Friday, February 4, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby Blogfest/Contest

It's time to dust off some of our old writing and take an unflinching look at how far we've come.  It's not too late to sign up to win prizes or to join the Blogfest. 

When I started writing "The Golden Gryphon" I was basically daring myself to write something.  Anything. Just write!

So I started with a place.  I made up a castle on a hill in a UK-ish setting, then I put some people in it and moved them around like paper dolls in my head.  Pretty soon they started moving around by themselves.  And talking. And feeling. Before I knew it, my first draft was in full, riotous gallop through my imagination.

This is that first paragraph.

Glenholm Castle stood in the rolling foothills of the Dagger Mountains. It was a squat stone fortress that had housed the Eorl’s ancestors for ten generations. Behind it, the hills sloped gently upwards until they finally crested with bare rock and then climbed sharply to join the mountains. The land below the castle spread out in a vast patchwork of farms and woodlands, with a village along the central road. On far side of the village, the Glenholm Road led down to the bank of the Silverbark river, which formed the eastern boundary of the Eorl’s lands. Crossing the river, it then merged with the Forest Road, which led through the Great Forest to the capital at Cairwyn, the western reaches of the kingdom and eventually the sea.
Now for the revision:

(chirping crickets)
There is none.  All that opening exposition got cut.  But it was a crucial first step in the writing process.

Actually, I did incorporate some of it into the description of the family's departure for the capital.

In the bottom of the valley the new crops grew in bright green rows, and sheep and cattle grazed on the lush grass.  Before them the Silverbark River flowed in a winding ribbon spanned by a stone bridge. On the far side, silver birches stretched along its banks, their smooth, grey trunks gleaming in the sunlight as if to live up to their name. Beyond them loomed the dark mass of the forest.

The party crossed the bridge, hooves clattering on the stone, and turned to look one last time at the slope behind them. There was the village, looking very small now, and the castle raising its towers in the sunshine, with the orchard in blossom tumbling about its feet. Behind it rose the hills in purple and grey succession, capped by the dazzling white of the morning peaks. It seemed impossible to Marenya, as she gazed upon its stalwart beauty, that any harm could ever come to Glenhym.

 What did I learn?  That setting needs to be tied to emotion. It has to mean something to the characters before it will mean anything to the reader.  

I also learned something that has become my writing mantra: It is always better to have something horrible to edit, than to have written nothing at all.

Enjoy the entries and the contest!  But don't forget to "Write first, blog later."


  1. i think i read that first version. i love how you incorporated it into the narrative with the emotions. i'll post mine tomorrow.

  2. Yay for the blogfest. That is a great example because the first lesson learned is to write. It's a great lesson and something people need to figure out if they ever are going to write the novel they have dreamed about. Seems you have learned some great lessons. I didn't post the lessons I'd learned from one draft to the next but I do know I learned I don't like first person after the first draft, lol.

    Looking forward to all the entries.

  3. Yes, indeedy! Setting and emotion should be inextricably linked. Unless you're Cormac McCarthy. In which case, your characters are so repressed that the setting has to do the emoting for them. You know how that goes.

    You have, indeed, come a long way, good lady. Congratulations!

  4. I liked the first one, but it did lack heart.

    I loved the second because it was tied to Maryena's feelings of home and loss.

    You have learned a lot, and I'm sure cutting the first setting was difficult. When I first started writing I found it hard to cut out anything I'd written, but later I found that if I didn't feel it added to the plot or characters, it was way easier to cut.

    Learning editing and revision lessons have been the hardest for me, but I find revision now my favorite part of writing the novel.

    Good entry to your blogfest. I'm sorry I'm not participating; I've got myself bogged down in my current projects. But I'll enjoy reading the entries.


  5. Hey Donna,
    No worries about the blogfest. I know you are busy. I love your new profile pic!

    Simon, I have not read "The Road" but I suppose I should. Right after I get around to "War and Peace." But he's published and I'm not so who am I to judge?

    Dawn, I'm not a fan of first person either. The only books I really like in first person are the Amelia Peabody series and the Goldy Bear books, both mysteries with very strong female voices. Normally I like knowing more than one person's point of view.

    Michelle, I can't wait to read yours!

  6. Your descriptions in the first snippet were lovely, but didn't draw me into the story the way the second did. It felt disconnected from any characters, so there was nothing to grab on to.

    I did feel the setting sparked more emotions in the second. But again, the first paragraph doesn't have any people in it. I was thinking, and this is just food for thought and nothing more :)), that this may be a stronger first line, because it tells me right away about the people opening the story:

    "The party crossed the bridge, hooves clattering on the stone, and turned to look one last time at the slope behind them."

    That sentence has me immediately intrigued. Who are the people in the party? Where are they going? And then coming right in with the setting exposition adds emotion to those questions, heightens their departure -- to where? I want to read on to find out.

    I'm enjoying this blogfest!

  7. The sense of sound really helps the second one come to life. Either way I'm drawn to the beautiful voice in your writing. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi Christine, thanks for your comment at Artemis's. I decided to add my name to the list and allow people to filter to my last post.

    Thanks for your example. I do the opposite with my setting, I forget all about it. My characters are in a perpetual state of etherealness. I know I need to change that, and your advice about tying setting to your character's emotions is golden. Thanks!

  9. Yay for the the blogfests! I have to tell you, that while your first version was dry and maybe left the reader with questions like 'But why do I care what this place looks like?' I would have read on simply because your descriptions were so articulated and detailed. But the second version post-chopping is definitely a keeper!

  10. OK, reading some of the other entrants changed my mind, and I decided to enter.


  11. I love your use of description! I agree, emotion must be present, or else we only see a scene, minus the "investment" need to pull in a reader. Nice job!

  12. Your descriptions were always strong, Christine. But as you said, there is an emotional connection that brings the second one to life. Your writing has a beautiful, calm, serene kind of voice.
    It has been fun reading how so many writers started out and how their writing matured. It has been an educational Blogfest ;)

  13. Thank you, everyone, for your very kind comments. I sometimes get discouraged that I don't write in the action-packed way that others do. But I'm starting to have confidence that there may be an audience for my voice, too.

    I really enjoyed reading everyone's posts. I'll try to tally the points up and select the winners by the end of the day tomorrow.

  14. Hi Christine!

    I followed your comment on Trisha's blog and entered. Thanks for the fun challenge!

  15. Hello Christine,

    thank you for this great blogfest. I really enjoyed reading some other experiences.

    I have to say I'm not a fan of long description in either way, but your second version really grabbed me. The feeling is so much more concrete and there is a good sense of character. I also liked the rhythm.

    I'm glad to follow your writing now.
    Nahno ∗ McLein

  16. Great blog fest. This was my first one. I really enjoyed it.

    The second version sets the scene physically and emotionally. Bravo!


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.