Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Kicking drafts and taking names #amrevising #amwriting

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I’m trying to pry dirt from under my fingernails, so of course I run into the door to my writing office before I turn the knob. Damn. It’s a good thing I was distracted, because the moment I open the door the odor of fried food and stale beer, like the kind you can’t get out of your clothes after watching the game at a sports bar (I know, it’s been a while, but you still remember, right?), wafts past me. Part of me wants to turn around and go back to weeding, but I resist.

Yeah, I probably should have listened to that part.

“I understand a ‘Job Well Done’ is in order, love.” My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard covering one wall of my office. His fried food cologne must be emanating from the rugby jersey he’s wearing. His khaki cargo shorts have a stain on one thigh I hesitate to identify. Deck shoes complete his ensemble. No socks. Nice calves.

“Where have you been?”

He adds a note to the homework criteria I wrote on the board. “Things are opening up. Outdoor seating, and now some indoor seating, but the weather’s too nice to be inside.”

“So, you and Mr. E went on a pub crawl. If you were sitting outside, why do you smell like a sports bar?”

He adds another note. “Do you know fryers smoke? Even outdoors.”

I swallow a snarky comment about fryers and Camels or Marlboros. “Let me guess. You and Mr. E sat downwind. Didn’t think to move?”

He hit me with his brilliant blue eyes, a brow arched. “You make it sound like there was somewhere else to sit. It was like everyone was coming out of hibernation. We had to wait in line at a couple places.”

That sounds about right. “I can’t believe you had to sit downwind of the fryer at every bar you hit.”

“Well, there was one where they didn’t set up the fryers outside.” He adds one more note, then snaps the cover on the dry-erase marker. “Well done, love. You finished your first round of revision.”

I stand beside him in front of the board. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“I wasn’t, until I dug into my homework assignment.” Plotting. This assignment, my last for the class, looks at the story plot points. I’ve been feeling a major lack of satisfaction with the story, even after I figured out the plot to begin with. When I dug into my homework, I realized why. “I need to adjust the plot. Like, a significant change.”

My Muse swaps the marker in his hand for a different color, and adds another note. “That’s a good thing. You found the problem now, rather than two revisions from now.”

“You could have said something earlier, like before I finished the first draft–correction, finished the first draft after seven false starts. Maybe I would have gotten through it faster. Like after only five false starts.”

He rests an arm around my shoulders. The smell of French fries assaults my nose. “You forget one thing, love.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t always listen to me.” Before I can respond, he continues. “Besides, you got to feel like you accomplished something by finishing the first round of revision. There’s a lot to be said about feeling like you’ve made progress. It’s important for all writers, but especially for one who tossed out seven partially-finished first drafts.”

“So, you didn’t hammer me with the revelation until I finished the first revision? Do you know how much further I’d be if I’d figured this out sooner?” I’m so glad I’m taking this class, because I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to see the glaring weak spot otherwise.

“How much have you learned because you analyzed the plot for your homework?” He tosses the marker onto the sill of the board. “You know the story will be stronger because of it.” He squeezes my shoulders, then heads to the mini-fridge and pulls out a brewski. He points the bottle at me then the board before twisting off the cap and slinging it into the trash. “Get your homework finished so we can work on that other story. I have a few ideas.”

I’m sure you do. He’s right, I can see the places where the plot needs work, which is part of the process. I do find it frustrating to get through one round of revision before I have that head-slapping “DUH!” moment.

Come to think of it, I’ve had a lot of those “DUH!” moments with this story. Sheesh.

Now that I’m done with my first round of revision, once I finish my homework, I’ll move on to a different story for a few weeks to let Book 2 rest. After this class, I have one more to take to get my second badge and move one step closer to my writing certificate.

How is your writing coming along? Enjoy this last week of Spring before the solstice next week!

Zoey on retaining wall


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Have you heard this writing tool?

No, I didn’t forget a word in the title. If you’ve been following this blog the past few weeks, you know that the past couple of months I was working on my manuscript for my editor. I sent my edits in last week–woo-hoo!

In the process of trying to make up for a nutso April when I didn’t get much editing done–but hey, I did get stranded in WI by a blizzard–I searched for anything to help me speed things up.

It’s easy to add a sentence or edit a whole paragraph, but sometimes I end up with a long convoluted sentence that should be split, or more than one way to “fix” something. Besides, if there’s something wonky, I’ll catch it when I proofread it, right? Like those awkward sentences that are grammatically correct, but just don’t flow. Or those two words that should be swapped, like “you were” and “were you”.

I use a few proofreading methods, like printing out the manuscript in a different font so it looks “fresh” to the eye, and reading the manuscript from the last page to the first page, which interrupts the brain’s tendency to anticipate what the next sentence should be (yes, it works, until the brain figures things out 😐 ).

As writers, we are too close to our work to really look at it objectively. That’s why leaving the manuscript sit for a few days to weeks is good; you gain a little distance from it. But I didn’t have a few days, much less a week, to let the story rest. And I printed out the manuscript once, but I didn’t have time to do it all over again. Besides, I was at my dad’s house.

Another thing I’ve heard about to help with the proofreading process is text-to-speech (actually, it’s reading the manuscript out loud, but no one said you had to do it yourself 🙂 ). There are a number of programs out there that will read what you’ve written. I tried a couple, one of which is Natural Reader, which I tested. I spent way too much time looking for something cheap. Yes, I know the online version of Natural Reader is free, and there is an iPad app, and maybe I’ll use it sometime, but I knew there had to be something included with Windows 8.1, with the whole accessibility thing and all.

So I looked it up. Turns out that Windows has a built-in voice that can read websites and stuff. And bonus, Microsoft Word (I use Scrivener to actually write, but I compile the manuscript for Word when I read through it) has a text-to-speech function. A-ha!

First, you set up the Narrator voice in Windows. I have Windows 8.1, but it should be the same process in Win10; you’ll have to do a search for text to speech. In the Control Panel, there is a Speech Recognition option. In there are the settings for the Narrator. Select the option for Text to Speech. TTS

Next, select the voice. There are only three options in my version: 2 American (male and female) and one British (female). I didn’t look to see if I could get any more; I just wanted something to read to me. I picked Zira, the American female voice. She just sounded nicer.

speech propertiesAdjust the voice speed. You can use the Preview button to hear the voice. Set the speed, then apply the settings with the OK button (I didn’t include that in my screenshot).

Next, I opened my Word doc. Do you know what the Quick Access toolbar is? It’s the tiny toolbar with the W icon for Word. It has the most used stuff on it, like Save and Undo. Mine is in the upper left corner above the menu bar.

menubar

You’ll have to customize the toolbar to make the Speak command available. (FYI, I have Word 2010, so the newer versions might be a little different. You should be able to use the Help to find the Speak command.) Click on the down arrow with the line above it on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar to open the toolbar’s menu.

word options

You’ll see the commands on the toolbar marked, but you need to add the Speak command. Select the More Commands… option way at the bottom.

Now this is a bit more involved. At the top of the left panel where it says Choose Commands From, change where it says Popular Commands (click on the down arrow) and change it to All Commands.

Then you will have to scroll (luckily the commands are alphabetical) all the way down to Speak. Select Speak, then click on the Add>> button. The Speak word moves from the left panel to the right panel. Click OK to finish.

word options2

Now you should have the Speak command easily accessible in the Quick Access toolbar.

menubar

All you have to do now is highlight a chunk of text and click the Speak button. Granted, it’ll only read about 700 words at a time no matter how many you select, but I found that is enough to hear the section, fix anything, and read it through again.

It’s not perfect, and it will spell some things out when it doesn’t know how to pronounce them, but I heard misspellings (“h-d-d” instead of “had”), missing words (rather, I didn’t hear the missing words 😀 ), and awkward phrases. The voice is a bit robotic, but it’s better than computer voices were 10 years ago. Even sounds more human than Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, I found the Speak command a huge help. I even heard it read character facts that were different than they were in an earlier chapter. For instance, my character started off wearing a sweatshirt, and two chapters later she was wearing a sweater. Same day, only hours apart, and no, she hadn’t gone home to change. I think I found and fixed more stuff because I heard it. And I think it helped that I wasn’t reading aloud myself, because I suspect you still miss stuff because you’ve gone through it so many times.

Anyway, sorry about the long post today, but I wanted to share this tool with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it so much I’ll spring for the Natural Reader. I’ve been thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking as well (speech to text), but guess what? Windows and Word have something like that built in as well. I’ll test it out a bit to see if it could work for me before I drop money on Dragon. (BTW, Google also has a speech-to-text feature in Google Docs, so you can check that out, too).

Oh, and I have to share this. Last night my husband came in from outside (I was working on a photo board for my daughter’s grad party tomorrow) and said I had to see something. And bring a camera. This is what I saw.

zoey top of trailer 1

And where was she?

zoey top of trailer 2

We moved our current house onto the property twenty years ago, and while we were remodeling, we lived in a trailer house. Needless to say, the trailer is still on the property being used as storage right now. Don’t know how she got up there, but she did get down on her own. I suspect she used a tree.

Have a great weekend!


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Call it Progress

I’m back at my dad’s place over this extended holiday weekend. I’m also extending my weekend from work in my effort to get my edits done. I even warned my boss I might have to take another day beyond what I’ve already asked for. He’s fine with it. (I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of cool bosses)

I’ve been pounding the keyboard, and I’m at about the last quarter of the story, although I skipped a spot I need to rewrite. I figured I would be able to concentrate better here rather than at home.

The screen door to the deck out back squeaks, then bangs shut. Gee, wonder who that could be?

“I can always count on you for a dose of sarcasm. You ready to get back to work yet, love?” My Muse adjusts the bean bag-type chair he left here last week. It looks kind of comfy, like one of those wicker papasan chairs, but squishier. This time he has a footstool to go with it.

He settles in, fingers laced and hands behind his head. “You could start with the scene you need to change. I think you’ve got a good idea for that.”

I can’t help but stare at his black cotton lounge pants adorned with Pac-Man and colored ghosts, which clashes nicely with his Bob Ross t-shirt. “You don’t actually wear that in public, do you?”

He looks down at his shirt. “Why not? You loved watching Bob Ross when you were a kid.”

“It’s not Bob Ross. It’s the whole ensemble. Seriously. Pac-Man and Bob Ross?”

“Who are you, the fashion police?”

Not by a long shot, as I look at my own red plaid lounge pants and Star Wars t-shirt. “Anyway. I’m doing the blog post, then I’ll dig into that scene.”

He stares at me in silence.

“What? Stop doing that.”

“Have I told you how proud I am of you for working as much as you have the past few weeks, love?”

“No, but apparently it hasn’t been enough because I’m not done yet.”

A bottle of Moon Man appears on the table beside my chair. “A reward. I’ll add chocolate when you finish this round.”

The man knows how to bribe–not. “Better be the good Mozart chocolate with the blue wrapper from Salzburg.” They don’t even ship it outside Europe. I had it when I went to Austria with my aunt and uncle.

He rolls his eyes. “Finish your edits and I’ll see what I can do.”

Hmm. I wonder what he’d get as a substitute. Godiva?

Okay, I’ve gotta tell you this. When I write my posts, I like to get them done the night before and schedule them to post. Well, I started this post last night, then figured I’d finish this morning.

Last night I was going to add some pictures of my dad’s lilacs (since the rabbits girdled mine and almost killed it. We’ve had that lilac for over ten years and they haven’t munched on it until this last winter. Effing rabbits!), but it was getting dark, so I didn’t, but I wandered around the backyard to smell them, because, you know, lilacs.

So, I got up this morning, started the coffee, and looked out over the backyard. My dad has a few flowerbeds in the backyard, and everything is just getting going after the late snow we had.

And thought,”What the hell is that?” From my angle and the angle of the rising sun, “that” was something black and a little white in the dark shadow of a pine tree. I couldn’t make it out, so I went to another window.

I wish I’d thought to get a picture.

It was . . . A cow. Seriously. A Holstein cow lying in one of the flowerbeds, minding her own business, chewing her cud.

backyard

pic from the patio. It was darker when the cow was there. See the cow prints in the dirt by the tree?

Damn, I wish I’d thought to take a pic right away. Instead, I started looking for the neighbor’s phone number to tell them one of their cows was out. Of course, after I figured out Dad didn’t have a phone book handy and the neighbor’s number wasn’t easily accessible, I looked back out in the backyard, and the bovine was gone. She noticed when I turned the light on in the house, so I suppose she figured her quiet morning was over.

You know you live in a small rural community when you wake up to find a cow lounging in your backyard. I really wish I’d gotten a picture. It was bizarre.

Just to give you an idea of how close the pasture is, it’s not more than 30′ from my dad’s property.

lilacs

So starts my day. I can see this making its way into one of my rural mysteries 🙂 I’ll be focusing on edits all weekend, and I’m already behind visiting blogs, so I apologize ahead of time.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

irises hostas

irises and hostas in one of my dad’s flowerbeds


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F-O-C-U-S

It’s blank.

The wall, I mean. Well, sometimes my head, too . . .

Not my writing office. I’m at my dad’s place while he’s off galavanting with his brother on an Alaskan cruise. I’ve got a deadline, and this is my opportunity to write without distraction.

It’s also another opportunity to be in the house I grew up in. Except now so much has changed. My sister-in-law decided to “stage” the house (which my dad is in the process of trying to sell), which, according to her, means getting rid of anything personal like family photos. And last weekend we moved a bunch of big stuff (entertainment center, bed, TV, etc) to the townhouse my dad is renting.

I was here last weekend, and it felt, well, . . . like I came too late. Like I should have thought to take pictures of the way everything was before this “staging” business. If you’ve gone through the process of watching the house you grew up in be prepared to sell, you know what I mean.

“You came here to focus, love.”

What the hell? My Muse pulls up a chair–where did he find that chair?

“Don’t look at me like that.” He leans back in a beanbag-type chair I’ve never seen before and know my dad never had. Fingers laced together, he puts his hands behind his head and crosses his long legs at the ankles. “You’re here to write. I’m your Muse. Get over it.”

“Where did that chair come from? Not that I’m complaining, but . . .” Maybe I am complaining, because it’s a distraction. Like his “Star Wars” lounge pants and Millennium Falcon t-shirt aren’t distracting at all. 😉

“I brought it with me, and you are complaining.” He cranes his neck around to check out the whole room. “Well, it’s bare. That’s a good thing. Now you can focus, which is why you’re here in the first place.”

He’s right. It’s just . . . Everything is gone. The pictures of the grandkids. The pictures of my mom. The pictures of me and my siblings with our families. I can’t stop the tears. Not yet. I’m grieving.

“Scoot over, love.” My Muse nudges me from the middle of the love seat to one side. He settles beside me, but doesn’t put his arm around my shoulders, though I kinda wish he would. “I know you want to give your attention to this loss business, but you’ve got a deadline coming up. You’ve been doing good this month. I’m proud of you.”

“I should have been doing good in April, too.” Except real life happens. “I am SO far behind.”

“Which is why you’re here.” He leans against me. “Take the time during your breaks to, what did A say? Say good-bye to every room. But only during breaks. You are here to write.”

He’s right. Deep breath. “I’m going to finish this round of edits this weekend.”

“And I’m here to make sure you do. Besides, it’s supposed to rain today. No excuses.”

So, I’ve got all day to write–except for a couple hours this morning when my BFF from high school is stopping by. I try to catch up with her whenever I’m in town. In fact, last year when I was here she had an awesome “Are you kidding? This really happened?” story. I told her I was going to use it in a book; it’ll be part of the plot of my rural mystery (on the list to do after Book 2).

So, last week I posted plants, and someone (you know who you are), complained about a glaring lack of cat pics. Well, be careful what you wish for 😀

Have a great writing weekend!

 


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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 🙂 ) 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. 😀

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!