Archive for historical writing

Crossing the finish line

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2008 by Trina

The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line. Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I blogged that I’d finish my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, by the end of 2007. I’m not finished. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

As I previously posted, I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I don’t want to do it. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a wizard who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

Still, I can’t seem to get momentum flowing into finishing THE MAGIC QUIL. I know what the problem is. As I previously posted, my strength seems to be writing for and about children. But I’m discovering I don’t like writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

Why? In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting. Yet, I think the story in THE MAGIC QUILT needs to be told. It is a coming of age story full of history and magic, but Katharine’s real accomplishment is not in defeating the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart, or playing a role in the battle for freedom. Her growth in character comes in finding the strength to take the first steps in ending the neglect and abuse from living in with an alcoholic mother. I wanted to write this story because there is little literature for children and young adults living with neglect and abuse.

It really shouldn’t matter what I want to write. I should just suck it up and finish THE MAGIC QUILT. It is nearly done–and I think it’s pretty good. Yet I can’t focus on finishing. I sit down at the computer and do anything else, including laundry, organizing my e-mail contacts and cleaning my office.

As a result, I spent several months working on short stories and I pretty proud of a couple of them. I have also been reading stories on Critters Workshop and have learned a lot from other Critter’s critiques of my work and others. One thing that I have learned is that there are numerous awesome writers out there who are dedicated to their art. Many resubmit two and three drafts of a story to the workshop. Their patience in perfecting their work is seemingly endless. The secret to success seems to be dedication as well as talent.

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Keeping Characters Fresh

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , on June 9, 2007 by Trina

I’m optimistic that I will finally be able to finish my young adult novel in progress, THE MAGIC QUILT. Working 5 mornings a week on the book has helped the characters to stay alive in my mind. What I struggled with before was that when I did have an hour or two or five to work on The Magic Quilt, usually on Saturday or Sunday morning, it took me at least an hour to get back into the world of 1775. I would read my historical notes and skim chapters before I was there in my mind; I need to feel what Katharine feels and experience life with her.

So, I’ve set aside Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to write from 6 to 8 am before work. Two mornings were short writing sessions this week due to pressures from my day job — final deadline for delivery of test items to one of our clients. Even with only an hour, it was enough to keep me in the story and keep Katharine alive.

My goal now is to finish rewriting the historical portions of the novel first, because they are the most difficult to get the emotional interplay right between and among the characters. I did finish a rough draft of a rewrite of the final chapter, and I’m going to start by finishing the ending. I have the history correct, but I don’t yet have Katharine’s voice consistent. Her character grows throughout the novel, so I want to make sure the chapters reflect that growth and match her voice. So I am making what I hope is the final rewrite of the novel for consistency, tightening, and pace of action. I also am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me because I’ve fallen in love with several scenes that do NOT move the story along; they have to go. I have started a folder of unused scenes. I’ve called the folder “sequel.” When I delete scenes and sometimes whole chapters I move them to this folder on my computer. I may never use these scenes in a sequel, but at least I don’t feel like they are lost.

In the words Diane Chamberlain of one of my favorite authors, writers need to give the reader some credit to follow the story without telling them everything:

Even though my work-in-progress is my seventeenth, I’m still having to dial back my desire to over-explain all the relationships and past events early in the story. The chapter I’m revising right now. . . I actually think I can cut it out altogether and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, the pace will slow down and that’s the last thing I want. I need to remember that my reader will enjoy a feeling of discovery as she makes her way through the book. I don’t need to weigh her down with information she can figure out on her own. Read Diane Chamberlain’s blog.

If this blog is silent over the next couple of weeks, it is because I am making a tremendous effort to finish The Magic Quilt. Wish me luck.