The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Am feeling a little frustrated at present, because I feel that I could get a firmer grip on this WIP if I had a title, or even a central image or idea. I was discussing it (WIP's lack of title) with some writer friends, and realized that I talk a good talk about what I want this ms to be--what I want it to say--and that I can talk with great passion and the project sounds great and meaningful and exciting. But the fact is, none of that is on the paper right now. I talk big, but it's just not there. And a writer can talk about all the myriad levels and themes and meanings behind his/her book--but if it's not on the paper, all that talk is just bullsh*t.
One of my (many) minor annoyances is writers who ask you for critique, but then afterwards explain to you why your critique is wrong. They explain what you were supposed to get out of the ms that you didn't. But the effin' fact is, if it's not on the paper, you don't get to explain it. You don't get to send a leaflet paperclipped to your slush pile ms explaining what you really meant, so that the poor assistant who reads slush can keep it in mind. You don't get to call every reader who buys your book off the shelf and tell them what they're supposed to extrapolate or infer.
So I am frustrated because all the passion I feel for this project isn't there. It isn't coming through. No point is being made. I hope that this will change on its own as I get the whole thing more into shape. But it worries me that I don't have a title or a main image to hold in my head, or at least some small concrete idea that I could wrap my fingers around and hang onto, to keep me on course as I work through it.
I feel like I am full of hot air. Sigh. The only good thing is, I am writing. I am working on it, when the world is filled with people who talk, talk, talk about writing but never actually do it. And I must remind myself of one of my mantras: You are smarter than a monkey.
Because conventional wisdom says that a monkey with a typewriter, who types into infinity, will eventually produce all great works of literary art. Said monkey would also produce what I want to write right now. I don't have infinity to work on this, but I am also smarter (we hope) than a monkey. I write with thought and try to direct my revisions, instead of just hitting random keys. Therefore, if I keep working consistently on this ms, it's almost certain that I will eventually get it right in my lifetime. Because I am smarter than a monkey.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
It's going to be a challenge. I never did figure out how to get the hemes on the road quicker in NR. They should have been out the door much sooner. I got that moved up as much as I could in the story, but there was just no way to put any more of the earlier info later, as far as I could see. I tried moving it around, and it just didn't work--it didn't make sense. So the beginning is a little slow for people who open the book expecting vampire-y action and death and attacks in the night. Those people probably quickly give up trying to read the book. I challenge them to figure out how to get everybody on the road quicker without messing up the world-building, the establishment of character, and the necessary backstory.*
But this WIP...I think this WIP will be snappier than it is now if I can manage to drop the selfish writer bit and figure out what is best for the ms. Not what I want to do with it, or what I like dwelling on, but how the story needs to be told, in order for me to do right by it.
*But if they do figure it out, I don't want to know about it. I'm not one of those writers who appreciates a post-mortem of my published book. I'm one of those writers who thinks that if you go up to writers telling them what you think is wrong about a book that is a done deal and completely out of their hands, you should probably be hurled off the nearest cliff. I don't tell you that your baby is ugly and you should have mated with a different genetic partner, and give you examples of the traits you should have been more aware of during your mating process.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
However, all this is a wee oasis of my own self-indulgence that must come to an end, because tomorrow I have to hit the ground running with this w-f-h project, and with the tutoring at night, I don't know if I'll be able to get much of my own writing time in. I'll try, but it'll be tough. Still, with school out for another week or so, maybe I can squeeze in a bit here or there. We'll see.
But I dunno. It has its pros and cons. I don't have a strong certainty about it either way right now, although I'm leaning toward trying it because it might ease the way for my big trouble spot, which is that traumatic event that changes the tenor of the story.
Right now, though, I think I'll pull up my Menelaus parts and see if I can find the notes I wrote about them, which are pretty well intermingled with notes about w-f-h somewhere in the red spiral notebook, I'm pretty sure. Must check. I think I put all my tutoring notes in the yellow spiral, and maybe some notes about this WIP, but not the Menelaus notes.
Sigh. I need an office with a lot of desks and shelves. And office supplies--lots of cool pens and sticky notes and notebooks. Although that will not prevent me from reusing the kids' leftover spiral notebooks from school, because I can't stand throwing away barely-used notebooks with lots of nice clean paper to write on.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
For example, I split up the idea of Helen not doing her spinning anymore because her husband says she doesn't have to. First there was a scene where he tells her that and she's happy because she hates spinning. Then I had other scenes with other stuff going on, other story threads being picked up that dealt with other issues--and many pages later Helen decides to take up spinning again because she's bored. That's when she learns: it's not that she doesn't have to spin anymore, it's that she's forbidden to. The choice has been taken from her. Blah blah blah...anyway, the issue now is, would that work better in prose if it was all together; would it build better and make a stronger point if it happened in one chunk rather than being split up? I'm thinking yes. I don't know why I think that, I just do. And since there are many of these threads/ideas that were split up and interwoven with each other for the GN, I would like to look over the whole Menelaus section and take notes and see what major points I am making so that I can consider pulling each one back together into a chunk all its own.
I guess I'm thinking that if I put these "chunks" in the right order, each one will smother Helen a little more and she will become more and more tightly bound and closed in, section by section. Right now it's all very loosey-goosey, and I'm not sure that's the best way to make the story work in this form.
I don't know why it seemed to work better the other way when told visually. It just seemed too obvious, too quick to have chunks with their own little tiny arcs, like I was shooting a nail gun into the reader's face and the nails were ideas: bam-bam-bam-bam! For some reason, it felt to me that the ideas couldn't be absorbed if they were presented in very short separate vignettes (because they would be very short if presented that way). It felt to me as if they needed to unfold more gently. Hmm. Maybe sometime when my creative bones are not numb, I might be able to figure out why. There could be some important principle of storytelling in here that I need to understand.
Or it could be that I just didn't know what the f*ck I was doing and it was all wrong! Ha ha! Anyhoo, off to Menelaus.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
One of the pieces was from the part where Helen's brothers leave to join the quest for the Golden Fleece, and it nearly rips my heart out to try and write it. I don't know why this particular leave-taking affects me more than some of the others, but it might be because one of the bits from Homer that I already was aware of was this scene where Helen is on the battlements of Troy with King Priam. The armies of Greece (where Helen is from) are below them, and Priam, rather than resenting her for being the cause of all this, kindly asks her to tell him who some of the men are--a very kindly gesture indeed, considering that they all intend to kill him and destroy his city.
So Helen tells him, and she describes some of the better-known warriors a little--but then she adds that she doesn't see her two brothers, and wonders why they haven't come.
In the next line Homer tells us that the reason is her brothers are dead; they're underneath the beloved earth back in Helen's homeland. Once they leave (in my scene), she will never see them again, and when they die she won't know about it, but will keep thinking of them for long years afterward, wondering about them, worrying whether she's lost their love and approval. It's so terribly sad.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Tonight I was reading a little of the Iliad, and the thing I don't like about it is the gods. It feels like every time somebody is making some crucial choice there's a break and the gods interfere. If I did that--cut away every time a character had to make a decision, and took it at least partially out of their hands--it would not only be frustrating to the reader, it would be bad writing because I'd be putting a protective layer over my characters. I think maybe (in the Iliad) if I look at what the characters think and do, and sort of blip the gods out in my mind, I might be able to see the real story unfolding without benefit of that protective layer.
I really don't care about the gods. There's nothing at stake for them. They can't be killed. They don't have anything important to lose or to gain. I do care about the humans, who can and do die in gorily poetic scenes (yeesh, the gore!). The gods seem to be just weak imitations of the humans, and they get in the way of the story (especially the emotional story), and they annoy me. The gods seem wimpy, while the humans are passionate and real.
I have spent time tonight trying (yet again) to get a version of the Tantalus/Pelops family storyline clear in my head. I say "a version" because I know the winding-path-of-a-storyline I want. It makes utter sense to me, even if it's not any of the most famous versions and half of the connections seem to be mostly mine and nobody else's. And I always get confused because there are so many people and multiple generations of cooking up one's young male relatives and serving them at a feast.
But the upshot is this (I wrote it down this time, so if I don't lose the paper I might have a chance of keeping it straight). Atreus and Thyestes were brothers. Violent, quarreling brothers. Some legends say one of them was peaceably given the throne of Mycenae, but other stories say they fought tooth and nail over the throne, and it make more sense to me that they kept shoving each other off because there was this running tally of seduction of sister-in-laws, more cannibalism (Atreus fed some of Thyestes' sons to him), and incest/rape.
This is important because Atreus' sons were Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon ended up being the big shot King of Mycenae--the most famous one, the one who led the Trojan War. Where legends fade out and get foggy, there is this mostly forgotten one about Agamemnon killing his cousin (one of Thyestes' surviving uncooked sons) and the cousin's infant son (Agamemnon dashed his brains out) and marrying the cousin's wife. The cousin's wife--this is only interesting if you already know what happens later--was Clytemnestra.
Hmm, must explain what happens later: Agamemnon sacrifices his and Clytemnestra's daughter to the gods so he can get a good sailing wind for Troy. So--according to this not-so-well known version--that would have been the second time he killed one of her children. IMO, you have to pretty much applaud her for killing him (which also happens later). He damn well deserved it, and too bad it didn't happen sooner.
But another thing that sort of clicks into place is that Clytemnestra's lover who helped/egged her on in the killing was one of Thyestes' other uncooked sons, Aegisthus.
The main point being that it looks to me like Clytemnestra got caught up in a violent family feud over a throne. Of course, that's only if you clear away a gazillion unrelated legends that say other things, like Clytemnestra's first husband (the uncooked cousin) was king of a place in modern-day Turkey. Why the son of Thyestes would be a king in Turkey, why Clytemnestra would be with him, and why Agamemnon would be over there killing him, I have no clue. It makes much more sense to me that Agamemon was continuing the family tradition of trying to wipe out the other branch and get and keep that Mycenean throne. And it makes sense that Clytemnestra would be sympathetic (and eventually become lovers with) the brother of her first husband, both enemies of Agamemnon (who killed two of her children and married her against her will).
In my decidedly unscholarly opinion, anyway.
Friday, December 19, 2008
And on that gloomy note, I'm going to drag a box of g-d Xmas decorations downstairs and unpack it. But I'm going to watch The Soup while I'm doing so, because I like The Soup, dammit! Ho ho ho!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I don't know what would happen with an entire ms that makes logical sense; I don't know if it's possible for me to integrate my seat-of-the-pants method (which has its strong points, believe it or not) with a more structured method. It seems that if I could break the chapters down into smaller parts somehow, approach the towering structure of plot that is already there by wee little emotional increments, I might be able to feel out a way to make it work for me. But I don't know. I might hit one big barrier from day one because the whole story came out of my head and I didn't feel my way into it.
Tomorrow's going to be very busy. I'd like to get some writing done in the evening, but may be too tired by the time it rolls around.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Anyway, that's what I like to think will happen.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
So. Deep breath. Must. Get. Head. In. Gear. NOW.
Monday, December 15, 2008
The reason I'm not disappointed with rehashing today instead of working with the new bit is that this particular rehashing is also about building tension and raising the stakes. Not in a huge way, but at the moment it feels like a nice tweak, perhaps enough to keep the reader turning pages without messing up the flow of the story.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
So I started looking at one particular bare-bones piece of dialogue I have--or rather, I had two bare-bones pieces of dialogue and pulled them together and started trying to figure out how to play them and what slant to give them and what the story needs to cover and emphasize right now.
But then I went off on a tangent and took this image/piece of info from my head that I had been planning to use much later, and I stuck it in here. I like it here. It ups the tension and starts darkening the story, but we don't know why yet, or what it means.
My snag is that I don't know exactly where to put it, for pacing. I'm looking at the first 50 or so pages, and it needs to be in the exact right place. It could be carved down to a paragraph or two of narration and stuck in somewhere around page 30-35 as a nice thought-provoking hint. Or it could be part of a larger conversation around page 45-50. I had the thought that page 45-50 is too darn late to use something that could be so strong to draw the reader on. But then I look at how fast this reads, with the pages so short--the reader would be to page 50 within 15 minutes probably, or maybe less. I don't know. I realized I don't have a feel for how the pacing is right now. I don't know if it's sagging anyplace in that first 50 pages or not. And I don't know where this piece needs to go. So I can't really work on it, because I don't know if it's in its own scene with dialogue, or if it's a passing point in an earlier scene.
So here I sit. And I think I'm going to set this aside for now and go to the Y.
I wonder if I should try to print out and read it later tonight, or just not work on it anymore at all today. I really don't know what to do. Perhaps it will come to me at the Y.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Yesterday I went back and worked through that "kitchen" scene more carefully. I went in with the idea that I'd figure out what one very small moment meant--but I never did figure it out. I tried, but I still have just the description of the room and the two people, basically, only with more details and a more concrete "picture" for the reader to see.
But...somehow that was enough to make me see that I needed to have a chapter/section break much earlier than I did. This part of the ms was a long series of scenes flowing into each other, with some narration/explanation/transitional stuff, and that kitchen scene, then some things that happened afterward that led into still more scenes and narration. After I got that one small "picture" clearer, I suddenly could wrap my mind around a chunk of the ms. I realized I had to lop this one section off and finish it. All that "afterward" is something new that will need to be addressed on its own.
I don't think it's coincidence that somewhere around the end of this long series of scenes is where my writing momentum petered out and I started becoming unsure where I was heading.
It makes me think about my other WIP, the swordfighting one. That's completely different, because it's a normal prose ms, not an experiment with shards of prose and white space. But I have the same confused feeling with it that I get with this ms when I lose my momentum. So if breaking into smaller, more manageable pieces helps here, maybe I can use a similar process to help with the swordfighting ms somehow. But that is for another day.
So anyway, earlier today I tied up that lopped-off section and tried to make it one basic idea. What I'm shooting for right now with this ms is that every page has one basic mini-idea (centered mid-page, with equal white space at top and bottom), and every section is a bigger idea that the individual pages add up to. Like, this section is now 16 pages, around 2600 words. The title of it (for today) is No Harm Done. One page might be a couple of paragraphs whose main point is that Helen's life is dull because her brothers are gone, and they are the only thing in her world that ever changes from one day to the next. Another page might tell about this slave boy and what his duties are. Another describes a dark, narrow staircase that Helen is going down. Etc. etc--but the overriding idea of the entire section is that she leaves her prescribed part of her world and edges out just a bit to take a peek at what lies beyond.
That's the form I'm working with right now. Why not just a regular prose novel? I don't know. All I know is, it doesn't want to be a regular prose novel. It never has. It never has come out that way, not from the very beginning. And I learned the hard way with Damage that it's a freakin' waste of time when the ms is pushing you strongly one way and you try to fight it. With Damage, I thought using second person was the stupidest thing ever. I thought, nobody can read this, and nobody will want to, and it will never sell. And I thought you're supposed to have a good literary reason to choose a pov tense. So I tried forcing the ms into first person, and when I kept losing momentum with it I tried alternating first person pov's among the characters--at one point I had three pov's--and I vaguely remember I tried third person, too. All a waste of time. Just go with it, that's what I learned from that. Otherwise you make yourself miserable and you doom yourself to failure and you're just going to end up doing the exact thing you're fighting so hard against.
The problem comes in when the ms isn't telling you strongly what it wants, or when you feel great because you're writing along in whatever way it insists on being written...and then it just stops coming. I don't have any solutions for those. But I'm trying hard to increase the number of tools in my repertoire, so maybe as I gain experience I can find solutions quicker and not spend 15+ years with a ms hanging cluelessly around.
Friday, December 12, 2008
This is what's going on the past few writing days: I'm retreading, going over the pages and trying to hone them. The format means that everything has to be clear and sharp, so there can't be any unnecessary comment. No extra words or phrases. No excess thinking or explanation from the MC's pov--and the best thing is if I can write a tight, evocative sentence that automatically leads the reader to have that thought or explanation for themselves. Everything has to have a purpose and direct the reader toward something.
Now, I know these are all goals I must necessarily fall short of. It's not possibly for anyone--or not me, anyway--to write that perfectly. But it's the general idea I'm shooting for.
So what I seem to be finding--and it's striking me more with this ms than with regular prose, which is more forgiving of a bit of excess here and there--is that if I break down what I have and look at it in smaller and smaller sections, it tends to make the proper shape of the story more clear to me.
I do this with regular prose, anyway. I think most writers do to some degree. You take a scene and go over and over it thinking from the MC's pov and everybody else's pov and the reader's pov--everything from where all the characters' hands are at any given moment to where the light's coming from to sensory details to what minor Character X secretly feels about what minor Character Y just said.*
But with this ms, every time I do that, more opportunities open up. And unfortunately, more choices have to be made. Like right now I'm in the middle of this part where the MC follows her mother's pet slave out of the women's quarters and to the kitchen area. I have a description of what she sees when she walks into that kitchen (or rather, kitchen-y room, because they didn't really have kitchens like we do). I have been focusing on the fire; I spent a good amount of time before this enjoying myself by describing the fire and working it in later in the ms and such. The smoke, the flames, the wood being fed to them, etc. etc.
So today I get to this part and I've got these two slaves in the kitchen-area, and I realize I said what they're doing, but not what they look like. Okay, I can figure that out. So I start figuring it out, what's important about it, what I need to pick out to write down.
But now I'm thinking, Whoa. This is a huge deal. Two slaves that my MC has never seen before. She's never been to this part of the palace before. I have this moment of awkward silence where the slaves are shocked and don't know what to do, and the MC is staring back at them.
And that's it. I've just blipped over and moved on to the fire. But here is this excellent opportunity--it's almost called for--to stop and figure out what this encounter does in terms of the entire story. The story is about the MC's finding out how closed in and powerless she is. This scene is before she even has an inkling how tightly bound her choices are--and here is a moment hanging with these two slaves, who of course have no choices at all. I need to use it, if only in a very small way. I'm just not sure how.
That is why I'm blogging instead of actually poking around in the ms at this moment.
I cannot sit and think logically about what needs to happen, or what the MC might logically realize or wonder. I have to go back and in my head try to feel out, from the beginning of this section--and maybe farther back--what she would really be feeling or thinking at this moment of silence as she looks at them. It's not leaping into my head. I don't know if that means I lost my way before this and something is wrong, or if I've just got off track a little because this ms is a mass of spaghetti and I've already forgotten the earlier part of this particular strand. It could be that I just need to go find the beginning of the strand and follow it and it will lead to the proper way to fill out this silent moment. Except that the beginning of the strand might be hard to find, in this mess. And if I find it and start working on it, I might forget that I'm supposed to be following it all the way through to this scene with the fire. Sigh.
Oh well. Back to work.
*Except I hate it when sensory details are thrown in that don't have a purpose except to be sensory details. Like if your understudy actress MC is standing in the wings awaiting her big chance to go on and finally get in the spotlight, and there's a line like "I smelled the scent of hand sanitizer from one of the stage hands." It's like, why the f*ck is that in there? This may come from my having the attention span of a gnat--maybe it's literary description and I just can't handle it (I know I have a problem sitting through literary descriptions). But maybe it's just bad writing. I don't know.
And sometimes I have a hand sanitizer moment and other people just don't get it. I'm like, "It's a recurring theme of cleanliness that underlies the MC's entire journey! Are you blind???"
At least I don't do spider solitaire anymore. That was a really great way to procrastinate, but it's awful for writers to even get into. Spider solitaire is the time-sucker from hell. And non-writers don't get it; they don't get why you start doing these little things instead of just pulling up the dang file and setting to work.
Actually, I don't get it either. I don't know anybody personally who just sits down and starts writing. I think most of my friends have given up spider solitaire; there's so much web to surf you don't even need ss anymore if you want to procrastinate. You could sit in front of the computer and read writing and book-related blogs all day, if you wanted. You could self-google, and google your friends and people you don't like, and you could check Amazon rankings for every book you ever heard of--all with your WIP file open but where you don't have to look at it. Why can't we just sit down and start writing? Or rather, why don't we? I'm sure we could all do it if we tried really, really hard.
And I'm sure there are a few writers who actually do sit down and work straight off the bat. In fact, I know there must be because when a WF and I were discussing spider solitaire a few years back, this other writer said (in what I thought was smug) disbelief, "You must have a lot of time on your hands!" Well, no, I didn't--I was using part of my writing time on spider solitaire.
Anyway. I have stuff to do this morning, but then I figure I'll pick up where I left off, which I think was retreading somewhere around pages 25-50. You would think it's bad to go back over pages that have already been drafted into a working condition, but something doesn't feel right about going on. And as I go back over these pages, I'm finding that I don't quite have a handle on the emotions of the scenes, and I wonder if getting a stronger feel for them will help me feel right about going on. Don't know, but we'll see how today goes.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I don't know why sometimes I'm feeling it and sometimes I'm not. I was thinking that in this particular ms maybe when I'm feeling it that's because I'm letting the characters drive the story. Like, instead of saying to myself, "Such and such needs to happen now; how can I transition to it? What would the character be feeling at this last point that might lead me to the new point?" I say, "Now that this event has happened, the character is feeling a certain way; what does this naturally lead to?"
But it's not that simple or straightforward. Either approach can work. I wish I could figure out some kind of rule or pattern to apply.
The thing is, at the end of any given section (or event, or chapter, or scene, or whatever) you can twist it into any one of a hundred hooks. Whatever you want the reader to wonder about, that's what you can end on--and then you go back and smooth out the part before and recast it to match. Sometimes I've moved and changed things so many times it's not apparent to me that the reader might prefer to be left hanging about one issue rather than another. And sometimes I'm really straining to get that ending idea in, but I don't know it till I've reread it cold and in context. And sometimes I screwed up an ending idea way back in the ms and it's thrown off everything that comes after.
I think some of this is me. I have more ideas (by that I mean insights) than my brain can hold; I have them in little flashes, but I don't have the brain power to work an idea all the way through in one whack, or to deal with multiple ideas logically or in order. So I have to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and eventually (I hope) they will all come out and take their place on the page. It's like my head can only deal with tiny bits of info or it goes blank. So I run for a while on one flash, then I'm out of gas and sit there befuddled till I can spark a new flash, or the writing gods bless me with one.
But I also think some of that is just the nature of writing a novel. A novel almost has to feel like an overwhelming mass of spaghetti at some point, or there's just not enough to it; it's slight.
Anyway. I am going to work. Now. Dang it.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
However, I'm pleased in general because a writer friend suggested the Robert Fagles translation of the Iliad, and I got a copy today.
See, here's this part I was looking up for something, where Agamemnon is whining about how it's not his fault he stole Achilles' girl, the gods made him do it, wah wah.
Now, this is Chapman, Keats' pal, at the part where Agamemnon is gearing up for his whine:
"Princes of Greece, your states shall suffer no indignity,
If (being far off) ye stand and hear, nor fits it such as stand
At greater distance, to disturb the counsel now in hand
By uproar, in their too much care of hearing. Some, of force,
Must lose some words: for hard it is in such a great concourse
(Though hearer's ears be ne'er so sharp) to touch at all things spoke.
And in assemblies of such trust, how can a man provoke
Fit pow'r to hear, or leave to speak? Best auditors may there
Lose fittest words, and the most vocal orator fit ear."
But here's Fagles:
"My friends, fighting Danaans, aides of Ares...
when a man stands up to speak, it's well to listen.
Not to interrupt him, the only courteous thing.
Even the finest speaker finds intrusions hard.
Yet how can a person hear or say a word?--
this howling din could drown the clearest voice."
I know I'm still going to have to push to read it because I have the attention span of a gnat, but by g*d, I'll understand what I'm reading!
I was thinking about Keats and his incorrect explorer, and had the thought that maybe he knew it was the wrong one but didn't care because the wrong one's name sounded right for the poem. I could understand that. In fact, I'd think it a bold artistic move, to insist on having the exact right word (sound and rhythmwise, if not factually). After all, his job was to be a poet, not teach a history lesson.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The densest part of it will be the author's note, because I'm absolutely planning to have one of those. I may even have a bibliography, just so anybody thinks twice before trying to nitpick me by bringing up a 300-ish Sparta, or something they read once in Homer. Although you know they will anyway.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I think part of this may be due to the writer friend wh0 reported back on the bit I sent. When I sent the first 20 pages, I included the first 4-6 pages (or however many it is) that are framework and out of voice, even though I haven't been working on that part at all. WF said that part isn't working, but that the main part of the story--the part I have been working on--is.
I didn't realize that I had been fretting a little, in the back of my mind, about the framework and structure. I knew I was coming up on a piece that has been in the framework/structure viewpoint, and although I've been moving it around, it's been getting in the way while I try to think out this section. It does not fit. In the back of my mind, I had been thinking--but not wanting to admit--that really, most of the framework/structure viewpoint stuff could probably be folded into the main story and not made to stick out in in style or design. Most of it--except that very first 4-6 pages.
So when WF said the first part isn't working, I somehow gave myself permission to let it go for now, and let the rest of the story work itself out as smoothly as possible. Just forget about that and focus on what's in front of me. You wouldn't think I needed somebody else to say something that would allow me to do that, but apparently I did. I was like, "Oh. Well, I guess I'll just pretend that part's not there and continue on as I have been."
However, this all has nothing to do with actually writing. It doesn't matter how I feel, only whether I try to do my work. It's like if you wake to the sound of your kid puking all over himself in the middle of the night, it doesn't matter how you feel about it. You still have to drag yourself out of bed and go take care of it.
Maybe that's the kind of thing that makes you a parent--and making yourself do the work regardless of feeling is part of what makes you a writer. Except I know there's much more to it than that, because you could write every day for a hundred years and still have nothing but cr*p to show for it.
Unrelated note--a writer friend pointed out a NYT column by Timothy Egan that had this in it:
"Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal."And so, to work.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Sometimes YA writers claim to be influenced by their all-time favorite authors, who always seem to be on the intellectually classy end of the scale: Shakespeare, Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc. I can't figure out if they're lying or not. But I'm telling you, I have this huge smarmy streak that's been fed over the years by Victoria Holt, Margaret Mitchell, Celeste DeBlasis, Loula Grace Erdman, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels. While other people were apparently savoring Whitman and Eliot, I was tearing through V.C. Andrews. I was talking about this with some writer friends the other day; when I was a teen I did like to be able to tell people I'd read some smart book, so I'd give it a go and if it held me I'd finish it. If not, it remained unread. I think I read For Whom the Bells Tolls but it's mostly gone from my head now. Never made it completely through any Faulkner. I ate up the first part of Sound and Fury but when it switched povs, I was like WTF? and lost interest. I wanted to stay in Benjy's pov. No Steinbeck. I remember I read Gatsby and finished it, but I have no idea why because it was no fun. I don't recall much else about it, but I distinctly remember it being no fun.
I know I read a bunch of classics for school, and a few on my own--but I can't remember anything about a lot of them. I know I read all of Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man for fun--but haven't a clue what happened in it, if anything. But--and I'm not googling on this, so I might be wrong--I'm pretty sure the love interest in Victoria Holt's Legend of the Seventh Virgin was named Kim (of all things) and that he ended up with the sweet best friend Mellyora rather than the feisty lowborn heroine. I remember because he was a love interest, dammit, and he was supposed to end up with the MC! (note to self: get that book somewhere and reread it).
I did read YA as a teen, but in a skulking sort of way, sneaking into the section when nobody was looking, and hiding the books at the bottom of my pile because they were so uncool. YA covers are great now--not embarrassing to be seen with. Nowadays a good YA cover can stand up with the adult covers and nobody will know it's got "ages 12-up" on the back.
So what happens is now I write stuff that sounds good and feels good, and I go back and suddenly see that it's in that gray area between evocative and smarmy, and maybe heading toward smarmy because I have this lifelong love of the sweepingly romantic and over-the-top.
That reminds me, I've got to read the Iliad. Have to--for research. I've got a copy that I bought because it's the George Chapman translation, and I thought, "That's the one Keats wrote about in that poem, 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.'"* I thought it would preserve some of the feel of the original better because it's in verse form and it's an older style of language, and sometimes the images in that kind of translation are much stronger. But my g*d, it's freakin' unreadable. I've got to get something more modern. I can't even bring myself to start this. It's been sitting around my house unread for probably over a year, so I think I can say it's toast.
I liked Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. I had never been able to read Beowulf till I got that. Too bad he didn't do the Iliad, too.
*Which I don't remember anything about, either, except that it's the poem where Keats named the wrong explorer discovering the wrong thing, and the idea is that Chapman's Homer was as inspiring to Keats as discovering an ocean for the first time. Well, Keats can have his stupid Chapman. I apparently need somebody more mass-market, thank you very much.
And the fact that somebody's an immortal literary genius although they didn't even bother to look up the right explorer says something, too--although I'm not sure what.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Sent first 20 or so pages to a writer friend for a reality check as to whether this is starting to be halfway readable, or if I'm like Russell Crowe out in that shed in A Beautiful Mind, with all that weird cr*p on the walls that made sense to him but was totally insanity to everybody in the real world.
Where Russell Crowe gets to hide in his shed as long as he can manage, writers must emerge and show their weird cr*p to somebody at some point. I figure the longer I hide in the shed, the weirder the cr*p could get and the more I could start to believe it's real. We don't want that.
Was thinking about how all this stuff I'm working with now is the exact same stuff I was working with in a vaguely similar form a few years ago, and in a totally different form last year. Now it's taking on yet another form, but it's still the same material. It's the same story, same characters, same stuff happening. The presentation just keeps changing. Writing is deciding how to present something. If I present it in one way it's literary. If I present it another way it's clunky. Or excruciatingly drawn out. Or light and funny. Or snarky. Or touching. Or shallow. And at any second, my presentation can make the material explode in a giant flaming mass of suckiness. Every second is about making choices: which parts of this do I choose to put down, how much emphasis do I put on them, how much space do I spend on them, what spin do I put on them?
Then I look at my other WIP, the swordfighting one, and it's like, what am I thinking--that it's just a matter of sitting down and learning to tell a story? If it is, I missed both the memo and the meeting.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Was thinking about how people sometimes gripe about dead or missing parents in YA. Yeah, you try working in a couple of extra characters who not only don't do anything for the story, but actively undermine it because their function (by definition of "parent") is to ease the way for the MC and help solve his/her problems. I'm telling you, my MCs are lucky to ever have any parents at all.
I saw today that Kazuya Minekura has a series out called Wild Adapter, which I may try to get hold of. Apparently it's way upper teen, to the point where it's shrinkwrapped so the kiddies can't get hold of it. Today I was looking at son #2's D. Gray-man, and was really struck by the way it's almost all fighting by books 7 & 8. It's like, introduce a character and everybody fights. Then they fight some more. Then they get wounded, heal, get new powers, fight again. This is really the same for most of the manga I read, but what makes me like manga is character development. I like the backstories and flashbacks and gradual revelations about what drove somebody to be the way they are. Some of the manga just don't have that--and some have to it to start with, but as the series goes on and on all the depth is lost and the whole thing is just a series of fights.
Am still thinking about how to do these cut-to-flashback things in a novel. There doesn't have to be a rhyme or reason to it in manga because the visuals give the clues and set up the change for the reader, but in prose it's bound to be very confusing. The ones I have in my WIP probably aren't working because they're too far apart, so the reader won't understand why the voice and style are suddenly different. It seems like there might have to be some kind of regular pattern to them. Or, I suppose, the design for those pages could just be different. Still, if they only happens once in a blue moon throughout the book, it's going to be confusing.
This also led me to thinking about my other WIP, the swordfighting one on the back burner. I thought, if I was doing it right, it would be more effortless, right? Maybe I just haven't found the way the story needs to be told. I thought about alternating viewpoints again--with much dread, because that's a hugely time-consuming dead end if it's not the right thing to do. And if I think about individual scenes, I just don't see there being enough for each character to chew on for a whole chapter at a time. I don't know. It's a project I still have to grow into, I guess.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The problem is that I have allll this info. Somehow I've got to get it into an order that holds the reader--or at least, some readers...hell, if it could hold any readers, that would do right now--but also gives the reader everything they need to know for later.
What does the reader need to know? Well, characters have to be introduced, but naturally rather than clumsily shoehorned in. And the mindset of the world is very important. It's not the same as ours, so I have to make sure the reader "gets" it and doesn't apply modern moral judgment or wonder why the characters don't use modern solutions to solve their problems.
If I didn't have those two things, it might be a heck of a lot easier to write this. Just two little things...hmm. You'd think it wouldn't be that hard to get them in. You'd think.
Maybe one thing to do is to think about what the story would look like if I didn't have those two things hanging over my head. Maybe if I try to think what shape the story would have without them, it could help guide me to the shape it needs to be with them. Then I'll have some parameters to work with, which could help in knowing what to mercilessly cut.
This all sounds good, but I'm sure I'll have forgotten about it tomorrow. Oh well. I will put a sticky note on my computer telling myself to come back and reread this entry if I can't think what I want to work on.
That's a slippery slope, though--rereading entries. I could avoid writing for days, probably, if I started rereading entries. I surely ought not to do that, if possible. So, no sticky note. Maybe I'll actually remember it, now that I've been talking to myself about it for a few paragraphs.
Monday, December 1, 2008
And then in the middle of all this my paperbacks of Repossessed got delivered to my front porch today, and I had forgotten they get to have a silver medal printed on them.
I think my life is way ahead of the silver medals. The silver medals don't know that my fifteen minutes was over a little while ago and that this season's fifteen-minuters are about to take the stage. I've got a mortgage payment and Christmas coming up, a WIP that is a big f*cking mess--no, wait, two WIPs that are a big f*cking mess--and I have been a wreck for two days because it's very important that I nail 200 words of first-grade nonfiction, and I'm not sure how to do that.
Maybe I should have spent more time basking in the glow of silver medaldom. Maybe I should have milked my moment in the sun and done my share of pontificating and tried to store up some writerly ego for later. Oh well--too late now.
Anyhoo, I did dig into the WIP today--between all the other sh*t that keeps heading my way--and I am about to dig in again, and so far I'm feeling pretty darn good about it. For no discernible reason I started trying to flesh out some of the girls, and I like where it's taking me. It's not taking me farther, but it is taking me deeper. And now I see some places where I was skimming along, and I see that I need to go back and put myself in scene in a concrete way instead of coasting on generalities.
But enough of this. Back to the WIP.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
But I don't know how to figure out what I need to work on now. I don't know whether to try sorting out the ms starting from where I was yesterday, or to skip ahead and do something I understand better.
I guess I'll just poke at the ms with a stick till something comes to mind.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I have no argument to make about any of that--just thought I'd get it off my chest before I force myself to write.
And so, back to the WIP. I think I'm somewhere around p. 12?
Friday, November 28, 2008
Is it any better than it was? Who knows. Anyway, tonight I looked at a fairly sizable chunk and thought: Do I really need this? At the moment, I'm thinking not. I need to look at it again, tonight or tomorrow--and if I don't see any immediate use for it, out it goes.
There's a lot of stuff I love and enjoy working on, but I can't baby this ms and keep stuff that doesn't have any purpose whatsoever--and more than that, leads the reader away from the parts that do have purpose.
Sometimes liking something a lot even when it doesn't seem to fit means that it really does fit, that my gut knows something my brain doesn't. But usually...it really doesn't fit. Sad but true.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Last night I reworked a little bit, keeping the new basic plan for that very first few pages in mind. Last night I was working on "modesty," which is kind of hard because I have to define it to mean diffident and unassuming rather than hiding your body parts, and I don't want to spend one split second more on explanation than I have to. Then I'm trying to figure out how to tie in an example of being semi-immodest. This example was part of a larger series of scenes a little later, but now I'm looking at whether I can break that series up and make it more than just pages and pages of la-di-dah skipping merrily along without tension or conflict. I don't know if the way I'm heading provides enough tension, but dang, it's got to be more than it was--which was ZERO.
Well, even if there's not enough tension, at least this is a step toward trying to get it.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
A lot of the time it's much easier to look at somebody else's WIP in a big-picture way than my own because I haven't been immersed in their WIP 24/7 so that trees and forest are all melted together in one big indistinguishable lump. And I don't have that feeling with other people's WIPs that I get with my own, like "God, here's another thing I have to try that probably won't work any more than the other ten billion things I already tried that sucked, but I have to give it a go anyway because there's a possibility it really might be the one thing that does work, or at least gives me a push in the direction of the one thing that really does work." With other people's WIPs, it's all of the interesting stuff and none of the drudge and toil and backtracking and frustration.
One WF, an accomplished author/illustrator, is embarking on a first novel. That means this WF has no idea what his/her process is. Could be outlining and writing in order, could be leaping around, could be plot-driven or character-driven or theme-driven. Process is a very individual thing, I think, and the only way to find out what yours is is to feel it out as you're working. But I do wonder, can you change your own process? I've heard of people doing that, to greater or lesser extents. I want to be able to write a plot, so I'm wondering if there's some hybrid way to pull two processes together; like I can't outline to save my life, but here I've got this story I want to tell that's dead on the page because I'm not doing my usual process. There must be some way to use my strengths but with a slightly different approach. I just don't know what that approach is.
Monday, November 24, 2008
1. feeling of tedium/being closed in
2. introducing or fleshing out characters
3. setting the world.
I also listed
but of course there aren't any of those in this part because it's boring, so that quickly dropped out of consideration.
So I highlighted the lines in pp. 8-13 according to which point they fell under, and was surprised how many did nothing at all for the story in any way whatsoever. I went back and deleted almost all those.
With all that deadwood cleared away, it hit me that a good way to organize this section might be by looking more closely at something I already have in there--and have always had in there; it's not new. And that is the idea of good girls having to be hardworking, obedient, and modest. I use those terms over and over, but I never define them in any way. It could be that needs to be done, and this is a place to do it.
Tonight I revised pp. 8-13 to show what "hardworking" means. Tomorrow--or the next day, or whenever I get time--I'll see if I can cull some later scenes and pull them up here to show what "obedient" means. Or "modest." I'm not sure. It may not work, but it's worth thinking through and experimenting with.
Now that I consider a bit more...I have a section a little further in called "Good Sons." Will have to mull all this over.
Perhaps the thing to do is go over these first 13 or however many pages with a fine-toothed comb--or highlighters?--and cruelly mark everything that doesn't really matter. Somehow, I feel, I've got to get a grip on the heart of this thing.
I think I said I was going to be merciless yesterday, but I got sidetracked into research and since I never could find any of the details I needed, the whole writing day was pretty much a frustrating waste of time. I was hoping the details would give me focus--and I think they would have--but they just weren't out there.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Grump, grump, grump.
So today I sat down and started reading, still loathing it, and by p. 8 or 9 decided it's awful, loose and meandering and making no points, so I'm going to "save as" under another name and then butcher the damn thing, and try to get this very first section down to something a lot tighter and clearer and sharper than it is. I've got pages 1-13 in front of me, and the first four aren't going to change much, but the rest I'm going to go after with a cleaver. Although I guess I'd better back up the last version before I do that, because I'm sure to need it later, for scavenging if nothing else.
I think maybe one tough thing is that this isn't contemporary and the entire point of the book and understanding of it relies on the reader having a good grip on the world the story is set in--the physical layout of things and the attitudes and the organization of the society. But there's just too much of that and it's dragging the whole thing down. I need a strong feeling from every page, and it's just not there.
So, to work.
Friday, November 21, 2008
I'm deeply concerned about the flow of this thing--about it being dull and slow and not at all interesting. However, unless some epiphany hits me, I don't see anything to do but press on and deal with that later.
I know this has got to be one of the most boring and technical writing blogs out there, and that it has nothing to offer other writers promotionally speaking. So I was a little surprised that anybody at all started, much less made it through that long self-absorbed post the other day, to get to the part where I commented on people who say YA didn't exist when they were teens. I'd actually gone back after a while and cut the name-calling bit and just left the negative snarkiness, because that made the same point without being rude and childish to people I don't even know. Then I got a few e-mails from writer friends who had read it and were happy I said it. I know from ten+ years of internet experience what that means: many times that number of people read it and are probably p*ssed or hurt or resentful, but won't or can't say anything to my face.
But I stand by that opinion: if you think YA only started when you started reading it as an adult, then you need to wake up and smell the coffee.
However, I started thinking about why this annoys me so much--enough to lump a bunch of people I don't know into a group and cuss at them. That's quite a knee-jerk reaction. One thing, I guess, is that some of the ground-breaking work in YA was and is near and dear to me, and I take it personally when it's treated as if it never existed. Another thing is that I've been lucky enough to meet some of the old guard (I don't consider myself old or new guard, but sort of a fringe participant who doesn't really enter into the big picture) and it makes me utterly humble to see their commitment to writing for writing's sake, and to the writing community. You will never see anyone with feet so firmly planted on the ground as a YA writer who's been at it for 15+ years. These are people who wrote in ways no one else had ever dared to write before, and if we now have the creative freedom to write how we want about what we want, it's due to those who published before us.
But I also think that almost anytime you dig into any writer, you're going to hit fear. Or maybe I should say if you dig into any writers that are actually in the rough-and-tumble, vibrant world of trying to sell their writing in a competitive market, you will hit fear. I figure this is why some people say they're writers (or will be one of these days!), but never actually write--that way they get a good ego-boost without risk. But almost every working writer I've ever met is afraid of something (and I suspect I just don't know the others well enough to be privy to this kind of info). Even the ones you'd think aren't afraid. Writers with critical acclaim are afraid they aren't good enough because their fans seem not to be teens and their sales aren't remarkable. Writers with lots of sales are afraid they aren't good enough because they don't have literary acclaim. Writers with both acclaim and sales are afraid it's going to end and they'll be humiliated because that means they aren't good writers anymore and maybe they never were, because if you're any good it shouldn't end.
Writers have infinite ways to torture themselves, and generally they do.
So I think maybe "They never had YA before" people scare me, and perhaps make me feel threatened. They must, right? Why else would I be so knee-jerk vehement? I've got a couple of special needs kids; there are certain things I don't lose patience with easily, and people who ought to know better is usually one of them.
Considering further, I think it must be about...I don't know what to call it. (If you are new to writing and don't like jaded stuff, quit reading now. NOW. You have been warned.) When I started trying to get published, I thought that books were forever. I thought that children and books are both ways of leaving your mark, of saying, "I was once here on this earth." Now I know that books have a lifespan; they fade and die. Some of them never even really get to live; they are published but don't get on shelves and either don't get reviewed or their reviews are buried by other more celebrated books, so they can't fade because they're faded before they even leave the warehouse. Anyway, I have accepted the fact that my books are likely to die before I do.
I also believe that this is true of all but a few books that are out right now. I worked in a bookstore in the early and mid-eighties, and then again in the early nineties. Both times I ran or helped run the YA section. But if I go in a bookstore now, I will find neither the books that were big sellers then, nor the ones that got critical acclaim. This must be true of adult books as well, because have you ever seen a list of bestsellers from 30, 40, 50 years ago? Or the list of Pulitzer Prize winners? Most of the titles bring a collective scratch of the head nowadays. To me, history says that today's NYT bestseller will one day be available only through sellers of used books on Amazon (side note to NYT bestselling authors and members of boy bands: bank some of your money now).
It bothers me to know that my books are not going to be immortal. And I think that when somebody says there was no YA till now, it also erases every writer that ever meant anything to me and influenced me. It's like, not only do my books not count, but my entire creative trajectory never existed. And those people I connected with, who touched me? They weren't there, either.
Oh--I know what it's like! It's like in Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox's picture of his family shows them slowly being erased. It feels like my family is being erased: Michael Cadnum's Calling Home, Shelley Stoehr's Crosses, Chris Lynch's Iceman, Erika Tamar's Fair Game, Ouida Sebestyen's The Girl in the Box, William Sleator's House of Stairs, John Marsden's So Much to Tell You, Nancy Garden's Annie On My Mind, Cynthia Voigt's The Runner, Rob Thomas' Rats Saw God. Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel, Richard Newton Peck, Norma Fox Mazer, Virginia Hamilton, Robert Lipsyte, Chris Crutcher. And more; even now writer friends introduce me to their family of inspiration, so I get an even bigger sense of things slipping away.
And not only that. Just like with Michael J. Fox, it means one more thing: I'm next.
What does that say, if people don't know what boundaries have been stretched? Does that mean the YA genre is a tired, dead thing that just repeats itself over and over? Maybe that's okay, since a new crop of teens isn't going to know that their favorite book is a retread of something that was done better by someone else ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago. Does it even matter? I mean, it does to me, and I don't plan on changing my attitude about it. But look at the turnover in editors. If it wasn't for child labor laws I think the publishers would actively be shooting for an average age of twelve; if you're an experienced, old-school, book-loving editor you'd better watch your bottom line because those young uns with a flair for marketing come cheap. Look at the young librarians coming up who have to keep their finger on the pulse of what is new and fun and hot so they can get kids to read instead of going online or play video games. Look at booksellers who only see the few books pre-chosen for a month-long shot at selling. With all that, does it even matter, in a larger sense, if anybody knows what came before in YA?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The second scene is a much smaller event that I have experienced. I noticed yesterday that the moment I started working on it, I could see how to tie it in to the larger flow and use it as a clear step in driving the emotional story (and theme) forward.
I was very struck by how the first scene is a big blank for me, a sticking point that brings me to a halt. And the second one just slides in like it's been greased. And I started thinking that most of my books are a series of very small events that I do have emotional access to.
I was thinking about my first published book, Breaking Boxes. BB is mostly a series of small events, like getting detention or walking home from school or jogging. But the original ending was not what it is now. I didn't know how to end it, so I figured it out with my head and it was a big suicidal standoff with police and sirens and flashing lights. Now, BB was in the Delacorte contest, which meant it got read by multiple editors. In my first rewrite letter, my editor quoted another editor, who said that my ending "prevented the book from having its true ending." When I first saw that, I got p*ssed. I thought, "How can anybody else know what the 'true' ending of my book is and isn't?" I was p*ssed for a very short time, maybe only a couple hours. Then I started thinking. Gradually I felt out what might really happen, given the characters and what needed to happen to satisfy the character arc.* I was like, well, I already know that the character needs to break; so okay, what is already set up here that might drive him to the breaking point? There were a few things already in place, small things that might naturally add up to break him. So anyway, now BB has its current ending, which isn't perfect, but I think it does flow naturally and make emotional sense.
I was thinking about my swordfighting WIP, the one giving me fits. By its nature--this ms is me trying to learn to write plot--the story and turning points come from my head and not my gut. There is a series of events (there are a series of events?--h*ll, I dunno, take your pick, and thank g*d I don't have comments turned on), and the MC reacts to them. I have never experienced any of what happens to him. None of it is small in the way most events in my books are small. Like, say, in Repossessed, the demon tries to pet Shaun's cat and the cat scratches him. That is a very small thing--but I can connect with it, and I tried to apply meaning to it and use it as a continuing thread in the larger story, probably beyond what anybody ought to get out of being scratched by a cat.
In the swordfighting ms, I can't get to this connection, this natural, instinctive understanding of how it feels to have the story events happen to me. And perhaps because I lack that, the story is having trouble coming to life. It's just a bunch of writing, not a living thing that jumps off the page and grabs you and sucks you in.
I know that (I'm guessing) 90% of what I write is bad. I'm not talking about the finished books, because those are out there for other people to judge; they're past history. I'm saying that if you added up what I end up with from each day's writing, it's at least 90% bad, and actually it's probably more than that, but I'll be kind to myself today and say it's only 90%. I think one thing that makes my writing get better--makes it good enough to publish--is when I connect to it emotionally and draw out the emotional threads that run through the events of the story. Because I connect to it, it can make the reader feel what I'm feeling.
Some other authors can do this with big plot points that come from their heads. They are somehow able to hook those plot points up with their emotions so that it all becomes real and touches the reader. But now I'm thinking that my ability has lain mostly with very small things, daily-type things--in drawing those out and making something bigger out of them. I mean, look at Night Road. My connection with that is really small stuff, like driving a car for hours a day, or doing laundry, or swimming in a hotel swimming pool. I mean, for g*d's sake, these are vampires--and look how I dramatized them! I took those weensy mundane things and tried to draw meaning out of them and make them add up to something. With vampires--it boggles the mind, now that I'm thinking about it.
Most of my turning points are emotional, and they happen with very little going on in plot. I suppose I could say that this is how I do things and I might as well accept it. But I don't want to. I want to be able to take a story line that interests me and be able to immerse myself in it emotionally, and to immerse the reader, too. And the difference between these two events in my former GN--the unfamiliar event I can't connect with, and the later one that I can--is this whole struggle in a nutshell. It's me trying to move from connecting instinctively with small events I know well, to connecting emotionally with head-driven plot points that make utter sense and ought to work.
I'm not sure what to think about it. If other writers weren't doing this second thing every day, I'd say it can't be done or isn't any good. But by g*d, they are--and doing it quite well.
So I guess maybe the thing to do is see if I can feel out an approach to this sort of scene/point. See if there's some way to connect--maybe try to seek out some small aspect that I can totally relate to, and then expand that? I think that's what actors do sometimes, to flesh out their roles. I don't know. But if I can work out an approach for this one bit in this ms, it surely ought to help with the swordfighting ms.
And I'm telling you, every time I think I can't do something and ought to quit futzing around and just stick with what I already am comfortable with, I think about all the stuff I want to do with that swordfighting ms. It's the first of a series--a SERIES, I say defiantly!--and by g*d I want to go into manga territory novelistically (I don't think that's a word; well, it is now) and do some of the stuff mangas do with character and series arcs and moral spectrums. And when I think about that, I just clamp my mouth tight, duck my head down, and keep on.
* A big inspiration for me at this time was Bruce Clements. Never met him, don't know anything about him, but his books had wonderfully natural yet satisfying endings, smooth as silk. I was in awe. I say this because we stand upon the shoulders of giants; there are gazillions of us YA writers now, but we would not be here if it wasn't for the writers who broke ground for us, both in eye-catching ways and in quiet ones.
And while I'm on the subject, I will go ahead and say what I know I shouldn't: If you are a YA writer and you think "they didn't have YA when I was a teen" then you are a slap in the face of those who paved your way, and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
No, on second thought, I think I'm probably just being lazy because I'm tired. And because I don't particularly want to write about that event. However, even in my tired state I see that I can use this as a huge emotional turning point because I know it from the inside out. Therefore, that is what I will do.
And now I see that this is the problem with the earlier huge emotional turning point that I'm having trouble with because I haven't experienced it. In this later scene, tonight's scene, my head automatically goes to the effects of the event, and how it changes outlook and attitude. But with that earlier thing I haven't experienced, I don't know what it's like so my mind just hits a big blank as soon as it's done. Hmm.
In other news--well, not news, but I don't know what to call it--I was talking to a writer friend about violent female characters, and today I read the latest Fullmetal book (I think it's #17), and lo and behold, here is Major Armstrong's sister (she's a good guy, and a leader of good guys) hacking a guy to death with her sword. Afterward she wipes the bloody sword on her officer's dress gloves, takes off the gloves, and tosses them carelessly away. A loyal subordinate hands her a clean pair and she takes them without a thank you as she calmly gives orders to pave the dead guy over in concrete and make sure there's no trace of him. It sounds awful, but it's very cool.
I swear, I want to do a character like that. I want to do a heroic female character who is decisive and utterly without remorse. Who does not have a secret soft spot for sweet orphans or the weak or lonely old blind grandfathers. Who only respects those who have earned it from her. Not a soft bone in her body, not a single solitary molecule of maternal feeling or need to be supportive of others--only cool decision and steadfast resolve.
And I don't want there to be some big issue about how she's had to give up something most women have in order to be this way, or had some womanly thing taken from her and now she's pissed.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
It doesn't bother me if it's simply that I'm not smart enough to dash off a ravishingly intellectual essay at odd moments, because I always figure a little bit of a knack and a lot of will power can make up for not being the sharpest tool in the shed.
So I worked on that a little, then set it aside and picked up my former GN, and got a page or two done--short but satisfying; still got that clean, crisp, simple feeling about it. Long may this continue.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Part of the difficulty is the lack of tension and conflict in the first part--I suppose I could eventually try snarking it up, because there is plenty to dig around in and snarkify, if I want. It's just that the voice would completely change. Argh. I don't know. I have to set up all this stuff in the first part--establish setting and world, establish characters, establish comfort and security so that I can demolish it later--and setting stuff up can be so boring.
I'm reminded of Penderwicks, with its scrumptious gingerbread and comfort and security that's about a mile in circumference and so thick you can barely breath while reading the book. Yet it totally held me--glued me to the page, in fact. Why??? I wonder if I still have the book, or if I lent it to somebody. Maybe I'll check. Or maybe I'll just keep working and wait till I'm back to the first section again before I go off on a wild Penderwick chase. Because I think the third section is going to have yet another feel to it, different from the first two, and if it does, my problems will be multiplied.
It seems likely that part of the problem is that I'm coming up on this big emotional deal that's also a plot point the ms needs to make. I'm out of my league emotionally and the plot thing is making me question my whole premise. So I think I'll skip and see if I can get my feet back under me on both counts. Maybe I can work backwards in chunks, and over time that will whittle the parts that cause me unease down to small manageable bits between nice big sections that I feel good about.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Anyway, this is all something to keep in the back of my mind as I work on this ms.
It would be nice if you could just write what you loved and your love meant that everybody else was going to be as interested in it as you are, but unfortunately that's not the case. I guess maybe that's one of the points of having books and movies: they don't reflect real life at all because they don't string out with lots of non-related cr*p in between the good stuff. They sometimes pretend to reflect real life, but really they encapsulate whatever it is they want to say in one carefully constructed, digestible, palatable, and hopefully intriguing dose.
And I hope that this ms's laxness and tendency to amble along is something that can be remedied with deliberate craft, but I fear it may not be. I may end up seeing that I'm not telling the story correctly and that I have to overhaul the entire structure. Yes, the whole stinkin' thing.
Fingers crossed for the craft fix.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
If you get down to it, I suppose all fiction is really trolling and dramatic moaning and whining. That doesn't absolve us of responsibility, though.
I think maybe it's that the part coming up is a long in-scene section that doesn't fit the style and tone of what's come before. It's all dialog-y and spread out--really, it's very normal prose, and maybe that's what's bothering me. So maybe what I need to do is think in snapshots rather than focusing on the flow of conversation? I often start scenes with this kind of bare-bones dialog and build up from there to a fully fleshed-out true scene. Maybe this time I need to go at it with a different mindset and build it in a different way, with a different goal in mind. Hmm. Not sure.
So...snapshots. Maybe I can look at what the characters are saying--and what I want to say--and tease out the main points and break them up and see if I can get one point per page.
At this rate, the book is going to be a thousand pages long.
I missed a day of Pepys, and when I went to catch up, there was this:
"...another neighbour of ours, Mr. Hollworthy, a very able man, is also dead by a fall in the country from his horse, his foot hanging in the stirrup, and his brains beat out."
This is in Pepys' usual mix of matter-of-fact commentary about how his day went. The "also dead" refers to a previous item about a neighbor dead of plague.
I wonder if Mr. Hollworthy got thrown while he was out alone, and later somebody found him dangling gruesomely. And now that very able man's entire life is one gruesome remark in the diary of somebody who's been dead for three hundred years.
But you know, that's more than most people get.
Anyhoo, off to write.
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- smarter than a monkey
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- Last night I printed out the first 50 or so pages....
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- Something came up on Wed. re. a potential w-f-h jo...
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- Busy day. No writing yet but I still plan to get s...
- Okay, so I sat down with the pp. 8-13 and three hi...
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- ...and I was horrified to find that I'm out of Die...
- Yesterday I printed out the first I-don't-know-how...
- Today I skipped to a part near the end of the midd...
- long tedious post again
- Mostly did housekeeping-type rewriting today, shif...
- long tedious post--you have been warned
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- The snapshot image seems to be working for today. ...
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