Sunday, February 27, 2011

Don't neglect names

Names are important. When Buddy Holly wrote the original version of Peggy Sue, he wrote it as Cindy Lou, after his girlfriend at the time. Cindy Lou is a weak name for a song with that quick of a beat. Peggy Sue is three equal, quick beats. It fits the song better. Writers have to have an ear for names.

I keep a copy of The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook handy. I highly recommend it. Now, the primary characters are a little more personal, so I don't necessarily go to that book for those names. Besides, that's one of the most enjoyable parts of writing, is naming the main character. I am on the fourth version of the main character's name, and third version of his love interest's name. Her name, I know I won't change again. His name will change one more time. I'm not happy with the surname, but I don't feel like screwing around with that right now. Once I've recognized that the name doesn't quite convey what I want, that sits in the basement of the brain somewhere and kinda listens in to what's going on in the higher functions as I move the story along, it'll keep an ear out for names, and hopefully, the perfect name will pop up. If it doesn't, it'll become a page by page through the phone book, the character naming book, and then name generators, but I hardly think it'll come to that.

We all have names that over the years have meant something to us. Names that make our brains bleed or rejoice in the soul. We've forgotten we heard them. We can't recount what the circumstance was, but at some point we run across that name again. Maybe it's reading the paper, a magazine, a book. I'll wait for the name to come to me.

That book is great for the secondary names. I have a character, a colonel who plays a bit part. I could divulge the name, but it wouldn't mean a damn thing without the context. I've searched for hours for names in the past, but this one came within ten seconds. I wanted it convey the sense of an ancient warrior, so I turned to the Latin name section, and voila, second or third name I looked at. Bingo. Now I've been walking around the house, secretly saying the name where the wife can't hear me (Don't want her thinking I'm nuts....or, more nuts than she already does.) It is a joy to find a name that works, one that rattles off the tongue just right. One you know will convey exactly what you wanted it to for the reader. I'm cracking open the Korbel brut.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

That's my last roommate at the fraternity, Dave, the one with the hacky-sack in front of him. He's a great source of ideas. So's one of my other frat brothers, Dan. A question on one of the forums (Absolute write, I think it was) today asked whether our characters are parts of us, or if our characters are strictly made up. While I draw on experiences and may incorporate some things friends say and do, I can't see any writer's character being anything but themselves. The character reacts how you would react if you were that character. Go figure. Yeah, it's us. So what? I can't bring myself to apologize for who I am anymore. I'm too old. This is it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Storytelling's what it's all about. We all know that in our souls. There's a quote up on Critique Circle today from Hemingway in which he states eloquently that he writes one page of masterpiece to every ninety-one pages of shit, and that he throws the shit in the trash. If there's one thing people need to work on it's the cutting, and mine own self is definitely included in that study group.

For me, it was a progression. First, I had to learn the fundamentals of how to put the sentences together. Then I had to learn how to manipulate some things like POV. But I was never happy with whole production. It dozen't matter how well you describe some scenes, they're just not going to be interesting to most people. Find those and cut them. It will leave empty places. Fill those with intersting things.

As you figure out your story, as you figure out your characters, the longer you think about them, the more you'll have to say about them, and you'll be able to whittle it down to the really interesting things about that character. And you'll have to condense lines and prioritize the information necessary for you to give the reader. Hence, some scenes that may be brilliantly written, will get cut. It has to matter. The. Scene. Must. Matter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Productive day for a change

No relatives to move. No shopping to do. The cleaning was done yesterday. It's party time. I'm almost caught up in transcribing the notes from the latest tapes into the computer. Every day I think of fewer things I want to change or add to in the story, so the tapes grow at a slower pace, and I think I see the end of the tunnel. It won't be long before I catch up, and then start to arrange the chapters. I can't wait.

In the latest changes, I've decided that the protagonist needs to act a little more like a colonel, so I've given him a few paragraphs here and there, conveying the sense that he is in charge of a company of me, and not just trying to solve the crimes and chase the girl. I think it's enough to make him more realistic, and isn't so much that the story gets overwhelmed in the more mundane aspects of being an officer.

The only thing that bothers me about it, is that I'm still thinking of details like this, and the story's three and a half years old. I think I was born with the brain of a sloth by mistake.

Friday, February 18, 2011

So what's the end game?

One of the delightful side effects of writing is that you develop friendships along the way with other authors. I have gained more friends in the writing business over the last six or seven year (or however long I've been out there talking to other authors) than I had in the thirty years since I graduated. It is a fraternity, same as the one I joined at the University of Pittsburgh, only without all the drinking (in groups, I'm sure there's a ton of individual drinking going on) and the sex and drugs. Okay, so maybe it's not exactly the same, but there's a wonderful kinship.

Having never finished anything of note, I share a status with countless writers, that of "someone with potential". Ah, the dreaded potential. We all have it until reality kicks in. The end game is to finish. I haven't gotten to the point yet, but I've played enough chess to know that the moment a player moves his piece across the board and rests his finger on the piece before pulling the finger off is the most nerve wracking part of the game. It's the moment that the player must step across the threshold and declare, this is the best i can think of, this is the best I can do, if you can beat this, then you're smarter than me. Some of my writer friends seem to think I have issues with a=taking my finger off the proverbial queen and setting her out there, open for attack. That's just not the case. I simply haven't managed to get the manuscript in a form where it's presentable yet. It will be soon, and then they can all pick it over like Jeffrey Dahlmer poking at the corpse of a dead animal (okay, that was a cheap shot at them), anyway, until I take my figern off, I say back the fuck off and let me think.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Writers, writers, writers

Whenever I take a break from my drudgery of love, I visit writing sites like Critique Circle and Absolute Write (links in the sidebar) to check out the forums. Typically, I don't spend more than five or ten minutes there because I really do want to get back to my WIP. I've been a member of various sites for anywhere from five to ten years now, and after that amount of time, most of the threads get repetitive. That evidences something peculiar to writers that most may not admit. Writers want direct interaction. We want to be the one spoken to. The answers are all there, buried in the thousands and thousands of threads on those forums, but authors young and old don't want to read through those threads in search of their answers because they want to strike up a conversation.

As introverted as I believe most writers are, we may be every bit as chatty as the extrovert who dominates the conversation at the party or around the water cooler. We need interaction. We simply need it from those who have the same interests as we do. So, while I want to scream at new authors who post new threads on those sites which I know are repeats of old threads, I can't begrudge them a little conversation tailored specifically to their mind.

Occasionally, you get a thread that's fairly original like the one that asks:
If you could ask your readers anything, what would it be?

That's something I believe authors rarely think about. My response?

These are insecure writers you're talking to. Here's the list of questions:
1. Did you like it?
2. Really?
3. No, I mean, did you really like it, or are you just being nice?
4. No, really, be straight with me here, did you really like it?
5. For real?
6. Would you say you loved it?
7. You loved it?
8. You're not blowing sunshine up my ass, you loved it?
9. Slathering, foaming at the mouth love?
10. Really, really, really, loved it?
11. Like was it the best book you ever read?
12. No way!
13. Thanks, mom. What's for dinner?

By the way, if you haven't checked it, go to Nathan Bransford's site (again, link in the sidebar). He has a post entitled Writing, Striving, and THE GREAT GATSBY which is marvelous.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hmm, September to February between posts

As the story of The Mind Walker crystallizes more and more in my mind, I revisit it daily and refine passages and lines, mostly on tape in my car on the way to work. The total number of works now well exceeds 100,000, and will most likely top a quarter million by the time I settle down to, chapter by chapter, polish and trim the excess.

It's unfortunate that I have less time available to me at the computer than I have to actually compose the book. The result is a daunting task ahead in which I will sit down and decide how best to present the ideas I've dropped into each chapter in snippets of anywhere between a phrase I want a character to use to thirty paragraphs strung together when I happen to have been on a roll when I was typing.

The process goes like this, I carry the tape recorder around with me at all times. If something hits me, I record my thoughts unless I just happen to be sitting at the computer at home, in which case I'll type it directly. I take the tape recorder to work with me, and on my bathroom breaks and lunches, I play tapes and write what was on them in a note pad, cleaning it up a little at that point. The next step is the real bottleneck in the process, that's sitting down at the computer and typing it out. I separate ideas with pound signs, so my notes look like this (a sampling of what I typed out this morning):

I looked around, the planet seemed so desolate. Much more open space than I’d ever seen before. Felt kind of like I did when I graduated, relieved to have arrived, but unsure of what to make of all the empty space and choices.
…sitting on a filthy rest stop toilet, profane graffiti on the stall door and walls, my head in my hands, trying to keep it together. But I couldn’t.
“He may not have actually raped the girl, but the story’s ben trovato.”
“Since water quenches the thirst of the thirsty man, you would naturally assume that knowledge quenches the thirst of the idiot. Unfortunately, the idiot typically spits out knowledge and opts for violence instead. Meanwhile, the greedy man’s thirst is insatiable. Evidently, your government is a bunch of greedy idiots.”
“Because there isn’t much of anything that grows in this umber.”
I wiped my face off with my palm. “God, he gave me the address of his whorehouse.”
“Let me see that. Isn’t this an elementary school?”
“While you guys are talking about the…I don’t know, saber tooth ducks of Xenon.”
The entry that followed these was six paragraphs long. Clearly, these entries don't flow together. The first is an observation by the protag upon his arrival on planet the novel is set on, probably chapter 3.

The second entry is close to the end of the book when the protag has a difficult choice ahead and is losing his mind.

The third doesn't have a destination as yet; I like the Italian phrase ben trovato and want someone to use it in conversation concerning the antag. Not sure at this point who'll use it, but I know I have several conversations early in the book which deal with the antag and I'll look for a good place to slide it in, because I want the reader to know of the rumors of rape, but I don't want them confirmed or disproved.

The fourth is going to be inserted into an argument the protag is having with his love interest somewhere around the tenth or twelfth chapter. I'm not sure at this point where she'll use it, but I want the reader to have a clear idea of what she things of the protag's government, of which he's a part.

The fifth I wrote down because I remembered a part during which the protag - and through him, the reader - is learning about the planet. Someone used the word "umber" at some point, and I thought it was a nice description for the soil on the planet, which plays a big part in the plot. The sentence won't be used as I've written it, but it'l prompt me to remember where I'd intended the word to be used and I'll go back, find that conversation someplace around chapter 5, and insert the word. So, in that case, I've written 11 words, only 1 of which will actually be used. This is a perfect illustration of why I'm nearing 200,000 words at this point.

The sixth will be used in a conversation between the protag and his brother. The antag has a reputed to have a fondness for young women even though he's a septuagenarian. Someone has to make fun of of that, I've selected the protags brother as the perfect vehicle for that. This is one of several jokes at the antag's expense the protag's brother will make.

The last one occurred to me while I was dreaming up new animals. It's a sci-fi story which takes place on a distant planet, and I wanted to have mostly the same animals on it, with one or two exceptions. In mulling it over, I decided for one of the characters to make reference to some exotic animal which I don't have on this particular planet, and I thought of sabre toothed SOMETHING. As I was going down the list of animals of imaginary animals I could make sabre toothed, for some reason a duck came to mind, and I thought it might get a chuckle, so instead of making up an animal that would be real within the story, I left it as a farcical animal a character makes up in the story because he overhears the protag and another character discussing something sabre toothed which I'll leave undefined.

The process from this point will be to distribute these to the files which contain one chapter each. I'll simply add them to the file at the end. Once I catch up to the tapes far enough, about four tapes from now, another 50,000 words or so, I'll begin to re-arrange these blips in the order I want them to appear within the chapter. Many are variations of the same idea, and I'll select the variation I like best, then smooth the prose out to hopefully make it flow.

So, this is why my progress is slow. This is why I post so few things on this site for now.