Tag Archives: Current Project

Caring about characters

This week I finished writing another novel. That’s four novels completely finished off in my life, two in the last 18 months. With the first three, when I got to ‘The End’ I bawled my eyes out. This time I didn’t. I don’t think that bodes well.

When I cry it is not because the books are so soppy at the end, only one was really, but it is because I know I’m leaving the characters and I won’t see what happens in their lives any more. It is like breaking up with a bunch of friends all at once.

Does not crying in the last book mean I don’t care what happens to these characters? If that is the case, why would anyone else care about them? If a reader doesn’t care about the characters then they will have no drive to turn the page. I think as soon as I can work out why I have no emotional ties to these characters then I can fix the book.

On the up side, I got my beta-reader feedback about my other novel, and I am so excited to get back in there and incorporate what was given to me. I can’t help but think some of that excitement is because I miss those characters and I want to spend more time with them. I think that is how I should feel with all my books.

 

Croquet writing

I’m in the middle of my next novel, and after the success of my last attempt at pantsing, I was tempted to try that again. This time, however, I’m on a very strict timeline, so I can’t run the risk of running totally off track. If I do that I might not be able to finish it before I’m forced to go back to work.

So in an effort to capture the speed and agility of pantsing, but have the dependability of planning, I’ve come up with a marriage between the two which I’m calling croquet writing. I’ve set some target events that have to happen, but how I get between those is anyone’s guess. So like the hoops on a croquet lawn, I know what I’m aiming for at any point in the story.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I haven’t invented anything, it is just planning but with a bit less plan, but it might be exactly what I need. So far it is working, I have the same feeling of having no idea what I’m going to write when I sit down at the keyboard that I had when I was pantsing, but unlike pantsing, I can clomp through a rough patch to get onto the next plot point and then run from there.

I suspect there will be a lot of editing required for the rough patches, but maybe not as much as for the pantser where I had to cut out whole chunks of stuff that went off on a tangent that was never realised, or where I had to go back and insert foreshadowing for stuff I didn’t know was going to happen.

I’m at the half-way point now, which is past my usual fall-over spot in a novel, so with any luck I’ll be writing those magic words soon; The End.

Script

The past two weeks I’ve been trying to write a movie script. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to write a movie. I actually wanted to make movies before I learned that books could be just as cool and so I changed my target to novels instead. So thirty years later I thought I’d go back to the original goal.

‘Show don’t tell’ is never as true as in a script, because telling isn’t really an option given that the audience watch the movie. True, you could do a voiceover, but people don’t go to movies to listen to a story, they’d get a talking book if they wanted that.

This means most thought, self-talk and observations are out the window. It also means quick bits of back-story need to be said aloud, not glossed over in a sneaky paragraph. All this is fine, I’ve watched plenty of movies in my time so I think I’m across all that, but movies have something books don’t have; viewer point-of-view.

This means you not only have to think about what the viewer is seeing, but how they see it. The story doesn’t just unfold for you as a writer, you have to know from which direction you are looking at it, who is sitting where in relation to what and all sorts of other things that I rarely ever mention in a story.

I know the director takes on a lot of this work when they actually film the movie, but if I want the viewers to notice something, in the script I have to do a CLOSE UP of it. I also have to CAPITALISE all the visual and sound effect as well as every character and any major props. It is very different to writing a novel where I just capture what is happening any way I can.

I’m not going to give up on the script, it is something I would like to master, but I’m not progressing very well and my time off is limited, so I’m going to spend it on what I know I can do. So back to the YA novel writing for me, the script has waited over thirty years to be written, a few more weeks or months won’t do it any harm.

Story magic

I know I’ve mentioned before that it amazes me how stories seem to pull themselves together when you write them, as if they already exist in their entirety and when you write them you are just uncovering what is already there. Well it happened again while editing this week.

In my re-read a couple of months ago I identified a question that was raised in the story and never answered. At first I thought it was too complicated to sort it all out so I was getting ready to cut all the bits that related to raising the question. Then, while laying in bed on Tuesday night, the answer came to me. More amazingly, the novel already had all the foreshadowing required to insert it.

The communal unconscious which (I’m sure) gifts us all these stories knew exactly what was happening and why the characters were doing what they were doing. It took me over a year to figure it out. I am stunned at how many hints were already placed in the book, hints I had no idea I was leaving. They just seemed right when the characters were living that part of the book.

So the edit to answer the question amounted to less than a half-chapter of re-writes for something that I think really contributes to the story. It is so addictive this story writing caper. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it.

Is thinking writing?

There is no doubt that the most important part of writing a story is coming up with the idea, but does that process of thinking about the story count as writing? I guess first we have to define what ‘counting’ means. For me, anything I can use to offset my guilt from not writing any words for the week is an activity that ‘counts’.

This week I’ve had this chat with three other writers, all more productive than me when it comes to weekly word count, and the split was 2:1 against. The argument against was that thinking is just daydreaming, whereas writing was words on a page that could be read by others. I know how easy it is to lose an hour to daydreaming, the idea that this could be writing was like being told you will now get paid for your commute to work as well as the hours in the office.

I will admit, I was firmly in the against camp, but as luck would have it, immediately after this chat I got lumbered with a 40 minute wait at the bus stop while my bus crawled through Fringe road-closure traffic. Can you guess what I did with that time?

By the time the bus rolled up I had ironed out the bumps in a new story idea that was kicking around in my head. The key here was ‘in my head’ –I haven’t written a word for this story, but I know it is a story, and now I know what happens in it.

So I guess there are cases when thinking is writing, so long as that thinking is not just fantasies about aliens landing so you don’t have to go to work, or coming up with a string of good come-backs you should have used on the person who said that really mean thing to you. Provided you don’t replace all your word-smithing time with daydreaming I think it is vital to give your mind space and time to do some work without a keyboard.

Document management

My day job is all about electronic document management. That’s why it is so embarrassing to discover how bad I am at paper document management.

Before I got started on the next writing project I thought I’d pull together all the work I’ve done on it so far. It is not that there is a lot, but it is everywhere!!!!! Just when I think I’ve got it all, I find a notebook with a few random pages of scribbles.

What I wonder is how did I ever expect to use all these notes when I seemed to be doing my best to hide them so well? I know how it happens, I get an idea and I don’t want to lose it, so I write it down in whichever notebook I have close at hand. But that is the best way to lose ideas, not record them.

My recently finished project was started and finished in a short period of time, which might account for my extremely helpful decision to make all my notes in the one book. Everything I had ever thought about the story was in one place.

So I think I’m going to invest in an expanding file and rip out all the ‘novel notes’ from my different pads and put all the related story ideas together. Yes, it does sound like another excuse for some heavy duty procrastination, but I think it is necessary!

Now if I could just work out how to apply metadata to paper…

Submitted!

Well, it’s done, I’ve completed the edit and submitted my YA novel for the Ampersand Project. I’m proud of the novel and hope that my enthusiasm shows in my writing. I guess the next two or three months will let me know.

This novel writing process was pretty intense, if it wasn’t for all the lists around the place (on my computer screen, the fridge, my bedside wall) I don’t know that I would have been able to complete it on time. Knowing exactly where I needed to be with the word count and the edit meant I hit all my due dates. And that was without knowing what the storyline was going to be.

In true me style, I tracked everything about the novel. I know how much time I spent actually writing the story as compared to just sitting at the desk thinking about it, how many words I averaged each sitting and how many days of writing per week gave me my best per-hour output.

There was one thing I did not measure; chocolate intake. I know I started the process with a pile about six blocks high in the pantry. I also know that I bought a few more along the way, and by a few I mean a lot. The cupboard is now empty.

So perhaps my writing spreadsheet needs an extra column added? Then again, maybe it is best not to know. I am so pleased I managed to get this finished on time and submitted that I really don’t care about the chocolate.

What next?

In the last six months I’ve spent my writing time exclusively on one project and managed to get it from vague idea to tidy first draft. At the beginning of this year I tried the exclusive project method and failed dismally. The big difference between then and now is that then I was trying to finish off something that had been sitting in the bottom drawer for nearly a year, but this time I was writing something new.

While I’ve been editing I’ve had a few different stories bubble to the surface, asking to be written; one is brand new, one is a couple of years old and already half written, and one is ten or fifteen years old with only five rough chapters written. Which one do I work on next?

A big, sentimental part of me wants to write the decade old story. The lazy side of me wants to write the half-written, figuring it will take less time to finish, and the newly awakened pantser wants to go for the new story. The scary part is the logical side of me is also voting for the pantser story. Logic and pantsing do not seem likely bedfellows, but the speed with which my other novel was written has made me wonder if it is the best way to go?

I would love to get another novel finished before the end of the year, which I could only do with the half-written or the pantser novel, so I guess I’ve just narrowed it down to two. I still have a week to make up my mind. I just wish there was more writing time in the week. I would love to be able to finish all my novels instead of having to choose.

Habit

I know I have only recently written about habits in writing, but I want to give you my own recent example. With my pantsing novel I got into the habit of booking non-negotiable writing times, and that was non-negotiable with friends, family and me.

As much as I wanted to jump straight into the edit when I finished the first draft on the Friday night, I knew that to do it justice, I should let the novel rest for as long as possible. With the deadline I’m trying to hit looming, I set that rest time to be two days (but I’d normally recommend at least a month).

At first I was excited waking up on Saturday morning, knowing I had given myself the weekend off. My writing time on Saturday is normally 12-4 in the afternoon. I was getting antsy at 10:30 and I was sitting at the computer by 1pm. I wrote the novel summary and some related content. It was such a relief to be back at my desk.

On the Sunday I was determined not to write any novel-related content, I was to have the day off. That lasted until just after lunch as well. While I haven’t written anything to do with the novel I have just written all my blog posts for the month of August. Again, it feels like a huge relief to be writing.

I love that my writing times are now a part of my weekly schedule, and I will keep them going. I also am really glad that I have all my August posts written because I have just one little month to do all the editing of the entire novel. Wish me luck!

The end is nigh

I am so close to the end of my novel that I feel like I should be able to reach out and touch it. I have also just mentally closed down on my writing. After pounding out three to four thousand words a week for the past three months, I’ve now hit a wall.

It has been a long time since I finished a first draft novel. It was some time in 2010, and I don’t remember if this happened. Part of me doesn’t want to finish the novel, because I’ve enjoyed having a project that I have been able to totally immerse myself in. I’ve liked spending time with the characters and in the world and knowing what was waiting for me at the computer each time I sat down.

Another part of me is terrified of stuffing it up.

I have also had a head-cold and lost all the heating in my house as we shiver through the coldest few weeks of the year, but they are excuses, not real reasons to stop. It is late summer in my novel, it is not cold spending time there.

So I will buckle down and do what all writers do when faced with this; force myself to write. If I give myself permission to write as many ends as the novel needs, I’m sure I’ll find the right one eventually. One that will do the rest of the novel justice.

But it is incredible the feeling of loss I’m already getting at the idea of it being over. I’m sure the edit will quickly cure me of that.