Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Deleting stuff seems to be hard for every writer, but sometimes its adding scenes that can be a challenge, especially later
in the revision process. When I'm creating worlds and stories, it's fun and easy, charge ahead and let it flow as it may,
with the expectation of shuffling and rewriting it several times. But when I'm already well into revision, if I'm adding
a scene its usually to create a point of transition for what seems to be too large of a jump that a bit of re-sequncing isn't
going to help. That's hard.
26 feb 13 @ 6:50 pm
It's hard because I've been editing for awhile, and by the time I'm done revising, even though it includes adding setting,
dialog tags, descriptions, and other bits of writing, its such small pieces I wonder if I've lost the knack for creativity.
It's also hard because it has a necessary structure that I don't worry about when I'm making a stack of scenes to develop
character, consider plot options, or otherwise explore the world I'm crating. Now the world is defined, and I have to start
with what I had before the scene and end with what comes after, and guess what, they don't align, which is why I need the
scene (and it usually means I've already considered other options and decided I NEED this particular change to make the story
work.--Most often, it is some trigger for one of the problems that form the crisis of the story).
So now what? One of the first things I do is check the "unused bits" file that is how I delete some of the larger
bits and pieces I've been getting rid of. (To give you a sense of how much rewriting I might do in revision, my current story
has grown by at least 3000 words and I have over fifty pages of deleted bits). If I sort of know what I'm looking for, the
deleted bits might give me bits and pieces that still bear inclusion, just not in the form or place it used to be. This can
be especially helpful with battle scenes or setting that the characters have already been in but need a different tone for
the description. Paging through it all also sometimes sparks ideas for what I haven't done yet, what might be missing that
I haven't considered, and remind me of what was wrong with I did before.
If that doesn't spark enough, then the only thing left to so is pretend I'm starting fresh from where I left off before and
charging ahead. That way leads to a scene or three that may need much revision, but often if I can get really into a new
scene heading the right direction, I can then see where the wrenches might come from and with which I can break the motion
and turn it in the needed ending direction, in a way that is much harder to do with a scene I've already written.
The only thing "wrong" with is that I've generated entire sequels by coming up with a scene that just couldn't really
happen in the current book without a lot of previous scenes to set it up. Good for the series, but a little too far afield
for a one-scene fix. Still, sometimes it helps me narrow down on what is really needed (Is it early enough in the story to
add a new problem? Maybe with just a few phrases earlier to set it up; Or maybe it needs a smaller problem than I originally
thought, magnified by the wrong reaction from a character already known to react in a certain way...) so that I can then write
the scene that is really needed (and have something to work on when the current revision is done).
Writer's challenge: reread the section just before the climax. Add a complication.
Writer's prompt: "But yesterday you said..."
Quilter's challenge: Take a traditional design and add one complexity to the design, such as replacing a square with two triangles.
What happens to the color sequence?
Friday, February 22, 2013
Editting out the narration
The story I am working on now doesn't have a lot of narration and I'm slowly editing most of it out, replacing as much as
possible with dialog or actions that show what I'm explaining. About the only true narration I keep is what I can direct
specifically as someone's thoughts, usually focused in small sections during a slow dialog.
22 feb 13 @ 9:00 pm
Some of it's borderline. After all, what is action except a narrative description about the activity? Sometimes every sentence
is about the action, but a phrase here and there of explanation can be slipped in especially in early action scenes. The
explanation makes the action a little less intense, and leaves the most intense stuff for the climax, where it belongs.
Some of the narrative that stays put the longest is summaries of what is happening more generally over a longer period of
time, but in the end, I usually edit that out to in favor of a few phrases that indicate that time has past and minor changes
have occurred, and may be an exemplar scene that shows key elements of the pattern of the days, the nature and tone of the
time-frame being slid over.
Sometimes, I might turn those summaries into several scenes that convey pieces I couldn't elsewhere find a place to fit, to
show the nature of some bit of technology that needs to be introduced before it is used in the climax, to show some side character
that needs a bit of development, though I avoid the full pantheon of characters that are so well-developed that they become
hard to distinguish from the core two or three protagonists and antagonists. In my current story I don't even have that many
side characters of any degree, but a few are useful for showing characteristics of the main characters, such as how they treat
people of lower status, aides, strangers, coworkers as a contrast between good guys and bad guys or to show some habit or
reaction that plays a role in the crisis.
The setting of such scenes can provide a time-frame that conveys the message of time passed in a more interesting way than
narrative, too, and offers an opportunity to intersperse slower and faster scenes as needed for variation.
Writer's challenge: go through a scene or story and highlight anything that comes across as explanation or narrative. Replace
as many as possible with action, dialog, or a new scene.
Writer's prompt: "Success can lead to tedium, so how do you keep life interesting?"
Monday, February 18, 2013
Change and emotions in scene
I was trying to remember the quote about lives of quiet desperation (considering how unquiet my own feels just then), then
started wondering whether desperation was intended to mean despairing or how I usually think of the word, which has more to
do with urgency and fragile hope than despair, exactly. That led me to wonder how much of what people say and write is subject
to interpretation, and how much of it matters. I realized that for fiction writers it is sometimes less important that the
reader understand every nuanced word the same way as it was intended, than that the writer understand the message being conveyed
by the whole scene or story, the word not written. That is the true essence of the perennial "show don't tell".
18 feb 13 @ 1:54 pm
The ideal scene will convey the essence of some emotion, preferably in every aspect of the scene, from the staging of the
action, the nuanced words used to describe the setting and motion, to the turning point that is the purpose of the scene,
the change, and stirs the reaction of the reader toward the desired emotion.
In high action scenes, the emotion may be no more than an undercurrent, hardly more than a side effect of the adrenaline rush,
but in a high-intensity, low-action scene, the emotional change generated may define the whole scene, and it is up to the
writer to convey both the before and after of the turning point with every word. The character's revelation of their reaction
to that turning point may come in subsequent scenes, but the reader should understand or at least feel its source in that
point. Ideally, the reader will share a taste of what the scene character feels, if it is a sympathetic character, or its
opposite for the antagonist.
For the most part, I think most writers draft scenes and develop initial scenes based on instinctive and developed-through-experience
understanding of what people do in general. And yes, this gives people who have experienced more, suffered more, faced more
challenges a leg up, if they can translate any of that into words. This bonus, though, can have its drawbacks because it
makes it difficult to write scenes with hard, unpleasant emotions that stir unpleasant memories even as those memories give
them the stuff of life. We all prefer to end every scene on a high note and not dwell on the dark and painful, but it is
the contrast between them that make the happiest endings and saddest tragedies. The good story must have some of both.
Of course, finding the words that make it so is the fun and challenge of writing. Sometimes the story line carries it far
enough, but enriching the scene with more than the story line is how we polish and edit, and what makes revision worth the
effort. To me, that part of wordsmithing is the most rewarding part of writing: How do you describe a setting that foreshadows
or supports the intended emotion of the scene? Can a chair convey coming joy? Can the same chair convey hope in one scene
with a fine polish or discourage in another with a scratch or tear? What new element can be added to a room that has been
used before to convey that something is different now? (I imagine a camera panning over glittering table ware with a marred
design or chipped gold trim, a sharp table edge catching the light, a dusty shelf...)
In writing and initial editing, the emotions for the character tend to be set, but the emotions for the reader sometimes take
a little more finessing. Sometimes, the reader sympathizes less with the direct emotions of even the most sympathetic characters
and more with the struggle to face, hide, or push past those emotions, especially if the struggle and the resulting change
can be conveyed in a single sentence that takes a twist along the way, reflecting the whole of the scene in miniature.
Besides that one sentence, the scene can be full of subtle elements that the reader will never notice, like the avoidance
of the k sound to soften a scene, the use of words common to sex scenes to offer an undertone of tension or foreshadow a liaison.
Such techniques are as likely as not to be missed or reinterpretted on subsequent readings, but the presence of those subtle
elements can impact unnoticed, and are often the stuff that gets a book re-read a second time. They also make editing a joy.
Writer's challenge: label the starting and ending emotions of a scene; look up the words in a dictionary, book of quotes,
thesaurus, online query. Look up scenes that convey the emotions in your favorite book. Remember events in your life that
generated such emotions. Go back to the scene and edit it.
Quilter's challenge: choose an emotion and rummage through your stash to find fabric colors and patterns that remind you of
events that made you feel that way. Consider patterns that convey the same feeling: sharp and distinct, soft and blended,
complex or subtle but simple. Put them together.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Journaling a lot lately between the rest of the activities. All my writing classes have recommended or required journaling
but mostly it meant I added a journal specifically for class (e.g., observations on nature for a writing class, observations
that might be useful for scenes and settings for a fiction class...) to my regular journaling about people, complicated relationships,
stresses, surprises, the occasional diatribe against some fool advertisement or political issue or whatever else comes to
mind. Sometimes I journal because the story writing isn't going anywhere. Sometimes because it's going everywhere, and writing
about writing helps me organize my thoughts. Dreams and frustrations, stories and nightmares, odd observations, fears and
hopes. They are the stuff of stories. Though I rarely go back and read what I have written, some sticks to mind when I write
stories and letters later.
15 feb 13 @ 8:48 pm
Writer's challenge: If you don't have a journal, start one. If you have one, pick a random page (back a while) and write
a scene based on what you discover there, or write a new journal entry about the discovery.
Writer's prompt: two people, a mode of transportation, and something in the way
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
More on creative processes
A thing with quilts that is different than writing is that once you've gotten things mostly together, stories can be changed
more drastically, which has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that drastic changes can be made in the story
if they are needed. The disadvantage is that drastic changes can be made even if they aren't needed, and a lot of other changes
will be needed to go with.
12 feb 13 @ 9:08 pm
Sometimes its just better to go with the first main idea, polish it up, and go with it while it is still fresh. A few of
my first stories may never go anywhere, not because they are bad stories, but because they weren't quite as timeless as I
hoped, attitudes and cultures have changed, and some of what seemed perfectly reasonable at the time are now passe, old fashioned
in a way different than their medieval setting, or no longer inappropriate.
For the quilt, I go with what I have as a top, then polish with the quilting. I might patch, embellish, trim, or straighten,
but I don't rip it up and start over if I don't like the results. I do with it what I can, donate it to charity if I don't
want it and don't have someone who I think will like it. I suppose I could donate a story as a freeby e-book... Not sure
how you distribute that to people who might appreciate it, since the computers to read them aren't free...
Deciding when its basically done, to stop changing in a big way, or to stop polishing, is hard for writing and many crafts.
Mostly, I feel free to change a story until I have all the major pieces in place, even if some of the scenes are no more
than an note of what needs to happen. My latest one, with its too-complete scenes, has been a little harder to sequence.
Usually I don't do that much change about, but the beginning and endings aren't as drastically different as they are for
some stories, nor is there a distinct change of place, a direction of travel quest-like, or a fully dealt with protagonist.
(It's working toward being a series, with three books roughed out and a fourth (or a second set) in pieces, all of them shorter
than my usual, bouncing around 60,000 words. I think they have a good, unique premise, a style of their own. Not so sure
who would be the right audience, an intersection of science fiction fan and readers who would appreciate the almost Dilbert-like
management and leadership commentary: not really YA though that's my usual audience, although maybe they would miss some of
the undercurrent but still appreciate the story. The intersection is likely to be too small even for a small press, I fear,
but we'll see, once I get the last of the scenes written and the rest polished.) The subtle change with much happening in
between made the sequencing less obvious and caused different problems than I usually encounter in writing and bigger changes
further along in the revision process. I think it is finally getting closer but now I have to adjust the scenes I moved to
fit better and to address the problem of too much resolution I identified along the way. (See a post or two ago).
Writer's challenge: Define the change in the story and in each scene.
Writer's prompt: use the words ramp, speaker, learn, carpet, pillow, light, swallow, blue, punch, brick, green, drink, open,
Friday, February 8, 2013
Progress on the story I have been working on comes in fits and starts, leaps or slow bits. The latest leap wsa a realization
of what was wrong with the story line. I had a nagging sense of something wrong with the flow but resequencing didn't quite
fix it and I finally realized the core of the problem: too many of my scenes, especially in the middle were self-resolving.
They weren't bad scenes, almost mini stories with problems, setting, characters with changing emotions and all that, but
the whole thing was the mini story line without leaving an opening, overall change, or unresolved bit to carry the big story
forward, build overall tension toward the climax, or otherwise make progress. Part of the reason, of course, is that no writer
likes to beat up on their favorite characters, or if we can beat on them, we want to sooth them, too. At some point to get
to that big turning point, all the forces have to come to bear again the protagonist without resolution until they are all
resolved by the climax. So, I've been working on fixing that, noting what holes need to be left, what parts need to remain
unresolved to get to the big finish in any kind of sequence. As I do that, the other things that need tweaking finally become
more obvious and I can better focus my editing efforts appropriately, like recognizing more easily that a scene can be eliminated
because it wasn't helping, and enriching a setting in a way that supports the big story flow even if it isn't part of the
8 feb 13 @ 10:50 am
Progress on the big crazy quilt I'm working on has been about the same, though the bigger leaps were earlier, with coming
up with ideas on how to tone down the bright stuff around the section I wanted to stand out a bit more. The sparkle and black
netting is working well. The pieces are a bit more regular than I thought would work, but the patterns they overlay vary
enough and I haven't aligned them with the big crazy blocks I used to assemble the thing, so it just looks like criss-crossing
lines and multiple blocks wherever the netting cuts through a fabric piece instead of aligning with it's edge. I'm making
the quilting fairly close - less than two inch spacing as I found that the bigger spacing is usually taken as less formal,
sliding the quilt from quilt to comforter in the eyes of recipients. A lot of times I want that - I want them to use it and
beat it up and enjoy it, but this one I want to make money for a charity at auction and an elaborate, complex look will make
it more desirable in the eyes of bidders, who will not think of something to curl up in with a good book might also be a valuable
handcraft. The close spacing will take more time--lots more time than machine quilting even if still less dense than that--but
not more difficulty, not like adding details and enriching a scene can be.
Quilter's challenge: add some embellishment you think might make a quilt uncomfortable, like buttons or beads. Curl up with
Writer's challenge: Take a scene and embellish the setting, making it better if its nice, worse if it's grungy.
Writer's prompt: She felt a tightening around her throat...
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Changing language and other ramblings
Watching the list "historical puzzles" they've been showing on Wheel of Fortune this season has made me more aware
of the changes in our language, especially slogans and slang. Today, it was my own language use that seems to have become
"historical" - they had a puzzle for "outdoor mall", what I have always known as a "strip mall".
5 feb 13 @ 7:08 pm
I think some of the best books are those that successfully enrich the language, that change or deepen the reader's understanding
of a few words and their usage (the Force, droids, muggles, hobbit, fire lizards, to name a few obvious ones, but how many
people don't know what I'm refering to when I say "the one ring" or "the dark lord", either, though none
of the three words is new or rare.
As writers, we don't want to be repetitive, but some words, as well as names, bare repetition if they are chosen carefully,
and careful choice and use of words can carry the reader to a new and different culture without any other explanation or description,
as well as providing something small and concrete to hold a larger concept in mind and discourse. For historical and or "foreign"
settings, the use of terms appropriate to the time and place have the same effect, not invented words but words less used
in the contemporary world, divan instead of couch, torch and candle and destrier each in their place (and mentioned when an
overhead light might not be).
Writer's challenge: what concepts, new things, or important features are you introducing to the reader? Can you represent
it with a reusable phrase or term? Do you have a character deserving of a title? Find scenes to use it in.
Writer's prompt: Write a "truth" or philosophical statement. Write a story that demonstrates it.
Monday, February 4, 2013
It is as if my mind is touching parallel universes. A prayer came through with all its infinite unseen benefits or a choice
was made to good or ill effect, since that is the nature of choices and we mere mortals cannot foresee the full chain reaction
of impacts that our choice may have. The universe, though, remembers the might have beens, the alternative paths, the impacts
that weren't, the unclaimed worlds disdained unknowingly. The universe maintains a fragile grip on those options left behind
by miracle or choice or instinctive reaction trained or born to our nature because of choices made seven generations and more
ago. And I am in that frame of mind, that state of being where those unborn universes and possibilities impinge on my dreams
and I see what might have been.
4 feb 13 @ 6:56 pm
Writer's prompt: A choice or its impacts, immediately or far down the chain of reaction
Friday, February 1, 2013
A further note on the Temperature Scarf
The temperature variant scarf seems to be credited to Kris of Honey Nutbrown's blog: http://400squareftliving.blogspot.ca/2013/01/knitting-my-year-in-temperatures-scarf.html
who suggests a 15 color selection and one row/one color for the high per year. A friend suggested doing highs during the
summer and lows for the winter, two rows per day as being already Dr Who scarf length, as a means of showing the extremes,
though it requires a maximum of colors.
1 feb 13 @ 8:46 pm
I haven't been blgging directly about writing so much just recently because after the National Novel Writing Month November,
I have much editing to do, and that is rarely the most interesting part of he writing process. I was thinking the usual writers
write, quilters quilt, but myself being something of both, I decided to see how many quilters write in the form of blogging.
Here are a few I found:
1 feb 13 @ 8:36 pm
http://www.sarahannsmith.com/weblog/ - My kind of crafter - calligraphy and quilting!
http://www.cupcakesndaisies.com/ - the classic quilters blog with pienty of pictures and a little commentary about progress
and patterns and sources.
http://quilttimes.blogspot.com/ some interesting as-she-works commentary about colors, fabris, and some complex designs
http://celebratehandquilting.blogspot.com/p/our-writers.html - a group of hand quilters
http://amyscreativeside.com/ the pictures come up first, so you know where the priority is, but lots of things to do for the
Quilter's challenge: Take a pattern and use more fabrics/colors than it calls for
Writer's prompt: use the words - color (or a specific color), bolt, angle, complexity, ring, chill, hand, charter, boot, pedal,
flower, stretch, sharp, intricate, grown