The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Monday, 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.