I ignored the urgent email requests to help chaperone Jeremy’s high school band’s trip to the State Music Festival. (They got along fine without me.) I didn’t attend Sam’s promotional belt test at the Tae Kwon Do studio. (It was an intermediate-level test, not one of the biggies.) Instead I went to a book signing by Laura Resau.
Laura has been one of my favorite authors for some time now because I admire:
the rich, accuracy of the settings
the complexity of the characters
the beauty of the language
the opportunity to find out about other cultures
her knack for total-immersion storytelling
A few other writers, including Ruth McNally-Barshaw, attended the signing, and we had a terrific afternoon discussing the writing process and its many challenges. Not only that, I got signed copies of The Indigo Notebook and Star in The Forest.
Indulge yourself. Pick up some of Laura’s books, sit back and enjoy.
On Thursday, I finished the first draft of my new novel, SSA. Man, is it rough! Fortunately, Sam will soon be in a homework-free zone and available to advise me on the scenes involving Tae Kwon Do. He’ll probably even demonstrate moves. It’ll be like having my very own Ask a Ninja.
Yesterday evening at Write Night, we worked on the following exercise. I found it very difficult, even though I thought it up.
1. Write an innocuous statement. 2. Rewrite it using a different accent, dialect or language. 3. How would your protagonist react to the statement in #2?
a. Is it familiar, foreign, interesting, scary, impressive, despicable, etc.?
b. Is the character aware of his/her reaction?
c. Does the character show or hide his/her reaction?
4. Write a scene depicting your protagonist’s reactions to the accent/dialect/ language.
5. Write a second scene in which you change the character’s reaction to the accent/dialect/language, with the emphasis on 3b. (If your protagonist was conscious of the reaction in the last scene, make him/her unaware this time or vice versa.) The scene may be a continuation of the last one or something completely different.
It feels like I’ve been working on my current rough draft f o r e v e r, but in reality, I started in on February 8th of this year. I know this because back in November, I started keeping an Excel file to track my writing progress. Aside from columns for the date, project name, word count and notes, I have column for distractions and excuses. It’s wonderful to have a private place to whine, and because it’s an Excel grid, I have to be brief. Last Sunday, next to a measly word count, I typed the word flood. I won’t expound on that here, except to say future entries in this column will include dry wall repair and painting.
Sometimes a good writing day is when my fingers fly over the keyboard. A thousand words sparkle on the screen, my plan unfolds, and the direction for tomorrow is clear.
Sometimes a good writing day is when I stare at the screen and it remains blank. Finally dredge up a page, each word worse than the one before. I delete it, grind out a page and a half, and keep one sentence – not for its words but for its idea. After a while, if it’s a good writing day, I type a paragraph that shows me the direction for tomorrow.
A good photograph is like a good scene. Both tell a story. Both the writer and the photographer must decide where to focus, on the appropriate depth of field, when to zoom in, when to include the big picture. Both consider motion and stillness, light and dark. The other day I noticed photos on the school website that happen to feature my sons. The concepts that make these photos compelling also apply to revising.
Shun the mundane. Sousaphones are weird instruments with their curving shapes and unwieldy size. The photographer focused on the unusual, so Jeremy and his Sousaphone are in the picture. When revising, I look for the point of interest in the scene and decide if it is interesting to the intended audience.
Focus on Tension. The photographer aimed down the line of scrimmage a moment before the football was hiked, two moments before impact. The D-line is tensed, muscles bulging, waiting to slam into their opponents. Tension crackles from this photograph, and Sam, the (former) nose-tackle, is in the picture. When revising, I delete or rewrite scenes that have no tension.
Novelists are frequently told to “get into the heads” of their characters, but what about getting into their bodies? Being in a teen body is more than worrying about sexual development and acne. My sons were unusually clumsy right after a growth spurt because they didn’t know where their hands and feet were. Oily hair, erratic hormones and killer cramps can all be part of the picture. Don’t forget the weird stuff. That cute little pug nose is suddenly Roman. Straight hair may become curly. Eagle-eyed kids need glasses. Personally, I’d like to forget the unpleasant parts of being a teen, but my characters keep reminding me.
When my sons were beginning Tae Kwon Do students, they had to learn Korean vocabulary, including how to say hello in a respectful manner. I started thinking about the different ways we say hello. Greetings can show characters’ relationships, how they feel about one another, their social status, and sometimes the time and place. Here’s a list of salutations with different connotations.
Hello Hi Hey Hey you Yo Hello there Hi there Hey there How do you do? Howdy How are you? HRU How are you doing? How’s it going? Good day G’day What’s up? ZUP Ahoy Good evening Good morning Greetings Salutations Welcome Do you read me? Come in Dear (name) Dear Sir or Madam To Whom It May Concern
I posted on facebook that I’d heard the first spring peepers, and a friend replied, “Well, get out there and photograph them, and post the pictures.” I shall try. Frogs are less skittish than turtles and often wait for me to focus.
Although it feels like I’ve been working on this first draft forever, it’s only been two months. I’ve worried that if I slow my pace, I’ll never get going again. I can still hear my father’s voice defining inertia. “A body in motion tends to remain in motion. A body at rest tends to remain at rest, unless they are acted upon by an external force.” I’m trying to remain in motion.