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, September 30, 2009
I'm working around page 30 or so, and I remember distinctly that at some point I was doing this with the pages before 30, and I'm pretty sure they're good to go now. So I am making forward progress. I think.
So anyway, while I was working on that I was thinking about its structure. At first I had an opening scene, then a lengthy flashback, then back to real time, picking up where the first scene left off. Discussion with editor enlightened me to the fact that they want plot more than character--so I cut the flashback entirely. Now it's all real time, very short, and I just characterized like I was told to characterize, without trying to understand anything.* But as I was going over and over it, trying to get it readable, I thought, you know, I could actually start the whole thing with the second scene, just skip the first one entirely. I didn't, but I thought that I could have.
The whole thing was actually pretty interesting, because I had to sit down and think closely about what the reader needs from a beginning--and this is absolutely related to my difficulties with the swordfighting ms. In the w-f-h sample ** I first started with character/thematic problem then went into the plot problem. Then for revision I trimmed the heck out of character and took out the thematic problem--but I still started with a little scene to set up the character. If I started with the plot problem, to me there would be nothing to get hold of in the second chapter, because you wouldn't have a clue who the MC is or why you should care. Also, the first chapter hook is going to be undercut and disappear right at the beginning of chapter 2. Without something else to care about, why should anybody keep reading? I probably wouldn't. I felt like the chapter needed something else besides plot hooks laid as a foundation, in order to support 200 more pages of book. I could be wrong, of course, because I'm not a plotter, but that's how I see it at the moment (note to self: reread The Da Vinci Code).
In the middle of working on all this I was thinking about the swordfighting ms, and how it's okay now, but it doesn't grab me. I thought, that's because it doesn't start with The Problem anymore. It used to start with The Problem and was real grabby--but the ms was dead because the reader hadn't connected with the characters. The Problem doesn't actually come up till well into the story. By that time there's no way to get in the masses of characterization and motivation that make the reader (or me, anyway) connect emotionally.
In essence, the problem and the story don't start at the same time.
I thought, okay, I know other books don't always have story and problem starting together. I haven't had time to think about it much, but Lord of the Rings immediately comes to mind. It starts with Bilbo's party. (Doesn't it? No time to check.)
However--pulling myself back into line here--it doesn't matter if other writers can do it. What matters is whether I can, or whether it works for this ms. And to me, something feels like it ain't quite right. Something feels like it could be better. So what I think I want to do is play around with time jumps, integrating the old plot-hook version with the newer, more developed version, to see if there's a way to have problem and story at the same time. I'm well aware that this may turn out to be an extremely unproductive tack to take, so I'll just putz around with it and quit if it starts feeling too weird.
*Speaking frankly, here. I've decided that although it's always unwise to blog frankly in this biz, I'm not going to lie about writing process. Period. The reason being that--in this biz--you don't sell your soul all at once, but tiny pieces of it, a dime and nickel at a time. My soul is definitely for sale, but only certain parts of it, and I must sell it mindfully, keeping firm lines as to what's up for grabs and what's not. Otherwise, one day I'll wake up to find that I hate writing and want to quit.
**My agent says it's not w-f-h, and it's not, technically, but I don't know what else to call it. It's not packaging, either.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Now, that doesn't sound so different from writing cut-line-type stuff. But with cut-line-type stuff, you're focused (or at least I am) on every word already. Here, I'm focused on larger pieces, sentences and paragraphs. It is prose, after all. But it's got some of the worst aspects (as far as being a pain in the you-know-what) of trying to write verse-ish-ly. Doing it this way is harder than if the whole thing had wanted to come out as a normal novel. It's going to take me forever. It's like I'm knitting a sweater with toothpicks. The damn thing's already falling apart by page...oh, I don't know, page 30? I'm not even going to look back to see where I was at the beginning of summer, or last year, or the year before. I don't want to know, because I already have a very good idea where I was, and it was probably about where I am right now only the knitting's better quality now. Jebus. It's times like these that make me wish I drank.**
* The reason I think cut-line-prose is easier is because it doesn't have those prose transitions, which are my downfall and take me twenty times longer to figure out than any other writer I know. Other people might find regular prose easier.
** I do drink, in theory. Just not in practice usually, because what's the point? It costs too much, I'd rather use the calories on chocolate, and I already shoot my mouth off too much as it is.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
So I sat down to rewrite it, thinking, "Okay, what is the point here?"
Basically, I decided, the point of this page is to lay out the reason for the book. As I tried to fix it, I reminded myself that the end frame needs to come back around to this same point. I also realized that I need to come back to it in the middle, too--that I went off course while dabbling around in the middle because I didn't have this point in mind.
I also get off course in this particular middle spot because if I focus on theme, I lose story, and on top of that I already don't have a good grasp of characterization here because the MC's experiences are so far from my own. I'm wondering if maybe I just need to get the basic skeleton of theme down, and worry about the rest later. Getting it right may take help from outside readers who can tell me what they're missing or what they don't understand or what they don't find believable.
Anyway, so I worked this morning and fixed the first page (for today, anyway) and then moved to page 60 and started reworking from there. When I get tired of that, I can start reading the printout if I want to.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The question is, since I'm a little bit at loose ends, should I print out and read through some of this from the beginning? I'm thinking yes. If not, I'll just be wandering around anyway, and it doesn't feel like I'm going to get a grip on the story by doing that. It feels like I'm at a point where I can spend hours working and afterwards find that every word I wrote is just as clueless as I am.
I also need to rewrite the sample chapter, per request. My current game plan is to revamp the style and come at it more externally--cut the character development, basically, and try to concentrate on concrete, in-scene details while keeping a quick pace.
Hmm, more thoughts re. former GN: The middle section is still up in the air. My gut feeling is that it might take a layoff for me to start seeing what I need to do to it. I don't want to lay off; I want to work right through and get a complete first draft. However, there's no point in forcing it if it's not ready to come. Well, I'll try reading some and see what happens. I hope it doesn't suck. There's a good chance it does, though. Ugh.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Writing novels isn't the same as writing RT scripts, because there are so many threads that have to be juggled and woven that it's necessarily complex and--much of the time--overwhelming to the point where you don't really quite understand what you're doing. But again and again I find that I need to simplify my thinking about certain threads, or about the way I weave them together, or whether they need to be woven at all, or whether they all even need to be there. There's no one-size-fits-all rule about it, but it's been very helpful to remember that I do have this tendency to overcomplicate. Sometimes it takes care of itself as I work, but other times I have to force myself to consider whether I'm preventing my ms from having clarity and purpose.
This is on my mind today because I have to think about that w-f-h sample. I can't tell at this moment if my head's in the right place, or if I'm just being overly complicated again. It's unfortunate that I often have to figure this out by talking about it, because basically I pin friends/colleagues down while I whine and bore them.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I'm thinking about the frame, because I woke up this morning with an idea of how it could go. I'm starting with a heading that sets the scene, then I have about half a page (standard margins) in Troy during the siege. Then the story proper starts with a heading that re-sets the scene (ten years earlier, different place) and goes into the centered formating.
The very end of the story proper (haven't written it yet; just have the GN form of it) leaves on an open note of freedom and ocean horizons. That kind of feels like where the book ought to end. But to me, this story isn't about one girl, it's about a whole bunch of other stuff, so the story needs to go on a little bit. It needs to end in midair, because the rest of the story really lies elsewhere. It seems pretty obnoxious to act like I told the whole thing in 30,000 measly words then tied a bow on it. And it feels dishonest to imply a happy ending when really the story goes on to become a tragedy.
So after the end of the story proper comes the closing frame, picking up where the beginning frame left off. The frame ends where my favorite part of the Iliad starts, so I'm going to stop somewhere in there. Not sure where yet--not sure how abruptly I want to leave it hanging. Maybe the reader needs to turn the page, fully expecting more story--only there's not. That's going to p*ss them off, which is okay with me if it keeps them thinking. Or, maybe I need to end on a note where the reader thinks, "this feels like the end, but I sure hope it's not because I want to know what happened,"--and then it really is the end, too bad.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
But you know, if so, wtf else is new? It's not like I haven't scrapped a goodly portion of what I've worked on in the past couple of years. I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I wrote something and it just worked. I'd probably be scared if that happened. I'd be looking up, waiting for the asteroid that was about to strike and turn me and my computer into a flaming crater.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Nobody's going to care. Nobody's interested in your puttering around in boring subtleties of personal relationships. They might be interested if you'd kill somebody off, or have characters beat each other up. But what you're writing is about as interesting to read as a checkbook ledger. You might as well spend your time watching reruns of Wife Swap. That'll be more fun, and you won't have to labor over something that nobody's ever going to care to read anyway. The end result will be the same whether you work on your stupid ms or not. Go on, give in, plunk yourself down in front of the TV with the remote. Go on--give in to Wife Swap!
Okay, enough of that. To work, dammit! Mush! Mush!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
However, yesterday I also added back in one of the characters I'd cut, only in a smaller and different way. The character isn't so much of a character anymore as a little tiny peak of plot--a feeling I want to bring in. There's no development or backstory and I don't have to carry the character all the way through the book and juggle him with other plot threads and other characters' entrances and exits. So, we'll see. There's no telling if he'll end up staying or going.
So today I'll be interested to see how many pages I lose when the baby's gone. And I'll have to move some other stuff I'd tied into the baby--must see where that can go. I hope it can go somewhere.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I was thinking more about the sample and how I moved the timeline around. If that actually works--if it's readable and smooth and the time jumps don't lose the reader--it does a great favor to the ms as far as pacing and tension. What it looks like right now is this:
1. Present time:
Set her problem (boyfriend dumped her; she's sad)
End mid-scene on a conclusion the MC draws about emotion
Break (white space)
Start with general explanation about emotion and relationship with boyfriend
Move into scene where MC was dumped
End on action.
Break (white space)
3. Present time:
Set scene again, in very first line.
Scene picks up essentially where we were before flashback.
Stay in scene, hit the plot points and the hook (dead body!).
So what I'm wondering is whether there's something to take from this and apply to my swordfighting ms. I think that ms might work okay the way it is now, but it doesn't snap, crackle, and pop. It's okay...but I wonder if there's a way to have my cake and eat it too. I wonder if there's a way to keep the hook-y first chapter that threw me totally off course because it wasn't at all tied to the emotional story. Is there a way to somehow mess around with time so that the reader gets both hook and backstory at once?
One problem is that the swordfighting ms needs to be accessible to slightly younger readers than my upper YAs. That makes jumping around in time harder to do. Hmm. Double hmm. Plus it's one thing to have a single flashback, but what if the backstory is just as big as the present-day-hook-y story? Hmm, must think about structure and format.
I remember reading Rats Saw God a long time ago. Some other people I knew had read it and liked it, but others didn't because the time changes confused them and they found it hard to keep up. I believe--too lazy to go look--that past and present were indicated by dates at the beginning of diary sections (or whatever they were) and also by font--perhaps italic vs. regular?
I had no problem reading RSG, because I knew ahead of time to take a second to reorient myself at the beginning of each section. Obviously you can't count on readers knowing they need to do that--or even being willing to; it is asking a bit much to require them to work at reading your book. So...can you make the ms do the work for them? What if you make it blindingly clear that the reader needs to reorient? Can you smooth time jumps by upping the clarity of your clues? You can change fonts and put a heading. But I'm thinking maybe you could pretty much force them to reorient if you use stronger means. Like spelling out the headings--for example, instead of putting a date, put "From So-and-so's diary."
Or...instead of having a break and font change, you could start a new chapter with each font change. For good measure, you could also title the chapters with a clue/indicator.
You could even go so far as to stop, have a page with just a heading/title, then pick up with the time jump on the following page.
But the real question is, can this work without screwing up the pacing, without losing tension, without coming off as jerky and disorienting?
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The problem was that this meant not going in chronological order. Shades of my swordfighting ms! I immediately had flashbacks of the horror that came from mismatched plot and emotional story. The dead ends, the lack of connection with the reader, the wasted time. And here was the same problem staring me right in the face: if I skipped the beginning and started with hook/action, I'd be playing catchup from page one and might not ever get everything working in concert.
I tried to feel it out (hard to do, on a deadline), and what I ended up doing was starting in scene leading up to the hook, and then I plunked a big old flashback in the middle. In the first chapter. Egad. I cut all other references to subplots down to almost nothing (they kept trying to clarify themselves, but that early on they just muddy the waters) and tried to smooth it out and make it work. There's no telling if it really does work, because I'd only know that if I let it sit a while before I looked at it again. Anyhoo, that's done.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I did, however, manage to see all four stages of Ninja Warrior. I've only been able to catch episodes with the first stage before, but with concentrated effort yesterday, I watched all the way to the end of one of the contests. I'm not sure why this feels like an accomplishment. I guess because I've been wondering what the second, third, and fourth stages look like. Answer: crazy hard. Almost all upper body. And hand and finger strength, because they do a lot of moving from obstacle to obstacle while danging from fingertips. And the last stage? Never watch it if you have bad memories of having to climb a rope in gym class.
Now to work. I had an idea that adds almost nothing to this sample chapter, but could help shape the entire ms if I ended up with the job. It has to do with this:
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I've been struck by Pepys' (17th century England) ability to force himself on women, and by his apparent inability to care how they felt about it. There's this self-centeredness to him, like if he enjoys what he's doing, what the women think about it is inconsequential. And the richer he gets, the more he seems to feel that all women can be had, if he just cares to put forth the effort (g*d knows even he admits he flat-out raped Mrs. Bagwell). I see the same self-centeredness in the Greek warriors taking their prizes back to their tents.
And I saw the same thing in Genji (10th/11th century Japan), over and over, but most of all at the end of chapter nine, where Genji finally consummates his relationship with Murasaki. And that's just creepy, because he first saw her when she was maybe ten years old, and he took her off without permission and groomed her to be the kind of woman he wanted. Then he decides it's time to do the deed, and I don't know how old she is by then, but it's barely out of childhood. She's always thought he was a dear friend and companion and playmate, and then one night he just does it. Typically, we don't get to hear about it, just the aftermath, when Genji has left and little Murasaki stays in bed all day and everyone assumes she's feeling sick:
"That this was what Genji had so long been wanting came to her as a complete surprise and she could not think why he should regard the unpleasant thing that had happened last night as in some way the beginning of a new and more intimate friendship between them."**
Remember, he's the master, the boss of the house, an important man whom nobody can gainsay. So anyway, when he comes back, she hides under the covers and stays there and won't talk to him, but he doesn't quite get it, and tries to cajole her. When he finally pulls the covers away, he finds that she's so upset she's worked herself into a sweat. He tries giving her gifts, then pretending to be angry, but "he found even her rebuffs in a curious way endearing." This goes on as he completes the process of marrying her (sleeping with her that night was the first step). She has zero choice in the matter, and it doesn't matter one iota how she felt about sex. It's very clear she didn't like it, and that he doesn't care whether she did, and to me he doesn't seem likely to care in future, either. All that's important to him is how she interacts with him before and after, and how it impacts his daily pleasure in her company (she'd better start being nice to him, or else she's history, is the feeling I get).
Notice that this book was written by a woman. She lived in a society where men could do as they pleased and women were their cloistered subjects, and to me, every page drips with the assumption that men had the right. To me, Murasaki (the author, not the character; they have the same name) felt that the way to tell a good man was by how generous he was about financially supporting all the women in his life, and by how artistically he went about his love affairs. To me, this is a clue about how women might view rape and forced sex, in a world where men could see only as far as the ends of their, er, noses. Beyond their own pleasure, men had no need to consider. Beyond that, things might get a little uncomfortable. So they didn't go there, either emotionally or mentally. Conveniently, then, they had no need for a conscience, the same way you don't have to have empathy for animals if you believe their only reason for existence is for the use and convenience of mankind. And if the men essentially dictated the foundations of right and wrong, then the society as a whole had no conscience or empathy. The entire culture, the entire world, didn't go there.
That's why--if the entire world around you views rape as something that just kinda happens, like blisters or dandruff--I'm wondering if you (as a woman) are going to perhaps take it in stride in a way modern women can't even begin to conceive.
All this to say, my stumbling block is that I've got some good guys who perform a retaliation molestation. The point is that women were property, and if some guy came and messed with your property, you went and messed with his right back. Back then, you could do this and still be a good guy. The books from those times and cultures are full of good guys who molested and raped women. My guess is that there was just a big blank spot in the guys, in this one place where people today have empathy and conscience. And I don't know how to handle this. By all rights, this action ought to make my characters bad guys. How do I keep them good guys? Do I let them have a glimmer of modern conscience? If so, how do I do that without being forced and unnatural? Even more important, how do I do it without being author-intrusive and didactic? Because if I do that, I might as well hand Helen of Troy a sword and let her go out and kick Achilles @ss and win Hector's body back single-handed.
Am I wrong, though? If something's morally wrong now but was acceptable practice long ago, does that mean it was always wrong? What if it was more than acceptable long ago--what if it was honorable?
*And blogs, too. Including this one.
**This is from the Arthur Waley translation.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
It is possible that we can break down the paper and sort out what son needs to write for the pieces of it, in a way where he absorbs the concept he's supposed to learn, and I could have time left for WIP. But probably not.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I might start over and reread the book--or not--now that I have an idea what to expect and how it goes. I was thinking about it last night, and realized that it reminds me of the Master and Commander series by Patrick O'Brian. Both wander around without the same kind of strong plot structure most books have. In the Jack Aubrey books, it was like I'd be reading along and suddenly some beloved or key character who's been around for six or eight books dies in a throwaway paragraph, and that's it--the story just moves on. If there was any three act structure in most of the books, I couldn't tell you what it was. It was like P. O'Brian just loved his characters and the world they inhabited, and spent as much time there as possible. And the reader likes being there too, even without the usual tight rising action, climax, resolution, etc.
Same with Genji. That was written over years, and you can tell the author just enjoyed her characters and being with them day by day.
So what does this say about the rules re. structure? These books are very readable, and they're memorable, too. Maybe because of the characters--yeah, it's the characters who stay with you, I think. Maybe that says that if you love your characters enough, it can come through in the writing, and a reader might just be willing to wander around with them through endless ocean adventures or romantic affairs. But boy, I can't see trying to put out/sell a book right now that does this. Now that I think about it, there are probably about twenty gazillion wannabe writers out there who have aimlessly meandering stories they're trying to sell. Why are those boring, while these two series (Genji really seems like a series, and I think it was written as one) are not (depending on your taste)?
And now that I think further, Alice in Wonderland was rather pointlessly meandering, wasn't it? No, I guess the reader was wondering how and when she'd get home. Hmm.
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