Always ass-backwards 

It is inevitable. Ask me to do something and I always seem to pick the least likely method. Draft#2 is going slower than anticipated, but interestingly I am liking what I am producing. 

That being said- I haven’t written a word. 

I know I know. That makes no sense. Except, I am knee deep in outlines and character development and my story is clicking. Hence the ass-backwards comment. I outline after I have finished the first draft, do character sketches a year into my WIP and think about setting every blue moon in between. 

Whatever. It is working. I may not be done by my March 31st self-imposed deadline but I have progress. And that is all I need at the moment. 

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In the land of what-ifs

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I had a strange thought yesterday as I walked home, if someone broke into my apartment and stole my computer and flash drives and external hard drive how would I rebuild my novel.

And then my brain did the weirdest thing – it went: if you had to start from scratch what elements of your story would you keep? And my head has not stopped spinning since I thought that.

So here is what I know.

I love my main character, Tad. He is feisty and goofy and simply trying to make sense of this strange situation that his family secrets have landed him in. His brother is a bit of a selfish jerk, but redeemable. His grandfather, Richard, intrigues me and I know that I need to do more with him. I love the idea that they all have secrets and that the fall out of those secrets is going to take them on a wild ride.

I dislike the crazy convoluted societal structure that I created, perhaps because it is so undefined and because it changes with every chapter. Maybe that is why I am so stuck with the world building.

I dislike the prologue I wrote – because it feels like it should be the end.

And I keep going back to that question: if I had to build the story from scratch how would I build it?

I read somewhere that the first draft is for the writer to get to know the characters and uncover their stories. The second draft is for the writer to tell those stories to the readers. Or at least it was some version of that.

That leaves me here, sitting with a yellow legal pad, trying to ignore what I thought was my outline and trying to determine – what is the story that Tad wants told?

Excuse me while I stare

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It seems like everyone is reading “Outlining your novel” by KM Weiland lately. Or maybe it is because I am reading it that I keep noticing the book on blogs and buses and twitter. I am on the character creating section and it has me questioning how I create characters and how to add depth to them.

Characters are people. Sort of. And to make truly great characters they should have the quirks and follies of real people. So, sometimes, I kinda stare at people when they do something weirdly interesting. Sometime it is a physical trait, sometimes it is the motion of their hands, sometimes it is the way they giggle.

And sometimes, like today it is posture and the way people walk.

I went to the library to read at lunchtime today. It is pouring rain here on the west coast. Not complaining, will take it any day over the white stuff, regardless, it is pouring today and this turns the library into a safe haven and brings in people looking for a dry spot.

Normally there are two bored security guards talking about video games standing at the main entrance of the library. Today, the guards were surrounding someone and a plainclothes cop stood firmly in front of this curly-haired agitated man. I walked past them quickly. But really, I kinda wanted to stop and eavesdrop. Cops at the library? What did the man do? Not pay his library fines? Refuse to shush? Steal a book? What?!!!!

Curiosity unsatisfied I took the elevator to the 5th floor and found an empty spot behind the Arts & Crafts stacks to read my book. When my timer went off (yes, I set a timer or else I would never return to my office) I made my way back to the escalators and that is when I noticed her. I have no idea who she is or why she did this but her actions were so … unusual.

She was walking slowly, grocery bag in hand, purple knit hat sitting low on her head, almost but not quite covering her eyes. A man turned the corner to pass her and as he went by she froze. And I mean froze, the same way a squirrel freezes when you walk by: quickly and absolutely. The second the man was gone she moved again. Her steps were measured: quick, quick, slow. And then someone went to pass her again. She scuttled close to the wall and once again- froze. She reminded me of one of the statue people at the park, except she was tracking the motion of the person passing with her eyes. There wasn’t a look of fear in her eyes and she looked in no way distressed – she just tracked. And then moved on. And froze.

She did this three more times, including with me!

And every time she froze my brain went: “omg omg I need to write a character who does this!!!”

The second I got off the escalator I pulled out my phone and madly tapped out a character sketch. There is a spot in my novel where my characters need to be rescued. She would be the perfect character to rescue them!

And as I stood there, madly typing away, out of the corner of my eye I see a man approach me: reed thin, carrying heavy book-filled bags, and step-marching. Knees high in the air.

It seems that in order to be at the library today you had to march to the beat of your own drummer. And that totally made my day because I now have an awesome new character to play with – yeay!!!

So please excuse me if I stare.

Rainy Sunday

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I am supposed to be editing, working on world building. Instead I am trolling the internet, looking at talks on vulnerability and creatives by the awesome Brene Brown.

It is 20 minutes long, so give yourself some time to watch it.

The video gave me goosebumps. The second she said that her presentation was called Sweaty Creatives, she had me.  And by sweat she means that cold sweat that you get when you share your work with others, not the sweat that comes from hard work.

I am very familiar with that cold sweat. As a writer, there is always that sweat. It pops on my brow when I come up with a story, when I sit and create characters, when I reread a line and love it. It beads on my upper lip when I send my work to friends for feedback; and it trickles down my back when I take writing classes, clogging my throat at the thought of reading my work out loud.

I think that everybody that does something creative feels this to a certain extent, that crazy “what if” fear that the vulnerability of creating brings forth.  As she says in her talk “without vulnerability you cannot create”.

What I thought was fabulous about her talk is that she talks about the critics that we face and the gremlins that ping pong in our heads as we prepare to present out work. I LOVE her message about facing your critics and saying ” I see you, I hear you. But I am going to show up and do this anyways.”

Then she goes and quotes Theodore Roosvelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I think I heard harps and trumpets when she quoted this. Yep, I admit it writing scares the daylights out of me.

But it is that idea that the story in my head could truly be great that keeps me at my keyboard.

So on that note – I am off to answer all the hard questions about my book that I have been avoiding for fear that if I didn’t like what was on the page it meant that I had somehow failed the story. The story deserves better than me stalling –  as that old Japanese saying says “knock me down seven times, get up eight.” That is what editing feels like.

 

Rebuilding the world

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I have been thinking about outlines a lot in the last month. I have also been thinking about character development and world building.

In all my craziness I decided to write a story that takes place in the future. (Why did I do this?!?) And let me tell you, it is not easy. It makes me even more in awe of people like Tolkien and George R. R. Martin and what is the name of the person who wrote Dune- Frank Herbert.

I want my world to be rich with detail, familiar yet unfamiliar. And that is bloody hard. When I was writing the first draft I kept telling myself: just put the story on paper you’ll sort the details out later. But now is later. And my world is kind of flat, not as gritty as I would like and in all honesty, really hard to understand.

I want my future world to be original. But the second I start to fiddle with it, I end up writing bland copies of worlds that are already out there: the futuristic toys of Star Wars, the bleakness of the Hunger Games, the zaniness of the city in the Fifth Element. I know that as writers we draw from the stories we read and watch, but I really struggle with the notion that the world that I am building is just a watered down copycat mishmash of what is already out there.

So now I am going back, and trying to decipher my world in order to bring order to my story. This lead me to think about outlines- maybe just maybe those people who make those crazy master outlines have a point. Sure, it was fun to just write and see where my imagination would lead, but now in the editing phase. Well it sucks, it is almost like writing the book all over again. Though, I guess is the point of the second draft. Ugh, writing is way more fun than editing.

So my question for my fellow writers is – how much world building to you do for your stories? And how much do you think is really necessary?