Onward! Even When Your Fiction Writing Stinks

02-27-13 OnwardIf I have learned anything about writing fiction this week, it’s that the magic genie comes and goes. I’m talking about the magic genie that makes your writing worth someone’s putting an eye to.

Monday was painful. I had to squeeze fiction in amongst a bunch of other stuff and what came out was corny or wooden. Tuesday was much the same. But then, on Wednesday, something happened. My imagination woke up, the cork came out of my word-bottle and the next thing you know I was writing about pirates-turned-gladiators-in-Hell and a prison where the inmates are encased in solid blocks composed of some – let me exercise some delicacy for once – especially unpleasant materials. I had action, sights, smells, characters, plot movement—joy! Thursday and Friday continued this happy pattern.

So what does this have to do with you, dear reader, who is perhaps, like me, a time-challenged part-time fictioneer?

Everything. Well, okay, a lot.

The one thing I did on each of this week’s five working days was sit down and bang out some fiction. Stinky, glorious, whatever its quality, I hammered on it. That happened for a few reasons, handily revealed by hindsight:

Habit. Over the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve become accustomed to the routine of carving out about an hour or so five days a week to work on the not-so-great American novel. So part of getting through this last weird week was just reflex, one I’ve developed through some early discipline.

Big Picture. I kept reminding myself that this is the first draft. It’s okay for the first draft to be rough—okay, terrible—in places, or even all the way through. I’m just at step one of a lengthy, multi-step process.

Permission. I followed the advice of J. A. Konrath and gave myself permission to write crap. It never fails to surprise me how that little attitude adjustment will help you keep going.

Associative Causality. That sounds important, huh? Let’s say it again, together: “associative causality.” Ooooh. We are smart. Actually, I’m not smart enough to come up with a term to encapsulate the notion that because our thought processes proceed by associating one thing with another, that even crummy writing produces thoughts and ideas that eventually cause your brain to spit out something halfway decent. This is just a pompous, ten-dollar way of saying I realized that if I kept going, something good would happen. I just didn’t want to call it “optimism,” okay? Too cheer-leader-y.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope it’s helpful. Good luck with your genies, folks.

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Why-Wisdom for Fiction Writers

Notebook paper with pencil writing whyI was sitting in church the other day, listening to the sermon with my usual rapt attention, when I realized the minister was saying something about “why,” as in ultimate reasons. I suppose he was making a religious point of some kind, but my mind immediately leapt to fiction writing. Why, indeed, write fiction?

There are two bones to pick here, I think. The first is why you, dear reader, pursue the wordly way. The second is, why are you writing this particular piece of fiction?

Why Write?

To write, you’ve got to have the basic need to create. Not a longing or a hankering, but an itch you can never scratch enough. For a writer, this undeniable yen is fundamental; without it you’ll give out.

As for words, you may be instinctively drawn to the power of story and language like a yellow jacket to a picnic, just because of the way your DNA is wired. You may have a psychological need to write because of your life experience. Or maybe you just don’t have any place to paint, so you’re making do.

This first Why is the seed of your mission as a writer. Your raison d’écrire informs your choice of subject, your tone, the type of stories you choose – everything. If you know what it is, you can make those choices with more intelligence and better results. And when you get tired of the whole business, you can go back to Why #1 for a shot of ambition.

Why Write This?

The second Why, regarding why you are writing a particular piece, gets you to your theme. Theme is the thing you’re trying to demonstrate or prove in your novel. In a romantic comedy, that might be “love prevails, even for goofy people.” In something tragic, your theme might be “people can and will be noble, even when doomed.” If you really want to say something with a particular piece of fiction, that’s your theme, your second Why. Knowing the statement you want to make in your story is another thing that will keep you going when the batteries of enthusiasm run low.

Theme may not reveal itself to you right away. In my own case, I started writing Thin Spots because I thought the idea would be fun to develop into a novel. That’s no theme, though, and I may not figure out what it is until I’ve finished the first draft and re-read it. But that’s just the screwed-up method of a nascent novelist. You are far more clever than I, of course, and will figure out your theme, your Why for this particular piece, up front.

Why-dle Dum and Why-dle Dee

You may find that Why #1 and Why #2 influence each other. Writing a particular story may lead you to insights that change your overall reason for writing and, as I said earlier, your overall reason for writing is sure to influence the types of stories you choose.

Why Think About Why?

I suppose you could go your entire writing career without thinking about the Whys at all. Personally, though, I like living with as much awareness as I can, because that leads to better decisions. Knowing my Whys, as I’ve pointed out, also gives me additional resources to fall back on when my writing energies flag.

That’s all. I could write more, but I can’t think why.

Half-Baked Planning

Half baked bread loaves being put into an ovenNote: In case you care, I have removed the rough draft of Thin Spots from Wattpad. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Having made it more than halfway through the draft of novel number one, despite having many other demands on my time, has made me a holy-rolling believer in planning your novel before you start writing it. I have my little setup of manuscript, scene sketches and fix sheet all constructed and waiting for me every time I sit down at the keyboard. The manuscript says “start here.” I look at my scene sketch and I start there. When I run across something that will need cleaning up later, I note it on the fix sheet.

Planning is a beautiful thing, but, I wonder, can you do too much?

I just finished writing a chapter that’s long, rambling and weak. It’s a prime candidate for the rewrite operating table, and I think the problem is Stebbins, a gladiator who shows up earlier in the story. Because Stebbins wasn’t there.

It’s a battle scene. Colin (the lead) winds up there unexpectedly and hides, because he’s injured. Then he comes out of hiding and meets… not Stebbins, but another guy named Calley. See, I was writing along, Colin came into the open and all at once Stebbins, who was not scheduled to appear, popped into my head. I could see Colin spotting his friend, being amazed and overjoyed.

This vision of the Colin-Stebbins reunion was powerful and required some consideration. If I went with it, Stebbins’ role in the planned story would change drastically. It would also greatly hork up Calley’s planned role. And I liked my plan. It was a good plan, and it was already there.

To stick with the plan or change things–that was the question.

My point here – and I do have one, as Ellen Degeneres says – is that I was in the midst of a good problem. Making decisions like this one lies at, or at least near, the heart of the fictioneer’s craft. It’s also a huge part of the fun.

If I had planned each scene in the novel down to the last pinhead, I’d be far less likely to land in such a delightfully uncomfortable spot. I’d be much too wed to the plan due to all the trouble I had put into it. I’d also find it much easier take the already mapped out path of least resistance.

Instead, since I have a plan that’s more general in nature, I get to make writing decisions on the fly. I am creating and solving fiction problems all the time, while at the same time not constantly trying to figure out the next big milestone in the story.

So, yes, for me, at this point as a nascent novelist, half-baked planning is best. I have the broad brush strokes. It’s filling in the detail along the way that keeps me turned on.

What’s your stand on planning? A lot or a little? In-between? Let me know in a comment.

Conflict at the Core

BoxingI recently reread J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, in honor of the movie’s coming out later this year. During the process, I ran across the following sentence:

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

What Tolkien is getting at here is the importance of conflict to stories. It is possible to have a narrative without conflict, but it’s bound to be flatter than a bug after an encounter with a windshield.

I remember one example of a conflict-less story with a distinct lack of affection. It was a story about a doll. The doll started as a gleam in a little girl’s eye, continued as a conversation with a grandmother, was constructed of scraps collected by the oh-so-poor family, given to the little girl and then loved forever after. The closest this tale came to conflict was the family’s poverty and their struggle to collect the scraps, which wasn’t so much a struggle as a hunt around the old cabin or farmstead or whatever it was.

This was an oral story. The teller, or writer, if you prefer, had all the advantages of body language, gesture, vocal tone and dramatization. The teller used all these as best as possible, yet to call the result insipid is an insult to insipid things everywhere and indeed to the concept of insipidity itself. In fact I wish I could think of a word that conjured a greater level of insipidity that “insipid,” but I can’t and I don’t want to use and adverb.

Anyway, it was bad. Why? No conflict.

Now, what if the story had gone differently? What if the family had had to go to some extreme lengths to get the materials for the doll? What if the little girl was dying? What if the doll got made and was then stolen? What if the doll was possessed by evil spirits? What if the favor shown this little girl made her sister jealous and that had a disastrous effect on their relationship? The possibilities are myriad.

I think the reason we love stories with conflict, at least in part, is that conflict always involves something we must try to overcome. That overcoming presents us with a challenge and it’s wrestling with challenges that, win or lose, sharpens our characters and makes us grow. Conflict is at the very heart of our evolution as a species—would the first hominids have stood upright to see farther across the savannah if there hadn’t been predators to watch out for?

So, if your story seems a little flat, look at the elements of conflict. It could well be they need some pumping up.

How about this? Once upon a time there was an dad who, after a fantastic but exhausting day with his son, needed to come up with a Wednesday blog entry, even though he was was reeling with fatigue…

See you next time. I’m going to bed!

The Writer’s Disadvantage

Native American StorytellerI have been a writer of one stripe or another for a long time, but I’ve been a performer for even longer. I became a theater kid when I was 10 and didn’t let up until I was out of college. Not long after college, I was the lead singer in a little soft-rock band in Memphis. That didn’t last long, but it was great fun. I got involved in working my way out of poverty after that and so didn’t perform for a long time, until I was comfortably ensconced in the cubical of a technical writer. It was then I discovered oral storytelling, a craft that allows for loose story composition and offers a lovely lack of long rehearsals. I’m still doing that when I have the chance.

The thing all these performing activities have in common is that they put you right in front of your audience. This gives you some great advantages when you’re trying to entertain people.

For one thing, you get instant feedback. If people laugh, or gasp, or lean forward, or even stop talking for a couple of minutes to listen or watch, you know you’re on the right track. If you’re in the groove, there’s a weird ethereal connection between you and the audience. You can feel each other.

For another thing, you have many tools of communication at your disposal. You have body movement, facial expression, tone and volume of voice and personal appearance to name just a few off the top of my head. You might have music, too.

When we create fiction, the goal is to get the same audience reactions the performer does—laughter, tears, attention, dollars in the tip jar (sales, that is). Alas for us, we have precious little to work with—just words on a page. I am conscious of this, at some level, whenever I write to entertain and I am forever astounded at the facility with which some practitioners to weave a spellbinding tale using only this system of symbols, devoid of any other ornament.

How can I make a prosperous journey to that lofty height of writer-dom? Here’s what I tell myself:

  • Don’t worry about it. If you worry about it you’ll just get wrapped around the axle.
  • Practice. Write as much as you can and have some discipline about it.
  • Read. Check out the acknowledged greats and the obscure folks, too. Include poetry.
  • Write poetry. Poetry demands the most of your vocabulary and your ear for language. Make it something that demands careful word choice, something with structure. Haiku is good for this.
  • Get support. Join a writing group or groups, with real people or online, preferably both.
  • Read it out loud. Does the piece work as an oral story? If not, maybe the language needs fixing, or the story itself. This is a great way to ferret out typos, too.
  • Imagine telling it live. When you’re writing, it’s sometimes fun to imagine you’re telling the tale to an audience. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.

This is all stuff that works for me. I hope you’ll find something here to help you overcome the writer’s lack of resources. I mean, overcoming that lack is half the fun, right?

Top Ten Reasons to Keep Writing

Keep on Truckin'10. You Have a Dream

I suppose there are some writers who create simply for its own sake and put the manuscripts in a box or use them to wrap fish, but most of us would like to be read. It’s grand to have a dream! A dream can get you up in the morning with enthusiasm and put you to bed at night with hope. Just don’t take it too seriously or get too obsessed with it; that takes all the fun out of it. This one is number 10 for a reason!

9. You Love Words

Words are some of man’s most ancient and entertaining playthings. To rearrange them so they hang together so that each one supports the others, to really wring the music out of them is one of the most rewarding, fun activities to come along since eating. People who don’t write may not understand this, but writers do. We love this stuff! Why stop?

8. You Honor Your Ancient Lineage

Storytellers of the written and oral varieties are part of a long line of artists going back to the first people who told tales of the mammoth that got away or the bear that attacked while they were gathering berries in the woods. For centuries, they’ve entertained and enlightened their fellow human beings. As long as you’re writing, you’re part of the lineage of poets and bards.

7. You Won’t Let Your Readers Down

Whether you’re writing for millions or just for your mom because she’s the only person who’ll read your stuff, you’ve got an obligation to your readership. They’re waiting with baited breath, or at least polite attention, to see what’s going to happen next in your riveting tale. Don’t let them down!

6. You Love Crafting the Middle

Working through the middle, finding your way from the initial crisis to the resolution while trying to provide entertainment and perhaps enlightenment, is an excellent game. It’s like going on a long, exciting adventure into unknown territory.

5. You Love Starting

What could be more fun than starting the newest work? There’s sketching and planning and plotting and then, at last, the first words of prose on the paper, the first movement of characters, descriptions, dialogue! I suppose the feeling isn’t universal, but for me the fun of starting is one of the chief reasons I keep coming back to the keyboard.

4. You Love Finishing

Ah, the finish! Dealing out just desserts to the bad guys and rich rewards to the good… or crafting some variation thereof, if your tale runs darker or lighter. There are fewer greater satisfactions in life than tying up all the loose ends in a neat package and writing “the end.” And at that point you’ve earned a martini, which is pretty sweet, too.

3. You Want to See How the Story Turns Out

It’s the wise writer—and I’m sure you are—that writes for the enjoyment of the tale. If you keep going, you get to see what happens next. Even if you’ve planned things carefully, there are still surprises waiting that will change your story’s path. Stop writing and you’ll never find out what they are; keep on and they’ll reward you.

2. You Appreciate God’s Gift

Whatever it is that sends you to the keyboard is a gift from God to be treasured and used gratefully. If you don’t believe in an objective God but are spiritual, think of your writing as a gift of the universe, or part of your particular expression of Buddha-nature. If you’re an atheist, appreciate the fact that your evolutionary path led to your having this gift. Your writing is part of the unique set of traits that makes you unique; it was meant to expressed.

1. You Can’t Help It

The number one reason to stick to your writing is that you just can’t help doing it. Not writing for you would be like a flower not blooming. In Samuel R. Delaney’s novel Dhalgren, which I read ages ago, there’s a reference to some people having “a wound that bleeds poetry.” Maybe you have a wound, maybe not, but it’s certain that stories and words are flowing out of you like water from a spring and their destination is the page. Hold them in and the earth around either explodes or rots from the inside and caves in. Keep writing because you must.

Scene Templates Might Save Your Bacon

SignpostLast Wednesday, I wrote about the Beat Sheet and how great I think it is now. With that bad boy knocked out, I feel I’ve got a coherent, streamlined structure for a story that might even be worth reading one day.

So what’s next? Jump into writing?

I have to say I’m strongly tempted. Although I do love planning, I love the creative play of writing much more. But I am holding off for a few more days to complete scene templates for at least the first few scenes I’m going to write.

Why? Because whenever I have gotten stuck before, scene templates have saved my bacon.

I picked up the form and idea for these templates from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, a fine tome on the mechanics of novel-writing, especially when combined with Story Engineering and Outlining Your Novel. Since adopting Marshall’s original templates, I’ve tweaked them to meet my own purposes and temperament and am tweaking them still as I go along. Here’s an example, with descriptions of each part in [brackets]:

Scene Title: Mine! [Scene title. Like, duh.]

Scene # and description: Satan writing “Mine” all over his map. [I am not using scene numbers right now because the tools I use don’t support auto-numbering and if I rearrange things I don’t want to have to change all those scene numbers. I like using a nutshell description. One could also put the descriptive paragraph here.]

From # N/A [Title of the preceding scene; this helps you keep the dots connected.]

To # [Title of the succeeding scene, again for connecting those dots.]

Action/Reaction: [In an Action section, the viewpoint character for the scene does something. In a reaction section, the viewpoint character mulls things over and decides what to do next.]

Scene Viewpoint Character: [Three guesses what you put here.]

Where: [I use a nutshell description, but this could be as long as you want.]

When: [I like to use a date and time of day; however, I suppose you could use the relative timing of events, as in “after John gets a parking ticket, just before he trips over the coffee shop doorjamb.”]

ACTION [Use this part of the template if the scene is for Action.]

Goal from viewpoint character’s last section: [Here’s the concluding goal from this character’s previous section (just put N/A if it’s their first one), which provides motivation.]

Against (person or circumstance that brings crisis): [This is whatever is at the root of the conflict in the scene.]

Conflict (occurrence of crisis; section character’s reaction): [This section might just as well be called “Action,” except that would be confusing. Here’s a synopsis of what happens in the scene.]

 Failure (unless opposition) (inability to undo or deny crisis): [Because a good story requires the hero to be up against the wall most of the time, she is always failing on some scale at the end of a scene (at least until you get to the very end). The bad guys, on the other hand, mostly experience success.]

 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): [Having failed, the hero decides what to do next; you describe that here.]

 Cliffhanger: [At the end of most scenes, I like to have at least the appearance of a major disaster occurring for the hero. This is some kind of action, as opposed to thinking up a new goal.]

 REACTION [Use this part of the template if the scene is for Action.]

Failure from scene viewpoint character’s last action section (briefly describe; the section will restate it): [Pretty obvious, eh? This can be a cut-and-paste job, if you like.]

 With (other characters that share the section): [Often it’s good to have at least one other character, perhaps a confidant, in the Reaction scene so the hero can talk out his reaction some.]

 Emotional reaction (character’s gut reaction to the previous failure): [Describe the viewpoint character’s emotions here.]

 Rational reaction (character’s analytical reaction to the previous failure): [Describe the character’s more calculated thoughts about how to make things right.]

 New Goal (character devises): He/she will X in order to X. [The emotional and rational reactions work together to engender the new goal. Describe that here.]

At this point, you might be thinking I am the most anal-retentive creature in existence and have devised a way to suck all fun and discovery out of story creation while at the same time putting off any actual writing.

I beg to differ. Crafting the scene templates, I’ll admit, tastes more of work than play, but it’s worth it. As you fill them out, new ideas will occur to you for nifty development or much-needed fixes. These things are not carved in stone—you can reorder them and rejigger them any way you like as you go along.

The best part is, once you have a template for every scene in your story—or at least enough to get started with—the writing flows through those blank pages like hot lava through a scrub forest. The “duh” moments, when you don’t know what to put on the page next, are few and far between. This means you can concentrate on the quality of the writing itself—the crafting of language, the drawing out of characters, the description of setting, the arrangement of action—all the truly fun stuff!

Scene templates may not be for you, but I invite you to give them a shot, especially if you’re a writer who has started several novels but never finished one. They could make all the difference in the world.

The Beat Sheet: A Revelation

Sometimes a simple thing can be a revelation. Thus it was for me with the scene list, usually known by its cooler name, the “beat sheet.”

Though I had heard it mentioned before, I really didn’t know what the beat sheet was until I happened on Larry Brooks’s lucid explanation of it in Story Engineering. It sounded so good I decided to try it.

The beat sheet isn’t a complex thing. It’s just a list of your scenes with the minimal information necessary—a scene name and maybe a nutshell description. Having assembled your list, you start fooling with their order, adding some, subtracting others, until you have a satisfactory skeleton on which to hang the flesh of your tale. You can use whatever you like to make your beat sheet: a word processor, post-its, index cards, scraps of tanned cowhide. The main thing is that you can rearrange, add and subtract scenes with ease.

The beauty of the beat sheet is that it removes detail. If you’re trying to sort paragraphs describing each scene, or scene-construction forms of some kind, it’s too easy to get lost in the information about each scene, rather than simply concentrating on where it should go in the story. With the beat sheet, you get a couple of crystalline drops of data for each scene. These info-chicklets are easy to hold in your short-term memory, so you can juggle several at once and better determine how they affect each other, which insight goes into your scene arrangement. (FYI, the average short-term memory holds about seven items at once.)

I was stunned by my results with the beat sheet. I had a big sub-plot and realized it wasn’t working at all, so I cut it to the bone. I figured out how to tighten up the first three sections and began forming an idea of how the concluding section would go. Most valuable of all, I found that events in need of foreshadowing and questions in need of answering  jumped out at me like clowns popping out of a miniature Volkswagen.

Valuable as it was, the beat sheet still left me feeling a little short in the coherence department. I didn’t have a good sense of whether all the beats made sense or not. Now it was time to bring back some detail. The next step, writing a descriptive paragraph for each beat, helped me take care of that. Writing a paragraph about each beat helped me analyze it to be sure it held up as a worthwhile part of the story and also fit well with the other beats. I discovered more plot gaps, more foreshadowing needs and even a few more scenes that needed adding.

I’m still working on the descriptive paragraphs, but they’ll be wrapped up soon and when they are I’ll be in great shape to plan each scene to the point where I can write it easily. Then – joy of joys! – I’ll actually write those puppies!

Bonus! Here’s a beat with a descriptive paragraph to give you a concrete idea of the process.

1.      Colin gets killed. The Dough(boy) is Flat Colin gets hit by a truck while delivering pizzas.

Colin is toodling along on his scooter with the music turned up. [Look up some real scooter/motorcycle fatal wrecks and base the scene on them.] A truck runs a light; Colin doesn’t hear it coming and gets hit. He sees the famous bright, white light beckoning him forward. [What about other people who are in comas? Why don’t they get the same reaction as Colin? And if there are more like him, why don’t they recognize the smell of someone still connected to a body? Maybe de Retz, in his eagerness to make good, broke the rules and snatched a soul (Colin’s) meant for Limbo, Heaven or some other area; that hasn’t happened before. Also, Colin is the only person ever to find out he is in a coma someplace and that affects his behavior.] [If Colin is meant for Heaven, why is his body still alive? Maybe Colin’s angel is the one to escort him to Limbo or coma holding area.]

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.

To Tweak or not to Tweak?

WaterfallYippee! I’m about to reach a big milestone in the production of Thin Spots: completion of the first third; that is, the beginning. I’m mighty pleased to have made it this far. Now that I have, the question is, do I pause here to go back and rework what I’ve done, or do I keep on writing the draft as it is?

The conventional wisdom says I should just keep going as fast as I can until I reach the end. That way the story doesn’t stop flowing out of my head but rolls naturally along through the middle section, through the ending section and wham, into the exciting conclusion. It’s a pretty appealing scenario, I must admit.

On the other hand, there’s other wisdom (I’m thinking particularly of Lawrence Block) that says, “to thine own self be true,” meaning do whatever the hell you want—it’s your book, pal. So, I’m thinking about taking a pause for the cause and reworking the beginning third some.

Why would I engage in such masochism?

My professional background is in project management, using—Geek Alert!—the waterfall model. In the waterfall model, you finish one phase before another starts. The theory is that each phase should have a solid foundation to build on. I’ve also built a treehouse, single-handed, and let me tell you the supporting struts and frame had better be good to go before you put the floor in and the floor had better be solid because that’s where you’ll be standing for the rest of the job.

I’m thinking that if I tweak the first third, make it a solid foundation for the next part, I’ll be way better off while writing the remainder. I’m not talking about prettying up all the language or making everything just perfect. What I have in mind is tightening up the loose ends. For instance, in “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Eternity,” de Retz has a brass truncheon he uses to whoop up on Colin and Cerberus. The object never appears again. Do I work it in later, get rid of it, or leave it as is? And what about Tanya? In her first chapter she’s taking her soul and Doc’s soul out of their bodies and doing this crazy healing stuff—do I need back story somewhere, and if so, does it come in the beginning section or later? There are plenty of things like that to consider, including the possibility of axing some pieces, like the part where Colin gets swallowed by a fish in the Cocytus—it’s fun, but does it move the plot?

I’m pretty sure I’m going to take the tweaking route, but I’m going to ask my writing group for advice first. I’m also going to ask you, gentle reader, right now. Should I keep going or should I pause to tweak? I’d appreciate your input. Thanks. And stay tuned!