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.