Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Following the Characters' Lead

I've been trying to write a love scene for about a week now. (At least.) I know that a love scene is the next thing that happens. I know that it will happen eventually. But my characters are being amazingly difficult about the whole thing. It's kind of like trying to lead a critter that doesn't want to be led. Which has me thinking about my process, and wondering whether non-writer people would understand. (Probably not.)

See, I'm not one of those writers who sits down and just starts writing, flying by the seat of my pants into the mist to see where the story takes me.

Conversely, I'm not one of those writers who plans out the story scene by scene, chapter by chapter. I don't know where my chapter breaks will fall until the second draft, at least.

I'm something of a hybrid between the two. I have to have some structure--a plot skeleton to hang the story's flesh on, and often, a list of scenes I think I want to write. (Though that list is often not developed until I reach the roadmap's turning points, to mix my metaphors.) But I can't have too much.

Basically, what happens when I write: I have my roadmap, or skeleton, or beat sheet--whatever term you want to use. I have turning points and Major Scenes written down. I might also have a list of things that need to happen after This turning point, in order to reach That turning point. Beyond that, I really don't know much.

I line my characters up--put them on their marks, to use acting jargon. She is here, doing this, wearing these clothes (or not, as the case may be). He is over there, doing this other thing. There are people outside, or in the room around them, or maybe the characters are alone. Then I tell them--this is the situation, this is what has just happened, and this is what is going to happen in this scene.

The one I'm trying to write is a love scene, but it could be anything. I could tell them: "This is the scene where He tells Her about his dead child," or "In this scene, She gets His shirt off to look at an injury and is mortified by her attraction to him." Or whatever the scene might be. I tell them what the scene is, and then I say, "Okay, Ready? Go!"

And I write down what they do. (It's kind of like improv, that way.) I write down what they think and what they feel, how they react to what the other person says. And quite often, they surprise me.

This particular love scene comes fairly late in this book. I know my characters well by this time. I know how they'll react to things. Which is where the stubborn comes in. I know good and well these two people are going to do it. But I am having the dickens of a time getting them to the point, because of who they are. I can't say it's because of who I've made them, because I'm not sure I can claim that. I tend to get acquainted with my characters more than I invent them. My hero is a good guy and he's damn proud of that. He's a little rigid on the point, which is what will make his fracture so delicious. And my heroine is crazy. But she's not as crazy as she'd like to be. I'm hoping that tomorrow I may be able to move beyond the talk into some action. I hope. (Please, people!)

I know already that I'm going to have to go back and thin out some of the repetition, and probably shorten it, because it feels long. (Though it may not be as long as it feels, because I haven't written that many pages over the week of trying to get them started.) But I had to write all that to know what actually happens. To turn my characters loose and let them lead. Because for me, that's when I know the story is going to be what I want it to be. If the characters have taken over, that's when it's working.

So while I'm frustrated that they're taking their own sweet time about this, I'm also content to let them do it the way they want.

And how are things going for You?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

TBR Challenge: I Capture The Castle

Well darn. I didn't make the Blog Post Day for the TBR challenge--but I have done it! The Official day for the TBR blog post was March 17, but I hadn't finished reading the book by then. Sigh. So I'm posting my mini-review today.

This month was supposed to be Historical Fiction/Romance/Mystery. I read a YA book set in the 1930s, so it was technically historical, but I'm going to count this as June's YA book, and read a historical (or something else) then. I am going ALL out of order on this thing.

So. I read I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith.

I think I'm just not in the target market for this book. I liked it okay, but it wasn't "the bestest thing ever." Probably because I'm so much older than the age group it's really written for. I appreciated the message that "You shouldn't settle for less than what you really want." But I've known a lot of 17/18-year-olds who were/are a lot more mature than this girl. Maybe it's the difference in era, too. Kids today are a lot more sophisticated, in a lot of ways.

The story is about a self-aware 17-year-old who lives in a rundown castle in rural England with her family-older sister, younger brother, stepmother and father who was a "one-book wonder," making lots of money with a highly acclaimed experimental novel, and hasn't written anything since. They're desperately poor, and the sister hates it. The heroine, who tells us the story in her journal, isn't wild about being hungry or having ratty outgrown clothes, but she's not so desperate. She wants to be a writer, wants to "experience life." Oh, there's also another boy--very handsome, but "lower class" (his mother was their housekeeper, till she died)--who lives with the family and works for them. He gets room & board, but doesn't get actual wages, and he's got a crush on the heroine.

I spent a lot of time wanting to smack the heroine upside the head and say "grow up!" She talks about how it's immature to kiss someone and think one's in love--but she does it anyway. And I never did understand why she was so snobbish to the "servant" boy - I could see how she might not "love" love him--he was essentially like another brother--but it wasn't explained like that. Maybe the narrator wasn't conscious of it--but she was conscious of so much else. That may have been part of the reason for my impatience with her. She was so self-aware about so much--and so dim about so much else.

But then the adults in the book needed smacking even more than the heroine, so...
I have even less patience with people who "wait for the muse" when they want to create. The muse shows up when you give it a place to appear. You create the opportunity, by sitting down and starting the work, and the muse has space to work.

In the end, I'm not sure what the point of the whole story was. It felt very much like a slice of life story without a real ending to the story arc. Either that, or I missed what the arc actually was. And yes, there was the "Don't settle," theme, but... I guess the end left me feeling as if the story just fizzled out.

I did like the book, but it wasn't anything to swoon over, IMO.

I had all sorts of inspiring ideas for a blog--but didn't write them down, and when I get to the "New Post" page on the computer, I have forgotten them all. Alas.

I have written pages this week, despite having doctor appointments and such. Need to go get mail from the post office today. Should have a new Netflix movie in.

I will try in future to write down blog ideas so I will not forget what they are. :)

Oh! The middle grandson is learning to ride a bike! He does pretty good, except--when he sees a car coming their way, 2 blocks away, he yelps, jumps off the bike and hides behind the nearest tree. (He's autistic. He's doing good, considering.)

Y'all have a good weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More House Hunting

We are still waiting to hear from the loan company. We want to know if we can do this the way we want to before we really start getting seriously serious in the house hunting. So we're just going to open houses and such. This past weekend, there weren't many houses open--not houses we wanted to look at anyway. One was on the street where we rented for 6 weeks when we first moved to the island--where Ike flooded everything about 12 feet or more--and it floods often, even without major hurricanes. Nope, not going to move over there...

Anyway, this house was also in the historic district, which looks VERY different with all the trees gone (Hurricane Ike killed them). When we drove up, the fella was already going "Nope, nope, don't like it, don't even want to go in."

It looks pretty good in the picture, doesn't it. But that paint job is starting to peel on the sides, and the roof's bad, and those balusters on the porch? They're the style that bulges out. (You can kind of see it on the non-stair side.) I think it looks seriously funny. Plus the porch sags to the front.

Inside, it looks a lot better than outside. They've done a lot of nice things--first floor master bedroom, new kitchen cabinets, etc. But the dining room is also the walkway through to the kitchen, there's no den, and it's a little pricey for what still needs doing. There's a huge garage with a garage apartment out back--3 cars' worth (one for the apartment)--but it hasn't been touched since the storm. There's still Ike water in the outside light fixtures.

It's one of those deals where--if you offer the full price, you'll get a new roof and the apartment redone and all, but if you don't--well, there's the house--You fix it. Like I said, the interior re-do looks very nice, but the floors slope, and the doors stick, and the outside doesn't look so great. So I don't think we're going to go with this slant-roofed Victorian. (Even though it is just a few blocks away from The Original Mexican Cafe.)

In other news... there isn't much. I had a blister, or swollen vein or something in my mouth that made my teeth hurt for a week. It finally burst and feels much better--I can eat now--but it has turned into one of those mouth ulcers. Ugh. Still, when it was really hurting, I couldn't sleep and sat up in the recliner dozing to the Weather Channel all night. So I'm really glad it's over, mostly.

If I'm going to get anything written today, it will have to be tonight. Spent the morning getting the oil, the power steering fluid, the gas filter and some other kind of fluid that goes to the universal joints changed, and some other thing cleaned out on my massive beast of a vehicle. Now I am at the paper, getting stuff done here. Back to work.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A few more thoughts about contests for writers

Back in December, I wrote a blog about contests. (You will have to scroll down to the Dec. 9 entry, because apparently, Blogger won't let me link to individual posts in my archive.) In this blogpost, I talked about whether entering or winning contests could get you published. (Nope- but it can do other things.) Now, I feel the need to talk about other elements of these contests for unpublished writers.

See, RWA has a ton of 'em. Seems like every chapter of the organization has a contest. I may be exaggerating, but not by a hell of a lot. There are other contests out there, run by other local writers' organizations, which tend to have different rules, but I'm most familiar with the RWA contests, because over the years I've entered, and judged, a lot of them. Usually, these contests have three judges, who are given a scoresheet with numeric scores, which can add up to over 100 points. (There are often posts on various loops begging for additional judges, because of this multiple-judge rule.) The scoresheets have places (usually too small) for comments, and judges are usually encouraged to write on the manuscript. (I tend to write a lot, because I'm wordy.)

And invariably, when entrants receive their scoresheets and manuscripts back (whether electronic or hard copy), the score analysis--and often the moaning--begins. Contest entrants want to learn from these contests. They want to understand the scores. And often, when they receive a 90, a 97 and a 51 as their scores, they are confused.

The thing is--writing contests are judged by human beings and no two human beings think the same way. In fact, often, the same human being will think differently on two different occasions. Also, numeric scores are tough to calibrate, especially when relating them to things that aren't numbers. One person's 5 might be someone else's 3, and vice versa.

Most people agree that if only one person dings you for a particular flaw, you may not actually have that problem in your writing. However, if two or more people comment on it--you'd probably better take a closer look.

And here's another thing to think about. This is just My opinion, of course, but I'd rather have a story that people either loved or hated than a story they felt lukewarm about. This is another reason some contest entries can have a wide spread in the scores. If it's different, some people will love it, and some won't, and they can be vehement about that love or hate.

So--contest scoresheets and comments should be taken carefully, with a fair bit of salt, and even more time to get them down. This is when it becomes gut-check time. 'Cause really--you know in your gut if the comments are right. Really. You do. Those are usually the ones that cause the biggest denial, the biggest defensiveness. If the comments are way off and don't suit your story at all, those comments you can laugh at. It's actually possible to laugh. The ones that are true--those are the ones that pinch. They hurt, because you know they're right.

So are you going to get all defensive and post an ugly rant about how the judges don't know what they're doing, etc., etc.? Or are you going to cowboy up and do the work?

Yeah, I know sometimes it feels like the judge is taking your story apart and making it into something that's not really yours. But is she/he really? Is it a fundamental change in what your story is about--or is she just trying to get you to cut off the fish head?

("Fish head" is a term from Britta Coleman, author of Potter Springs. Just as, when you cooking a whole fish for your guests you need to cut off the head and set it aside (because those grandkids won't eat anything that looks at them) you need to cut the fish head off your story in order to serve it properly. The fish needed it to get around before it made it to your kitchen. The story probably needed it to get written--but you don't need it now. Cut that sucker off. It's done. Start the story on the day that's different.)

And stop obsessing about scoresheets. Think of it as practice for submitting your manuscript to an agent or editor. They're people too. Some of them will like your story, and some of them won't. If you're very lucky, some of them will make comments about things you could do to improve it. Most of them will just send a polite "No thanks." That's when you pull up your big girl panties and deal.

Don't get mad. Get even. Write a better book and sell that one.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

House Hunters a la Galveston Island

We are finally doing some serious looking for a house. This may all change if we don't get the answer we expect from the mortgage company, but we have started the process and have been to some open houses and gone driving through neighborhoods, as well as doing a lot of cruising on line. Some houses look better in person than they do on line. Some look worse, especially after you drive by the neighbor's houses.

Anyway, because I get a kick out of watching House Hunters on HGTV, I'm going to do my own little version of House Hunters here on my blog. We will have more than 3 houses to pick from here, because I have infinite (sort of) space to post stuff. I probably won't post Every house we look at, just the ones that are possible.

So, that said, we went to some open houses on Sunday. One of them moved directly from our "possible" list to our "no" list--the house had been damaged in Hurricane Ike (all the ones we looked at on Sunday took on water during the hurricane--75% of the houses on the island flooded) and hadn't been put back together well. The other two--one of them moved from the "probably not" list to the "might work" list, and the other from not even on the list to the "liked it-but there are issues" list.

So, the house we liked is a historic home across the street from the medical school on the island. The current owner works there. We do not, but it's a quick hop to Harborside which is a mostly straight shot to the newspaper, and a pretty quick jaunt to the fella's work.

It's a pretty house, with essentially no yard whatsoever. There is a small flower-bed-type area in front of the house. The back of the house is a patio. No room for trees--except maybe a palm tree, and given that they mostly survived the hurricane and the freeze this winter, that might not be a bad idea. There is also a small deck on back of the house. It is much larger inside than it looks from the outside. And those 14 foot ceilings (or maybe higher--they are Very High) make the rooms look even larger.

It did take on about two feet of water in the hurricane (Everything in Galveston is divided into "before Ike" and "after Ike"), but the remediation job is gorgeous. The original wood floors were completely refinished, the walls redone--the job was done Right. (And 2 feet of water is nothing, considering downtown businesses mostly got 8 to 10 feet of water, and houses near us took on 4 feet.)

The rooms are large--except for a tiny little den-type room they have set up with a TV. I think it's too little for our den furniture. There's a sunporch-type room that might fit our stuff and be usable as a den, and I would take the den room (with the laundry room right off it) for my office, but the fella makes a face when I say that.

The bedrooms upstairs are huge. There are two full baths upstairs, and there are actually closets (which can be an issue in an older home-this one dates to 1897 or so, which means it survived the massive 1900 storm too). And there is a garage. Two cars with storage. Those are the pros.

The cons--those 14-foot ceilings mean the staircase is Very Long and kinda steep. (This is the view from the top of the stairs, looking toward the front door.) I have bad knees. The idea of carrying a laundry basket down those stairs gives me the heeby-jeebies. And the den/study issue is problematic.

Also, the exterior is wood siding. This is an island on the Gulf of Mexico. The weather is Hard on paint. Things that would require re-painting inland in 10 years tend to need painting in 5 years here. And the fella isn't wild about that idea--having to paint frequently. You saw in the picture just how much there is to paint on the outside of this house. (Even those 30-year paints only last about half as long in this climate.)

The missing yard is an issue too, given that part of the reason I want my own house is that I want my own dog. A small dog would be all right, but the fella isn't wild about small dogs. (He scowls at the idea of a dog at all...)

So--this is on the "liked it" list. It has all the requirements. The location is decent, though it's not in a neighborhood, per se, being across the street from the hospital. It has a separate den/TV room, or a room that could be used that way. It has a garage. I could see myself living here (except for that laundry-basket-on-the-stairs issue).

The other house that's on the "might do" list was on the other end of the city. We did drive out past the end of the seawall to look at houses in the closest bayside subdivision, but--besides not caring for the houses--the fella decided it would take too long to get to work in the mornings. So we're pretty much looking in the city, behind the seawall.

This second house was much newer (by about 100 years). It took on several feet of water--somewhere between 2 and 4 feet. The repair was done well in some places, and not so well in others.

It has a small parlor-type room right inside the front door, then opens out into a good-sized dining room with a den/living area beyond. The kitchen's off to the right with a breakfast area, and a little courtyard right outside that is in pretty good shape. The tree is still deciding whether it's going to live or not, but it's a pretty area. There's a good-sized covered deck off the den (needs paint) and a smallish yard--but it is a yard. And the master bedroom is downstairs. The re-do of the master bath is very nice. Slate floor, slate around the bathtub, separate shower, double sinks.

The not-so-good stuff--the kitchen re-do is not very good. You can't see it in this picture, but the counter tops are pretty. Red-and-gray granite. I like the counter tops. But there's not much counter space, that central hood thing is weird, and the oven and microwave are almost too tiny to cook in. And--see how the counter top on the island extends beyond the cabinet? There's a gap like that next to the refrigerator. About a foot more counter top than there is cabinet. It looks weird. We would probably have to redo the kitchen again. The house is priced so we could do that, but it would be a pain.

Also, the stairs--they are not so good. I can't get my whole foot on a stair tread. The stairs used to be open at the back--suspended--and now they aren't. So they're too short. Admittedly, I have big feet for a girl, but that means that almost no adult male alive can get his feet on the treads. There are two bedrooms upstairs, one of which would have to be my office. It would be a good thing to be able to fit my feet on the stairs. But at least there's only about 10 feet worth of stairs, not 14 or more. And once the boy graduates (in May, we hope) there wouldn't be laundry upstairs that needed bringing down.

This one is an "okay, but not wonderful" house.

We're still waiting to see what the bank says, so we haven't called any agents yet to get in to see some of these other houses we've found online. We'll do more open houses this coming weekend. Maybe we'll find some more houses to go on the "liked it" or "might do" lists.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Songs, Poetry and Lovely Words

Once upon a time, I was at a conference, and the faculty member/poetry judge (who was an English Lit prof) said something to the effect of "It doesn't necessarily have to make sense, as long as the language is beautiful."

To which I recoiled, aghast. (Which is a fun word, in itself. Aghast. It's even spelled in a fun way.)

As said last week, or the week before, I'm all about the story. If the art doesn't serve the story, it should be excised. However, I'm a novelist. I'm not even very good at short stories, much less short-shorts, and flash fiction? Fuggeddaboudit. (Or however that's spelt.)

When I was in high school, my English teacher gave an assignment to rewrite Beowulf as a Western. I wrote 13 pages (front-and-back, college-ruled paper--and I write pretty small), and wasn't through. I have never been a short-storyteller. But, I think there IS a place for pretty language that doesn't necessarily serve the story. Poetry.

I don't read a lot of poetry. It's not really "my thing," and--as in many other areas, I have what's considered rather plebeian taste in poetry. I like rhythmic, rhyming stuff. Things that are almost songs, just in the words. And I like poetry a lot as song lyrics. There's some pretty bad poetry in lyrics, but there's some good stuff out there too.

Thing is--and I don't think this is a contradiction--I don't like song-stories, otherwise known as ballads, very much. I like the older ballads well enough--things like The Highwayman or The Ballad of New Orleans--but things like "Lucille" or "A Boy Named Sue"? Not so much. Because once I've heard the story, I've heard it. I don't want to hear it a bazillion times more, even if it is set to music. I know how it comes out. (When combined with my antagonism toward monotonous boring music, this makes "Ode to Billy Joe"--the old 60s song about how "Billy Joe McAlister jumped off of Tallahatchee Bridge"--into my most despised song Ever.)

I'm sure y'all can name any number of exceptions, but I really prefer songs that--like poetry--create an emotion. A moment in time. A bit of "this is how I feel at this moment." Poetry is, to me, more like painting and music. Ephemeral stuff that bypasses the logical left brain and does a whammy on the emotive right brain--except poetry uses words and so has to bring the left brain in on it. Even poems like "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning (which is a favorite) is about a moment. It tells a story, but it's still a moment in time, a kick of emotion.

So--poetic words can have their place in a novel, by creating moments of emotion. But in a novel, they have to serve the story.

I'm not sure I've made any sense at all here. I know I've wandered all over the place and probably haven't conveyed what I was attempting to say--but I tried.

Oh, and it looks like I may be going back to a more regular PT job. The girl who took over during my "leave of absence" is departing at the end of next week, and I'll be back at the newspaper on a more regular basis. Not sure how I feel about that, but... We'll get by.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

My new pretty thing

I was going to blog about poetry and words and art and stuff, but I'm not feeling very poetic. Or wordy, or art-y, though I might be feeling somewhat stuffy. Anyway, I decided not to blog about that, but instead, to see if I could show you my spiffy new sorta-toy.

It's not really a toy. It's a beautimous cover for my toy. You can see the Sony e-book reader inside the open cover here.

See, I broke the cover the reader came with. I dropped it, and the plastic spine up the back cracked. I read it for several more days before the end cracked all the way through, but eventually, it broke in two pieces, and would no longer hold the book reader.

I still kept it in the original reader, for protection, when I wasn't actually reading, but I took it out to read. Still, it would slip out when I put it in my bag, and slide around and annoy me. And I found this Place. Oberon Design had a PR post card at ApolloCon last year. They may have had jewelry and leather also, but I don't remember. I went to the website to look at jewelry--which is very cool--and saw the Very Neat leather goods. With e-Reader Covers! They have them for Kindles too, but I don't have one of those, do I?

Now I will let you look at the awesome design on the front. It is a Chinese river garden. They have many, many awesome designs, and I was sorely tempted by the dragon, and the raven, and the starry sky. But I wound up getting this one, because it was the one that kept drawing my eye first off. (The design continues onto the back.) And it's red. Each design only comes in a couple of colors. I like red, though I didn't get the red Sony reader.

Anyway, I think the cover is very spiffy. I like it whole bunches and have to show it off to everybody. And sooner or later, I will get around to writing about poetry and songs and art and words and stuff. When I'm feeling more arty. :)