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.

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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?

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