Showing posts from July, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week-CONTEST!

All week long, fearless authors have revealed excerpts from their sh*tty first drafts. We've seen scenes like Christmas sweaters the manuscript outgrew; scenes that didn't carry their weight; scenes that have been cut and reinserted and cut so many times they don't even bother unpacking their suitcases any more.

Sh*tty First Draft Week was a misnomer in many ways. For one thing, much of the so-called shitty material in first drafts isn't so shitty after all. In fact, sometimes a scene or chapter is just perfect in its original context—but when you change other parts of the story, the context flexes and morphs until that "perfect" scene or chapter doesn't even make sense any more.

In this respect, drafting a novel is a bit like cooking a pot of soup: you can't throw in one new ingredient without affecting the flavor of everything else in the pot.

Another reason Sh*tty First Draft Week is a misnomer is the word "first". What about second, third,…

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 4

The fourth and final Guest Author in the Sh*tty First Draft series is Alexander Chee, author of the novel Edinburgh. He has been at work on his new novel, The Queen of the Night, for several years. Since there is no cover art for The Queen of the Night yet, here is the cover of Alexander's previous novel, Edinburgh:

What a Tangled Web We Weave...

Revising The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This is one of The Queen of the Night's oldest sections, and dates from March of 2004, a first draft. I revised it and eventually discarded it, though most if not all all of the themes here are at work in the novel still—a love triangle with at least one other hidden triangle inside of it, i.e., a secret other third party. The royal insignia, that is still significant in the novel, but differently.

The novel is about a young woman who is in sexual and artistic bondage to an older man, who uses her for various purposes, sexual, romantic, political. When I say bondage, I mean, he bought her …

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 3

Today's guest post comes from Kat Zhang, whose HYBRID trilogy recently sold to HarperTeen in a major deal. Kat is an esteemed member of the League of Illustrious Interns (not that that had anything to do with it!)

No Slackers Allowed: Making Each Scene Count

I’m the sort of person who underwrites scenes the first round through. Which isn’t to say that I don’t need to cut things once I go back to revise, but when I revise a scene, it tends to get longer (and should). My first drafts of scenes are bare bones…sometimes not much more than dialogue and some sparse action shots.

Here’s a good example. This scene still exists in the final draft…much of the dialogue is word for word the same, but otherwise, the scene has changed quite dramatically. But I’ll talk about that later. First, let’s see how the scene was the very first time I sat down and pounded it out:

“He’s Will right now,” Lucy said as we came in the door. She was sprawled on the carpet, coloring with a reckless abandon. Hally d…

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 2

Today, International Sh*tty First Draft Week continues with a guest post by Sarah Pinneo, whose forthcoming novel Julia's Child takes a humorous look at the organic food movement. Like that complicated recipe for arugula-flax chips, novels don't always work out on the first try...(OK, INTERN is about the cheesiest/worst MC ever. Stepping out of the way now.)

The Dog Should Eat My Homework by Sarah Pinneo

My comic novel, Julia’s Child, incorporates some themes which are both fun and dear to me. Julia, the main character, is deeply involved with the organic food movement. (So deeply, in fact, that she’s a bit neurotic about it.)

So in love was I with the milieu of farmers, foodies and obsessive sustainability that I put all of it into the book. I put it in often. Early readers said “I love it, but there’s too much about the business in there.” So I parted with a few lines and called it even. My agent said “I love it, but the book shows its homework too much.” So I cut out mo…

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 1

Every day between now and Thursday, exciting authors will be revealing excerpts from the first drafts of books you may have read (or might be reading soon!) Today's fearless author is Nova Ren Suma, whose YA novel Imaginary Girls has been getting rave reviews from Kirkus, the L.A. Times, and everywhere in between.

But writing an acclaimed literary YA novel doesn't happen in one draft...

A Scene Sliced Out of IMAGINARY GIRLS

by Nova Ren Suma

I write long. My first drafts are a study in endlessless and an experiment of how many times I can have my characters discover and rediscover the same thing and face up to the same epiphany. In first drafts, apparently everyone I write about has amnesia. That, or it takes me a few times to get a scene down right.

This means that when it comes time for revision the first thing I do is cut. I cut, then rewrite, then cut some more. (Then I do it again. And again.) The snippet of the scene I'm about to share isn't something I cut out of ho…

How Books Work: The Hunger Games (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, INTERN mentioned Stephen King’s review of The Hunger Games: “Reading The Hunger Games is as addictive (and as violently simple) as playing one of those shoot-it-if-it-moves videogames in the lobby of the local eightplex; you know it's not real, but you keep plugging in quarters anyway.”

He’s right, of course. But what makes this comparison so apt? How does The Hunger Games deliver a similar experience to playing a video game? And why are books about games (and books that read like games) so addictive?

INTERN recently discovered a fascinating non-fiction book that answers exactly this question.

In Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken, she argues that games step in to fill basic human needs when reality fails us. When real life doesn’t provide enough goals, rewards, community, meaningful work, or sense of cause-and-effect—when real life is boring, alienating, ambiguous and unintelligible—games provide us with challenges, adventures, and authentic camaraderie wi…

How Books Work: The Hunger Games (Part 1)

If you've read The Hunger Games (or been in the mute and intensely focused presence of someone in the process of reading it), you know that it's practically impossible to put down. Stephen King compared the book to an arcade game that keeps you helplessly plugging in quarters round after round, and after reading it herself INTERN can say that that's a fair approximation.

What exactly is Suzanne Collins doing, on a sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph level, that makes this book such a terrifyingly addictive read?

To shed light on this question, INTERN repaired to her secret basement Book Lab, where she soaked a randomly-selected chapter of The Hunger Games in a bath of chemicals designed to reveal the exact function of each sentence.

Oh, and what an exciting experiment it was! Within seconds, the words themselves melted away, leaving only bright colors representing the following things:

Here is what Chapter 12 looks like following the experiment. If you have a copy of …

announcing International Sh*tty First Draft Week!



*scratches mosquito bite*

*turns page*

*looks up and startles at presence of blog readers*

Oh! Hello there. This blog (and indeed, INTERN herself) appears to have hit the summer doldrums, a still and windless time when posting is sparse and great waves are even sparser. What was INTERN doing all last week? Gnawing on lemons? Weeping in the library check-out line? Fanning herself with a subscription card for The Economist while horse flies circled her head?

Well, yes and no. Or rather, yes, but that's not all. INTERN was also scheming. Specifically, she has been plotting a Week. A daring and mischievous Week. A Week in which published and not-yet published authors alike will reveal their deepest secrets. A Week in which you are all invited to participate.

July 25-29th is henceforth declared International Sh*tty First Draft Week.

Have you ever read a book so beautifully-written it made you want to quit, 'cause what's the point of writing when there are people out the…

great big truths

Have you ever sat down to write a story and found yourself thinking "I'll write about a heartbroken detective who returns to his hometown! No, that's been done. OK, I'll write about a boy genius who wanders the streets of New York. Dammit—done. OK, come on brain..."

The more you think about it, the more it seems like every story idea has already been used a million bazillion times. What's the point of even writing another novel?

This is a scary question, and if you think about it too hard, you risk falling down a nihilistic rabbit hole and bumping your head. What's the point of writing novels—so many novels—when there are already so many out there? It almost seems pathological. Or greedy. Or something like that.

The answer to this question—or at least, one possible answer—came to INTERN yesterday while she was out mushroom hunting (she found a handful of slug-eaten chanterelles and a lovely if inedible russula, in case you're wondering).

A novel is more t…

the writer takes a walk

INTERN recently finished reading a fascinating book called The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram (a rather fuzzy title, thinks INTERN, for a very smart book). INTERN is notoriously terrible at paraphrasing books, but the basic gist (or at least, INTERN's unreliable and not-to-be-trusted version of the gist) is that since the invention of the alphabet, and in particular the vowel, humans have increasingly existed in relation to a purely human set of signs (as opposed to existing in relation to the entire living, breathing universe, as oral cultures seem to have done.) Literacy, according to Abram, sealed humans off from nature in a serious way--allowed us to live more and more inside our own heads, transfered meaning from the treetops to the page.

Oh, INTERN is so bad at this.

Anyway, it struck a chord. As writers, we spend so much time in relation to words—building imaginary worlds, forming arguments, thinking up the best possible phrasing for a thought. Everything that goes ont…

country writer visits the city writer

This post by the Rejectionist (about feeling like the treed and mountained West Coast isn't "large enough" after living in New York City for several years) gave INTERN cause to ponder.

As one who bounces back and forth between living in Big Cities and treed and mountained rural places on a regular basis, INTERN often wonders which is a better or more productive setting for a writer. City or country? Urban garret or forest shack? Here are some observations from both sides of the fence:

In the city, you can choose from a plethora of readings and book launches and literary events any day of the week. Except most of the time, you're too tired and cranky from your three jobs to actually go to any.

In the country, you can occasionally hear a local poet read from his latest collection of lyric poetry, at the end of which you are so tired and cranky you would rather work three jobs than hear the word "gossamer" ever again.

In the city, you work three jobs just to affor…

huzzah! 'tis Canada Day!

'Tis summer! 'Tis Canada Day! INTERN is aflood with fond reminiscences of her literary homeland, and wistfulness at her increasing americanization. The Canadian literary scene, which once felt so urgent and intimate to INTERN, feels like that highschool best friend she hasn't spoken to in years. Yet the longer she lives in the big, bad USA, she feels less and less like a Canadian and more and more like an amorphous blob of North Americanness, unmoored and still finding her place.

INTERN knows that approximately six people who read this blog are Canadian. This post is dedicated to them.

You know you are a Can-Lit brat when:

...the most memorable book of your childhood was Le Chandail de Hockey by Roch Carrier. sent your first unsolicited manuscripts to Annick, Coach House, and Arsenal Pulp Press, and got at least one nice hand-written note back as a rejection letter.

...the first literary journals you read/published in were subTerrain, Contemporary Verse II, and West Coas…