Tag Archives: Turn Left at the Blacktop

What to Do About Back Story

For some odd reason I’ve found myself editing one of my old novels lately. I guess it’s time to actually finish something.

But I’m stuck.

My story is full of back story. It’s probably half back story. The main character is fixated on what happened in the past, so there’s a lot of talking about the past. However, popular writing wisdom says not to dump lots of back story on your readers in the beginning. I love the first couple chapters, but they were specifically engineered to efficiently dump back story. That’s strike one.

I also introduce a new character in the each of the first two chapters, a character that’s less than minor and plays no significant role in the story. In a short novel it seems ridiculous to start out with characters that don’t matter. Strike two.

So I’m stuck.

Do I give in and just let the story start with lots of back story? It has to come in sooner or later, so as long as the story keeps moving and we’re not stuck in flashback mode forever that’s OK, right?

And what about the characters? Should I ditch these minor characters and find a way to introduce the story with characters that actually matter? Or am I worrying too much and should just use these characters for what they’re for? Use ’em and lose ’em?

Clearly I’m thinking too much and just need to vent. But if any readers out there have opinions, I’d gladly hear them.

Finding My Novels a Home

I’ve been thinking about novel writing lately. You can blame Jonathan Blundell and the little video chat we did a few days ago about my post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, Least of These. You see, I’ve written three novels. Two have been self-published as rough drafts and one has seen a few re-writes and I’m wondering what to do with it.

Last night I pulled out my non-sci-fi novels and started reading through the first chapters. I liked what I read. I saw a few things here and there to improve (I’ll probably always feel that way), but I didn’t have that impending sense of way too much work to do to find anything salvageable. I enjoyed what I read, perhaps out of nostalgia for my own creation, but I also thought it was pretty good.

But the question I kept coming back to is what do I do with these novels?

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Status Report on my Novel

I got some feedback on my novel this weekend, my 2006 NaNoWriMo effort that I’ve been trying to polish over the last 8 months or so. It came from an industry insider who kindly agreed to read the first few chapters. There were definitely some things I need to work on, but perhaps most important it confirmed a suspicion that the young adult genre might be a good fit.

I like to chafe at genre limitations as much as the next person, but in reality genres just make things easier to categorize, sell and ultimately read. So you might as well get used to it. If you want readers, you’re going to have to deal with genre.

So I spent some time at Barnes & Noble yesterday, trying to embrace the YA genre. I think it might be a good fit. I’m actually a big fan of kids books and young adults novels, though they’re not always branded with the YA tag. Harry Potter, Madeleine L’Engle, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, Louis Sachar (Holes), Jerry Spinelli (I love Stargirl and the sequel), James Howe, Nick Hornby’s Slam. There’s quite a bit in this genre I resonate with, perhaps because YA novels frequently deal with the teen perspective of coming to terms with life and finding your place in the world. Those are big themes. But it’s all drenched in the drama, angst and immediacy of the now. Teens see broken things in the world and don’t accept them as they are. They want to fix them, and fix them now. That’s inspiring.

It also helps that American culture celebrates a perpetual adolescence.

Continue reading Status Report on my Novel

Work is Slow but I’m Upbeat

I don’t talk about it much publicly, but work has been slow lately. Terribly slow. Income dropped in 2008, for the first time since I started working on my own (though honestly, the drop wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be). And 2009 looks to be worse.

But against all that, I’m upbeat about it. Certainly I have my moments of doubt when things get kind of scary, but I also know that God provides. He’s done it before and I know he’ll do it again. I’m not sitting back and waiting for cash to fall from heaven, but part of my faith involves relying on God. In reality I’m always reliant on God, but it’s times like this when it becomes so much more obvious. In the mean time I’ll tighten my belt, perhaps wean myself from Cherry Pepsi, and struggle through.

Maybe I’m a bit naive, but I think times like this can be an opportunity. A time of unemployment launched me on this freelance journey in the first place. And while work has been slow I’ve been working on other projects, such as the Billy Graham blog, Start Seeing Art, and my 2006 novel Turn Left at the Blacktop, among others (By the way, I printed off a 158-page copy of the novel today so my wife could read it and give me her assessment).

I’m confident that hard times like this can refocus us, can present new opportunities, can be good for us. Sometimes, frankly, it does suck. But recession or economic depression are not the end of the world.

Editing my Novel (Again)

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on editing my novel. Yes, the one I said I was starting to edit a year ago. The one I finished writing almost two years ago. It’s called Turn Left at the Blacktop and you can read a woefully unedited version online (I blogged it as I went, which means it’s not in a very readable format—don’t say I didn’t warn you).

It needs a fair amount of work, from re-working plot lines to making characters stronger to making descriptions more memorable and less cringe-worthy (my default for showing emotion seems to be: “She smiled.”). It’s hard work, especially when you spend days writing a 5-page scene full of sharp dialog that really hums, only to realize you need to rip the scene in half and move the dialog around. It eventually feels like improvement, but it’s that eventual part that’s hard.

At this point I’m dedicated to finishing this thing. I have a vague goal of finishing it before November so I can take part in NaNoWriMo 2008, both to meet my wife’s stipulation that I can’t start a third novel without finishing one of my first two, and to continue a tradition of writing a novel in even numbered years. But I’m not sure how realistic that is.

Continue reading Editing my Novel (Again)