Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Spring Revision

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

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There is something uplifting about the early spring: crisp air and hot sun or the neon green of new grass against the grey of cooler rainy days. When I was a kid, our neighbors forsythia would burst into canary yellow blooms and in it’s shade was a small patch of vinca, a spring flowering ground cover. I loved those little purple flowers so much. I would pick a few and put them in a glass of water, then present them to my father with a sandwich for his lunch.

I knew when we moved into this house that vinca grew all over our property because there was still a flower lingering here and there, but it’s another thing all together to see our home blanketed in it. It feels right and special. I miss the gardens we’d begun at our old home – lightly neglected herbs and perennial flowers that bloomed throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Some fragrant, some colorful. But the vinca and forsythia and azaleas are enough for now. I traipsed around the yard with my oldest child this weekend, searching out these early blooming flowers, discovering the plantings around our new home. We started up the grill and I even broke out my iced tea press so you know I’m committed to this fresh, fine weather.

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Spring should be the season to review feedback — see where the revisions you’ve made have born fruit, as it were — but here I am still revising: planting the bulbs late, moving things around, hoping nothing sprouts stunted. This winter/early spring has been mostly snow and sick days. I should just give in to the fact that nothing of significance ever gets written in February in my home. But the sunshine and above freezing temperatures, the pastels and yellows and greens of April are warming me up. So! Writerly updates!

  1. I wrote a short story! And I submitted it to an anthology! And it got rejected! But that’s okay! It was about a boy and first contact with an alien shaped like a tiny pink pony and it was really fun to write and totally one hundred percent different from my novel which was a much-needed change of pace.
    1. I thought writing short stories after writing a novel would be a piece of cake. I was wrong.
    2. I really want the next big project I work on to be funny.
  2. I taught another event building workshop in March. In fact, I’m making a bit of a side business of helping authors plan and market book events. Because apparently I need more to do.
    1. When I couldn’t think of how to fix my novel, I made a website for my event coaching business. I  am now taking select clients.
    2. I have another workshop scheduled in June. You should come!
  3. I’m now doing a monthly marketing blog post for the Writer’s Loft blog, Loftings.
  4. I’ve been plugging away at revisions but it’s slow. I hit a big snag with The Month of February and then working through a really thorny chapter that had me stumped. Plus planning for my workshop. But! It goes!
  5. I read some books in January and February (highlights included Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson and the first few Company books by Kage Baker) but nothing much since. I’m currently enjoying the compilation of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto because I love J.C. and because I can read it in little pieces before bed.

I am almost through revising Part 2 of 3 so that is a good feeling. I need to go back and continue to comb through the rough, messy parts. I was so hoping this draft would be wrapped up in another month or so but it may need longer. And then reading. And probably one more draft (not sure how deep of one, hard to say).

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I have days when I swear I am not smart enough for this, that I have nothing original to say. I have days when things slot together like an elaborate line of tumblers, unlocking something deep inside the story so I can see a bit of light shining through from the end, from the place this story could be.

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Wild Summer Days

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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My summer has been a wild one and I’ve been having trouble getting my feet under me. It has literally involved a birth, a death, visiting family, unpredictable illnesses, and the slow climb back to health. Despite how much I enjoy the summer months and hot weather, I’ve spent most of my time indoors. I haven’t done much writing this summer (I hadn’t planned to) with the exception of a poem for my sister. I’ve managed to read half a dozen books, including Max Gladstone’s Two Serpent’s Rise and Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was (as translated by Ursula Le Guin). My garden is a wild place full of bolted lettuces, overgrown rhubarb, weeds, and herbs run rampant. My preschooler is the only one who’s been harvesting anything: handfuls of fresh mint and sage that she eats on the back steps. I have drunk gallons of iced tea and am not ashamed in the least.

I’m a new parent for the second time. There’s a fullness and an emptiness to the early days of parenting. The days are long and full of needs – hunger, discomfort, boredom, exhaustion – but it feels impossible to meet them all, for yourself or your child. There is so much to do coupled with vast swaths of time just… waiting: for the baby to wake up or fall asleep or finish eating. You need space and you need support. This time around I pressed down my misplaced pride and accepted as much help as possible with an open heart. I’m grateful for all the extra hands and frozen dinners and chances to nap. I’m grateful that the pieces of our life that have slowly been taken apart this summer are finally coming together again in a new shape.

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Now I look down the long lane of the autumn months and the spice of anticipation is mixed with the dread of not knowing how to get back into the rhythm of the work. I’ll be meeting with my beta readers at the beginning of September to get feedback on The Ghost Story project and then will tackle Draft 3. I’ll be teaching a workshop on author events at the Writer’s Loft in October. I want to reconnect with the world of books and writers. I want to write book reviews and blog posts. But after a summer that has fluctuated so wildly between overwhelming and tedious and with an autumn where I’ve committed to caring for my newborn along side my third draft, I feel as if I’m starting from scratch. How can I ensure we’re all getting enough sleep and sunshine and creative time?

It comes down to re-aligning expectations. Taking care of a baby while trying to edit a novel is going to change the way I need to structure my days, both as a writer and a parent. I won’t have the luxury of dawdling on social media or watching TV during naps – I’ll need to be working. If I want to have this project polished enough to submit to agents by the end of the spring, I’ll need to find the time to write — and if I can’t find the time, I’ll need to make it. And I’ll also need to forgive myself over and over again for missteps as I rediscover balance.

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Achievement Unlocked: Draft #2

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Attention, attention, Draft #2 is complete! *horns blare*

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I was struggling viciously with the final chapter, which so disappointed me the first time around, but I finally found the right angle at which to approach it. It’s still flawed and has way too much talking and I’m not quite sure I tied up all the questions properly but it’s DONE (caveat: FOR NOW).

The Numbers for DRAFT #2:

Date Started: January 12, 2016
Date Finished: May 19, 2016
# of Writing Days to Completion:  60
# of Chapters:  21 (divided into three Parts) + epilogue
Final Word Count: 92, 038
Difference from 1st draft: -4051
Number of printed pages: 295
Difference from 1st draft: -34
Number of paperback pages: ~234
# of Words I wrote but then cut or didn’t make the cut: 68,328

I tried my best to track my writing/revision word counts and progress but it’s challenging. Revision makes it hard to sort out how much is new and how much isn’t. According to the numbers as I tracked them, I averaged ~927 words/writing day. Again, this is deceptive because there were days when I would work for three hours and technically only add 80 words because I deleted three times as many.

My most successful writing day was April 27th when I spent 6 hours writing and added 3806 words. Some of that included scenes I had removed and reinserted, which is why it is such a particularly high number. See? Like I said, confusing.

If you count all the words that currently reside in this project and are retained in my Scriveners folders (the full draft, notes, outlines, deleted scenes, character sketches, research, etc.)  we’re looking at 275, 612 words . That’s a lot of creative brain juice right there.

So what’s next?

Sleep. And chocolate.

No, in all seriousness, there probably will be some sleep. There will definitely be chocolate. And the reading of books and enjoying of summer. But the next step for this manuscript is to put it in front of a few key sets of eyes: my beta readers.

Is that some kind of fish?

No, beta readers are actual people.  I’ve picked a couple writer friends who have experience reviewing Works-in-Progress (WIPs) and am sending off the manuscript to them as we speak for review sometime this summer (I hope they will forgive the fact that I constantly confuse “its” and “it’s” and use commas far too liberally). Yes, someone is going to finally get to look at this raw honeycomb of a novel. Then in the fall, once I’ve gotten their feedback and taken some space from it all, I’ll start trying to figure out what still needs to be fixed and how best to do that. Aka, DRAFT #3.

Then… I don’t know! More beta reading? More revising? Or finally on to querying? I would love to start querying sometime next year, but we’ll have to see how it all goes down.

But how do you FEEL about it?

Good, actually, thanks for asking! I feel much better about this draft than the first. It’s so much less of a rambling mess. Interestingly enough, in the first draft I felt as if the beginning was strongest, as it’s where I did the most writing/development and the ending was bare bones. With the revision I had to slash and rearrange so much of the beginning that now I have no idea if it’s any good. But the ending feels much more earned and secure.

When can I read it?

Eventually? But because you asked so nicely, here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 1:

I leave the shelter of the woods and head up the long, steep hill in front of me to the overlook. The grass is tall and golden and dampens the legs of my pants as I climb through it. On this side, the hill is pockmarked by mounds, some fresher towards the bottom and older as I reach the top.

The hill rolls down to a fog-laced field of flowers, pale as moths. The daffodils grow all the way up to the rocky edge of the mountainous cliffs surrounding the Mouth of the Valley. The mountains are massive; they glint grey, silver, and gold in the morning sun and they break in two places: to my right, past town, where they hit the ocean and bend away from sight, curving out to the sea; and straight ahead where the deep v-cut cut of the Mouth yawns before us. To the left the cliffs ripple and spike their way into the haze of distance.

In daytime it’s hard to see the lit torches, but they’re there: small licks of flame casting molten shadows on the rust-colored earth at the base of the Mouth, no matter the time of day or night. On the other side bleeds the field of poppies like a red lake, the flowers turning their ruddy faces to the sun. And beyond that, strangely normal pastures and houses of the Valley. A funnel of birds wends it’s way out, rippling against the pale blue sky above the cliffs, before passing over my head.

Looking out over the landscape, the muscles in my shoulders begin to relax. The sun is finally warm against my back. I imagine I can feel the thrumming of the ghost roads around me, pouring down into the Valley, pointing spirits toward the next plane. I don’t let my eyes settle long on the Mouth itself, but instead wrap myself in the heady scent of daffodils, the fresh green of their unfurling leaves. The beginning of daffodil season always feels like some kind of dangerous invitation to closed spaces.

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Mothering as Writer, Writing as Mom

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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In an online mom’s group I belong to, a fellow mom posted this article by Kim Brooks about the intersection (or lack there of) between creative work and parenting. I’ve thought a lot about this particular topic because it was one of my biggest fears in becoming a parent: that I would be subsumed by motherhood and lose my creative identity. It is hard, especially in that first and second year of parenting, when there’s no sleep and no end in sight and your child needs everything from you to find the mental capacity to cultivate any kind of creative space that doesn’t involve playdough or fingerpaint or Duplo blocks.

Brooks doesn’t offer solutions in her article, so much as shifts in perspective. She talks about the “literature of domestic ambivalence,” books about (and likely by) women who struggle in the cracks between the desire to be an artist and the desire to be the perfect mother. I imagine it as a sort of blanket of creative ennui and I’ve been there. But that way also lies self-pity. How do we break out of the cycle of doubt that says if we can’t be superior in all things it isn’t worth trying? That art-making and mothering are mutually exclusive? (more…)

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Whodunnit or Why I’m Stuck on Ch. 14

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016


somehow writing always feels like this

I am just over halfway through my revision [*yay!*]. Today I spent nearly the entire day working on the logistics and choreography of a scene the isn’t even going to be in the book [*boooooo!*]. Let me explain.

I am going to assume that you have seen the movie Clue because if you haven’t then what are you doing sitting here reading my blog for goodness sake it is on YouTube go watch that first. It’s no problem, I’ll wait.

Ok.

In the movie Clue, as in the board game, there is a Murder(s) or Apparent Murder(s), a bunch of suspects with different motivations and weaponry, a few red herrings, and a ticking clock. These are all part and parcel of your typical Mystery Plotline. When The Murder happens, the lights go out, we hear noises, a gun shot, and then voila, lights, camera, dead guy on the floor. As the movie progresses, we slowly learn what may have happened under the cover of darkness – but everyone has a different interpretation.

The scene I’ve been working on today is similar, though the lights don’t go out. It’s a scene that is central to the Mystery Plotline that my first-person protagonist is trying to unravel. It’s an event that occurred before the start of the book. But she wasn’t there. She needs to eventually know what happened to understand the Full Implications and Who the Bad Guys Really Are but all she has to go on is the word of several witnesses/participants who showed up at different times. One or two of them have motives to lie or direct blame on someone else. Clues and Important Information get exchanged, but not everyone knows what they mean at the time.

So obviously I, as the writer, need to know what actually happened. This is harder than it sounds. There are certain details I want to be true: Person B shows up after Person  A and misinterprets her actions; Person C tells Person A to take the Clues to another location; several Persons need to wind up dead. But working out the the order in which people die and, hence, the logistics of how information is exchanged, is crazy hard. Especially since some of my characters can talk to dead people. And the dead can often fight as brutally as the living so some of my victims need to be injured or knocked out instead. There’s a coat that is important but I can’t figure out how to get it off of one character and on to another while at least one of them is alive and keep everyone in the scene together.

This is all coming to a head in Chapter 14 because I want my protagonist to return to The Scene of the Crime where More Information is Revealed. I just have to know what that information is, both in it’s entirety and what she learns at this juncture versus later.

In Clue, Tim Curry helpfully runs everyone through various scenarios of Whodunnit. I wish he would come to my house and help me with this. All I’ve got is a notebook with lots of brainstorming ideas and some fledgling scene starts.

(Oh, and a lasagna. That’s not a metaphor; I made an actual lasagna. Sometimes it helps to switch gears when the story juju isn’t working. Didn’t help much but at least now I have dinner made. Was worth a shot.)

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Photo evidence

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

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What you see there is 327 pages worth of words, my friend. 327 PAGES. My kiddo helped me pick the attractive lime-green binder. I bought new colorful pens, index cards, and post-it flags. This is all supposed to make me feel confident about editing and revising.

Right.

Truthfully, I feel daunted. What if I have to re-write all 327 pages? What if I get halfway through and realize the book is hopelessly, irrevocably unsalvageable? What if my first-person protagonist is boring? What if I’m boring? What if I just don’t know enough to write this book yet.

{I know the answer: write the next one.}

I’m not afraid of work. I’m afraid of time. I’m afraid of gnawing at this project for years and years and not moving forward, of not knowing when to push harder and when to back away slowly.

Books don’t get written and shared by authors who were too afraid to do them justice. I know this. It’s just… it’s a really big binder. And there’s a lot that needs work in there. Right now it’s a foreboding mass of pages and words and way, WAY too many characters (anytime I hit a plot snag, I added a character…oops). I won’t know what (else) needs fixing, really, until I read it from the beginning to The End.

Wish me luck!

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Finished First Draft

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

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On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, I completed the first draft of The Ghost Story novel. I COMPLETED THE FIRST DRAFT OF A NOVEL YOU GUYS!

Also, I turn 31 today. Happy birthday to me!

**fireworks to the tune of the 1812 Overture**

So how does it feel? Exciting + anti-climactic. I’m not super pleased with the ending, not to mention the last, oh, third of the book (Ch. 19 excepted). When I got to the last lines my first thought was “Really? This is it? This is how you end it?” But heck, I WROTE A NOVEL. It’s 120k words closer to something I can be really proud of. That much closer to sharing a remarkable with you: a story, a vision taken out of my brain and put into yours.

For those following along at home:

  • According to Scrivener, I wrote a 123, 670 word manuscript, which comes to 383 printed pages, or ~313 pages in a paperback book.
  • I began the draft in earnest on Sept. 1, 2014, so it took me 386 days to complete.
  • That means I averaged something like 380 words a day for a little over a year. More accurately, since I mostly just write three days a week the averages comes out to ~750 words/writing day.
  • If you just include the chronological chapters and not the folder of documents I’ve entitled “Scenes That Need Chapter Homes” etc. the actually manuscript comes is closer to 97k words and around 300 pages
  • If you count all the words I’ve written in Scrivener, including: brainstorming documents, outlines, research, character sketches, freewrites, notes, and the occasional old draft, the total word count comes to 182, 603
  • The book has a prologue, epilogue, three Parts, twenty-one chapters, and about a dozen “interludes” or mini-chapter/flashbacks.
  • The most I ever wrote on a given day (since Jan. 1) was on Sept. 2nd when I plowed through to the end of Chapter 19 with 2143 words in about 3 hours (that chapter’s a doozy, let me tell you)

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Most of you are asking: What’s next? When will I see it on the shelf? while I appreciate your enthusiasm and faith in my abilities, the truth of the matter is this is Step 1, Phase 1. First step: writing a novel! CHECK! Now I need to make it the best possible novel it can be. And let me tell you, iy will need to go through several rounds of revision before it even makes it in front of beta readers, then another round or two before it gets to the point where I can start querying Literary Agents (as I plan to go the traditional publishing route to start).

Let’s put it this way: If I managed to revise everything perfectly on the first go, then queried agents and got the very first one I queried, then they pitched the book to editors and the first one of THOSE bit, and they put it on a rush schedule to publication with no edits… it would still be at least two years from now before I’d be announcing a publication date. That’s just how the industry rolls.

For now I have two major plans:

  1. Begin a 6-week class on Revision this evening at The Writer’s Loft
  2. Read & Research: issues of gender and race, the transmigration of technology and ideas, PTSD, the psychological implications of grief, river ways, how dams work, ley lines, mourning practices, political history, and all KINDS of other things.

So while I’m classing it up, I’ll be reading it up too and spending lots of time in the library and on the internet diving down the rabbit holes of these topics. So come November I can really jump into MASSIVE REVISING TIME and have a bunch of fresh ideas and strategies to tackle it. Hi-yah!

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Workshop, Readercon, Updates, oh my!

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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  1. What are you up to? First off, I want to let you all know that I am giving a presentation. on marketing books to bookstores. Yes! Me! Being knowledgable on a topic in front of a large group of people! It’s on July 22nd at The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, MA. There will be snacks, a powerpoint, and yours truly. I know I’m looking forward to it and I hope you are too. Apologies if you feel bombarded about this through my social media but I know there are many things that vie for our attention these days.
  2. I haven’t used Powerpoint to make a presentation in over a decade. So this should be interesting.
  3. NicolaThis past weekend I attended my first ever fan convention in the form of Readercon. It was fascinating. I have things to say but that is another post entirely. In summary: books are wonderful. So is writing inclusive + informed narratives and Nicola Griffith (who is even more wonderful in person than on the page, if that’s possible).
  4. How’s the writing going? You may recall that I had given myself the arbitrary deadline of May 31st to be done with Draft #1 of The Ghost Story. Alas, while I am only 3,800 words away from my 100k word count goal, I am about seven chapters, or approximately 30 – 35k words away from the actual end of the book. I know this because last week I had a “hot coal” moment and outlined the last third of the book. This is fairly remarkable because I’ve considered myself what is known as a “pantser” or a writer who “flies by the seat of her pants” but it seems my pants have flown away and left me with some semblance of a plot so there you go. My new goal is to be done with draft one by the end of the summer.
  5. How does that feel? I’m okay with the continued work and with the first draft wrapping up at 135,000 words. There are chapters-worth of words I already know will be cut. My writing/logic process re: plotting (with or without pants): “How can I make xyz happen here? Oh well, it’d be so much easier if Character already knew about abc. OH OH OH, if I just re-write chapters 4 and 5 then chapter 14 will work!” No idea if this proper form or if it will come back to bite me in subsequent drafts, but it’s sort of working so damn it, someone hand me a chocolate bar.
  6. What’s taking you so long? Well, well, impatient aren’t we! I’ve been somewhat stymied in my fervent attempts to write because an old RSI (repetitive stress injury) in my wrist has flared up again making extended time at the keyboard incredibly frustrating and painful. There’s also been Family and Travel and whatnot so summertime has been a slow time for writing.
  7. What have you been reading? Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble; Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy; Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist; Mary Roach’s Spook (which I am totally counting as research)
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The Muse & The Marketplace 2015: Reflections

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

I attended my first writer’s conference last Saturday: The Muse & The Marketplace hosted by Grub Street Inc. a non-profit creative writing center in Boston (the same folks I took a class with earlier this spring). It was really cool to be surrounded by other writers of various stripes, to be exposed to a lot of fresh ideas about craft, and to meet-up with writer friends. There’s a huge component of The Muse that’s focused on publishing, including sessions and lunches where you can meet agents and editors, but I skipped those this year and focused on craft-based sessions. Click on the courses below for some of my take-aways:


["Timing is Everything: Negotiating Past & Present in Fiction"]

taught by Maya Lang

This workshop was fantastic and I wasn’t the only one discouraged by the blaring fire alarm that interrupted our session. Dr. Lang had a smooth, calm voice and made the concepts we covered – the position of your character in time and how that relates to the narrative of your story – seem approachable, achievable. She also talked about the way readers experience time: “Some stories make time disappear,” she said, “others make time slow down.” Like devouring a meal versus savoring an 11-course tasting menu. “Sometimes it’s worth dwelling.”

Notes:

  • META narrators are positioned away from the dramatic action, but the story brings them back through time to focus/reflect on that action. These narrators utilize: hindsight, regret, justification, self-awareness. The change in emotional state between then and now adds to the sense of emotional stakes – why the narrator is looking back.
  • IMMERSED narrators are present in the dramatic action of the story. These narrators utilize: immediacy, high stakes, likeability, more detail, no safety net, no pre-knowledge of the outcome. “You have to watch the pace of the unspooling” of the narrative.
  • Seamless flashbacks are woven into the narrative and flow of thought – they don’t disrupt the story. They are always “triggered” by a thought or sensory experience in the story.
  • Demarcated flashbacks are often longer and there is some sort of indicator (paragraph break, chapter break) indicating a movement in time. These tend to be fuller and richer than seamless flashbacks.

Reflections: This session was perfect for me because in The Ghost Story I am doing all four of these things – meta narration in the form of demarcated flashbacks alternating with live-action immersive narration with the occasional seamless flashback. I asked Dr. Lang if that was allowed, if I could do all of these things in one novel. That I didn’t want to do everything half-assed instead of one thing well. “Don’t think about what you ought to do in the first draft. Just write.” A lot of the temporal position questions can be resolved once you have the whole picture, she assured me, once you yourself can reflect back on the work.

Maya Lang: "Time is a tool at your disposal"

Maya Lang: “Time is a tool at your disposal”

["Dramatis Personae or What Are All These Characters Doing in Your Story"]

taught by Lynne Barrett

Twitterfbc7013Another fantastic session. Barrett dove right into characters from a theatrical point of view: their roles on stage, their exits and entrances, the dynamics of different numbers of characters interacting with different levels of knowledge. “A story has a cast with roles,” she explained, “And those roles and relationships can change shape and shift.” It was fascinating to think about making effective use of “stage time” for characters and developing triangles of tension between them. “Good books have lots of triangles in them,” she joked as she outlined the dynamics between characters in The Great Gatsby.

Notes:

  • The protagonist is important, but the story really starts with the entrance of the deuteragonist (2nd character) who may or may not be the antagonist. The introduction of a tritagonist (3rd character) allows for more variation – the deuteragonist can then take on more of a confidante role. But all of these roles can transform by the end of the story.
  • Aristole’s Poetics, Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, and the Comedia dell’Arte all have examples of different kinds of roles that are useful in interpreting your characters. Doubling up on roles can really add drama through bonds of love/hate. E.g. Breaking Bad where the anti-hero and his antagonist are brothers-in-law –more dramatic than if they weren’t related.
  • There are viewpoint characters like Watson who relate the story/serve as a lens versus focal characters like Sherlock Holmes who are the main drivers of a story.
  • How do you make things happen in a story about internal struggle? Character “rifts” – Characters that enact internal struggle/conflict with strong actions that are contradictory serve the story  best. Continual contradiction creates character. Characters that say one thing but do another, who are consistently inconsistent create action and movement.
  • Ways to think about your characters and story design. Try making a character map or list outlining the breakdown of your characters by: class, territory, genealogy, order of appearance. Entrance order in Shakespeare’s plays made clear the balance of power to an audience without a program. What does your characters’ order of appearance say about the balances within your story?

Reflections: Yes, a thousand times yes. My story is bloating outward with characters; everytime I fact a conflict or am not sure which way a story should go, I add more characters. “Every character should really contribute to the outcome of the novel,” Barrett warned, “Always try to think about who can serve more roles.” I really appreciate being told to think about the roles my characters play and how those interact. Whose story is it? Who’s telling it? Who contributes to that story and how? Also love the character “rift” point, that contradiction is the strength of good characters.

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Lynne Barrett: “Good books have a lot of triangles in them.” Connections of marriage, lust, power, and money in Gatsby.

["'A Woman Wouldn't Say That'- Gendering Characters Without Bending to Stereotype"]

taught by Dawn Dorland Perry

A gentle conversation about how to develop characters that don’t conform to gender stereotypes. “In the absence of information in a story, a reader will make an assumption, likely fueled by a stereotype,” Perry said. We discussed techniques of characterization and what some of our own stereotypes are about men and women. “Stereotypes eat our writing from the inside out,” Perry warned, and urged us to think deeply about the context and point-of-view of stereotypes creeping into our own work. Perry did an excellent job of making the material accessible and comfortable, though I wish we had had the time to dig a little deeper into how gender shapes the choices we make about our characters. We did some reading and writing exercises that were very fruitful.

Exercise: Step 1: Call to mind someone you know Spend three minutes list the salient traits of this character, inventing and embellishing wherever you like. PAUSE. Step 2: Flip the gender of your character. Take a moment to adjust to this new reality. Then for five minutes write a passage rendering a scene from this new characters point-of-view, either in third or first person.

Reflections: Doing the gender-flip exercise was great and I loved the discussion it generated… I almost wish we had done that earlier in the workshop! This is a topic I think a lot about because my novel’s protagonist, while female, often passes for a boy and is fairly non-conformist. Its important to me not to fall into the traps of my own bias, especially when I’m creating an entire world to populate. It got me thinking about: what are the stereotypes in the world I am creating? How do my characters break not only the stereotypes of our world, but of theirs?

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Dawn Dorland Perry: “Stereotypes eat our writing from the inside out.”

["One Thing You Should Always Do Before You Write"]

taught by  Nadine Kenney Johnstone

Not too many notes on this because we spent most of the session doing a visualization exercise. Johnstone was very down-to-earth and organized, even with the cerebral nature of the exercise. Writing without developing a scene in your mind is like moving into a house with not plan for unpacking, layout, and design she explained. She walked us through a piece of writing, having us call out the d

WP_20150502_15_17_26_Proetails of scene and character that stuck with us. Then she led us in visualization exercise. First we jotted down a few notes about a day-in-the-life of our character and had us think about one thing that might be different on this day.  Then we closed our eyes and she had us picture the scene, first from a birds-eye view with natural elements, time of day/year, etc. Then she had us zoom in on the space our character occupied and examine it through the senses, then through the furnishings and objects around the character, then examining the character herself and those around her. Finally we focused on action in the scene and that subtle shift – who or what has changed at the end? What won’t be the same anymore?

Reflections: I liked this exercise, though I don’t think I did it right – I started my character in her bedroom in the morning, after first waking up before I realized we were sort of supposed to start them in the moment in change. But when I asked Johnstone about it she said “If you started in her room, there was a creative reason for it.” I think this is a great exercise for really diving deep into sensory details. It’s something I do in a smaller way on a regular basis since descriptive detail is my jam. But I liked the idea of “what is different about today?” and that it could be as small as waking up in a different mood. I had a mini “ah hah” moment during the exercise, so that was fruitful.

A hook to get me into a fresh scene for my novel...

A hook to get me into a fresh scene for my novel…

["Star Literary Idol"]

Pieces read by Steve Almond, judged by Stephen McCauley, Anita Shreve, Elinor Lipman, and Mameve Medwed

Imagine having your first page read aloud in the dulcet tones of writer Steve Almond and judged by four brilliant authors? Yup, that’s “Star” Literary Idol. Almond read the pieces aloud and if one of the judges hears a line that would prompt them to stop reading, they would raise their hand. Once two hands were raised, Almond would stop reading and the judges would critique the piece.

The first piece read aloud was a darkly funny piece about a man struggling with obesity, attending over-eaters anonymous with a bunch of skinny women. The judges loved it and wanted more. The second piece they read was MINE. Almond read it beautifully, I’m sure, but I only heard half of it because my heart was literally beating so hard and loud it felt like my entire rib cage would split open. But… no one raised a hand. My first 250 words made it through strict judgement! They were intrigued. Anita Shreve was worried that it would be grim, but was interested in hearing what happened next. They all liked the imagery (even Elinor Lipman who said “I don’t usually go for descriptions of leaves and things…”) and the unexpected line “the trees rattle and cough with hundreds of birds.” And then they were on to the next piece and my hands were shaking and I could breathe again.

Reflections: Terror! Now the rest of my novel has to live up to the first 250 words! Which was always the case, but some piece of me wants to believe that if I fix the beginning enough, the whole thing will be fixed – NOT TRUE. As for the rest of the pieces read and analyzed during the Idol session, about a quarter to a third of them were stopped mid-read, usually due to confusion, boredom, or cliché. There was a large swath that made it all the way through, but where the feedback was really mixed – the usual comment was “The first part was slow/clichéd/confusing, but it really started for me with your second-to-last line…” There were a handful that the judges had only positive feedback on, and a teeny tiny number that the judges loved.

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Mameve Medwed: “Dialogue should be the cream that rises to the top.”

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Mile Marker 80K + writer’s conference

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Yesterday I hit 80,000 words in The Ghost Story project! **fireworks**

So I thought I would update you on my “process”:

  1. Next time I write a novel I want to have more of a plan. Maybe that’s not my true process but being 80,000 words in, a plan would feel really good right about now. This last week has mostly been hyper-productive because I know I have to get my characters from point A to point B and I’ve just been bullheadedly pushing them there.
  2. Revision will either be the life or death of me. There is so much that needs to be fixed, dear readers, and I’m not just talking about the errant cliché (I actually used the phrase “every fiber of my being” and thought I might keel over right then).  I’m talking about referencing stuff in later chapters that never even happened in earlier chapters. I’ve changed people’s personalities and abandoned secondary plots. I don’t know if that means they are better off abandoned or if I’ve shed all extra weight just to get the buoyancy to finish. But I have a document called “Weak Spots” that I’m filling with notes like: Make sure lead up info/backstory is given BEFORE critical scene, not after and Establish conflict and Why would he even DO this?
  3. I’ve upped my daily word count goals. I boosted it from 850 to 1300 last month because needs must. But I’ve found that I can hit that now. If I focus, if I have some specific scenes to work on during a writing session, then I can get there.
  4. Reading backwards. I have to go back and read the last chapter or two before I continue. I usually do some tightening and tidying as a I go, but try not to wallow there too long. Sometimes I go back and read Chapter 1 because that’s where the tone I want lives, in those early pages.
  5. Still aiming for May 31st but… in all honesty, even if I make it to 100,000 words (which would be more like 1,500 words/writing day), I don’t think the story will be finished. It feels like I’m 50 – 60% complete, not 80%. This is where the plan would be really useful. Based on my sort-of plan, there’s a whole additional country to visit (possibly two) and another antagonist to encounter. I think. It feels kind of ridiculous.
  6. I’m still figuring out the shape of this project. What’s the real mystery/mission at the heart of this story? When I go back to revise, I think the focus will be the world, the characters and the questions: What is grief and how do we grieve? How do we live in the face of death? If death and the afterlife were a known quantity, would that make life easier or harder and how? If reincarnation were the cycle of the world, how would that impact the choices people make? What would that kind of world look like? Oh, and making sure it all makes sense.

This weekend is Grub Street’s The Muse & The Marketplace. This is my first writer’s conference and my writing buddy and I are attending all day tomorrow. The workshops I plan to attend include ones on writing through time, handling large casts of characters, writing gender, and creativity exercises. I’m also going to “Star Literary Idol” where there’s a chance that Steve Almond (!) may read the first 250 words of my manuscript to a panel of authors to be Judged. I’ll do an extensive write-up once I’ve processed everything and let you know what I’ve learned. I’m hoping it’ll make this crazy “I don’t know what I’m doing!” feeling a little less “ahhhhh!” and a little more “ahhhh…” or even, possibly “ah HA!”

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