What Not To Do Wednesday on Revisions and Bathrooms

The last week or so, I’ve been doing a major bathroom makeover at the Hall house (well, I haven’t been doing it–I have a guy) and working on a major revision on my YA novel (which I have been doing, all by my lonesome).  I do not recommend pursuing these joint activities if at all possible. Unless you work better with buzzing, sawing, thumping and other builderly things going on in the background.

So I woke up this morning, thinking of Becky Levine and a contest she held a while back in which I won her book, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide (a very swell book, by the way). Becky wanted three sentences with a metaphor for revision (and a whole bunch of points she wanted us to make) and here’s what I wrote:

Revisions are like the Bathroom Makeover from Hell when you look around your very serviceable bathroom, knowing there are some things you must keep because you love them so, some things you can’t change without ruining the structure, and some things that absolutely must go because they’re just unnecessary or downright ugly. So you roll up your sleeves and get to work, and along the way, you find that everytime you make a change, it affects the whole makeover. Till at last, after a TON of blood, sweat and tears, you’ve got a pretty decent bathroom–and you vow you’ll NEVER do that again, until you walk into your very serviceable kitchen.

I would just like to say that the Bathroom Makeover from Hell was extremely apt.

But I need to add a few points because, grasshopper, I have learned a few things about makeovers and revisions since then.

1. Do not assume that the work will be done in the time period first agreed upon. Stuff happens. So you could probably save yourself a whole lot of stressing if you picked a date about 30 days after your projected completion. Then you’ll be all “Wheee! I’m going to finish early!” Which is way better than sending an email saying, “Could I get a few extra days? Say like 30?” To editors or relatives planning to stay in your home.

2. Check the details. Sure, it may seem obvious what side of the trim board should be painted. But trust me when I tell you that it can be trickier than it looks. The same way that it may seem obvious that you no longer need a character and can easily dump him/her. But that, too, is way trickier than it looks (though you may not realize it until 70 or 80 pages later).

3. Save everything. Of course you’re going to save important stuff like receipts and contracts. But you also need to save little things. Like that extra paint label that’s some sort of secret coding to paint guys–or else you may end up sending a Juniorette Hall to the store to buy more paint in the middle of the project with a paint can lid that you’ve wrapped ever so carefully but somehow still ended up with a mess on your hands. So save every version of your manuscript you’ve worked on. You never know when you may need that one little paragraph from way, way back–and if you try to recreate it, you’ll find that you’ve dropped a few words here and there, making a mess of things.

I’m sure I could come up with lots more What-Not-To-Do’s. In fact, I’m sure you could come up with something I’ve left out and I’d be glad to have your insights. Because I’ve got plenty more revising and painting on the horizon/bathroom.

Fun Friday Finds (Or Who Says Friday the 13th Ain’t Lucky?)

Today was very lucky for the person who won Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Messages from Heaven. I threw all those names into Random.org and randomized away until this name popped up: STACY!

I sure hope you enjoy the book, Stacy. And for the rest of you non-winners, I have something that will make you feel so much better, you’ll laugh right out loud. (Stacy, you can read it, too.)  It’s Colin Nissan’s “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do.”

I came across Colin’s article over at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and seriously, I could spend the entire day there, reading stuff and laughing out loud. But then I’d be breaking one of Colin’s rules and never get to writing better than I normally do.

I may not get to that point, anyway. But at least now I feel pretty good about blaming McSweeney’s.


MORE Amazing Workshop Wonders

First, you don’t want to miss the AMAZING wonder-ful discoveries I made while workshopping. That’s going on over at The Muffin where I blogged today.

Okay, back? Now it’s on to today’s AMAZING character wonder that will change your writing forever. But first a BIG thank you to Kathi Appelt, a pretty amazing author and teacher, who shared her wisdom about character-writing.

She shared lots of fine tips on writing about people. But the one that I’m in love with is the “controlling belief.” It’s such a simple concept (but I’m not going to lie. Figuring out the controlling belief can be a wee bit difficult).

When Kathi (I can call her that because we sat next to each other at the table) discussed knowing the controlling belief of your character, she explained its importance in terms of pushing and pulling. The “controlling belief” is what pushes your character through the story–the belief pushes and the goals pull.

And now I suppose you’ll want an example. Hmmm…let’s look at Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz again. She believes that it’s possible to find the way back home. (Of course, she wants to go home, but that’s not quite the same as what she believes, is it?). And her goal is to get back to Kansas.  So she follows the yellow brick road–and her belief pushes her through all the obstacles she meets along the way to the Wizard. But then she learns she has to kill the witch, so now she has a new goal within her bigger goal. Is her belief strong enough to push her through the next obstacle? I mean, suddenly, she has to kill someone!

Wasn’t it brilliant of L. Frank Baum to not make that the goal in the beginning of the story? Because I don’t think readers would have bought that a farm girl from Kansas, falling from the sky, could jump up and decide to kill someone.  Dorothy has to grow a bit (and we have to get on her side, too) before she can push through that obstacle, even though her controlling belief is in place. Of course, in the end, Dorothy finds that the way to get home was always within her. But doesn’t she learn a lot about herself on the journey? I mean, besides the fact that she’s kind of a bloodthirsty young woman.

If you know what your character’s controlling belief is, then you’ll know why he/she does everything. EVERYTHING. And you might want to find that CB for all your characters so you’ll know what makes them tick.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But I bet if you’ll think of some of your favorite stories and/or characters, you’ll get a handle on figuring out the whole controlling belief tip. Katniss in The Hunger Games believes she’s the only one that can save her sister/family. Scarlett in Gone With the Wind believes she will survive, no matter what. Sam-I-Am believes that green eggs and ham are amazingly delicious!

It’s pretty amazing when you start to think about characters this way, isn’t it?  And just think of the AMAZING things it will do for your story! (Um, try not to think about the amazing rewrite you’re going to have to do, now that you know all this.)