Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hawk and Sparrow

Today, Larry’s nickname is Mr. Fickle Pants.
On one hand, he’s continually calling me bullheaded and difficult, yet on the other occasions, he has noted how I go out of my way to be nice. And although I suppose those two traits are not mutually exclusive, Mr. Fickle Pants needs to remember how many times I’ve given in and done something his way.
          Then last week he accused me of being agreeable.
As IF!
Also, for the record, we do have a way of breaking ties, he’d just forgotten, because he was busy being stubborn.
What? What was that? Mr. Levelheaded has a stubborn streak? The two of us in a room with a ball bat? Like a sparrow and a hawk!
So the next time anybody sees Mr. Fickle Pants, they might want to refresh his memory—we already have a way of breaking ties, the same tiebreaker we’ve used for over a year: We take our disagreements to our critique group and let them settle it.
Then when they choose my way, I take a spin on the I-told-you-so carousel.
Okay, so maybe I am a tad stubborn and difficult. So why does he even bother having me for a writing partner?
I can’t honestly say, but I’ll tell you what I do know. He’s not bored.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Swing and a Miss!

Last week I wrote about differences I have with Becky about the story—you might call them disagreements. I often give in, because the disagreements usually settle themselves in time.
At one point Becky introduced a character and warned me not to kill him off, because she liked him. Immediately, I could see many ways kill him and many reasons to kill him, aside from just to piss her off. Within one month Becky killed him off herself. When I asked her about it she simply said, “He had to die.”
If you plan to write with a partner, plan on having disagreements. It’s gonna happen—like steppin’ in dog crap, it’s gonna happen! Now if both writers are open minded and listen to the other, the dispute can be settled easily.
But, if you have one level-headed guy and one bull-headed female, then compromise is the best resolution. (I’m not necessarily talking about Becky and me here…wink, wink.)
Sometimes there is no good resolution. Recently Becky introduced a new character in the very last chapter of our novel. I objected.
“I don’t care. He’s staying,” she told me.
I don’t have time to kill him off before the end, so I’m still hoping for a mutually favorable resolution. At times like these, I think it would be good to have some sort of a tie breaker. We didn’t, but I think that writing partners should agree on a way to settle things before they even start writing, like a coin toss or rock-paper-scissors.
Now it might sound odd, but I think that the best way is for the two to go into an empty room, each with a ball bat, and the one to come out alive gets to write the scene his/her way.
I bet with that tie breaker in mind, a compromise would be easier to reach.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Are we there yet?

How do you know when you’re done writing your novel? It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder until Larry asked, “Are you satisfied with this ending?”
Actually, I was. He’d written a killer last line. Then the epilogue shows us where the surviving characters are, and what they’re doing two years down the road, which sets up the sequel.
So I said, “Yeah, I’m good with it.”
He made a face. “It doesn’t feel finished.”
“Finished? We tied up all the loose ends. The danger is past. The last line was a comic note after all the drama. What else is there?”
“I don’t know.”
Long, thoughtful pause while I tried to figure out what to say next.  “Do you want to try writing something more?”

Which begs the question: When is a book done? We obviously have differing opinions, and even if he can’t say why, it still doesn’t feel finished to him. For me, ending with action is fine, especially the way he did it—with a laugh.
My primary concern with adding more to our original ending is the risk of boring the reader after they’ve learned all there is to know. The bad guys are taken care of, the good guys win—what else is there?
This summer I read a book where a guy goes on this wild and dangerous treasure hunt, lots of people end up dead, and the last chapter is him back in his classroom teaching. Bo-ring! Mostly I just scanned through the last dozen pages looking for something interesting—and there wasn’t anything.
It was a limp-noodle ending to an otherwise suspenseful, engaging novel.
Of course, I’m sure there’s probably middle ground between ending with action that leaves a reader wanting more and boring the reader to death. 
Right now, we don’t know what that is.
            So please stay tuned, just in case we figure it out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways of Looking at Things

I got an e-mail from Becky today. She told me she didn’t like a scene I wrote. She said she was okay with about half of it and thought it needed to be shortened.
So, I e-mailed back, “OK,” because I was okay with that. I liked the scene, but I wasn’t in love with it.
This brought to mind a conversation my wife and I had last night. Well, my wife did the talkin’ and I did the “Yeah,” “Uh huh,” “Yep,” and noddin’ parts.
We were headed to town when two deer darted across the road, leapt the ditch and disappeared into the woods. “Oh look,” she said, “we don’t usually see white tailed deer, aren’t they pretty?”
“You know all those hunters that go out and shoot deer and have the heads stuffed and hung on the wall?”
The kind with the big antlers and the spooky eyes that follow you around the room?”
“Uh huh.”
“I don’t think they’re pretty at all. If it was me I’d stuff the other end and hang it so you could look at the pretty tail.”
She was serious. Not that she’d ever traipse out in the woods to shoot a deer, but if she did…well, I guess she’d hang the deer’s ass on the wall.
So today when Becky e-mailed me back asking if I was offended by her comments, she was being so nice that I didn’t have the heart to explain to her that I was right, and she was wrong.
Like my wife, she has her way of looking at things, and I have mine. I wrote back that I wasn’t mad, they were just words and ideas, and we have plenty more where those came from… 
…but I might have lied a little bit about having plenty more.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Research and Rum Running

Rhys Bowen, featured author at the Love is Murder convention last week, said, “You have to get the details right, because everybody can check. One little wrong fact bursts the bubble and negates the rest of the book.”
            Larry and I have been researching as needed as we work along. Can a gun shoot underwater? What kind of gun? Can a man live with a bullet in his head without immediate attention? How long? How far and wide spread was rum running during prohibition? Is it reasonable that there might be a tunnel underneath a century-old farmhouse?
            Then Thursday night at our critique group, somebody pointed to their printout of our chapter and asked, “Does Illiopolis have a Sherriff?”
            With all inherent cleverness, I replied,  “Um. I don’t know. Larry?” and threw him under the bus.
            We have quite a long section that stretches between chapters 31 and 32 with a Sherriff who may not exist.
            Is that a problem? Not necessarily, depending on the novel and if the readers expect us to take liberties with locations. In this case, we’ve been pretty careful keeping the details of Decatur and the surrounding area accurate, so liberties are disallowed.
I mean, it seemed reasonable that there would be an Illiopolis Sherriff, and it didn’t occur to me to question that.
            Which makes me now wonder, what else have I taken for granted as common knowledge that is common only in Becky’s Little Universe? The rest of the world would roll its eyes, “No, Illiopolis doesn’t have a Sherriff!”
            All I can say is thank goodness for our critique group and thank goodness for spell check. Apparently I can’t spell Sherriff.
            The solution? The group suggested we don’t even need that particular character, and that the interplay between the three officers at the scene slowed the pacing--so much so that one of the members asked, “Does it pick back up next chapter?”
            You can’t get a novel perfect in the first draft--at least we can’t. So we’ve got work to do. And research to do. And rewriting to do. But that’s to be expected.
            Google, here I come!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Half Crazy Double Take

Me: I was looking at that thing I wrote as a blog without the excerpt or a blog without our back and forth dialogue.

Becky: I’m a bit confused as to exactly what you’re trying to communicate…

Me: I didn't mean to send the blog I sent, I thought I'd changed it already. Never mind.

I’m tellin’ ya, I feel sorry for Becky sometimes, especially after conversations such as the one above. We’ve been writin’ on this story for over a year, and I’m sure I’ve driven that girl half crazy. Sure, she’s a trip sometimes, too, but at least she started out with some sense.

My writing doesn’t come out real smooth sometimes, but she can usually fix it. I try to get it right, I really do, but when I hit spell check, a box pops up and says, “What kind of moron are you?”

And grammar? I throw in commas like I’m shuffling a deck of cards and slap in periods at random. A semi colon? Is that a colon with 16 wheels?

My point is… Becky ain’t got it easy, keepin’ me around for a writin’ partner. Sure, I’m a smooth talker and easy on the eyes, but I picture her headin’ straight to the medicine cabinet after our weekly meeting, poppin’ some pills, puttin’ an ice pack on her head and cursin’ the day she met me.

I’m not sayin’ I’m a complete idiot, but when I accidentally say something intelligent she does give me a double-take. Why in the world would she want to put up with so much crap when she can simply write it herself in half the time it takes to figure out what I wrote? I still don’t know.

So if you’re gonna have a writin’ partner, don’t be like Becky. Choose carefully!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing the "Big Scene"

Larry issued a challenge: “It’s the final, big scene. Are you up to writing it?”
            Although I’m not sure he meant it as a challenge, my tendency toward competition interpreted it that way.
            Now I had to produce not only a scene, but a GREAT one! How could I make it amazing? Unexpected, yet believable?
            The same way I generate all of my ideas—I headed for the couch with a heating pad, cup of herbal tea, and sat there with my eyes closed. Some people might call it meditating. Some may call it daydreaming. Some might call it catching a nap. Snoring is what separates the latter from the former.
            For all intents and purposes, I’m going to call it meditating, although any of you out here who really do meditate are going to scream “HACK!”
            Snuggled onto my heating pad and inhaling the lovely aroma of bergamot drifting through the air, I cleared my mind of everything except the scene I had to write.
Where were the good guys standing in relationship to the mobster with the gun?
            Armed bad guy: a mobster with a gun.
Unarmed good guys: a cop, two female carpenters, two male wastewater plant workers, a female assassin, and a 500-pound male nursing home escapee in a wheelchair.
Once I had the scene pictured, I let my mind wander among the characters.
            With my eyes closed and complete silence around me, I pictured each character, quickly dismissing the obvious strong personalities and the obviously weak personalities. What I needed was somebody in the middle with enough strength of character to take on the gunman, but not so obvious that the readers “Saw that one coming!”
            After picturing each of the players overpowering the bad guy, I settled on my choice. Then I pictured the scene again in my mind and replayed it like a movie in its entirety. Satisfied, I tossed my lap cat aside and raced for the computer.
            I typed the scene in record time and whipped it off to Larry.
            On pins and needles, I kept hearing the thwack! thwack! of a gavel. And my tiny voice keening, “But Judge Larry! It was the best I could do!”
            Larry’s e-mail reply came back…I braced myself and clicked open.
He liked it. Not only that, he liked it so well that he had surprisingly few suggestions for changes.
            My secret method worked—which really isn’t much of a secret and not really much of a method. I do the same thing while washing my hair or sitting in a lawn chair. Close my eyes, picture a scene, allow my mind to wander, and let the characters take over. What would Casey do? What would Kelly do? What would Victor do?
Again, technically, it’s not meditation, but it is a passive sort of way to face a challenge that I should use from now on—tea, heating pad, and silence.
And if that doesn’t work, I’ll take a nap.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

McDonalds Writing Nook

            I don’t know why, but I feel like I write better longhand at our local McDonalds. That’s where I’m at now, chomping on my big breakfast and sipping on an endless supply of Coke. I’m told that writing in a noisy, rush hour environment is fairly unusual, but I’ve been married over 40 years and have become adept at tuning out annoying chatter and movement around me.
I’m lost in my own little world.
And I’m actually more comfortable here than in the solitude of my lonely writing nook at home. There, I feel more keyed-up and have to get up and move around, which slows the writing process considerably.
            Becky, on the other hand, prefers quiet solitude. Her nimble fingers flash across the keyboard like lightening. She writes so much more efficiently than I. My words dribble from my pen onto a yellow notepad, and then later when I type them, they trickle one letter at a time onto my computer screen.
In spite of our different approaches, when the words, hers and mine, are all put together, they become “ours.” I am as invested in her words as my own, and she is invested in my words as she is her own. They are “our” words, and usually after a short time, we can’t tell who originally wrote which parts.
Our styles are that similar.
Her writing process is far different from mine, yet in the finished product, we can’t tell the difference.
So I guess it doesn’t matter how we tickle our muses, what’s important is that we get the words onto paper. And extra large Coke really helps.