What Can I Do About Uncooperative Characters?

writingpicI have an idea for a story.  Well, more accurately, I have a great character and interesting situation for him and I even have an idea of what he should be doing – a story arc.  So with all that clearly laid out, the writing should be a piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  For some reason this kid is not cooperating with me.  I’ve tried writing from the kid’s point of view and writing from a third-person point of view.  I even aged the kid thirty years and tried it via flashback.  Three times now I’ve written over 1000 words, been dreadfully unhappy, and erased the whole thing.

I’m answering a prompt for a short story contest, but the deadline is three weeks away, so I don’t feel any pressure; that’s not the issue.  I am invested in the character and I’d like to make it work, but I’m not sure how.  This hasn’t happened to me before.  In general when I get an idea, I sit down and write it.  Boom.  Done.  That’s it.  I can write more than 1000 words an hour and finished NaNoWriMo before the deadline.  (This is just a comment on volume, not quality – I need a LOT of editing when I write at that pace)  So you can see why I’m stumped here.

My plan going forward is to sit down with a pen and paper and flesh out more details about the character, the supporting cast, the situation and even some of the action.  Perhaps I’ll take out my computer to do it, but sometimes my best thinking is done when I use my hand effectively.  Research has been done about the strong connection between the hand and the brain and that it does not translate to typing and I follow this pattern: writing in my journal is more effective when I think about a story than when I just type.  Lastly on this topic, my NaNoWriMo was the easiest and the best ever this year and I can pinpoint the one reason why: planning.  While I didn’t write at all in October and tried very hard to follow the rules to the letter, I did do a lot of planning.  I had a sketch of each character and an idea of his or her motivation for every scene in the story.  I am going to apply that principle here.  I’m not going to move forward on writing until I have the ideas fully fleshed out.

If anyone out there has a better method, or other advice, I’m open to it.  Please let me know!

NaNoWriMo is Done – Now What?

As I mentioned, I spent the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel.  I’m done! Hurrah!  So then what happens, you might ask?

writingpicFirst of all, I have to finish the novel.  I would estimate that it’s about 90% done with first draft.  The last scenes still need to be written.  The challenge is to put down 50,000 words; not finish a book.

It’s after the first draft is done that the hard work really begins.  I have to step back and let it sort of “breathe” for a few weeks.  Then I have to take the fifteen or so assorted scenes that I’ve written and make sure they come together as a cohesive novel.  Then I have to edit.  And edit. And edit.  I will ask others to read the draft after the fourth or so effort.  Those friends will make some serious suggestions and I will do edits five, six and seven on the complete draft.  I  might think it’s ready for outsiders to see by that point.

Then starts the un-fun stuff.  I will then work as more o fa  saleswoman than writer, trying to pitch my book to editors, agents, anyone who will look at it in hopes of publication.  What about the e-book route?  Well, I might go that way also, but that takes research and effort also.

All of this means that I’ve done the fun work of writing and now, if I ever want my book to see the light of day, I have to get right down to the business of being a writer.  The hope is that the hard work will pay off in the end with publication in one form or another at some point in the not-too-distant future.  It hasn’t yet happened for me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it will happen with one of my novels someday.  I am optimistic about it!

Then I get to do it all over again, because at the end of the day, writing is what I really love to do.  And that, my friends, is what happens when NaNoWriMo is done; just like anything else, we keep on keeping on.

As the First Anniversary Approaches

You may recall that last year, after the Great Tohoku Earthquake in Japan, I participated in the publication of Quakebook, the first Twitter-sourced book that compiled stories of the quake. Besides spreading a message of hope, Quakebook allowed people to digitally download the book, with 100% of proceeds of sales going to the Red Cross.  It was a privilege to get to know the people involved, and the book was a remarkable success, both in e-book and eventually in print format as well.  Thousands of people bought the book and the money collected by the Red Cross was staggering.

That book was Twitter sourced, and it was stories about the quake.  Now, a year later, we need to examine the effects of the quake and how every-day life in Japan is forever altered by the experience.

To that end, coming out this week will be the one-year-anniversary follow-on book, published by Abiko Free Press.  This is not a book for charity.  This is hard journalism by professionals who examine, analyze and synthesize the experience through various lenses to achieve a modicum of clarity regarding the spirit of Japan since the quake, as well as a bit of what we can expect in the future.

It is, in short, becoming a work of staggering genius.

I am again involved, thanks to the great folks who are producing the book, and it is again a privilege to do it.

There are lessons out of 3/11 and we aim to find them, and embrace them.  Stay tuned for more information.

The Writer Edits

Every writer has his or her own process for working.

I’ve met people who write slowly and edit as they go, so each sentence comes out pristine and ready-for-action.  These people labor over the words and how they want to craft their ideas on the page so that the product after an hour of work might be 300 to 500 words, but what incredible words they are.

I am not in that camp.  For me, and hour means 1000 words of ideas, perhaps half of which are usable.  Oh perhaps I am being hard on myself, but I have a tendency to over-use adverbs and complicate my sentences with too many thoughts in one.  I am notorious for leaving out commas, though I avoid passive voice pretty well.   What this means is that I can do the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where writers produce 50,000 words in a month, without too much pain.  However, after the 50,000 words is where I get stuck.

Editing.  Revising. I hate ‘em.

I know that if I go back and smooth over my work, it all comes out better.  I know that if I tighten up my dialogue, characters walk off the page more clearly.  But I don’t like doing it.  It has been suggested to me that I journal to see what it is I don’t like about the process.  I should force myself to do it and see where my roadblocks lie.  I have another friend who suggested that I like my words and I don’t want to delete them.  I’m not sure either approach is quite right – maybe it’s a combination of ideas on why the thought of it makes me attend to every task known to man before sitting down at the computer to actually do it.

I do know that I had an experience last week where I wrote a short story with a certain contest in mind that I wanted to enter.  The story, which came out pretty well on the first go, was just over 1800 words – very short.  I tried an experiment as I wrote – I wrote VERY SLOWLY.  Like others I know, I crafted the words carefully, and wrote down ideas on a separate piece of paper if they popped into my head as I was drafting.  It worked.  As I forced myself to edit, I realized that the work was better – much better – than any fiction I’ve produced in quite a while.

Then I looked at the contest rules.  The story had to be 750 words or fewer.  I still had to cut half of it out.  It took me almost two hours, but I did it.  I cut cut cut.  I took out adverbs and the word “said” from everywhere.  I completely removed an ancillary character from the story.  There was a small, two paragraph flashback, and it too, hit the bin.  The story is different from the first version in many ways (of course I kept both!).  I like them each for different things, the way one likes her children – for the different things they offer.  (Let me know if you want to see the two stories – I’m happy to send them.)

It was a great experiment for me to do that story.  I feel stronger for it, though I do not like the process any more than I did a week ago.  At least, though, I can appreciate it.  I have a NaNoWriMo novel from a year ago that needs a lot of work.  The bare bones ideas are good and I think the characters are fun.  The book need beefing up and paring down all at the same time.

It seems to me to be a good February and March project.  Editing.  Here we go!