Highs, Lows, and In-Between Interest

HLIB, Take 1

Back in 2014, I joined the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) excitement with a sequel of sorts to an earlier tale, From Hell (A Love Story). FH(ALS) was a raunchy space opera in which I tried to build a bigger backstory for Axton, the running-and-gunning bounty hunter from the 2012 video game Borderlands 2. Part of that backstory was the creation of an original character, Hal, an early (pre-game) partner of Axton’s. I wrote FH(ALS) between late 2012 and early 2014, but I had such fun building that world and the characters in it, I decided to return to that timeline with a host of new adventurers in November of 2014, for NaNoWriMo. The new story was called “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”, and I pounded out that sucker free-form over those wild 30 days, plus an additional six months to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

I posted my day-to-day progression of HLIB on a separate side blog. If nothing else, this process kept me accountable to my projected NaNoWriMo wordcount. Only one person read it…that I knew of. Several days ago, I received an email – more than three years after I’d finished the story – from another apparent HLIB reader:

Email of interest from a reader.

Who knew?

 

HLIB, Take 2

Over the course of the next few years, I wrote a lot more stories following the timeline and characters of “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”. When I looked at the original story, though, I found it suffered from the high-octane intensity of being a product of NaNoWriMo. The bones of the story I wanted to tell were there, but it needed work. A lot of work.

I sequestered the original story and put it in my archives, and started on a new and – hopefully – improved version. That version is Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens. It has become a significantly different story since I started the rewrite, with more characters, more conflicts, and more complications. It’s also become a lot more fun to be in that world, for those reasons.

Highs Lows character heights comparison - doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts

HLIB principal characters – height comparison chart – doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts

Regarding that one interested reader’s original question – if I have plans to bring this story out again – the answer is, yes. Will it be the same story? No. Will it be better than it was before? Possibly. Have I enjoyed being in that universe again? Definitely.

I don’t know if readers will like the new HLIB, especially those who are familiar with the original version. I can only try to tell the most interesting story that I’m able to do. It will be a rollercoaster, though. I’ll be sharing more of this story – and my journey writing, or, rather, rewriting it – over the coming months. In the meantime…

Have you ever returned to a story for a rewrite, after a hiatus? Did that story change just a little, or a lot? Did you like the final product more, or less, than the original? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking Back (Fearless)

It’s been a rough start to the new year. Work has been busy, yes, and social media has become a larger part of my job. Between that and homework home life, some things just need to get pushed to the side.

When life gets me down, I enjoy revisiting the stories that brought me joy, either in the creation, the characters, the story, or sometimes even just the memories of the process. Back in 2011, my NaNoWriMo project was a romance story called Fearless. I loved those characters so much, I returned to them in a 10-years-later glimpse in one of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (the story is no longer available online, but you can read about my reasons for writing it at the link). That’s not what this post is about, though.

Whenever I go back to older writing, I always get the urge to re-do it. In the case of Fearless, the story is already undergoing a major overhaul, but the guts of it are still there. The original scene below was one of the first things I wrote for this story, and it was conceived as a teaser opener, so online readers would know up-front what they were getting into. When I opened this up again the other day, I still liked it…but I knew it could use some work. The “rewrite” version below is not a final version, but I think it does do the job a bit better than the “original”. You’re welcome to read the comparison or skip over it; it’s there mostly as a personal prod that this is a work-in-progress that should get some of my attention.opening-rewrite

Most of my free reading time is devoted to pleasure books – on my bedside table right now are a Mankell Wallander crime book, Sapkowski’s second collection of The Witcher short stories, Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, and a few others – but reading those stories of which I once felt proud for finishing gives me pleasure, too. Of course, it would be nice if someday some other person can enjoy a story I’ve written, but the journey is one of progress. I’ve said before that writing “The End” when we finish a story isn’t really The End. There’s a long road of re-reads, rewrites, and re-evaluations to be done. But it’s also fun just to play, and to wonder what could be.

So, I’m not dead…though, there are days when it feels like I’m not much more than that. As for you, dear friends, read well, write strong, and be excellent to each other out there. Your stories are worth telling.

NaNo 2016 Recap

Well, I didn’t hit the 50K word count goal for NaNoWriMo 2016, but I wasn’t planning on doing that. (I’m trying to remind myself that I didn’t really “fail” this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge, because my goals were different from the word count ones. It’s kind of working.) Instead, I focused my energies on the rewrite of Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, the sequel to my space opera/western romance novel, From Hell (A Love Story). I still got a little over 40K done, though, so that’s pretty good!

highslows-2016nano

One of the unique joys-slash-conflicts I always experience during an edit or rewrite is the comparison between what happened in the first draft, when the words are just gushing out, to the more thoughtful edit, where I try to pick apart, rework, and sometimes even build anew the character motivations, relationships, conflicts, and plot events. During my NaNo rebellion over the past thirty days, I took the bones of my five protagonists (I know; that’s a lot of protags, but that’s a discussion for another day) and really rebuilt them. They’ve become a lot more complicated, and a lot more engaging because of that. At least, I think they are.

The first draft of the story, which I wrote in 2014, was a lot of fun, and many of the main story points are still there. But now, after tearing parts of it up and delving deep into who these people truly are at their cores, there is a new villain, a new love story, a new betrayal, and a whole new possibility for this adventure to go far beyond the simple introductory tale it was at the beginning.

I will keep working on this rewrite, because these characters are too interesting to let fall to the wayside. I’m sure I’ll also be writing new stories, too, because I just can’t keep myself from examining what the other characters in my other worlds have been doing. In short, I’ll just keep writing, NaNo or no NaNo.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How did you do? What projects are you working on that you’re excited about?

Nev, revisited

One of my recent Timehop memories was a #TBT / #ThrowBackThursday to my very first 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups, from February 2012. At the time, I was deeply entrenched in writing the first draft of “Fearless,” which remains one of my hope-for novels. (It’s currently in draft 2.5, for anyone wondering.) That long-ago 100-word entry was titled “Everyone Loves Neville,” and, if you’re interested, you can see the original at the link. That first writing challenge started me on a path of picking up more over the years. Through those challenges, I learned a lot about the value of words.
There’s a lot in that first foray that I like. There’s also room for improvement. Here’s a second take on that effort, hopefully for the better:

The girl lingered beside him, her chest heaving even though they’d been out of the water for ten minutes. “Thanks for the lesson, Nev.” Her wet lashes flickered at him. “If there’s ever anything I can do…?”

“Just practise,” Nev said, before sending her on her way.

Ross sidled to his shoulder, to stare after the girl swaying up the shore. “You lucky bastard. Everyone loves you!”

Nev looked at him: his friend with the wide, luscious smile and eyes so deep and blue he often dreamt of drowning in them. He sniffed and picked up his board. “Not everyone.”

I tried to set myself to a 100-word story-a-day challenge this past May, but it didn’t pan out. I did manage a few short vignettes which ended up being pretty good, but the lack of readers and feedback quickly deflated my excitement.
There wasn’t much reason to go back and “fix” this bit of short challenge writing, except that Ross, Nev, and the others have been on my mind again, of late, and that Timehop reminder of my first 100WCGU challenge prompted me to revisit sweet, lovestruck Nev. Of course, I can never stop at rewriting just one thing. As it so goes, I’ve also been working on rewrites for lots of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (including the one I just sent in for 4amwriter’s Dare to Write summer challenge!), and Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, the big sci-fi/action team novel from 2014’s NaNoWriMo. But, that’s an update for another day….
Who else out there remembers the 100WCGU challenges? Have you ever challenged yourself with a writing-limit goal? Working on any interesting rewrites, lately? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know I’m not doing this alone. 🙂

Writing Therapy

These last several weeks, I’ve felt mostly horrid. It’s been a rather hectic fall semester, with new projects to complete as well as new fires to put out. My students are either going through Senior-itis or studying abroad, so all the work they would ordinarily do falls to me, too. This isn’t actually that awful – what takes my students twelve hours to do, I can do in half that time – but it does mean tasks pile on through the week. Add to that my sleeping schedule is wonky due to changing weather and light, and I’ve felt sluggish and unmotivated.

I’ve also been working on a story edit.

When I edit, I try my best to concentrate on that story. It helps me keep overall voice and continuity better than notecards or Scrivener can do. I still read while I edit, because I learn more by example from my favorite authors on what’s important in a story, how to keep plot threads moving, and when to dangle, when to pull up, and when to trim loose. But the only writing I’ve done for the last month or so has been rewrites of an already-finished draft. Rewrites are good: I changed two whole chapters, cleaned up more than a half-dozen more, and had one character do a near-180 flip on me. It’s all better for the story as a whole, but it was sucking me dry.

I discussed this with my husband, who reminded me that “[r]ewriting is still writing.” But, he is much more comfortable working from what’s already on the page. The blank page doesn’t bother me; I just start writing words off the top of my head. In fact, it’s hard for me to find blank pages in my notebook when I need one, because so many of them are filled with first lines, initial ideas, or jots of dialogue. For some people, that’s all the writing they need to keep going. For me, all of those little notes and ideas are merely warm-up, like stretching before a workout. Have you ever just stretched and not followed up with the real workout? My body reacts poorly to that. It wants to work hard and make a sweat. Why couldn’t I see what that stretching-and-not-working was doing to my writer’s brain?

On my Thursday morning commute, I decided to open up a blank document. I just couldn’t face again one of the annoying scenes in the edit I was trying to make work. I began typing off the top of the head…and, over the next two days, I typed out over 4700 words of a new free write.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Friends and colleagues – real writers – supported this, with cheers like, “Writing is therapy!” and “Writing is the best medicine.” I had apparently forgotten how sapped I get when I don’t allow myself the freedom to write something new and for fun.

Editing strengthens a story. It’s an integral part of making the story the best it can be. And, I do enjoy it, especially to see the finished product. But, sometimes, I have to let myself just write, for the pure joy of the story, the characters, and the process itself.

“Breathe, another ‘Finding Mister Wright’ short-fic”
[~4750 words/16 pages; PDF]

Clicking the link above will take you to the latest chapter in my “Finding Mister Wright” slice-of-life series. It’s about love and family, fatherhood and brotherhood, and the big and little changes those things cause in us. It’s a free-write, so it’s choppy in parts and rambling in others, but I decided not to edit it despite that. Part of what brings me back to these characters time and again is how much joy and love they have for each other, and how much of the same I have for them. I doubt they’d be so therapeutic otherwise.

How is your writing journey progressing? What do you do when you find yourself in a writing or editing funk?

Log in here!