Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 16 - 1488 Words - Half of them Good

Why is it that people gravitate to you when you most need to concentrate? What I wrote today sucked, and the more I tried to get a handle on it, the more every being in the vicinity seemed to be drawn to be right next to me doing things designed to distract.

I bulled my way through it, but I didn't actually improve it any. I did get some good stuff, and the next section should be fun, but today's effort ended up a stressful waste. Feh.

(I'll talk about point of view more tomorrow.)

Running Total: 19690 Words.

19690 / 70000 words. 28% done!

In Today's Pages: Rosie makes his entrance. (Although I might cut that bit and just let tomorrow's section be his entrance.)

Day 15 - 1205 Words and Point of View Issues

I'm going to have to take on point of view soon. This is a multiple pov third person story. I like this kind of story, and I've written a few things this way. But this is the first time I've written something where I have scenes that are equally interesting from several points of view. And in some cases, the scenes almost demand to be written from more than one point of view.

What to do? At the moment I'm just picking the point of view that has the most demanding moments in the scene, and occasionally using a slightly overlapping time line. That is, when I switch point of view, I might recap a bit of the scene before - usually in summary and character thought.

I hope to have time to discuss a few techniques I've seen for shifting point of view. Robert Crais has been combining third person and first person in his novels lately. Philip Craig and Robert Tapply have been doing even more interesting things in their jointly written two-narrator novels. And then there is good old omniscient....

Running Total: 18202 Words.

18202 / 70000 words. 26% done!

In Today's Pages: George lets something slip. Karla hears the tune from Charade playing in her head.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 14 - 842 Hard Earned Words

I got a late start after a longer day than I expected. (Also it was a migraine day, but not a bad one. Just a blind and stupid day.) But I still feel good about my progress, because this was almost all new material.

Running Total: 16997 Words.

16997 / 70000 words. 24% done!

In Today's Pages: George makes another promise. Karla makes a decision.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 13 - 1312 Words And Back in The Saddle Again

I went back and did some editing on the previous section, and then moved forward into the current bit. It was a long session, though, and I'm too tired to write more at the moment.

Running Total: 16155 Words.

16155 / 70000 words. 23% done!

In Today's Pages: George and Karla compare notes, and bandaids.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to the Dare Tomorrow

Busy day, good personal stuff, but weird events at work that left me kind of distracted.

Tomorrow I start up on the dare again. I'm continuing on the same track, but I am expanding the final word count to 70,000, and the final date to March 14. That leaves the approximate daily goal at 1200, just like before.

Now, when I'm doing first fresh exploratory writing like I did in the fall, I count all words written. If I write a thousand words on a scene, and then the next day I throw it out and write a thousand new words - both sets count.

However, this dare is a "full draft" dare, so the count that matters is the total number of words in the manuscript. Stuff that gets cut is negative progress. And duplicate scenes don't get to exist. (Not unless they are both going to be there in the final version - something which I will talk about when I get around to talking about point of view variations.)

So, I expect some backwards progress a few times in the coming weeks, as I maneuver the new beginning into place. Still, that does make for a great incentive to move forward and not fuss.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tired But Still Creative

Too weary to make a lucid post about writing, other than to say a little about serendipity. (Or maybe serendipity is not the right word, but I'm too weary to care....)

A minor incident at work today prompted thoughts about how my characters might react in a similar situation. Being fictional characters, pretty much all of them are going to be more proactive than the real people involved were. Characters have to be proactive, even if they give the appearance of being whimps, they HAVE to act or you have no story.

Without going into the specifics, let's just say it was a classic moment of deciding whether to help someone who may not need or want help. Which could be the inspiration for just about any kind of story, and the idea that came of it could be used for any of my characters depending on how I handle it. With Mick and Casey, it's a great opportunity for Mick to get himself into trouble.

That choice, though, would constrain the idea. The series is narrated by Mick, so it would be from his point of view, so he would be the one who would have to end up in a pickle. (Which is pretty much the essence of the series - Mick gets into trouble, and has to solve his way out of it.)

But as details grew on this idea this afternoon, I knew it was a George idea. And I think the reason is because this is a third person narrative, and so it can be told from the point of view of the "guest character." I knew that this would be a story about that character, someone in desperate trouble, and someone who must go it alone. (Except for Simon Templar and Mary Poppins lurking around in the background.)

That can be a great way to keep series characters fresh and fun - by letting them lurk in the background as mysterious strangers. Even if they are not strangers to the audience.

I have to admit, I really like that kind of story in general. It's all Scarlet Pimpernelly, or Zorro-y. And that may be an option even for Mick and Casey. I like to write shorts and novellas for them too - so who is to say I couldn't have them enter somebody else's story? Especially since they are already prone to be underestimated by others.

So those were the thoughts I had for today. The "redo the first chapter" project is moving slowly along. I will not be done with the new material by the time I start up the dare again on Thursday, but I probably just cut the material I'm going to replace and add it to the overall dare.

I'll be posting the redone goals tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Approaching the Approach

I think the exact right approach for the beginning came to me last night, so I'm finally moving forward on my opening again.

Although the scene is static - two people sitting and talking - it is also cinematic, and I find that I need to block it out as though it is a screenplay to really find where it is going, dramatically. Of course, when you have two people, it is often good to think in terms of drama. Not one person with an objective, but two people with conflicting objectives. (That is the essence of drama. You know, conflict.)

The really interesting thing is that I'm not sure of the voice and point of view of this scene. It could end up objective or omniscient, or in either character's ball park. And yet, by taking this approach, I get a very strong feel for the scene, which makes me confident that when I'm done blocking it out, the voice will fall in to place. Actually, I think the voice may already be there.

This whole novel presents interesting problems in point of view. There are some scenes in this that almost demand more than one point of view. And there are more solutions than just going to omniscient. I'm going to have to do a post on this soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Dancing Bear Liberation Front

Bears are not meant to dance. They are meant to lumber, and eat berries and salmon, and sleep and scare people. And when they are forced to dance, they are really bad at it. And yet for centuries people have captured bears and spent years training them to lurch around on two feet. It's hard work for the trainer and it's harder work for the bear, and the trainer does it just so people will say "Wow, look! A dancing bear. I've never seen that before!"

The entertainment here is not to watch brilliant choreography, but to marvel at the fact that the bear can dance at all.

We, as writers, capture virtual bears and force them to dance all the time. We get an idea, and it sounds cool, and we work and work and work, and actually make it do what it's supposed to. Maybe it doesn't quite fit, but with a little more work, we actually do make it fit into the flow of the story.... And it works.

But it doesn't work well.

But it was so difficult and tricky, that when the time comes to ruthlessly edit the story, we are too proud of having made the bear dance at all to see that it's no Fred Astaire.

I suspect that this is what some people really mean by "kill your darlings." But they're not always all that darling. The truth is you may or may not love your dancing bears. You may just have committed yourself to it with so much work that you don't see how you can replace it.

The goal is to be most proud of the actual best things in your story. The goal is to learn which things these are, so that you can make the ballerinas into your prima donnas (your darlings) and chase the bears back into the woods.

Back to the Drawing Board

I have done a lot of good work on this opening, but it is all wrong. And must be thrown out. (Well, not really thrown out, so much as stuck into the compost bin.)

My original concept has the right flow for the story. I broke up that flow for good reasons - mainly trying to find the most attractive first page - but in the end the whole thing had become a dancing bear. The story lurches, rather than glides.

Of course, the original concept needs work too. It needs to be funnier, and perhaps, if it's possible so early in the story, more poignant. Which means that there should be more conflict in the opening scene.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nurture Your Darlings

"Kill Your Darlings" is, imho, the single most misleading, and dangerous, bit of advice that everyone always gives to a writer. It's not actually synonymous with "Edit Yourself Ruthlessly", which can be a good piece of advice, but people treat it as if it's exactly the same. It's actually just a short cut, and like all short cuts, it has a bad side. A very bad side.

First, what does "Kill Your Darlings" mean? There are different versions, but mainly it's that any bit of prose that you are overly attached to, or anything that stands out as better the rest, is probably hurting the rest of the story. As I said, it's a short cut. It is probably true of many of those bits, but not always true.

So what happens is this: the advice gets repeated among young writers as, "cut everything you really like." And then, as they repeat it and confirm it with one another, soon it's not a short cut, it's a rule. And it's good for you, so you've got to do it.  Right?

And, in terms of playing the odds, it's an effective rule. If you mindlessly cut out all the little things that you are most attached to in a story, you can turn an awkward or even downright bad story into a servicable mediocre story.

But you can never turn mediocre into great by killing your darlings. Great only comes from the stuff you love. Period.

Now, you may say, "But there are great writers who use that rule!" That's because they actually are just using that phrase to describe something else - something that isn't a short cut.

See great writers have pretty much come to terms with their own psychology. They know what's false and what's true in their own writing. They're actually doing what I call kicking out the dancing bears. (Which is what I'll talk about tomorrow.) Their real darlings have already been nurtured into greatness by the time they get to that point.

I was lucky, since the person who taught me about a "kill your darlings" type rule was Kate Wilhelm. On the first day of her weeks at Clarion, she said "If you have something in your story that is noticeably better than the rest, you have two choices. You can cut it out, or you can raise the rest of the story to that level."

In other words, you can settle ... or you can go for the gold.

This is really important because most of us have a sensitive spot around something that really matters to us. Whether it's childhood teasing or something more subtle, we learn to hide the things we like most. It's so easy for the "kill your darlings" to tap into this almost unconscious feeling, and give writers permission to play it safe.

The truth is, if something embarrasses you or excites you, that a clue that you should go after it! You may have to edit it ruthlessly, you may have to watch out for things that detract from the story. And until you are good at it, you will probably fail. But if you're going to write something really worth the effort, you've got to go after those darlings and find out if maybe they are the actual heart of the story.

Which is why, tomorrow, I will go through the existing versions of the beginning of this novel and finding the best parts, and cutting out all the rest.

See you in the funny papers.

Incomprehensible Characters

One of the two main characters of the novel I'm working on is a movie buff. Not just any kind of movie buff - she's a fangirl. She's a movie geek. Part of the problem with geeks is that they talk about things that nobody knows what the heck they mean. It doesn't matter if it's Chaos Theory, who Ruth Hussey was.

Ruth Hussey, for those who don't know, is the actress who played the sassy and long suffering photographer who was patiently in love with Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, among other things. She had that wonderful dry delivery, kind of like Eve Arden....

Which raises the question; does the reader even know who Eve Arden was?

And does it matter?

It depends. Geeks can be funny and even charming, and when they explain something incomprehensible by comparing it to something even more incomprehensible, it reveals a lot of their obsessions and their character.

But geeks are also full of pitfalls. To write a geek, you have to know as much as they do. And if you know what all that means, you can't always tell how incomprehensible you are being. You can't tell if you're being tiresome. You may not know if you are over or under explaining. (And your audience is likely to have differing levels of knowledge of the trivia involved.)

To complicate this further, you have the fact that mysterious statements are kind of fun in a mystery. Whether it's Sherlock Holmes mentioning the dog in "Silver Blaze"....

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

...Or when Miss Marple looks down at the murdered body of a young girl, and says something about how it reminds her of a frog jumping out. She explains much later that where the body was left reminded her of a childish prank, and that it was not perhaps as relevant to the murder as one might think. (Miss Marple is kind of a geek of village life - and thus human psychology.)

Miss Marple, of course, comes across as a ditz, but for those in the know (the readers) the fact that the other characters dismiss what she says as nonsense just raises the anticipation. In some ways it is more attractive than Holmes, because Miss Marple isn't trying to mystify. She's just thinking aloud.

Karla is geekier than Miss Marple. I think of her as more like Pamela North (of the Mr. and Mrs. North books by Frances and Richard Lockridge) who is definitely a ditz, but a smart one who thinks much much faster than she talks, and assumes that those listening are as smart as she is. (Ironically leaving people believing she is dumb.) Nearly everything she says therefore, comes out backwards. Which could get tiring in a full protagonist, but it's fine in the comic relief.

So Karla will need to fall somewhere short of Pam North. But, I think that's for later drafts.

In the meantime, since I've been posting silly Animaniacs videos from YouTube, here is one with Yakko being a geek as he sings a song naming all the Nations of the World.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Other Funny Videos

I couldn't decide on which Slappy Squirrel videos to link in the last post. I decided to do the one that was more typical of Slappy, but this one is my favorite. The Little Old Slappy From Pasadena.

Oh, and just to pile on the NBC fiasco.... I don't know how many of you may have heard of Apple Daily, a Taiwanese video company that makes wild 3-D recreations of tabloid stories. (They were made famous by their awkward and really BAD renditions of the Tiger Woods scandal.)

Well, they did a recreation of the NBC/Leno/Conan debacle, and it is awkwardly brilliant. The version narrated in Chinese is actually funnier than the one in English, so I'm including both links

Showdown at NBC In Chinese

Showdown at NBC In English

The Interim - Thoughts About Splosions

On the subject of making things more fun, more tense, more exciting:

I was browsing in the mystery section today, and found a series I had not known about before. (Jeffrey Cohen's Double-Feature Mystery series.) It's light comic mystery, and promises to be just what I want. One of the things that made me decide to buy the first book in the series was the back cover copy on one of the other books. The hero owns a small, struggling movie theater, and among the daily troubles it listed for him were things like a bomb in row five.

To quote Slappy Squirrel "Now, THAT'S comedy!"

I paused only to hunt down which title was the first in the series and immediately bought it. A bomb - even just a bomb scare - definitely qualifies as an intense and interesting complication.


I say "usually" becuase I am reminded of another series that I generally like, but not as much as I used to - the "Cat Who" books by Lillian Jackson Braun. The more bombs and buildings burning down that she threw into the series, the less interesting I found it. Why?

I think there are two reasons, and they contradict each other (at least on the surface).

The first reason is what a friend of mine calls "The Casablanca Test." This comes from the line about how the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. When you have something like a bomb or a major fire or a man with a gun, it's more important than anything else that might be happening. If the world is falling apart, your silly broken heart is not important, no matter how much it hurts.

This idea would seem to mean that comedies can't have bombs, but really it's why a bomb works better in a high comedy than a light cozy. Not that it can't work in a light cozy, but you can't be cozy with a bomb around. That bomb has to put the characters in a predicament. It's too important, too urgent, to be used as a mere clue or plot twist. And to me, that's what all these disasters were in the Cat Who books - just events.

So that's something to think about when you want to take your story to a higher level, or turn up the stakes. You won't achieve that by just inserting a more intense event. It has to create a more intense conflict. It has to be something that successfully competes with the existing problems and conflicts of your character.

In my opinion, a whimpy pretend bomb that scares the heck out of your main character and makes it impossible for her to do what she intended is much more effective than an explosion that levels a building but only inspires her to action. Whether it's tragic or comic, it has to put your character in some kind of predicament.

In the meantime, I put in a couple of hours on both chapter 1 and the rethinking. I forgot to mention: the dare countdown will begin again a week from now, on next Thursday.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 12 - 1224 Words of Reflection on an Emergency Lunchbox

It was hard settling in tonight, but I got to some fun work.

However it is now time for the short hiatus. As of tomorrow, I will be taking a short detour in the dare - suspending the word count and reworking the opening. And depending on time, I will probably also do some plot work - especially work that drives it deeper and makes it more exciting. Can I make the plot twists twistier? Can I make the dangers more dire, the surprises surprisier? And the cool bits cooler?

Running Total: 14843 Words.

14843 / 60000 words. 25% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla uses the wisdom of Hitchcock.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pushing Things Further

I was just reading the long article in the New York Times Magazine about James Patterson. I am not yet a Patterson fan, because I don't like grueling books. However, I might try some of his other series after reading this....

The reason I'm remarking on this though, is that I do like the attitude that comes across in this article. He is very focused on the reader (as opposed to the critic or the publishing industry) and I am energized by the way he tramples limits. Kinda like a literary Jack Bauer.

While people criticize his books for being shallow, I do think the lesson of Patterson is actually a matter of taking things to another level. Go further, go deeper.

I think a lot of us 'advanced' writers who haven't published a book, or made a breakout yet, suffer from doing the right thing. You can write a story that doesn't make mistakes and does everything it's supposed to, but if that's all you do, you end up with a story that's no more than it's supposed to be.

Now... Patterson said something about abandoning pretty sentences and going all for story. I am a person who writes this way in the first place. (The most common comment I get is "Boy, this moves right along!") But since I don't write 17 books a year, I actually can do both. Because the first couple of drafts may be for story, and maybe a middle draft can be for taking the story to another level. But with each draft, I can also push the voice and language.

Day 11 - 1181 Words - A Lot of Them Brand New

The jerky dialog of previous versions dropped away and new stuff went swimmingly. George's explanation of his behavior went much better when he starts out being flip about it, and then gives a better answer when pressed. When he's earnest, it comes out self-congratulatory and suspicious.

I think this section might well benefit from further expansion in another draft, but the core is really there.

Running Total: 13619 Words.

13619 / 60000 words. 23% done!

In Today's Pages: George makes like Steve McQueen. Sort of.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert B. Parker has died

I noticed this headline in the New York Times. Robert B. Parker, Mystery Writer, Has Died at 77.

I'm really sorry that this has to be the 100th post on this blog. I wanted to post something a little more upbeat. He was a writer who understood the charm side of real hard-boiled fiction. And he understood the connection between the western and modern crime fiction.


Day 10 - 1276 Words Of The Chase Again

I think Thursday will be the day that I suspend this dare for a week and rework the opening chapter. (I was thinking of starting tomorrow, but I will have some long days at work, and I think I'd rather be working on the fun chase and action passages that I have in hand, rather than trying to concentrate on creating tricky new material.)

Running Total: 12438 Words.

12438 / 60000 words. 21% done!

In Today's Pages: I think Karla must be getting REALLY tired by now. Too bad her day is not done.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 9 - 1638 Words Moving Toward the Chase

I have decided not to volunteer for certain reading jobs in March after all - which means I can extend the dare into Spring Break, which is the second week in March. Which in turn means I can set a higher goal (70k or bust, that is, finish the novel no matter how long it turns out to be) AND that I can take a week off to fix the opening.

Because the first complete draft is the draft I let my first readers read. And I don't let people read if the beginning does not set things up properly.

I might take this time off this coming week, or the week after, depending on my schedule, but I'll keep you posted. (I'll still be updating during the week "off." It'll just be a mini-dare on the first chapter or so.)

Running Total: 11162 Words.

11162 / 60000 words. 19% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla gets more impressive. George takes advantage of the video store clerk (or maybe that's the other way around).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 8 - 1723 Words of Bunny Chasing

Part of my problem has been that I have been writing screenplays for so long. I'm having a bit of deja vu, though, to when I first learned to write screenplays, and I went back to fiction for a short time. I had to remind myself that writing scripts was like travelling by freeway. You get from here to there, and you get there fast and in the most direct way possible. Writing a novel is like hiking. You may have a firm destination, and you may have a planned path, but you do have time to not only pause and smell the roses, but you can chase the bunnies a bit too.

Part of my problem with my opening is that I really want to do absolutely everything in the first five pages. And you just can't do that. Do one thing well.

Right now, though, I have reached the place where things can move. And today I did chase a nice fat bunny, who isn't even a red herring at all. He's a real Clue Bunny, whose presence explains how a particular turn of events happens in the background. Later.

Running Total: 9524 Words.

9524 / 60000 words. 16% done!

In Today's Pages: George pondering, Karla evading.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 7 - 1320 Words of Negotiations and Warnings

I actually got started really late tonight, and in the end it only took me about an hour to do most of it. However, I did sit down this morning before starting my day and wrote about 150 critical words that bridged from yesterday's section to today's. Funny how little things like that help.

I also got some planning done, and I'm definitely going to do more of that. I'm a little bit behind in word count, but the more I plan, the easier it is to push forward.

Running Total: 7801 Words.

7801 / 60000 words. 13% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla is given food for thought, and George gets a phone call at an inopportune moment.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 6 - 1546 Words and a Flamingo Clip

Today went quite well. I did some scribbling by hand on some changed scenes coming up, and then I settled down and got to the Flamingo Scene, which I think went pretty well. The cat told me I have to stop now - and when the cat says to stop, I must or things will be broken - but here is a sample of today's pages.

(George is trying to convince Karla that he is not an enemy, even though he has just burst into her house to search it. She grabbed the first thing that was at hand to defend herself, and he is somewhat distracted by her choice of weapon - a pink flamingo garden ornament with a yo-yo tied to its beak.)

"Are you threatening me with a flamingo?" he said at last, as if he were not quite sure.

"Yes," she said firmly.

"A plastic flamingo."

"And a yo-yo."

His eyebrows went up, but he didn't smile, but he also didn't look patronizing. Just puzzled.

"I understand the yo-yo. It makes a decent weapon, I suppose. But why is it attached to the bird's beak?"

He might have been just trying to engage her in conversation, but the question did seem earnest. She kept looking him straight in the eye, chin tucked in so he wouldn't see she was shaking.

"Because it's funny," she said in her best, flat, dry Clint Eastwood impression. You know what funny is, doncha punk? she thought, but she said, "Do you watch cartoons?"

"No...." he said slowly, looking even more thoughtful than before.

"If you haven't seen Fantasia II, you wouldn't get the joke," she said, and then she couldn't help but add, under her breath, "Philistine!"

Running Total: 6481 Words.

6481 / 60000 words. 11% done!

In Today's Pages: (well, you know...)

Day 5 - 1319 Words But Not What I'd Hoped

I think a lot of this opening needs to be reimagined, not just retyped and edited. But maybe that's for another draft. At the moment, I do need a cohesive draft so I will bull through.

Of course, "reimagining" is something I normally do when retyping, but it is very hard to do when I am also working, so these day job days are a problem. My brain is just too tired. This weekend, before I got to this point, I found myself skipping ahead to what I was writing today, and shaping it. But now, I'm just editing it. (So I think what I ended up doing was blathering enough so that I didn't get to the really critical part.)

Tomorrow is a day off. Maybe I can do a better job.

And maybe I should start skipping to parts of the story that don't need as much work on workdays. I just wanted to work on this from beginning to end for this draft. Oh well....

Running Total: 4935 Words.

4935 / 60000 words. 8% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla buys the gallon of milk, and evicts Heimlich the tomato worm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 4 - I am pleading misery

I did something Sunday to wrack up my back. I don't know what. Today, the worst of it seemed over, except now all the muscles that were protecting the injury have stiffened up on me. Yesterday I was walking like Groucho Marx in a cast. Tonight I'm walking like John Wayne with ill-fitting underpants.

So I am going to rest, watch Castle, maybe soak my back, and maybe hand write some of the transitions that need work in the next section. If I get those thought out, then tomorrow should go well, even though it's another long day at work.

Day 3 - 466 Words On Karla Bond and Poppins

Long day at work, so I am tired and happy to manage what little writing I did. I expanded on the intro to Karla, and knitted together a few different versions. I still have the intro to Elias to go.

Tomorrow will be a longer day, but once I get just a tiny but tough gap to fill in, I think I have a long fun section to work on that is mostly ready. (Well I do have a few expansions I'd like to do....) But I am ahead on the word count for now.

Running Total: 3616 Words.

3616 / 60000 words. 6% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla uses her movie maven powers for good.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 2 - 1629 Words And The Other Beginning

I had a friend tell me she thought I should start with the intro to Karla, rather than George. It doesn't require much rewriting (just flipping this section and that) so I will probably try it. (I may ask for readers next week, if anybody is interested. I'll let people know how to contact when I'm ready.)

Now, swapping things around may well play havoc with the chapter structure I planned. Which is okay. I just might have to get three chapters done before I know for sure where the chapters breaks happen.

Chapter breaks are so important, and I am a fan of chapters with names, too. I think they work very often as teasers, at least in comedy and high adventure. You don't necessarily have to have cliff-hangers if your breaks simply raise questions, and your titles promise to answer them.

Running Total: 3150 Words.

3150 / 60000 words. 5% done!

In Today's Pages: Intro to Karla. Gwen makes a stand.

Day 1 - 1521 Words To Get Me Started

I was going to start the dare with a great blog post full of philosophical insight, but I'm tired. Beginnings are so important, and I had to do a lot more work weaving together the best of the various versions I have.

I did do some math and figured that for this 51 day dare, I have to average 1200 words a day. I have set the minimum for each day, though, at 1000. I have some tough days coming this week.

Running Total: 1520 Words.

1521 / 60000 words. 3% done!

In Today's Pages: George deals with several of the women in his life. And longs for even crappy American lo mein.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Here it is - The First Page

Tomorrow I start the dare!

I didn't finish the outline this week, but I am so eager to get going, that I decided to jump the gun and polish up my new opening. And just to keep myself committed, I decided to post the first page, right here and right now!

The Man Who Did Too Much is what I would call a comic cozy suspense novel. It features George Starling a former man of international intrigue, and Karla, a small town spinster, neither of whom really want to be tangled up in an international kidnapping plot - but nobody gets everything they want.

Chapter 1 - Saint George

George Starling, recovery agent for Benson Kravitz International -- no, make that ex-recovery-agent -- sat on the edge of the leather chair in the office of the therapist of the woman he more than likely loved with all his heart and soul.

Given all of the modifiers in that thought, he probably belonged there, but he wasn't there for his own sake and didn't particularly want to be there. The shrink was young and she was posturing and he didn't like her. It's just that Gwen had decided she wouldn't go, so George did it for her. Somebody had to.

The shrink sat upright and a little stiff, like she sensed his dislike. He slumped a little to indicate surrender, and she gave him a small superior smile.

"So," said the shrink, "the entire relationship consists of you hovering over her and waiting for her to want something."

"I wouldn't say there is a relationship at all. Yet." He'd thought he was agreeing with her, but she didn't like the answer and she raised her chin and fixed him with a look.

"And there won't ever be one if you don't stop being the knight to her damsel and do something normal with your lives."

"Like ... what?" he said in sudden exasperation. "I don't know how to do anything else, and she just won't. I can't make a normal life for her if I don't know what it is that she needs."

George sat back, surprised at his own vehemence. The shrink was smirking at him again. He took a deep breath.

"I think it's bloody obvious what we need."

"You can't make her life for her, George."

"I have to. I promised."

So there, a beginning. It will probably have to torn apart and redone. But I think the approach is right, anyway.

See ya tomorrow with real word counts and progresses.

Getting Ready Day 4 (of 5)

The drama of the day job has struck as the beginning of the semester grinds onward. (And all was going so well, but the stress eventually hits us all hard.)

Still, I got some good work done on the outline. I now have a good sense of the arc of the beginning of how the first four or five chapters go.

I have decided on my approach to the beginning, which I guess uses all of the techniques I talked about last week. I suppose it is more "right in the action" but it's action that is mainly narrative dialog. (It's George vs. Gwen's therapist. The question is only whether the therapist is a mere straight-person, or if I could use her in another minor roll later too. I think if I decide to do that, I can tweak the first scene later to fit.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting Ready Day 3 (of 5)

My brain is barely functioning, and yet I got some outlining done. I'm not trying to actually plan or think yet, but just to record, in story order, all the notes and scenes I already have. (Basically collate what I've got.) This is something I can usefully do even when my brain is so tired I can't remember my own name.

I have, of course, old notes with turns of dialog, and different versions of various things - and now I can sit down and look at them all before I throw myself into each scene.

The first three chapters, I think, are mostly in order. I hope to have an actual snippet of the beginning to post here on Saturday night.

(Progress on the website, unfortunately, requires more brain cells than I currently have, but maybe I can get sufficient work done over the weekend. In the meantime, Orange Kitty decided it was a good evening to give my hand a thorough washing, which was a really relaxing sandpaper massage.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Getting Ready Day 2

I didn't do much today. The early and long days at Day Job are getting to me. But I did organize all the paper I had printed out, and I started a document for note taking....

On the bright side, it looks like I could have light day on Friday, which will give me a break before we start the dare. In the meantime, sleep.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Getting Ready Day 1

The goal for the next five days, if you remember, is to work on my author website, and print out and organize all materials related to the current project, and create an outline, so I can drive through a retyping from scratch in the next dare (which will start Saturday).

Today, I worked on the banner image for my website. I've got a working image and a layout and the CSS mostly done.

I also printed out all of the existing written pages on the novel, including discarded scenes and old versions. There are maybe a few more bits and pieces yet to be rounded up, but I think I can "inventory" the material and get a good idea of where the gaps are and such.

Tomorrow, another trying day at the day job (the computers have decided to really be squirrelly this week), but I should be able to push through another step when I get home.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scene Location, Location, Location

I'm not one of those writers who saturates a story with a sense of place. Yes, I do love a great regional or historical novel which is thusly saturated, but I don't think every novel needs ten pages per chapter of setting.

Even so - even if you are writing a bare-bones bump-and-go adventure screenplay - setting is still extremely important to story. Even if you never mention or describe it. Setting is context. It gives shape and meaning to the other elements. ("A character in a setting with a problem.")

So often the setting is the trigger that brings a scene to life for me as a writer. It is the piece that makes a scene ready to write. I may not know what the characters are going to do yet, but once I know what they want, and where they will be when they want it, the scene flares. The ground becomes a playing board, a battle ground.

This is why, when I realized that there was a sandy trail along the rim of the old gravel pit behind karla's house, a number of scenes suddenly woke up and came to life. Not only was this trail a perfect place for a chase scene, but when you have a truly evocative setting like that, it affects other scenes. A trail like that connects other locations ... and people too. It's the path to town, to the beach, and to a small lake in another direction, and to the woods and the sledding hill. It is where you wold naturally ride your ponies and go cross country skiing. That path is the essence of Potewa county.

And as the story begins to pull together, I see that it also connects us to the perfect place for the climax of the story.

Protagonist, Protagonist, Who's got the Protagonist?

There was a brownie emergency in the household, and I had to stop and make some before I could get on with my posting. But now that the brownies are in the oven....

I may go back to starting this novel with George. The question is who is in the most interesting place at the start of the novel? George is. At the very beginning, Karla is in an interesting place because George is coming for her, but she doesn't know it yet. If you know her happily ordinary satisfied life is about to be turned upside down, then it is more interesting even in its ordinariness.

So who is the protagonist? I was trained to believe there is only One True Protagonist in every story, but I really don't believe that any more. Love stories and buddy stories (which Blake Snyder considers to be the same genre) are always dual protagonist stories...

And in my opinion, a lot of the great cozy mystery series are dual protagonist stories, even when they aren't romance or partner stories. Miss Marple, for instance, is a character who is very satisfied with her life and needs nothing. Same with Miss Seeton. And Mr. and Mrs. North. And Perry Mason. Very often the protagonist role is shared by the police detectives or clients or ordinary folk in trouble in these series. Sometimes all three.

I think the reason this works in a mystery is because the central problem of the story is the case. It doesn't just belong to one character. The story is resolved when the case is resolved. The problems of the individual characters are subplots.

Now, with my story, there really isn't that much question, there are definitely a series pair of detectives. And they are dual protagonists in the story. But even with partners, you often have one who is the "straight man" - the relatively normal one who the reader is expected to identify with more. It would appear that in this story that one would have to be Karla, who would seem an ordinary small town, middle-American woman who leads an unexciting life. She's not as forceful as Miss Marple. A little daffier. But I think the Miss Marple model is close to the one I need to go for.

George may be more exotic, but he is definitely the most changed by this story, and he definitely learns much more from Karla than she learns from him. He brings adventure to her, she gives him wisdom in return.

And that means, I think, that we start with George.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Novel Dare Goals for 2010

The big goal right now is to get The Man Who Did Too Much done, and then rewritten and ready for querying in the fall. And perhaps to be ready to start querying my earlier novel Have Gun Will Play this summer. This will involve more than just fiction writing. I will need to get my author page up to date, and I will need to get my query materials all ready too. Plus some outlines for future books in both series.

I am also feeling the itch on short stories again. There are a lot of interesting small markets out there now, as well as the few major mystery magazines and anthologies. Plus I discovered, with Mick and Casey, that short fiction can indeed be a fun way to develop and play with series characters. I've got a lot of ideas coming at me right now.

The next dare is a two phase dare that will go through the end of February.

Part 1: Every Day From January 4-8
  • Author website. I have to work on it for an hour every day. It has to be up to date.
  • Plot outline for The Man Who Did Too Much. Not only the plot, but background info notes and most important: a missing scene list. Where are the gaps? Get everything identified so I can move forward quickly.

Part 2: January 9 - February 28 (51 days)

I will be retyping the whole thing from scratch, and will be aiming at at least 60k, with a minimum of 1000 words a day. The first couple weeks will be tough, but I will be mostly retyping existing material at that point, so ... I should be covered. I really think this will get me more than 60k. Unless it turns out to be longer than expected, I hope to get this first full draft DONE by the end of February, because I often have some reading jobs in March.

March and Beyond

The month of March will be devoted to reading, and perhaps to short fiction. Beyond that, I'll have to wait and see. I hope to get a lot of rewriting, plus another script and maybe another novel done by the end of the year.