Sunday, December 26, 2010

The box is not always bad

So I've been typing pretty much stream-of-consciousness style as I try to discover what plot changes need to happen.  I'm nowhere near done with the process, but I'm going more in-depth with plotting than I ever have, because now I'm not just writing for myself.  I used to think that writing out scenes would move the plot along without having to plan stuff out ahead of time, and that may still work for me when I'm not writing for anybody else's eyes.

I'm not used to having to change major parts of my stories; I tend to think, 'But that's the way it's always been, and that's the way things happened.'  Keep in mind, I've had the major characters in my head since somewhere in the late 70s.  That's a lot of time for ideas to become cemented, whether they work or not.

However, my recent writing course, my helpful critters on CC, and reading Cohen's book have brought home to me that I must break open the box of my own making.  I wrote a couple exercises for the course in first person; I always write in some variation of third, and I want to stretch myself.  Art pointed out specific things in my first-person exercises that he felt worked well, and I was so surprised!  While writing the first one especially, things felt forced and unnatural at times.

I've learned that the proverbial box is all right to help one get a grip on the basics, and then you have to bust it wide open to let air and rain in so new ideas will grow.

The plot issues have chips and cracks in them now.  I feel the answers are there, hidden beneath years of assumptions and mistakes and a not-helpful fondness for the way things used to be.  I'm taking individual plot points and looking at them from other angles.  How does this point move the plot forward?  What am I trying to say with this idea?  If I want to keep it, what's the most effective way to get my intention across?

Exploring different possibilities for scenes also lets me peer into my characters' souls more.  Trist is the girlfriend of gang leader Coyote; Neal has feelings for her though I've wondered how to realistically portray that.  In cutting windows into my box, I've glimpsed her human side.  She will eventually turn against Neal, but in the beginning, she has moments of thoughtfulness.

Out of seemingly nowhere, it recently came to me that Sophie, a singer who becomes important later in the story, lives in a house decorated in a Moroccan theme.  That part may make it into the WIP.  Sitting looking at the Christmas tree in my house, I sank into a seconds-long scene between Sophie and Sandy.  He admires her Christmas tree, dripping with obviously old ornaments.  She says that on every tour, her people search for antique ornaments in every country she stops in. 

I like that scene a lot, because it gets to the heart of who Sophie is: she loves being adored by her fans, she has no trouble throwing her weight around to get what she wants, she doesn't apologize for being rich, but she believes deeply in family ties and traditions.  Those expensive ornaments are reminders of tours and the places she's visited and the traditions of the people there.  They remind her of Christmases growing up, when her family moved around a lot and sometimes all they had on Christmas was each other and the tree.  Other people might look at them and say, "Wow, she's a show-off."

Without the foundation of the first draft of the WIP, I wouldn't have known that Sophie is sometimes very contradictory.  She'd be a one-dimensional character.  Now, I can have fun finding out what motivates these people, and their humanity will come through in my writing.

This is what Art meant by "what do your characters want?"  What makes them who they are?  Who they are dictates what they do and say.  My inner editor will tweak this information to make it workable for fiction.  And gradually, I'll have a compelling plot with convincing and persuasive characters.

I'm so excited!  It's like discovering the characters all over again!  I get to explore new scenes with them, finding hidden gems.  Our relationship has the depth of years, with the shine of newness.  Damn!  I love writing!  It never gets old!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thus begins the winter

Hey folks, sorry I've been off the grid.  Working retail in 4th quarter has had me feeling homicidal occasionally!  Plus I've got a sick pet, and my online writing course wrapped up recently, so it's been one thing after another.

My instructor, Art Edwards, mentioned a book on writing during the course and it sounded helpful, so I bought a copy.  It's "Writer's Mind" by Richard Cohen.  I've read a bit, and so far, I like how Cohen thinks.  The first sentence of his preface is: "A writer is someone who is always learning to write."  I find that a relief.  He doesn't seem to expect that, once I finish reading his book and writing my manuscript, that the work will get accepted for publication and I won't need to work on my craft anymore.  If he'd implied that, I'd have returned the book.

I even like the cover.  The edition I have shows an ocean wave curling over into a tube.  It reminds me of being in "the zone", when ideas and sentences flow from my fingers and whole paragraphs are typed before I pause for breath.  That's being in the calm middle of the creative wave, until doubts and decisions crash in on me.

Later in his preface, Cohen says: "There are no 'don'ts' in this book--no 'Don't write dream scenes' ... or 'Don't begin a sentence with and or but.'  A writer is someone whose first reflex, on being confronted with a taboo, is to break it."

You gotta love somebody who will say that!

Art also suggested that I find novels written in a style similar to my own and see how those authors handled various writing issues.  Wellll, that's easier said than done!  I could adapt lessons from a fantasy novel to my own WIP, probably, but how to find authors that write in a similar style?  I write in a linear way, with clear details meant to help readers visualize scenes easily.  In fact, I think I write too clearly sometimes!

If anybody has suggestions for authors they think may help me, I'm all for checking them out.   Now that snow has fallen and we're well into the last month of the year, it's finally time to curl into myself and read.  I've been promising myself that once winter hit, I'd focus on improving my plot and working on some of the writing details that have plagued me.  Plotting, plotting, plotting.  I don't yet know how I'm going to come up with compelling plot twists, but that's up to my muse and her Magickal Crockpot :D