Hitting the Wall–Danger!

Danger 1

Okay – it happens. We all know it happens. There you are logging hundreds of words a day, going full-steam ahead, typing with one hand and patting yourself on the back with the other. Then, wham! The wall. Danger. All of the above!

I had probably written 35,000 words when it happened – that horrible feeling that there is nowhere for any of my characters to go. I’d somehow managed to tell all their collective stories and to solve all their problems without ever getting the book off the ground. Talk about a wall. Talk about undertows! Talk about fear of all manner of wild beasts.

Danger 3

When I hit the wall, I go out walking. And lucky for me, my trails in Feb. don’t need the above warning signs. Pretty quiet these days. On one of those walks, I got the idea to put each storyline to the question.

Ah … you say … the question? What can that be?

Where is the tension? Where is this going?

Danger 2

Yesterday, the ideas began to explode in my head like cannon fire. And I could see why I hit the wall. I’d revealed far too much about the characters far too soon. That’s easy to fix. One can always switch blocks of writing from here to there. And I hadn’t allowed myself to come up with enough action events to propel the storylines.

Danger - no problem

 

I was in possession of a plethora of action events. So, I took a scene plotter approach. I plugged my characters into those events and thought about how putting them in certain places at certain times was going to move their individual and collection storylines along. I know where they’re all going to end up – so that helps. As you can see, I’m out on that dangerous bridge without a care in the world. Of course, I’m not planning to dive.

 

Inevitable though, one day’s wild excitement is followed by a day of panic. As I contemplate the work involved in weaving all the threads together to create the tapestry that is unfolding in my mind, as I think about cobbling the pieces of story fabric together to create my quilt … it is daunting. Back to the walking.

(The photo below is the church on Zuckerberg Island near Castlegar. That is where the bridge above went to.)

Zuckenberg Island chapel house 2, Castlegar BC Oct 22-2018 - francis guenette photo

This whole writing process is like these socks I just finished knitting for myself. I call them my socks of many colours composed of all the bits of yarn leftover from my various holiday sock knitting projects. What I love about them is that I only need to look down at my feet and I can see the yarn that went into socks I’ve made for so many people I love. The book is like the socks of many colours – bits and pieces of my whole life knit into something wholly new that came from me but isn’t me at all.

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Action is Plot and Plot is Action

Fraser River - Bruce Witzel photo

A great story is life with the dull parts taken out – Alfred Hitchcock.

Morning grey on the Fraser River – day two of our fall trip. Nothing dull about that pic. In novel writing, we want no dull characters, no dull situations, no dull settings. But, let’s be clear on what constitutes dull. The definition, in terms of writing, is unique. Any action that doesn’t move the story forward is dull. If teeth brushing is integral to the movement of your story, then teeth brushing is not dull. Maybe your character is brushing her teeth and as she spits blood into the sink, she decides once and for all to leave the brute who smashed her in the face that morning. Definitely not dull.

On the other hand, the photo below, is vibrant with fall colours. It is no dull grey expose but what does it have to do with the story? The colours may pop but if they aren’t moving the story forward, dull, dull, dull.

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Action is plot and plot is action. I’ve read that genre novels are action driven. Lots of things happen to the character. Literary novels are more about the interior life of the characters. It could be said that the character happens to the plot. In each case, the story must find a way to move. It seems to me that most good novels are a combination of the two.

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A plot without good character development is all action and no bonding. The reader can’t get invested. On the other hand, character development without a plot is like being all dressed up and having no where to go. And by the way – have you ever heard of a Turban squash. I hadn’t until we stopped at the Marisposa Organic Fruit Stand outside Keremeos.

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At its most basic, plot is how a character deals with challenge. And it’s all about movement. Want something, go somewhere, learn something, come out the other end changed. There you have it. Bare bones, but if you can’t see down to the skeleton, you can’t write a decent novel.

The photo below is Sunset in Osoyoos, the end of day two of our fall trip. The bulrush chimes near the art gallery. I hadn’t been back to Osoyoos since selling my dad’s house in 2010. He’d died late the previous year. I wasn’t expecting the return to bring back such powerful, overwhelming memories. Death changes everything.

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The Writing Life

  Campbell River Spit

Each morning, I start my writing session by opening a document called Warm-Up Pages. I put my fingers down on the keyboard and type without stopping for five minutes of wild writing – anything and everything that comes into my head. The wildness of that opening exercise kick starts me into serious work. Before I know it, I’ve got my draft document open and I’m on my way.

My current work in process – book five in the Crater Lake series – topped out at 21,500 words this afternoon. I’ve got most of the first two chapters written and seventeen of the thirty characters I want to hear from our now on the written page.

I thought I’d share a few excerpts from my warm-up pages. I can type a lot in five minutes chunks everyday but most of it is as you would expect warming up and stretching to be. Not so exciting if you aren’t there for the subsequent work out.

Fried egg mushrooms

Feb. 7, 2019

In the space and in the chair – first steps. The day is dullish grey with a snow threatening sky. We’ll see what comes.

For this novel, I am liberating myself from the need to explain huge chunks of back story. Here is my message to the reader who picks up book five in a series without having read any of the previous books – expect to be somewhat confused. Not completely out to sea, but not totally in the know either.

Feb. 8, 2019

Bookmarked a couple of log salvage and boat research sites. I’m as awkward writing some of today’s scenes as the characters are to be in them.

Feb. 9, 2019

Just because something might be sad doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go there – readers don’t mind being sad as long as the emotion is real.

Feb. 10, 2019 – 10:20 am

A two hour block of writing time slips by quickly. The discipline of knowing when to stop is as important as getting my butt in the chair to start.

Had some great ideas while I was out walking yesterday.

There is a gentle snow falling outside my dormer window this morning. I love this space for focus.

I’ve been looking at Paper Raven’s notes on the novel blueprint method and the Act One Tipping Point. I love this … “The story starts when life can no longer go on the way it has in the past. Something threatens the worldview of the characters. There is a sense that all is not well – trouble looms on the horizon. Big change is coming.”

Feb. 11, 2019 – 10:10 am

I finished chapter one yesterday! Rough, of course. To be expected. Setting descriptions and detail work will come later. Cut a huge section from the piece I had roughed out. Way too much talking.

A writing routine has emerged. Write for two hours, walk for an hour, have lunch, knit on my current sock project, work for another two hours.

Feb. 12, 2019 – 10:00 am

Another day – bright sunny skies but the cold continues. I love the feeling of my fingers moving swiftly over these keys. When I come up to the dormer room to get started, I anxiously await those few moment that Word takes to get my document open, so I can start. It is wonderful and exhilarating to feel this way again!

I wrote in my head for my entire hour-long walk. Now, I feel as though I’m going to explode if I don’t get some of these ideas on paper.

Sunset on the Fraser River

Well, that was six days in the writing life. How do you get your writing day going? Is a routine important? Are you rigid with a schedule or is it anything goes? Let me know.

I decided to perk this post up with some pics from Day one of our fall trip because photos of my writing sessions would be dead boring. We travelled from our Island home to the lower mainland, visited Minnekhada park in Coquitlam and caught sunset on the Fraser River.

My Mom is a Gnome

Rolling Out 2018

Christmas Rose - hellebore

I am indebted to a Facebook friend who captured, in a three-letter mnemonic, exactly what I am setting out to accomplish in 2018. CCM – my first thought was a memory of how, as a teenager, having a CCM ten-speed bike was all I could think of.

CCMTDCRawFullSideRight

Anyway – my CCM of 2018 translates to Clear, Create and Move.

Morning View

After a suitable recovery time from our wonderful twelve days of Christmas, I set out on my journey. And I’ve been lucky enough to discover a few tools to tuck into my bag. I signed up for a couple of online courses on simplifying and clearing space in my life. Wow! Daily meditation and reflection pieces are widening my horizons when it comes to the word clearing. I’m addressing clutter, but it turns out clutter is much more than the mess in my cutlery drawer. Clutter has shown up in my thoughts, in the ways I view objects and past situations. Well, to be honest, it’s everywhere. A year to figure things out is a nice thought. This is the drip, drip, drip method of change.

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When it comes to creating, I feel like I’ve been on the right path. Five books written and self-published in five years. I will continue to write and improve my craft. It’s what I love doing. And don’t be surprised if one of the Crater Lake characters needs to clear some clutter in his or her life. It’s all fodder for the writing mill.

Kristen and the baby aligator

I couldn’t resist adding this picture of my lovely daughter, Kristen, on a Bayou tour in Louisiana. Over the month of January so many people I know have been out and about and on the move. From all-inclusive Mexican resorts to New Orleans.

So, onto the idea of moving. A few years ago, I had an awful episode with my knee. Strained beyond the beyond. The doctor suggested a recumbent, stationary bicycle to strengthen my quad muscles and hopefully keep that knee pain free. I got the bike and began my imaginary ride across Canada. Suffice to say, I’ve made my share of lengthy stops. But I am currently almost 2000 kilometers along the way, travelling between Strathmore and Drumheller, Alberta. And I walk daily – 2.5 kilometers around the trails near my home. My doctor upped the movement ante at my last visit by suggesting some gentle weight training to increase metabolic rate. To the frown on my face, she answered, “Soup cans.” I resisted the urge to burst out laughing. But hey, why not soup cans? No one is out here to collapse in a fit of hysterics as they watch me heft my tins of clam chowder. My goal is to get a couple of those bottles of Motts Clamato juice in my hands. Resistant weight training by day and yummy Caesars by night. Lake living is nothing if not innovative.

So … CCM … 2018 is going to be a great year!

Moon

Rusty Beginnings

An era gone-by

Taking a dive back into the 5th book of the Crater Lake series has me reeling with how rusty I become when away from this work for a few months. My current notes show no measure of finesse. Everything is overwrought and jagged. Trying to sort out all the threads of this upcoming novel is akin to plunging into a knitting basket of yarn after a group of rambunctious kittens have had a romp.

I’m thankful that I’m not starting from scratch. The file folder for the upcoming novel already holds several documents – detailed sketches of all my new characters, research notes on bullying programs and Afghanistan vets, list of storylines, a master table of characters and a table for this book. I have some notes on dogs that baffle me. This information must have been something I thought would be useful. I’ve created a rudimentary storyboard – sparse with post-it-notes, a few tentative lines and connections. Much work remains to be done on this valuable visual aid.

The story is a mess in my head. At this point, there is a tendency to overreact to this chaos. I have tagged one new character for possible elimination from book five. Her story may be of more use in book six. But I’ll keep her in the notes for now. We’ll see. No need to be too hasty.

Simply begin. It’s the only way I know to proceed with the task of creating a novel. My method is to write my way into the story. The more words I throw on the page, the more organized and clear the ultimate story becomes. I’ve been here before. When I begin to glimpse the contours of the whole thing through the mist, that will be the point when I know I am close to tipping from note taking to actual writing.

The promise of that moment keeps me going through the difficulty of these early days. It allows me to bear my stuttering first attempts to unravel this mess of knotted yarn before me. Damn those kittens!

Where do you begin on the journey of creating a novel? How do you manoeuvre the first faltering stages? And what if your ideas are not even at the knotted yarn stage? I came across a post on Writers Helping Writers the other day that listed some great ways to generate ideas – Ten Ways to Goose the Muse. Check it out!

I’ll leave you today with a photo of my latest garden statue acquisition. We purchased ‘Edgar’ at the Millerville Christmas Market on our recent trip to High River, Alberta. He’s a mischievous gargoyle who looks as though he just dropped in for a bit of fun. Edgar may or may not be up to no good. I suspect he may show up in my upcoming book as a new addition to Izzy’s garden. She might see him from her kitchen window and experience the same delight I feel every time I see him. Edgar was created by Castaway – an artist out of Okotoks. I am sorry to say, I gave the business card away to someone who admired Edgar and now I can’t find a link to their work. All I can say is that they create lovely stuff at a reasonable price and if you’re ever in Okotoks, Alberta looking for a statue, look them up!

Edgar has found his forever home

Barb Wire Bronco

Barbed Wire Bronc - Glenbow Museum - Guenette photo

Here is a highlight from our visit to the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary yesterday. A sculpture by Jeff de Boer (2006). The Barbed Wire Bronco rears up in a dynamic explosion of power, seething with tension and vitality.

de Boer used more than two miles of barbed wire to create this evocative work of art. He was inspired by a horse named Cyclone – the bucking bronco who threw 129 men before Tom Three Persons rode him to a standstill at the 1912 Calgary Stampede.

The horse is Alberta’s most beloved animal because it personifies the character of this land – freedom, movement and fluid beauty. The statue captures the animal’s sheer muscular sinew and its unquenchable spirit. And, ironically, it is made of the same material that served to fence in the wide-open grasslands of the prairie.

John Ware stamp

Some of you who follow my blog may recognize the face of John Ware behind the Barbed Wire Bronco. This fascinating fellow was mentioned in a post I did two months ago about the Bar-U Ranch. To learn more feel free to tap the link. I’m thrilled to have time to discover the often edge-of-your-seat history particular to Southern Alberta. Quite the place – now and then.

Northern Lights sculpture - Glenbow Museum

Northern Lights sculpture that reaches up the central stairway of the Glenbow Museum – stunning!

MosiaCanada 150–Over But Not Forgotten

The Muskoxen

(My personal favourite – Muskoxen – an offering from the Northwest Territories. I could almost feel his grassy hair blowing in the breeze.)

MosiaCanada, a signature event of Canada’s 150 celebrations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, was our countries biggest horticultural event.

Lise Cormier, head of Mosaicultures Internationales of Montreal, instrumental in bringing this event to life, says, “Canada is space and this is really a place for imagination.” So true!

The Canadian Horse

(The Canadian Horse – New Brunswick)

I had the great pleasure to visit this installation, a tribute to our country’s history and its founding peoples, in late September when the temperature soared to the mid-30’s -uncharacteristic for that time of year.

Bill Reid's Killer Whale 2

(Bill Reid’s Killer Whale – British Columbia)

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My son, Doug, and I strolled over the bridge from downtown Ottawa to Jacques-Cartier park in Gatineau, with incredible views of Canada’s Parliament Buildings the whole way.

View of Parliament Hill

Once in the park, we marvelled at the incredible pieces of mosiculture artwork arrayed around a winding one-kilometre path through the park. Though I felt somewhat wilted due to the heat, the plants were fresh and trimmed to exquisite form with a multiple of gardeners snipping away in the shadows.

The Drum Dancer

(Another favourite – The Drum Dancer – Nunavat)

The pieces combined three different art expressions – sculpture for the structure, a palette of colour and horticulture as the medium to create a living, ever changing form. Each piece consisted entirely of annual plants, most chosen for colourful, season-long foliage instead of flowers, grown in soil sandwiched between layers of a geotextile supported by metal frames and watered by internal irrigation systems.

The Puffins

(The Puffins – Newfoundland and Labrador)

Ahead of the June 30th opening, almost 100 gardeners – some from the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing, which sent pieces to celebrate Canada’s birthday – were at work installing what would total over three million plants of 80 different varieties.

Blessing of the Good Dragon

(Blessing of the Good Omen Dragon – Beijing)

A horticulture friendship between Canada with Shanghai and Beijing led to coloured works of art that delighted the eye.

Celebration of the Nine Lions

(Joyful Celebration of the Nine Lions – Shanghai)

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The biggest sculpture was a 15-metre tour-de-force – Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth sits in contemplation with her gentle face of silvery grey santolina and long hair of tumbling sweet potato vine and purple petunias. Water pours from her car-sized palm, where a bird alights to drink, into a shimmering pool below.

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MosiaCanada 150 closed on Oct. 15th after more than 1.3 million visitors took in the sheer delight of living mosiculture. I am so happy to count myself among those who wandered in wonder.

The Lobster Fisherman

(The Lobster Fisherman – Nova Scotia)