The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This is not a networking or promotional blog, so I don't like to mention names of current authors or their books, usually. However, a writer friend just told me of yet another book with an autistic character who speaks without using contractions. This reminded me that there's a book coming out this fall called Episodes, by Blaze Ginsberg. I think it bears mentioning because Blaze is a young adult on the autistic spectrum, and the book is about his life, in his voice, from his POV. I highly recommend it over any books by people who magically had an autistic character's voice pop into their head, and therefore wrote a book with said character as MC.
I also see this as a warning to those of us who ever have a character's voice magically pop into our heads: just because you dreamed it don't make it real. I know that there's been a lot of storm and fury on the internet re. writing outside your own experience. Of course most of us write outside our own experience. Otherwise we'd all be writing autobiographies. However, my feeling is that while we have a right to write anything we want, our good intentions don't have to count for squat in anybody else's eyes. The farther outside my experience I go--and the closer to hitting someone else's raw nerve--the more I'd damn well better be prepared to take it in the you-know-whats after the book is out.
I also think there are a lot of crazy people on the internet, who will gladly give it to you in the you-know-whats, heartily and often, if they don't like something you did. So, write whatever you feel you must--but go in with your eyes open, is all I have to say.
Yes, I have an autistic son.
Yes, I blurbed Episodes.
No, I don't know Blaze.
No, nobody I've ever met who is on the autistic spectrum speaks without contractions.
Side note: The formatting/structure of Episodes is extremely interesting and unique. Hmm, now that I think about it, I wonder if it's subliminally influenced me. Could be.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
So yesterday on the way to tutoring I had one of those moments of creative clarity, and I stopped and wrote down what I need to do next on this ms on a sticky note pad I keep in the car. Hours later, after tutoring, I brought the sticky note in and put it somewhere, probably on the kitchen counter while I did family stuff. Then I decided I didn't have time to work on my WIP, and I may have moved the sticky note close to my desk, probably even onto my desk.
Anyhow, the point is, that today is recycling day, and out of alllll the papers I haven't straightened or picked up, I apparently picked up and THREW AWAY this one very important sticky note. It was probably the best damn sticky note of all time, and as I look back on it, I feel certain it would have solved all my problems and I would have shot right to the end on this ms and it would have been finished and ready to send off within, oh, say two months. But my sticky note is gone! I cleaned it! Oh, the irony!
I know what part of the ms it was about, and vaguely what it had to do with. Now I have to dig in and try to find the place in my head that originally came up with it. It kills me to think that my wonderful, priceless, ms-saving sticky note is being smushed in among the useless junk mail and discarded plastic milk cartons on the recycling truck.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The formatting I have (at the moment) for the main story:
paragraph breaks rather than indents
text of each page centered top-to-bottom
border around the text
as the story progresses toward the last chapter, margins get wider, text gets less space, borders get tighter--all still centered
Formatting for the out-of-POV clips:
same, but no borders and the margins are always standard.
And at the moment the title is Boundaries. Don't know if this will hold up; none of the other title ideas have. But it's working for me at the moment, and so is the formatting, although I know I probably can't submit a ms that looks like this. However, if the clips end up remaining in the ms then the formatting may have to stand till an editor sees it, because so far I can't think of a better way to show the differences between the clips and the main story. Right now I feel that changing fonts is not strong enough. I know it's best to standardize the format and let the words speak for themselves, but that's not enough here. Here, the form helps tell the story.
Of course, there's always the worry that I'm just being Russell Crowe in that shed in the backyard in A Beautiful Mind--that my ms will end up being only the sad and strange evidence of a disordered mind. And I know from Beating Heart that a lot of people don't get formatting that's tied to story.
Nevertheless, I press on. Now that I think about it, I need to go through the entire back half of the ms and reconsider each scene. That part was all written as a GN, so of course it comes off as a little glib now, when all that's left is dialog. The front part was conceived as prose-ish, so it's more...I dunno what to call it. The ideas are more concise, concrete, and separate, whereas the later ms flows from scene to scene and you can't tell them apart without pictures. I need to fix the later ms so it's a series of punches, and I can get my mind around each individual punch.
So, where to start? At the moment, I am clueless. First order of the day: get a clue.
Monday, April 27, 2009
So I took the Iliad to jury duty, which meant I read a long chunk of pages in a row, including god stuff. And I was trying to figure it out--because obviously I'm not a classicist, although I know people who know classicists, and I'll bet they would know why the damn gods are all over the place messing up the book, so maybe I should ask around, or heck, just read the Sparknotes--and I thought maybe the gods step in where the author had to explain why a hero suddenly disappeared from a fight and ended up elsewhere. Lord knows a hero couldn't have run away. But then, Paris get "disappeared" by Aphrodite, and it's quite clear that the author(s) had no love or respect for Paris, and would not have minded showing him running away. So, I dunno.
And there's this part where an archer, Pandarus, breaks a truce by shooting Menelaus with an arrow. There was this setup with Athena (I think it was Athena, but don't care enough to check) going to tempt Pandarus into breaking the truce. Blah, blah, blah. But then there's this in-scene description of Pandarus thinking, "Hey, yeah, I'll do that," and how he gets his bow set up and where the bow came from and how he shoots it and where it hits Menelaus and what happens after that. That part is all very compelling and real. It's real people, doing real things. The god stuff was so limp and feeble compared to the real stuff. It makes me want to go back in time and smack somebody. I want to see Pandarus coming up with the idea on his own--because you know he did. You can just see him itching to do it, realizing that if he has the cajones to break the truce by sniping this one key guy--and he's talented enough to do it, too--the war will be over.
And then some pages later--maybe it's the next chapter--Pandarus gets mowed down by another guy. We get to remeet Pandarus, get to hear about how he's pissed at himself because he brought his weapons but left his horses and chariots behind and joined the war on foot, because he was worried about his horses having enough to eat during the siege. We get to see him again as a person and a comrade--and then boom! he gets killed and he's out of the story:
(this is from the Robert Fagles translation)
split the archer's nose between the eyes--
it cracked his glistening teeth, the tough bronze
cut off his tongue at the roots, smashed his jaw
and the point came ripping out beneath his chin.
And this is a guy we liked. Or at least I did. This happens over and over; there are no red-shirt guys like on Star Trek where they're just in there to be killed so the main guys can do their storyline. The guys in this war are introduced in emotional detail--we get to hear about how their mother loves them or how they grew up side by side with their brother--and then we're told how they died in detail like above. Often there's a little comment afterward, like how now there's no one left to take care of the dead guy's father, now that his only son is gone. It makes war very real, in a way movies and most books don't. All the soldiers count. None are just cannon fodder for the story.
And I have to say that I noticed when Menelaus was wounded by Pandarus' arrow, his brother Agamemnon was very concerned that they might have to stop the war if Menelaus died. The excuse for war would be gone. You--or at least I--very much get the sense that these guys wanted to fight and collect loot, and any excuse would do. I was surprised to see that Paris even offers to return his loot from Sparta, adding to it from his own bank account, if the Greeks will just go away and leave him Helen. They say no. I'm thinking it's because they wanted to loot Troy. They wanted the women, the horses, the armor, the gold. If Paris gave back the Spartan goods, nobody would get it but Menelaus. The rest of the army wouldn't get anything that they didn't take with their own hands from the ruins of Troy.
And then--this is what drove me to start the former GN--you get thousands of years of male writers saying it was all Helen's fault those men died, because she was such a slut. If Helen hadn't been such a ho, none of that would have happened to those poor innocent fellows. It's making me mad just thinking about it.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I think when you're working on problems in the front of your mind, the back of your mind is working on them, too. I think the back of your mind sometimes secretly works on things when the front of your mind is overwhelmed--and novels are overwhelming, no question about it. There's just too much going on, too many threads to keep straight. What sometimes happens with me is that the back of my mind deconstructs a problem and presents it to me when the front of my brain is relaxed; i.e. when I'm half-asleep and half-awake. This happened last night; my head suddenly sorted out several overlapping issues, organized them very simply and clearly, and presented them to me. Fortunately I got up and wrote them down, even though I was mostly asleep and it was a pain. So now if I can take that clarity and apply it to the ms and not get sidetracked or confused, I may very well be through the sticking point.
That's a big if. But I've mostly sorted out the notes I scribbled--they were almost unreadable--so that's one thing.
Come to think of it, it feels like I do most of my best big-picture thinking when I'm not at the computer, but am engaged in some kind of mindless activity like driving the same old route, or walking a dog or mowing the lawn. But it doesn't happen when I'm exercising hard enough to be breathless, like jogging or on cardio machines. Dunno why.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Now, I may have been already halfway thinking this way in the back of my mind, but I probably need to be more deliberately aware. What I need to do--probably--is to keep the big picture of the character's arc in mind as I work on these things, and not focus so much on how he felt/thought last chapter and what changes now that so-and-so happens in this chapter and how it leads to next chapter.
I doubt I'll absorb this idea enough to put it in play for a while; knowing me I'll have to realize it several times before it sinks in. I can't word it clearly enough yet for my mind to internalize what it really means as far as hands-on daily work. But thinking it is a good start.
*Well it is, but I need to stop thinking of it that way because it's causing problems.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
No, scratch that--I've seen books do it at the ending. But endings are hard, and that's a different ball of wax. This was sort of near the front. It was a brain-born plot, and it left everything that tugged at me behind, and suddenly I. Did. Not. Care.
Usually if I get bored with a book, I get annoyed and frustrated, but this time I was like, "Oh, cool," and a light went on.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I had been thinking that a way to solve one of my problems was to undercut unwanted impact of later scenes by introducing the reader to the mindset of this particular world early on. I vaguely figured I'd insert little references to soften the reader up gradually, so by the time we reached the later scenes the reader would be able to take them more in stride.
Another problem was that I'm not being hard-edged and realistic enough. The whole thing needs to be grounded more in the real world rather than a mythical hazy place. I've got the MC's immediate surroundings pretty well set, I think, but what's outside has never been anything but a vague cloud. Once I realized that the harshness of the real outside world didn't mesh with the MC's day-to-day, I came to a grinding halt. I had thought that this difference was sort of a point of the ms, but now I'm thinking that this problem and the above problem could be linked.
So I'm going to see what happens if I bring in some stuff from out of the MC's pov. This has not worked before with this ms, but before I was doing it with an angry feminist agenda. This time I want to come at it from a slightly different angle. I'm going to play around with it and see what happens. Although I should not be working on this at all today; I shouldn't be working on my own stuff anymore this week. I've got deadlines. But I need to do this, just a little bit anyway, and see what it looks like.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I spent much time redoing certain paragraphs. There were a few that were really causing me trouble. I realized, thinking about it later, that the object of rewriting a paragraph for hours usually would be coming up with a perfect paragraph, one that a writer would be proud of. But these paragraphs are very workmanlike, and my object isn't to perfect them, exactly, but to make them disappear. I need the reader not to even notice that s/he's reading words. I need the meaning to come out and the words to fall into the background.
Here is one sentence and some of its versions:
But the sight of Father's cut had momentarily frozen him in that wary, alert stillness rabbits get when they hear something move in the brush.
But Simon had seen the slashed arm, too. He had gone still, his eyes wary and alert and fixed on Father, who had never lifted a hand to Simon, nor even his voice.
But Simon had seen the slashed arm, too: he sat very still, his eyes wary, alert, and fixed on Father. Father, who had never lifted a hand to Simon, nor his voice.
But Simon saw the slashed arm, too; he sat very still, his eyes wary, alert, and fixed on Father. He could not shake the habit of expecting explosions, even from Father, who had never so much as raised his voice at Simon in the entire seven years he'd lived here.
I expect to be doing this sort of thing today, too--only on chapter 2. I'm not so neurotic and obsessive that I can't leave imperfection and move on.
I realized yesterday that sometimes the point of writing is to stamp images into the reader's brain, to be evocative. Other times the point is to be invisible, to drop out of sight in service to the story or characters. Funny, but I think maybe the first one is considered to have more literary value. Not sure why. Maybe because it tends to last longer in the reader's head?
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Well. Nothing to do but face it. This is what I've chosen over punching a time clock. So far, this still looks better than the time clock, although the way I feel right now, a three-thousand-and-first time may tip the scales toward flipping burgers or stocking shampoo.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I was thinking about word choice, about how in my own mss--if there seems to be a option, given constraints of voice and pov--I go for the easiest words possible that get the feeling across without interrupting the flow. Because the goal is to engage the reader and pull them* along almost against their will. I prefer not to use the word that has the exact right definition if that means the reader has to choose between blipping over without understanding, or stopping to go find a dictionary. I'll write a long way around a word if I think it will cause that.
Sometimes if a word seems right, even if it has nothing to do with the situation, I'll try to find a way to use it anyway. I guess I like metaphors and similes okay, and use them often enough, but what I really like is a good strong evocative verb, if possible. Sometimes another word can be strong, too--a nice, plain word can do so much, and is so fun to work with. Sometimes I'll come across words during the day and think, "Wow, what a great word." Could be something like: Ice. Taint. Slice. Jagged. Crisp. Muffle. Spark. Flicker. I noticed while trying to define words during reading comprehension in tutoring that when you say a really good word, you can make it sound like what it means when you pronounce it. Often you don't have to provide a regular definition, you can just say it the right way and maybe add a gesture and the meaning is clear. You can't do that with words like perspicacious and interception. You can't even do it with words like adept and charade. Those aren't plain and strong enough.
In w-f-h, the reader is going to get pulled out whether I like it or not. One of the points of writing for educational publishers is that the reader has to stop and make sense of words, to use strategies to pronounce or define them. And if you don't have hard enough words, the editor has to go back and put them in. When I decide about word choice in w-f-h, I think "Do I like this word enough to ask the reader to stop and figure out how to say it/what it means?" Or "Do I think this word is good enough to use up precious specs on it?" Words that have passed muster in some of my past w-f-h mss have been splat, Sasquatch, nerdly, rattlesnake, lightning, jowl, and yuck.
I really do like words. I guess the question is, how far do you let them take you from the story at hand? At what point do they become about themselves? I know that different readers have different tolerance levels for lyricism and word play. And every ms has a different rhythm and flow. Dunno.
*Yes, yes, I know this is incorrect usage, but I do not give a flying you know what.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
As soon as I got into the new chapter, it flowed like butter (if butter could indeed flow). Now I'm writing a scene that is centered on an emotional point: Character sees such-and-such, realizes thus-and-so, and feels this-and-that. Suddenly I'm back into my comfort zone, and it's fun and sometimes surprising. And instead of retreading the same paragraphs over and over, I've got 1300 new words. So that feels very good. Of course, now that's nearly done so I'm back to actual plot and the characters will have to discuss plot points and achieve plot points, and I have to change setting again.
Looking back, I think I must have worked on this one transitional chapter (Chapter 2) for weeks, producing 1700 words that still don't have a proper ending. Today I have written a decent first draft of a goodly portion of Chapter 3 in one day. So...now that I've got to get back into transitional work, I can probably expect to be laboring over that for weeks, too.
Have been doing a little thinking about former GN, about a major snag that's holding me up. The snag is a turning point in the plot that makes good sense drama/story/themewise, but that doesn't feel right to me. I can't get an emotional grip on it. The idea in the back of my head now is that I need to undercut myself by removing certain aspects of the turning point before it happens. Frankly speaking, there's a sexual aspect to it, and a power aspect. If the sexual aspect is a non-issue for the reader, then I can focus on the power part of it--which is what the story's really about anyway. The sexual stuff throws the story off course. The problem is, in today's world the sexual stuff is an issue, it's a very big deal, especially in YA where writers are often expected to provide bibliotherapy and role models. In the times my story takes place, I really believe it was not an issue and was taken in stride, unfortunately. So what I'd need to do is make the reader already be taking it in stride too, before the turning point happens. I don't know if I can accomplish that. But it's something I may end up trying to do, when I pick that ms up again.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
But the movie really moves. Why? I was thinking that there are actually four groups working against each other, rather than just good guy vs. bad guy. It seems very complicated, looking at it that way. There's the good guy group, and of course the bad guy mummy and his various evil bugs and skeleton thingees. But then there's a group of treasure hunters who start off as sort of enemies, sort of rivals to the good guys. And there's a group of natives who fight both the treasure hunters and the good guy group and try to kill them.
So before the mummy comes into the story, the tension is caused by the other three groups fighting against each other. What's interesting is when the real bad guy, the mummy, shows up, the storyline doesn't need the two non-good-guy groups as antagonists anymore. Those other two groups have been a major part of the movie for at least an hour (?). However, now they aren't needed for tension, so each is suddenly used in a different way as far as moving the story forward. The natives join the good guys, and the treasure hunters are offered up in service to the storyline.
It feels like there's something important here for me to pick up, but I'm not sure what it is. It's something to do with switching gears and changing antagonists. If you think about it, that's hard to do without being choppy or making the reader/viewer feel like they're suddenly into a different story from the one they started with. Not to mention, the real antagonist/bad guy is someone the other characters aren't even aware of till he shows up. How do you make that work?
1. Do the stakes need to rise to a higher level when the real antagonist comes in?
2. How do you keep up tension before he comes?
3. What do you do with the old antagonists when the real one shows up?
4. What kinds of things that would make the reader put down the book when the antagonist changes?
5. Does the MC's goal change when the new antagonist shows up?
re. #5, in this movie the characters' goal is to find treasure. At the end, they mostly come away without any, but everybody's happy and the viewer is satisfied. Why? Does it have to do with that idea of the reader's goal for the character being different from the character's goal for him/herself?*
Lots to think about, here.
*article by Robin Catesby at http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue%202/script.htm
Friday, April 10, 2009
At this moment--with benefit of distance--this ms looks like hard work that will eventually pay off. But when I say hard work, I mean a lot of hard work. Most of my time will be spent writing things the wrong way, then cutting and moving and trimming to fit...then seeing that that doesn't work, either. And so on and so on, again and again and again. The most difficult part will be not to get discouraged, to take all the wrongness in stride and remember that it will all come around in the end. Although I can definitely see that the end is not going to get here for a long time.
One thing that makes me feel a little better is that I almost always feel, when reading other people's mss, that you can hook me in chapter one, but you'd better start grounding things in chapter two. It usually feels wrong if the story isn't getting pinned down a little situation and problem-wise by then. Hooks are not enough anymore. I need info, I need a bigger picture of what's happening. I need at least a little context to chew on.
And that's what's going on here. This is chapter two. It's the right place to start providing context and info. There's just so much context and info, it'll take me a while to pare down to the bare minimum. This is a spilled puzzle where the pieces can be put together in exactly one way that will allow them to fit back into their box.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Great w-f-h editor
clear about what is required (it's okay if specs/deadlines change; comes with the territory)
focus is on engaging readers as much as meeting specs
pays decent w-f-h wages (in proportion to the quality of writing that's expected)
Great trade editor
doesn't reword my stuff*
doesn't set mss aside for too long then shorten my deadlines to make up for it
spends more time explaining what's not working and why than suggesting fixes*
says so when a piece of the ms touches him/her emotionally
This is just based on what I actually see while working with editors. Who knows what the poor souls are really doing behind the scenes on behalf of their writers. Better we don't know, I'm sure. The glimpses I have gotten are not pretty.
*YMMV. Some writers prefer more hands-on direction.
Monday, April 6, 2009
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