Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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A-Musing Return

Blue goo drips down the brainstorming wall like a slime creature suffering from narcolepsy. A crimson splat mixes with a yellow blob. I lob another idea at the wall, this one a bright green. It hits and bounces against the wall like a skipping stone across the water until it shatters against a pink and orange swirl.Β 

That could work. I peer closer. I’m pretty sure that will work. Still following the pattern on the wall, I reach back for another idea.

No bucket. Damn. I know I left it …

“Looking for this, love?”

I swing around so fast I lose my balance and catch myself against the wall. My hand slips across the mosaic of ideas. I flail, scrabbling against the slick wall.

My Muse catches my arm and hauls me upright before I hit the floor, his other hand occupied by my idea bucket. “Still clumsy, I see.”

Steady now, I move to wipe my hands, until I see the mess. Like finger paints, only brighter and a bit more slickery. “Geez. It’s about frickin’ time. Glad you found your way back.” Seriously. I’m glad he found his way back. Grumpy was starting to get on my nerves. For the past two weeks.

He hands me a towel he pulls from his back pocket. The texture is odd, like velour but scratchier. It does the trick, though. While I clean my hands off, I notice his five o’clock shadow has an extra 12 hours on it. He’s wearing a Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirt from Surfer’s Paradise, wherever that is, sleeves shoved to his elbows. His wearing-them-well jeans and flip-flops complete the ensemble. Then I notice his blond hair is lighter on top, and his skin has acquired a bronze tint.

“Queensland,” he supplies, even though I know I didn’t ask out loud. “And yes, I did enjoy some sun. It’s summer there, you know.” He scratches at the stubble on his face while he checks out the brainstorming wall. “Progress, I see.”

I finish cleaning off my hands and dangle the towel–now looking like a rainbow vomited on it–toward him. “Some.”

He sets the bucket on the floor and snaps the towel at it like a shower room gotcha. The colors shoot from the towel into the bucket, each hue reclaiming its ball shape as it hits the target.

Damn, he’s good.

“Grumpy said you made NaNo. Congratulations, love.”

“No thanks to that killjoy. You know, he’s worse than you are. I am sooo glad you’re back.” Then I plant hands on my hips. “Don’t do that again.”

His blue eyes sparkle. “You progressed on your WIP and you won NaNo. And you worked some things out.”

I poke his distractingly-solid chest. “No excuse. Isn’t there a rule against wagering time with your writer in a poker game?”

He just grins.

Damn distracting. “Anyway, you heard the news, right?”

He tucks the towel back into his pocket. “Which news? The news where you’ll be starting your term as VP with the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime? Do you have your panel ready for the January meeting? How about the workshop about using Word and track changes?”

I roll my eyes. “No. Well, yes, but no.”

He raises an eyebrow. “The news where you’re getting more visibility at the Writer’s Institute in April? Two presentations, a panel, and two half-hour sessions with other writers. Plus selling your book. You are going to be a busy woman that weekend.”

30th-writers-institute-email

“Well, yes, but that’s not what I’m thinking about.”

“You should be. You know it’s a great opportunity to get your name out there.”

“I know, I know. It’s on my list. I have to work on my presentations.” Sheesh.

“You got your cover?”

*Grumble* “Not yet. I have seen a draft of the final. Don’t get me started on that.” It’s out of my control. Besides, my agent is looped in on that. She knows what’s going on.

“You’re at the three-month mark.”

“I know. I can’t do anything about it.” Except grumble. “Okay. Here it is. I’ve got an offer for the audiobook version of Murder in Plane Sight.

A smile brightens his face. He wraps his arms around me and gives me a huge bear hug, forcing my face into his shirt. Mmmm, smells like the sea and coconut.

“Congratulations, love!” He releases me. “Well done.”

“I have to give my agent credit. She’s awesome!”

“So, when the book comes out, you’ll have Book 2 ready to go.” It wasn’t a question.

Figures. “I’ve got promo stuff to work on. And I have to revamp my website. And get a newsletter going.”

“Book 2,” he says again, this time adding a scolding finger. “At least you found the plot issues during NaNo.” He rubs his hands together. “Now, about this wall. Needs something over there.”

Sigh.

It’s the last weekend without kids before Christmas break. My plan: writing. Lots of writing.

How about you?

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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)


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We all can relate

I watched Jurassic World last night for the first time (yes, I know it’s been out for, like, three years, but I’m a little behind. I just saw Hidden Figures last week). It’s a good movie for those who like dinosaurs (me! me!), but as a storyteller, I noticed a few things that made me think of writing, plotting, etc. (Note: if you haven’t seen the movie, just sayin’ there will be spoilers.)


Yes, I know it’s one of those all-action, not much in the line of story-telling movies like so many these days. There was more character development in some of the Transfomers movies (yes, I like big, sentient robots too πŸ˜€ )

Anyway, that wasn’t what I noticed. The first thing I noticed is something that my writing teacher mentioned in our Master Novel class. A writer has to draw the reader in, and there has to be conflict of some sort. You know the classics: man v. man, man v. nature, man v. self, and man v. society. (I looked this up to verify my memory was working, and discovered now there is one more: man v. the supernatural. Well, I would consider that nature *shrug*)

The conflict is obvious: man v. big bad dinos juiced up by man’s incessant desire to tinker with Nature. How does the saying go? Don’t mess with Mother Nature, she’ll kick your ass. So what if they filled in some DNA gaps with other stuff? You know, like cuttlefish camoflauge DNA or frog DNA (in the first Jurassic Park, that’s what caused the problems in the first place, the spontaneous gender-switch some frogs (lizards too?) will do). What could possibly go wrong?

Character development is at a minimum. The only characters that seem to develop by the end are the main character Claire, who takes the typical “ignore family because of work” to the “family in danger, family is more important” route. The two boys, a teenaged brother and a somewhat younger brother, change from the sulky teen and smart-but-lacking-confidence middle-grader to a stronger, more confident pair who take care of each other.

Yawn.

Where was I? Oh yeah, conflict and drawing the reader in. The part that reminded me of my writing teacher is the drawing the reader in part. Once way to increase conflict and make the reader care more about what happens is to create a bond between characters, either between the one in danger and the hero/ine, or between the protagonist and the antagonist. They did that with this movie, as well as with the first one, Jurassic Park.

In Jurassic Park, the man who started the park, Hammond, invited his grandkids to see the park before it opens. Of course, the kids get into trouble when the dinos get loose, but there is a family tie, which automatically ramps up the tension. In Jurassic World, the woman managing the new park, Claire, is tasked to babysit her nephews while her sister and brother-in-law deal with marital issues. Once again, the kids get into trouble with the super-smart, bad-ass dino gets loose.

See a pattern? Tension is increased when the conflict involves a relative or loved one. Even the first Jack Reacher book had a family tie: Reacher’s brother is killed, and Reacher hunts for the culprit.

A reliable way to draw readers into the story is to use family ties of some sort, because everyone has experienced having a sibling or parent or significant other or favorite/hated relative. We care more about people we can relate to, which is why in my debut novel I include a family tie, where in the first draft I had none. It made a huge difference in how the reader cared about the main character.

The plot was pretty typical action movie stuff. Bad guy/dinosaur/robot/supernatural creature terrorizes hero/ine’s loved ones, good guy’s goal is to save loved ones and beat the bad guy, in spectacular, CGI-laden, heart-pounding, explosion-ridden, magic/mutant power-blasting style.

The other thing I noticed was the ending (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT). Granted, I didn’t sit down and watch the whole thing; I was making fresh salsa for my home-from-college-for-the-weekend daughter during the first 30 min of the movie, so I might have missed something, but when Claire released the kraken–er, wait, wrong film. When Claire released the T-Rex, I had to suspend my disbelief. It was the T-Rex from the original movie, but I don’t remember them mentioning the old T-Rex at all. I could rewatch the whole movie (or I could just rewatch the first half hour) to find out if they foreshadowed the T-Rex, but really? I mean, talk about deus ex machina.

Do not do that in your writing. Seriously. Totally blew the experience for me, because I was wracking my brain for anything about the old T-Rex from earlier in the movie. I might have to rewatch it anyway.

Repeat after me: No magic/unexpected solutions to finish off the bad guy. No pulling a rabbit out of a hat to beat the bad guy if you haven’t told readers about the killer rabbit earlier. Just. Don’t.

Today will be apple bread and chocolate chip cookie day. And little, if any, writing. Sigh.

Have a great weekend!


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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …Β  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway.Β Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river


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Blank

Yep. The barren white page stares at me, daring me to deface it with words. Hell, with anything resembling a scene in my story.

Stuck. I’m not sure if it’s the transition scene or if I’m trying too hard to cover bases my editor pointed out in my manuscript, but something is blocking me.

Coincidentally (or maybe fortuitously), I’ve read a few articles about overcoming “stuck”, including an older one about breaking through writer’s block, and another about what to do when you stall out. BTW, if you aren’t familiar with Janice Hardy’s blog, you are missing out!

I’m trying to figure out just what I’m getting hung up on. I know my characters. I know the backstory. I know the plot. And I know I’m getting distracted by real life stuff. For instance, my daughter had orientation this week at college. She’s been terribly anxious about it because she doesn’t know what she wants to do (undecided). The college has a wonderful program to help undecided students explore their options. And the people are soooo nice (which my daughter commented on more than once).

We spent all day at the school. And by the end of the day, my daughter was feeling much better about going off to school (yay!). My plan was to get home and finally give my garden some attention since, well, it hadn’t rained for a few days (but it was hella hot and humid). That is, until it started raining as we got home.

So, I should spend the time writing, right? I pulled out my computer, and stared at the screen, and the dozen words I managed the day before. Added about a hundred words.

Sigh.

I’ve got the brainstorming wall out, and my bucket of ideas, but the spatters and splotches aren’t making any sense yet. And my Muse happened to “leave” his fedora on the corner of my desk. A hint, I suppose.

And of course, he’s somewhere but not here, probably on a pub crawl. Maybe I need a pub crawl. I wonder if I could find him–I could crash his crawl.

Damn, that sounds like fun πŸ˜€

This weekend I have got to get into the garden, or I’m going to need a machete to find my way. I’ll try to take pics and post them next week–if I’m brave. And writing, damn it. Maybe I’ll get things moving by scribbling for a bit with pencil and paper. That seems to help, even if it’s just “thinking out loud but on paper”.

I’m counting down to our annual Writing Sister reunion–yippee! I’m also counting down to my first meeting with a blogging buddy. I always wonder what it would be like to meet the cool blogging writers I know in person. I get to find out next week!

Anywho. Hope your creativity is moving along better than mine πŸ™‚ Have a great weekend (and may the weeds fail to choke out your veggies πŸ˜€ )

 

P.S.: Hey, S, my Muse left a note to ask you if your “package” arrived. If you want to return it, let him know. He might have another that might work out. πŸ˜‰


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On to the next task

I sent it off yesterday. Yep, my manuscript, all revised/edited and everything.

Whew!

Now to take a sort of break. Hubs and I laid out the garden last night, and I started planting before it got too dark. The problem, though, is it’s raining today, so I won’t be able to put in the rest of the garden until tomorrow at the earliest, depending on how much rain we get. Probably not until Monday. Ugh.

My youngest is graduating from HS tomorrow, and her grad party is next weekend. And here I thought after I got my manuscript edited and sent off that I’d have a few days to relax and do, well, not nothing–my house looks neglected, and I have yet to completely finish unpacking after my mini writing retreat, so I won’t be kicking back and eating bon-bons (though I can see enjoying a nice glass of wine πŸ˜€ )

Anyway, apologies to everyone; I’ll be trying to catch up on blog reading this weekend, so I’ll get there πŸ˜€ I’m just really far behind!

After that, the next task will be outlining Book 2. I was struggling with it this past winter, but my Writing Sisters helped me out (love you guys!). I’ve got a more solid (and interesting) plot now. Multiple books in a series can be a challenge, especially when you write the first book without much thought about the next ones. I mean, unless you go in with a multi-book story arc for a trilogy (fantasy books are great for examples of this), how does an author come up with Book 2 or Book 3?

The exercise is fun, because you’ve spent so much time with the characters, additional books are an excuse to spend even more time with them–provided you aren’t tired of them. I knew the next books would take place at airports or at least around airplanes because my main character is a female aircraft mechanic. The options are to stick with the same setting in Books 2 and 3, or venture off to other places. Staying in the same place works for most mysteries, I think, but an airport is a pretty limited setting when you think about it. Just how many bad things (read: dead bodies) can happen at the same one, even if it is as big as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport?

The fun thing is, every major and most minor cities have airports, and there are air shows throughout the summer, which are great venues for more nefarious stuff. Putting the main characters at a different location opens the door for more story opportunities, but that also means leaving behind (at least for a while) supporting characters the reader may have fallen in love with in Book 1.

For instance, in Book 1 I have a character who is like “a grandmother channeling Cher”. Fun lady, and one of my editor’s favorites, but she won’t appear in Book 2 because that book takes place in a different location than Book 1. Same with another supporting character, who is a friend of my male lead. The crime scene team leader is like the buddy you met in college, and you still get to work with each other on occasion. Kind of the “invite over for a weekend BBQ” or “watch the game” friend. My editor also liked him, but again, he won’t appear in Book 2.

So what do you do about those characters? Obviously, if a future story (provided your editor/publisher or another wants it) is set in the original location, those characters will appear. I feel kind of bad about leaving them out, because I like those characters, too. I won’t get back to them until maybe Book 4, but I may never write Book 4. Maybe I’ll write a novella that is set at the location in Book 1, just to spend time with those characters again.

Anyway. Rainy day activities like cleaning (ugh!) and catching up on reading blogs are on tap for today. May you have a great relaxing weekend! Write on!


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When Characters need a tune-up

Making up characters to star in your story is one if the best parts of writing fiction, at least in my mind. In my debut novel, I created this awesome character and cast her as a strong female protagonist, a woman in a man’s world who can hold her own.

Every main character should have something to round them out: a realistic background, a family of some sort, maybe close friends or pets, and often some challenge in their history that they have overcome or are working to overcome in the current story. Sometimes the obstacle is an addiction of some sort, like Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan (alcoholism–oh man, I never noticed that before. Get it? Temperance is a recovering alcoholic). Maybe the character experienced a divorce or death in the family, like J. A. Jance’s Joanna Brady (first husband died). It doesn’t have to be a major hurdle; it could be as innocuous as losing a job, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum or Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson. And sometimes the character’s past is instrumental in shaping their present, like the abuse suffered by Eve Dallas and the life-on-the-streets struggle of her husband Roarke in J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series.

My protagonist survived her own trauma six years before the story starts. Not only did her ex-boyfriend stalk her after she dumped him, but he tried to kill her. By now, she’s taken back control of her life. Then he’s released from prison. No worries–he’s, like, over a hundred miles away–but little by little she notices things that make her question just how safe she is.

Oh, did I mention the detective on the case (psst, love interest πŸ™‚ ) suspects she had something to do with the dead body she found? So, not only is my MC wary about the return of her ex-boyfriend, she’s trying to prove her innocence by looking for the culprit. Conflict? Check. Goal? Check. Obstacles she needs to get through to reach her goal? Check.

This is a mystery, so the MC should work on solving the case in some way, right? Cool. She shuffles the few puzzle pieces she has, and picks a direction based on what she knows. Then the Big Bad Ex shows up and proves he knows where she is.

Now, I’ve (thankfully) never gone through the type of trauma one would experience after being attacked like she was, but I can believe she would have some PTSD. She’s got her life back on track, but now the old fears and anxiety return.

Where does the tune-up come into play? Well, after talking things through with my editor and my agent, I realized my MC stopped working on the mystery once the baddie resurfaced, and instead spent her energy fighting against the old emotions.

In other words, she became a victim again, which weakens her role as a strong protagonist. She does break out of the victim archtype, but not to work toward the story goal; she breaks out to save her skin (and in the process discovers something that cracks the case, which does work toward the story goal). The main mystery-solving efforts now come from the male MC (yeah, I know it’s his job, but he’s not the headliner).

Once I finally figured that out (took me long enough–sheesh), how do I fix it? Enter my wonderful Writing Sisters and the brainstorming wall. We hashed it out and came up with a couple small things I can add. Those bits will help my protagonist break through the victim archetype and refocus her energy toward the main story goal. It also tunes up her character by reminding her of her strengths, and that the black moment in her past can help her in the present.

Bottom line, it’s okay for the MC to lose power, or become a victim (the midpoint crisis), but s/he needs to come back strong in order to keep his/her position as the star of the show.

On the non-writing related front, here’s what my daughter got me for Mother’s Day. I think my book dragon will like the company:

dragon1_cr

It’s a sort of terrarium–there’s some dirt under the purple rocks, and a succulent behind the dragon. There’s a bit of moss as well. Here’s another angle:

The little dragon is so adorable! The container is a teardrop shape, with a twine hanging loop. I don’t have a good spot to hang it, or a decent spot to set it right now, but it’s too cute not to put someplace where I can see it every day.

Now my Muse has two junior muses to contend with. Mwahahahaha! Heh, it’s a good thing he’s out on a pub crawl. πŸ˜€

Spring/summer (ugh, 80F is too warm for May) is here–woo-hoo! No garden planting plans quite yet, but I do have to clean last year’s debris out of the asparagus patch so I can find the spears when they start to come up. *rubs hands together* I can’t wait!

Have a great writing weekend!