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, December 29, 2010
There are four other people currently in the room with the MC, three of whom just walked in. I keep having the feeling I'm trying to introduce too many people at once...maybe I'll think about having somebody stay outside for a while.
Hmm, one guy actually probably would stay outside, now that I think about it. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why he even came inside in the first place. I just assumed he did, and had him show up.
I have got to work on w-f-h tomorrow, though. I have to finish four small-but-intense projects before Monday, and have not been applying myself as I ought to.
*Actually, I don't think it is the same scene. I think I was thinking of it as one long scene, and that was part of my problem.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
What I don't like about this is that it makes for a chapter of about three single-spaced pages, which is pretty short, and it's really part of a continuing scene, so it feels a little artificially truncated to me. The break seems to exist (or right now it does, I might see something else about it later when I have more time ) strictly for cliffhanger purposes and no other.
But what I do like about it is that it helps me "see" what I'm doing, and even in just twenty minutes I'm paying attention to details that I'd lost during the hours I'd spent on it when it was part of a bigger continuing scene. Like I'd lost the third character in the scene, a kid, and kept forgetting he was even there. Now, because the focus has suddenly narrowed due to the chapter ending so quickly, I'm suddenly able to consider what the kid's role is and what his interactions with the MC are and what they might mean and do.
My mind's been on emotional points of scenes lately because that's part of what I'm lecturing about in a couple of weeks, and I'm wondering if that's what's going on here--if breaking this part off on a whim is actually forcing me to consider the piece separately and making me see it for what it can do for the story, rather than as part of the continuum of the scene. If so, this should help me with whatever comes next. Having that white space severs the events; having a chapter break gives my writing head a complete, fresh start on whatever I have to accomplish once those people come in. It could be I'll put it back together at some point, but for now it seems like a good way to work.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I'm looking at the place where I left off yesterday--just after the writing problem I may or may not have solved--and feeling zero inclination to dig into that particular writing bog today. A bog is what's what it'll be, if I keep writing in a straight line. If I write from beginning to end, what comes next is in between the parts that are important to me. It's the explanation for the stuff I know happens. A lot of it is where the reader needs to follow the character's reasoning and internal struggle as he switches from doing/feeling ___ to doing/feeling ___.
My natural inclination is to skip the in-between till later, when more of the ms is put together. By then I tend to know everybody better, and often will already automatically understand how earlier events play out. By the time I've done that, these earlier sections will sometimes even write themselves.
Since I haven't figured out more specifics of what's going on later in this ms (I just have a general idea in my head) I'm looking at today's in-between part, and suddenly I feel that I'm also looking at a choice, here. I can start rewriting this in-between right now, and go over and over it it a hundred times, shifting tiny little things to see what works to lead into the next part, whatever that may be. Or I can skip it and come back later. Then I can rewrite it maybe two or three times to fit a framework that's already laid out and is clearer in my head.
The second way is more fun, more productive, and better for the ms. The first way is better for my mortgage and health insurance payments.
I need to let go of the idea of finishing this first part to get it turned in to agent--of thinking of this as one stand-alone piece that will hook up with the rest of the ms later as I continue on. From a technical standpoint it makes sense that I could work this way. From a technical standpoint I should be able to do it. Actually--from a technical writing standpoint--I probably can. I've got the writing chops to do it. It just wouldn't be any good.*
There are a lot of good things about doing w-f-h, but there are a lot of bad things, too, and maybe one of the bad things is having to force a ms when it's not ready. You don't have a choice with w-f-h; you have to make yourself sit down and get the ms working.** It's easy to get in the habit of doing that. And sometimes it is a good thing to force one's way through a sticky part. Other times, it's not.
I need to keep a grip on the fact that I have a choice. I don't have to get this part right now. I want to get it, my blood pressure wants me to get it, my agent wants me to get it***, and for once some of the people around me have actually read part of my ms, and they want me to get it, too. It doesn't matter what we all want. The only thing that matters is what the ms needs.
What it needs is for me to lay the f*ck off and go back to the characters and their interactions.
*You may ask yourself, can something be technically well-written and yet not any good? The answer is yes. Yes, it can.
**Business-wise, it seems to me that the industry is growing less able to perceive the differences between writing something somebody tells you to write, and writing something you love and connect with. Some editors, agents, readers assume it's just about figuring a book out, then sitting down and getting it done. Sometimes a writer buys into that, too--if you're talented enough, you should be able to crank out your novels on demand, right? And if you can't, that means something's wrong with you as a writer?
Nope. It's the system that's wrong. But the system also pays you and gets your books out there, so everybody's got to find their own comfort level working within (or without) it.
***To be clear, my agent is not pressuring me. Said agent would likely be happy if I could get it done, but also knows how writers work. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm with said agent rather than somebody else.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I'm heavily character driven, and don't really care what the reader wants, until near the end. To me, if you think too much about the reader as you're working through a ms, you can start censoring your characters and judging them, and that messes up the story. The characters need to be free to be who they are and guide the storyline themselves. But this might be a good tool to pull out at times when I'm spinning my wheels: What might the reader crave right here, at this very spot where I'm stuck? The thing to watch for is that I don't go overboard and lose track of the emotional story. It's a tool, I think, that may need to be applied lightly and with care.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
But now I also see the exact line in the ms where I start moving away from the storyline--and immediately after that is when things stall out.
Basically, my MC needs to decide to go in the other room and kill a guy. Everything's set up to where he'd do this, but right now at the exact spot where he gets up and goes in the other room, he's all iffy about it, and hangs in the doorway thinking and mulling over and trying to decide what to do, and eventually he's interrupted in his thoughts by people coming in, and I'm wandering around for pages not sure what goes where. Duh. He goes in there to kill the guy, who suddenly realizes his danger, and there's a moment of hesitation and connection between them--and then everybody comes in. They interrupt the killing, not the interminable thinking I've had him doing.
Through recent conversations with fellow writers, I have come to realize that I have never really cared what happens in a story. I only care what the fallout is and how it drives everybody forward--or better yet, how it drives them into the pits of despair. But two of the mss I'm working on right now--the dystopian and the swordfighting mss--are equal parts plot and character, and part (if not most) of the problems I've been having with them is that they require me to also pay attention to this flip side of things. The Writing 101 stuff like wanting an exterior goal and not getting it, plot stumbling blocks, etc. If I want to up my writing game and write a good, well-balanced mix of plot and character--which I do, that's been a goal for a few years now--then it seems I've got to add a couple of layers of depth to my writing-type thinking. Without letting those layers mess up the stuff I already know how to do. And that's going to be tricky.
If I can start thinking in plotting terms as well as character and thematic terms--if I can pull the two together in a way that works for me--I will be a happy camper. I hope what I'm seeing today is an epiphany rather than a delusion. It's easy to mistake the two sometimes; they can be nearly interchangeable.
So, whenever I look at this in the cold light of day--which I hope will be tomorrow, because I have a terrible craving to work on my own stuff again--I will have my fingers crossed that this was all epiphany and zero delusion.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The main thing was having to write a plot-driven w-f-h book. A huge component of this was having to write battle/fight scenes that had nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything except that they were supposed to be exciting plot stuff. Random preassigned bad guys would show up and the good guys had to fight them. On top of that, I had to insert plot-driven suspense--like, it's not enough for somebody to just go into a room. They have to hang in suspense outside the door for no reason except to make the reader wait, so that s/he will wonder what's in the room.
I got schooled, big time. I was basically forced to spend five months outside my comfort zone*, and had to learn a different way to write, from the ground up. I had to learn--or rather, had to be told--how to construct a scene when it's not in the least driven by character. I mean, like in Writing 101: how to apply rules about scene construction and make the scene happen. Like, choreograph it. Then double, triple, quadruple revise to make sure everybody's moves make sense and fit the rules of the story world. Then revise again for flow and pacing. Then go back and check and revise the choreography again and make it build properly.
Then, after the fairly generous deadline for the ms revision--again, I say AFTER the revision deadline--I started to realize that with all the choreography in place and everything relatively smoothed out, I could now make the character arc, emotional story, and theme come into play, too. I could make the whole thing come together so that the fights weren't just about fighting. Once I had inciting incidents and cause/effect and action/reaction and all that sh*t, I could see where the "deeper" stuff could also build to mini-climaxes within those scenes, and also how each could make a larger point along the arc of the Big Story. So I went over the whole thing again; I hung onto the ms and put it through another solid revision. Why did I engage in such unprofessional behavior as revising a ms that had basically already been approved and was past deadline? Because I couldn't stand not to---that's another thing I learned this semester, is that I'm insane.**
This ms isn't Shakespeare and never will be, but holy f*cking sh*t, I don't think I've ever learned so much about writing in so little time. My stomach lining is eaten away with caffeine and I spent six months constantly behind schedule on everything, because this ms was supposed to take 2-3 months, not 5-6.***
I can use everything I did in my own work. I know I can use it in the swordfighting ms, and I'm pretty sure I can use it in the dystopian, too. Because one thing I learned is that just because I see no earthly reason to have somebody linger outside a door, or to spin out a fight to a length that seems beyond its immediate repercussions in the story, doesn't mean I shouldn't consider doing it anyway.
I also have a new mantra: Nobody can tell me what not to care about.
*This has lessened the already minuscule amount of pity I had for writers who don't like to move outside their comfort zone, to the point where that one tiny iota of pity I used to have is now pretty much nonexistent. Students, be warned.
**I also learned that I lie to myself. I tell myself I can do something well in ____ amount of time if I just work hard enough, when really, with some things, I can only do a sh*tty job of it in _____ time, no matter how hard I work or how long the hours I put in.
Or, in ____ amount of time, I can do a job that would pass muster--but apparently I'm too neurotic to accept that there's a difference between late drafts that pass muster and late drafts that are sh*tty.
***There was also family stuff going on, but family stuff always pops up in my house, so that's a given.
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