Tag Archives: ideas

What I’ve Learned About Using Scenes and Sequels

Standard

One of the panels I went to at ECWC was about writing Scenes and Sequels, presented by Ann Charles, Jacquie Rogers and Wendy Delaney. These were terms I’d heard before from reading Jim Butcher’s old blog (I highly recommend checking this out, because he has a ton of great information archived, whether or not you’re a fan of his work), but hadn’t fully internalized. Not that I’m going to pretend to be an expert now, but things do make more sense.

From what I’ve gathered the terms Scene and Sequel originated from Jack M. Bickham, author of Elements of Fiction Writing – Scene & Structure. I’ve found all the books from this Elements series to be very helpful, by the way.

Let’s start with some definitions. The term Scene, in this context, is used differently than the common scene. Apparently there wasn’t any other term that could be possibly less confusing.So, a scene is basically just a sequence of events, taking place in a somewhat defined period of time. A Scene, on the other hand, has some definite parameters.

  • Goal- What needs to be achieved? What does the character want? Are they trying to get to sleep because they’ve been plagued by nightmares the last three nights? Or do they need to find their grandmother’s pie recipe before it’s too late to make dessert for the big family dinner? Whatever it is, it works best to make it clear what the character needs at the outset, so the reader knows what is going on.
  • Conflict- What is going to stand in the way of the character’s goal? Could be internal, or external, but it needs to be shown clearly, as well. In the first example, perhaps the character gets cornered on their way to bed by an upset ex. In the second, her sister-in-law has stolen the recipe box and must be confronted. Something the character needs to overcome.
  • Disaster- This comes near or at the end of the Scene. This could be the character does NOT achieve their goal, or the character achieves their goal, BUT. Up until the end of the story, your character should be fighting, in big and small ways. So at the end of the Scene, something happens that puts a kink in their plans. Maybe she gets to bed, and discovers it’s filled with spiders. Or she goes to find her sister-in-law, and finds that the recipe box has been sent to Goodwill. Whatever, just so long as it’s bad, something the character can react to.

Which brings us to the Sequel. This was the part I struggled with, and I think it’s because the sequel is a tricky, somewhat malleable beast. More on that later. Like the Scene, the Sequel has three parts.

  • Reaction- This is both the physical and emotional reaction here. Character finds spiders in bed: physical–> jumps back, screams. Emotional–> revulsion, fear. Character discovers SiL has donated recipe box: physical–> this is more dependent on the character, I think, since the disaster is of a more personal nature than spider, for example. Her physical reaction could range from striking her SiL, to getting really quiet or even breaking into tears. Whatever is appropriate for that character. Emotional–> Same thing, here. Who is your character? The important thing is to illustrate that reaction in some way.
  • Dilemma- This will often be internal dialogue, as the character sorts through their options. With the spiders: Burn the bed? Burn the house? Or very calmly get the vacuum cleaner and hope for the best? With the recipe: Track down the donation truck? Find a different recipe for pie? Find a different recipe altogether? Show the reader what the character is thinking, so they can identify with the character. This is an excellent place for character development.
  • Decision- What they choose to do. What, in their opinion, is the best answer to their problem? Illustrating the options they’ve gone through in the dilemma allows the reader to see the character’s thought process, and how they came to this decision. So, when they grab a six pack of Rainier, hop in their car and take off for parts unknown–because of spiders, or sisters-in-law–the reader won’t be left scratching their head. We hope.

So, why did this relatively straightforward setup give me so many headaches? Simple: it goes back to that ‘malleable’ qualifier I used above. The Scene makes sense, based on the knowledge of story structure I’ve grown up with. Beginning/setup, middle/fight, end/hook. Throw a thousand or two words down and there you go. But a Sequel can be a lot of things. Three lines. Two, if you’re really skilled. Or it can be another thousand or so words. (Or more!)

And that’s what I didn’t understand. I kept trying to fit my Sequels in a Scene box. Showing everything, when a lot of the sequel can be told. An example:

Maria’s head snapped up. “You gave it away?” Her chest clenched, panic stealing her breath. She didn’t have time to track down the box. Would anyone notice if she used a different recipe? Yes, undoubtedly they would. She’d need to do something different, then. Something crazy. Baked Alaska or cannolis.

Or croquembouche a la flambe. Her family would be too busy marveling at her skills to even miss Grandma’s pie.

Aaaand, Sequel. I think this is one of the most important things I took away from that ECWC panel. Your Sequel doesn’t have to–in fact, often shouldn’t–have as much screen time as your Scenes.

Sequels are dependent on genre. This was a revelation, and once they explained why it made so. Much. Sense. The Sequel is all about exploring a character’s internal workings. Thoughts, emotions, how they work in stressful situations. In a thriller, while you want some insight into the character, you generally aren’t looking for a book that teases out minutiae of any given reaction. Thus, the Sequels will be a lot shorter, because you, as the author, will be looking to keep that pace fast. However, in romances, this is a bit different. One of the big reasons people read romance is to experience the joy of falling in love. The pain of falling in love, too. That’s heavy emotion, and as a result more time will be spent on Sequels, to give readers more of that good, juicy stuff they’re looking for.

The other important hing I learned about Scenes and Sequels? They’re a good tool, but they’re only one tool of many to use. This should go without saying for all the writing advice, everywhere. (Except the golden rule: WRITE.) When I first approached using Scenes and Sequels my problem was twofold: poor understanding of the tool, and choosing to adhere to the Scene/Sequel setup without deviation. Not only without deviation, but plotting based on the idea. This will work for some people. It did not work for me. So when Jacquie Rogers got up and said she uses the Scene/Sequel approach when she gets stuck, something clicked. It doesn’t have to be a system to which one slavishly adheres to provide any benefit. It’s a tool, to be used when other tools aren’t doing the trick. Maybe that’s often, maybe only once in a while.

So I’ve been taking that approach with Dying for Divinity. I plotted like I normally do (Save the Cat beats paired with the 7 point plot structure), and while I’m writing along I’ll consider what the scene I’m writing looks like, and if it could benefit from a dedicated Scene or Sequel. It’s been pretty helpful, in terms of imparting more emotion into the story. I’m not great at that particular aspect of writing, so any tip, tool or trick I can use to get better there, I will happily employ.

I’m curous to hear from anyone else who’d used the Scene/Sequel approach. Love it? Hate it? Got something better? Let me know!

First GSRWA Meeting…at a Fire Station!

Standard
Fire Engine

Fire Engine

On Saturday I crawled out of bed and forced myself into clean clothes so I could make my way south to my very first meeting of the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America. Out of the three chapters available in my area, this one struck me as being the most active and organized, prompting me to hitch my horse to that particular wagon.

Every month the chapter has a meeting where they do two things: give some kind of presentation, and deal with chapter business. Okay, so I might sound a little glee-tastic here, but this whole belonging to an organization thing is new to me, and pretty damn novel.

Anyway, this moth a couple of the awesome chapter member set up a meeting at a fire station!

We started out with a presentation from a few of the brave firefighters at Station 15. They covered topics like training, classifications, what it’s like to get into a fire and rescue people, and some effects of the job on their relationships, among other things. I came away from the day with one complete skeleton of a novel, and plenty more ideas to work with.

Cool Facts

  • In a typical house with 9 feet ceilings, the top 3 feet are around 1250°, the middle three stay around 500°, and the bottom three hover around 150°. Which means when a fire fighter is inside, they can’t stand up straight. They crawl. And they don’t carry victims out like the guy to you right. They have to drag people, fighting through smoke and heat. Which leads to fact number two…
  • The most common injuries for firefighters involved their backs and knees. The strain of crouching, pulling heavy things, and moving awkwardly take a toll on them like nothing else. Other common injuries include wrist burns (from not wrist guards) and getting HIT by a CAR because people are not paying attention to their driving when passing an accident.
  • Hybrid cars are the least safe car to drive in case of a major accident. The cars contain a thick cable of power wires that run through the car, and in each model the placement of the wires is a little bit different. Cutting through these wires will kill you. Full stop. And while all hybrids had a power shutoff, these too are located in different places for the different models. That being said, there are still a few firefighters who drive hybrids.
  • Christmas trees are freaking dangerous, yo. From moment of ignition to your entire living room being on fire, you’ve got about 46 seconds.

Even Cooler Pictures!

Map Books

Map Books

The fire engines aren’t yet equipped with GPS, which means firefighters have to rely on memory and physical maps. These books have detailed maps of the area, and are organized by quadrant. When a page comes in informing the station of a call, a quadrant will show up on the pager so they know where to go. A couple of these books contain information about the structures in the district: how many stories, construction material, number of rooms.

jump seatThis is the back seat in a fire engine. The straps you see are connected to an oxygen tank. This way firefighters can get suited up with their protective gear, then strap into the oxygen on their way to a call.The headset on the wall behind the chairs enable conversation between riders. With the siren’s blaring and that motor running, it’s too loud to talk, otherwise.

Fire Helm

Fire Helm

A typical firefighter’s helm. I love that there is a wooden doorstop strapped on this guy, the same kind we used in elementary school. You can tell a lot about a firefighter from their helmet. For example, pure yellow helmets indicate a new hire, someone who’s been on the team less than a year. When released from their probation period, they are presented with a black helm, like this one. The front of the helm will carry their classification, and their ID number.

Desert Mine Tank

Desert Mine Tank

This particular station is a bigger one. Due to their proximity to the local police station, the two departments work together pretty often. This tank, for example, is technically property of the LPD as a donation from the military. It’s being stored at the LFD garage simply because they had the room. The funny thing about this tank is that it appeared in the garage about 24 hours before out tour, and most of they guys there hadn’t seen the thing before they walked into work that morning.

Firefighter Eliza

Firefighter Eliza

It’s me! Wearing almost a full set of bunker gear, which is the term they use for…well, for this whole getup! Pants, boots, jacket, wrist guards, helm, oxygen tank and axe/lever combo. Not pictured: hood, oxygen mask and gloves. This stuff was heavy. It really put into perspective just how damn strong you have to be, to operate as a firefighter. apparently, these days they rely more on teamwork, to reduce injuries more common in the past when being a firefighter emphasized brute strength more. Still, to just be able to walk around in that gear, or climb stairs, you’ve got to be pretty buff.

#

If you ever get the opportunity to go to a fire station and get a tour or talk to the firefighters, jump at the chance. The guys were super nice, and really motivated to show off all their gear, and talk about what they do for a living though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they had a cadre of attentive women hanging on their every word.

And if you have been on a tour of a fire department, police department, top secret military base, share your experience in the comments!

Throwing in the Towel on Blood Berries

Standard

The very first book I tried to write (barring the awesomesauce vampire collaboration I did with a friend in high school) was fantasy. Secondary world. Set in a vaguely Renaissance era time period. You know, standard fantasy world.

I hated it.

Didn’t finish.

There were things I loved about the book. There always are, otherwise there’s no reason to write it. I liked the dark fairy queen, I liked writing about changelings and a cat with a very special link to his human. I liked the gruff, reluctant hero and the way his wife communicated to him through her ghostly visage (though she was well and truly alive).

What I hated was the time period, which threw me for a loop. See, I love books written in with semi-historical settings. Kristin Cashore’s Graceling comes to mind. Brilliant book. The Song of Ice & Fire books, too, though I never kidded myself I could write anything approximating those vast and complicated tomes. Plenty others I can’t think of off the top of my head. It’s a setting trope I’m familiar with, and happy in, usually.

But I couldn’t write it. So, I set the book aside, this weird, rambling book languishing in the very first of my Scrivener files.

Cut to five years later.

I have this idea bouncing around in my skull that’s been bugging me for the last 2.5 years. Vampires that have discovered a spell to enchant a species of trees, producing berries that can fulfill their needs. I envisioned a kind of Romeo & Juliet story arc. More star-crossed lovers than pre-teen angst, though. But I put it off, thinking I couldn’t do the story justice. I didn’t quite know what to add to the seed to make it a fully engaging story.

I kept seeing these bits of advice: Don’t save your ideas. Don’t wait ’til you think you’re ‘good enough’ to explore those thoughts. Finally, I decided I would write it. And in my head, the story clung to a secondary world, vaguely Renaissance era setting. Horses, nobility, villages and dirt trails. I was cautious, because of my previous experience, but hopeful I could push through this time.

Then the weirdest thing happened. I failed. In exactly the same way. The story has ended up feeling weird and rambling, too long already for what I’m doing with it but at the same time I know it’s not because I;m overwriting. Well, pretty sure I’m not overwriting. And I’m bored. And frustrated.

I wrote not long ago about reaching that scary point, where you start to think your book is a pile of crap and questioning the whole concept of being a writer. I stand by that post: most of the time those feelings are just a matter of temporary insanity. This…feels different. It feels wrong. I’ve been pushing up against that feeling since shortly after I wrote the Scary Point post, and I’m done. So long, Blood Berries. At least, in your current incarnation. So long secondary world semi-historical fantasy. At least, for another five years.

Sometimes projects don’t work. It’s something that I’m learning to be okay with. More importantly, it’s something that I’m learning to identify, earlier, so I don’t waste as much time.

I may return to the seeds of this project and mutate them into something edgier, something more urban and current. I’m not sure yet.

Tell me your thoughts on half-finished projects and abandoned stories. How do you make the decision to quit?

Photo used under creative commons license from Hiking Artist.

Aside

Not my cat

Five months ago Mr. Eliza and I moved into a new house. We found a really cute 1918 Craftsman style home, 2 bedrooms, 2 stories, and an addition jutting out from the side of the house. French doors, a weird levered window, a built-in liquor cabinet and a great view of our backyard conspired to make this our favorite room in the place.

We don’t know when the addition was constructed, but what’s pretty obvious is that whoever built it didn’t do the best of jobs. The insulation is sparse, and time has done it’s job on what is there. That levered window I mentioned? Coupled with single pane glass it lets in a fair amount of chilly winter air. The main problem, though, has been the floor. Because of the lack of insulation, cold emanates from the hardwood, bringing down the temperature and making the one heater vent in the room work extra hard.

As a result, the main house got overheated just to bring this room up to comfort levels. When we got the ensuing gas bill for the busy heater, we decided the best thing to do would be close up the room and hope for the best. Having just bought a new house, and a car, we didn’t have the resources available to get all the rugs that would be needed to help insulate the floor from the top down. Putting the room, and it’s cold, under quarantine was the best solution we could come up with at the time. Which sucked, because it was also the best place in the house to put our TV, couch and–as I mentioned–the all important liquor.

We moved the entertainment to our front room, positioned before the huge plate glass window. Now, the entire neighborhood could share in our Star Trek:TNG marathons.

Yeah, not ideal.

One night we went over to our friend’s new place. They’d gotten into a similar situation, with hardwood floors and a need for warmth. As we were talking about their big, new rugs, They mentioned CraigsList as a source.

Mind. Blown.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I’ve purchased televisions, couches, tables and chairs and all manner of housey things off CraigsList. But this one thing took hearing my tried and true solution from an outside source before it clicked.

I think this happens a lot in life, and can happen in our writing, too. Sometimes it takes the voice of a teacher to bring something into light. More often than not, for me at least, the moments of clarity when it comes to writing advice happen more often like my rug moment of clarity happened: by seeming coincidence.

I remember, for example, when I finally started to understand the real meaning behind ‘write what you know’. That single piece of advice is probably the most touted platitude in the writing world. For so long I, like many others I’m sure, took those words to mean write what you’ve done. What you’ve seen. What you’ve directly experienced. And in a way, I think that’s true, but not in the manner I originally thought. When I realized, instead, that this piece of advice should be applied more to the core of things, rather than the surface of things, it made more sense.

Have I ever been in charge of a magic book, or possessed by an angry spirit, like in Toulouse? No. But I have been caught between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. I have pined after someone I couldn’t have. I’ve definitely done things I’m not proud of, and worked hard to make up for them. Just like the characters in my book.

My point here is to keep your eyes and ears and, most importantly, mind open to new advice, and new perspectives on old advice. By reading, a lot, we can absorb information. Writing books, good fiction, and bad fiction alike all give us pieces of advice. They swim around our brains for a while, and, if we’re lucky, one day they make sense. That feeling of ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that?’ will combine with ‘yes, I can finally use this.’

And you might end up with a bitchin’ new rug.

photo used under creative commons license from Spamily

Buying Beautiful Rugs: When Advice Starts Making Sense

Using Deadlines for Good and Not Evil

Standard

This is because today is my birthday.

A friend of mine recently confessed to being a procrastinator. Shocking, I know, but try not to faint, dear readers. They are among us.

In truth, I think almost all of us fall into the procrastination camp at one point or another. Whether its the story you’ve been meaning to write, or the load of laundry you’ve been meaning to fold, there is always something you can put off in favor of prettier, more interesting things. Like StumbleUpon. Or Reddit. Or FaceBook. Or GoodReads. Or heck! An old-fashioned book!

But what about when you actually want to get those things done? Writing, in particular. Yeah, it’s crazy easy to poke at a few hundred words, adding a sentence here, removing an adverb there (good job!), never quite finishing. But finishing is where its at. I have a few favorite quotes about writing, but my favorite is “You can’t edit a blank page.” This quote has been attributed to a few people, but I first ran into it when I participated in NaNoWriMo. I think Chris Baty put it in one of those pseudo-inspirational emails they send out during November.

Regardless of where it came from, it’s true. You can throw trash all over the page, and clean it up later. Or you can agonize over creating perfection (I’m looking at you, Jenni) and have little or nothing to show for it.

I prefer fixable trash, personally.

This friend of mine mentioned that he can work on deadlines. Not self-imposed deadlines, though. Those are too easy to hedge on, to rationalize around. So I offered him a few tips on creating deadlines with pressure, which I’d like to share with you here.

1. Get your friends in on it. When you have other people expecting something from you, its harder to let them down. Curious, how the easiest person to disappoint is yourself… Anyway, make a deal with one of your buddies, or your romantical partner, or you mom, and set up a deadline. They know they’ll be getting a precious chunk of wordage, and you know you need to deliver.

And if you fail, they have free reign to tease, pester and torment you to their heart’s content. And really, who wants that?

2. Join a writing/critique group. This is kind of a hybrid of self-set deadlines and outside deadlines. Most groups won’t call you out if you don’t submit something. A few members might frown at the practice, but you likely won’t be ostracized.

And yet, when everyone else is contributing, and you know you have to see these people week after week, month after month, always a little shamefaced to have nothing to show…well, that could act as a very good prod to Finish. Your. Shit. And then offer it up for public ridicule.

3. Anthologies. There is an option on Duotrope to search for all currently open anthologies, regardless of genre. You’ll get back a list of varying length, but usually at least a few dozen options. (As of writing, there are 121 anthologies listed.) These are real, hint deadlines. Not your deadlines, necessarily, but they could be. Real publishers, looking for real stories, before a real point in time.

One potential drawback–or opportunity, as I see it–is that anthologies are generally looking for something somewhat specific. Thanksgiving murders. Stories about beer. Sexy Lovecraft. They may make you reach outside your comfort zone and write about something that’s never, not once, crossed your mind before. And isn’t that awesome? As writers, we need to continually grow and stretch and try new things, or risk stagnating in a pool of our own stale words.

There are lot of options out there for busting through the procrastination wall. Write or Die, NaNoWriMo. Word wars. Prompts. Eegad, the list goes on. But, like I told my friend, the most important element of beating procrastination is you. Is writing really a priority? More important still–should it be?

If the answer to the latter is yes, then the answer to the first should be yes, too. We all have busy lives, but there is always a way to make time for the things you love. The things you are passionate about. They’re a big part of what makes life awesome, after all.

You tell me–any tricks you have for pushing yourself to finish something? Or maybe you have a deadline creator I overlooked. I’d love to hear it.

Photo used under creative commons license from Vic.

From Idea to Story: Thoughts and Exercises

Standard

This post was inspired by my new Tumblr, where I’ll be throwing things that inspire me. If you want a peek inside my brain hole, feel free to click on over.

Creative people are often asked where they get their ideas from. I think anyone who has been writing for a while will know what a strange question this is, though I admit to having asked the same thing myself a few times. The question usually isn’t–where do the ideas come from? It’s more, how do I use these ideas, and make them more than snippets? How do I flesh this scrap out, build it into something that will move people, delight people, intrigue and excite people?

JK Rowling said she had the first bits of her ideas about Harry Potter when she was on a long train ride. She didn’t have any pen or paper with her, and so she was forced to mull these ideas over in her head, stringing things together for hours on end without the benefit of being able to put anything down in black and white. Her method, whether by intention or because of circumstance, was essentially daydreaming. Prolonged periods of daydreaming. And I think that is the root of the creative process. We have to give ourselves room to dream. And then we have to anchor those dreams to some kind of reality.

So how did this wildly successful author come up with her ideas? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that she took them and created a world out of them. And there are at least as many ways to do this as there are authors. I’m still finding my method, that tried-and-true process that works every time.

I think I’m on a wild goose chase. I’m sure as I grow both as a writer and as a person, what works fr me will change. But that’s good! It forces me to try new things, and occasionally stumble upon something new. And the whole point of being alive is to learn, to live, to grow.

Here are a few things that work for me right now. Who knows? Maybe they’ll spur something in you, too.

Creating Characters From People

It’s cheating. I know. But it’s the best and worst kind of cheating there is. We all know people with idiosyncrasies that drive us up the wall, or make us want to study them like animals in a lab. Or something like that. And when it comes to creating believable, interesting characters you could do a whole lot worse than picking them from the ripe field that is your life.

Now, I’m not recommending trying to put Dad into your story whole cloth. That won’t work. It can’t. Human beings are so intricate and complicated that any facsimile we try to create will inevitably come out forced. Instead, try inserting Dad’s laconic nature into the best friend of your main character. Or his love of puzzles into the villain. In doing this, you inject something familiar into this character. You’ll know, from experience, how this aspect of a personality works, and it will be easier to conjecture. And by using just one piece of the person, you avoid the “OMG you put me in your book and I’m a jerk! What do you think of me?” problem.

Who is This Going to Hurt Most?

So you’ve got this awesome idea for a world where people literally share one heart, and if they don’t find their mate before a certain age they start to die. Great. Now, you go to choose a main character and–you find the middle-aged woman comfortably married with three children who have been linked with their mates since birth. Hmm…I could think of a couple of ways you could use this woman, but I don’t think she’s MC material for this story.

How about the CEO of a company in charge of finding people’s mates? If he fails, well, there goes his commission! Again, not a strong candidate.

Or how about the girl who’s fallen in love with her best friend, who gets murdered. And then she finds out her mate is the guy responsible for the murder. Now this has potential.

Who does your idea hurt? How can you make it hurt worse? I’ve mentioned this here before, and it applies as much today as it did a hundred years ago and will a hundred years in the future–put your character in a tree and throw rocks at them. But before you get them up there, find the character who has trouble climbing trees, find the character with thin skin, the character scared of heights and projectiles. The connections will start coming, growing like sinews between pieces of your ideas until you have something vaguely story shaped.

Randomize

Then, if you get really stuck, do something crazy. This is an exercise borrowed and tweaked from Holly Lisle (who has a whole, comprehensive course about how to take an idea and make it into a book).

Take a magazine. Rip out a bunch of pictures. Scatter them over your floor. Start throwing things at your impromptu collage. A penny will do. Wherever that penny lands, let that inform your next scene.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a far-future hard SF. I have no experience in this genre, so excuse any unintentional foot-in-mouthing I may commit. You’ve just massacred an issue of Vogue, so you have a spread of watch ads, fashion shoots, and the like. Your penny lands on this*: (Insert picture of Kristen Stewart here)

Congratulations! Your characters have just discovered a new alien race! Or perhaps that trunk she’s sitting on contains the WMD your hero will have to wrest from the grips of evil. Or this is the villain disguised as your hero’s long-lost sister, dropping in for a none too friendly visit. There are a dozen ways you can take this particular picture, easy, and this picture is pretty…well, boring.

The ideas are everywhere. It’s the connective fibers that are harder to come by.

*photo ripped shamelessly from the internets.

Also, I’m not affiliated with anyone. Any links are free from outside influence.

The Good Stuff

Standard

This weekend, on Saturday to be precise, I participated in Write Your @ss Off Day, a day dedicated to working on the story. This couldn’t have come at a better time, since I decided, on Friday, to start over.

From the beginning. Pretty much.

You see, I have a problem with creating boring main characters with an interesting supporting cast. Instead of plugging through with my lackluster MC (sorry Amber) I put on the breaks and threw the kids out of the damn car. No warnings, no threats.

Not only did I replace my main character, though, I replaced her best friend, and the concept of my…erm…third person, whose details I will not divulge here. And all this required some major thought processing.

And, as it turns out, a set of Moleskines. Red ones. Yum.

Thusly, I spent Saturday morning brainstorming in my pretty new book, and Saturday afternoon/evening writing my pretty new book. I’m so happy I’ve made the change. It was a difficult decision to make, though. I didn’t want to give up on Book A, just to chase some shiny rabbit down it’s hole, for no other reason than it being shiny. That kind of thing might fly for a short story, but for a novel? I can’t afford to waste the time.

So I had to ask myself a few questions. Why would I change so many key elements? What would this accomplish? Would this really make it better, or is this just another form of procrastination? Most importantly, though, I asked myself: Will this make me happy? Will NOT doing this make me unhappy? The answer to both of those was a resounding YES. I was already bored with poor, defunct Amber, and enthralled with Hester, she of new MC fame. I wanted to hang out with her. I was making excuses for her to be in scenes where she didn’t really belong. I thought about her all the time. I sent her a note: Will you go to prom with me, mark yes/no…and she sent me back a wicked paper airplane that said Let’s Do This!

So here we are.

And having the permission/expectancy of WY@O Day helped kick me in the…well, you know where, to get this writing moving!

Now, as the weekend draws to a close, I find myself nearing 7,000 words of actual novel content, not counting notes at all. And I keep going back, because I know where I’m going with this story, and I want to see it get there because Efran is going to be so cool!

Oh, shoot. Did I say that out loud?

VIPs and writer’s block

Standard

I got some VIP work done this weekend.

You know, schmoozing with the bigwigs, rubbing elbows with women in dark sunglasses and men with stylish facial hair. Drinking cosmos. Punching paparazzi.

Heh…

So, maybe that was just a nightmare I had Saturday night after watching Aliens and eating too much bacon.

No, this Sunday was dedicated to Very Important Planning. I am about ten percent through my book, without a detailed outline (I’ve come to the realization that I work better without one [more on that another day]), without character bios or really strong plot points set up. So I sat down with my character sheets from Holly Lisle, starting with my FMC (Female Main Character). Didn’t learn too much I didn’t already know, so I moved on to her best friend, MSC (Male Secondary Character). I got a few tidbits, and solidified his voice and motives, which is great. Then I moved on to my MMC/Antagonist.

Wow. I had no idea.

So I initially intended this guy to be evil, summoned up by a pathetic, lovelorn tertiary character. Through revealing more about his past, and his inner workings, I discovered that my approach with him was way off. He’s not evil; he’s lonely and desperately misguided. And my tertiary idiot character? Gone. Not necessary. Which brings me to my second breakthrough- my true antagonist. Someone I had shunted to the back like so many rotten potatoes, making the house stink but ultimately unimportant.

My characters grew and stretched and surprised me, and my plot did the same. It was great!

When I start in on a story I plunge in with a few basic ideas on characters and concepts, and I feel around for a while. I think this helps me get to know my characters and world a bit, to get a sense for this place I’m building. But it doesn’t last. Pretty soon I have to be more analytical about things, and explore them in a more logical manner. That’s when I start to find the really good stuff. My subconscious has been working on it the entire time, just waiting for me to come along and unlock the doors.

This pausing and analyzing process is something I will do multiple times throughout the writing of the story, and I always come away feeling fresh, focused, and more organized, clearing away potential roadblocks for the next few days or weeks.

Which is not to say that I don’t get curveballs from my subconscious while I’m busy taking a shower. But it is immensely gratifying knowing that I can kick start that discovery process, pretty much at will.

Basically, it’s my inoculation against writer’s block.

Character Inspiration

Standard

*Moving from LiveJournal to Blogger. Older posts can be found at PortraysDeath*

One problem that a lot of beginning writers (and probably a fair amount of experienced writers) run in to is creating characters that aren’t just cleverly tweaked copies of themselves. Or not so cleverly tweaked, depending on the circumstances.Imagine a world peopled entirely by yourself, only one has an eyepatch, one chews bubblegum all the time, and one speaks in a Southern accent. Scary, huh? Well, that’s the world too many people end up in.

The key is to create unique, believable characters that are as different from yourself as your crazy brother is. And how do we do that? Character worksheets, character interviews, character templates…all of these are great tools for discovering motivations, back story, etc. But let’s face it, without material, these things are worthless.

I think the best thing a writer can do for their characters is to go out and meet some. Observe people. Set up post in the mall or a park or on a bench downtown and just watch. Yeah, it may seem a little creepy at first, but get over it. Being a fiction writer is a little creepy. We create entire worlds in our heads and spend hundred of hours transcribing them onto paper. We meet people, fall in love, fall in hate, commit murders, have sex, pet dragons, get pregnant, dye our hair, and on and on…all in our imagination. And then we expect people to give a damn about any of it.

I, personally, revel in the slightly creepy. And the slightly more than slightly creepy, too, if we’re being honest, here.

Anyway, have a seat, pull out your notebook, and start writing things down.

I think of these things as ‘bright spots’. I’ll give you a couple examples, straight from my own tiny notebook.

–A wall made of boulders- half as tall as a man, and twice as wide. What’s hiding in there? Great big gaps, big enough for a newborn.

--Japanese assassin- sent to the shrine to off a man thought to have buried stolen treasure at the abandoned shrine. Finds something else instead.

–Angry girl behind the wheel of a yellow sports car, driving nowhere, fast.

And on and on it goes. I’ve got half a dozen of these little books filled up with things I will likely never look at again. The point of them was to internalize that moment, that idea, that character trait. By internalizing it, making it a part of me, I will have that at the ready when it is time to create a new character or story or setting or scene.

Experience is vitally important to a writer. Not necessarily experiencing all sorts of craziness like bungee jumping or riding in a spaceship. Just getting out there and soaking yourself in the bright, amazingness that is mankind, getting to know how people work and think, is crucial. Without that context, everything else is moot.