Tag Archives: writing

Sparing your characters pain that’s necessary

IT’S UP TO THE WRITER TO FORCE GROWTH

Characters you create become like children: you worry about them, you care what happens to them, you’re concerned when they come home late from some unsavory place.

But the hardest thing you do for them is to force them to grow – because without change in at least some of the characters, nothing much is happening, and there is no story worth telling.

Characters grow like all people:

By confronting and dealing with problems.

By coming across situations that force them to think.

By finding themselves in situations where they have to make a decision.

What they don’t tell you is that the writer is responsible for planning and guiding and forcing change.

For building the obstacles that are so hard to overcome.

And for making them almost impossible to survive.

When you start a story

You have a general idea of who your characters are and will become – you create them to tell a particular story.

You ask, ‘What if…?’

And you make up people, based on what you know about humanity in general, and maybe some models in particular.

But even though you realize in general that you will be putting them through Hell, it’s not personal yet.

While writing a story

You flesh out the people who are acting in it, and, to be able to write them, you become them, you let them use your body and your mind to tell their part of the story.

You channel the character.

And then you observe very carefully what they actually do, and put it in the best words you can come up with.

And you come to that old saw, ‘This hurts me more than it hurts you,’ and you do it anyway, you hurt them – and you feel like a cad for doing it, but it has to be done.

Knowing you’re only hurting yourself, and that maybe, for this once, more than in life, it actually does matter. It is necessary to get to where you’re taking them.

And at the end

If you’ve done your job properly.

If every step is motivated.

If every step is not optional.

Your readers will forgive you.

And maybe agree with you: it had to be done.


Target reader emotions when you plot

WHAT DOES THE READER REALLY WANT?

I just had a tough decision to make in a scene.

I waffled – there were two ways to write the thing, and there were pros and cons for each of the ways.

Until I hit the right question.

The two ways were:

for a character to stew all day hoping she could achieve her goal that night

-or-

to be confident all day that she would achieve the goal, and spend the time planning how she would enjoy it.

The first way is more dramatic – for the character.

The question?

What is worse – for the READER?

The actual plot will go to the same place: either she will or she will not get what she wants; that was predetermined in 2000 when I started this.

But now that I’m writing the scenes, I need to shift a bit from ‘what happens’ to ‘how do I PRESENT what happens’?

I know where it’s going – the reader does not.

I created the rollercoaster – the reader wants a good ride and a thrill.

My virtual teachers (writing books) teach me that the reader can handle the centrifugal force from being thrown around curves in the plot.

More than they can handle being on a nice calm piece of exposition which is BORING.

Once I asked the right question

the answer was obvious.

The ride for the reader is MEH if they see her seethe all day – they can hope she won’t achieve her goal, assume something will come along, again, to defeat her.

Instead, if I write it right, the reader will see her confident – and reviewing all the reasons she is sure to get – what they don’t want her to get!

And that will torture the reader more than the feeling of ‘she has failed before, she will fail again’ READER certainty.

Can’t have the reader comfortable, now, can we?

Process

This is why I spend the time arguing with myself, in writing, and asking myself why my brain isn’t letting me go ahead with the writing – because it needs to know which plan we’re following here before it will set out the tea lights in their little tin holders and illuminate the path we’ll walk.

I never get much lighting beyond what I need strictly not to tumble over roots and rocks. Then I pick my way along.

It works better for me to know – and the reader to have to guess – where we’re going. I already discard great gobs of ideas and executions which are not what I need. I can’t afford to make decisions on the fly.

I like my shiny new toy. I’ve been using an intuitive version of it for a long time, but I love having the tool be something I am conscious about, in the top tray of the toolbox. Makes it more likely that I’ll pick it up.


If you’re a writer, do you do this?

If you’re a reader, admit it – you want drama, not a smooth ride. You want that ending EARNED.


 

There is only one way to the ending

DO YOU TRUST YOUR AUTHOR?

And it goes THROUGH the plot, through the characters, through the planning that an extreme plotter like me goes into great detail to connect.

Novels start with ‘WHAT IF?”

And must continue to the bitter end, or their promise is compromised by the very one who created them, because of FEAR.

I admit it. It’s going to get rough, very rough, for my characters – as I’ve known since this story came to me.

There is no way this ‘WHAT IF?’ works – except my way. The way I designed to answer that question TWENTY YEARS AGO.

A great portion of that time has been spent making sure it is the ONLY way I can write THIS story.

The Resistance Journal tells the story

Saturday July 25, 2020 at 6:02 PM

All I need to do is in front of me: finish this scene, finish the next, … – get on with it.
Nothing is going to change in the plot.
I can’t make it sweeter or more palatable – and it is NECESSARY.


And then … steps up and decides to fight for what … wants.
This is what I’m writing.
This is what I designed.
This is what’s foretold in the …
Nothing has changed.

I have removed (…) the pieces that would give away too much of the plot.

The angst is real. Writers bleed with their characters.

We don’t LIKE causing pain: it is NECESSARY.

Our characters have to grow, change, evolve, show us the consequences of their decisions in their lives – because this is the entire purpose of fiction: showing readers what happens when different life choices are made.

Have readers ever thought about this?

I know I never did, as a reader. When Agatha Christie killed someone off, I never wondered if it caused her personal pain.

When Dorothy L. Sayers denied her detective the woman he loved, I cried (metaphorically) into my (metaphorical) hanky – but I never wondered much what it cost Sayers.

Now I understand – because I WRITE

No mother ever reared a child without that child crying. Not successfully, anyway.

Not with a child who grew up with the tools to become an adult (they still have to do so much work after we leave them be).

Writers get to be judge, jury, and executioner.

We also get to commit the crime, and be the detective, and work in the hospital where the crushed bodies come in to be healed.

This is what we do:

We torture characters after we make readers care for them.

To show their humanity.

It’s getting harder.

My beta reader tells me she gets what I’m doing.

She calls me a horrible person, too. Which is fine.

You don’t get to have an influence without challenging the status quo.

And it’s going to get a lot worse before it’s better.

I promise: eventually it will be better.

But it has to be EARNED.

Thanks for listening

It’s particularly hard right now.

And I worry about whether readers will decide this is the place where they stop reading.

But then I remember they sat through The Silence of the Lambs.

I’m not THAT bad.

And I mean well. Really.


 

Seniors beginning the covid-19 hard part

THE CONSEQUENCES OF SMALL MISTAKES MIGHT BE DEATH

That’s what makes it so scary.

We have now had one staff case of covid-19.

Management sent a memo, said this staff person is not in direct contact with Residents of our retirement community, and that they had done contact tracing with whoever might have been in contact with the staff person. They were waiting for the results.

Today, at our weekly half-hour QuaranTV closed-circuit broadcast, I asked, and was told the tests on the contacts have come back negative. We have not been told how the staff person is – they were home self-isolating a week ago or so, and we have not had any more information.

And a couple in Independent Living

is under their doctor’s care, and self-isolating in their apartment.

Word is they brought the virus in from somewhere they went, which could have been anything: a doctor’s appointment, a trip to the grocery store, dinner in town during the recent reopening (now canceled), or a trip to their Lake Tahoe home for a weekend or a month.

I understand privacy laws.

We will be told only what we need to know.

Which begs one important question in a facility which also has Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Support: can the person(s) whose contacts were traced be trusted to remember everyone they came in contact with?

A major facility rehab is ongoing

Painting, new carpeting, woodwork – the whine of tools is omnipresent.

The workers are doing their best – and need the work.

But I keep seeing people – Residents, staff, workers – who seem to not realize that the mask they are wearing MUST cover the NOSE as well as the mouth. Or is basically useless.

Why so many people are incompetent at that basic task baffles me.

They don’t seem to realize. I’ve seen someone when reminded put the mask up over the nose – only to have it fall off IMMEDIATELY – and then they do nothing.

How do we protect ourselves?

I personally treat the entire world outside our apartment as contaminated with a layer of a fine dust. The dust is invisible. The dust is like the radioactive dust from Chernobyl: invisible but deadly.

“If you could SEE the virus, would you go out?” asks a Facebook post.

Of course not. And if we did, we’d take it more seriously.

But that only includes those who listen to the scientists, and understand the concept that whatever you pick up needs to be delivered, at some time, to your eyes, nose, or mouth – the mucous membranes are their target.

Even just putting on my gear – nametag, mask, phone into plastic sandwich bag into pocket, keys into other pocket, backpack – is the start of the whole ‘you might be contaminated.’ I wash my hands at least twice when I come back: once immediately, and again once I have removed my outer gear, nametag, etc., etc. – just in case.

I don’t know if those who have gotten ill here – staff and Resident – were careless

I’m assuming they were unlucky.

Since we don’t know, AND THERE ARE NO PRECAUTIONS WE AREN’T ALREADY TAKING, it doesn’t really matter.

I won’t worry – I will just continue to do EVERYTHING, because I don’t know what people are thinking out there.

Wash hands. Don’t touch face. Wear mask. Do not give the virus, which you may assume you have picked up somewhere, A RIDE TO YOUR EYES, NOSE, OR MOUTH.

THIS IS STILL THE FIRST WAVE OF THE PANDEMIC

We in the States never defeated the First Wave.

The Reopeners are living in a fairyland.

There is no vaccine.

There is no cure.

The treatments are symptomatic – and don’t fix much.

If you end up in a hospital, you’re already in bad shape.

If you end up on a ventilator, your chances of making it out are abysmal.

An estimated 10% are NOT RECOVERING – still sick after months.

And we’ve now had several cases in our little enclave.

And Yolo County – and most of California – are finally paying attention and closing down, because there are more cases and more deaths – AGAIN.

I’d hate to be one of the unnecessary deaths.

One of the people who were refused treatment.

One who got the virus from someone acting irresponsibly.


It sounds self-centered, but the time will go by, regardless of how I use it. I’m writing. NETHERWORLD continues to get written, polished, and sent out to my lovely beta reader.

Me NOT writing will help no one.

If I’m still around, I will have made progress.


Which reminds me: I promised to leave a summary of the rest of the trilogy – so you know what happens – where it will be made available to anyone who started reading.

In case I don’t make it.


To the lovely person who bought a paperback: thank you! Hope you leave a review.

Some people prefer paper.

I set my ebook and paperback prices so I make around $5 when someone buys either; it seems about right.


Love you all. Drop by and tell me you’re okay.

Alicia


 

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.


 

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.


 

Do the right thing while you still can

SOMEONE MIGHT NEED TO HEAR A KIND WORD

The poem Maud Miller was quoted in Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.

John Greenleaf Whittier died in 1892, but his words have resonated.

There is something valuable in using the current world crisis to do things you should have done, now, before the opportunity is taken from you.

This week I wrote a ‘thank you’ letter

I have been mulling it around in my mind for months, because it had the potential of turning into something else.

I finally gave up on the ‘something else,’ which has been, and still is, an unformed request for help of an indeterminate kind.

And that was the holdup: I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to ask for, and it wasn’t clear how. Sometimes that confusion means something: don’t do it.

But eventually I realized that right now, a thank you note out of the blue, when someone is quarantined and disconnected from office routine and usual sources of affirmation, might make the day bright for a person who, through his work, has made my life easier, and my writing better.

With my slightly increased brain function and the pressure of ‘what if something happens to either of us,’ I had a moment of energy, and quickly sat down to put words to page. Added a short handwritten note (the handwriting had been held up by the damaged right shoulder – thank you notes should probably be written by hand), and sent it off.

Now every time I remember the help, I can feel good about having sent the note – instead of guilty that I should, really, and haven’t figured out what to say. It’s DONE.

This week I sent a tough letter to someone

My, how many ‘somes’ are showing up in this post!

But the writings are private, though the insight might be useful, so they cannot be replaced by proper nouns, and can’t even be granted common nouns, so you’ll just have to see if this is still useful.

One of my favorite parts of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee stories is Meyer’s Law, which for my own purposes I usually remember as ‘Whatever the hardest thing to do is, that’s the right thing to do.’

My ability to quote correctly is legendarily bad – here’s the Google result:

John D. MacDonald — ‘In all emotional conflicts, the thing you find the most difficult to do, is the thing that you should do.–Meyer’s Law

And I am dating myself! The stories are from the 1960s!

Detour aside, this was something that, if our positions were reversed, I would have appreciated getting from the other person. But the contents were very deep, and I greatly feared adding to the other person’s pain.

But Meyer would have been proud of me: I decided it was her RIGHT to know, and that she could deal with it however she wanted to, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not giving her that choice, however painful.

I’m glad I did and she thanked me, and it will probably be the last time we ever communicate, not because of anything bad, but because the contents were the result of our two lives touching over something (here we go again with the somes) which will never happen again.

I promise not to forget, as long as I have memory. And that has to be good enough.

The results are that now I can move on

Every time in the future either topic comes to my mind – which will happen – I have closure. I did what I needed to do. The actions are in the past instead of in a vague future.

And I did the right thing.

For the reference: it hurt as much as I had expected, maybe more – and I can take it.

I see too many books now with this as their foundation

A person in the present turns out to be haunted by something they did or didn’t do in their darkest past, and the future is forever colored by avoiding the sore topic – until something explodes.

I don’t like this trend in novels – everyone has a horrible deep dark secret. An event in the present (usually a death – or a missive discovered from someone who died) results in digging into the past, and explosions ensue.

It is true that times were different before, that things that can be revealed now – a secret marriage, a child given up or adopted, a wrong to someone’s life or reputation – might have had much bigger repercussions ‘back then,’ and we’re more able to survive the revelation now than when it happened.

‘Do it now’ stops future pain – for me

But the present state of uncertainty in our real-life lives makes me hope I don’t get to the end without doing what I should have done.

I have a few more of these to clear up, and then I’ll be free of that particular kind of regret.


 

 

 

 

Staying comfortable in the saddle again

Section of a side view of the Rose Garden at URC showing the side exit door and some of the path

Out door – but not in right now

UNEVEN SIDEWALKS AS A CHALLENGE TO CONFIDENCE

We are on lockdown, which currently means you can go out, but not in, through all the usual exit doors in our building.

Why? So they can control who comes into our facility, and make sure they’re wearing a mask, and pass a quick health check, and I think take their temperature. Good precautions, and control of entrances is a part of that.

They’ve added a check station by the campus’ front entrance from the street, so cars and people coming in can be queried as to whether they are essential personnel, essential visitors, or not. A patrol car with a private security guy sits there, and some of our staff are in the little covered space to deal with contractors, delivery people, etc.

No enforcement possibility is necessary – it’s all voluntary, but family members are being turned away, even if they’re bringing something, most of the time.s-l500

Maggie2 is identical to Maggie

Both are black. Unobtrusive.

Maggie waits for me to find a part and a repair person.

But I found that after two months of not riding, I’ve lost confidence in my riding ability and Maggie2’s balancing ability, so I need to go out with some excuse to ride around a bit every couple of days.

Part of it is sidewalks and paths and curb cuts and cutouts: they make look smooth to an able-bodied walker with no balance problems, but they are neither truly flat nor even remotely smooth.

Sidewalks and paths are made a square or rectangle at a time, with gaps between them. When a repair is done, or a utility opening is created, the finished product is roughly smooth (an oxymoron).

I’m not a light-weight kid with the great balance of youth

There is a lot of me, and the Maggies cope, but I sometimes wonder how much of a strain it is, and how near the actual limits I might be, especially when riding outside, with up and down slopes. I don’t go near steep gradients any more, and plan my travels with slopes in mind.

But if I haven’t been in the saddle for even a couple of days, I’m ever so slightly nervous when I hop on board, such as to go down to get the mail. When trundling down the corridors, I’m conscious when I start that I’m a little unstable.

It’s like when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while, and my sisters rattle off on the phone, and I’m expected to just jump in and participate – and I feel so awkward reaching for a noun or wondering if they still say things in a particular way.

So tonight I went for a little planned ride

Checked the battery – 3 out of 4 dots. Good.

Took the elevator down to the first floor (elevators are wobbly because they’re on cables), and headed toward the side door (in picture). Right now the entire first floor is being painted, the furniture changed, and the carpet replaced – and is covered with a layer of plastic that crinkles as we ride along.

Use the paper towel so I don’t touch any surfaces directly, from the elevator buttons to the door opening buttons first into the stairwell, and then out into the side Rose Garden.

Grit teeth – tell myself it isn’t that big of a slope out. It isn’t.

Say hello to other Resident who chooses this moment to come out with a large dog and a frisbee – and ask that they both be mindful of where I am, as I don’t want to be knocked down or startled off my perch by a vigorous dog which is aching to get some running and jumping and catching in.

Go down the path – and run into a moving van which has barely left enough room for Maggie and me to go down the sidewalk.

In through the front lobby – and check that I can get out of the building near the Skilled Nursing section. They say yes. But when I get down there, I find that the door opener doesn’t work after 5pm, but I can get out if I push the door. Push, hoping no alarms will go off.

Then around the north end of the building, in and out of the patio area, and back to the front entrance – all the while up and down slopes, on and off of sidewalks, around sharp corners (keeping the two of us in the center of the walk), around patio furniture piled willy-nilly, smelling some lovely roses, and up and down several curb cuts.

On our way back now

Check in, chat a moment, tell them the door doesn’t open automatically after 5pm., but you can still get out (front desk seems knowledgeable all the time, but the details sometimes escape them).

Chat with a few of the servers, both of us masked – we miss our dining room staff like crazy. One is excited they are moving toward reopening some of the dining venues. I tell him we are not: no cure, no treatment, no increased hospital capacity, no vaccine – and exhausted medical personnel. We’ll probably stay in much longer than strictly necessary.

Pick up the mail. Chat with another Resident (I have to keep backing up). She’s hoping the path from hospital (starting in December, not covid-19 related) to Skilled Nursing and now to Assisted Living is only temporary, and that she’ll be able to go back to her Independent Living unit. I tell her I hope so, and want to know – I will be resisting the Assisted Living part in a similar situation unless I’m sure it’s reversible if I can handle it.

Zoom up the corridors, reverse the elevator ride – and husband say: “That was a short ride!”

Decontaminate

Put mail away, put everything back in its place, being very conscious of what might have touched a surface outside the apartment, stabling Maggie2, and washing hands twice, thoroughly, during the process.

And we’re home!

I regained my comfort, mostly, with riding. I’m glad I included time outside and with challenges – they were a bit scary and got better on the circuit. Other people commented on how smoothly we move – and I didn’t disavow the prowess.

But I know.

And that’s all the excitement of the quarantine/isolation at the CCRC today. Absorbing, eh? And reset the brain by seeing other humans (I haven’t been out much otherwise), and talking to them.

Until next time.

Tomorrow is trike ride day.

These things seem and are trivial, but they’re also important to do for psychological welfare, especially since we’re going to be at this a long time.


Stay well.

Writing persists, though right now it seems to be taking me 5-6 hours to get that brain to come on every day. I am well into becoming Andrew to write the next scene, after days of gathering.

That’s all I ask for.

Hope everyone out there is staying safe. Or recovering. I know some are not, and still have trouble some days believing the whole disaster.

“Another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” Yup. Part of the week’s research included watching that used in a whole bunch of their movies. And yes, that quote is accurate. Memory is funny.


 

My writing is a walk through a minefield

I AM ALWAYS MY OWN FIRST READER

One piece of advice to writers I’ve always followed is to “Write the book you want to read and that you can’t find.”

I guess as a writer I’m looking for the readers who FEEL the way I feel.

I’m having trouble finding more of them because WE tend to hide our feelings as too intense, too troubling, too deep – and are much less likely to discuss those feelings with other people as we recommend a book.

It is too close.

I am not my characters, and my characters are NOT me.

Because, if anything, there are significant parts of me I’ve consulted when writing all three of the main characters in Pride’s Children PURGATORY, and now Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Readers know what it’s like to be inhabited by warring camps, typically portrayed in cartoons by a little angel over one shoulder, and a little devil over the other.

I contain multitudes.

But I AM an actor

The training, and the thinking, and the practice come in very handy when you have to split parts of yourself off for a character – and maintain some distance from your self.

I’m sure you can’t play Macbeth without finding justifications for killing your king.

So, before you go traipsing through one of my scenes, I have to do the hard work of feeling my way from the First Line to the Last Line, so that it is smooth and satisfying for a reader who goes that way but once.

It’s part of what makes me slow.

Adrenaline is hard for my body to process – and all hormones are big parts of the emotional states that accompany their surges through the bloodstreams of humans.

I have to feel more than usual, and have a smaller capacity for recovering from the emotional hormones, than most people.

You have to get very close to emotions to write them.

Yesterday, as research for the next chapter in NETHERWORLD, I had to go through, over and over, a part of life that, as a married woman who just celebrated 45 years with her first and only husband, was very far behind me.

No one knows the future – it could be useful in some cases, but I’m hoping I won’t need what I went through yesterday, because, as all important decisions, it was exhausting!

And I can’t stop writing these sections until I can recreate that on the page, in words, first in myself, and then, with some degree of certainty, in both men and women.

Models in literature

I had myself wondering today how close Margaret Mitchell got to Scarlett O’Hara, or Charlotte Brontë to her Jane.

I’m not sure Mitchell was fond of Scarlett – Scarlett and my Bianca have a lot in common – and Mitchell gave Scarlett no HEA: she prevailed, but her victory was Pyrrhic at best: never being hungry again is pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

I take some of my examples from Dorothy L. Sayers, who at least left Harriet and Peter happy and married, but made them work very hard for that win: the hard work is, to me, essential to the outcome.

I don’t take shortcuts.

All of this may make more sense when the next book comes out, if you’re one of the clan.

I hope you are.

When this is all over, I’d love to talk about it. Right now I’m too raw.


If you haven’t read PURGATORY, and do so now, you’ll have a much better idea of what I’m talking about – as well as an appreciation for why it took so long. I had to learn to do the writing/feeling connection – and do it in EVERY scene.


Drop a line if you have any idea what I’m saying. It gets lonely out here.


 

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

Scene not working? Change something MAJOR

NOVEL SCENES HAVE A PURPOSE

They are not just ‘something that happens next.’

There are many different ways to accomplish that purpose, but there’s a tendency, as a writer, to have things happen in a particular way, and to have that way get stuck in the chute.

The more things a scene needs to accomplish, the longer it may end up needing to be.

But writers’ brains have the same habit of getting stuck behind the wrong idea as any other brain. And maybe my ME/CFS brain does this more than most writers’ brains because change is so difficult for me.

When it isn’t gelling

So the first thing to do when a scene isn’t writing itself, after a reasonable amount of time expended trying, is to separate the essentials from the window dressing, and consider finding a different way entirely to enact the required elements – and change the window dressing to something else entirely.

A scene could be huge, with many characters interacting.

Or a scene can be small and intimate, or small and intimate within a chaotic outer setting, or the kind of scene where it isn’t until the end that you realize a whole bunch of things have come together.

A paced novel will have all kinds of scenes, to avoid monotony, to keep the feeling of surprise and discovery going.

But few scenes have only ONE way to accomplish their task.

When I started writing this post, I had just made a deceptively small change – the hour of the scene went from 4pm to 8pm – taking it from mid-afternoon to sunset – and was able to unstick a line of attack completely. The number of participants also dropped – from crowd scene to two principals.

Lawrence Block says that when things get stuck and you don’t know what to do next, you should bring in a man with a gun.

That’s a pantser’s move.

I’m an extreme plotter, so that’s not really an option.

But one of my writing guides, Armando Saldaña Mora’s Dramatica for Screenwriters has a whole section on how to change the scope and size of a scene, and still accomplish that scene’s purpose. Which is the real advantage of my kind of plotting, where everything has a place.

Changing a scene completely is often a budget move for movies

If the purpose is for the Protagonist to say goodbye to the Antagonist, say, the scene can be large and showy and done in front of hundreds of extras – or it can be small and intense and private and done in the back seat of a taxi (“I coulda been a contender” speech, Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront). Where the taxi isn’t even really moving.

It is something only the novelist will know in a novel, where words themselves are relatively cheap, even if producing them costs blood: was this scene completely different at any point before publishing?

Changing the scene in NETHERWORLD

You don’t have to choose between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ a scene; there is more than one way to ‘show.

The original scene was going to happen while ON the set of Opium, filming in India, where the main character would watch the filming for an hour or so, and then form her own conclusions about the undercurrents in the cast.

It works much better without the actual filming being observed, and the scene purpose is fulfilled in an even more intense way. Since the details of filming were background in PURGATORY, the reader gets the idea – and I don’t have to repeat it.

The result:

  • An unstuck scene
  • A better scene
  • A scene between two main characters, instead of one with many to track
  • Advancing the plot
  • Better dynamics
  • Definitely better dialogue

So if it isn’t working, and you’ve spent enough time that it should have gelled by now: consider that you can use a lot of what you already figured out – but reframe how the reader is going to learn what you need the reader to know.

Be bold; try something different.


Really different.

Have you done this?


 

The tiny start of each new day

WE HAVE IT EVERY DAY

I realize it’s become a little routine, getting going in the mornings as efficiently as possible, so I’m recording it to laugh at in the future.

Mind, this is me ALWAYS – and has little or nothing to do with the coronavirus.

It might amuse you.

There are many steps (beyond the obvious first one):

  1. Find brain – it’s in there somewhere
  2. Do anything that absolutely must be done before you even turn the computer on.
  3. Turn on the lamp in the corner from the switch by the door.
  4. Say my morning prayers – even though I rarely remember the promises I made.
  5. Turn the overhead light on from the control on desk I can reach from the bed.
  6. Move to the desk chair.
  7. Turn the big monitor on – and make sure the switch goes to blue (behind PostIt so it doesn’t affect my sleep by being too bright).
  8. Lift the lid to the Macbook. While waiting for the screens to come back,
  9. Reach for phone, and plug it into the charger (I don’t charge overnight because I need it for a clock in the middle of the night, and a flashlight)
  10. Critical: reach down and turn the power strip with the two bright green lights ON
  11. Now it’s okay to turn the desk lamp on (with a touch).
  12. Open the venetian blinds and the shade to let the light in.
  13. Pills: take morning ones, set the later ones out.
  14. Check the email.

The reason for waiting to do 11. until 10. is done is that I keep forgetting to do it – until my Macbook suddenly shuts itself off and goes blank.

And when I look, and the two green lights are NOT on, I realize I forgot – and the battery went to as close to zero as the Mac allows, and I DID IT AGAIN!

So I’ve linked them deliberately.

After that come the optionals:

  • Diet Coke #1.
  • Breakfast (but that can wait for hours if the brain is on and I want to try using it first).
  • Water and ice for the HydroFlask tumbler I sip from all day long. Cold!
  • Facebook, quick answers to anyone who seems to want one.
  • The Washington Post, and The New York Times – quick scan.
  • Load up a page of sudokus – hard – for when I block the internet.
  • Check the calendar.
  • Check the To Do list – maybe – not good with that; stuff gets done, but not in an organized manner. Occasionally, clean the list, remove stuff already done.
  • Extra Vitamin C? Extra painkillers? Extra liquid B12?
  • Checking if any books have sold on Amazon overnight, or the nice person who took it out of KU has read any more pages.
  • Check The Passive Voice and Writer Unboxed; comment if I feel like it.
  • Think whether it’s been long enough that I should consider watering the twin coffee plants and the flowery thing.
  • Open the living room blinds that let me see out from my office past the living room, somewhere into the distance.

And finally, if I have any energy left at this point,

think about what I might need to accomplish today.

Think about adding an energy-draining shower to the list for today.

Including whether I both need and can afford to take a short trike ride for mental health and a tiny bit of exercise, like today – if so, try to remember the ritual associated with that now – from taking the cellphone and the locator bracelet for emergencies, and the keys, and the backpack, and water…

There you have it – boring as all get out, so I try to do it quickly, so I can go on to procrastinating from writing by thinking about writing.

Oh, and worry about the coronavirus, COVID-19,

and whether we’re still going to be safe, here in our total lockdown at the CCRC.

But that one goes without saying.

All this is so I can get to the real reason for getting out of bed:

  • Working on the current/next scene in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Which is coming along very nicely.


Do you find yourself doing the same list of heuristics every morning in the same order and playing a game with yourself to see how fast you can get past it?


 

They’ve blocked off even the swings

img 1076

Sign on a park bench in a playground area

I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT SAYS – STAY OFF?

And I don’t know because this is as close as I could get to the bench with my iPhone while sitting on the trike – and I wasn’t about to get off and maybe accidentally touch something – out there.

It makes sense. You don’t want people touching surfaces other people have touched, and possibly infected, and no one is going to go through and clean every bench and every slide and every swing, so at least you can tell people they shouldn’t touch. Anyone sane, with the small children who usually use this playground equipment, isn’t going to want to touch things which might infect the kids.

Because there are two ways the coronavirus can get into YOU:

  1. Someone who is shedding the live virus coughs or breathes in your general direction – and YOU breathe in some of what came out of their respiratory system,
  2. You touch something that has the live virus on it, and bring it to YOUR T-zone on YOUR face (mouth, nose, eyes).

That’s it.

‘Live virus’ is a misnomer; viruses aren’t alive in the normal sense: they don’t eat, grow, reproduce, and die.

You could think of them as a little poison packet, capable of doing damage in the right circumstances.

But those are quibbles. They are little blobs of Something that can, under the right circumstances, both make copies of itself, and make you ill from having had your cells hijacked to make copies of the virus, and by circulating through your body in enough quantity to overwhelm your immune system, which normally has the job of killing invaders.

It is unfortunate if you get the virus the first way, stupid the second way.

So everything is closed, and that includes the swings.

Getting out is a privilege

One I hope they don’t have to remove due to the human inability to follow simple instructions such as distancing and washing hands.

But it is discouraging to see simple things like swings for kids and park benches for all blocked off as dangerous. I can understand the kid cautions. But find it hard to understand why you can’t sit on a park bench – and then, without touching your face, go home and wash your hands.


Thanks to the person who took Pride’s Children PURGATORY out of KU this week. Hope you enjoy it – and hope you think seriously about leaving a review. Reviews are amazingly encouraging to writers working on the next book.

Stay well, all. You know what to do.


 

Creating a roadmap for scene arcs

I’ve done this before – and didn’t realize it actually needs to be a ‘thing,’ a part of my regular writing ‘process.’

Most of the time, my plotting assigns all kinds of details to scenes, leaving the actual writing to when I get that far in the list of scenes, as I work one at a time until it’s finished.

So I can concentrate on writing one scene, one little visual polished bit, at a time, knowing that the scene will fit into the story like a jewel into a necklace.

But a scene can be too small an entity to work with when the story arc needs several scenes to tell a part of the story, during which point of view will shift in each scene (I stick religiously to a single pov per scene), but the story will continue, and, if I’m skillful enough, the reader won’t notice the patchwork quilt squares, but only the whole.

IF my plotting is good enough initially, and thought out in enough detail, I can trundle along, scene by scene, and the bits will connect.

But when the plotting was changed in the great 2007 reorganization?

Then I was forced to make some large decisions and some fine grained decisions about what would go where of all the bits in the story, and some of those details were tentatively assigned to a scene, or a point of view character, and I knew I would have to rearrange some of the bits when I got there.

I’ve done the several-scene roadmap idea more than once before. The first three chapters of Purgatory, for example, are all about the Night Talk show where two of the main characters meet in New York, while the third main character watches the show from Los Angeles.

So I’ve worked with the concept before, that plotting can have arcs even within the larger story, but I never stopped to formalize that for myself.

It’s a lot of work

I think of it as fractal in nature: pick a scope – sentence, paragraph, beat, scene,… and plot first, then write – and the dialogue will happen, the interior monologues will support it, because we all know where we’re going, together.

Sometimes a film director will allow actors to improvise – but it is always within the director’s (and the script’s) larger vision of the whole. Within that whole, individual pieces can be executed in many ways, but all have to serve the story. Or they will have to be expunged (kill your darlings) from the final product, which will otherwise be a mess.

But for extreme plotters like I am, breaking up the process, and doing the structure solidly FIRST, allows me to just write when I get there, to listen to the characters in my mind, and write down what they say, because I’ve given them the setup – and the writing part of my brain seems to have a mind of its own.

Back to my skyscraper analogy

Get the plumbing and the elevators and the water lines and the steel structure right first – or the sewage from the 29th floor won’t proceed to the treatment plant, and the first time someone flushes up there won’t be pretty for those on the 28th floor.

But after that, interior walls may have some variation (as long as they aren’t load-bearing), so that one floor can have a large open conference room where the floor directly above has offices or apartments. That is my roadmap idea. Within the plan for a whole building, there can be individual floor designs – followed by the decorating (writing) of the individual rooms which is the ultimate purpose of the skyscraper – interior spaces of all kinds and sizes within the plan.

Sometimes I can plan a whole building at a time, others a floor at a go, sometimes just one room, and sometimes a perfect grouping of furniture before the fireplace where we will sit and talk.

And the roadmap part?

Think of the roadmap as linear, while the floorplan of a skyscraper’s floor is 2D, and the building itself is 3D.

The ROADMAP allows you to visit every room on each floor – in a particular order, the one chosen by the storyteller.

Think of it: the last time you let a Real Estate Agent show you a dwelling, did they arrange your tour so you ended up in the perfect room? The one the agent knew would close the deal?

The ROADMAP is how I get you where I want you, the Reader, to go.

I work and plan and think and manipulate – so you will say wow.

The whole idea is to tell the story for YOUR pleasure – and for that you have to let me be dramatic, and show you everything in an order I hope you will like.


Just when you think your writing process is a lock – there’s something more to write ABOUT it. For me, it’s one more thing nailed down that I won’t forget to do because my brain isn’t working.

It’s an interesting way to work, with a limited brain as my tool.