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 30, 2009

Was thinking about the Dioscuri hunting down Theseus. This is one place I lose traction in my WIP; I'm not sure what spin to put on it. Yesterday I decided to dig into the subject and really get a grip on the multiple versions of what happened. I was trying to feel out what seemed most reasonable, and (just like when I try to feel out anything to do with Mycenaean thrones and inheritance) it got really confusing.*

Then today I was thinking through yesterday's stuff and realized that although I find it all very interesting, nobody else cares. It would be nearly impossible to get it set down in a story without being boring, and actually I could just boil it down to a sentence where we learn Theseus is dead and skip the rest--and then we're ready to move on. Without all the other stuff, the emphasis would shift to a story point: girls have to keep themselves shut away. This would provide a base for an idea (girls have to control themselves so men don't need to control themselves) that builds as the book moves along. I'm thinking I need to try (once again) to simplify because obviously I could wallow down all these byways for years and never come up with a storyline anybody gives a sh*t about.

*This is boring to everybody but me. I don't advise anybody to keep reading from this point.

Basically the main idea of the Helen/Theseus stories is that Theseus raped/kidnapped Helen, the twins' little sister. So they went after him. Sometimes in the various versions there are little pieces that make you go "Huh? Why's that in there?". Those are the pieces I like to look at, because they're sometimes the pieces that are older or that might be lost bits of history.

In myth the twins are generally considered mariners. (In slightly less exalted mentions they're raiders, kidnappers, rapists, and cattle thieves.) So anyway, I'm thinking if they tailed Theseus to Athens (after all, he was the king of Athens), they would have gone by sea because that was a lot easier.

However, they didn't go straight to Athens. They went to Aphidna, which is kind of north of Athens--it's nearer the far coast of the peninsula thingamajig that makes up Attica (which is where Athens is). Huh? Why would stories say they went around the back way, the long way?

It turns out that Theseus was from that area of Attica, and supposedly Aphidna (in some versions) is where he took Helen. Okay, that makes sense. That's why the twins sacked Aphidna then tailed Theseus to Athens where the Athenians opened the gates to them rather than be sacked themselves.

But then I see a version where the twins went to Athens not just through Aphidna but by way of Decelea, another place I never heard of. Turns out Decelea is a town near Aphidna. It doesn't appear to be on the way to Athens. It seems to have nothing to do with Athens or Aphidna or Helen. To me it still looks much easier to sail to the coast near Athens and go straight inland. To me it also makes sense that Theseus would take his kidnap victim to his home turf. But Decelea? Huh?

Turns out Decelea is the town at the mountain pass where trade goods (especially grain) from Eboeia had to pass before they could get to Athens.

Eboeia? Huh?

Turns out Eboeia is the looooong island north of Attica. If you look at it on a map, you can see that it totally blocks Attica from most of the Aegean Sea. Maybe Eboeia had a lot of grain of its own to sell, I don't know--but you can also see that anything at all coming from anywhere in the majority of the Aegean would have come either through or around Eboeia, then through Decelea, to get to Athens. Later in life, (this really happened) the Spartans took and held Decelea and this gave them a stranglehold on Athens. Supposedly the Spartans were always nice to Decelea because of Decelean help during the Theseus problems.

(My vague impressions that Athens was really not a very important place in pre-classical times have become a very strong feeling. Apparently Athens had to make do with whatever they could get overland via more important ports.)

So, stories say that the Dioscuri sacked Aphidna and were helped by Decelea and went to Athens where the Athenians invited them in and said, "We don't like Theseus either, so please don't sack us and we'll get a different king." The Dioscuri didn't sack Athens (some say the Athenians bought them off), and the exiled Theseus disappeared from the stories. Except for one story that he went to stay with the king of Skyros (an island off the coast of Eboeia!) and at some point the king of Skyros shoved him off a cliff.

So. Let's say that the point of all this blah-blah-blah is that Theseus is exiled and then killed by the king of Skyros (who after all had daughters, just as the Dioscuri had sisters). Let's say that the twins know he's dead, their vengeance is complete, and that the whole thing is over and done. Nothing left hanging.

Today I was thinking about all this and realized that nobody would care or need to know about the above, except for the last paragraph--the end result. And that led to the thoughts re. sticking to a simple point.

And this is a very good example of why I have trouble with transitions. I have to think through everything step by logical step, then try to figure out what's the important part storywise.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I did not realize that Road to Perdition was based on Lone Wolf and Cub. But of course it is. D'oh! on me. I guess I need to reread Road to Perdition now, and think about how it took the main story arc of a 28-book series and condensed that down to one novel.

I was thinking about Daigoro, the "cub" who's been raised as a stoical assassin and who has seen every kind of bloodshed, murder, violence, and sex that human beings can perform, even though he's just four years old at the end of the series. Not to mention his father constantly leaves him behind and sometimes leaves him to die. What a messed-up adult Daigoro would grow into.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Worked on writing-related stuff, then sat down to swordfighting WIP. I'm basically just spewing out backstory and going into detail whenever I feel like it, and it's all floating explanation and description with no scenes grounded enough to be truly set. It's almost freewriting. The funny thing is, I'll bet I could go on for a long time just getting all the backstory put down on paper, especially since I'm probably going to go ahead and write out the backstory for at least three characters, and maybe four characters and part of a fifth. Yow. We're talking a loooooong time.

I suppose I'll go ahead and admit to myself that the reason I don't mind doing this is that if I really end up trying to write a (short) series with a clear and finite arc (a la some manga series), I guess I'd better have a grip on the whole entire arc from every POV before I get started. Sad but true. I hope that bus doesn't come along and hit me anytime within the next decade, because I've got a lot to get done.

Spoke to a writer friend and will meet over breakfast to discuss the Vermont lecture and handout I'm preparing. I thought about printing out part of the former GN to show, but quickly nixed that idea because WF has already seen the first 30 or whatever pages a million times, and the rest is in humongous chunks. What I need help with is the very, very big picture, getting the humongous chunks mortared together. I decided to go ahead and print out what I have (the chunks, not the parts I'm messed up about), and maybe take it to breakfast, but mainly I printed it out to keep on hand for when I have time and am in the mood to attempt to see the very, very big picture myself.

Pages 1-68 are one humongous chunk. Then pages 95-176 are one humongous chunk. If you look at either of those, there's something to work with as far as critique. But the inbetween is a mess, and the afterwards is still in early stages and probably doesn't have enough grit for a reader to get much footing on what I'm trying to do with it.

I suspect that if I look back to a year or six months ago I'd see that I had the first 30-40 pages mostly together, and little more than that. So I may be making progress. But I'm not going to go look because who cares what I was doing a year or six months ago? I'd rather be trying to figure out what I need to do next. I guess it's nice to know I have made forward progress, but it would definitely feel better to actually be in the middle of forward progress than thinking about past forward progress.
No writing--or not much, anyway. When I've done any, it's been thingees for the swordfighting ms. My present approach seems to be writing down anything I feel like writing, no matter who it's about or when it takes place. If this continues, at some point I'll have about ten million words worth of cr*p to weed through and pull together. At the moment I don't really care, though. I'm just writing whatever feels fun or good. It's like a stress reliever.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No writing lately. I gave up and decided not to worry about it for a few days. Same with working out; I'm taking a few days off. The well needs to refill.

I started to get p.o.'d about this Dilbert strip:

but then I thought maybe it was being ironic. Is it? I honestly don't know whether it's meant to be taken at face value or not. Either way, just seeing it stated so baldly makes me wince. Probably because I've heard versions of it all my writing life.

I think maybe the second you dare to call yourself a writer out loud, somebody outside the biz (family, friend, stranger) is going to let you know that you're not really a writer in the eyes of the world until you're J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. If you're not like them, then you're just not that good.

Come to think of it, maybe this is why some writers get so rabid about tearing down SM. She has the recognition and acceptance they should have had--and they feel that they write better than she does.* And maybe because she's so famous that she doesn't seem human or accessible, it feels okay to rake her over the coals. I can't get into that state of mind, because I met SM as the Twilight thing was really taking off (around the second book, I think? Or maybe between the second and the third? I forget.), and I was impressed by how unimpressed she was with herself. I mean like utterly unimpressed. Even my judgmental over-analytical raking-over-the-coals nose detected no scent of self-congratulation. No underlying oneupmanship. And no complacency. Not even a whiff. And when I think back to how I was with my first few books, even without being an instant raging success, I have to say that Stephenie Meyer's a better man than I am. So to speak.

*To me the question is always: What is the purpose of this ms? What does it want to be? A Stephenie Meyer book has a place and a purpose, and it needs to be well-written in the context of that place and purpose. Another writer's book will have a different place and purpose, and the standard that makes it a "good book" will be different. The money/fame part of it all seems to be randomly bestowed...unless you buy into what the Dilbert strip is saying...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

note to self: questions to remember

What is the MC able to do by the end of the book that s/he wasn't able to do in the beginning?

Why is s/he able to do it?

What has s/he realized?
Can't get any traction in my writing. I've been working on the former GN, but it's like I'm turning a gear where the cogs are worn or broken and won't quite slip into place and make the thing move properly. I've got the middle set up more than I ever have before, but it's apparently not ready to click yet as far as creating its own momentum. Dammit.

What is the thing that's preventing it from slipping into place? Something's in the way, here. I need to try to figure out what it is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I thought I would have a good amount of writing time today...but I didn't. I ended up staying in the same few pages, reworking a word here, a line there--then getting interrupted. A thought here, a paragraph there--and getting interrupted again. Etc., etc. I was going to work some tonight, but decided to go to yoga in an attempt to stave off the looming Tension Headache from Hell.

Usually while all the other people in yoga class are clearing their minds as per instructions, I'm thinking about what I'm going to eat when class is over. Tonight, however, I thought about my WIP and the few pages I worked on, and saw kind of what I need to do, big picture-wise, to smooth out the flow so that those few pages connect with my sketchy middle. I saw that those few pages start teaching the MC that she has to control and deny herself so that the men in her life don't have to control or deny themselves. I don't show her figuring that out, though. I'm not sure exactly where she'd go, "Okay, I have to start shutting myself down now." I need to find that exact point, I guess.

Then later in the book this gets worse and worse, till she's so completely shut down she's not even human anymore. I know I show some of that happening so that the reader feels it. But I'm not consistent about it all the way through the book.

More interruptions, argh. I give up. I hope I can think about this some more tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yesterday was a very nice day writing-wise. Dunno why. I pulled up the former GN, glanced quickly through it up to the middle section, then just sat down and sketched out the solution to the part that's been tripping me up the most. No angst at all, and not much thought given to it, either--just la-di-dah effortlessly, like it wasn't any big deal. Then I moved on, still la-di-dah, and worked all day. I have no idea what this means. Does it mean the solution actually works? Or does it mean I need to gird my loins for more hassle because no solution could possibly work when it's so offhanded and thoughtless?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What writing I've done has been little pieces here and there, so little that I can't even remember which WIP I dipped into on any given day.

I've been trying to read a book I tried and failed to read a year or two ago, by an author whose other books I really like. Once again I'm failing to read this one--just can't get or stay interested. Was thinking today that there aren't any questions tugging me to turn the pages. Or maybe there are, but I don't care about them. I don't care about the characters very much, either. Not sure why. Maybe because there's nothing at stake for them--or if there is, it won't come up till later. But right now, nobody's got anything to lose. Nothing much is being asked of anyone. I just don't care.

I'd like to keep reading, because this author has always held my interest before, so I'm thinking there must be something coming up that's got more to it. But I reeeeeally have a hard time sticking with a book that doesn't grab me.* I don't see why I should torture myself when reading's supposed to be fun. Maybe this is why I have great sympathy for kids who don't like to read. If a book is doing its job--and if it's the right book for the right reader--it ought to do all the work for them.

*Even if it does grab me I sometimes have a hard time sticking to it, because I'll start skimming or flipping ahead to see what happens. I'm not big on delayed gratification.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Still working on former GN--looks like I may be figuring out how to make my way through the middle. I think I can figure my way into the middle, anyway, and getting into it and understanding how one piece of the story relates to another and how the parts segue into each other has been the main thing standing in my way.

If I do happen to be making progress, I know it's because I backed off and relaxed my hold on the ms. I was locked on so tight it couldn't breathe. But who knows what my perception will be tomorrow. Or Saturday, or whenever I get to work on it again.

What happened specifically was that my agent mentioned a story idea, and I was thinking about that, and what about it might be something I'd feel competent to explore. I was thinking, "Well, the MC would certainly be feeling emotion X, and I know emotion X very well," and as I was thinking about the details of how X felt and what kinds of images and words would express that, I realized I could use them right here in this middle part, the part I've been avoiding. So I worked on that yesterday, and then today I saw that the part leading up to it is all jagged and messed up and wrong and doesn't work (I already knew this, but it hit me again). I started researching once more to refresh my memory about what mythology says (there are always multiple versions of everything, so take your pick), and it hit me that I could go with one of the alternate versions that's also simpler. It's concrete (makes more sense historically), it puts the characters in a different light than the other did, and it removes some of the stuff I didn't know what to do with.

So anyway. Fingers crossed that I can keep at it--no confidence or expectations, just fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Days feel very scattered right now, and my thoughts do, too. Today was my last day of enforced writing time at the library for this semester, two hours worth. To me, two hours isn't enough time to get into a solid and productive writing groove. If I know I've only got two hours, I'd usually rather pick something to play around with than something that requires a sweeping train of thought. Today I'd planned to do some more playing with the swordfighting thingee. However, after I pulled it up, I just sat and stared at it, and then suddenly decided I felt like playing around with a sliver of the middle part of the former GN instead. I'm relieved to know the former GN is still alive and kicking, in the back of my head if nowhere else.

So today I worked on a few hundred words at most of the former GN, but it's new stuff, a part I haven't ventured into before, so hooray. No idea what I'll do with it, but it was a part that had to be done, only it was so emotionally heavy I'd been reluctant to turn my thoughts in that direction. I guess there can be a good side to having scattered days, because you can dig into slightly unpleasant pieces of writing, then when writing time's up, the unpleasant stuff goes away immediately because there are so many other real life tasks and issues that push it out of your brain.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No writing of my own this weekend. I shouldn't be doing any of my own today, either--too many other things to do--but I'm gonna.

Finished Swordspoint, and I don't want to go back through it and pick at it. It's such a rare gift nowadays for me to read fiction and get caught up in it not only for pages, but through the whole book.* So I'm not going to go pick at it now, but if I get stuck on my own writing in the swordfighting ms, I might go back and examine parts.

I did notice one scene near the beginning that didn't seem to have much to do. Maybe if I went back and looked now, I'd see what its purpose was, but I don't want to. At the time I just thought, I don't know what this does, but I like it. It was short, just a brief page or so, in the moment with one of the characters who wasn't doing anything of import.

I also noticed that the POV could be from any given character at any given time. I probably could understand more about how or why if I went back and picked at it, but again, I don't want to.

So I've been thinking about all this, and although probably the story is really tightly plotted (I think Kushman writes plays, too--not sure and don't want to check right now) what I've decided to take from the book is to enjoy immersing myself in my ms and characters and not worry about whose story it is or when anything takes place or whether something matters to the story. And when I get to feeling doubtful about that or run out of steam, I'll think of something else to do.**

*Some books I've read or reread in the past few years that have made me read like the reader I used to be rather than the writer I've become:

Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword
Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otari books, except for Harsh Cry of the Heron
The Harry Potter books
K.M. Peyton's The Right Hand Man
The Penderwicks
Megan Whalen Turner's books
Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel and Court Duel

I don't know what they all have in common. I'd say they all have intricate world-building, but then there's the Penderwicks. I can't say it's about some kind of perfection of craft because the Harry Potter books are a little rough, to my eyes. But I didn't care, I just blipped over any roughness in my eagerness to stay in the book.

Something to think about: there are several manga series that have caught me up like this. Must think why. Maybe it's because the pictures carry so much of the story that I don't have a chance to get hung up on the words?

**Hopefully get back to the former GN ms. I was determined not to set any goals with it, and then of course within a week or two after saying that, I told my agent I thought I'd have a working draft by Jan., and would agent be willing to take a look? "Sure," said agent. And sure enough I bogged down shortly after and came to a stuttering halt on the ms. Maybe some day I'll learn not to say stuff like that, but at after this many years I'm not counting on it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yesterday I worked on writing-related stuff not my own. Today will probably be mostly if not all the same.

I started rereading Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint. The last time I read it, it was just for fun, but this time my own work is in the back of my mind as I read, and it's a little overwhelming and discouraging to see how somebody else can make a book work so nicely. I need to look at the POV, because now that I think about it, I don't know if it moves around within chapters or not. I just know that I somehow know what most people are thinking, unless I'm not supposed to know, but to wonder for a little longer.

Yeah, will have to do some hard thinking about this. It's very character-driven, and now that I consider, some of the things that pull you along are wondering about character's backstories and secrets, not what's behind the door or whether the MC will survive his fall from the helicopter. Not that there are any helicopters in this book.

I just like reading it for fun, though. I don't want to ruin it by thinking. Maybe I should go ahead and read through it once just for the pleasure, then come back and look at how all the character and backstory and plot and explanation are woven together.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Random stuff:

1. Yesterday I worked on the w-f-h proposal, and also watched a TV show about the same subject. It's not something I know a lot about, so I'm trying to get a feel for a real-life situation that would work. I'm also trying to use this proposal as an opportunity to think deeply about how I can pull plot and character together in ways that work for me--and I noticed yesterday that the real-life situation doesn't quite match the tone the publisher wants. Somehow I have to try to navigate between subtle psychological evolution and splashy eye-catching hooks.

2. While I was waiting for new tires (to replace the ones that I suddenly realized were on the verge of blowing out), I started reading a current book by an extremely popular author, the rare kind of author who is actually growing rich from writing books. I was reading along being pulled in and caring about the characters--and growing impressed by being made to feel that way--when suddenly the story went off on a weird preconceived plot-driven tangent that was titillating, provocative, and kind of insane, if you ask me. If I was fourteen, I bet I'd eat it up. But holy cr*p, it was waaaay off target writing-wise. I was thinking, okay, this is what I need to keep in mind as I work through the proposal. My target audience is a fourteen year old who wants to be shocked and titillated, the way the fourteen-year-old me wanted to read V.C. Andrews and The Exorcist. But I also have to write something I can stand to work on for months at a time. Therein lies my dilemma.

3. Today I worked some more on my thingee* for the swordfighting ms. I noticed that at the end of two days' worth of work, I had a complete scene and knew what the point of it was. It already has a clear arc (character-wise, of course) that could be part of a story line. If I was working my normal way, I'd do this again and again and then figure out how the scenes fit together to make a plot to go with the character arc. Unfortunately, this scene takes place about eight years before the events of the book, and this character isn't currently the main one.

4. What I need to think about: Is there a way to combine my natural way of working and a preconceived plot? Or, if I go with the flow and write whatever feels like it needs to be written without thinking about plot at all, will the ms eventually disclose the shape it wants to take? I guess the question is, how much do I have to push, and when and where, to get a workable end result?

5. I think it was the last post where I mentioned Murphy's Law. But Murphy's Law is something like "Anything that can go wrong, will." I think the one I meant was the Peter Principle. And it's a sign of my state of mind lately that a few weeks ago I was having small writing epiphanies in the wee hours around dawn, but now this is the kind of suck-@ss epiphany I get. "Wait! That's not Murphy's Law! You called it the wrong thing!" I suppose one should be grateful for any kind of epiphany, though.

*I call it a thingee when you write stuff on the side to work out a character. Usually it's just the character's thoughts or feelings about something, but it could be the character's own words, or a journal entry, or a scene unrelated to the story, or anything. In this case it started as me writing down why the character was a certain way, and it turned into a scene from his childhood.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Did family and house stuff all weekend. Today I wrote in-scene backstory about one of the characters in the swordfighting ms. I'm wondering what will happen if I keep going in this direction--will I get loads of backstory written about everybody, then have a bazillion pages I still don't know what to do with? How is doing this going to help me figure out how to structure the story?

It feels like I'm at a plateau--like when you're trying to lose weight, or trying to exercise at a certain level, and you hit a place where your results don't change anymore, and it feels like that's where you're going to stay. It feels like I'm at a place where my reach is permanently doomed to exceed my grasp. Now, you could say it's Murphy's Law--people rise to the level of their own incompetence--or you could say it's a plateau and you can break through it if you keep trying, keep switching things up, keep trying to think outside the box you've put yourself in. I'm going to go easy on myself and say it's a plateau that can be broken out of, and not my own particular level of incompetence.

And I'm going to keep on just doing what I'm doing, writing out pieces I like while waiting for lightning to strike. I'm going to the Vermont College residency in January, so I'm hoping to see and hear things that I can use to shake my brain up and maybe kick my abilities up a notch.*

I wonder how Megan Whalen Turner thinks. I'll bet she thinks like one of my writer friends, who writes in a straight line, and whose brain has a natural ability to combine character and plot at the same time. I can't do that. I don't know if it can be learned--but if it can't, there surely is some way for a confirmed non-plotter to achieve the same results while coming at it from a different--and perhaps more labor-intensive--direction.

*Not that the book that might come out of all this angst would be great literature or anything. It's not about writing a master work, it's about being able to do something I'm unable to do right now:

"I would rather have the two hundred fifty-six imperfect books that mark the vectors of my journey through my art form than to have one perfect book that marks nothing but its own perfect self."--Barry Moser

Friday, November 27, 2009

Yesterday I had other things going on, but I decided to write a little anyway. Unfortunately it looks like I'm switching things up again because I pulled out the swordfighting ms and did a wee bit of work on that. I would much rather have worked on the former GN--and I did think about it some--but everything I need to do on it right now involves thinking in a creatively organizational way, and that part of my brain ain't working at the moment. That part is just flatlining, for some reason.

By creative organization, I mean pulling the story parts together in a way that rises and builds. I mean looking at the pieces I have and being able to see ways to link them into one big, connected picture. I can't see squat at the moment, as far as that's concerned. Dunno why, but it's probably to do with the multiple other things going on in writing and real life. Sometimes a creative part of your brain just gets drained, and all you can do is wait for it to fill back up.

I wrote a new beginning for the swordfighting ms, pulled together from old beginnings and one made-up new part. I backed up and started in the middle of action again, and at the moment I have three POV characters, third person past limited for each. I did this because I know I want to play around with structure and timeframe to see if I can get something about this story to work. However, with the creative organizational part of my brain on vacation, I can't move any farther than that on the ms. So today I'll probably write a "thingee," backstory or whatever I feel like writing from the pov of one of the three characters. He could end up being a POV character. Or not. But today will probably be freewriting along those lines.

It did occur to me yesterday that if I had a lot more skill than I do now, I could probably pull this ms into something really cool, like some of Louis Sachar's work that I admire for his plotting and POV changes. I love the way Holes' plot fits together, but my favorites of his books are Sixth Grade Secrets and Boy In the Girl's Bathroom. Oh, and the Face one--Boy Who Lost His Face? Is that the title? Anyway, I wish I had Sixth Grade Secrets, but I lent my copy to one of the neighbor kids who never brought it back. But I remember while I was reading it that I thought it was cool the way Sachar kept changing POVs yet never lost me. I'm a very easy reader to lose, so the fact that he didn't says something.

The fact is that I've got this swordfighting story down. I just don't know how to tell it. If I start with the exciting part, the emotional arc is dead. If I go chronologically, it's boring and overstuffed (to me it is, anyway). So: how do I make it work on all fronts at the same time? I do not know.

Side note: I don't think I mentioned I heard that a fellow writer who has been reworking the same ms for maybe a decade finally figured it out. Thus raising (if rumor is true) what was a perfectly good publishable ms to a great one that achieves the potential the author has been holding out for all along. This is awe-inspiring, but it also makes me wonder if I have this kind of intestinal fortitude. I'm thinking I may not. I'd like to hope I do, but I'm not sure I have the strong sense of writing self it would require to look at a good, publishable ms, and say, "No, not yet--I can do better." I mean, I know I kind of do this a little bit already, but not anywhere near the degree we seem to be talking about here. Maybe. Will have to read the book when it comes out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Haven't worked on my own stuff at all. I've put some of the w-f-h thing together, and it looks like some more projects might be coming my way at some point, from another w-f-h editor I've worked with before, and therefore know to be reliable and professional. Hooray.

I've also got a bazillion pages of health insurance stuff to fill out because the company I've been with is pulling out of my state, so I have to find a new one. I mention this because it reminded me of something, no idea why. The "something" is that I got pretty annoyed with some commentary I heard about how writers should never make any changes requested by book fairs, because that's censoring, and writers who censor themselves for filthy lucre are basically sell-outs and money-grubbing wh*res. Obviously the people who say this have no idea that self-censoring is something we start considering the second we start revising, and continue all the way till the galleys leave our hands. And sometimes later. Book fair decisions are just more of the same. Usually the changes for book fairs aren't huge moral issues (that's a different ball of wax), but cutting a "d*mn" or "h*ll"--the same words we've been cutting out and putting back in and cutting out again all along during revisions, trying to weigh out whether the words distract the reader more than giving a sense of the character.*

The money an author makes from book fair sales is some ludicrously small amount, I can't remember what. A few cents per copy, maybe? Nobody's changing their text to get rich. They're doing it because they've looked at the changes asked for and decided that it won't mess up anything, and that it will put the book in the hands of thousands more readers. If they decide that it will mess up something about the book, they don't make the changes and usually you never hear about it. Most of the time authors don't get any kudos for standing by their beliefs. What usually happens is they get quietly downgraded in one way or another--the marketing department gets p.o.'d at them, for example, or they miss the word-of-mouth that would have come with those thousands of poorly paid book fair sales.

So anyway, not to get off on a tangent, but my mind went this direction because once again I hear an underlying assumption about authors raking it in. But authors don't get company benefits, and they have to take health insurance plus taxes plus social security plus agent off the top of whatever they get for a book. If you suppose a moderately successful midlist author gets 25K for one book, then take away all that out-of-pocket stuff, you've got somebody who can't afford food and shelter.

And I say all this not to excuse myself for making editorial changes to suit my finances--because I don't, not in my own writing--but to tell everybody who's not trying to make a living at it to climb down from their moral high horse and stop being so freakin' judgmental. For cripe's sake, I've seen people lining up to praise an author for basically not taking a moral stand--clearly without knowing that's what they're doing. All I can figure is that people don't really understand the full range of choices involved, the implications, or the consequences.

So, anyway. I'm working on other stuff besides my WIP, but in the back of my head I'm waiting for some epiphany that will help me bring it all together. Because at the moment it looks like a mess of disparate pieces that aren't going to be interesting to anyone except me.

*Full disclosure: I speak as the author of a YA book with a more-than-liberal sprinkling of the F-word throughout. I am not a priss when it comes to profanity. I also know that different readers can tolerate different levels of it (and therefore its resonance changes depending on the reader), and that "being true to the character" is already a lie when it comes to dialog. You can't transcribe what somebody would actually say in real life, word for word; it would be nearly unintelligible. So profanity is one of those things (same with sexual references) where there's not one easy answer to whether it goes or stays.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I've been working on several things that need to be done, like many pieces of paperwork for new teaching job, plus a lecture, plus the potential w-f-h thing. On the w-f-h thing, I decided to think out the whole book and sketch a sort of proposal that shows what I'm thinking, so the publisher and I can see if we're on the same page. This involves some hard core braiding of plot with character, so I feel that it's going to be very good for me. I also intend to make an outline, because I have to make sure the story has tension and hooks--those are the specs--and to demonstrate in the "proposal" that they will be there. Whether or not I can manage this, it's an excellent exercise for me, and definitely a stretch.

Haven't worked on my own ms in a few days. Today I watched reruns of America's Next Top Model and tried to think a little during commercials, because I feel a bit overwhelmed. I feel I need a stronger connecting thread that runs through the story from start to finish--something that pulls all the very different sections together, something that makes a point that's memorable. Right now I think each section makes a slightly different point, so they don't build to an ending where you want a certain thing to happen. You need to want something for the character, by the end. Not like a Perils of Pauline ending, though; you need to want the character to do a certain something. I need to get a clearer picture of what it is I'm supposed to make the reader want my MC to do. That's the connecting thread that's weak--so weak I keep losing sight of it. I need to find it and draw it out--strongly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today has been one of those days where in the middle of figuring out and dealing with ten thousand real-life things, I had an hour or so to sit and and try to write before jumping back into the ten thousand other things. This kind of day is not conducive to accomplishing much on a ms. And I didn't accomplish much. However, I did write. And now I've got to set the ms aside for at least a few days, and instead turn my attention to w-f-h related material. That should be a nice change of pace, and maybe the back of my mind will get something done so when I pick up my ms again I'll have some kind of fresh idea about it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Today's approach worked out pretty well. So far, anyway. I made a list of the main ideas/plot points that belong where the hole in the middle is. Then I moved the pieces that are in the hole right now (about seven pages worth of chunks ranging from a few words to a third of a page), grouping them according to which part of the list they belong under.

As I was doing that I saw chunks that were notes and explanations to myself about theme (what I want the book to say), so I added "theme" to the list of main ideas/plots points and moved all those together, too. Somehow as I was doing this, I saw that I could use some of the theme chunks to end the previous section and make it stronger (it has been just fading out because I didn't know where I was heading). From there I started to see how the middle might fall into line and make sense on a thematic, character, and plot level. I think it helped seeing that extremely annoying blog entry yesterday, because my mind is on readers who need things spelled out. I've been reading too much Heian literature, which is crazy because they don't use names, or care about time and order of events, and they don't like to say anything straight out when they can hint at it or just leave it blank. And I mean that literally; I know I exaggerate sometimes for effect, but really Heian literature leaves most stuff out. The degree of trust in the reader is astronomical. And I think that's very cool, and it's definitely influencing me, but I'm writing a thousand years later in a more specific language to a different potential audience, so I have to remember that spelling things out is good. Compared to Heian writing, anyway.

I hope that I can move on from here and get the middle at least sketched out. There's no telling, though. Sometimes you look at something that made complete sense the day before, and suddenly you can't understand what your line of thought was. I hope that doesn't happen with this.
Okay, the bottom line is that the rest of the ms is in good enough shape that I have to start trying to figure out the holes that are left.* Namely, the connecting part in the middle, and the end.

(cue drastic doom-laden organ music)

Except I dunno what to do with them. It's another one of those cases where X, Y, and Z have to happen. Another one of those cases where I'm totally clueless about how to approach it. If I push too hard, I'll screw it up. If I get too wholeheartedly into that screwup before I realize it's wrong, I'll be even more clueless than I am now.

This happens to me over and over again. I've got to move through certain plot points, but they won't work unless they mean something in the overall arc of the story. I've got to learn how to conquer this beast, because lately it rears its head every effing time I write a book.

I think I'll make (another) list of the missing parts, just to put them all in my head again. When I try to go through the ms, I get overwhelmed by them because I look at one and think, "Wait, this can't happen till I establish that other part." Then I move to thinking about how to establish the other part, which I usually don't care about anyway, and by now I'm confused about what I was trying to accomplish, so I quit and go work on something unrelated.

Maybe the best thing would be to force myself to stick to character: what does this particular event mean to the MC? Then later worry about how it moves the story and what the reader needs to get from it. Except...they're all tied together. The parts, I mean. The way I tie the end together needs to answer the way I tie the missing events in the middle. In real life they'd be just random events, like one day you dent a fender in the parking lot and the next you find a dollar bill you'd forgotten about in your pocket. In the story they aren't random at all. They have to echo each other and make sense together. And the middle decides which scenes I'm going to keep in the end part, and which I'm going to chunk.

Okay, no. Stop. Clear head. Go back. I can make the list, then from that list I need to think in two directions at once: 1) what does each event mean to the MC, and 2) how does it relate to what I want the book to say?

It's really hard for me to think of two things at once, so I'm going to have to write this down and treat it as totally removed from the ms, like an outline. I don't know that it'll solve anything, but I've got to start digging in somehow. If I can't figure it out, then at least the back of my brain will have everything clearly set down and graspable, so it can start chewing on the problem if it wants to.

Whoa, momentary reality check. Incoming e-mail reminds me that various writer friends are going off this weekend for fun cool author stuff, while I'm sitting here scrubbling uselessly away at the same piece-of-cr*p ms I've been wasting my time on for so many years I'm not going to count them--a ms that's never going to sell so I'll never go anywhere cool or fun because I'm the only one who can't write and I'll be humiliated because I'll never publish another book because my writing sucks and my books suck and I suck and when anybody finally looks at this ms the jig will be up because they'll all see what a sucky piece of cr*p I wasted all that time on, and isn't it sad, really, that any writer could be that deluded.

Okay, reality check over. Back to work.

*I have to. I'm starting to overwrite some of the parts that are closer to being done. I've got to leave those and figure out the holes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I was reading a blog post decrying the lack of strong female MCs, and I realized that I've got to try to cover some more bases here. I know I have zero hope of getting some people to see the things I'm trying to explore, but I do have to be as clear as possible in order to maybe catch a few of them and maybe even get the ms published. Then I'll just have to sit still for abuse from the ones who don't get it, ugh. So be it.

Specifically, I have to spell out: This is what the MC's world is like. This is what she has to deal with. Like the majority of women throughout history, her choices are so limited as to be nil. She has no power whatsoever. Like the majority of women throughout history, she lives in a world controlled by men. The men are not all bad--it's the world view that's bad. The world view warps the men just as much as it stunts the women. Swords would not help this. There are too many swords already, and they're doing what swords are meant to do: butcher enemies and control the balance of power.

So that's the kind of thing I was tweaking today: clarifying the world view, driving home the lack of choices and power.

I really don't know how to keep the reader from expecting some kind of big confrontation or battle at the end. No idea how to keep this turned inward. And really no idea how to make the fact that the solution is brought by a knight on a white horse palatable to a reader. However, that's what happens. No getting around it.

When I think of some of the other writing-related stuff I'm having to consider right now--market-directed writing-related stuff--I'm pretty sure this ms is doomed, doomed, doomed. I'm willing to live with that. I don't like it--but I'll live with it if I have to. No regrets.
A writer friend sent a link to another one of those industry blogs where the editor/agent/assistant/marketing person/janitor gripes anonymously about whatever. This time it was a rant about wimpy girl MCs, and it appeared to be written by another twenty-something upper-middle-class suburbanite who hightailed it to NYC as soon as the ink on her college diploma was dry and is now passive-aggressively taking out her frustrations on anyone who looks like they can't do any damage back. The alarming thing about this is that I thought the wimpy girl MC rant train left the station several years ago. Is this person just not much of a reader, or has she not kept up with industry discussions--or, horror of horrors, has there been so much turnover in publishing that we've got a whole new crop of people to whom this is new, and who are going to back us all up so that we have to start all over with lame 2-D kickass grrls written by wimpy female writers who think picking up a sword is enough to make you Strong and A Role Model so that you don't have to any icky stuff that involves bad smells or unpleasant noises or intestines/arteries/lungs in general?

I thought we had hit that mark already and were starting to move on with something a little more three-dimensional. For g*d's sake, people, if you're going to push violence, PUSH IT!!!! I've got no problem with most violence in books/movies/video games, and I say Follow your thoughts through to their natural conclusion. Sh*t or get off the pot. That is all.

This actually did have to do with my writing today, but I'll move to a new post so this one gets at least a little buried. Or who knows, maybe I'll take it down. Or...not.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I was a bum all day yesterday, writing-wise. Today I woke up and decided to go back and turn a fairly major character back into a minor one. Since I've gone through the Menelaus section and tried to figure out its arc, I'm now thinking that the story may be simpler and clearer if that character is downgraded. So...I'm going to have to cut a lot of stuff, all the way through. I'll start working on that today.

The reasons I'm thinking of cutting this character are:

1) The end of the Menelaus section is confusing to me; I can't quite get a feel for how events build.* If I take this piece out--although I like some of it very, very much--the section may suddenly make sense.

2) It's causing me grief to try to get this character introduced properly in the beginning without making the story drag (even more than it already does).

3) I'm at a point where I'm trying to think "What does this story want to say to the reader?" Not to me, to the reader. That means all my personal blah-blah-blah needs to be secondary to clarity: What do I want the reader to take away at the end of the book? I'm thinking this character's stuff isn't needed to give that message, and in fact it's clouding the points the story could be making.

3) I think I might be able to give more power to the stuff that's already there without this thread. I think it may be diluting what's there.

So, will see what happens today, whether this makes things better or worse.

*In fact, I seem to be using this character's thread as an excuse to add stuff I like that doesn't have anything to do with the story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Today in the former GN I tried to develop one certain piece of a thread, but I think I went off on a mini-tangent and most of the day's work will need to be deleted. So that s*cks.

Yesterday was better--no big progress, but I went through a big hunk of the ms, straightening and tidying and making things flow more clearly.

Still, I would like to do some more work tonight so that I can feel I accomplished something today, but it's been one of those days, family-stuff-wise, so maybe I'll just blow it off, tell myself I'm rewarding myself by blowing it off, and start afresh tomorrow.

Side note: Samurai Gold Seekers is on tomorrow. This was on not too long ago under one of its other titles, Sword of the Beast. That's okay, because I liked it and don't mind seeing it again. Something to think about: the story opens with the MC being chased/hunted. We don't know who he is or why. Then, for a while, all we hear about him is the bad stuff he did that makes him an outlaw and fugitive. Only later do we find out his side of the story. So the movie opens with a chase--tension and conflict--and the story comes after, and then the real story and backstory and character development comes later. I think this may have been what I was trying to do in the first version of my swordfighting ms--but it didn't work. I wonder why it works here, but not in my ms.

I think it must be easier for me to notice these things when a movie isn't in English. Something about not having to listen frees up other parts of my mind or something.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yesterday I only had about an hour to write, so I starting fixing some of the problems I'd noticed the day before. Now that I'm not so cranky, I think I do know what to do about it: get tougher with the self-editing.

I started switching up some of the language, rephrasing so it's less write-y and more speak-y, and looking for words that are evocative but not concrete enough, and dropping them. Also tried to be really hard@ss with my thinking: Does this have to be here? Is it necessary for understanding what's going on? I also took a good hard merciless look at where I paused slightly while reading. Those times aren't very noticeable, but when a reader does that, the choice is to refocus and keep reading, or put the book down. Ideally there wouldn't be any of those times.

I cut maybe eight pages total and dragged them all to the back of the ms where they will sit till I can figure out where to put them.

It occurs to me that I'm having the same problem lately, over the last three books. In Night Road, this book, and the swordfighting ms, I'm having to do world-building--and it's eating my lunch, pacing-wise. I'm having a h*ll of a time getting the world built, and the backstory that's necessary for character, and the story moving, all at once. In fact, I'd say that I'm failing at it. I seem to be able to do two at once, but not three. I need to notice/find out how other people handle this. I need to figure out what my problem is. Maybe my character-driven mind is lending too much importance to minor things, the way it does in transitions. In transitions, I have trouble not taking the characters through every little interim step in my head. Maybe I'm doing the same with world-building and backstory.

If that's so, then the answer is probably is more merciless hard@ss self-editing, plus when I get readers I'll have to ask them specifically to look for places where they can live without the info they're getting.* And otherwise, I guess just keep moving stuff around till I find an order in which it works. I don't know what else to try.

Now I need to figure out what I want to do today. I'm in great danger of overworking the beginning, if I haven't already, so I'm leery of heading back to that section. Dunno what I'll do. Must think.

*The problem with that is, I'm the most impatient reader I know. Most of my writer friends will read though something I'd have started skimming pages back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I am extraordinarily displeased.

Due to lack of laptop access, I had to take a printout of the first 80 pages to the library. I don't like the smarmy fake voice of the first 40 pages. I don't like the way it tells a bunch of cr*p and nothing happens. And I don't know what to do about it.

I wasn't at all in the mood to work on this part today. And I don't mind if the beginning is a little slow, because that will weed out more immature readers before the R-rated stuff starts happening (why so many parents and teachers think 14-up includes 6th and 7th grade is beyond me). So probably I should take my current cranky attitude with a grain of salt. At least a partial grain of salt.

Still. Ugh.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Worked on Menelaus today. Towards the end of the writing session I made a sizable deletion (sizable at this stage in the process, anyway) and started welding together two pieces that had been separated by the deleted portion and by some other stuff that's been moved out of the way. However, I ran out of time and didn't get to finish putting it together. Now I've got family stuff to do, which is too bad, because I would have liked to get those two pieces at least basted to each other, wordwise. I had to go off and just leave them in the same general page area.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Been thinking about the last section, the one that doesn't match the rest in format or tone. Right now it's mostly in dialog because it's still in raw form from when the ms was a GN. These last scenes tend to be long flowing stretches of conversation, whereas the rest of the book is made up of concise bits with one main idea per page. I always figured I'd eventually divide the last section into smaller ideas to make it match the rest of the ms.

But the other day when I was going over it, there was this one particularly long stretch of dialog, maybe a page and a half or two pages of just talking, no tags or anything, and I thought, there's no way to cut this up because it's all one idea. Then I thought, maybe that means I should delete it completely, just get rid of it. It doesn't fit, it doesn't belong.

But now I'm rethinking. Maybe the long dialog stretch wants to be that way (long and flowing). Every time I rewrite it, it stays like that. Every time, I forget that it's not supposed to be like that and get lost in what I'm doing. This also happens with other dialogs in this last section--in fact, with most of the scenes with Paris/Alexandros and Helen. I haven't had this problem with any of the other sections of the book--not even the Menelaus section that also started out as GN. The Menelaus section went easily into the cut-up concise form. And I'm drawn to the thought of writing these last dialog pieces out as fully fleshed scenes.

Would it really be so bad if that part of the story starts looking more like a normal book? Doesn't that parallel what's actually going on in the story? That's what I'm thinking now. My gut is urging me toward it. I know the thought of writing that way feels like a relief. It'll be a relief to not have to be so constricted and careful and mindful and tight. That's how the MC feels, too at that point in the story--her state of mind matches the format. And now I'm wondering if the reader would feel relieved, too. It might feel good to suddenly be able to read a normal page with normal margins and ideas that slop over onto the next page.

It's not that simple, though. Right now the last section has only scenes with Paris/Alexandros and Helen--but other kinds of scenes still have to be written. I've got to finish up several threads that center on other characters. I know those won't feel right in regular prose. I can't even think about them that way.'s thought, while walking Tyson...what if only the scenes with Helen and P/A are regular scenes, while other threads remain tight and constricted? Will that be too disruptive to the reader? Will have to think some more.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yesterday I poked tentatively around in that gap in the middle of the ms, trying to figure out what needs to be said. Everything I did was prewriting, more like testing the ice to see if any of it will hold my weight. No, wasn't even that productive. It was more like glancing around to see if there's any ice starting to form that I might be able to test later. I didn't really do much of anything, but it's a nothing that has to be done so that the somethings can be done later. Plus, I've got enough of the front and end that I can start recognizing threads that might drive the middle and give me a direction for all these pieces that are just plot points right now.

I was thinking I need to get some readers to look at the first part and tell me what they feel by the end of it and what they expect or need next. But I'd have to clean it up some more first, and also I think I need a stronger footing myself, before I start listening to other opinions.

Now today I just wasted too much time driving my morale into the ground by looking at internet cr*p about many new books are out there and coming out soon and how great they are and how much they're selling and just general name-dropping up the wazoo. So. Must shake all that off and get to work. I sure would like to get the Menelaus section set, get the order of the scenes exactly right, and figure out what I can cut, and make it rise and build. If I play my cards correctly, I could make the reader cry. That would be nice--don't know if it's possible, though. One man's tearjerker is another man's sapfest.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I ended up taking out a spiral and sitting in front of the computer making a list/outline of what I have in the ms. Chapter/section title, then the keywords about what's in it, and so on through the first part of the book. Of course, doing this means I stopped to fix stuff and never got to Menelaus. But...I unwove that one thread that's been bugging me and separated it, and after today's work I'm now thinking that maybe I've almost got a decent grip on nearly half the book now. If so, that is huge. Of course, I may not almost have a decent grip, but the possibility is certainly pleasant. I haven't had that possibility before with this ms, so I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Also, I thought of the very last scene. Not the last scene I already have (well, sort of, in my head), but the very last scene of the framework that surrounds the story proper. I know what I want to end on. The only question (well, besides that minor detail of figuring it out and writing it) is whether to match it up to my favorite Iliad scene/revelation. Probably I shouldn't. Probably it's enough for me to know that's where I'm ending, even if the reader doesn't.

Then maybe someday somebody will go look up that chapter in the Iliad to see what happens, and it'll be like, "Oh, no f*cking way--they're dead!!???" Then they'll be all mad at me, even though it's not my fault, it's Homer's. That would be great.

It's one of those days where I'm like, boy, I hope I don't get hit by a bus before I finish this ms. If I have to get hit by a bus, please let it be after I finish. Of course, then I'll be back to the swordfighting ms, so I won't want to get hit by a bus then, either.
Yesterday I only got to work for about an hour. I tried to work on the Menelaus section, but couldn't get the scenes lined up in the right order so that they flow and build. I need to get a grip on the big picture for that section, and maybe the one after it (what used to be one long Menelaus section is now several sections, still all about him), so that I can understand what I'm trying to accomplish. When I'm in the middle of a page, it seems to flow into the next one, but then I get to a third page and suddenly realize I've moved away from the point I was heading toward.

I'm not sure whether to print out and read for an overview, or to just skim on the screen and see if I have a better grip now that it's a fresh new writing day. I guess I'll take a quick look and see what I feel like doing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something's really bugging me about this ms. I'm having a terrible time transitioning from general narration to specific scenes. I just slide from the generalities into the scenes, so the reader doesn't realize s/he's in a scene till it's already going. I think the reason this is happening, besides my usual problems with transitions, is the formating of this ms, plus the huge amount of telling vs. showing. I start off telling, saying something like "Such-and-such always happens this way," and then I tell how somebody usually reacts in so-and-so way, and then somehow we're in the middle of a set scene. It just ain't right. It feels uncomfortable and slippery.

I think maybe the thing for me to do is pay particular attention when it's happening, and make a conscious decision on how to handle each particular case. I noticed in one place where I was struggling with this I'd tried to fix it by pretending it was still generalities. ("Blah blah blah," Joe Blow usually says, and then he proceeds to park his car.) Other places I stop and put a marker. (One day Joe Blow is parking his car. "Blah blah blah," he says.).

The thing is, there's not much room for even tiny transitional statements, and if they don't follow naturally from whatever happened in the previous scene, they feel jarring to me. And clumsy.

Okay. So. Here's what I'm going to do about it: keep an eye peeled for these places and when they come up, be deliberately mindful of my choices about how to handle them. Maybe there are more choices, too. Now that I think about it, this transitional problem could signal a place where I'm veering off into something unnecessary that could be cut, and that's why it's not fitting. Must keep an eye out for that, too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I seem to be making fairly steady forward progress and it seems like the ms is taking on a clearer shape. Unfortunately I'm now thinking that the whole thing sucks because a) it's not interesting to anybody but me, and b) it's not very marketable. In fact, it may not be marketable at all. To me it looks like it's not YA (too much sex, too low-key, too middle-aged outlookish), yet not adult (sex isn't titillating, too clear and straightforward, and again too low-key). So, I dunno. I wouldn't feel so bad about it ending up in a drawer if I knew it was right when I put it there. It'd be like, "Hey World, you're missing out on the best-ever sex-heavy boring middle-aged book--too bad for you!"

One thing that's really bugging me is that I need to crush all the self-indulgence out of it. I can't really do that until it's closer to the final version, though. You have to allow some self-indulgence while you're figuring the ms out.

Anyhow, I can't remember what I did yesterday, except that I worked for a long time. Today I know I worked on the middle, taking the pieces that I know need to be there--I already had them more or less together--and thinking about them and pulling them more into place. I've got maybe four or five ideas or plot points or whatever they're called. The brothers need to leave. The mother needs to die. The suitors need to come. The sister needs to leave. Inside these ideas I need to add in some smaller ideas/points: the maid is getting senile, the father is checking out, the brother-in-law is cousins with the murdering brute, plus family history of the murdering brute. The patches of all this are laid out now, which is more than I've ever had done on this part before.

I'd like to have a full working draft before I start focusing on other writerly related stuff that starts in January. However, I usually don't meet goals once they're stated, so I won't call that a goal. I'll just say it would be nice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No writing on Thursday due to family stuff, but lots of writing on Fri. and Sat. So much that I lost focus and eventually derailed myself, heading off in unhelpful directions. I think it won't be a big deal to get back into gear, though. Some of what I did is okay; I just need to backtrack and figure out what the story was doing on its own before I made it trail off into weird detours of thought.

In discussion of another book, a writer friend was saying something that touched on a point that's already been nagging me in the back of my mind. WF says, basically, that book characters are sometimes tagged as being worth caring about because they have some kind of artistic sensitivity (my words, not WF's). I agree with this. (think Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Northern Light, and a million other books that aren't popping to mind right now.) Also agree that often in YAs and midgrades, the artistically sensitive MC is stuck or trapped somewhere, and the unspoken implication is that everybody else who's stuck or trapped with him/her, but who doesn't have this sensitivity or gift, is basically cannon fodder. We're rooting for the MC get free from his/her present situation because clearly this person is one step above and deserves better.

So what I'm thinking is that this gifted MC who's stuck or trapped is a shorthand tag writers sometimes use to make the stuck/trapped situation more touching. And it's used so much, and it's so accepted, that the reader's probably going to wonder why an average MC who doesn't have any special "gift" deserves to be freed or rescued. This speaks directly to the former GN ms. The MC isn't super smart and has no particular talent. Also, since she's a girl and I'm the one who wrote her, she's probably not very likable, either. What I'd like to do is focus on the situation being wrong, for everyone--not make somebody the star who deserves to be free. Everyone in the story deserves better.

Thinking about it, what the shorthand does is work backwards. It invests you in this clearly very special character so that you then start considering the actual situation more deeply. But I don't like that. It's a tool a writer can use to good effect--but I don't like what it implies.

As I see it now, the only choice is to get raked over the coals for having a MC that isn't special or outstanding enough and therefore I didn't give the reader a reason to care. However, you can do a lot by stating things straight out in the ms. I may be able to find ways to get the reader to focus on the system, the situation. Will see. I'm a little leery because that's what got me off track yesterday, was letting my thoughts overwhelm the story.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Surprisingly, today ended up being a really good writing day. I started off trying to pull together the bits I knew had to be in the middle, and as I worked through in a general organizational fashion--just putting like pieces together and cutting things that weren't hands-down absolutely necessary--it started taking on a shape and momentum that carried through the Menelaus part and then eased into the Alexandros part.

I didn't get all of the middle. I still don't see how to slide into it naturally and with rising action from the beginning. But I saw how to pick up somewhere in there and get the story rolling again. I cut a couple of threads I had left hanging because I wasn't sure about them--because it's clear now that they aren't needed. The whole second half of the story is simpler and more streamlined and makes sense. In my head, that is. What's actually on the paper is still a huge mess.

It's good to know it can come together. I was starting to think the whole thing would have to be manhandled and manipulated and I'd always feel a little unsettled about it. So it's a relief to feel that click of a huge chunk of the ms slipping into place on its own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yesterday I somehow ended up working on a part I didn't really want to work on. I don't know what happened; I was skimming along trying to figure out where I wanted to start work, and got sucked into changing and rewording and it snowballed from there. It didn't hurt anything, but I was hoping for a more productive use of my time.

Now today once again I'm edging into the middle and I can see what a big mess of trouble it's going to be. Too many tones (close third person literary, familiar third person conversational, removed third person historical, snarky third person me), and the "pacing" is going to be splotches of story that happened to fall onto the page with no rhyme or reason to them. I don't know what to do. Maybe the thing to do is quit trying to make sense of the whole and write out some of the individual pieces that I know have to be there, and see what happens. Just focus on definite, small, chewable bits.

I am ignoring a certain thread toward the beginning that I keep almost taking out because it seems like it's too much and too complicated at that point in the story, but then I also keep seeing that it moves the tone away from the misleading chipper midgrade voice of the story beginning, and also it adds tension and adheres to the main idea that drives the story for me. And it's pretty well woven in right now; it's going to be a pain to un-weave. So for now I'm making myself leave it and not think about it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I meant to write yesterday, but got sidetracked by learning that Rashomon is going to be the next Samurai Saturday movie on IFC. I've been wanting to see that! I know it's supposed to be one of the greats, so I read up on it a little in hopes I can pick up on some of the interesting points as I'm watching. It's supposed to be one event (a rape and murder) told four times from four different POVs, so there's a lot to watch for.

I also found (online) the two short stories (both by Akutagawa Ryunosuke) the movie's based on, the main one being "In a Grove." It's a very short story, but has seven POVs, each one telling about the rape/murder as that particular POV character saw/did it.

Then today I was looking through McCormack's book (see yesterday's post) trying to find something else, and saw a few paragraphs about characters "braiding" together. McCormack is talking about a ms where the author switches POVs among five characters, which is not what's causing my problem with my swordfighting ms, but he mentions the symptom "little sense of increasing momentum," which of course caught my eye. Then (re. having five characters' stories going on all at once) he uses the phrase "don't entwine into a humming cable of circuitry." He's talking about a different type of problem than the one I'm having, but now I'm thinking characters should braid into a humming cable of circuitry. At least, they should in this ms (the swordfighting one) because all three major characters are of nearly equal importance in my eyes.

So now I'm feeling a little more strongly that I need to buckle down and write out the story from the two non-main characters' POVs, in order to provide myself with a firm footing. I probably also ought to strongly consider whether the ms would come to life if I tried different POVs for different chapters. This is not what McCormack was advising but, hey, I take ideas where I can get them.

Side note: WF says that the problem of the MC with a negative goal can indeed be solved by the stated/announced goal (see yesterday's post). In short: the sagging or nonexistent tension of a goal-less MC can be negated by having the MC plainly state small plans or goals or strategies that aren't necessarily about the main problem of the ms. So. Hmm. Am trying to wrap my mind around this and see where and how it might be helpful to me in the former GN.

Friday, October 23, 2009

(The answer to yesterday's question turned out to be: sometimes in scene, sometimes not. At its root, the answer seemed to lie in whether you get bored reading. If you get bored reading in scene, then it's gone on too long and can be paraphrased or cut. If you get bored with the paraphrasing of out-of-scene, then you either cut it shorter or dig in and have a scene so the reader can get some firm ground underfoot.)

Anyway. Two threads of thought today, writing-wise.

First, I only had about an hour to work, so I glanced at (really glanced at--like, just read the chapter titles) the ms from the beginning and tried to get a sense of flow leading into the middle part. I wanted to see if I could do any quick shaping that might carry me a little farther into that particular wasteland. What I ended up with was some freewriting where I articulated some of the things I know about the middle and the characters, and would like to bring out in the ms. However, I didn't figure out how to bring them out. I just articulated them, that's all. It will have to do for now. I hope the back of my mind works on the problem, because I don't see how to do it unless I get all author-intrusive.

Second, interesting discussion with writer friend re. that great bane, the passive MC. The MC who is just fine, thanks, but then crap happens and his/her only goal is dealing with the crap. WF reminded me of Thomas McCormack's The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. I dug out my copy and tried to find the pertinent part, which basically is: the MC needs to make a plan and state it for the reader. This plan provides some juice, some pep (my words, not TM's) for the narrative. In TM's example, the MC already has a goal, but it's not enough because apparently she's not doing anything about it.

Now that I think about it, I guess I'm mixing this up with an MC who has a negative goal. Like, "I don't want X to happen," or "I don't want things to change." A passive MC probably has a positive goal, but just isn't doing anything about it. That's different, isn't it?

Like if a kid's mom is taking him to the doctor to get a shot. The kid doesn't want to go--that's a negative goal. Passivity has nothing to do with the situation. Crap is befalling him, and he's got to deal with it. But the example in TM's book is of a girl who wants to leave a hick town and, er, do whatever people do when they leave hick towns.* She has a goal--something she wants to achieve.

So maybe one question is: can a MC's stated plan help boost a story where the MC has a negative goal? I don't know.

*Usually they seem to sit around congratulating themselves on not being hicks anymore, since they've changed location. But I digress.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In scene, or not in scene; that is the question.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still working on last section of former GN. Today I hated the direction some of it was taking, and reworked it.

Right now this whole ms is three separate stories lined up one after the other. They're connected, but something bothers me about them. I guess it's that they don't feel inevitable in that book-ish way, where something happens and maybe you're a little surprised but you're also satisfied because the story's woven to lead naturally to that event. My three storylines are more like real life, where stuff happens and it doesn't fit together so well. Events are slightly more random; often if there's continuity or rising action in our lives, it's only what we've supplied in our own heads. That makes for a crappy book, methinks.

Maybe the answer is in the missing middle part; maybe that's the key to pull it all together. However, I'm not working on that right now. Which is good because I don't know what to do with it anyway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today, events conspired to send me to the last section of the former GN ms. Before being driven there by circumstance, I had the thought that it's okay if this last part's different in voice from the beginning--more bare and dialog-driven--because then I can bring it back around to match the beginning's tone if I want to, at the very, very end. And that would not be a bad thing at all.

As I worked on it this morning, a couple of nice things popped out. First, a repeated image from earlier tied up with an image from the middle, and so there they are together near the end, providing a nice thread that goes all the way through and not only develops, but tells me something I need to develop in the middle part, which is where I'm sort of stuck.

Also, I got some nice inroads made into developing the last section. I've got a new image that could provide me with some footing in other places, but it may be too stupid--will have to wait and see.

Also--this is not about the ms--I had a nightmare last night from watching The Virgin Spring. I couldn't tell you the last night a movie gave me nightmares. And TVS is an arty gore-free Swedish movie! It's very violent, but the power of the violence is in the way it's staged and filmed, not in explicitness. I'd seen the very, very end of the movie a while back, and thought it was kind of sappy, but when I saw it was on again I thought I'd take a look--not realizing that despite the sappy ending it was an Ingmar Bergman film. I got hooked even though it was kind of slow and quiet. Even the violence is slow and quiet and understated.

I've only seen a couple of IB movies before, and the only one I remember anything about is The Seventh Seal, which I didn't see all of, but which has the same slow pacing as TVS. Somehow the slow pacing gives me time to absorb and think, without boring me. In fact, it almost forces me to think. Maybe it's that the pacing's not really slow, but that there's a lot of silence. Maybe it's the way the shots are so carefully constructed in that silence, so you actually have time to think about what it means that they're that way.

I don't know what this all means to writing. I don't know what the equivalent of silence and carefully constructed shots would be, in a novel. I don't know how you'd achieve that leisurely pace while keeping the reader hooked and also drawing them in deeper. The thing about novels is that you can't control how long the reader takes to read. You can affect the pacing in the way you utilize sentence length and white space, but some people are going to read faster and some are going to read slower and there's nothing you can do about it. Unlike in a movie where if you have a 30-second shot, it's going to take everybody 30 seconds to watch it.

I saw a Youtube video where Ang Lee talked about the profound effect that TVS had on his work. He mentioned a scene near the end of the movie that I'd noticed, but hadn't considered in movie terms because I was busy thinking about the character. Not wanting to give spoilers, I'll just say that the shot shows an anguished man of faith speaking to God. Ang Lee points out that the natural shot for that--it's a climactic point of the movie--would be a close up on the man's face. Instead, IB used a long shot from behind the man, as he puts his fists to the sky, collapses, etc. The shot is outside, and I believe we see the man walk away from the camera, down a grassy slope we've seen before, and we end up slightly above him on the slope, looking down at the man who is centered on the screen as he has his moments of spiritual agony.

So: why? What does it accomplish to show the man like that, rather than letting us see all the details of his expression? To me, his agony doesn't seem any less because of the distance. Maybe it makes it worse because he seems more alone in the middle of the screen. You'd think that drawing close and getting a really good look at him would be more raw and powerful--but this scene is somehow constructed so that staying at a removed distance does the job better. And we don't see his face, only his back, his posture, his gestures.

Maybe it's that you know he can only walk so far, and he can't outwalk anything that's happened. You know he's got to stop right there; he has no choice, really.

There's something here to think about re. writing, but I don't know what it is yet. I already know that when you try too hard to show tears or laughter, you kill the moment. I already know it's usually stronger to understate emotion. But this is different--the whole thing is constructed opposite of what you'd think. I wonder if there's an equivalent for it in writing--a long shot for an emotionally wrenching scene, where distance somehow doesn't lessen what we feel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My thoughts are very scattered today:

1. I can't remember if I wrote on Friday or not; there was family stuff going on most of the day.

2. I know I didn't write yesterday, because I was planning to write for the entire day, but in the morning I tore a calf muscle trying to do sprints (I didn't even get to do one sprint) and since I had to ice it, I sat around reading something like ten books of Lone Wolf and Cub. I told myself I was only going to read a few, but then I went ahead and read through book 16, which is all I have.

3. I'd like to go back and compare how the stories in Lone Wolf and Cub are set up. Sometimes they start with Lone Wolf (who's an assassin for hire) getting his assignment, and then we watch him carry it out. Sometimes they start with setting or with a new story, then we see Lone Wolf wander onto the scene in the course of his travels, and deadly drama drops down on him out of nowhere. (When that happens, sometimes he's an innocent passerby, but other times we find out that he deliberately placed himself there to carry out an assassination.) Sometimes an entire short story about somebody we don't know unfolds, and Lone Wolf only enters near the middle or end, either woven into the story arc, or tying it up, or even just observing it.

And over all this is the backbone of the series: Lone Wolf's quest for revenge, the complications that arise, his complex backstory--and so far a mystery thread has also come up. Sometimes these pieces are pure stand-alones, but other times they're woven in as stories about other characters who quickly come and go.

Now that I think about it, it's like the Iliad because we are introduced to someone, quickly made to care about them--and then, as often as not, they're axed, usually in a spatter of blood. In the Iliad it seems like they pretty much always die, but in Lone Wolf they sometimes don't. Just enough to where I already know to try not to get too attached when somebody new shows up. Good guys and bad guys alike get sent to meet their maker, unlike with modern American books where we like the good guys to win in the end.*

4. Thinking about all this has me thinking about my swordfighting ms. I can't remember what I've said here recently, but I'm on the fence about whether to leave it as it is, revise with a non-linear time frame, or revise with alternating POVs. Now I'm wondering if maybe I should back off and forget about trying to produce a ms right now, but think bigger picture and pre-write and free-write bits of the larger story arc. Because in my head, this book is part of a larger story, like a GN series, where there are smaller arcs within the larger series arc. Maybe what I need is a firm footing on the big arc, and that will allow me to see smaller pieces of it with clearer eyes.

I think one reason I get mixed up is because I see all my books as snapshots of a time in the lives in the characters. I don't see a ms as a finite story, but as a piece of a continuum. I'm just pulling that piece out to look at separately. That's not how a storyteller thinks, probably.

5. Re. the former GN: I feel trouble coming on because of plotting issues. I'm telling the story as given in myth and legend (X happens, then Y, then Z), but it's not going to rise and build the way a book needs to unless I figure out how to sculpt it into doing so. I'm getting the pieces of it to rise and build slightly in the beginning, but pretty soon I need to really make it rise and build or it's going to sag and die. I've got to figure it out soon or the whole structure of the story (starting around page 50 or 60?--don't want to look) is going to collapse into a big blob of words. What it needs to do at that point is leap up and start running. So...must think.

*Unless it's Great Literatyoor, in which case there must be an unhappy ending. Even if the classic source on which it's based has a happy ending. Yes, I'm talking to you, Cold Mountain.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Finished another round of work on the second section, and have moved into the third. At this rate I should be done sometime in 2020, 2030--somewhere in there. They probably won't even have books by then. Everybody will be frantically shoving their opinions at each other via technological devices and nobody will remember what it's like to have a coherent thought that lasts more than a couple of seconds--much less be able to follow someone else's coherent thoughts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Slowly working my way along, getting the early portion of the ms into first draft shape. I think I'm getting a workable spin on this section (or maybe not, but we'll hope). It seems to be in a good order, and now I'm trying to shape it so it says something and isn't just a buncha pretty words. Now I'm on the last page of it (the section) and am struggling to tie it up with strength and with an idea that can move forward. What do I want the reader to "get" from this part and take with them to the next?

Unrelated thought: I was looking at a textbook about atoms and molecules (against my will; I care not one whit about atoms and molecules), and as I was trying to understand what the book was saying about electrons and octet rules and ionic something-or-others (bonds? I think it was ionic bonds)*, I realized that these people--the ones who write books about atoms and molecules--are just trying to describe what's already there. They're just picking matter apart mentally so they can understand how things work. When they understand how the molecules trade electrons and such, they can then understand how wee little cells get food and energy, and then they can understand how larger beings function. And that's kind of what writing is. You can pick apart how the meanings and the sounds of the words add up to create something larger, and how the phrases and sentences and punctuation and white space add up to create something even bigger and more complicated, and so on through paragraphs, scenes, chapters, etc. But you don't have to pick all that apart; you could just go by gut and not understand any of it. Just like you can eat and breathe and feed your cat and never know a thing in the world about ionic bonds.

OTOH, there aren't reviewers and critics in your house judging you on how you eat a bag of potato chips. And you aren't asking people to pay you for eating potato chips, either. So perhaps it behooves writers to think about what they're doing, at least a little.

*I forgot all this right after I understood it, so if you see me don't bother asking me about it, because I don't know.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I thought I was going to work through an entire section and get it figured out over the weekend, but life had other plans. I got some of the section done, but right now I can't remember anything I did, so must look it over and try to see where I was and whether it's stupid or not before I can try to proceed.

I didn't get my forced writing time in this morning due to family stuff, but I got some really good advice from the guy running the exit booth at a parking garage. I pulled up and handed him the ticket and sat there waiting, probably looking perturbed because the family stuff was running through my head. The guy asked if something was wrong. I said, "No, I'm just deep in thought." He said, "My grandmother always had a saying about that. Think about it for five minutes, and if it hasn't changed, let it go."

I don't know that this applies to writing, but it sure seems to apply to most everything else.

So, anyway. Off to write. Boy, some forward progress would be nice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Today I took a printout of a section and tried to look at it separately, in order to recognize its main idea. After seeing the way the first section came around nicely and made sense and ended strongly enough to move the story forward, I naturally now feel that this is what I should shoot for with the entire ms. However, today's section would not cooperate. I had it all laid out before me, but couldn't quite see what it wants to be. I think it's important at this point to figure out what the ms wants to be and not force it. It seems a delicate little thing that will be wrecked if I start pounding on it. Dunno. I'm itching to get more of the ms into shape, so this is annoying.

I'm a little nervous because I saw some directions the section might want to go, and made notes about adding and breaking up pages in order to do this. I guess I'll start in tomorrow. I just hope it doesn't come under the definition of "pounding."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Okay, I think something that would be extremely helpful is if, while I'm digging into the nitty-gritty details of a page or scene, and while I'm trying to smooth out the series of scenes in a particular section--if while I'm doing all that, I can keep a finger on the pulse of the entire thematic arc, the big main idea of the whole book, then I'll have some direction and focus and not get lost and confused so often.

I read over the first section, and there it was clearly before me--the main idea beaming over my head like a glowing celestial compass--and I tweaked a couple of things so that section came around nicely and made its point and I'd say it's in pretty good shape (this is the first time I've ever said that). So I've got a bead on this project now, I have a grip on long as I don't move forward. Because I know as soon as I dig into the next part, that grip is going to start sliding away.

This will not do. I can't just reread the beginning for momentum every time I start to work, because it'll become meaningless within a day or two, the words having embedded themselves in my brain. I don't know that I can just put the overall big idea on a sticky note to refer back to, because the idea sort of develops and grows and is explained as the story progresses. I guess I could try that, though. Maybe I will.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today I operated under the principle that it's better to muck about and get something down on the paper than to do nothing and leave a big hole, when it's the same big hole that's been there since day one and, in all that time, has shown zero initiative in filling itself in.

Am reading Lone Wolf and Cub. Brutal, misogynistic, and yet strangely compelling in its refusal to compromise character.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is one of those days where I get other stuff done, but not writing. However, I now have 45 minutes or so to squeeze in some work--only I don't know what to do. I'm looking at the ms and can't get my brain to zero in on anything.

Well, I must come up with something. I refuse to let myself get up until I have accomplished at least one small thing. I am chained to this chair until something has been produced, whether it's new, or old stuff moved around, or organizational outlining/notes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Am inching my way into the tricky part. I have a vague idea for a way to proceed. I don't know if it will work, but since this is the first time I've been able to formulate any kind of approach to this particular spot, it feels like progress.

The main thing I'm trying to do is use the momentum from having a workable draft of the first 50 or so pages. I'm trying to keep a grip on the basic storyline in my head* so I can see how the next few parts of the ms might unfold. Like I said, I don't know if it's working, or will work. I hope so, though.

*I know what the storyline is. I know what the plot is. What I don't know is how to slant it so that it builds and is compelling and will add up to mean something to the reader. I don't know what to put in and what to leave out, what to emphasize and dwell on, what to expand and what to distill. That's what I'm trying to figure out. I've got the plot, but the question is, what does it mean?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Worked on a series of scenes in the former GN, trying to distill them and get them to flow into each other. It felt like it was going okay, but of course towards the end I started getting confused and losing track of where I was heading and what the point was. I expect this to sort itself out as I keep plugging away at it.

The whole ms is just kinda weird because of the way it's set up. Usually I try to focus a scene on one particular idea, but in this ms scenes are split over pages, with each page also being a smaller idea. Sometimes I have a page in a scene, but it doesn't necessarily have to go there; it could end up fitting better somewhere else (or nowhere at all). In the meantime it sits there sending the scene slightly off kilter, which sends the entire series of scenes off,* too--which messes me up because I'm trying to feel out what the main idea of the series is and keep the book moving.

All I can do is notice that I feel confused, then back up and find the last place I didn't feel confused, and try to take it step by step from there. While also not imposing structure on the story, but letting it find its own way, because imposing structure on it also sends everything off kilter.

*An example of a series of scenes would be the section that's currently called "Glimpses." It's sort of held together by descriptions of the palace, but basically it starts with a scene where Helen is looking out a window, then it moves to the royal sisters' bedrooms, then it moves to a courtyard beyond the women's quarters where the boys train and practice. At the end it comes back to the women's quarters, to a tiny constricted workroom. It's eight pages total, each page containing a centered block of text--and what I've said here doesn't cover any of the actual points I'm trying to make in it. I'm just saying that there are multiple scene changes, even though it's one flowing idea. Or supposed to be.

I doubt that clarified anything. Oh well.

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