Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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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Once upon an author #JohnSandford

As you may know if you’ve been stopping by for the past few weeks, even though my first book isn’t due out until 2019, I’m starting to do more prep work for that period when I finally have a cover, something real I can use to stir up interest before the book comes out.

You know, the scary stuff like author signings and meeting people.

I went to my first author signing (not my own πŸ™‚ ) last night. One of my wonderful sister-in-laws offered to come with me; she’s wanted to go to a signing, and this was a great opportunity. I missed William Kent Kreuger this past August, but John Sandford is another Minnesota mystery/thriller writer whose name I’m familiar with. I’ve started reading Sandford’s first Virgil Flowers book, and I’ve got the first Lucas Davenport waiting. (yes, I know the Davenport series came first, but Sandford’s latest book is a Flowers novel).

There’s a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that’s been around for decades. Their claim to fame is their support of local (read: Minnesota) mystery writers. Any MN mystery/thriller author knows about Once Upon a Crime.

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Disclaimer: I wanted to go in order to talk to the proprietor about setting up my own signing or maybe book launch. You know, ask how far in advance I’d need to contact them to schedule it. John Sandford was a bonus πŸ™‚

This area of Uptown is within blocks of a couple of Minneapolis’ lakes, namely Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It’s also my sister-in-law’s old stomping grounds. She pointed out where she used to live, where her husband used to live when they were still dating, and the tennis courts and walking path she used to frequent–which we walked–around Lake of the Isles.

I’m glad she came along. Driving in that area was, well, interesting. The Lowry Hill area is made up of mansions, cool old houses that make you wonder what the original builders did for a living. If you like architecture of that sort, it’s a great place to go.

The streets were narrow. As in, if there are cars parked on both sides, which there were (and don’t get me started on how the hell people could actually parallel park like that), there was barely enough room for two cars to pass between them. More than once I thought my SIL (who drove) would scrape a layer of paint from her car.

The bookstore is cozy. As in the realitors version of “cozy” (you know, small). We got there about 10 minutes before John Sandford was scheduled to start, and it was standing room only. There must have been forty, maybe fifty people there; I couldn’t see around the corner in the store to know how many there were.

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All around the room above the bookshelves were those enlarged book covers left (and some signed) by mystery authors. And books! (well, duh, it’s a bookstore) Mystery/thriller/suspense books by everyone from C. J. Box to Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden) (huh? I was surprised by that one) to John Sandford. But no Patterson.

You heard me. No John Patterson books. Nope, don’t know why, but I suspect Patterson has so many that if they did carry his books, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else.

John showed up a little late, reminding us how horrendous the parking situation is in that area (I wondered if he found the parking spot reserved for him on the side of the building).

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He spoke a little about the new Virgil Flowers book just released, Deep Freeze, then opened the floor for questions. People had some great ones, including what his plans were for not only Flowers and Davenport, but some of his other side characters, like Kidd.

It was a great session. Sandford, 73, was candid and a joy to listen to. Hey, did you know Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live, like, four doors down from John and his wife? They get together regularly for dinners and such. And in case you were wondering, he expects his new house to be done by Christmas–2019. He did recommend Mick Herron in particular when someone asked what authors he reads (and he doesn’t read women authors much).

I enjoyed the evening, and learned a few things about both John Sandford (he used to deliver mail in Wayzata back in the day) and his fans, who asked interesting questions like who his favorite characters were and if it was easy to kill off a major supporting character. He said he was planning to kill Lucas’ wife off, and the whole room gasped. Then he said he just made it a really bad accident instead (because his publisher said he couldn’t kill her). The room let out a sigh of relief.

I’m planning to attend a few more signings there, and my SIL is game for more. If she hadn’t been there, I would’ve been a basket case driving in that area. The narrowness of the streets would’ve been my undoing (I mean, besides the one-ways and unfamiliarity with the area). I’m not claustophobic, but I’m not good when it comes to getting within inches (centimeters?) of parked cars. Yikes!

Rainy day today, so I’m planning to finish reading through my manuscript and starting the few revisions I noted. The manuscript is due on November 1, the day I’ll start NaNoWriMo this year. Hopefully that’ll kick me out my slump.

Have a great writing weekend!


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Fiction in real life settings

You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. πŸ™‚ )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. πŸ™‚ ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!