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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Yesterday, started gathering snippets from old versions of the former GN--snippets that could belong in the new character's sections. I put them all in one document so I can work on them separately from the main ms. This should help me focus because there's less danger of getting sidetracked as I see pieces of the larger story and start wondering how to fit it all together.

I found a lot of pieces that I'd loved but had to cut because they weren't working in the single viewpoint story. It's gratifying to see them again. I hope some of them can be of use in this new context.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Despite the lightened workload of between-semesters life, I am still behind. I'm supposed to be--I want to be--writing like a bat out of h#ll right now, but my thyroid has conked out again (second time in as many months) and that means my ability to process the larger picture of scenes and novels has shut down. It's like I'm trying to think through mud. So not only am I unable to do much but sit and stare at my own WIP, I'm also unable to do much but sit and stare at the VT-related replies I still need/want to make for the semester--more than a week after the semester is over.

There are no words to describe my level of annoyance and frustration. Well, there are, but they would be overly dramatic and scare people. For example: "If I had a dog I would kick it. No, wait--I have two dogs. Lemme go get my boots on."

The weird thing is, the back of my writing mind is unaffected--I can tell, because a couple of times I've had one of those unexpected flashes, the kind where your writing subconscious is a container of simmering water, and a bubble suddenly rises and pops. Both of my flashes had to do with structure/format, which has been on my mind a lot this term.

And oddly, one was a sudden epiphany about the former GN, of all things. I haven't even thought about that in ages. But suddenly I know what I want to do with it, structure-wise.

Hmm, let me see if I can explain this.

First of all, it's all in third person present.

It's in my voice, from my POV rather than that of any of the characters, because my burning drive is the engine for the story, rather than the characters' particular desires.

It's going to start with wee centered boxes of prose set in present day, in "Sparta."

Then there's going to be a reader cue in the form of a heading that flat out says something like: "Nine years earlier," or however long it is.

From there the format shifts to regular margins as the story jumps back in time--but is still in "Sparta."

Then it's going to stay in the past time frame and in regular margins, but another heading will cue the reader to a, er, continent change. In other words, the setting moves across an ocean, but takes place at the same general time in the past.

Then it switches back to present day, cued by the format going back to the wee centered boxes of prose.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Three revolving stories: Helen in the present, Helen in the past, "Paris" in the past. And the past will gradually move close to the future with each set.

Now, later this will pose a problem as the three sections start to meet up. But the immediate problem at hand is this: I've done a ton of research on the details of domestic home and palace life in the Mycenaean age--and almost none on daily life for regular people or outside the house. Bringing in the second character ("Paris") is going to be a royal pain in the @ss, because he goes through a whole gamut of roles in Bronze Age Turkey: a village peasant, a shepherd...

Hmm. As I write this, I think I can skip the towns, fairs, and cattle-judging, and take him straight to the royal city ("Troy"--which I have a lot of detailed books on, thank goodness), and then on to war.

Okay, now I'm working this out as I type. What I need to do is get the peasant-thing set and grounded, then move him to the city so he can experience life with his royal family, and I think he does need to go to Bronze-Age battle--which might be fun, if I can find time to reread all the good parts of the Iliad. He also needs to be on a ship, which will be hard to write because I know squat about being on a Bronze-Age ship, or any ship for that matter.

Now I've lost my thyroid-deficient train of thought. I'm like Dory from Finding Nemo.

But I've actually talked myself into a less annoyed state, because the nature of this ms is that it's in snippets. It always has been. That is what it wants to be. So the trick of it isn't to build one long snowballing plot, but to weave snippets and storylines together.

So...since it's snippets, for now, if I work on this new part, I don't need to be able to follow a long train of thought. I can just focus on snippet grounding and immersion.

None of this helps my dystopian WIP (which my agent is waiting for, and which my bankbook is waiting for) or the people whose stuff is sitting on my desk ready to be answered. But it does help Hobo and Tyson, who may now avoid a kicking.*

*That's a joke. A JOKE!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tightened up Chapter 11 a little. Seems like it's working so far, but we'll see. I'm trying to squeeze in little informational bits of dialog without losing tension or the characters' various emotional connections to the scene. I won't know till later, when I'm reading through to check flow, whether it seems natural or like one big honking red-alert author-intrusive data dump after another.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Finished up some end-of-semester paperwork today, and rewarded myself with a little work on the WIP. I pulled a bunch of pieces together for Chapter 11. Looks like 11 will involve downtime for the characters, a plot hint, and some arguments. Then chapter 12 will have some danger and a dead body. Will see if that's enough to keep things moving.

Heard from agent, who reports that the first ten chapters are holding up their part of the story for the moment.

There is no question that this middle part of the book is beyond my skill level, but I'm gonna get the skill by doing it anyway.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Was talking with writer friends about "endowed objects," and suddenly noticed something about my story. I noticed that a flower-shaped button in my ms* has always been yellow, in my head, which is weird because I'm not a color person, and don't have a lot of interest in describing things by color. Then I recalled that when I was trying to work out how one of my characters who has a type of synesthesia perceives other people's emotions--in other words, I was playing around trying to get a feel for his multi-sensory takes on certain emotions--hope was yellow. In fact, as it stands now, that multi-sensory description of hope is set to be the last line of the book. And then I noticed that the girl who finds, owns, cherishes, then gives away the button has yellow hair. Not "blond," "yellow."

So, hmm. It's too bad my conscious can't write as well as my subconscious.

*Or rather, it will be in my ms, whenever I get that part written.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wrote 170 words to start a fight scene that will take place late in the book.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Had 15 minutes of free time in the carpool line, so I jotted down some ideas about what I want to do next time I have a few hours to pull up my file and work on it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

warning: cranky post follows

Got an e-mail from agent checking on progress with the WIP. Since I should have had this bloody ms done six months ago, I set everything else aside* to clean up the end of that first 100 pages to send in for feedback. I need feedback because I'm worried about it. And indeed, the more I read it over and worked on it yesterday, the more I was struck by the fact that this ms really sucks. The whole thing. It's like the Frankenstein's monster of mss--nobody will be able to stand to even look at its scarred and stitched-together face. The pacing is a mess, like two or three different writers wrote the same story using the same characters, then tore their work up and pasted the pieces on top of each other. It's too dark, too slow, it's uneven and weird and just plain embarrassing.

So I meant to send it in yesterday, but it's such a mess I am still trying to clean it up to where reading it won't be deadly torture. If I work all day, and I'm very lucky, I will have it done by late tonight--and it's still going to s*ck when I'm done. No question about that: it's still going to suck. The crappiness of it is so deeply interwoven that it can't possibly be decrapped.

However, in the writing biz, you always have to be up for severe humiliation. I said I'm going to send it in--so I'm gonna. This unfortunately puts my agent in the unenviable position of having to think of something to say about the ms and its progress--but hey, what can you do?

And so, to work, with hopelessness and grim determination.

*If you are a person to whom I owe something from the pile on my desk, sorry. It's coming, it's coming.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nimbus the Gerbil


Gone to be with his brother Gobi


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Very busy. An interesting thing happened, though. I've been spending hours and hours thinking about other people's work, and I'm at a point in the semester where most of that thinking is teasing out different story threads by looking at scenes and pieces to see what they say about character/thematic arcs. I have found that when you're writing organically and have a decent grip on your characters, this stuff naturally rises to the surface and starts to fall into place--if you keep your eyes peeled and stay focused on the work and not on finishing/publishing. You can begin to figure out that your character starts out ___ way, and since you like him and know what you want for him, you understand that by the end he's going to be ____ way. And you can use that to put your book together.

So I've been thinking about this stuff, literally, for hours and hours, over days and days, for many different characters not my own (but that I like and sometimes also love). I've been picking out the main idea a scene or snippet gives the reader, and thinking, among other things: what does this tell us about the character, and where does it go along his/her arc?

Last night I finished up late, no time to work on my own stuff, but I wanted to clear my head and just pull up my ms and write something--not for the purpose of making progress, but just to touch base quickly with my story world and my people. I opened the file, and decided to see if I could pin down anything about a transitional piece I haven't written yet, one that takes place near the end.

I can't remember if I blogged this, but during another mind-clearing session last week, I took some more structural ideas a writer friend had been talking about from The Plot Whisperer, and made a list of all my scenes, written and unwritten. I wanted to see if I could get anything useful out of laying TPW ideas over what I had, and trying to see my ms in those terms. When I did this, nothing changed much in a concrete way, but considering my ms in terms of the story points that Alderson emphasizes made me think about the ms in a slightly different way that I think will provide energy to the story.*

While I was doing all that, I also got more specific about the part that leads from the middle to the end, and added a small transitional scene to the list: Two of my guys prepare to leave, and this other character comes out trying to follow them.**

So last night I decided to see if anything came to mind about that scene--maybe what the two guys would say to each other, or what would happen when the other character came out. I ended up sketching out a "moment."*** I'm pretty big on "moments," and I felt one was needed here to set the main secondary character in our minds before he heads off into the ending. And a moment is a perfect thing to write when you don't have much time and can't get into the flow of story.

I knew this guy was just sitting there, on a rock or stump or wall or something, waiting for my MC so they could leave. That's the "moment"--we see him as the MC is approaching him. I knew what the secondary character's intentions were, going into the ending sequence, so I thought about his hands, his face, the way he sat, his general attitude, and I was playing around with the best words to evoke all that. And as I played with it, I started realizing how different he was from the way he started out at the beginning. All the words to describe him were different, everything evoked in the beginning was the opposite from what was being evoked here, near the end.

I suddenly saw very clearly that this was the end point of his arc. He started out ____ way, but now he is ____.

I suddenly saw very clearly: all my middle-of-the-book scenes that need to accomplish a plethora of story jobs also need to do this: step by step, they need to show how story events make the guy change from what he is in the beginning when the MC first considers him, to this guy who is sitting here now, at the end.

When the middle scenes do that, they'll have nearly the last bit of power and grit that the story's been needing to give it traction and momentum all the way through.

My mind only made those connections because it's been thinking about and looking for the same types of patterns over and over for days if not weeks, in other people's work. That's why, when I was just putzing around with a paragraph of description before quitting for the day, my mind automatically dove in to tease out the same patterns in my own ms.

Another funny thing: this morning I was thinking about the way the character sat on that rock/stump/whatever, the way he held himself, etc., and I thought: this guy knows who he is. Then I remembered sometime back in a fuzzy distant past asking myself what this character wanted--what made him leave his old home and take off into the unknown. Back then I thought about it, and had a dim feeling that he left because he didn't know who he was. I didn't like that; I was very doubtful and suspicious of the feeling, because "He wants to know who he is" is a vague, unhelpful, generic goal. It doesn't tell you anything. It's like an answer that fills in the blank on a junior high English test. I felt that it was really true about him, but I also felt that it was probably just a side thing you understand about your character, and I proceeded under the assumption that as I wrote more, his problem and his longings would take on some texture and depth.

But no, there is it: he starts off shapeless, soft, unformed, naive, passive. And by the end he's firm, solid, knowing, capable, competent. In the beginning, he doesn't know who he is. By the end, he does.

And now that I think about it, he also....acts. He's sitting there waiting because he's made the decision to leave and he is about to act on it. And he will. That's why he'll be there in the climactic scene and in the very final scene, too, with my MC.'s also why he'll be able to influence the story outcome and present the MC with his climactic choice.****

So, there you go.

And now, back to work. On other people's stuff.

*This is what happened when I looked at my beginning-to-middle transition in TPW terms, too.

**And then he gets his eye gouged out!

***I don't know the technical word, but that's what I call it. It's where you stop, like a freeze frame, and give the reader something, hit them with it strongly so they absorb it. A moment can be as tiny as emphasizing an idea by using white space via a new paragraph, or it could be a whole page of description.

****Which I haven't quite nailed down yet. But I will, if the creek don't rise, a meteor doesn't strike, and I don't get hit by a bus.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thinking about the ending--realized I need to figure out what happened in an offscreen conversation between the two main secondary characters on the way to the ending.

Also suddenly remembered this guy from the Iliad, a young prince of Troy who'd recently been caught by Achilles, kept for ransom, and freed for a huge payment. He only made his way back home days ago, and now has the misfortune to be caught by Achilles in battle again. Only this time when they meet up, Achilles is out of his mind with rage re. the death of his friend Patroclus, and is cutting a bloody, merciless swath through the Trojan forces.

Had to look it up--the guy is Lycaon, and in the scene he's stumbling exhausted out of river rapids, disarmed, no shield, no spear, no helmet, no nothing. He sees the very well-armed (by the gods!) Achilles coming for him, and knows his only hope is to beg for his life.

Achilles hurls his spear at Lycaon, who dodges it and falls to his knees before Achilles. The spear has stuck in the ground behind him, so he's clutching at Achilles' legs with one hand and the spear with the other, trying to keep hold of both so Achilles can't pull the spear out of the ground and run him through. And all the time he's pleading for mercy, listing reason after reason Achilles should spare him.

Achilles, of course, says no.

This is the part that stuck in my head: When Lycaon hears this--it's a very firm, merciless, fatalistic "no"--he lets go of the spear, lets go of Achilles, spreads both his arms out wide, and waits for the death blow, accepting it.

There's more after that; Achilles kills Lycaon--drives his sword into L's neck/shoulder up to the hilt, then grabs a foot and slings Lycaon's body into the river where it's immediately carried away. But the image that stayed with me is this young guy realizing that he's about to die, and meeting his fate with dignity and courage, arms outspread.

I don't know that this has anything to do with my WIP, but it's a cool moment and I've been thinking about it suddenly.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yeah, I think I'm getting through this tricky part--after having overwritten it, underwritten it, rethought it, and re-sorted it out multiple, multiple, multiple times.

Another thought/quote passed along by the friend who's been reading Alderson's book has turned out to be very helpful.

Re. the "threshhold" between beginning and middle*:

"When you find the scene that serves this purpose, rewrite it with the significance it deserves."

*See previous post

Friday, October 28, 2011

I went back over the lengthy transition, this time shifting mental gears to an "end of Part One" mindset. This allowed me to cut all but two of the scenes and to slant those two toward building a new hook for my imaginary "end of Part One." Now "Part One" ends on a strong idea that draws the reader on, thus buying me a little time to ease into "Part Two."* The scenes I cut haven't really gone anywhere; they can either be cannibalized into other scenes, or used early in Part Two.

A writer friend who has been reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson shared this quote, about the transition from beginning to middle: "The threshold marks the point at which the real adventure begins." I wonder if looking at the middle as an adventure rather than as a sagging pain-in-the@ss can help me figure out how to present it to the reader. I may try, although it feels a little like telling myself that my ugly baby is beautiful, all evidence to the contrary.

I wish I had a week to lock myself into a hotel room and do nothing but work on this ms.

*That's not to say that the end of Part One works as is. I'm pretty sure it s*cks. But I'm also trying to leave it and work out the details later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The transition into the middle section has been too big and messy for me to comprehend, so today I printed it out (the transition) with the aim of getting rid of the parts that aren't strictly necessary. The goal was to keep my writing mind at a slight distance and not get sucked into any scenes or trains of thought--especially not explanations or backstory. Just read all the pieces and mark the ones that needed to be moved away and dealt with later; that was the goal.

The transition I started with was 19 single-spaced pages long--in 11-point font. No kidding. No wonder I couldn't wrap my head around it.

I ended up having to dip fairly deeply into the very first part of the transition in order to get started in the same mindset as the MC. After that I kept myself to the slightly-distant writing viewpoint, the one that allows me to see things in terms of structure and overall pacing. I went through whittling scenes and pieces off one by one, and putting the ones that were left in an order that seemed to work.

I ended up with a transition of 10 pages (single-spaced in 12-point), made up of five or so scenes, some of which are currently just sketched notes. It probably doesn't really count as a transition, and probably won't read as one, when all is said and done. But to me, right now, it is one, and I think I may have it to where it'll move me smoothly into the middle without creating a total slump. There's no question that it's moving slower than the first hundred pages, but I probably need to take what I can get at this point.

I just hope I don't get the transitional part fleshed out and flowing and making sense--and then find that I've lapsed into a boring drone that makes everyone's eyes glaze over. That will mean starting over, rethinking it from scratch. And dear Lord, I hope that does not happen. I don't know what the odds are, maybe fifty-fifty, that it'll turn out that way. I don't expect to know till I get to the end of the path and turn to look back.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No time to work on my own stuff. However, it seems that the back of my head has been working busily, unbeknownst to me, because suddenly a whole rash of tied-together ideas came out while I had Tyson out on a nice four-mile walk/sniff-fest. Basically the whole line of thought just involves one new not-very-exciting scene and an unrelated old scene that still serves the same purpose it did before. However, multiple layers and depth are suddenly piling on both of them.

When I got home I jotted down everything I thought I'd need to remember (squirrel! flour! composite bow! head-on-a-pike!) when I pick up the ms again. That could be tomorrow. If I get to work right now and put in some long hard hours today to get other obligations completed.

In other news, the w-f-h ms I did last year or whenever it was--the one that taught me so much about fight scenes and writing from action/plot--is not going to be published, because the series was canceled before it began. It's too bad, because I ended up liking the character a lot, and would have liked to see how the book read in print. However, I got paid up front, I learned a ton, and it was somebody else's idea, so it's not on the list of things I'm losing sleep over.

And now, back to work.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking a little time from other people's work so I don't go bonkers from WIP-separation. I'm trying to set and clean up the transition between the first part of the story and the middle part. (I haven't decided what to do about the questionable spot near the end of the first section yet, and am working around it.)

For the transition, I realized I don't have to follow my MC as he works himself around to causing the next encounter I need him to have. The encounter can start on its own, offstage, and somebody can come to him and say, "Hey, you need to get in here and deal with this." That moves the story to its next problem quickly and efficiently.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I was thinking about the part of the ms that's bothering me, and I realized I don't have to peel away anything. All I have to do is back up and change the circumstances slightly--just have my guy arrive a little sooner. That would mean he gets there before the part that sends him halfway off his rocker happens. His being there prevents it from happening.


I'm not sure whether this is what I'll end up doing, but it would tighten up the story a little and make it move more directly into the next part.

I think the reason I'm stalling out is that I need to have a grip on everybody's state of mind as the next part gets rolling.

The next time I hear somebody say, "I always wanted to write a novel, but I just haven't had the time to sit down and do it," I think I may strangle them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I have been making my way through corrections, but a new problem has reared its head. I've been thrown off a little by the read-through I did of the first hundred pages.

When I finished reading, I thought, wow this guy's really being pushed to the end of his rope. That ought to be good, right?

But by the next day, I was becoming more and more alarmed and uncertain, because my MC is seriously halfway to being off his rocker. And I don't know if this makes sense within the story, or if I've entered some kind of psychological vortex where I'm writing stuff that has nothing to do with what the book needs to be.

If I look at some of the things he does near the end of the book, he really is off his rocker by then. He's completely left the tracks in those parts. Those are the parts where I skipped ahead and wrote him when he's already lost all control. It makes sense, if I think about it intellectually, that he would be pushed near the end of his rope early on, so we can worry about what might come later.

But jeez. This is scary. It's actually scary to see what I've written. A fellow writer will be looking at it shortly and providing a reality check, and in the meantime I'm more or less stepping back and eyeing the ms with suspicion, from a safe distance. It's a good time, because I'm in the middle of packets.

In my mind, though, I'm tentatively poking at the ms and gingerly thinking what it might mean to the story if I have to go back and peel away all the mentally-careening-out-of-control stuff. I honestly have no clue where I'd start. I'm also gingerly thinking what it might mean if this really is the slant the story wants to take, because how do I get the reader to follow this guy as he quickly gets all the way back on his rocker for the middle of the book? And how can the book possibly have a satisfying ending?

I think the bottom line is that recent revision presents two possibilities. One, I'm way off course, have lost the essence of my character, and have a lot of major retracking and rethinking to do. Two, writing this book could be similar to writing Damage. That had a whole extra set of writing problems unlike any other book I've written. If this book has similar issues, it adds another layer of writing difficulties on top of the usual ones, plus the difficulties in the challenge I've set myself here, which is to keep a fast page-turning pace without losing any of the depth or the emotional story that I'm interested in.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Typed in about 70 pages worth of fixes. The going will be slower from here, though--got some rethinking and rewording to do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Okay, hmm. I think the first 107 pages are workable. I need to enter the edits I made while reading (which will take at least a couple of days), then figure out what this last scene or two needs to be (out of the ten or so that could go here), and then I think I can set most of this aside in my head and start fresh with the middle. Not sure how the pacing's going to play out from here, because even if I alternate stuff happening with the stuff I'm more interested in, the stuff that's happening isn't as edge-of-your-seat as what's in the first 107 pages. So, we'll see.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I printed out the first 107 pages to read over tomorrow. It's a scary little stack of paper, lying there on my desk saying, "I may suck, and if I do that means you haven't moved forward even one single solitary inch in six months of writing."

I know I've actually done a lot in six months, and I know that six months is an arbitrary number anyway because I have no clue where I stood with this half a year ago. But still, that's what it's saying to me. It's saying, "Be afraid. Be very afraid." And I am. I don't want to have to trash fifty pages of writing and start them over from scratch. I want to be able to move into the next fifty pages and start pulling those pieces together.

It was a good writing day, though. One especially nice part was when I went through a scene more carefully to figure out where everybody really was and why, and it turned out that one of the characters went and had a conversation offstage with another character. I pulled up a side file and wrote that out, and it was surprising and enlightening. Now my MC gets to find out that they were talking, and he will be disturbed and confused by the knowledge. Heh heh.

I'll try to think about that instead of what might happen tomorrow.
Going through the scenes and grounding them deeply has meant thinking through some of the minor secondary characters. These guys have been mere redshirts standing around, usually in one mass. Even just trying to get them separated into real human beings--albeit shallowly delineated ones--has changed a key scene and the direction of the scenes that follow.

I'm tired of dealing with so many characters, though. It's tempting to have an meteor crash into the story and kill half of them off.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Busy here, but I have been working on the dystopian a little nearly every day, still working my way through the deeper grounding of the part just before the middle. I can't seem to wrap my mind around what I'm going to do as I move into the middle. I've got a lot of scenes lined up ready to go, but I'm feeling iffy about the transition into them. Iffy as in not knowing what to do.

I think this is why I'm currently compelled to do that deeper grounding. If I can get it right, I should be able to understand this upcoming transition, and also how the middle needs to be paced, timewise. The middle is where more time starts passing between scenes, and I'm not sure how to show that without losing the rapid pacing I've been going for in these first hundred pages. Also, the transition into the middle will set up its pacing and get it rolling--so if I blunder around not getting this transition right, the next hundred or however many pages won't coalesce.

I'm wondering if I need to mentally break the story here and start a new section--like, in my head, call the forthcoming middle "Part II" and treat it as a separate entity as I write. Or it could be that the narration needs to flow directly from one chapter to the next.

What I might do is get these hundred or so pages settled enough that I'm willing to let other people see them, and send them to my agent for a reality check re. pacing while I regroup and dive into the next part. Who knows. It looks to me like I need to trim some of the end of the hundred-page part anyway, and that may take a while at this rate.

I've been considering having brief tags at the beginnings of chapters, to help ease the moment of understanding when the reader finally gets the main secondary character's full story. It might just be sappy and off-putting though. Not sure.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Still busy. Have been working here and there on heavy-duty grounding and fleshing out scenes, including working them through from the pov of minor characters. Also seem to be collecting post-its from waking up in the wee hours with thoughts re. thematic and character arcs.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yesterday, filled in a transition between two scenes. In order to get it grounded, I had to rethink the layout of the place my MC lives. Sketched out a map.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Very busy. Have been thinking about the dystopian, and realizing it's time to print out and do a readthrough. I have no sense of how the story ideas flow into each other, or whether the action I've got is rising action. And I can't hone any of the scenes that need to be honed until I'm sure they're in the right places.

That will have to wait till I have time to actually read my own ms.

For now, I'm suddenly thinking about the former GN re. format and structure. I've had to do a lot of thinking lately about how format and structure can be used to bind a story together. One big idea is that providing an outside viewpoint can create tension if it shows conflicts and dangers the main character is unaware of.

I already knew I needed that outside context in the former GN, and have been trying to shoehorn it in mostly via my MC's pov. Also, some time back, I tried putting framing devices around chapters. They weren't working because they weren't cohesive enough. It was like slamming the reader into a wall every time a new chapter started.

So now I'm thinking I'll look around at other characters and see how many might have something to say. I've had to do double backbends to get the world-building context-y information into my MC's pov, so I'm interested to see exactly how many places there are where it can come out and happen in real time. I may look to see if there's a potential pattern for outside viewpoints, something that would keep the story flowing while also keeping tension up.

It's not going to be simple, no matter what. This ms is a real puzzle.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Woke up briefly at 4:40 a.m. with a bunch of sudden clear thoughts.


The thoughts included:

  • A character I've been on the fence about doesn't die, he just gets hurt really bad and gets his eyeball poked out, which is what I've been wanting because I can see him in my head being older with an eyepatch.
  • The reason he doesn't die (and only gets hurt really bad) is because he does something the MC told him to do earlier in the book.
  • I can bring this around to an idea I keep circling in the ms: when you've got no good choices, intentions count as much as, if not more than, outcome. If you don't have the equipment to win, and you honestly do the best you can, then you shouldn't berate yourself for not winning.

Now, the interesting thing about this writing-wise is that it seems to me to slam straight up against audience, market, and business. Explaining would mean humongously detailed spoilers, so I won't explain--but it's clear that I've got an unintended subtext here. My MC does something that one isn't supposed to do in YA or midgrades. I'll need to keep pulling back once in a while to keep an eye on that subtext, while making sure I go all the way in staying honest and true to the character. I know what my guy did. I know what drove him to do it. I need to make sure that I don't back off who he is, or accidentally drop the core of him just because I feel bad about it whenever I put my temporary gatekeeper hat on and look at the story from their angle. Every bit of this story thread has to remain mindful and deliberate and thorough.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Busy with school starting and family stuff going on. WIP will have to fall by the wayside while I bear down on family and writing-related obligations.

Right now, the WIP seems to really suck, anyway. I haven't read any of it for real (like, sat down and tried to read straight through as a reader instead of a writer) in a long time, so I don't know if it sucks in the real world or not. But in my head, it's like a blob of unflavored gelatin on the sidewalk. I look at it and I think: Bleh. Bleh, bleh, bleh.

So what I've been doing instead is trying to find the right place for the bad guy's winter camp/home. It's been gnawing at me that this isn't settled, because I can't properly write the scenes that take place there until I have a feel for it.

Also, I want to find the right place for the final confrontation.

I did flesh out some of a falling-apart-shoe related piece. I'm now thinking I need pieces like this in order to write a book that works, because they're simple and character-driven and there's no larger questions to consider about what the reader would be expecting or wondering about. If I write too many scenes where exciting stuff happens that moves the plot forward, I get bored, and eventually confused, uninterested, and disconnected. Like now. Pumped-up fictional life-or-death drama is just not real enough for me to stay related to, not when it's scene after scene after scene.

So I'm going to lay off the writing--unless I get a craving for it--and instead make sure that every day I focus on something about trying to get strongly connected to the ms again. Which means stuff like finding settings, thinking about how these people got here, and trying to understand what their daily routines and lives really look like, from inside their bodies and heads. Much of this type of thinking can be done behind the wheel of a car, so I don't know how often the actual file will get pulled up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It occurs to me that this is a really stupid story and I should be embarrassed for writing it. However, I refuse to end the writing day on that note, so back to work.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yesterday I wrote a new piece of dialog where a secondary character spoke up on her own and made the exchange come to life.

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

Gobi the Gerbil

Requiescat In Pace

Friday, August 26, 2011

The he's-already-dead-scene has definitely become a death scene. Today I cringed at its smarminess and made the guy die right. Or at least die better.

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

Had about 20 minutes to write; started changing a he's-already-dead scene to a death scene. Not sure which way it'll end up.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Forgot to say, the character who had the broken leg is now getting stabbed in the thigh with a sharpened stake (via an accidentally-tripped pig-sticker trap) instead. This allows the pigsticker trap thread to form its own little arc and provoke real trouble, too.
Major, major sketching-out, here.

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

Note to self: think about book X

Forgot to say, I finally made myself start reading a book I've been assuring people I was going to read for 2-3 years now. Recently I even had to fork over a self-imposed fine of five bucks to a fellow writer for yet again failing to read it as promised.

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?

Note to self re: Beast or God again

"But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god."

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

Hmm, so I'm thinking that every writer may have a different base "layer" that they tend to start with when writing a scene. Some people tend to need a plot to build from, some need a setting; I generally just need characters or even just a strong feeling from a character I don't know yet. If I think about it, I see that I most often start with a base layer of either internal thought or of dialog. Then I flesh out and layer on physical grounding, setting, and last of all, plot. (not all the time, but more than other ways of working.)*

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.
Yesterday was very productive. I found myself settling in to work on the area around chapters 9 and 10, moving pieces of them around and getting them to read like, well, part of a real book that you pull off the shelf. I took out stuff that was slowing or distracting, and stuck it somewhere else to deal with later. Also brought in dialog from elsewhere that now belonged here. The interesting thing was that I finally was able to get more deeply into these dialogs, with everyone participating and driving the story in interesting ways (including to the next story problem). This was a big change from the way these particular dialogs have been up till now; mostly they've been me writing about people exchanging information or my MC saying what he thought about everything while everybody else sank into the background.

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

Yesterday, smoothed out some scenes in an attempt to get more chapters to flow as coherent units. Because I can't tell if they're actually working until I can read them for flow.

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

By sheer coincidence, the lower-limb theme continued into a third day, via a sketched-out scene involving shoes stripped off a dead body and put on a living one.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yesterday, wrote a couple of sentences describing a broken leg.

Today, wrote a piece of a scene where somebody's got a broken-off thorn stuck in the bottom of his foot.

The shared theme of lower-limb injury is strictly coincidence.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Whoa. Big surprise. I sat down to dash off a few paragraphs of some internal thoughts I'd realized my MC was having, about midway through the story. I just wanted to make sure I had them recorded before I started in on other obligations; I didn't want to forget them because they have to do with plot and they're also a hook that I can use at the end of a chapter.

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. 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

Took the pieces I did yesterday and started turning them into a scene, also pulling in pieces of dialog that have been sitting around waiting for a place to go. One of these pieces had some action connected with the dialog, so I used that to give a plot-type purpose to the entire scene.

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

Wrote two quick things, for fun and to keep a creative finger in the WIP pie. First thing was a tw0-line description. Second thing was a few very short paragraphs of description. These were unrelated to anything or even to each other. Just felt like zeroing in on: 1) the main secondary character sharpening a knife, and 2) forgetting that he's supposed to be working so he's sitting there staring up at the sky. He's holding the knife here, too, for some reason.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Was thinking out a certain portion of the backstory of my MC as I was driving around doing errands this morning. I already knew the very basic idea of what happened, but I was working it out in my mind, following the events step by step to see how they came about reasonably and believably in the world of the book. I was doing this because if I ignore or distort the reality of my characters and their world to make something happen, it can mess up the whole ms. Even if what I'm ignoring or distorting happens offstage, before the book even begins, it can still mess it up.

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?
I'm still not satisfied with the pacing of the beginning of Night Road, so that always looms at the back of my mind: You never figured out how to fix this. You fell short. You were unable to solve this writing problem. This dystopian--and probably the swordfighting ms, too--bring the exact same situation around again and drop it at my feet. It's like I'm not allowed to pass over the writing bridge till I can answer a certain question correctly. Only my question isn't "What's the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow," it's "How do you pace and structure a ms with necessarily heavy doses of world-building and backstory?"

*okay, maybe not that many.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting busy again here, which is probably good because I think my writing brain needs more of its space given over to percolating for a while (as opposed to 6-12 hours daily spent actually writing). I'm still going to try to pull up my WIP every day, though, no matter what.

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

Note to self: beast or god

"But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god."

Aristotle, Politics
I worked on the falling scene, and quickly saw that it's too strong to go where I thought it might go in the ms. It's so strong it'll undercut the events leading up to the end; they'll seem watered-down compared with what went before.

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.
Ha! I was doing more organizational thinking, streamlining my notes and listing all the points I need to make in this vast desert area of the ms. Suddenly I remembered this old, old throwaway piece I wrote in one of my very early beginnings. It's just a tossed-off 100-word bit in the middle of other stuff, telling how my MC saw a guy fall to his death once. I always liked that bit, so even though it didn't do anything and distracted the reader, I left it in for far too long before I cut it. It's been gone for a long time now.

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

Note to self: entering the Sahara

Last night I sat down with a spiral and did some thinking. It was flat-out alarming. I quickly saw that I've set myself up: I now face an overwhelming mass of doled-out storyline setups and of motivation-establishing points that need to be made in scene. Most of these would read okay in a regular book, but not coming right after 150 pages of my characters hovering on the brink of death and destruction.

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.
(Which overlaps with:)
  • 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

I'm to the point where I need to pull back a little and figure out how to structure and pace an area of the book where a bunch of time is passing between scenes. Up till now, I've been thinking directly from scene to scene, with one leading straight into the next...then the next...then the next. Etc, etc. But now everybody needs a little time for relationships to develop and frustrations to ripen. And I'm not sure how to do that, because my head's in unrelenting-verge-of-death mode. Also because transitions are one of my weak spots as a writer.

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.
A very nice morning. First news of the day is a writer friend's breakthrough revelation--the kind where you're thinking about your ms and a big chunk of story suddenly slides into place in your head. The kind with a domino effect where, once you "get" that chunk, resulting encounters and situations also start falling into place and it all makes sense on every level.

Ahhhhh. It's good to bask in the glow.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spent today moving pieces around to try and get a grip on the big picture as I move on into the book. Now I've got the story tentatively sketched out through chapter 13 or so, and my sense is that I'm probably at the midpoint of the story. If so, the book's about like I thought and will end up at 300+ pages. (My guess right now is 300-350. I have nothing to base that on. It's just the way the ms feels to me.)

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.
Hmm. I haven't been pleased with myself for continuing to go over already-written scenes and chapters, smoothing and revising for flow. But this morning I was talking to some writer friends about scenes with action, and saying how my current theory is that to write those kinds of scenes properly, you (meaning I) have to go over them in layers. I've got to ground them, do the blocking, do the dialog, and go through the scenes (in my head) from the POVs of the MC and of each main secondary character. And every time I add a layer, it recasts all the previous layers, which means I've got to go back and redo them all over again, one by one. Repeat ad nauseum. But I'm starting to realize that if I don't do this, the scene is "off" and nothing coming after it will be right.

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

Worked on chapters 9, 10, and on into 11. Around 11 I get confused because I've got the two main plotlines going pretty good, but just ended a couple of hook-type events, so I need to pick up the tension again here with one of the other hook-type events. Without losing track of either of the two main plotlines.

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.
Yesterday I told myself I was going to write more new stuff for the middle, but I ended up working on chapters 6, 7, and 8, going over and over them for flow of ideas, feelings, and tension. Oh well.

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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Started smoothing out chapters 8, 9, and 10. However, there isn't much time before the new school year kicks in, so this coming week I might be better off trying to get some more large pieces staked out in the ms' middle. When school kicks in, I won't be able to work more than a couple of hours at a time without being interrupted, and these nice large chunks of new story I've been writing seem to feed off marathon writing sessions.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Again, an excellent writing day. Most excellent; I pulled a bunch of stuff together and suddenly have sketched my way up to chapter 10, well over a hundred pages in.

I will be interested to see how the upcoming tricky part--the development of my main secondary character--can be worked out without losing any of the tension or high-interest pacing I'm trying to maintain. I may sit down and list all the plot-hook types of scenes I know will happen in the middle of the book, so that I can wrap my mind around exactly how many there are, as well as what they are, exactly. Right now these plot-hooky things are mostly big generalities in my mind (with pieces, scenes, and conversations scribbled down in the ms as placeholders), but I think they'll necessarily need to be broken up because the ideas in them are too big for one scene or chapter. Instead, the plot-hooky things are probably more like little mini-arcs. If they are, they may be enough to intersperse with the character-development so that pacing stays sharp.

It sure would be nice if this book could live up to what my brain thinks it could be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another very productive day, 1300+ words. I wrote a new scene, a knife fight, which--now that I think about it--is backstory. That led to another new scene, also backstory, which I loved writing and found very touching.

The reader's going to need both these backstory scenes, either as discrete flashbacks, as memories related by the MC in detail, as paraphrases, or as cut-up snippets scattered around. I have no idea which. All I know is, both scenes really happened, and the reader needs them in order to fully understand the story.

Since so much of the world-building and internal story of this ms relies on the characters' backstories, I'm wondering if I'm simply going to have to cut away every once in a while for a set-apart in-scene flashback. If I do, it's going to be very, very tricky. Extremely tricky. Potentially tension-killing.

It occurs to me that the swordfighting ms has the same problem. However, with this dystopian ms I understand what the deeper story is and how it plays out and rises to an end. So it should easier (relatively!) to figure out how to structure the dystopian. And if I can, that should help me with the other ms.

What do you do when the story begins in the right place, but a ton of stuff happened before the beginning that the reader needs to know?

Much to think about. Hmm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yesterday, very busy, but still got some work in--continued freewriting from secondary character's pov. Today was very productive; more freewriting led to a real scene. This scene marks the first solid foray into the middle of the book.

I also went ahead and moved some of my freewriting into the actual ms because that new scene would naturally lead to an explanation of the secondary character's backstory. I'm considering leaving the freewriting as is; in other words the ms would suddenly switch pov, tense and voice for this big chunk of backstory. Right now that seems less draggy than the lengthy in-scene conversation that'd be required to get in this same info. However, I'm probably wrong, and also it may turn out that the info needs to be chopped up and scattered around the ms. Will have to see.

I also had the thought that one of the pieces from chapter six would do a stronger story job later in the ms, but I'm not moving it yet.

Again, 2000+ words today, even with doctor visits and family stuff going on. Took a notepad and scribbled some word lists and other thoughts while in the waiting room.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Very productive writing day--2000 words, all freewriting from pov of secondary character on whom the book hinges. I never lost interest, for nearly 10 hours of writing. It starts in scene near the beginning of the book and goes through deeply and inch-by-inch via SC's pov, using second person present.

I really don't want to write the whole d@mn book out twice if I can avoid it*, so I hope I can get going enough to eventually start skipping around and just figuring out this guy during certain key points in the story. Not sure which points, just so long as I don't have to, like I said, write inch by deep inch through the whole novel twice (or g*d forbid, three times, for the sake of that third character who's so important, the antagonist).

I figure the type of freewriting I did today is interesting enough that if the book gets published, I can publish these pieces on a website as a supplement to the novel. It really is fascinating (to me, anyway) to get the same info from this other guy's view, with access to his secrets and his extremely unusual way of seeing the world.

*And I hope I didn't just jinx myself by saying that out loud.
While I was in VT, a fellow writer posted some in-depth thoughts re. The Putting On of Pants:

I completely agree. One can Put On Pants in glorious and lyrical detail, but if the story itself doesn't require readers to absorb the full import of a pants-donning, then to me that space on the page is self-indulgent, even if it is pretty and well-written.

I always have wrongly-emphasized Putting-On-Pants moments in my writing*, but I try very hard to get rid of them before the book hits print. It's sometimes difficult, though, because, well, they are pretty. Very pretty. Right now I've got one I know I need to cut, but I keep leaving it in there because I haven't yet managed to force myself to get rid of it.

In other news (or not-news; what's the opposite of news?) I woke up understanding that there is indeed something wrong with the scene I wrote yesterday. I have no idea what. All I know is that it's not sitting right with me--I don't feel good and energized when I think about it; I feel very slightly uneasy. That doesn't mean the whole thing has to go (although it could mean that), but it almost certainly means that 1) I need to have a stronger grip on the characters as they head into this scene, 2) something about the scene is preventing the many threads of emotional and character arcs from falling nicely into place, or 3) both.**

There are a lot of threads that need to come together in that scene, and I already knew that, so I'm not alarmed. I'm glad I was able to get something out on paper so I can seriously start (slowly) figuring out the book's climax. I've wanted to write that scene for a long time, but the closest I could ever get was one time when I managed to half-describe the road they're standing on before I stalled out and sat there staring blankly at the screen. This part of the book wouldn't come at all before yesterday.

So anyway, back to work.

*The former GN is one big wrongly-emphasized Putting On of Pants.

** #3 is most likely. Usually somebody in the scene isn't doing what they really would do (like, if I wasn't around stage-managing the whole business), and that throws the whole book off.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This morning I had ones of those long mental flashes where a scene came to me in sequential order--where the characters were in place in my head, and one character's action or thought led to something happening, and then that led somebody else to react, which led to somebody else responding, etc. etc. all the way down the scene. That happens sometimes if you've been working and trusting the process enough to tuck problems away for the back of your mind to work on. The big question now is whether the scene I wrote will actually work when all is said and done.

Anyway, it was a good enough flash that I skipped ahead today and wrote out the scene, which is the climax of the book. It may be a bit maudlin right now, especially compared to the blood and gore surrounding the sad bits, but maybe it's a decent placeholder till I get the rest of the story working enough to earn this climax. If not, I'll have to rethink. In the meantime, I can pretty much guarantee I will not be showing anybody this part till I have a better sense of whether it's just plain silly or not. I don't mind showing people most of my rougher stuff, but if something I wrote makes me sad yet makes everyone else laugh, it's not good for my creativity to hear them laughing.

I didn't want to kill this guy, and have been dancing around it, coming up with scenarios where he walked happily away at the end, but this morning I was called upon by my flash to accept the death and just go with it. So I did.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Realized I need to get some of the early middle part of the book written out, just for the sake of getting a better grip on the main antagonist. I wanted to write a scene I haven't so much as touched yet, where he (the main antagonist) comes to visit the MC's home. But before I even started, I saw that it'd be futile to try to write my way into it without having a decent feel for an earlier scene--namely, the antagonist's first appearance in the book. I've had pieces of this earlier introductory scene for some time, but most of them dance around this guy. Mostly they just pin down some of the blocking as well as a simpler, more minor character who doesn't have such a huge effect on the story.

So I started tackling this main antogonist's on-scene introduction, and never got to the new scene I wanted to try out. Maybe tomorrow. Today's writing went pretty well as far as sketching out stuff, giving me a good base to work from, so it was a good writing day.

I'll be disappointed if I get to the new scene and find that something's off and it's not workable. I hope it's okay. I suspect I'll be writing flashes of it, not a start-to-finish sketch, but we'll see.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yesterday, worked on transition getting MC from one location to another. Today, skipped to the climax and started chipping away at that. Since I'm not sure exactly how the climax plays out, this is a very rough, vague, and unsatisfying placeholder that may not even work to hold the place. However, trying to write it at least sets the problem down in concrete form so the back of my mind can start turning it over.
In other words, it's possible that today's rough, vague, unsatisfying work may bear fruit later. I hope so. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wrote a fight scene from the middle of the book yesterday.  Then I had the good luck to run into some fellow writers who very kindly walked me through the physical and emotional interactions that might take place in a quick, unplanned alpha-dog guy fight. This helped me get a better grip on the blocking/choreography involved. 

Another FW showed me the Casey Heynes bully video (slightly disturbing, and yet shockingly satisfying), which I had not seen. 

All in all, an excellent writing day. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yesterday I worked a little bit on a scene from the middle of the dystopian, but it wasn't feeling right. I decided I needed to get a sense of what went before and work up to that part, so today I picked up at the last place where I'd left off chronologically (where my MC is going to beat the h#ll out of a guy). 

This got me thinking about the way that area of the book was structured, and I realized that what felt wrong yesterday was the order of events; the piece I was working on didn't feel like it flowed from the events right before it. So I rethought that portion of the story and moved the scenes around, getting them into a lineup that feels better to me. Now, at this moment, it all seems workable. 

If it is workable, I'll have well over a hundred pages of the book done once I get this next part smoothed into cohesive scenes. Will have to wait and see, though. 

I also had the thought that I should remember to tentatively plan to alternate exciting stuff with slower info-heavy chapters. I don't think this is possible all the way through, but if I keep it in mind as the goal, it should help keep me on track. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Snatched an hour out of a busy schedule to work on my own stuff. Ahhhhh. Feels good.

Pulled together tidbits for hair-braiding scene, which now is used to bring in MC's unrecognized guilt at beating somebody bloody, and to plant hints re. new guy's mysterious past. Without losing the hair-braiding part, which does nothing much but I like it. 

The tidbits aren't knit together yet, but they're in approximate order, ready to be worked on in more detail. 

I also tightened the story by removing a slower scene where the unrecognized guilt used to be. Now two action-ish parts are close together. Don't know if this pacing is right, but it feels okay for the moment. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I suddenly realized I'd better make sure I've got something with me for the reading I'm supposed to do in VT. I don't have anything halfway cohesive* that will also fit in the designated time slot, so I decided I'm just going to e-mail myself some freewriting from the dystopian and read that. It's a bunch of rough and nearly unintelligible pieces, but hey, that's where I'm at in my writing right now. A book does not spring forth fully formed from the mind of its author. Life behind the curtain is messy and sometimes downright ugly.

As I starting pulling out pieces and putting them into one document, I saw that I'd better explain to the audience what I'm using them for, as far as helping me to get the book written. Otherwise, my reading is going to sound like random selections from the backs of different cereal boxes.

The last piece I'll probably read is one that will end up as an actual scene near the climax of the book. Right now there's not much to it, and there's also a gap where the character epiphany takes place; the MC makes his choice and acts on it in this scene, but he currently has no reason for doing so. I just know that he does, I know it for sure, and so I know there's a line or two missing that shows the exact moment where the previous 2oo or however many pages of the book add up to make him decide: I will now do ____.

In short, one of the huge epiphanies that helps form the core of the book is missing.

But here's what happened: I wrote out a brief explanation of the scene for the reading. Then I moved on and tried to succinctly explain the gap.** And as I was trying to explain about the gap, I suddenly noticed that, back when I'd explained the scene, I'd also unknowingly written out what drove the MC to make his choice. It's pretty funny, really. In struggling over how to word the fact that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, I accidentally wrote down exactly what I was doing.

They say God looks after fools.

So anyway, it feels good to have this pinned down as I move forward with the ms. Having a grip on that one wee but crucial spot will help me carve the whole thing into shape.

*I'm not flying 1500+ miles to bore myself to tears by reading from one of my already-carved-in-stone books. The only thing that's interesting to me about doing a reading is if I'm reading something I'm still trying to figure out. Because then I can hear how it sounds and catch pacing problems I wouldn't normally see just from looking at it on a computer screen or on paper.

**Because VT College is, after all, a writing school. If I know there's a gap in my ms, I don't want anybody to think it's okay. I want them to understand that a gap is there and needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A writer friend informs me that I missed one of my favorite movie scenes this morning. It's a scene I consider to be one of the best moments in movie history: Charlton Heston putting on his pants in Big Country.

See, Gregory Peck comes to CH's bunkhouse in the wee hours to wake him up so they can duke it out mano a mano in private. CH gets out of his bunk and, in about one-and-a-half seconds, Puts On His Pants before heading outside to fight. By g*d, it's the manliest, toughest putting-on-of-pants since men have had pants to put on. Charlton Heston is not messing around. This guy is mega-macho, and he's ready to kick Greg Peck's @ss.

Ah, here it is, at 2:32:

What this has to do with writing is that I suddenly realized this is one of the signs I need to keep an eye out for, to make sure I'm not losing character in service to plot (and therefore getting off course). Losing track of character in tiny moments--for example, a generic putting-on-of-pants when the character would in reality Put On His Pants--may be a sign that I'm rushing through to get to a plot point.

So I need to make sure I stay in touch with the character consistently, especially during transitions like this one in the bunkhouse. As I work out this story, I need to make sure to go back and check every moment from inside the character's head and body, to ensure that I'm not skimming and therefore risking getting off track.

Also, even if a generic putting-on-of-pants is called for, it's so much more satisfying to make something like that strengthen and sharpen, rather than letting it slide by as a throwaway. Hmm, I just saw about a million of these places very well done in Dorothy Dunnett's second Lymond book, Queen's Play. But I don't have time to find any of them right now. When I start book 3 I'll try to remember to mark some as I go along. She's fantastic at this sort of thing.

But I just remembered something else. I do have a generic putting-on-of-pants in my WIP. And the reason I have it, now that I think about it, is because I'm fudging: I don't know what this guy wears, exactly. This is not good. I've got to get it figured out at some point*--preferably sooner rather than later.

*Figuring it out means going through the backstory and world in my head to understand what's available for everyone to wear, what this guy's clothes are likely to look like and be made of, where he got his, etc. I'd also better know how this group of characters handles their clothes, like mending, laundry, etc. This is not a civilization that's going to have a lot of throwaways; clothes are hard to come by. They're going to be wearing everything down to rags, and they don't have soap, either. However, they also know about bacteria and how diseases are passed along.** So. Lots to think about.

**Hmm, Laurence Wylie's Village in the Vaucluse has something useful to think about here. The French kids are extremely careful to keep their clothing clean; they're brought up from childhood to never get a speck of dirt on anything. They have few clothes and most of their moms have to wash everything via hand-scrubbing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I wonder if there can be a difference in the degree of pacing via chapter-ending hooks. Ex. if you have chapter hooks like "Who is this mysterious person?", does that read differently from something like "OMG, he's about to get shot in the face!"? And if you have a whole series of the former kind of chapter endings in one area of the book, would it feel slightly looser or less urgent than a series of the latter kind?

My guess from the gut is that it's best to use both kinds and intercut them to vary it up. Except maybe as the book approaches its ending; then I'm thinking it might generally be better to have the shot-in-the-face kind of chapter hooks, one after another, bam-bam-bam. Hmm. If that's true, that means that there is a difference in the degree of pacing.

And that would probably mean I need to keep an eye on the middle of my WIP and make sure I don't go on too long with the "Who is this mysterious person?" types of hooks. Which tells me something about how I need arrange some of these scenes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I have gradually shifted all the pieces of the ms around so that like pieces are together, and the major sections are in order. Ex. all the stuff about beating up the guy is together now; all the backstory is in one area; the huge breakup scene and its aftermath; the night attack; the trip to the walled compound. Also, the not-plotty stuff like the hair-braiding scenelets (don't ask), and the stories the characters tell each other, and the secondary characters' backstories & freewritings, each now have their own little areas of the ms.

So what I've got now is the entire story laid out in a basic shape (a very patchy basic shape), and the non-plotty stuff will gradually be worked in around the action so as not to make the pacing sag too much. That's the ideal, anyway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Current mood: fearful, discouraged, frustrated. I should have had this ms done by now. Am feeling like its moment has passed, so basically any work I do is just p*ssing into the wind.

However, I don't really care how I feel about it; I'm going to work on it anyway. I am worried about losing touch with what's important about the ms by getting caught up in the storyline; it's so easy to think in context of what everybody would do and feel in scene--and to lose sight of the fact that maybe the scene would never have happened in the first place. However, I don't care if I'm worried, either. Do. Not. Care. Worry, fear, discouragement, and frustration sap time and energy; they are luxuries I'm not going to afford.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Have been trying to make sure I at least open up the WIP file and do something on it every day. Mostly it's just been a sentence, a couple of sentences, a paragraph--which is kind of depressing, but oh well, what can you do? Today I pulled some like sections together throughout the book and gave each one a heading coupled with a section break to help me see the overall structure. Looks like I've got about 200 pages worth of novel here, and I can make out a general shape for it, even just from the messy pieces I've got lying around.

I'd like to print out a copy and do some more compiling, because I sometimes have more than one version of the same scene or exchange in various places in the ms, and it'll help streamline everything if I save the parts I like but get rid of anything that's duplicated. And I can't do that effectively while scrolling through a document of this size.

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