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.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Today I realized the ending of that dialog went off track because my MC would be too worried to respond as lightly as he does. So I started to redo the end of the dialog, but blanked out because a) I'm tired, and b) I need a stronger understanding of the scenes that happen right before it in order to have a grip on exactly how worried he is.
So instead of doing that, I wrote a couple paragraphs describing a pair of pants.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Then I moved on into the "resolution" area of the book, which I haven't been that interested in, but now I started thinking about what would really happen, and I figured out a surprising thing or two that leaves the book ending with everybody in a slightly different place than I'd thought. I didn't write anything in order, though, just hopped around that chapter scribbling here and there.
Then I skipped back to a dialog in chapter 12 and fleshed that out a little, and then moved to flesh out a different dialog in chapter 13, and then I jumped ahead to 14 and wrote what the MC was really doing and thinking and saying while he was trying to figure out how to best kill a secondary character.
So, not much measurable work got done, but still it was a worthwhile and productive writing day.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Shifted the stripping-of-corpse to chapter 13, which meant moving the infected foot up to chapter 12, all of which allowed the shoe-incited discussion to fall into place in 14. This allowed me to go over the whole ms again from chapter 9 on, getting everything more firmly settled in the right places--and yeah, I think this is going to work.
I've got chapters in mind all the way through 26, and then there'll be a few chapters where the climactic conflict takes place. I've now got a general idea of how the previous chapters carry that "beast" idea forward into this final sequence so that the MC makes his choice (whatever that is). I've also now got a thread of "Luck" that popped up a couple times, which with a little attention will fall into place to make the ending tighter and more satisfying.
I'd already sketched out the last few lines in a draft that brought tears to my eyes even though it was crappy and rough. I blew off the tear-bringing effect at the time because it could easily have been a fluke. But today I rewrote those lines more deliberately, putting a little more thought behind them--and they made me tear up again, only stronger. That's a great, great sign.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
So I finally started it, this book everybody's read and praised, and boy, does it suck. However, the more I think about it, the more I'm absolutely fascinated by it. Because the writer makes it work. Through sheer force of plot and structure, the story moves along pretty grippingly, even though if you look very closely, you can see that nothing's actually there. There isn't anything going on but people moving around from here to there, and some mysteries that aren't very interesting because who cares if they're solved or not?
But, wow. The structure completely hides all that; it misdirects the reader's attention and gives the impression of being a gripping, excitingly wild ride. I can see that it partly does so through the way it uses hooks, and also by the way it uses alternating narrators.
This is exactly what I need to figure out how to do for my former GN.
What's really got me super-zeroed in on it now, though, is realizing that one of the two POV characters has a negative goal. I think part of what covers that up is the structure and the constant updating and adding of hooks, but there's also an announced strategy. And here's where it gets even more interesting: the announced strategy makes no sense. But it doesn't matter, because it works anyway. You don't even notice it has no reason to be either a strategy or announced.*
The only reason I noticed any of this is because I have a plotting disability and was bored, reading. I can see how gripping the story is, but I'm not at all gripped. It's sort of like the little kid who can't enjoy a great magician's trick because he isn't sophisticated enough to understand that he's supposed to be following the hand gestures. Sometimes there are advantages to having humongous blind spots.
Sometime when I have a chance, I want to really dig into this, maybe even go through and make a list of every scene. I bet I will find that it's extremely screenplay-worthy, with every scene carefully designed and set like a stage, and with actors hitting their marks right as the curtains go up. I also bet that nearly every chapter will have a deliberately imposed ramp-up of a ticking clock, and there's something intriguing about the hooks, too--like, maybe there's at least one new one introduced in the body of the chapter, and then another, different hook hits hard at the end?
Also need to look at:
- Which hooks are external stuff happening and which are internally-driven emotional cliffhangers.
- How the chapters cut in and out to hide the relative passivity of one of the storylines.
- How a passive character is given the appearance of being an active one.
- Beginnings and ends of chapters, making note of transitions.
- Beginnings and ends of chapter, for cliffhangers (I think some are actually dropped and never followed up on. But I'm not even sure! This is great!).
- Beginnings and ends of chapters, as read sequentially rather than alternately. I'm interested to know what the author has chosen to skip as not-ramp-up-able enough. Because, you know, I think s/he was probably right, since the book works so well.
Forcing myself to finish this thing is going to be a chore. But I think I can learn a ton of stuff when I go back to it once it's read.
*Something that's come up in discussion with writer friends is this theory: An announced strategy doesn't have to really do anything in the story; as soon as the actual story gets started, the announced strategy can just disappear, and be naturally swallowed up in the bigger, stronger, "real" story without you having to deal with it. But here, it seems to me, the possibility presents itself that the announced strategy doesn't even necessarily have to arise from story. Which poses the question: exactly how far can you go with the artificial pasting on of stuff to keep your story moving?
Was watching FullMetal Brotherhood this morning (it seems to be nearing its conclusion), and was struck by a comment from Roy Mustang. He said that he needs Lt. Hawkeye in order to survive, because she keeps him from being reckless.
This got me to thinking about my WIP. One idea I'm loosely exploring is why you may be better off (in a survival/subsistence situation) with a mutually dependent community of caring people around you, rather than being entirely out for yourself--either needing no one, or aligning with a group whose members use each other on a strictly practical basis. I've been thinking mostly in terms of shared burdens, emotional bonds that make people protect each other and work together more efficiently to survive.
But now I'm also thinking that if you have other people around you whom you care about and trust, and who are equally invested in you, then you've also provided yourself with outside context for your own behavior and choices. Without that community you're essentially functioning in a vacuum, and are more likely to lose a sense of proportion about whether you're acting wisely or not. The people around you can keep you grounded by saying, "Hey, you need to calm down," or "That's a little reckless, isn't it?" or "Yes, you're completely justified in worrying about this situation," or perhaps most importantly, "Remember what's really important to you."
I'm thinking maybe a man who has no need of society because he is sufficient for himself isn't necessarily that way because he's a beast. Maybe sometimes trying to be that way is what turns him into a beast.
That actually dovetails very nicely with what's going on in the book, and I think it also may help me pin down the exact actions that'll take place in the climactic scene where my MC makes his story-capping choice. Whatever that is.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
So it occurs to me that this may be something to consider, when I get to a "stuck" place. Maybe mixing it up a little and starting with different layers than I'm used to can help when I get in a writing rut. Like, say, if something's not coming easily, maybe I could back off and approach it from establishing setting first, or getting a physical bead on where everybody is and what they're doing. Or maybe I could start with an action.
I mean, I do do all these things, but maybe I could do it more deliberately sometimes to see what happens--to see if it gets the story moving and helps me reconnect. Something to think about, anyway.
*When I work, the thematic stuff may already be close to the surface in that initial layer of internal thought and non-plot-driven dialog, just because internal thought and non-plot-driven dialog are already halfway tapped into the character's growth and change. Something to think about is whether plot-driven writers tend to have to work harder to get to that layer of thematic depth and resonance than someone who starts closer to character. Is the thematic engine of a story as visibly close to the surface, if your mind works first in terms of "what's happening"? Is it harder not to lose track of? Maybe not; maybe I just have trouble recognizing theme in plot because of my own writing weaknesses.
So I'm wondering if I sometimes have to hit a certain point with a scene--get it into the right place in story and flowing with the story--before my writing brain can start to take on the task of six people sitting in the same room talking, each bringing their own different personalities and backgrounds and motivations into the equation.
Maybe it's a case of layering, similar to what I learned when I was working on that w-f-h novel and its fight scenes (the ones that nearly did me in). Maybe sometimes you have to get a scene in place to a certain degree--maybe sometimes it needs to have its place and purpose in the story flow--before other layers can start to develop naturally and cooperatively.
If that's true, I suspect the "sometimes" may have to do with how complicated the scene is. Fight scenes are complicated to write, and so are scenes with more than 3 characters. But in non-fight scenes with 1-3 characters, I've used dialogs to figure out the place and purpose of the scene in the first place.
I need to think about this some more. I'm not sure of all the variables involved. All I know is that I wasn't able to "get to" 4 or so of the characters in this scene until I got it hooked into the story in the right place and time.
The question is: Why now? What's different that enabled me to do this now? Is it just because I have a better grip on the story in general? Or is there something I can learn from this to help me avoid future dead ends and detours?
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Today, realized I need to write a bit where one character smiles at another, and my MC notices it. This is actually a pretty cool thing to realize, so hooray.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
But then...I just kept going. And hours later, I now have the entire story set up, chapter by chapter, including coverage of the worrisome and previously insurmountable Great Saharan Expanse. I'm not sure what happened--it all just seemed to come together suddenly, like dominoes falling. All the way to the effin' end, which is a sad one, with more than a few dead bodies, yet it's also happy and hopeful, and right now it seems true and satisfying (to me, anyway; I like my endings to hang a little, because that way I know the characters are going ahead with their lives even after I move on to something else and am no longer watching).
Right now it looks like the book will be 28 chapters, 350-400 pages. Of course, none of this is carved in stone, and at least some of it will certainly change. But...wow. What a day's work.
So. Now I gotta do other stuff. I may need to stay away from this for a few days, to make sure I don't get behind with my work.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This is all just messing around, having fun and keeping the ms fresh on my mind; I'm too busy right now to do any hard thinking re. big picture.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
So I was thinking about this piece of backstory, and as I followed it through logically, popping around to check with the different characters involved in it to make sure they were behaving reasonably, I saw that this three-year-old (in story time) event is still very immediate and raw for the MC, and drives him even more than I thought it did.
To me, that says it needs to come into the story somehow. When I just knew the basic idea of this backstory, I covered it in a paragraph or two of narration stuck into the middle of something else. Now I think maybe it needs to come out in this Saharan section as dialog between the MC and the main secondary character, with paragraphs of internal thought by the MC where he adds painful details and thoughts that he wouldn't say out loud. I think this might also lead the secondary character to reveal something of himself, and that the MC is likely to get mad at him.
I looked at an article on flashback-writing, and one of the tips was to always place a flashback after a strong scene. Of course I can immediately think of ten million reasons and situations* where it would be the kiss of death to put a flashback right after a strong scene, but aside from that, it's an interesting idea and something to keep in mind.
I need to approach this backstory/flashback issue very mindfully, or it will get the better of me. I also need to remember: this isn't just about the emotional story; I can use these suckers to pull the reader along by dropping hints but not explaining something till I'm good and ready.
So maybe, in deciding how to handle each piece of backstory/flashback, some things to consider would be:
- It is just something the reader needs to know in order not to be confused?
- Does it inform and deepen the story?
- Does it establish an important emotional point for the reader?
- Can it provoke conflict, if divulged in dialog, in scene?
- Will hearing about it drive other characters to act, react, or change?
- Is there something about it that the main character isn't ready to face till later in the book?
*okay, maybe not that many.
Monday, August 8, 2011
One thing I do need to do (today) is write down a series of connections I was thinking about while running errands earlier. I've lost a little steam the past few days, and have been feeling uneasy about what I'm doing. Once I admitted this to myself, I was able to recognize that it has to do with the character arc, the emotional story.
Because: I've been losing my hold on this--the backbone of the story--as I fret and worry about structure and pacing. Also, while I'm in the middle of these Saharan scenes it's like being at the bottom of the spaghetti bowl; whatever vague, ill-formed strands surround me in this part of the ms seem to be the backbone because they're all I can see. So I was getting confused and actually starting to think I needed to recast something at the front of the ms in order to establish something else in the spaghetti/Saharan part.
No. I do not. Away from the ms, running errands in the car, I was able to remember what my MC's real problem is, what the reader wants for him, and to see that events from the late-middle of the ms through the end actually take him through the exact steps he needs, in order to get what the reader wants for him. I do not need to recast anything. I do need to keep this wasteland part from throwing the whole ms off course.
So today I need to sit down and write out what I was thinking in the car and get it more ingrained in my head to lessen the risk of losing it. It's important. Important enough that I was thinking maybe I should go ahead and try writing from the late-middle scene that kicks off the last part of the emotional/character arc, and just forge ahead as far into the end as I can get, scene by scene and chapter by chapter. Just to have it on paper, just to make sure I don't lose what's truly driving the story from beginning to end.*
If I do, it won't be today, though. Today I'll just scribble my thoughts and get them organized and maybe bold and/or capitalize some of the headings for good measure. Anything, to get it to stick. I need something marking the end of the course, or I'll wander off into the bushes.
*Also, now that I've changed who plummeted, and moved the plummeting bit farther back in the ms, a key scene is probably in place--the scene that sets off the entire ending.
Friday, August 5, 2011
So I've changed the events leading up to the end. Now the falling takes place there, to somebody else. It seems to fit nicely in this later part of the story.
And now instead of the earlier falling, the guy just gets damaged with broken bones (not sure how yet) and I still get in pretty much everything I needed anyway.*
Then as I worked on the just-getting-damaged part, I saw that it leads straight into the MC's realization about the main secondary character, no hinting or clues or buildup. The damaged guy gets his bones broken, and that makes the sh*t hit the fan before the end of the day.
*It's too bad real life can't be rearranged this easily.
Now I'm going to develop it here in the Sahara and see what happens if one of my characters plummets mid-scene. That might keep things interesting. The idea seems to have some heft to it, too, because I like how they'd have to get his battered body home (it resonates thematically), and then afterwards there'd be one less person to keep track of in these horrendous six-person scenes that are killin' me, I tell ya, killin' me. It would also allow me to naturally throw characters together where they'd say stuff I need said, and it would also set up deepening relationships, plus it can be used to ratchet up the MC's suspicions about the main secondary character.
Some writers work best--and believe it is best--to delete old stuff in order to free and clear your mind. To which I say: Are you in-f#cking-sane???? I never throw anything away if I can help it.
So anyway, that's what I'm going to try, and we'll see how it works out.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
In other words, I'm in trouble. Big trouble. I've got a ms that's going to have a huge reader-killing, book-killing dead spot. Proportionally speaking, this dead spot equals the amount of Africa taken up by the Sahara desert. And if I actually write out every bloody scene that's needed to make this story work, it'll be like sand expanding to fill most of the African continent.
It was discouraging to look at my notes and realize that.
However, discouragement is like a kiwifruit, or Starbucks: I don't have to pay attention to it if I don't feel like it. And I don't feel like it. My writing time is so limited, it makes me sick to think of pouring any down the discouragement drain.
So. I've started breaking down the task at hand, and I think the thing to do now is stay flexible while moving forward under this general plan:
- Start writing out some of the scenes/dialogs that establish what I want established.
- Do side work from secondary characters' POV regularly, as a guideline. Because if I lose touch with those secondary characters, I am screwed.
- If a scene/exchange is recalcitrant, don't force it, drop it.
- Watch for anything that can be satisfactorily conveyed through summary/narration.
- Remember those big backstory dumps from the first half. They established information and emotion. It may be possible to peel the full meaning from some of them and make them more bare-bones. If so, their full, layered meanings can come to light here in the Sahara Zone, via exchanges with the new character whose story now must unfold. If the true heft of a backstory revelation happens here, it should also provoke tension and conflict-raising actions/decisions by the MC.
- Keep a feeler out for scenes that can naturally double up. (Ex. dialog establishes one point while, via "background" matter like dialog tags and scene-grounding, another point slowly rises. As soon as the dialog has made its point, it ends and the "background" becomes the new focus and is dealt with. Or vice versa: in-scene action makes its point to the reader, and the second that point gets made someone starts talking to the MC re. another point.)
Things to keep in the back of my mind:
- The unused, already-established hook-y scenes that are going to help carry this part.
- The emotions that drive my MC. Especially the ones he is unaware of.
- The end confrontation I'm heading for.
- And always--always--the POVs of the secondary characters. Always.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
My guess is that the third quarter of the book is going to be this way; basically, it's no longer going to be a question of which character-driven hook-y moment to cut on, but of which summarized info is strong enough to carry the burden of propelling the book forward--without losing the pace.
Then the last quarter will ramp up again to a bunch of scenes smashed together via rising action, one to the next.
Somehow, in this third quarter of the ms, I've got to hold the reader for every single chapter. Will have to think about it. I foresee lots of scribbled lists in my future. Otherwise...I'm not sure how to approach this. Maybe I need to write out some more of the encounters and conversations that take place in this part, even though I'm not sure which ones are necessary and which ones are dead ends, and which ones are interesting only to me and no one else. Hmm, hmm, hmm.
Ahhhhh. It's good to bask in the glow.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Right now the sketched-out chapters include pieces I've had sitting around for ages, waiting to be used. These mostly consist of backstory, the stories the characters tell each other, and dialog.
And my head is already on full overload from doing all this, but I want to try to jot down a list/outline of these sketched-out scenes, to help firm them up in my mind. At the moment they're so piecemeal and choppy, it'll take me forever, next writing session, to work myself back around to understanding what this all is supposed to mean. Right now I have a vague sense of how these bits can fit together to form a coherent flow, but I can tell my grasp of the material is going to evaporate as soon as I walk away from the computer and start thinking about something else.
I said all this, then realized maybe that's why I can't let these recent chapters go, but keep gnawing on them like a dog with a bone. Maybe my gut senses a lack of direction right after these chapters, and is driving me to get a better grip on them. Maybe. Will have to see, I suppose.
Monday, August 1, 2011
It's very hard to remember what the reader may not know, and what s/he may be wondering about.
Also, I think I may keep undercutting myself because I like the bad guy a whole lot and am focusing more on his character than on stringing out what the MC doesn't know about him. He could be a huge help to plot tension, if I use him properly.
I feel guilty saying that. I don't want to "use" you, Bad Guy! I love you, and you deserve better than to be used. I promise, if I do end up having to use you, I will do my best to get the reader to cry.
Today I started writing a piece of backstory I need to understand, but apparently I got bored with it, since I'm writing this post. That means I need to hop to it and figure out what I really want to do, writing-wise, today.
And so to work.
- It occurs to me that this is a really stupid story...
- Yesterday I wrote a new piece of dialog where a se...
- Gobi the Gerbil 2007-2011 Requiescat In Pace ...
- The he's-already-dead-scene has definitely become ...
- Had about 20 minutes to write; started changing a ...
- Forgot to say, the character who had the broken le...
- Major, major sketching-out, here. Shifted the s...
- Note to self: think about book X
- Note to self re: Beast or God again
- Hmm, so I'm thinking that every writer may have a ...
- Yesterday was very productive. I found myself sett...
- Yesterday, smoothed out some scenes in an attempt ...
- By sheer coincidence, the lower-limb theme continu...
- Yesterday, wrote a couple of sentences describing ...
- Whoa. Big surprise. I sat down to dash off a few p...
- Took the pieces I did yesterday and started turnin...
- Wrote two quick things, for fun and to keep a crea...
- Was thinking out a certain portion of the backstor...
- Getting busy again here, which is probably good be...
- Note to self: beast or god
- I worked on the falling scene, and quickly saw tha...
- Ha! I was doing more organizational thinking, stre...
- Note to self: entering the Sahara
- I'm to the point where I need to pull back a littl...
- A very nice morning. First news of the day is a wr...
- Spent today moving pieces around to try and get a ...
- Hmm. I haven't been pleased with myself for contin...
- Worked on chapters 9, 10, and on into 11. Around 1...
- Yesterday I told myself I was going to write more ...
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