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.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

long tedious post--you have been warned

This morning while driving Son #2 to school, I was thinking some more about the differences I noticed between those two scenes yesterday, and I think it might be important. The first scene is an event that comes from the research; it also fits well as a plot point that moves the story in the direction I want it to go--and I should be able to use it to drive the emotional story as well. Honestly, if it was just me, I probably wouldn't have it in there because it's so far from anything I've experienced. I have already watered it down a little for two reasons: to avoid pulling the reader off track from the direction I want them to go; and to try to make it more accessible for me.

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.

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