Happy Easter and Welcome Spring

Puffed up Grouse - Guenette photo

Spring must be here when the male grouse goes looking for a mate. I captured a shot of this guy outside my kitchen door yesterday. We see grouse around here all the time. They love to eat the Russian Kale that grows so profusely there is enough for all of us. But this was my first experience of seeing a male all puffed up in this way. A friend on Facebook provided this information:

It’s a Ruffed Grouse. Named after the wonderful ruff around the necks of the males. He’s starting to look for a mate. You will also be hearing a “drumming” sound, which is them beating their wings. Again, to attract a mate.

How wonderful! We’ve often heard the drumming, thrumming sound. Now we know what’s going on out in the wilderness!

Russian kale 2(original), March 20-2017 - briuce witzel photo

Happy Dance – Let’s Celebrate

Happy young buddhas - google images

This is the last instalment of my Thoughts from the Writing Trenches extravaganza. 170,000 words and the first draft of No Compass to Right – 4th book in the Crater Lake series – is done. Wrote almost 9,000 of those in one day. I was so in the grips of the story, I could hardly get out of the chair to use the bathroom. But it was worth it.

There’s a weird feeling that comes over me as I scroll through the pages – shock and awe. How did I do it? I somehow managed to put all these characters on the playing board of the story then I followed them through to the last page. I think I could write a hundred books and I would always feel like this when I got to the end of the first draft. I went to sleep the night I finished and slept a solid eight, dreamless hours. It was wonderful!

Many thanks for following this first draft writing series. It felt less lonely in the writing trenches knowing some of you were digging along beside me. If you have any suggestions for future series, let me know.

Butterfly sculpture overlooking the lake(2) -  bruce witzel photo

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

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part IV

Native Grass at Zion Canyon - bruce witzel photo

93,000 words and I’ve got all the characters on the playing board. That might be a tad misleading. 93,000 is my total word count but many of those words are beyond where I finally introduced my last three characters. As explained in previous posts, I write forward and backward, all within one main document. If I’m deep into the storyline of one character, I might skip to any point in the book where a scene requires me to jump into that character’s head again. The longer I stay with a character the more he or she reveals to me.

I thought it would be fun to share my writing schedule. Morning are the most productive for new writing. Right before bed the night before, I will have reviewed the section that I plan to work on the next day. My subconscious dream self is in on the process and I often do wake up with ideas. I get up and go for it. I’m usually bleary-eyed and done in by 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. I need to get outside to walk, ride my stationary bike and think. I’ll try not to come back to the work until after supper when I sit in my easy chair in the living room and go over what I’ve written.

A writing session involves having several documents open on my desktop. The first draft document – obviously – and backed up every single night without fail. I open my character grid for the current book and another that covers all the books. You wouldn’t believe how often I forget someone’s last name. The other day, looking through the overall character grid, I discovered that Fiona’s mother’s name is Kate. She gets mentioned occasionally. I had decided to name a new character at Micah Camp, Kate. That would be an unfair confusion. So, the Micah Camp Kate became Paula with a quick change using the replace all function. I always have a lunar calendar for the year my story takes place open and waiting. Again, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to put two full moons in one month. The reader should never have to worry about the passage of time or the phases of the moon. That’s my job. I’ll also keep the character sketch for a new character open if I’m writing a scene where this person makes an appearance.

I often have CBC podcasts playing in the background as I work. I’m not really listening but I like the sound of familiar voices and on some level, knowledge is integrated. But there are times when I must switch over to iTunes and blast some music. My favourite pick right now is Justin Timberlake’s song from the Trolls movie – Can’t Stop the Feeling. If you want to shake up the writing routine and give your back a break, play this song, get out of your chair and dance around your writing room for a few minutes. Great blood flow to the brain.

Trolls movie - Google image

What is your writing routine like? When do you do your best work? Does it have to be quiet or do you like some noise in the background? Come down into the trenches with me and let’ talk.

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part III

Lake view from our deck

Current writing weather alert – excruciatingly raw with glimpses of brilliance. I’m writing a first draft and that explains the word raw. Brilliance may come off sounding egotistical, but we all have parts of our writing that we fall in love with. Why else would editing be so hard? It’s not as if we’re paid by the word like Alexander Dumas writing The Count of Monte Cristo. We don’t want to cut because we’re smitten by our own creation.

I hit 86,000 words today and got past my first climax point. Who would imagine a simple birthday party would be so hard to write? It’s always a challenge when I bring a bunch of the characters together in one scene for a party or a book club or a baseball game. I’m dealing with multiple interactions between and across characters. A scene like that is anything but simple.

I usually stay in one character’s point-of-view for an entire chapter section. But rules are made to be broken. When I’m writing a scene with multiple characters, it can be limiting to have access to only one character’s thoughts – especially if I want to wring everything I can out of the scene. I think the trick is to make the transitions as smooth as possible and have characters who are unique in the way they think so each voice is clear for the reader.

In my writing life, it’s taken me a while to turn a deaf ear to the following types of criticism – too many characters; too many points-of-view; too many storylines. The stories I want to write are told from multiple perspectives and I’m more and more comfortable with that.

This type of storytelling isn’t for every reader. Nothing any writer chooses would be. We can’t write to please everyone. So, I’m choosing to write for the reader who is willing to make an investment, to get in as deep with these stories and characters as I do. It’s a tall order but what the heck … go big or go home.

Do you read or write stories with multiple character perspectives? Do you love or hate this writing style?

Sunrise silouette from our deck