Dancing Ghosts and The Next Story

Remember when I talked about the ghosts of ideas fluttering around? Yeah, those keep fluttering…and talking and distracting. Not as bad, or as loud, as Connor and Oz were, but they do sometimes like to jump up and down, dance around and draw notice.

There are times a scene comes to you, one that connects and works. When that scene is part of the story you are currently working on, things work out quite nicely. You get it written down and then decide where it fits in the story. In my file for this story I already have half-a-dozen such snippets saved and ready.

But what happens when that scene is for something totally different? What if it’s for a story you haven’t prepped, haven’t worked on, haven’t even really thought about?

You write the scene…obviously!

Last night(ish) a scene like that came to mind. A scene helping to define two main characters, and a key moment they share, for a MG/YA fantasy story that’s been fluttering around with the other ghosts for a while now.

So, instead of working on finalizing my plot and pushing the process along for the current story, I just spent the morning writing a scene for a story I’m not sure I’m even going to write!

*sigh*

By the way, this is how Connor and Oz started…by intruding on other stuff I was supposed to be working on. And I’m starting to think these two new characters* might start to follow the same path and take on a life of their own…remember the next story is always better!

*Three MCs for the story, actually, but the third wasn’t part of this scene.

Plot…plot…plot

Harrumph.

Can you guess what I’m working on?

The good thing about writing a sequel is that the protagonist is already pretty well set, both in outlook and in voice (there are changes in Connor, however…a lot of changes). There is, however, a whole new setting, a whole new dynamic, and a whole new set of conflicts and antagonists…and that makes it fun.

Taking all the ideas and subplots and subtexts swirling in my head and turning them into a plot both engaging and useable is, err, challenging. I’ve mentioned before, I am not one of those people who sees the entire plot for a story first, then fills in all the details. I see the characters and the details, then build the structure of a plot.

I know, I know…that’s a bit like buying a Christmas tree to support and fit all of the ornaments and lights in the basement, rather than buying a tree and just pulling out what will fit it. But, hey, that’s the way I do it…and I have a shit-ton of ornaments and lights that need somewhere to hang!

There is a great deal I want to cover in this new story. Wrath & Tears was intimate and personal to Connor and Oz. This next story will still be intimately about Connor, but will be taking him into a world and a society bigger and more far-reaching than just dockside. The plot has to reflect that while still following him on the personal journey he needs to, essentially, save him from himself.

It also has to let me develop and communicate the themes that are at the heart of the story…and that ain’t as easy as it sounds (at least not to me).

How do I do that? I explore. A lot. I write (handwrite, actually) several summaries and experiments on the major arcs I want to cover, each time incorporating more and more info from the previous versions until everything starts to hang together. It’s a very iterative process, one that evolves and changes a great deal as I pretty much continually adjust the crises and characters/entities involved.

To me, this method is kinda fun. I get to experiment with different ways of screwing over my characters, as well as different ways of them screwing themselves. I also start to see possibilities and convolutions in the characters that I hadn’t necessarily considered. That’s even more fun!

At any rate, after the last major plot summaries are written (one for the major, overall plot-arc and one for each of the major subplots), I finally get to breathe. The writing of the actual story starts to look much more real to me. When all I have is a semi-amorphous, undefined cloud of ideas and conflicts, that story looks awful far away. When that cloud resolves itself into something intelligible, it’s no longer pushing a Sisyphean boulder up the hill, it’s taking the last steps to hit the summit.

I’m at that point…sorta. I need a few days to nail down the subplot summaries, then I hit the top. Hopefully by the middle of next week. And after that? After that it is finalizing the characters (how I do that is a topic for another post) and creating the initial outline/scene-list.

If things go well, I should be out of the prep-work weeds and writing the story itself sometime around Christmas or New Years. Sooo…I’m right on schedule with my original three-month timeline for this process of planning and prep.

I know, I know…I said I wanted to do it quicker, start the writing sooner. Unfortunately, the administrative/logical/planning side of me knows the creative/slacker side all too damn well…

Be Honest

I had another post queued up for today, but it’s one I’m not sure I’ll ever actually post. I wrote it when I was (more than) half in the bag, and all the way depressed. Maybe I’ll keep that one to myself.

But…that means I need to get something put together to go up today. Err, tomorrow actually…I’m writing this the night before Thanksgiving, before it’s time to start the cooking, drinking and aggressive couch-sitting.

Just enough time for a random, squirrel-driven thought then…

Nerds.

Err, that’s me actually.

I can recite every Star Trek episode by heart…I play video games…I read (and write) sci-fi and fantasy…I, err, own manga and watch anime…

Yup, seriously a nerd.

As a kid, I hid my nerditude. Now I embrace it as an important part of who I am.

Of course, it took living a decidedly un-nerdly life for many years to help me accept that part of myself.

So what parts of your characters are they trying to hide from themselves? Hell, what parts are they hiding from you? That’s the interesting stuff, that’s the heart of the character. And it’s hard as hell to pull off, just like it’s hard as hell to trust your characters to speak for themselves.

As a writer, you’ve presumably (I hope) accepted those embarrassing parts of yourself, and those dark corners in your soul. That’s what should fuel your creativity. You don’t have to like yourself, you just have to be honest with yourself. But if you’ve done that with yourself, have you done it with your characters?

Do you know who they really are?

Roger Zelazny once advised that a writer should write a background scene for each major character, a scene that had nothing to do with the story. A scene from an important incident or moment in their past, a scene that defined who they were.

Give it a try.

Don’t make it serve the plot, don’t make it serve preconditions or predefined ideas. Let your character be honest and open and tell the story themselves. Most importantly, no one but you will ever read it (probably), so be as raw and unfiltered as you like. This is not the time for polishing and perfection, it is the time for honesty and emotion that connects.

You will learn something about your character, believe me. That something may just give you more depth to work with, or that something may even change the story you’re writing. Either way, both you and your character win.

And, yes, doing this exercise is where the major, horrifying incident in Connor’s past came from. That incident changed the character in fundamental ways that I’m still exploring, but also deepened him (at least to me) and forced me to adapt certain elements of the story itself.

This Space for Rent

Okay, so I’m fighting to fill the space today…and not fighting all that well, to be honest.

I do have Friday’s post all set. I think. It’s one that’s finished but has been on hold for damn near two weeks, and I’m still vacillating about posting it. So maybe I don’t have Friday’s written after all…

At any rate, back to today. Shit, where’s a squirrel moment when I need one?! At least a random derailing of my thoughts might provide something entertaining!

How ’bout this?

What do you when you don’t feel like writing? Or when the words & thoughts just won’t come?

That’s actually not a bad question. Damn, I surprise even myself sometimes.

We’ve all had those days: you get up, do your regular shit, then sit down to get some work done. And you can’t focus, or the words won’t come, or you struggle to complete even the simplest of thoughts.

Or, even worse, you have one of those days where you can’t even muster the energy or interest to sit down and work at all.

Yeah, those days suck.

We all have ’em…even those who say they don’t. For me, those days happen (mostly) when I’m doing the prep work for a story. I really do love to explore the characters and worlds I am creating, but it doesn’t have the driving and all-consuming focus and passion that comes with actually writing. I spend less time working and a great deal more time screwing around…err, researching.

When all that prep is done, however, you can’t keep me away from the work. The rest of the world can go fuck itself, I have a story to write!

*sigh*

Not today, however. Today is a problem.

The best advice I’ve read on this came from Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club and other books) via the writing site LitReactor. In one of his columns/pieces, Chuck talked about those days where you don’t want to write. His advice was to use an egg timer. No, really, a timer. Or something else to similarly define a space of time (I loved his clothes dryer idea).

However you’re measuring the time, you make yourself sit down and work for an hour(ish). No matter what. The worst case? You spent an hour writing. You paid your bail, now you can go outside and play.

The best case? You get into the flow and you turn out something worthwhile…and you keep working.

That happened to me today. I gave myself an album of time (yes, that’s how I measure writing time) in which to work on the details of setting and background that I had to have, but really didn’t get me excited to work.

Funny thing is? It worked. I wrote for an album. Then for another. I got into it…more importantly, I answered some questions that were still hanging around and gave myself some interesting options to explore in terms of tone and setting.

Now go away…I have more work to do.

And I think I have a serious man-crush on Chuck Palahniuk.