Farewell to Bloggerland… for now, anyway

farewellDear Nascent Novelist Readers,

Firstly, thanks for visiting this space. I’m grateful to you for taking your valuable time to visit.

Secondly, I won’t be posting here for a while. I’ve learned to never say never, put its possible this may be the last post here, ever. If I do get the urge to come back, well, great, so be it.

Why, you ask, as you mop a tear from your cheek? I’ve simply reached a point where my plate is too full and something has to go.

The day job has gotten very busy, in a good way. Family life is as busy as ever. Writing fiction takes time.

I find that I’m stressing out trying to get everything done and that’s counter to the entire philosophy I’ve tried to expound in this blog.

If you’d like to stay connected, you can follow my Twitter feed: @coolcarsoncraig, or you can friend me on Facebook by searching for “carson craig, nascent novelist.”

So, not goodbye, but farewell, as in may you fare well in whatever your endeavors may be.

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Overcoming Obstacles in Fiction Writing and Life

02-21-13 cellWarNotebooksI’m late to this party, but I’m going to join it, anyway.

Earlier this year, Duolit (selfpublishingteam.com) posted an article about about Julie. Julie is the author of the the Cell War Notebooks, a chronicle of her battle with cervical cancer. Julie lost her battle, leaving behind a daughter, Luka. The book is still being published and all proceeds go to Luka.

The folks at Duolit proposed that on January 31st, its community of readers write posts about overcoming an obstacle, include a link to the Cell War Notebooks, and publicize the post via social media.

I have an old friend who is suffering from cervical cancer right now. I don’t know how it will turn out and I can’t do much about it, but I can do this.

First, the link to the book: http://amzn.to/W17WN4

Now, about overcoming an obstacle…

One of the chief obstacles I find among the aspiring novelists in my writing group is time, or, rather, lack thereof. One friend has an invalid wife to care for, in addition to his day job. Another just had his first baby (with the help of his wife, of course). Another has care of her young children. We’ve all got responsibilities of one kind or another that make fitting the writing in difficult.

How to overcome this obstacle? We sacrifice something else. In my own case, I sacrifice taking a normal lunch break to relax, socialize, or catch up on work. Instead, I get away to a coffee shop, the library, or an empty conference room and spend about an hour writing. My friend with the ill wife does the same thing.

One member of our group tells a tale of when her three children were very young. She would lock herself in the bathroom for short periods and write in a legal pad braced on the toilet seat while the kids shouted for her outside. Many writers carry their work with them and write in snatches whenever the opportunity arises—at stop lights, at baseball practice, while waiting at the dentist’s office.

In the past, I despaired of writing because I was convinced I had to do it in blocks of at least two hours, so I could get warmed up and then produce a satisfactory amount. When I finally let go of my perfectionist ways and started doing what I could, instead of what some false ideal told me I should do, the creative dam broke and now I’m three-fourths and 80,000 words into my first novel’s first draft.

Before I could find time, I had to give up and attitude, an unreasonable belief, that writing had to be thus-and-so. If you’re unable to find time for your art (even if it’s not writing fiction), step back and check yourself for such an illusory barrier. If you can identify it, you can work to give it up or work around it. Then your creative work will take off. It might go more slowly, but it will go.

Finding time for writing is nowhere near the obstacle cervical cancer is. I’m grateful I don’t have to face such a thing. May all those suffering from serious illness or issues similarly daunting find healing and peace. May all those seeking time for their art overcome their blocking attitudes and find the time they need.

Colin Davis: Gladiator

Monster GladiatorHowdy! In this week’s installment, Colin pitches in at gladiator practice. (Note to the persnickety: This has not been edited, not even a little bit. Proceed at your own risk.)

Colin leaned against the dugout wall and watched anxiously as Stebbins stepped up to the plate and readied his bat. Stebbins, who had made a fortune in life bundling worthless loans into attractive mortgage-backed securities, was muscle-bound enough to deliver a wicked hit, but the art of connecting bat to ball had thus far eluded him. If he screwed up, Coach Dagon would be angrier than usual with the next few batters, of whom Colin was one.

Dagon flapped his red wings and spit into the dirt. “Elbow up, Stebbins! How many times do I have to tell you, you piece of damned soul scrap! Square to the plate, not the pitcher! You’re at home plate, not on the line of scrimmage, you criminal ass!”

Stebbins corrected his stance. The pitcher wound up and threw a fast ball, straight down the middle. Stebbins swung hard, but too early. The ball — actually a former dictator of a small island nation — smacked into the catcher’s glove and yelped.

“Strike one! You’re swinging too soon, moron! Watch the ball!” Dagon’s blood-red barbed tail snaked out and whipped Stebbins across the back of his naked legs.

Stebbins whiffed the next two pitches as well. “Hopeless! You’re hopeless!” Dagon raged. He grabbed Stebbins by the neck, flew him high to one of the giant torches that illuminated the arena during real competitions, and hung him there by the back of his loincloth. “Anybody else want to give me a sorry performance like that today?” the demon shouted. The assembled gladiators-in-training replied with a chorus of shaking heads and mumbled “no sirs.”

“All right, then. That’s enough baseball! Time for combat practice. Go fetch your equipment. Run! Last one back runs laps for a year!”

The students stampeded for the locker room, all except for Colin, who paused, looking up at Stebbins, who was swaying gently to and fro in a Hellish breeze.

“Master Dagon, Stebbins won’t be able to practice combat if he’s hanging up there.”

The demon fluttered over and came toe to toe with Colin. “Very observant, deadie. Don’t think because you’ve got a little talent in the sword department you can afford to be a smartass.”

Colin lowered his head. “Oh, no, Master Dagon. It’s just that he’s one of the best at combat and if you want Satan’s Sadists to win against Beelzebub’s Bastards…”

Smoke poured from Dagon’s pointed ears. “We’ll beat those Bastards with or without Stebbins! We’ve got the greatest team in Hell, with the best coach and don’t you forget it! Now go get your equipment before I decide to disembowel you this very instant!”

Colin sprinted away, knowing Dagon might well make good his threat. As he got to the tunnel leading to the locker rooms, he looked back and saw the coach flying upward toward the spot where Stebbins was hanging.

***

Stebbins came running in seconds after Colin arrived in the locker room. The big man was breathing hard, but otherwise seemed none the worse for the wear.

“I don’t know what you said to him, but thanks, Colin,” Stebbins said. “I thought I was going to be hanging up there forever.”

Colin cinched his sword belt and grinned. “I just told him we couldn’t beat the Bastards without one of our best fighters. I guess he agreed.”

“Isn’t that helping?”

“Nah, it’s ingratiating yourself to the coach. Totally self-serving.”

“Yeah, right. You ready? I don’t want to be running laps for a year.”

They ran through the tunnel into the arena, leaving some of the slower souls to worry about who would run 365 days of laps.

Though he hated to admit it, even to himself — especially to himself — Colin loved the arena, even though he had never fought a real battle in it. It was an enormous oval of sand, surrounded on all sides by a high wall perforated by various cavities. Some led to locker-room tunnels, others were reserved for the release of beasts and other opponents into the fighting space. From the top of the walls rose row upon row of stadium seats. Fastened to the top rim of the stadium was a ring of giant torches, each carved into the likeness of a different demon, with the fire bowl in the top of the skull. Standing in the middle of the playing field, looking up into the stands, Colin had a hint of the feeling that had come to him for the first time when he had fought Ragtagalog and that came to him now in combat practice.

Dagon’s whistle jarred him out of his reverie. “All right! Give me Colin, Stebbins, Episki and Fights-Like-a-Girl. To arena center. Now!”

The four souls obeyed on the double. Each of them had a leather-and-iron shield and a short sword. Other weapons were scattered around the arena for them to get to, if they could. They lined up in a rank and stood at attention. Dagon pointed to a spot about ten feet away and to the left of the group.

“Colin, over there.”

Colin jogged over to the indicated spot. He knew better than to argue.

“It’s time you kids started practicing something close to the real thing. Today, no fake cuts, no scoring for touches, no Dagon telling you you’re wounded, sit out. No. Today, it’s real cuts, real ichor, real limbs coming off, real heads bashed in.”

Fights-Like-a-Girl raised his hand. “Won’t that leave us in pretty poor shape for more practice or… anything?”

“You’ll heal well enough. Now then… it’s the three of you against Colin.”

“What?” said all for gladiator trainees at once.

“You heard me! Real combat starts soon and you need to be ready. Start on one whistle, stop on two. Ready…”

Dagon’s whistle split the air. Colin crouched into a defensive stance, sideways to the other fighters, shield raised in front of his body, short sword just behind it, ready to lash out at the least opportunity. The other three trainees circled him. Colin felt the battle fever creeping into his blood like wine. He grinned and faced Stebbins.

“Ready, Stebs?”

Stebbins rattled his shield. “Come on then!”

Colin raised his sword, shouted, and at the last instant spun and ran at Episki. Episki began to pivot sideways but Colin detected the move almost before it was begun. As Episki’s sword slashed sideways toward the spot where he expected Colin’s guts to be as he ran past, Colin vaulted into the air, twisted and landed so that he was facing Episki’s back. He swung his sword at the other trainee’s temple. The blade sliced neatly through the top of Episki’s skull. Episki dropped to the sand like a bag of nails.

The fighting stopped. All the trainees stared agape at their fellow student, lying quite still on the ground.

Dagon blew his whistle twice. “Time out!

“What happened to the magic for blunting the weapons?” Colin asked. He was shaking. “It’s just practice. Yesterday that would have only knocked him over and you’d yell ‘touch’ and call him out. What’s the deal?”

“Surprise!” said Dagon. “You’ve graduated from the kiddie-cars to driver’s ed. Real combat’s just around the corner. Plenty of bets on the line. You need to be ready.”

“But Episki…” said Fights-Like-a-Girl.

“He’ll heal! Here, watch!”

They looked. The crown of Episki’s skull was somehow dragging itself across the sand towards the rest of him. They watched as it reached its goal, shot out gelatinous tendrils that attached to the whole part of the skull and used those to pull itself back into place. Episki’s body jerked a few times and then he sat up on one elbow.

“Did I get him? Boy, my head hurts.”

“Gladiators are too rare to waste,” Dagon said. “So they get a little extra repair capability. Lose too many times, though, and it wears off. After that happens, annihilation.”

“What?” asked Fights-Like-a-Girl.

“Annihilation. Erasure from existence. No atoms. No ether. No quarks. No mind. Absolute zilch.”

“Swell,” Colin muttered.

“Spare me the editorials! Now, fight!”

They fought for the rest of the day without a break, always Colin alone or with a partner against the others. He leapt, spun, slashed, kicked, punched, bit and twisted, the battle fever burning hotter and hotter as he worked until he thought he might burst into flame. Blade edges wouldn’t cut him and he hardly felt thumps from fists, feet or weapons. When Dagon finally blew his whistle, the other three trainees were lying on the sand, healing from grievous wounds. Colin threw his sword and shield down and sat heavily on the ground.

Dagon prodded him with an eagle-clawed foot. “You love it, don’t you?”

Colin shook his head emphatically. “No. Absolutely not. If Hell didn’t make me do it, I wouldn’t.”

The demon smiled and spit a sizzling gob into the dust. “Say what you will. I have been around a very, very long time. I can tell.”

“Well, you’re slipping, Master Dagon. That’s all I can say. Begging your pardon.”

“Pardon granted, deadie. Now off to clean up and then to food and rest with you. Go.”

Colin dragged himself off and limped down the tunnel toward the locker room. The battle fever was rapidly leaving his system, leaving him feeling nauseous and weak. More than that, he was disgusted with himself.

Oh, God, he thought. What’s happening to me? I think he’s right. I think I love it. I think I really do.

Book Trailers: Learnings from Viewing a Few

Book Trailer imageI ran across an article that mentioned book trailers a while back and was curious. Now I’ve finally had the chance to hop on YouTube and check out a few. The sampling I viewed showed me some things to aim for and some things to avoid when I do my novel trailer… which I will probably get around to in about 30 years. Well, a guy can dream, right? So here are some thoughts from my watching trailers and dreaming of my own.

BORN WICKED: The Cahill Witch Chronicles Book 1 by Jessica Spotswood book trailer

This is a good one. It’s just a little over a minute long, so boredom isn’t a factor, even for an ADD type like me. The production values are all top-notch—the picture quality, the camera angles, costuming, acting—the works. Best of all, the trailer gets right to the main character and the main conflict and it tells the story with moving pictures, not just with words. It ends with a still of the book and some related info, which makes total sense.

Lessons:

  • Keep it short
  • Get to the heart right away
  • Tell it with pictures
  • Make the quality as high as you can
  • End with a pitch for the book

Solitary Sky ~ book trailer

I liked this one pretty well. It’s about two-and-a-half minutes long, so it strained my attention limit—it’s a trailer, so I don’t go in expecting to invest much time—but it didn’t lose me. Again, the production values are high. The technique is different, though. This one intersperses title cards, which are used for narrative, and moving pictures. There’s haunting, atmospheric music that increases in tempo as the swaps between title cards and pictures get more rapid. The only problem I had with this trailer was that, while it intrigued me, it didn’t tell me quite what the deal was. The lead moves away from home, her boyfriend is a werewolf, they’re madly in love, she’s in some kind of danger. Intriguing, see? But a bit vague. I’m not sure it does the best job of making someone want to get the book.

Lessons:

  • Make the quality as high as you can
  • Use catchy, appropriate music
  • Title cards can work well
  • Be clear about what the central conflict is
  • End with a pitch for the book

2012 Book Trailer #2 (Escape 2 Earth)

The trailer for Escape 2 Earth is, I’m sad to say, amateurish. Let’s overlook the fact that the title uses the numeral “2” instead of the word “to.” And let’s overlook the fact that one of the title cards describes the book as a “fictional novel.”  The thing starts off with rolling Star-Wars-style text telling us the Mayans predicted the end of an era and that it’s Earth caught between a pair of rival alien groups. At about the end of this text, the techno music track stops and another techno music piece that doesn’t match in tempo abruptly starts. Then we’re treated to still picture after still picture of pyramids, Mayan symbols, crop circles, the book cover over and over, blabbity blah. To make things even more fun, all the trailer tells you about the book is that the evil Ontarians (aliens from Ontario?) are coming to do all us poor Earthlings some mighty wrong and the Mayans predicted it all. Characters? Never mentioned. Conflicts for said characters? Zilch-o-rama. One thing done right: There is a web site and the trailer gives the URL (but after watching the trailer I couldn’t imagine the site would be any good, so I didn’t go there).

Lessons:

  • If your book has a website, give the URL
  • Show the characters and their conflicts, don’t just tell about the book
  • Make the quality as high as you can
  • Make the visuals meaningful; don’t string together a bunch of them and expect the audience to get it
  • Be sure your grammar and usage is perfect. You’re supposed to be a writer.
  • Watch this trailer and don’t do any of the stuff that’s done in it

This post is getting long, so I’m going to stop now. Maybe next time I’ll check out a few more. It’s pretty fun. I just hope I get to make one someday.

I Completed a Character Interview and Didn’t Scream Once

Crafting Unforgettable CharactersI’m getting ready to go to the beach today (Monday) and by the time this is posted (Wednesday) I’ll be there, so this entry is going to be brief!

Ahh… I can already hear the sound of that gentle Gulf Coast surf… oh wait… where were we?

Oh, right. Blog entry.

I’ve written before about how mind-numbing I find the work of doing fill-in-the-blank character sketches. You know…

Hair color:

Place of birth:

Favorite food:

In the past, two minutes of this was enough to make me run screaming away from the laptop.

Since then, I’ve rethought matters. In my current project, I found my lead character was sort of an automaton. He was doing some cool stuff, but I didn’t have a real feel for why. I mean, sure, he’s in Hell and he wants to leave, but I am talking about a deeper why, the psychological underpinnings of his nature that make him respond to the situation in the exact way he does.

When I started using terms like “psychological underpinnings” I knew I was in trouble, so for help I turned to Crafting Unforgettable Characters by K.M. Weiland. This little book is available at the author’s website for the price of signing up for her mailing list. I had already read Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel to some profit, so I went for the free book on characters.

I haven’t read the whole thing. Instead, I skipped right to the section on the character interview, which gives you a load of, yes, blanks to fill in. It’s an exhaustive list with some items that go beyond the usual fare.

I have completed three of these lists so far and found them very useful, especially for Colin, my main character. I didn’t complete every question; I don’t think you have to. Having done this work, I think I have more than an automaton now, I have a person, or at least the start of one.

If you’re in need of help with character development, I recommend this character interview list. Now, here’s a list I came up with and that’s all. Off to the beach!

Name: Colin Davis

Background: White, middle class

Birthday: July 23, ????

Place of birth: Columbia, SC

Parents: Hortence “Bebe” and Frank Davis

What was important to the people who raised him: Hard work, discipline and the American Way

Siblings: One sister, Mary Eliot

Economic/social status growing up: Middle class; a bit strapped after his parents divorced and his mother became primary caregiver

Ethnic background: White bread Scotch-Irish

Places lived: Columbia, Atlanta

Current address and phone number: N/A

Education: BA, English, USC

Favorite subject in school: English; creative writing, medieval studies

Special training: Pizza making and delivery. Society for Creative Anachronism fighting and weapons making. Singing

Jobs: Cafeteria utility in college. After moving to Atlanta, Pizza Haven guy.

Salary: A bit over minimum wage plus tips.

Travel: None

Friends: Pizza Haven guys, SCA & D&D gang. There is a portion of these that overlaps; these are his best pals; that is, the Haven/SCA/D&D-all-three folks.

How do people view this character: A nice guy, but a bit of a geek. He’s just average size, but has an athletic build from doing bodyweight exercises to burn energy; people wonder that he never played sports.

Lives with: Two roommates in a two-bedroom apartment; two of the Haven/SCA/D&D-all-three folks. Pete and Dundee, known as “Croc” because of the movie.

Fights with: Words and story lines. Sometimes his roomies, but not much.

Spends time with: His friends and co-workers.

Wishes to spend time with: A girlfriend, any girlfriend.

Who depends on him and why: He depends on himself; no parental contributions. His roommates depend on him for mutual support.

What people does he most admire: John Steinbeck, because he was a great modern writer and also took on the King Arthur legends.

Enemies: None

Dating, marriage: He knows some girls, but there’s no romance. He’s a bit awkward about it.

Children: None

Relationship with God: He is sure there is one, but not sure what the nature of it is.

Overall outlook on life: Romantic

Does this character like himself: Mostly, but he demands a lot of himself when it comes to writing.

What, if anything, would he like to change about his life: He’d like to not be poor, to have a girlfriend and to be a successful novelist.

What personal demons haunt him: Both his parents and his sister yelled at him a lot. When he first tried sports—peewee football—the coach yelled at him and he quit, never to play sports again. After his parents’ divorce, it just got worse. He is haunted by the sorrow over the split, the pain and anger of the psychological abuse, the feelings of inferiority that caused.

Is he lying to himself about something: He tells himself he is really a peaceful guy, that the SCA and D&D are just fun escapism, but deep within he is seething with rage.

Optimistic/pessimistic: Despite everything, optimistic. Otherwise, he couldn’t write.

Real/feigned: Real

Morality level: He’s a good guy, though at times mischievous.

Confidence level: He is plagues by an inferiority complex.

Typical day: Work making/delivery pizzas, hang out with friends, write. Weekends and evenings are often for D&D, SCA. Writing happens first thing in the morning and often last thing at night.

Physical appearance: He’s just average size, but has an athletic build from doing bodyweight exercises to burn energy; people wonder that he never played sports.

Body type: Medium, athletic, but not totally ripped

Posture: Upright

Head shape: Like a head!

Eyes: Hazel

Nose: Straight, short

Mouth: Medium

Hair: Red

Skin: Freckled

Tattoos/piercings/scars: A small scar over his left eyebrow from a childhood encounter with a bully, which he won.

Voice: N/A

What people notice first: The hair

Clothing: He’s a jeans and t-shirt guy, with tennis. If it’s hot, cargo/boarding shorts.

How would he describe himself: I’m a fiction writer, so of course I work at Pizza Haven.

Health/disabilities/handicaps: None

Characteristics: N/A

Personality type (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy): Laid-back about most things, but fiery about his passions, which are writing and his friends

Strongest/weakest character traits: Determination is his strength—he is determined to be a successful writer. The inferiority complex is his big weakness.

How can the flip side of his strong point be a weakness: He can be so bullheaded he ignores other factors, ignores the big picture.

How much self-control and self-discipline does he have: A good amount.

What makes him irrationally angry: Bullying or yelling, at himself or others.

What makes him cry: Big life moments—births, weddings, etc.

Fears: Failure as a writer. Never being loved.

Talents: Writing. Singing. Making SCA weapons. Being dungeonmaster.

What people like best about him: His easygoing warmth.

Interests and favorites: N/A

Political leaning: N/A

Collections: N/A

Food, drink: N/A

Music: Medieval music, to listen to and sing [research]

Books: All of Steinbeck.

Movies: N/A

Sports, recreation: SCA, D&D

Did he play in school: N/A

Color: N/A

Best way to spend a weekend: SCA battle during the day, D&D-cum-drinking-game in the evening

A great gift for this person: N/A

Pets: None

Vehicles: Chinese scooter

What large possessions does he own (car, home, furnishings, boat, etc.)

and which does he like best: Just the scooter and his laptop. The laptop is best.

Typical expressions:

When happy:

When angry:

When frustrated:

When sad:

Idiosyncrasies:

Laughs or jeers at:

Ways to cheer up this person:

Ways to annoy this person:

Hopes and dreams: Successful novelist. Happily girlfriended guy.

How does he see himself accomplishing these dreams: Novelist: He works hard and succeeds. Girlfriend: He has no idea, but dreams of her just kind of falling into his lap.

What’s the worst thing he’s ever done to someone and why: He beat the crap out of that bully.

Greatest success: Published a short story in a well regarded regional journal.

Biggest trauma: See above.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to him: Tried to ask a girl out and halfway through spilled his beer on her.

What does he care about most in the world: Writing

Does he have a secret: No

If he could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:

He is the kind of person who:

What do you love most about this character: That he is so committed and kind of naïve.

Why will the reader sympathize with this person right away: Because he has big dreams and is willing to work hard to win them on his own.

How is the character ordinary or extraordinary: He has extraordinary talent and determination. He has ordinary needs & wants of a young man.

How is his situation ordinary or extraordinary: It’s ordinary except for his writing.

Core Need: His core need is to overcome his feelings of rage and inferiority.

Corresponding psychological maneuver (delusions, obsessions,

compulsions, addictions, denials, hysterical ailments, hypochondria, illnesses,

behaviors harming the self, behavior harming others, manias, and phobias): The maneuver that comes from rage and the inferiority complex is the writing. Also the SCA battling.

Anecdote (defining moment): He pulled a bully off a smaller kid in the sixth grade. The bully punched him hard, giving him the scar over his eye with a ring. After reeling a moment, Colin freaked out on the bully and was all over him. Colin’s dad pulled him off the bully and yelled at him for fighting as the bully ran off. Later Colin’s mom yelled at him and his sister made snide remarks. So, even though he felt good for his victory on the one hand, he felt miserable and put down on the other hand.

History:

The Long Haul

Calvin Coolidge pinOne of my favorite quotes, from Calvin Coolidge, has been on my mind of late. It reads thus:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

I’ve been thinking about old Cal and his words of wisdom because as I work away at restructuring Thin Spots I get the distinct feeling this whole novel-writing business is going to take a while. Early on, convinced of my innate storytelling prowess, I thought I could whip up a half-baked outline, spit out about two thousand five hundred pages a week and have the first draft done in under a year.

Then, reality reared its ugly head.

My first hint was when a writing group friend told me she’d heard a tip at a workshop, something about spending eighty percent of your time on structure and about twenty percent on the writing. Things were bubbling along pretty well at that point—I was in the first sections of the book—so in my right ear went the advice and out the left it fell. And for a while, I didn’t miss it.

Then came the first re-plot. It started in my gut, with the uneasy feeling that the story was sliding out from under me, even with my lackadaisical outline to use as a semi-guide. It wasn’t long before I was struggling with the subplot, trying to figure out a reason why the guy’s wife (or sister—it went back and forth for a while) would betray him while he was in a coma. Well, there wasn’t a reason, at least not one I could dream up.

So, along came the first re-plot, with a nefarious coven of warlocks in place of the evil wife-or-sister. This re-plot also included Tanya, a waitress who, in addition to being mighty cute, was a shaman capable of traveling through different planes of reality. With these changes in mind, I tweaked the novel’s structure, but again left off after I’d gotten about halfway through the work, figuring I’d clean up all those ugly plot holes while I wrote. No problem, right? Innate storytelling prowess, remember?

Welcome to re-plot number two.

I loved Tanya, but she was just too much. She was a super-hero, really, intruding into a story about a guy who gets his soul sent to Hell, through no fault of his own, while his body remains alive on Earth. And as I looked more closely, I realized that all the plane-travelling shenanigans weren’t moving the plot forward. So I bid Tanya farewell and started again. Now the romantic interest is in already Hell when Colin (the hero) gets there and has a role in the motion of the story.

Slowly and carefully now go I, creeping along scene by scene. What’s next? What makes sense? Where’s the conflict here? Would this character really do that thing. Mark a question here, a hole there. It’s a lot of work, this plotting, but I’m finding it fun and starting to see how making a few passes through it could make my life much easier. I’m reading a couple of books about technique to help me out. They are Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Both authors are actual published novelists, not folks who only write how-to books for novelists and I’m profiting from both reads.

I’ll keep working on it and, with luck, I’ll be writing prose again by September. Or maybe October. I’m in this for the long haul, gang, betting that Coolidge was right.

Cliffhangers

Cliff ClimberIn the last post, I noted in particular a change I had made to the scene template I copped from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. It’s a line in the template for a cliffhanger.

If I’m planning an Action section, there’s a line that says: “Cliffhanger from character’s last section” and another that merely says “Cliffhanger.” The former helps me take up from where the character left off and the latter helps me paint a thumbnail sketch of the latest mess the character’s wound up in.

My goal is to have a cliffhanger at the end of every action section in which a good guy is the viewpoint character. There’s not much point in having a cliffhanger for an opposition character’s action section, since the opposition gets its way until the very end (although I don’t suppose you have to rule it out altogether). If I’m working on a Reaction section, in which the viewpoint character takes a breather to reflect on what’s happened, draw some new conclusions and set some new goals, a cliffhanger isn’t needed either, since the character hasn’t done anything to get him- or herself into trouble.

I enjoy planning these moments because they exercise my imagination. Sometimes I have to ask myself, “why on earth would this scene lead to a cliffhanger?” This question often leads me to re-evaluate the scene at hand, always leading to improvements. At other times, the cliffhanger itself comes easily, but I find myself pulling my hair out coming up with a resolution to it. That effort can lead me to re-work the current scene, come up with a sharper subsequent scene, or both.

The classic example of cliffhangers, at least the one that leaps to mind first, is the old movie serials. Back in the days of yore, my high school had a film festival and every week’s presentation started with a Buck Rodgers serial. There’s one where you see the spaceship falling through the sky, and then a title card rolls: “See TRAGEDY ON SATURN, Chapter Two!” The spaceship doesn’t actually crash, it just falls through the sky. Maybe at the beginning of the next installment (which you have to wait a week for), Buck wrestles the ship out of its downfall and comes in for a safe landing.

Or maybe he doesn’t. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it. You’ve got to come back the next week to see whether or not the spaceman and his pals escape doom. The same principle applies to chapters, or sections, or maybe even pages if the writer is skilled enough. The uncertainty at the end of a part makes the reader want to find out what happens next. That’s the hope, at least, right?

Cliffhangers keep you, the writer (me, the writer, anyway) going, too. Looking forward to the next crisis and the next, and the next, pulls you through your plotting. They help you build the bridge while you’re walking across it, all the way to the end of your tale.

Paddling for the Latest Plot

Writing is an individualistic pursuit. While it’s perhaps wise to read the advice of those who have gone before and certainly to read their fiction (if they’ve written any), at some point you’re going to want to do things your own way. This is made easier by the fact that some advisors tell you in case A, do X, while others tell you that case A absolutely calls for doing Y. Whatever boneheaded thing you do, there’s probably some other bonehead out there advising just that thing, or close to it.

Alas, making your own path is also made more difficult by the same division of opinion. If you’re a beginning novelist like me, you have no idea whose method is best, or if they’re all equally good, or if they’re all dead wrong, at least for you. You have to just point your bow, start paddling, and hope that star you’re pointing at is the right one.

Having completed the rough draft of the beginning part of my novel, I’ve decided to revisit the plot, which seemed to have a lot of unnecessary stuff cluttering it up. This goes against the advice to keep going, no matter what, and only partially with the advice to have a galvanized outline (iron-clad would be too inflexible, I think) before writing a word–you see, I wrote sort of an outline, wrote some prose, did another outline, wrote a lot or prose, and am now doing another outline.

If you take a look at the outline below, you’ll see it really does need some work. The Beginning section has 35 sections, while the Middle has 14 and the End weighs in at a mere 10 sections. That’s a little out of whack, isn’t it? (Don’t worry, the full version has lots more detail.)

To get myself out of this jam, I’ve returned to my original cookbook, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, which gives a clear, if somewhat traditional-publishing-oriented (that is, non-indie-e-book) approach to the process. One of the many useful features in this book is a section template. Here’s an example of my own modified version:

Tartarus Trouble

Denizens/staff of Tartarus figure if Colin & Faust are down there, they are supposed to be punished somehow, for something. Aegaeon, a hundred-handed giant, is in charge of Tartarus. He is incredibly strong and ferocious (per wikipedia).

From # Oracle’s Word Surprise #1

To # Reacting to Oracle

Action/Reaction: Action
Section Character: Soul-Colin
Where: Tartarus
When: Early morning, June 17

ACTION
Goal from character’s last section: Get back to his body ASAP. Get out of Tartarus before the alarm gets too much. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. Just now, he feels to heck with the souls.

Cliffhanger from character’s last section: They leave the island and the demons are after them. (Maybe they go further into the lake of fire to get away.) This Cliffhanger part is my own addition.

Against (person or circumstance that brings crisis): Tartarus demons, especially Aegaeon.

Conflict (occurrence of crisis; section character’s reaction): Colin & Faust want out of Tartarus. The demons want to imprison them there.

Failure (unless opposition) (inability to undo or deny crisis) (swift and sudden): Faust gets caught and Colin can’t rescue her; he has to get away.

New Goal (or go to a Reaction section) (character doesn’t necessarily have to devise, but describe it here; can devise here, though, or devise in Reaction section): Rescue Faust before he does anything else; figure out how to do that. AND… Get back to his body ASAP. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. He feels to heck with the souls, except for Faust.

Cliffhanger: Faust getting dragged away. Colin diving back into the lake of fire, swimming deep.

REACTION (Used if a character is not acting, but reflecting on events from his or her previous scene.)
Failure from character’s last action section (briefly describe; the section will restate it):

With (other character that shares the section):

Emotional reaction (character’s gut reaction to the previous failure):

Rational reaction (character’s analytical reaction to the previous failure):

New Goal (character devises): He/she will X in order to X.

By slowly and carefully completing one of these for each scene, or at least trying to, I’m starting to get plot #3 into some kind of shape, with a better sub-plot, a more coherent main plot and a good storage bin for bits and pieces I want to see if I can use once the big rocks are all carved up and placed more or less to my liking. With any luck, I’ll have Middle and Ending sections outlined in a few weeks.

Without any luck, I may find that the start I pointed my bow at is the light of an oncoming supertanker. We’ll see. All I can do for now is cross my fingers and keep paddling.

Beginning    

             1.  Mine! (R)

             2.  Worst Tip Ever (A)

             3.  I Ain’t Got No Body (R)

             4.  TS & Coven Revealed (R)

             5.  Welcome to Hell (A)

             6.  (A) Getcher Hands off my Garbage

             7.  (R) Today is the First Day of the Rest of Eternity

             8.  (A) Satan: Prince of Darkness, Major Ass-Badger

             9.  Body-Colin Bodyguard (A)

             10.  All Busted Up (R)

             11.  (A) Welcome, My Son… Welcome to the Latrine

             12.  Sucking Up to Satan (A)

             13.  (R) Septic Beastie

             14.  (A) What Really Happens to All Those Missing Socks

             15.  (A) It Pays to be an English Major

             16.  (A) Gimme Shelter

             17.  (A) Into the Slop

             18.  (A) Thanks, Superpigs!

             19.  (R) Friends

             20.  (A) Br’er Fox Makes a Comeback

             21.  (A) One Fancy Stick in the Mud

             22.  (A) Pretty Tough for a Dead Guy

             23.  (A) Shelter Skelter

             24.  (A) de Retz Promoted

             25.  (A) Colin Becomes a Gladiator

             26.  (A) Hitching a Ride

             27.  (A) Colin’s First Battle; Spares Faust

             28.  (A) Roadies

             29.  (A) Oracle Explanation & Escape

             30.  (A) I’ve Got Rythm

             31.  (A) Journey to Tartarus

             32.  (A) Coven Concert

             33.  (A) Demon Head

             34.  (A) Oracle’s Word Suprise #1

             35.  (A) de Retz, Big Demons, Angel Hint

Middle

            37.  (A) Tartarus Trouble

             38.  (R) Reacting to Oracle

             39.  (A) Body-Colin Gets Away

             41.  (A) Swiping the knife–but not the bough

             42.  (A) Swiping the Bough!

             43.  (A) Discovering Satan’s Plan

             44.  In Heaven’s Court

             45.  DIY Saving Universe

             46.  Working Drummer

             47.  Hiding the Bough & Knife

             48.  In Arena with Traitor Angel

             49.  Lost Fight

             50.  Annihilation

             51.  Captured

End

           52.  de Retz finds the Bough

             53.  Attack on Heaven

             54.  Killing Colin

             55.  Taking the Universe

             56.  Utterly Screwed

             57.  Annihilation Again

             58.  No Annihilation

             59.  Animals Stampede

             60.  Colin gets Bough

             61.  Freeing Angels

Back to the Drawing Board…

Back to the drawing boardIf you’re a more or less regular reader of this blog, by now you’ve probably come to expect an exciting (or not so exciting) chapter of the rough draft of Thin Spots, my novel-in-progress, each Friday. But this Friday is different.

Why?

Tweaking.

Tweaking showed me how badly I needed to return to the outline.

On May 9th, when I wrote the post “To Tweak or not to Tweak?” I was trying to work out the answer by writing about it. In the end, I decided to tweak and I made a valuable discovery: the sub-plot wasn’t working.

The sub-plot is all about Tanya, the waitress/shaman, who travels through the astral plane, or “metaverse” to help out our hero Colin and various other folks, like Doc the pizza guy. She’s fun and lovely, but I found myself asking why she was there. She started to feel like breadcrumbs in a meatloaf—contributing bulk, but not much else. So, as an experiment, I decided to axe all her scenes from the outline.

Axing Tanya’s scenes left me with a fairly streamlined story, but I lost the element of Colin’s body being in one place and his soul being in another. I also lost Colin’s love interest.

Double drag!

What to do?

Enter sub-plot 3.0 (1.0 was Colin’s evil wife, whom you never saw, and 2.0 was Tanya). I am not going to share it with you at the moment because I must go back to the drawing board and…

Outline.

That’s “outline” with a capital “O” and on its very own line because it looks like I’ve got to be a lot more thorough this time around. In my eagerness to get to the writing part, I plugged in the first likely subplot and got moving, eventually winding up with story-bloat.

Lately I’ve read a couple of things about people who outline like crazy. James Patterson, for example, says he does a twenty- to thirty-page outline for every novel. Whether or not you like Mr. Patterson’s work, you’ve got to admit he does produce novels and they do well. Also of late, I’ve begun to have that swamped feeling I’ve gotten when trying this novel thing before, like the whole thing was sliding out from underneath me. So, rather than repeating my past mistakes and trying to move forward with an inadequate outline or no outline at all, I’m going to stop writing for a while—maybe all summer—and nail down a detailed roadmap.

More than anything, this blog is a document of the learning experience, and I sure learned something this go-round. I’ll be off to that drawing board now and never fear—I’ll keep this space stocked with writing-related ravings as I go.

One of Those Days: Writing and the Blues

Blues Man LeadbellyEver had one of those days? Sure you have. You cut yourself shaving. It’s T-minus a nanosecond ‘til the schoolbus comes and junior refuses to put his shoes on. Your spouse appears to have all too accurately recognized your thousand glaring faults and is having a predictably aggravated reaction. It’s raining and when you go to pet it goodbye, the dog barfs on your shoes. Or maybe all those things didn’t happen, but it still feels like they did. Your soul is lying in a heap at the bottom of your solar plexus, which feels like it’s being squeezed by a cold, invisible hand.

In short, you’re depressed.

I think, based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, that writers are a favorite target of this particular demon. I don’t know if it’s the writing that makes you depressed, what with the solitude and effort, or the depression that makes you write, as a release and a means of finding clarity in a stew of emotion. What I do know is that the writing is still there to do, even if you’re blue as the Atlantic on a clear day.

When I feel this way, I sometimes start the day’s prose-making with a free write, just laying words down on the page as fast as they tumble out of my head, with no effort to control them at all. On depressed days, these passages will often start with something like “everything stinks,” or “life is pus.” It’s pretty negative stuff, but I find that after a paragraph or two I get a little more rational. I’ll see that I’ve blown things out of proportion, insisted the universe work the way I want it to, or forgotten to count my blessings. In a half page or a page, I usually feel good enough to get to work.

At other times I get outside and walk for a while. We’ve got a dog now, so I have a built-in excuse for that. I let him lead—within reason—and give my attention to whatever’s happening in the natural world. On these walks, I try to look up and out a little, to take in the expanse of creation. It reminds me of God and the interdependence of all things, which always puts life into perspective and calms my heart. I also pick up the dog’s poo in a bag, which is life-affirming in a really weird, smelly way.

Other things work for me, like listening to music, playing a musical instrument, reading a good book (nothing sad, though), or throwing some paint onto a canvas. You probably have your own list.

One other thing that works: sucking it up and just writing what you have to write. Sometimes the old blues can give your work an edge it wouldn’t have on an ordinary day.

Writing this entry made me feel better. I hope your next depression tactic works for you, too.