On writing

Big time procrastination character development!  Make a fake Facebook wall for your characters.

My Fake Wall

Snip from 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference

  • “It all seems like a waste of time until something happens.” —unattributed [Social Media panel]

My own addition to that is, I can’t help myself.  Regardless of what happens, or how successful I am, or even whether anyone finds what I write of enough interest to take the time to read it, this is what I do.

Live chat at SheWrites went well today.  A disappointing development was when I tried scrolling ‘up,’ to collect the hints about forming a critique group, and found that the chat had cut off after the critique portion.  It looks as if the chat function only retains so many entries.

Some chat members helped reconstruct most of the suggestions, but one recommendation, concerning a blog/website that had good advice, was lost.

The parts we collectively remembered were:

Critique group outline

  • application to join group
  • trial period for new members
  • no talking by person being critiqued
  • page limit or time limit for each person
  • novelists come early to read excerpts
  • submit work ahead of time for group members to read
  • ground rules for group
  • 4 – 5 ideal size of group — ask misfits to leave/or disband group and reform later

I think, though, that the “application” requirement might be a bit premature for a group that is just forming.

Elegant plaint:

Virus: world shrunk to
each breath; health an illusion,
Xanadu mirage


Unvarnished bitching:

It would be a hell of a lot easier to write through everyday ups and downs if the fracking downs would give it a rest.

For me, researching information for a story is part of the fun of fiction. I enjoy looking for trivia, love trawling through travelers’ Flickr photostreams conjured up by Google, and revel in learning new stuff.  As well as enjoying the research, I feel that  I can’t compose a story without a concrete place where my story people can eat, work and fight, so that needs strong development.  If I don’t have a solid setting, the people in my story move in a fog, and (if I use real places) I need to see what’s there; for fake places, it’s floor-plans.

I need to see a space, otherwise I can’t get the characters from point A to point B.  The difficulty for me in making a place ‘real enough’ is stopping the research before I decorate the setting down to the doilies and usurp the contribution of the reader’s imagination.

Aunt Margaret stepped into the room and the wooden stacked heels of her shoes clicked in exclamation points while the starched folds of her skirt whispered against the mahogany trim around the door.

Aunt Margaret, never Auntie Marge, Peggy or Mags, paused inside the doorway and allowed her hand to descend to the oval Chippendale end table next to the settee.  She adjusted the ecru pearl cotton doily, thick with the bobbles of cobalt triple-crochets that guarded the burnished wood of the table from the porcelain foot of the  blue and white vase, her grandmother’s and my great-grandmother’s vase, a translucent bubble that served as the painted and glazed jousting arena for a flight of dragons.  I hadn’t touched the table, the vase, nor any other ornament in the room.  I felt guilty for having perched on the edge of the settee without first asking, but after twenty minutes of waiting I figured I was safer sitting than strolling aimlessly among the treasures.

Aunt Margaret picked up two rose petals, fallen from the rounded and mounded hothouse blossoms shading the crouching dragons, and placed the cerise petals in her palm.  She stared at them for a moment, then turned her gaze on me, the kind of gaze an owl might give a mouse.  She never enjoyed my company, so why had she asked me here today?

I’d better stop there before it all turns purple.

Even for that orphan scene-without-a-story I looked up Chippendale end tables to make sure that Chippendale did build end tables, as well as feeling the need to look up the collective noun that signifies a group of dragons.  I learned something about furniture and the naming of dragons, but I feel that during the creative phase of fiction I ought to be braver about just making up things.  Of course, I know better than to talk about a Chippendale stereo-stand, but maybe a flame of dragons would work as well as a flight?  After all, nowadays I’m not even spending ink and paper on composition, and everything can be erased, so why worry?  (perfectionism is most likely the fault)  For me, knowing the details are correct the first time relieves some of the stress of wondering if I’ll catch the inaccuracies while proofreading, but Googling details in the middle of a sentence does cut in on the dance of the dream.

I’m guessing that the balance between accuracy and productivity is deciding that you have ‘enough,’ as well as not wandering off in yet another interesting direction — wandering off has killed more hours than I care to think about.  After all, ‘it’ is just a story, not a furniture assembly kit, or a recipe, or a clothing pattern, never mind a process that is exponentially more complex than household activities and could cause harm if it were poorly done.  It is unlikely that an inaccurate setting in a story will cause problems in the real world, witness all the inaccuracies I’ve seen in stories, written or acted, that continue to be popular.  No one will fall down and hurt themselves, be poisoned, or have a trousers seat rip in public because I put crunching gravel in a fictional parking lot that, in the geographic place, is paved with blacktop.

[amazing, no link to a Wikipedia article appeared for “blacktop” — I searched because I didn’t know if “blacktop” was a colloquial usage or if it signified a specific style of paving, and if Wikipedia doesn’t have it, I’ll probably never know]

I have now confessed to a poor creative habit, and have (in my mind) obtained absolution through the penance of taking the time to examine my conscience (work habits) and doing a good work by adding an entry to the neglected blog.

Back to the inkmine.

Starting a blog a month before your dog dies isn’t a very good idea, either.

smiling Zina Bear

December is not a good month in which to begin a blog.

Understanding that storylines change

Because all of fiction is imaginary, it is fluid.  This should not be a surprise, but after a lifetime of reading more finished products (published authors) than works in progress (mine), it is difficult to consider one of my ‘finished’ pieces (‘finished’ as in ‘turned into visible words’) as a crappy first draft, especially since most word processing programs use Times New Roman as a default font, and not Courier.  Courier looks like a typewritten draft (and won’t paste here), Times New Roman looks typeset.  My unfinished word-processed work has the same finished appearance as any costly book.  I suppose I could compose in Courier, but that’s just one more step among many in making a file for this, and one for that, and whoops!, we need a timeline.

Getting past the look, shoving around crappy first draft furniture, landscapes, and characters is hard.  The characters don’t like this and stumble about the shifted landscape, bumping into the furniture and asking, “Was that my cue?  Do I come in now?”   Or they wander off for a coffee break thinking they don’t come in until Chapter 5, while the frustrated author flips among the various pages and screens of notes trying to remember who it was that shot John this time.  Is John still in the story?  By the time the author tracks down the coffee break characters at the closest Krispy Kreme, it’s time for supper, the author’s supper.

Not only do the characters object to changes, but so does the logical side of the brain.  The logical mind is quite happy that we’ve written anything at all (and obsessively clicks the word count button).  Logical Mind complains that this part of the story has already been written and why are we starting all over again?  Onward!  Upward!  Get over it! Keep that word count moving!   To the logical side of the brain, hobbits always had fuzzy feet, Hercule Poirot always wore pince-nez, and Harry Potter always had a lightning shaped scar.  That’s just the way things are.

The creative mind feels a migraine coming on and points out to the logical side that “this story is not working,” and besides that, how do you know that hobbits weren’t once shod as sturdily as the dwarves, that Hercule Poirot did not have a monocle, and that Harry Potter did not start out with a star-shaped scar?  The creative mind can be testy, and listening to the bickering between the brains is like having The Odd Couple in charge of your head.  (It’s a wonder anything is agreed on.)

Finding where all the information is stashed

Once the right brain has prevailed and there is consensus that things must change, and once the right side has figured out what it is that needs changing, then you’ve got to go do it.  The easy part is changing simple things such as names in computer documents.   All one needs to do is open up a document, use find and replace, and click OK.  Changing all the instances means that you open up all twenty documents, and fix whatever it is you’re changing.

What is not so easy is changing the same type of items in a notebook.

It may seem strange for someone to use both computer documents and a loose-leaf notebook while forming fiction, but for me some things work better on the computer, and some things work better on paper.  Using two (or more) different types of media also helps me to differentiate between various pieces of information as, after a while, a series of Word documents blend into one never-ending Word document, even if you use different colors for the typing.  Clicking between documents just shows screens of words, words, words that eventually make as much visual sense as the Lorem Ipsum text.

I also find it easier to spread out papers or note cards than to click on different screens to see the a larger view of the project.  A cascade of document titles look even more alike than do the documents themselves.

The difficulty in making changes on paper comes when a person has to flip through the notebook dividers and scan each page in order to erase the penciled words, or line out the ink/type and ink in something new.  If you’ve made inked-out changes once already, and there is no clear space left on the paper, then you cut a teeny tiny strip of paper and use a glue stick to paste the paper over the previous changes.

Now write on the teeny tiny strip of paper.  Voila!  You’ve made a change.  Repeat the erasing/penciling, inking-out/inking in/gluing teeny tiny strips of paper throughout the notebook.

One caution: don’t try to peel off previous layers of teeny tiny strips of paper.   The removal usually just makes a hole in your sheet of paper and that repair eats up more time and further annoys the logical side of your brain who jogs off into the real world griping that all the presents are not yet ordered, nor is the Christmas letter written, and just who do you think is going to put up the tree, at which point you need some chocolate, and that means you have to exercise longer because you sit too much in any case, never mind the times after you eat the chocolate, and this takes up yet more time.  Do not peel off previous layers of paper.  (Do we wonder that writing has a an aura of dysfunctionality about it?)

Changing the herded cats into ducks, and putting them in a row

As with so many things that people do, writing is like herding cats.  The twenty-four letters of the alphabet are something of a limit on the number of words that can be made from them, although this number must be very large (see the Oxford English Dictionary).  The rules of grammar likewise restrict the combination of words that can be used — it is unlikely that anyone will put together words in an odd way and expect them to be considered a sentence: “it good the time at seemed the a like idea.”  Few people would do this, even if it seemed like a good idea at the time.  The characters in a story are also limited by what behaviors a reader will find believable for the story.   All of these limits, though, allow for an almost infinite number of differences in character population, interaction between this population of characters, and the kind of physical objects around them as they interact.

At the moment, I am going round and round as to where the main character will eventually settle at the end of the story.  If this character stays at place X, then that character will go in a certain direction.  If the character goes back to place Y instead (place Y is in the mix regardless) then the character’s path will be different.  I can’t tell which path will develop the better story, and I don’t feel like writing two books to find out the answer, but I must make a choice because the main character has to be either ‘here’ or ‘there’ unless of course the main character is bumped off, …

I suppose the only thing to do is haul out the metaphorical rubber-bladed garage floor scraper and sweep all the flaky fluid fiction down the drain and start over.  My apologies to my left brain.  (It’s a wonder that writers mange to produce any fiction.)

Nothing original in this post, just adding it as a reminder to myself.

A Tale of Two Stories:

My book is filled with strong, pro-active people. I don’t want them disenfranchised. But my heroine is my heroine for a reason. They can do things, but not to the extent that it will beggar my heroine of agency. If it does, she becomes a tourist in her own story.

Rule #1:

If you want to write your novel relatively quickly and productively, it should have no access to the interweb thingy, also no games, or anything other than the two aforementioned programs. If you can’t write without easy access to endless forms of procrastination, sorry, I mean, research tools, then by all means be connected to that gateway to hell the intramanet.

I was looking for more information on how to use a spreadsheet to help with plotting, and just had to share.

Someone really should disable our cable modem.

« Previous PageNext Page »