Manuscript Post-Production

So, what does a pantser like me do once they finished their first draft?

Well, after typing “The End” I bundle it up an yeet it at agents, naturally.
Joking. I only yeet it at agents I have beef with.
OK, still joking.

How does post-production look like?

Well, my first draft usually is the first version of the finished book. Sava had 70k in her first draft and got beefed to 96k in post because descriptions are just not a thing I do.

Horny WIP finished at 77k. It’s contemporary, so I hope I don’t have to add that much description.

Anyway, step one: letting the manuscript sleep. (I am SO bad at this and may skip it even.) At least 4 weeks of not touching it. I hope to forget a few things that I just know during that time and realise I forgot to put them on paper when I re-read.

The next step is soft edits. I already wrote the best version of the book I know how to. So at this point I just tweak small things. Put in some foreshadowing or weaving in things and characters that I came up with later.

I try to make notes about what needs to be done later while I write instead of going back and doing it right then. That way, I will remember later and it’s not disturbing my flow.

For Salma, this will be pointing out her autistic traits. I’m not going to make a big issue of it, but she’ll get her stimming and stuff. Not to mention that her LI gets her at first sight and helps her cope however he can.

Salma also needs some nice trauma. Not sure where to go with that except maybe undiagnosed autism in the real world. But CPs are part of post production and they do amazing work. (ILYSM 😭) This is where my manuscript goes after I edited out all mistakes I could find and put in all things I have to retroactively.

Then I sit on my hands and chew on my nails until the feedback rolls in.

Honestly, CPs are the best thing that can happen to a writer. I love mine with the ferocity of a million suns. They are willing to put in some work for quid in return and I am just so happy and grateful to know them. 🥺

Then I read the feedback, throw a few hissy fits and take some time to cool down again. I need time to digest feedback and hammer home the point that it is meant to help me and not an insult. (Note to self: feedback is really, really I helpful and in no way an insult.)

At this point a skill authors are not always told about becomes relevant: parsing the feedback. It is on ME to know who my target audience is and what my vision for the story is. On those grounds I have to decide whether feedback I get is helpful or not.

Ngl, it’s difficult in the beginning. What do I want?!? It’s also difficult when it comes form people you perceive to be further along/better with authoring than you are. Soul-searching commences and the horrible question of who I want to be as an author.

The realisation that who I want to be may not be (at all) what is sellable, doesn’t help. I cried so many times thinking about how my ideas and style and pace and voice are not, in combination, a thing that is likely to sell. 😭

Back to post-production. After realising what the vision of the manuscript is, I apply the feedback. I will always apply “descriptions needed here” feedback, because I know I don’t do descriptions. The rest I will compare with my vision for the character arc, the setting, the emotional oomph I want and apply accordingly.

Note: I take into account hints that things don’t work more than offered solutions. Things not working is usually on me. But then, so are the solution because it is my vision. If the suggestions align with my vision? All the better.

When all that is done, it is time for another editing pass. This is where I read my manuscript aloud to myself, even if I did that already for the soft edits. Reading out loud was The Horror™. I don’t like my voice. I really do not. But reading out loud makes me catch all the spelling mistakes and the bits where the prose doesn’t flow. Mind you, this is from my little nd perspective. My flow might be way off your flow. I LOVE my filler words because of the ensuing cadence. Priorities may differ.

After this I write my synopsis. Yes, this late. Maybe the synopsis-writing-demons possessed me before this, but usually they do not. So this is when I sit down and write the synopsis. I start by telling the plot as if I was telling it to another person. Then I condense and clarify. I aim for a synopsis of 2 pages double-spaced. That is also 1 page single-spaced. I just pray I don’t wanna sub to a place with 1 page double-spaced again. 🤷‍♀️

I also write my query. It is pain. It is crying on the floor. It is bad when it is finished. But at least I have a thing to throw at my writing community. And this, I cannot stress it enough, is where you you will find all the help and support you need. (Note: you also have to give back whenever you can however much you can.)

When all this is done, I try to give the manuscript another sleep (difficult because I am IMPATIENT bint) and polish everything once more. Maybe ask for help once more. (ngl 100% the hardest part of writing for me is asking for help.)

And that’s it. Now I yeet at agents for real.

Post-Post-Production:

The inevitable tweaks that accumulate during querying because you have the nagging feeling there is something fundamentally wrong with your manuscript. 🤷‍♂️

Did You Say “Free Floating Dialogue”?!? 👀

I think we have all come across it. I think we have all written it. There’s exercises in writing only dialogue to make it stronger. There’s also plays but those are a different bunny entirely. I am not talking about plays here.

I must admit that I didn’t always notice free floating dialogue (FFD). My background is in fanfic where you can write as you please and it pleases a surprising (?) number of people to have FFD. I never thought to take note because as long as I am not losing sight of who says what, I’m good.

In a recent workshop, I commented on the phenomenon.

Why?

Because I have now been trained to notice and avoid it. (It doesn’t always work, ok?) And while I typed out my comment that the dialogue was rather free floating I started wondering why commented on that? Why did I take the time to comment? Because I don’t care. I only noticed because I trained to notice.

In the workshop the subject came up with my dialogue as well. (What did I say above? 😭?) The explanation was also a good one. It is like a camera in a stationary close up. Nothing moves, nothing happens! Just talking faces!!!

Have you seen the music video for Proof by I am Kloot? Because it is just that (with the extremely ogleable face of Christopher Eccleston, too!). You get to see his face for three minutes straight. Nothing happens. Well, almost. In the end, he smiles. And boy, does that have an impact.

FFD is similar for me. The scope is a little bigger – face and shoulders (for the Shrugging™). And that is all I need really. People have expressions. And there is nothing to distract from this intense and intimate observation of two (or more) people lost in conversation. The smallest gestures carry weight and meaning. (Think of the hand-brushing in period dramas).

To you this may be heads floating in space. To me this is the experience of pure conversation, undistracted and served on the silver platter of (hyper)focus.

I don’t want to be grounded in the bloody world. I want to be grounded in the dialogue!

I do not want to hear about sunshine reflecting somewhere or the sound of feet going by or the scent of lost love wafting on a gentle breeze. Those are all intruders on a perfect conversation. Take those distractions away and let me focus on what is important here.

But Mel, what if I need the surrounds for the dialogue to work for me? That, my friend, sounds like a you-problem. And one you don’t have to worry about because we’re currently all being trained to write like that.

PS. The note I took during workshop.

a white paper on which is written with blue biro in a bad hand-writing: If so many people write "free-floating" dialogue on instinct and reading it is just fine - Who do we have to Stop? The question is written bigger and underlined three times.

Crafting Emotional Sense

I have said it for some time now, and I’ll say it again: I do not care if stories make logical sense. I want them to make emotional sense. Reading Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses makes want to write so many essays that I might as well start here. (His words make a lot of things click into place and make sense after simmering in a soup of useless craft advice for decades. Meta-language and recognition are important.)

The assumption is that stories make sense. The assumption is that this sense is logical (aka adheres to the laws to logic, time, and space) and develops inevitably from the actions and events in the story. The assumption is that I care about a logically infallible structure.

I do not.

I care about characters and their emotional journeys. I want to see them develop and grow into being more themself. I want to see their connections with other characters and how that moves them and , by proxy, the world.

Logic has little to do with that. (Like with wisdom, logic is the beginning of storytelling, not the end…)

Old Spock in black robes holding a blue cup in both hands. The caption reads: Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end.

Now I have to understand that an emotionally satisfying arc is many different things to many different people. And most of those people are not like me and want something else than I do. Valid.

On the other hand I have always known there is also people like me. Who want the same arc as me, who will bloody well write it if needs be. (Yes, yes I am talking fanfic here, the one place I got what I wanted for the longest time.)

So, if it existed, and people wanted it – why was it not in publishing?

I think there are many answers and most tie back in to what is considered Good Craft and how it perpetuates itself with little regard of anything outside it’s narrow cone. We learn how to correctly read a story early on and are taught by reverse conclusion, the right way to tell a story. If it doesn’t resonate with me, that has to be an me-problem, yes?

It is not.

The wrong preconception is that to be good, a story must mirror the world and it’s laws as we know them. The idea that only thorough research and a carefully and completely logically knit net of world-building will make a story palatable. We talk about stories making sense in-universe.

We keep forgetting that sometimes it does make sense in-universe that the laws of physics bend to the needs of the emotional character arcs.

Think of the dance scene in the first episode of The Umbrella Academy where they all dance on their own in this big empty house. Does it make logical sense? No. Is it likely? Also no.

But is makes emotional sense and tells a story on a level I crave. Characters. Who they are and how they relate. And how, by wanting to act on and change those relationships, they change the world.

Another great example is Our Flag Means Death which follows this doctrine to the T.

Everything, and that includes absolutely everything, is secondary to the emotional character arcs. Time and space may exist, but in case of doubt, they have no power. The ocean can be navigated in a rowboat with nothing but the clothes on your back and a gaydar to find your destination.

What I really love about it is how nobody even questions it. Take a rowboat to the Republic of Pirates? No biggie. Invitation to a party on a boat? In the middle of the ocean? So what? We will find it no problem.

This holds true until the very end where Stede just boards his own rowboat and finds his crew stranded on a tiny island which could be anywhere. Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Also no.

But once again, it makes sense emotionally. The story is making very different promises to its audience and we understand them. (And in this case, trust them. It’s the reason nobody actually believes Lucius is dead. Why we a certain that little piece of red silk will find its way back to Ed.)

Stede Bonnet from Our Flag Means Death in a white pirate shirt and black trousers stands up in a rowboat and extends his right to the sky, emulating a lighthouse.

For once I look at a piece of media and see my own ideas of story logic mirrored there.

I understand that this method is more hit-and-miss finding its readers than copying the laws of logic. IMO, it is also a lot more rewarding when it hits home.

O Captain, my Captain

O Captain, my Captain, why can’t you see
I’m rolling alone on a lonely sea?
I’m falling apart, I drown in the deep;
O Captain, my Captain, there’s nothing to keep.

O Captain, my Captain, I’m calling to you
My vows are all broken, my lies are all true
My hands they are shaking, my fingers they bleed
O Captain, my Captain, am I worth to keep?

O Captain, my Captain, why can’t I reach?
The further I’m stretching, the faster I breach
and dust instead of blood is howling through my veins;
O Captain, my Captain, how come all these pains?

O Captain, my Captain, why can I not cope?
My Master, my Saviour, and my only hope

A Neurodiverse Perspective on Show Don’t Tell – I Don’t Believe You

Let’s get at this old bony bastard of writing advice. I’m not going into known things like:

1) It only works if you share the same background because – come on! Captain Obvious anybody? What do you think is going on if a happy guy wanders around his quarter handing out eggs dyed red?

2) It’s a relic from a time when Literature was written from and for white allo cishet middle class white men. (If you do not believe me, go read “Craft in the Real World” by Matthew Salessess.)

Instead, I will dive into my neurodiversity and what that does to y’all proudly showing me how your characters feel: I don’t believe you.

It’s that easy and that complicated.

I have masked for the longest time. When I was younger, I painfully learnt what the correct tells were for emotions, what the correct responses to other people were. It became important to show the correct image of what I wanted people to read.

Please take a moment with mere her to reflect how the showing something, especially if you do not want to, is called tells.
Thank you.

Let’s move on.
Of course, this can be used consciously as well. I can flit eyes around nervously, rub my fingertips, touch my hair. My voice is steel, my face is stone, and I am exuding nothing but calm concentration.

I know what I show.

I also know that inside, things are a completely different matter.

What does this mean for Show Don’t Tell? Easy. It means I don’t believe the Show part on its own. There is always the chance a character is reacting the way they are so the others will perceive them like this. There is always the chance, the reaction is a learnt response, a conscious deception, a performance of self-preservation.

I have myself done all of those things and then some. For somebody whose second nature is not showing what they actually feel, visible signs of emotions and reactions are a precarious information source at best.

It is my lived experience that the outward depiction of emotional reactions or reactions at all, is a carefully crafted construct.

It doesn’t matter how well crafted and detailed your show is. I will see A Show. I will see all the building blocks of a correct and socially acceptable reaction. If your character doesn’t tell me they mean it, there is no guarantee they are genuine. (Leaving aside unreliable narrators for the moment here because that is where things become really fun.)

It seems that many neurotypicals view learning body language and using it as a spy novel skill you acquire to bedazzle and manipulate. Many neurodiverse people learn it simply to survive. Without this skill, we don’t last a day. There is a running two-way translation going though our heads all day everyday turning the outside world into inside sense and translating myself into reactions the outside understands.

Apart from being utterly exhausting, it also makes super sensible to mood and tensions. It is sometimes called a sixth sense. When you have to observe every minuscule detail to derive the correct meaning, you see a lot more of them.

Do I shut this down when I read or write? I think not. How can I? It is how the world works for me. (Apart from a few select fellow nds. ‘allo frens!) it’s alike to asking if you shut down your eyesight for stories. How can you? It is an important part of how you perceive the world!

Naturally, this feeds back into my reading. I see your character’s reaction, but if you don’t confirm the truthfulness of it, I will reserve judgement and if the signs I know align, just know they are not, in fact feeling the way they present themselves.

It also definitely plays into how I write. My characters will show all kinds of reactions. And I will assume that, since it is obvious they only show a thing, the reader knows there is a great possibility they feel something else entirely. Even if they don’t admit it (not even) to themselves.

This leads to a great disconnect between how I am told stories need to be written and how I need stories to be written to reflect my reality.

I want to know and love the characters I read about. But how am I supposed to do that, when they rarely show their true self to me? How can you tell me that my characters should not open themselves to the readers? That they never allow a glance under their armour? That they must not be vulnerable and true?

TL’DR, as somebody trained to display the correct responses, to me showing will always be a smokescreen to hide behind.

For what is plot if not structure prevailing?

There is a lot of talk about plot, plotting and story structure right now. So have my take that absolutely nobody asked for. It is mainly, you do you and make sure it looks shiny. 😊

For many years I did my best to learn how to plot correctly and, in that process, completely scrambled the three-act-structure. In consequence, I now think of some projects in thirds, though it is not guaranteed that each third is equal in words and content to the others. It’s a third in my mind that that is where the ‘plotting’ happens.

Three rainbows overlap in front of a grey sky.
Definitely thirds indeed.

What I am trying to say is, that over time, I had to learn that story structure as taught does nothing for me but confuse and frustrate me. I am very certain that stories have a structure and that knowing what it is helps you write them. What I am also certain of is that you have to do you here.

So, look at Horny WIP with me which most definitely has thirds. Like, three parts and they are definitely, well, ok. The first third has about 13k, the second around 45k and the last third has 18k. Makes sense, right?

But this is how thirds work for me in writing. Three acts – beginning, middle, end. I think somebody may have forgotten to tell me that those are not supposed to be the same length? (Are they? Halp! 😭)

Anyways, for me, a third contains a certain part of the story that I deem necessary.

Part 1: This is where we get to know the characters, what they want, how that intersects with the other character’s wants. How they decide or are forced to be in contact.
Part 2: Where the characters achieve what they think they want only to realise that it wasn’t this at all. The decision to work together for real to get what they really want and defeat the Final Boss.
Part 3: Where the characters beat the Final Boss and live happy ever after.

Example Space Wizards:
Part 1: Naida & Zeko are introduced, their unrelated goals are shown and how they can use each other to achieve them
Part 2: Following their goals, both achieve them only to find it is not what they actually want and they find the Final Boss.
Part 3: They work together and defeat the Final Boss.

Example Horny WIP:
Part 1: Salma and Samson are introduced and how they are at odds with each other. Ends with finding something they have in common.
Part 2: They get close to each other (aka they bang a lot) and realise who the Final boss is.
Part 3: they defeat the Final Boss and live horny ever after

If I want a story to make more sense parts-wise, I tend to use a device of my own making because it is neatly tailored to how I think about story progress.

Mel’s Amazingly Accurate Chart of Story Structure*

Chart that lists eight parts of a story. It is headed "story Stages According to Mel".
* My excel knows no words, obviously

As you can see, even breaking it down to steps I have two different kinds of beginnings that, in my head, are a different structure because they need different things.

Returning to Horny WIP.

1: Let’s finish this: Salma and Daniel finish a job and get an assassin thrown into the mix
2: Brave New World: Life and Job are different with an assassin thrown in the mix
3: You Asked For an Additional Problem?: Oop, Assassin is in love with Salma
4: I Did Not But I’ll Deal: Salma falls in love with the assassin, too
5: VICTORY! (oh, no…): They accept they belong together and trigger the Final Boss into action
6: Course Correction: Planning to kill The Final Boss
7: BOOYA!: Final Boss is dead, but so is the assassin
8: We’re Done Here: He not dead, of course!

Now the steps tell me clearly what will have to happen to get me to the next stage. Without assassin, he can’t complicate life and fall for my protag. If he doesn’t fall in love, neither can she, and if they don’t decide to live their relationship, the Final Boss doesn’t get involved and I don’t get my showdown. Clear as dumplings.

Plot is how I structure a story to make it make sense. So I guess it makes sense if other people’s structures don’t work for me much because they are not inside my head and what I have to help me sort my way will probably not help them in return.

Another thing that is not helping me is that I am very accepting of plot structures. I do not need or even want beats that tell me where I am. My pattern recognition is a high performer and I hate it when a book tells me what is going on by relying on traditional structure. (Yes, this happened and I did not approve.)

On the other hand I am somewhat looking forward to people pointing out how I rely on tried and tested plot structures once my books are out.

Heads work different. As long as it works, we should be fine. 🤷‍♀️

Blog PSA

This is not a place of honour.
No highly esteemed opinion is chronicled here.
No wisdom is here.

This place is a message and part of a system of messages. (Pay attention to it maybe.)

Sending these messages was important to me. I consider myself to be part of this culture.

What is here may be dangerous and subversive. This is about the power of words.

The words are still present in your time.

The words can kill.

The words were written by me when disturbed substantially. I am best left alone, lest you want to see me flipping over angry in my nd hamster wheel.

A Roborovski dwarf hamster is running in a red running wheel. Suddenly it is caught by the wheel and spins around in, flipping over and over.

Just Another Tuesday in Fantasy

There seems to be a fundamental difference in how I write stories and how many people think I should write them.

There is much to say about immersion and forgetting that you are reading a story. I get that. I think where things drift apart is how one can achieve this.

I am always very aware that I am writing a story and that on the other end, in the best possible scenario, is a person who reads that story. My job is to make this experience as enjoyable and accessible as possible.

It may not be transactional per se, but it is intentional.

So the question is, do I write from the head of the character or for the head of the reader?

I understand that while people in my fantasy world may not know what a “Tuesday” is, my reader will. And I am certain the people in my fantasy world have names for their days which, if I wanted everybody involved to do that work, I could use.

There is the discussion of “translating” from the secondary world. And if I go hardline on this, the probability that any secondary world uses English is zero. There is always the component of implicitly knowing that. Even if it’s just, let’s say a movie set in the little German village of Großheubach because why not. Even if the movie is produced completely in English there is the understanding that, in reality the people there would be speaking German.

Having them actually do that would work counter to the target audience of English-speaking people. And yet, I do not see the “translation” being an issue here. A Tuesday will be a Tuesday even if it is a Dienstag and people will be herding cats instead of “babysitting a bag of fleas.”

It is understood.

Yet, when I apply this to my fantasy, it is wrong and too much of a stretch? Like, yeah maybe my knight doesn’t know what a disco-ball is but there is certainly an in-world expression of saying his new armour is ridiculously shiny. One we may not get.

Here we get back to me writing for the person who reads it. I want them to know what the connotations are without having to work for it. That means liberally using all the contemporary language I have at my disposal.

(Discourse:
But Mel, won’t that date you book?
Yes, yes it will, and I am sure historians of the future will thank me for it. Next question.)

I understand that this is not a thing that works for everybody. But it works. And I will take an easily accessible, understandable, if modern turn of phrase over having to read half a page of background to get the in-world expression substituting for Tuesdays.

So,

A thin woman in black jeans and a black spaghetti strap top is dancing with her hands high before a yellow background. The caption below read "It's Tuesday" twice.

Futurescapes Face Journey 12: Conclusions

I think it is a great way to connect to others. Unfortunately, I am not great at doing that so I do not get as much from this as you could.

I like the idea to have a workshop in person I’ll never be able to afford it, though. I coasted on enough money for the online version by pure luck.

Your brain is with you all the time. If your group tells you your writing is doing okay, it is up to you to make your brainsoup believe it. *kicks soup with a ten foot toad*

There is no guarantee you will get to work with the faculty you ogled (respectfully).

I do not regret a single thing or buck. I always regret things I didn’t do more, so this is fine. I know now and certainty can’t be outweighed in gold. (Maybe in offers for my ms, but who’d ever do that?!?)

Would I have fallen apart if I had gotten to work with my top choice? For sure. But I learnt how to function while in pieces. One thing nd life has taught me. By now it is more awkward for those around me. I made my peace with it. I would have worked through it. It would have been one “what if” less on my plate.

Am I still sad I didn’t get to work with my top choice? You betcha. I would have loved nothing more than to know what they think of my pages.

On the other hand, I will soon-ish finish my Horny WIP and then I can go back to Sava 2. Once I finish that, nothing can keep me from thrusting it at all agents ever again. SHRUG EMOJI

I have definitely learned A Thing or maybe even 2 Thing. It helps to know that I can chill out and just keep writing my stories and yeet them at agents. The stories I want told and the style I want them told it may never make it over the gates of tradpub. It feels like a necessary step at the moment though. A thing that needs to be done unless I want to add to the Regret Eternal pile.

May I be granted the strength and resources to self-pub one day.

And this is it from me on Futurescapes 2022. Please remember this is a very subjective experience and your mileage will vary. I’m just a smol angy nd flipping over in their hamster wheel.

A Roborovski dwarf hamster is running in a red running wheel. Suddenly it is caught by the wheel and spins around in, flipping over and over.

Futurescapes Face Journey 11: Wrap-Up

After all that I had a nice sleep and did some self-care quests and hoped for the best for wrap-up. There was also more socialising but I spoke about that already. The only thing I did different this time was to keep the camera off except for when I asked a question. (Yes I ask questions, especially if I can and feel silence would be embarrassing for the host.

Wrap up was with the leader from the first workshop. I was looking forward to that because for my needs, she had the best leading style. I was still not really in speaking order. I tried not to and only to react when spoken to. It may have been noticed this time. 😅

ngl, I wished I could just have used the chat to communicate. I mean, why not? My spelling is atrocious when I type fast, but we were all writers with a huge imagination here… But that is not the accepted and normal way of communication. And yes, I will always try to be normal. It is in me by now. I have worked on little else for over 30 years. I think it will be difficult to shed.

As before, everybody was very kind and understanding. I am not sure if I will ever get used to it. I was able to explain some of the factors that made this hard on me.

  • I am working on a different WIP and am lot loving the one workshopped as much as I would had I been working on that
  • I was horribly prepared for the query and that I didn’t think it through on my own compounded the stress.
  • I feel like a burden to the rest of the participants because I can’t keep it together.
  • My head kept turning positive feedback into bad loops

There were positive things, too. Things not connected to the words I had brought. My writing is doing ok and my current WIP is lovely. I am in the scary position where people have already volunteered to beta this heap of fluff’n’porn. Like, more than for Sava. Maybe, if things go well I’ll have it ready for Queery Fest.

It was great to hear where everybody was planning to go next on their journey. Everybody sounded invigorated and motivated to pursue their stories and their path. I had also learned things about my writing and my path. None of which made me starry-eyed though.

The books of our workshop leader sound absolutely amazing. I am happy to have met her and that she is now part of my twitter feed. 🤩

The closing ceremony was also nice. I kept the camera off and apart from a second of acute envy for not winning a thing I only knew about for half a minute it was not exciting. So I’ll just pin it on here with the this one paragraph.