Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “Trent Dixon”

Editing For The Big Thing

TODAY’S BREW: Coconut Red Velvet. I made it myself.

By Julie

I’m an editing machine. You may know this. Generally, I’m always editing two books; one of my own and one for a client.

My specialty is developmental editing, and by that I mean ensuring the book has real substance. That the characters are multidimensional, the plot is multidimensional, that there’s themes and language that is singularly the author’s. Whether it’s my book or someone else’s, it’s a needle in a haystack search often to see what exactly is the Big Thing that needs All the Attention, and identifying this is what I find makes for a successful edit or not. Figuring out this thing may help you, too, in all your editing adventures. Because like anything in writing, have a loose plan is critical.

Here’s how I break down what the editing needs to consist of:

IS THERE A CRAP TON OF WORDS TO CUT, OR ARE WE LOOKING TO ADD WORD COUNT?

Some writers typically underwrite, get their barest thoughts on paper without much embellishment, and that requires beefing up of the text. This does not mean adding a bunch of fluff words, describing things that don’t goddamn matter, or giving us a bunch of conversations that just don’t need to exist. When adding to text, look to add dimension, not filler. Look for the Big Thing you want to expand on and devote the additional text to it.

Other writers have a crap ton of words and need to lose 20,000 of them. That usually means there is already the description of things that don’t goddamn matter, a bunch of conversations that don’t need to exist, and a bunch of fluff words. What I seek to do now is lose unsophisticated wording to cut words while digging for what  the Big Thing is we need to surface and expand on. It’s not about cutting words to make it shorter, it’s about using the right words and spending them wisely on things that matter.

 

DETERMINE WHAT THE HELL THE BIG THING IS.

There’s never just one thing that needs to be focused on while editing, but there is a Big Thing which you then surround with Little Things that make it that much Bigger of a Thing. When you don’t know what the hell it is your book needs, think of this stuff:

  • What is the thing I’ve done that is balls-out awesome and needs to be exploited? You may have a character that is so intensely original in its philosophy that the whole book rightfully revolves around him or her. But right now you have too many fucking words to really allow that. It may be that your humor is a real page turner, and you need to make it really mean something to the characters, the story. You might be awesome at action scenes, and need to make the characters as exciting as your action scenes. Figure out the thing that you LOVE about your book and make it bigger.
  • What is the book missing? It just doesn’t have that book-hangover-potential, even though you poured your heart into it. It doesn’t quite make the reader feel like they just don’t have the emotional energy to get out of the book’s world, and you want that. You want your reader to not be able to pick up another book for a day or two minimally. You may be missing one of these things:  A) Characters that feels intensely real.  B) themes that make your reader think and feel like there’s more happening than just what’s happening.  C) Intensity. Scenes that reek of tension.  Now, refer back to the thing you do well. How can you use THAT to make the thing you didn’t do well rock the fucking socks off the reader? Leverage your strength to improve your weakness.

START FROM THE BEGINNING.

Hopefully you’ve determined the things you want to change, expand on, and cut. Which one is the Big Thing? (Hint: It’s pretty much always revolving around your main character.) The Big Thing is your non-negotiable, this has to come across clearly and hit-you-in-the-fucking-facely item of business. For instantce, in THE ANIMALthe Big Thing I need to edit for is making certain that the reader knows Trent’s singular predicament is very definitely ripping his already messy life to tinier shreds. All of the edits I do henceforth have to work toward that big goal. And I mean EVERY EDIT. Every line has to evoke the feeling of it. My Smaller Things are that I want the theme of ancient Egypt to be strong, and I want Trent to be complex and contradictory. So, my Egyptian imagery should be calm and serene when Trent is at his most frantic. All birds, one stone. The theme is there, and it’s stark contrast should show that Trent is an emotional mess. It will turn out to be a series of very small changes that will make a huge impact on the overall feeling of the book.

I personally find that when I use this excuse for an editing formula, I don’t ever have to make enormous, drasitc changes to books, whether they be my own or a client’s. A series of well-planned tweaks will make your manuscript feel less like a pieced together bit of pretty roadkill and more like a work of systematic art.

What do you guys do while editing? What works for you? Give me your answers, people!

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Sin Is The Writer’s Element

TODAY’S BREW: The blood of Juan Valdez

By Julie

SIN IS THE WRITER’S ELEMENT

–Francois Mauriac

I love sin. That undeniable darkness of the heart that makes a good person turn to their worst selves and indulge them. These are the best characters, and often the best people. The kind who understand that there’s no straight line in the world, only lines that get you to your endgame faster.

Probably too often, I’ve said how “nice” people don’t generally do anything for me. Anyone can be nice. I want real. I want every imperfection of the people/characters I care about laid out to me. It’s that kind of exposure of the inner demon that makes me trust people, makes me a better person for seeing their honesty with their flaws and the struggle to accept them.

Loving sinners is why I’m a writer, in part. I want to see the dark and dirty of everyone, and when I can’t get it, or need to put my own out there in not so many words, I create that persona. I do my best to make a sinner that’s just like you, in one way or another.

I’m doing a deeper round of research on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for Trent, the main character in THE ANIMAL. My initial research gave me all the facts I needed to make sure that his disorder was realistic, and respectful of those who suffer from it. This round, though…..I’ve been reading OCD forums online, hearing the horrors that some of those who are afflicted with OCD suffer. Their bravery in the face of their own irrational thoughts of violence is more painful than I can wrap my head around. My heart was ripped in half plenty of times as I observed these conversations, making me tear up even now. People who get stuck on a terrible image of some awful act they would never probably do, and the guilt that literally keeps them awake at night. Living with thoughts of murder, pedophilia, bestiality….more unimaginable things than you could conceive of….it makes me think harder about the nature of OCD. In every one of these forum chats, the people who suffer these thoughts despise them. They have often just as many obsessive thoughts that cause them to check in constantly with loved ones to be sure they haven’t been hurt. It’s the difference between the people that commit these crimes and those who suffer the thoughts of them. There is no temptation to actually commit them. The sufferers are revolted by the images that overtake their minds, like they’ve been forced to watch the most disturbing part of a movie about themselves over and over and over. Naturally, this leads to extreme guilt and the questions of am I a pedophile if this vision pops in my head over and over? Am I a murderer if it’s all I can think of doing? 

The other symptoms of OCD, the ones we all know of like compulsive hand-washing, for instance, provide only the most momentary relief from the obsessive thought. Committing the crime wouldn only make the afflicted feel worse. Most sufferers of OCD work hard at keeping their obsessions and compulsions a secret, lending to it worsening over time. The folks that I’ve read in the forum chats were desperate to tell someone about their thoughts in hopes it would help expel them, some even asking if they could turn themselves in to the police for crimes they haven’t, and would more often never, commit.

Their heart-wrenching stories have helped me see deeper into Trent’s obsessions and compulsions, and exposed his heart to me even further. I already loved him for his duality, his reserved depth, his fears and memories, and learning more about the disorder has made me wildly protective and closer to him. (Not to mention making me cry uncontrollably for the sufferers of OCD more times than I can say.) Knowing the sins in Trent’s heart, and more so how he wants to triumph over them, makes him a hero to me in his fictional life that’s not quite fictional in my mind.

Sin has a different meaning to everyone, but for all of us it holds a trepidation of what one could do, what we may be capable of. The writer’s job is to explore the worst case scenario of sin. Sure, we need to commit plenty of sins, too. (SIDENOTE: I HAVE NOT AND WILL NOT COMMIT ANY OF THE SINS/CRIMES IN THE ANIMAL.) Being all good all the time is A) zero fun  B) the worst kind of dishonesty with yourself  C) inhibiting and painful. So, yeah, a little debauchery is perfectly fine with me. Doing the wrong thing sometimes, yep, totally cool. But what if it went further? What if it became a monster in your own heart? This is the fear that the writer examines, and what makes for a character that we feel for.

Giving into the sinful side and being oppressed by thoughts of committing sins that disgust you are two different things. One is choice, and one is illness. It’s where these two things intersect that have helped me create THE ANIMAL. But there are plenty of sins out there to see, and writers, don’t turn your back on them.

If you need to talk about obsessive thoughts and compulsions, contact  1-800-950-NAMI (6264), the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Or search OCD forums to talk to others who can help you.

Take A Frigging Vacation

TODAY’S BREW: Some ungodly Cinnamon Maple coffee I got cheap. It tastes like something I would get from an airport vending machine.

By Julie

You all know I finished The Animal.  And since then, I have been lost. Accepting my breakup with Trent, I gave myself the mourning time I never expected I would need. I thought I would finish it, and feel nothing but joy but that was not the case. I literally couldn’t listen to the song that had become my soundtrack to writing the book. Total basket case.

2 weeks was what I gave myself off. Not from writing, just from The Animal. I took some time to work on the long neglected Running Home, querying it and reading the beginning again. I wrote some short stories. I even got up for 5am Writers Club on twitter, just to keep routine and give myself some structure.

None of this helped.

I wanted my book back.

I started to edit The Animal 2 weeks to the day that I finished it. I did do some good to it, I think, but it didn’t feel like I had really taken a break from it. It was kinda like listening vs. waiting for your turn to talk. Knowing this, I realize that I am still too entrenched in Trent to be objective in my editing process. So again, I step away.

I buy shoes.

I eat candy bars.

I relax.

And I realize something else. While taking writing as seriously as any job, I never give myself an actual vacation. Think of a job you really enjoyed, and when your boss said “You should take some time off, Johnson,” and you were all “No, I feel great!” and you did, but then you CRASHED. Because throwing yourself into something you love is as draining as it is to throw yourself into something that’s difficult.

As soon as I decided that I would take a little vacation from writing, one that I totally resented, I immediately became inspired with a fantastic new idea for my short story that is evolving into some sort of novella, Inscription. It was the first time I had been truly fired up to write anything in the past two weeks. Just the thought of taking time off, making myself aware of the need to refuel was enough to make me stop looking for the next thing to do.

While determination and commitment to your craft is critical to writing being a habit, beating a dead horse is a horrific way to treat your passion. Knowing when to back off and knowing when to “just write” is a fine line. One is a copout, the other a surrender. And what do we do as writers but surrender? We surrender all of ourselves to write something that feels alive.

If we don’t let ourselves live outside of our own self-imposed deadlines and guidelines, how can we ever evolve as artists? Stopping is part of facing our fears. It is the fear that maybe, just maybe, we won’t ever start up again.

And when you have no fear left, create a new one.

 

Taking Myself Out of a Teeny Tiny Little Box

TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Hazelnut. Or “The Kristen Killer.”

By Julie

 

Stuff has been weird! After finishing The Animal, I had a countdown until the day when I would open it back up to start editing, 2 weeks later.

THIS IS NOT A BREAK FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

This is waiting for the moment when you can admit you never really wanted to finish it in the first place. This does not give you clarity of thought with which to face the second phase; this is never really finishing the first phase.

I only realized this when I picked up Running Home  again, which I have been allowing to collect dust for a few months. No revisions, no edits, no reading of excerpts, no querying. Just sitting while I focused on the very demanding Trent Dixon.

Querying is my arch nemesis, or at least it had been for Running Home, and I didn’t even give it that much of a chance, being able to count on 2 hands the number of them I sent out. But I just couldn’t feel the query, couldn’t make it work the way the storyline did, couldn’t capture my voice in it.

It was not until I gave myself this long break, wrote another novel, wrote countless short stories and blogs that I understood I did not even know exactly what my voice was to write the query. If I was asked what my writing style was like, I couldn’t have accurately answered. That’s all changed and changing now. I needed some more experience. And I needed to beta read for some other people, to make comparisons.

So, sitting down on our Monday drinking night with Kristen and a batch of homemade brownies, we took a fresh look at the query for Running Home. I surprised myself by realizing that it wasn’t a hard novel to write a query for. I was looking at the structure of the story as some convoluted mess of conflicts, which is ridiculous when I know better than anyone that it is about a series of events caused by my characters’ decisions in a world where there may not be any real choices.

All in all, I was too close to the frigging thing, and I am probably still too close to The Animal  to do it justice, too.

Now I am toying with the idea of leaving The Animal alone for a month to pursue a different project, as yet TBD. There’s no set time limit that’s right to let your work alone. For me, it has to feel like it went away to camp. Like I sent it off somewhere, missed it, didn’t know I missed it, but was really happy to see it come back.

Time to open up my mind and take the unplanned path again. Time to be a creator, and know that in creating new things, I will see a different side of my finished works. It’s a learning process. So, Trent, sit back for a while. Be ready to be ignored.

 

Breaking Up With Trent: Finishing The Animal

TODAY’S BREW: Coffee, coffee, more coffee until my heart screeches and my fridge begs me to stop taking out the creamer because I always knock something over.

by Julie

I FINISHED WRITING THE ANIMAL. 

Yup, yesiree Robert.

This happened on Monday, when Kristen and I have our first writing date of the week. We have another on Friday, but tend to drink a lot more on Monday. (This time it involved events like “I bet we can still do back bends.” We can. We totally can.) But we’re all business, too and I knew this was the night I would write the last chapter of The Animal. Nothing stops me.

Disbelief on Tuesday morning. Then JESUS MARY MOTHER OF GOD I DID IT AGAIN I WROTE ANOTHER BOOK. And then, it happened.

I had post partum word baby depression. I felt like I broke up with my manuscript.

I decided to force myself not to write anything Tuesday. I don’t even know why, but I know I should step back, let ideas well up. That’s what people do, right? I played with the kids a lot, read some stuff, relaxed, but I kept thinking about Trent. Had I done right by him? I couldn’t listen to Blood Red Shoes all day, because Lost Kids somehow became one of Trent’s theme songs. It hurt to think of listening to it. When I broke down and did it, I had to go to Ghetto Gym to work off my angst.

This all felt good. Really good. While every other writer I know agonizes over what their characters tell them to do, I always tell my characters what to do. I am the boss. They work for me. To miss Trent this way, showed me that my creations are more than my employees.

SIDE NOTE: TO ANY OF MY FORMER EMPLOYEES, YOU WERE NOT “JUST” MY EMPLOYEES. Jeez.

Also, I learned that it is not in me to need a break from writing. If I need a break, something is wrong with me. Before I finished The Animal, I knew that I would dive right into querying Running Home. I can only give attention to one of them at a time, this is the other thing I now know. My needs are to totally immerse myself in one project, with side salads of short stories. That’s my thing. But I can’t ever stop. Not ever.

I AM NOT A DUST COLLECTOR.

And neither is my work. I will not have a book that sits. I wrote it for a reason. Running Home is having its time again, while I give Trent and The Animal the space it deserves. We’re just on a break, this isn’t for good.

THERE IS AN URGENCY IN WRITING. IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE DONE OVER FOREVER AND IGNORED LONGER.

So you all know what I’m doing, and that I do, indeed have a plan, I’m querying my first novel now. Again. Because I got scared and stopped before. In two weeks I will redraft The Animal and give it out for beta reads. In the meantime, I will be doing short stories for submission and for the blog. I have a story going up tomorrow on Josh Hewitt’s blog for his World’s End series, a sci fi bit that’s different for me, no matter how much sci fi I read.

Know this. I won’t stop writing, I won’t give myself a break. Writing is my break. And breaking up is too hard to do for me to rest.

March Madness: It begins!

Today’s Brew:  All the coffee

KRISTEN

You may or may not be relieved to find this post has nothing to do with college basketball. Julie’s husband came up with a great concept for the month of March:  March Madness.  Julie and I will be exploring all that is creepy–haunted stuff, insanity, mental institutions, deviants, and scary old buildings.  On Manic Mondays, check in for short stories.

This Old House

Julie and I were obsessed with this house when we were kids.  It looks much better now than it did then.  It’s previous owner had let it fall into disrepair to the point we thought they had abandoned it.  You may have a hard time believing this, but we were bold little kids, and we had no problem going right up to the windows and sticking our faces in. Today we would realize the old owners were just  hoarders, not the killers we assumed.  We’d see yellowing newspapers and moldy boxes of Cheese Its.  I don’t remember, but Julie says she say someone sleeping on a bed inside.  (Side note by Julie: I was almost certain that person was dead. They so weren’t, of course, but I was convinced.) That didn’t stop us from peaking in, seeing what we could see.  Both of us credit that house with our current fascination with abandoned buildings in disrepair. Sometimes I photograph them.  I like to call them wreckage.  Even more fascinating is that some of these dilapidated buildings are still in use!   I stopped to take pictures of what I thought was a closed business in a neighboring town one day, shocked to realize that it was very much still in operation.

JULIE

March Madness gives me a reason to play with insanity, a terror I hold near and dear. Kristen and I are excited to toy with the creative genius and their madnesses. The best works are reflective of the inner lunatic, I believe. I’ll work on insane vampire myths and stories, as well as plenty on asylums, which I am particularly psyched out of my mind for. I will be researching OCD this month, too, for my Trent from The Animal, so I will keep you updated. You may get to see something from my favorite vampire serial killer, Chris Lynch, also, if you’re lucky.

Strap up that straightjacket, friends, for some decadently dark stuff this month.

Creating The Animal by Julie Hutchings

TODAY’S BREW: So much coffee that Juan Valdez gave up his borough and is now running for more coffee beans.

by Julie

It’s the last day of February, and I am celebrating Stories to Strip By until the last possible minute.

You’ve met my very own beast, Trent Dixon, in The Animal, but only briefly. The story of how he came to life for me is one for another day, but the first thing Trent said to me still remains the first line in The Animal: “Everything reeked of sex to me.” Without knowing what I was writing, I created in that first chapter a mysterious, narcissistic womanizer. I did not know it was a first chapter when I wrote it. I didn’t know it was the beginning of my newest passion when Trent became possessed by a sexual force of dark, unknown origin. Well, Trent will tell you better than I will how it felt to be taken by this energy: (From chapter 1)

The change didn’t start inside of me.  It levelled me from above, screeched into my feet from below, smashed me side to side, tearing me limb from limb, desecrating the bloody stumps, burning my entrails.  A hurricane of anger and molten fucking that would implode me and make me new.

It was freezing, but I was sweating profusely and my dick was hard as a rock.  Rawness filled me, the need to fuck something or someone grinding me into less than human.  I searched the platform for a woman, though I would have settled for anyone. 

I wrote for a few chapters with no idea who or what this thing was that invaded Trent, and just called him “The Fuck Beast,” which I stick with, to Kristen‘s pure delight. But as I realized I was going somewhere with this character, that I needed to figure out what exactly had taken hold of Trent. 

That’s where it gets fun.

My love of twisting the classic horror figures into something new and different could not let me settle for the typical demon possession or an incubus or any little Whore Monster as such. So I started researching aggressive sex gods when I woke up for Twitter’s 5am Writer’s Club with my pot of coffee. Best way to start the day! After some digging, I came up with the creme de la creme or however you spell that of sex gods; Min.

Our Min hails from pre-Dynastic ancient Egypt and is a reproduction god, the god of fertility and sexual potency. He fueled the pharaohs to reproduce. Min was worshipped in a time when sex was guilt and rule free. Gods were earthly and of the flesh, so he was able to participate in the sexual debauchery that ensued in his name. The Egyptians did not shy away from orgies, adultery, incest, homosexuality, masturbation, or even necrophilia. My guy was depicted as a man with black skin, holding his fully erect penis in one hand and a flail in the other to represent his power and link to the pharaohs. The coolness kept coming, no pun intended. He was badass.

What I was not expecting was to find myself sympathetic to the sex god. This ruler of creation was defaced when the Christians came, his phallus destroyed in all monuments, and when Victorian Egyptologists took pictures of his statues, they would cover his penis or only shoot him from the waist up. Eventually, even his name was screwed up, and he sunk into obscurity. I could envision how shameful this would be for a god of the earth, and how he would feel so lost in the Afterworld, and how vengeful he would be. I could see how he would find like-minded men in spirit, and try to regain his place in this world through sexual deviance beyond reason. Min became a mass of sexual fury that even Trent can’t keep up with. And Min has an agenda–his conquests aren’t the prettiest girls at the bar. He has specific needs that want unleashing.

But my evolution of these characters and this story is for another blog, as is the story of how I even began writing it. Boy I do love to hear myself talk about this stuff.

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