Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

I was never one who liked poetry much. Except for Robert Frost. I read him as a teenager when I was trying desperately to be cool and like poetry, and he was the only one who resonated. I liked that he talked about deep sh**, but that he still rhymed. It seemed then, and still does, like the mark of genius that his rhyming lines rarely sounded contrived, and still managed to convey such deep, clearly imaged ideas. After a few readings, the lines would get stuck in my head.

At the time (as an emo teenager) it was "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening" that most captivated me. The repeated line at the end, so powerful, haunted me for years, maybe haunts me still: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." The short jumble of words in this poem, it was the first time I'd really understood the power of literature. He managed to say what I felt so deep in my soul. He captured it on paper. In words I could repeat over and over.

Just last week I was thinking of "Fire and Ice," (when I was thinking about apocalyptic and dystopian literature) playing at trying to remember the lines, and finally lighting by memory upon the whole poem before looking it up on the internet. Residual memories, lines memorized a long time ago popping up again when I felt a particular emotion. So strange and awesome.

And today, the lines I couldn't get out of my head: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...." Over and over, like a mantra beating beneath my forehead. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, two roads diverged in a yellow wood, two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." I want to grab Robert Frost by the lapels and demand: but how the hell do you know which is the best f'ing road to take??? But alas, he is not here, and his lines, like ice, will suffice. At least so perfectly to portray the dilemma, if not offering any clear answer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Am I a Grown Up Writer Yet?

So, as I edit this dry bones draft, I started another document called "Emotional Big Ideas" in which I write scenes, throughout the day (or the middle of the night) about the emotional zingers--scenes that help me see clearly who my characters are and what they want. I don't know exactly where the scenes will go, or if they'll even make the cut when I start pasting things into the new draft, but it's so helpful to start to get a real feel for who my characters are. This side document is now 40 pages long.

I never used to understand when writers would talk about all the pre-writing and extra character development writing that wasn't actually part of the draft. I'd think: all that wasted time! those wasted pages!

Yeah, I'm finally getting the idea.  Does this mean I'm getting to be a Grown Up Writer? Lol, we'll see, my lovelies, we'll see. Meanwhile, I listen to Florence + The Machine's sophmore album, and am inspired.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When in Doubt, Double

This is my newest writing trick. I'm working to bring a dry, bland manuscript to life, so as I go in to rewrite scenes, I'm trying to make every scene a double of something else (usually a big emotional theme in the book). So if there's an action scene, something in it has to double another scene or parallel an emotional theme. A conversation between friends? It too needs to have that doubleness to it - always external action that's relating to the internal drama. Because really, it's the slowly building internal, emotional action that makes us care about characters.

It's another way of saying that there is no unmotivated scene as a writer. No scene that's just there as a place holder or a way to fill space. No. Everything has to keep building up toward the climax. No plateaus. Not if you want a tension-filled, compelling book.

I think I did this more naturally with the first book. This one, I don't know. I think I was trying to keep it from being too dark and depressing or something. Or I was just kind of at a rough point emotionally in my own life. But all it really resulted in was me not digging into the characters. Emotional conflict is eternally compelling, ya can't get around it. Conflict is what makes stories.

Some writers are able to write funny books, light books that still have a driving conflict. Yeah. Not me. I gotta go for digging salt in the wounds. And then doubling it ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Now Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program...

So I might be interrupting work on my NaNo project of book 3 to pause and try to figure out what the hell is going on with Book 2. I got a beta read that was a perfect zinger, cutting through my crap and pointing out some of the core problems with the book - namely, that we don't feel connected to the main character, that there doesn't seem a lot of reason to care about her, that it's emotionally dry.

Underneath, I knew it. Everything I built up in book 1 just kind of fizzled here. It's like a skeleton, dried out dead bones. There's a sort of life-like structure, but not much flesh and no heart. I meant to keep working on book 3, but now that I see so clearly what needs fixing on book 2, I don't think I can go forward without pausing to dig into it. Also, if I don't figure out what's going on emotionally in this book, how can I blunder forward with the next book, making the same mistakes?

So I've spent a lot of my writing time today staring into space. Trying to feel out what draws me to a good story. How to develop an emotional core.
I think one secret to doing this is NOT to just have events occurring and your mc just being batted around by circumstance. Good TV shows have a way of doing this--creating a doubleness to the action so that it's always mirroring something going on internally with the characters. I'm thinking specifically of last season of Fringe. For example, there's one episode where they are investigating a doppelganger and Peter explicitly asks how the person's partner hadn't known the person they were sleeping with had been switched. Of course, in a perfect case of dramatic irony, the audience knows what Peter doesn't. The person Peter himself is getting close to isn't who he thinks she is either. And just like the spouse of the person in the case, he doesn't notice the difference, even when its so blatantly in front of him.

When shows do this well, it's like a kick in gut as you watch. It's so enthralling having the reinforced emotional texture rebounding at a number of different levels. The first season of Lost did this really masterfully too. Everything occurring in the present action would then be mirrored in the flashbacks of one character's life before--both stories weaving together into one cohesive emotional whole that packs far more punch.

Now if I can just figure out how to work this out in my novel. Every scene should be building on this emotional tension and speeding up to the climax. What does my mc want? What is her obsession? What is she dying in want of?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing vs. Revising: Grass is Always Greener on the OTHER Side!

I'm amused by the amount of contortion the goat in the picture is going through to get to the greener grass. Um yeah. That's pretty much what being a writer feels like sometimes! Last month after I'd been editing for so long, I declared with complete assurance that drafting was far easier and more fun than editing.

Yeah. Until I start drafting again.

I've been NaNoWriMo-ing the rough draft of Book 3 in my trilogy, and today I was thinking the whole time: I can't wait until this gets done so I can start editing again. Editing is so much better than drafting!!

Then I remembered I'd thought the exact opposite a month ago. The thing is, to be honest, both writing and revising have their perks and downsides. It's easier to feel productive when writing a first draft. Literally productive even - I mean, that little word count number just keeps going up! It's so satisfying. I set a word count to reach for the day, I reach it, then I feel satisfied that it's been a good day's work accomplished.

Revising on the other hand, is pretty amorphous. A lot of the time you are cutting out entire sections, then re-writing, so if you're looking at word count, some days it goes down!

But here's the down-side of drafting. They're called rough drafts for a reason. Because sometimes it can be really rough. And just plain sucky. It makes me antsy to get to editing so I can fix it all up, and see the bigger picture. So I can make it STOP SUCKING! Plus I half think I'm a better editor than writer. I'm better at shaping the mass of words and plot after there's already a sizeable chunk there to start with. So I try to remind myself of that as I keep writing. I'm giving myself a big chunk of clay to work with later.

But I have the patience of a gnat, and just want it to be pretty now! I hit 20,000 words today, so then I just try to think: well, even if can't quite get hold on the process, or how best to both write and revise, even if I feel like I'm just bumbling around blindly with everything I do--at least it's still moving forward. Gotta take what you can get sometimes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber

DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber

Goodreads Description:
Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing...
Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

My review:
This book was so much fun. A historical paranormal mystery with a perfect sense of place and rich setting, Darker Still draws you into Natalie Stewart's world and keeps you flipping pages. The book opens as Natalie comes home from a school for the disabled and starts trying to finding her way in the world, in spite of her muteness. But the part of herself, and her past, that she's long tried to deny comes bubbling to the surface when she sees the enigmatic painting of Jonathan Denbury.

I really liked the way the story was told through journal entries. It connects so well with the story-telling tropes of novels from a similar period, like how Wuthering Heights and Dracula are narrated. It only amplified the tone of the story, completely immersing you in the period. At the same time, the characters are still relatable enough for it to feel like a modern story.

And yeah, can't forget to mention that there are some super passionate scenes in this book!!! But with that fabulous sense of restraint and decorum of the period. The mystery and action builds throughout. Loved, loved, loved it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNo Wk 1--Upping Word Count & Staying Passionate

I'm at 11,500 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which is book 3 in my Glitch trilogy. It's my first official NaNo, and I'm pretty much having a blast. I used to always write first drafts quickly. Funnily enough, I think this draft is actually going slower than previous drafts, but I'm glad for the motivating framework of NaNo. My deadlines used to be provided for me by the schedule of school semesters, but have been somewhat lacking since I'm taking a semester break just to write.

Yes, I do see the irony of taking time off to write, and then the actually writing being so much slower and more difficult than under the pressure-cooker of grad school schedule! But at the same time, I'm a lot saner ;)  So in the end, I'll take the trade-off.

I'm reading other people's updates and watching their word-counts grow, and it's mainly encouraging. But here's the thing: I hated wasted pages worse than anything! I kinda refuse to write scenes that I know AS I'M WRITING them will have to be re-written.

This hating-wasted-pages-thing started when I was just pantsing a draft of a novel a couple years ago, a retelling of Jane Eyre. I'd just been going off the cuff without an outline, and I realized after I'd written about a hundred and fifty pages that a big plot point early on needed to change (a hundred pages ago), that would negate 2/3 of the draft I'd written.

Do you know how long it takes to write a hundred freaking pages??? A long time. A lot of wasted energy.

So now, I'm learning the fine line between plotting out every little thing to the point of being frozen on a draft because you want to make sure they aren't wasted pages, and actually just getting the shitty first draft down.

For this new project, drafting Book 3, since I'm under the auspices of NaNo, I can't just take three days off to perfectly plot out a logical escape, or the infiltration, etc. This is the cool part about being at this point in my writing career, and having so much experience under my belt. I recognize as I go which parts I'll end up re-writing. So instead of wasting energy and pages at the get-go, I just put a bracket and write a place holding message like: [kidnap programmer guy here] or [break into facility here] and then I keep on going with the stuff that I've already thought out so I can just keep writing and building word count.

As I draft this new project, my other big concern is that I not lose the passion that set me writing in the first place. I lost sight of it at times during the drafting process of Book 2, and I kind of refuse to do that again. I'm a writer because I love it. Because I love stories that move me. Those are the only kind of stories I want to tell. If I lose sight of it, if I let it turn into A Job, then I'm missing the freaking point. Not to mention that people can feel the difference when they read the finished product.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo & Book 2 Difficulties

For the first time, I'm actually at a place where I can participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm not in school right now, don't have many deadlines, and just finished editing a draft of book 2. My November is all free, spanning out in front of me, and after editing for so long, I've been itching to actually start WRITING again. I've missed the plain old freedom of starting a new draft and building up word count.

Writing book 3 feels different than the last one, I can already tell. I'm having more fun. I think with book 2, I felt this crazy pressure and doubts -- what if I couldn't write another book as good as the first? What if I couldn't write it in the time frame needed?? What if being under contract completely stifled my inner muse?!?!

Book 2 got written this summer, somehow. But with all the difficulty I had editing it, and the distance of a few months, I think it was partially written out of that place of fear. All those worries made me frantically produce a first draft, sure. But it wasn't as good. It was robotic at parts, where my narrator would just relay what was happening like she was reporting it. It's in first person, but still, it wasn't clear what her motivations were and why the reader should be propelled through the story. In short: why should the reader care about her? It lacked heart. And for good reason-- I didn't really know what was going on with her!!! I didn't know why she was doing things, I was just moving my characters around like a puppeteer dragging them through a show, getting from one plot point to another. This summer was also just very hard personally for me. I myself was muddled, so it only makes sense that, along with the other pressures I let myself be controlled by, it bled into my writing.

But I don't feel any of that dread or doubt about writing book 3. As hard as book 2 was, and as stilted as the product may have been at first, I did finish it. I'm not worried anymore my ability to write under contract anymore.

What I feel as I approach book 3 is a sense of freedom to explore the story and an anticipation for writing that I haven't felt for a good long while. For the past few weeks, scenes have been tumbling over themselves and playing out in my head--always the sign that I'm excited and passionate about a project. I have this spidy-sense that this is going to turn out to be a good book--it's the same sense I had when I was writing Glitch to start with. I'd faced rejection numbering into the hundreds for the other three novels I'd written and queried in the past, but this time it just felt different. I had this strange confidence that this was going to be the one. And it was!

As for book 2, I just finished a big edit round on it, so I have zero perspective right now. I suspect it's still stilted and muddled in parts, but that's the beauty of having an editor and team of readers behind you as an author. They'll point out where it's all wonky and I'll do re-writes and get it into shape. I feel confident about that too.

And in the meantime time, at least until I get the last big round of edits on book 1, I get to dabble in the fields of drafting delight. I'm so glad to be reminded again: I really love writing.