Sunday, September 28, 2008

Neither Rain nor Snow...

...nor Darkest Night, nor Wicked Hangover shall keep our writer from his designated words.

Or will they?

If this pic was a guy, he would *so* be me. Even my teeth hurt.

On Day 48, the Counter reads 52,000 words. Perhaps there will be more. Or maybe I will sleep some more....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Second Act Insanity

Something I've noticed: the middle of every novel drives me insane.

Driving hard, never stopping, it's no wonder some of the more tender gears start to slip.

My first novel, large quantities of beer in the sun played a major part. At the time, I chalked up those crazy couple months to the effects of beer, and sun. My second, I got through that Scary, Saggy Middle in a deep and wistful melancholy. I blamed it on the winter, the poverty of those days, the cold and the lack of light.

Those novels seemed important at the time, but really, they were practice. By #3, when I gave away my car (in favor of my mountain bike) and reconnected with (and horribly, hopelessly alienated) several old friends from college now living Out East, I started to notice a pattern.

The recently finished #4 was one hell of a long hard slog. Long enough, and hard enough, that I went crazy twice: I found myself compelled to shave with straight razors, and later, to write with a dip pen.

Insane. Bloody insane.

So as I cruise past my Enormous and Stakes-Changing Center of my latest, I've kept a chary eye peeled. At 40,000 words, the worst I'd seen was that I reconnected with the Southern side of my heritage by making iced tea again: probably the first pitcher I've made in twelve or thirteen years. My cute wee Kiwi thinks the idea of cold tea is a crime against nature, but she eats whitebait.

I thought maybe this time, I had a pass.

No such luck. :-)

Turns out the owner of my tattoo shop is getting itchy feet. He's opening a new place across town, and I'm taking over the current place. So now my life is a flurry of equipment purchases, jewelry wholesalers, retail stock and the hiring and training of new staff. Exciting, yes. Exciting and something else.

Insane, that's the word. Bloody insane.

Day 43, the Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 47,100.

Some things never change.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Rocks First

I could swear I saw this done in the 80's, but my Google-search seems to attribute this anecdote (mostly) to Stephen Covey. Either way, it's a good lesson.

In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

The group replied, "Yes."

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

This time, the group replied, "Probably not."

The speaker then added some sand and asked, "Is the jar full?"

"No!" shouted the group.

Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.

Someone replied that you could always fit more things into your life if "you really work at it."

"No," countered the speaker. The point is, if you don't put the big rocks in first, " . . . would you ever have gotten any of them in?"

As you start the new year, think of the "big rocks" in your life as the things you can do to make this a healthier and happier year for yourself and others. When making decisions during the moments, days and months of the year ahead, ask: "Is this a big rock?"

Say "yes" to your "big rocks" first. Don't feel you need to explain each "no" when the smaller gravel and sand try to fill your time. "No" can be a complete sentence!

I get a fair amount done every week. And that includes a fair amount of that slack, do-nothing, hang-out-together time that the Dynamo and I enjoy together. I don't tightly schedule *anything*, but I do keep my Big Rocks few, and make them my priority.

1000 words a day on the novel.

Say something sweet to, do something sweet for and generally enjoy the Tiny Dynamo.

Read an hour or two a night.

Work enough to keep the doors open.

That's it, really. Just those few things. The smaller stuff, the gravel, fits in easy enough: surfing the net, painting for fun, writing the odd blog post, drinks with friends, etc. Like sand and water, the *really* small stuff has to fit in where it can. I don't sweat it.

I know some of you are thinking about your bigger job commitements, the time that children eat up, that sort of thing. Cool. Those are your Big Rocks, and they do deserve your time. And if your job is a Bigger Rock for you than your writing, expect the appropriate results.
You'll need to go slower, or to push some sand out of the way.

Right now, CS Harris is writing despite some serious, and unavoidable, upheavals. I have faith in her. After all, this is the same woman who wrote Why Mermaids Sing in the middle of Katrina. Now me, I tend to think, "Oh no, XYZ popped up and I won't get what I need to done." Then I think of Candy and feel inspired. I drop some other, smaller rock and get back to work.

I'll offer three important tips:

1. Get the must-do stuff done first. Little fires ignite all day long. If nothing else, they're going to take some energy to put out. It's easy to end up too tired at day's end to do your best. Some folks are exceptions to this, your mileage may vary.

2. Clarity. Be clear and honest with yourself about the size of those Big Rocks. Sometimes, the answers may be a little painful, but in my book a little pain's better than decades of lingering hollow misery and nagging doubt caused by living an untrue life.

3. Focus. The fewer Big Rocks you have, the easier it is to focus on them. A person with only ONE priority in life is (yes, likely to appear slightly deranged, but also) virtually unstoppable. A person with five #1 issues is a fool.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

And let's see, on Day... hm, Day 38 (had to take off my shoes to count that one), the Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 40,900 words. And I'm one scene away from my Great Big Tentpole Plot Development. Fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Sudden Sense of Reversal

Avery asked about my cryptic little plot drawing posted earlier. Now, it's probably because of the art-thing that I relate to my plot as a graph, but the principle behind that drawing is fundamental to all dramatic narrative. I'm talking about sudden reversal.

Basically, each act in your story should end with a sudden and dramatic reversal of situation. With that drawing, I was charting my big reversals at the act climaxes. Because that's the heart of the Act: a sudden and major flip in the plot. Boy meets Girl. (yay!) Boy loses Girl. (no!) Boy gets Girl back! (YAY!) Old as the hills and just as solid.

And it's not just the Acts. Every scene will be about a reversal in some element of your plot. Every. Scene. (That's not counting Sequels, mind.)

(I've just sat here for half an hour trying to use my own WiP to show what I'm talking about, without much success. I'm too deep into it right now, so I'm going to look elsewhere for examples)

In the typical hardboiled detective story, the private eye is warned off the case (they're scared, high value) in the middle of the first Act, has the crap beaten out of him at the Act Climax, digs deeper and muddles around until the Act II climax sees him close in on the truth, usually resulting in the prospect of his emminent death.

In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice's conscious desire is to get Hannibal Lecter's help in stopping Buffalo Bill. Her unconscious, deeper, more powerful drive is for advancement.

The opening shots show her straining and struggling through a cadet obstacle course - a *very* low value for advancement. Then she gets her shot with the introduction of her conscious desire: get Lecter on board, it'll look good on your record. She enters the prison with her good bag and cheap shoes and freshly-laminated ID - her pride at this big step like a halo around her. By the end of that scene, she's been refused and mocked by Lecter and had a psycopath splatter her with semen - a distinct reversal.

But in the seeds of that humiliation lie the next reversal: Lecter dangles a clue that leads to a severed head in a storage locker. Clarice looks good again.

And so it goes. Up and down, up and down, a little bit up and a LOT further down, until her conscious desire is blown out of the water in the Act II Climax (Lecter sure as shit ain't gonna help once he's escaped!) and she's left back at the Academy with nothing.

Until she finds the notes written on the map...

As an aside, had it ever occured to you that saving the victim is in fact a subplot? Catherine isn't taken until the end of Act I, and much as Clarice may have a deep-seated childhood desire to save one lamb from screaming (hence her career choice), she doesn't seem to hold out much hope. If anything, she seems to share Crawford's opportunistic view that saving a Senator's daughter isn't the worst thing that could happen. They care about the girl, but they care about their careers too...

But I digress.

My point is, every scene you write, it should involve your conflicts headed up a little, or down a lot. Until things seem hopeless, and your hero or heroine has to dig deep to solve the problem.

You just gotta keep flipping the script!

Full Throttle Daily Wordcout-O-Meter stands at 32,100 words. I think, *think* mind you, I may who the killer is...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Little Housekeeping

It occurred to me that many of my favorite blogs weren't listed on my sidebar. Dear friends, I've tried to correct this, but if I've left you out, please let me know, either in the comments or shoot me an email.

Also, I have now got my act together at least as far as joining Facebook goes. If you'd like to be my friend or just book my face, please feel free.

Today I'm back to the tattoos, but tomorrow there will will be a proper post.

The Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at... 31,000 words.