Closing Up Camp

Good news and bad news.

Good: I’ve passed my Camp NaNo quota. Actually, I passed it early last week, but I kept chuggin’ along.

Bad: I haven’t finished the novel yet.

I’ve got two chapters and change to go, and I doubt I’ll finish it all today.

So what shall I do? Well, I’m putting it on high priority while I sort through stuff, but I’ll submit what I’ve got for validation. I mean, I won, right? I deserve to own it.

On the other hand, when I do finish I have to get into editing land, and I think I’ve decided a plan.

I put my work – all my work – through nine rounds of edits before I send it off to Natalie Cannon. Each time through, I focus on something different. I think what I’ll do this time, though, is get friends involved as beta readers. I’ll have a different friend read during each of the nine rounds, and I’ll task them to look at everything EXCEPT what I’m focusing on. So while I’m focusing on description, they can’t comment on description. When I’m scrutinizing verbs, they have to talk about anything except for my verbs.

My friend Sarah is going to start out, and she’ll have a free pass to talk about anything, since my first round is just me reading it out loud.

I’m sort of excited for this new method, and I’ll keep y’all posted on how it’s working out. I have high hopes.

Cheers,

C

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The Prodigal Camper

Remember ages ago now when I said that I was doing Camp NaNo to finish up a novel?

Well, I didn’t lie. I just…put off adding on to that novel until this morning.

So it’s three weeks in. Meh. I still only have to write about 2k a day to finish on time, and I did about 3k this morning, so that’s totally fine. I’ll be done before the end, for sure.

How did that happen?

Well, writers are people like any other people, and we happen to be people who often have day jobs. While I see my novel as priority number one, my boss might not like me putting off paperwork until Camp Nano is over, right?

Right. Unfortunately.

So here I am, listening to Muse and taking a deep breath before I plunge into a bit more work so I can justify a bit more writing. A balance, I tell myself, everything’s a balance.

I happen to have complete and utter confidence in my ability to finish Camp NaNo successfully and possibly with a banging good story to turn around and edit. Not only do I write disgustingly fast (just ask Natalie, seriously), but I do that with quite a bit of efficacy to my writing, and I’ve got much of my work well-organized in one way or another.

So I’m taking this small break in my life to a) apologize for lack of blogging and b) remind you ALL that the best way to tackle anything in life, especially a novel, especially while doing something like Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo itself, you have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a color-coded plan with a binder full of alphabetized character profiles signed in triplicate (although one of my writing projects does have that, minutes the signed in triplicate part), but it DOES have to be a plan. Big, small, long, short – you have to know where you’re going to actually be sure you’re going to get there.

Now, you could just work from scratch and let the spirit MOVE you where you need to be. But for that you’d better be prepared to work for a set amount of time every day, at the same time every day, like a real job. And if your life can afford you doing that, I applaud and envy you.

I certainly can’t, and thus I’ve got my binders and notebooks and many pen colors and pomodoro timers.

Also, get a really good to-do app. I could recommend several, as I actually USE several simultaneously. Maybe that shall be my next post. Thoughts?

How are your Camp NaNo excursions faring?

Cheers

C

Writing a Wedding: Research

I firmly believe that every writer has something they avoid. Maybe it’s heavy action scenes, sex scenes, or an on-stage death (as it were). Every kind of event or scene has its own nuances, dictated by the end goal. A great writer can take those nuances and the other elements of a scene (like the characters, places, setting, plot points they’ve created) and meld them together to create and integral, cohesive piece.

Me?

I hate writing weddings.

I mean, the list is actually longer. Weddings, funerals, pregnancy (although strangely I kind of enjoy writing childbirth now), dinner parties. There’s a reason my funeral scenes are usually a few lines long, the pregnancies are shown obliquely through a few key points, and dinner parties are either cocktail parties or people meeting for a cup of tea.

Weddings, though, weddings are the worst.

Whatever the reasons for people disliking whatever they dislike in writing, the issue with weddings is a simple one for me. I’ve not been to very many weddings, I wasn’t especially fond of the ones I did go to, I’ve never really imagined myself as a bride, and while I have NO intention of getting married my ideal wedding would be filling out paperwork at a courthouse and a glass of wine with dinner for celebration.

Not exactly the romantic scene that dreams are made of.

How do I cope with my lack of qualification for writing weddings?

In truth, I really don’t. My wedding scenes, like the funerals, are very often a matter of lines, maybe a few hundred words, and always told through the point of view of NOT the bride or groom. Often, someone else in the wedding party. I’ve found the trick for making this tiny bit satisfying is in the buildup.

Proposals, wedding planning, honeymoon planning, and capping a short scene from the wedding with a suitable and proportionate scene from either the honeymoon or the trip to the honeymoon – that’s a recipe for happy readers, oddly enough.

Just like when my characters have children I do research on pregnancy and childbirth and child development (part book, part internet, part asking my parents who are in the medical field and also happened to have five children), the proposals and wedding planning and honeymoon planning takes research, as I have personally done none of these things.

Some of it I can intuit, like thinking about my characters and what kind of proposal makes sense based on whether I want it to be ideal or in some way not ideal. Other things, like ring styles, order of events, and logistical sense for honeymoons – that takes more research. As an example, I’ll lay out my research for my most recent project of focus, working title Hold Me Now.

The first step was picking out the ring. Given my characters, I opted with the Tiffany’s website, but as the groom is UK based and the wedding and proposal were going to take place in the UK, I searched for their UK website (as I did with all further web searches). I tried to find a ring that suited my characters, thinking about size, style, price…. Not just something I would like, but something that made sense for my characters. Other characters may not have ever gone with Tiffany’s, but this suited Ross and Katherine.

The next step was outlining the to-dos for a wedding. Here’s my best friend when it comes to writing marriages. I’ve used it many, many times now, always to great effect, always with the greatest of pleasure and relief at how well-organized and comprehensive it is:

Real Simple’s Wedding Checklist

Real Simple has a lot of really great checklists and tools that I use for many aspects of my life and writing, but this is one of the most helpful, and I’ll probably never use it in real life. Go figure.

Obviously, this checklist can be pared down depending on your characters (or if you’re planning a real wedding, your personal circumstances), but the great thing about this is it’s comprehensive. You’d be hard pressed to find something missing on the list, which makes it an ideal starting place.

From here, I went through the list thinking of everything I would need to describe and began searching for wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, flower arrangements, and the wedding cake. One of the best things about this project was that my characters are disgustingly wealthy and therefore didn’t really require a budget – something that makes the bride a bit uncomfortable. Obviously, in many cases budget is important, or you’ll run the risk of a highly unbelievable wedding plan for your characters.

Honeymoon?

Why do anywhere but Disney World? I mean, seriously.

Cheers,

C

Tackling Tough Topics

So, one of the stories I’m working on is crime and psychological thriller about a pedophile’s victims, who have essentially grown up in a cellar.

I won’t give too many more details, because spoilers, but that’s enough for getting to the crux of what I want to talk about in this post.

Sometimes the stories we want to tell don’t just make the reader uncomfortable. Sometimes they make us uncomfortable, sometimes so uncomfortable we have to ask ourselves periodically why we are even writing about these kinds of things.

Of course, this is a story I don’t feel I can stop. Because it’s something I could see happening, could truly believe as a reality, and because that reality makes me sick with the thought, I need to paint the picture so that other people are sick with the thought – sick enough to do something about it. To stop this from being a reality that we could believe as possible.

I know I couldn’t do this kind of story every day. It’s the kind of thing that would eat me up inside if I wrote it all the time, and my soul is dark and scary enough, thanks.

So how do we cope with the stories we need to tell but don’t even really want to think about for more than a few minutes at a time?

Small doses. It’s as simple as it seems. If you can’t cope with it in long stretches, don’t. Write what you can, and then write something else. Come back to it when you don’t feel slimy at the thought, and then when you start feeling like your skin is covered in an unwashable film, do something else until you’ve forgotten what that sensation feels like.

Yes, it’s a project going slowly, but every time I read back over what I’ve got to see where I’m at, I get that same chilling sense that I’m right on track.

So write the stories that make you question your imagination and humanity, but don’t destroy yourself while you do it. Physical and emotional health always come first.

Cheers,

C

Writing Sporting Events

As a writer, we write all kinds of events. Weddings, proposals, battles, graduations, deaths, births, rainstorms.

For the longest time, I thought weddings were the worst. I hated writing them, I did whatever I could to avoid writing them, and I got really good at writing all the wedding planning and then glossing the wedding in a way that somehow satisfied my readers.

And then I started writing sporting events.

When these are done well, they can enhance a story in so many ways. They help give a level of physicality and timing that can sometimes be difficult to obtain. They can add an emotional element that doesn’t involve characters actively emoting. They also can help draw in readers who might otherwise have little to connect with in your story.

I write lots of different sporting events, but mainly I’ve been doing Formula 1 lately. I like F1 for a few reasons. One is that it works into the types of social spheres that I typically write my stories in. Also, it’s an annual, season-long, global sport that’s been going on for decades, so it expands my geographic possibilities.

For example, in a short story I have F1 events on two continents, and characters across three countries. In a novel I’m working on, my main character is Canadian and lives part time in the US and UK, and I have her go to the Montreal and Silverstone Grand Prix. It also helps keep seasons straight for me and the reader. Those are typically June/July races, so by always having a race after her birthday, it reminds me that her birthday is early June – since I didn’t write it in my notes anywhere and using actual dates feels so clunky to me.

But how do you write a spectator at a sporting event without just giving a play-by-play?

Well, J.K. Rowling takes the viewpoint of a player (Harry) with play-by-play Quidditch commentary (typically done by Lee Jordan) and occasionally spectator viewpoints (most notably in the very first Quidditch match where Hermione sets Snape’s robes on fire). This can give multiple layers to an event and allows the writer (and reader) to shift attention to the most interesting thing, like when you’re watching a football match and the camera angles shift to show you the best bits instead of always giving you an aerial shot of the pitch.

I don’t always do this, partly because it can be difficult to find the right balance and partly because I don’t have the expertise to show a player viewpoint for some of the sports I use. Like F1 – I’ve never even sat in an F1 car, much less driven one, but I’m an expert spectator.

Also, because my reader may not have seen some of the sports I use – like F1 or cricket – I want to be sure that the where and what and who is clear. When I first wrote an F1 race into a story, Natalie read it and didn’t even know what I was talking about. For about half that scene she thought I was talking about horse racing, so I had to get more in-depth. I had to use specifics, names and dates and tracks and words like “pit lane” and whatnot. Just as I had to write a specific brand of cigarettes, I had to look at details on the racing.

That’s what makes a sporting event. You don’t have to cover a play-by-play, and maybe your spectator doesn’t even watch the full match of…whatever it is. Have them talk to someone. Have them smoke a cigarette (if that’s historically viable). Have them share a beer with their neighbor. Doing play-by-play of a tennis match in words would bore the reader to tears, and probably you as well. Just show what matters in the match, the big plays and the ending. Give it drama. Give it flow.

And most importantly, use that lovely writing rule that seems to hold true the more I write: If you’re bored writing it, they’ll be bored reading it.

Cheers,

C

Cirrocumulus stratiformis

A misty wave rolls ‘cross the swelling scene.

It rolls and breaks upon a range or two

Of snow-soaked hills on fields of brilliant blue —

Erode away with time, weather’d by wind.

They melt into the sea of endless shades

Of lapis, azure, cobalt, sapphire true.

Perhaps a breath might make them crumble soon.

Perhaps the heat could melt them sooner still.

-Charlotte Blackwood

Continually Moving Forward

I was reading over a short story I’d started because I set my mind on finishing it yesterday. (I did finish it, so now it’s going to be subjected to the rigors of editing), and it got me thinking about the development of my writing over time.

When I read back to my very earliest work (we’re talking when I was, like, ten) I am often astonished by the strength of character and the weird but suitable sense of plot. But something I’ve struggled with off and on is forcing myself to include enough physical description in a scene. In fact, in my list of things to consider in different rounds of edits, one of the first rounds is entirely focused on adding in physical description, with the knowledge that my editor my cut or pare down some of it later.

Adding this step to my editing process has been invaluable, and Natalie noticed the difference immediately. But this short story (which doesn’t really have a very good working title at the moment so I’ll not use one yet), I started out forcing myself to describe intently.

I have to say, when I’ve looked back on this, it’s really some of my better writing (not surprisingly), but it does NOT come naturally to me. I’m not a person who cares so much about how things look, but about how things ARE, what things are doing, what sort of person people are, how they interact with other persons. So the ending I’ve written for this story?

Not nearly as descriptive. I tried, I really did, but it just didn’t happen.

I suppose we are constantly moving and changing as writers, and that’s one reason editing is so important, isn’t it? We have to smooth over who we were when we started writing and who we were when we finished, and make the work seem like it’s from one cohesive place in time. But nothing ever does.

Cheers,

C