk myself into canceling this series several times now, but the feedback I’ve gotten has really surprised me.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggled in chemistry class, and I guess people like to see that I’m not giving up on something just because it’s hard.

Yes! I am one of those who struggled with chemistry. I think part of the issue was that it wasn’t very relatable for me (as opposed to biology, which I did quite well in) – it felt abstract and boring. But your posts on chemistry are inspiring me to learn more. And your “highly technical scientific diagrams” are a big help in making it fun. Do you have a background in art? What do you see as the role of art in communication?

You know, the funny thing about studying art is that when you really get into it, when you’re learning to mix pigments and get them to adhere to a surface, you’re actually doing chemistry.  With figure studies, you’re doing anatomy and biology.  When you’re working with light and shadow, you’re starting to do physics.

I think a lot of science can feel abstract and boring, as you said.  Chemistry is especially guilty of this.  But once you get to know atoms and molecules, you find that they sort of have their own distinct personalities.  Carbon makes friends with everybody.  Helium just wants to be left alone.  Oxygen’s super greedy for everyone else’s electrons, and most metals are sort of blasé about letting their own electrons go.

Oxygen: Gimme, gimme, gimme!Oh, these old things? Take them, if you want.
Images courtesy of James Pailly

That’s not really a scientific way of thinking.  It’s sort of my artistic interpretation.  I take a bit of creative license on my blog, but I think a little creative license can help make science feel less abstract and more familiar.

Applying character development to scientific concepts is brilliant. (I can imagine science teachers taking fiction writing classes to broaden their communication skills.)

Actually, one of my favorite teachers — my high school physics teacher — wrote two episodes of Star Trek, one for The Next Generation and another for Voyager.  Now there was a man who knew how to turn science into good storytelling!

That is so cool! I wish my high school physics teacher had been a sci-fi writer. Although he had his own talents – he was a born comedian and a talented dancer. (He used to entertain us with some Russian dances if we asked nicely.) 🙂

I love that whole idea of cross-pollination between different knowledge areas. I’m curious – have you found that learning more about science has helped you with your original goal of improving your science fiction writing?

I have two science fiction projects that I’m actively working on.  The first is called Tomorrow News Network.  It’s a short story series about a journalist who travels through time, covering the biggest news stories in the galaxy before they happen.

I started writing T.N.N. shortly after I started blogging.  The T.N.N. universe is filled with fairly standard Sci-Fi tropes: wacky time machines, emotionless cyborgs, sprawling space empires, etc.  From the beginning, I’ve tried to fit my research in wherever I can, but T.N.N. is still what some would label “soft-core” science fiction.

Tomorrow News Network

Image courtesy of James Pailly

My other project is still in the world building stage, and I’m sort of approaching it in the opposite way to how I approached Tomorrow News Network.  This time, I’m starting with my research — specifically my research on planetary science, orbital mechanics, and chemistry (of course) — and I’m fitting in traditional Sci-Fi tropes wherever I can.

The result is a universe that feels much more grounded in reality.  At least, I hope so.  Also, with all the omnipresent hazards of space travel hanging over my main characters, I think this is a universe that will feel a whole lot more dangerous.

I’m so glad it’s been a worthwhile endeavour for you. I can’t wait to see the results! Before we wrap up our conversation, I was wondering — do you have any recommended resources for those who are interested in writing in the sci-fi genre?

A lot of science fiction writers seem to skip the research part of their work.  I’m not saying you have to go research-crazy like I do, but you can find a lot of cool story ideas buried in scientific literature.  Real life science is often weirder and more wonderful than anything you could possibly imagine.

So I’m going to repeat a piece of advice from Isaac Asimov (at least, I think it’s from Asimov).  He told new science fiction writers to get a subscription to Scientific American.  They’re one of the best at making science accessible without oversimplification.

Of course, the world has changed a bit since Asimov’s time, and now you can find quality science journalism all over the Internet for free.  You’ve got websites like Live Science, Universe Today, and Space.com (although these websites are sometimes guilty of oversimplification). Magazines like Popular Science and Scientific American post a lot of their articles online too.

And if you feel like diving into the more technical stuff, check out Google Scholar.  It’s Google for academic papers (as opposed to regular Google, which searches the entire Internet).  Actually, Google Scholar is an amazing resource no matter what subject you’re trying to research, and I’m surprised by how few people seem to know it’s there.

Thanks, James! I used to love reading Scientific American, and I need to get back to it.

Finally, just for fun, I have to ask: Which do you like better? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Or something else? I’m a Babylon 5 person myself.)

Oh jeez, you’re going to get me in trouble.  Okay, I’d normally pick Star Trek, but… the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just came out.  I’m pretty excited about Star Wars right now.

I think we all are! Thanks so much for being such a great guest, James, and sharing your thoughts with my readers. You’re welcome back any time!

***

Do you have a question for James, or a comment on our interview? Please leave your thoughts below – we’d love to continue the conversation with you!

Monumental Mistake or Matter of Style?

Some thoughts I wrote today for my editing blog on when something is a true writing “error” (which doesn’t happen as often as you might think)!

Sue Archer

All the recent discussions around Amazon’s updated policy on error flagging have made me think about what truly constitutes an “error.” Language is fluid, and its rules of usage continue to evolve over time. What our teachers told us to do in elementary school is not always the right way to approach things today.

So how do you know whether you’re on the right track when you’re writing? When you receive your edited manuscript and it’s full of markups, is it time for you to panic? I’m sure many of us have experienced that gut-wrenching feeling of failure when we encounter all those red marks. I know I have!

This is why I like to write detailed comments as I edit — so I can explain why I’ve made a change. When I perform a stylistic/copy edit, there are a number of reasons why I mark up a manuscript…

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Captain Comma and the Rise of the Romantic Robots

Hi everyone,

Last year I posted a prologue for a series of stories I wanted to write about Captain Comma and her crew. I’ve finally had time to write the first tale. Since we’ve just been through Valentine’s Day, I decided now was a good time to post it. Enjoy!

Captain Comma

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021416.

Today I received the details of our new mission from Admiral Apostrophe. Spot and I were in the middle of enjoying our usual romantic Valentine’s Day dinner (cheesy vegetarian lasagna for me, spicy chocolate-flavoured protein cubes for Spot) when we were interrupted by the system notification of our new story destination. It would have to be YA fiction…

 

“You’re kidding me,” said Sergeant Semi-Colon.

We’d materialized in the middle of a stereotypical high school corridor. Institutional grey lockers lined the walls, interrupted occasionally by beige classroom doors with narrow cross-hatched windows designed to keep out the light. The linoleum floors were a speckled white that failed to hide the stains. I could smell the remnants of rotten food, sweat, and desperation.

“Why do they have to make everything so bleak? It’s not like high school is the end of the world. Heck, I survived it just fine.” The Sergeant casually waved around his semi-automatic punctuation gun.

“Easy for you to say,” murmured Ensign Parenthesis. “You weren’t the skinny wimp who got picked on by all the girls.”

“Enough. We’re not here to change the tone, we’re just here to observe and see what sentences need fixing,” I said.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything happening here, Captain,” said the Sergeant. Spot barked her agreement, littering an exclamation mark on the floor. Normally I’d be upset by her failure of protocol, but in this place, it’s not like anyone would notice.

A bell shrilled, and students began to pour out into the hall. Holding out my scanner, I looked for the source of the word disturbance.

“Uh-oh, here they come,” said Ensign Parey.

I looked up to find a group of four girls coming towards us. Although they were dressed in bright colours, their mannerisms were dull and impassive. They moved jerkily down the hall, shuffling their feet as they spoke to each other in monotonous voices.

“Suzy did you hear what happened to Scarlet.”

“No what’s the deal.”

“Well I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow that’s harsh.”

“Oh I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah I hear you.”

“Freeze page,” I commanded. The girls halted steps away from Ensign Parey, who backed away cautiously.

“Well, that was exciting,” said the Sergeant. “Luckily, I know just the thing to spice things up.” He patted the enormous barrel of his gun.

“Sorry, Mico, but I don’t think we’re going to need the heavy guns today. Looks like a classic case of comma failure.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Your time will come,” I promised. I pulled out my punctuation phaser and set it to “Vocative comma.” “Parey, do you recall what the vocative comma is for?” I figured a distraction was in order, since he was looking a little green.

“Um…isn’t that something you use when you’re addressing someone by name?”

“Excellent,” I said, and fired.

“Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet,” said the first girl, and stopped.

“I still think it’s creepy when we do that,” said Parey, who bravely came up to examine her.

“Aw, you get used it,” said Mico. “You just have to remember they’re not actually real.”

While the two of them talked shop, I set my phaser to rapid interjection with yes/no on a comma setting. I didn’t think we needed any exclamation marks. That dialogue was bad enough already.

“No,” “Well,” Wow,” “Oh,” “Yeah,” the girls chimed in.

“That was almost musical, captain,” complimented Mico.

Spot pawed at my polished regulation boots and cocked her head at the teenagers.

“All right, Spot. Go ahead and give them their question marks, so they can come alive.”

Spot barked twice, and we were ready to replay.

“Restart scene,” I commanded.

The girls bounded down the corridor, talking animatedly and gesturing with their hands.

Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet?

“No, what’s the deal?

Well, I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

Parey watched them as they continued on down the corridor. “I can’t say I’m going to miss this place. Talk about bad memories.”

“What did you think of high school, Captain?” asked Mico.

“Oh, that’s a story for another day,” I said.

 

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021516.

Well, the mission was successfully accomplished. It’s been a while since I’ve had to correct interjections. Visiting that YA story made me think about all the drama that I went through in high school. I wonder how Slash is doing now, and if I’ll ever see him again…

***

Thank you to my son for the fabulous illustration.

I hope you enjoyed the first Captain Comma story. Stay tuned for further adventures! And if you have any comments, suggestions for future story topics, or questions about commas, please feel free to post them below. Thanks for reading!

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2016