Monday, December 15, 2008

Holidays Overwhelming Our Writing

Missy here. Are you in a shopping panic? Still trying to finish decorating? Frantic about gifts and food for a gazillion holiday parties? Well, so am I. On Saturday, Jennifer Taylor, a fellow F.A.I.T.H. blogger, wrote about how the busyness of the holidays has left her overwhelmed. And how being overwhelmed has had an effect on her writing. She said she’s had recent feedback that her chapters lack emotion, and she attributes it to her real life “going through the motions” carrying over into her writing.

I think we all get there this time of year! I get drained. Wiped out emotionally, even. Then I start to read my own writing, and think, puleeze, that’s so lame. And as Jenn said in her post, thank goodness in our writing, we can go back over it and fix the problem.

So, do you have problems getting the emotions in your writing, layering in all that makes your writing better? I thought I’d make up a passage to show what might be a typical progression in my writing. (Sorry about formatting problems. I tried to fix but Blogger doesn't like me.) See where you are along the steps:

Ex. 1 Talking heads. I am the queen of this. My first drafts are very heavy on dialogue, and dialogue is great. But without action or reflection, it makes for a tedious rhythm to the reader.

“It’s good to see you again,” she said.
“Wow. You look just the same.”
“So, how long are you here for?” she asked.
“Just long enough to finalize Grandma’s estate,” he said.
“So I guess you have a wife and houseful of children by now.”
He laughed. “Hardly. No, just me and my dog.”
Ex. 2 Add in a little more action. You have all the tags so you know who’s speaking. And it may be a bit interesting. But something is still missing. It almost feels like a script for a puppet show (with speaking lines and movements). The readers just can’t get involved. After a few pages, they think, who cares? And notice, other than the heart pounding, you can hardly tell who’s POV you’re in!

Her heart began to pound. “It’s good to see you again,” she said as she approached from across the room.
His mouth fell open. “Wow. You look just the same.”
“So, how long are you here for?” she asked as she bit back a smile.
“Just long enough to finalize Grandma’s estate,” he said.
She looked behind him. “So… I guess you have a wife and houseful of children by now.”
He laughed and looked behind him as well, as if making sure there wasn’t anyone there. “Hardly. No, just me and my dog.”
Ex. 3 Dialogue, action, and some emotion added in. This version is getting much better. The reader will definitely be more involved. You’re also more anchored in the POV character’s head. (Deeper POV.)

There he was. Across the room. Her heart began to pound, but she forced herself to put one foot in front of the other. “It’s good to see you again,” she said as she approached.
His mouth fell open. “Wow. You look just the same.”
“So, how long are you here for?” she asked as she bit back a smile. She absolutely should not be so pleased that his mouth fell open.
“Just long enough to finalize Grandma’s estate,” he said. He smiled, but she could see the pain of loss.
She looked behind him, expecting to see some lucky woman waiting, preparing herself for the hurt. “So… I guess you have a wife and houseful of children by now.”
He laughed and looked behind him as well, as if making sure there wasn’t anyone there. “Hardly. No, just me and my dog.”

Ex. 4 And now, adding in some fine-tuning: the perfect word choices, adding in more setting and the senses, a little more specific emotions, bits of backstory, taking out unnecessary tags…

There he was. Across the too-small restaurant, looking calm, in control…gorgeous. More gorgeous than he’d looked the last time he kissed her.
Her heart gave a squeeze and began to pound, but she forced herself to put one foot in front of the other. Her high heels click-clacked on the tile floor as she neared the man who’d broken her heart five years ago. “It’s good to see you again,” she said as bravely as she could manage, with only one little wobble in her voice.
His mouth fell open. But then the shocked expression turned to…pleasure? “Wow. You look just the same.”
“So, how long are you here for?” she asked as she bit back a smile. She absolutely should not be so relieved that he looked so pleased.
His cheek gave the slightest flinch. “Just long enough to finalize Grandma’s estate.” He smiled, but she could see the pain of loss.
She had to fight a sudden urge to comfort him. It wasn’t her place, after all. Instead, she peeked behind him, expecting to see some lucky woman waiting, preparing herself for the hurt. “So… I guess you have a wife and houseful of children by now.”
Please say no, please say no.
He laughed and looked behind him as well, as if making sure there wasn’t anyone there. “No, just me and my dog.” Then he took a step closer. A little too close for a casual conversation. “What about you?”

See how much better! This is what I shoot for on the first draft. But I never get there. For one thing, it makes the writing a whole lot slower. But hey, a girl can dream, can’t she? :)

So, where along the four steps are you in your current WIP?



Cathy S. said...


Thanks for a great post about something I needed right now.

I'm trying to write and edit as I go and maybe I should just admit the rough draft will be, uh, rough.

Do you think it's most efficient to go shallow all the way through and then go deeper on the next pass through?

Glynna Kaye said...

Great examples, Missy! I'm a "talking heads" writer in the first draft of a scene,too. Then I do several sweeps to layer in emotion, internal dialogue, setting, senses, and play with the words.

And as far as the holidays eating my writing (and vice versa), NEXT YEAR I plan to have ALL my shopping done by Thanksgiving, holiday letters written & ready to post, AND reserve the week of Christmas for non-writing related reflection and enjoyment of the season. (I'll let you know if I'm successful! Stay tuned for an update 365 days from now . . .)

Ann said...

After back to back weekends of kids' Christmas musicals, choir and band concerts and caroling, I can finally catch my breath.

Now that the tree's staying up, things are good ;-)

DH and I are taking our annual day in town for power-shopping and lunch out. After 15 years I finally told him last year "You know, I look forward to this every year. It's a highlight." He was stunned. Anyway ...

I am trying to go straight through and then add layers. There's some red-flag words, too, like "looked" or whatever.

I'm trying to do a Valentines' Day thing about two cake decorators falling in love so layers has an extra sense here ;-)

Arianna said...

I’ve been trying to post a comment for a while, but my Internet’s going in and out. LOL. So as I was saying:

My novel is probably on the second step, with some scenes on a three. I’m writing the first draft right now, so I’m not worrying over it. I’m just trying to get it all down on paper…um, I mean screen. LOL. I’ll polish it up later. Editing and writing the first draft at the same time just doesn’t work for me.

Just curious….how many words are your (your as in anyone who wants to answer) novel? I keep on hearing different things, so I guess it’s partly where your story leads you, and the genre might have something to do with it, too.

My novel is a little over 65, 000 words, and I think it’ll end up at around 80, 000. Is that average or shorter then usual? Thanks.

Glynna Kaye said...

Arianna -- word length depends on what publisher/line you're targeting. For instance, a steeple hill love inspired story should come in at 55-60K (computer count). The LI historicals are a bit longer (check their website). Single titles usually come in closer to 90-100K or a bit more.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Missy, that's a great post you have there.

I think I don't like revisions, but when I actually sit down to do them, I get into the process of layering.

My first draft is always fast and furious - as if I have to get it down before I lose it forever. I think that's why I was able to do NaNo last year. Get my story down first, then 'prettify' it.

In my wip? Stage 4.

Although I'm having a problem making time for it at this time of year, but then, I'm not on a deadline, either.

Missy Tippens said...

Good morning everyone! Have some nice, strong Starbucks coffe with Sweet Italian Cream creamer until Ruthy or someone really talented at cooking comes along to feed you. All I have to offer right now are Pop-tarts or cereal (but I'm heading to the grocery store soon!) :)

Cathy, I suggest writing the whole thing as quickly as you can for the flow and consistency... IF that works for you. But there are some people, and I'm a bit this way, that it bothers to do that. Some have to "fix" as they go along. I tend to write in chunks, then at some point I forget what's happened so far, so I print (maybe 5-10 chapters) and read it. Now, if it's on paper, and I'm reading, then I have a compulsion to fix! LOL So I guess I do a combination.

I had to laugh when you said your rough draft will be, uh, rough. :) It's so hard to just accept that we don't always get it right the first time. I'm such a perfectionist. :)


Missy Tippens said...

Okay, Glynna. It's marked on my calendar for the day after Thanksgiving: See if Glynna's ready for Christmas!


Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it. LOL


Missy Tippens said...

Ann, that's so cute about the cake decorators! :)

I'm glad your holiday is about to calm down a little. Mine won't until after our Christmas contata at church (next weekend).

Have fun with your hubby!!!


Missy Tippens said...

Arianna, good for you for plowing through the first draft! We can't edit words if they're not on the page. :)

I see Glynna answered your question about word count. It looks like you're going great guns!! Keep up the good work!


Missy Tippens said...

And now I'm feeling guilty about my snarky comment to Glynna.

I just can't be mean!! I should leave it to the pros like Ruthy. Or Ruthy.



Missy Tippens said...

Good morning, Anita Mae! I'm glad you're getting to enjoy the 4th stage. I find the first draft really fun. And I like adding those final touches. But the middle is hard work! LOL

Enjoy your Christmas! The book will still be sitting there in in January. :)


Gina Welborn said...

Thanks, Missy, for letting me know I'm not the only writer who struggles (unsuccessfully) with writing Level Four on the first draft. I need to tell myself it's okay not to that layered immediately. Or as Cathy said, "the rough draft will be, uh, rough."

I had some strawberry pound cake to go with the coffee, but, umm, well, you see, it was so very good and I'm sure Ruthy has baked something. Excuse me for a moment. I need to swallow.

Ah, Christmas. Hubby mentioned going to OK during the break. I didn't want to, but I've been reading a great book on letting Christ live through me. So after I gave hubby my reason for not wanting to go, I left him alone to make the decision. Of course, I also prayed that God would either change my attitude about not going or change his mind about going.

Would you belive God did both?

WHile I'm not disappointed that we're staying home, I'm not jumping-up-and-down because I got what I wanted. I'd reached the change in attitude of being okay with going...despite knowing we'd have five kids and a dog in the Surburban with us during the two-day drive.

Missy Tippens said...

Gina, that's so cool how God changed both hearts!

You know, with the age of your kids, it'll be much easier to stay home. I'm sure come Christmas morning (and Eve!), in the midst of all the chaos, you'll be glad you're home. And I bet your hubby will be, too.

It's so good to see you here today!!


Mary Connealy said...

I'm doing revisions for a book due in February, a Christmas Cowboy romance. I'm right now at the 'find the perfect word' stage. I've told the story, set the scene, added the senses and finished the book.
Now I'm going through it one more time and finding 'telling' spots I'm changing to 'showing'. and I'm finding my cowboy saying words a cowboy just wouldn't say. Not BAD choices, just not perfect.
I enjoy the process.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Missy, this was a GREAT post on layering. Very practical advice. I loved watching the progression of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing.


Ann said...

Strawberry pound cake sounds delish.

Showing the step by step process was priceless for me. So, I am not an illiterate, I'm just in the rough stage. Thanks for an early Christmas present, youse guys.

Gina Welborn said...

Since we're talking Christmas...

My grandmother-in-law sent me some $$ for Christmas. Over the last month, I've struggled with the concept of pre-plotting. Yes, I did just shudder. Anyhooo...I figured the Seekers had a few opinions on plotting so I checked out some past articles.

Missy, you'll be happy to know I just ordered Alicia Rasley's The Story Within Guidebook.

I'm sure it's not the most exciting gift my GMIL will enjoy giving, but I know I'll enjoy receiving it.

Missy Tippens said...

Ann said: youse guys

Okay, Ann, where are you from? :)

Missy--who's from Georgia and says y'all.

Missy Tippens said...

Yay, Mary!! Another new one to enjoy from Ms. Connealy!! Your productivity amazes me.

Cheryl, so glad you stopped by!

Gina, I think you'll love it! Just skim through it first, and then do the sections/exercises that help you. You might get overwhelmed if you try to do it all.

lynnrush said...

Ohhh, great post. The examples are so helpful!!

Missy Tippens said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lynn! I had a good time doing the examples. It's a nice creative writing exercise. :)


vince said...

Hi Missy:

Thanks for the great learning experience! I just started reading your post right off and didn’t know how long it was going to be. So after I read your first revision, I thought that was it and I was duly impressed. I thought “I can do this. I need to do this.” Then you brought the revision to a higher layer and I thought, “I don’t think I can do this”. And then you revised it again and I said to my self, “I know I can’t do this”. All my training in advertising has been to reduce the number of words and leave just the essentials. I have to really rethink how I write fiction. Your examples taught me more, of what I really needed to know, than I can ever remember being taught in school. Thanks again.


Tina M. Russo said...

You got it Missy. Can't edit what you haven't written.

Just get it out and after the rush of the holidays you can edit at leisure..well, sort of leisure.

Who out there has a leisurely life??


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Missy, this was a wonderful step-by-step teach by example post!

Excellent job, girlfriend.

Now I want to read the rest!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pop tarts or cereal???

You're a cooking disgrace to Southern Woman magazine, my friend.


I love you anyway.

And I brought Snickerdoodles and chocolate fudge dip.

We're okay!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

"Leave it to the pros like RUTHY????"

E-mail me off-loop, Sweet-cheeks and we'll see the snarkisms fly!!!

Pick on Mary.

Or Tina.

Or Julie... She's a closet snark if there ever was one!

And don't forget that Cheryl girl. Yeah, everyone THINKS she's a sweet, innocent squirrel.



But I do like sniping at Glynna. She's so stinkin' nice that she just smiles, nods and loves me anyway.

Almost takes the fun out of it!

Puppy-loving Ruthy

Audra Harders said...

Missy, this is exactly how I write! I loved seeing how your layering added more dimension (although mine tends to add dementia, LOL) and depth to the passage.

If I don't start out writing dialogue, my characters will never speak. My rough drafts look so much like your *scripts for puppets,* it's not funny!!

Thanks for piecing this out and then back together again. I'm so glad to see there's hope for writers who think like I do. . .

Sandra Leesmith said...

Yumm, just in time for the snickerdoodles which are one of my favorite cookies. Thanks Ruthy.

And Missy, Love the post. You do a great job of showing not telling. smile. I like examples like that. They really help me see stuff in my own writing. As someone already said, thanks for the Christmas gift.

And I've marked my calendar too. Glynna we'll be checking. Hmmmmm. Maybe I should do the same thing. Would make December much more fun.

Audra Harders said...

Glynna, I love a girl who decides on her New Years Revolution 2 1/2 weeks early!! You go, girl!!

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, I'm glad it was helpful! And YES, you CAN do it. :)


Cara Slaughter said...

Missy, your blog is so helpful to me! I can see where I add dialogue, beats, action, but skimp on the emotion!!! I think I'll be more aware from now on. Thanks.

Ann said...

Got the giggles over "scripts for puppets" and the cat fell off my lap. She's going to take the coal out of my stocking and slip half a dead mouse in there, probably. She doesn't get mad, she gets even.

Missy Tippens said...

Tina, you don't have a leisurely life??


Poor Ruthy. You paid me a compliment on the post, then you read further in the comments and found I called you snarky. Bet you wished you hadn't said anything nice to start with!! LOL

And Ruthy, I'll have you know I baked a real live cake today. So I'm not a total humiliation to the South. (I won't tell you it's based from a cake mix, though.). :)


Missy Tippens said...

Audra, I cracked up when you said if you don't start out with dialogue, your characters don't speak! LOL I've read contest entries like that. It's definitely something to look out for.

If it gets so long between speaking that your hero answers a question, and you can't really remember what the question was, then you need to add in a bit more dialogue. :)


Missy Tippens said...

Sandra, maybe we should all make that our goal! We'll have a competition with Glynna. :)


Missy Tippens said...

Carolyn, I'm glad it helped. I think emotion can be difficult to nail down. It's hard to show it without resorting to cliches. And believe me, I do the cliches a lot! I try to go back and fix them later, though.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Ann. You'll have to let us know what the poor little kitty does to you. :)

Julie said...

Hello! I'm new to your blog, having been introduced by Cathy S.

Do any of you have trouble "finding" the showing bits in your own manuscript? I can find them in other people's and even published books...but I read my own work and I can't even find the missing commas or words.

Anyone else have that problem?


Missy Tippens said...

Hi, Julie! I'm so glad you found our blog!

I DO have that same problem. I find as I'm reading over a manuscript, I'm skipping ahead, because I just about have bits memorized! When we get to the point we could just about recite the book, then we need an outside reader. Someone with "fresh" eyes. :) Or if you don't have someone who can help you find typos and other problems, I'd suggest setting the manuscript aside for a while so it's not so familiar. Maybe when looking back at it, you'll be a better reader.

In the book, On Writing, Stephen King says he sets his books aside for a while when he finishes them. I think he said something like 2 months. Then he goes back to re-read and revise.

Good luck!

Pamela J said...

When I write, I do short devotionals. The Lord impressed one to write just this past Sunday but I haven't actually started it yet. I'm glad to see the progression here. Perhaps to get started I will do sort of along the lines you did and try to broaden it from there. Sorry, can't give you much but the point is going to be about approaching the Lord as a little child. I about cried when I saw the example I'm to write about.
Pam Williams

Missy Tippens said...

Pam, I'm sure your devotional will be beautiful!


Patricia W. said...

Missy, just had to come back to tell you this may be one of the five most valuable blog posts I've ever read. I now realize part of my frustration is trying to get Stage 4 done in the first draft, from the beginning, before the entire story has unfolded.

Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one, for helping me see that it's okay to get it out in varying stages, that getting to Stage 4 from page 1 to The End is a process.

Missy Tippens said...

Patricia, I'm glad it was helpful!

You know, it's something I have to keep reminding myself of. Just yesterday I was staring at the screen, taking forever to get one paragraph down. And I realized I was trying to get absolutely everything in there all at once.

So keep plugging away! I will, too.