Category Archives: Process

Losing the battle, but winning the war (I think)

Monday: Today was the beginning…

Get up early and walk, then to work, meditation & yoga for lunch, and then home for more yoga and 2-4 hours on the novel.

Like that was going to happen.

More people came into the office during my 20 minutes of yoga and meditation than were in all morning (so much for that idea) and the allergy meds are making me yearn for bed, or a couch, or heck a piece of floor would do.

Losing ground fast… so tired. I’m sure the allergy meds are not helping. I can’t take Claritin because of the odd headaches, I can’t take Zyrtec because it makes my nose bleed, so I’m taking benydril (sp?) and feel like curling up on the floor and sleeping.

At times I hate being me.

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Friday: And I thought Monday was bad…

It was a week. A week that took me by the throat and shook me proving once again that I have no control over my environment – interior or exterior.

So, it is Friday and I’m sitting here, sipping the last of the scotch, and licking my wounds. Migraines, a day on Vicodin for pain beyond the migraines, our server going down and the exhaustion of a 11.5 hour day yesterday, but I am still here and still staring at the plot on my wall.

’tis time to kill one of my darlings.

I adore Emmett and his family. He is one of the few remaining characters from the first draft of the novel, but he must go. Talked it over with a friend last night. Gave her the plot and she immediately focused in on the Emmett scene and asked, “Why?” I couldn’t defend the scene, I slowed the pace of the plot and distracted the reader from the business at hand. Leave it to AL to figure that out in 30 seconds…. and I’ve been trying to figure out what was wrong all week. (that would be a statement about the value of outside opinions)

So, back to the drawing board – or the post it map.

The story will be better for this. I truly believe it.

A crazy weekend filled with odds and ends of commitment (and taxes) which I usually don’t let happen because I worry I’ll have to cancel. But one event turned into two, and then three…. and well the sky is darkening with rain as much as dusk and it is time to pack for the weekend.

Happy writing,

~ Tess

 

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The Villain of the Piece

iStock Photo

A good villain is hard to find.

Much harder than a good man.

I’ve struggled with this since the beginning of my novel. Most of the time I move my villain around the plot like a piece on a chess board. Need to block the hero from getting what she wants, enter the villain. Need to up the stakes, enter the villain. Need to…. well you get the idea.

It feels contrived. I don’t want to take the easy way out by saying “Hey, he’s evil – he doesn’t need a reason.” I believe that often the most evil outcomes occur when people do the wrong thing for the right reasons. The road to Hell and all that.

Part of my dilemma is all the communication training I had in one of my previous lives. I just can’t help but ask….

“Why would a reasonable rational human being do that?”*

I know there are some obvious reasons I could use – my villain isn’t human, reasonable or rational. Yet at the end of the day their behavior has to hold water and not leak. Leakage, or rather seepage is what took me from absolutely loving Connelly’s The Poet to feeling a little let down. Brilliantly Connellly sets up a new flavor of serial killer, finds a voice for his hero that is both literary and believable, then he takes us on a plot that has twists and turns which kept me guessing until the very end… but that is where things broke down for me.

Part of the thrill I have when I read a serial killer thriller (forgive the alliteration) is finding myself in the inner workings of a world view I have little connection too. We all have fantasies – we all act on them from time to time – most fantasies that are acted upon do not involve killing/mutilating/raping individuals. My fascination is with the physiology of the monster inside. That is why I love Val McDermid – the physiology of her killers is precise, organic, and breathtakingly perverse.

(I hate spoilers but there is a sort-of-spoiler ahead – The Poet was written in the ’96 so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me – and I’ll try to hide as much as possible without making you read the book to follow me.)

When Connelly’s Poet was finally revealed, we were left not knowing the why behind the Poet’s actions. Our glimpses into the Poet’s head were limited, seen from the view of a third party, and used as much for misdirection as for revealing character. Beyond that, Connelly develops several characters all of which have surprisingly rational, abet twisted, back stories that could make the motivation of the Poet killings rational-ish – just not the Poet. We have absolutely no idea why he does what he does.

Don’t get me wrong, the book has made me a Connelly fan and I have a lot of catching up to do… but I wanted to know the why – to understand the why – to feel that sense of catharsis that is the reason I love thrillers so much.

Hmmm… it is just possible I’ve spent more time thinking about The Poet because it wasn’t tied up in a bow – no one lived happily ever after – everyone in the book had their world altered forever – no one really got what they wanted (yet again something that Connelly does brilliantly).

…and yet I still want to know, “why would a reasonable rational person do that?”

So, back to my personal villain problems…

He needs a code to follow, a history from which his actions organically derive, what he is doing needs to make sense to him and by extension to us. I want a great villain, one who could have been the hero but his path was twisted somewhere along the way.

That is what I’ve been working on because I don’t like the cardboard cutout that I’ve been moving around on the page and want Darth Vader – not the rent collector who bows out, at the end of the book with “Curse’s foiled again”.

Guess I need to get back to work… 🙂

~ Tess

*Crucial Conversations – the book is amazing (especially if you want to do things wrong, right is so much harder) and they also have Crucial Confrontations.

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Dreaming in Post-its

In one of my previous lives I was a project manager.

To make myself more marketable I took a series of classes for a PM Certification from our local University – 3 of those classes changed my life (another story) and one of them was the jumping off point for revamping my life (Thank you Toni McConnell).

So, when I thought about charting my novel though Larry’s 4 Story Parts – this is what happened…

Oh, and you can’t see anything on purpose… 🙂

The green post-its are the primary story points and the yellow are my scenes, different colors of ink (which I know you can’t see) represent scenes that are related to other sub-arcs. One is my villain’s, another is the real spider at the middle of the web, and so on…

At one point last night I had to take everything down from Part II to the end and start over – but it was worth it since I got a better feel for what I was doing and what was important. I also sat down and watched Book of Eli which has some very subtle parts of the plot structure and helped me realize that I didn’t need an explosion – just a bend in the road.

When I get home from my mid day excursion to the Museum I’ll start pulling everything together into Scrivener. My hope is by the end of Wednesday I’ll have everything I’ve written that I’m keeping into the new structure and when I wake up Thursday morning I’ll know what gaps need filling.

Ah, how grateful I am to have a plan…

Tess the Mess

Oh, and thanks to Jeff Crow for his Post-it intense Project Management method.

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Worshiping at the temple of Structure

Over the weekend I spent two full days with Story Engineering author/speaker/guru Larry Brooks. Now I didn’t swoon (which apparently disappointed him) but I did learn two things…

  1. I write awesome beginnings
  2. My middles are crap

My endings are erratic so I’m going to ignore that for the moment. But I’ve been spinning around the middle of my novel for almost a year, and now I have some tools that I truly believe will get me through the muck of it.

At least I hope so…

I won’t give away Larry’s secrets – which he gives away on his website – but I will say I spent half the night, post Day One, tearing apart my half finished novel which garnered me the first two pieces of information. Then as I tried to fall asleep – ideas about how to make almost everything I’ve written and not sold better flooded my mind until I just had to tell the damn muse to shut up because there was no way I was going to be able to learn anything Day Two if I didn’t get any sleep (besides the migraine issues).

What I was hoping this weekend would provide is grist for the planning mill… I was terrified that I was hanging too much of my future productivity on this one weekend, thank the gods I was proven wrong.

There is a plan…a structure…a skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story on.

I’m still working on what I started Saturday night – taking the novel as it now exists and divide it into the four sections of story, and vetting the currently written scenes and how they fit into the overarching concept. And what a relief to know I had a concept… so much of Day Two was spent in search of one as different writers offered up their stories or germs of stores to the group to be reviewed.

The interesting thing about that (and probably why I love Rose City Romance Writers so much) is that in the romance world there is room for all of us. No “new” writer is a threat, no established writer feels possessive of their craft, time or contacts. I was talking to a children’s writer who sat next to me and was so surprised that the weekend ended so positively. She said most Children’s events ended with a quiet sense of desperation.

I spent joyous part of last night talking through it with Jo and for the first time ever felt like I had head wrapped around the plot.

Woop!

Don’t get me wrong – this is a bullet but not magic – it is going to take a hell of a lot of work to get my novel to the structural polish suggested by Larry’s structure. But having a structure, knowing where to stick my tent pole in the ground so I can write to it, is wonderfully liberating.

On a different note, my Mac has slowed down to a crawl so my depression (followed by a bout of self-pity) has to be officially over – I only have 37.95 GB left on my Mac’s hard drive and that is not enough for another season of NCIS. And I need to delete many of the ones I have to get my writing tool back to optimum working condition.

’tis good to be back.

Ta!

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