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

Wednesday, 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.