Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Writing from my head not my heart.

Once I transitioned into plot, I realized that I also transitioned into my head. These next 10 chapters are the meat of the book, where everything spirals out of control. It needs to be dramatic and emotional.

That isn't easy for me. How do I access those feelings? If I don't feel strongly about what's happening, how can I expect others to?

I've given myself plenty of time to write this book, so I'm willing to try to access that feeling, to not write further until something strikes me hard.

The danger in that is that the longer I take to write something, the harder that will be. So a bit of a Catch-22. I'll give it a week or so. Go for my walks and see if my subconscious insists on something. As I've said, there is outer directed and inner directed and often by this point in a book, (roughly halfway through) the outer directed becomes more prominent. It's unavoidable, I think, because the demands of the plot I have to craft the elements.

I figure I can go over the top on feeling and drama and can always scale back later. But the opposite isn't true. So instead of intellectually accessing story ideas, I need to tap into the emotions.

Today I'm going to work on the concept of being a "method" writer. That is, try to tap into something in my own life that is a parallel to the events in the book, try to act out those feelings on the page.

It may not work at all. It may be that I'll just have to go with my head, and hopefully my heart will follow. But I'm going to give it some time, see what develops. In every book there are a few scenes where I fully feel the emotion of the moment. I'd like to up the odds of that happening. 

Like I said, the longer I don't write, the harder it becomes, so it's a tradeoff.

I really think what I've written so far is the best I've done, by quite a bit. But I need to fulfill the expectation I've set up. It's ready from something a little deeper and more emotional than I've attempted in the past.

So here goes.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Advancement by Addition.

Someone said about "Game of Thrones" that George R.R. Martin's plots consist of advancement by addition. He doesn't really resolve things so much as add a new wrinkle. (One of the reasons the latter seasons of the show are so startling. Things happen.)

Anyway, for the first third of "Takeover" I was doing something similar. I was going into multiple character's heads, first person, giving each of them a little slice of the story. No real plot, just development of the situation and characters.

At that point, I realized I could keep doing that, but it would be difficult to resolve anything. Similar to real life, which is more a jumbled mess of conflicting viewpoints and events.

Or I could transition into a good old-fashioned plot. Trying to keep it real, but fictionalizing events for maximum dramatic effect.

I sent my writer friend, Dave, one of these later chapters and he instantly noticed the change in tone.

I don't think he liked it.

It did remind me to keep up the 'witness statements.' Wrote three right away and they were refreshing and real. So yeah, for every standard Jon narrative chapter, I think I need two or three of the WS's.

But I'm damned if I can see how to have a plot with that method alone. As evocative as the WS's are, they are sideways or additions or character development, but not advancement in plot.

I'm now 27K words into the story, and it's good enough that I'm worried about blowing it. I have to remind myself that no one really cares that much if I write another book. It's my thing and I need to do it the way I think it needs to be done.

So I'm just writing it one day at a time. I have the book plotted, pretty much, at least to the final third. I'd thought the "murder" was going to happen around 25K words, but it will be closer to 30K words. I thought the murder would be resolved by 30K words, but it will be more like 40K words. That's all to the good.

This book can be as long as I want it to be. Adding witness statements is a pretty flexible device. I seem to be really good at these short little inserts.

I did the same thing with Tuskers IV, putting in a little insert with each chapter, sort of like "Dune." Easy to write, usually very nice stylistically, a great way to include flavor and info outside the narrative. 

In this book, it's a great way to develop character.

But like I said, the subtlety of doing an entire plot that way is beyond me, I think.

Freedom of the whim.

It's amazing how often my stories, and some of my better stories at that, start out in jest, a whim, a response to something I just heard or read.

"Tuskers" came from a friend moving to Arizona and having javilinas tear up his yard and chase his dog and other shenanigans. I visualized a retired guy standing on a pile of pig bodies swinging a baseball bat like Conan the Barbarian.

"FREE MARS!"came from reading about child slave colonies on Mars. If ever there was a Heinleinesque science fiction adventure story...

What usually happens is that I write a quick little story, but the story just keeps going and going and before I know it, it's become a thing.

Because they start as throwaways, not really serious, I'm pretty much free to write what I want, and because of that idea that nothing is going to come of it, I think the writing is actually better than when I try to be serious and bare down.

The purity of it, the telling the story just to tell the story, is what makes it good. Which is pretty ironic, you know. Because most often they aren't commercial ideas, and so it don't matter in the least whether they are any good in their own right.

I never really understood the idea of "sell-out" but I'm kind of running into real world examples of it. Personally, I think its a silly idea. Writing to sell just means you're writing things people want to read and there is nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes I just want to write what I want to write, and that doesn't mean it will be something anyone else is interested in.

It hurts my brain to think about whether an idea is commercially viable.

Basically, it isn't relevant.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Floundered around yesterday, just couldn't get going.

Part of it was that the chapter I wanted to write was going to be difficult and I wanted to be sure that I had some of it written in my head before I put it on paper. Part of it was the heat and the distraction. Anyway, I wasted most of the day.

Then, around 6:00, I forced myself to go into the bedroom and Write Something. I got something started, not great, but a start.

Then around 8:00 I went for my walk along the canal, and that's when the ideas started flowing. Filled in the earlier material and wrote new material and got back to the house at 9:30 and went out onto the patio and kept writing, then inside to type it up and add even more. Finally finished around 11:30.

Read it to Linda and she said it was really good. She really seems to like this story.

Substantial chapter, 1800 words, and it wasn't too shabby.

I'm proud of myself for not giving up on the day.

Over my head?

There have been several times when I've felt the subject matter I wanted to write was above my skill level. A couple of times, I chose not to write it.

This time, I decided to do it, as a challenge. I've written so many books that I don't need to prove that to myself anymore. I can risk a few failures by overreaching.

This idea was so strong that even though I didn't know if I had the chops, I thought I'd try. After all, it's my book. It's not like I'm affecting anyone else.

I'm now 25K words into "Takeover," which is over a third of the first draft. I'd say so far that I've done some of my best writing, characterization, and plotting. But I still feel like it needs more. A little more depth and sophistication, intelligence and subtlety. I feel like I've got a feel for it--maybe because I'm a native central Oregonian, a desert rat, and I've soaked up these attitudes and feelings naturally. I think I've got an advantage there.

I've always said--you can't write a book more intelligent or deep than you actually are. But you can try to probe the limits of your abilities--take the time and thought to improve it, if only incrementally, and then improve it again.

And maybe, just maybe, I can get to the book that I know is there -- if only I was smarter, more experienced, and more skilled.

Don't get me wrong. I think it will be a worthy read, and probably the best thing I've done. It's just that I can also see the potentialities gleaming within the story and don't quite have what it takes to fully flesh them out. As always, I feel like just a little push and I'm there. Maybe a little help. So close, and yet so far away.

Then again, I'm not done.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Found a broken lawn chair on my walk. Sat comfortably. Score! Hid the chair behind trees and bushes. Will use again. For once the garbage people throw away in the woods was a good thing. Heh.

Went out the next day and was chased (actually I was off road and they didn't see me...) by a family of four-wheelers. I try to restrain my resentment. (The mother was in the last vehicle, covered in dust, heh.)

The more I write, the more I realize how much I don't know.

What the hell. Is everything effort? Can't anything be effortless?

"Takeover" feels real and authentic to me. Probably the first time I've pulled that off--not going into "fictional" feel. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but for this book I'm trying to keep it real all the way through. Every chapter is a challenge and so far I think I've pulled it off. I doubt I could have written this book until now. I don't think I could have even come close in the first few years. It's an unusual format--first person, multiple characters, epistolary style and I think it works. I like the jumping around but coming back together with an overall feeling and theme. 

Writing is both easier than you'd think and much, much harder. I'm facile, I can write something decent. Writing something good is exponentially harder.

My Australian publisher's last Facebook post of the day is my first, and their first post is my last--and vice verse. 

Yea, apes! Strange to be rooting for the demise of humanity.

Not commenting on politics has saved me no end of wear and tear.

I wish there was a Netflix for classic or even ordinary older films. There probably is.

Dropping by Big Fun (the bookstore that replaced Linda's store) every week, and picking up classic SF from my youth. Andre Norton's Witchworld, Harry Harrison's Deathworld, Jack Vance's anything world. Loved that stuff. Filling my library, the older the edition the better.

Why don't I like Twitter? Apparently, mass market distributors judge an author's worth by how much Twitter activity they have. WTF? So authors really have to be social media present as well as being writers, which is the new reality. (I remember when I realized that the pretty singers were also incredibly talented, which meant...logically...that you not only had to be incredibly talented but pretty.)

My publishers are all ambitious. I've seen one pretty much crash and burn, a second who has struggled, and a third who is in a very ambitious phase. I want to tell them to be careful, to slow down, but I know from experience that a business person in the throes of success is almost impossible to talk down.

Our house in Bend is finally on the market. Got lucky and rented a U-Haul the night before we needed it, loaded up what was in the garage. (Read in paper next day that most U-Hauls are rented through to Sept.) We went a little high on price, maybe, but intend to stick to it. My thinking is, when we looked for our house 13 years ago, it was head and shoulders above the other houses in our price range. What will be, will be.

Whatever anyone can imagine they can do in a movie. So many classic SF books would make great movies, instead of the next damn Transformers or whatever.

Linda is happy as a clam. It's easy to take the air-conditioning for granted. I write at the kitchen table instead of in my office.  I've kept up with the lawn and weeds so far, fresh start. Quiet neighborhood, more blue collar than our last, lots of boats and cars and trailers, but quiet. Vacant lots around us probably still have a few years to fill in.

Have increased my effort on new books and toys and card games. Cameron was already doing a good job on comics and graphic novels and games, but I'd dropped the ball a little on my part. Can already see an increase in interest. Sometimes you just have to spend money to make money.

Listening to "Luxury Liner" by Emmylou Harris in the car, one of my favorite albums, and realizing that the pace and tone of country western just seems to "fit" better in Redmond than in Bend, and wondered if there is something to that overall. That the rural pace of life is attuned to a different rhythm in music.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Made to order."

I wrote a "made to order" chapter for "Takeover" yesterday, and I think it turned out fine. By "made to order" I mean a chapter that was dictated by the needs of the plot. I have about three chapters I need to fill in storyline that way, backdating them.

Then I move forward with the plot. It's all plot now.

But I spent the first 15K words just following the characters, setting the scene. Probably 15K words too many, in the modern parlance. All of it came spilling out without prompting. But it wasn't necessarily plot driven, or dictated by the needs to have action.

I'm sort of perturbed by the Michael Bay-zation of storytelling. Everything has to start with a bang now, even if artificially induced. Sometimes that works, but it needs to feel natural.

This seems to be the advice that everyone is following, demanding. Yet...if you really look at the good books, the successful books, many of them don't really do that. Because a good book is an original book, not a formulaic one.

In a recent book, I felt I needed to do that start with a bang thing ("write me 100 kickass pages!" says the bigly time agent) and it turned out terrible. Months later, I replaced that first chapter--with another action chapter, only this one worked.

I also seemed to be trapped by my walking process. I can't seem to write anything until I've walk a couple of miles into the middle of nowhere, sit down on a stump or a rock, and just lose myself. Inconvenient. I mean, sometimes I can get going at home, at the table or outside on the patio, but mostly it's like my subconscious won't produce unless I'm walking.

I'm up to 20K words in "Takeover." The Murder will happen around 25K words. The solving of the murder and the ending of the first takeover will happen around 35 to 40K words, then the real bad guys come in and I haven't gotten that far with the plot except to know that it will probably be all action after that. Try to get to 65 to 70K first draft, add my usual 15% with description, research tidbits, character development, and making things clearer.

This is the first book where I've tried to be completely serious all the way through. I can't help a little humor here and there, which is weird that I feel that compunction because I never set out to be funny, which is probably good because when I try to be funny, I ain't.

But nothing silly like a bulletproof Bigfoot costume and a Queen Snake. (And these were my previous "serious" books.)

And I've had the realization that I'm kidding myself about writing something "literary." I just don't have that in me, I think. I'm better off sticking to pure entertainment. That is a worthy goal and not easy to accomplish.