Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 43 - 1247 Words

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
– Richard Bach

I've decided to separate think posts from update posts from now on. Not only is it faster to update when I don't try to combine them, but I can title the philosophy and technique posts better.

I'll put a quote in the updates every so often to keep them interesting (and, of course, keep the teasers ) - although it will be hard to ever beat yesterday's Jack London quote.

Running Total: 42218 Words.

42218 / 70000 words. 60% done!

In Today's Pages: Zero learns a little about the history of stuntwork on Ben Hur. Which is not what he wanted to know.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day 42 - 1274 Words

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
- Jack London

Pulled more tough stuff together, this time I think it worked out really well and set a good tone for things to come. It's too late to be writing anything more, though.

Running Total: 40971 Words.

40971 / 70000 words. 59% done!

In Today's Pages: A kiss is just a kiss. Oh, and the shrink scene.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 41 - 1167 Words

I spent much of the day working out a tricky wrap up personal stuff scene for the end. I thought and thought and had it just right, and then couldn't recapture it right in words. Gack.

I got enough of the right bits down, though, that I think it will rewrite well when I get all the pieces leading up to it done right.

Running Total: 39697 Words.

39697 / 70000 words. 57% done!

In Today's Pages: Tricky relationship stuff. (Also, the return of the flamingos.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 40 - 873 Words

I would have gotten a lot more done, but I spent too much time today rearranging the "furniture" as I realized more places to tweak the flow of the story. But I now have some great stretches of story ahead of me.

And then tonight I got into reading it. I very much enjoyed what I read, which is always a great thing.

Running Total: 38530 Words.

38530 / 70000 words. 55% done!

In Today's Pages: They realize the solution can't be the solution.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 39 - 691 Words

I did a lot of background revamping as I work out the effects that the recent changes have on the story.

But this week is going to be tough. Very tough. I have to get up early nearly every day this week. I hope, though, that I can actually take next Friday off and get started on break a little early.

Running Total: 37657 Words.

37657 / 70000 words. 54% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla girds for battle.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 38 - Looking Ahead

Suffering from the usual Monday exhaustion. I did spend a little time rethinking and taking notes on how my new material effects several other things. I may have to change the location on some scenes, because I don't want to burn my steps on some of my best ideas too early.

Otherwise, I'll just take a moment to look ahead and then go to sleep:

21 days left to the Dare. And 33000 words to go. I'm not likely to make that, although the last week will be a Spring Break, and so you never know. Because I have had a couple of great epiphanies, I expect to be slowed down by some changes too.

But I do think that I will have a "whole" story. It may not be finished -- there may be skeletal scenes, placeholders, and even some missing scenes, but the story will all be there, with its mode and flow, to be looked at as a whole.

On March 15 (The Ides of March!) I will set aside the book, no matter where it's at, and devote time to reading (reporting progress as I go). I have a huge stack of books I haven't got to, but one thing I really want to do is read more short stories again. Because....

On March 20, I will begin working on short fiction. I'm going to do one week of idea generating (15 ideas a day, developing 1-2 to writeable stage each day) and then one week of writing on the ideas, then one week of idea generating, and another week of writing. Then a week or two of picking and polishing the most marketable and sending them over the transom again.

When the semester is over in May, I will go back and rewrite the novel. At that point I may start looking for a few new readers. Summer will be a big deal again, this year, and I'll talk about that more later.

Day 37 - 1361 Words, Plus Paper Tigers and Easy Stakes

In comedy things should be way out of proportion. A huge monster taken down by a tiny bop on the nose is classic stuff.

But one of the reasons that is funny is because it reveals that the monster wasn't all that dangerous in the first place. It was, as they say, a "paper tiger" and easily defeated.

And that's why, if you expect your audience to take Great Peril seriously, you can't take it down too easily. You must have a solution that is as serious as the peril. (And by "peril" I mean not just danger, but any major problem that you use to get your audience emotionally involved.)

But in a mystery, very often big problems are resolved by little things. The discovery or new understanding of a small clue turns the whole story. It's all about remembering that the ticket stub was for Tuesday, not Wednesday, or some such mundane thing like that. If a story has emotional resonance, that doesn't cut it in terms of resolution.

It is one of the reasons why I am often disappointed by "framed detective" stories. Normally a detective goes about his day getting other people out of trouble. When the detective himself comes under suspicion, that's a huge raise in the stakes. He's under threat! That's a gut grabber. So it's not good enough to have him just do exactly what he does to get other people out of trouble. If all he does is worry and then do exactly what he always does, then it's just a more uncomfortable version of a regular story.

I think that what I want is not necessarily a harder solution. I mean, there is nothing worse than having the stakes raised so high that you can't anticipate any solution at all - and you just have to watch the characters flounder until they finally reach the solution. That's just painful. What I want is a proportional reaction.

The TV show White Collar recently had an episode of this kind, and I almost tuned out, but they did a pretty good job of shifting all the characters into high gear to deal with the problem. The detective and his crew went after the case with renewed vigor, and his friends went after the bad guys directly. And that made the story much more interesting.

It's counter intuitive. You'd think that if you show the audience a huge problem, and the character doesn't know what to do, and you don't give them the tools to resolve the situation quickly.... you'd think that would create suspense. But suspense requires anticipation, and all the audience anticipates in that case is pain. The character is in a spot, and there is no way out. When characters take action, though, THAT creates positive anticipation.

And when you do that, you might have an ultimate solution that's pretty easy, but the journey to get to it, or the job of putting it into play has to be in proportion to the emotional pull of the problem.

Running Total: 36966 Words.

36966 / 70000 words. 53% done!

In Today's Pages: George goes dark. Karla pulls it together.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 36 - 2199 Words - Act Two Crisis Hooray!

I love the smell of a plot coming together in the morning!

I finally hit the right combo for the End-of-Act-2 Crisis. I was just playing with the logistical stuff. Little details involving where is this person's cell phone, and how did that happen, and where did they get the bandages....

And then just suddenly something happened that just scooped up every one of those trivial details into a single unified field theory. And it totally blew the lid off the joint emotionally. Unites the A Plot with the B Plot.

The end of Act 2, which is about three quarters of the way into a story (especially if you're dealing with screenplays, but I find it works with books too) is such a critical moment. You could say it's the collision that the whole first part of the story is heading for, and it's what's being untangled in the denouement. If you get that just right, the rest becomes much easier.

I'm sure anybody writing a Jerry Bruckheimer movie knows just how many planes, cars and buildings will be destroyed at the end of Act 2, and where it's going to happen -- and how many megatons of water or explosives will be involved -- long before the rest of the script is done. But when I'm writing a book, this is often a late piece of the puzzle. Because it's the connector.

I generally have an idea of the major problem of the ending, and I know my begining and how it develops - but until I have my details I don't always know what the compelling crisis will be that drives the earlier stuff into the ending stuff. I just know that at that point, everything has to fall apart. It's what Blake Snyder calls "the long dark night of the soul" and it pushes the characters hard.

Running Total: 35605 Words.

35605 / 70000 words. 51% done!

In Today's Pages: Oh, lots of stuff! Lots and lots of good stuff.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 35 - 1072 Words And A Character Entrance

I had fun with the new material today, even though it did take a lot of mulling to figure out how it would unfold. I realized that an important secondary character should attempt to take Karla by surprise. What I didn't realize until I wrote it is that Karla would seriously get the better of him, and that would make him more likable. (Which is a good thing. He was kind of flat and arrogant.)

Running Total: 33406 Words.

33406 / 70000 words. 48% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla channels her inner Margaret Hamilton.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 34 - More Plot Work on Earlier Revelations

I probably did make my goal today in words, but it was all rough exploratory work and I didn't put it in the manuscript yet.

This story has been tough in a lot of ways. I've been trying to figure out why, and I think one of the reasons is that I've had it in my head for so long. In many ways, it's a developed series - and I am struggling not only with scenes I dreamed up a long time ago that are maybe not so valid now, but also with the fact that you write a third or fourth book differently than you write a first book. Finding the characters' starting points is a little harder when your mind has already gone so far past that.

But the other issue is just an issue with character-based fiction in a plot-driven genre -- I've put off some plot points. I just sort of crowded them off into the undeveloped end. So, I've decided throw a couple of monkeys into the wrench of my character arcs.

Which is why I've been scribbling madly instead of working on the actual manuscript. I've got to figure out how these things throw off some of my carefully balanced character arc moments.

It's also something I learned a long time ago, but somehow comes as a surprise in everything I've written. If you find yourself getting bogged down, you probably have to move a major plot point or revelation. You may have too many of them crowded together, and have to give your characters more time to assimilate the changes -- but you may also have put them off too long.

Don't hide your light under a barrel, and don't keep your secrets too dark and deep.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 33 - 1023 Words of Filling in Plot Holes

The next couple of weeks are going to be tough. I have a lot of good material for the next portion of the novel, but the complications are beginning to seep in, and I have to continue to work more and more of the backstory and plot out to shape it all the right way.

In particular I have to weave in the motives and subsequent actions of a couple of secondary characters. What they do affects other things, and it kind of rolls through the story. I also realize this is a great opportunity to raise the stakes.

Running Total: 32334 Words.

32334 / 70000 words. 46% done!

In Today's Pages: Dahlia reveals a few things, and Karla gains some street cred with a casual phone call.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 32 - 80 Words of Spontaneous Flash Fiction

I'm still too exhausted to do much of anything today, except maybe fill some plot holes.

However, on the Short Mystery Fiction Society group on Yahoo, someone mentioned a little exercise they did in their writer's group. Come up with a 100 word flash fiction story based on the concept of a coroner's pick up line. So I wrote one. It doesn't count toward my dare goals, but here it is.

Further I would like to challenge those of you who are writers to do the same. I will give you a choice of themes. You can either go with a "coroner's pick up line" or in honor of my default on my dare, you can write a 100 word flash on the concept of "something that doesn't count."

by Camille LaGuire

The coroner had been trying to pick up Detective Winston for a long time, but she was all business.

"Okay," he said at last. "Where's your corpse?"

She pointed him to the body bag. He noted that she'd bagged the hands properly, preserved the clothing well. Oh, and there such interesting bruising, and that wound on the forehead....

"I'd like you compliment you on your body," said the coroner. "I hope you will feel free to hold it against me."

The End

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 31 - 688 Words of Character Revelations

Much too worn out from the day to do much, so I worked on a scene where Karla and George trade stories of an important moment in their lives. This was already a well developed bit, so it wasn't that hard.

The incidents they each relate came from pretty standard character development execises. You don't usually use direct bits from those sorts of exercise, because they are not directly related to the story, but in this case they were so perfect for the moment and the scene, that I thing they became a lynchpin of that part of the story.

Running Total: 31311 Words.

31311 / 70000 words. 45% done!

In Today's Pages: George recalls a bloody nose, and Karla a tumbling boulder.

Day 30 - 1176 Words of Adventure Scenes

Gong xi fa cai! Happy year of the Golden Tiger!

It's Chinese New Year. We went to dim sum and watched a lion dance today. I didn't get my videos uploaded to YouTube, but since it tends to be a lot of the same (at least with a small troop like we have here in the boonies), last year's clip of the Lion Dance should do.

The restaurant was utterly packed, so we were glad we'd made a reservation. Also, the food carts were flying about and we just kinda grabbed what we could. (I think I'm going to have to get George to drag Karla off to the city for some dim sum at some point.)

Then I went home and worked on completely new scenes where I hadn't yet figured out what was to happen. I figure that on week days, I should work on scenes I already have figured out, and work on new material on weekends.

We'll see how that works out for me.

Running Total: 30623 Words.

30623 / 70000 words. 44% done!

In Today's Pages: George shows off his linguistic skills. Karla manages to get by with her equestrian skills - quite literally by the skin of her teeth. (Nicely oiled leather does not taste good.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 29 - 1460 Words and Thoughts about Weather

There's a good post about how weather can be used in fiction over at Mystery Writing Is Murder.

And I have to say that weather is a great form of both setting and prop. It's active, almost like a character itself. And as I mentioned about making a rewrite pass through the manuscript for various characters, you can also make separate passes for weather.

I don't use weather as much as I would like. Maybe it's the script writer in me. You shy away from putting weather in a script, because weather is expensive to shoot - so you leave that to the director. And because weather is expensive, you'll also notice that nearly everything you see on TV or movies is weather-neutral. When there is weather, it's important to the story.

But with a book, you have an unlimited art direction budget. You can have crashing tidal waves and tornadoes and lightning and mudslides! You can go all Roland Emmerich if you want. (Which you probably shouldn't. Have you seen The Day After Tomorrow? Or 2012?)

Food is something you can also write into the story to enrich the situation in a later draft. Food is great "business" -- something for the characters to DO while the scene is going on. Today, I did some work on a scene where I changed my mind about a snack. Turned it into something more elaborate and involved.

(It was my cat's fault. She asked me for sardines, which I didn't have, and then I realized that Karla's cat, Orson, would be deserving of some sardines at just that moment in the story. He's put up with a lot. And then George started making puppy sounds, because he hasn't had any fish in months and he quite likes fish....)

Running Total: 29447 Words.

29447 / 70000 words. 42% done!

In Today's Pages: Several different meals, involving sardines, pancakes and brownies (but not all in the same meal).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Scribbles, Character Passes, and eBooks

I just scribbled on paper today, so I don't have a word count. In the meantime I'll give you some thoughts.

Passes for Character

You know, it seems like with everything I write, especially the long works, I relearn every lesson I ever learned. One technique I learned is that I don't have to get all characters fully "right" in every draft of a scene. On the first pass, you concentrate on the main thrust of the scene. But especially if you have secondary characters, you may want to do a separate pass for each of them. How are they reacting, what are they doing and thinking?

This comes up in every book, but it especially came up in my previous novel manuscript, Have Gun Will Play. My narrator, Mick, is a friendly guy who does all the talking. His young wife, Casey, has a tendency to lurk, and she would prefer to let her Winchester do the talking. Casey makes herself nearly invisible much of the time, but Mick is always aware of where she is, what she's doing, and has a good guess at how she is reacting.

So I had a heck of a time writing a scene where Mick was sizing up a guy who might be an enemy or might be a client. I finally realized that, even though Casey was a force in the background of the scene, she wasn't interacting with the maybe-badguy. So I had to let her go invisible, and just write the scene between Mick and the guy. Then I went back and wrote through the scene with Casey there - the guy didn't notice her, but Mick did. It really enriched the scene.

So sometimes giving up on getting something right on the first try is the path to getting it really right in the end.

Right now, I have been working on some scenes between Karla and some secondary characters with secrets. Those characters are less developed, and I'm finding, in this case, I have to do two passes for them. First pass is the surface conversation - which I write as if they are not hiding anything (except for those moments when I come up with a perfect telling detail). The next pass will be for the secrets - which lurk behind them, just like Casey.

A Note on eBooks

I just have to say how much I really enjoy the Fictionwise ebook Bookstore. (I don't have an affiliate account, and don't get any kickback for this, I just love them.)

I especially love them since I can read their ebooks on my iPod Touch - but most of their books come in many many formats. (The big publishers may only offer the bestseller types in Secure eReader format, which is available for most computers and lots of handheld devices.) eReader is not as intuitive as it might be, but once you figure it out, it's a great reader. Plus the "multiformat" books come in nearly any format you can think of, including Kindle compatible and ordinary PDF.

They have a lot of content, both small press and reprints, and the latest bestsellers. Right now my Touch contains Richard Prather, Stieg Larsson, and also many issues of Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen mystery magazines. As well as Futures Mysterious Anthology, where I have been published. I also have a number of my favorite lesser known authors who were out of print, but are now available on Fictionwise. (Lora Roberts' Liz Sullivan mysteries, for instance.)

They often have a sale where if you pay full price for an NYT best seller, they will give you a 100 percent refund into your cash "micropay" account. Micropay works kind of like Paypal but without fees. If you want to buy a fifty cent short story, you can just click and buy with it. You can buy anything in the store with it. (Just not the sale items, which are a way to get you to put money "on account.")

See you tomorrow with fresh word counts....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 27 - 1285 Words and Dreaming

I had a dream sequence, which I didn't know if I would keep, but as I wrote it, I realized that it was a great epiphany dream. Karla would wake up knowing something important.

I don't know how I feel about dream sequences. It seems like they would be easy to misuse, although off-hand I can only think of good ones I've seen in Toby Peters mysteries. (Well, I've seen some bad ones reading unproduced scripts.) What do you guys think? Are dream sequences like the "look in the mirror" cliche and something to be avoided by instinct? Or do you find them useful when the dream muse calls?

Running Total: 27987 Words.

27987 / 70000 words. 40% done!

(Forty Percent Done? I just don't feel like it's that much of the novel, but maybe that's a good thing. It means at the very least, I can trim.)

In Today's Pages: Karla dreams she's Margaret Hamilton, but in a good way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 26 - 1111 Words

I don't have anything clever to say about writing, but I have some new exploratory writing done. Some good work on a character who hasn't made much of an appearance yet, but she's not a reliable person and it may take another pass or two before I get the layers of her motives worked into how she tells her story.

Running Total: 26702 Words.

26702 / 70000 words. 38% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla makes brownies, and uses her skills at herding cats to deal with people.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 25 - 1167 Words and Skipping Ahead

I am now at the point where a lot of my already written material is a little bit off and has to be rewritten anyway. So on busy days, I'm going to go ahead and skip to other scenes if that's what it takes to keep my word count up.

I still want to keep it mostly in order, though, because I need to keep track of revelations and the various things that my characters have figured out. This is the draft where that stuff has to be kept straight.

In the meantime, I think the reason I was so wiped out last night was because I had a bug. I was sick to my stomach all night, and I ended up calling in sick and sleeping most of the day. I didn't have any crackers to settle the stomach, but I had plain kidney beans and some lightly seasoned Spanish rice, which was all low key enough to be nicely digestible.

Now if the snow will just give us a day off tomorrow when I'm not sick....

Running Total: 25591 Words.

25591 / 70000 words. 37% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla meets Dahlia, and dreams about the sewers of Vienna. John Houk stalls for time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 24 - 2K of Background, plus Burn Notice Narration

I am still in a sleep deficit from last week, and this was a VERY busy day, as students reached the panic point, and we have a major snow storm bearing down on us. While I am fine with snow, the low pressure has caused my bones to ache horribly.

So, inspired by the post about character secrets by Elizabeth over at Mystery Writing is Murder, I wrote out about two thousand words of backstory and secrets of the villains and red herrings. And it all held together nicely!

Now I'm going to bed, but first I'll add another little post about point of view:

The other day I mentioned that first person narration was especially appropriate for hard-boiled mysteries, because the heroes tend to be professionals who know how to report. I also mentioned that the character in my book who is a professional was not good for first person because he isn't the sort to make an accurate report even when he's supposed to.

And that made me think of one of my favorite TV Shows, Burn Notice. It's about a blacklisted spy who lives in a world where nobody tells all they know. Exactly the sort of character you would not have as a narrator....

Except that show is famous for its voice over narration by the hero. And as I thought about it, I realized something. The show begins with "My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy." And that is the first and last actual reference he makes to himself or his own situation. Everything he says from that point on is instructional.

"When you're burned, you're blacklisted." He's not telling us what happened to him, he's explaining what it means. Which is all he'll ever do for us. When Micheal's cover is blown, the voice over narration instructs us on the proper considerations and procedures for dealing with that situation - and we watch him act on those considerations, but he never actually tells us what he was feeling, or admits that this narrative is in reference to the scene we're watching.

It would be hard to use this sort of dissociative narration in fiction, but I still think it's useful to watch, just to see what narration can do in terms of characterization. I recommend everybody watch it. Recent episodes are available free on line (Burn Notice on Hulu), although if you want to know what's going on with the ongoing mystery of how he got burned, you should get to the video store and rent or buy the first season or two first.

Day 23 - 1489 Words, and Thoughts on Omniscient

Since she is a best selling author, I presume it would not hurt Catherine Coulter to confess that I could not get through her book Tailspin. I will make another attempt, because the beginning is a real killer and it looks like the kind of book I might like a lot. However....

When the hero and heroine get together, Coulter utterly killed the scene with the use of omniscient. It bugged me a lot because it seemed to me that omniscient ought to have worked. I myself would love to do successfully what she tried to do, but I'm not sure that it was her fault. I had all sorts of ideas to make it better but I don't know if they would have really worked. (I think maybe, this spring when I do some short fiction, I might play around with that style.)

So here is the problem (from memory of a reading a year ago - so my apologies to Ms. Coulter if I misrepresent. This is for educational purposes only. I am definitely exaggerating the flaws):

Heroine is on the lam, hero is a Fed who doesn't know she's on the lam. They are dealing with an accident, and they are discussing how to find a phone or a mechanic or something. As they talk, we get to see inside both of their heads. She keeps thinking "I hope he doesn't get suspicious of me." And he thinks "Hmm, there is something suspicious about her, but I'm too busy to worry about that just now." And she thinks something like "I think he is suspicious, but he hasn't done anything yet." And he thinks "she has pretty hair."

No. Tension.

Knowing what both characters are thinking at all times just kills the tension. And it makes the scene really repetitive. Really really repetitive.

So why would I WANT to write a scene like this? Well ... Comedy. And Romantic Tension.

What if the scene went like this? "I hope he doesn't get suspicious of me," she thinks. "Oh, my god, those are the most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen," he thinks as he tries to keep his manly cop detachment. "He's looking right through me. He put on his cop-voice. He's going to arrest me." "Uh oh, she thinks I'm staring. Stop being creepy and look away."

Comedy is about tension too, but it's a different kind of tension, very finely tuned. But it also changes the whole tone and style of the story - making it much more romance and much less suspense. These elements can work together, but it's hard, and in the end, genre has to dictate the choice. If you need suspense and paranoia, you can't know everything. You have to know enough to scare you, but not enough to reassure you.

Now let's look at the options in regular "tight third" when we only get one person's point of view at a time.

We take her point of view, because she has the most at stake. So she chats casually while she worries about him becoming suspicious. She observes his body language, alert to every clue....

And that's the other thing that was missing from the original scene - because we were inside their heads at the key moments we didn't get to actually see how they were reacting physically. If we can see him change his voice, look more closely at her, or react in any way, we get to worry and interpret with her.

And after that, you can have the best of both worlds, when you jump to his point of view in the next scene. There we can find out that she was wrong about why he was staring at her (which is amusing and revealing of character and also makes us like him) but we can raise the tension back up, because her nervousness has indeed raised his suspicions. And since we already know what her plans are from the previous scene, we can still anticipate a clash when we find out that his plans are definitely in opposition.

In suspense, point of view choice is about raising tension. It's about revealing the problems, but not the solutions. Which means you probably shouldn't jump around like you do in a comedy, for instance.

(I wanted to say something about the interesting point of view in the TV show Burn Notice. Perhaps tomorrow...)

Running Total: 24424 Words.

24424 / 70000 words. 35% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla is very very hungry. George is very very patient.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 22 - Thoughts on Genre and Point of View

I seem to have hit a reassessment point on the novel, and I've decided that all of my troubles have to do with genre. I hadn't really figured out what the genre is. (I have now - Mystery Suspense.) Knowing that, I've now pulled a lot of things into focus, but I spent most of the day in a writer's stupor, and haven't written anything into the manuscript. So in lieu of words, here are some thoughts on genre and point of view:

There are a lot of sub-genres in the mystery/crime category. And many of them overlap with mainstream and romance, and all sorts of other bookstore categories. There is an audience cluster, I think, in the area I call "light adventure", though that is not a recognized genre, and it contains portions of many genres, and the flavor and style hits the same notes.

So everything I write is humorous (but not an out and out comedy), and has elements of romance (but the plot doesn't revolve around romance), and adventure (but not manly-adventure - just people getting themselves into predicaments that may involve guns, horses, chase scenes, and disguises). The plots are almost always driven by a mystery, which at least narrows it down. Even if mystery has a million sub-genres of its own.

When you've got a clear genre choice, voice is easier. The hard-boiled, for instance, is traditionally a narrated form, because a part of the definition of the genre is that the hero is a professional - a detective, a cop, a reporter, a fixer. They are all people for whom reporting is a part of the job. They are good at a narrative, and remember important details, and they maintain enough detachment to keep telling the story even in the emotionally tough parts.

That's why it was a no-brainer to make Mick and Casey a first person narrated series. Even though the series itself is silly and cozy, and a western, the form is really hard-boiled. Mick and Casey are professionals (more or less).

For the non-professional character, first person is usually (but not always) best used in a confessional mode. Those are stories of an extraordinary circumstance - whether a Noir antihero confessing his crime on death row, or the heroine of a romantic thriller who tells how she survived the terrifying (and unique) event of her life.

Once in a while you will find an amateur sleuth who just happens to be a great story teller, and who gets in a lot of trouble in her lifetime, so she can tell a series of great stories the same way a professional can. But usually an amateur's story is best told in third person, because amateurs are more likely to live in the moment, and don't have much cause to relate them fully later on.

The heroine of my current book, Karla, is certainly one of those. Oh, she is thoughtful, but she's not the sort of person to give organized testimony. She is intuitive, and has a tendency to jump around, and would give you much more information than you could ever want.

George, on the other hand, may be a professional, but he's not that kind of professional. He's the kind where you tell him you need to retrieve the secret launch codes, and he'll disappear and then reappear later, with a bloody nose, mussed up hair and wearing diving flippers, and just hand you the codes without a word. He will tell you what he thinks you need to know, but that isn't necessarily what you want to know. (There's a reason his career as a Mountie didn't last very long.) If you want to know what he actually did and thought, you need to use psychic surveillance - i.e. Third Person.

So that's why I went for third person on this book. I knew better than to try first. There are still a lot of choices even in third person, and I'll continue the discussion of point of view next time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day 21 - 1052 Words Of New Material

A few things are beginning to come together. My problem right now is that I am at that stage of the novel where the forest gets lost for the trees. You lose focus because, as you write, your understanding of what the focus is changes. you discover the true focus of the story.

I think a part of my problem, though, is that I spent so much time on screen writing. Screenplays are so focused, you don't even have a forest, you just have a clump of trees that stand in for a forest. I didn't realize that until now, because it seems like it would be the opposite. It seems like the nature of drama and screenplays would help see the big picture better, but they don't.

I am beginning to get back into the broader sense of novel writing again. (I do remember having this problem when I wrote Have Gun, Will Play - and that kicked into focus pretty darned well. Although that was partly point of view.)

Running Total: 21883 Words.

21883 / 70000 words. 31% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla Meets Gwen

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 20 - 609 Words Back and Forth

I went back and redid some of this week's work, but also started into new territory. I think I found the core of a scene I didn't know was missing a core. Karla is taking more control of the narrative too. But it's still going to need a better rewrite.

I'm a few days behind, but I think I'll catch up a little later.

Running Total: 21883 Words.

21883 / 70000 words. 31% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla faces a puzzle and an opportunity.

Day 19 - Zero Words, Much Kerfuffle

Yesterday was a very long, very exhausting day, even if filled with some pleasant family kerfuffle.

Today was also tiring, but not as long, and so I hope to get at least something done for tonight's update.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 18 - 481 Words And A Need For Sleep

It was a long tiring day and the rest of the week will be filled with longer, fuller days. So I am going to be happy just to get something at all done.

I'm going to bed early enough to get some actual real sleep, and I'm going to put some energy into thinking about some choices. Small choices and obvious choices make a bigger difference than you think at first.

In the scene I'm just working on, Karla chooses not to tell Rosie something. I realized that the reason she didn't tell him was because I didn't want her to. Yes, she has perfectly good reasons not to, but she's also not really afraid of the consequences if she were to tell him. And those consequences could be interesting.

The question is how it would affect subsequent scenes. I would lose an amusing moment when Rosie learns the information later, but more importantly, if Rosie knows that information, he would be less suspicious of George on certain points. And it would take the tension out of the scene....

But is that tension really the best way to make that scene work? Or is it just an obvious place holder in a scene which could be creative and vibrant and new if only I couldn't fall back on the suspicious cop routine?

The truth is I am not sure that this scene isn't just fine the way I imagined it, and that my energy wouldn't be best put into making this conflict the best and most creative it can be. But until I've run through it in my head and through a few ramifications, I don't know for sure that there isn't something better. I don't know if perhaps that scene isn't actually a shorter "set up" scene for some other scene.

So I'll think. And I'll get back to point of view later.

Running Total: 21274 Words.

21274 / 70000 words. 30% done!

In Today's Pages: Mostly plumping up yesterday's scenes.

Day 17 - 1103 Words and Shifting from First to Third

Today's session went much better. I think I actually made the bad stuff from yesterday unnecessary, although I haven't cut it yet.

But I have a tough week ahead of me with obligations everywhere. Even so, I did write something to kick of the series of ruminations about Point of View....

The thing about first person is that certain decisions are already made for you. You never have to worry about which point of view is best, and there is no question of the voice. Once you have your character's voice, you're stuck with it. Which means that instead of futzing around trying to decide which point of view to use or how "deep" you should get into the character's voice, you can dig right in to resolving the problems of using that particular point of view and voice.

I love first person, at least when you've got a great narrator. It just flows. If the person is a great observer, and has a little charm or blarney, all you have to do is edit.

But not every character is a good narrator, and not every story can be told from a single character's point of view. But when you to go to third person you have a lot of choices, and I think that's one of the reasons beginning writers run to first person, even when they don't know how to write it.

And here I want to talk about Robert Crais. While he writes a lot of books in third person, his Elvis Cole series is written in first person. Cole is a pretty classic hard-boiled narrator - smart and reflective enough to tell a good and detailed story. Wise and honest enough to reveal his flaws and weaknesses.

But in the later books, Crais started adding little external scenes that were in third person. These weren't just random scenes. He used them structurally; A prologue where we see a crime or background incident that leads to the story, or short bits from the point of view of the mysterious crook that runs like a thread through the book.

In third person thrillers, these are long standing techniques, and I think that's a part of why it works for Crais even with his first person novels. He doesn't just conveniently swap point of view. He uses it consistently, as a framing device.

Established novelists can get away with all sorts of experiments, of course, but this is not really an experiment - it's a new use of something established. Because of that, I think it would be acceptable from an unknown too. (Not that I am going to use it.)

Running Total: 20793 Words.

20793 / 70000 words. 30% done!

In Today's Pages: George offers a bribe. Rosie proves he's fluent in Karla-speak.