Sunday, May 23, 2010

Writer's Block

I’m glad this doesn’t happen (often) when I’m writing. I sat down to write this week’s blog, and my mind went blank. What could I possibly write about this week? Writer’s Block!

Happily, that only lasted long enough for me to realize the inability to write was a subject I could write about. And my fingers were off and running along the keyboard!

I’ve heard people talk about Writer’s Block, where an author has days, weeks - maybe even months or years – where they can’t write anything. Apparently, their characters don’t talk to them, they can’t see how the story progresses, and they are stuck in limbo. I shudder at the thought.

I don’t know if I can truly imagine a really bad case of Writer’s Block, but I have had times when I just couldn’t figure out what happened next. One day, I would be typing along just fine, and when I came back to that story the next day, I would not be able to see how the story should progress. Should Ann discover she’s pregnant? Should Bob call his old friend for help? Does the alien really want to be friends? Either I can’t see any direction in which to go, or all the possibilities are extremely unsatisfying, unlikely to get the story where it needs to go.

A few years ago, I reached one of those points, and finally, in desperation, I went back a few pages in what I had already written, and changed one of my previous decisions about what direction to take the story. I was soon typing along like crazy, my block gone. It worked that time, and a couple times since then, too. I hope it keep working, because I really can’t stand the thought of not being able to get these stories out.

See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How Fast Can You Write?

First, everybody cross your fingers! I sent my romantic fantasy adventure manuscript to DAW on Friday, right before we headed for DemiCon in Des Moines!

At one of the writing panels I attended at Demicon, one author admitted that she had completed her latest manuscript (her 7th) in about 7, or maybe 8, weeks. She had to; she had a deadline to meet. Her first manuscript had taken her a year to complete. Later comments centered on how many books one had to have published each year in order to ‘make a living’ at writing. There were a lot of variables in there to be considered, but I found myself wondering about my speed of writing.

Gay Haldeman often advises aspiring writers to write ‘a page a day’, and that way, by the end of a year, they would have 365 pages written. Good advice for those just getting started, but I am a little bit beyond that stage. Once I’ve written the first version, I will rewrite and polish, so that I wind up with about 5 drafts of the same story. And I also let the story ‘rest’ for a time between rewrites, which is why I have more than one project in the works at a time. But basically, I wondered, how quickly could I finish one book?

I decided to set my sights on 1,000 words per day, which is actually about 2 pages (single-spaced). In one year, I could write 365,000 words. Would that produce a book a year? I considered my first manuscript’s statistics:
Outline = 1,000 words = 1 day
Rough Draft = 120,000 words = 120 days
Draft A = 150,000 words = 150 days
Draft B = 130,000 words = 130 days
Draft C = 110,000 words = 110 days
Final Draft = 100,000 words = 100 days

Which comes to a grand total of 611 days. Uh, oh, that’s definitely more than one year. Now, theoretically, rewriting will go faster than composing the rough draft, because you aren’t dreaming up new stuff, you are looking for ways to say things better than you originally said it. But at first glance, I need to step up my efforts, if I ever want to reach the point where my work is frequently placed in front of potential readers.

With that in mind, I’d better get back to work. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, May 9, 2010

And Then What?

I’ve been stuck trying to outline a mystery. This would be my first mystery, and maybe that’s part of why I’m stuck; I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve even read a couple books on ‘how to write a mystery’, but I’m still stuck.

I’ve got my main protagonists. I’ve got the opening situation – a dead body in the trunk of a burning car. I’ve even got a minor complication to work in, in that some tiny clue will remind one of the characters of a significant time in her past. And then what?

I don’t know.

After finding the body, the Medical Examiner would fill in details, like the body’s gender, age, general size, and – hopefully – reason for death. Assuming the detectives on the scene could not figure that stuff out, and that would be determined by how badly the body was burned. That is where I’m stuck. There’s too many possibilities. Male or female? Child, teen, middle adult or old age? If female, was she pregnant?

Hopefully, deciding a few things would help me figure out those mundane little pieces of the plot – who killed this person, and why? The problem is, I’m too afraid I’ll make the ‘wrong’ decision.

I suspect there really isn’t any ‘wrong’ decision. At this point, any decision I make will point me in a direction, more decisions to be made, and so on, until the plot is settled. All I have to do is figure out which of the possibilities leads to the story I want to tell.

So wish me luck. Next weekend is Demicon in Des Moines, but I should be back on Sunday, so I’ll see you then. Trudy

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Characters React!

Last week, I talked about characters’ history, a past that shaped their personality. I thought about that this week as I wrote a difficult scene. I had two men, same age, cousins who had grown up like brothers, in the same town, with the same extended family, sharing everything. One evening a woman they had both dated reappeared, ready to exchange sexual favors for a job at a company they both own.

Now, I could have made that woman a desperate divorcee with two kids to support, but she’s not that type of woman, and this wasn’t her story.

So, I wondered, I’d made those men so much alike, how did I have them react differently to this?

Chuck was easy. He squirmed. He wasn’t interested in this woman, but couldn’t bring himself to toss her out. He brushed her hands away, told her repeatedly he couldn’t help her, dodged all her efforts to get closer.

Bob couldn’t react the same way. I paused to consider. What would have been different during their lives, and how would that influence their reactions in this situation? I actually came up with two things, one in their past (parents) and one in their present (girl friend). Chuck’s old-fashioned parents had taught him to be nice to women. Bob’s more modern parents had taught him to give respect where it was due. Plus, the girl Bob wants was extracting herself from an abusive marriage and was easily unnerved by conflict. So when the divorcee set her sights on Bob, I made him stand absolutely still. He doesn’t respect her, but he can’t order her out without upsetting the woman he wants. Eventually, he tells her to go to HR for an application, expecting to talk to HR as soon as she leaves. He looked calm, but his blood was boiling, because all the time the divorcee rubbed against him, he was thinking of the woman of his dreams.

Two men with the same background in so many ways. But I still managed to make them different when confronted with the same situation.

Everybody is different. Make sure your characters have differences when the need arises. See ya next week. Trudy