Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stress and writing

Stress kills the writer's imagination. Not anger, not sorrow, but anxiety. The act of writing requires that one fantasizes. You have to be able to crawl into your world, and you can't do that if the real world pulls you back every time you try.

Over the last few weeks, I've been downtown in Washington for a bomb threat. I've experienced an earthquake. And two days ago, hurricane Irene rolled through. The hurricane battered our house with 20 MPH winds that gusted to 25. The patter of raindrops almost made a sound hitting the window. The winds knocked dozens of leaves off their trees. I haven't felt anything like that since last Tuesday.

Okay, so the hurricane didn't hit all that hard. But it could have. We scoffed at the damage the hurricane would do. We laughed at the earthquake. The wife and I laughed at the bomber. None of those things affected me. No, what terrifies me and knocks the prose right out of my head, is the report that our business is still down 60%. I'm convinced I'm more terrified of being jobless than I am of ending up a lump of hamburger under a pile a rubble or getting blown to bits. I can take pain. I can't take the thought of not having any income. I can't take the thought of not being enough of a man to be needed. Getting killed in a freak accident is excusable. It happens. Getting laid off is a sign of weakness. It's inferiority. I don't mind being unlucky. I can't stand being inferior.

Trying to cleanse the stress out of mind tonight with the help of some rum. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Good riddance to summer

The catherdral of Learning at The University of Pittsburgh, is the university's centerpiece. It was built around the turn of the centur -- not the last turn, but the 1900 one -- and it is a rite of passage to take classes there. The old stone steps have been trod upon so many times that they have divots, the deepest ones near the railings the students hug to take the shortest route out.

There's a certain dignity to the old building, and I loved it when I climbed the twenty flights (it's thirty some stories) to my calculus class as a freshman. It made me feel so smart just to be there. Then I got to the class, and couldn't breathe. No air conditioning. It was only then that I realized why most of the freshman classes are at the cathedral, while the upperclassmen get to hold their classes at the modern buildings. I don't want to blame my poor performance in calculus class on the building, but it didn't help.

I hate working in the summer. I hate sitting at a desk when it's hot, when the sun comes through the window and shines on my back to make my skin tingle like I'm about to sweat. And I hate above all, the drip of sweat from the arm pit down the side. Writing during the summer is a chore. (We just evacuated our building due to an earthquake! Yahoo! In Baltimore? I thought just California and Japan got those.)

Anyway, I welcome the cooler temperatures.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giving a character flaws

I hate my characters' flaws. I don't mean that I wish I could think up different ones, I mean they suit them well, but I hate what I've done to them. It's hard to choose flaws.

Some are an easy cop out. The pretty girl that's full of self-doubt. The brilliant guy who's too indifferent or a womanizer. Those are so worn, that you almost cringe when you recognize them in a book. But they work well in tandem with other flaws.

Others are indefensible. Making a protag a pedophile isn't going to work. No matter what the rationalization, he's not going to be a sympathetic figure for 98% of the readers.

Being insensitive isn't bad. Someone who exhibits bigoted views can be sympathetic as long as they have redeeming features and make progress on the bigotry during the manuscript.

Stupidity is an exceptional flaw, but it really limits the character.

I like to use a smorgasbord of flaws in the characters. Some flaws are more prominent than others.  Making them human seems to be the way to go. Humans screw up in a variety of ways. Lovable humans screw up in a variety of ways, and even act cruel, greedy, selfish, petty, etc...at times. Flaws are important. Subtle flaws are realistic. Usually, I just draw on my own flaws to find one for my character.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Following an outline

There are scenes in my WIP I can't wait to get to. And there are those I fear will bore the reader. That's before I get to them. That's before they are cemented in the outline. When you have a frame, it's the glue that holds the story together. You don't go off on a rant. It focuses your train of though and keeps it on the tracks.

That stained glass picture above of George Washington at the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be a pile of pretty glass that didn't make anything recognizable. Put it in a frame, put some glue around the pretty pieces and it becomes a picture. Something recognizable. Some pictures are prettier than others, but they all have structure. An outline gives you structure. You don't run too log because you have a finite number of chapters you're trying to fit the thing into. You don't ramble too much on one subject because you know you have to move the story along to get to the point you're making in the next chapter. They force you to condense. They force you to cut what's irrelevant. They prop up the pretty glass so that it's displayed in the best light.

I wasn't a believer in outlines until this chapter. It's like a light bulb went off. I went into it wondering what would be interesting about the chapter, and then I saw the outline. To me, who wants to wallow in the chapters with the fireworks and hold them up screaming, "Look at this! Isn't this cool?!" Those chapters aren't important because they aren't the climax. They're not the fireworks. But to the reader, who isn't as intimate with the characters as I am, who doesn't know how they'll react when the shit hits the fan, who doesn't know them as well as I do, they are the frame. And the reader will know it. He'll know that it's not the big scene. But hopefully he'll want to know what happened that lead to the big scene.

I've skipped chapters in books before. Skipped over them and went to a scene that interested me. Then I went back. I go impatient as a reader. But the good writers got me to go back and read those interstitial chapters. And the made the story better.

Yeah, I'll outline from now on.