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.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
The problem, I decided today, is that I don't have a character arc. Without a character arc, the ms is just a bunch of words set down in order. I have the story arc, and if you asked me I could probably tell you what and how the character feels and changes. But I don't have a grip on it scene by scene.*
I had a lot of thoughts about this (I think T. and I walked about three miles), but some are fading and they were scattered to begin with. Some of them had to do with girl characters, about the goals that girls have in real life vs. the goals they have in books. Historically, a girl's goal was to marry well. Period. But that's not the kind of goal that makes you want to read a book. Some other thoughts were about how a lot of the time people (esp. kids and teens) simply don't have one strong goal they struggle to attain, the way book characters generally do. There are more Bella Swans in real life than there are Harry Potters. And still other thoughts were about the same old problem that keeps rearing its head, the problem of a negative character goal.** Do you have to reframe a character's negative goal as a positive goal in order for a story to work? Even if you don't, does it have to happen subconsciously--I mean, would a new, unbiased reader see a positive goal for your character, even though you were never really thinking about it or writing in that direction? Or are there things to keep in mind if you want a story to work with a negative character goal? Or is it a matter of the reader's goal for the character being different from the character's goal for his/herself?
The main thought that stuck with me from today, though, is that it'd be best to set the former GN aside until I know what my character wants. Or rather, until I feel what she wants. I can talk about what she wants all day, but if I'm not feeling it, it'll never get on the paper.
*It could be that I should feel discouraged by not having a grip on the heart of the story. But it could equally be that I should feel good to be struggling with the same basic problem in both my current WIPs. Both have an already-laid-out plot; I'm not just throwing character-driven scenes against the wall and seeing which ones stick. In both of my WIPs, I have to figure out how to have character-driven stakes in every scene and how to raise them in every scene--even though the stakes have already been decided for me in advance. So maybe I should feel good because it seems my writing mind is determined to force me to crack this problem, even though my two current mss are nothing alike and shouldn't have the same issues at all.
**Like, the character doesn't want something, s/he wants something not to happen.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The reason this is interesting to me is that WF says the scene opened up and started moving when WF changed the setting. That was all, just put the characters in a different place. They were still doing and saying basically the same things, but the background became different. For some reason this allowed WF to progress and fix things and get them moving.
This has been niggling at me (mildly, because I'm effing BUSY) over the past couple of days. Somehow switching the setting jostled WF's mind, right? It sounds like not a big deal just hearing about it, but the more I think about it, it seems important. A very small change that took place mostly in the writer's head rather than on the page clarified and enlightened and opened the door to progress--perhaps substantial progress, because when you've got one scene that moves, you knows how it feels to get a grip on the story, so you know what to shoot for in other scenes.
It especially seems important to me because it may speak to some of the issues I'm having right now. I've got scenes where I know what happens, but they're just not quite right. I know how it feels to have a scene that's not quite as it should be, and then you suddenly see that scene in a slightly different light and rewrite accordingly and then it falls into place. It would be nice if that happened to me right now.
Because sometimes when you have one scene not quite right, everything that comes after it is therefore a tad off, too, and the problem multiples as the story goes on, till you come to a point where you can't work anymore and you don't know why.
If I understood this process better--if I understood more details about what makes a scene click versus not click--maybe I could make more progress, or give a jolt to my approach re. my own WIP. Will try to see if WF has any light to shed on the subject.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Take a good hard look at chapter 2 and see what can be put off till later without confusing the reader.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
It looks like I'll pick up the swordfighting ms when I'm able to seriously get back into my own work, although I have no idea when that will be. Maybe never, is what it feels like at this point. But when I did work on it--not sure how long ago that was, a few days?--I cut the excess I'd become aware of but had been unable to do anything about. What I have now is a Chapter 1 that makes sense and has a point, and a Chapter 3 that makes sense and has a point. And then there's a Chapter 2 that I'm unsure about. I think it's one of those things I'm going to have to come to grips with, craftwise--if I was writing my normal way Chapter 2 probably wouldn't be there, at least not yet; I would probably skip straight to chapter three. So I guess one question to ask myself is whether I should pretend Chapter 2 isn't there and forge onward to see what develops, or whether I should try to figure out what to do with this transitional chapter, because there clearly must be some kind of bridge between events, and there clearly needs to be some kind of set-up for later.
I want to figure this out so much--how somebody like me can write a plotted novel--but there's just not enough time, and then where there is time I don't seem to make much progress because I don't know what I'm doing and the whole process is so unnatural for me.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I'll behave tomorrow. But for the rest of today, it's swordfighting.
A couple of worrisome outside/business type ideas have reared their ugly heads lately. One is an article/opinion piece I read talking about Kindle and how most Kindle books are $9.99 and that's not enough for Amazon to make a profit--they're losing money on it, the article said--and they have to raise their prices but the readers won't go for that. Then the article said that the publishers were being squeezed between readers who won't pay over a certain price and authors who are asking for bigger and bigger advances. The article made it sound like the good-hearted publishers just want to provide cheap books to the reading public, but the greedy authors won't let them.
(I had more to say about this but, in an unusual fit of wisdom, deleted it.)
Then on the other hand I saw a site where people are scanning in books they've read and offering them up for download. The authors get nothing from this, and the publishers don't either. It's stealing, the same way people have been stealing music and movies for years. Only it's just now hitting us. And I don't know how I feel about it. I like the exchange of ideas and information on the internet. I love the incredible ease of being able to get hold of things that teach or inspire.
But the big thing--the big, BIG thing is--authors (and artists) have to have roofs over their heads before they can create. They have to have food. And they have to have time to dedicate to creative thinking. It's not always just a matter of sitting down and doing the work; it's also about the brain having time to process and absorb. Brains are exasperating things; they don't always leap into gear just because their owners have an hour-long time slot before having to be at work.
So anyway, re. the internet, all I know is that nobody can stop the changes that are coming; the music industry has tried and failed. It looks to me like people are willing to pay for what they get off the internet, but they won't pay much. Some might say that the solution for authors is to skip the publisher and offer their work straight up, on their own, but the truth is that mss need more than one loving hand and eye to achieve full potential.
(I had more to say about this too, but deleted it as well. I'm being so good today. I deserve a package of Zingers.)
I do wonder if at some point the Internet will right itself. It's such a free-for-all right now, it's like being in a crowd of people all shouting at each other. Surely it will eventually sort itself out.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Back into w-f-h today, and decided to do a story about a kid painting. Out of the blue I remembered years ago when I was up at the elementary school once a week helping the first and second grade do art. I wasn't teaching, just being the warm body that led half the class at a time into a side hall so they could paint, because otherwise they wouldn't get to do any art at all.* My job was trying to keep the kids relatively quiet and prevent them from painting each other rather than their papers.
One thing I noticed--it bugged the h*ll out of me--was that some of the girls would all paint the same thing. If one painted a rainbow, then all of them would paint a rainbow. If one did a house, the others would do a house. The rainbows and houses might have differences according to personalities, but week after week the girls were clearly taking their creative cues from one another. I seldom saw the boys doing this. If one of them did take his idea from another boy, he'd make it completely his own in some way. For example, I'd walk past the girls' paintings and see a row of flowery meadows with the same basic composition. Then I'd see two boys painting fighting jets, but one would have a big jet with fiery missiles shooting off off the edge of the paper, and the other would have a fleet of small jets at the top dropping bombs while the bottom of the paper would be covered with fiery explosions.
But anyway, that's not what I was thinking about. What I was thinking about was this one kid I knew who always painted one color all over the page. All the other kids would paint people, animals, buildings, vehicles, designs, whatever--while he would pick one jar of paint, cover his paper with the paint, then go back to class. One week he'd end up with an all red paper, one week it'd be all blue, etc. But what's weird is that now, I guess it's twelve years later, the kid is an actor who likes to make his own films. If you had asked me at the time, I would have said he was well on his way to ending up in a cubicle somewhere.**
I remember I couldn't decide if it was creative or not, in my own head. He wasn't being lazy, because it took a lot of effort to cover every corner of the page. It took some courage, I thought, to have no drive to paint any particular idea, and to carefully show that in painting every week. I'll have to ask him next time I see him what was going on. I have a feeling the answer won't be nearly as interesting to me as thinking back about it.
*This is what standardized testing does to schools--art is something a teacher has to shoehorn in once a week. But only if the teacher has the time and energy to arrange every bit of it themselves, including materials, logistics, scheduling, etc.
**Now that I think about it, it's my kid that's more likely to end up in a cubicle. Not that there's anything wrong with cubicles. Cubicles mean a steady paycheck, and you can't beat that with a stick.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Like, say, a one-year-old suddenly starts waking and screaming every night and you have no idea why. Then in regular life he starts walking, and shortly after you realize the night wakings have stopped. It's like his wee little brain couldn't handle the stress of holding everything together all at once: the new stuff he wanted to learn and the old stuff he already knew. But once he got the new stuff going--once he realized walking was no problem--he was cool again. Only you don't see that until you look back and put two and two together. At the time you're just ready to rip your hair out.
I wonder if it's the same for writing. When you're trying to learn something new, do you backslide in old areas as you're integrating the new thing? Will you come out better in the end, with more abilities in your creative tool kit? Or are you screwed for life, and you'll always suck at writing from now on because you fiddled around too much with your comfort zone?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Was thinking--dunno why--about Cynthia Voigt's On Fortune's Wheel. It suddenly occurred to me that the MC--a girl--falls in love with a guy character and devotes herself totally to him, doing his bidding and deliberately being subservient. However, she is what I'd consider to be a strong character. Not a superficial role model cooked up for the kiddies--a strong, well-defined character who knows who she is.
And now that I think about it, with all the fuss asking for strong girl characters--and strong girl characters whose sexuality is presented in a positive light--why hasn't anybody (that I know of) recommended Voigt's work? I'm talking especially about the Kingdom books: Jackaroo, On Fortune's Wheel, Wings of a Falcon, and Elske. These girl characters are real people with depth and they are self-confident doers. Voigt doesn't compromise the stories or the worlds or the characters themselves in order to shoehorn a cheap role model in. She doesn't trample on centuries of history and demean real women's choices by simplifying hard truths.
But I don't have time to get p*ssed off about this subject right now. Too much to do.
I just realized, though, that I don't own Elske. I have the others, but not Elske. This is a situation that must be corrected.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Today I still can't figure out why it's there. I haven't pulled up the ms, but I know I worked that scene in to show/establish a certain thing--but surely that thing could be shown/established elsewhere, because it's sort of everywhere in the world of the story. I probably even touched on it in other places already.
It's hard to believe I could have spent so much time writing something that wasn't necessary, after several go-rounds of trying to cut out all unnecessary stuff. After deliberately focusing on not writing the unnecessary! I keep thinking that I'll suddenly remember another reason why I had it in there. But at the moment, it looks like another misguided case of toiling away at something I think the reader needs to know for the plot to be set up, rather than letting the story guide itself. At the moment, I can already feel the relief at knowing it's gone, even though I haven't cut it yet. I'm thinking it's no coincidence that I lost some of my direction immediately after that scene, and felt a little lost.
This book is going to take forever. For. Ev. Er.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Was thinking about swordfighting ms, wondering if I'm all messed up and wrongheaded about it, and need to rethink from scratch again. Then I thought, no, the best thing to do (when I pick it up again) is to jump around as needed and work on the parts that have a strong sense of story to me. Of course, when I say "story" I don't mean what other people mean, because I don't have a strong sense of story. I mean the internal story, the emotional story, taking the MC on his emotional ride.
I know that doing this actually can work for me, process-wise. I ought to be able to leave little blanks where I understand what happens plotwise, then after I get enough of the emotional ride put together, to go back and hammer away at the gaps till they work in the emotional story, too. I remember I had to do that for Repossessed late in the revision process, in the scene near the end where the demon and Lane are together. I knew what happened plotwise, but couldn't get it right, so I had to just redo it and redo it till it came to life properly, in a way that meshed with the rest of the ms. So what I need in the swordfighting ms is a strong emotional drive for the MC--at least in my head--and I need enough of it to provide a firm base so that I can leap over the gaps where plot must step in and carry the story. I can fill in the gaps once I have the rest.
The question is, can I get enough of the emotional story for that firm base? I'll have to think hard, and go back to the part where the dad dies and take it afresh (in my head, not writing it out yet) from there. I'll have to toss out the plot and just focus on what is going on at the moment and think what happens next. How will this connect with the plot I already have? No idea whatsoever. G*d help me, maybe it won't, and my lovely plot will have to be tossed.
Was thinking about the movie 300 and the movie The New World, and how some critics hated 300 (the Thermopylae movie) because it was more style than story, but loved The New World (Terrence Mallick movie re. John Smith, Pocahontas, et al.) because it was more style than story. I like them both because in each case the style is strong and seems to me to match the story. I'm not sure if the anti-300/pro-NewWorld critics are snobs, or if my teenage-guy streak is prejudicing me.
I think both movies have extensive voiceovers. What is the equivalent of a voiceover in a novel? Not sure, and no time to consider right now because I must get back to w-f-h.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Was thinking about former GN. It's almost as if the climax of the book takes place after the book is over. It's just a strange ms, that's all there is to it. I keep thinking I need to fix it, make it more like a book is supposed to be, but then I think no, the point is to stick to the quiet, behind-the-scenes, mostly internal stories that have belonged to women and girls for centuries. If I try to make this something else, that's like admitting only men's stories are important. And I can't do that.
My job is to do right by this story. It's not to get the thing sold, it's not to teach a lesson, it's not to wow anybody. It's just to tell the thing the way it needs to be told, to the best of my ability. What that means, basically, is accepting failure. I have to accept that the whole thing may tank, that the gap between what's in my head and what other people see may be so large that it's embarrassing. I have to make it all about what's on the paper; I have to try to get what's on the paper as close as possible to an ideal form for this story, these characters, these ideas and questions.
Of course, the problem is that I have no clue what the ideal form is, and it could be that I got off track early on so it can never work--or that I'm just not a good enough writer to do this particular task justice. But still, my job is to keep at it in good faith, because in the end it's all about the book--about doing right by the book. Everything else is out of my control--the only thing I can guarantee is tireless work in good faith, trying to do right by the book.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Was looking up Vercingetorix to see what happened to him after he surrendered to Julius Caesar (this isn't research, just wanted to know, because he surrendered something like six years before he was executed). He was taken to Rome and kept in prison till Caesar had time for a triumph, where V. was displayed. Then he was strangled in his prison cell. Can't even imagine how much that must have sucked--not the strangling, but being a defeated king-type warrior and living in a foreign prison for six years. I don't think prisons were for punishment then, but a place to hold somebody till they could be punished--so I wonder how he was treated.
Being strangled probably sucked, too, though. You'd think he would have preferred to die in battle, although I don't know enough about it to say. Who knows, he might have been glad to have it over with.
You know, somebody else was displayed in a triumph, but then got to go live out the remainder of her life in some palatial mansion near Rome for free. It was some lady ruler, can't remember who or when. Too bad Vercingetorix didn't get to do that. He sounds like a brave man who did his best for his people.
I guess if you were writing a book about it, you'd most likely write about the battles and the siege and losing and all that. But what interests me is this guy sitting in a prison for six years, after all the exciting part is over. I wonder if there were any windows. I wonder how often he got to eat, and what. I wonder what he slept on, and how he had to handle relieving himself. Did he just sit there every day for years? I wonder if his jailers spoke to him.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I'm not an idea person, but for this sort of thing I have to come up with lots of ideas, fast. Right now I've got four sketched out, but need five more. It's a stretch for me to do this, because I'm more of a take-one-idea-and-stick-with-it kind of writer. If I like an idea I'll keep at it for years, however many drafts it takes until I figure it out. Multiple quick, new ideas are not my strong point. So I think this is a good stretch, although it's a little nerve-wracking because I don't want to fail.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
What does my character want? That's the tricky thing; she doesn't know what she wants. In fact, she's been taught all her life not to want. Her duty is to serve and support others. So maybe I need to think about that, about what the character arc is in terms of inner goals. It's already tough to work with a character who has negative goals--who wants something not to happen (this has been a subject of discussion many, many times over the years among writers I know, and I don't think we've ever completely come to grips with how to handle it). But I don't think I've ever had a character with no goals. Maybe part of the story is allowing herself to want something? Not sure. I think it's an important idea, because it speaks directly to what interests me about this ms--females and powerlessness in relationships.
I think maybe the thing to do for now is get the ms into basic shape, then set it aside and let the goal/character/theme stuff jell in the back of my mind. That's the only thing that will pull this ms from "nothing happening" to having something to say and giving the reader something to think about.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
And then there's the flip side; publishers coming up with ideas and hiring writers to write them. I have no beef with this at all, as long as everybody's upfront about it, more or less (I understand that discretion can occasionally be the better part of valor). But man, when I see a packaged book aggressively marketed as one writer's tenderly nurtured inspiration, it makes me feel like I've been coated with somebody's leftover cooking oil.
I don't see anything wrong with a publisher coming up with ideas via committee and auditioning writers to find the right one for the project. Of course the publisher wants to make money, and the writer wants to make money as well as writing something fun or interesting or challenging, and the readers want a good, fun read. A packaged book can make everybody happy. But I get an icky feeling when I see this kind of partnership presented to the public as a single author's creative inspiration that was discovered as a gem-like seed and brought to fruition. It implies an artistic patronage--and a belief in artistic patronage--that isn't there.
OTOH, gatekeepers and probably a large part of the writing community look down on a collective effort as unworthy. A lot of the time they can't tell it's a collective effort when they read it--only if they find out it's a packaged book does the snobbery start to show. We've all seen packaged books (to one degree or another; I'm using the term "package" very loosely) win kudos--but if it leaks out later that such a book wasn't the author's brainchild, gatekeepers et al. seem to get p*ssed. Books aren't judged solely on the reading experience they provide. This is what I meant by discretion and valor; if you make a tasty homemade sausage for your family, and they don't ask for details, why volunteer the words "pig intestines"?
OTOOH, it just ain't right to label and market pig intestines as, I dunno, organic soy-based casings for vegetarian sausage.
And all this is one reason I like to live in a cave most of the time. Just me and my ms, alone in the dark.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I guess if I had to make a list, it would be more from the point of view of just write whatever feels right, then read it over and ask yourself:
1. Does this bore me?
2. Does this confuse me?
Then pin down where, and try to figure out why. Then try to think what to do about it.*
I was going to add "Of course, this approach has not served me well," because I'm befuddled and groping my way along most of the time. But in the big picture, maybe this approach has served me okay. I've published what, six or seven books? OTOH, I'm not particularly well established, and I sure as hell ain't rich. So I guess it depends on your outlook, and your goals.
*I guess there would be a third thing:
3. Does it make me want to read on?
That sort of falls under "does it bore me," but not really, because you can have a chapter that really moves and isn't dull at all, but it can still end with the reader sticking in a bookmark and going to bed and not being interested enough to pick the book up again the next day. I think "wanting to read on" can just be about the right chapter hook, but it can also be about larger questions developed over the course of the ms.
Monday, May 4, 2009
I have two more stories for a w-f-h project I need to do, but I'd prefer to have one long focused go at each story so I know what I'm doing. And that deadline has suddenly become flexible. Now comes another potential w-f-h project, much shorter, but it's certain to be under the gun deadline-wise. I also have to drive 40 miles to turn in tutoring paperwork--paperwork which is late because I was sick on Friday and couldn't drive 40 miles and back.
I don't know how to sort out my priorities at the moment. I'm very confused. Maybe I shouldn't have worked out yesterday. Maybe I should lie around today--but I'm pretty sure I won't. There's too much stuff that has to be done.
I did work on my former GN a little last night, and am currently of the opinion that I'm going to drop a character--Helen's daughter. I have kept her in all the versions so far, but there's no question that she's a bit of a problem. First: her name is Hermione. You just can't use that name anymore, can you? Second: Helen leaves her behind and goes off with a guy. I'm pretty sure I can deal with that so the reader won't mind too much--the problem is that doing so takes too much time and space. The amount of explanation required feels like it takes the story off on a tangent--but deserting your child is a very unlikeable act and making the reader okay with it can't be handled quickly. This is exacerbated by the fact that the baby doesn't show up till the story's nearly over, so it's like bam, there's a baby, bam, here's the end. Between the two bams I have to cram a ton of stuff in, if I want the baby to work. But that's on top of the normal story that's already leading in a straight line.
However, I like some of the issues that comes into the story with the baby. Still...current thinking is that the problems outweigh the possibilities. So for the time being, I'll probably X the baby.
Come to think of it, that will be a nice change from X-ing the parents. I've X-ed a ton of parents to streamline mss, but never a baby.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
This afternoon: Finally worked out, and it was a half@ss session, but at least it was a session.
Now: I need to get a grip on this Menelaus section. I need to get a clear sense of it as a series of steps--downward steps, ha! Then at some point I'll have to go back and rethink everything before that, because the two pieces don't match. Now, the Menelaus section has to be different, because it's smaller and tighter on the page. There's no room for anything but the very, very basics. But the writing styles of the two sections are so terribly different--one is more literary and lyrical and the other is more snarky and personal. Not sure what to do about it. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for the ms to pick up right in the middle and take off, but that makes the first section false advertising, and wouldn't it be better if the ms picked up and took off from the very beginning? However, I don't know that it can.
Was thinking that it's no wonder all the stories are about men, because the men actually did things. The women sat around waiting for the victors to come home, or to be taken into slavery. The only ones who didn't are the ones who got written about, but their stories are still told in terms of the deeds of men.
Was also looking at some of the lists of women working as slaves. Okay, must stop and explain, because this doesn't make sense without explanation. The Greeks--or whoever; Greek is not the exact right word but it'll have to do for now--went on raids, burnt/sacked the cities, killed all the men, and brought home the women and loot. So in Bronze-age inventory-type lists, women show up as wool-workers from other areas of the world--they were taken home to serve in the wool industry and as bed-warmers for whoever they were given to. BUT the women always have kids listed with them--only it doesn't say if the kids were children of the raiding Greeks, or from the fathers the Greeks killed. I was thinking that when the raiders swept in and took the women home with them, they surely took the women's children, too, if it wasn't a pain. Because if they killed all the husbands and destroyed all the homes, AND killed the children, the women wouldn't have a heck of a lot left to live for. Seems like at least some of them would have been suicidally p*ssed and caused trouble for their captors. The raiders needed the women to accept their fate. So it would have just been good business to keep their children alive and with them, if doing so wasn't terribly difficult.
OTOH, wouldn't that raise a generation of captor-hating little kids? Not sure. Not sure how to find out, either. I guess it's not really pertinent to my actual ms, but I feel I need to understand.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I pulled up the former GN but am too tired and grumpy to even start to figure out what to do with it now. Then I tried to read through the swordfight ms beginning I'd printed out to take to jury duty (which I ended up not even looking at because first I had to stand waiting for two hours and then I was too out-of-it from standing waiting for two hours to care about reading over my own stuff). But tonight I just can't get interested in it, and not knowing whether I can't get interested because I'm grumpy or because it really is uninteresting makes me even more grumpy.
I think I should just spend the rest of the evening wallowing in grumpiness in hopes of getting it out of my system by tomorrow. I think this day is a lost cause.
*It figures that spell check is saying that "inutterably" is wrong. "Unutterably" ought to be wrong. It sounds like the name of a cookie. And I didn't even ask spell check for an opinion. It decided to be snotty all on its own.
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