Week 4 Check-In

Okay so technically last week was Week 4 of the book-writing challenge I’ve given myself. But hey, this is close enough, right? Either way, I’m very happy to say that I finished the first draft of my next book yesterday morning. Yay! It took about 3 weeks total, once I got writing.

As with my last check-in, there are a few lessons I’ve learned with this part of my challenge:

  • I absolutely loved focusing all my energy on writing as opposed to writing and editing at the same time. That was what made the short writing time possible and I have a great sense of accomplishment just from getting that piece done.
  • The chapter-a-day goal I gave myself was just about perfect. Yes, it was challenging at times, but that daily goal ensured that I powered through my writing rather than getting hung up on small details that would normally slow it down.
  • Having such a focused attack ultimately made my first draft stronger. With longer writing windows I think it’s easier to get distracted and lose the tone, atmosphere, or character voices you’re building throughout your story.

Now what will be interesting is the next step in this process. Writers are all a little different. I know some authors who can write their first draft, do minimal editing, and be done. For me, I fully expect that the editing piece will take twice as long as writing the first draft. Mostly because that’s where I get finicky about word choice, sentence structure, etc.

The challenge, if you want to call it that, will be figuring out a good per-day goal for editing that will keep me on track the same way my first draft goal did. 

Only one idea has come to mind so far – a goal by chapter and type of editing. I break my editing into two categories. Story editing is my opportunity to improve upon the story itself (plot points, making various scenes more impactful, etc.). Basic editing is where I add in the finer details (scenery descriptions, chars details, etc.). So maybe my goal can be to do the story editing for Chapter 1 on one day, for example, basic editing for Chapter 1 the next, and so on.

Might as well give it a try. Realistically I may not even start that until next week because I have to compile the list of by-chapter story edits that still need to be made.

Guess we’ll see if it works! If you are a fellow writer, what do you do to keep yourself on track while editing?

How Smell Can Enhance Setting and Develop Characters

Yesterday I stepped onto an empty elevator and was greeted by lingering traces of a sweet, musky perfume. I don’t know the fragrance’s name but it was very familiar to me. It used to be worn by the owner of the bookstore I frequented as a child. Every time I come across it I reminisce about that wonderful little store. Books littered the floor there in teetering stacks and overflowed from the shelves into which they’d been crammed. It was a reader’s dream!

That trip down memory lane and the perfume that triggered it got me thinking about the role smell plays in building out character and setting in a story. 

The use of smell in writing can enhance setting and develop characters.
Enhanced Setting

No setting is complete without the sensory detail that helps readers imagine their way into the story. But many writers, myself included, often forget to include smell in this process. This can result is settings that are only partially formed.

Consider how flat the following scenes would be without the accompanying smells:

  • A campsite without the woodsy, comforting incense  of the campfire
  • A backyard without the scent of freshly cut grass
  • A movie theater without the butter-laced aroma of popcorn
  • A car shop without that whiff of gasoline and rubber

Smells like these, that are familiar to so many people, transport readers into the scene just like I was transported back to my childhood bookstore.

Character Development

Writers looking to take their sensory weapons to the next level also use smell to paint a distinct image of who their characters are. Consider the scents above from the perspective of different characters:

  • The acrid, sickening stench of campfire smoke burned his nostrils, forcing him to turn away.
  • She opened the car door and was pummeled by the scent of the neighbor’ freshly-cut grass. Like she needed a reminder that her own grass was in desperate need of a good cut!
  • The odor of over-cooked popcorn offended his nose. He was only two steps into the movie theater doors and already it had soaked into his hair and clothes.
  • She breathed in the fragrance of gasoline and rubber, savoring the memories it called forth. If “autoshop” was a perfume, she’d wear it daily.

Clearly, the perceptions characters have of the smells they encounter can say a lot about them or the elements/characters that surround them. 

Personally, I love using unique twists on scents to add a touch of reality to my characters. After all, each of us has that oddball smell that we love or hate for individual reasons. An example for me is  mothballs. Most people feel mothballs put off an odor they’d rather avoid. But my nana uses mothballs in excess in her home so I associate them with her, which means I love their fragrance. Whenever I return from a visit, I relish the whiffs of them that linger on my clothes and suitcase.

What about you? What are some smells that you passionately love or hate based on your own experiences?