Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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When characters change their story #amwriting #amreading

Holy crap! It’s almost March?! Wow! Either I haven’t been paying much attention (likely) or time has been flying (eh, not as likely). I’ve been working on my rural MN mystery project while I let Book 2 steep a bit. I figure I’ll give it another week before I tackle the next revision; I’m aiming to turn it in to my writing teacher by the end of March.

Really.

Anyway, I’ve been tinkering with the rural MN mystery for a few years, off and on between spits and starts with Book 2. I think it’s a neat story, and I’m trying out a few new-to-me techniques, like dual timelines and first-person POV (first person isn’t new to me, but I haven’t used it outside of a few short stories way back in the day).

I’ve had my main characters put together for a while. I know their histories, their motivations, and all that good stuff. I know where they came from, what they do for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream … okay, maybe not that last one, but you get it.

Secondary characters are a little different. There are secondary characters and secondary characters. Maybe minor characters is a better term. Yeah, let’s go with that. I still know the backgrounds of secondary characters; I suppose they would be called the supporting cast in a movie. Those are the ones with a history of some sort with the main characters.

Minor characters are the ones that pop in and out of the story because someone needs to be there. In my book, Murder in Plane Sight, I needed someone to take my main character to a place where she would cross paths with a secondary character. My main character, Sierra, had no reason to be anywhere the secondary character was.

To remedy this, I looked at Sierra’s background. Aha! She has a younger sister. Her sister’s sole purpose in the story is to make sure Sierra is someplace in particular. Voila! Minor character (for now), and she’s just the way I imagined her.

In the rural MN mystery, my main character is digging for information. There are two minor characters she talks to, kinda like witnesses. They both started out as “man on the street” characters who appear once, do their job, and exit – stage left.

I wrote a scene with the first minor character, and it went as expected. Five minutes (book time) of questions, and the minor character is finished. Bye, have a nice life.

Okay, on to the next scene. I had a similar vision for the MC’s conversation with this minor character: ask a few questions, go their separate ways.

Yeah, not so much. The character is a guy in his mid- to late-twenties, a cook in a nursing home who people claim looks a lot like a young Steve McQueen. In my mind, he was a “good neighbor”, willing to mow your lawn while you go on vacation or stop on the side of the road to help you change that flat tire. A “Minnesota Nice” kind of guy. Easy going. Pleasant. Just, nice.

He must have decided “nice” was overrated, because by the end of the scene, I had a new suspect/possible bad guy. How the hell did that happen? I swear he was nothing but a guy all the little old ladies love because he’s handsome and charming.

On the bright side (because there’s always a reason a writer’s subconscious does stuff like this, right?), I now have another someone who could have done the crime. I don’t know his background yet, so he may have a motive I haven’t discovered. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see more of a young Steve McQueen look-alike?

One more week to explore this story before I go back to Book 2 and revision round #4. Oh, almost forgot:

If you have some time next weekend, join me at the Deep Valley Book Festival’s “Cabin Fever” event! I’m on panels at 10a (CT) and 1p (CT). It’s fun, it’s authors, and it’s FREE! No driving required (or pants, if that’s your thing ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

It feels like spring here, at least until it snows tomorrow. Sigh. The equinox is in three weeks–yippee! I’m starting my seeds and dreaming of fresh green grass and new leaves (when I’m not thinking about Book 2, that is ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Happy Writing!

Wake me when it’s spring


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Thawing out, for now #amwriting #amrevising #mnwinter

Image by Daniel Roberts from Pixabay

It’s finally getting warm around here. Of course, “warm” is relative; we’ll be hitting freezing by the end of the weekend–woo-hoo! Time to bring out the light jackets! (and yes, that’s a MN joke; do not try this at home if you are not used to 32 degree F temps). Seriously, though, we have another month and a half or so of winter to go. With the emergence from the deep freeze comes more snow (usually).

Finished the third round of revision on Book 2 and realized there are a few spots that need some work due to the tweaked plot. Sigh. Now, a more adept writer might have redone those scenes on their way through the draft, but I often have to ruminate on what changes to make, or how to reconstruct the scene.

Which is frustrating to me. Come to think of it, if I’m working on a project I have already “built” in my mind, it doesn’t seem to be as tough to revise. However, this story has been challenging from the start. I have a few scenes I need to brainstorm. Walking outside helps me think better (at least creatively-speaking), and I haven’t been able to walk much over the past few weeks because who wants to walk in -10 wind chill?

It is warming up, though (40 degrees F by the end of the week–yippee!), so I’m planning to take advantage (provided we don’t get six inches of snow, because walking 2 miles in my snow boots makes my feet hurt). In any case, it’s time to set Book 2 aside for a couple weeks while my brain digests things and whips up some brilliant solutions to my scene issues.

In the meantime, I’m going back to another project. This one I started out writing in scenes (not that I don’t write in scenes, but I think of them as chapters of scenes, not individual scenes. It’s just a mental reference.). Remember the webinar I mentioned a few weeks ago? The one of Jess Lourey discussing her process? I think that project would be a good practice run for her process before I go back to Book 2. I’ll let you know how it goes!

So why is Book 2 such a PITA (pain in the ass), you ask? Don’t all writers know what the story is before they write it?

Um, nope. Some writers just start writing and building the story as they go, and they wind up with a story that works when they’re finished (I am envious of you!). I like to at least have an idea of the story from beginning to end before I start, then I put together a timeline that works like an outline for me. Correction: I have a mental outline of the story from beginning to end for months before I write it down.

That gives me time to do the “that won’t work, what about this” stuff so by the time I draft it, I know the beginning, middle, and end. Mostly. It won’t stay that way, but at least I have a plan I’ve already monkeyed with for a while.

This book? All that mental fermentation ended up being “on paper”, which resulted in 7 false starts. Ugh. On the bright side, I’ve learned what works better for me as a writer when developing stories. Now, if I could clone my creative self and set her loose with the next plot seed, she could work on that so by the time I finish my current project, I’d have the next project all ready to draft.

Hope everyone is warm and safe. This weekend is seed-starting weekend, so I’ll get to dig in the dirt (potting soil) a bit. A taste of spring!

Keep on writing!

You ARE writing, right?


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Can’t do serious when it’s this cold #mnwinter #polarvortex

So, it sounds like the whole country is enjoying the Arctic blast this weekend (hey, we’ve been “enjoying” this since last weekend, so no sympathy from this direction). Our daily highs the past couple days and for the next few days will be single digits BELOW 0 degrees F. And don’t get me started on the lows (-20 degrees F). Then again, we live way farther south than International Falls, so I guess I can’t complain too much, because they are ten to twenty degrees colder than we are.

BTW, that’s not wind chill. The weather wonks are saying -20 to -35 wind chills this weekend. Yep, stayin’ in for sure. Just another day in paradise–if you’re a polar bear. And yes, it’s tradition in MN to complain about the weather …

So, to lighten things up, I collected a few reflections on, you guessed it, cold weather.

On the bright side, we are kitten-sitting this weekend! And Zoey is tolerating the kittens more this time. She’ll even stay in the same room with them now.

Cold outside is just one more excuse to stay in and write.

Stay warm, everyone! Keep writing!

Wake me when it warms up!


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Muse-ing revisions #amwriting #amediting #amrevising

Mr. Snow Miser

I open the door to warm air hitting my face like the breath of a sauna. Just my luck my writer lives in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes and fecking cold winters. Ice crystals melt from my eyelashes.

“Shut the fricking door!”

The door swings shut with a thud. I might be a Muse, but when it’s so cold it hurts to breathe, I start thinking about tropical getaways and surfing. My writer is not at her desk, so she must be in one of the recliners. I peel off layers, slip my feet into toasty slippers, and make my way around to the alcove.

“Cold enough for you?” My writer looks up from her laptop. She has the footrest extended, a crocheted afghan on her legs, and who knows how many layers of socks she’s wearing inside those bootie slippers. A fuzzy gray hoodie give me the distinct impression she’s cold. That, and the afghan. Oh, hell, she’s always cold. A steaming mug of something sits on the small table between the recliners. Smells like apple cider, but not quite. Tea?

“Why don’t you live someplace warmer, like Hawaii?”

“Do you have any idea how many times my hubs and I have said that?” She sips her tea. “And then we remember how expensive it is to live there.” A strand of too-long bangs slips from her barrette into her face. She brushes it back. “Why do you bother going out? It’s not like you have to actually walk anywhere. Can’t you just teleport or whatever?”

Or whatever. “It’s for the experience, love.” I check out the wall-sized whiteboard before snagging a lager from the mini-fridge and dropping into the other recliner. “I thought you were trying to cross stuff off the list. I see more notes.”

She leans her head back and sighs. “Reminders. I’ve sat in on some good webinars lately. I’m going to have to do another round of revision after this one.”

I could have told her that a long time ago, but it’s better for her to figure it out for herself. “You were still fine-tuning the plot on this round.”

“Well, right, but I sat in on a revising webinar that made me realize I need a round of revision just for that.”

“That’s good, love.” I flip up the footrest. “Care to share?” I know what she wants to focus on, but if she says it, she’ll remember better.

“Scenes. I have to think in scenes.”

“Isn’t that what you do?”

“I mean, I need to look at each scene again and ask what the character wants, why they want it, and what’s stopping them. The scene goal. Oh, man, I can hear my writing teacher’s voice.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes, always. Definitely better than hearing someone with a Mickey Mouse voice say it.” She turns her head toward me. “You could say it. I could listen to that baritone Aussie voice of yours anytime.”

I chuckle. “You don’t get tired of listening to me badger you about all those things you need to do and don’t?”

She sighs. “No. Well, yes … it’s like listening to Sam Elliott, but better. ”

I can’t help grinning. “Not Barry White?” I tease, doing my best impression.

Her breath whooshes out. She clears her throat, tugs the afghan off her legs, and shoves her sleeves to her elbows. “Stop that. The point is, I thought this round was my ‘check the scene goal’ round. I had to fix some plot stuff, so I didn’t pay as close attention to that. I’ve got to go through it again, and look for the stuff I learned from the webinar. That’s what the new notes on the board are for.”

Some days I’m really proud of my writer. “What’s your plan?”

“Look at each scene, make sure there is a scene goal, and check for action, relationship, information, suspense, and emotion–reader emotion.” She bounces her head against the recliner back. “So much to learn! So much to remember. I feel like I’ll never finish it.”

“You will, love. Then you get to move on to the next project.”

She gives me a sideways glance. “You’re sticking around, right? No pub crawls with E.”

“I’ll be here. I think E is busy with Mae after that nor’easter went through.”

shivering smiley

Nothing like a week of double-digit, sub-zero windchills to give a writer an excuse to stay inside. Hope everyone is staying warm and safe!

Happy Writing!


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Revision revelation #amediting #amwriting #amrevising

Being a member of a writing organization like Sisters in Crime (SinC) or Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is one of those things that we do to add street cred, right? Since I’m writing mysteries at this point, those are my organizations of genre. There are so many others, like Romance Writers of America (RWA), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The reason I bring it up is because these organizations offer webinars about the craft. Usually for FREE. Maybe there have been more offerings lately because they are all online at this point, or maybe I just didn’t pay attention before, but holy cow. Lots of good stuff out there.

This past week I attended a SinC webinar, “Revolutionary Editing”, presented by the recent Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, Jess Lourey (a fellow MN author and a kitten foster mom who posts the most adorable kitten vids on FB!). Jess is a tenured creative writing professor (which I didn’t realize). She also offers courses and writing retreats through her Jess Lourey University website. She gave “quick and dirty tips” for editing.

Jess’ technique is pretty straightforward: check the character arc, analyze the plot (I ruminated about that last week), and look at each scene to make sure there is enough “power” in it (my word, not hers).

There are so many different methods for editing, probably as many as there are writers. I don’t have a specific method, other than read through the draft, make notes, revise, let the story sit for a couple weeks, rinse and repeat. When I do revise, I try to think about the structure, which I wrote about last week. After Jess Lourey’s webinar, I have a new technique I want to try.

It was the scene part of her process that stuck in my head. We all know a scene needs to feed into the story goal by either moving the story/plot forward or supporting the character arc. If it doesn’t, it should be dropped or rewritten. Jess’ suggestions went beyond that in a way that made me really think:

    • A summary of a scene (like, a one- or two-sentence summary) should never transition to the next scene with “and then”. For example: This happens, and then this happens, and then … Instead, between each scene you should be able to say a phrase like: but, because, therefore, or meanwhile. For example: This happens, but then this happens, because then this happens, and meanwhile/therefore this happens. (This is actually from a video short by the writers of ‘South Park’, in case it sounds familiar.)
    • Each scene should have at least 2 of these elements: action (a physical, emotional, or psychic shift), relationship (romantic, friendship, or humor), information, suspense, and/or emotion (not book emotion, but reader emotion). Really intense scenes (like the climax) should have 4 or 5 of these.

Jess uses notecards; one card for each scene, with the scene summary. That way she can shuffle the scenes around, and quickly see if that scene has the appropriate amount of action, relationship, information, suspense, and/or emotion.

It’s interesting how much a simple concept or practice can make so much sense! In the past I have written scene summaries on notecards so I can shuffle them around, but it never occured to me to analyze them for content like that. It makes a lot of sense, at least to me.

I’m almost to the halfway point in my revision, and after Jess’ webinar (I think I actually knew there was a problem, but for some reason I could “visualize” it after the webinar), I have a major fix figured out. It’s the whole midpoint thing, that black moment when the main character is ready to throw up her hands, pick up her toys, and go home. My “black moment” wasn’t bleak enough, so now *rubs hands together and cackles maniacally* I have a fix for it.

Hope your writing is going well! This week we’re getting an unusual wave of warm weather (yes, even a degree below freezing is warm this time of year in MN), and, of course, more snow. We’ve been pretty spoiled this year with a mild winter.

Write on!

Yes, I’m in your chair. Your point?