A Literal Mind

I had an interesting realization about myself the other day, one that has implications for my interactions with people as well as my abilities as a writer.

I have a fairly literal mind.

When I read a story or watch a movie, I take everything at face value.  That’s not to say that I’m not looking for hidden plots or twisty bits – I love movies and television shows with those, and I like to predict them.  No, it’s the secondary meanings, the subtle allusions to other works, and the covert social messages that totally blow past me.

It also influences my understanding of other people’s humor.  I sometimes struggle with whether or not someone is teasing or joking, particularly if they are very dry and stoic with the delivery.  I’ve taken someone seriously on more than one occasion when they did not mean to be serious.   I’m intrigued enough to do some self-reflection and see if I can figure out what coping mechanisms I’ve developed for this.

Here are the implications for me as a writer.  If I want subtext or references to other works, I have to very intentionally select them and plan for them as I write.  It’s a challenge, so other than a few large-scale literary approaches (Dragon Pendant is a quest, for example), there isn’t a lot of extra meaning to my work.

Does that make it less significant in the grand scheme of literature?  Of course.  Does it make the story any less interesting or the characters any less compelling?  I don’t think so, although you’d have to read it for yourself to decide.

It’s definitely an insight that makes a lot of sense with my brain, and one that might help friends and family relate to me a bit better.

 

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Back to the Library

I had a rough day at work today.  I’m not sure why, but I was grumpy and in a bad mood all day, even though there wasn’t anything in particular to cause said attitude.  It’s amazing how being in a funk can ruin a day that shouldn’t have been much of anything, good or bad.

So I decided that to get out of my funk, I needed to get out of my (new) routine.  It seemed to me that returning to an old habit might be exactly what I needed.

Thus, the library on a Tuesday.

Tonight is writing night, back at my local library (although not at my usual table – it was already claimed).  I mentioned in my last post that I’m finding my way through summer and getting past my stopping point.  I’ve been snatching time to write during lunch breaks and in random quiet moments, but I wasn’t sure how well I’d fall back into the routine.

Surprisingly enough, Mara’s story started rolling pretty quickly once I fired up the computer.

This (and treating myself to dinner beforehand) turned out to be what I needed.  I got out of my head and the worries chasing me, and once I was past those, the funk faded.  I was recently reminded that my morning workout routine helps me have a better day.  I should also remember that my weekly writing routine does the same for my week.

Even if I lose the routine again in my busy summer, I can always try to catch it here and there when my mind needs it.

Summer and a Stopping Point

I lost my momentum.

Summer is our busy season at work.  It’s also been more hectic than in previous years in my real life as well.  Tuesday nights have been subsumed into errands, laundry, and other routine tasks, making it harder to carve out time to write.

It doesn’t help that I also reached a stopping point in Blood Moon Born right about the time that summer hit.  I needed to regroup to plan and think about the next scenes before I continued writing.

Those two things meeting at the same time means that my story got stuck on a back burner which I forgot to turn on.  All cooking ceased.

The good news is that I am at the halfway point of my summer, and thanks to the holiday I ended up finding some time today just for me.  I spent the last hour hiking and planning, and now I’m parked at a coffee shop, ready to spend some time writing.

Tuesdays may continue to be a bit of a lost cause until the busy season ends, but if I can jump start the story, I might get everything rolling again, however slowly.

Making a List

I have reached the point in my tale where my main character lives and learns with her mentor for three years, in preparation to undertake more rigorous training once she is of an age to enter into an apprenticeship.  This is a significant amount of time in her young life.

In the original book I gave this important time exactly ONE scene.  That’s it.

Now I get to build it all basically from scratch.  I’ve already started describing the house where they live.  I have a couple of new characters in development (a housekeeper and a cook).  The bulk of this section needs to revolve around her relationship with her mentor, and her training.

Thus, I have started a list.

I’m writing down the basic skills that a nine-year-old street girl wouldn’t have that her mentor thinks she should.   The first few were obvious: reading and writing, basic math skills, simple cooking.  I’m debating about horsemanship, both because I’ve already established on two occasions that Mara is NOT comfortable around the animals and because they live in the capital city without easy access to reliable riding horses.  It’s also a class that she complains to her friends about when they do get to training, and I’d like to keep that option intact.  (It’s one skill that most of her cohort already has, and really the only area where she needs additional training – nobody’s perfect.)  I think she also needs a basic history of her country as a foundation.

There are some interpersonal skills that she’ll be learning as well, but those won’t be specifically taught as training.  I’m making a little note to myself on the list, so I remember to include something that gives the reader an idea of the mentor’s intent.

That’s a pretty solid list, and gives me a lot to work with.  This should be fun!

Unexpected Length

My initial plan for Blood Moon Born was this: short prologue (<1000 words), one section for each of the three girls (about 20,000 words a piece), concluding section for the royal children (6000 – 10,000 words).  This would put the novel between 67,000 and 70,000 words, which is a decent length but not huge.  (For reference, the first Harry Potter book is just shy of 77,000 words.)

I was right on with the prologue – it currently sits at about 700 words.  It’s the next part that I underestimated.

Mara has gotten the honor of the first section to be written, although I think her section will be the third of the main three girls.  (Right now it feels like it will go Gretchen, Liza/Andi, Mara – for those already familiar with the basic tale.)  Her story itself has three big chunks: early childhood, life on the streets, and training with her mentor.  These chunks won’t be the same size, but it does give me a rough idea of what’s left.  That’s how I know Mara’s story, at least, will be longer than planned.

We’re currently clocking right about 20,000 words, and I’ve just finished the second section!

As my mom has mentioned (she’s my main sounding board as I write), there’s nothing to say that the three girls need to have the same number of words.  Mara’s story is a little more involved, so maybe hers is longer and the others are a little shorter.  It also doesn’t matter if the book turns out to have more words than I initially planned.  A 100,000 word novel is a pretty respectable length, especially in fantasy.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but for now, I’ve reached a good spot to pause.  I’ll do a little rough editing and send the draft to my mom for her thoughts, after which it’s time to work on the final portion of Mara’s tale.

This is flowing a lot more effectively than I thought it might!  Here’s hoping the rest of the kids have more stories to share as I get to their tales.

Dialog, Part 2

I went a bit of a different way with my dialog than what I originally mentioned in the last post.  Here’s where I ended up:

“This is Colleen,” Mama said as she gestured towards the woman, who nodded at the girl. Turning towards her guest, Mama added, “This little bit is known as Moth.”

 The girl knew the wording choice was deliberate, and her mind settled into its usual patient wariness.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Mama said, and exited gracefully.

It’s not a lot more words, but it’s definitely a different experience than the first version I posted.  (That was pared down for dramatic effect, after all.)  There’s a description of Colleen from Moth’s perspective in the paragraph before the introduction, and a lot of non-verbal communication immediately following.  I’m working really hard to make sure that there is more to the dialog than just what people are saying.

I’ve gotten a large chunk of this conversation done, although I didn’t quite finish it.  (It’s where one of our girls meets her mentor – it’s the longest conversation scene in the story up to this point.)  I might continue writing when I finish this post, because I’d like to get it done.

If I can decide for sure what they’re going to say, of course.

The Challenge of Dialog

Dialog presents an interesting challenge for me as a writer.

The conversation itself isn’t the problem.  My characters chat with each other in my imagination all the time, and as an auditory person, I hear them.  Inflection, tone of voice, peculiarities of pronunciation – all of it is in my brain.  By the time I sit down to write out a scene of dialog, I’ve run through it several times in my head.  The conversation itself is solid.

The challenge is making sure that it doesn’t turn into this:

“This is Colleen,” Mama said.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman said to the girl.

Mama continued, “And she’s called Moth.”

“Hello,” Moth said.

The words on the page do NOT do that conversation justice.  As in real life, there are subtleties to inflection, as well as facial expressions and body language, that are part and parcel of the interaction.  No one talks in just words; that’s why emails and internet comments can be taken so dramatically the wrong way.

Again, for me at least, it isn’t the content that’s the problem.  I can see Mama gesturing to the two women, hear the cautious tone in Moth’s voice, and picture the slight smile that makes Colleen seem just warm enough without being overwhelming.

The challenge for me is making sure that I interject the descriptors of expression and tone without interrupting the natural flow of the conversation.  In this sample it’s relatively straightforward, but in other cases (for example, when a teen is running her mouth and I want the reader to both appreciate the stream-of-consciousness of the girl as well as the reactions on the faces around her) it’s a delicate balance.

The sample scene above (which I pared down to its bare bones for effect) is the beginning of a dialog that is currently tossing around in my brain.  It’s the next scene for Blood Moon Born, the piece that is slated for the next Tuesday.

Once I get it done, I’ll share the improved version of the sample with you.

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