Archive for February, 2011

A Writing Binge

February 25, 2011

I’m not usually a binge writer.  Instead, I tend to dedicate early mornings to my current project, the middle of the day to my students’ work and late afternoon to various household chores.  During the evenings, I’ll putter away at this and that depending on my student load and whether or not I like the current NCIS rerun.  I’m slow, but steady.

But yesterday, I spent the whole day and most of the night on the last two chapters of Calyn’s story.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if I turned out about 1000 new words of polished prose AND figured how to ease those sections into what I already had.  I don’t usually never work that fast.  But some ideas for the ending clicked into place. I felt like I was under a compulsion to get it all down when I usually lose forward momentum on my projects before lunch.  And since my family is getting ready to put the house on the market, it really is time to wrap up this draft of the novel and get it to my agent for one of her reading weeks.


A Robin McKinley Rant

February 22, 2011

I am in the middle of going through what I hope are the last few tweaks of Calyn’s story.  Of course, the problem with tweaking one section is that I have to follow the thread all the way through the manuscript to make sure that everything still hangs together.  But I know that manuscript so well at this point that I can quickly scrolling to the appropriate scene. If I have to fix a description, it can be slow going. Even conversations can be difficult because I have to find the right moment to drop them in.   

That’s why I deeply appreciated reading the following observation from Robin McKinley’s blog today:  

* The problem with more words on more pages is the eternal prospect of REWRITING the more words on more pages.  Back in typewriter days I used to get to the end of the third draft and say THAT’S IT.  WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH IT CAN JUST STAY WRONG.^  In these sleek clicky computer days you don’t get to say ‘my fingers are bleeding’.

This is one case where the odd signs on the post are not a product of HTML gobbledy-gook.  Ms. McKinley’s blog has serious footnotes.


February 16, 2011

When I’m not sure what to do with a certain section of my novel, I frequently reach for my copy of the Newbery honor book, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.  I’ve done this with first chapters, last chapters, chapter openings, chapter endings and transitions in general.  So when I was struggling with an ending for Calyn’s story, I checked out the last few pages of The Perilous Gard with its rhythms and interactions.   Then I tinkered with what I had for a bit and decided that I was done.

But of course I wasn’t. 

While I had addressed the personal issues for Calyn, I didn’t cover the effects that her actions had on the wider world. My writer friends held me accountable.  They wanted to know what happened. After thinking things through, I belatedly realized that Elizabeth Marie Pope had covered the wider world issues at the beginning of the 28-page chapter.  But the fun part is that I’ll get to go back and read the endings of some of my favorite books for a sampling of endings like  Ella EnchantedThe Thief, The Hero and the Crown, Beauty, and The Blue Sword.

Writing Novels

February 10, 2011

Some writers don’t know what’s going to happen next when they sit down at their computers.  Others follow their outlines religiously.  Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Disc World books, compared his process of writing novels to wood carving on his website:

You find the lump of tree (the big central theme that gets you started) and you start cutting the shape that you think you want it to be. But you find, if you do it right, that the wood has a grain of its own (characters develop and present new insights, concentrated thinking about the story opens new avenues). If you’re sensible, you work with the grain and, if you come across a knot hole, you incorporate that into the design. This is not the same as “making it up as you go along”; it’s a very careful process of control.

I really like this idea of working with the grain and incorporating knotholes into the design.  On more than one occasion I’ve come to a surprising realization at the same moment as my main character.  In my soccer novel Defending Irene, for example, I realized that the rather goofy keeper was the son of the strict coach.  That opened up all sorts of things to me.  In an unpublished manuscript, my main character and I literally ran into a new character at the exact some moment.  Sofia definitely qualified as a knot.  I thought that I might have to cut her out completely as she tried to take over the story.  Instead, I found ways to incorporate her into the design in a way that echoed to my main theme.

Writing Historical Fiction

February 6, 2011

Frankly, I’ve always been terrified by the thought of writing historical fiction because of how much research need to be done in order to get the time, setting and characters right.  I’ve had a big enough challenge with contemporary fiction whether it was constructing an imaginary a realistic Italian estate in Saving the Griffin or learning the proper cleaning techniques for a classy bed and breakfast in SuspectBut R.L. LaFevers, author of the Theodosia and Nathaniel Flood Beastologist books, broke her methods down in two posts on her blog.  The first was on research in the pre-writing stage; the second, on the value and limits of historical accuracy.  I’m inclined to take her word seriously on this because I thought that she did a very nice job handling the state of Egyptology in Edwardian times for her THEODOSIA books.  I’m no expert on that era, but I am an addict to Elizabeth Peters’ AMELIA PEABODY series.  Many of those books are set in the same time period.