My Character Took a Turn

While it isn’t my main character, a major character in the book revealed that he had something to do with one of the Bad Events. He seemed neutral at the beginning, a necessary bridge between protagonist and antagonist and someone who worked with both.

I suppose it all started when a different character – who was supposed to remain in the backstory – left traces of herself from the first page and arrived front and center when my protagonist needed an ally.

So much for my outline- except I’m still following the outline. I don’t believe in cornering myself with the details. I discover it as I write it, with the outline more like a street map. And just like my GPS system, every now and then it tells me to take a u-turn at 70 mph through a four-foot concrete barrier. I always choose not to follow that advice. I’m nearly at the destination now, and I know if I keep writing I’ll find my way.

I’m always amazed by well-meaning other writers who don’t know me well. They say “save it for later.” I’m not going to fix this guy. Except to make this reveal seem planned after the rewrite, of course.

Then, I thought, Man, your wife is way too cool for you. But maybe she also knew. I guess I’d better check in with her and see.

I hear it’s good for characters to get lives of their own, but they definitely make my book interesting. I also can’t wait to see how it turns out – even though I am following an outline. I’m not sure I could write this book without some kind of guide. I think I’m 125k words in, and I’m not sure where it will end.

Project Cycle

Every project begins with an image in someone’s head. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s going to be ten thousand or a hundred thousand when I begin.

The first step is to spew out the rough draft. Sometimes, and with more regularity, an outline takes shape before that. I’ve been learning to get better about running through a draft until it’s done. When I stop things in the middle, I lose my place. I can’t figure out where I’m going. It takes forever to build the momentum back up again.

There is a need to let a draft sit, but not for too long. That rough draft turns into a pile of words on pages. The half-edited bundle of papers becomes something I have to re-read to connect to each time a long break happens. Yet I also get little tidbits of ideas about projects I haven’t worked on for a couple months. Sometimes those bits fit and sometimes it takes a change in the entire project to encompass the new idea.

How do you overcome that distance? What do you do to make yourself get through to the end without those long, awkward pauses of, ‘oh, yeah, I’m working on that book’? I’m also working through my resistance to editing. Somehow I will make progress.

In Translation

A language is more than just words. I can speak a few words in a few languages, but not enough to get by. Sometimes, it seems we share a language and still miss something in communication. Other days, I’m not sure I’m even fluent in my native language…

A friend of mine (from Sweden) said she was reading something British and she didn’t quite get it until she remembered it was British. After that, it was funny. She reminded me it wasn’t enough to read the words, but stories also can require a switch in mindset. Since my friend has lived in both Britain and America, it explains how she might identify it differently.

She also recommends translations of a few books from Swedish authors. Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell are the ones I’ve read so far, and both of them write intricately-plotted crime fiction. Many of the comments I’ve heard about it before and after I read it is that it takes 50-100 pages to get into the story, to be truly hooked. I felt that was accurate, though the second and third books by Larsson did not have the trouble because they followed after the setup of the first.

I know a couple people who don’t want to wait that long. I’ve heard of editors and agents who want to know by the first five pages, by the first paragraph.

What I really wonder is what that says about us, that we aren’t willing to give it a few pages. Does it say something if you read the last page first, if you skim through the book and then read it over in detail, or if you carefully devour everything on the page. Or is it something more about how short life is, that we want to jump into something that immediately takes us away.

Then it leads me to wonder if our work, translated, meets the same resistance when it travels over to someone else. If they need to switch to a part of the brain where they understand it, or if the translator doesn’t manage to change the ideas from what we intended to something that makes sense in that culture.

When I look at my work again, I start wondering about creating new languages. Y’know, because I’m always thinking about space adventures and aliens and I swear one day I’m going to finish that world I’ve created and the story that’s just beyond me at the moment. Those translations remind me that it isn’t just about figuring out the character’s mind, but also in making sure the reader sees it as well as I do.

Ideas on the Periphery

One line of plot does not always get you from beginning to end of book. It’s one of those things that adds to length, either a sub plot or a plot layer. Neither is totally unrelated to the main line, but each adds different elements.

Mom delivered an idea that a friend of hers believes is underdeveloped in books. Oh, it’ll require research for me  because I’m not familiar with it. It will have good conflict opportunities for characters. The more I think about it, though, I’m not sure it will make a good central plot line for a book.

And of course, during a rewrite phase my brain starts bursting with new ideas to take off and write with! So I take a deep breath and take notes for when I’m finished. How irritating. Would that I had more hours in a day to write.

Like ten.

But I wouldn’t give up the evening I spent with my daughter outside. I wonder if I could manage without sleep… but that way lies madness. And not the kind that will get my written words more creative!

So I’ll add it to my notes and see what comes out of this when the current project is done. Because I am determined to get Don’t Tell Your Mother into great shape.

Maybe it will be ready to send out by the end off the year, but only if I get cracking on that rough manuscript. Yes, I think that would be a good goal. Let’s see if I can manage it. I like where chapter 1 is, and I have the rest of the rough draft in various stages. (Someone called it draft-and-a-half. That amuses me.) I also have notes on where the outline needs to change.

That should account for enough for me to keep rewriting. I think I have one more issue to tie up at the end.

New deadline: Revise ending in outline form by 1 June. Whee!

Father’s Day

What do we expect out of a father character? Probably much the same we do in life – someone who lays down the law and is the disciplinarian in our family.

Not all fathers fit this bill. I’m not sure even most do today, but we still carry over the expectation from before.

I didn’t have one of those fathers in my book, The Art of Science. I opted instead to make the mother into the ‘bad guy’ parent, and the father the one who stayed home and nurtured the children more. It didn’t make him less of a parent or a man; it changed his style.

I’m thinking about the next book already. (what author doesn’t?) Maybe this time it’ll be someone more conventional who fills the father’s role.

Happy Father’s Day to the traditional – and not so traditional – fathers out there.

What did the Leprechaun bring you?

I got another look at my book. Fewer things to find, just as many things to check. I am definitely getting faster at reading this thing.

It takes so much longer to write than to read. To edit, to rewrite, to polish – these things have more time and effort than I can think about, but are worth it in the end to get a finished product.

Still, I can’t think of a nicer gift from the leprechaun than to do stuff for my book. It’s a good change from the baby stuff going on around here. She’s not even here yet but she seems to rule the roost. Can’t make plans without at least a nod to the schedule that she isn’t sharing.

Book Update!

While I do not have an exact date for the book just yet, I did hear from my publisher today. Sounds like it is coming out this month!

It’s going to be exciting. There are still so many things to be done and planned. It’s hard to believe.

Beginning to work on a list for more research. I think my life has so many lists now.

Everyone is amazed when I say I’m having twins because I’m so small, I bet. Then I clarify one is a book and one is a baby… and they might both debut this month. It really does feel like twins.

I bet only authors and parents understand that, and I bet they could say it better. However, I’m pretty sure one takes more time and determination before the debut, and the other one will require much more later.

What Not to Write

In trying to find that perfect idea, there are often things that stick out – that have been done before and catch a writer’s attention. I wonder sometimes if a lot of us, when starting out, haven’t put enough time and thought into making up our own worlds, so we jump off from someone else’s.

In writing books, they sometimes mention ‘red-flags’ that editors have just gotten sick of seeing. It isn’t to say those topics aren’t or haven’t been done well, only that they’ve been done so often (and so often badly) that you have to have a stellar manuscript to make it past the first page, or even the first paragraph. A good thing to remember is an editor only has so much time; they’ve been inundated with lame attempts at the same topics- sprinkled liberally, annoyingly with adverbs, containing cliches by the dozen, and descriptively painting details of a world for the first 21 pages. No wonder they have red-flag lists.

Here’s an example from the online science fiction magazine, Strange Horizons. My friends discussed it (writers discussing writing? oh my!) and it amused us. I like the organization of this list. I will admit to working on something similar to one of the items, but I’m hoping, of course, that it works! Always something to consider, especially when those rejections start pouring in…

Excerpt:

10. Someone calls technical support; wacky hijinx ensue.

  1. Someone calls technical support for a magical item.
  2. Someone calls technical support for a piece of advanced technology.
  3. The title of the story is 1-800-SOMETHING-CUTE.

19. Some characters are in favor of immersive VR, while others are opposed to it because it’s not natural; they spend most of the story’s length rehashing common arguments on both sides. (Full disclosure: one of our editors once wrote a story like this. It hasn’t found a publisher yet, for some reason.)

28. Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation.

  1. The protagonist is surrounded by people who know the explanation but refuse to give it.

The Final Edits

I got the final revision notes back from my publisher for The Art of Science. I was so excited I went through them in record time. All that I have left is to create the study guide, and I’m feeling really good about the book right now.

The study guide causes me a bit of anxiety since I’ve never done anything like that before. Luckily I have some guidance and a book or two with examples. It’s hard for me to imagine my book being used in a classroom and having it discussed, but the possibility exists and is much more likely with an included study guide.

I also heard my book is on the illustrator’s schedule. Still on track to be published early 2009 so far!

Trockle Blog Tour…

Sept 19 stops:
Beverly Stowe McClure
Beverly’s Other Blog
I think I like blogspot better since you don’t have to be a member of their network to post a comment, but the squirrel-monster comment line on the other one is more amusing.

Joyce Anthony has today and two more days left at her blog to explore Trockle, and on Sept 21 the last stop is Karen Syed.

How many ways are there to look at a picture book? Seems like there are as many as people to start looking at it. I find it easier to write for children a little older so far, or for adults. The more I’m looking at picture books by my publisher, the more I want to write one on my own. It’s a challenge in my head to put the right pictures with the words; an illustrator makes the pictures, but there needs to be enough information for her to manage that. Maybe one day, but probably not today.

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