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.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wrote quite a bit yesterday. It felt like I got some good work done. Am wondering why I'm still poking around near the beginning when I gave myself permission to move away from that.

Today Tyson and I walked several miles, and while he sniffed and peed and eyeballed squirrels, I thought about the rest of the the book. There's all kinds of stuff to be written--not just backstory, but actual present-day stuff that happens. I don't know why I'm not writing it, except that there's some kind of gap between what I'm writing now and all the rest of the book. It's like everything hasn't quite fallen into place in the story yet, so that all the later stuff starts happening on its own. I think maybe I'm trying to work my way across that gap. At the moment I'm doing that by slowing waaaay down. I'm stretching out what I've got here at the front of the story, separating the people out, letting them enter onto the scene one at a time, and seeing what they do. I'm not doing this on purpose, it's just happening. It seems to be working okay.

But in that gap between what I'm writing now and the rest of the book lies...plot stuff. I need to pay attention to other people's writing, and talk to other writers, and consider more about how to pull together my characters' worries, the outward dangers and problems that are about to come into play, and hooks for the reader. I need to be very mindful about how I use all three of those things, if I want to crank my writing up a notch.

One big plot thing that lies in the gap is that pretty soon now I need to bring a new character onto the stage (never mind that I haven't actually finished bringing in the other ones yet). This character drives the rest of the story, and is in at the climax. The way I see it now, the climax and resolution of the book aren't possible without him. He's not even on scene yet, in the early pages I have written--but he needs to come in pretty soon, and he needs to bring at least some sense of upcoming conflict and danger with him. does he come onto the scene? I know what he wants, and know how he drives the plot. I think my current gap exists because I don't want to just bring him into play, I want the tension and page-turning to ratchet up a notch, too, when he appears. I want the book to start picking up pace, and for stakes to rise when he shows up, and I want the urgency not to let up from that moment forward. I don't yet know how to do all that. For all that to happen, I need to pay attention to plot, and stay mindfully aware of the presence and function of the three items above: inward stakes, outward stakes, and hooks for the reader.*

I can set up the big story conflict/problem before he even shows up; then the reader will already be invested and understand how dire the situation is, so that the stakes are tripled when he appears on scene. However, I've already played around with that a little, and I'm not sure it feels right. It's okay, but it doesn't immediately spark whatever comes next.

I don't think he can burst on the scene with weapons drawn, so to speak. It seems like too much, to open the floodgates and have him and the big problem appear on stage at the same time.

Right now I'm thinking he needs to be shown, when he first appears, as already dangerous and unknowable, already a sizable problem for the MC. Then...maybe?...end that introductory chapter/scene on a hint that the motivations and goals of this already problematic character are about to meet up with the bigger, newer problem that reared its head in the opening scene of the book--one whose scope the MC hasn't yet fully comprehended. So we meet the new guy, and as he's exiting the scene there's a hook--like, Ruh-roh, Scooby, now the sh*t's about to hit the fan!

Dunno. A few days ago when I cut that other scene in a weird place--cut it to end on a hook rather than where I thought it would naturally end--it opened up some new lines of thought. Except I don't quite know what those lines of thought are, because they're not character driven. I want to pay attention to them, and explore them, and try to figure out what avenues are open to me that I haven't recognized before.

Side note: I've been reading Naomi Novik's Temeraire books, and noticing that they read--perhaps appropriately--somewhat like Patrick O'Brian's, as far as plot and scene construction. A lot of the time, they seem more like an ongoing tale, with scenes running into each other and characters dropping in and out. My question du jour is, why does the reader stay with the story? Is it because of something that's going on inside each book? I believe the first book in each of the two series (Novik's and O'Brian's) may have followed more of a "closed," tighter, self-sufficient structure--was that necessary to hook the reader and make him/her stay with the rest of the books? Not sure. Also thinking about Hunger Games, and what makes people keep reading those books through to the end.

*It sounds so simple, so Writing 101, written out like that. But it's not simple. I can think of very few, if any, writers who can consistently keep all three balls aloft as they're working through a story. Sometimes after a book is on the shelf it's clear that all the balls are being juggled, but that's a book that's been through years of writing and rewriting, and editorial input.