Monday, August 27, 2012

Technical Difficulties

I haven't had a ton of writing time lately, but I've been slowly making my way through the Character work on the GPRP. First up was to make a character grid in Excel, tracking all the characters in TOB, from Willa on down to the redshirts, in the form in which they currently exist. So down the side were the character names, and across the top were categories like function, archetype, core story, enters, exits, associated object, etc.

Next I did some free-writes-- just five minutes on each major character and how my understanding of him or her has changed through writing the first draft.

Then I finished up a few character exercises from The Fire in Fiction that I began way back in June. I have a few more to do, but I've also moved on to the last step of the character work, which is to go back through all the character pre-writing I did last summer and make any changes to reflect who I want the characters to be now. Then I'll print it all out and bind it so I can easily refer to it during the rewrite.

This will have to wait a day or two, because Oberon the laptop needs medical attention. The rubber thingy on his bottom side is almost completely detached now. It's bad enough that last Friday I was sitting in the pizza place next to the library, eating lunch and working on the character grid in between tutoring students, when I was accosted by a computer store employee on his lunch break, who told me that the rubber thingy is covered under warranty and to bring Oberon to his shop ASAP. He wore a slightly pained expression, as if he couldn't bear to witness the laptop's suffering for another moment.

I'll report back when I have a laptop again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Grand Pre-Revision Plan

Henceforth known as the GPRP.

When I first started working on TOB, I did a bunch of planning and storybuilding. First I refined the idea, and then I worked on character, setting, and plot-- in that order. My basic idea for the GPRP is to follow that structure again, deepening anything too shallow, clarifying anything too murky, and trashing anything too ill-made to fix.

First up is to refine the Idea, with a single exercise: write a pitch. For the uninitiated, a pitch is a 50-300 word description of a novel, not unlike the blurb on the back of a paperback. The pitch is used by authors to hook agents, and by agents to hook publishers, and by publishers to hook readers. If you're interested in getting published, sooner or later you need a pitch.

I allotted three hours of writing time for the pitch, which might seem like rather a lot for something I hoped would fall in the 100-150 word range. But it is surprisingly difficult to reduce a 90,000 word novel to two short paragraphs. It's much easier to do with something you didn't write yourself.

I used the pitch-writing exercise in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which consisted of jotting down some basic information about your novel (title, genre, protagonist, setting, a main story problem), along with whatever details make your story unique. Then you set a timer and write a first draft of your pitch in five minutes. And then edit the heck out it!

I worked on it for an hour and a half. When I made the GPRP, I didn't notice that the book recommends setting the pitch aside for a week and then editing it again with some distance, but I'm taking Maass's advice and moving onto character work tomorrow. I'll finish up the pitch next week.

This is what I got today: 136 words, and I can tell it needs more work, but:

In a far-future New England populated entirely by redheads, nineteen-year-old Willa Bresher escapes a life of domestic drudgery for an apprenticeship with the mysterious "Bridgers"-- a guild of mind-linked stewards who guide the flow of goods and information between villages. But when she encounters a dark stranger in the ruins of an ancient city, Willa's path begins to veer off course. 

The world is changing. Space dwelling humans have returned to resettle the plague-devastated Earth, and their intentions toward the aboriginal Terrans are unclear. Now Willa must follow Akenam, an infuriating and intriguing "spacer", to a distant island to join five other envoys at a summit meeting that will determine the future course of all their civilizations.  There she will explore wonders and unearth secrets, as well as confront danger, love, and her own complicated political destiny.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ready to Launch

My week off has done the trick: I'm rested, inspired, and pumped to get to work on the revision! Tomorrow will be Day One.

This is the last week before The Son starts school, so I don't anticipate having more than an hour a day at first. That's fine-- it'll ease me back into it.

I'll post more details about the Grand Pre-Revision Plan (GPRP) tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Notes to My Subconscious

This one should probably be tagged "Senior Moments".

Last Friday, I was alone in my car, listening to music, when I had a thought about the book. It wasn't a plot-altering revelation, but it was a nifty little idea that I wanted to use. I was driving on the interstate and didn't have a pen or paper in the car, but I was confident that I could remember such a great idea.

Nope. By the time I got home, all I could remember was that I'd had an idea, and that it had been somehow sparked by the song I'd been listening to. But I couldn't even remember what song.

No sweat, I told myself. It'll come back. And it did. On Sunday night I took half a Unisom to help combat a three-day stretch of insomnia, and I was just about to shut down my computer when something I read on Joely's blog triggered it and it all came back. I should jot this down on a sticky now, before I lose it, I told myself. Myself pshawed at me. Surely you can remember this long enough to open the Word file where you are keeping notes about the book? myself said.

Nope. By the time Word launched and the file opened, I'd forgotten it again. Couldn't remember what the idea was, what character it might apply to, what section of the book it belonged in, or what I'd read to remind me of it. So, so frustrating.

I hope this was the sleeping pill at work, and not just how my brain is going to be from now on.

Anyway, I remembered reading an interview with author Sue Grafton in which she mentioned that if she's having a tough time with something in a book, she writes a note to her subconscious requesting its assistance, and then she usually dreams the solution. One might well ask why I could remember the details of an interview that I read in 2002 when I couldn't remember the idea I had in my head two frickin' minutes ago, but one would miss the point. The point is, I decided to write a note.

Dear Subconscious,

I would very much appreciate it if you would let the story element I've forgotten twice bubble up to the surface of my mind again.

Best regards,

A little formal perhaps, but after all it was our first correspondence.

I did not remember the idea in my dream that night, but the next evening I was sitting on the couch with The Husband watching Ninja Warrior, and he said something that made me remember. I did not wait for the Word file to launch this time. And now I have an unexpected detail that will add some needed emotional depth to the beginning of Act IV.

That night I wrote another note:

Dear Subconscious,

Thanks! You're the best!


I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fifty-Four Hours

The other day I took another look at my ridiculously detailed pre-revision plan-- which I had figured would take me 8 weeks to complete-- and tried to work out how many hours of work it really is. One thing I appreciate about The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel is that he gives you an exercise to do, and then tells you how long to spend on it. If you have any tendency toward perfectionism, it is incredibly helpful to be told: "Do the best you can in thirty minutes".

So I eyeballed each step of the plan and guessed how long it should take. I was generous with the time allotments, and kept reminding myself that this is only an estimate. In the end, it all added up to 54 hours. Once The Son starts school, I should be able to do 15 hours a week. So that's less than a month!

Like a lot of lazy people, I tend to grossly overestimate how long tasks will take, then become overwhelmed by how hard everything is, and then procrastinate in order to avoid the monumental amount of effort and time involved in, say, cleaning out my car, or paying bills, or revising a novel.

54 hours of thinking, planning, writing, and making lists and grids. I can do that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bouncing Back

It's amazing how restorative a few days away from the writing grind can be. The day after I finished the draft, I felt like I would need a month by myself in a cottage by the sea before I would be truly ready to get back to work on it, and here I am two days later, choosing new songs for my Revision Playlist and daydreaming about Akenam.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Break

So as you may have gathered, my completion of the draft was not so much a fist-pumping trot across the finish line. More of a wobbly stagger. And as annoyed with myself as I am that it took me eight and a half months to finish this draft when it shouldn't have taken more than four at the absolute max (and let's not even tally up the three months I lost to sheer laziness last fall)... dude, I need a break. A few weeks ago I made this whole revision plan and I was so psyched to get going on it, and now the well is just dry.

So I'm going to take at least a week-- but not more than two-- and just read, and watch movies, and enjoy the last few weeks of summer with The Son before he starts Kindergarten, and just try to fill the well a little.

It's weird to take time off on purpose-- I always feel like I don't deserve to do that, since I wind up taking a lot of unscheduled "time off". But I'm trying to listen to my gut here, and right now it's telling me that I am not that person that can finish a draft and leap into revising it the next day.

It already feels really strange to not think about my day in terms of how much time I'll have to write and how many words I need to get. Right now is The Son's rest time and I'm like: huh. Guess I'll read my library book. I can't shake the feeling that there's something I'm supposed to be doing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


First draft of The Owl Bearer is done at 94,730 words.

That last scene is more of a summary of a scene than an actual scene, but I am just out of steam. I feel like I did at the end of my 38-hour unmedicated labor, when I kept repeating, "I need for this to be over. I need this baby to be out of me," over and over.

I need this to be over. I need this draft out of me.

Celebratory drink will have to wait until tomorrow, since it's 10:00pm and I haven't even had dinner yet. I'll have a celebratory burrito. But a really good burrito, with chicken sausage chorizo and roasted corn straight off the cob.

So, So Close

I'm within a few hundred words of The End.

But I have a decision to make:

This whole time, I have assumed that this one guy's story thread is going to end with his death. But now that I've reached that moment, it seems... too easy. Too pat. But if I don't do it, then no one in this story will die (well, no one who can't just be uploaded into a new body). And that's like Just Not Done in this genre. LitFic's gotta have its protagonist paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life, and SF/Fantasy's gotta have at least one good guy and one bad guy die.

Oh, well. I'll probably kill him off and then re-evaluate in the rewrite.

Miraculous moment of the day: this whole time, I haven't known how Willa was going to overcome this antagonist. From the very beginning, I knew I'd have a double-peaked climax, with both antagonists defeated (and in one case, redeemed) one by one. I knew how the first encounter would play out, but I had no bloody idea about the second. Everything I could think of was a cliché, and either didn't fit the characters (a bookish girl who's never touched a weapon and a legally blind man with a desk job are not going to have a sword fight to the death. They're just not.), or was delivering a moral that made me cringe (do I really want my self-assured, feminist heroine rescued by her father or lover?). So I just charged blithely ahead, choosing to believe that when I got closer to the climax, the solution would come to me.

Well, I arrived at the scene this morning, still with absolutely no fucking clue how Willa was going to take this guy down. "Well, shit," I said to myself, and started the scene anyway. A few dialogue exchanges between the characters, and BAM! I got it, out of freakin' nowhere. And it's perfect. It ties into Willa's original story goal, first mentioned on Page 1, and perfectly expresses the central theme of the book. And although I'm too close to the words right now to tell, I think it falls into that elusive golden zone of not so obvious that you see it coming, but obvious enough that when you read it you slap your forehead and go, "D'oh! Why didn't I see that coming!" Ta-fucking-DA!

I love it when that stuff happens.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alllmost Therrrre...

(Read title in a Star Wars Episode IV climax cadence)

Got the 1,500 yesterday. One more climax peak to go. Sadly, I don't think I'm going to make it to The End today. I'm taking The Son to the pond to play with friends, and we'll probably be there all day. Then this evening I have to tutor (making up a session I missed while we were in Maine), and then I really, really need to go bed early tonight. I'll be lucky to get 500 words today. *sigh*

Monday, August 13, 2012

Almost There

3,000 words of double-peaked climax to go. What I wouldn't give to have The Son in camp this week. Going to try for 1,500 today.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Can See It From Here

Back home after a week in Maine, where we swam, fished, canoed, visited with old friends, and let The Son eat way too many sweets. I kept up with my 1,000 words a day... until yesterday, when we traveled home, stopping along the way to pan for gold in the rain. We had a good time, but arrived home at The Son's bedtime after 8 hours mostly in the car, wet and exhausted and me with a migraine and cramps. I somehow managed to write 300 words before I threw in the towel.

Only 4,500 words left to finish the draft! I'm on the cusp of climax #1 right now.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Last 90

Yesterday, the words were flowing. I began a scene in which Willa confronts The Big Demon from her past. It's a dialogue scene, and I had a good idea of what needed to be said and by whom. But I never had a clear image of where it took place, other than that heights were involved. I looked through my folder of cool landscape images from, and one jumped out at me: a rope-and-plank bridge suspended over an angry sea. So that's where my confrontation takes place, and the words flew from my fingertips as I set the scene and let the conflict build between the two characters. Man! I thought. Writing a thousand words a day is easy! Why did I stop doing it in July?

Within seconds of me finishing this thought, The Son came down with a stomach bug, the details of which I'll spare you, but suffice it to say I didn't sleep well, and then I had all kinds of housework to catch up on today, and we went to the Shriner's parade in town, and it was all very distracting. Also, the scene got more complicated as the conflict intensified, and I found myself writing "clusters" of dialogue with no real idea (yet) of how they fit together. So right now it's all jerky with no logical transitions between conversational topics.

I put in a reasonable amount of time on it today, despite everything, and I keep feeling like I've written a ton. But then I check the word count and moan, "That's IT?!"

11:13pm, and 90 words left to go to make my 1,000. Off I go.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bob Is My Co-Pilot

Yesterday The Husband sent me a link to this re-mix of Bob Ross, and I think I can say that I've found my artistic guru.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, the late Bob Ross was a soft-spoken, Southern gentleman hippie who had a painting show on PBS in the 80's. The Parent was a big fan of his show. She was a single working mom whose Saturdays were filled with all the crap she didn't have time for during the week. So in the late afternoon, after the meal planning and grocery shopping and buying us shoes and cleaning the kitchen and ferrying us to friends' houses and cooking something she could freeze for meals later in the week, she would collapse on the ugly beige sofa in our postage stamp-sized TV room and zone out to Bob Ross. He's basically the PBS show equivalent of doing a couple of bong hits. I used to watch it with her sometimes, and smirk in my oh-so-superior punk rock way at his goofy afro, his cheesy nature scene paintings, and his hippie aphorisms.

But to quote another guru Bob: I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.

I have watched this re-mix-- which incorporates the best of Bob's aphorisms into music-- about 24 times in the last 24 hours. I'm not sure if it's meant to be funny, profound, or just a nostalgic tribute to a beloved public television figure who died of cancer far too young... but for me, it's a mantra on creativity that calms and inspires me. The whole thing keeps running through my head, but these lines in particular seem tailor-made for where I am right now with TOB:

This is your world.
You're the Creator.
Find freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can do it...
'Cause you can do it...

Oh, Bob. I am moved by your greatness.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

So Far, So Good

Another 1,000 words today. I'm at 10,500 words for Act III, past the big falling out between my heroine and her love interest, and realizing that every remaining scene is a "big" scene. Next up: a voice from beyond the grave has some explaining to do.

My favorite line from today's work: "I'm sorry-- did you just ask me if I want to interface with my mother's ghost?"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August Goals

As I hinted in my last post, I'm going to try to do 1,000 words a day to push through to the end of the draft. It's going to take more focus and sacrifice than I've felt up to lately, but the end so tantalizingly near. I'm so excited to revise, and I want to be able to jump into that before the enthusiasm for it wanes.

So, the goals:

First half of August: finish first draft of The Owl Bearer.

Second half of August: do first two weeks' worth of stuff on my 8-Week Revision Warm-Up Plan (patent pending). Way more detail about this when I get there!