Archive for December, 2016

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Last week I introduced the idea of “preinforcing” — going back after you have finished a manuscript and revising with the intent of adding details to support later scenes. This is in contrast to “foreshadowing,” which I distinguish as putting in details as you write to support future scenes not yet written.

By preinforcing, you have a much better opportunity to fold in finer details and make them more subtle.  When my daughter and I wrote our first draft of THE LAST PRINCESS, we knew that near the end of the book our hero would discover she is descended from trolls. We also wanted this to be an “of course!” moment for our readers by sprinkling in many supporting hints along the way.  However, as the book evolved, so did our definition of a troll.  Also, those scene where we wove in our clues changed, moved, or were cut, and many of those details were erased or altered to the point where they were no longer useful.

At this point we have a finished and polished manuscript, which has gone through several revisions of varying degrees, but there is one new idea we would like to emphasize. Near the end of the book, our hero is locked in a duel with her rival for the crown, and losing. She has all but given up and is succumbing to his special kind of magic, when a voice of encouragement pulls her out of it.  Then more voices. She discovers that all of her friends and many people she has never met have come to support her in her hour of need. That support gives her the strength to defeat her foe.

We realized that we weakened a potentially big moment, here, because it is later revealed that her best friend called most of these people and told them to come. Which is important to their friendship. But we realized this would be stronger if those people came to support our hero because our hero inspired them to do so.  This is a perfect case for preinforcing.

Throughout the book, our hero meets or is introduced to new characters who help her on her quest or provide a vital clue along the way. These people make up the core of those who come to support her at the end. But to believably change the reason they all show up, we needed to go back and add a pinch of motivation to each of those conversations.  So our notes for this revision pass looked something like this:

LAST PRINCESS – CLIMAX SETUP

GAIL: Gail needs to mention how none of the fae-born races can see each other anymore. Cat needs to think about that.

MR. P: Make sure she mentions she wants to unite the fae-born. He scoffs at this.

NANNY S: Nanny says her mother was friends with different types of fae-born. Cat points out she might meet more of them herself if she went out in the daytime.

ROSE: Cat shares with Rose the bit in her reading about how all the fae races used to be united.

MR. G: When he mentions that dwarves and elves don’t get along, she asks why and he admits he doesn’t really know.

MR. & MRS. J: When Cat tells them who she is, add that she wishes to bring the fae-born communities together. Mr. J will think this is a great idea because of his business.

HUNTER: When Hunter gives Cat the figurine, she tells him she would like to give his number to her dwarf-born friend. As an elf-born, Hunter is not enthusiastic about the idea. She tells him things will change when she becomes princess, and he might as well get used to it.

FAYE: When Cat tells Faye she plans to re-form the Seelie Court, add that she hopes to reunite the fae-born into one big community.

BONE-BREAKER: Work in that she wants to unite the fae-born, not control them. The prince will think that is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. He claims the fae-born will never voluntarily get together.

By subtly slipping in these little preinforcements to already-established scenes in such a way that makes them a natural part of the conversation, it will become perfectly reasonable for all of these people to come out and support her in her hour of need — which they already do as-written. However, now, it will be because Cat spread the idea that they should all get together.

So, without having to completely re-write the story, we are able to weave in a new idea to support a scene already written, and give it a whole new level of meaning.  Try this yourself, and let us know how it works for you.

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Okay, I’ll admit I’m trying to up my cred as a children’s author by inventing my own word. Spread it around.

PREINFORCE. It means foreshadowing. Only, the thing is, “foreshadow” isn’t actually very descriptive or evocative of it’s function. I just feel like, as writers, our own tools ought to embody our art, and not simply be flowery. Amiright?

So. Russian author Anton Chekov is famous for having said, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” The point he was trying to illustrate is basically don’t put anything in your story that does not eventually serve a purpose. This concept is known widely as “Chekov’s Gun.”

In broad strokes, this is an excellent rule.  But Chekov was talking about plays, not novels. In novels, writers often add a line of dialogue or a sentence of description simply to evoke a mood or to create a beat in the pacing.  There will inevitably be things mentioned in a novel that are never revisited.  Particularly in this age of writing in anticipation of the eventual sequel.

The other thing about this kind of thinking is that it occasionally leads a writer to make up a reason to justify something they really like earlier in their book, just so they can keep it. I’m not too proud to admit that this exact kind of thinking led to the villain in my and my daughter’s WIP.

But this is not actually the same thing as foreshadowing. The art of foreshadowing requires a skill for thinking backwards every bit as much as thinking forward. In fact, to be really effective, the actually event you are foreshadowing should be fully established in all its glorious minutia before you go back and sprinkle in all of the supporting details. The process of adding in those details on a later pass is what I call “preinforcing.” Like all good words, it means precisely what it sounds like — you are reinforcing in advance. Burying clues along the way that do not look like clues.

That’s the difference between foreshadowing and preinforcing. With foreshadowing, a writer puts something in their story in anticipation of a later event which has not yet been written. Or, as I’ve already talked about, they put in something that they later decide to expand upon. Preinforcing, on the other hand, is deliberately preparing your reader to properly experience an event you’ve already written.

How does one do this?  Well, the fact that all of the details are already in place makes it much easier to be subtle. Foreshadowing before you’ve written the later scene must necessarily be done in broad strokes. Whereas going back and seeding subtle details is really only possible when the tiny details have been established. Then, you can evoke a mood or a color or a scent early on which will fit in so smoothly that it never suggests it is planted to foreshadow some future event.

In our WIP, our main character discovers in chapter 15 that she is descended from trolls. One of the qualities of pure-blood trolls is that sunlight turns them to stone. Having established that, I went back and preinforced this by giving her a sunburn and flaky skin, which she is still experiencing when she puts 2 and 2 together. I preinforced that by having her forget to put on sunscreen and worrying about her skin in the previous scene. And I preinforced that by having her mother tell her not to forget sunscreen because she burns so easily, way back in chapter 1. In every one of these cases, those little bits of additional information fit perfectly into the tone, mood, and pacing of the moment. In the middle scene, she has decided on the spur of the moment to sneak out of the house, hop on her bike, and ride across town to confront her nemesis. On the way, she realizes that in her haste she forgot to put on sunscreen and on top of everything else she’s going to have to deal with a sunburn. Later, when she is depressed because things did not go well, she sullenly scratches her sunburned arm and notices the flaky skin. So when she starts to pile up the evidence that she is troll-born, her sensitivity to sunlight has already been well and subtly established. It is not something that had been presented early in the story like a pistol displayed on the wall.

The best foreshadowing is the kind you never see coming. And to achieve that, you have to set it up carefully and deliberately. You can do it in advance, but to do it with finesse it is usually better to go back and add it.

Say it with me: “Preinforce.” Spread the word.

Daddy’s Little Helper

Posted: December 15, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Writers write — they don’t let little things like lifestyle get in their way.

I work seven days a week and have a family, including three kids, two cats and a wife. When the family is awake I’m not writing, and sometimes I don’t get home from work until 11:00 pm. So how did I manage to write a whole novel in under two years? When do I write?

Whenever.  I developed the same habit old soldiers develop around sleep — any time you can catch a few winks.*

Most of the time I do my writing between 11pm and 1am.  But I often try to write on my lunch hour at work.  I’ve made Dropbox an invaluable part of my writing arsenal, because I can access my WIP from any device at any time, and always be sure I have the very latest draft.  Autosave is a huge timesaver. Microsoft made Word available as a free download for smartphones, and you don’t even need a 365 subscription to use it, so I can open and edit the same Word documents as those I access on my office PC.

I discovered a whole chunk of unused time, however, and recently took steps to remedy that. My second job is retail, and when I work on the weekends I get a half-hour lunch and one or two 15 minute breaks, but I don’t have a PC at my disposal.  When I work in the evenings, I just get one break.  However trying to write using the on-screen keyboard on my iPhone is not particularly efficient.

So for my birthday I treated myself to an iWerkz folding bluetooth keyboard.  It only cost $30 on Amazon.img_1089

The notch you see in the case holds a iPad at a convenient angle, and there is a little pull-out tab on the case which holds my iPhone in landscape mode (as above). And the best part is that I can easily carry this in my back pocket on the sales floor, so when I get a break I don’t need to waste any time running to my locker.  I can grab a beverage and be writing in 2 minutes.  My laptop takes longer than that to boot up.

I may not get a lot of writing done in 15 minutes, but I get some done.  Mostly I use this time to review what I wrote last and polish it. Best of all, I keep the story fresh in my mind between bursts of writing.

So if you find yourself using lack of time as an excuse to not write, here’s your opportunity to give that excuse up.

 

 

 

*Unfortunately, I developed the same habit around snacking.

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In case you didn’t read my post from last week, #NaNoReDo is a do-over for anyone who missed National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo = November), during which participants try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My daughter and I are using NaNoReDo to motivate us to complete the revision to our middle grade novel, THE LAST PRINCESS.

I am pleased to report that we have completed three of eighteen chapters, as of December 7, which puts us on track to complete our full-manuscript revision by the end of December.

And I think that puts us past the hard part.  The first three chapters are where all of the set-up, foreshadowing, and personal stakes are established. And for this revision were are changing all of that. Well, most of that. And, of course, that will trickle down throughout the rest of the novel, so we have to go over it page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph. I think we’ll make it.

Feeling the pressure, I ordered a nifty folding bluetooth keyboard which fits in. My back pocket, for those breaks and lunches at my second job where I don’t have access to a computer. The case has a little pull-out stand to hold my phone, which has MS Word and Dropbox, so I can pull up the latest draft of our manuscript at a moment’s notice and get to work

Check back next week, and wee if we’re still on track to finish by month’s end. Place your bets.