Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – IX

Russian kale 3(original), March 20-2017 - briuce witzel photo

A few days along the writing way: 153,000 words – it’s coming down to the wire now. There’s a list on my desk of the scenes left to write and the order in which I want to write them. I estimate another week and I’ll have this first draft in the bag.

I can’t say enough about how using the navigation tool on Word has aided my writing  – especially as I started to write scenes out of sequence. With a quick drag of the mouse up or down the navigation tool bar, using the information heavy sub-titles I had chosen, I could make sure I wasn’t messing up the time lines. And I can find my way through the entire document in a flash. Amazing – not sure how I managed before I learned of this simple tool.

bingo card - google imageI finished up a section today that had me laughing as I read it over. We writers do love our own antics. This scene is at a fundraiser Bingo that Micah Camp is doing with the local Catholic parish of St. Bertha’s. A fun part of the night for one and all is getting the priest at St. Bertha’s to call and then giving him a good natured hard time. For your enjoyment – a sneak peak at a first draft scene from No Compass to Right:

“Hey, Father,” the voice rang out through the crowded, stuffy hall. It was early and the place already smelled of overheated coffee and hotdogs.

Kieran stood on the stage between the bingo machine that sounded like an out-of-control popcorn popper with its seventy-five balls whirling around inside and a large lit up board dotted with holes. He had been pulling the balls from the machine, calling the number and setting them in the board for five games now. It seemed like he was getting the hang of it and he hoped that nothing else would throw him for a loop the way an elderly woman in the first row had when she raised her voice to ask him, “Are you going to drop your balls or what, Father.” He quickly learned that meant turn the machine on and get calling.

He stared out across the tables filled with people wielding fluorescent bingo dabbers like plunging daggers over their paper cards, and said, “What can I do for you?”

“What do you call a sleep-walking nun?” A man at a table near the back of the hall yelled.

To Kieran’s helpless shrug, another person on the other side of the hall shouted, “A roamin’ Catholic.” Then someone rang a huge cow bell and everyone busted out laughing.

And a few days more: 164,000 words at day’s end. Three key scenes to write and then I’m finished my first draft of No Compass to Right. I’ve been writing around and around these scenes for a couple of weeks. The tension is as ramped up for me in the creation process as I hope it will be for the reader. Pushing on to the end now. I see the finish line and can’t wait to get there.

Crocus 2(backlit) March 20, 0217 - bruce witzel photo

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – VIII

Robin singing on a tree branch, March 20-2017 - bruce witzel photo

First draft progress – 149,000 words. I’m singing like that robin on a pear tree branch! There is something satisfying about a rising word count – even knowing many will be cut or reworked. In grad school, I had a supervisor who always told me – better to have too much material than not enough. Yo, that!

I’ve abandoned any attempts to follow a linear structure. Key climax scenes are all earmarked to be done last. Today, I took one story thread that involves three characters and followed it scene by scene to the end of the book. I suspect there will be more of that strategy as I push to the finish line.

A past instalment of this series generated an interesting question from Jane Tims over on Niche Poetry and Prose  – do I edit as I go?

Simple answer is yes. More complicated answer – it certainly doesn’t eliminate the need for a thorough edit later. Editing occurs for me at all stages. In this first draft stage, I’ve been using the evenings to read through what I’ve written that day and clean up the obvious mistakes – typos and weird wording. Whenever I need a break from moving the word count up, I’ve been putting the work, section by section, through a new tool I’m trying out – ProWritingAid. I often send my current copy of the manuscript to my Kindle by email so I can read key sections over before going to sleep.

As you can imagine, all these steps keep the work uppermost in my mind. Jane and I are curious – how do others handle editing in the first draft process? Let us know.

I’m leaving you today with this lovely spring photo. It tells me time is moving on. I’ve got to finish this first draft before it cuts into my wandering in the garden time.

Crocuses (backlit5) March 20, 0217 - bruce witzel photo

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – VII

New Mexico - Bruce Witzel photo

I awoke at 5:00 a.m. knowing I had reached the stage of fatal flaws. Many parts of the writing process are difficult – beginning, getting through the middle, ending. As Hemingway so aptly put it – nothing hard about writing … just sit down and open a vein. I believe the fatal flaw stage has the biggest potential to derail a first draft. Not negotiating this part of the writing process is probably the reason many manuscripts languish in drawers gathering dust. Or, now-a-days, buried on our hard drives in a folder marked – Unfinished.

I’m 145,000 words in, characters set, storylines wound tight around one another. Then I wake up knowing that my credibility will be stretched beyond the breaking point if I attempt to have character A, as currently described, do this at one point in the story and that at another. It simply won’t work. Readers worth their chops won’t buy it.

DSC_0036

Case in point: A quirky character who dresses oddly, who has crazy hair, who has a real edge and is at times decidedly snarky. This same character is also a cheerful daycare provider who loves kids and is someone who would be invited to participate in a steamy dance video.

It’s a stretch! Can one character truly be all these things?

What to do? I  have a few options.

1. Exploring the character’s internal motivations is a great tool for getting reader to buy in. Maybe I can find a way to make everything fit based on what’s inside the character’s head.

2. Then there’s story arc. It could be that between one end of the spectrum and the other, this character has changed. Maybe all I need to do is make that growth more obvious.

I consider the above two options easy fixes compared to the next two.

3. Maybe the story requires a character B to carry one part of the plot while character A sticks with the other. Hopefully this mysterious character B is already part of the story and with a few tweaks can be made to perform. At this stage, I am reluctant to weave in a new character.

4. I may have to change the story to fit the characters rather than vice versa. That will be complicated and create echoes and repercussions backwards and forwards.

An option I’ll mention but do not recommend.

5. Carry on and hope readers have a high tolerance for inconsistency. This route is sure to irritate and remember the number one commandment of writing – thou shalt not piss off the reader.

How would you resolve the dilemma of the fatal flaw stage?

Right way - Wrong way - google image

Free, Free, Free–Disappearing in Plain Sight is Free

Could it be Crater Lake - Bruce Witzel photo

Who doesn’t love free stuff? I’m taking a break from the intensity of writing the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series to do a promotion for the flagship first novel in the series – Disappearing in Plain Sight. 

Free Sunday, March 19th and Monday, March 20th.

Here’s a glimpse of what readers think – A recent Amazon five star review:

Every page of it was an eye opener of raw emotion and the struggle just get through each and every day. This was the first book by this author that I have read and I loved it. I’m hooked on the story and can’t wait to read the next book.

Enjoy Smile

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – VI

A  ferry at dawn

A day in this writing life dawns – 113,000 words. I probably have another month to go on the writing of this first draft. I may need a break. We’ll see. I’ve been thinking about how writing in the voice of some characters is, in one way – easy – while in another, exhausting.

When I write in Izzy’s voice, as a counsellor, what she’ll say and do comes quickly to mind. But a counsellor’s job is draining – be it in real time or in my imagination. Izzy is exhausting! In another character’s voice, though scenes and conversations are totally fictional, the writing takes me back to a time in my own life that was often marked by emotional turmoil. Again, what this character will say or do flows freely and my fingers fly over the keyboard. But the emotional trace is tiring.

Sculpture - Talieson West - Bruce Witzel photo

Two days goes by – 120,000 words and I’m working with a printed copy of the constantly-updated table of contents right in front of me at all times. I call this a zoom out technique. By closely studying that table, I was able to cut two characters and tweak the rest of my notes on unwritten sections to accommodate this change. I realized I could achieve what I wanted with those characters in a far more streamlined way. Bonus!

Niagara Falls - Bruce Witzel photo

And more days go by – I’ve reached 130,000 words and at this point, the story is simply spewing from me. There is no pleasant way to say that; no time for the niceties of well-wrought descriptive phrases or properly placed dialogue tags. It is simply a rush to see if I can type fast enough to get it down.

Having a firm grip on the structure of the novel is useful. Like tracking waves – the seventh one out there is going to be big. The writing builds and builds, hits a climax and then lengthens out as thing slow down, a few resolutions occur and the stage is set to start building again. Each subsequent climax builds a bit higher until, hopefully, when the big climax is reached – it is suitably tense and gripping.

California beach - Bruce Witzel photo

And more and more days go by – 136,000 words. I moved ahead in the writing today by tackling a whole chapter of aftermath events. I’ve been fretting about the magnitude of the upcoming major scenes. This leap forward to write about what happens afterwards is like a breath of fresh air blowing through a stuffy room. I’m energized.

First daddodils with dewdrops Mar. 2, 2015 - bruce witzel photo

And yet more days go by – 140,000 words and stopped in my tracks. Had a root canal finished up yesterday and it feels as though someone socked me in the jaw. Wow – talk about driving thoughts of Crater Lake out of my head. Taking a couple of Tylenol and heading to bed early.

Lake and the auroraborealis, Sept. 12, 2014 Bruce Witzel photo.2

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part V

Broken teacup art - bruce witzel photoNow is the moment of my discontent – 99,000 words and I’ve reached a part of the novel I always struggle with – the middle. Writing all the characters into the story is challenging but at the same time, vastly rewarding. Writing the end always races away in a flurry of heightened tension, climax and the tying up of loose ends. But this middle section – putting actual words to character arcs, building that all-important tension, foreshadowing what is to come and walking the characters to the climax in ways that make sense – this part is hard work. No other way to describe writing the middle.

For me, creating my first draft is a constant process of zooming in and zooming out. When I get stuck, like I am right now with the middle, zooming out is what is needed.

Geranium inside cabin sunspace, feb. 26, 2017 - bruce witzel photo

I do this by creating lists, tables and maps. I went chapter-by-chapter listing the characters mentioned in each one. I don’t want to lose track of anyone and I don’t want readers to get to know an interesting character, only to have that character disappear then pop out of nowhere near the end of the book. If you’ve ever had this experience as a reader, you know it’s darn disconcerting. Another stepping back task was to create a table linking characters with their storylines, number of point-of-view scenes and how the storylines cross over from character to character. That was a colourful chart. Next came multiple attempts at mind-mapping major themes. I ended up with a simple chart of overarching themes with three subthemes and a few points under each of these. Every storyline can be subsumed within these themes.

Lakeview from the bathroom, March 9-2017 - bruce witzel photo

After those exercises, I felt back on track. How do you find writing in the middle? If you had a preference, would it be beginning, middle or end?

Writing Chapter One – Tips

Discovered this excellent post on first chapter styles today over on D. Wallace Peach’s blog. Happy writing, indeed. I think I fall into the bookending chapter one category this time around. And since my blog posts these days are all about the writing process, I’m happy to share “Writing Chapter One”.

Myths of the Mirror

chapter-one-tips

I’ve wanted to write about first chapters for a while, primarily because they’re so important. After all, they’re the gateway to Chapter 2 and getting a reader to Chapter 2 is a fantastic idea.

I did some research and almost instantly the rule-resistant rebel in me kicked in. She’s the writer who scowls at formulas, who insists that form has to fit the story, not the other way around. She’s the reader who doesn’t want to read the same story over and over with different titles.

Well, I suppressed the first-born smarty-pants part of my personality and learned a few things.

First, I learned that there are actually a number of perfectly legitimate types of first chapters. Writer’s Digest has a great article by Jeff Gerke that describes 4 approaches with examples (summarized here):

  • The Prolog – A prolog is an episode that pertains to your story but does not…

View original post 677 more words