Will She Make It? Take Two

Nah, she didn’t make it to the writer’s meeting, but I did–all 9 months of me.

However, for those who are interested in life a day after a writer’s meeting then I’ll tell you the following:

Bronwen Elise Preston was born February 25, 2008.
She was 7lbs 14.5oz.
She was 19.5 inches long.
We’re still trying to figure out the hair color and the eyes are blue for the moment.

For those of you considering natural childbirth–you’re crazy, an epidural is the only way to go.
For those of you who are wondering if you were one of the lucky ones whose work was critiqued while I was at the hospital…well, you’ll have to wait and see.


And a side note about choosing reading material when giving birth:

Originally I was saving Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job for the book to read while being induced. I felt humor would be best when dealing with poking nurses, long needles, and gooey general things. Luckily, I started the book early.

Do you know what the opening scene is?

Yeah, a woman dying after childbirth.

Just read the opening chapter of whatever you’re intending to bring with you…that’s all I’m saying.

Will She Make It?

I have not had a ‘writer’ fix for two months now. Sure, I met up with the Pirates on the first Thursday of the month, but we didn’t do much writing talk (I was too busy being gifted with Pirate Baby Swag…thanks guys!).

Now the Sunday critique meeting is coming up. And my baby seems lodged permanently in my tummy. I have money that says she’ll show up on Sunday. That means another writer meeting missed (I missed the first one because of a baby shower) and I probably won’t go because I will be induced early on Monday if she doesn’t show. This may sound like callous whining…but darn it!

I’ve not been writing because I wanted to take a break. Now I feel breaked. I’m suffering from crazy writing-withdrawl. It is unnatural for a writer to not be writing. It feels irresponsible. Empty.

I Wanna Print Something!

I’ve been out of printer toner for about two months now, and that’s tragic enough. Today I purchased a two-pack of the toner necessary to get my printer up and running…then tore apart my husband’s stash of cables to find the correct ones to connect to the computer (nope, the printer has not been hooked up since we moved!) and now everything is set.

And lo! I have nothing to print.

Printer’s block. Who knew?

Villains Unite!

Perhaps I have been stuck at home too long now. So far I think I have watched the movie Underdog thirteen more times than is healthy.

But it’s made me wonder about villains. Dr. Bar Sinister is the evil-doer in this particular movie, going toe-to-toe with the wonderous Underdog. Admittedly, even the hero is cartoony but the villain is at least as phony. Yes, I know it’s for kids…I’m not that slow. Still.

What makes a great villain? Why is someone like Batman’s Joker so scary and someone like Batman’s Mr. Freeze so not? Goofy powers? I mean, the Penguin can lean towards the comical…but Danny DeVito’s portrayal definitely freaked me out. Then there’s Superman’s Lex Luther–odd land-grab plots aside, he’s a fairly decent villain…definitely maniacal enough to hold attention, if not necessarily scare the pants off of you.

Character Sketches: Take Two

So I’ve been doing the sketches, which is like pre-writing with real writing, and it’s taking some adjusting.

I’ve got the main characters and the main plot for the first book and a ‘controversy’ for the next book. Over it all I have a vague/hazy idea about what the main, overarching plot should be for the kid’s series itself.

However, it is very interesting. I find myself cutting off the development of the vague/hazy idea short every time I get to it because I don’t really want to know yet. I just want to know my people. Two of them became especially interesting last night during this exercise.

If anyone out there has done character sketches: how much time do you focus on the history of your character vs. the personality of your character. There’s a difference…I’ve avoided the history because that’s been coming up organically and the personality that these guys have will determine how they react in the situations I give them, but it also makes me want to go further into the story at the same time.

Thanks to Elizabeth George

I finished reading Write Away, Elizabeth George’s take on novel writing. She writes mysteries and her approach is totally different than mine. I’m one of those people who writes and then sorts it all out later. But, being between projects at the moment, and seeing as how I wanted to try my hand at a kids book, I thought I’d try something totally different–you know, as an exercise.

One of the things George recommends before jumping into the novel writing is a character sketch…a heavily detailed character sketch. Her argument is that if you know who your characters are before you start, then the story will basically tell itself because “character is plot”. So she says to sit down with your notebook and write out, in present tense, everything you know or think you know about your main character. When you’re done, proceed with the secondary characters.

I did just this and wow! It was actually fun. I took the main character for my kid book and put him through his paces. When I finished, I knew his motivations and drives and his friends. Not only did I get enough for this first book in the series, I pretty much saw the whole series (six books in all) laid out in front of me. Who knew?

The only flaw: Generally I figure this stuff out as I go anyway, and I’m worried that the actual writing (when I get there) will feel less like I’m discovering something…seeing as how I did all the discovering pretty early on. Of course, the only way to know that is to do the writing…but I’m still working out the supporting cast…see my difficulty?

But, if you’re feeling like you’re stuck and you’re a little more left-brained than me, then I would recommend this exercise. It is fun.

On Being a Professional "Beginner" and The Movie: The Prestige

So, I did not get the critiques done for last month because I wasn’t going to make it to the meeting anyway and now I have to do two months worth of short stories and novel chapters. You know what I have found interesting in the pile of work of before me? The amount of beginnings.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that, for a lot of writers, creating the beginning may be the difficult part, but for others it’s hard to get past the starting line. There’s a lot of revving the engine, and that seems like action, but then you never hit the gas and go, so it’s only the promise of action.

I like to think of the trailer for The Prestige when I think about how to structure a story…partly because I like any excuse to think about Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman….In the trailer you hear Michael Caine’s voice explain “The Pledge” “The Turn” and “The Prestige.” Here is my interpretation to the writing of stories (particularly longer works like novels, I’ll use the group’s round story to avoid picking on any on person, while picking on all of us…):

1. The Pledge: The opening, the beginning, if you will. This is where you establish who your main character is, what his problems are, and how you’re going to solve it (which may or may not be accurate/clear at this point). Basically, you’re making a promise to the reader: “You will love this character who is surrounded by a mad cast of other characters (who you will also love) and who is searching for love via his dreams.”–My rough guesstimation of the promise made by our group to the reader in our round story. This pledge can continue for a few chapters while you make the world a messy place to live and complicate the problem further…it’s a continuation of the same promise and the bigger the mess you make, the bigger the next two parts have to be. Quite frankly, our group made a huge messy promise and now must work its way out…but how to do that?

With “The Turn”: This is a mini-climax near the beginning of the middle where the story takes what is promised and brings it all to a head by streamlining all those fragmented pieces. In Emma it’s where Frank Churchill enters the picture…pulling the focus from Emma’s matchmaking (which is in the Pledge to the Reader part of the novel) and adding the idea that she may need a man herself…initially to be thought of as Frank Churchill himself. It’s the biggest new complication that takes all those little ones and sheds new light on them. In the round story, that would be where the will comes into the picture and the contests. Now you’ve taken the mad cast of characters, threatened them, and now they have to work themselves out. If your situation is messy enough, the sorting out of this turn should take you a while to untangle….Leading you to:

The Prestige: The climax. The be-all-end-all. But here’s the trick with the Prestige…all the elements have to be in place to begin with. Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel discusses the idea that if something is wrong with the end of the book, it’s because some key element is missing from the beginning. I can’t use the round story for this because we haven’t made it to the end yet. Looking at Emma again: the prestige is where Emma finally listens to what Mr. Knightley has to say and it’s that he loves her and wants to marry her. Who is Knightley, you ask? Well, he’s the guy that was there in the first chapter, spending time and attention to the whole of Emma’s family. He’s the guy that was her conscience through all the other mischief she was getting up to. In other words: his revelation and her acknowledgement would be the prestige. The key that made the whole thing go together…otherwise it’s just about a spoiled girl who learned nothing and went about her spoiled little rich life.

Now that I’ve gone on, I’m going to go just a little longer…

In the critiques I’ve been doing, I’ve noticed that the Turn is the most difficult part. There are lots of beginnings and promises being made, but no one is turning all those complications. So there’s just the promise of a good story. And, of course, once you’ve made the Turn, the next hardest part is the Prestige, the pay off, the Turn-take-two as it were. In one case I’m on page 200+ and can’t find the turn anywhere–there’s a second case that’s not as bad as this in that there’s 40+ pages, but I’m not sure the problem is being complicated/promised quickly enough. In another case I think we got to the Turn and then turned back to the beginning instead of driving forward. In one more case I noticed that just a small tip of the problem was introduced amongst all the scenery.

I’ve probably had a little too much time to think about all this. But what are some other opinions out there on how to structure a big story? How can you move past the “Pro Beginner” stage and into the “Pro Finisher” stage?