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.

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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 – 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 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

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part II

Juniper Berries, Snow Canyon Utah Oct. 8, 2016 - bruce witzel photo

79,000 words at last glance. My draft file for  No Compass to Right (the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series) continues to grow.

I went on a couple of interesting diversions today. Have you ever read the advice about making every scene count? At later stages in the writing process – rewrites and editing – I’ll be refining that advice down to making every word count. But for now, in the first draft construction of the story, it’s putting scenes together to make chapters that is building the word count.

I’m working from a detailed outline for this with all the chapters laid out and the scenes within each chapter defined as subheadings. I went through the whole list today and added a section to the top of every unwritten scene: Purpose of this scene. This proved to be an excellent use of my time. I found two scenes that would be completely redundant and one that served no purpose at all. Out they went before I ever wasted the time writing them. Of more use to me were all the new ideas that came up as I forced myself to consider how each scene could accomplish more. Scenes that do double-duty by achieving multiple purposes are dynamite.

I also had a research task to accomplish today. How does one convert a school bus to a living space? What does such a space look like when it’s finished? I’m here to report amazement on my part over what creative individuals can do with small spaces! I have this old library bus that one of my characters has renovated – you’ll be happy to know he’s leaving the large multi-coloured bookworm mural on the side of the bus.

The other day I had to Google which NHL teams played hockey on TV during the playoffs in 2012. Little details matter. In a rural town like the one I’m writing about, if you invite someone for dinner on a Saturday night in May, that person better expect to arrive at your house to find the hockey game on and more than a few of the family watching.

That’s it for me today. I’m enjoying these instalments from the trenches. Reflecting on the writing process is like priming a pump – words just begin to flow.

Mind statue - Bruce Witzel photo

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches

Fran - Bruce Witzel photo

(Yes indeed – that’s me. Wandering in the canyon of my own thoughts – LOL)

75,000 words and counting on this fourth book in the Crater Lake series. The whole story is blocked out. This is the first time I have written a draft using Word’s navigation pane function with level one and two headings to create a highly effective outline. The ease with which I can navigate through the text has turned me into a fan.

I’ve come up on the first minor climax. Writing any type of climax is an interesting process for me. I can’t do it sequentially. I need to write characters’ actions, reactions and dialogue on either side first. Knowing what led up to the action and the fallout afterwards means writing the actual event is a piece of cake. I experienced this in The Light Never Lies when it took me forever to write Lisa-Marie into labour. I circled and circled like an old dog around her bed, waiting and hoping I’d find the perfect spot in the turning process where I knew enough to write the damn scene!

I have been buried in my current work-in-progress for almost a month. Every day, it becomes more intense, more demanding. There are days when I can hardly bear to come up for air in the real world but lucky for me, life does ensure that sanity breaks occur – there is food to prepare, laundry to deal with and a bed to be made. Not to mention, walks on the trails to solidify dialogue and story ideas.

Though the work is draining, it’s a huge relief to know that nothing can sideline the writing of this first draft. The characters’ voices are too much with me to allow anything – short of breaking all my fingers – to get in the way. And even then, I suppose I would have to dictate the novel.

I eat, sleep and breathe this book, leaving the computer screen at night bleary-eyed to fall into bed and drift off with characters from one scene talking and wake up in another scene all together. Some mornings, I jump out of bed knowing that something I wrote the day before won’t work or desperate to get to the computer because I must fix something while it’s fresh in my mind.

I’d love to hear how other writers keep up their strength. I’ve got at least six more weeks before my first draft will be complete. All I can say is this – writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.

Petroglyph in Nevada (3) - bruce witzel photo