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, June 29, 2011

A writer friend informs me that I missed one of my favorite movie scenes this morning. It's a scene I consider to be one of the best moments in movie history: Charlton Heston putting on his pants in Big Country.

See, Gregory Peck comes to CH's bunkhouse in the wee hours to wake him up so they can duke it out mano a mano in private. CH gets out of his bunk and, in about one-and-a-half seconds, Puts On His Pants before heading outside to fight. By g*d, it's the manliest, toughest putting-on-of-pants since men have had pants to put on. Charlton Heston is not messing around. This guy is mega-macho, and he's ready to kick Greg Peck's @ss.

Ah, here it is, at 2:32:

What this has to do with writing is that I suddenly realized this is one of the signs I need to keep an eye out for, to make sure I'm not losing character in service to plot (and therefore getting off course). Losing track of character in tiny moments--for example, a generic putting-on-of-pants when the character would in reality Put On His Pants--may be a sign that I'm rushing through to get to a plot point.

So I need to make sure I stay in touch with the character consistently, especially during transitions like this one in the bunkhouse. As I work out this story, I need to make sure to go back and check every moment from inside the character's head and body, to ensure that I'm not skimming and therefore risking getting off track.

Also, even if a generic putting-on-of-pants is called for, it's so much more satisfying to make something like that strengthen and sharpen, rather than letting it slide by as a throwaway. Hmm, I just saw about a million of these places very well done in Dorothy Dunnett's second Lymond book, Queen's Play. But I don't have time to find any of them right now. When I start book 3 I'll try to remember to mark some as I go along. She's fantastic at this sort of thing.

But I just remembered something else. I do have a generic putting-on-of-pants in my WIP. And the reason I have it, now that I think about it, is because I'm fudging: I don't know what this guy wears, exactly. This is not good. I've got to get it figured out at some point*--preferably sooner rather than later.

*Figuring it out means going through the backstory and world in my head to understand what's available for everyone to wear, what this guy's clothes are likely to look like and be made of, where he got his, etc. I'd also better know how this group of characters handles their clothes, like mending, laundry, etc. This is not a civilization that's going to have a lot of throwaways; clothes are hard to come by. They're going to be wearing everything down to rags, and they don't have soap, either. However, they also know about bacteria and how diseases are passed along.** So. Lots to think about.

**Hmm, Laurence Wylie's Village in the Vaucluse has something useful to think about here. The French kids are extremely careful to keep their clothing clean; they're brought up from childhood to never get a speck of dirt on anything. They have few clothes and most of their moms have to wash everything via hand-scrubbing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I wonder if there can be a difference in the degree of pacing via chapter-ending hooks. Ex. if you have chapter hooks like "Who is this mysterious person?", does that read differently from something like "OMG, he's about to get shot in the face!"? And if you have a whole series of the former kind of chapter endings in one area of the book, would it feel slightly looser or less urgent than a series of the latter kind?

My guess from the gut is that it's best to use both kinds and intercut them to vary it up. Except maybe as the book approaches its ending; then I'm thinking it might generally be better to have the shot-in-the-face kind of chapter hooks, one after another, bam-bam-bam. Hmm. If that's true, that means that there is a difference in the degree of pacing.

And that would probably mean I need to keep an eye on the middle of my WIP and make sure I don't go on too long with the "Who is this mysterious person?" types of hooks. Which tells me something about how I need arrange some of these scenes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I have gradually shifted all the pieces of the ms around so that like pieces are together, and the major sections are in order. Ex. all the stuff about beating up the guy is together now; all the backstory is in one area; the huge breakup scene and its aftermath; the night attack; the trip to the walled compound. Also, the not-plotty stuff like the hair-braiding scenelets (don't ask), and the stories the characters tell each other, and the secondary characters' backstories & freewritings, each now have their own little areas of the ms.

So what I've got now is the entire story laid out in a basic shape (a very patchy basic shape), and the non-plotty stuff will gradually be worked in around the action so as not to make the pacing sag too much. That's the ideal, anyway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Current mood: fearful, discouraged, frustrated. I should have had this ms done by now. Am feeling like its moment has passed, so basically any work I do is just p*ssing into the wind.

However, I don't really care how I feel about it; I'm going to work on it anyway. I am worried about losing touch with what's important about the ms by getting caught up in the storyline; it's so easy to think in context of what everybody would do and feel in scene--and to lose sight of the fact that maybe the scene would never have happened in the first place. However, I don't care if I'm worried, either. Do. Not. Care. Worry, fear, discouragement, and frustration sap time and energy; they are luxuries I'm not going to afford.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Have been trying to make sure I at least open up the WIP file and do something on it every day. Mostly it's just been a sentence, a couple of sentences, a paragraph--which is kind of depressing, but oh well, what can you do? Today I pulled some like sections together throughout the book and gave each one a heading coupled with a section break to help me see the overall structure. Looks like I've got about 200 pages worth of novel here, and I can make out a general shape for it, even just from the messy pieces I've got lying around.

I'd like to print out a copy and do some more compiling, because I sometimes have more than one version of the same scene or exchange in various places in the ms, and it'll help streamline everything if I save the parts I like but get rid of anything that's duplicated. And I can't do that effectively while scrolling through a document of this size.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Set work aside to write for an hour, with no plan, no idea what to start with. And now, after having lost track of time, I feel like I just wrote the best scene I've written in years. I know tomorrow it won't look that way, but right now everything is suddenly falling into place most swimmingly. The heavens have opened and the angels are singing. I'm going to wallow frankly in enjoyment whilst enjoyment's here to be had. Ahhhhh.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Put away work to give myself an hour of writing before bed. Got 400 new words, covering the MC's very lowest point in the story. It's unpleasant, gross, and not within my sphere of personal knowledge. I'll find out later if any of it actually works.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Woke up at five thinking about the ending sequence, which is maybe the last 1/3 to 1/4 of the book. I worked through it in my head and wrote it all down in a spiral, including the moment of choice and the moment of action that results from that choice.

On the surface this probably looks a lot like some of my other versions of the ending sequence. However, it's driven by a slightly deeper knowledge of the secondary characters as well as the thinking I've been doing re. what the MC wants vs. what he really needs (i.e. what the reader wants for him). Each event is driven not just by what's going on in its particular scene, or by what's going on in the general rush to the end, but by everything the characters have felt and done since page one. And now, for the first time, all three of the guys have appeared in the climactic scene without me forgetting one or trying to stick him in as a prop.

There's a lot of action here (compared to my usual endings). I'm thinking that my being forced to construct and revise plot-driven fight scenes for that w-f-h novel may be extremely helpful to me now. I think I may have this correctly sketched out enough that, when I get a chance for some solid writing time, I can power through a draft just going by technical set-up and craft. If so, then I can go back over it multiple times, viewing it through the lens of other story aspects* to gradually shape it in layers. This is what I ended up doing with the w-f-h fight scenes, albeit in a plottier way.

Will be interesting to see how this version of the ending looks when I have time to really dig into it. Hope it still seems workable then.

*"Other story aspects" include going back over the sequence from each character's POV, as well as:
  • checking the pacing
  • feeling out any moments of reader confusion
  • dialing back places where I've overplayed the action
  • catching any spots of falseness
  • making sure I haven't wandered too far from the ideas that drove the book in the beginning.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Was thinking about getting the MC to the scene where he beats the h#ll out of another guy. Since this (the beating) is an important emotional point in the story, I can't just white-space the transition and have him show up at the other guy's home. We need to know how the MC's feeling as he heads there, so we know what to be worried about.

Next chance I get I'm going to pull together all the pieces I have about the antagonist and put them where that transition scene's going to be, so that I have them at hand to work with. This is a good place for most of it to go, because the MC's main worry as he heads over to beat up the guy is that he's got to get through the antagonist first, to do so.

This transition scene will involve moving through physical space, and arriving at the antagonist's home (also the home of the about-to-get-beaten-up guy). So I need to settle on what that home looks like and where it is. And I've got to work backwards to do it; for example, I know the antagonist is going to always make sure his home has a back way out, because he once killed a bunch of bandits by barring the door to trap them inside and setting the place on fire. Also, thinking about the MC's, er, bathroom habits has made me realize that the antagonist has always lived on the move, camping as best he can. This is his first permanent residence; he chose the site, fixed it up the way he thought it needed to be, and set the ground rules for everyone living there. But since he's more or less raised himself on the run in the wilderness, and since his focus has been strictly on shelter and defense, he'll have made mistakes about sanitation, daily upkeep, etc.--in other words, about what's needed to keep the inhabitants healthy and functioning.

And, if I think about who he is and how he feels, I know that he's sharp and observing, always in survival mode. So he'd notice how things are done at the MC's place, and though he probably wouldn't ask about any of it, he'd work out in his head the benefits of doing things that way, and enforce them in some form or fashion at his home.

And the MC might notice one of these changes in fixtures or routine, when he comes on the scene.

So two things I want to do when I get a chance are 1) get all the bits and pieces I have about the antagonist together in one area so they're ready for me to write that transition scene, and 2) get a place set in my mind where the antagonist lives, and where the beating-up takes place. Once I do that, I can figure out where everybody is when the MC arrives, and what they're doing.