Friday, December 23, 2011

Methods to Madness

I’ve read how authors keep track of details as they write their novels. They use spiral notebooks. Poster boards. Colorful note cards. Highlighters. File folders. Databases.
          Seriously? Sounds like an awful lot of work to me—I want to write, be a panster, just let it all gush out. We don’t need no stinking note cards!
In hindsight it turns out that yes, we do need stinking note cards. Lots of them. While we were writing Book 1 in our series, we discovered some major time wasters that a bit of recordkeeping could have saved: 

·       Trying to figure out where something happened in the book. We couldn’t insert certain changes without messing up a timeline.
·       Frequent discussion of character personality traits which would impact future behaviors and overall plot. Is he really a cold-blooded murder or is it a crime of passion? A crime of opportunity? An accident?
·       Research scenes before they’re written. Not researching beforehand worked out okay for us because we were lucky guessers. Although we did have to change a few things (smell at the treatment plant, for instance), none affected the plot.
·       Wait, what kind of car did he drive? I thought it was a Buick. Hang on, let me find it. Will a Buick handle that way, or do we need to change the car? 

To stave off brain atrophy while we finish the painful and dull task of final reviews and edits of Book 1, Larry and I have begun Book 2. It’s important that I begin keeping track of details now. Already I’ve had to backtrack a few times, and we’re only on chapter three!
Having learned a few things the first time through this time is going to be different. I’ll need note cards for character traits, a notebook for the outline, a dozen highlighters for character tracking, and let’s see, what else…
So maybe all those authors weren’t mad after all. They had their method. It’s time for us to find ours—one that doesn’t include spending half our time trying to figure out what came before.
We need to find a method to our own madness.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Characters and Real People

My mom. Smart. Funny. Full of ornery. She would make a great character in a book. For those of you who know her, enough said.
For those of you who don’t, here’s a story: I baked banana bread and took her up two slices, one for her and one for my uncle who lives there with her. A freshly baked snack with afternoon coffee. That’s what I was thinking. Also, I was thinking a few other things.
1)    She told me they needed to cut calories. Now that winter is here, they’re sitting around instead of working outside and don’t want to gain weight. So I didn’t want to tempt them with a giant plate of goodies.
2)    After Thanksgiving she said, “Take the leftover cake. I don’t want it around. I’ll eat it.”
3)    Does she even like banana bread? I know she wouldn’t tell me if she didn’t like it. Another time I took her chocolate cookies for her birthday, and she made yummy noises when she took a bite. But a week later they lay uneaten on the counter. I asked her if she liked them. “Yeah, I like them.” On a scale of 1 to 10, Mom. (I could see the wheels turning behind the scrunched concentration.) “A four.” Seriously? A FOUR? “Well,” she said, “they’re not a zero.” 

So back to the banana bread. I handed her the cellophane-covered plate with the two slices of warm yumminess. She looked at the plate a bit too long and said, “Thank you. You’re so generous!”
I got it, and we started laughing. “But you said you wanted to cut calories!”
“I did, didn’t I?”
*Forehead slap*
So I explained the other reasons there were only two pieces and reminded her of the chocolate cookie incident. “Well, if I didn’t like the bread, I’d put it in the freezer for Christmas.” See? I knew you wouldn’t tell me if you didn’t like it!
Now, for this book, I’ve been thinking about a character who is always literal—that could be a lot of fun for characters who enjoy poking fun. I had a literal professor once who couldn’t get a joke. But maybe what we need is the antithesis of that. A character like Mom. I’ve tried to write some of her antics into stories before, but they haven’t worked—they always feel forced.
Maybe I’m too close to the subject. Maybe I need to look at specific traits as opposed to behaviors. I’m not sure what I need to do, but she is a gold mine just waiting to be struck, and I haven’t been able to find the right vein.
And if I do find a vein, will it be gold or something else? Maybe THAT’s why I can’t capture her character, because it’s…
…complex, that’s what it is. Nice enough not to tell me she doesn’t like something, but forward enough to tell me to my face that I’m being chincy.
Now I just have to figure out how to write “complex.” That’s gotta be pretty easy to do. Right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fuzzy pajamas and snowflakes

           I’m wearing my blue fleece pajamas and sitting beside our big picture window in the kitchen using the table as a footstool.
Blessed contentment.
Birds are frolicking in the snow, digging for the seeds I threw out, and I’m spending more time watching them than I am writing.  Which is okay. It doesn’t snow here every day, especially on windless days where the the big fat lazy flakes float gently to the ground.
I love to watch the snow. It’s romantic. One of my favorite memories is walking with my husband at night across a mall parking lot while it was snowing, the giant flakes illuminated in the lamplight. I made him hold my hand.
Snow is relaxing. Quiet. Soft.
For our second book, I chose to set it in November (and because I wrote the first scene, I got to do that!). Our last book was dead of summer, lots of heat and a thunderstorm but provided little opportunity to use the weather as a character for conflict.
Winter, I thought, is more complex, at least here in the Midwest--more possibilities for complications. Slick roads, ice storms, whiteouts. When I was in my 20s and drove a white Honda, I got lost on the interstate during a whiteout and took a wrong exit—didn’t recognize anything, signs were all coated. It was terrifying in that tiny, well camouflaged car.  I was sure a snow plow would cover me up and never know I was there.
Terrible things can happen in the snow which could add complications to our characters lives and even up the ante in already difficult situations.
And then there is the balance of that. The romance of the snow where characters can cuddle in front of a fireplace, frolic around bonfires and double up on a sled, or just take a walk along a country road.
Holding hands.