The Hedgehog and Feast for Crows – Incomplete Series Troubles?

I am of the general belief that revisions can wait until the book is done. Finish the rough draft, take a break, come back and rework the story accordingly. My reasoning for this is pretty straightforward: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve finished it. Though, yes, you can certainly revise as you go and make a more polished work – you’re still (probably) gonna have to revise big chunks based on where you went with the story. Holes and lost threads are kind of par for the course in this writing gig.

As my friend Deb puts it (and I’m paraphrasing here): That hedgehog you had on page five? Who knew how important that hedgehog would be? The hedgehog saves the story! The hedgehog is the linchpin! He holds everything together.

But when you wrote the hedgehog on page five, you didn’t know that. And! It could go the opposite way: you thought the hedgehog was going to be SuperImportant…but it turns out the hedgehog was just a hedgehog after all.

Which brings me to the book that most George R.R. Martin fans flung across the room. (My husband included.) This is book four in the series: A Feast for Crows.

The reason a lot of fans took issue – and in some cases still take issue – with this middle novel was because the main characters faded into the background. Martin made a very concious decision to focus on a set of characters in a certain geographical section of his world. Information had to be disseminated and, as the author, he felt this the best way to get it out there.

Now, I trust that Martin has a clear vision of his world. I trust that he has more of an idea where he wants to go with the story than his readers/editors/publishers because it’s his story. That being said, however, I can’t help but wonder – or worry? – that since the series isn’t actually finished it’s more like a rough draft than a completed work.

When you’re writing one book it’s difficult enough to know where the hell you’re going until you’re there. Now stretch that difficulty along the length of seven books. Sure, Martin has finished five of the seven books, and he seems back on track with book five: A Dance with Dragons. But there are two loose books out there.

How does he know what the hedgehog will do? Is A Feast for Crows going to turn out to be really unecessary? Or will it be the linchpin, the cornerstone, and the readers just can’t see it yet?

For example, looking back on another awesomely famous series: Harry Potter. Let’s examine Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love Rowling. I love Harry. However. The only part of that entire book we, as readers, needed was the fact that Voldemort came back to a body. That’s it. The adventure was interesting – though convaluted. (I mean, what a pain-in-the-ass plan to get Harry to touch a portkey, right? Made me question the deviousness of the bad guys…can’t they keep it simple?) If there’s any unecessary hedgehog in that series, it’s in Goblet of Fire.

Some of this comes – I’m sure – from the writer not knowing what’s really necessary until the end. Threads get lost in the smallest books. A huge series with thousands of pages has millions of threads and, therefore, way more opportunity for meandering/getting lost.

However, Rowling pulled it off with a minimum of hedgehogs and I’m certain that Martin will too. How so? Well, I’m not in their heads, but I’m pretty sure that there are some techniques that control the potential chaos.

1. Knowing the end.
Rowling knew down to the last word the ending of Harry Potter. Sure, that word changed. But she had her vision and stuck to it. Thus, less hedgehogs. And Martin, I’m pretty darn sure, knows where he’s going. For all the Starks that die and shift and adjust – they’re still gonna be the big dogs at the end. (Ha! Dogs.)

***Oh! And because I like making predictions, and because I’ve only read the first two books so I feel cocky enough to predict the end based on the beginning…Jenny’s predictions for the end of the series!:
1.) Bran will ride one of the dragons = war hero. And, if both Jon and Danerys bite it…he’s gonna be the big leader.
2.) Jon and Danerys are gonna be the big leaders – one or the other might die and one or the other might rule…or (this is my real bet) they fall in love and rule jointly. Either way they’re not only going to be the big leaders, but they’re going to care deeply for each other.
3.) Tyrion’s probably gonna die. Sorry. But it will be one of the more affecting deaths because it’ll be near the end in a glorious victory that he created. Bittersweet.
4.) Sansa…well, I don’t know about her. She seems like someone who will grow into the manipulative Cersei, but for good instead of evil. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s some kind of bard-like character who tells the story. She is fascinated by fairy tales and legends, after all.
5.) Arya – she could go one of a million different ways. Struggling with her a bit. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the one who took out Tyrion somehow….***

2. Tracking
Ali keeps her Book Bible. I’m 99.99999% certain that Martin does too. Perhaps it’s a shoebox full of ideas and scraps – like Rowling – or perhaps it’s a three ring binder that contains maps and character sketches and scene orders. But I’m willing to bet money I don’t have that he’s got something, somewhere that works as an outline/guideline. Because if he’s keeping all this world information in his head – I want his brain.

What other techniques can writers use to track their work? How do you control the chaos that results from rough drafts/lengthy series details?  

I’m a Winner!: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

It’s Tuesday again folks. And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!
And there’s one big thing I’ve done in the last week:

I WON NANOWRIMO!!!!!!!!!!!!

50,000 total new words for my work in progress in the last month!!!!!

*crowd cheers*

So, about equals about 10,000 new words on my work in progress for the week.

That’s really probably enough, isn’t it?

And I’m not alone. Crossing the finish line with me: my good dear friend Deb and my good dear spouse Shane.

A big hearty congratulations to everyone who wrote this past month. And to everyone who is still punching those keys: STOP READING RIGHT NOW AND GET TO WORK.

It was a great experience and now I shall list what I have learned:

1. Having someone to write with is a good thing. Early on in the month I was gonna throw in the towel. Then Shane got a fire lit under his own typing fingers and sped past me. In one day he banged out 7,000 words, made me feel like a total bum, and therefore I kicked my own ass to keep up. Because, really, I should not get beaten by people with full time jobs. If they can do it, I can do it. No excuses.

He still kept ahead of me throughout the month. *Jenny’s carrot*

Until I saw the magical ‘40,000’ on the bottom of my Word screen. After that I was not stopping, I wasn’t slowing down for anyone and ditched everyone and everything to end NaNo early on Sunday. I was beyond thrilled.  

So it served to prove that, all too often, I’m the person in my own way.

2. I need a sketch pad or something where I can sketch out floor plans, ground plans, street maps, or whatever. The idea for this had already been in the back of my head because of an Umberto Eco essay in Confessions of a Young Novelist. I don’t have the book in front of me, but Eco talks about how he added dialogue because a set of stairs in The Name of the Rose was long and the characters should be talking all the way down. Basically, he was so aware of space and location that he had his characters behave accordingly.

I think I need to do that — and the point was brought home to me via my writer’s group on Sunday. Basically, the end section of Part I is confused. There’s a lot of action, but no one knows where anyone else is in relation to the whole. Part of that is me not having a clear idea of where or what I want my characters to be doing.  I also forgot where I put the kitchen. And the home office.

This is stuff you need to know, ya know?

3. Writing is a reward in itself. Yesterday, when I had nothing I had to write, I still had a million and one things I wanted to get down on paper. I actually stopped myself because my well is really really really dry at the moment. It was energizing to get all that stuff down, but I need to get my bearings a little bit.

Today I’m going to continue work on a short story, but I’m going to take it nice and slow.

How are you guys recovering? Revving up for the holidays?

Consistency of Physical Description

I have trouble keeping track of the various eye colors of my characters through one book. In my last completed draft of a book, I caught at least three variations of eye color of my main character’s eyes. Apparently I just couldn’t decide. So, as I read through Christie’s body of work, my main thought is: Damn, this girl’s consistent.

And creative. She paints a definite portrait of Poirot, but uses different methods to get there. The only thing that is perfect every time is the picture of the character.

Take for example the following descriptions of Hercule Poirot’s moustache throughout a few books:

from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926): “Over the wall, to my left, there appeared a face. An egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense mustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes.”

from Murder on the Orient Express (1934): “Hercule Poirot addressed himself to the task of keeping his moustaches out of the soup. That difficult task accomplished, he glanced round him whilst waiting for the next course.”

from Cards on the Table (1936): “While the Lovely Young Thing made a suitable reply, Poirot allowed himself a good study of the hirsute adornment on Mr. Shaitana’s upper lip. A fine moustache – a very fine moustache – the only moustache in London, perhaps, that could compete with that of M. Hercule Poirot.”

Throughout all of these descriptions, we have moustaches (Poirot’s signature trait), as well as Poirot’s fussiness about his appearance. (There are other creative references to his too-dark hair and egg-shaped head too.)

My good writer buddies, Ali and Deb, both have mentioned to me that they keep bibles for their books. This is something that I’m trying to do with my current WIP. But that’s just to keep me straight on what I’ve done already…it has nothing to do with giving a consistent description in varied, lively ways.

Sure, the descriptions in a series really just have to bring new readers up to speed. It doesn’t have to be new. (Sweet Valley High – I’m looking at you with Jessica and Elizabeth and their perfect size-six super-model good looks!) Generally, readers are gonna skim during those physical descriptions anyway, right?

Well, I say that’s no way to treat your reader!

Homework for this weekend: Take the physical description of your character and spin ’em around a little bit. Feel free to share your experiments in the comments section (if you’re feeling brave) and if you have any tips for keeping character traits straight (say that three times really fast!) please give tidbits! My book’s bible is getting so ridiculously full that I’m not sure how helpful it’ll be to me….

The Process, Again

Everyone’s process is different. Everyone’s process switches up too.

The original set-up for the CWC (one of my awesome writers’ groups) was based on a writers’ group somewhere up in New England. I’d read about this group in Writer’s Digest and it sounded just intense enough for me and my buddies. The idea was that on alternating months some writers handed in 50-100 pages, the rest of us would critique the pages and then hand in our own 50-100 pages the next month.

You know what was awesome about that set up? Four out of five of us have at least two manuscripts in rough draft form. Deb has a monumental 4. Score us!

You know the difficulty with that set up? There is no time to revise. People have different processes. Like NaNo — after a while churning out pages is just not enough.

I’m excited by CWC has decided to do: mix it up. Some of us work great with deadlines (Ali and me). Some people just need pressure (Shane). Some of us need to the freedom to write without having other voices in their head (Deb). And some just need some time and space to figure out what they want to do with the stuff they already have (Mary, Deb, and me). And there are various other things that a writer needs.

Basically, we’ve proven that we can produce. Now the goal is to work on what we need to…and just bring proof that we’ve done it. If we need things critiqued, then we get them critiqued. If someone has finished a full draft and needs first readers, we do it. If we need to exercise our writerly muscles, we do that.

It’s awesome.

Office Supplies–The Real Reason We’re Writers

As I’ve gone through August, buying school supplies and whatnot for the kids (and myself!) and after a couple recent-er posts from buddies Deb and Ali, I have figured out the real reason that we’re writers.

You would think that it would have something to do with the fact that we were all big readers growing up and, therefore, we fell in love with the written word and stories. You would be correct, that certainly played a part.

You might also think that the bookstore holds a certain magical quality for us. The rows and rows of books written by people alive and dead…the dead still able to speak to us even now. (Though we can’t understand a word of what Joyce is saying, he is still talking. Sorry, with one exception: Deb understands him.) Your assumptions would be correct here also.

However, there is a tipping point for all things. That proverbial straw of hay that breaks a camel’s back and, in turn, changes mere mortals to writers. That straw was an Office Max/Staples/You Name the Big Office Supply Store for me, and it looks like Ali and Deb too. I suspect that we are not alone.

Imagine it with me now:

  • The reams of paper boxed for my printing pleasure.
  • The rows of ballpoint, inkjet, and gel pens lined up for my hand to pick the perfect fit!
  • Don’t forget the file folders to organize my legion of rough drafts.
  • The corner of Post-its just waiting for me to stick the important note regarding the major plot point of my novel next to my computer screen.
  • White boards with multi-colored dry-erase markers waiting for me to write notes and goals, only to erase them again and write more notes and goals.
  • Notebook paper gathered in spirals and three ring binders filled to bursting with my brilliant prose!
  • Paperclips and binder clips in decorative designs to keep my critique submissions in order!
  • Manila folders and manuscript mailing boxes to send my novel to the DREAM AGENT!!!

WHY ON EARTH ISN’T EVERYONE A WRITER?! It’s like perpetual Christmas.

August is here–’tis the Back-to-Writing season! Go forth and find that perfect rollerball to make you happy!

Time to Pay Up

It’s that day:

The day that I must pay up on bet conditions. Since Ali beat me (smoked me! creamed me! made me sit in the corner and cry for three days!) I must now take her to dinner with Deb.

Here is also where I must tell you that Ali, while demonish, is no where near as diabolical as I am. Had I won, I had plans for The Pepper Tree–a very hoity toity kinda restaurant in town with the bestest steaks ever! Also very expensive. Also on my list was Petite Maison because Deb has always said how good that place is. Another alternative in my brain was a trip to Denver and a high quality restaurant that none of us had been to, but that would require a tie and jacket.

Luckily, Ali chose the Texas Roadhouse in Pueblo. It’s far more in a struggling writer’s price range.

Ali should be thanking her lucky, hard-working stars that she kicked my tail…because otherwise tonight would’ve set her back a ways….

And on a related note as far as word count goes:

I was reading in an advanced magazine at work about Stephen King’s new book Under the Dome. Apparently it should be called Under the Tome. The thing weighs in at 4 pounds, over 1,000 pages, and has over 100 characters. See Ali? Just when you think you’ve outdone yourself, someone goes and shows us that we have soooo many more words to write.

What I’m Learning From This Race

For those of you who may have missed the last couple posts, or may not have understood them, my friends Deb, Ali, fellow blogger B. Freret, and I are all in race to see who can get the most words written in two weeks.

I’m not going to talk about our word count now.

Right now I’d like to talk about this process and what it does to your brain (or, at least, my brain because I’m not entirely sure what happens to other brains….)

1. Focus. This is probably the whole point of any writing contest. Like National Novel Writing Month, you just move your focus away from time-suckers.
2. Little bits count as much as big bits. A lot of writers feel they don’t have time to write because they feel they have to have big blocks of time to create. While bigger blocks are certainly more helpful, they are not necessary. Many professional writers talk about how they write now–not how they wrote when they were 9-5 jobbers like us, so please keep in mind that a lot of great novels were written bit by bit, in the moments that could be stolen as well as planned. And trust me, if you feel you can’t get a lot of words out in a day, it’s because you’re plotting to spend a couple hours at a desk. Since this competition began I’ve averaged 6 pages a day…and I have not had more than an hour in front of a desk at any given time.
3. If you’re struggling with a plot point, you’re pushing too hard. Cut loose a little bit and see what happens. Speed fixes a lot of blocks.

All right. Enough with this mini-lesson. Back to writing!