Friday, December 31, 2010
Still working on the story I had minimal notes for. I'm not trying to make it a complete novel yet and will draft many more
scenes on paper before I get that far, but I'm trying to develop a basic sequence and identify gaps as well as polish what
I have so far. One of the tricky bits with scene building separately is sequencing the results, and sequencing in the computer
is different than sequencing on paper, both for better and worse.
31 dec 10 @ 7:18 pm
I need to be willing to toss some scenes out, many need to be adjusted, and I choose sequence on lots of factors. Some I
chose more for appropriate mood associated with the events as much as any other reason: it's tempting to use references to
specific events within the draft scene to guide the sequencing, but the side comments and set up are as much to remind me
of ideas I have about the story elsewhere as because they pertain to the scene at hand, and many references (which also give
depth to the scene and/or the character who is remembering things) can be traded out. Ultimately, the intensity, the mood,
and especially the build up of the story all matter more.
Often in my case, draft scenes are conversations that in retrospect donít make good scenes in themselves, or might consitute
the content and core of several separate scenes, because I incorporate too many ideas in the course of the discussion. (You
might say, my characters are discussing the chracteristics, rules, or other elements of their lives: most of them need to
be in the story eventually, but they often don't belong as part of the same conversation. Still, since I drafted the that
way, and can follow it myself, I have I have to fight with myself sometimes to break it up and figure out what to keep, what
to move or leave out. Usually I do it in stages, separate out pieces that follow a specific line of thought, either with
gaps in the page or by cutting them to other sectional files, then look at the pieces in isolation. One of the reason's it
is hard (and not always quite the right thing to do in th end) is that part of the discourse in the word play, and the words
that play against each other might be different topics, and real conversation can shift topics rapidly. I I consider that
such word play and free flowing topics are appropriate to a given character, I will just put in the spaces so I can see the
disconnects and think it through without losing the word play.
Ultimately, the appropriate conveyance of information to the reader has to matter more. If its just a tidbit that the reader
needs to know eventually, it may not matter where the bit of conversation is, and if it says something of a creative (or crazy)
character to let the topics shift, I'll leave it there, but often the information contained in the dialog is needed in a particular
place, or at least before a particular event in the story. For example, it is usually useful to convey that some rule is
in place before characters decide to break or abide by it. Similarly, a symbol meaningful to characters but not to modern
readers needs to be presented before a scene regarding that symbol can have the desired impact and convey the appropriate
mood (should the character be happy to see it, or afraid, is it an important patriotic reminder or does it belong to the enemy?)
Another element that I often look at separately from the scene I originally attached it to is descriptions of people and places.
The first encounter of a place or person requires a different kind of description than a later encounter of something or
someone known to the POV character, as well as new or not to the reader (which is often not the same). First descriptions
of first visits need to be with the appropriate scene, even if the scene I wote it with needs to go later or earlier, or even
elsewhere than in that first (or second or third) draft. I find that the people who have the most difficulty editing and
revising are those that aren't willing to take the scissors to their scenes. (Computer trick: save the current version, and
cut up a copy into a new version. You'll probably never go back, but knowing you have the option to do so can make it loads
easier to start the cutting). As a result, I end up cutting some scenes into many pieces.
Others scenes may be large blocks that I merge with other large blocks that are a different version of the same event, and
in the computer Iíll chop those up too, both to intermingle the versions and to get the internal scene sequencing right.
I try to keep the best versions of each element, often add both versions together to enrich the scene.
Writers Challenge: take a scene you are having difficulty revising, separate each sentence onto a separate line, print, cut,
and toss into the air like confetti. Reassemble randomly or as desired.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Between house cleaning, holidays, and other schedule irregularities, my writing is become irregular, too. Instead of working
on the ones I should be polishing in hopes of trying again to publish, I've been working on a story that is a long way from
being ready for press. Its one of the first collection of stories that I have been writing more in the computer than out,
and one that has been jinxed, with a past effort to compose lost to a computer crash. I found some scenes on paper and typed
them in and have been going through to figure out what's needed, what's not.
27 dec 10 @ 10:01 pm
What I have are a bunch of scenes, settings, some ideas, a world, and not a lot of place to go since I've made the evil power
nearly undefeatable, the trap inescapable. i think i have found a way to build in some weakness and have been working on
how to have the main characters discover and exploit the weakness. I don't think I'll have them escape, actually, but I have
to leave them an out, a way to make progress in that direction in order for the story to make progress.
As it turns out, I think it will make the world more realistic. If you have a limited pool of special people that meet a
particular criteria (empaths and such again), you can't also have them limitless in number and availability. What does a
military based on draft do when it runs out of qualified candidates? In the historic past, they stole them from other countries.
In some places today, they take less qualified candidates (including children). The wise make changes to reduce the need
by relying on something else instead. Evil dictators are seldom wise. (People in general aren't wise, or we would have put
a lot more effort and investment into renewable fuels fifty years ago when we first developed solar technology.) So the effort
to stay on the same dumb course gives the heroes something to aim for.
Writers challenge: try to write characters into an inescapable problem.
Friday, December 24, 2010
letters cards and other stuff
I was so pleased to see that I still have readers for this blog even though I have to post the story elsewhere (no, I still
can't seem to do it here, alas). The title refers to sveral comic strips I read lately, mostly disparaging the summary letters
that often accompany Christmas cards (including my own). The comic strip writer seemed to believe that people who were writing
the summary letters were "cheating" because they were doing it instead of writing more often during the course of
the year. In reality, however, the people I know who write such letters are among the only people who write anything at all
during the year. Those who don't write letters (or e-mails, or blog posts or facebook pages) are the same ones who send me
Christmas cards with nothing more than the card's printed message and their signatures. I appreciate the card, figure that
is as close as I am liable to come to "keeping in touch" with some of my more distant (physically and blood lines)
relations, and occasionally some of those have come around to getting in better contact down the road. Still, I really appreciate
the ones who bother to write even one letter to all. I have come to realize that writing is fading as a means of communication.
24 dec 10 @ 2:41 pm
My vote is still out on texting. I don't know anyone who does it well, for one, and my impression third hand is that the
content is even more immediate and less ultimately sharing than e-mails, which tended to be about the last day if not the
last hour and conveyed little of emotional or otherwise personal content. Texting seems to be even more about this minute,
where the writer is, where writer and reader need to meet, what the writer is doing, items to add last minute to the shopping
list etc. And all of it would still make the typical year summary of a Christmas letter news, since the context doesn't seem
to be part of texts. The context is known, assumed to be known, or irrelevant to this instant.
Which brings to mind a bit of ultimately unrelated writing technique that I think has changed over time. The older books,
the classics, despite that the reader was often of the same time period as the story, seemed to provide more context through
narrative, more circumstance expository than is "allowed" in modern writing. I'm not sure that was a bad thing,
but these days it is typically discouragedi in favor of a minimalist style, where narrative is something that must be irraticated.
The minimalist style has its place, and I often start a scene that way. If I don't, I include explanatory text and context
in the initial draft and remove it from the final, hopefully replacing it with earlier scenes that show the context and indicate
the explanation for the reader.
Still, at times the art and the word play and such are in the narrative more than the action and dialog, and I think we lose
something of the joy of writing and reading by leaving too much of that art out. Since I haven't managed to get any of books
as far as an editor/publisher, I can't give solid advice on what they will take and what they won't, but I'd suggest taking
out what merely adds explanation that the reader doesn't need, and leaving in some of the stuff that can add texture and richness
to a scene. i also suggest enriching the dialog as much as possible within reasonable bounds of brevity and clarity. That's
a necessary part of the art, too. But if it must be in narrative, do it later in the tale, not in the first chapter or two
where it might be taken as slowing the story down. Let the reader (and the editor/agent) get into the story before you remind
them that story is artful writing, too.
Writer's challenge: write someone a letter that takes a whole sheet. Remind them what a letter can contain, that a text cannot,
even if only the sense of what it's like to live a typical day, or an unusual day, in your world.
Monday, December 20, 2010
straying to old stories
House cleaning is always dangerous and inevitably I came across a story and lots of notes that haven't made it into coherence
or into the computer. Trying to add it to what I had gotten into the computer, mostly a bunch of scenes, didn't work as it's
more on the order of background info: character sketches, cultural notes, including lots of bits that explained some of the
little side comments I'd included in older scenes, and whose source I had forgotten in the several years since I wrote them.
It is useful to keep such notes for just such a reason. They don't always have to be well developed and clear even at the
end, as they can add texture to the culture just by being there, but they do have to make an internal sense and consistency
so that they don't contradict other such side comments.
20 dec 10 @ 8:53 pm
In this case, the former teacher had references to students, and I had forgotten what sort of students he would have. I can
add a little more on that, and can use the teacher background to help enrich his currently weak character.
The heroine has had a couple of different pasts, and an early one, I was reminded, was Earth. I've changed that since but
still had her speaking with Earth references. I've since changed her background (though a side character is from Earth),
so the references need to change.
I also had character sketches for a few side characters. some I haven't done much with, but they will provide fuel for more
and better scenes. I have a vague sense, so far, of where the story is going and some key events, but it is not yet a story,
and how the scenes are set up, where they could carry the characters, the sources of misdirection and backsteps, those are
all yet to be developed and a few effective side characters can provide the impelling forces to build a true story.
Writer's challenge: look at your notes for a story you've abandoned, and give it a fresh try.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I'm back from my trip, still not here with my story
I ahve been working on cleaning up my "paperwork" - anything from junk mail I wanted to look at (some of the catelogs
I get have cool stuff I can't afford, or craft ideas, and as the holidays approach, gift ideas), to newspaper clippings I
want to commen on in my journal, to notebooks and random sheets of paper with story bits. When my energy levels get low,
I just sit and type the notes as is. When my creative juices are going, I revise as I type, expand, vary, fit the pieces
into the ongoing story line rather than the file "misc bits". Mostly, though, I write more than I get time to type
so I always have stacks of stuff, including stuff I wrote months or years ago, waiting to be typed. I thought some would
go untyped forever. I tend to write lots of stuff that I end up relegating to backstory or character building material that
I never intend to incorporate in the actual book. But I usually discover that some bit or another of the backstory makes
good material for conveying something, such as a character trait, cultural element, etc. that might otherwise have to be explained
in narrative but that some past event shows effectively. So I've been gradually tackling he job of putting everything into
the computer, mountains of notebooks, manila folders, and binders. Of course, how I remember a scene I wrote years ago and
how I actually wrote it... sometimes I find hardly more than a few outline-like notes, which is frustrating. My mental images
and memories of the scene are more vivid than the notes, yet still not enough to readily write the scene from scratch without
a lot of fuss and bother, whereas when I have more written, it's easier to revise even if I end up making massive changes.
14 dec 10 @ 8:36 pm
But such is life and I will always have more to write and more to type, and I will never be bored with my own stories. Whether
I can make them interesting to others... there's the challenge.