Saturday, October 20, 2018

Well and truly stuck.

I'm stuck at 38,000 words with "Eden's Return."

This is rare for me. It's happened a couple of times before, but in both cases I was aware of the problem and was just trying to figure out a solution. This time I'm not sure what is wrong.

Went on my walk yesterday fully expecting to break through, but managed only about 500 words. By the time I got home I realized that I'd have to throw the whole scene out.

I'm not going to push this. I'm going to try to tease out the proper solution. Give my subconscious time to come up with it.

I was telling Linda I was stuck, and then I said, "I want the story to go like this..."

I detailed the rest of the plot, and she chuckled and said, "I LIKE it!"

So there it is. I've cut the Gordian Knot.

But the problem hasn't been the plot. That I've had pretty firmly in mind. That and the themes. It's the "filler" that I'm having trouble with. All those little details that make up a story. I've always been able to come up with stuff, but right now I'm having trouble visualizing scenes.

So I'm not sure if I'm "unstuck" or not.

I can just push forward with the bare bones of the plot as a placeholder and come back in a month to try to fill in, but I'd prefer to have a nicely fleshed out story to start with.

I'm going to give it a few days to see if the words start flowing.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Form before content.

I think I've know what's slowing me down with "Eden's Return" and why it's so hard to get a handle on it:

I figured out the theme and where I wanted the plot to go and then tried to fill in. That is--I figured out the form before I figured out the content. I know what I want the characters to talk about, but until the last few days I couldn't think of a way to make it seem natural.

So now I've created a couple of new characters (or adapting existing characters, actually) that I will focus on, so that will possibly work. Though the motivations for the discussions may have to be worked out.

I have two themes I want to explore and research more and see if I can't beef up the content of the story a little.

1.) The Noble Savage. This was the original conception and it still holds. I need one of the characters to be an intellectual type, who can expound on the concept.

2.) The Garden of Eden and the loss of innocence. I'm adding a religious character who can spout some Bible verses.

I think I'll probably just riff on the themes--the philosophical content--and write them down, and then figure out which character says them and where. I don't know if this will work. I don't know if it will be lifeless, or will fit into the story. But I think I can probably pull it off. This is more of a crafting of a work with some intellectual ideas, tacked onto a purely action story.

Which I think is a good thing. The purely action story is just having the characters try to survive. The dialogue is basically, "Watch out!'' "Run!" that kind of thing. So it certainly could exist on that level alone and be fine. But I'd like to have some content that deepens the interactions a little more.

So for example--I've killed off more than half the characters, but the two main characters have only interacted up to now in a distant way. I need to draw them closer together. So I'm going back to the chapter I wrote yesterday and putting in a meeting with the two.

Now why is the girl helping them? Gratitude?--I haven't had them do anything for her. Just natural kindness?--well this works better because I make her a pure innocent. Curiosity?--definitely this. Loneliness?--this is probably closest to the mark, so I need to establish that.

But none of this seems quite right--or all of them.

Anyway, what I know is that I like the plot, the theme, and the main characters, which is pretty much the basis for a good book. I can fix the writing, I think.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Eden's Return" is coming slowly, but I'm determined to finish it this month. I can't have another incomplete story after abandoning "Castle LaMagie" and "The Wyvern Riders." In fact, when I'm done,  the next job is to finish those two stories as well.

Now that I'm 35K words into the story, I'm realizing I need certain characters to make the story work. Fortunately, I have a squad of 12 soldiers, so I can just adapt a couple of them to the necessary plot points.

Even when I don't do much writing on my walks, I'm figuring out the plot. I think I have a satisfactory ending now.  Maybe a little too on point, but there it is. If you're going to write about Eden, you probably can't be too subtle. 

I can't seem to suss all this out in advance. Fortunately, this time a least, it's just a matter of insertions to get the job done, instead of rearranging. I've had to completely rewrite the beginnings of both "Shadows Over Summer House" and "Fateplay." It actually was all right in the end, but I'd prefer not to have to do that.

So at least half of the quality of "Eden's Return" is going to have to come from the rewrite. This percentage seems to be varying for each book, anywhere from getting 50% right to 90% right.

I'm going to muddle through on these three stories, but the next time I start a new story, it's back to the old process which worked so well. I experimented with a slower pace and it didn't work.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Busybody that I am.

Sometimes it seems to me that I can see clearly what others should do, in both writing and in storefronts.

I can walk into a store and figure out a dozen ways to improve it instantly, without a huge amount of investment, just by reorganizing.

I can read a story and instantly figure out a dozen ways to clean it up, sharpen it, and make it much better.

Or so I tell myself. (I hereby formally recognize the caveat that I might be wrong.)  

Can I do anything about it? Hell, no. In fact, I have to be careful not to say much at all. People don't appreciate it. Either I couch it in such a diplomatic way that they pay no attention, or I try hard to convince them, which repels them.

Even in writer's group, which is more or less set up for this purpose, I have to be very careful and selective with what I say, and with the knowledge that they probably won't take my advice anyway.

So here's the thing: what if there are people out there who can do the same thing for me--both in my writing and my storefront? How would I accept it or reject it?

I think I have a rare turn of mind, frankly. Analyzing constantly. Cutting to the quick. So the truth is there probably aren't that many people who can do it. And those who can, are constrained by the same problems of diplomacy as I am. But most of all--everyone is busy with their own stuff, you know? Including me--so that if anyone actually did take me up on my offer, I'd probably find myself over my head rather quickly.

It drives me nuts sometimes. Especially in bookstores. "Just do this," I want to say. "Try it!" I want to go in and start cleaning and organizing and straightening. I want to pull books from the back and highlight them, and take other books and file them differently.

In writing, I want to take a red pen and slash and burn.

Last week at writer's group, I took one paragraph of a story and had my way with it. The story itself is very interesting and fun but the writer is a little addicted to modifiers and adverbs, so I went through that one long paragraph and cut them all, then read the result to her.

To me, the whole paragraph was vastly improved. She nodded her head as if she understood, but I never know whether they actually change things.

Obviously, it's much, much harder to see my own failings, in both business and in writing. I don't know what I don't know.

It's just that there are things I know, and I can see how some of those things could help others, and I have to just watch as they--in my opinion--do it wrong. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Give me my SF and Fantasy straight, man. Don't dilute it.

I want to like Doctor Who, really I do. I want to like Terry Pratchett, really I do. I want to like Douglas Adams, really I do.

It would make things so much easier.

The humor escapes me. I mean, I love the bon mots of Buffy and Firefly, the Marvel movies, and so on.

But when it comes to straight SF or Fantasy the quirkiness pulls me right out of the story.

Linda and I watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who. I noticed that Linda was chuckling throughout the show but it got nary a chuckle out of me. It seems very light, not much to invest in. I mean, I've seen snippets of Doctor Who, such as the Van Gogh story, that were powerful, but when I watch the show itself I'm just sort of not interested.

Linda has shows she watches, and I have shows I watch, and I have shows that she watches with me, and she has shows I watch with her, and then there are shows that we both love.

Lodge 49 was a show that Linda watched because I was watching it. But by the end, she was fully into it.

"How can you not be?" I said. "It's kind and gentle and down-to-earth, just like you are."

I mean, talk about quirky--but I loved it.

So I can't explain my resistance to humorous SF and Fantasy. I 'm not altogether consistent--I loved Good Omens, for instance, which is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. But mostly, I'm turned off by it.

Give me my SF and Fantasy straight, man. Don't dilute it. 
The overall story mystique of "Eden's Return" has me in its grips. But the story itself--I'm struggling. Oh, I could write it. I have the basic framework in mind, but it wouldn't be remarkable in any way. It would be predictable and pedestrian.

The idea deserves better than that.

I'm trying to coax the inspiration out. I'll spend a couple of hours each day just hoping that a single thread of original thought will come to me. I've spent several days with nothing coming. I'm hoping for something a little more.

I basically have two story threads--one is reality based, a struggle for survival, the crew being picked off one by one. I mean, the reader would know by now that that is happening, so the only suspense is how exactly they get picked off and who, if anyone, is going to survive.

Even that, I'd like to bring something surprising to, but that may not be possible. This is more a matter of crafting the action, making it interesting and evocative.

The other storyline is more mystical and strange--and that's the part I want to fly. So far, I've had an "imaginary" friend, who is a manifestation of the Refuge, or Mother Nature, or whatever force created the Stasis.

So that was satisfying, and I'll be able to bring Artemis back when I want to.

The second mystical thing to happen is that Shani astro-projects, sees what is happening to the soldiers. That was also satisfying.

So far I don't think I've missed anything, but it is coming slowly, and I want to continue to have that feeling that I haven't missed anything. The moment I'm not satisfied is the moment I stop and try to coax out something different.

I haven't always done this. I've continued to write stories at a certain pace, and sometimes plot lines develop that I'm not completely satisfied with, but which fits the needs of the story and so I've gone with them.

I'm not going to do that anymore. Each choice needs to be one I feel comfortable with.

It is taking a lot longer--waiting for inspiration--but I have the time. I've written so many stories by now that I no longer fear being stuck. Something will happen, and I'll wait for it to happen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

More luck than planning.

I like the plot of "Eden's Return"--such as it is. It's very simple. More thematic in structure than twisty.

The simple is hard.

I have two viewpoint characters and I'm alternating chapters between them. My guess is that part one will come in at about 50K words. If there is a satisfying climax, that may be the whole book, allowing for a second book. If not, I'll need to continue and just make it a longer book.

50K means that it will end up around 60K because my rewrites always add about 15% to the total. 60K is more like the length of the books I wrote when I started out. When I thought I might be writing for the mainstream, I pushed myself into the +80K territory, and ended up with several books +100K, culminating in "Fateplay" which was 120K. 

It's been slow going, which is fine as long as I can keep my focus. My focus comes from really feeling like I've got the right action. So I've been inching my way, making sure I feel good about where each scene is going.

The writing is kind of clunky. This isn't one of those books where the first draft is close. But I've become resigned to the process of rewriting, of doing thorough second drafts. I think I'm even starting to like it, kinda, slightly, at least the results.

I'm purposely slowing down from the pell-mell pace I was going at for several years.

It's weird how I constantly feel like I'm just learning enough that maybe this time I can write that book that will have everything. Because that's what it takes. Everything you have, all the brains and emotions and experience you have.

The luck factor even in creation is much bigger than I'd have ever thought. That is, you need a good premise but you can't always tell what a good premise is until you write it, and then the process needs to work out, where you can really focus, then the plot has to go in the right direction, which doesn't always happen, and then you need a couple of characters to take over the book, and a surprise twist that you yourself didn't see coming, and then...well, like I said, everything has to come together and that seems more like luck than planning.

One thing is for sure--I need to have a fictional dream in my life or it feels empty, so not writing is simply not an option.