Tag Archives: characters

To Be or Not To Be…A Mystery

Standard

Being a surgeon is a lonely business requiring the stamina of a marathoner.  This is true especially if the surgeon is operating alone with no nurses or assistant surgeons. The operating theatre is cold and necessarily sterile (although I admit to spilling coffee on the patient this morning). I feel like I’ve been at the operating table a long time and I’m not through yet.  The Novel’s internal organs are spread out all over the place.  It’s kind of messy but I feel that good progress on the inner workings of the story is being made.

But.

Something strange is happening.

The timbre of the story is changing albeit in a very subtle way.  There’s an air of anticipation, of…dare I say it…suspense.  The arc of the story is more complex. I’m excited to see where it goes.  I’m enjoying dropping hints, toying with my (imaginary at this point) readers as to what will happen next.  It opens up the question of what is this story turning into?  Is it just a drama with an air of suspense or is it a mystery involving two families?  I have no idea…yet.

There are layers – layers that have formed after countless hours of daydreaming.  You don’t often hear of daydreaming surgeons (thankfully) but writer-surgeons are different.  The daydreams are making the difference.  I always knew my teachers were wrong for criticizing my penchant for getting lost in thought.

Focused contemplation is something I often don’t relax enough to do. My mind wanders a lot but this is different.  It’s concentration that requires relaxation – an odd dichotomy.  Oh, wait.  Sounds like meditation (which, historically, I suck at).  It’s different from dithering – which I’m quite expert at.  Call it disciplined dithering if you like.

The whole exercise is like walking on eggshells.

During the concentrated, relaxed focusing, I try not to worry the story too much (meaning interfere, nag, drag down with my own paranoia).  In other words, I can’t mother it too much.  Every time I find myself nagging it, I get up from the table and walk away.  I do my worrying away from the keyboard.  To the casual observer, I am an aimless wandering daydreamer.  Not true.

There is nothing aimless about this strangest of processes,but how to explain to those who aren’t in the operating room with me? It seems I spend equal time justifying my characters actions to myself and justifying my own actions to others.  No wonder my brain gets tired; by the end of a day I can’t speak or write.

In spite of the balancing act, the story is strong; the prognosis is good.  I only wish I had a nurse or assistant to fetch cappuccino for me while I operate…

Advertisements

Detours, U-Turns,Wrong Turns

Standard

 Subtitle:  I Can’t Read the Map Without My Specs and I Don’t Know How to Program  the   SAT-NAV

2nd Subtitle:  I Think I Need a Co-Pilot

However it might appear from the titles, this is not a motoring post.  Believe it or not, it is a post about writing.  Let me s’plain:

Late last week, in a panic (typical) because I had procrastinated on completing an entrance application for a writing program and didn’t know which story to submit (also typical), I emailed the first 15 pages of The Novel to a very wise and trustworthy writing sister.  Although her schedule is packed, she very kindly read it at 5 a.m. the morning after I sent it to her.

The news wasn’t all bad.

Now, when I say I trust this woman, I say that wholeheartedly.  If The Novel was shit, she would’ve (gently) told me so and she didn’t, so I’m heartened about that.  However, she did go over the first 15 with a fine-tooth comb (amazing for the hour she was reading but she is a professor).

I’ve met her exactly twice.  She and I took an online writing class together and we’ve been online sisters ever since.  We live in opposite ends of the city; our lives do not intersect.  However, just from reading her writing and seeing how thoughtfully she critiqued other’s work, I knew she had a good eye, a good ear, and she was honest without being brutal.  Her critiques have always been unfailingly helpful.

My poor tired eyes have reviewed these same 15 pages so often that they (the eyes) have become essentially useless.  That is why I missed, overlooked, and ignored so many obvious flaws.  Which is why it is absolutely, positively, unequivocably essential that writers borrow, hire or kidnap additional pairs of peepers to review their work.

So, back to the detours, U-turns, and wrong turns…I’ve never written anything near the scope of The Novel before.  This story has been careening around in my brain for nearly a decade.  There have been plenty of false starts.  Of those false starts, I’ve been able to salvage maybe a paragraph or two over the years.

Somehow, I’ve always been able to build the story back up around those two paragraphs. So with great gusto, I built it up to about 270 pages before sending the first 15 off to my “editor.”  Time to get the pruning shears back out.

Or is it?

Right off the bat she had problems with the main character, Emma.  Well, shit.  If we’ve got problems with her, how much hope is there for anything else?  (This is me in “self-pity, moaning” mode)

Stand back, writer, and look at the comments and the story objectively.  Nobody said this was easy.  So, the main character needs more…everything.  Or, do the first 15 pages just need more tweaking?  It’s hard to say after only 15 pages and that’s why my online sister is going to be given a few more sets of 15.  Right now, her toes are barely in the water.  She needs to get in up to her knees (ok, maybe mid-calf) before she starts yelling for help.

Nonetheless, while she’s paddling around in my story, I’m going to do a little learnin’, perhaps on character development. In my heart of hearts, I think Emma is a good character.  She has potential so all is not lost. In a quick online search, I found a blog by Holly Lisle that looks really interesting.  I will investigate what she (and others)have to say thoroughly. Everyone has been here before, not just me.

Editors look for a few basic things, I’m thinking.  Well developed characters might very well be one of them.  I need my characters to stand out, be memorable, have heart, make the reader care.  Even if you hate a character, you still care.  The Wicked Stepmother was a vain, selfish bitch but we cared enough to want her to bite into the poisoned apple, not Snow White.

Have you ever driven, hell for leather, down a road only to have this nagging feeling you might be going in totally the wrong direction?  Hmmm…I get this too, sometimes.  But I’m a worrier.  Even if the SAT-NAV, the map, and my husband tell me I’m going the right way, doubt still holds me in its clutches. It’s not that I ride the brake but sometimes I do put the pedal down with my eyes closed…drives my passengers slightly crazy.

I am also getting more adept at U-turns.  And, it’s never too late to ask for directions.

Bossy Characters

Standard

So I’m in the shower and my heroine’s ex-husband peeks around the shower curtain while I’m trying to rinse hair dye out of my hair.  I know, awkward, right?  “Not a good time, Brad.” I say.  “I know,” he says.  “It’s just that your portrayal of me in The Novel…it’s just not working for me.  I’m going to the Caymans.  See ya.”

I stood there for a minute, Miss Clairol Espresso hair colouring streaming down me in coffee coloured rivulets, stunned. “Well, thanks for the heads up, buddy.” I mumble.   How could he do this to me?  It would be like Tom Cruise announcing halfway through a film shoot that he’s a bit bored so he’s grabbing Katie & Suri and heading off for points unknown and forward the paycheque…the nerve!

Tom can do what he likes but Brad cannot.    Or, can he?  And more importantly, why shouldn’t I let him? Characters speak to writers all the time.  Mine usually aren’t so bossy or so absolutely determined that they should go this way or that; I’m thinking that this is a very good thing.

I’m going to listen to Brad because I”m approaching this draft of The Novel in a whole new way.  I’m not forcing things like I usually do.  I’m letting things flow.  If Brad, my main character’s pain-in-the-ass ex, wants to jet off to the Cayman Islands, I’m going to let him.  I will follow him there in my mind, spy on him – see what kind of naughty things he’s up to.  I hope he gets in loads and loads of trouble.  At the very least, I hope he gets a sunburn because having Emma’s dog repossessed was really pretty low.

I don’t mind re-writing or tweaking because so far, the vibe has been amazingly good with this draft.  Words are flowing, scenes are shaping, and when something doesn’t feel right, a very helpful character is there to tap me on the shoulder and whisper helpful advice.  I just wish they wouldn’t do it when I’m in the shower.