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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

For those of you a little more interesting in my personal musings than in my writing advice, I offer you a second post for the day. One that still touches on writing but focuses more on Your’s Truly.

I’m breaking ground on my novel–again. The writing of the Lure of Lemons has been a herky-jerky ride (note: Spell-Checker doesn’t think that herk-jerky is a word. Merriam-Webster would disagree. Feel free to click on the link for the definition and for proof that I don’t blatantly ignore all rules of grammar and spelling.). One minute, I’m tapping away at my keyboard with lightning speed, inserting glorious paragraph after glorious paragraph. The next, I’m at a dead halt for days or weeks. Then I’m up and running again. I will breathe a deep sigh of relief when I finally finish the draft. I feel as if I have been on one of the old, wooden roller coasters and have been jammed and pushed and whipped around until I am nauseous, dizzy, and covered in bruises. Okay. Maybe that’s a stretch. But not much of one.

64, 064 is my word count. It may not sound like much, if you know about writing novels or about the million people it took only one month to complete 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (again, click on the link if you want to know more). Of course, I did that challenge too, but had to scrap most of it and start over. Sometimes experiments fail. And the writing techniques I employed for NaNoWriMo left me wandering around in the dark once I was finished. But its not so much about the specific word count as it is about my process.

Given my experience with four novels (Issym, Asandra, Xsardis, and Mark of Orion), I know that my first draft should only be about 108,000 words, which puts me well past the halfway mark. And once I reach the last quarter of the book, I usually pick up speed–as if I am running downhill. So the good news is: I’m nearly to the home stretch. To quote Einstein as he rode a motorcycle in the adorable movie IQ, “Wahoo!”

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I suppose it is high time I return to the ‘Writing Central’ folder of this blog and give some practical tips for my fellow writers out there. The lesson for today (one that you and I could both stand to learn/re-learn): the way you phrase and punctuate your writing can drastically effect how your characters are viewed.

Example #1:

A: “We found nothing,” she figured.

B: “We found nothing?” she asked.

Not only is the intonation different, we find ourselves looking at two different emotions and circumstances. 1A  is more confident and assured. Probably, she does not rely upon the person to whom she is speaking. 1B is likely more willing to admit lack of knowledge, more likely to ask for help, and less likely to be the alpha of the group. I should note that the same character might use 1A with one character (someone she considers herself superior to, for example, or to whom she is trying to prove herself) and 1B with another character (someone she trusts, respects, and/or looks up to).

Example #2:

A: “We never should have split up,” he thought.

B: “We should have stuck together,” he thought.

Grammatically, they boil down to the same meaning. But, in the minds of your readers, 2A and 2B subtly display whole different personas. 2A shows more nervousness and regret than 2B. Furthermore, 2B displays a sudden certainty, while 2A focuses on a sudden dread.

All in all, you might find these little changes almost unnoticeable as you write. You may they think are not worth the time to consider. But your reader will pick up on the clues you give them. So every comma, exclamation point, period, and question mark counts. The way you put your sentences together really does matter. So join me in carving out the time to think things through–be it as you free-write or as you edit.

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Hello Wednesday. You’re already much more steady than yesterday. Thank you for that gift. Now that I have my breath back, let me explain a little of what happened.

In the midst of the highs and lows of yesterday, (1) a truck at the post office decided to try to run me over. I had to run to keep my legs. This is a great way to get the adrenaline pumping. In other news, (2) I got my first letter from a publisher seeking me out. It certainly was no offer of publication, nor is it a company I would ever choose to go with, but the offer should be the beginning of a chain reaction. And it was very thrilling and honoring to receive. (3) I’m also learning French. I’ll spend nearly ninety days studying so that I can perhaps use it for the three days I’ll be in Paris. But hey. I love language. It feeds my brain as nothing as else does. And if you’ve read Mark of Orion, you know that Evie hails from France so it could work out very well for the novelist in me too. (4) Yesterday also contained a canceled Starbucks meeting with a friend. While I was sad not to get to see her, I very much enjoyed the extra downtime. I spent a large portion of it doing research for the group meeting I had in the evening at my church, but I sneaked in a little time for McMillion and Wife–my recent Netflix kick.

Further details would just bore you, so I’ll stick with what I’ve mentioned. As for today, its full of tea and firesides and writing and strictly taking all the supplements that will make me stronger. It’s got extra rest in its margins and opportunities galore for me to catch my breath. It is a good day.

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For four days I have left you. Four days for a more noble cause than usual. I have been writing. Back to the drawing board with my novel, a fresh Word document before me. I keep from the first, failed, half-finished draft only that which makes the story soar. My novel and my soul are better for it. For four days I have written, indulged in the Psalms as a refuge from the swirling words of the Lure of Lemons, been rigorous about taking all medicines (new and old, prescription and supplemental), and tackled my wild life into submission.

Patient friends who sought me out through mid-November to mid-January are finally getting a little more of the attention they deserve. Precious family members are finally the confidants they ought to have always been. Life, slowly, is beginning to make sense. As if I am coming out of the fog of illness that was my life.

But my room already begins to show signs of sickness again. An unkempt desk, a chair that houses lost objects, and a dryer sheet too far down on the floor to bear picking up. This time, it’s not the bitter surges of Babesiosis that strikes me. Just a common cold. The kind that makes you drink too much tea and turns your nose raw. It’s quite the relief to feel normal sick. My head might seem a little fuzzy, but its the physical kind of fuzzy that is not nearly so alarming.

Sister Kate and I pulled into the mall parking lot today and just sat for a long time. She shared Jeremiah 29:11, a verse we all have heard too much (if that’s even possible when it comes to Scripture). But instead of focusing on the ‘prosper’ part, she highlighted, “For I know the plans I have for you…” (ESV). God knows the plan. It’s in His mighty, wondrous, talented hands. So sick with Babesious or sick with the common cold or starkly healthy, I’m in the book that He is writing.

And it is far better than any story I could ever craft.

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I could not stop writing last night. No, not typing. Writing. I don’t know what came over me as I poured three chapters worth of material onto the pages of a light blue notebook. I’m hoping that by letting the story out in a format that prohibits major editing I will be able to flush this sidetrack of creativity from my system and get back to work on my sequel.

But for today at least productivity comes in a different form. We started editing Mark of Orion today–my mother and I. The first two chapters shimmer in their Times New Roman font, captivating all my attention. Oh what wondrous things novels are.

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For those of you writers following my blog… The back-story.

Today I sit by my laptop trying to decide how to place the back-story in my latest novel. I have found that the back-story is used in different measure with different significance in different tales. So what is its value? What is its danger? And when and how should it be placed in a story? The answers are as plentiful as the stars. Yet there are some basic principles that you might benefit from.

Consider first the danger: Too much back-story can leave the readers feeling like nothing is happening in the novel. Things–perhaps even interesting things–have happened, but little may be accomplished in the novel itself. Then there is the opposite problem: too little back-story may leave readers feeling like the characters have no past, that they are one-dimensional. So, whatever you do, do with thought.

Methods: The back-story can be introduced simply by having the character’s themselves dialogue about their past. The characters may also relive their past or think about their past.

Reliving is by far the most persuasive method and it draws much sympathy for the characters. It follows the ‘show-don’t-tell’ rule we have all heard so often. Yet if you get stuck in back-story-telling mode, your readers are going to get bored quickly. Things need to progress. Another problem may be that if you hold too much information back from readers, they will grow irritated. Above all, make sure that if you are reliving the past you are reliving an adventurous part of the past.

Dialoging is another great method for utilizing a back-story. It breeds a connection between two or more characters who open up about themselves. It has the added benefit of not frustrating readers, because they feel they are on even ground with the characters themselves. They learn what the characters learn as the characters learn it. Yet the caution here is that, in telling instead of showing, readers will tire of immense amounts of dialogue.

Thinking about the past is rarely used on its own. It can combined with either or both of the other methods. It leaves the readers feeling like they really know the characters, but it also can bog down a story. Use in conjunction with other methods minimizes risk.

Value: We have already mentioned how the back-story can breed connection between characters, as well as between characters and readers. This is vitally important. Your readers need to have a feeling about the characters: affection, concern, dislike. You want your readers to be in the stands cheering for your noble characters and routing against the criminals. Miss the opportunity to connect a reader to the story and you miss the opportunity to make your book stand the test of time. Even readers who love Tolkien’s Middle Earth for the sake of Middle Earth itself found a connection to Tom Bombadil or Frodo or some other favorite. The human connection is why we tell stories.

The value of a well-told back-story transcends character development, however. It also makes you as the writer appear more competent at crafting a tale. Most importantly, the back-story can be a place to leave clues and introduce concepts there is no easy way to incorporate.

In summation: whatever your method, whatever your decision, whatever your purpose, do not overlook the editing and significance of the back-story.

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After waking up at my sister’s place yesterday morning I thought it would be a good idea to come back to my desk in the attic so that I could focus and get some work done. It started off as a great plan. My own shower; my own coffee; my own cereal. I was ready to get to work. What I had not anticipated was that a horde of ladybugs would have moved in. I spent the whole day interrupting mid-sentence editing to swat at the latest, bravest ladybug. After a while of them falling on my lap and landing on my desk and buzzing in my window, I decided it was war. I am a ladybug killer.

That said, I did get some good work done on my novel before the end of business day. Then I got to attend at Good Friday service at my sister’s church. It helped me get focused on the significance of this weekend.

At church I was talking with a friend who was home from college. We both marveled at how ‘big’ (we searched for a better word to convey our meaning, but there is really no term than can do God justice) our God is. How He takes care of issues we could not have hoped would resolve; how He gives us what we need when we hardly dare to ask. I found more refreshment in those five minutes with my friend than I did in days on my walk-about. Overall, a very good Friday–despite the ladybugs.

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