Original fiction project – week of 10/02/2011

Dis/inhibition: I finished my proofreading on Tuesday and uploaded the manuscript to Lulu on Wednesday. Funny how seeing the novel in something that resembles “published” form suddenly makes you notice all sorts of flaws in your word choice, font choice, etc, even though I spent an entire day prepping it for Trade Paperback layout in Word before uploading it. I am studying the general format of some books I think are well laid out before finalizing the manuscript and moving on to the cover layouts.

New story: Chapter 7 continues to be a challenge, but I’m still shooting for the 15th to finish it. I have been tackling each chapter of this new story in “layers.” I start with a broad outline (a few sentences) of what will happen in the chapter, then I write the first layer, which is the dialogue. Dialogue is the easiest thing for me to write, and tackling it first helps me transform an intuitive idea of what happens in the chapter into the beginnings of an actual narrative. Dialogue, for me is like the “back bone” of a story.

The next layer is blocking, including action, facial expressions, and where the characters are in physical space. Next, I add in descriptive material–the details in what the setting and characters look, smell, or sound like. The final layer is introspection. I generally already have a good idea of what characters are thinking as write the dialogue and action, but I don’t include it until I have the “what you’d see/hear if this was on TV” part done first.

That’s my usual process, but I must admit, it hasn’t really worked for me this time. As I was writing the dialogue and blocking, I kept being dissatisfied with it, and realized I needed to get in the character’s heads simultaneously. Which makes sense, I guess, I still don’t know the characters that well, and as I enter the crucial middle chapters of the story, I need to know how their inner worlds are changing.

So for this chapter, I am doing layering of a different kind. I have three point of view characters, four characters total, and I am layering in each character one at a time. The other characters are still there, but they are vaguely written as I concentrate on just the one character’s actions, words, and thoughts. I may have to go back and change that up a bit once I layer in the next character’s details, but that’s art for you.

This story is proving very challenging to construct, which makes me wonder how I’m going to pound out 50,000 words next month without having to stop and think and plan for five days at a stretch between writing bouts.

Original fiction project – week of 9/25/2011

Dis/inhibition: I decided I just wanted this final proofreading over, so I set a goal of doing one chapter a day (and twice on Sundays!), and today I’m on chapter 40 out of 43. So go, me. Still on the fifth character illustration, though. Those I just get picky about, lol.

New story: I started to make good progress on chapter 7 after spending some extra time on figuring out mythology and backstory, then I hit another snag. My old novel, Dis/inhibition took place in a fictional town quite a bit like my home town, but not actually my home town. I prefer fictional settings, because if you need a particular location, you just invent it. My new story takes place in San Francisco, and while there’s a bit of play possible, if you go naming actual streets and intersections and then claim there’s a building/bridge/park there, or that a building/bridge/park was there a century ago, you can’t do anything too wildly untrue.

Well, I suppose you could, but the further from reality you are, the more you are writing about alterno!San Francisco rather than real San Francisco. And I always had the impression that one of the tools of urban fantasy was to use the accuracy about the real world settings to make the fantasy elements seem more compelling, more as if they could be true as well. And I don’t want to veer from that, not if I don’t have to. So I am having to step back once again and think through every setting I use–do I need it in the story? Really need it? Do I need it to be there?

I want to get this chapter done by mid-month so NaNo prep can start. Back to it.

Original fiction project – week of 08/28/2011

Dis/inhibition: Still working on final polish edits of manuscript. I just don’t get time for it as often as I’d like with a new story to write and work being busy. I really want to get this out the door before year end. Still working on the website illustrations with the illustration artist. We are up to illustration 3 of 6.

New story: I think asking the Sculptor to read the chapters of the first draft as I write them was a good plan. I have noticed that things I might have gone ahead and “just done” if I’d been writing it on my own I think twice about with an audience. Chapter 5, which I finished this week, is a good example. This chapter brought in two new characters who know a LOT more about the unfolding mystery than other characters I have featured, and for a while now, I have been angsting about how much of their point of view to bring in, because it would spoil the mystery.

As I mentioned last week, I threw out about 2,000 words written in the point of view of one of them, because he knows too much. Most of what he “knows” is guess work, but he’s too much of an insider for his guesses to be all wrong. The other new character, though, is supposed to be the third in a trio of main characters who solve the mystery. His POV is unavoidable. But he had this one “close encounter” in his past, that if recounted too soon, gives too much away.

I went ahead and wrote that encounter anyway as part of chapter 5, then set aside what I assumed was the final version of that chapter I would give to the sculptor. That has been my practice up to now: finish a chapter, but don’t send it off to the Sculptor before I look ahead a little and see if there is anything else I need to establish in the current chapter. It didn’t take me too long to realize that the gradual mystery that’s unfolding in future chapters would be ruined by what’s revealed in this guy’s “close encounter.” So I could either have him just conveniently not think about an encounter that changed his whole worldview, or decide it didn’t happen to him after all. And I didn’t want to do either of those.

Then it occurred to me to fall back on a(n albeit rather tired) storytelling device that could make it so the close encounter happened, but he doesn’t have to think about it in the chapter: amnesia!!1!1 Which sounds lame, but then I realized that was what most likely would have happened to him. He had this amazing experience, but see, there’s this faction of characters who I’ve already decided go around covering up proof of their existence. And since they have supernatural abilities, they can cloak human memories. And if, as I had already written, my character runs into one of these guys towards the end of his close encounter, that is most likely what the guy would have done to him anyway.

So the problem I angsted over for a year during planning/outlining was solved in a day because I actually started writing the damned thing. It’s like I’m always saying: You can outline ahead of time until the cows come home, but when you start writing? It all changes. Your story becomes the story it was meant to be.

And now I can have my character gradually “remember” his experience, providing Yet More Clues to the Mystery.

Original fiction project – week of 08/21/2011

Dis/inhibition: Still working through the final read-through. The artist has finished the first of six character portraits for the webpage. Now that we’ve worked out what information she needs to complete each of these, hopefully, the rest will go quicker. The plan after that is to design a small promotional website, and a Facebook page for the novel.

New story: Finishing up chapter five. It has been a bear. I introduced two new characters and wrote from both their points of view, then realized one of them just knew too damned much to let the reader into his head this soon. Cutting his bits didn’t take anything from the chapter, and kept it from being one and a half times longer than the other chapters so far.

As it is, the remaining character’s POV reveals quite a bit as well, information that maybe it’s too soon to reveal, but that’s just one of the tightropes you walk in a first draft–figuring out the pace at which you should offer up clues to an unfolding mystery.

Original fiction project – week of 08/14/2011

Dis/inhibition: Started my final read-through of the manuscript for typos and hired the cover artist runner-up to make the character illustrations for the promotional website. Things are moving along.

New story: Working on chapter 5. It is proving to be a big challenge, because I am introducing a new character and fleshing out another character who has so far has only been seen in passing. Not only do I have a lot of ground to cover introducing them to the reader, but they both possess a lot more knowledge than the other two characters I have featured, and I have to decide how much it is they know right now, because it’s bad form to have a character aware of something you don’t want the reader to know and deliberately have them “just not think about it” for chapter after chapter until you’re ready to reveal it. On the other hand, an info dump to the reader doesn’t make for the most entertaining chapter. So tippy-toes.

Where do you get your ideas?

My old novel, the one I’m trying to get out the door now like a twenty-something child that’s overstayed their childhood, has a few plot points and characters in it that people will assume I pulled from own life.

And they’d be wrong.

For example, there is a Quebecois character who predates my teaching stint in Quebec, who predates me even imagining I’d ever live there, by three years. And I have scientists using MRI scanning in their brain research that predates me working for MRI brain scientists by six years. Now, I’ll grant you that these weird life coincidences were an unexpected windfall for researching story elements that already existed, but since the life experiences were jobs that I managed to get out of the blue, it’s not like I took those jobs to do research for my novel.

There are other things people might assume I know very little about that I didn’t read in a book, like the Native American character who is based partially on my old live-in girlfriend of four years.

So where did I get the idea for a French Canadian character and using MRIs as a research tool? Who knows, I honestly don’t remember. But I’m sitting here this morning bemoaning the fact that one of the major plot points of my new story appears to be a major plot point of Season 4 of True Blood. Now, granted, I can’t say that for sure yet, having only seen two episodes so far, but there will be people who will assume I took my plot from that, even though it predates the season by two years and was an attempt, when I came up with it, to turn a common fantasy trope on its ear.

There are no new stories, I guess, only new angles.

Original fiction project – week of 08/07/2011

Dis/inhibition: I have finished going through all the editor’s comments/edits, and tentatively chosen Lulu as my publishing platform. Now comes the job of formatting the manuscript and going through it one more time to check for stray issues. The covers are done, and this is the one I am probably going to go with. Next up, I want to design a small promotional website for it, and I’ll need more illustrations for that.

New story: Finished up chapter 4 and sent it to the Sculptor. I already started poking at and organizing chapter 5, so now that is the new focus.

Original fiction project – week of 07/31/2011

Dis/inhibition:

I am working a little bit every day finishing the edits on this story, and when I am done and I have the cover art chosen, I suppose it will be time to pick a self-publishing venue. At some point last year, I went to several self-publishing/print on demand websites and asked for an information brochure. It’s funny how many of them took that as meaning I was signing up for their service, rather than shopping around for one. I don’t want to be rushed into making a choice, since I have heard some horror stories about these places and I want time to do research, which I just haven’t done up until now as I finish the manuscript. Enough time has gone by that most of them have stopped calling and emailing me, all except XLibris, which has this one persistent salesguy or whatever you call them. I think “agent” would be a misnomer here. They keep having sales on their services and he is trying to use that as a wedge to get me to sign up.

New story:

I had a heck of a time “outlining” chapter 4, by which I mean, cobbling together the various elements I want in the chapter into a coherent narrative. I am trying not to have a 185,000-word manuscript when I am done, which means those dozens of long, leisurely scenes in which my archeological investigators go about uncovering the clues in the main mystery of the novel are a luxury I can’t afford. I need to cover big chunks of their investigation as paragraph-long “this already happened” summaries that bring the reader to a present moment where an intriguing puzzle is set that defines the current action of the chapter.

I managed to get that done. Then the next challenge was that I decided to write the chapter, which is formatted as a four-scene day-in-the-life of my main character, not from her own (limited third person) point of view, but from the (limited third-person) point of view of a different friend or colleague she interacts with in each of the scenes. While I might not keep the chapter written that way in future drafts, this is really helping me bring out what a pain in the @$$ my character is supposed to be, which is what I want to explore. I may well keep the chapter this way, even though three of the four characters whose points of view I feature may not appear “on stage” again.

Original fiction project – week of 07/24/2011

Dis/inhibition: I tackled all of my editor’s substantive comments except the ones related to race. This is a tricky area. I want to take my time considering what she has to say, understanding that she isn’t a person of color, either, and so whose instincts matter here? Her comments have certainly given me a lot to think about, and there will be some rewriting, mostly to change back things I had already changed before she read them, and to rewrite some stuff I was never that comfortable with anyway.

New story: I finished chapter 3 and sent it off to the Sculptor. Last weekend, I took a break from it to start thinking through what I want to do in the next few chapters. I am tackling this story like I did The Destroyer: I have a general idea where I want the characters to be at the end, but I only outline a few chapters in advance of the one I am writing, and even that is subject to change if I get a better idea.

This week’s goal: make some progress on chapter 4.

Original fiction project – week of 07/17/2011

Dis/inhibition: I finished with my editor’s cosmetic changes and am now procrastinating taking on her more substantive comments. I thought I could handle a little constructive criticism, I weathered it fine in the past, but maybe I just had a trust-thing with my writing coach, where I felt it was okay to dismiss what she said if I didn’t agree with it. Now I find myself questioning my own writing, which is just paralyzing on the final draft when it should only be polishing.

New story: Still working on chapter 3, technically. I finished a full draft of it and decided to step back and think a bit about upcoming chapters, just in case there was something in them I needed to establish in chapter 3. In doing so, I discovered a plot hole I have been wrestling with. It’s not fatal, it’s just a matter of my imagination coming up with a good hole-filler. It’s a hole of missing motivation for a state of affairs that is central to the story and one of my character’s entire life circumstances. Nothing worse in a story than lame motivation for one’s Plot Device Darling.