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

The Hermeneutic Circle and My Writing Process

Snow day - Guenette photo

(View from my writing desk this morning – stunning!)

Definition: The hermeneutic circle (German: hermeneutischer Zirkel) describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one’s understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one’s understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole.

As I write furiously on the first draft of the 4th book in the Crater Lake Series – 43,000 words so far and going strong – I am struck by how appropriate the above definition of the hermeneutic circle is to my writing process.

I can list many of the parts: character and setting sketches, research notes, outlining, storyboarding, scene blocking, quiet time for visioning and listening to character voices, to name just a few.

A description of the whole is a more slippery. At some point in the process, the parts begin to coalesce. Waiting for that moment, a moment I have never been able to plan for or anticipate, is agonizing. Embarking on this journey for the fifth time doesn’t mean it’s any less agonizing. But I have learned this – when the moment comes there is no stopping the story from moving forward.

It’s the moving forward that fits the definition of the hermeneutic circle. All the parts are in my head and I work and work for hours on end; the words pile up; the page count rises and it all seems unstoppable. But it isn’t. I reach a saturation point. I jump from my chair, leave the computer and run out the door for a walk or a ride on the stationary bike.

When I return, I pick up at a different spot on the circle. It is time for the whole to feed back into the parts. I might write snippet setting descriptions, review character sketches, update my chapter-by-chapter outline, revisit my storyboard. Then I reread everything I have of the first draft. Only then am I ready to move forward with the parts all tuned up to inform the whole.

So it goes. I must say, I do love what I’m doing. Let me know if any of this resonates. Maybe you have a completely different take on nailing that all important first draft. Feel free to share. I’m always open to tweaking my process.

Snowy Feb Hellebore

A Quintessential Feel Good Song – And I Do!

Skunk Cabbage - Bruce Witzel photo

Yesterday was just one of those days that turned out great but I can’t explain why. Poised on that uncomfortable fence between obsessively planning to write the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series and actually starting to write said book, suddenly, inexplicably, I broke through. With the upbeat lyrics of American Authors in the background, as the smell of freshly mowed grass drifting in the window, I managed a few thousand words that are definitely going somewhere.

Once again, I was back at Crater Lake and the characters so filled my thoughts that I had to drop everything and stroll the paths around our place in an attempt to untangle the various knotted threads that represent their lives. It was then I knew, I had vaulted that uncomfortable fence. I was on my way.

Just in case you have any lingering Monday morning blues, I’ll share the lyrics from American Authors – Best Day of My Life. Follow along to the You Tube link and I’m sure that in no time you’ll be up and dancing around the room. Enjoy!

Best Day Of My Life

I had a dream so big and loud

I jumped so high I touched the clouds

Wo-o-o-o-o-oh

I stretched my hands out to the sky

We danced with monsters through the night

Wo-o-o-o-o-oh

I’m never gonna look back

Whoa, I’m never gonna give it up

No, please don’t wake me now

Oo-o-o-o-oo

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

Oo-o-o-o-oo

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

I howled at the moon with friends

And then the sun came crashing in

Wo-o-o-o-o-oh

But all the possibilities

No limits just epiphanies

Wo-o-o-o-o-oh

I’m never gonna look back

Whoa, I’m never gonna give it up

No, just don’t wake me now

Oo-o-o-o-oo

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

Oo-o-o-o-oo

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

I hear it calling outside my window

I feel it in my soul

The stars were burning so bright

The sun was out ’til midnight

I say we lose control

Oo-o-o-o-o

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

Oo-o-o-o-o

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

This is gonna be, this is gonna be, this is gotta be

The best day of my life

Everything is looking up, everybody up now

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

American Authors Album Cover

Anatomy of a Character Sketch

  Clock Tower

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to guest post over on Jill Weatherholt’s – Pursuing a Passion for Writing – blog. I wrote on the topic of character sketches and I choose to illustrate that concept today with building photos. The idea of creating a character shares some commonalities with building – working from the ground up, planning, careful scaffolding and attention to finishing details. 

Lighthouse - Witzel photo

When it comes to writing a novel, if I have any pearls of wisdom to drop, that string of luminescent beauty would be looped over the neck of how writers get to know their characters. A writer’s relationship with the characters has to go as deep as any connection to family members or BFF’s.

Character sketches are the obvious entry point to this knowing and a physical description is a good place to begin. Not necessarily the most important aspect of the undertaking, but one must start somewhere.

Ruins - Witzel photo

A physical description will naturally branch out and run all over the map – age, work, friends, family, hobbies, affectations, disabilities, talents. Dig a bit deeper and a character’s internal and external motivations begin to emerge. What makes the person tick? What drives this particular character’s actions? What makes him laugh? What makes her cry? Where is anger rooted?

Creating character sketches comes early in my writing process and it’s an exercise in wild writing – a regular free-for-all. I let myself go as I imagine everything I can about a particular character. As creator, I need to know far more about my creations than any reader will ever be subjected to.

Arts & Crafts home - Witzel photo

My daily walks become prime time for carrying out lengthy chats with all my characters. The first person the character interacts with is me. Later, when I’m sure I’m on solid ground with the relationships I have developed, I can begin to hear how they talk to one another. If I have brought the character sketch process to its logical conclusion, dialogue becomes an act of transcription.

Character sketches do not get laid to rest once I start writing the novel. Whenever I find that dialogue is not flowing or something a character is doing is not ringing true, I’m back to the drawing board of that sketch. There is obviously the need to strengthen the relationships if I’m going to hear unique voices, capture that slight waver, hesitation or tone that indicates so much.

Biltmore Hotel - Witzel photo

My books, so far, have revolved around the same group of core characters. As it is in real life, characters must grow. A series is dead in the water if this doesn’t happen. With each new book, character sketches have to be fleshed out to adequately represent the ways in which the characters have changed. Izzy can’t sound the same in book four – happily married to Liam and surrounded by family – as she sounded in book one when she was reeling from Caleb’s death and struggling with loneliness and feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Of course, there are aspects of Izzy’s voice that never change – core personality traits, her wry sense of humour and quick wit. I cherish that continuity as I tune my ear to understanding who this woman is becoming.

Downtown Portland, Oregon - Bruce Witzel photo

A writer sets lives in motion to jostle and collide against one another like so many bumper cars at an amusement park. A character sketch is the living, breathing document that keeps track of the results.

Homemade Bread and the Writing Process

Bread - finished product - Guenette photo

Homemade bread. Ah . . . the feelings those words evoke – everything from nostalgic images of Little House on the Prairie to mouth-watering memories of Grandma’s kitchen.

Bread Book - Guenette photoI’ve had various flirtations and more than a couple of long-term relationships with homemade bread over the years – all of them satisfying. More years ago than I want to admit, I received a gift copy of a book by Ellen Foscue Johnson entitled: The Garden Way Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac. What a jewel of a cookbook. The book is sprinkled with black and white line drawings and filled with recipes time tested over the years to a level of perfection. Ellen Foscue Johnson and I have been through a lot!

My latest foray into the bread making world has me thinking about the parallels between making bread from scratch and the writing process.

Line drawing of wheat - Guenette photo

I’ll say from the outset – there is nothing particularly difficult about making bread. No special talent is required beyond patience and a bit of elbow-grease when it comes to kneading. The similarities with the writing process begin when I think of the flow experience I have with each.

Bread sponge - Guenette photo

Between morning tasks of checking out social media, making coffee, starting the wood-burning stove and whatever else needs to be done, I’ll toss two cups of water, two tablespoons of sugar (or other types of sweetness – honey for example) and one tablespoon of yeast into a large bowl.

Sometime later, I’ll add oil, salt and some flour and whip that up for a couple of minutes with my hand-held mix-master. Most of the time, I toss a tea-towel over that sponge and go about other tasks. When I get back to it, I add more flour and knead for ten minutes.

Kneading process - Guenette photo

We tried to get a decent photo of kneading but apparently I was moving too fast. Kneading can be a good work out and gives lots of time for thoughts to wander. I let the dough rise, punch it down, form it into whatever shape takes my fancy and let it rise again. Then it’s into the oven to bake. Easy-peasy as my granddaughters say.

Bread in the pans - Guenette photo

Like bread making, the writing process requires patience and elbow grease. Imagination and fledgling ideas are the writer’s yeast. We sprinkle those ideas out on a warm and receptive surface and let them bubble. Later, we outline and storyboard, do research and take notes – we’re about adding our writing flour. We whip everything together. We wait and we think. Then comes more structure and planning as we work the whole mess into a smooth story – so similar to that neat ball of dough we get after kneading and kneading until we’re sure we can’t push that dough around the floured board for even one more turn. At some point we need to leave the story alone. Let it rise. We punch it down and rework it a few times, forming it as we go. We bake it up with editing and formatting and then we send it out into the world. Hopefully our efforts are met with the joy that accompanies that first bite into a fresh-baked loaf.

Bread - first slice - Guenette photo

If you’re a writer, I suggest you bake some bread. Even if the process doesn’t match what you go through when writing, the results will be mouth-watering enough to make you forget any thorny, little writing problems you might be experiencing. And when the other people in your life take that first bite of hot-out-of-the-oven bread slathered with jam, they will forgive all the times you neglect them to be off in your own writing world.

Here’s the basic, white bread recipe from Johnson’s book – enjoy Smile

Bread Recipe - Guenette photo

(I used a half a cup of mixed, ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds in the loaves I baked today. Use any combination of flours you like – add an extra tsp. of yeast if you go heavy on the whole wheat.)

Hopping on a Blog Chain

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Much like this beautiful eagle hopping onto a tree top, I’m the next link of a blog chain today and am happy to hop on the bandwagon.  Deb Young tagged me in this chain last week and I want to shout out a big thanks to her for the invite. Deb and I met through social media. I bought and read her self-help book for self-published authors – Sell Your Books and from there we connected on Twitter. I was looking for a writer’s professional association to become part of and she directed me to the Alliance of Independent Authors – I haven’t been disappointed with any of Deb’s advice so far!

Okay – this is how the blog chain works. I answer the following four questions and then tag three other writers to do the same.

What am I working on?

I am currently formatting The Light Never Lies (sequel to my first novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight) for upload to CreateSpace – huge learning curve but I’m finding that I enjoy the devilishly picky nature of formatting and I love the control. I’m also storyboarding the next book in the Crater Lake series and working on tuning up ten short stories I would like to publish under the title, Echoes of Sorrow, Threads of Hope.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Choosing a genre is difficult. I write about family dynamics, personal growth, issues facing young people, rural living to name just a few themes. But there is romance, too. I have slotted my writing into a genre I call – contemporary fiction with a splash of romance. My books find their voice in third person narration through the eyes of a number of the characters in the story. This makes my writing somewhat unique. I also weave a good amount of setting details into my work – I want the reader to recognize this area or, if they’ve never been to Northern Vancouver Island, be intrigued about visiting.

Why do I write what I do?

I believe that all my experiences to date shape what I write – teaching, working as a trauma counsellor, my years of being a mature university student and researcher, living on the shores of a beautiful lake in a pristine wilderness setting, being plugged into the life of a rural community. When it comes to fiction writing, these are the things that allow scope for the ideas that pop into my head.

How does my writing process work?

I get a tiny idea about a character – maybe a tidbit of dialogue or an interesting situation that character might find him or herself in. I jot down notes and when the time is right, a story starts to form. Next comes a ton of back writing – detailed character sketches, research, timelines, drawings of various settings. After all of that, I might be ready to storyboard. This happens with post-it-notes and a large bulletin board. That will lead to a bare bones outline. After all of that, I start writing. Not necessarily at the beginning – wherever my interest is caught on a given day. The writing weaves back through the whole process as I update everything that has gone before. This is an important part of my writing process because I need that openness to letting the story take the lead.

When the first draft is finished, I move straight on to rewriting. Input from my first beta-reader comes after the second rewrite. She builds up my confidence and gives me valuable input on things like believability, length and structure. By about draft eleven or twelve, it’s time for editing. My first beta-reader is also my editor. She is already familiar with the story and she knows my style. This stage is amazing and exciting as we become real collaborators on tuning up each and every sentence. After this edit, my husband Bruce gets a read through. He often has a lot of technical suggestions. With any luck, I also have a few other beta-readers who might be brought in for specific sections of the story. Then the work moves into the final edits and proofreading. And voila – a finished manuscript.

Now for the fun part – here are my three tags.

Laekan Zea Kemp

bio1Laekan is a writer and explorer extraordinaire who grew up in the flatlands of West Texas. She graduated from Texas Tech with a BA in Creative Writing and is the author of the multi-cultural New Adult novels, The Things They Didn’t Bury, Orphans of Paradise, and Breathing Ghosts. I got connected with Laekan when she issued an invite to her blog followers asking if anyone would like to host her on a tour to promote her new book. I thought she had the most brilliant idea for putting together a blog tour that I jumped on board. Some of my followers may remember when Laekan appeared on my blog.

Please check out Laekan’s blog where you will learn all kinds of other things about her and find links to her books.

P.C. Zick

Writing Whims by P.C. ZickP.C. began her writing career in 1998 as a journalist. She’s won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. She was born in Michigan and moved to Florida in 1980. Even though she now resides in Pennsylvania with her husband Robert, she finds the stories of Florida and its people and environment a rich base for her storytelling platform. Florida’s quirky and abundant wildlife—both human and animal—supply her fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable. Her writing contains the elements most dear to her heart, ranging from love to the environment. Her novels advance the cause for wildlife conservation and energy conservation. She believes in living lightly upon this earth with love, laughter, and passion. I got connected with P.C. when she featured Disappearing in Plain Sight on her Writing Whims blog.

Please check out P.C’s blog to learn about all the great things she’s up to.

Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Vashti's Web Photo[1]From the time Vashti was a young kid, writing has been her passion. She’s always been a writer, she just didn’t know it until much later. It is easier for her to express her thoughts on paper than with the spoken word. She enjoys making people feel an array of emotions with her writing. She likes her audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that. A love of animals and nature are often incorporated in her stories. You’ll read intriguing things about various animals, nature and natural disasters commingled in her character driven novels. Vashti and I have been blog buddies for a while now.

Please visit Vashti’s upbeat and interesting blog to learn more about her.

Thanks again to Deb Young for inviting me to be part of this blog chain. I hope everyone will check out Deb’s blog and my tags to three great writers – Laekan Zea Kemp, P.C. Zick and Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

I’m leaving you today with a bit of the west coast beauty I appreciated last week on a trip out to Winter Harbour.

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Random Musings – Snippets from my Writer’s Journal.

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I carry a red notebook around with me – one of those hard cover things with an elastic fabric strap attached to the back so you can snap it around the front to keep the journal shut. In this book, I jot down things I think I want to remember. Mostly, the act of writing cures me of any future desire to know something. But every now and then, I read some of these notes and they make me shake my head. I decided to share a few of them with you today.

Sock puppet – a false persona created via social media to promote one’s own work. Tempting, but ultimately not worth the risk. If we aren’t ourselves, we aren’t anything.

Arkansas Toothpick – cool slang for a bowie knife – courtesy of Pawn Stars – one of the most ridiculous shows on TV. But valuable info is available everywhere – right?

Character sketch (sitting in the airport describing someone two rows up)

She’s in her late twenties or early thirties. Straight black eyebrows below a wide, clear forehead. A prominent ski-jump nose, a wide generous mouth, white teeth, long, dark hair pulled to the side in a loose braid, silver dangling earrings. Dark eyes – pools of darkness. Freda Kalo after a really good eye-brow waxing. She has a smile that lights up her entire face – there is confidence, freedom, an aura of strength in that smile. She’s totally hands-on. She touches the people around her often – her hand on the arm of the person next to her, a quick hug, an arm slung casually over a shoulder. She tilts her head to one side when she’s listening. When she looks over at me, I see intensity, interest, a desire to connect, as if I can hear her thinking – what is she writing? Who is she? What is she about? My pen skitters to a stop as our eyes meet and I smile back.

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

Where is the Love – Black Eyed Peas

Present

Past

Past Participle

 

Lie down

Lay down

Had lain down

To recline

Lay down

Laid down

Had laid down

To place or put

Who am I trying to kid? – when to use lie or lay will never sink in. ***Start promoting love your editor day.

. . . and you die one chapter at a time. (where did I read this?)

Write what is, not what seems to be. It would be fascinating to do a study that examined a person’s first draft with their personality profile. I’m betting tentative speakers will write a lot of seems to be stuff.

Ten simple things that can make you happier

  1. Exercise – 7 minutes a day can make a difference – thank you researchers for that one!
  2. Get enough sleep – adding more afternoon napping should fit the bill.
  3. Have a shorter commute – distance from the bed to the desk – short enough.
  4. Spend time with family and friends – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Just joking – sort of.
  5. Go outside – sounds good to me.
  6. Help others – 2 hours a week is enough to do the trick.
  7. Smile – research shows smiling can actually alleviate pain – for yourself and others.
  8. Plan a trip – even if you never take the trip. Planning a trip is fun, taking a trip is stressful.
  9. Meditate – no-brainer – no pun intended. I’ll combine this with exercise and going outside by having a daily, 7 minute, walking meditation. How is that for efficient?
  10. Practice gratitude – simple but powerful. List three things a day you are grateful for.

****I need to make a detailed self-publishing checklist and start checking things off!!!

Well, there you have it. Random thoughts. Here’s hoping something pops out at you. And let’s hear it for gratitude. Sure can’t hurt.

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Lawson

2003 – 2013

Rest in Peace.