Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 8 - Buh Bye 2009

I'll post goals and resolutions tomorrow, but for a quick look back:

Day job: Uneasy truce achieved.

Money: Not enough.

Weight: Too much.

Writing: After a long distracted layoff, I'm BACK, and really really really really happy about that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 7 - Starting a Novel with Disembodied Dialog

I have a confession to make. I was never able to get into Dorothy L. Sayers. I never knew why, because I love the adaptations made of her Lord Peter Whimsey books. The plots, the characters all that.

I finally realized just the other night that the whole reason is because I've been trying to start with the wrong book. And it's not even the wrong whole book, just the wrong first page. Yep, I've got to say that Murder Must Advertise has a sinker of a first page:

"And by the way," said Mr. Hankin, arresting Miss Rossiter as she rose to go, "there is a new copy-writer coming in today."

"Oh, yes, Mr. Hankin?"

"His name is Bredon. I can't tell you much about him; Mr Pym engaged him himself; but you will see that he is looked after."

"Yes, Mr. Hankin."

"He will have Mr. Dean's room."

"Yes, Mr. Hankin."

"I should think that Mr. Ingleby cold take him in hand and show him what to do. You might send Mr. Ingleby along if he can spare me a moment."

"Yes, Mr. Hankin."

"That's all. And, oh, yes! Ask Mr. Smayle to let me have the Dairyfield's guard-book."

"Yes, mr. Hankin."

This is a much better beginning than the one in the book I threw across the room the other day, because at least it does its job of orienting us. It's pretty clear that this is an office, and the relationship between the characters. Given the title of the chapter "Death Comes to Pym's Publicity", we have some kind of idea what kind of office it is, too.

But it does make you work to figure out that setting, and what is going on and why, and it doesn't give back a lot in return. For instance, since we don't have any expectations yet, it doesn't get to play with or against those expectations. Which is what would make the whole "Yes, Mr. Hankin, Yes, Mr. Hankin, Yes, Mr. Hankin, Yes, Mr. ..." thing work. If we had actors and and a setting, it would be funny and subtle. By itself, the words have to work too hard to set the scene and set up the relationship. There isn't time for fun with it. Still, there might be just a little drama in there if he had said something which made her struggle to answer "Yes, Mr. Hankin." But that wouldn't be appropriate to the characters.

So, imho, it would have been better to cut it out altogether, because ALL of the information in this bit turns out to be in the next part of the scene when Miss Rossiter goes off and relates it all to the other people in the office. And Sayers deigns to actually describe them a little, and better yet, they actually have personalities and conflicts.

And in that bit, a page later, we finally get a hint of the "promise" that should have been on the first page, when one of the characters describes this new guy as a "tow-coloured supercilious looking blighter" and now we have some anticipation. If you're familiar with the series, here you think, with a chuckle "Is that who I think it is?" Or if you aren't, you at least get a sense of upcoming conflict.

Usually, dialog carries a lot of meaning in how things are said. But when you have nothing but dialog , what is said is extremely important. In an opening, it becomes a kind of narration in itself. The characters can tell you about other characters the way Dickens told us about Scrooge - but if so, it's better not to make the dialog carry too much other weight. It can't establish the characters who are speaking, AND the setting, AND the political situation, AND the other characters.

In Murder, Mr. Mosley by John Greenwood, the opening dialog is like the chanting of a Greek chorus. We meet a couple of minor characters in an obvious setting but they are there to comment:

"You are not contemplating," the Assistant Chief Constable said, "committing this to Mosley?"

Detective-Superintendant Grimshaw looked his master in the eye with a firmness meant to conceal the fact that he would rather have been looking almost anywhere else in the world. "Chief Inspector Marsters is tied up with managerial crime -- the Hartley Mason business. We've leave and sickness problems. Woolliams is looking after two divisions. Stout's going off on a course. And it is Mosley's patch."

"But damn it, he couldn't even get to the scene of the crime."

"He's been up all night sir: an epidemic of poultry-rustling over at Kettlerake."

This scene goes on for about another page and it is all dialog. Not even a "he said" for the rest of the scene. But you don't have to work all that hard to know it's taking place in the ACC's office, and if not, the location is irrelevant to the conversation.

But the best thing is that the very first sentence introduces conflict. It's a question in the negative, full of doubt. And Grimshaw's reaction shows us that he is dreading that doubt and has to stand strong against it.

From there, the discussion progresses like a tennis match, with the ball in one court and then the other. And in the course of the conversation, we learn all there is to know about the reputation of Mr. Mosley, and about his "patch" or the community in which he works. This conversation continues to build that conflict, and by the end, it has built up to a hook - Mosley is about to be partnered with someone that both sides believe will a poor fit for his personality. ... And that is a perfect set up to actually meet Mr. Mosley in the next scene.

So in the end, I have to say that the disembodied discussion can work as an opening scene, but what it really does is focus the reader on the subject of the discussion. And if you try to hang too much else on these words (or make the point too subtle) you can lost the audience.  At the opening of the story, subtlety gets lost in the reader's search for information.  If you want to write wonderful subtle dialog, save it for a little later, when the audience can absorb it. 

So tomorrow I get back to thinking about what to do with this book, and my goals for the next dare (which I will post on New Year's Day).
Here are the direct links to each post in the series: Intro - how to start a novel badly 1.) In the middle of the action, 2.) Narration or storyteller's voice, 3.) Disembodied Dialog.

Day 6 - Opening a Novel with Narrative

"Marley was dead: to begin with."

That's how Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol begins. The narrator just straight out tells you an important fact. He doesn't tell you why it's important, but he goes for quite a while, and in extensive detail, about how dead Marley is.

We get the idea that this plain fact -- that Marley was dead -- will soon be in question.

This is the great thing about "voice," and it's something you can only get with narration; It isn't just that we're given dry facts, but we are given a point of view.  In this case, you might even call it an obsession. "Listen! He's dead! Remember that or you will miss important stuff later on!" And because we have voice, we not only get facts about Marley being dead, we get with them everything we need to know about the characters and situation for the whole book.

AND, because we've got this wonderful opinionated voice, Dickens gets away with telling us outright about his protagonist: "Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!"

Of course, it was easier to get away with that authorial voice in Victorian times when omniscient was pretty much the norm. But even more modern fiction also uses authorial voice - just a drier more subtle one. I see it more on the hard-boiled side of the aisle, in the dry but intelligent voice of the omniscient reporter.

But right now I want to stick to the cozier side of the spectrum so I'll leave some of my favorite hard-boiled examples for later. What I found in just casting about for an ordinary example of classic and cozy fiction was not really omniscient. In The Emperor's Snuff-box by John Dickson Carr, for instance, there wasn't a strong personality in the voice. It does begin with summarized narration, though:

When Eve Neill divorced Ned Atwood, the suit was not contested. And, even though the charge was infidelity with a famous woman tennis player, it created far less scandal than Eve had expected.

As with A Christmas Carol, this one goes on with the same theme for a bit. If you don't pick it up in those two sentences, you see pretty quickly that Eve is disappointed with how easy the divorce turned out to be. It's not a particularly exciting opening, but it does it's job: it orients you with what the issues are, and who the protagonist is. The subsequent paragraphs give a lot of information about time and place and situation and personalities. It quickly dips into small fragments of scene to keep it interesting and vivid.

But, as I said, it's a slow starter. There isn't a lot of personality there, and the promise the writer is making is subtle and slow. Eve's problem at this point, is that she is dissatisfied, and that's about it. Dissatisfaction can lead to great things, though, and I would continue reading for a while. But it's a quiet interest.

Of course it's a lot easier to have a really strong and interesting narrator's voice if you write in first person. You can be opinionated and seductive and even irrational and untruthful. (You can be interesting, in other words.)

Probably the best example of a cozy narrative voice comes from a series which is not a mystery at all. P. G. Wodehouse was a real master of narration. And he usually did use a first person narrator, although often that person wasn't a part of the story, just a storyteller.  (His stories about golf, for instance, were generally told by an old man in the club house who told stories about other members he once knew.)

Here is the opening for Jeeves (from Chapter 1 "Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum"):

"Good morning, Jeeves" I said.

"Good morning, sir," said Jeeves.

He put the good old cup of tea softly on the table by my bed, and I took a refreshing sip. Just right, as usual. Not too hot, not too sweet, not too weak, not too strong, not too much milk, not a drop spilled in the saucer. A most amazing cove, Jeeves. So dashed competent in every respect. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I mean to say, take just one small instance....

This story does not start with any kind of problem at all, but it's interesting because the narrator, Bertie Wooster, is so dashed excited about how great his valet is. Just as Dickens works to convince the reader to pay attention to the fact that Marley is dead, so Bertie is working to convince us that Jeeves is a miracle man. They are both telling us straight out that this is an important fact. The heart of the story hinges on it.

I think that's why the opening for John Dickson Carr doesn't work as well for me as the other two - because the voice is more neutral, the reader is not really sure if the opening information is just character development, or critical to the story. I think, when you have a narrated beginning, where you are just told information, you have to have a sense that this is important. Even if it's just a teaser that you don't understand.

I think it's possible for a narrated beginning - a summary of facts - to have some of the kind of inherent drama that a dentist dangling out the window of the twelfth floor of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel might have. Drama could act as cover to hook the reader when you don't want the reader to know the real reason you're starting where you are.

One example of that (which I don't have on hand at the moment) is The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey. That book starts with some scene setting - a recounting of the sinking of a cruise ship in World War I and some other historical events. Those events turn out to have some bearing on the story, but for the opening, they are just a dramatic hook to set the scene.

Tomorrow I'll talk about a couple of books that open with dry dialog - exactly the kind of opening that drove me nuts with those books I bought the other day. Only in this case, the openings work.

Here are the direct links to each post in the series: Intro - how to start a novel badly 1.) In the middle of the action, 2.) Narration or storyteller's voice, 3.) Disembodied Dialog.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 5 - The First Page - In The Middle of the Action

Back when I was at Clarion (many more years ago than I will admit to) I learned from Ajay Budris that a story begins with a character in a setting with a problem. It's the problem, and solving it, that creates all the interest and suspense in a story.

And so, of course, one of the ways of starting a story is to introduce the problem first and foremost, and the reader comes to know the characters and background along the way. Of course, if you do it this way, the problem has to be obvious and easy to understand.

Here is one of my favorite opening paragraphs, from Stuart Kaminsky's Smart Moves:

I was leaning out of the window of a room on the twelfth floor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, but I wasn't enjoying the view. My right hand was trying to hold on to the sleeve of a frightened dentist who dangled and swayed in the April breeze. My left hand gripped the window sill in spite of the arm behind it, which ached from a very fresh gunshot wound.

You don't have to know who the characters are to empathize with the problem here. (And, frankly, if you don't know who the dentist is at this point, it only creates more tension, because as far as you know, he's just an innocent dentist, as opposed to an annoying one who may quite possibly deserve being dropped.)

The great thing about this kind of opening is that you get an idea of what your character is really made of, what he's capable of. And by how you pick that moment, you may be able to either establish what a typical problem is for the character, and what's extraordinary. In either case, you hook the reader and make a promise as to what the story is about. Once you've made that promise, you get a little more leeway to slow down and set up the rest of the story.

In this case, Stuart Kaminsky is using an old pulp fiction trick: the scene is actually from the climax of the book, and once you're hooked, he goes back to the start of the story. He makes it do double-duty, though, because this happens to be a typical day and a typical problem for the narrator of the story, Toby Peters. The thing that makes it worthy of the climax of the book is simply the stakes. (Which, if I remember right, are the fate of the world, and the lives of Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein.)

However, the beginning doesn't have to involve gunshot wounds and dangling dentists to be a decent hook. This is the beginning of Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie:

Gwenda Reed stood, shivering a little, on the quayside.

The docks and the custom sheds and all England that she could see were gently waving up and down. And it was in that moment that she made her decision -- the decision that was to lead to such very momentus events.

She wouldn't go by boat train to London as she had planned.

In this case, we don't know Gwenda Reed, but we already have a strong sense of a person in transition. Even if we weren't told that the decision would lead to momentus events, she's in a location associated with important changes. She's obviously been travelling or about to travel, and she is taking a step into the unknown. She's deviating from the plan - so she's taking a risk.

That may not be an actual problem, but it promises problems. There will be challenges to be met. Unexpected things will crop up.

When I think about those two books which disappointed me, I suspect that this is the kind of thing those writers meant to do. To start in the middle of something and create anticipation. They failed because there wasn't a promise of things to come.

And that failed because there just wasn't enough quality information. And not every story has gunshots or an evocative setting to set things going, but Christie gives us a hint of the other technique when she inserts the "the decision that was to lead to such very momentus events."

Sometimes it's good to just tell the story and not be coy about the information. More about that tomorrow.

Here are the direct links to each post in the series: Intro - how to start a novel badly 1.) In the middle of the action, 2.) Narration or storyteller's voice, 3.) Disembodied Dialog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 4 - How to Start a Novel Badly

I recently picked up a couple of cozy mystery paperbacks that looked promising at my local independent bookstore. I found I couldn't get past the second page on either of them. I found myself growing frustrated and impatient, and that's exactly the opposite of how I expect to feel when I'm reading a cozy mystery.

(Side Rant: I also had negative flashbacks to why I stopped reading new cozies back in the nineties. Screeching, nasty, whiny and disagreeable characters are not interesting. They do not constitute a real threat, just an immediate one. And frankly, when your main character puts up with them for one second, I lose all respect for the protag and there is no reason to continue reading. If you are trying to establish that your protagonist is non-confrontational, then at least make her clever about avoiding these people. Because even if she does have to put up with them, I don't. I can put the book down, and usually I do.)

Ahem. Where was I? While one of these books did have a negative character problem, the other one didn't. And both of them suffered from the same kind of opening. I call it the "set up via dialog" opening, and until this week, I too thought it was a good standard technique for jumping right into the story.

Here's how the better of the two books went (and I'm changing the details to protect the innocent and guilty): A small group of women are idly chatting while doing some activity - like sorting donated clothes for a rummage sale. There is no authorial voice, nor is there any internal voice of any of the characters. So there is no description, nothing to orient us to time and place except what they say and do. And they're too busy telling us about each other and the other characters who will enter later to actually let us in on the fact that this takes place in a church basement, in Cleveland, during World War I. The dialog is generic in terms of time and place, and so busy trying to tell us that one of them is a free spirit and the other is a conventional but loyal friend, and that there is a certain woman who is out to get one or the other of them, that one really, literally, cannot tell that this doesn't take place in present day in some unknown building of some sort.

Now, if the dialog and description had given me a little more sense of time and place, I might not have tossed the book aside as quickly, but I still would have been frustrated. Because there is no tension, and even though the characters were very interested in the upcoming social events in their community, the author had not given me any reason to be interested. The mention of this other woman who competes with one of the protagonists is not enough. She's not in the scene. She doesn't provide any conflict or tension. (And I have to admit, I started to worry that when she does enter, she'll turn out to be screechy or whiny or just too unpleasant to read about.)

Now, this is a published author, so I am going to assume that the problem with this opening isn't that there is nothing at stake. I'll even assume that the little hints of conflict will pay off really well later. Hey, sometimes a good payoff requires a lot of subtle groundwork to be laid.

But right now, I've got a novel which needs some set up for the "ordinary life" aspects. So I'm really interested in what's wrong with that opening, and what other kinds of openings I could write.

So I pulled six books from my shelves and looked at the opening paragraphs of each. (All light mystery and such, and none of them the more experimental artsy style of some classics.) They seem to fall into three categories, which are partly defined by the old "show and tell" rule:

  1. Action scene which is deeply into the direct experience of the protag - which shows us what is at stake, and leaves the reasons for later.
  2. The storyteller's voice, which dives directly into telling us what is important and what it means - reporter style. (But a good reporter will show us too.)
  3. This "intro-by-dialog" technique which keeps an objective voice, and tries to show us by having characters talk - which is a form of telling.

The truth is, all of these techniques will show up throughout a book, the question is, which do you start with? Because later on, the reader is already oriented. But at the beginning, the reader needs a whole world of information. In a lot of ways, the kind of opening page you chose has most to do with which information you give the reader first.

Stay tuned - I'll be writing about each of these three techniques for the next three days. (Here are the direct links to each post in the series: 1.) In the middle of the action, 2.) Narration or storyteller's voice, 3.) Disembodied Dialog. )

Liminal Zone Day 3 - Pleasure Is My Business

I had an essay written on how it's important to respect vacation time when you're a writer with a day job. In summary: I've tried writing on weekends and vacations and I've tried writing on workdays and leaving vacations as vacations. Neither is really satisfactory for the writer with a day job. However, no matter how you schedule things, one thing a writer needs is time to stare off into space. And sleep. Sleep is good.

Staring off into space, though, is serious business, and I did a bunch of it today. What was accomplished? I got a lot of questions down about the holes in the backstory and identified a few opportunities there. I got a tentative dare schedule for the first six months of the year (though I have to ponder this before I post it).

The big thing I had to think about, though, was voice. I'm still working on the voice of this novel and how it will begin. The past two months was about scenes and characters. The next pass, though, will certainly be about voice and pacing. And I still need to work on how to open the book. I think I will write a longer post about beginnings - in particular about a particular tone of opening that loses me every time (and which, unfortunately, seems to be used a lot in cozies and romances) and how two techniques I see in more hard-boiled novels would have worked better for those same stories.

In the mean time, I baked cookies (peanut blossoms) and watched the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers tonight. So as Captain Spaulding says:

Hello, I must be going.
I'm here to say I cannot stay
I must be going.
I'm glad I came, but all the same
I must be going.
I really must be going....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Liminal Zone - Day 2 - Goals

By the end of this long week, I must set some goals for the coming year. I've got four things in particular in mind. I'll be posting more extensively on each of them.

1. What's the plan for finishing the novel? One more dare? Two? What's the schedule on it?

To do this goal, I have to first assess where the heck I am. I've just been piling up word counts over the past few weeks. Now I've got to see the overall.

2. My author website.

I need to update it and turn it into the home site for the other things I do. It should not be hard, but there is baggage associated.

3. Fiction Sites. What can I get done this year?

I have one prototype fiction blog for my published short mystery fiction. (Mick and Casey's Mystery Stories - check it out.) I also have a domain for my children's fiction, but I haven't got around to it. The main thing holding me up is that I that I want to do a more professional job of the design, now that I've learned a few things from building the first site. And that is going to be work. And I promised some friends I would get a swashbuckling blog up by Talk Like A Pirate Day next year, although I don't know if I will do original fiction or just reviews and stuff.

I really need a plan.

4. Article Writing

I get a trickle of "passive income" from some blogs and sites like eHow. I need to enhance that income, but the trickle is slow enough that I really have to consider what kind of effort is worth it.

The biggest issue here, though, is that I need to kick start my Dim Sum Primer. I think that is the one actual writing goal of this break - I need four or five articles to start that out. The other goals can focus on planning. But this one needs action.

So ... I've got my break cut out for me. The first job will be to assemble all the material I have right now on the novel, and see if I can figure out not only how much is dross, but also where the important gaps are, etc.

But for tonight, I came up with a long list of post subjects and titles for the Dim Sum Primer blog. About sixteen sets of four posts.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dancing Your Own Steps - In Competition

At our Christmas Eve Culinary Indulgence Festival last night, we discussed the fact that none of us could remember which DVDs we had any more. So today, I sat down and typed up a spread sheet of my movie titles. (This would be impossible to do with my books, but movies, I can just manage it.)

I was shocked to find some titles missing. Okay, maybe a couple of those Hitchcocks were ones I had in VHS or rented recently enough that I just thought I had them, but I was absolutely SURE that I had Strictly Ballroom. I know I did. That is my favorite writer movie of all time. How could I not have it?

I didn't know what to expect the first time I saw Strictly Ballroom. Friends had recommended it as "beautiful" and I had some vague idea that it was a little art house documentary about dancing. And for a minute or so, the opening did not dissuade me from this belief. Beautiful dancing, music, interviews.... and then it takes a wild left turn into something else entirely. (The opening sequence is worth watching just for its own sake.)

Strictly Ballroom, aside from being a great comedy, a fun fairytale romance (a la Cinderella meets Ugly Duckling) and a beautiful music and dance picture, is also a great writer's picture. I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with the choices that greet a writer today especially in terms of going for professional publication or striking out on your own with self-publication, or some other new media paradigm.

This movie seems to be about breaking the rules and dancing your own steps... but it has a deeper message for the artist. The protagonists of this story could simply leave the world of ballroom dancing behind and dance for love, or on the street, or create their own venue. But they don't, even when pushed to the limit. The lesson here is not that you dance your own steps, but rather that you must dance your own steps in competition. For Real. Before the judges and audience.

So do it for real, whether you succeed or fail. Real dancing, and real writing, should always get its chance before the judges and the audience.

The Liminal Zone, Day 1

It's said that the ancient Romans celebrated the new year as an eight day celebration, an eight day week that was considered to be the thresh hold between the years - a time apart from time. In this period you are outside of ordinary boundaries, so you celebrate, reflect, break rules and do special things.

So every year I celebrate the Liminal Zone - eight days from Christmas Eve to New Years Day (inclusive of both). This year we get a bonus, because New Year's happens on a Friday, so in effect, the liminal zone is ten days long.

So for these next ten days, I'm going to make like the door keeper god, Janus, and look back and forward.

We start with the dare that just ended yesterday. No, I did not reach my goal, but I am not displeased. Setting the right goal is so important, and I think I did set the right goal. The first criterion is whether I wrote more than I would have if I hadn't been doing a dare, and that answer is certainly yes. Fall is a horrible time for me to write. I always start the season really in the mood, because I love the weather. (I know, most people hate Michigan in fall. It is generally dark and dreary, with overcast skies and mold and humidity. But I always find it energizing.)

But fall semester always begins with the nightmare of new computer set ups, new policies, new students, and MORE students. We spend much of fall fixing all of the above so that spring will go better. The holidays also mix in a lot more social duties and such, and that takes up spare time. The best movies get released that time of year.

It can be extremely discouraging to try to get much writing done in the Fall. And nothing is worse than setting goals you have no hope of achieving. The goal I set this fall was one I've achieved before, so I knew it was reasonable. I figured it was ambitious for fall, and I was right. I did not achieve it, but I also did not flounder and fail and give up.

What I accomplished was not a particular word count, but rather I have established critical mass on this novel. I have done that basic exploratory work that allows the story to come to life. That's the great thing a dare can do for you, more than anything else, I think. A dare forces you to dig deep and keep writing - and you almost have to go off on tangents and try things out, just to keep the words coming. They force you to go deeper.

Tomorrow I'll post some goals I have for this Liminal Zone. Happy holidays to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 56 - 665 Words To Stick a Fork In

So I end the dare almost 3000 words short. Oh well. I've certainly done more at the end of Fall Semester than I've done in a long long time, and that was kinda the point.

I'll be posting a redux and new goals starting tomorrow. In the meantime, happy holidays.

Running Total: 47178 Words.

47178 / 50000 words. 94% done!

Karla explains to Gwen that she is not Steven Seagal. (However, Gwen still seems to think that the safest place in the hall is right behind Karla.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 55 - 1184 Words of Exploration

Okay I see I'm not going to make it to 50k. But given that this is the very worst time of year for me to get anything done, I guess I'm pretty pleased anyway. We will see what I get tomorrow.

Running Total: 46513 Words.

46513 / 50000 words. 93% done!

Karla and Gwen meet. Gwen's friend Dahlia makes an accusation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Utterly exhausted

The last day at work took more out of me than I thought. (I am also still battling that cough.)

So I am going to bed with my iPod Touch, a notepad and pencil. I will probably do some scribbling, but the word count will be folded into tomorrow's total.


Day 54 - 1667 Words in Bits and Pieces

I'm going to be busier than I thought for the next three days so I tried to make it to a higher count, but alas, I did not. I need to go to bed early for one more day at the Day Job. Still, I have less than 5k left, and three days. I think I can make it.

Running Total: 45329 Words.

45329 / 50000 words. 91% done!

Bits and pieces from all over, so no specific teaser today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 53 - 2056 Words of Discussions

I needed to ramp up my productivity, so I pushed hard. I hope to do at least as well tomorrow, because Monday is going to be a tough day.

Running Total: 43662 Words.

43662 / 50000 words. 87% done!

Discussions of: Were the bad guys after Maria or Elias... or something else? Who might Maria really be? Was the wrong number really a wrong number? Karla takes a ride down by the lake.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 52 - 1748 Words With Ponies

Stayed up too late, but at least I made my goal. Even though I did shopping and made hot wings and watched Perry Mason, White Collar AND Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Running Total: 41606 Words.

41606 / 50000 words. 83% done!

While taking one of the ponies out for exercise, Karla learns something interesting from a friend. Also, Rosie deals with a phone call.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 51 - 1136 Words NOT in a Fever

Six days and 10K words left - so I have to try to do about 1700 a day. Will I make it? Stay Tuned!

My cold, at least, is mostly over.

Running Total: 39858 Words.

39858 / 50000 words. 80% done!

New opening, in which Karla compares the Congregationalist rummage sale to the movie Titanic, and people take it as a sign of her wisdom. (Well, they WERE singing "Nearer My God To Thee", though that wasn't actually the reason.) Also did some fill-ins on the action scene.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 50 - 342 Words Eked Out Through a Fevered Haze

Thinking about a novel while sick can lead to some interesting plot developments. I had to spend much of the day dozing, which meant thoughts turned very quickly into dreams. Unfortunately the downside of such thinking while you are sick is that you don't capture the ideas while you have them. They skitter away and all you can actually remember is the yodeling wombat you passed while you were trying to get out of the endless parking garage.

But that other part, that part you can remember? That was a really good twist idea. Just perfect for ... something. Probably.

Running Total: 38722 Words.

38722 / 50000 words. 77% done!

Karla calls her mother, and doesn't realize her mother got the wrong impression about something.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 49 - 572 Words and I've been Invaded by Aliens

Not in the book, in my life. Some sort of virus has taken up occupation in my body. Probably just a cold, though it involves weariness and aches. (Family members have had it too and it appears to be following the same arc.)

So I put in extra work at the day job so they could continue on without me, and I have retired to home with a warm cat and hot soup and silly videos. I did get some writing done, and I actually feel rather inspired, as I wrote about the aftermath of Karla's adventure, which includes a bad tumble on a sandy road.

Running Total: 38380 Words.

38380 / 50000 words. 77% done!

George is solicitous. Karla is sore. The ponies don't really care one way or the other. (Actually the ponies don't even enter into it, but if I were to turn the camera in their direction, we'd probably see that they really don't give a rip.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 48 - 496 Words More Chasing and Plotting

Today was a rotten day. Began with games by the passive-aggressive receptionist at my dentist's office. This is the fourth time she has made the same "mistake" (which involves outright an outright lie every time in order for it to happen). I did, however manage to do about 750 words of notes on which scenes are still missing and what I need to change in existing scenes to reflect the changes.

In the meantime I have found a really great script to read. This year's "Hollywood Blacklist" is out. It's a list of scripts that are truly wonderful but which won't be made for some reason or other. ("Not commercially viable" is the most common reason, along with sheer bad luck.) At the top of the list is a script called "The Muppet Man" - a fanciful (but somewhat dark) biography of Jim Hensen written by a person who knows nothing about him except what can be gleaned from interviews and public stuff. The blog Go Into the Story tells the story of this script, and how it launched the writer's career, and there is also a link to the script itself. (Here is a direct link to the download page for Muppet Man, in pdf format. It's a site with lots of pop up ads but otherwise seems harmless.)

Running Total: 37808 Words.

37808 / 50000 words. 76% done!

More on the new chase scene, with cardboard, pitchfork and a bad tumble. (But at the moment I don't see how they can end up with George back at his car. Must continue to consider logistics.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 47 - 1497 Words With More of a Chase

Still fighting off the cold, but I got some good stuff in today. A lot of it, unfortunately is a different version of things I already have. I also got a lot of think work done on how various changes affect the story. So far all is working out better and better. I am looking forward to the point where I actually get to pull out all the seams and rework this.

Running Total: 37312 Words.

37312 / 50000 words. 75% done!

The curse of the tomato worm. The value of a gallon of spoiled milk (largely weight).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 46 - 1546 Words And An Epiphany

I was so excited today when I realized how well it would work if I just abandoned the first chapter or so. This, of course, is an epiphany nearly every writer has on nearly every book. But I had thought I had already cut off the first chapter.

This book really has to start off with Karla, and George and his situation can be a bit of a mystery to be uncovered in the first few chapters.

I also decided to separate my posts about writing philosophy and issues from my pure update posts. Stay tuned for thoughts about characters, actors and point of view.

Running Total: 35815 Words.

35815 / 50000 words. 72% done!

Fleshing out and finishing the flamingo scene. (Which now may well be the end of the first chapter!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 45 - 1568 Words With A Little Chase Scene

The semester has ended! (More or less. We still have work on prepping the labs for next semester to do.) And I think I have a cold. But we had some really great Sichuan food as a treat. Dumplings in Spicy Sichuan Sauce will clear any kind of congestion, and Squirrel Shaped Fish and Double-Cooked Side Pork was plenty luxurious. Ahhhh.

Running Total: 34266 Words.

34266 / 50000 words. 69% done!

Karla hatches an excellent plan to deceive George. Too bad George wasn't there to be deceived.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 44 - Exactly 1000 Words!

I actually spent much of today reworking how the first act would shape up. I changed a lot of things and I think it will tie the whole flow of the story together. But I didn't get around to writing as much new material on the book as I'd like. I did, however, write an article on character development.

Running Total: 32698 Words.

32698 / 50000 words. 65% done!

Karla deduces where the picture most likely came from.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Monty Python and Novel Writing

As long as we're on the subject of competitive, goal-oriented novel writing. I have to give you a link to this wonderful radio sketch from Monty Python. (It's from their "Matching Tie and Handkerchief" album - which if I remember right, was a "three sided" vinyl album. The second side had two tracks, which were side by side, and it was sheer luck which one you landed on when you played it.)

Anyway, someone at YouTube has a video up of this sound-only sketch, featuring Novel Writing as a sports event, with Thomas Hardy writing The Return of the Native.

Day 43 - 476 Words of Puzzling About the Picture and About Setting

Tired, but I got some done. I realize I have to do a little more thinking about the inciting event - the picture that sets this whole thing off. It is partly an accidental happening but I think I can make better of it than that. I also think I have discovered a key minor character that I didn't know was involved. But it makes the local geography all that much more important.

You know, once upon a time someone told me about an exercise for personal essayists. It was a great way to evoke memories. You take a large blank sheet of paper and draw a small box with an x in the center. That is some place you lived as a child. Then you draw a map all around it.

This is also a great way to develop your character's surroundings. A lot of writers, especially of fantasy, like to draw maps of a whole fantastic location and then set their story within it, but I think it's more helpful to draw such a map not with overall layout in mind, but as if exploring a memory. What's down the path? What's up the path? Did your character ever go that way? What memories are associated with this room or that tree?

Running Total: 31698 Words.

31698 / 50000 words. 63% done!

Karla and Uncle Rosie sit down and discuss where that picture could have come from. Karla reveals herself to be more practical-minded than Chief of Police Rosewalt. More or less.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day 42 - 707 Words about Meeting the Child in Question

Here we are waiting for the show/ice storm of the century and I'm writing about a sunny day. It would be nice to have a snowday tomorrow, but that would screw a lot of people up so I suppose I should not hope for it.

Running Total: 31222 Words.

31222 / 50000 words. 62% done!

Elias returns a video to Karla. His reaction to it does not strike Karla as odd at the time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 41 - 614 Words on a Morning Stroll

I am very tired after my long day, but I decided to use this time for more exploring. I wanted more sense of place, so I am newly introducing Karla in a more leisurely way. I don't know if I will use this in the final book, although it did come out pretty well.

And, as usual, important details details cropped up that deepen the story and also lots of stuff that creates new opportunities. (For instance, might the footpath be a better location for the chase and fight than the pony barn? I think so. And what about those unfinished low-rent cabins at the OTHER end of the path?)

And OH LOOK! I found a widget that allows you to have a graphic representation of writing progress!! I am so geeking out here. (If you click on it, it will take you to the page where you can get the code. However, you have to go to that page and enter new information every time you want to show new progress. But it's just what I want.)

Running Total: 30515 Words.

30515 / 50000 words. 61% done!

Karla evicts a tomato worm, and notices some tire tracks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 40 - 263 Words - Showing and Telling and Planning and Plumping

Today went out the window when I had a minor morning emergency which caused continued sleep deprivation. But I did get some planning done, and I started in on something else important: I started recapturing my "voice."

I've been away doing screenwriting for quite a while. And with screenwriting, the the words "Show, Don't Tell" have a whole different meaning. The whole medium is about showing. You CAN'T tell the way you can in fiction. There is no exposition, no internal dialog. So basically you have to stick it into external dialog, or leave it out. You have dialog and action, and that's it.

But worse.... you have to leave the cool stuff to the actors. Humphrey Bogart stands on a train platform, reading the goodbye letter from the woman he loves. It's pouring rain. That's about all you can say. You can elaborate a little for the sake of the producers, and maybe say something like "he's crushed" to give an idea of where the actor will be going with it. But you can't tell the actor how to get there. You also have to leave the timing and lighting and atmosphere and the way the camera directs your attention to this detail or that to the director. And director of photograpy and editor.

When writing fiction, you have to do all of that yourself. And the way to accomplish it, especially without resorting to 'telling' and too much stage direction, is through voice. And it's easy for me to get back into my voice when I have a first person narrator, but when I'm writing a story in third person, I currently tend to rip through it with dialog and minimal action now.

And that's a big part of why I'm taking a break at the end of the month, and then coming back. At that time, I will be going at this story with voice. Right now I'm ripping through dialog and events. It's the scenes with out dialog, or which depend on non-dialog elements, though, that are giving me the most trouble....

So I spent today first sorting out what I have written and what I haven't, and then reading and plumping up layers of voice and language. When I finally got down to it, it didn't take that long, so this might be the best thing to do on those busy work days.

Running Total: 29901 Words.

29901 / 50000 words. 60% done!

Pre-flamingo scene, revisited.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not to Be Outdone by the Orange Max Cat....

Miss Rita, senior queen of the house, decided it was HER turn to disrupt typing. This as documented again by the built in webcam on my MacBook.

Day 39 - 1909 Words With a Little Action

A lot of plot work done today. In spite of a short term migraine (possibly a combo of other kinds of headache) a little Tylenol and some music helped. Kitties did their best to interrupt, but it did not work. I got my writing done.

Running Total: 29638 words.

Karla comes home to find actual real thugs tearing her house apart. They are impervious to flamingos. Luckily they are not impervious to Starlings.

More thoughtful posting at another time.

Today's tunes: Sinatra's High Hopes, and Chumbawamba's Tubthumping. ("I get knocked down! But I get up again! You're never gonna keep me down! I get knocked down!....")

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 38 - 814 Words

As you'll note, I changed the template today. I think it's more readable.

As for the writing, another long day, but I did get some work done. Also some plot noodling. I am going to have to sort out some of the badguy stuff soon.

Running Total: 27729 Words.

George follows Karla to the video store.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Still Worn Out - But Humming

I am still pretty worn out, and tomorrow is the department pot luck so I had to make cookies tonight.

But I watched two old movies today. (This, of course, counts as research for the current series.) First we went to see Meet Me In St. Louis, which was playing at one of the local multiplexes. (They play old movies on many Tuesdays and Thursdays.) It is not the greatest of MGM musicals, but it does feature The Trolley Song, and a good cast, and needs to be seen once in a while on the big screen.

But then tonight while I was baking the cookies, I discovered that Hulu has Ball Of Fire playing free online. This 1941 Howard Hawks comedy is a heck of a lot of fun. It stars Gary Cooper as a linguistics professor who has been living a monastic existence with seven other professors (all played by great long time character actors like "Cuddles" Sakall and Henry Travers) as they write an encyclopedia. And then Barbara Stanwyck sashays into their lives as Sugarpuss O'Shea, a nightclub singer on the lam. (This was remade in 1948 as A Song Is Born, a musical with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.)

As I said, this is RESEARCH, because Karla sees everything through the metaphor of movies (sorta like Miss Marple sees the solutions of mysteries through the metaphor of small town life). Unfortunately none of the movies mentioned today are suitable for for Book One. But they may give us some place to go in Book Two. (Though I'm thinking I need a little Clifton Webb for that book.)

Off I must go to bed. Another long day tomorrow.

(Humming Clang clang clang went the tolley! Ding ding ding went the bell! Zing zing zing went my heart strings. From the moment I saw him I fell....)

Day 37 - 119 Words

I'm utterly exhausted. It has been a very very long day. Students panicking everywhere. All I want to do is go to bed. This did not stop me from writing a short bit of dialog for an important turning point in Book 2.

Running Total: 26915 Words.

Karla says something. George says something in return. (I'm too tired to write a teaser.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Shift - New Goals, 50k Words and the Liminal Zone

I was once a Classical Studies major. It just seems right to me that between one year and the next there should be an eight-day period that is a part of neither year. The previous year's business should be finished up by the end of December 23, and new business should start on January 2.

In between you are on the threshhold (the "limen"). This is a time for celebration outside of the limits of normal constraints. But it's also an excellent time for contemplation and planning. A time to review the past, assess the present and plan for the future. I have long celebrated the Liminal Zone, and I realize that should be a part of my on going novel dare.

So I'm reframing my December goals to reflect that.

Goal 1: Fifty thousand words by the end of December 23.

I have 26k+ at the moment, so this will be about a thousand words a day - but it will be tough, because these next two weeks are the toughest time of semester. So I'm going to start out getting behinder and behinder. Can I catch up on weekends and when the semester ends? We'll see.

I will not do illustrations for the remainder of this particular novel dare. Also, the writing I'm doing right now is pretty raw. Part of this phase of the goal is to pile up the raw material for the real drafting later.

Goal 2: Daily Posts from The Liminal Zone (December 24-January 1).

I hope to keep these posts interesting, as I assess past, present and future not only of my career and goals, but of what I see in publishing, both as a reader and a writer.

This is a time for figuring out where I need to go next, and by the end of this period, I will set up a schedule for the January and February Dare goals.

Day 36 - 1269 Words

Words of many sorts, on two books. I think I've finally got enough scenes noted down for Book Four, and I've also made a small breakthrough on the first book - the main book. It's something that can have great resonance, and cause much coolness later on. I'm still working on those ramifications.

Running Total: 26796 Words.

George's elegant mother reminds Karla of an older Audrey Hepburn... and also of Margaret Dumont. Meanwhile, George lies to some thugs, and Giroux recognizes George's handiwork. (Thug with a black eye and broken trigger finger. Dead giveaway.... or is it?)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger, the News, and Speculation

I hope Tiger Woods sticks to his guns. The press should not be camped out outside his house over a single car accident. I don't care why it happened. He does not owe the public an explanation - and even if he has nothing to hide at all, he should not give us one. He owes the public a good golf game, and that's it. (If it turns out he did something illegal, that's different, but it isn't a story until that info breaks.)

But as a fiction writer, I find it does pique one's imagination. Not to wonder what he did and why, but to wonder what could happen with a fictional character in a fictional universe. I can imagine a scenario like the scene in the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) in which a parent, a good citizen, is just walking in to the inspector's office to give a statement about a crime he witnessed, and he gets the news: his child has been kidnapped, and he can't say a word, not about the crime or the kidnapping or anything. And he has to see that his wife doesn't speak either.

Little puzzles are the stuff of drama. And it happens every day. Writers have long been looking at newspapers for inspiration, and newspapers are particularly rich right now. We live in ironic times - supposedly newspapers are dying, but right now, nearly all newspapers are also online, which means we can read not only our own home town paper and maybe some big city papers. We can browse through papers from Kalamazoo, Topeka or Provo. The Traverse City Record Eagle or the La Junta Tribune-Democrat.

So make use of these resources while we have them. Support them while you can, too.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Happens While I Type

If I don't make my writing goal tonight, it will be entirely due to THIS:

This is a picture taken by my MacBook webcam. It is unedited (though I did tilt the monitor down a bit to show just what was making my fingers fumble).

Day 35 - 1666 Words Still on the Fourth Book

I did a lot on the fourth book today. Mostly dialog, and including one long conversation which I think will actually be an arc that will spread across the whole book.

Running Total: 25527 Words.

The inciting incident, with hors d'oeurves. And George and his father have a talk about the past.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 34 - 1879 Words on Thanksgiving and Such

I did a little on the current book and a lot on the fourth book. I like cozy series to have a real character arc. But I have to admit, it is a tricky thing. Cozies have to have a certain consistency. The point of the series is that you can count on it. Columbo never changes, nor does Perry Mason, or Miss Marple.

With a hard-boiled or police procedural, it's easier to have an arc, because the world is already disrupted. It's normal for characters to have their lives thrown for a complete loop that changes everything. Especially with police procedurals, the lives of the characters can become a real pot-boiler or soap opera, while the job provides a steady beat for the series.

And romantic plotlines provide a lot of opportunities for multibook arcs too - but they have the problem of peaking. For instance, Charlotte MacLeod's series about Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn had a bang up beginning. The relationship is utterly unrequited for the first book, and it takes a couple of books for it to get up and running, and then they get married and.... not much happens after that.

Part of the problem, though, was that the first book was so poignant. It had humor, but it wasn't a light read. The later books got lighter and lighter, until I stopped reading when in a later book Sarah stumbles across a body and basically says "oh bother! Not another one!" That might be okay in a series that started with that tone, but this series promised something different. The arc lost it's pizzazz.

Anne Perry did a better job later with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt (which isn't really a "cozy" but a darker domestic mystery series, if you want to be technical), except that she cheated at the beginning. I was SOOOO mad at her. I had started reading the series a couple of books into it. When I finally got my hands on the first two books, I found that she had completely skipped the interesting part.

In the first book, these two interesting characters meet and throw some sparks, but there is no romance until the last page. That promises so very much when you have a Victorian mystery with characters from completely different background and social class. But no, we don't get to see how that whole courtship thing worked out at all. At the beginning of book two, they are safely married. But even though she skipped that romantic character arc, the series persisted well because she built it on the second book. Their marriage is the rock, and everything else in their lives might grow and change and challenge them. So it worked. Even if it did piss me off.

The thing is to find a way to combine the character growth arc with the steady bedrock of the series that is there from the start. We never saw the romance of Mr. and Mrs. North (although in some ways the series is a "romance" between this charming couple and the policeman who befriends them) but we could always count on the tone that brought ditzy brilliance together with steady police work.

So you find the bedrock, and let everything else build on it. And for me, a part of finding the bedrock is writing more than one book at a time.

Running Total: 23861

We learn significantly more about George's background when his parents decide to show up at the Marquette-Rosewalt family Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 33 - 690 Words On a Different Novel

Well, it's the same series. I have a good idea of what will happen in the third or fourth book. And that book will take place at Thanksgiving time. It being Thanksgiving time right now, I felt inspired to write some of it. I may well write more tonight, but if so, it will be on paper, while laying in bed covered with cats. The actual word count will be tallied later.

Running Total: 21982 Words.

Aunt Rena is determined to take over Karla's house for the holidays, but George valiantly throws his own newly purchased summer cabin into the breech. Which leaves George with no place to stay, except with Karla. But it's a small price to pay, especially at the moment.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gear Shifting Time

I started writing this novel years ago, and I have a lot of material I've already written.

When I started this dare, I intentionally did NOT go back and read the old material. I wanted to capture what was in my head now. Let whatever is fresh and new and exciting come out.

But the fresh and new and exciting are not coming out as fast as they were, so I figured it was time to go back and read some of the old material. So that's what I did this evening. I read through all the clips and notes and manuscript fragments.

And I found it good. In some cases I wrote an equally good but different version of a scene now - but I really can take both and meld a better scene out of them. I found some good stuff to plug holes I was struggling with, and a few stinkers that make me glad I started a new.

I think I will keep working on new material for a while, but I think at some point soon, I will put the current dare on pause while I do a different dare - one where I tear everything apart and then knit all the existing material together. (But sometimes when you do that, you need a short break from the material first. I might do a short rewrite dare for another novel.)

One thing I haven't mentioned - I don't really like dares. (Odd, I know, for someone who kind of lives by them.) I think the point shouldn't be to write an unrealistic amount of verbiage in a month. I think the really best way to use a dare is to to create a sustainable pace of writing for life. Something you never really quit. And in that sense I may be better off setting shorter ongoing projects.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 32 - 843 Words - The Real Beginning

I did come up with the ultimate beginning. Finally. Once I thought of it, I knew it was right. There is a backstory to this (as there is in any mystery), and I never even thought about writing it in scenes, because it's an action thriller background and it didn't seem like it would fit with the rest of the book. It's not exactly Cozy.

But then I thought about the fact that action thrillers are just the modern cynic's version of a swashbuckler. And I really need a way to give a better impression of Gwen, who is very very needy at the time of the novel. So maybe the rescue from her point of view, romantic, sympathetic. It should establish things just right. Then I can jump to my original beginning, which now finally works for me.

Plus I also had an inspiration for a much better movie metaphor for Karla to come up with. And this one is a great red herring, because she thinks she knows why the little boy was so drawn to the Prisoner of Zenda, and why he wants to rewrite it, but she's wrong. But she doesn't discover that until long after she accuses George of being Rupert.

Running Total: 21292 Words.

Gwen discovers that there is something even more terrifying than being terrorized by kidnappers on a daily basis. And later George explains to Gwen's psychiatrist why enabling is a good thing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nothing But Thinking

I had arranged to have a shorter day at work today, with the hopes of getting some writing done, but it didn't work out. I need to go to bed in reasonable time on work days and that is what is screwing me up. I'm hoping to get a little extra focus time this week, though. (The next two weeks will be end of semester nightmare, so I really have to get it done this week.)

But I am zeroing in on my first chapter more. (Yeah, I know I did some work on the first chapter the other day, but that was the END of the first chapter.) When it comes to beginnings, I really like to follow Blake Snyder, the late great screenwriting guru who wrote Save The Cat. Snyder had a lot of great theories, but he had two ideas about beginnings that really strike home for me.

One of these is what he refers to in his title. Your story needs to open on something that reveals your character's true nature - particularly the part of the character that makes you want to watch a movie about him. Your character, basically, has to pause and save a cat. And though Snyder doesn't mention irony specifically in this idea, he does emphasize how important irony is to your overall story. And I think every great save the cat scene has some kind of irony to it.

So, for instance, in another novel that I will eventually get to, I already know the opening scene, and it will be a literal "save the cat" scene. A sleazy local hoodlum threatens a cat in an effort to collect some money. The owner of the cat cowers. It's the hoodlum's hulking knee-breaker who decides he's had enough of sleazeballs and cowards, and so he rescues the cat, lays out the hoodlum, collects the debt, and sends the cat's owner off to Gamblers Anonymous to maybe regain a little spine.

So that sets up some irony - the guy whose job it is to break knees on demand is the only one with a moral compass. But that also sets up the character's conflict.

George's dilemma is something quite different. He and his girlfriend are both kind of trapped in amber at the opening - which is his major problem. Events will very soon crack that amber apart, but I need an opening to introduce the conflict. And I've got to do it in a way that doesn't make either of them whiny and unlikeable. (Because trapped people ARE kind of whiny and unlikeable.)

But I may be over thinking it. Sometimes the best way to deal with an uninteresting bit is to skip it. And there is something to be said for the model of peeling away the layers of an onion. (It is especially useful in comedy.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unknown Number of Words on a Query

I decided to query agents about my previous book.

So I spent the day working on the material. I can't say how many words I wrote, because I spent as much effort cutting them out as putting them in.

And I even submitted it. Sort of.

An agent on my target list, Janet Reid, happens to have a blog where she sometimes critiques queries. She does a great, blunt job of showing what is and is not effective in a query, and I recommend anyone who feels a bit at sea when writing a novel query should read her blog.

I hope this week to eke out a little more writing time.

Day 31 - 1042 Words - Karla Does Her Thing

The thing about Fred Astaire is not just his feet. When he dances, the forces of gravity do not apply. He seems to reach down to tap on the floor while he floats effortlessly above the ground. And the thing about that is - Fred knew what to do with his arms.

I was watching That's Entertainment this evening, and that great sequence of Astaire with Eleanor Powell, and that's when I noticed the thing about the arms. Nothing against Ms. Powell, who is a fabulous hoofer, but it struck me at that moment that Fred was in control of even his fingertips.

I wanna write like that. (Although I didn't exactly accomplish it today.)

Running Total - 20449 words.

Introduction to Karla, in which she recommends that a little old Christian lady give Pulp Fiction to her grandson. "It will be a good influence on him."

There's also a big expositional lump, but I think it actually needs MORE rather than less here. I needs voice.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 30 - 587 Words

End of semester, very busy at work, and also realized I need to do what shopping I could before the weekend madhouse started. Ah... no excuses. I didn't get started until 1am.

Running Total: 19407 Words.

Finishing yesterday's scene. I now know what George's mindset is when he meets Karla, and why he makes the mistakes he does. There are other elements I should get in there, but what I've got works for now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 29 - 1168 words - The Beginning, and a Food Post

I was a little stymied today. Aside from yesterday's banking annoyance (which got straightened out this morning, but not without lots of other minor online finance hassles - like slow..... loading..... pages..... every..... where..... I.... went.....) I had this silly idea that I would write the Flamingo scene over from George's point of view. I'm playing with point of view right now, and am finding too many scenes that are delicious from different points of view, so I thought I'd play around.

But alas, I realize that the scene isn't equivalent for each character. It is the first meeting between George and Karla, but unlike Karla, George is aware of her existance before she is aware of his. So in order to get his first perception of her, I had to go back. I had to go back to the first chapter, actually.

There is a reason I have not written the first chapter yet. Why I am writing this firmly from the middle out. Actors have a term for it. It's called "burning your steps."

See, if you're an actor, you have to reach a certain emotional pitch right at the height of the scene. So you have to be careful not to burn you steps, or reach that pitch too soon, because otherwise you get halfway there and you've used your energy up, and you have no where to go but down just as you need to go up.

In writing a novel, burning your steps can make things repetitive. When you realize where you're going it's easy to anticipate and get there too soon. Writing those scenes first, though, forces you to not only know where you're going to but to feel where you are going and in a very detailed way - which means you not only can build up to it in a very concrete way, but you also have to get creative about those details.

Of course, you can always go and rewrite the key scene again later. You may find that you hadn't actually burned your steps, that you actually need to take it to a higher level when you get there. But at least you had a target.

So I backed off my scene, and I wrote some material for my Reading Chinese Menus blog while I mulled it over (to be posted later - more anon) and then went back to the beginning.

Which makes for 386 words for a blog post and 782 words of the first chapter

Running Total: 18820 Words.

Gwen receives the dossier (which does not mention the flamingo) and makes a deal with George.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 28 - Bank error not in your favor.

Okay, it's not the bank's error

After my long day of work I was ready to settle down and get some writing done even though tired, when I looked at my credit card statement and found it was insanely high. Apparently I did not remember to pay last month, which is bad enough. But this month (without the benefit of major purchases) I managed to spend an outrageous amount of money. Now a lot of that money was money I have been reimbursed for, as I have run errands for friends, and bought lunch for groups of people at work, but that doesn't account for all of it.

But the worst thing is that my bank, where I can check to see what might have gone wrong and whether I have enough money to pay the card off right now (which I should have), has decided to take banking offline for the night. So I can't tell if they made an error and I really did pay like I thought, and I can't tell if I can go ahead and just pay the bill. (I do NOT ever pay less than the full amount. It galls me to pay a minimum payment. Grrrrrr. But I need to know for sure that the full amount is in the account before I click the button!)

So anyway, I have been stymied by the banking system. I am not happy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 27 - 1338 Words - Enter the Flamingo

Didn't expect to do anything tonight. I just thought I would get a little scribbling done. But hey, I'll take it.

Running Total: 17652 Words.

Finally able to approach the scene in which George and Karla meet. In which George mistakes Karla for an evil mastermind, or at least a chief minion. Until she threatens him with a plastic yard flamingo. That's really a dead giveaway to the not being an evil mastermind, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 26 - Plot Noodling

....or "Novel Writing - the Fun Bits."

Although I have a plot and a plan in mind, what I'm really doing for this dare is writing all the fun parts, and just letting them take me where they may. When it comes down to it, this is a story about four people - George, his girlfriend Gwen, Karla and the Chief of Police who is sort of Karla's uncle.

The mystery part of this story is very much a MacGuffin, but like any good MacGuffin, it has a strong gravitational pull that yanks these characters out of their lives and smashes them into each other as they swirl round and round. And as a result I'm neglecting the MacGuffin right now. I am just filling my bowl with the best material, and then when this dare is over, I plan to sit down with a print out and start retyping this from scratch - weaving it all in as I go.

However, as I discover all the possibilities of each twist, it's necessary to sit down and figure out what is the most satisfying ending for each character (minor and major) and each thread of the story. And that's what I did today instead of sketching. I thought about the little points that these fun bits are raising - where the tension is - and came up with a good resolution for each.

For the moment I am still leaving the fate of the villain(s) up in the air. Is it death? Arrest? Or punishment at the hands of other forces? And how to work it so that various characters don't get in trouble - which relates to today's work on what would be satisfying for each character.

Which relates back to the fun bits.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 25 - 1690 Words of an Unexpected Twist

George took the bit in his teeth today and ran away with it. (I love it when characters do that.) He's not a naturally buttoned down person, but he's trained himself to be buttoned down. And I've let him do that, but I realize that I've needed to pop a few buttons.

Running Total: 16314 Words.

George experiences a bit of Groundhog Day, which inspires him to run. Karla rescues him from himself and offers him Die Hard as an alternative.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 24 - 1148 Words of Conflict

Time to reveal the title of the book: The Man Who Did Too Much.

And the rough version of the pitch: George Starling is a man who does too much. Always has. And now this international man of action is stuck in a small midwestern town with not much to do. The woman who may be the love of his life - the one he rescued from terrible peril - has to recover from her ordeal before they really can tell if it's love or if it's just a temporary hero/damsel thing.

In the meantime Karla Marquette, reclusive small-town spinster and movie buff extraordinaire, manages to get herself tangled up in a case of international intrigue - right in her own backyard.

Running Total: 14624 Words.

Chief Rosewalt and George go head to head, again. Rosie pins his ears back and almost gets what he wants, but George is slippery, even when he's not trying to be.

I've also returned to an idea I had a couple of weeks ago, and then abandoned. I now believe it can work.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Day 23 - 1235 Words Since Midnight

I started late. Really late. But I got to the goal. My cold is getting better, but I slept in and was easily distractable today. Also, eHow, the site where I do some article writing, is going through another round of article deletions, which means there were a lot of frustrated, angry and bewildered people on the forums. So as usual I spent a lot of time explaining and helping as best I could... and I probably wrote a lot more than a thousand words just there.

Running Total: 13476 Words.

Two scattered scenes - Uncle Rosie takes Karla to breakfast and gives her the third degree with syrup, and then a later scene after George takes her to dinner, in which she makes all clear to George by explaining that his job is Paul Henreid. (And he is Ingrid Bergman.)

Yes, they're still on the Casablanca metaphors. It would all go better if it wasn't for the fact that George has only seen the movie dubbed in Tagalog with Chinese subtitles.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 22 - 733 Words of Fevered Typing

Well, only a bit of fever, but I definitely have a cold. And I didn't work on the novel today because my brain does is too fuzzy for complication.

So I wrote a flash fiction story and two mystery haikus. Two! (I did some other things today too, but I don't remember what they are. Oh! A review of the Ellery Queen TV show... or did I do that yesterday? Time runs together. Cats take advantage.)

Running Total: 12241 words.

I hope to have this story polished soon, but I'm undecided about putting it on the site, or submitting it somewhere first. (I do want to add some original fiction here, but I also think I should start up my regular publishing again.)

I'll also need to do an illustration....

Day 21 - I have a cold

I definitely have a cold, but I have to post something every day. This is the penance of a Dare. You have to admit when you didn't do things.

Tomorrow, however, is a day off, so there is no excuse, even with a virus.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 20 - Blech!

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are just awful days to get anything done. Today was longer than expected, and just one of those times when you can barely get started.

I did manage to scribble some things on paper, which will show up on a future tally.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 19 - 382 Miscellaneous Words

As you see I struggle a little to keep up with the goals I have set, even though my pace here is pretty modest compared to things like NaNoWriMo and even more challenging novel dares. A friend said to me that setting a long term dare was not a good idea because it's hard to keep up for so long.

But that's kind of the point. I did this once, almost a decade ago. I was able, at last, to really limit the hours I worked at my day job. I did some figuring and I realized that if I was serious about writing, I should be able to turn out 1000 words a day when working part time. Not that it would be easy, but it was something a working writer should be doing. At least as an average.

Today I did a little more writing rather than drawing. Mondays are exhausting, but I want to catch up a little. I think the story has been catching fire.

Running Total: 11508 Words.

Mostly filling in between bits I've already written. And Uncle Rosie offers to buy Karla some waffles, figuring he'll catch more flies with syrup than with the third degree.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Day 18 - 470 Words

I crashed today. I managed to get an article finished up to publish on eHow, and some polishing on the novel, but I had an allergic reaction to something that made me itch madly and then I just crashed. I can hardly stay awake now.

Running Total: 11126 Words.

I'm going to see if I can do a little writing on Monday through Wednesday, just to catch up.

Day 17 - 1020 Words And Much Fun

I meant to write more to make up for lost time, but who would have expected that I would end up watching C-Span with rapt attention. (We got a Republican to vote for health care! Hoorah!)

Running Total: 10656 Words.

I had much fun writing today's bits. First there was a conversation in which George tells the story of the one moment of his childhood that changed everything and made him who he is. Under much prodding, Karla comes up with a story too, but she refused to tell the story I prepared for her and told a completely different one.

And then I did a scene from the end in which Karla is able to deliver a famous line that no quiet-living middle-aged spinster is ever likely to have an opportunity to say. (George definitely has made her day.)

Looking forward to tomorrow's sessions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day 16 - 1063 Words of Backstory

Today I had a breakthrough on the plot, which caused me to think through a major revision of the backstory. It doesn't affect anything I've written so far. It just takes the truth to another level of twist. (And it will turn out that Karla's movie intuition that they are in The Third Man is true in a very different way than she thought.)

So I did 1063 words of backstory, which is only a small portion of the reams and reams of notes I made today. I'm not going to add this to the running total, because it's not finished writing, but I hope to make up for that tomorrow with an extra long session of real writing.

And a bit of Novel Dare wisdom from my fortune cookie tonight:

"When you're not afraid to do it wrong the first time, you'll eventually get it right."

That's about the only way to get through a dare. Don't worry about screwing up, just keep going. (That's kind of George's philosophy too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 15 - 1245 Words In Which George Gets The Third Degree

I got a late start today, but I feel good about what I wrote, especially since it's mostly very clean dialog, and will likely be a lot longer when I actually polish it up.

Running Total: 9636 Words.

After much effort, Chief Rosewalt comes up with a way to rattle the otherwise unflappable George. George figures out a way to make the police happy without telling what he knows.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 14 - A Hat

I sketched an "icon" style picture - a fedora, which I can use for reviews or essays about hard-boiled fiction.

I also exported it in a NOT recommended way, because it's supposed to have glaring pulp fiction colors, and if you try to export it for web from Photoshop, it won't let you use those colors -- even when they are colors used by Google itself!

So if you go blind looking at this picture, it's what is supposed to happen.

Tomorrow back to the novel.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 13 - Election Day Blahs

No, I didn't write anything today and I didn't sketch anything today.

I got up early and voted and stood in the cold and gave out slate cards in an attempt to get a decent board of trustees elected for our college. We ended up with a loss of an important seat, and held even on two others. Two hundred more votes would have improved our situation. (But it would have taken two thousand to unseat a problem incumbent so we weren't all that close to really making a difference - though technically even that was a pretty close race.)

I did some postings on the eHow blog to help people who were confused about eHow new way of reporting earnings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 12 - Some Sketching

I managed some sketching, but this is a tough week already. Monday is a very long - and late - day at work, and tomorrow I have to get up early to vote, and then do some work at the polls, and then go to work.

I'll think I'll be satisfied with the sketch.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day 11 - 1063 Words about Food, Mostly

Not as much writing as I meant to do today, but I got to the goal.

Running total: 8391 Words.

George introduces Karla to Vietnamese food, and gets very drunk and reveals he's not really Simon Templar at all. He's a flamingo. (With a yo yo.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 10 - 1298 Words of Mixed Writing

I spent some time early in the day working on an article to submit to Suite101. They want two writing samples before they accept a writer.

The article I did this morning was about cliffhanger chapter endings, and how a good cliffhanger isn't just a matter of leaving the readers hanging - it's a promise of cool things to come. (People don't turn the page just because they don't know what happens next. They turn the page because they have reason to believe something great is going to happen next.)

So 405 words on the article, and 893 words on the novel.

Running Total: 7328 Words.

In today's novel writing, Karla realizes that George must have ditched his gun just as the police arrived, but where? She has a feeling she maybe doesn't want to know, but that doesn't stop her from looking, or banging her head on a pop machine, or having too many people buy pop for her when she isn't even thirsty.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day 9 - 1029 Words - Give or Take

I wasted about 500 or so words earlier in the day, trying to help with this election, but I don't even want to count them. I got my thousand words in the novel anyway.

Running Total: 6030 Words.

Karla's mother enters into it sooner and more forcefully than I thought. Which may mess up a later scene, but we'll have to see. Also a later scene in which George discovers a Vietnamese restaurant! After months of an enforced diet of hamburgers.