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

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.

Write your way into writing: Steinbeck did it – so can you!

In honour of John Steinbeck’s birthday, I’m reblogging a post I did way back in June of 2012 – my first month of blogging. How times have changed but Steinbeck’s words on warming up to writing are as relevant to me today as they were back in 2012.

disappearinginplainsight

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome.

Taken at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California Think about what Steinbeck’s mother thought of him when you’re worried what your own mother thinks about your hopes and dreams

One of our ancient methods is to tell a story

Begging the listener to say and to feel

“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least the way I feel it.

You’re not as alone as you thought.”

(John Steinbeck)

Today I want to tell a story about how to write your way into the work of writing. In 2010 my husband and I took a three week driving trip around Northern California. One of the highlights of the trip was the city of Salinas and a visit to the National Steinbeck Center. I’ve always been a huge fan of Steinbeck’s writing so I really enjoyed gaining insight into the person of John Steinbeck…

View original post 519 more words