Archive | September, 2009

Train Wreck

29 Sep

It’s a sunny, seventy-degree day here in Texas, and all is well in the writing world.  Or, I should say, the re-reading-of-my-writing world.

Pushing pause on my re-write has proved, so far, to be a good decision.  For those of you just tuning in, I’m doing a quick read-through of the 40,000ish words I’ve done so far on the second draft, in hopes of averting a writing train wreck before it happens.  Now, I know some train wrecks can spawn all sorts of spontaneous, sometimes-better-than-planned ideas.  Other train wrecks, though, leave you with a big pile of burning metal, with fire and smoke that obscures your vision.  In those wrecks, the whole mess overwhelms the poor soul who ventures forth to clean it.

Fortunately, the train is still on the tracks, so there’s no cause to worry just yet.

In fact, I’m finding it’s better than I thought.  In this read, I’m checking to see if it’s paced evenly, if I have any unnecessary scenes, and if my characters are following the path I laid for them or leading me somewhere better.  It’s particularly relieving to realize that the pacing is not, as I feared, jerky and confusing.  Some scenes take longer to write than others, which for me, can lead to misperceptions of how long the scene actually takes to read.  To my surprise and relief, so far, it’s even.  As far as characters and unnecessary scenes go, there is less to change than expected.  I’m more on the encouraged side of things than the discouraged, though I still have forty pages to read.

Hopefully, by the end of this week, or the beginning of next week, I’ll press on with the actual writing of the last half of the draft.  Like I said before, this is just a quick read, with a few specific purposes. I could spend weeks and weeks (and I imagine I will spend weeks and weeks, at a later point in time) correcting the way I keep describing one character’s eyes as sparkling, or how I used the word die, like, ten times on a page without realizing it.  (Oops.)  Now is not the time for those types of things, though, not if I ever want to finish this draft!  This is merely a keep-the-train-on-the-tracks read, not a polish-the-wheels-and-get-the-conductor-a-snazzy-uniform read.

Since the sunny skies and seventy-degree air have been rare these days, I’m headed outside with a homemade latte to make a dent in those remaining pages.

The Forbidden Journey

27 Sep

I wonder how it feels to have a world you created in your head not only make it into seven books’ worth of print, not only sell a gazillion copies of said books, not only come to life in an eight-part film series, but to see the readers you’ve touched through your ideas actually be able to enter the world itself?

I mean, really – what Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished she could walk through the streets of Hogsmeade and drink butterbeer?  What Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished he could eat Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans, get a magic wand from Ollivander’s, or purchase a Sneakoscope from Zonko’s¹?  Every Harry Potter fan I know, myself included, would love a chance to do these things!  And soon, thanks to Universal Orlando, we’ll be able to.  That’s right – they’re opening a theme park called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”  Oh yeah, and there are roller coasters, not just Potter-themed stores.  We just have to wait a little while to visit – Spring 2010, according to the article² I read this morning.

Now, from a realistic standpoint, we aspiring authors will not all become the next J.K. Rowling.  However, I think we can all agree: it’s inspiring to think all this started from an idea she had in her head, and continued by her diligence to execute it onto the page.  Years and years of diligence, years of patience, years of determination and love invested in her story world.

When I get stuck, I always get re-inspired when I think of J.K. Rowling.  The thought of affecting the lives of strangers through my ideas is exhilarating, whether it’s the life of one stranger or 10 million.  How rewarding it must be to have extraordinary love for the story world you created, and then see others so excited to love it, too.

On an unrelated, but just as motivating, note – check out Merrilee Faber’s post about finishing her novel!  Talk about patience and diligence – 89,600 handwritten words (notice the picture she posted of her manuscript), what appear to be seven dead pens, and somehow, her hands have not withered to claws, even after fifty-six consecutive days of writing.

¹It occurs to me that this may be the silliest group of words I’ve ever combined in a sentence.  

²Read the full article here.  It’s called “Universal Reveals Details of New Harry Potter Park,” written by Travis Reed, and I came across it on MSN this morning.


25 Sep

Confession: at an underwhelming 143 new words written on my novel this week, it’s safe to say this has been the worst week to date on my novel’s progress.  

Now.  I could hurl my computer to the cats and let them have their way with it, but that’s not really the best solution, I’ve decided.  I could scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush, but distraction doesn’t help much in the way of progress, either.  

I wrote the other day about the need for a peaceful place to write.  After reading the comments, it was increasingly clear to me from all of your experiences that words ache to get out if they’re in there, and ideas refuse to be silenced.  If words aren’t fighting to get onto the page, a change of location doesn’t work too well anyway – like Jennifer Neri said in her comment, “It’s got nothing to do with my setting but with head space.  If [the writing]’s not coming, it won’t come anywhere unless I figure out why.”

That resonated with me – I keep trying to find someplace clean, uncluttered, without distraction.  What I realized, though, is that it has less to do with physical clutter and more to do with the mental clutter. 

I sat down at the library¹ this morning, determined to make much-needed headway.  I opened an outline² I created back in June, just to evaluate my progress and see where I should go next, since it has been a week since I wrote something solid on the novel.

Then, a breakthrough:  I’m overwhelmed.

I feel like I know my characters, that I’m doing them justice in my draft.  Looking back over that outline, though, what I hope to write and what I’m writing aren’t exactly the same thing.  

I know that in a novel, what the reader sees is just the tip of the iceberg of the character’s entire personhood.  I’m trying to bring their entire story above the surface through layered action or dialogue, conveying much meaning, so that no matter how much face time my characters are given, they have a story.

What I have right now is decent.  Not incredible, but decent.  I’m trying to weave a lot of threads but while I focus on one, others are left dangling.  There’s a fine balance between a rich story and a story in which you are bombarded with way too much.  Obviously, I’d rather have a rich story, but it takes a lot of work to weave so many threads in a way that comes off as seamless instead of frayed.  

My story is frayed right now, and I need to tighten it all up.  Then, I remembered: hey, wait.  No one says I have to complete the draft before I go back and evaluate what I have.  Why not give it a read-through and see what needs tightening, or if I’ve introduced a piece of neon orange string in an otherwise earth-toned tapestry?  After all, isn’t that the very definition of editing?  

Ahhhh.  I have a LOT of work to do.  It’s tempting, like I said, to hurl my computer to the cats and let them go at it like they do my feet.  But…no.  As much time as this will take to evaluate what’s good so far and what’s not, I’m itching to get started.  Then I’ll continue to write the draft.  From day one, I’ve said I’d rather write an amazing novel than a quick novel; I’m not one for mediocrity.

Though I have a lot to think about now, I don’t feel mentally cluttered anymore.  That problem eluded me for days.  Now that I know what it is, I think I could work on this thing with both cats in the room.  Fighting.  Any time of day.  With a mess all around me, hungry, and without my morning latte.  

Okay, I lied.  I’d need my latte.

¹And, side note?  Why have I lived in this town for a decade and never discovered the city library?  I’ve been to the libraries at the universities, but never the public one downtown.  It’s quiet and there are a lot of great tables and outlets.  As far as peaceful places go, this may be my new go-to spot of the moment.

²The document is a major-conflict-by-major-conflict outline that details what my main characters feel at those big points in the story, and how that motivates them to act next.  It’s super helpful for creating cohesion, and I got the idea from Karen Wiesner’s From First Draft to Finished Novel.

And…I’m a Gleek. It’s Official.

24 Sep

I was practically designed to connect with all things Waiting for Guffman¹.  After last night, I’m thinking Glee just might satisfy as television’s answer to the deadpan musical madness I so connected with in Guffman.

It’s not just because of the singing football team, who pranced around a football, doing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance in order to distract the other team and slip past them to touchdown, and victory.  It’s not just because they sing popular music in new ways, and sing it well.  It’s not even (only) because Jane Lynch delivers gems like this without breaking a smile, supposedly for a segment on the local news:

I often yell at homeless people: Hey!  How’s that homelessness workin’ out for ya?  Give not being homeless a try! 

And, it’s not just because there are other one-liners in the mix, delivered so seamlessly you almost miss them.  For example, as said by Finn, a member of the football team:

I got this at the school library.  Did you know you can just…borrow books from there?  [insert look of awed wonder] All of ’em…except the encycolpedias.

No, it’s not just because of these individual things that I’m spiraling quickly into Gleekdom.  

It’s because – so far – they’ve done an incredible job of setting up conflict, introducing a large cast of characters, and weaving several story threads together at once.  They’ve given us reasons to keep watching: will Jane Lynch’s cheer team (the “Cheerios”) manage to destroy Will’s glee club?  Can Will, a loving husband who works incredibly hard, stick with his manipulative wife, even though he’s working extra hours as a janitor in order to pay for a gigantic dream house she wants (but doesn’t need), and to pay for the baby she’s told him they’re having – even though she found out she’s not pregnant, after all?  Add to the mix a lovable gay kid, an egotistical prima donna, an insecure football player, a pregnant cheerleader, and other memorable secondary characters whose stories, though we’ve seen only glimpses so far, are compelling.

So, they’ve introduced conflict, and begun to weave a bright fabric out of it.  Yes.  They’ve also juxtaposed the unexpected, like sticking the lovable gay kid on the football team, having them all dance on the field as a plausible plot point, and having the kid score the winning field goal, thus helping him to bond with his macho father.

I especially love the creative way they flipped the stereotype with two of the main characters, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison).  One is a cocky coach, the other is a sensitive music teacher.  Putting a woman in the role of cocky coach, and a man as the sensitive type, puts a new spin on old clichés. 

Also cool?  They support every action and reaction and motivation, and they accomplish this by showing, not telling.  There are too many examples to list, but the one that sticks out to me at the moment is their use of popular music.  They don’t just stick in a song and dance – they justify it.  If not by direct plotting (the football scenario), they justify it indirectly.  Like a music video, they let images tell the story during certain songs, showing us what the character is feeling while she sings passionately².  

One last thing about Glee in this (very long) post: I know someone’s doing something right when the writing, and the execution of that writing, makes you feel.  I feel pain for Will’s marriage, frustration with his witch of a wife, shameful identification with the egotistical prima donna, compassion for the gay kid, and a whole slew of other emotions.  Sprinkled in with those is the huh? factor – scenes, settings, and witty lines that are off-the-wall, yet somehow make complete sense in context.

I like shows that make me laugh, feel, and think, all at the same time.  Unlike Community, which I blogged about the other day, Glee is teaching me effective ways to go about showing v. telling, expanding characters and their motivations, tweaking stereotypes, and stirring up conflict and tension.  If you haven’t seen it, we’re only four episodes in³, and you can click here to catch up on Fox’s website.

¹Small town + musical theater = things I’m all too familiar with.  Add in quirky randomness, desperate-for-something-to-live-for characters, and so-bad-they’re-awesome musical numbers?  I’ve been a fan since day one.  

²The song I’m thinking of here, specifically, was from the episode “Showmance.”  At the end, Rachel (Lea Michele) sings a song by Rihanna.  Let it be known that I hated this song with a vengeance before hearing her sing it.  By the end, I was moved to tears at her performance.  I connected with her not only by hearing the passion in her voice but by seeing the video roll clips of other story lines that made her feel like singing with passion.  Brilliant.  Click here to watch the excerpt from the show.

³In my opinion, the best episodes so far are #2 (“Showmance”) and #4 (“Preggers”).

Peace, Please

23 Sep

DeskThe peaceful desk you see here is where I normally sit down to write.  

There are times, though, when I cannot focus for the life of me while at this desk, or anywhere at home.  I get wrapped up in life’s infinite to-do list, distracted by dishes, dirty clothes, and other necessary tasks that beckon my attention.  It certainly does not help that over the weekend, we adopted a second kitty.  His name is Dexter, and he’s the most adorable three-month-old bundle of fluff who chases my feet, swats my curls, and runs around the room with a worn workout sock dangling from his mouth.  Cute, yes.  Also?  A fun distraction!

When I get in these can’t-focus-funks, I head to Starbucks or La Madeleine.  The problem with this, though, is familiarity.  Not only am I on a first-name basis with every Starbucks employee, but they’re my friends, as well.  Plus, it’s hard to focus when five chatty businesspeople take the seat right beside you – seriously, two feet away – even though it’s plain you’re trying to concentrate.

One day last week, I ended up writing 1,500 words from the passenger seat of my car, for lack of other private (or quiet) options. Rain splattered my windows the entire time, the sky was gray, and I parked in a place overlooking a green field lined with tall, green trees.  It turned out to be an amazing place to write, something I’d never tried before.  I’d go there now, except my battery is about to die.  

I don’t know what my problem is.  Some days, I can write until my wrists hurt in any location, no matter how loud, no matter how many chores are begging me to spend time with them.  Other days, I feel like I have to have just the right environment or else my productivity (in terms of writing, anyway) is doomed for the day.  Sometimes this depends on where I am in my novel.  Sometimes I just feel like life is cluttered; the clutter closes in on me as I sit in the midst of it, whether it’s noise clutter or chore clutter or too-many-thoughts-about-other-things clutter.  

When this happens, I either push through it, go elsewhere, work on a different project,  read, or succumb to the clutter.  If this happens, I try again later in the day, sometimes with better results, sometimes still under a fog of funk.  Today is finally getting back on track, after writing this blog.  Victory!  Hopefully that will translate to my ability to make necessary headway in my novel this afternoon.  

How much does location affect your ability to write?  How do you beat the clutter, the to-do lists, short of forsaking your writing time to eliminate them?  If you have no place else to go, do you have any tricks for setting your mind to work, and then getting it done?

To NaNo, or not to NaNo…

20 Sep

NaNoWriMo.  The word alone makes me itch to try it!  

For the unfamiliar: NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge for writers to write madly throughout the entire month of November, in hopes of meeting a 50,000 word deadline.  For those who are unfamiliar with what 50,000 might mean in terms of effort, it’s a daunting and difficult prospect, though it can be done by the duly diligent. 

I love a challenge.  Plus, I have an idea, one that may not see the light of day for a while, since it’s wholly different from my current work in progress.

The dilemma?  I’m still working on my second draft, steeped in the world I’ve made.  Though I’ve made great progress, I’m just far enough from the end that it would be quite the stretch to finish this draft before November.  I can’t justify abandoning my project mid-draft, nor do I have the desire to do so.  However, maybe it’s precisely the catalyst I need to push through, though I’d never want to sacrifice quality for the sake of a self-imposed deadline¹.

I’m undecided, at this point.  Are any of you guys planning to participate?  Have you done it before, and if so, how did it influence your current writing habits?

¹Funny.  NaNoWriMo itself is a sort of self-imposed deadline, though I see it with a different purpose than everyday writing.  NaNo is a chance to tackle a new project, a chance to stretch your diligence muscle, to challenge your focus, to get words down on the page, to inspire confidence that yes, you can do this, if you just stick with it.  My current project, though, is in need of quality words at the moment, not mere quantity, the very opposite of writing just to get words down on the page.

Lock Them In A Room

20 Sep

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – oh, how I’ve missed it! – and even longer since I’ve written anything specifically related to the writing process.  Lately, it’s been all cats and bad drivers.

Not tonight, though.  I’m writing about writing tonight, y’all (though it’s disguised, in parts, as a television re-cap…trust me on this!).

Tonight is an effort to redeem the twenty-four-ish minutes I spent watching the new NBC comedy Community, which I hoped would be on par with The Office and 30 Rock.  Sadly, if the rest of the season follows suit after episode one, that hope is unlikely.  Thus far, I measure its worth not in how many times it made me laugh, but unfortunately, how many times it made me groan.  

The thing about Community is this: though it made me roll my eyes and sit there not laughing, it did inspire me to think.  Yes, I rolled my eyes, but why?  With such snappy dialogue (sometimes), why did it just not measure up to the tried-and-true treasures of the NBC wonderworld?

As a fledgling author, I’ve done my fair share of thinking about the whole what-makes-a-story-work question.  You’re familiar, I’m sure – depth of character, suspense, tension, conflict, realistic motivations, show-don’t-tell – all that good stuff.

I hate to say it (but I’m going to, anyway) – Community broke all of those rules in its pilot episode.  

First, we are introduced to a bunch of half-developed characters who have their own sorta-cliché little roles (the Pretty Girl, the International Dweeb, the Old Guy).  Then, we move from one uninteresting location to the next, and not only is there very little action, we basically just watch as two or more characters engage in conversation while they stand/sit in one place.  I’m pretty sure this is the definition of boring, and sadly, a bunch of quippy one-liners fell on deaf ears for lack of ability to call attention to themselves.  They drowned in a sea of static blahdom, crammed and glossed over.   Many words were written and read, but good writing consists of more than just words, it seems.

The main thing that inspired this post, however, was the lack of sufficient motivation present in their characters.  I noticed this particularly in a scene toward the episode’s end.

The scene:  Main Guy has crush on Pretty Girl.  Pretty Girl likes honesty, Main Guy is a liar.  Main Guy offers to tutor her in Spanish, but he doesn’t know Spanish.  She agrees.  To Main Guy’s annoyance, International Dweeb invited several people to attend the tutoring session.  All are strangers at this point.  Cliché Strangers don’t get along and awkward bickering ensues.  Pretty Girl pulls Main Guy aside, tells him to fix it.  Main Guy goes back in the room and gives witty speech to Cliché Strangers, who listen and cease the awkward bickering.

Okay.  Now that you have the run-down, what bothers me so much about this scene is why don’t they all just leave?  It’s not like they’re forced to be in this room at the library, at a study group together, with a man who isn’t really in charge of anything.  The door is open, they could just walk right out.  But they don’t.  They sit around a table and bicker, they sit there while Pretty Girl talks with Main Guy, they sit there as if they’re chained to the chairs.  Are they really such losers that they’d rather sit in a room at the library all afternoon with a bunch of strangers, mad at each other?  Are they really that desperate for something to do?  Same with Pretty Girl – if she doesn’t trust or like Main Guy, why not just leave?  She only met him two-and-a-half seconds ago.

This, obviously, got me thinking about conflict and proper motivations while writing characters in our novels.  Characters need to be believable, and not flat paper-dolls puppeted by our contrived little agendas.  We have to lock them into rooms with their adversaries if we want them to stay, because logically, why would a person stay around someone who is berating, abusing, torturing them, or just plain wasting their time?  And, these rooms aren’t merely physical – we have to lock them to the conflict by developing what’s at stake emotionally.  Only then do motivations become plausible, and staying face-to-face with the enemy becomes not only reasonable, but inevitable.

And…that’s the end of that.  To make up for my (slightly negative, though good-natured) criticism of Community, expect a more positive post in the near future about Glee, a show that is inspiring me in much more fun and sparkly ways!

Anyone else have an example of how pop culture has influenced your writing process, whether for good or for bad?