Tag Archives: continuity

There is always a new writing fear

A single red leaf on a concrete background. Words: Fear of failing. When you have something to lose. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtFEAR OF LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE IS PARALYZING

One of fear’s main jobs is keeping us safe: safe from falling, safe from making mistakes – from failing.

But, as many things, it is a more useful servant than it is a master.

I visited WriterUnboxed.com this morning, as I do most mornings, to get my brain in gear, give it time to focus, possibly preload it with something creative.

And I run smack into a blog post by Annie Neugebauer in which she talks about how to overcome the fear of making a mistake.

And not just any mistake, but the fear of falling flat on your face when taking a risk in your writing.

It is possible to miss the source of your fears

I left the following comment:

I have found that what scares you to write doesn’t often get the scary reaction – it’s more likely to be ignored, after all that courage it took to face the fear. In either case, though, you’re absolutely right: taking the dive feels good.

I’m doing that right now, diving into the fears I deliberately planted in the middle book of a trilogy – from the very beginning. I have spent years asking myself if I really had to go this route. The answer is that I do – there’s no way around it, and there’s never been a way around it.

If no one else in the world likes it or thinks it’s essential, oh well.

But now that a small number of readers have said they’re waiting for the second book, and the first one is slow, I just realized that I have been afraid of disappointing those readers! Who didn’t even exist when I started the first book.

What a concept: being able to disappoint readers.

Understand this first: the whole of what will be the Pride’s Children trilogy was meant to be, was planned out to be, a single book.

Due to my plotting with Dramatica, when the story got too long in the telling, the breakpoints to split it up were obvious (one of the great pleasures of plotting thusly), and it took very little to separate the pieces out into three volumes instead of one.

Writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD has not been automatic

I expected it to be easy; after all, I was just going to the next scene in a long list of scenes, and thought I would merely be doing what I always do: gather what I have assigned to the scene in Dramatica, Save the Cat, The Key…Power of Myth, The Fire in Fiction – my go-to books while writing; structure everything into a scene that ‘happens’ in time, instead of a collection of bullet points; become the character – and write.

And I’ve been baffled by how hard it’s been.

I even started a post (in draft) about how hard the first scene was to write (short version: a new kind of scene required some new thinking).

But it wasn’t until this morning, after Annie’s questions:

What scary drop have you been avoiding?

and

And are you willing to accept any bruises or ego dents that may come?

that I realize what was going on: a brand new kind of fear, one I’d been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t fully engaged with.

I may get reassurances on this one, of the “I’ll like anything you write” or “Whatever you’re planning can’t be that bad,” from my friends who really believe that, and have taken risks of their own.

Facing reality may not change it

But those reactions are promises made to a future which doesn’t exist yet. When making the comment – and encouraging writers to take the risks – readers and other writers don’t know what they’re endorsing: they are writing a blank check.

If I blithely accept the recommendation to keep going – it could still turn out to be something my readers hate.

All I can say at this point is that it is built into the story from the beginning, and if you liked PURGATORY, you have already bought into the foreshadowed premise, whether you know it yet or not.

If you don’t like it, remember it was a choice made with full realization that it is dangerous – and that I tried my darndest to make sure it was the best choice. The only choice I have is to write it as well as I can – and to be as accurate as I can be to the mind of the character I’m writing in.

I am trying to sneak it past the reader, which, paradoxically, may require mentioning it early, and then being almost too subtle.

You just gotta trust the writer

I remember being delighted by a comment in a review:

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end. I’ve read other books that affected me this way, but the authors always hurt the spell by tossing a plot bomb in through the window. Ehrhardt may do that before the trilogy is over, I can’t see the future, but she doesn’t do it in this book.

That’s, of course, one of the readers I don’t want to disappoint, who were kind enough to say I knew how to finish a book.

Maybe, when it’s all finished, I will describe why it must be the way it is.

I hope it will gain more readers than it loses me. If not, I am still writing this trilogy for me.

As a reader, what do you do when the ending of a book doesn’t satisfy you?

As a writer, have you come to this place?

Comments are most welcome.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create ten images a month – for free. If I ever need more, I will be using them.

Also, thanks to Blasty for helping me try to remove unauthorized downloads of Pride’s Children from Google search results. They are looking for more free beta readers to help them finish figuring out their methods. They have removed over 2000 infringements already for me. I mind, because I don’t want my work enticing readers to phishing sites. If you want to read for free, ask for an electronic Review Copy and consider writing a review.

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The missing ingredient for Book 2: JOY!

First look at PC2 letteringNEWS FLASH: THERE WILL BE A Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD

From Journal of the Next Books:

I have been looking at Book 2 with a lot of fear and trepidation – fear has been blocking the way:

  • I remember how hard it was to finish Book 1, how it took FOREVER.
  • The hours, days, weeks, months, and years when progress was glacial (though it was always progress – of a sort).
  • The soul-searching, and the process of turning myself inside out, to figure out a simple emotional progression through a scene that had to be just right.
  • Discarding everything I knew and starting fresh because a scene was different, and I knew it, and the old tools weren’t good enough.
  • Working from a draft so rough I’m surprised it made sense at all.
  • So much WORK.
  • Knowing that if there are any missing links in the chain I’m constructing, the whole will collapse like a bridge over a gorge.
  • Knowing I’ve only written the EASY part.
  • Thinking about how the sophomore slump affects so many writers and so many books, and why should I be any different?

WASN’T IT obvious? You DID write TO BE CONTINUED

I already know what happens: and the leaps of faith in the writer keep getting bigger. What if I’m not up to it? What if I’ve shot my wad? These last few months of publishing – EIGHT of them – have taken me away from writing for a long time. What if I can’t do it again?

What if that was it, the dying gasp of an aging mind? There have been times lately when I’ve wondered…

Simply, what if it took so long I can’t finish the rest of it, because there is nothing left of ME?

I didn’t say the fears were rational. I didn’t say I couldn’t talk back to some – most – of them.

But this is my process:

I identify that the feeling in my gut is fear. Simple ordinary fear.

Then I tackle to process of thinking about it, and the more important process of getting all the fear out of my mind – where it circles unceasingly like the Indians around the wagon trains in the old movies of the wild west.

I have to acknowledge each fear, give it attention, realize it’s real and it’s there for the purpose of keeping me from making a fool of myself (a bit too late for that one, eh?), and of keeping me from starting out on a Quixote-esque adventure with a bad end, an end the fear is telling me is CERTAIN.

Fear clamors. It overwhelms (I get out the techniques from Alan Lakein’s book How to get control of your time and your life specifically for Overwhelming reasons to procrastinate, which are mostly fear-based).

Maybe it even drives adrenaline into the system, adrenaline I have to stop from pouring into and circulating in my bloodstream because it cripples me to have to deal with the aftermath.

What am I working with?

I have myself exquisitely calibrated: Diet Coke #1 starts the day, #2 is after Nap #1, and if I’ve been a good girl, and had Nap #2 in a timely manner AND it is before 3 PM (2 PM really, but maybe today I can stretch it), Diet Coke #3 may be sipped and possibly help focus the little brain for a bit more work.

This is usually an illusion, but I dare not extend the time – insomnia is rampant already since I prefer to get to bed after 2 AM, and that really doesn’t work with getting up at 6 to write, because, in the winter, that’s when the daylight kicks in, and I need every hour possible of daylight just to function.

Ni tanto que queme al santo, ni tanto que no lo alumbre. Not so much that the (candle-flame) burns the (statue of) the saint, not so little that it doesn’t illuminate it.

I miss more than I succeed, but it is a lot better than years ago, and I’ve probably doubled my usable awake time since 2013 this way: some days I’m actually human for a few hours!

But skip ALL the little tricks – from the half-hour naps that clear the debris out of my brain, to the low carb diet that doesn’t allow refined carbohydrates to gum up the works (I LOVE refined carbohydrates), to forcing myself to go to bed at night, and not leave the house many times a week, and fob off, ignore, or do badly every possible task, and let the housekeeping standard drop to…

But I digress.

Don’t do ALL the tricks, and my body reminds me instantly that it doesn’t HAVE to think, only to breathe and process nutrition.

Fair enough.

So far what I have cannot be cured, only managed, and that badly, since there are days when I do everything right and it doesn’t help.

The final fear is the biggie:

Could I have a life, an easier life, one with more fun in it, a more relaxed life – if I just gave this up?

Since this little writing career of mine takes EVERYTHING I have, and forces me to short household and family, should I just let it go, now that I’ve satisfied the life-long itch, and there is an actual book out there – and on my shelf – to prove it, shouldn’t I just quit before I embarrass myself by trying again, older and less mobile, less mentally quick (ha!) – and FAILING.

Yup. Fear of failure.

BORING.

So I’m lying there today, relaxed into Nap #1, allowing the little questions: What am I doing here? and What am I missing? to play about in the drowsy state, and I remember Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000 words… book, and the thing she gives a few minutes to every time she starts writing: Enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm – to counterbalance work.

Enthusiasm – to cancel out FEAR.

Enthusiasm – to switch deliberately to the state of mind where things are possible instead of impossible.

Mind tricks?

Yup.

What’s the point of having a mind, and knowing the tricks (thank you, Cognitive Behavior Therapy), and not using them?

Our lovely minds can hold but a single major thought at a time. Stanford University researchers have proven multitasking is an illusion.

IF I INSERT the GOOD THOUGHTS, after weakening the fearful ones, I WIN.

Final bit: Do I want to do this?

Do I want to spend countless hours over the next years taking the next part of the story from an incredibly rough draft to something coherent? Do I WANT that result enough to work for it, and work harder than most people? Do I want to COMMIT myself to something which might take another fifteen years (unlikely, thank God – I did learn a few things). Twice more if necessary?

At this point the good stuff started rushing in to support a decision I suspect I’d already taken.

I told myself that, even in that rough draft, there are scenes I have been waiting to polish since the first time I laid them out, and now I know a lot more about how to do that.

I told myself I made promises: to myself. To readers. Possibly even to posterity (however egotistical that sounds). I keep my promises, if I can.

And I told myself that every time I can exit the mindless fear state, I work it out.

And that, if I decided to quit (not likely!), it would now be a wise and measured decision reached with logic and deliberation. Not unlike the PhD thesis which tortured me. And prepared me for the professional career I loved. And for which I wouldn’t have been hired, not at the same level, if I had not finished.

Finish what you start, if you really want to

I am a finisher (there is a post coming on that – when I finish it). If possible, I finish what I start (except bad books – I’ve given up on those; Life is too short).

So:

  • I’m back in control
  • I KNOW what was going on, and I’ve dealt with it: FEAR.
  • I am really looking forward to seeing the final form of those scenes: they can be so much better.
  • I’m committed to work. As hard work as it takes.
  • If I’m slow/slower, so be it. Old/older, ditto.

I don’t know if the results will be worth it – this whole thing with Harper Lee has shaken the confidence of many of us older writers, especially not knowing if she understood and accepted the consequences, as was ‘approved’ by her state government’s ‘investigation’; money talks, and we write conspiracies for a living.

I am already digging out everything I need to finish the trilogy

The debris of this little debacle has been swept into the dustbin, with only this edited post to mark the spot.

I am making the fresh start. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedos.

And my missing ingredient? That’s been JOY. I get a huge pleasure out of the results, and a perverted pleasure out of the process. As I strike a blow for my tribe.

If I make a mess of it, it will be a glorious mess.

What’s YOUR next project? And what’s keeping you from starting?

Pride’s Children’s first Kindle Countdown Deal

Pride's Children ~ KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL

Pride’s Children ~ KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL

AND LAST MARKETING EFFORT IN 2015

Dec. 15 to Dec. 21. It is live now – and the KINDLE Countdown Deal widget, should you choose to visit, tells you how long you have before the price goes back up to its regular price.

Remember, only the EBOOK edition is on sale. (Amazon may occasionally discount the print edition, but I have no control over that.)

I’m doing the simplest possible sale: 0.99 for a week – if you were planning to get the ebook, now is a good time to grab it.

You can give it as a gift – if you buy during the Kindle Countdown Deal. And you can recommend it to a friend – at the deal price – but only until the timer runs out.

If not (or you already have it), please excuse the marketing overflow – this is the last one for a while. I’m going back to writing.

BACK TO WORK

Book 2 isn’t writing itself.

And I’m a writer, not a graphic designer or a publisher, all the trappings to the contrary.

I’ve had my fun. I never realistically examined how much time all this publishing effort would cost a beginner (or I never would have started). That’s the way of all new things, and I’ve been very glad to challenge the brain with all of them, and manage to learn them.

Did I go WAY overboard? Yup. That’s me.

But I figured if I didn’t do it now, I might never get the chance. And I might always think it was too hard for me.

Being too SLOW for me didn’t occur to my fogged brain, and of course that’s what it turned out to be (though my lovely AND kind mentor, J.M. Ney-Grimm, says I’ve learned quickly).

Will I do additional marketing?

Probably – next year – but I could easily dump all my good time there, every day for the foreseeable future, requesting reviews, looking for every little opportunity to self-promote, being active on the social media where reviewers congregate.

Healthy people can afford to do that and still write (recommendations are to use your ‘less good’ (evening?) time for promoting) – but we all know I can’t.

So I will depend on the kindness of friends and new friends – and go do MY job.

My contract with readers has always been to lure them in – and then finish the story. Right now, I’m the only one who knows it.

My daughter has insisted that I finish it out in summary form, in case something happens to me. That I will do – she can publish it if I get called home, ah, before I planned to go (another thing beyond my control, thank God!).

Those of you who’ve read and said all the lovely words: you don’t want it to stay only in summary, do you?

Encourage the nice lady. Even if you’re an introvert, tell your friends – and tell them while they can grab Pride’s Children: PURGATORY for $0.99.

 

Saving grace: the Reader Love file for writers

Why do we write?

Writing is a solitary occupation. Even in a group or at a workshop, if there is time for writing, it’s going to be time during which people aren’t supposed to speak to each other, or read each other’s work-in-progress, or surf the internet… just write. Alone. Silently except for the typing fingers.

I am subject to periods of wondering why I’m bothering to spend my limited functional time writing a novel.

It’s not that there are lots of thing I want to do, it’s that there are lots of things I SHOULD do. Continue reading

Group characters, epigraphs, and Dramatica – a novel use

Dramatica was developed for screenwriters, and some of the features are much harder to implement in a script than they are in fiction, with its variable length and format. One of these is the concept I will call a ‘group character,’ and I will show how I implement a group character using epigraphs.

Most people consider a ‘character’ to be a single entity (say, a human, or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) which behaves in a more or less self-consistent way, and either stays the same or changes in a character arc as the story progresses.

Dramatica has a goal: to help create stories which are complete, meaning the argument put forth by the author has been examined from all applicable points of view, and the author has made his/her case for the conclusion presented. Dramatica calls this kind of story a Grand Argument Story (GAS).  Continue reading

Consistent point of view (pov) in writing and revision

In the process of revising the scene I’m working on, I made my self a note:

It’s a credible draft, and everything I wanted to put in there somewhere is there.

But it lacks 1) a consistent pov – Andrew fades in and out

I took a minute to ask myself why I had this thought, and realized that it happens regularly: a scene feels as if the point of view is going back and forth from a general omniscient pov to the first or third person pov I’m aiming for. Continue reading

Using the concept of the Critical Path when writing fiction

Engineers and managers are all familiar with the concept of the Critical Path in a chart of the workflow on a project: it is the set of things which have to be done in a particular order and sequence to get to the end of the project, and for which there is no possible alternative.

For example, you can’t put up the walls of a house until the foundation and the floor over it is in (don’t get creative on me – the effort to build the walls first, and then create a foundation etc. – familiar to those tasked with moving an old house – is the exception which proves (TESTS) the rule). Continue reading

Who, what, where: the Scene Header – Scene Template, Part 4

The scene header in the template contains critical information for me to situate the scene in time and space – and point of view.

Here is a sample:
Scene 10.1 – Karenna comes to set as Andrew’s guest; meets MH / pov Kary
1 pm; BH set in Hanover, NH; Kary, George, Michael / Wed., May 25, 2005

Before writing a scene I have to locate it in the space/time continuum of the story – someplace before the end and after the beginning.

The Scene Title, written with care, can serve to bring the whole scene back into my memory. I like to keep it to a similar length for each scene, for listing convenience. Brevity is more important than correct sentence structure – anyone who tweets has plenty of practice phrasing things economically.

A list of these headers (or of the information contained) serves me as a timeline. The title – and having this kind of a title for each scene – can point out continuity problems and plot holes.

Physical books (except Choose your own Adventure stories) appear in some kind of order on the page; even ebooks come at us in some order. Lists of header information helps me note such things as:

1)    Too many scenes in a row from one point of view. If not deliberate, does it need fixing?
2)    Simple stupid things like Wednesday May 25th is followed by Thursday May 23rd – because I changed the year in the story and haven’t cleaned up my calendar sequences.
3)    Oops! George can’t be here – he already went back to Ireland.
4)    If there are two scenes where ‘meets MH’ are listed, it may point out that I changed my mind as to when they met, and that I need to do some cleanup.
5)    The story says it rained at noon and brought filming to a close, but this scene is listed as happening at 1 pm – I should either mention it stopped raining (and there was mud – they were filming outside), or write the scene in the rain.

In addition, keeping track of which characters are in a scene is very useful if I need to add an interaction between two characters that lets the reader in on a key piece of information; a list of places in my story where the two characters appear together in scenes gives me a choice of places to tuck in a nugget.

Having a list of several places where two characters could interact makes it easy for me to motivate a tricky action in a later scene by going back and putting in increasingly-obvious pointers for the reader, so that, when the motivation is needed, the reader remembers having seen something about this before. This keeps the tricky action from seeming to be added on randomly because the plot requires it. If I want Billy murdering Sue by the end of the story, I can show the enmity developing in increasingly acrid interactions. Otherwise, I have a long search through my manuscript and my memory.

I note whether characters appear physically in a scene, phone in (so they are actually interacting with someone in the scene), or are discussed by someone in the scene.

It doesn’t really matter when the Scene Header is completed, but it is worth my effort to make sure it stays accurate as I go along with the writing OR making sure it is current before revising.

One additional benefit: if I need to write a Synopsis, a list of scene headers reminds me of the major plot points and character interactions to tell the condensed version of the story.

Thoughts?

Plot holes and Maximus’ dog – Scene Template, Part 2

Have you had questions when you finished a story? Such as wondering why they made a big deal of the dog following the General before that first big battle? Did you wonder how or why the dog would be important? Whether it had a special relationship with its owner? Whether it might save his life in battle?

In movies this is called a continuity problem. Movie viewers are conditioned to expect that anything given significant screen time will be intentional – and be connected in by the end.

In stories, these questions often happen because the writer set something up – and then forgot about it, leaving a hanging thread on the back of the story tapestry. Not all of these are caught on revision, either, even if the editors are keeping exhaustive notes.

But when a story is exposed to a larger number of readers (this is called publication), the plot holes can become glaring, and the repair job is major.

Extremely detailed outlines may help. But extremely detailed outlines are a pain to change, and many writers (including me) don’t like to do the maintenance required to keep a complete outline current with the story.

I think the reason is that the detailed outlines are meant to cover the whole story – and thus are very long.

My solution is to keep it at the scene level.

Before I write/revise a scene, I make myself fill in/edit a short template for scenes, the pieces of which I’ve pulled together out of a bunch of books.

Many writers create some kind of an outline before they write a scene, but when the scene is written, and that structure skeleton is covered by words, the outline is discarded, never to be used again.

I keep them. And update them. I don’t consider a scene complete unless every line is filled in for the scene template, but I don’t restrict myself to whether the template is filled before, during, or after the writing: just as long as they match when the scene is done. When completely filled in, the template occupies at most a page or two. (I’ll cover the full scene template, and discuss the other entries, in future posts tagged ‘scene template.’)

I put the templates in a parallel file to the actual text labeled ‘Structure’, and one of the main reasons is that two of the entries are:

Question(s):
Unanswered questions:

‘Unanswered questions’ is where I keep track of the questions the reader will have when this scene is over. Beyond the obvious ‘What happens next?’ each one of these questions MUST be answered in a future scene. Somehow. No exceptions. Many of these questions WILL be answered by the upcoming scenes organically, and need no special effort (except keeping track of the answer scene’s number).

The template entry ‘Question(s):’ thus becomes ‘What is the reader going to learn about the story in this scene?’ Simple.

It may seem like a lot of extra work up front.

But when the story is finished, I have a cumulative list of all the questions I left in the reader’s mind – and I KNOW where each question is answered. Keeps me from leaving those irritating lost threads and plot holes.

Such as: ‘What happened to Maximus’ dog?’