Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

I indulged in a bit of reading for fun this week, since I figured out what scenes to submit for my assignment.

Okay, fine. I was procrastinating on my homework. There. Happy?

I haven’t read much of anything for a while, with the revisions and homework and all. Oh, and that pesky full-time job. And the garden.

With the upcoming release of Harry Dresden’s new adventure, Peace Talks, I decided to reread the last book in the series to refresh my memory, since it’s been, oh, years since Skin Game came out. Then I had to reread the book that introduced Mouse because hey, it’s Mouse.

After reconnecting with Harry, I was ready for more snarky urban fantasy, or at least snarky mysteries with a paranormal angle. And what luck! Another of my favorite urban fantasy authors just released a new book (some snark included). Not only that, but I ran across a book from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime that sounded like a nice break from serious. And writing.

I have now read 4 books (Skin Game (Dresden), Blood Rites (Harry again), Ann Charles’ first Deadwood book Nearly Departed in Deadwood, and Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson book, Smoke Bitten) in the span of three weeks (one of which took me all of a day and a half to read), when I haven’t read much of anything for months.

Reunions with old friends (Harry and Mercy) are great, and meeting new ones (Violet Parker, with her purple cowboy boots) is fun, but you know you are a real writer when IT happens.

Yes, the infamous “Aha! I see what you did there” moment when you read a scene and you can “see” the structure of the scene and how it lures the reader on.

Here’s a “for instance”: In Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Violet has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She becomes friends with a codger who has a gun named Bessie and a total lack of subtlety, meets the tall dark handsome sexy guy next door to the office (sparks there), and starts dating the tall blond handsome rich guy whose family owns the jewelry store in town. So, sparks between dark sexy and Vi (who resists her attraction to him, yet he obviously likes her), but she dates blond handsome (she likes him more than dark sexy, or so she tells herself).

What’s more fun for readers than the tension between a girl and the guy she is determined not to be attracted to? Oh, and toss in the guy who is a chick magnet and rich. So, what does the author do? She includes a scene in which the codger and dark sexy guy are with Violet at the ER (her daughter broke her arm). Dark sexy is being the good friend, keeping Vi calm and comforting her like any sexy guy would (you know, holding her close), when blond handsome shows up.

Boom! The classic setup for tension with love interests. And the guys, of course, have been trying to win her affection in their own ways. Vi is determined not to fall for dark sexy (he’s been teasing her, all innocent-like, since they met), so she greets blond handsome like a lonely girl greets her boyfriend after he’s been gone for a week.

I find myself noticing all these little things now, the rising tension between characters and in scenes, the scene “cliff-hangers” that draw the reader on, and especially the fresh metaphors and descriptions (how the hell do they come up with those?). The first time I noticed the craft behind the story was when I read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, his debut novel, and I couldn’t put it down. I paid attention to what he did that compelled me to read on.

Questions. Every chapter didn’t have a cliff-hanger, per se, but each had some question I just had to find the answer to. Same with the Dresden books, though those are more “how is he going to get out of this?”

Part of me misses that reader ignorance: the point of reading the story is to escape and live in another place and time for a bit without caring about anything except what happens to the characters–find and stop the bad guy or get the prize. I can’t do that anymore without noticing things with a writer’s eye. The setup, the character arcs, the tension, the description, the way other authors convey emotion.

Does it ruin a story for me? Only if the author does a middling or lousy job of keeping my interest (and then I analyze why it doesn’t keep me reading). When I notice these things, I try to take mental notes so I can improve my own writing. After hearing Allen Eskens talk about the craft and how he approaches a story, I notice that now in his books and others.

Reading like a writer means missing a little of that magic that readers search for in a good book, the escape where the real world goes away for a while. But reading like a writer makes me appreciate more the bits and pieces of what creates that magic to begin with.

Happy Summer Solstice! Just think, from this point on (until the winter solstice), the days will be getting shorter. Or, don’t think about it. Yeah, probably better for the psyche if we just enjoy now and express surprise later when it’s dark before 8p again.

Write on!

Zoey sleeping on chair


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Automatic writing and plots? #amwriting #nanowrimo #writerscommunity

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

As I was working on my WIP (yes, THAT one), I realized something. An odd/ad-libbed/spur-of-the-moment aspect of a minor character I created on-the-fly solved a problem I was having with the plot.

A big problem.

It was weird. It made me think of automatic writing, which made me think of one of my fellow authors/bloggers who has just released the last book of her Hode’s Hill series (Congratulations, Mae!) In the first book of the series, Cusp of Night, spiritualism plays a big role, and automatic writing was one facet of that whole movement. Anyway …

Holy crap. I solved one of the problems I’ve been trying to figure out by first creating a minor character I didn’t expect to have and then giving that character a part I didn’t know I needed.

Huh?

See where the automatic writing comes to mind? This sort of thing happens to me on a regular basis. I work through the bigger aspects of the plot, barrel ahead with the mantra, “it’s a crappy first draft, I’ll fix it later”, agonize over the stuff I can’t figure out, then somewhere down the line a piece falls into place, and POOF, the plot becomes more solid, and the story “works”.

It’s like my Muse is doing his job, but his timing is off. Sometimes waay off. *checks for Muse, then in a stage whisper: Psst, I think he’s on a beer run.*

Image by Vicki Becker from Pixabay

As fiction writers, we often have story ideas and plots in our heads. For me, the plot lines often seem pretty straightforward at first. The timelines work, the characters have appropriate motivation, and all is well in the planning stage.

Sometimes in the beginning the plot lines are more like a tangle of yarn that needs to be teased into quasi-order. It’s when things look like they’ll work that you have to keep an eye on those buggers, or they’ll start dodging around like a litter of energetic kittens.

I walk through the timeline over and over, and think I have the threads woven together in some semblance of order. Then I start the first draft.

What seemed to make sense suddenly doesn’t. And of course that realization doesn’t happen until I’m halfway or two-thirds of the way through the draft.

I think the more we read, and the more we practice storytelling and plotting and creating character arcs, the more instinctive we become as writers. I’ve been asked by people how I knew the plot wasn’t working. The only thing I can come up with is “I just knew.”

We know what works because somehow along the way we learned it, even if we haven’t taken a class or gone through workbooks or read Save the Cat or The Writer’s Journey. We can use the tools, whether beat sheets or timelines or whatever your preference, but there’s a part of us we may not be conscious of that knows what pieces and bits to add and when.

And that seems to be the way it works, at least for me. I’ll put something in a story, unplanned but it works, then way later on in the story I’ll write something and think wow, it’s a good thing I added that unplanned thing earlier because that makes this part work.

Magic. Or my Muse. Both. Bottom line, the more you practice, the more you read, the more you learn, the more those writer instincts will help you so you don’t get two-thirds of the way through the draft before you realize the story doesn’t work.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it πŸ˜€


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All the stage is a kitchen #amwriting

“You know, love, I try to be inspiring.” My Muse leans over my shoulder, so close I can smell evergreen and fresh-cut wood with a touch of cinnamon. “But I have to tell you that’s a stupid title for your post.”

“Gee, thanks. I don’t hear you coming up with a better one.” Or a post subject for that matter. I lean back in my office chair with a bit of difficulty since he’s standing right behind me, all six-foot two inches of his toned physique. With his red and black flannel shirt rolled halfway up his forearms and worn-well jeans, I envision him more inclined to throw a steak or two on the barbie instead of shrimp. Hell, forget the barbie; just cook ’em over a campfire.

Image by Tommy_Rau from Pixabay

He plants a hand on the back of my chair and bends closer, giving me a view of the individual hairs of his stubble, now more ten o’clock shadow than five o’clock, covering his square jaw and …

“Really, love? That is so cliche.”

“Which part? The ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ part or the rugged outdoorsman cooking steak over fire part?” I can feel the heat from his skin. I should probably open a window; it’s getting a little warm in here. “I figure you’re Australian, so shrimp.” It goes with the Aussie surfer image. Then again, the roguish look works for him. Definitely works for him.

He turns to face me and rests a hip on my desk. “We are not talking about shrimp, love. Or steak. We are talking about the scene in your WIP. Focus.”

Fine. “Okay, so the thing is everyone is over at the mentor’s house. Well, his widow’s house. They went over there yesterday after the memorial service, had coffee and caught up on a few things. Some conflict between a couple characters. Another character comes and argues with the son-in-law. A little foreshadowing. The scene takes place in the kitchen slash dining area, of course, because that’s where everyone gathers.”

“Sounds logical. What’s the problem?”

“Well, my other main character arrives at the house the next morning, and of course that’s another meet and greet, also in the kitchen area, because that’s where you do things like that. Then the police chief arrives to share some information, and of course that all takes place in the kitchen, too.”

“So, you’re saying it’s boring.”

“Not boring, but shouldn’t there be some change of scenery? I mean, do readers want to see two or three scenes in a row all in the kitchen slash dining area?”

“Are there any scenes in that sequence that are not in the kitchen area?”

“Well, yeah. The main character goes to the garage, where the mentor died, to look over the scene.” Everything is done indoors, in the same-ish space. “But everyone is at the house. In the house. And they are all sitting around the table drinking coffee.” Because that’s what people do.

“Hmm.” He scratches at his stubble. “What about a patio in the backyard?”

“It’s just before Memorial Day weekend in northern Minnesota. In the morning. It’s chilly outside.” I review the layout of the house in my head. “What if they go into the living room to discuss the chief’s news? Would that work?”

“Sure, it will work,” he says, “but will it be enough is the question, right? All you can do is write it and see how it reads.”

“C’mon, you’re my Muse. Help me out, here. Give me some other ideas.”

“Why are they sitting around the table? What are they talking about? Is it a matter of the characters getting information or the reader?”

“Both. I’m just thinking about how this stuff works in real life. That’s what you do. Someone dies, everyone goes back to the house and talks about stuff because weddings and funerals are when people reunite. You talk about stuff at the table …”

Hold on. Duh. “The first day, after the memorial, it’s later, early evening I suppose, when they get back to the house. They could hang out on the patio then. It’s late May, so it stays light out later.” It would still be cool out, but that might be where the mentor and his wife used to sit and enjoy the flowers. That adds an emotional connection.

My Muse wears a self-satisfied grin. “See, love, I knew you’d figure it out.”

This is how a lot of my scene work goes, though. I write it, it’s not quite right, then I take a walk and talk things through until something clicks. It’s a good thing we’re out in the country, or someone might call those nice young men in their clean white coats πŸ˜€

After all the rain this week, I might venture into the garden later, but for now, I have some (lots of!) writing to do. Enjoy your weekend!


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Plotting, you say?

For some reason, when I see the word “plotting”, my mind conjures up an image of a stereotypical bad guy from black and white silent films. You know, the one with the handlebar moustache and wringing hands, along with the “mwahahahahaha”.
1200px-Villainc.svg_

But when I think about plotting, it’s different. It’s a concept, the idea of a path through a story where stuff happens. Not an outline, because that seems too rigid. Of course, when I think of “outline”, I think of those reports we used to do back in school. You remember the ones: Roman numerals, paragraph topics, supporting facts, 3 x 5 inch index cards, and sources. Always had to have at least three sources (and there was no Wikipedia or Internet at the time). Back then, we had to go to the library and do our research.

I know, ancient history!

When I started preparing for my very first NaNoWriMo, I decided to write a completely new story, and not just rehash the one I had been working on up to that point. I found a great book by Karen Wiesner: First Draft in 30 Days. She has a set of worksheets she uses to put together a story, including character sketches, setting notes, timelines, fact sheets, and plot sketches. In essence, a book bible.

I created a OneNote template that had tabs for each worksheet, and they guided me through that first NaNo draft. The parts that really helped me put the story together, though, were the summary outline and the miscellaneous scene notes. Basically, a free-form exercise to walk through this is what happens, this happens next, then this, etc. There are also timeline sheets to help work out the order of events.

I ended up with a story I didn’t expect, but I enjoyed writing it. Didn’t finish it, but that’s on my list; I know how it ends, I just have to write it.

Fast-forward to now. I still use those worksheets, but I have learned that one of the best ways for me to walk through a story and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work is to write a stream-of-consciousness summary of the story from beginning to end. By hand.

Should I call it plotting? I suppose it is, but it feels more fluid than “plotting”, yet more planned than “pantsing”. *scans the room to make sure the Muse isn’t giving me a stink-eye* I’ve been struggling with the plot for book 2, so I have been doing this process repeatedly, trying to nail down just what wasn’t working.

One of the keys, I learned, is asking “what if” questions when I run into something that doesn’t feel right to me. Initially the story opened with two characters dead–one of natural causes, the other of an unfortunate hunting “accident”. It didn’t feel right. Then I had three characters die. Nope, so back to two characters, but one that started dead in an earlier draft was now alive and another dead instead.

Better, but it still didn’t feel right. Still, I ran with it, did NaNo with that premise, and spent December writing yet another SOC plot summary. Multiple plot summaries.

And I asked, “what if”? What if there was only one dead character? What if he had the hobby the other once-dead character had? What if that airplane he was rebuilding lived in a hangar at the airport instead of a shed in the backyard? The nefarious stuff is happening at the airport, and he would be there anyway to spy–er, casually notice the goings-on, and doesn’t need an excuse to go there.

Click.

I’ve got it now. There are still a few things to work out, but once the routine is back in place after the kids are back at college and all that extraneous energy is dissipated, I’m eager to start the heavy revisions. Or maybe yet another rough draft. In any case, I feel better about this version of the story than any of the earlier ones.

Finally.

Hope your new year is starting out well. Lots of writing and all that!

And by special request (yes, B, I remembered πŸ˜€ )

zoey

Happy Writing!


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Rough cut — plantsing away #nanowrimo2018

Week two of NaNoWriMo. I made week 1’s word count, but so far I’m slipping this week. Phone call with my daughter last night, who hasn’t registered for next semester yet –WHAAAT?! So, that, and reminding her to Do Her Homework before the day before the day it’s due. I know. What a concept.

It’s part of learning to manage time. And she’s trying, but boy, the call of procrastination is strong.

I am getting back into the routine of writing every day, which is pretty much the point, along with finally finishing my rough–really rough–draft of book 2. I’m still planning to work on a new book I plotted out but haven’t really gotten to yet. I did write a really rough draft of it, but that needs to be rebooted.

Anyway, every year around NaNo time there are posts and discussions about plotting versus pantsing, better known as writing “by the seat of your pants”. In other words, planning the story versus just writing and letting the story write itself (you know what I mean, like when the characters take the reins and head in a direction you didn’t intend them to go).

I like to think I’m more of a planner than a pantser. I don’t exactly outline, but I walk through the story. I have a starting point, I have an idea what will happen first, second, third, etc. I know who the characters will be, who the bad guy is, who the good guy is, and who the supporting characters are. This gives me a map, but leaves me room to wander a bit.

So, here I am, writing my minimum 1,667 words a day (ideally, 2k words a day, but I haven’t gotten onto that kind of roll yet), and walking through my path, and the story–erm, the characters started taking a side trip. Which seemed to work. Until it didn’t.

Wait, let me back up. I started with an apparent self-inflicted demise… or was it? The more I wrote, the more it wasn’t quite working. So, I wrote myself an inline note (I do a lot of those to remind me of things that pop into my head). And as I wrote the note, I realized why it wasn’t working.

Hoo-boy. I have a bit of revising to do. But this is a rough draft, right? It’s supposed to be crappy. Onward, ho!

Then I run into a scene that doesn’t quite go as planned. Those darn characters! The change seems to work, but the further I go, the more that change screws up part of the climax.

So, another long inline note about why the change made four chapters back won’t work, and how I can handle the storyline so my original idea will be a logial step in the plot. And now to keep going while pretending the dead end doesn’t happen and my original idea is a part of the plot.

As I’m going through this, I realized something (lightbulb moment!): my rough draft is my way of talking through the story to refine it. Not polish; that comes later. It’s like planning a trip. You check out the map (yes, the old paper ones no one could ever refold right), maybe highlight the route you want to take. Figure where to stop for lunch. How about a stop at a landmark or historic site; hey, you’re going right by the world’s largest wad of used chewing gum. It would be a great photo op πŸ˜€

So you head out on your road trip, stop at the chewing gum tourist trap, and hey, a few miles off the road you can have lunch at Ole and Lena’s Homestyle Restaurant, because you can’t go past NorwegianJoke City without stopping for their world-famous lefse.

And you can get back to the freeway the short way, or you can go ten minutes the other direction to visit Cousin Sven. Besides, there’s another main road you can take to get back to Grand Highway Junction. Cool. So after you hang with Sven for a few hours, you head out.

And you hit–you guessed it–road construction. Man, maybe you shouldn’t have picked this road. So, do you retrace your steps, or take that other rural two-laner? Hey, two-laner might be fun. So you take that route. Until you hit the cattle drive. You go back the way you just came. Sheesh. Should have stuck to the freeway.

And there is an ugly picture of my writing process. Sort of. I have a plan, take a few side trips, then learn I shouldn’t have taken that detour. Or the detour works for a while, or the detour leads to an even better trip through a state park.

Bottom line, the whole process of writing a rough draft is instrumental in refining the story, so take advantage. And that pesky internal editor can get in the way of the process, so send her on a month-long junket to somewhere. Remember, rough draft = crap, but it also equals an opportunity to make major structural changes before it becomes a lot harder to make them.

Hey, 860 more words for my NaNo count–woo-hoo!

Keep onΒ  writing, and enjoy your weekend! (and remember, less than two weeks until Turkey Day πŸ¦ƒ)