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, August 31, 2008

Should have worked yesterday, but did not. Today am proceeding as before; slowly reworking the beginning. Today's question: can you intro a character and keep him in scene, but not provide much info about him till several chapters later? What's the balance between keeping the story moving and pausing to develop character? Can you wait till the character provides an opening for authorly exposition with his actions, or is that too long? Will it work if you hint at the development to come--and if so, how to "hint" so that it's neither annoyingly intrusive nor overly cryptic?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Last night I realized that if I just kept on moving forward this morning, I'd get fuzzily off track and spin my wheels. So I printed out the first 30 or so pages. Today I read about half of that, made some corrections, and typed most of them in.

The story is not changing. The same basic things are happening in the same basic order. What's changing is everything else: wording, pacing, characterization, tone, depth, theme. So every little time I get off track, it's BAD. This story could branch off in a hundred ways, and every one of those ways could branch off in a hundred other ways. If I don't nip the branching-off in the bud every time it starts, I'm going to end up with an unpublishable piece of crap.

If I tried to explain this to a wannabe writer who has never done a true rip-your-guts-out revision, they wouldn't understand. But I'm telling you, this kind of revision is what makes the difference between something that belongs in a drawer and something that is fit to sit on a shelf. That's not to say whether this ms will ever have the uniqueness to qualify for shelf space. But it's going to have writing sharp enough to qualify, if I have to nip, backtrack, rethink, and rewrite for the next few decades, one stinkin' syllable at a time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Same as yesterday. Hours of writing, and barely got through half a chapter, if that much. I don't know if it's progress, but it's laying the foundation for progress, anyway. It's better than moving backwards or doing nothing at all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Same as yesterday: what feels like lots of work, but excruciatingly slow progress. Am I inching forward? We can only hope.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wrote yesterday, and wrote for a good while this morning. Moving very slowly; it's hard to focus. However, getting anything down on paper is good, because it is progressing and once it's down I at least have something to work with later when I am focused.

Monday, August 25, 2008

No writing on Fri. or Sat.--overdid on Thurs. night and Fri. morning and had to crash. Must do better at pacing myself.

By yesterday I had lost track of what I was doing and where I was, so did a readthrough of the first few chapters, trying to smooth them out and get a sense of how to move on. What I see is that by this point (around chapter five or six?) I'm perhaps branching out too much, trying to insert too many things and make too many points at once. I think what I need to shoot for is revealing one thing at a time, and not letting everything mush together. I need to pick out what is important and present it clearly to the reader. Then move on to the next thing. It's just hard because you can certainly insert little things so that they add up--but there's a tipping point at which your "little things that add up" make the chapter fuzzy and without a clear point.

School has started, so that complicates everything as far as getting decent-sized blocks of writing time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pretty good writing day. I got through a couple of chapters without losing my feel for what I'm doing. Am coming up on a part I haven't touched yet; I'm not sure whether it needs to be cut or the emphasis changed or what. Will see how that goes tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Made some decent progress today. I realized that in skipping around trying to eliminate some of the telling and make it more show-y, I was losing track of my MC's style and voice. He's not a talkative guy. So I went back to p. 1 and started honing in terms of his persona, and got to chapter 3, I think. Now the story so far makes sense to me (at the moment), which is good. My tentative plan is to continue this and go straight through the first third of the book--some of which I've already rewritten, some of which has not been touched in months. I was deliberately skipping this one part that I don't know what to do with (cut it? trim it? focus it?) but perhaps if I proceed with character in mind it will fall into place. Perhaps not, but it might. Seems like the thing to do for now, anyway.

There are writers who plan everything out in advance. I don't think I know any personally, but I've heard they do exist. It sure sounds a lot more professional to have a clue what the f*ck you're doing. Alas, such is not my lot.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No writing today. Still sick--very tired. I jotted a few notes down, but couldn't get my brain into gear. Tomorrow looks pretty busy, but I will try to do at least a little work.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I wrote today, and maybe quite a bit (not sure, and I certainly don't want to look), but at the end it petered out aimlessly so I don't feel good about it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Still sick. Worked on next chapter, with sidetracks to other chapters to fix things so they match, or to steal tidbits. I have lost all sense of scene, and find myself wandering around in the characters' conversations without a feel for what I'm working toward. This is not a big deal yet, though, because it's the type of thing I'm likely to nail down on a readthrough.

Anyway, forward progress. Nothing exciting, but more than satisfactory.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Been sick. Still sick. Will try to write today anyway. I need to figure out how to meld my usual approach--character-driven; I write scenes then figure out where, if anyplace, they go--with this more plot-driven project. It's becoming very clear that I can't just dive in like a plotter and force it out, because it doesn't ring true or deep. I would probably be okay with it not connecting to the reader on a deeper emotional level, but it's flat out not going to work if it doesn't ring true enough to grab the reader.

If I can figure out a way to work from both the plot and character angle at the same time, I might not have to worry about the middle at all, because there's a good chance it will take care of itself. I've got characters who will provide plenty of conflict amongst themselves, and if I pay attention and let those conflicts do what they're capable of, the middle should not sag. At all.

Right now I think I'm going to look at my turning points--there must be at least seven or eight of them, in varying degrees of importance--and think about ways they might play out or what might set them off. Right now they're mostly expressed through people sitting around talking. Obviously I need to step up my writing skills.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No writing today. Sick and busy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Worked through the remainder of a chapter yesterday, rather perfunctorily, but I got it done. Will keep on today, perfunctorily or otherwise. For this next chapter, I have a list of info that could naturally be brought in by already occurring events; I'm going to see if I can focus the scene and get this info in through dialog--make the point clearly and cleanly, then move on. If I can do that bit by bit throughout the book, perhaps most of the interior monologue-y explanation will eventually disappear.

Only one way to find out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wrote a little yesterday, but not much--not feeling well, plus very discouraged. Will try harder today.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I think part of my problem is that I'm used to thinking of scenes in terms of "what's the point" emotionally. So now I've got scenes that exist to get characters from point A to point B, or because a certain thing has to happen. I don't have any practice in handling scenes that way. I guess I need to try to meld the two ways of thinking.

Or maybe it's more helpful not to think of it as melding, but as layering. Start with the plot, then go back and decide what's one point I want to make. Layer that on, then do it again--if it can be done. Too much, and it will bog the story down.

Only now that I consider more carefully, a lot of what I have re. getting characters from point A to point B isn't necessary. It could be handled in quick little transitional paragraphs. But I have it in there so I can cram my info in. And that's why the book isn't moving, especially through the middle. Which I'm not even to. yet.

Blah, my brain. Blah.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Got some good writing time in today, although didn't move very quickly. I'm not sure how much I did; the chapters are running together in my head. I'm getting more in through dialog, but now once again I'm at a point where I've got to explain some backstory. What will probably happen is that I'll do my best with it, then later I'll see it's not working and redo it, then later I'll see that's not working and redo it again. And so on and so on.

The painful travails of a character-driven author trying to work with plot. Not a pretty sight. Might as well ask me to put an engine together from scratch and then expect the thing to actually work, when I don't even own any tools in the first place.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

don't think, just write

Kinda busy day. Got a few hours writing time in, though. Smoothed out the snag I stopped on yesterday, and got through all of chapters 2 & 3. I'm cutting out a lot of the internal stuff, which makes things more immediate, but which also probably means that nobody but me will know what the heck is going on. Nevertheless, what seems best for now is to keep moving and not think too much; just focus on keeping a sense of urgency while trying to get some hints about character in through action and dialog--not through explaining. As much as I can help, anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kind of busy today. Did a little bit of writing, worked into chapter two and went off on a small tangent--not a big one, and hopefully I can pull myself back into line tomorrow. I'm playing with a little bit of dialog, seeing what I can do to show more about the characters without getting stupid or losing track of who they are--always a danger for me, with a girl character.

In bigger news, I saw that the movie Troy was on, and ran to see the beginning fight scene, which I love, with Achilles' leopard-like grace and athletic economy. I love it when fight scenes are choreographed to character. Love the way this scene contrasts with the later one where Achilles tries to pull the same movement on Hector, poor good ol' Hector.

But it brought to mind my GN, and I was hit with a vague idea of what I need to do to get the story started off. Right now it starts with setting and world-building, and is very dull. But now I have an idea--not an exact one, but I think I'll be able to come up with something that will work. Whenever I get around to working on the GN.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sat down and started rewriting from the beginning. I can't remember why I decided to do this, just that when I pulled up the file this morning I still had no clue what to do about the middle. Maybe I couldn't stand another day of thinking. I know more about the 3 major characters now, so there's something to work with, anyway.

It went okay. I'm trying to ramp it up, move things along quicker, and get a clearer idea of the characters across. I'm trying not to explain the MC's reasoning every step along the way--knowing that after I cut all that stuff the reader will have no idea what's going on, and I'll have to figure out what to put back. I'm to chapter two, and already I'm mired in backstory, unsure what to keep in and what not. It's backstory in the character's head, which isn't great. But the problem with getting backstory in via dialog is that these people aren't talking for much of the story. They don't have time, and they don't even know each other. One just kidnapped the other, for cripes' sake; why would they be exchanging information?

Anyway. Not a bad writing day. It may end up that I was spinning my wheels, but it doesn't feel like it at the moment, so that's good.
I wonder if it would be helpful to think of the MC's inner journey in three parts. It is in three parts, I just sort of lost them in the outer stuff. Maybe I should stop and think about the first turning point, especially. Right now I have the outer turning point, then his choice and inner turning point buried in a quiet internal-thinking scene in the middle. Maybe I need to look at how one might drive the other (how the outer drives the inner) and see if they can be tied together in dialog with another person. I also want to consider the father character more, because even though he's dead, he's been more of an inspirational point than a human being. If my MC moves from naivete to deeper understanding, perhaps he needs to understand that something about his father was complicated.

Or perhaps it's just a matter of moving from "I'm going to act now because I said I would," to "I'm going to act now because I believe it's the right thing to do." Or rather, moving from fulfilling a promise given in a moment of grief and not very well thought out, to a fuller commitment given with a deeper understanding.

That sure does sound boring. Dunno. Sigh.

Monday, August 4, 2008

No writing yet today. There probably won't be.

I'm cranky now because I remembered how it took me years and years (no kidding; years and years) to figure out what NR was about. I remembered how a writer friend shared her plotting/character worksheet, one that helps you define your characters' goals and use those to sort out your story. I must have used it at least three times over the years before the info I wrote in it (and I wrote the same stuff down every time) finally sank in. It took that long before I absorbed it, and was able to join the inner story to the outer one and bring it all around to the ending that had been on paper all that time.

Well, I had to figure out other stuff, too, but that was the last thing I figured out. The last huge thing, anyway.

I don't want to take years and years of sitting around like an @ss with no clue what I'm doing. I just want to write the frickin' book. I. Just. Want. To. Write. The. Book.

It's frustrating, because I'm smarter than my brain is. I know where my brain is falling short, but it won't step up and do its job. I can even lay out what I need it to do, the gaps it needs to fill, and it just lies there like a useless lump. Come on, brain! Get a move on!

But anyway. In what I have now, my MC has no inner journey. It's there, I just don't have it on paper. I know it's there because I know how he is and how he feels by the start of the next book, and it is totally different from how he is at the beginning of this book. The events of this book change him, they flatten him and make him step up to the plate so that he becomes wiser but also less trusting and more cautious, and with a buried edge of bitterness. None of that shows in what I have. So. Now I guess one thing I need to do is figure out how some of the events that happen in this book clearly make him change and show him changing. And if there isn't anything happening that makes or shows it, then I have my answer about what needs to happen as we approach the midpoint.

Here's a concrete, definite task: something my brain needs to do. Let's watch and see if it does it. And not take years this time.
Interesting 2001 article by Robin Catesby. Says (this is my wording, not Catesby's) that sometimes the MC can't achieve both the outer goal and inner goal. The MC may not even be aware of the inner goal as the story starts. By the end the MC must choose whether to achieve the original, concrete goal, or the inner goal, which provides character growth. Catesby says it better than I do, and in more depth, and with examples. But anyway, hmm. Much to think about.

Obviously I haven't had any ideas since yesterday.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Got 2-3 scenes done (not sure how much, really, maybe one chapter, maybe two). Now I'm back to the problem of not knowing what comes next to keep the middle from sagging. I guess maybe tonight I'll try to look over the sagging chapters I have and see what info is conveyed in them. Then maybe I can try to figure out a better way to impart that info, keeping in mind that midpoint I'm working toward (which I still don't see how to handle with any pizazz) and also that things must keep happening. And also that agent suggested using the middle to develop the major character arcs, the world, and the minor characters.

Lordy, no w0nder I'm all at sea. I hope my subconscious gets to work on this, because my conscious mind can't juggle that much stuff. I want to be able to sit down and write something tomorrow, at least sketch out something basic to build on--and am trying not to worry that I'll be completely blank.
Lots of notes and thinking yesterday. I was hoping to come up with an overall feel for how to go about structuring the sagging middle, but that didn't happen. Very discouraging. However, this morning I did at least get an idea for what to do next: ramp up the tension by adding in more chase, starting at the the beginning of the middle third where the sagging kicks in. Thank goodness I at least have something to work on. The worst thing in the world is to have a day open for writing, and to have the willingness and desire to write, but to have no inspiration, no plan, no curiosity.

I can never remember anything I read about "how to plot" for very long; for some reason my brain is like a sieve when it comes to plotting. I have trouble understanding what I read about plotting, and I have trouble holding onto the concepts I read about. But this idea of the sagging middle being due to a mistaken view of three-act structure is interesting to me. It seems this guy Syd Field says that the middle third can really be divided in half, with two "pinches" surrounding the midpoint of the story. He says (or so he is paraphrased) that driving the story toward the midpoint is what keeps the middle from sagging.

When I look at what I have, my ms is clearly divided into thirds. Most mss are this way, I think, because American writers just naturally tell stories that way. Our culture tends to tell stories that have three acts, so that's what we know and feel comfy with. It's not like we always try to construct mss according to pattern; we just do. So anyway, my ms has three acts. I never intended them, but there they are, plain as day on the paper. I even know what the midpoint is. But one big problem--as I see it as of yesterday--is that my midpoint is a revelation that isn't strong enough. It's a realization and change of direction and goal. But there's nothing much driving it. It just sort of happens, and it's not that big a deal. I need to think how to make it important, and better yet, to make it a sort of "twist." It's unfortunate that my brain doesn't work this way--my brain is more of a trudging long distance runner creatively, than a powerful bursting sprinter--but surely the brain can be retrained.

Anyway, today must work on the one thing I know I want to do. And pray that something else presents itself after that.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No actual writing today. Lots of thinking and taking notes. I feel I can't proceed unless I can get my mind wrapped around a bigger picture of what I need to do. I've got some notes scribbled down about the girl character, and the other two major characters including the MC. It is clear to me that this ms is in three sections, with the first third and last third having movement (or rather, the first third doesn't have movement yet, but it will) and the middle third lying there like a dead fish. I need to think how to use this middle third to further everyone's arcs, explain what the reader needs to know, keep tension up, and keep the reader hooked. I knew this middle third was a problem, but was hoping the problem would disappear if I went about my business as if it wasn't there. But it is still there, and must be dealt with.

Am glancing over Syd Field's paradigm, to see if anything he says about breaking the middle third into two parts will help me, or perhaps spark an idea.
So maybe the girl's arc looks like this: she starts out from a constricted life in which she has to be careful, fearful, and controlled--which naturally makes her resentful and perhaps a bit snappish (here comes the unlikeable character again, sigh). The events of the story must move her forward, point by point, to where by the end she is stepping into her own power; she's on the verge of exploring her abilities, limits, etc.

I think when the story starts, she lives a life under the control of others. During the course of story, she's...hmm...she's under a different kind of control until about a third of the way through. Then she's on her own, and must make her own choices, do her own thinking for the first time. So what about the last 2/3 of the story? What's her arc about then?

Must think some more.
I need to think about my girl character, because I strongly feel there was a turning point in her life, years before the story starts, that will help me define her. I know when the turning point was, and what caused it, but I don't know exactly what the point itself was--that is to say, how things changed for her.

This is the kind of thing I can sometimes figure out (if I'm lucky) while walking the dogs or mowing or driving kids to school (depending on how far, and how traffic is). But it's too stinkin' hot to walk dogs (over a hundred degrees every day, for a couple of weeks now), and it's too hot to mow long enough to really think that deeply, and school's out. I don't know how to think about stuff like this while I'm sitting still. I may try to, anyway--but it's like one of those cheap crackerjack-prize-type games where you have a little maze with a tiny ball in it, and the object is to tilt and maneuver to get the wee little ball to sit in a cutout hole. My brain is the tiny little ball, and I can't get it into the hole. It rolls everywhere all over the place and still won't land in the hole. It's frustrating.

Another thing is that, to me, there's a dichotomy between history and literature, when it comes to girl characters. In history, women are largely silent and we mostly hear about their lives through the writings of men. Women--and girls--from families of means and power (this is what's relevant in my WIP) had few options. It seems like MG and YA these days tend to give girl characters empowerment based on what we consider empowerment; they are role models for today's girls because they're spunky and sassy and--I cannot describe how this makes me cringe--they all learn to use a g.d. sword. * Swords which I'm thinking they seldom actually kill anybody with--but maybe they do, who knows. But I say, if that's the answer to female empowerment, just give 'em a gun and be done with it! Let's not wimp out; let's take the empowerment to its logical conclusion and show the girl blowing somebody's brains out.

Sword, schmord.**

But anyway, I'm more interested in the hard choices girls and women have had to make to survive or (occasionally) to prosper. I know the issue has to be simplified sometimes, to provide role models etc., but role models aren't my thing. Honestly, to me it looks like one of the primary means of control women had over their lives in the past was sex, by which they could sometimes manage men, to gain some measure of control, influence, or even power. G*d knows you can't put that in a MG or probably most YAs, and I don't really want to, at this point (in my GN, I definitely want to explore this in more depth--but that's on the back burner for now). At any rate, it seems to me that women usually only gained power if the men allowed them to have it, or if there was some kind of vacuum where a guy didn't step up to the plate and the girl stepped boldly in. Females had to take advantage of men's failings, to come into their own potential. And even then they were likely to be excoriated for it, either when other men came in to take over again, or by popular opinion, or by the tales passed down about them.

So it feels horrendously wrong for me to deliberately try to do the spunky-sassy thing. If it happens to come off that way, fine, but if I catch myself doing it, it will bring me to an utter, self-loathing halt. On the other hand, I don't think there's much tension or interest in a character who only has tiny changes in her arc because her life is so constricted.

Don't know. Must think. Hope I come up with something, although my own writing history says the outlook for doing so is dim.

* Must note inconsistency: some of my favorite, best-loved books have girls using swords, like Sherwood Smith's Duel books and Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint. I have no idea why I adore certain books and it doesn't bother me that the girls use swords in them. Maybe if I think about it, I could figure it out, but I really need to be digging in on my WIP today, getting my hands dirty, not cheerily skipping through my writing day forming theories about something somebody else has already written.

**Another inconsistency: I fully intend to give my girl MC a sword and let her learn to use it, in book 2, if that ever comes to pass.

(Consistency is for the timid, IMO. Embrace your inconsistency, flaunt it, I say!)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Very tired again. There's not really any time for writing today, but still I'm cramming in just a little before I have to turn to other things. It's like chipping away at a boulder, but at least I can say I chipped.

I'm greatly concerned about the girl character, whom I will have to figure out at some point, and probably soon. I can't do girl characters. I don't know why. They just turn out "unlikeable" to people who, er have money to buy mss with. It's very puzzling, because I swear I turned in one ms where the male character was a lying, cheating, stealing, swearing bully. So who was unlikeable? The girl character, because she was "prissy." I know some of the problem has to be my writing and the way I presented her, but I also think the world is really a screwed up place where prissy is a cardinal sin compared to being downright mean and criminal. And I can't help but think that the world has a screwed up view of women, too--that a female must have certain personality traits to be acceptable. Boys can steal and hit and lie, but g*d forbid a girl should want things clean or tidy. Because, you know, females never do that in real life.

What's really weird--and I may ask some writer friends for opinions on this--is that in my second book, Damage, I had alternating viewpoints during one stage in the process. One viewpoint was Austin, the eventual sole POV character. The other was Heather, his girlfriend. Heather was criticized as being unlikeable. Which she is, because she's selfish and conceited. But here's the thing: when I took her parts out and recast them through Austin's POV, she became bearable. Not any more likable, but not such a turnoff that it ruined the book. Okay--but why????? She was doing the exact same things she was doing from her own POV. She was thinking the same things, had the same motivation. So why was she acceptable from the guy's POV, but not on her own?

H*ll if I know.

So I've got this girl character now, in this WIP, who has the same problems as all my girl characters. She's unlikeable. People (who have money to buy mss) don't want to read about her. When I take out the stuff that pins her down and makes her real, she becomes a cipher. But the stuff that makes her real is the stuff nobody likes. I dunno.

This is going to have to be sorted out. There's just no way around it. But I'll be d*mned if I'm going to write a girl character that is conventionally "acceptable," with conventional flaws, just so that I can sell this ms. I might do it for w-f-h, but not for this. I'll spend the rest of my life sweeping the floors at Taco Bell with my head held high, and take the unfinished ms with me to my grave.

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