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

Sunday, 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.