Participants: Kathleen Marple Kalb, Maria Johnson, Bradley Galimore, Mordecai Martin, Mole Chapmen, Sue Petty, Deborah Klée
Do you have abandoned MS s and unfinished writing projects lurking in drawers/files? Will any of these see the light of day?
Mordecai: oh, yes. Loads. Some will hopefully see the light of day, but many are early experiments, warm ups, old efforts I can do better than now.
Maria: Yeah a couple. I have some NaNoWriMo projects that are still rough drafts. A couple I’d like to go back to edit, another I fell out of love with and probably won’t. Currently rewriting a project for April #CampNanoWriMo that was April’s Camp NaNo project last year.
Deborah: I think that’s the great thing about NoNoWriMo as it provides you with something to work up and you can test out whether the story has potential.
Maria: Yeah. I also love Nano as a time to experiment and try new genres. E.G. the one I fell out of love with was a genre in not sure I’ll go back to. Just remembered another older project I wrote maybe half off, haven’t touched it in years. Maybe I’ll go back to it one day!
Bradley: I have my main MS sitting and waiting while I work on #LENNY but it definitely will be seen one day.
Deborah: I like having work on hold that I could return to. Sometimes it benefits from the space. Is your MS a novel or poetry?
Bradley: #ChromaticStudy is “epic poetry” in its approach, so a little of both.
Deborah: My WIP is a reworking of the first novel I ever wrote. However, I do have a full MS of another novel that I am not inspired to rework or publish, despite being urged to do so my fellow writers who were beta readers.
Kathleen: But you have to feel it — and if you don’t right now, then it’s not time to go back, even if other folks really like the project.
Deborah: I agree. It doesn’t mean to say that one day it will have a new life.
Kathleen: Sure do! In fact, a few years after I queried and couldn’t sell a contemporary mystery, I went back to that first project…and my agent just recently found the new version a home.
Deborah: That’s a great story. Nothing is wasted.
Kathleen: It’s so true…and I could not have written the version that sold back when I was starting out. I didn’t have the life or writing experience that makes this one work. You just never know what will call you back…so SAVE EVERYTHING!
Deborah: I am finding this with the early work I am rewriting. It is so much better than the original but I am using the same premise, place and characters.
Kathleen: That’s kind of what happened for me. The original MC was very young and didn’t know much about…anything. The new one is a single mother, tougher, smarter — and funnier!
Deborah: It’s funny how changing one thing can make such a big difference. I have changed my WIP to 1980 and it just works better than current day.
Mole: I have acres of discarded words, rejected or drafts that will probably stay unloved. I’m a bit too partial to a fresh page and a new project.
Deborah: Save them all. You may be surprised at how they eventually take on a new life.
Have you ever cut scenes or characters from your work when editing? Why did you or would you choose to do this?
Kathleen: Yes! I love my characters too much, and I have a tendency to run off and do fun things with them — whether or not it moves the mystery plot. It’s not unusual for me to scrap scenes at various points in the process to keep the story moving forward.
Maria: Well, I write historical fiction which has a lot of battles in it, so a few characters have been killed off for that way… I’m cutting a lot from last year’s Camp Nano project that I’m rewriting as I’m taking the characters, setting but changing most of the plot.
Deborah: Do you sometimes kill off a character and then feel sorry that you can’t spend more time with them?
Maria: Yes. One character from my 3rd #historicalfiction novel (just submitted it to my publishers this week so there’s not much chance of going back now!) was really hard to kill off. I still wanted to keep them alive, but it was best for the story/plot that they died.
Deborah: Could you write a short story about this character set in a time before they were killed off?
Maria: Ooh idea! Might have to do that, maybe it would be newsletter content or something. Be great to keep writing about that character somehow. It would certainly be interesting learning how to write in their voice! Thanks, I’ll think on it!
Deborah: It’s a great idea to offer it as a short story in your newsletter. If you can write it without any spoilers for the main event then it could also encourage sales of your series.
Maria: yes, I’ve been trying to think of free content! Issue is it would have to be before my #historicalfiction series started to ensure it was spoiler free, which would be challenging as it would be before a lot of character development too/when they were a lot younger.
Deborah: I got a bit carried away with a sub plot in The Borrowed Boy and my editor and agent suggested it should be cut. Later I wrote it as a short story!
Mordecai: As a nascent novelist who spends more time on short stories, I rarely have enough material to be able to afford cutting a whole scene or character. But sometimes things need pruning, there are directions I can’t go in without losing momentum, tangents I can’t afford.
Deborah: Do you have characters that don’t work in one short story but then you find them in a different one?
Mordecai: more like ideas than characters. I note when someone or some voice deserves its own space, I cut the words out and I have a “parking lot” file where I keep all the orphaned phrases. Sometimes I dip into it if I don’t know what I want to write next.
Have you reused material that you cut in a different project? How could a writer recycle characters and scenes that do not fit in a current WIP?
Mordecai: absolutely! Sometimes my favorite prompts are the odds and ends of writing that had to be left behind!
Deborah: I think they keep nagging us to give them a life! As if the characters know where they belong even if we are slow to catch on!
Mordecai: Words want to be used! They’ll pop up over and over again!
Kathleen: I keep a “Cuts” file for every project I write, and sometimes go back to see what I eliminated. A plot that doesn’t work in one context, or a character that is just in the wrong place, may be just right somewhere else.
Deborah: Great idea. I have a cuts file for each novel.
Kathleen: It comes in handy — that MC in the contemporary mystery was the lead in a piece that was nothing but a hot mess, and I realized that it was because she was just in the wrong story.
Deborah: I can imagine all these characters wandering around trying to find their story! Rachel Joyce author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry wrote a collection of short stories made up of characters cut from her novels.
Bradley: YES. I keep a “FAT” file (reference “cutting the fat” from our poetry). I had a piece called “Told.”, which was apart of #ChromaticStudy but during the cutting process, it got removed. However, during the creation process for #LENNY, it fit perfectly.
Deborah: I love that idea. Finding the perfect fit. Sometimes it takes a while but great when you do.
How do you fill the gap when you have cut a lot of words? If this hasn’t happened to you, what is your advice for writers who find that they are 20k words short of a novel and not aiming to write a novella?
Maria: I’d say go back to the drawing board! If in doubt add more conflict that’s one of the advantages of writing medieval historical fiction, if the plot needs a few more turns I can just make the enemy appear and throw another battle scene in there somewhere.
Kathleen: YOU don’t just throw in a battle scene…yours move the plot!
Maria: ahh thanks! Sometimes it feels like that when I’m not quite sure what might happens next… then it becomes a real plot point lol. Thanks, shows I’m getting away with it the couple of times I have done that.
Deborah: I had this experience recently. I reread the first 40k and noted where as a reader I wanted to know more, also characters that were under developed. What I wrote to fill the gap was so much better than what came out.
Bradley: I am a huge believer of “write only what NEEDS to be written”. If you need more to be written for a certain type of story, but the work has said “this is all I have to tell you”, you have to consider if you’re asking the work to be something it doesn’t want to be.
Deborah: Sometimes writers tell the bones of a story but need to flesh out their ideas and characters some more.
Maria: This is definitely me! Even as a plotter, I rarely plan all the content to go from point A to point B. I know how my novel will begin and I know how it will end, it’s filling enough interesting stuff in the middle that I struggle with sometimes.
Deborah: I think we can go one way or the other, either go off at a tangent or wonder how to get from A to B.
Maria: Agreed! I’m sure I’ve been guilty of both at different times too
Kathleen: My early chapter drafts are always short because of my news background. Still, I sometimes realize at the synopsis point that I don’t have enough story for a novel. That’s when I start thinking about the characters and good subplots that grow from them
Deborah: I think that’s it finding a sub plot and developing the characters. It makes for a more interesting story. A fine line though if we are not to go off track.
Kathleen: Absolutely! In some respects, it’s easier for a mystery writer…you can use that subplot for one particular piece of evidence, or a red herring, while developing the characters.
Mordecai: I have to admit, this is not a problem I personally have had. But I would recommend taking a break from the piece, then rereading your current draft with its gap and all, and take notes on everything that you feel needs more: a background, description, etc
Sue: Develop minor characters, add more specificity to scenes/descriptions
Kathleen: Totally agree — that’s what I do in my “second day edits” when I go over the previous day’s pages, which are usually just getting out the story.