Monthly Archives: June 2020

The point in writing with care

EVERY WRITER ANSWERS THIS QUESTION

It has become common for writers to tell other writers how to write.

Unless they are discouraging other writers deliberately to keep the competition down!

And every writer who has any control (beginners can often see only one way to do things) constantly makes choices:

  • Is this word the best word for this use?
  • Will MY readers think this is pretentious – or the reason they read ME?
  • If I use a sentence fragment as part of my style, or this particular character’s mental processes, or [select reason] – will MY readers get their panties in a twist?
  • Can my intended readers follow plot complexities?
  • And – most importantly – am I limiting myself by the way I prefer to write?

All of these are valid questions, all have to be answered regularly, all have many answers.

How to choose?

I’m asking myself these questions, as usual, because I just finished the last two scenes in a chapter, and it took me two whole days of using AutoCrit (my online editing program) to get the text the way I wanted it.

Two whole days of whatever brainpower I could muster is still a lot of hours.

And they are hard work. Choices come down to nuance, nuance to familiarity, familiarity to everything I’ve ever read – and processed.

For an example, I’ll put up a section of these scenes, and show the differences:

Sample edit from Chapter 27

There are hundreds of little changes between when I’m finished with the story and when I’m finished with the language.

Why change?

The original was fine, with nothing hugely wrong.

But I’ll find I overused a particular word or phrase.

Or a piece of dialogue doesn’t sound like the character (Cecily, like Andrew, is Irish).

In fact, just as I finished checking the above comparison, I realized I’m missing two places where my tiny intimation of the speaker being Irish is incorrect (I use ye’re – but still have you’re) – and that will be checked several more times before publication.

This section comes from Scrivener – and is missing italics. I’ll have to check to make sure those are as I want them, as discussed in a post on my stylistic choices.

I do my own editing

This is a statement of fact, not a battle-cry.

I found early that my brain is too damaged to do the negotiating, arguing, back and forth, discussing – that goes with having someone else edit your work.

And that it was easier for me to take on the task, plus it forced me to improve my bad habits immediately.

I like the control. I accept the responsibility. And the mistakes I make will get corrected asap if egregious, with the next major revision if minor.

And there isn’t an ant’s chance with an anteater that I’ll have to defend my own choices: nobody can possibly know my style better than I can.

I have the sense to use an excellent beta reader – and always pay attention to what she catches or notices (she’s usually right).

For someone like me, it even saves a lot of time (a relatively expensive commodity for me). Because I handle a single scene (up to maybe 3k) at a time, and it’s familiar to me because I just wrote it, so I don’t have to reload anything into my memory.

The pitfalls of that are obvious: the mistakes will get overlooked because they are so familiar. So I have many passes for just one thing. I have checklists. I keep a list of the things I haven’t mastered.

Nothing’s perfect, but that does get a lot of the little typo buggers.

Is it ‘good enough’?

Yes – after I put the hours, the work in.

Is it getting easier? Yes – if I still put the hours in, and the work, and don’t try to shorten the editing phase by getting impatient to finish.

I think it matters.

It does make me very slow.

I think it’s worth the effort.


Does lack of editing in published work irritate you? Do you notice it?


Thanks again to Stencil for the ability to create graphics – and their free account. If I ever need more than ten a month, I’ll get their paid subscription!


 

Creating and maintaining tension below the surface

BOOKS ARE NOT WRITTEN FOR THE WRITER

You’d think by now this would be obvious: the writer is the FIRST reader, but not the INTENDED reader.

Because writing is a split-brain activity, it is easy to forget that what bothers the writer may not bother the READER, by design.

And you don’t want to go to where things bother the reader.

Annoy, make uncomfortable, show up, irritate – all good words of what the writer should do to the reader – which is SHAKE THE READER UP.

Get under the reader’s skin. Make the reader think. Create a discombobulated feeling in the reader that can only be fixed by the reader changing.

All those are good – but bothering the reader means the writer did something wrong.

And this is where the split personality is required:

I have just written the final two scenes in a chapter.

They were hard to write. There is a lot going on sub rosa. By the end of the book, these two characters will loathe each other.

And right now they are thrown together in an unexpected way, with no warning to either.

But the rules of polite society apply, and they must be civil, even cordial, to each other for a period of time that may be up to two days long.

And one would very much like to get something the other has.

So the scenes are currently driving me a little batty

because the surface must be unruffled – at this point in the story there is no basis for which one person can truly dislike the other.

Which bring me back to the title of this post: Creating and maintaining tension BELOW THE SURFACE.

And the words I put on the graphic:

Books are written

for the READER

To remind myself that, when it’s all over, I have to do better than the street repair team in my previous township. I need the surface to look like the original street, not the repaired street.

A repaired street has a visible patch of asphalt or concrete – of a different color.

A repaired street patch may create a dip in the road as the subsoil settles.

A repaired street show where the damage was.

But a book can’t show where the choices were made

A novel must be seamless.

The scenes must flow.

The reader must be able to know a great deal of why the scene is happening now – as she reads it.

And the writer is not allowed (not by my standards) to stuff description and exposition into a scene just because there is space.

It is work to get it right – it would be much easier to just relax the standards and throw something the reader might need later into the present scene.

But here’s the rub: readers know. And when they run into chunks of exposition, they skip or skim.

And then they don’t find out what the writer was supposedly trying to tell them anyway.

I really, really hope I didn’t do that

I’ll find out when my first reader lets me know; I’ll find out when reviewers speak their minds.

I think I managed it.


 

How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

Nobody does anything about the weather

A red adult tricycle on the Davis, CA, greenway, with the wildlife refuge behind her.

Trixie, my trike

YOU CAN’T SEE THE WIND, BUT IT’S THERE

It is curious to me that it can get so very hot for a week or so – and then go back to reasonable, at least in the mornings, when the world is still heading into summer.

As the world goes around the sun, it gets hotter in the summer and then colder in the winter, but the small variations from day to day often seem to come from nowhere.

The husband has a touching belief in weather predictions. He thinks that what they say will happen, will happen, and seems disturbed when it isn’t dry on a day he intended to put down fertilizer that required dry grass.

Me, I believe, maybe, what’s happening in front of my nose.

Today’s trike ride temperature was supposed to be a balmy 72°F – but it was very windy, and the shorts and short-sleeved shirt I wore could have been replaced by something heavier, especially since I tend to slow or stop a lot because I’m trying not to exhaust all my energy – and lose another writing day, an all-too-frequent occurrence.

I had a bad night Sunday night – so I didn’t get out for my ride yesterday, because by the time I got up (9:30), it was already way too hot for me.

So I was extra careful this morning, and managed to go for a ride while the housekeeping ladies were here, and got blown around more than I had expected.

I had to change my route

Davis landscaping crews have altered my last two rides. I don’t know why they have to block the entire greenway path for longer than two vehicles. Most times you really can’t change the route you’ve chosen, because you can only get on and off the path at given intersections.

However, walkers and runners, even with dogs, can just slip around the trucks and trailers. The trike and I are much wider, and not really suited to going on grass or slopes – which also take more energy to navigate.

So, as I came upon another blockage this morning, I had to figure out how to get home on city streets I don’t usually use.

And it was somewhat longer. And I am more wiped out than I planned.

But getting out is necessary.

I just hope I can recover enough to finish 28.5 – I finally figured out how to handle what could have turned into a plot hole, and then one more (28.6), and Chapter 28 can go to the beta reader, the lovely Rachel.

It is frustrating to need exercise to stay even remotely well, but to find that every single trike ride can cost me a whole writing day. There’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere.


How has the weather altered your current planning?

Are you going to watch the livestreaming of the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge on June 20 and 21? The kids and I intend to.


 

The world is set up for sugar

Strawberry slices on a mound of white

Strawberry cheesecake – low carb style

THE SMALL PLEASURES IN LIFE LOOM LARGE WHILE ROME BURNS

One of the things we residents of this CCRC have lost in the quarantine is much of the choice we enjoyed and for which most of us moved here.

The staff and management are doing their best, within their capabilities, and under the auspices of California and Yolo County directives.

But the result has been an almost complete lack of being able to make our OWN choices in a timely manner.

They have brought back a small opening of the dining facilities

From having dinner delivered in a plastic bag in takeout containers every night for over two months now (and we are grateful to have been fed), they gave us three options:

  • the dining room, with appropriate distancing, and no one but the inhabitants of each apartment at any table (so, couples or singles alone at each table), and the staff will bring selections from the buffet – no more serving yourself
  • a continuation of delivery, where they will give you the first of the buffet selections (unless you have registered a restriction – I don’t eat fish or lamb, for example, so they will bring me chicken on those nights where for some unfathomable reason fish and lamb are always coupled on the menu)
  • La Brisa, our more relaxed dining venue, will now take orders on the phone (from an extremely limited menu), and let residents themselves come down 15 minutes later to pick up a paper bag (at a table that looks like it’s a field hospital) with the meal and take it to their apartment to eat

So what does this have to do with strawberries and choice?

This place has never managed a proper low-carb dessert for me.

The options on the menu, butter pecan ice cream (I hate butter pecan – soggy pecans), carrot cake (quite good), and a chocolate cake (also good), and occasionally a NSA (not National Security Agency – No Sugar Added) brownie, sometimes an NSA pie (loaded with carbs, but no sugar in the filling), but never a cookie or a pastry or anything special like that, ARE ALL SWEETENED WITH SUGAR ALCOHOLS.

Here is the ice cream label (note the warning for ‘Sensitive Individuals,’ of which I’ve never really thought I was one):

Butter pecan NSA label

Maltitol syrup, polydextrose, and sorbitol are the culprits, and maltitol syrup is the cheapest – and most reactive – of the sugar alcohols, and the most likely to make me have horrible gastric effects. I spare you the details. I never consumed more than ONE serving a couple of times a week.

And the dining room has never had a label on these products.

Anyway, it means I can’t trust them to give me a dessert I can eat

So I make my own using almond flour (very low in carbs, especially compared to wheat flour – and rather expensive, since it is just ground up almonds), Splenda (sucralose I tolerate, though it’s never as sweet as it’s supposed to be), real cream, cream cheese, butter, and flax meal.

I made a cookie-like base (hidden under the pile), which actually tasted almost as good as a graham-cracker crust. On top of that I put a cream cheese/cream mixture with aspartame and Splenda and vanilla. And on top of that, a nice layer of one of the lowest-in-carbs fruits, strawberries.

It was delicious!

Takes a while to put it all together

So I’m going to have to find a source of commercial desserts which use sweeteners I tolerate, but the problem there is freezer space: we are at capacity and anything frozen would take up a lot of space.

So, no good options, but I can at least, when I’m willing to put in a half hour, come up with something I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve Julia Child (if she couldn’t eat sugar).

And beautiful besides – not just sweet.

The bottom line

I pay just as much money here every month as every other resident – only I don’t get what I need in the food department. Something needs to change.

And of course right now we’re all just happy that they’re still dealing with food and dinner in general, because though the option exists all the time to get your own ingredients and do your own cooking, it is one of the hassles we came here to give up.

Small pleasures can make dealing with the much larger issues of pandemic and police and protests we are facing – from lockdown – a little easier on the mind.

When I feel I’m focusing on something petty, I remember everybody else here gets a different delicious dessert every night – without ANY effort on their part.

Creating a new normal from debris

This morning, while the husband had gone to the grocery store on the URC bike to get the few things we need to supplement the dinners here, I spent a half hour singing.

With Kate Wolf, on Green Eyes.

And with Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown.

The first I had never sung; the second, I remember singing so many times back when it was new, I was in college and grad school, and had joined the Columbia Record Club, and had several of his records.

It is easy to let things slip when under a pandemic

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I sang.

Apparently, going to church on Sundays, plus starting an hour-long, twice a month folk-singing group here at URC had been enough to keep my vocal chords in working order, even tired. Each time, after an hour, I had used my voice, and it seemed okay and I was happy with the quality of the sound, happy enough not to give it another thought.

Well, it has been months since I did that kind of regular singing (forgive me, Carol, singing teacher, for not singing every day).

And when I tried to sing about a week ago, it was as if someone had stolen my vocal chords and left someone else’s unused ones in their place.

It was scary. The singing voice was almost paralyzed, and nowhere near what I had come to depend on whenever I wanted it.

So there’s one more thing I have to maintain consciously

The list is getting very long.

Every day, before I can get to sleep, I have to put all my joints through my little stretching and range of motion exercises – or I twitch so badly sleep is impossible. Literally. For hours. Lying there in bed, twitching as if hit by a cattle prod every 5-10 seconds. And now I also have to get up and eat something so my stomach will let me go to sleep.

None of this body stuff used to be my responsibility (except weight: as I’ve said many times before, I do not understand why I should have anything conscious to do with maintaining the right body weight – I don’t have to remember to breathe or make my heart beat!).

I’ve given up complaining – it doesn’t help. When I realize I’m twitching because I didn’t do my exercises, I force myself to lie there – and do them.

When I realize what has woken me up at 3am is that my blood sugar is crashing, I get up, eat a half cup of cottage cheese, and then, while my brain’s blood is diverted to digestion, quickly lie down and get back to sleep.

The demands of the body are nonnegotiable

Insistent.

Immediate.

And a pain in the neck.

But I develop another heuristic, another shortcut for dealing with the new problem, pay attention for a few days or weeks, and put it on the list of ‘things that must be done.’

And I fear when someone else must take care of me, because they’re not going to have the ability to do the necessary actions the instant I need them, and I’m going to spend a lot of my time uncomfortable and not able to do a thing about it.

What a life!

One more consequence of the lovely gift we’ve all been given is to watch it go away.

How to deal?

ME/CFS? Aging? Luck of the Irish? Who knows.

I try to let it take as little of my time and life as possible.

Not complainin’, just sayin’.

And I do whatever I need to keep writing.

While watching the appalling stuff burbling out in our society that has long been suppressed. And trying not to cry.


What is on your list? What are you in charge of that you never had to worry about before?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create graphics that are more interesting than the words I throw into them.