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!

Writing on Friday

Huh. I wish.

I think I got trumped when I invited friends over. Housework wins… temporarily.

I should grab a notebook to brainstorm my 15-20 word outline. I have my blue-lined synopsis. It’s something. More when the house is clean… enough for guests.

Writers should have alternatives to housework. Like maids!

Thematic Issues

I recently read an amateur piece less than 1000 words long. In it, the author had scene breaks to create three separate scenes. I could see nothing connecting the scenes, except that grief spilled over each of the main characters.

Apparently I do not think about theological troping enough, because the answer to my bit about the vignette feeling disconnected referenced that. There was a young man crying in each bit. Why is it some people who write Christian fiction feel the need to be very obscure about it, then berate a reader for not catching the pieces?

I should’ve known when there was a quote from the book of Isaiah at the end.

It was my turn to read that prompt, so I did. The silent main character, who only appears in one sentence for each scene, was revealed by the prompt. I also missed that the three scenes showed the Last Supper, the Cross, and the Tomb.

I will admit I still fail to see the connections.

Taken from Wikipedia: “A Christian novel is any novel that expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way.”

The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis have been called Christian fiction. I think they can be appreciated on many levels, and the story fits together well. I enjoyed them without needing to understand all the underpinnings of the Christian story underneath.

I have a writer in my critique group that says he’s writing a Christian novel because of the inspirational theme of saving the protagonist. Like Lewis, he’s making the story approachable to a larger audience.

I wonder about some of those other Christian fiction authors who do not- they want to write only for Christians to truly understand what they’re doing. Does that mean the story isn’t strong enough to stand without the troping?

When is that just lazy writing versus writing for a specific audience? And if the piece I just read was an example of the whole, why would I want to delve into Christian fiction at all? I’ve always wanted the story to take me more than the theme underneath. It might have been one reason I wasn’t accepted into AP English in 12th grade. I had trouble distilling whatever the teacher was looking for from the very short story.

You know what? I’m okay with that. At least I’ve only very rarely been asked what my story was about at the end, and I have a feeling the one person who did that wasn’t really paying attention. (But that’s another story…)

Continuing Education

What do you choose to do to further your education?

A friend mentioned that her job (and mine, come fall) requires some continuing education and for it she was studying from a book. I’d read the same book for a student I’m tutoring. (Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar) She appreciated that they college requires you to continue to refine your skills by learning.

I can appreciate that, too. My home library speaks to a lot of continued education through books on several subjects. I’m looking up other opportunities to keep skills fresh, as well.

Math might not pertain to writing, but it’s good to keep a lot of skills going. One thing I have always wanted to do is learn another language; I have a few phrases here and there but nothing fluent.

I’m always learning more about writing. With my new part-time employment gigs, it’s sometimes difficult to sort out what my primary function is. (After motherhood, of course!) I like to think I’m a writer, which means I need to focus on the written words.

My focus takes me to critique groups. I learn from the other writers as well as teach them things. I’ve been carting books back and forth from the library in order to hone my skills from published books in fiction and the writing section.

Plus I read and write and rewrite and edit and polish. Some of those are overlapping functions, but each has a special place in the writer’s agenda.

I currently need to finish the fiction book I’m reading by Jacqueline Carey that’s due tomorrow, plus one by Scott Westerfeld that will be due not too much longer.

Some days the difficulty lies in learning versus doing. If the doing (the writing) takes over, there is at least something to work with, something to fix. If the learning takes over, no output. There has to be a balance so both can be done for the betterment of my work. (Well, anyone’s work, I suppose.)

So another question: how do you think the experts learn more about their fields?

James Stevenson

I’ve been reading Corn-Fed and Cornflakes.

These books are both written and illustrated by James Stevenson, and both are full of fun poetry. My daughter only kind of looks at the pictures at this point – they’re not the full-page illustrations in the books she carries around with her – but she listens when I read them to her.

All right, she listens when I read just about anything. She is quieter when someone else is holding her when I’m reading, though.

I really enjoy his short poetry, though. They’re small things about garbage bags or snow-covered cars shown through a different perspective with a humorous effect. I see a ton of them on the Amazon page, and now I’m wondering if I can find a few others to read to her.

It makes me want to write poetry. I just finished a poetry challenge and I’ll not brag about it because I know I’m not that good. It’s fun, and that’s the important part to me. I think I’m better with prose. It might be because I’ve had more practice.

Children’s picture books often seem closer to poetry than books aimed at older audiences. I think it’s because the economy of words forces the authors to say so much more. It’s a good exercise for any writer to try to say more with fewer words.

I do have one poem from the challenge I really like and will be attempting to send it to magazines once I smooth out one last line. Wish me luck.

You Can’t Edit a Blank Page

This saying has been credited to many authors and I can’t find the original. I do believe it’s true, though.

The newest member of my writing group stated she had a story she had been writing in her head, and alarms went off in my head. How can she think she’s writing if it hasn’t left her head?

Perhaps it’s fortunate I curbed my tongue. I did want her to come back. She seems like a good addition to the group.

However, I am wary of those who think they can create stories – which are made for sharing – without writing them down. A first draft is usually crap. It’s allowed to be crap. Perhaps even supposed to be crap.

That’s why re-writing and editing exist – to cure the first draft into something wonderful.

I know some first drafts are pretty amazing. I have a friend who puts my first drafts to shame. It’s not a mark of a good writer vs. a bad writer, just that our starting points are different. We both rework our manuscripts until they shine. At the end, we have styles that change our work and voices that speak to the reader. We hope they’re clear and emotionally moving.

Sometimes we succeed.

Other times we scrap a project as not worthy. It’s just part of the process. But if we’d never written a word, we’d never know. And neither would those who read our work be able to share in the story we create.

Some of these sayings are popular for good reason. Imagine a plain white sheet of paper with red dots all over it. Meaningless without the (presumably) black text underneath. Because of this, I give myself permission to make bad first drafts. I just want the story to shine through, and it might take a few tries.

I haven’t failed until I quit trying, and I count it as forward progress as long as my pages aren’t blank.

Thorny Pitches

Do you call it a logline or a premise or a one-sentence pitch? And by whatever name you call it, is it really that much different?

The logline’s history starts with scriptwriting, so if I have a novel, do I want to call it a logline?

The premise is a one-sentence summary of a novel, which may or may not be nearly the same as the one-sentence pitch.

Whichever one you think you’re writing, it has to be catchy. Ever feel sorry for all the industry professionals who have these short pithy sayings aimed at them all the time? From Oh, I’m in the elevator with an editor, time to spout out my pitch, to Bathroom break, I think someone’s in the stall next to mine – it’s an agent, I can tell by the shoes! It’s enough to make me glad I’m not one of them.

Well, almost. I think it’d be really cool to discover books, but from the things I read on Twitter via #pubtips, well, wow, there are some bad queries out there. There must also be some great ones, because books keep getting published.

The trick of all those one-sentence dealies in the beginning is word choice. It takes them forever to be crafted, but once they exist in a pretty form they’re helpful. Remember Mark Twain’s words, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

I mean, what if the first Percy Jackson book was called The Lightning Bug Thief? That just gives an entirely different picture of the book.

The same concept works for pitches, or anything else in a very short form that must get people excited about the project. We’re writers – we need to use our words. There are so many of them out there just waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

It also means we need to stop thinking the first draft of a premise is the correct one. The first draft of anything usually needs a lot of coaxing to shine.

Digging Into Plot

Yesterday I pulled out my synopsis and I started making notes. Finally!

I’m really glad I wrote the synopsis now. It makes it easier to figure out where to change things. My notes are in dark blue, littering the typed pages.

Today I think I’ll add green or purple, whichever I can find first. I like adding a different color to show different kinds of work, and today I’ll be making a new line for the plot. It might take two or three times to get where I need to go and changing colors in the notes helps me see which direction I’m going.

As opposed to all black and white- then I’ll forever be scratching things out that don’t work.

Makes me think I should’ve done all this work before I wrote the book, but I didn’t develop the synopsis first.

Why oh why didn’t I do the synopsis first?

Well, I suppose I haven’t yet outlined a book before I’ve written it. The Art of Science might have been the exception because I had a chapter guide before I wrote it – but that one changed away from the outline version completely, too.

Do any of those writing books out there mention the people who have to write the rough draft before being able to look at the plot structure and make it better? I wonder if I might be one of those people.

The Market Says

Discussing the magazine market with my friend, she said there was a bigger market for ‘how to write’ especially in the speculative fiction field than there was for the fiction. She’s been researching for her own magazine, and I don’t doubt it.

But it’s a little funny, since in order to write for any genre you need to be familiar with the genre. Of course, they’re probably buying books instead of magazines, but why?

If we’re out for the short story market, it’s best to get our hands on the actual publication we want to have purchase our work. (I’m sure that’s best in every market.) Wouldn’t that make the demand equal for both products?

Are we trying to write in a vacuum?

Maybe we’re listening to the characters in our head. What’s to stop them from taking over the story? Not that it’s bad for them to take over the story, that’s part of what happens when they become real to the author. I guess I’m asking: How do we know they have the best plot possible, if we have nothing to compare to?

Not that we want to redo a plot. I know I’ve heard Twilight has a lot of similarities to Wuthering Heights (can’t be bad to be compared with a classic), but I wonder sometimes where the line can be drawn between using an old plot with newish characters, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the arguable every plot can be traced back to one of [insert number of plots below 50 you think there are].

Have you ever wondered what the true fascination with Zombies really is? I think if I get around to reading those re-makes, I’ll choose Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters instead…

Do you ever wonder?

Why are there 40 phonemes in English and only 26 letters? Also, of those 26 letters, some of them duplicate sounds. No wonder everyone is confused about how to spell.

I’m not sure adding letters would have simplified the rules. There’s probably some history behind why we have fewer letters than phonemes.

When we teach children to speak and read, we focus on the letters many times. I see alphabet books with all kinds of themes to check out the letters – just the 26 letters. As I learn more about phonics, I wonder why we can’t stretch those phonics into picture books.

I’ve never written a picture book. I think about it from time to time. (Regular readers might remember that.) Perhaps part of the drawback is that children’s picture books go up to 32 pages? But I’m not sure we need to have only one phoneme per page. On the other hand, maybe that would be best.

It might be a fun summer project for me. Like I need another project! My daughter might appreciate it. It’s definitely something that would be fun to have around here, even if it doesn’t get published.

All it means is I could put lots of large, fun words in there to enrich her vocabulary. Might even throw in pulchritudinous, just for kicks.

She’ll be ready for the SAT before she starts Kindergarten. Ha!

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