Procrastinating

Blogging has the dangerous potential to become an easy way to procrastinate.

Writing here is free, loose, with little structure and no plot to follow.  That makes it somewhat easier (while also simultaneously harder – an interesting irony) than working on my book.  I have been very good in the last few weeks about blogging every day; I have not been so good about putting scenes onto paper for my novel.  I am creating a tense relationship at the point I am in with the novel, and it is easy to feel but difficult to explain.  It’s one of those great romantic struggles; they both want each other, but don’t want to want each other, or admit they want each other, and the whole situation gets strained and stressful before it resolves.  It’s that weird combination of desire, jealousy, longing, resistance, and dislike that is easy to feel –  but how do you put it in words?  Even that last sentence was challenging and only partially successful.

When something gets hard, it is human nature to shy away.  I did the same thing with the current round of query letters.  Today I finally put my foot down and made myself write a scene in the novel before writing this.  Blogging is dangerous, but if I know the dangers, maybe I can avoid them.

Playing with Words

There are many ways to say the same thing, and this is true in books as well as life.  For a fun exercise, I decided to play with a typical piece of everyday dialog.  This is between a man and a woman, and the results are amusing.

Here is the basic dialog:

       “Hello.”

       “Hi, how are you doing?”

       “Good, and you?”

       “Fine, thanks for asking.”

First variation: minimize the dialog.  Here is the same conversation in one sentence:

     Tom and Mary shared a casual greeting as their paths crossed in the front lobby.

Second variation: add physical descriptors.  Keeping the context casual, here it is with more info.

     “Hello,” Tom said as he smiled slightly.

     Mary nodded in return as she replied, “Hi, how are you doing?”

     The two drew near to each other as their paths crossed.  Answering quickly, Tom said, “Good, and you?”

     As they continued on their separate ways, Mary’s casual response of “Fine, thanks for asking” was lost in the crowd.

Third variation: add context.  This time, the action and inflection change.

     “Hello,” Tom said silkily as he stepped into the space behind Mary’s shoulder.

     Turning her face toward his, Mary reached for his hand.  “Hi,” she replied warmly.  “How are you doing?”

     “Good,” he whispered into her ear.  She grinned as he asked, voice full of innuendo, “And you?”

      “Fine,” she said with a smile as she turned her whole body into his embrace.  “Thanks for asking.”

Fourth variation: change inflection.  Here we have a very different inflection, and different context.

     “Hello?” he said, scorn filling his voice.

     Mary stood in the door.  “Hi,” she replied, anger lacing the word.  “How are you doing?”

     Tom glared at her and threw his response in her face with a smirk.  “Good.  And you?”

    “Fine, thanks for asking,” she answered, sarcasm dripping from every word.

Final variation: vary the words.  This conversation says the same thing, but not in the same words.

    “Greetings,” Tom said lightly to the woman at the table as he sat.

     “Howdy,” she replied with a smile, continuing to eat her lunch.  “How’s life?”

     “Not too shabby.  How about yourself?” was the response, as Tom opened a bag of chips.

    Mary grinned at her friend.  “Hanging in there, thanks!”   

Thanks for reading, that was fun!

Tread Lightly

There is a danger in writing. 

This is not just a risk for authors; it is truly a danger of sharing, not just writing.  I have to watch for this pitfall on facebook, in my writing, and now, here.

Emotions are powerful, and often make it difficult to think clearly.  The problem with the written word is permanence.  Yes, it can be deleted, thrown out, burned.  But it has a solidity that is missing from spoken missteps.

I write to channel my emotions, to clarify them for myself, and to share them with others.  The first two are useful, helpful; the last is the trap.  I must find solace in the spoken, sharing my emotions violently and vividly with my close friends.  I need to keep my dangerous writing to myself.

Too bad it is often some of my best.

Bird is the Word

A friend commented once on my first novel (after she had read the manuscript), “Well, I can tell you’re a bird person.”

To be fair, some of my bird references are obscure, like character last names.  She is a bird person, too, so she caught them; most non-bird people would miss some.  (Her favorite was the conversation between Captain Harris and Colonel Swainson – both were named separately and so it didn’t occur to me that both are hawks.  She thought it was a clever, subtle reference, but it was truly a happy accident.)  I will grant her the fact that there are some obvious bird references as well: one character could best be described through a comparison to a heron (tall, thin, gray), a situation with a falconry bird becomes a small but pivotal plot point, and pigeons are used to carry messages, just as examples.

It should be legitimate, though, for a self-professed Bird Nerd and former raptor trainer to have bird references in a novel.  Authors who are musicians may have a heavy music influence in theirs; those with experience in hunting or law or riding motorcycles would be excused for their references as well.  There are birds in my book; this shouldn’t be a surprise.  In fact, one of my favorite scenes has a girl becoming very emotional over a change in her expected gift of a hunting hawk. 

The surprise to me is the lack of birds in the new book – maybe the dragons have chased them away.

What’s Wrong With Smart?

When did it become fashionable to be an idiot? 

Celebrities, especially female ones, tend to downplay their intelligence.  They’d rather be thought to be trendy, skinny, or cute than smart.  Even men – macho, strong, good looking, but not smart.  It’s gotten to the point that when someone who is famed for being an actor, or a singer, or even just famous, does or says something intelligent, one of two things happen: people don’t believe them, or they become a joke.  Intelligence is important – with it, you can better understand the world and its people, you can advance in a career, you can make a mark on the planet.  Try telling that to the trendsetters, or teenagers.

I like being intelligent.  This does get me into trouble (the liking, not the brains) because I can (and sometimes do) come across as a know-it-all.  But I like feeling smart, I like hanging out with smart people, I like reading non-fiction and occasionally enjoying a PBS special or museum exhibit.  Intelligence is good, it is something to revel in.  Most of my characters (especially females) are very clever or smart, most of my favorite book and movie characters are as well.

So why are we so eager to downplay our brains?  What is wrong with being smart?

Character Driven

Where does my story come from?  The characters,  always the characters.

I get to know my characters; they all have a little bit of me in them.  (Yes, even the villians.)  I know back stories and motives, how they move and how they think.  I develop their stories into my novel.  Sometimes I have to cut some of an individual’s story in the end, to tell a bigger story.  I have a couple in the novel I am currently writing that has a wonderful story of how they met – it makes me smile every time I tell it – but the newest direction for the novel has them appearing for the first time already together.  Such is life – and also where short stories come from.

So the story unfolds from the characters, from their thoughts and ideas.  I’ve had a minor side character hijack a story, eventually becoming the narrarator.  I’ve had an afterthought character (so it seemed at the time) become a key piece to a plot unfolding.  And I’ve written with no idea where the story would take me, simply following where the characters led.

The characters, always the characters.  I get very attached sometimes, and the ones who turn out to be my favorites in the end almost never started that way.

Let’s Get Physical

Writing fantasy often requires a detailed description of physical movement, particularly if your plot includes a war.  Most of the time I can picture something in my head and describe it from the image I see; occasionally, I will need to sketch an elaborate dress or a building’s floor plan before finding the words to put it on paper, and I once drove 4 hours to attend a Renn Faire when I was having trouble writing the details of the fictional one in my book.  When it comes to the physical, I am not ashamed to say that I have recruited help and acted it out.

My husband once took up his “sword” (a wrapping paper tube) to help me stage the pattern of a sword fight.  I had gotten to the first time the swords actually met and could not mentally figure the physics of where the swords would go next.  A coworker worked out the details of a cat-fight with me, two girls squabbling over a dress.  I’ve even added action to dialog alone, stalking across a room, kneeling near a chair, or banging my fist onto a table.  It helps me to put the reality behind the words, to make it possible for others to ‘see’ the same thing I did when I first imagined it.

I’m still not sure how I’m going to act out the upcoming mid-air battle between two dragons for my new novel, as I can’t fly.  Maybe plastic toys?

Description Practice

I am trying to improve my descriptive writing skills.  This blog is as good a place as any to practice. 

Serena gently bit the edge of her lip as she contemplated her hair in the mirror.  She had caught nearly all of it in her hand, holding it loosely against the crown of her head so a profusion of caramel curls fell lushly around her face.  A few stray tresses hung loose in the back, brushing the skin of her neck as she twisted her head for a better view.  She loved the soft, chaotic look of this faked style; with some patience and a near-endless supply of pins she could transform it into a real style, one that didn’t require her hand.  Serena sighed and let it drop, knowing that she couldn’t wear her hair this way for the same reason she couldn’t wear a strapless dress.  She would spend the entire evening touching it unconsciously, certain of its imminent collapse.

Collecting her hair again, this time in both hands, she meticulously crafted a compromise.  She first secured the whole of her locks into a bun high on the back of her head.  With a great deal of patience, she teased out the ends of tiny segments one by one,  encouraging them to curl back onto the bun or to hang free from the back of it.  Once completed, it gave her both the confidence of a stable style with the soft look of an unstable one.  For the finishing touches, she loosed two more pieces of hair.  The first was a small section just above her right ear; this she pulled entirely free of the bun and twisted once before tucking it behind her ear.  Falling long and in a single ringlet, it hung nearly to her collarbone.  The second section was larger, including the entire top portion of the hairline along the left side of her face.  This she softened with her fingers into a multitude of curls hanging free.  Pleased with the result, she tucked two larger, crystal-headed pins into the front of the bun and turned her attention to her clothing.

Where I Write

Two of my least favorite questions are “Where do you write?” and “How much time do you spend writing?”  I don’t dislike these questions because they are probing, or because I take issue with being asked.  Truly, I simply find them difficult to answer. 

In my world there are two definitions of “writing” – the physical act of putting words to paper (or computer screen in my case) and the creative act of producing the thoughts to be captured.  As for the first, well, I’ve already talked about my laptop, and I will type just about anywhere.  The second definition is the greater one, though, as I never set my fingers on a keyboard without already knowing what I am going to type.

My two favorite places to create are in the shower and while hiking.  My brain is not engaged by the physical activity, leaving my mind to wander.  In fact, if I have writer’s block, I often turn to one of these to prime the pump.  I have also been known to develop my story as I am trying to fall asleep, waiting in line at the grocery store, or even driving in to work. 

I can do this creating in places where writing is not possible because I have been both blessed and cursed with an excellent memory; I have a tendency to replay scenes and images over and over in my head.  This is a blessing for writing – as long as I am toying with a scene, it will stay relatively intact in my imagination until I write it down.  (I do not try to keep everything in my head, however, and I make it a point to frequently ‘archive’ the story on my laptop.)  It becomes a curse when it is a social interaction or perceived mistake that is replayed.  The scenario becomes a sharpening stone drawn repeatedly against the blade-edge of my emotions, honing them thin and dangerous.  I try to interrupt the curse with the blessing, changing the station from reality to fiction.  It works most of the time.

So the answer to the first two questions is a question, “What do you mean by writing?”  Where is simple – I write anywhere.  As for time, I do not spend enough in front of my laptop (I currently have three scenes collecting lint as they tumble in my brain) and I spend a lot, perhaps too much, in the places in my imagination.

A Tale of Two Princesses

I made this story up out of thin air for a couple of little girls at work today. (They helped – they named the princesses, decided what the magician wanted, and picked the color of the unicorn.)  I’ve revised it a bit for the written version, and it is probably better told than written, but I hope you enjoy it!

There were once two princesses, Princess Sara and Princess Beautiful, who were sisters.  Princess Beautiful had gorgeous blonde hair and Princess Sara had exquisite brown hair.  They were happy together, most of the time, but they were jealous of each other’s hair.  Beautiful wanted brunette hair, and Sara wanted blonde.

The two went to a magician and asked him to help them.  “Oh, magician,” they cried, “We are not happy with the color of our hair.  Would you change it for us?”

The magician thought for a long while and finally said, “Yes, I will change you hair, but for a price.  You must bring me a gift – a new magic wand.”

The two girls pleaded, “But magician, we do not know where to find such a wand.”

“Go into the deep, dark forest and ask the unicorn,” was his reply.

So the princesses set off into the deep, dark forest, looking for the unicorn.  On the way, they encountered an enormous bear.  They were very scared, for they knew that the bear’s favorite food was princesses.  The girls also knew that his second favorite food was brownies, and they had brought the best brownies in the world.  These brownies had icing, and sprinkles, and even a little bit of caramel, and they had been baked by the castle chef, who was known to be the best brownie baker in the world.  Trembling, Sara and Beautiful held out the dessert and begged, “Please do not eat us, Bear, for we have brought you brownies.”

The bear considered carefully, weighing his options.  “I do not often get Princess for dinner,” he said slowly, “but it is also rare that I get brownies.”  After what seemed like ages, he finally decided.  “I am in the mood for chocolate,” the bear announced.  “Give me your brownies, and you may pass by unharmed.”

The girls carefully handed him the brownies, and as soon as he had snatched the treats from their hands, they fled into the woods.  Running, they came upon the unicorn without realizing it, and slid to a stop.

The unicorn was handsome, all white with a shining golden horn.  He looked down at the two princesses and asked, “What do you want of me, Princesses?”  (All unicorns recognize a princess immediately, even without their crowns.  Unicorns are magic that way.)

Still shaken from their encounter with the bear, Beautiful whispered, “We have come to ask you for a magic wand.”

The unicorn nodded wisely, for he had already known.  “I will give you a magic wand,” he said, “but for a price.  You must give me many kisses, and brush my mane.”  For this is what unicorns love most of all.

Eagerly, the princesses both kissed his face many times, and carefully brushed his mane.  When they had finished to the unicorn’s satisfaction, he reached up his golden horn and touched the branch of the tree.  It broke free and fell, turning into a magic wand as it did.  The princesses picked up the wand carefully, thanking the unicorn, and raced home. 

As they neared the bear, Sara and Beautiful slowed down.  They sneaked by quietly without the bear’s notice, for he was still stuffing his face with the brownies.  Once free of the forest, they rushed to the magician’s castle and handed him the magic wand.

The magician was pleased with the wand.  Waving it in the air in a circle, he touched each Princess on the head once, and their hair quickly transformed into their desired color.  Princess Sara had gorgeous blonde hair, and Princess Beautiful had exquisite brown hair.  And they both lived happily with their hair color for the rest of their lives.  The end.

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