Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Real Life

I keep coming up with ways ‘real life’ can be analogous to writing. Well, give me a break; real life has conspired to give me a head cold for the trip home, and all my thoughts are sticky with ‘head cold goo’ and won’t move around well.

So, I started out in Florida, where nobody paid attention to the posted speed limit of 70. The far left lane (of 3) was for those driving at 80+. Then I got to Georgia, where the Florida Speedway quickly became the Georgia Parking Lot – miles of stop / creep / stop / creep. I forget how many times it happened, pretty much the entire length of I75 through Georgia, except going through Atlanta. And seldom, when you finally got to the point where you could speed up, was there any clue for the jam.

Did you know that if you enter Nashville on I24, and want to leave Nashville on I24, there is no lane you can get in and stay in and stay on I24? I felt like I was playing hop scotch; skip left two lanes for a left exit, skip right one lane for a right exit, skip right another lane for another right exit, then skip left two lanes for a left exit!

Stories are kind of like that, don’t you think? If there’s nothing getting in the protagonist’s way as you tell the story, the story zips along at 80+ mph and gets done quickly, leaving the reader to wonder what all the fuss was about. If something does get in the way – whether you call them bumps, problems, challenges, or stalled trucks – the speed of the story will be inconsistent, and the tension will build. Likewise, if your story line jogs here and there, as your protagonist tries this angle, and then that path, it will help to keep your reader on their toes, wondering which way the story will go next, and will the protagonist actually get where he wants to go?

So, ‘map’ out your story line, and don’t forget to add some difficulties. Road trips never seem to go as smoothly as we expect they will, do they? A story that travels a straight line to its obvious conclusion isn’t much of a story. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Real People

There was one panel on writing at Megacon, and during that panel, an audience member asked how much ‘real life’ did they have to give their characters?

Enough to make them seem like real people.

Like those of us who actually have to deal with problems and issues, your characters need some, too. Let’s examine 3 recent, consecutive days in my life, and see if anything is applicable to a character.

Day 1 – Went to a water park, but forgot to take my sunscreen with me (left it right there, by the front door, as I walked out) and got sunburned. If your character is described as ‘pale’ or ‘freckled’, and you place them in the sun for hours, but they don’t sunburn, they won’t seem real. I have one character who, challenged to an all-day cross-country marathon by a couple American Indian crewmates while on planetside R&R, put on a sunsuit (think UV-blocking leotard with gloves and helmet) in order to avoid a sunburn. If you don’t want this character to have this problem, don’t have them forget their sunblock.

Day 2 – Heard a ‘funny noise’ every time the car brakes were applied. Turned out to be nothing, but what would be the consequences if your character heard the noise? Would they take the time to have it checked out and miss something important when they aren’t on stake out? Or would their brakes fail while chasing (or being chased by) the bad guy?

Day 3 – Was reminded by my car to ‘change oil soon’. This used to be an idiot light on the dash, now it flashes on the radio screen. And according to the reminder sticker on my windshield, I still had 1000 miles before I needed to do that, which could take 10 weeks to put on my car. If your character ignores this ‘gentle’ reminder, gets so used to it being on his radio screen, how long before his engine seizes up?

So, when you come to it, ‘real life’ issues can not only add dimension to your character, but also add complications to your plot. Pick your issues well, and use them wisely.

Will be driving home next Sunday, so might not get a blog posted until Monday. See you then. Trudy

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Just attended a big comic convention in Orlando called Megacon. Not much happening there about writing (except for comics), but lots of panels on art (mostly comics), costuming and independent film making. Surprisingly, a lot of these ‘other’ subjects still had some bearing on writing.

Let’s take an easy example: continuity. Movies, I understand, are not shot scene 1, scene 2, and so on. They will shoot ALL the scenes that happen in the living room, and then ALL the scenes that happen in the garden, and so on. They have someone who keeps track of the details, to keep the continuity consistent. So, if the story has Mary in a blue sundress and ponytail in the living room, and she goes out to the garden to cut some flowers for a vase, she doesn’t show up in the garden in a pink sweatsuit and a beehive.

I’ve seen authors who can’t seem to keep track of their own continuity. One had the protagonist picked up at the airport, taken to a grimy vehicle in the parking lot, where she and the acquaintance climb in. That’s the end of one chapter. At the very beginning of the next chapter, they are still outside the vehicle, and the protagonist – who was so dismayed by the filthy condition of the vehicle's exterior – leans her back against that vehicle as they discuss their next activity. It is boggling to my mind that not only did the author miss this in all her rewrites, but apparently, it was also missed by all her alpha- and beta-readers, her agent, her editors,…

So, some could say that I did nothing ‘writing related’ during this con weekend. I don’t agree with that, because a) I learned things, which is always good for a writer, and b) I kept figuring out how to take that info and apply it to writing.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time Commitment

Have you ever taken a guess how long it would take you to finish a project, and then found that actually doing the project took a vastly different amount of time? I’m very good at that: If I guess a project will take an hour, it might actually take anywhere from 10 minutes to 4 ½ hours. I guess that why I call them a guess.

Practice helps. After years of commuting to the same job location from the same home, I knew it took me about 20 minutes to get there most mornings, a couple minutes more to take the same route home in the afternoon. But I still had this tendency to forget about the time needed to gather my stuff together, get it to the car, and then get it into the other building at the end of the ride. Some things are so routine, we tend to forget they take time, too.

What’s this got to do with writing? As an as-yet unpublished writer, I don’t have any publisher, editor or even agent breathing down my neck about when I’m going to get my next piece of work done. I could re-write my novel 47 times, if I wanted. Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t get anything new written, and my chances of getting published would plummet.

Writers need deadlines, in my opinion. And new writers like me need to set our own deadlines. Gay Haldeman often says, “If you write one page a day, every day, at the end of a year, you’ll have written 365 pages, and that’s a book.” That seems like an achievable deadline, even if you are working a ‘day job’. One page a day. And the second year, you could edit one page a day. It’s not prolific writing, but it is writing, and you will make progress.

But don’t ask me how long it takes to write a page.
See ya next week. Trudy