I rewrote the first chapter on Friday and I think I’m on the right track. It’s amazing what giving your protagonist a clear-cut goal at the beginning of the story can do for your plot. Duh!
You’d think after this many books I’d have learned, but apparently not. I seem to have become overconfident and skipped ahead in the process without thinking it through.
I have a busy week ahead, with getting a book ready for publication, writing a book, and doing other business-related stuff.
It was June of last year before I’d spent as much time devoted to writing as I have this year, and last year was a pretty good year. I’m kind of excited to see how much I can get written this year if I keep it up. I’m not doing any conventions during the summer, so I should be able to get a solid streak of writing done after May. I have a couple of ideas clamoring for attention that I can’t wait to dive into.
So I guess I’d better get to work …
I thought I’d get a running start yesterday by reviewing the past few days worth of work and kept having a nagging feeling that something was wrong. So, I got out pen and paper and started making lists of what each faction in the story was trying to do, why, what was stopping them from doing it, and what information they had. That led to me realizing that I was doing something I’d just been ranting about writers doing. I was withholding information from readers and characters for the sake of a surprise revelation.
The nagging sticking point in the plot was that the heroine needed to do something absolutely critical but that no one had told her needed to be done (even though there were people who knew) or how to do it. They’d manipulated her into being in the situation to get it done but hadn’t just told her to do it. The obvious, easy fix was to go back to the beginning and write a scene in which they tell her what she needs to do and give her some hints, and she can still figure out how to improvise later because things may have changed. And then I had a moment in which I caught myself thinking “but that will ruin the surprise when she finds out what’s going on.”
That was at about 4 this morning. I finally convinced myself that it wasn’t a particularly fun surprise, it wasn’t a twist, readers wouldn’t have a big “oho!” moment. There were more benefits to the heroine having a clear-cut goal than to having a surprise revelation midway through the book, especially when keeping that a secret defied logic.
And that means I’ll be rewriting the beginning, which will reframe the whole story. It makes it slightly more dark and serious, when I was aiming at fun and whimsical, but I can’t really think of stakes that are high enough to make fun and whimsical work and still be interesting. Then I thought of other stories similar to this, and they all have a bit of an edge of darkness framing the whimsy. I couldn’t think of any that were pure fun without something very dire at stake.
On the light, fun, and whimsical side of things, I’ve discovered that the Disney channel is doing a TV series based on Tangled. I believe it starts tonight, though there was a pilot one-hour “movie” on a couple of weeks ago (on in heavy rotation and available on demand). They’ve got the same voice actors for the main cast, though it’s in “regular” animation rather than the computer-animation of the movie. The look takes a moment to get used to, but it works fine. The story is set in the time soon after Rapunzel returns to the palace and deals with her getting used to having a family, having people around, and having the expectations that come with being a princess. The pilot was rather cute, and it had some musical numbers, though I don’t know if the series will (but considering they have Mandy Moore and Zach Levi, you’d think they would). And yeah, even in this cute cartoon aimed at kids, there’s an edge and some seriousness, so I guess it’s not a bad thing entirely.
I had my first truly successful “do everything but the writing” Wednesday yesterday. I’m starting to see that organizing my time this way isn’t necessarily getting more writing done, but it is getting more other stuff done that I usually let slip by the wayside while I’m working on a book. I did most of my accounting for my taxes (so now doing my taxes will amount to plugging numbers into the forms), cleaned my kitchen and bathroom, booked my travel for the Nebula conference, handled some other planning related to that conference, contacted a potential web designer, did some promo stuff, and did my planning for choir. Normally, a lot of that stuff would have eaten into a planned writing day, or else I’d have had to push aside writing in order to get it done at the last second. I splurged a little on my airfare, and instead of booking the slightly cheaper flights that required getting up at the crack of dawn, I got the outgoing flight at a reasonable mid-morning time, and the return flight is early in the afternoon, so that I can get up and have a leisurely morning, leave the hotel at checkout time and get to the airport in time for my flight. I’ll get home late in the afternoon, but during a time when the train and bus are on rush-hour schedules, so there’s a chance that I would end up getting home at about the same time as with the slightly earlier flight, which would arrived during the time when there’s a big bus schedule gap. Since I have a lot of frequent flier miles, I’m considering looking into an upgrade to first class.
But now I’m back to a writing day (though I have some follow-ups to make stemming from yesterday’s work). I need to do a step back to fix some things before I can move forward, and I ended the previous writing session at a big turning point, so I need to figure out what happens next. That means there may be more thinking than writing today, but I need to do the fixing now so things are in the right order for moving ahead and so I won’t have to rewrite more later.
I thought I had a rather detailed outline of this book, since I actually wrote a whole synopsis. Ha! It turns out to have been very big-picture. I’m glad I made the decision to write the whole book rather than trying to submit on a partial (first few chapters and a synopsis) because the book will be much stronger. Better a later yes (and, I hope, an enthusiastic yes, with money and support to back it) than an earlier no.
And now my schedule says it’s almost time to start editing, so off to work I go …
There’s a lot of writing advice floating around on the Internet, and not all of it necessarily good — at least, not necessarily good for everyone. Even one of my favorite authors has lately been spouting something that I find to be not true at all for me, but saying it as though it’s an absolute. So I thought I’d address some common myths about being a writer that can be detrimental to you if you treat them as absolutes rather than figuring out what works for you.
1) A “real” writer writes every day — I noticed this in an interview recently, with a writer comparing writing to a bodily function and saying that it would be impossible not to do it every day. I guess you’re not a real writer if you write on days you have time to write or treat it like a job and take weekends off. If you let yourself fall into this way of thinking, you might become discouraged or wonder if you’re meant to write if you aren’t driven to do it absolutely every day.
It may be more accurate that a writer thinks about writing every day. Bits and pieces of the story you’re working on or a future story that you’re still developing may float in and out of your brain all the time, even if you aren’t actually physically writing. However, it may be unwise to go too far in the other direction and use this as an excuse to procrastinate, telling yourself that if you’re thinking about writing, you’re okay.
Bottom line: A writer writes. Writers may write every day or they may schedule their writing sessions when they have the time to write. They’re probably thinking about their writing every day, but as long as they actually write something, they can call themselves writers.
2) “Real” writing is done with a pen and paper — this one’s been going around lately (and severely mocked). I don’t even know where that’s coming from. I know very successful writers who write by hand and then do their editing as they transcribe. I know very successful writers who type on their computers. I know people who record dictation and transcribe. I know people who write on their phones. I know people who use real typewriters and then transcribe into their computers. As long as the result is words, you’re writing.
That said, there has been research about the mind-body connection being different when typing as opposed to writing by hand. Most of that has been about memory — you’re more likely to retain information you write by hand than information you type — but switching to writing by hand might be an idea to try if you’re stuck. It can be good for brainstorming or even composing if you find yourself staring at the screen and drawing a blank. There’s nothing wrong with giving writing by hand a try, but it won’t make you any more of a real writer.
3) Talking about an idea will kill it — This is definitely something that varies by individual, and it is apparently true for some people. I just don’t think it’s true for everyone or in every circumstance. I first heard this when I was in college, and it’s been going around the writer clusters on Twitter lately, thanks to a very successful author repeating it. The idea is that you expend most of your enthusiasm and creative energy for an idea in telling it to someone, and you may not have any enthusiasm or energy left to actually write it. There’s also a concern that discussing an idea with someone will mean you’ve been influenced by others, so it’s no longer purely your idea.
This may be true for some people, or even a lot of people. It’s not at all my experience. I find that my ideas bloom when I talk about them with others. I like brainstorming out loud. I’m not necessarily getting input from anyone (my mother will joke about whether she actually needs to stay on the phone or whether she can put it down and go do something else while I talk about my story), but sometimes their questions really help me develop my idea. I came up with a lot of the elements in the idea that became my Enchanted, Inc. series when I was chatting with an editor about it at a party and she asked me questions. It was an idea still in its infancy, so I didn’t have answers to her questions, and I was making things up on the fly. It ended up working like a good brainstorming session. She didn’t add any input, just the questions that made me dig deeper into the idea and develop it. Obviously, eight books later, I didn’t lose interest in writing that idea, and talking about it before I had a single word written didn’t kill it. I tend to find that if talking about an idea kills my enthusiasm for writing it, I probably didn’t have enough enthusiasm to go through with writing it, whether or not I talked about it.
However, it really depends on how you work, how strong you are in holding onto your ideas, how developed the idea is, and who you talk to. This is where you have to know yourself. I may have a very different approach because I have a background in working at an advertising agency, where we had big brainstorming sessions for a lot of our work. That may have trained me to think in that way, getting more and more excited by an idea the more it was discussed. I think it also makes a difference that I live and work alone, so by the time I get around to talking with someone about a story, I’ve done a lot of development in my head already, and I’m ready to get outside input. If you’ve noticed that you’re always coming up with great ideas and then losing interest in them, look at whether you’ve discussed them, and then try writing without talking about it. If you find that you get excited about your ideas and rush to write them, then end up with stories that seem half-baked or underdeveloped, try discussing your ideas with someone.
Is there any other bit of writing advice that you’ve heard and wondered about?
I had a real gold-star kind of day yesterday. I passed my word count goal, outlined today’s writing, did some development work on other projects, did laundry, practiced my choir music and worked on the piano, did some yoga, and went to bed early.
This morning I had a dentist appointment (no cavities, not even the flossing lecture!), which kind of threw my morning schedule off, but I should still get all my writing work done, though I also have grand plans to bake something using the ton of blueberries I bought because they were ridiculously cheap. I picked up some more on the way home from the dentist, so I should have enough for a pie. I’m thinking of making mini pies in the muffin tin and freezing some of them, so I can have blueberry pie whenever I want it. Not that I have that much room in my freezer. A space to put in a chest freezer is on my wish list for my dream house.
The dentist seemed to be in a late 1970s groove today, because that’s the music that was playing. It took me back to when I was living in Germany and listened to the Armed Forces Radio Network on a little transistor radio. Their FM station was more “easy listening” (basically elevator music), but they did play some current music on the AM station, and the dentist office music today was the kind of stuff they played — Supertramp, Steely Dan, Kansas, etc.
But the funny thing was, the bits of songs that jumped out at me weren’t because of hearing those songs as songs. There was a thing they did on AFN that I don’t know if it was a syndicated thing, locally produced, or something someone did and released it as a comedy “song,” but they did “interviews” of various famous figures, using little clips of songs as the answers. Like, there was one that was interviewing some official about the energy crisis and asked what he was personally doing, and the answer was a clip of the line “I try to get undressed without the light” from the Kenny Rogers song “She Believes in Me.” There was also one that used a clip saying “take the long way home” from the Supertramp song.
So as I was lying there, having my teeth poked and prodded, individual lines of songs were jumping out at me as being interview answers, which reminded me of that thing I hadn’t thought about in years. I was a weird kid who read the newspaper, so I actually got the current affairs jokes (and in some cases, these “interview” segments made me look up info, so I was learning about current affairs from them), and I remember being really frustrated when I taped these things and played them for my friends or told my friends about them, and they didn’t get the joke.
Does anyone in my age bracket or older (remembering the late 70s) remember something like this? Was it just a couple of servicemen working at AFN goofing around, or was it a national thing?
It took a little more than a walk to the movie theater and back to work out my plot problems, but I think over the weekend I finally figured it all out. I’m bad about doing a lot of handwaving when I plot my books. The start of the synopsis is really detailed, then about midway through it becomes more a case of “and then stuff happens.” I figure it’ll come to me when I get there. But when I get there, I need to be a lot more specific than that. I’d reached that point in the book, and every idea I came up with fit into the “but why would they do that?” category. It’s very frustrating. I do think I figured it out, though. We’ll see when I get to work today.
I loved the new Beauty and the Beast. It fixed some of the issues I had with the animated version and the Broadway version. I’ve always been a bit bothered by the enchantress cursing the whole castle because the prince was leery of letting in a stranger. Supposedly, he was being punished for judging by appearances, but if she’s the kind of person who puts that kind of curse on someone and on all his innocent servants, then maybe he was judging her by what was inside. This movie alters that a bit so it makes a lot more sense. I’ve also always been bothered by the fact that the way he shows that he’s changed from judging by appearances is to fall in love with the most beautiful girl in town. In this case, in spite of the song lyrics about Belle being the most beautiful girl in town, I think they make a distinction between her kind of beauty and the kind of beauty he was previously interested in. She’s more girl-next-door pretty, and I don’t think the prince before the curse would have even looked at her twice. He was more into the very artificial Baroque-era beauty of powdered wigs and face paint.
I loved the music enough to immediately buy the soundtrack and have listened to it repeatedly. There are a number of new songs — not just coming from the Broadway version, but new for the movie — that I really love, and I enjoy the new versions of the old songs (Ewan McGregor had WAY too much fun with “Be Our Guest”).
I was really impressed with Dan Stevens’ version of the Beast. His facial expressions really come through even in the CGI, and his eyes say so much. It looked nothing like him, yet was obviously him, if that makes sense. I even managed to have a few Downton Abbey flashbacks, where I recognized a look on his face, in spite of the fact that in this he looked like a fur-covered beast.
So, yeah, this will be one I buy on BluRay on release day. Then I may have to have a massive fairy tale weekend, watching this and Cinderella and maybe mixing it up a bit with Into the Woods and throwing in some Tangled. With lots of chocolate and pink champagne.
I’ve reached a point at which my characters are blowing my plans out of the water — or else are revealing that my plans weren’t very good in the first place. I’m going to have to do some thinking and figure out exactly who knows what and who has what so I can decide where to go from here.
I think that means that I should walk up the hill to the movie theater and see Beauty and the Beast today. The walk will give me time to think and meditate on the subject, and I’ve often found that ideas pop into my head while I’m watching other things.
Yeah, that’s the ticket.
I have a new logo, and now I need a new web site, but I think I may update and change the current one to match the new logo for the time being before the next book comes out.
In the meantime, I also need to come up with something to do with the ton of blueberries I just bought because they were ridiculously cheap. I’m ashamed to confess that I already have blueberry muffins in the freezer, and I just found another packet of blueberries from last year in the freezer. I’m a bad freezer hoarder. I may make a pie this weekend. Maybe some jam? I wonder how Irish soda bread would do with blueberries instead of raisins. Or blueberry scones?
You know that scene in the original Willie Wonka movie where the girl turns into a giant blueberry? That could be me very soon. Incidentally, that’s also the only movie moment I can recall that was so traumatic that I had to be taken out of the theater. I was a preschooler during the original run (yes, I’m old), and I freaked out so badly in that scene that my parents had to take me out of the movie. I didn’t see the entire movie until I was an adult. Now I’m not sure why that bothered me so much. My friend at that age was scared by the Monstro the whale part of Pinocchio, but I was more or less okay with it in the movie, possibly because I’d listened to the story and songs record so many times (though I did make a practice of hiding under the bed during that part). But, yeah, a girl turning into a blueberry was too much for me to take. Mind you, I was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, and human logic doesn’t necessarily apply.
Getting back to the topic of what makes me give up on a series — either books or TV … While curiosity and caring are important, there’s one big reason that will make me give up on something, and that’s when it no longer resembles the thing I first loved. I guess that still comes in on the caring side of things, but it’s a big reason why my caring factor changes.
On TV, sometimes it’s cast changes — the actor playing the character I most identified with or loved leaves, a new character I loathe joins the show and takes it over, sidelining the characters I liked. Sometimes the focus of a series changes — a supporting character gets a lot of buzz and starts taking over, sidelining the original main character, a previously non-romantic or just subplot romantic series goes full-on soap opera so that it’s all about who’s with whom, a more procedural series gets bogged down in story arcs, the overall tone gets darker.
The darkness thing is a huge issue in series. There are very few long-running series in books, TV, or movies that don’t get progressively darker as they go on. I think some of it comes down to the overall attitude that dark automatically=good, and writers who crave critical acclaim will go darker in an attempt to be taken seriously. There’s also the issue of raising stakes. When a series has been running for a long time, it’s hard for the characters to face bigger challenges without going a lot darker and more serious, especially if the characters have been allowed to grow and change and learn from their experiences. On TV, there’s the issue that actors tend to prefer playing dark. That gives them a lot more to work with. Many actors got into acting because they wanted to play with being someone different than themselves, and playing dark is a way to do that. Being a nice person doesn’t feel enough like acting. And there’s that credibility thing. You don’t win as many awards in dramas for playing good, hero-like characters. I’ve dropped a few series when my fun, quirky romps turned into slogs through misery. Or, if I’m still really invested and curious, I may skim to find out what happens or watch as background noise without paying too much attention.
Another issue I’m seeing a lot of lately is the attempt to go for the shock factor. Writers have become so terrified of spoilers that they start to consider it to be a spoiler if audiences figure something out on their own, so the writers try to throw in shocking twists that no one could have predicted, even if they’re discussing online and swapping theories with other fans. The problem is that it’s really, really hard to have a shocking twist that’s both shocking and that makes sense, so that after the shocking twist you can look back and see how it’s set up and how the seeds were there all along. Most of the time, in order to get shocking, the writers just pull random things out of thin air, making the characters act out of character with no explanation for why they were driven to do something that drastic. It’s a popular writing exercise to think of something your character would never do and find the motivation that might make them do it, but the trick there is to find that motivation, and that’s usually what’s lacking in these twists. Writers are writing to get Twitter reaction, not for story logic or to create something that’s satisfying viewing. I think a lot of my “um, no” giving upon series has had to do with this shocking twist trend.
I believe that’s what killed Grimm (along with trying to do story arcs and not doing them very well). They did some things that were, in fact, shocking, but they were so far from what had been established for these characters and so far from anything you’d expect any person to do that the audience reaction seems to have been a big “NOPE,” the ratings tanked, and the show got canceled. They’ve reverted to form in the last season and the episodes have been much better (though still stuck with the situations created by the shocking twists), but it’s too late to recover.
There was another one of those shocking twists recently, one that wasn’t that shocking just because those writers keep repeating themselves and it was obvious what the shocking twist was going to be from the moment that plot thread came up. For a moment, I thought they were going to shock us and not do it, but yeah, they did it, and all I could do was groan and roll my eyes.
So, my books may never really surprise anyone in a big way. I’m pleased if you manage to put together the clues and figure it out for yourself. I just hope I never make anyone hurl a book against a wall.
I’m now beyond the part of the book that was originally written, so I’m having to figure it out entirely from scratch. There are still a couple of events that I wrote in the first place that haven’t come up in the rewrite, but they’re happening in totally different ways, so I can’t steal from what I’ve already written.
I’m still not seeing a huge benefit from the days of focus vs. the day to deal with life, other than that more life stuff might be getting done, but I also haven’t really had a “normal” week yet, between getting sick one week, having to produce a video last week, and this week wrestling with the time change and having to deal with other work-related stuff that couldn’t be put off until Wednesday. Really, I’m not sure how realistic it is to try to shove all non-writing work into one day, but I’ll give it at least another couple of weeks before I decide to try something else.
I’m getting geared up for the release of Rebels Rising, book three in the Rebels series, coming April 4. Stay tuned for the cover and other information about the book, as well as some pre-order links.
I’ve also had a logo designed and am about to get to work on a website redesign. Soon, I may start looking like a real author!