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, October 28, 2009

Surprisingly, today ended up being a really good writing day. I started off trying to pull together the bits I knew had to be in the middle, and as I worked through in a general organizational fashion--just putting like pieces together and cutting things that weren't hands-down absolutely necessary--it started taking on a shape and momentum that carried through the Menelaus part and then eased into the Alexandros part.

I didn't get all of the middle. I still don't see how to slide into it naturally and with rising action from the beginning. But I saw how to pick up somewhere in there and get the story rolling again. I cut a couple of threads I had left hanging because I wasn't sure about them--because it's clear now that they aren't needed. The whole second half of the story is simpler and more streamlined and makes sense. In my head, that is. What's actually on the paper is still a huge mess.

It's good to know it can come together. I was starting to think the whole thing would have to be manhandled and manipulated and I'd always feel a little unsettled about it. So it's a relief to feel that click of a huge chunk of the ms slipping into place on its own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yesterday I somehow ended up working on a part I didn't really want to work on. I don't know what happened; I was skimming along trying to figure out where I wanted to start work, and got sucked into changing and rewording and it snowballed from there. It didn't hurt anything, but I was hoping for a more productive use of my time.

Now today once again I'm edging into the middle and I can see what a big mess of trouble it's going to be. Too many tones (close third person literary, familiar third person conversational, removed third person historical, snarky third person me), and the "pacing" is going to be splotches of story that happened to fall onto the page with no rhyme or reason to them. I don't know what to do. Maybe the thing to do is quit trying to make sense of the whole and write out some of the individual pieces that I know have to be there, and see what happens. Just focus on definite, small, chewable bits.

I am ignoring a certain thread toward the beginning that I keep almost taking out because it seems like it's too much and too complicated at that point in the story, but then I also keep seeing that it moves the tone away from the misleading chipper midgrade voice of the story beginning, and also it adds tension and adheres to the main idea that drives the story for me. And it's pretty well woven in right now; it's going to be a pain to un-weave. So for now I'm making myself leave it and not think about it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I meant to write yesterday, but got sidetracked by learning that Rashomon is going to be the next Samurai Saturday movie on IFC. I've been wanting to see that! I know it's supposed to be one of the greats, so I read up on it a little in hopes I can pick up on some of the interesting points as I'm watching. It's supposed to be one event (a rape and murder) told four times from four different POVs, so there's a lot to watch for.

I also found (online) the two short stories (both by Akutagawa Ryunosuke) the movie's based on, the main one being "In a Grove." It's a very short story, but has seven POVs, each one telling about the rape/murder as that particular POV character saw/did it.

Then today I was looking through McCormack's book (see yesterday's post) trying to find something else, and saw a few paragraphs about characters "braiding" together. McCormack is talking about a ms where the author switches POVs among five characters, which is not what's causing my problem with my swordfighting ms, but he mentions the symptom "little sense of increasing momentum," which of course caught my eye. Then (re. having five characters' stories going on all at once) he uses the phrase "don't entwine into a humming cable of circuitry." He's talking about a different type of problem than the one I'm having, but now I'm thinking characters should braid into a humming cable of circuitry. At least, they should in this ms (the swordfighting one) because all three major characters are of nearly equal importance in my eyes.

So now I'm feeling a little more strongly that I need to buckle down and write out the story from the two non-main characters' POVs, in order to provide myself with a firm footing. I probably also ought to strongly consider whether the ms would come to life if I tried different POVs for different chapters. This is not what McCormack was advising but, hey, I take ideas where I can get them.

Side note: WF says that the problem of the MC with a negative goal can indeed be solved by the stated/announced goal (see yesterday's post). In short: the sagging or nonexistent tension of a goal-less MC can be negated by having the MC plainly state small plans or goals or strategies that aren't necessarily about the main problem of the ms. So. Hmm. Am trying to wrap my mind around this and see where and how it might be helpful to me in the former GN.

Friday, October 23, 2009

(The answer to yesterday's question turned out to be: sometimes in scene, sometimes not. At its root, the answer seemed to lie in whether you get bored reading. If you get bored reading in scene, then it's gone on too long and can be paraphrased or cut. If you get bored with the paraphrasing of out-of-scene, then you either cut it shorter or dig in and have a scene so the reader can get some firm ground underfoot.)

Anyway. Two threads of thought today, writing-wise.

First, I only had about an hour to work, so I glanced at (really glanced at--like, just read the chapter titles) the ms from the beginning and tried to get a sense of flow leading into the middle part. I wanted to see if I could do any quick shaping that might carry me a little farther into that particular wasteland. What I ended up with was some freewriting where I articulated some of the things I know about the middle and the characters, and would like to bring out in the ms. However, I didn't figure out how to bring them out. I just articulated them, that's all. It will have to do for now. I hope the back of my mind works on the problem, because I don't see how to do it unless I get all author-intrusive.

Second, interesting discussion with writer friend re. that great bane, the passive MC. The MC who is just fine, thanks, but then crap happens and his/her only goal is dealing with the crap. WF reminded me of Thomas McCormack's The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. I dug out my copy and tried to find the pertinent part, which basically is: the MC needs to make a plan and state it for the reader. This plan provides some juice, some pep (my words, not TM's) for the narrative. In TM's example, the MC already has a goal, but it's not enough because apparently she's not doing anything about it.

Now that I think about it, I guess I'm mixing this up with an MC who has a negative goal. Like, "I don't want X to happen," or "I don't want things to change." A passive MC probably has a positive goal, but just isn't doing anything about it. That's different, isn't it?

Like if a kid's mom is taking him to the doctor to get a shot. The kid doesn't want to go--that's a negative goal. Passivity has nothing to do with the situation. Crap is befalling him, and he's got to deal with it. But the example in TM's book is of a girl who wants to leave a hick town and, er, do whatever people do when they leave hick towns.* She has a goal--something she wants to achieve.

So maybe one question is: can a MC's stated plan help boost a story where the MC has a negative goal? I don't know.

*Usually they seem to sit around congratulating themselves on not being hicks anymore, since they've changed location. But I digress.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In scene, or not in scene; that is the question.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still working on last section of former GN. Today I hated the direction some of it was taking, and reworked it.

Right now this whole ms is three separate stories lined up one after the other. They're connected, but something bothers me about them. I guess it's that they don't feel inevitable in that book-ish way, where something happens and maybe you're a little surprised but you're also satisfied because the story's woven to lead naturally to that event. My three storylines are more like real life, where stuff happens and it doesn't fit together so well. Events are slightly more random; often if there's continuity or rising action in our lives, it's only what we've supplied in our own heads. That makes for a crappy book, methinks.

Maybe the answer is in the missing middle part; maybe that's the key to pull it all together. However, I'm not working on that right now. Which is good because I don't know what to do with it anyway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today, events conspired to send me to the last section of the former GN ms. Before being driven there by circumstance, I had the thought that it's okay if this last part's different in voice from the beginning--more bare and dialog-driven--because then I can bring it back around to match the beginning's tone if I want to, at the very, very end. And that would not be a bad thing at all.

As I worked on it this morning, a couple of nice things popped out. First, a repeated image from earlier tied up with an image from the middle, and so there they are together near the end, providing a nice thread that goes all the way through and not only develops, but tells me something I need to develop in the middle part, which is where I'm sort of stuck.

Also, I got some nice inroads made into developing the last section. I've got a new image that could provide me with some footing in other places, but it may be too stupid--will have to wait and see.

Also--this is not about the ms--I had a nightmare last night from watching The Virgin Spring. I couldn't tell you the last night a movie gave me nightmares. And TVS is an arty gore-free Swedish movie! It's very violent, but the power of the violence is in the way it's staged and filmed, not in explicitness. I'd seen the very, very end of the movie a while back, and thought it was kind of sappy, but when I saw it was on again I thought I'd take a look--not realizing that despite the sappy ending it was an Ingmar Bergman film. I got hooked even though it was kind of slow and quiet. Even the violence is slow and quiet and understated.

I've only seen a couple of IB movies before, and the only one I remember anything about is The Seventh Seal, which I didn't see all of, but which has the same slow pacing as TVS. Somehow the slow pacing gives me time to absorb and think, without boring me. In fact, it almost forces me to think. Maybe it's that the pacing's not really slow, but that there's a lot of silence. Maybe it's the way the shots are so carefully constructed in that silence, so you actually have time to think about what it means that they're that way.

I don't know what this all means to writing. I don't know what the equivalent of silence and carefully constructed shots would be, in a novel. I don't know how you'd achieve that leisurely pace while keeping the reader hooked and also drawing them in deeper. The thing about novels is that you can't control how long the reader takes to read. You can affect the pacing in the way you utilize sentence length and white space, but some people are going to read faster and some are going to read slower and there's nothing you can do about it. Unlike in a movie where if you have a 30-second shot, it's going to take everybody 30 seconds to watch it.

I saw a Youtube video where Ang Lee talked about the profound effect that TVS had on his work. He mentioned a scene near the end of the movie that I'd noticed, but hadn't considered in movie terms because I was busy thinking about the character. Not wanting to give spoilers, I'll just say that the shot shows an anguished man of faith speaking to God. Ang Lee points out that the natural shot for that--it's a climactic point of the movie--would be a close up on the man's face. Instead, IB used a long shot from behind the man, as he puts his fists to the sky, collapses, etc. The shot is outside, and I believe we see the man walk away from the camera, down a grassy slope we've seen before, and we end up slightly above him on the slope, looking down at the man who is centered on the screen as he has his moments of spiritual agony.

So: why? What does it accomplish to show the man like that, rather than letting us see all the details of his expression? To me, his agony doesn't seem any less because of the distance. Maybe it makes it worse because he seems more alone in the middle of the screen. You'd think that drawing close and getting a really good look at him would be more raw and powerful--but this scene is somehow constructed so that staying at a removed distance does the job better. And we don't see his face, only his back, his posture, his gestures.

Maybe it's that you know he can only walk so far, and he can't outwalk anything that's happened. You know he's got to stop right there; he has no choice, really.

There's something here to think about re. writing, but I don't know what it is yet. I already know that when you try too hard to show tears or laughter, you kill the moment. I already know it's usually stronger to understate emotion. But this is different--the whole thing is constructed opposite of what you'd think. I wonder if there's an equivalent for it in writing--a long shot for an emotionally wrenching scene, where distance somehow doesn't lessen what we feel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My thoughts are very scattered today:

1. I can't remember if I wrote on Friday or not; there was family stuff going on most of the day.

2. I know I didn't write yesterday, because I was planning to write for the entire day, but in the morning I tore a calf muscle trying to do sprints (I didn't even get to do one sprint) and since I had to ice it, I sat around reading something like ten books of Lone Wolf and Cub. I told myself I was only going to read a few, but then I went ahead and read through book 16, which is all I have.

3. I'd like to go back and compare how the stories in Lone Wolf and Cub are set up. Sometimes they start with Lone Wolf (who's an assassin for hire) getting his assignment, and then we watch him carry it out. Sometimes they start with setting or with a new story, then we see Lone Wolf wander onto the scene in the course of his travels, and deadly drama drops down on him out of nowhere. (When that happens, sometimes he's an innocent passerby, but other times we find out that he deliberately placed himself there to carry out an assassination.) Sometimes an entire short story about somebody we don't know unfolds, and Lone Wolf only enters near the middle or end, either woven into the story arc, or tying it up, or even just observing it.

And over all this is the backbone of the series: Lone Wolf's quest for revenge, the complications that arise, his complex backstory--and so far a mystery thread has also come up. Sometimes these pieces are pure stand-alones, but other times they're woven in as stories about other characters who quickly come and go.

Now that I think about it, it's like the Iliad because we are introduced to someone, quickly made to care about them--and then, as often as not, they're axed, usually in a spatter of blood. In the Iliad it seems like they pretty much always die, but in Lone Wolf they sometimes don't. Just enough to where I already know to try not to get too attached when somebody new shows up. Good guys and bad guys alike get sent to meet their maker, unlike with modern American books where we like the good guys to win in the end.*

4. Thinking about all this has me thinking about my swordfighting ms. I can't remember what I've said here recently, but I'm on the fence about whether to leave it as it is, revise with a non-linear time frame, or revise with alternating POVs. Now I'm wondering if maybe I should back off and forget about trying to produce a ms right now, but think bigger picture and pre-write and free-write bits of the larger story arc. Because in my head, this book is part of a larger story, like a GN series, where there are smaller arcs within the larger series arc. Maybe what I need is a firm footing on the big arc, and that will allow me to see smaller pieces of it with clearer eyes.

I think one reason I get mixed up is because I see all my books as snapshots of a time in the lives in the characters. I don't see a ms as a finite story, but as a piece of a continuum. I'm just pulling that piece out to look at separately. That's not how a storyteller thinks, probably.

5. Re. the former GN: I feel trouble coming on because of plotting issues. I'm telling the story as given in myth and legend (X happens, then Y, then Z), but it's not going to rise and build the way a book needs to unless I figure out how to sculpt it into doing so. I'm getting the pieces of it to rise and build slightly in the beginning, but pretty soon I need to really make it rise and build or it's going to sag and die. I've got to figure it out soon or the whole structure of the story (starting around page 50 or 60?--don't want to look) is going to collapse into a big blob of words. What it needs to do at that point is leap up and start running. So...must think.

*Unless it's Great Literatyoor, in which case there must be an unhappy ending. Even if the classic source on which it's based has a happy ending. Yes, I'm talking to you, Cold Mountain.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Finished another round of work on the second section, and have moved into the third. At this rate I should be done sometime in 2020, 2030--somewhere in there. They probably won't even have books by then. Everybody will be frantically shoving their opinions at each other via technological devices and nobody will remember what it's like to have a coherent thought that lasts more than a couple of seconds--much less be able to follow someone else's coherent thoughts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Slowly working my way along, getting the early portion of the ms into first draft shape. I think I'm getting a workable spin on this section (or maybe not, but we'll hope). It seems to be in a good order, and now I'm trying to shape it so it says something and isn't just a buncha pretty words. Now I'm on the last page of it (the section) and am struggling to tie it up with strength and with an idea that can move forward. What do I want the reader to "get" from this part and take with them to the next?

Unrelated thought: I was looking at a textbook about atoms and molecules (against my will; I care not one whit about atoms and molecules), and as I was trying to understand what the book was saying about electrons and octet rules and ionic something-or-others (bonds? I think it was ionic bonds)*, I realized that these people--the ones who write books about atoms and molecules--are just trying to describe what's already there. They're just picking matter apart mentally so they can understand how things work. When they understand how the molecules trade electrons and such, they can then understand how wee little cells get food and energy, and then they can understand how larger beings function. And that's kind of what writing is. You can pick apart how the meanings and the sounds of the words add up to create something larger, and how the phrases and sentences and punctuation and white space add up to create something even bigger and more complicated, and so on through paragraphs, scenes, chapters, etc. But you don't have to pick all that apart; you could just go by gut and not understand any of it. Just like you can eat and breathe and feed your cat and never know a thing in the world about ionic bonds.

OTOH, there aren't reviewers and critics in your house judging you on how you eat a bag of potato chips. And you aren't asking people to pay you for eating potato chips, either. So perhaps it behooves writers to think about what they're doing, at least a little.

*I forgot all this right after I understood it, so if you see me don't bother asking me about it, because I don't know.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I thought I was going to work through an entire section and get it figured out over the weekend, but life had other plans. I got some of the section done, but right now I can't remember anything I did, so must look it over and try to see where I was and whether it's stupid or not before I can try to proceed.

I didn't get my forced writing time in this morning due to family stuff, but I got some really good advice from the guy running the exit booth at a parking garage. I pulled up and handed him the ticket and sat there waiting, probably looking perturbed because the family stuff was running through my head. The guy asked if something was wrong. I said, "No, I'm just deep in thought." He said, "My grandmother always had a saying about that. Think about it for five minutes, and if it hasn't changed, let it go."

I don't know that this applies to writing, but it sure seems to apply to most everything else.

So, anyway. Off to write. Boy, some forward progress would be nice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Today I took a printout of a section and tried to look at it separately, in order to recognize its main idea. After seeing the way the first section came around nicely and made sense and ended strongly enough to move the story forward, I naturally now feel that this is what I should shoot for with the entire ms. However, today's section would not cooperate. I had it all laid out before me, but couldn't quite see what it wants to be. I think it's important at this point to figure out what the ms wants to be and not force it. It seems a delicate little thing that will be wrecked if I start pounding on it. Dunno. I'm itching to get more of the ms into shape, so this is annoying.

I'm a little nervous because I saw some directions the section might want to go, and made notes about adding and breaking up pages in order to do this. I guess I'll start in tomorrow. I just hope it doesn't come under the definition of "pounding."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Okay, I think something that would be extremely helpful is if, while I'm digging into the nitty-gritty details of a page or scene, and while I'm trying to smooth out the series of scenes in a particular section--if while I'm doing all that, I can keep a finger on the pulse of the entire thematic arc, the big main idea of the whole book, then I'll have some direction and focus and not get lost and confused so often.

I read over the first section, and there it was clearly before me--the main idea beaming over my head like a glowing celestial compass--and I tweaked a couple of things so that section came around nicely and made its point and I'd say it's in pretty good shape (this is the first time I've ever said that). So I've got a bead on this project now, I have a grip on long as I don't move forward. Because I know as soon as I dig into the next part, that grip is going to start sliding away.

This will not do. I can't just reread the beginning for momentum every time I start to work, because it'll become meaningless within a day or two, the words having embedded themselves in my brain. I don't know that I can just put the overall big idea on a sticky note to refer back to, because the idea sort of develops and grows and is explained as the story progresses. I guess I could try that, though. Maybe I will.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today I operated under the principle that it's better to muck about and get something down on the paper than to do nothing and leave a big hole, when it's the same big hole that's been there since day one and, in all that time, has shown zero initiative in filling itself in.

Am reading Lone Wolf and Cub. Brutal, misogynistic, and yet strangely compelling in its refusal to compromise character.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is one of those days where I get other stuff done, but not writing. However, I now have 45 minutes or so to squeeze in some work--only I don't know what to do. I'm looking at the ms and can't get my brain to zero in on anything.

Well, I must come up with something. I refuse to let myself get up until I have accomplished at least one small thing. I am chained to this chair until something has been produced, whether it's new, or old stuff moved around, or organizational outlining/notes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Am inching my way into the tricky part. I have a vague idea for a way to proceed. I don't know if it will work, but since this is the first time I've been able to formulate any kind of approach to this particular spot, it feels like progress.

The main thing I'm trying to do is use the momentum from having a workable draft of the first 50 or so pages. I'm trying to keep a grip on the basic storyline in my head* so I can see how the next few parts of the ms might unfold. Like I said, I don't know if it's working, or will work. I hope so, though.

*I know what the storyline is. I know what the plot is. What I don't know is how to slant it so that it builds and is compelling and will add up to mean something to the reader. I don't know what to put in and what to leave out, what to emphasize and dwell on, what to expand and what to distill. That's what I'm trying to figure out. I've got the plot, but the question is, what does it mean?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Worked on a series of scenes in the former GN, trying to distill them and get them to flow into each other. It felt like it was going okay, but of course towards the end I started getting confused and losing track of where I was heading and what the point was. I expect this to sort itself out as I keep plugging away at it.

The whole ms is just kinda weird because of the way it's set up. Usually I try to focus a scene on one particular idea, but in this ms scenes are split over pages, with each page also being a smaller idea. Sometimes I have a page in a scene, but it doesn't necessarily have to go there; it could end up fitting better somewhere else (or nowhere at all). In the meantime it sits there sending the scene slightly off kilter, which sends the entire series of scenes off,* too--which messes me up because I'm trying to feel out what the main idea of the series is and keep the book moving.

All I can do is notice that I feel confused, then back up and find the last place I didn't feel confused, and try to take it step by step from there. While also not imposing structure on the story, but letting it find its own way, because imposing structure on it also sends everything off kilter.

*An example of a series of scenes would be the section that's currently called "Glimpses." It's sort of held together by descriptions of the palace, but basically it starts with a scene where Helen is looking out a window, then it moves to the royal sisters' bedrooms, then it moves to a courtyard beyond the women's quarters where the boys train and practice. At the end it comes back to the women's quarters, to a tiny constricted workroom. It's eight pages total, each page containing a centered block of text--and what I've said here doesn't cover any of the actual points I'm trying to make in it. I'm just saying that there are multiple scene changes, even though it's one flowing idea. Or supposed to be.

I doubt that clarified anything. Oh well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Worked on former GN today. Am formulating and collecting ideas about what to do with the swordfighting ms by discussing approaches to plot problems with various writer friends. I was thinking about changing the ms structure re. timelines, but after discussion it hit me that maybe looking at pov changes would be better (alternating pov's?), and then I thought perhaps I'd better back off and think through character again, to get a grip on what everybody wants and whether anybody's story arc weighs heavier than the others, or if they all weigh equally, and what all this ought to mean in terms of approaching the ms.

That's what I was thinking about. But I worked on the former GN, trying to bring more scenes into line, into a readable and reasonably booklike flow.

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