Monthly Archives: June 2013

In the End, Does It Even Matter?

Found my way through the first patch of fog on the river, at any rate. One of my regular commenters (hi, ABE! Kiss kiss) pointed out that if the scene didn’t matter to the end of the book, maybe it didn’t need to be there. Surely, I thought, the hero taking his new wife to meet his family for the first time must in some way influence the story as a whole. I just had to figure out how. I think it is an expository section about the hero, showing how young he really is and how little he considers the larger picture of his life when he acts. Also his family does not approve of her, and I think entirely too few romances address in a realistic way familial reservations about a partner or potential partner. Now that I have a slight shape for what happens on the visit, it gives me some insight into who his family members are, personality wise, which gives me what I need to keep writing blind. As evidenced by writing 1200 words in one sitting last night after figuring the direction out at lunch.

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Perspective Matters

The penultimate episode of The Voice this season reminded me of a phenomenon in music, one that I am trying to apply to fiction but struggling to analogize. Anyway, it’s the sort of meta-musical knowledge of who is singing a song and how that affects what you hear.

Danielle Bradbery was my favorite singer in terms of her tone and range and the ecstatic joy with which she sings. I enjoyed her cover of “Please Remember Me,” but it lacked emotional punch. That song is one of my all-time favorite country songs, written by one of my favorite country songwriters and made famous by Tim McGraw. The perspective that he brings to that song as an adult is so much richer than what she could bring as a 16-year-old girl.

See, that song is about having hurt someone you love (even if the hurting was mutual when you realized it wasn’t working), wanting them to move on and be happy, and yet selfishly asking them to hold just a little piece of you in their heart forever because you’re going to hold them there even as you move on. By the time you’re mid- to late twenties, you’ve probably had that experience, or come close enough to breaking up, even if you pulled back from the brink, to have imagined what it would feel like to have to move on. That experience matters. There is a rawness to the way McGraw sings the song, an awareness of living the moment the song is about, that Danielle’s version lacks. The lyrics are a little ridiculous when sung by a girl of that age – how has she had time to hurt anyone that deeply, or have the life perspective to really picture anyone she was involved with into the future? She is singing words, maybe even words that she thinks she understands (I thought I did at 16, when the song was originally popular), but it lacks a resonance. It’s her singing someone else’s song, not her singing a song she has lived.

Another song with the same phenomenon is “Hurt” originally by Nine Inch Nails and covered by Johnny Cash on his last album, after his wife died. The Trent Reznor version was great until I heard the Johnny Cash cover. Dark, gothy, despairing. So full of 90s angst and isolation and apathy. Side by side with Cash, though, Reznor sounds like an emo kid whining about his emotional pain from being rejected by a girl or his parents’ divorce – he’s calling his life an empire of dirt with the dramatic exaggeration of the young.

When Johnny Cash sings that song as an old man who has achieved everything he wanted and then lost the love of his life, it resonates in a wholly different way, on a deeper and more profound level. Cash’s cover gives me chills just to think about; Reznor’s might make me feel a little existential despair, but it doesn’t make me want to cry.

So how does this relate to writing? I don’t know. Maybe it only relates to which characters tell certain kinds of stories. Maybe it’s out of an author’s control, and they must leave it to their audience to determine if they have lived with pain and loss and intensity or merely had the superficial disappointments of a safe and stable life.

*Ugh. WordPress isn’t letting me add videos right now so you will just have to follow the links. Sorry. ūüė¶

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Officially in No Man’s Land

I have hit the mushy middle, no question. I had to re-write a pivotal scene that I had conceived of one way, then changed my mind about when I wrote it out the first time, then changed my mind back and had to go back and re-write it the way I had originally intended. I thought maybe that was why I was balking at going forward – nope. Still feel like my wheels are spinning molasses instead of turf. Ergo, at 21,205, I am through the beginning and into hell.

And, though there are plot elements that will be more interesting to me, this is exactly the sort of hellish hell that I hate writing in and that I judge a lot of romance authors for avoiding – the delves into family and friendship dynamics that are absolutely necessary for two people sharing their actual lives with one another, but which are fucking hard and ungratifying to write because you have to come up with personalities and situations with secondary characters who aren’t important and aren’t serving a function except to ground the reader in the life of the character. It’s a lot of details to imagine and research and keep straight for very little emotional payout. If I could skip them, I would, but I would imagine the first time a man brings his wife home to his family, it’s a big deal. It’s just…not a big thing plotwise with these two crazy kids.

So this is where my lack of specific roadmap gets me in trouble. Suddenly the road I’m driving, that I know I’m not turning off of till the other side of the mountains, just got reeeeaal scenic and cut-back-y and tedious. Hhhhhhh. I was not expecting this! This is totally going to kill my average! Etc.

And that whole write the next sentence thing?¬†Yeah, not so easy when you have no idea what, if anything, is supposed to happen in the scene. I really hate re-doing work–it’s so…INEFFICIENT (the dirtiest word an INTJ knows!)–so I would rather not just forge ahead wasting time and words to figure out what happens by writing it, only to realize halfway through that something else needed to happen and then I just wasted all that time and all those words and goddamnit now I am back where I started only behind because I wasted so much time. But it’s hard to concentrate on what happens next when it’s just boring family stuff. Bridge stuff. Barf. But I am not sure I can skip it, either. Should I just pull a Morgenstern? “What with one thing and another, five weeks passed. Back in London…”

Sigh.

Well…you know what they say. The best way out of hell is through the other side. Guess it’s time to put on my military-issue combat boots and¬†flame-retardant latex and make this section my bitch.

Or go down in flames trying.

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Writing in a Fugue

I’ll tell you what: this whole just write the next sentence/don’t bother to heavily detail beforehand is simultaneously awesome and confusing. I keep forgetting what I wrote! It’s bizarre not to know at every point¬†exactly what has happened in the text I’ve already written, because I didn’t go over every piece of it in my head fifty times before actually writing it out.

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It’s also weird to think that, for all the time I’ve had this story and these characters in my head, there were really only a handful of¬†moments that I actually saw in advance.¬†(Actually, I think what it is is that fully half the scenes I¬†initially conceived got scrapped for one reason or¬†another, mostly¬†that the hero turned out to have a slightly different personality than¬†I thought.)¬†So, that’s confusing and requires a fair amount of re-reading to get myself caught back up if I take more than an hour in between writing sessions.

On the other hand, it’s kind of like I’ve become my own John Malkovich and created these bizarre trapdooors that let me see¬†into my own mind as if I were someone else looking in. And that is totally cool. Damn, I’m weird.

Anyway, another week in which¬†I failed to engage my narrative particularly often or particularly well. My ataraxia continues. I am trying to find patterns for when and why¬†I can or cannot write. My prior belief that the only¬†way I can guarantee a certain number of writing hours in a week is to do it before work is being¬†validated. I¬†will probably make the effort to continue to write in small spurts at other times,¬†which will be a change from my old¬†system of¬†“if it’s not first thing it’s not.”

So, yeah. Back to JK Rowling-ing it, it is.

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Writing Strategy Update: a Week of Fail

I had a great start to my write-a-lot-of-little-snatches experiment last weekend. I managed to keep the momentum up through Tuesday over my lunch break. Then I just got slammed with a series of evening events and busy days at work and cases of the after-the-day tireds so bad I didn’t even remember I’m writing a novel, much less attempt to work on it.

This weekend I tried again, managing to accomplish about 3K of words with very little time spent “writing” that wasn’t actual words onto screen. So, in the sense of words-per-minute-at-my-document, efficiency is up. In terms of overall words produced, about standard for me on a weekend that I am not doing anything else particularly, but also one that I did not particularly devote to writing.

The story is over 18,000 words now, about a quarter of the way done based on my initial word-count projection. The place I have reached in my rough outline jibes with that, as well, so I feel good.

A quarter through does mean that I am about to enter the mushy middle third. At least this time I should be able to entertain myself with the sexual dynamic between the couple, since this is a story that starts with marriage rather than leading up to it.

A surprising refrain has popped into my head when I feel stuck – just write the next sentence. Not one of DWS’s more helpful aphorisms, on the surface, but yet…it is in practice.

I am also taking another piece of DWS advice and stating (to myself) a particular thing that I am practicing with this story. This time I am practicing pacing, how to keep from getting bogged down in endless detailed scenes. For some stories that’s appropriate, but not for all, and this one has enough events that I want to get to that I don’t want to waste time moving at a molasses-like crawl. Perhaps, as well, having actual events in the middle instead of extended set-up will also help keep that part from going so slowly.

Remains to be seen. Tomorrow I try anew at writing in short bursts at lunch and after work. Expect in another week a post hissing about how awful the middle act is, how I can just scrawl “Lucifer Emerges” over that part of my outline, how I am treading water in a stagnant plot-lagoon, etc., etc. But for today, this story is cruising and me with it, and I am pleased.

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Mud: Chekhovian Storytelling at Its Most Detrimentally Obvious

Saw Mud. On the whole well worth watching, but the ending was disappointing for me. More than that, the way the end came about was so obviously foreshadowed as to be obnoxious, and gave me a different perspective on storyboarding. Before I get into that essay, however, a quick overview of the film.

In case¬†you don’t know the premise (which I assume is based on a Primus song, making it even more badass from the inception):

The Good: Fabulous directing that matches what he did in Take Shelter. Acting jobs that to a (wo)man¬†lived up the hype being made about them. The movie was a wrenchingly realistic depiction of life in the rural South–both my husband and I walked out feeling like we had just watched a movie based on an alternate reality of our own childhoods–unlike, for example, Beautiful Creatures (which I am still convinced was written, cast, and directed by people who have never even been to the South except for helicoptering in¬†to a few set locations that were first scoured of actual local inhabitants). The premise was super-interesting and well executed until the final sequence of events. And, finally, the lead boy reminded me so much of my husband at that age based on pictures and the stories I’ve heard that¬†he was almost painfully sentimental to watch. (The boy’s look and attitude reminded him of himself, too, so this was not just me.)

Imagine him all grown up, college-educated and come back to his blue-collar-family roots. <3

Imagine him all grown up, college-educated and come back to his blue-collar-family roots. ‚̧

The Disappointing: The climax seemed…out of step with the rest of the film. ***Spoilers through the rest of this column. Read on at your own risk*** Continue reading

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A Strategic Victory I Almost Overlooked

I had occasion today to read back through a correspondence I had with another writer a few months ago. The context was why I started with Regency romance (as opposed to a time period I am less familiar with or a fantasy setting I would have to make up), and my comment was that I wanted to focus on something I¬†knew “until I could set a pattern of finishing things.”

It occurred to me as I read those words that…I feel like I have hit the point where finishing is no longer a question. It might have taken me close to two years to get to this point, but I have written two novels (that still feels great to say!) and feel much more confident in my ability to keep a project under control and pointed at that end zone.

Finishing is no longer a state of being I look upon with despair for never knowing it. For that, I am proud of myself. I have accomplished at least my first goal as a novelist.

Finishing DFL is always better than being the DNF.

Now I just have to make a habit¬†of¬†not being dead fucking last….

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