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, May 14, 2012

Still working fairly steadily, getting a working draft of the area around pp. 150-200. Once I get the ms all laid out, I'll have to go back and make it really work, and then I'll have go through again and tend to all the threads I'm dropping as I pick up the ones that are foremost in whatever scene I'm working on.

I have pretty much given up most of my financial expectations for this book, because it's taken me so long to get it done, and also it's pushing the line between adult and YA, sex and violence-wise. That's not to say it isn't YA, just that sex and violence tend cut out a sizable portion of the "YA" audience. Too bad for me, but the story is what it is. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I will be posting even more sporadically than usual because of the problems with blogger. Only news here is that I'm working steadily on the WIP, fitting it in around and between packets, and trying to give full attention to both (!). I may very well have a full draft by July, unless something happens to throw me out of my working mindset--which it usually does.

Ignoring that possibility for now...I don't know if I want to shoot for a working draft sent to agent by the time I leave for VT, or if I want to lay off the ms while I'm at residency then do a revision between my return to TX and first packets coming in. Will decide later.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Google has changed things up, so now it's a real pain to post, and I don't have time right now to figure out what to do about it. The timing is good, though, because I'm on a hot streak with the WIP and have been doing all my thinking on paper, as I write.

My copy of Story came, but I haven't had time to open it yet.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pausing for a brief writerly message:


Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Finally finished a first-pass grounding of that one plotty sequence, then moved back to where I left off in the ms, trying to focus and tighten this little bit of the middle (40 pages, maybe?) before plotty stuff kicks in. It's tough. The hooks that are there are decent, but they're not of the life-threatening variety that's in some of the plotty chapters. I keep fretting about this, that "decent" may not be enough, next to "life-threatening."

So I guess the way to describe what I've been doing, amidst my fretting and picking at stuff, is to say that I've been honing and slanting my scenes to try to give "decent" the most power I possibly can.

In related news, I have finally ordered a copy of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (Robert McKee), and a fellow writer and I will be attempting to read it at the same time, so we can discuss its practical applications to our own mss re. tension and pacing. I say "attempting" because I just heard that it's a thick book (I never checked the number of pages, d'oh!), and I zone out quickly on craft-speak; my brain just doesn't recognize or retain it. Craft-speak has to have direct meaning to a writing problem I'm struggling with, or it's like I'm reading Chinese or Sanskrit. So stay tuned.

Anyway, in the same order I also finally rewarded myself with a book that's been on my list for a long time, Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire 1158-1203, by Judith Everard, and it's going to be hard to force myself to stay with pages and pages of theoretical writing advice when I could be reading a case for why everybody is so f*cking wrong about Henry II's fourth son being a sly, amoral lowlife. But I will try. And who knows, maybe Story's not really that long--maybe it's even a page-turner of a craft book.

(Here's to writer friends who read craft books and tell you the parts that are pertinent to your ms! May the writing gods bless them with many days in the Zone and also lots of cash.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Still putting in a few minutes here and there on the WIP. For three days I've slowly worked on grounding a plotty scene that's been sitting there in raw pieces for a long time. I'm doing the roughest of rough grounding--like where everybody is and what's going on physically--and I get so bored that I keep jumping up and walking off to take care of something else. However, day after day I've been forcing myself to stick with it for my 15-20 minutes, so I can get down that first solid layer of the scene.

I'm almost through this first rough pass, so soon it will at least be all one piece.

Last night as I knitted two bits of dialog together I noticed that one character's comment would completely knock my MC for a loop. I sat there and looked at the gap between the two lines of dialog, trying to think what would go there--just some kind of emotional marker to be replaced later with something sturdier and more carefully thought out. But I came up totally blank. I looked at the situation, and couldn't for the life of me think how to get across the stunned feeling my MC was hit with.* Finally I just put down:


which is slightly pathetic, but at least it's still a step up from pieces of unknitted dialog scattered all over the page.

Anyway, I don't feel too bad, because I keep remembering that w-f-h piece where I started figuring out this whole idea of "layering," and also the fight scene from this WIP that was so boring to work through, mechanics-wise, but that people seemed to get into when they read or heard it. I know by now there's a good chance that, although the first few layers are an excruciating drag to write, the scene will probably start perking up after I get it grounded and the characters start to enter into it more.

*I can't stand the thought of writing "stunned" as a placeholder here. "Stunned" is exactly what the MC is, but it's so smoothly generic a tag that I can't afford to stick it in there now, because that might allow me to ignore the gap and not pay attention to it. If I'm going to use "stunned," it will need to be chosen and placed,** not tossed off and then forgotten about since it more or less fits the bill.

**"chosen and placed" means I need to play around with sentence structure, paragraphing, and also think deeply about how it really feels when you get this kind of news, like physically, and also what it does to your perceptions of what's around you (what are you noticing as you feel that way?). I cannot afford to stick in f*cking "stunned" just because it's easiest right now. Sloppy writing is a slippery slope.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Very busy. Have been trying to put in about 15-20 minutes on my own WIP at night, just to keep it fresh in my writerly subconscious, and also because every bit of forward progress is important, if I want to finish. Which I do.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Today after packet work, I pulled up the dystopian and jotted down a few bits that will serve as the starting point for writing a set piece chase/fight scene to go near the end. This will take place (unless something changes) in a wilderness of multi-storied trees and twisted metal girders. I'm trying to keep in mind my experience in writing fight scenes for that w-f-h project, because this is a different ball game from what I usually do, with different rules, standards, and also the feeling of forward progress is different. It's more like laying down a craft base, and the art and feeling comes with later layers. At least, that's how it worked with the w-f-h scenes.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Worked on other projects today, then in the evening pulled up my dystopian WIP. Was too tired to get my brain into any of the grooves currently needed by the dystopian, so instead I wrote out the first chapter of this other book I want to work on after the dystopian is done.

The other ms is the very first book I ever started or finished, the first book I ever wrote. I began it back in, ahem, 1992. I learned to write on that thing. I rewrote the entire ms from scratch, over and over, off and on for years. Whenever I hoped it was good enough, or simply didn't know what else to do to it, I'd send it to an editor and would get back either a form rejection, or a brief but nice (and vague) personal note.

I do not know why I woke up this morning at some ungodly hour thinking how the opening chapter should go. But I did, so today I wrote it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Started trimming and fixing the second-person interlude-that-may-not-end-up-in-the-book. While doing so, I realized that part of it actually fits the end, because it says what needs to be said--what my MC needs to hear--as things are building/winding up.

So I moved a wee crucial piece of that second-person stuff to right before the MC makes his climatic decision. I will figure out exactly what to do with it later; probably it will turn into dialog.

Now that it's in place, though, the ending scenes are starting to feel less blobby in my head. Now the plot-story ending-sequence of scenes and the internal-story ending-sequence are starting to be the same thing. It's a very nebulous and sketchy same thing, but the point is that scenes are lining up less blobbily and I can now see that both types of story will be happening in each one.

I have no idea how this came about, but there it is. I believe I now have the nebulous and sketchy building blocks to make the book work.

As a writer friend likes to say: Trust the process.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Have been jumping around forcing myself to write the actual story parts of the book. It's tough going because my mind doesn't want to stay with this type of work and I keep suddenly getting up and going to do something else.*

This has made me realize that I've gotten to a point where I need to work out a good map for the story world. I've been sticking to vague general layouts in my head, but I need to pull them together on paper and get them nailed down--including distances and direction--because I can't get this thing grounded properly until I do. I also need to get specific sites in my head for some of these scenes I'm adding, for the same reason: proper grounding.

Today I made myself start filling out the big conversation between the MC and the main secondary character, the one that's the "reveal" for the book. As I did so, I had to go back to side documents where I'd moved freewriting and background work, and had to copy and paste bits over into the main document. As I did that, I admitted to myself that the reveal seems stupid and gimmicky and hokey, and I noticed that the side pieces give the "reveal" heft (in my mind, anyway) that makes it not seem quite so stupid.

I also see no way to work those side pieces into the ms** without doing what's been in the back of my mind all along, which is suddenly cutting, after 20 or whatever chapters, to another POV character. And not only that, but doing it in second person.***

I have avoided committing to anything about this part of the book because it's an extremely terrible idea to suddenly snap into another POV and voice, especially so late, after the reader's quite firmly entrenched in the MC's POV and voice. And it's most especially a terrible idea to do it using second person, which requires an even greater leap from the reader--a leap which quite a few readers are never able to make. But this growing feeling that my crucial plot information is stupid and hokey has driven me to go ahead and let this one breakout chapter go the way it wants to go, against all sane self-advice. If nothing else, it'll eventually help me see what absolutely has to be there, that might be worked in in other ways. And maybe if the book gets published I can put the chapter online, if it's totally messing up the book's flow.

*On the bright side, my teeth have never been so well flossed.

**Because there's no way my characters would discuss all this in any depth, much less the depth that would make the reveal seem less gimicky.

***The reason it's in second person is because that's the way it came out and that's the way it wants to be. Later, another option might be to try putting into first person and letting it be an extended monologue disguised as dialogue. However, it has resisted going this direction so far--hence, the side document storage rather than placement in the full ms.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Today, nearly put myself to sleep writing out plot stuff I already know happens, trying to make it readable and, er, get it down on paper instead of allowing it to continue its vague existence solely in my head. Then as I worked through it, I found a nice little place where the characters are stripping a corpse and I realized I ought to show them doing it, so I got to go off on a wee tangent that was more interesting to me--meaning nothing actually happened except one guy almost puked and they dug a hole. To me it was fun, though.

After I was done writing (in fact, I quit a little early) I was cranky because I made myself do plot stuff for most of my writing time. But it has to be done; it needs to be put down on paper so I can see what has to be there and what doesn't. Also because wee tiny tangents can creep in that add up to tell me more about the deeper story--like, today's half-a-page tangent tied to maybe three or four other threads.

But, still. Sigh.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cleared out and streamlined parts of chapters 13- 18 or so, and knitted the beginning of this section (13-whatever) into what looks like a working draft. It's going to be a real b*tch to unknit it if I need to, but it's also a good strong foundation to keep me moving forward without confusion, so I'll just keep moving on and hope I don't have to unknit it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Have decided to not think about the main secondary character or his plotlines, even though the book is named for him and he's basically the reason for writing it. Instead, I'm going to try working solely with the "real," plotty plotlines, and focusing on getting those to rise and build. This is an attempt at avoiding getting sidetracked, as I am wont to do, by scenes and character threads that do need to be there, but that aren't ramping up the plot-driven tension or conflict (a la Ron and the spiders--see yesterday's entry). I keep digging into those character/thematic threads and then looking up to find that I've confused myself and don't know where I am in the book.

I have nearly 100,000 words of this ms. There is no excuse for spending months and months and months spinning my wheels when most of it is already there on the page. So I'm going to try to be very strict with myself about this.

I do use outlines, but along the way, as a writing tool. They're not something I follow, but something that helps me step back and see the big picture all laid out at once. This is the outline I have from chapter 13 on:

1. splinter
2. salter
3. P. visit
4. sex
5. boar
6. P. has it
7. find out K.
8. blank (may be backstory; I know I'll need something here so the reader can absorb 7)
9. Jen
10. Night attack
11. take K. in
12. T. attack
13. death
14. on to P.
15. climax/end sequence

So I've got this all laid out (cryptically, but I'm the only one who needs to understand it, and I do), and all I bloody well have to do right now is fill out these scenes where stuff happens. That is all. And it's what I'm going to do.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Random thinking...

I passed by the TV as Harry Potter 2 was on, and it was the scene where Harry and Ron are in the forest with the giant spider. I paused for a second to watch it, because I suddenly noticed that it was one big dumping of plot information, given by the spider to Harry. That was the main way the scene moved the story forward: Harry had to get ___ info from the spider character.

So I was thinking, if you're writing from scratch and you've got a spider with ____ information that your MC must have, then you don't have to make your MC go into the forest. The spider could show up anywhere, or somebody else could know what the spider said and pass it on, or the info could come across in some magic way, etc. etc.

Now, the thing I've always noticed before about this scene is poor Rupert Grint having to make scaredy faces the entire time. I always think, Wow, his face must have gotten tired. But this time I was thinking, that's what gives the scene its tension. Ron is scared of the massing spiders, and his fear and the growing danger we see are what's ramping up the scene while while the plot info is being dumped on the reader (and Harry).

Honestly, if I were writing this, Harry probably would have just gone and talked to the giant spider and it never would have occurred to me to have more spiders closing in on Harry and Ron. At most I might have noticed that the giant spider could decide to eat the boys, and he might have chased them out of the scene. Maybe, if I was having a particularly good and open-minded writing day. But by g*d, I need to start being able to think like this thoroughly and at will. I can't afford to keep not having this type of option on the table, writingwise.

Somehow I need to figure out a way to practice it so my brain gets used to it. I need to wear a pathway along these particular synapses. Even with un-worn synapses and without even really having a clue what I'm doing, I can spot two places in my ms right off the bat where my Harry goes into a forest and just gets his info then leaves.

Maybe I need to tape a picture of a spider to my computer. Or get a spider tattoo on the back of my hand so I see it while I'm typing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Work on WIP came to a roaring halt when I pulled it up one day to find the entire file corrupted. This was the day after I'd given myself a break from the piles on my desk--a wonderful, strikingly fantastic, long-houred (7-9 hours? I forget) day of personal writing with a sweeping momentum that included the whole middle all the way through pieces of the end.

And, dude. It was all gone.

I normally back up every day's work, but this time the computer had crashed before I shut it down (it does that sometimes, and normally, no biggie--I had already saved the ms and shut down the word processor) and so my only copy of this lovely humongous step forward was, along with the rest of my ms, cut up into bits of what looked like Klingon mixed with scraps of the old Apple game Zork, and scattered in unintelligible pieces over thousands (yes, thousands) of pages of document.

I spent a day figuring out that the only thing I could do was get it most of it back (not all; I'd still lose some work) without formatting, and then try to remember where I'd revised and try to copy and paste those things into the previous uncorrupted version, while retyping them so it made any goddamn sense whatsoever in the English language. The problem is, I'd revised, rewritten, and moved tens or hundreds of pieces of story into place--work that was scattered over at least a hundred pages--and I'd also rearranged them over and over as I did so.

So now I'm about halfway back to where I was, but I'll be damned if I can remember what was so brilliant and made me so happy that last glorious day before God decided to smack me down.

Such is life. I remember one time years ago when the family computer died and I was so in love with my novel-at-the-time that I wrote the entire thing out longhand. That novel sucked, but boy, was I happy writing it. It's not the hand-cramps I remember most now, or that gut-punch disappointment of realizing that my computer was dead, but the joy of spilling my heart onto the pages. I still have all those notebooks somewhere.

That's not happening here, but at least I'm not wasting more than a few hours being miserable about lost work. What's gone is gone, and at least it's easier transcribing 30 or 50 or whatever pages of Klingon than writing an entire g-d novel longhand.

And, just as Scarlett shook her fistful of dirt at the sky and swore that she'd never be hungry again, I'm shaking my fist at the sky and making a commitment to try to finish a full draft of this thing by residency in July. I'm nowhere near this goal, I know I'm extremely unlikely to meet it, and I know that by stating this out loud I'm daring--nay, begging--the writing gods to come f*ck me up some more. So be it. Writing gods, you're on. You will have to pry my cold dead fingers from the keyboard if you hope to make me quit this thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Got stuck in road-construction-traffic-jam h*ll today, but was eventually rewarded with a new bit of WIP-related thought. I came home and broke up the peak-violence part in the ending sequence, then redistributed it. Now one act of violence takes place before the ending sequence, one takes place at the climax,* and another has stayed where it was.

I feel like I might be starting to get these acts of violence in proper order character-arc-wise. I don't know for sure because I'm tired and can't think my way into it too much, but I suddenly don't feel as uneasy about the last third of the ms as I have for the last few days.

Today's changes would bring two bullets, not one, into the climactic scene. That opens up some intriguing possibilities. I'll need to consider what kinds of things that extra bullet is capable of.

*Maybe that act of violence is the climax. Now that I think about it...hmm, it might be. Will have to keep an eye on it and see.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last night, ending up fleshing out some of the scenes in the ending sequence. Basically I'm writing myself right smack into a brick wall near the very end climactic part where I don't know what happens or has to happen. All I know is what the very, very ending is. Like, the last few lines.

I noticed I didn't have a good feeling about where I ended up last night, and I think that's for multiple reasons.

1) I think I lost track of what my MC was really feeling. I think I got so into what was going on in scene that I forgot what he was like going into it, and what was driving him from right before. So I need to look at that.

2) This part of the story is getting farther and farther away from anything I really know about, into crazy violence and a total mental crackup for my MC. I mean--snap!--he's gone.

3) I've got go bring him back from that and into the story again, which is like, wow. How do you come back from that? I have no idea.

4) Now that some of that ending-sequence violence is being integrated into the story instead of just being free-written snippets, it has the same unreal feel to me that any action scene does, so I can't tell what's working and what's not.

Problems to consider:

a) The climactic part is going to back off the bloody stuff, so it's in grave danger of becoming boring and disappointing.

b) In the climactic chapters, I cannot afford to go with my comfort zone, which is underplayed emotional stuff--this requires action, and that action needs to be milked for its own sake.

c) I'm pretty sure I'll need to go back and take a little of the edge off some of the previous violence, because its explicitness is going to unbalance the ms by putting too much energy and emphasis on the buildup to the climax rather than the climax itself.

d) In general, the key word of the day is balance, balance, balance. The final quarter or so of the ms is going to be tough because it's got to carry as much weight as the previous three-fourths, and make everything that's gone before worth it.

e) I need to go back and look at some of my notes about plot and structure to see if there's anything I should be keeping in mind. I might go back and look at some of the Plot Whisperer stuff I jotted down, all of which I have already forgotten.

I'm pretty scared of this whole ending thing, because I could find that it won't work, and that everything I've built before it is misguided somehow, or wrong somewhere in its core. I'm also scared of not being able to figure it out and having to rely on someone who can't quite nail it either, but whose opinion I have to trust, and then ending up knowing in my heart that the ms failed, that it wasn't all it could have been and should have been, at this time in my writing life. No matter what, I know I'll look back at some point and see where I fell short, but I really don't want to feel from day 1 that something unknowable is wrong about it and have to give up at that.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Have been working a little bit most nights before shutting the computer down--20 minutes here, a paragraph there, snippet of dialog, whatever. Today I decided to treat myself to a half day of working on my own stuff, but it turned into a whole day, and boy did I get a lot done. I shouldn't have spent that much time on it, but I did, and I got the basic skeleton for a full scene, then nearly a full rough draft of a chapter, plus a snippet from another chapter that will serve as a marker for what that needs to accomplish. These are from all over the place in the middle section of the book. I'm slowly getting a good firm grip on what's going on here in the middle. I'll still have to move a lot of things around, but I am finally, gradually, getting a handle on everybody and on what the book as a whole needs to do.

I'm gonna be really p*ssed if my thyroid conks out again, because it's like night and day, the amount and quality of thinking and work I can do--both on my work and other people's--when my brain is working, compared to when it's not. What I've done in the past week would have taken me a couple of months, at the very least, if I'd tried to do it nearly any time last year. I doubt I'd have have been able to get any appreciable work done on my own ms. I feel like I need to try to work fast in case the damn thing (thyroid) starts messing up again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

*SPOILER*--reading this will ruin my dystopian novel for you, whenever it is finished and finally comes out.

I am not kidding about that. You have been warned.

Yesterday, moved large sections--chapters and series of scenes--around, trying to feel out how to keep this middle part moving along, rather than letting it sag into a puddle of smaller internal stories (the kind I like). I tried several different new orders just to see how it felt, but I think I ended up with something pretty close to the last general plan I made. Except now I see more threads that can be developed in the smaller internal story pieces to provide hooks and momentum.

I also had an important thought after shutting the computer off and going to bed, but didn't write it down so I forgot it. However, as soon as I started this post I remembered--which is one reason I do this blog, to keep the synapses greased so that ideas don't fade out, disappear, or get lost.

What I remembered doesn't seem like a big thematic issue, but I think it's a huge key to understanding how my ending needs to play out. It's also a huge key to the very-important thread of my Main Secondary Character--a key to knowing what points the MSC's scenes need to make and how they form an arc of change and realization for my MC.

I just jotted a vague and rough shorthand of this thought on a post-it, but the thought itself is important enough that, even though it's a spoiler, I'm going to write it here, too, to get it more firmly embedded in the thinking part of my brain and in my subconscious.

Spoilers start now.

The main reveal of the book is that my MSC is able to feel the emotions of other people. Therefore, his ability to pinpoint, identify, and verbalize other people's emotions enables my other characters to acknowledge what's really going behind their interactions (or lack thereof). This in turn allows them to recognize choices they didn't know they were making, or that were available to them to make.

This is especially important to my MC, who lives an extreme pressure-cooker kind of life. Some fairly early scenes (I've been uneasy about these because it's a little uncomfortable knowing people will be reading them) show him teetering on the edge of totally losing it. I've also already got some rough placeholders sketched out for the ending sequence where he really does totally lose it and goes berserk (those don't make me uneasy; I like those).

The reason he totally loses it is because he's pushed past his limits. No, scratch that--he's already living past his limits. What happens is that he finally gets completely shoved off the emotional cliff.

The reason he's been living past his limits is that, over and over again, he's had to make decisions when all his options are terrible and soul-scarring. The only way he's been able to handle it each time and stay functional is by just shutting down another part of himself and moving on anyway. Everyone in the book is like that, because they have to be--but since he's the leader he's done it most of all, and to an internally disfiguring degree.

I think his problem by the ending sequence, around the time he loses it, is that he's shut himself down and cut himself off so many times that he's hit the line now; he's on the verge of severing all connection to other human beings, and to his own humanity.

And I think the MSC is the one slender thread that offers my MC a road back to being human and having the things that are meaningful to him (the MC).

Why? Because the MSC can say, "This is how you feel," when the MC has been steadily according his own emotions less and less value. He's had to, because in practical terms they hamper his ability to think clearly when making decisions, and they are often dangerous to him and to the people he's leading. Most of his emotions have generally made his life hell. Still, he needs them if he wants to be a human being and not a survival machine.

So all through the book, as I continue working on scenes in the MSC storyline, I need to be mindful of the MSC's insight, of what he intuits naturally about people's emotions without even being aware that he does so, and of how that comes out in scene. And as everything else in my MC's life gets worse and worse--including his relationship with the MSC--this one thread of connecting with the MSC should steadily, quietly build. It probably needs to get to the point where the MC needs this aspect of the MSC, without even realizing that he does so.

Then, at the end, his final choice (whatever that may be) should probably reflect, or at least include, the realization and decision: I need this part of me, I want this part of me, and it's important enough that I am willing to _____ in order to have it.

I know I have previously traveled down a similar line of thought to all this, but now I "get" it in a specific and useful way--I get what it means in concrete terms, in terms of writing scenes and shaping the story.

And now that I wrote all this out, I see that I was wrong when I said it didn't seem like a big thematic issue. It is. It ties back to the whole "value of mercy" thing, and the violence-via-video-games thing, and the god and beast thing. So yeah, it's a big deal.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Am attempting to work on my ms at night, after putting in day hours on other projects. This will likely come back to bite me very soon, but I hate to lose the momentum I've got going.

At the moment, I feel like I'm slowly making headway into/through the difficult part of the ms.* As I sort out, break down, and hone the pieces of this part--then undo, rehone and resort, etc.--I'm starting to get a vague sense of the potential for forward motion** that lies buried in them. It's tough because each individual piece is a big murky mess and they're all out of order as well--so it's only through endless thinking and moving and rethinking and reshaping that they're able to reveal what and where they need to be.

It's a long, long process with as many steps backward as forward (and often more backward). But I currently feel good about the ms as long as I can stay with it and keep my head in it for at least a part of every day. So I'm trying to hang onto that and keep working on it for as long as I can--till I'm forced by deadlines to give up my nights as well as my days.

*This is ironic, because I occasionally look up and find that I'm back on page 102, which I think is about where I was six months ago. However, I also know that when I get this straightened out and move other chunks into place, I'm suddenly going to be a lot farther in--maybe 50-100 pages farther--and with a clear line of scenes in front of me ready to be fleshed out.

**Honest forward motion. Not the kind that comes only from a series of easy hooks--I could already have done that, many times over--but the kind that also has emotional and character heft, the kind that resonates. The kind that makes me happy to write.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

While driving today, I was thinking about the part of the dystopian I'm currently trying to work through, and feeling a little dissatisfied about it for the usual reasons.* So I went over it (again) in my head, just thinking about the scenes in that area (again) and I started digging into the fact that I haven't quite been able to end this one scene correctly. Right now the problem scene splits into several emotional points where it should end on one strong idea. Although I've tried to pull the points together to make one strong idea, they keep dissolving and fuzzing out into a weak scene ending.

There's a point at which you need to stop trying to force a ms, and instead see if there's something it's trying to tell you.

So I thought about the three or so points the scene makes, and realized that I could pull one out for later. Then as I went down the next part of the book in my head to see how it'd play out if that one point was removed, I could see that making this change actually has the potential to add something to later scenes and pump them up a little, as well as tightening and focusing the problem scene itself.

The change stems from thinking about the characters who are in the problem scene. Right now, two of them (A and B) have the same reaction to something my MC does. But my MC's reaction to each of their reactions is different--and I've been trying to get both of his reactions into the same scene.

With some deeper thought, I realized that I've been treating this like a crowd scene with Character A and Character B acting, thinking, and feeling in concert,** and not thinking deeply enough about who each is and how each is, from before that very first moment when the scene starts. If I do, I can see that Character B is probably not going to catch onto my MC's half-truths and misdirection quite as quickly as Character A. Character B is a lot more trusting, and a lot more inclined to take good news simply and at face value.

If B's natural instinct is to trust, then B's reaction to my MC's doings is delayed, and the problem scene will automatically focus on Character A's reaction--and I can therefore milk that emotional point and make it strongly.

So when does Character B finally realize what my MC intends? Turns out there's already a scene tailor-made for this, and it falls in very naturally with story events. I think I can even pry some of the dialog nearly straight up out of the problem scene and move it to later in the book. And now that I think about it, I may also be able to reinsert some dialog I liked but had to cut because it didn't fit in the problem scene.

And then the later scene should naturally lead to a big emotional point I'm thinking I need to make, a point that helps set up the MC's final choice*** at the end.

I took some time tonight to scrape the Character B reaction out of the problem scene. I made some notes about the other changes that will take place down the line. I just hope I don't lose them before I can apply them all--several outside projects are on my desk right now, and more are on the way.

*It bothers me that I'm around page 120 or so and yet I'm still only on Day 2 in the story, plus I just don't feel that my grip on these scenes is meeting the standard I've set for myself with this ms.

**Which I don't blame myself for, because there are four people in this scene, and it's bloody hard to keep writing scene after scene with three, four, five, six, seven, etc. etc. characters who are actively participating. It's HARD. Next time I try to write a book, maybe I'll know better than to let this happen.

***Whatever that may be. I still have no clue. I've got a whole file about what that final confrontation will need to do, but I haven't looked at it in a while.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Took about 30 minutes to work on my own stuff--went over the first scene in Chapter 11, which is a continuation of the end of chapter 10. As I worked through it, I suddenly realized there's a lot going on here; maybe four or more story/character threads are subtly sharpened and carried a little further into the story.

If a character pukes, does that count as action?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Instead of writing a new "thingee" for the main secondary character, I went back to the last place where I had a grip on him and went over that scene again, focusing on him and his emotions and secrets the reader doesn't yet know about. For some reason, that enabled me to make a rough pass at chopping away loads of excess from chapters 11 & 12, and figuring out what really has to come next.

It's sort of like chopping your way into a jungle using a machete--after a short while the machete gets dull and you're standing there in a morass of greenery again, not moving forward. I chopped my way forward till the machete went dull, and all the excess enveloped me again. However, I'm a little farther into the jungle now, and I don't mind seeing if I can sharpen the machete for another round, and continue moving forward in this way.

Must put it aside for a bit though, because if I don't, I will shortly be overwhelmed by other projects that are starting to pile up on my desk and that are looming on my calendar.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Still developing and fleshing out the pieces that were supposed to make up chapter 11 & 12. I'm taking a small, confined mess and--far from shaping or sculpting it--I'm creating an even bigger, more sprawling mess. I feel that I'm close to losing my grip on the material entirely. But I also know that if I push any of this to fit a certain preconceived story structure, I'll smush all the life out of it (having made that mistake before, I knows it when I sees it).

It occurs to me that now might be a good time to do some more side thingees from my main secondary character's POV, because in some of these dialogs I'm writing, he's beginning to spout information while I don't have a clue how he's feeling toward the people he's talking to, or in the scene in general.

OTOH, it also occurs to me that side thingees from a secondary character are even farther from the story and book than the current sprawling mess I've enmeshed myself in. I could end up miles away from my story and utterly lost.

Well, I think I will try a thingee or two and see what happens. Lord help me.

Today's mantra: Trust the process. Trust the process. Trust the process. Trust the process.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yesterday, pulled up chapter 11 and piddled around with it. Today, started fleshing out a scene in chapter 12. Now that I'm doing this, I can see I'll need to rethink this part of the book because there's going to be too much of it--too many lower-key non-action scenes--to hold the pace I'm trying to keep up.

Some general thoughts re. getting this part to move, and keeping it moving: I can integrate plotty stuff I'd planned to bring up later; I can try to think of new exciting plotty stuff to insert; I can winnow out the pieces that aren't able to do double or triple duty (by touching on several threads at once) and get rid of them.

For now I'll just keep writing and revising without a plan, but will keep these options in the back of my mind.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

At some point before I left for VT, I split chapters 11 and 12 into about four or five or six separate pieces, because when it was all packed together into the ms proper, I felt like I was drowning in this part of the story and couldn't see it properly. I pulled it so far apart it ended up in separate files, because that's what it takes for me to be able to wrap my mind around it.

I took all however-many-there-are of these files to VT, but had no time to work on or even look at them.

So today I pulled up one of the files and started in on a new scene for it. I got a full crude draft of the scene written; it's basically my guy up in a tree not doing anything. However, he almost does something, then decides not to, and that's the point the scene makes. I ended it on a tremendous hook of forthcoming doom...and then realized I've got to somehow pick up from there in the next scene, which unfortunately has nothing whatsoever to do with forthcoming doom.

It occurs to me that this is going to be a continuing problem; each time I try to raise stakes plot-wise to keep up tension and pacing, I'm going to have to figure out what to do with that upping of tension as the next scene begins. It can't just disappear, can it? You can't leave somebody hanging on the edge of a cliff, then in the next scene show him doing laundry or eating supper as if the cliff-edge never happened. Can you?

Hmm. It's mental cliffs I'm having trouble with, not physical ones. I can get people to let go of physical cliffs and walk away. But I keep pushing my character to the mental/emotional edge (ex. "Hooray, I'm free to go kill everybody now!" or "OMG, I have just unleashed our doom!")...and that's where I don't know how to pick up and move on with the story. ("After unleashing our doom, I went to do a couple loads of laundry.")

I've never really noticed how other writers handle this. I need to take a look at some books--and/or remember some movies--that do handle it. Could be the answer's partly in the transition following the hook. Could be that the next section needs to start with narration and not in scene. Or vice versa? Wow, I have no clue. I'm not even sure if I should be thinking about it right now. Maybe I should just continue writing up these sections and not worry about how to pull them together for the reader yet.

Wait, just thought of something. Maybe one solution is to slant the hook. Like, instead of ending on "I have just unleashed our doom!" end on "I have just unleashed our doom, but Character X must never know!"

Something to keep in mind, anyway.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Yesterday, worked on the first scene of chapter 11, trying to reorganize and reslant it to fit its new place in the book. Today I was stuck in a doctor's waiting room for an hour, and used the time to make (more) notes about the rest of chapter 11 and all of chapter 12.

My notes for chapter 12 indicate that it's going to be boring plotwise. Since it's also coming right after another chapter that's boring plotwise, I am actively, mindfully fighting my urge to complacently tell myself it's not really going to be boring plotwise, it's just going to be internal conflict rather than external. I've worked too hard on this ms to start falling into self-indulgence by telling myself fairy tales about how the reader might be on the edge of his/her seat, eagerly turning pages to find out if character X got the hearth cleaned up, or if character Y got that sticker out of his foot.

So I was trying to think of ways to pump up chapter 12 a little, keep the tension from sagging too much. I came up with a few little things that might help, but I won't know if they're really going to work until I try them. They're small in-scene references to some of the plot threads that I've left hanging; I hope they'll indicate that the MC is still worrying about them and remind the reader to worry about them, too. Also I think I'm going to try inserting a scenelet where the MC sees two of the guys he wants to kill, and he has a clear shot at them, but he hesitates for various reasons and loses the opportunity. I like the idea of this because later those two guys are going to poke character Y's eye out, and I think the reader will be even more upset knowing that it could have been prevented if the MC had acted in this earlier scene.

Like I said, there's no way to tell if any of this will work until I try it. It's mostly an experiment, and I'm interested to see what happens.

One big problem that has been nagging and nagging and nagging at me is that the book needs a scene where my MC and the main secondary character clearly bond--where the reader totally gets the fact that the secondary character is important to the well-being of my MC, even though he (the secondary character) appears to be expendable.* I have not yet figured out what that scene needs to be. I do have a scene very late in the book where the secondary character assures the MC of something my MC desperately needs to hear. I don't know if that will work as the point I need to make, and I also wonder if it's too late in the story to do that job properly. So I guess I'm writing this down right now to make sure the back of my mind knows about the problem, and is working on it.

*Quick mini-advisorish-explanation: the reason this scene is needed is that a book's character/thematic story--the thing that gives it depth--is like an arc where the character starts off one way, and then scene by scene over the course of the book is driven to change, and then, by the end of the book, is able to do/understand/acknowledge something he wouldn't have been able to do/understand/acknowledge at the beginning. Most of the scenes in the book will establish a clear point about, or make a clear step along, that arc. In my ms, the main secondary character is the catalyst for change in my MC's life. He's the reason my MC starts seeing things a little differently and is able to choose differently at the end of the book. In order for the end of the book to be satisfying, I need a scene where the reader strongly "gets" that this secondary character is providing a new way of thinking or of seeing things for my MC. If I don't have that, the book will be flat.

Blah blah blah. Sometimes I get sick of the sound of my own voice.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back to dystopian. Days ago I decided to clarify the problem about chapters 11 & 12 to myself. I haven't been able to work on them because they're transitional chapters between big plot stuff happening, and I have no idea what needs to be in them. There's a ton of information the reader needs that could go in there.

So I pulled those two chapters out separately, into a new document. Then I copied and pasted every bit of information or character exchange that might be able to go in them. I ended up with over 60 double-spaced pages, which I figured I need to cut down to 20 at most.

It's much less overwhelming to work through the story transition (from beginning to middle) now that I have this new document in front of me. I've started working with chapter 11, and it seems I do have to pick up in-scene from the end of chapter 10. I've been strongly feeling a need to switch to some kind of transitional out-of-scene narration for the sake of pacing. It just feels like too much, one chapter after another continuously in scene. I'm over a hundred pages in and am still on Day 2 (!). But I left everybody at the end of chapter 10 in mid-confrontation with a gun, so from what I can see there's just no way around staying in scene as 11 opens. Maybe later I'll figure out a way to switch it up.

As it (loosely) stands now, I start chapter 11 with a verbal fight, and after that I hit the same problem: stay in scene, or try to switch to out-of-scene narration. Right now I'm thinking I may just try staying in scene.

I definitely have a problem with this aspect of writing. I think it's part of my usual huge weakness: transitions. My natural tendency is to just follow everyone through their days, step by step. I feel that I especially need to get a grip on the pacing of book beginnings, but I'm not sure how to do it. Maybe I need to look at some really good character-driven books and see exactly how much time passes in the beginning, and how it's handled.

I'm also not used to writing books with a lot of plot-type stuff happening, though, so maybe they just feel different; maybe I'm too used to dealing with severely character-driven story.

The reason I say that is that winter residency in VT is coming up, and I know I've got to do a reading. I'm going to read something from this ms, but it all looks the same to me and I can't tell what's interesting or boring about it anymore, and I don't have a lot of time to think about it. So I asked some fellow writers who will also be at the residency to look at my 100 pages and tell me what people might like to hear. They all zeroed in on the real-time action/confrontation scene with a beating and a killing. It hadn't stood out to me; it just seemed like another piece of the literary puzzle.

I realized then than I've got to consistently give more weight in my head to this type of scene in the ms. Writing these plotty scenes is more about technical craft-type thought than anything else, but they carry the reader along and propel the story. They affect pacing in ways I can't afford to forget about. Also, since I obviously don't have a feel for the tremendous job they do pacing-wise for the book, I need to stay open to the possibility that my feelings re. now-it's-time-for-a-narrative-break could be wrong.

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