A Good Place to Wind Up

I swore up and down when I started writing Passages and Passenges that I wouldn't make the same mistakes that I did when I was working on my first, failed novel. I've talked about this several times, most recently in my post Changing the Habit #5. I was fairly certain therefore that I would start, and just go with it. I was totally wrong.

Finding the beginning of my book took almost a year of writing the book. I still think that's totally nuts. There's a lot of pressure to get the beginning right. Right?

At first, I planned on starting with major action. So, chapter 1 opened ... explosively. Then, I realized that the cinematic, explosion filled approach was totally out of character (not in a POV that made any damn sense) for the way I was writing the novel. Scratch that.

Then, I moved the time frame forward about ten minutes and started after the explosions were done. I let my character deal with the aftermath, literally crawling his way out of the mess I had just made. While an interesting way to start the book, I realized that as a fantasy series, starting with a sci/fi element was really misleading to the reader. As cool as the first chapter was, again, it wasn't consistent. Scratch that one too.

I don't know exactly when I decided to start with the fantasy element of the book, but things started going much MUCH more smoothly at that point. But. My beta readers were concerned that starting the middle of the action didn't give me any chance to really explain the world, to explain the rules of the magic system I was using, or to setup anything. They were right, too. Scratch THAT as well.

Somewhere in the middle of my big rewrite that I did last year (I totally rewrote the book from page one after finishing a very rough draft) I wrote a chapter. I think it was chapter 21 originally. This chapter was one of a series of flashbacks, I believe it was the third such. I got very positive feedback on the chapter, and in fact, was strongly urged to move it up top. Instead of a flashback, make the action start there.

Where I am now, is that "21st" chapter is my first. What was the first chapter, the really action packed, fantasy scene, actually now happens about a quarter of the way into the second chapter. Even though my novel no longer starts with explosions and in the middle of nutso action, I do give the reader a much more grounded approach to the world and let them get to know and care about the characters a bit before I put them in mortal danger.

I know how much I stressed out about finding that great beginning for the book. After about two and a half years of working on the book, multiple failed attempts, I accidentally wrote a great beginning. Awesome!

I was listening to Writing Excuses recently and they happened to be talking about beginnings. Dan Wells made a really excellent point, that the beginning you write early on probably isn't going to be the beginning that actually makes it through all of your editing and rewrites anyway. So, there's no reason to stress about writing that perfect beginning when you start.

I can totally relate to that.

More, I recently suggested to a friend that if she's having trouble getting out of the beginning, just skip it. Start a chapter down the road a bit. We all know something is going to happen before that chapter, but often, it's actually easier to write the "real" beginning of the book after you understand your characters and your plot better than you ever will when you start writing on line one. Especially if it's your first book.

As always, writing is more important than hitting the nail on the head with every word. The act of writing five or six crappy chapters, early on, is much better than iterating over the first chapter again and again, trying to find that perfect beginning.

Proof Reading

There's something wrong with my brain, and I'm fairly certain that you might have the same problem I do. When I write something, say, an email, or a story, I have a super hard time proofing that thing in the medium in which I wrote it. So, if I wrote it in Word or Scrivener, then catching minor mistakes is a real issue for me. I can use the original medium to find plot problems, blatently obvious, big picture problems, etc. But when it comes to using the wrong verb tense, or a very nearly correct (but still incorrect) word (e.g. "She spent all of her live vs. She spent all of her life) I really do have a difficult time. These are the sort of annoying problems that don't always jump off the page to you (the author) but will absolutely jump out to the reader. This can be really bad if the reader is someone you're trying to get to buy/publish the book.

Considering I'm in the midst of a major revision of my novel, I've had to do some fancy footwork to come up with alternatives to staring at a computer screen and not finding things. What follows are a couple of methods I've tried (and the ones I particularly like) to help with this problem!

I use Dropbox to facilitate each of the items below (well, other than #1 and I think you'll see why in a moment). Basically I export whatever I need and then upload it to Dropbox. Then from there I can import it onto my phone / tablet / whatever.

1. Print It Ok let's get the boring one out of the way first. This isn't terribly practical for a novel, given the length. I don't really use this method much anymore, but when I was doing a lot of short fiction I ALWAYS printed my stories out to proof them. I found infinitely more issues this way than I did reading on the computer.

2. eBook It This is my current favorite method. I do a ton of reading on my tablet using both Overdrive and Kindle. Scrivener has a super nifty 'compile' feature that lets you export your book into .epub (generic eBook, works with Overdrive) and a .mobi (Kindle eBook format). So, right now as I'm proofing my book, it's got the same black background and white text that I prefer, the chapters are all linked up in the table of contents, I can adjust size, orientation, etc. just like I could in a real eBook... because my book is now a real eBook. It's just an unpublished one.

If you're interested in knowing more about the compile feature, keep reading. I'll talk a bit more about it at the end of the post.

3. Listen to It I LOVE Audio Books and Podcasts. I listen to something 4+ days a week. Reading the book aloud doesn't help me all that much, oddly. However, listening to someone else read it does. There is a free app for mobile phones called Go Read for Android (I'm sure there is something similar for Apple). Go Read takes an .epub file (see item #2) and uses a text to speech algorithm to read the .epub back to you.

I'm not going to lie... this one is painful to experience. The mechanical computer voice is pretty terrible, mispronounces words, and does some very strange things (e.g. when I have a scene break and put eight asterisks in between paragraphs to signify that, the narrator literally says asterisks asterisks asterisks asterisks asterisks asterisks asterisks asterisks). Still, despite this, it REALLY helps me to hear problems when I hear the book read back.

I spent a lot of time last weekend traveling home from Europe and I was all ready to spend a good chunk of the plane ride proofing the book. I was using #2, and had my ebook all queued up and ready to go. Then, I realized the next problem: proofing in another medium, while helpful, makes it much harder to fix problems.

At first, I was just using my tablet to read and my phone to note issues. I didn't have my computer handy. Then, I realized that pecking out words and sentence fragments AND notes on how to fix them into a smartphone (on an airplane) was just stupid. So I gave up and decided to wait until I could have the tablet in front of me and the laptop handy. The workflow then is to find a problem in the ebook on the tablet and then fix it on the laptop right then.

This is something I've struggled with for ever. I'm a pretty reasonable editor when I'm looking at other peoples' material. When I am reading my own work though, I miss a lot of fairly blatant mistakes. They are often simple mistakes, but I still miss them and it's embarrassing. I really do believe (and hope) that by approaching the proof in this way will make it better.


The only reason I wanted to write on this in a bit more detail is that it is not immediately obvious on how to do an export from Scrivener into Kindle. I found a couple of posts, but they didn't quite beat me over the head in the way I wanted.

In the Windows version of Scrivener, the .mobi compile option in the compile file formats drop down is your approach for Kindle. When you select this, Scrivener will ask you to locate 'KindleGen' on your computer for you. This is a free app from Amazon that will create the necessary Kindle (.mobi) file for you. I tried for quite some time to figure out how to link up Scrivener and KindleGen. Well, you actually have to start the compile process and select the .mobi file extension BEFORE Scrivener will give you the opportunity to locate KindleGen.

The other tricky thing about the Kindle is that you have to 'email' the book to yourself. So, for me, when I export from Dropbox on my tablet, I select 'send to kindle' and a few minutes later it shows up imported and downloaded from my cloud account. Pretty nifty.

The .epub files open directly in Overdrive (and Go Read) but they are not at all compatible with the Kindle app. So, if you want to use .epub then you should plan on using a different reader. Personally, I find the Kindle reader to be superior to Overdrive, but you have some options.