Why Are You Telling ME? Tell Her!

I have been working on wrapping my head around this re-vision editing project. One thing I have always known about how I wrote this novel down, is that there was WAY too much expressed through character thoughts rather than character actions/interactions. I have highlighted places with comments like “Dear God find a way to make this emotional” and places highlighted with the color that meant “This is irrelevant or too detailed; cut it out.” Beyond identifying passages that were simply too many thoughts, however, I hadn’t really been able to figure out how to impart all of those pieces of character backstory that I feel are pertinent to explaining who a character is or why they are the way they are. There was also maybe a bit too much of telling that the characters were coming to trust each other and not quite enough showing of it.

A few days ago, driving to work, I had an epiphany: at least some of the backstory could be told to the love interest. I mean, duh! What is one of the first things you do when you start falling for someone?: FIND OUT EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM AND WHERE THEY COME FROM AND WHAT THEY HAVE EXPERIENCED AND TELL THEM ABOUT YOURSELF. This was a holy shit how did I not see that moment.

I suppose it’s because most of the stories I’ve written (on) to this point involved characters who already knew one another and were moving from friends/sibling-like-feelings to lovers – they don’t need to discuss their pasts, because they both know each other’s past. The other novel I’ve worked extensively on with characters who were unacquainted has a conflict that basically hinges on the fact that they struggle to open up to one another and either ask for or tell anything about each other.

It’s actually really exciting to me to think about morphing some of these pieces of personal history from character-t0-reader into character-to-character. The hero telling the heroine about hiding coal under his bed as a child so that there would be enough to heat his baby sister’s room through the winter is going to give her a great deal of insight into his life situation, and the reader would still experience the same sympathy for him as they would if he just thinks about it (i.e., tells the reader). BUT the revelation is framed in a way that highlights it better, because it will be symbolic of the relationship between hero/heroine advancing a step. It will also help smooth out one section of too-much-thinking. Plus there is inherently more drama to one person confessing something to another, than simply reflecting on a piece of his past that he’s carried with him for years.

I haven’t yet identified all the places in the text that need this sort of shift, but it’s a new lens through which to view this story (or, more accurately, how I am telling it), and for the first time since I started looking at this revision project I feel like I have a clear and positive step to take.

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Project Management

I finally downloaded Scrivener to give it a try and see if it can be of any help with the project of partially rewriting and then streamlining that long novel I’ve been working on since September 2011. You all remember, I’m sure: the one that’s been sitting drafted but in need of epic rewriting since around June 2013; the one that got put aside because of DragonCon prep the rest of that summer and then me being pregnant and unable to write and then me having a new baby and therefore no time to write. So here we are at the end of 2014, and I am realizing that I will never write again (okay, okay, for the next 3-5 years, depending on how many children we have) unless I learn how to do it at night. So I’m going to learn how to do it at night. And what could be more efficient on the nights when I have no easy scene sketching words to write than to focus on the project with the shortest number of words left? So I said, fuck it, I’ll give the Scriv a try and see if it can help do what I’ve been admittedly too intimidated and/or disorganized to accomplish on my own, and that is figuring out exactly what needs to be shored up and reinforced in the architecture of the story as a whole.

So. Scrivener.

I have thus far only imported my Word doc and split what was one huge file into 44 chapters (plus prologue and epilogue), research, and notes, and added a quick summary of the action in each chapter to the “note card” outline view. Whew, boy, that was a chore – it took an hour and a half, the entirety of baby’s nap last Sunday.

Just seeing it all laid out has helped it all make a little more sense to me, because I can see more of it in my mind’s eye at once. The parts that need to be revised seem smaller when taken as their constituent parts. Also, I had forgotten that at some point last spring I went through and made a legend (by highlighting swaths of my doc) of the parts that can be deleted because they are now irrelevant and the parts that still occur but need details changed. Some of the scenes that I originally thought needed to be reworked can actually just be deleted, and some of the details changed amount to about two sentences in a scene. The amount of work is assailable.

I am still intimidated. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, except that the beginning is still weak, has always been weak, and in my head is still a bit fuzzy and squishy and uncertain, and I have never been good at writing without knowing exactly what it is I’m trying to get across.

But at least I can count up all the scenes that need to change now. Well begun is half done.

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All Set

It took a lot of finagling and hair-pulling, but I finally have my computer set up the way I want it. I ended up uninstalling MS Office 2013 and installing 2010, which if I had known I could activate on more than one device to begin with I would never have bought 2013 at all. Ugh. The sticking point for me with 2013 is their insistence on the creation of a Microsoft Account and its attendant cloud storage of all files to “back them up.” Nope. Not gonna happen, and the more you try to bully me into it, the more likely I am to delete all your fucking programs and go completely open-source software.

Speaking of open-source software, I am happy to report that I did not lose any of my hard-won GIMP skills in the 10 months since I have worked with the program, and mastered a new task quite easily with only a minimal tutorial; I think I am at last working within the logic of the program. Project at hand: I am finally working on the new covers for my Twelfth Night novellas, for which I took photographs last December and which I have not yet had (made) the time to put together. I won’t get them finished tonight – still have to do all the typography, which will be its own brand of hell, I think, given I need a way to create linking elements between these two and A Christmastide Courtship (which cover I need to tweak, so the sticking point is creating the common element rather than just implementing one already in place) – but I am pretty pleased with the overall look and feel for them so far.

After I redo all the covers I am going to redo all the ebook files. Christmastide has a few typos I found on a re-read over the summer, plus the formatting on the Amazon version came out with wonky paragraph spacing, and the novellas were completely bare-bones presentations to begin with. I may only be able to work in drips and drabs right now, but these are projects made big by a long list of tasks, not because they are single tasks that take long stretches of concentration…thus they are highly suitable for evenings after work and baby-tending.

I have not been writing much since my last posts. Hard to say if the words have dried up, as I simply haven’t had time, or the mental energy the few times I’ve had time. Baby went through another sleep regression where he wakes 1-2x per night, and so unless I’ve gone to bed with him at 7, I am simply too exhausted to get up and write before work, and always too tired to try in the evenings. Plus I had a minor sewing commission and a big family visit. And this week is the big week when baby starts day care full time and the family-nanny departs, and suddenly I will have to find time/energy for ALL the household chores instead of just some of them.

On the bright side – husband and I are leaning very strongly towards relocating to the countryside, and one of the benefits therein would be my not having to work outside of the home. No plans are made, so this might still be a year or even two off, but the possibility heartens me on the days I am burned out on being a working mom.

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More Fun with Old Lexicons of English: biological

The concept tripping me up linguistically today is how a man of the early 1800s might have expressed “biological child” when referring to making sure a baby born in wedlock was, well, his. The term “natural” would not be appropriate because it would imply illegitimate biological child. “Biological” is unusable because it did not enter English in a provable way until 1819 (given that my story is set no more than 10 years previous, and the term had been coined in German and moved to French by then, it might have been used in spoken English amongst educated persons and just not written down in a record that survived). I don’t want to use a phrase such as “child of his body” because in the context of the flow of the sentence I need a one-word adjective. Using “blood” doesn’t quite work.

In the end I settled for no adjective at all, and perhaps it’s an argument for letting the words just say what they have to say: “…make sure any babe born of the union was his–and therefore the marquess’ grandchild.”

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Filed under Research, Writing

Dear Microsoft,

Windows 8 fucking sucks and you are all a bunch of ripe turds for putting it together.

You should have made two versions (or modes within the same version), Windows 8 for mobile devices/tablets, and Windows 8 for desktops. The two forms of usage are discrete, and you cannot serve both. You made a choice to serve the tablet market. You chose…poorly.

I should not have to uninstall and reinstall programs I intend to use in order to decouple them from the requirement of being linked to a Microsoft account.

I should not have to give a separate command (beyond non-maximizing a program) to my GODDAMNED LAPTOP in order to make it function with more than one window open on the same screen – you know, as a fucking computer and not a mobile device.

I should not have felt the need to investigate whether a change to a different operating system was in order.

I should not be contemplating purchasing apps from third parties to restore your fucking system to the functionality that I require.

I am not a luddite. I am someone who uses my computer as a computer, not an entertainment consumption device, and you have basically shat all over my needs as a customer with this OS. I hope that by the time I need to replace my hardware again, all the industries with which and within which I work no longer require the use of Office, at which time I will happily give you two birds and embrace another company’s product.

For now, you have me caught. But now it’s on sufferance and not by choice. So fuck you all.

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Novel concepts addendum: Eureka!

I figured out what the rough-drafted novel’s second theme is, and it seems so obvious now I have it that I want to smack myself for not seeing it last weekend when I was writing about this: choice. Split loyalties and choice. The hero and heroine both choose one another, despite having other loyalties and obligations, and despite having other options.

Remains to be seen if this keyword theme expression will help in the revising process, but I finally have my new computer so I can actually access all files and, you know, work on that revision.

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At its most conceptual

…what is your novel about? Can you sum it up in a one- or two-word phrase?

I have seen this exercise written up before, but this weekend my brain of its own accord (not because I saw a recent article about this) just sort of started filing some of my stories into categories of character/scenario dynamics. For romance I found I wanted two concepts: one for the external reason the characters were pushed together/held apart and one that best described what their relationship was about.

For example, for A Christmastide Courtship I came up with duty and acceptance. Duty is what draws Piers to court Catherine, but what they are each looking for – and find with one another – is acceptance.

The old/new/whatever it is WIP (maybe I should just say “the WIP du jour”….sigh…) has themes of familial coercion and trust. The characters are pushed together by family, and the main conflict of the book is that they do not trust one another when they marry and struggle to build it afterward. I might parse the two as “resentment and trust” since the coercion they both submit to in marrying causes resentment, and neither has anyone else to take it out on.

I like the clarity that being able to state a theme in one word offers me as the writer. Being able to do so tells me I have a solid grasp of the work as a whole.

Alas, I don’t, by this rubric, have all my works in progress firmly in hand – far from it.

For the long novel I am revising, I do not know how to distill either side of the story. I am not sure I can even clumsily lay hold of the themes. Maybe it’s because the hero and heroine have opposite themes: living for oneself and not society vs suppression of self for society. The story is in a way about loyalty to family conflicting with loyalty to self. It’s also about the hierarchy of needs, and which loyalties take precedence and whether that can change. The lovers spend most of the book with ambivalent feelings about their growing attraction and where they both fit in each other’s hierarchy of obligations. Their feelings grow into love almost despite themselves. “Split loyalties” might describe the external issues, but I am not sure how to phrase what is happening between them. It’s not the kind of breathless fated love words like “inevitable” or “inexorable” evoke, even though it is the sort of love that can’t be stopped once started, because they are right for each other…it’s more that they find in each other someone to lean on, someone who has their back, but in that specific way such that “trust” or “loyalty” doesn’t really convey the relationship. Fealty, except with sex.

I don’t know. Reading that paragraph back makes me think “split loyalties” covers both dynamics pretty well.

The Christmastide companion piece I would – ahem, Muse, looking at you here – like to finish and get up this fall so as to actually do seasonal marketing for the duology is another I have no effing clue how to distill. Perhaps that is why the muse went for the one story I know well enough to summarize without much thought at all.

…if I can tease out the novellette’s themes, will I find myself suddenly able to write it? I wonder….

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