Monday, November 26, 2007
See that mess to the left? This week-end I spent my time crocheting. I started a hat and had to quit four Rounds in because this clump of tangled yarn came out of the middle of the skein. Yeah, I cussed it, but as I was untangling it, I realized something, and it was wonderful!
A good story is one that starts like that tangled mess. You write it out and that's what it looks like. A mess that has no clear beginning or end, therefore the middle is a muddled mass of confusion. And this is where the real work comes in.
You take the mess and look for the ends, only they're too hard to find. So, you go to the middle, where the action should be, and this is where it's really messed up. BUT, if you take a section at a time, work it, and straighten it out, you'll eventually find the beginning. You'll eventually find the scene where the real story starts (I'll have to admit, for me it was 4 Chapters in).
Now, I've got that begininng pulled out of my middle, it's time for me to straighten up the mid section. But what's this? The end is stuck right here, and if I pull it out and put it where it should go, I've got about six chapters that belong in another book. It's a damn good thing I'm planning a series, so I already have some material for book 2.
Now, I have no more tangles, but the yarn of the story is loose and won't stay together. This is where, like with my yarn, I want to start winding it into a ball. I'm gonna drop it sometimes, and the yarn will unravel a bit, but that's OK, that's just me finding the weaker sections of the story. The sections that need to hit the gym and get pumped up. This makes for a sturdier ball of yarn, and much healthier book.
And, when all's said and done, and my story is as tight as my ball of yarn, if I've done my job - the reader will be able to grab the beginning of the ball, hold just that starter piece, and watch the story unravel seamlessly and so fast, they want to rewind it and watch it all again.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Poppy Z. Brite
My daughter has been very sick the last few days, so computer time has been very limited. That includes sitting down to write. That does not mean I have not been working on my WIP. Since I've spent the majority of time the last five days snuggling with a sleeping child, I decided to use that time to study one of my favorite authors. Charlaine Harris, the woman is a freakin' genius.
I've mentioned before that the best way to learn from an author about how to write was to read everything you can by that author. I've done that already, I've read all of her series, I own all of the Sookie Books, and the Grave Books. I've read Aurora and Lily Bard. While I'm not a huge fan of her Aurora books, I know several people are, I did very much love Lily. Of course, the paranormal aspects of Sookie and Harper are what puts them at my top of the list, I love the stories, I love the worlds Charlaine creates. I envy her ability to make the characters so very, very real, ALL of the characters and write only in First Person.
Since I've been writing in First Person, and it is not a POV that comes natural to me,
So, the last few days that my daughter has spent home being sick, I've spent reading the Sookie Books. I can honestly say I love the books. I am so very invested in the characters, that I tend to get lost in just being a reader of the books instead of learning anything at all from the writing. This time, specifically I made sure to read slow and study what it was that I loved so very much about Harris' work, and what it was I could learn from it.
Simplicity. That's what I learned.
Harris has a way to make a profound statement in a sentence composed of few words. By simply leaving out all of the fluff, Harris hooks you and will. not. let. go. THAT is what I want to achieve. So I've been studying it, trying to grasp how she does it, so that I can put my own spin on the style.
There is nothing wrong with learning at the hands of the master, and if I could have just ten minutes of Harris' time to discuss writing -well, I would not have enough time- I bet I could learn an awful lot.
Not only have I had a good education reading this type of fiction, since it's a series, I've learned many ways to carry on one of my own, which is what I have planned. I've never really read any of Charlaine's writing advice, and I have never had the privilage of hearing her speak, but I've learned more from reading her books than I could ever learn from her actual process.
Books. They really do have so much more contained in the pages than the plot.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
- The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.
- - Mickey Spillane
You see, to me, the first line of a book is essentially a pick-up line. In a bar, the man or woman, doles out the pick-up line in an attempt to score a date. In a bookstore, the first line of a book is usually considered when trying to decide whether or not a book should be bought.
And this is my problem.
I am, at this stage of edits, putting entirely too much thought into the first line of the book. Well, truth is, I have the first line of the book, but what I have written after it, would be or possibly should be considered a Prologue. Heaven help me, but yes, I think I've written a Prologue. It's short, I mean really short, just under 600 words, and all it really does is give some back-story, and I really don't want to use it - I *think*. And that's where the internal debate comes in.
I love my first line. I love it so much, I want to marry it. I also love that bit of Prologue, and think it flows nicely with the first line. The problem is, if I keep my first line and what follows it, and it is used as it should be, as a Prologue, then I actually need a better first line for the start of the actual book. Are ya following me?
So now, I have no clue as to how to word the next scene, what is actually the first scene. My brain is a tangled mess over this (as you can tell by my messy post). I don't really want a Prologue. I'm not a fan. I've raised many a stink about Prologues over on the book blog, and I hate to be a big fat hypocrite and have one in my own work. BUT, I freakin' love this scene! I know, I know, sounds like I need to re-read my own post from a few days ago. But dayum, killin' your darlings is tough!
And that is why I have this blog. Because I now think I have a solution. I think I can keep my wonderful first line, JUNK mark everything that would be the Prologue, and start the book following that first line. OOOOOOOH, I am liking this idea the more it forms in my head. I even know where I can squeeze in some of the information from the Prologue into other parts of the book!
First lines, they are essential, I have to want to read the next line in the book, and if that first one doesn't draw me in, then forget it - I aint gonna be finishing the book. I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Of course, I'm gonna have to make the book live up to that first line, but right now, that doesn't seem impossible. Tomorrow, yeah, it probably will and I'll be back here banging my head against the wall again.
But for now, I think I have my pick-up line, and hopefully it works far better than some of the really, really bad pick-up lines heard throughout every bar in America on a Friday night.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.
G. K. Chesterton
"When it comes to your writing, I say, quite firmly, stay away from writers talking about how to write. Well, let me re-phrase that a touch, stay away until your butt has been in the chair long enough to have actually written the first draft." I said this yesterday, and if I have any audience at all, I'm sure they were scratching their heads. After all, am I not claiming to be a writer? And am I not discussing how to write? Yes, in fact I am a writer, I am, as of yet unpublished, but a writer nonetheless. And, yes, actually, I am talking about how to write. However, I am only working through my own struggles with writing, and can say quite honestly that it is not my intention to teach anyone (though if some one gets something from my posts that's great).I had initially intended to write about something else today, but I just couldn't stop thinking about what I had said. So bear with me as I try and explain. Once again, at the end of this post, I will post more from the scene I posted yesterday (why some one would want to read it is beyond me but since I started it...).
The Internet has become such a great tool for writers - it is after all, the Information Super Highway. Need to do some research? Google it! Need to promote your latest book? Start a web page! Want to connect with readers and become more real? Get a blog! Start a Yahoo! Group! Give the readers what they want! MORE MORE MORE!!! It's incredibly wonderful. As a fledgling author myself I look to the Internet to aid in my research and learn as much about the authors I love and their writing. I'm fascinated by the process that other writers take to get to the words "The End", I love reading the hints and tips that senior authors give to us in the freshman class.
Unfortunately, with so much information, so very much of it contradictory, eventually my mind ends up at the Information Highway Super Rest Stop, very much needing to take a leak and walk around. I have become jaded, I guess, with all the bombardment of advice to young authors such as myself, that even I, one ready and eager to learn, have stopped reading much of the advice posted. It has become more of a Roadblock to success than the Freeway Exit I had initially hoped.
When I first started looking at writing styles, I read author blogs, agent blogs and editor blogs, looking for the nugget of gold that would help me sort through what I had and help me figure out what I had done right and where I had gone wrong. Unfortunately, I ended up scrapping over 4,000 words because I had read so much that I no longer knew anything. I read so much about these authors that I adore and how they write, that I lost my sense of how and why I write and I began to hate my work. I began to hate my process, because it was so unlike most of the advice being printed.
I went through a very, and I mean very, dark period in my writing, where I had no faith in my ability to tell a story. All of these authors, they are published, and I seemed unable to follow their advice with my own story. I was doomed and I never would get it. I just wasn't smart enough. Talented enough. Worthy enough. I was done!
And then, one day, I was talking to another writer friend of mine, and she explained that she was struggling very much with some of the advice given on a favorite author's blog. She was trying very hard to stick with the advice, she wanted to write this story right! I told her, she was writing the story the correct way, she was writing it her way - and there is nothing more right than that. I explained to her, that while well-meaning, the author in question could only teach what she knew, her own process, her own style. And while that approach obviously worked great for her, and probably a few select others, it wasn't going to work for her, because she was not writing one of this author's books. She was writing her own.
After we disconnected, I sat back down, opened up my Word file, and began writing again. I finally got that I needed to write my story. And only MY story. I could not take all of the authors advice I had been given and use it completely. It was impossible. They cancel each other out. So, I say again, read it all you want, but WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR OWN CRAP written. Find an author that has a voice you love. Has mastered the pacing you love, and then read their books, not their advice. Attend their workshops and use them to pick and choose what you find to be good advice but what they say is not gospel for anyone but themselves, and you'll find many times that even those published authors stray from their norm.
Writing is not a one-size fits all profession. There is a vast amount of creative room out there, surely there will be enough room for one more. And I think one of the most important thing to remember is that the advice given is yet another tool for the authors to sell books. Yes, they are helping some. Sharing their wisdom and experience. However, do you not see their names all over that web page? Do you not see links that if you click you are able to purchase their books? Will you not remember the name of that author next time you are in a bookstore? Sure you will. Take what you want and can use. Leave the rest.
To truly learn about an author and how they write, read their books. Deconstruct it to a level you can understand. Let the authors work be your guide. This is where they show you the truth. The truth is always in the showing - not the telling.
Elizabeth visibly relaxed with my agreement and on the tour we went. The place was set up just like every other old-time bowling alley. We were just inside the doors and immediately to our left was a section of brownish linoleum floor with lockers set in rows, and benches running the length of the middle. Just beyond the lockers sat a room with a black door “Pro-Shop” was painted across it in something that looked suspiciously like dried blood.
About six feet further up and to the right was a long counter. The first quarter was where bowlers would rent ugly shoes, and pay for their games. There was an ancient computer sitting just beside the register, and directly behind that was an office. Down the way just a bit was another register for food and drinks. The coolers, fryers, pop fountains, and food prep stations were directly behind that.
The concourse was your standard ugly. Grey carpet covered the floor, lined in an odd color of green that I am sure cannot be found in nature. Too many feet had walked on this carpet for it ever to look clean, and it was scarred with years of lit cigarettes being dropped by drunk bowlers. A half wall separated the settee, and it had a cheap plastic counter top that could hold drinks, cards, or whatever else was needed to bowl a stellar game, or whatever happened to be in the way. Tables sat the length of the concourse, each one pushed up against the dividing wall so bowlers and their fans could have a place to sit while they ate, talked, or just waited their turn.
Sections of the wall divider were left open with two stairs leading down to the settee. Hard orange plastic chairs lined the back of the settee wall. This area was for the bowlers and only two types of bowlers would ever use the chairs. You had your bowlers that were in their “zone” and wanted no distractions so they could stay there, and those who were off their game so badly that they didn’t want to have to face their buddies when they missed yet another easy spare. Both types would spend the time in those chairs staring at the lanes, looking for the answers to their game.
I was delighted to see that the scoring was done electronically, and that the ball return sat half on the settee and half on the approach. Bowlers would have to take a small step up to the approach, giving the illusion of privacy as their neighbors started their approach.
There were sixteen lanes, with lanes one and sixteen having a walkway on the far side that would lead to the machines in back. There was a wall that separated the lanes from a small game room area set up to keep the kids occupied while their parents bowled and, according the Elizabeth, was a favorite hang out for the local teenagers in the winter.
As we reached the back I was thrilled to see that the machines were AMF because I know how those run. I would be able to do basic trouble shooting, but I was still going to need a full-time mechanic to make sure everything ran smooth. There was a small office that held spare parts, tools, and several years worth of catalogues for equipment.
Elizabeth had been silent as we walked, but I could feel her study me every time I stopped to get a good look at something. It was a little unnerving being watched like that and the air felt thick with animosity. I was unsure why this woman seemed to dislike me so, but it was her problem and I refused to make it mine.
I turned to tell her we could go back up front to discuss business and had to suppress a bubble of laughter at the contrast her silk suit made against the grease covered machines, whereas I just sort of blended. Next to this woman I looked every bit the freak farm-girl I was and for a split second perhaps it was my animosity flavorin’ the air. But just as soon as the jealousy hit it disappeared. Surrounded as I was but something I loved, I just couldn’t get the fact that I would never quite be one of the Elizabeth Martin’s of the world to matter much. That was reason enough to buy this place and set roots after so long floating on the wind.
With a final look at the machines, I felt a tiny thrill tow-step up my spine. I was going to own this place, and I knew without a shadow of doubt that I was making the right decision.
Once again, this was an unedited, very rough draft of my WIP that is now in the JUNK folder.
Monday, November 12, 2007
My friend and fellow writer Kim had a great post the other day on her blog Writerly Ramblings. Check out this post, Rough Draft Exercise, and you'll see what I mean. I love this quote - Rough Drafts are basically garbage. Stuff you have to get out so you can write something good later - and the reason I love it is because it is absolutely, one hundred percent correct. So stay with me here while I examine my thoughts on the whole, "Kill your darlings," approach, and at the end of my musings I will share with you some things from my very own cutting room floor.
One of the toughest things about writing is the re-writing. The endless edits. That ominous "red" pen that gets taken to your work. This is tough to see even when you, yourself, are doing the red markings. There is a quote that is attributed to Faulkner or Twain, (there's as much debate on the actual source of the quote as there is its meaning) in which he advises creative types to "kill your darlings." This is not an exact quote, because I'll be darned if I can find it anywhere! But, you get the gist. Basically, it means to cut the stuff you love to save the book. Diana Peterfreund has a great blog post on this topic here, where she discusses in detail the way this advice can be misconstrued and misused.
The quote I used at the top of this post by Stephen King is also a form of the 'kill your darlings' approach. But I think Jenny Crusie, in this post on her He Wrote, She Wrote: Online Writing Workshop with Bob Mayer, sums it up best, "Remember in the final edit, it’s all about the reader. Not you, not your vision, not your deathless prose, not the stuff you want the reader to know, just the stuff the reader wants to know, the story that’s going to take her to another world and give her the emotional release she craves from a good book. Cut away everything else. Then send it to your editor." Truer words...
Now, what I am about to say may shock you, but bear with me - When it comes to your writing, I say, quite firmly, stay away from writers talking about how to write. Well, let me re-phrase that a touch, stay away until your butt has been in the chair long enough to have actually written the first draft. My reasoning behind this is a whole other blog post, but in short form, you will never find your very own "darlings" if you try and model the writers doing the talking. You have to write your own crap before you decide which writer is giving the best advice - FOR YOU.
Finding your unique voice is essential to finding which darlings are worth keeping and which are worth killing. Once you have found your uniqueness, you can go about conforming it to publishing standards with the advice of other writers, until then, write your darlings. Make them as sickly sweet and flowery as you want, but WRITE them, trust me, you'll have several re-writes in which to kill them. Write them for you - cut them for the reader. BUT, as Janine over at Dear Author writes in this post, perhaps not all readers hate those darlings. So, before you decide to wean that baby completely, get lots of feedback. Beta readers, delta readers, readers you trust, to tell you if your darlings are complete brats that should be beat into submission, or sweet and endearing helpers that should stay.
Ultimately, you must love the book or no one else will. And now, as promised, I'll share a bit of stuff from my own Cutting Room Floor. I can't really call this one of my darlings, though I have been hanging on to this particular piece tooth and nail, and it does nothing for the story. The only purpose it does serve, is to me. This allowed me to see the beginning of Jollie Mae's time in Grounds, KS and it is priceless to me, but pointless to the reader. Feel free to critique it, I welcome the feedback, just remember I've already put it in my file marked JUNK, so no need to tell me how senseless the work is. WARNING: What you are about to read is unedited and in very, very rough form.
Enjoy and Take Care
“Ms. Stryker?” I was standing in front of a bowling alley that had been put up for sale, staring through the glass front doors when I heard the voice behind me. I had been thinking about my Gramps, and I was thinking he’d get a real kick out of me owning a bowl. I was also thinking that I must be insane to even thing about buying the place. That I should just get back in my car and drive straight on through to the next town, but I just kept hearing my Gramps voice saying, “What’s say you and me go bowling?” and I couldn’t get my feet to move.
“Ms. Stryker?” I turned around to greet the owner of the voice and watched a big haired woman with even bigger boobs slide out of a brand new Mustang convertible. The sun was glaring off the hood of the car, so it was impossible for me to tell which was the brighter red- her hair or the car. “I sure hope you haven’t been waiting long! Did I get the time of our meeting wrong? I always try and be on time to my appointments but my secretary is out sick today and when I’m on my own I’m a mess!” The woman slammed the car door shut and walked towards me with her hand extended. “Hi! I’m Elizabeth Martin! Owner of Martin Real Estate!”
I shook the proffered hand and said a silent prayer that Elizabeth Martin didn’t always talk like an inspirational speaker. I don’t think I could stand spending enough time with her to buy a burger and fries let alone a business if she did. “Jollie Mae Stryker.”
“Nice to meet ya’ Jollie Mae Stryker! Is Mr. Stryker gonna be meeting up with us soon?”
“Um, no. There is no Mr. Stryker. I’m not married.” Elizabeth had been giving me a hundred watt smile, but it dimmed to sixty when I made my statement. I had a moment of internal meanness and thought the smile wilted because Elizabeth wasn’t used to dealing with another of the boobed persuasion and the thousands of dollars she must of spent on hers were going to be useless in making this sale. I squashed that thought as soon as it appeared though, nastiness never accomplished anything. Goodness knows I’ve seen enough of it to last a lifetime, there was plenty to go around without me adding to it.
I pasted a smile on my face that I knew to be every bit as phony and strained as my companions and got down to business. “So, seein’ as everybody’s here, what’s say you and me go have a look inside this place?”
Elizabeth’s smile faltered yet again, but she quickly regained her composure and fished the keys to the bowl out of her bag. Motioning me towards the doors, she unlocked and held it open for me to walk inside. “I just love your accent! You can definitely tell you’re not from around here. Where was it you said you were from? Oh my! It’s dark in here. Hold tight just one quick minute and I’ll get the lights turned right on!”
Elizabeth walked off in search of light and I was glad to be rid of her. It was, indeed very dark inside the building, but I didn’t need to see anything to tell I was inside one of the best places on Earth. There is no mistaking the smell of a bowling alley.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deep. Immediately the smell of stale smoke, grease, bear, and sweat all rolled into one assaulted my senses. On a league night, the smell of victory and defeat drifts just under the rest and if I could bottle the stuff I would. The newer establishments like to call themselves Bowling Centers. In a Center, smoking is prohibited, and drinking is a no-no outside of the on-site club. This place was definitely not a Bowling Center and I fell in love immediately.
I decided then and there that I was going to buy this place. For the first time in my eight years of wandering from town to town, avoiding relationships - since saying good-bye to my Gramps - I felt at peace. I couldn’t explain it well enough to ever do it justice, but wrapped in the darkness, surrounded by smells that alwyas comforted me, I was ready to stick my heart to the place the way the gunk on the floor had my shoes glued.
At twenty-two, I said good-bye to the only family I had left, the house I grew up in, and the town I’d always called home. Now at thirty, I was ready to find a place to call home again, and I figure a place that reminded me of Gramps was as good a place as any.
I heard a soft cough and I opened my eyes to find the lights were on, and Elizabeth’s boob came into my line of sight about ten seconds before the rest of her. “Sorry it took me so long, I always have a hard time remembering which switch to throw! You want to start in the back and work our way front?”
“No need. I’ll take it.”
Elizabeth’s mouth fell open, “ba, but...” she squeaked and then cleared her throat so that when she continued her voice came out normal (well, normal if you’re selling steak knives on T.V.). “But you haven’t even seen it yet!”
“Elizabeth, I honestly don’t need to. I want it. I’ll take it. Tell me what they’re asking and I’ll make my offer.” It was clear that Elizabeth was at a loss as to what to do, dollar signs were flashing in her eyes competing with whatever her sense of right and wrong. Just imagining her thought process was making me dizzy.
Blinking rapidly, Elizabeth straightened her short skirt, took a deep breath that strained the buttons on her thin jacket and said, “I really would feel much better about this if you could at least look around first. We don’t have to take a long tour, but if you would at least look at it first...”
I could understand where she was coming from. I was saying that I’d pay a lot of money- and I’d be willing to bet her commission wasn’t chump change- and my decision probably seemed rather rash. I figured I had two choices, explain to her that just walking through those doors-just smelling the air in the place - told me I knew owning this place was right or humor the woman and take a look at the place. Since I was hoping Grounds, KS would be my new home, I really didn’t want her spreading the rumor that I was crazy, while it may be true, I didn’t want my new neighbors knowing it, so I chose the safe route, “OK, let’s have a look around first.”
(Note: There is more to this scene but in an attempt to keep this post fitting on one page, I've decided to post it tomorrow.)
Friday, November 9, 2007
It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.
It was then that I got a vision for Jollie. She would get a romance. She would end happily ever after, she would find "home". Unfortunately, Jollie is stubborn and didn't want to be in a light, fun Romance. "It's not my style," she said to me. So, I decided to sell the idea to her. I tried to force my vision on her.
"But, but, I will get you a gorgeous man." I pitched. "I will get you children! I will get you happy!"
"Look, I wanna be happy just as much as you want me to be, but my life is not flowers and sunshine. I've got a lot of cactus and rain to deal with. If you would just SHUT UP for a little bit, you'll see what I'm talking about."
It was then I figured I was insane. I had been holding a week long (possibly more) debate with my imagination. The thing is, once I got my brain and rational side out of the way, my imagination made sense.
So, I kept my brain on sleep mode, and sat down at the computer with Jollie and told her to tell me her story. "Well," she said, "the average person manages to live all the years of their lives without ever committing murder. I managed to live six."
Once she told me the background, I was able to fill in the now. Where she was going, what she would be doing. I've gone through a million scenarios. I've tried to tell her story in Third Limited, but she doesn't like that. This is Jollie's story to tell. I am merely the hands with the ink.
And, truth be told, I had been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with her, until recently. I've let my brain get back in the middle of things, and the writing is a fight. What next? Would they say that?
I'm trying to figure out how to keep that bitch of an internal editor quiet long enough to get the words down on paper. Once that's done, she can edit and criticize all she wants. But right now, I'm at the beginning. I am writing that ever important first draft, just trying to keep up with my hero. She's running, and I'm simply jogging.
For you writers, are there any tricks you use to avoid the self edits so early on in the work? Please share. I'll try anything!
Thursday, November 8, 2007
This is only a writing blog. I will not be posting about anything BUT my writing. You can visit my personal blog Lip Service or my joint-review blog dee & Dee Dish (click the links from the sidebar), for glimpses at my life, but this is an on-topic blog.
I welcome and encourage comments. Please let me know what you think, whether you agree or disagree.
Enjoy and Take Care