Thursday, September 30, 2010

Easy, Breezy, Kraken Girl

Until now, writing this novel has been a relative breeze.

Relative is the key word. Writing a novel is challenging in many ways, and to name few:

·         Making time to spend with your keyboard.
·         Crossing your fingers that good health holds out long enough to finish the chapter by deadline to send it to the critique group.
·         Bargaining with your Muse. “Yes, I told you we can bake Toll House cookies, but only after you give me something good!”

So, it’s been easy in that we haven’t had to work at the plot. We’ve just been writing, having fun, and the plot has developed organically.

Until now. Conundrums are rearing their Kraken heads more frequently—one monster we recently battled was scene order. I handed Larry a chronologically challenged printout of our chapter and asked, “Will you fix this, please?” I’d totally messed it up.

Wearing a puzzled expression, he flipped pages back and forth. He numbered the scenes for me to reorder. He looked at them one more time. “No, wait, this one has to come first.” He scribbled out numbers and renumbered them.

Now I can fix it. Easy meeting. We’re done, now, right?

He reviewed the whole thing and said, “It can’t work this way because this part should actually come at the end of the book, right before the final scene.”

I’m sure my mouth dropped open. “So our characters have twenty-four hours to tie up all the loose ends before the final climax?” Sorry, no can do.  None of our characters is Jack Bauer.

We discussed loose ends. We discussed plotting. We discussed method.

He suggested we pick up the pace and write further ahead of what we’re giving the critique group, so we can work these things out under less hairy deadlines. More meetings, more plotting, and more production.

And more Toll House cookies for my Muse.

Monday, September 27, 2010

So where's the bathroom?

The main character’s house has become an issue in our story. We haven’t given enormous detail about the floor plan and furnishings, primarily because I find description of that sort mind-blowingly dull to read, so we’re trying not to write that way. I mean, PLEASE don’t spend three paragraphs describing the grandmother’s chenille bedspread unless it moves the story forward.
Recently we discovered that there is, after all, a critical need to describe the layout of our protagonist’s house. A bad guy shot at the good guy through the living room picture window. I wrote about the bad guy’s position with the high-powered rifle on a hill behind the house. Larry said, “It can’t happen that way,” and proceeded to explain why not, complete with a diagram of the house and street.
First of all, the diagram of Larry’s imaginary house did not match the one I had in my head. The living room can’t be at the end of the house, because we have a scene where somebody sneaks from one end of the house and through the living room on the way to the second bathroom.
We settled that by adding a bedroom and bathroom to the drawing. Then Larry said, “Okay, the shooter can’t be behind the house, because…” and refers back to the diagram.
Forced to rely on my drawing “skill”, I pulled out a sheet of clean paper and drew a crooked rectangle with hash lines to indicate rooms, a large picture window, and most importantly, the location of the recliner and television, which are critical to the scene.
Finally, after MUCH discussion and a few more alterations to the floor plan, we concluded that we were both wrong. For things to happen like we said they did, the shooting scene had to be heavily edited. We kept my new house rendering and Larry’s shooting position out front. We also have to back track a chapter and fix our lead up to the shooting.
Up until this conversation, I considered the floor plan overkill and chose not to quibble about the details. Did we really need to agonize over every aspect of each room in the house?
I maintain the answer to that is no, that we didn’t need to agonize over every single detail—until the house itself became a character.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Point(s) of View

I would like to address the whole question of point of view as it applies to our novel. Nearly all of our characters, at one time or another, are center stage with us inside their heads. Is this typical? To have so many points of view? No, not typical, but also not unheard of.

One scene between Bella (the mob boss’s daughter) and Kelly (the main character’s girlfriend) was written from Bella’s point of view. We managed to communicate the necessary information to move the story forward, but in a fairly dull exchange with more “telling” than “showing”.

Changing the POV to Kelly breathed some life into the scene. She’s lying in bed at 2:30 in the morning when her doorbell rings. Who could it be? No good news can come at that time of day. Should she answer it? Somebody’s trying to kill her boyfriend, and maybe they’re trying to kill her, too, but would a bad guy really ring her doorbell? Kelly has been living in constant fear, which we found added to the tension and humor of the scene, making it much stronger.

Now we’re trying to decide about another scene between two bad guys, each thinking that they have the upper hand. How should we choose? By the character who has the most to lose? By our favorite bad guy? By who could make it the funniest?

I’ve seen writing exercises where you’re instructed to write the same scene from different points of view. To do a whole novel that way would be time consuming and exhausting, and I’m just not interested. What I am interested in is telling the strongest, most amusing story we can, so occasional exercises in point of view are bound to be expected.

So what did we decide about the bad guys? We don’t know yet, but I’m thinking we could go with the character who can communicate the most information in the smallest amount of space.

Then again, we may go for the laugh. It’s still a work in progress.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bat poop on the patio door

Oops! Maybe she was a bigger fan of bat guano than I thought. Okay, there is a time and a place for everything, but that just wasn’t it. (I do know that sometime before the end of the novel she will find a way to sneak it in.)

In spite of me marking out Becky’s bat guano, our last meeting was pleasant. She is usually a very pleasant person, but near the end of the meeting she started grilling me about everything! Who, when, where, how, who knew what, and when did they know it?

She didn’t see the scene as saw it when I wrote it, basically meaning the scene I wrote wasn’t written well enough to be clear readers. How could she not know it was a patio door? Sheesh, I see it so clearly in my head!

After what felt like a high-level Senate interrogation, I now know the problems with it, and can—hopefully—fix them. Any time the reader (in this case, Becky) has a question, there is a problem.

Now I can rewrite the scene, and it shouldn’t be referred to again as bat guano.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We can't do that because...

Larry picked up his pen and drew a line through the sentence, “Somebody just threw a whole pile of stinking bat guano on that!”
Distressed, I stopped chewing my drippy Reuben for a millisecond. “Uh! You took out my bat guano?”
“Why?” he asked. “Do you LOVE it?” That’s how our most lengthy, quasi-heated discussions begin—when he wants to cut something I love.
I shook my head. “No. I just love the words bat guano.
Our bi-monthly meetings progress as follows: we meet at Perkins after I get off work, he orders a Coke and I choose a sandwich.  I eat while he edits the chapter we’re currently working on. I watch him make marks as I try to read his comments upside down. When my sandwich is gone and I finish wiping the grease off my arm, it’s my turn at the manuscript.
Bat guano turned out to be a non-issue. It’s gone. What did turn out to be an issue revolved around a single scene—a shootout. The conversation went a bit like this: “Who knows who, and how do they know each other? I thought we decided…” “Well, back in Chicago...” “Wait, that won’t work because…” “Okay, maybe they don’t know each other…” “They have to know each other, or this next part won’t work—we’d have to rewrite the whole thing.”
Larry agreed that my way would be easiest, with less backtracking and rewriting. But is that the direction we took? Of course not. We compromised—an act which is physically painful for me.
I like what we decided, though, and now we have to work on it to have it ready for our next critique group meeting. The story will be better in the long run, but rewriting is as big a challenge as writing the thing in the first place.
As we left the restaurant, I said, “This was a really productive meeting.”
“What? We just have more questions about the rest of it!”
“Yes, but we found the answers we needed for this chapter.”
And that’s what writing a novel is all about. The baby steps.

Monday, September 13, 2010

From Exercise to Novel

Dang! I just read Becky’s blog, and I didn’t realize so much thought went into our novel. Sure as heck, not by me.

Hi, I’m Larry, Becky’s writing partner. When Becky sent me that first line, “I don’t want to die smelling like urine,” I took that as a challenge to my creativity. Cool! I love those writing exercises. I looked forward to seeing what kind of ridiculous dilemma she would leave for me to solve, and it was fun leaving her with a mess to make sense of. I was blissfully having fun doing ping-pong writing well up into the 200-page range when Becky went back, read through it and decided, “This is pretty good, it could be a novel.”

In my eyes it was just a bunch of gibberish that no one could follow but us. It wasn’t intended to be read.

But, she insisted!

“It’s too much work,” I whined.

“I’ll do all the typing,” she offered. Hell, she types with all ten fingers, and I don’t have enough energy to argue with a determined woman. I went back and read through it, and I have to agree that it’s not that bad. But is it fixable? I didn’t think so at first, but as we go through it, there’s not that much that needs to be fixed.

Becky was right. %#&!%$

One great thing about having a writing partner of the opposite sex is that she can help with all the woman details. I might write about a woman wearing high-water pants and she immediately knows the word I’m looking for: Capri’s. If I need a hooker-red lipstick color, she knows it. Silky feeling woman’s shirt, no problem. She’s like a walking she-saurus.

And she always catches the little things I don’t see. “And you don’t think she (the female protagonist) would get mad about her boyfriend sleeping with her best friend?” Becky might ask. “Well… she was laid up in the hospital after gallbladder surgery. What would she expect him to do? OK, fine, I’ll have him wearing a condom.”

As Becky mentioned, she’s a Type-A personality—she cares about every tiny aspect of the novel. I, on the other hand, am okay with most of her suggestions, but if I want to cut something she “loves,” she’s like a fat man fighting for the last Big Mac at closing time. We can argue for hours, but since she outnumbers me 10 typing digits to 1, she wins. If it’s something she doesn’t necessarily “love”, then she is usually open-minded.

Now that this thing is a novel instead of a writing exercise, it has to have an ending. We try to meet every two weeks to go over chapters, talk about plots and sub-plots and discuss characters. Finding a time when we can both be available can sometimes be hard, but I think it’s important at this point. Most writing teams would start meeting earlier in their novel, and I would suggest that finding a mutual time to meet should be one of the first things to discuss when thinking about working as a team. If it can’t be worked out then you should probably rethink the idea of team-writing.

Strengths and weaknesses are other things to consider when picking a writing partner. (I have no strengths and Becky has no weaknesses—perfect). If you know you are weak in one area you might look for someone strong in that area.

It’s difficult enough finding a good writing partner, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by picking someone you can’t stand, like an ex-lover or someone you owe money to. Those things just make it more difficult. But, what do I know is this: I just kinda fell into this thing, so feel free to ignore all of the above advice.

Keep writing. Bye for now.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Co-Authors: Challenge or Benefit?

Writing a novel is a challenge. So what about writing a novel with a partner? Bigger challenge? I suspect that depends on the people involved.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog—our method of co-writing a novel and how our partnership works. Folks, meet Larry. He’s the one showing his good side in the photo there to the left.

Writing a novel alone amounts to long hours of sitting in front of a computer bouncing ideas off whichever cat happens to be lying on the keyboard at the time.

Now I’m writing with a partner which is far more entertaining. And challenging.
Let me begin at the beginning. Here’s how the Opposing Farces joint venture began—during a conversation with a friend about nursing homes. She said, “I don’t want to die smelling like urine.”

I replied, “What a great first line for a novel!”

Within minutes, I shot off an e-mail to Larry, one of the funniest writers I know. It went: “Hey! Here’s the first line of the story! You write the next part, and send it back to me!”

So he wrote a paragraph or two, then sent it back to me and I wrote on it, then sent it back to him. Now, about 200 pages later, we’re still going.

The benefits – I’ve already alluded to the benefits of a writing partner, and here are more that pertain specifically to our mad method.

• Writer’s block avoidance: When I hit a wall, I shoot it off to Larry. “Your turn!”

• Starting in the middle: We each leave the other with a cliff hanger, in the middle of the action, or at a writer’s block. Picking up a scene or chapter in the middle is much easier to write than starting from scratch.

• Brainstorming: Having somebody closely enough involved with the characters to brainstorm past plot challenges is valuable beyond belief.

• Outline avoidance: Now, about ¾ through the book, we’ve begun plotting. The rest of the book was pretty much not even discussed beyond, “What you wrote won't work, because in Chapter 3…” types of conversations.

The Challenges – Did I lead you to believe there are no challenges? Of course there are, and in good conscience, I need to list those too.

• Time to meet: We both have families and full-time jobs. We meet about every two weeks in person to go over chapters, and e-mail ideas and questions in between times.

• Creative differences: Of course this is going to happen. I try to keep an open mind about storylines and ideas, but being a Type A personality doesn’t always make that easy. Fortunately, Larry is a Type B. Does he always give in? Nope. That’s the challenge. Do I give in to him? That’s a blog for another time.

• Disagreeing with logic and grace: Yes, it needs to be logical for us - cause and effect drive our story and our characters. When I disagree with something, I need to think about why I’m disagreeing. Is his point logical? How would this help the story? And then on occasion, I set pride aside and go with what’s best for our characters.

So there you have it. Welcome to our blog. Larry and I will both contribute commentary, so stop by anytime.