Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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What Are You Up To?

Every time I hear that question, I mentally add the words my Juanita and think of Lowell George and Little Feat and their song Fat Man in the Bathtub. It’s off the excellent live album Waiting for Columbus, in case you’re looking for something to listen to.

I haven’t heard it for a while, but I can fix that. Hold please…there. Now I’m listening to it. I do best with music most of the time, but curiously not really when I’m writing a first draft. There, I don’t want anyone else’s words filtering into my subconscious.

I haven’t been writing a first draft. After a fairly epic NaNoWriMo where I churned out some 90,000 words of first draft, I took December off. I don’t like to edit too quickly after drafting–the work needs to sit for a while. In fact, I wrote a blog post over at All the Kissing about keeping on with your NaNo novel, and another one about being kind to yourself during the editing process. Every now and again, it’s good to take a break. Honestly, I’d reread my NaNo draft so many times that I couldn’t see the words on the page any more. I knew the MMC (that’s “male main character” for those of you who don’t write romance) needed a better arc and I decided to reorder a lot of what happened in the book, although overall I was pretty pleased with my first/zero/garbage draft. But I also knew I needed some breathing space.

Instead of working on that book, I went back and re-read my Pitch Wars manuscript and decided that needs work too, although nothing as extensive as a complete rewrite. Having worked on two more books in the series, there are little characterization tidbits I need to go in and firm up. Otherwise, it’s still pretty good.

Thumbs up!

I will say that going back and rereading something I wrote over a year ago leads me to appreciate how much I’ve grown as a writer since then. I suppose no work of fiction is ever really done. There are always things about it that can be finessed and improved. I also suppose that part of learning to be a writer is knowing when to let go and say enough. Time to let it go, send it off, send it to bed, shelve it–whatever the right thing is to do in the moment.

I reached that point with Book 2 in the series at the beginning of November. I’m pleased with it. It’s ready. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, because go up a paragraph. There’s always room for improvement. But at some point we have to let our babies leave the nest, right?

During December, though, I did a few things that weren’t writing. I visited family. I got back into my favorite art and crafts. I read, re-read, but didn’t touch my NaNo novel. I read a few books. I woke up to snow on Christmas morning, just in time to get to the Seattle airport (that was a fun trip; there wasn’t enough de-icing equipment at SeaTac but I made it to Arizona and my mom eventually). Mostly, I lived like a normal person, whatever that is. A normal person who didn’t churn out a 90k book in 30 days.

I’m so proud of myself.

Now I’m reading a manuscript for a critique partner. I’ll be reading a book sent to me for a review next, and finally getting back to my own series (oh, I decided on a SERIES TITLE for it too, which was fun, because it’s a theme common to all the books in it). I told people I wanted to wait to revise Book 3 until the ideas were so overflowing I could no longer contain them. I’m getting to that point. Dreaming about the characters, thinking about their story arcs, creating ways to improve them and make them more multidimensional than they already are.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, my Juanita, my sweet chiquita. Here, have some Little Feat.

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O Content, My Content

I’ve been doing a lot of blogging about writing over at All The Kissing. That leads me to think about what I’d like to do with this blog. I don’t really want to be redundant–nothing bores me more than people who link and cross-link everything to one account and never include original content.

But I will take a moment to talk about All The Kissing (ATK for short). It’s a website a bunch of us co-founded. We call it for romance writers by romance writers, but the information there is applicable to people writing all genres, really. I would love to invite everyone reading this to surf on over and check it out. Since I know a lot of you invested in NaNoWriMo, I invite you to read my post on Keeping Strong with your NaNoWriMo Novel – Editing. It’s of interest to me, and not just because I wrote it, but because I’m about to embark on a first round of revision. I’ve been following my own advice and have taken December off from touching my novel. It’s been a great thing for my objectivity.

To be honest, it’s also made me want to set fire to the whole thing and start from scratch. But there’s some very good writing in it, and with thoughtful layering and characterization I’ll be able to turn it into something delicious.

But back to this blog! I’ve been writing book reviews. Good Reads no longer supports cross-blogging, but I’m thinking rather strongly about repurposing this as a book review blog and as a place to showcase other writers.

Maybe a poll is in order. At least it will show me if anyone’s still reading here!


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NaNoWriMo Update

This month has flown by in an absolute tizzy of words. I haven’t done much else, and there’s much more I need to do. This November, so far, I’ve learned the perils and rewards of working without a real outline. I’ve got a sprawling character study! With the no-editing clause in full effect, I have to go through five more days of do-not-touch-the-structure, but then in December I can rip it apart.

Usually when I’m drafting I’m far too close to the characters to see how to pull it apart and rework it, but I woke up this morning with a clear revision path in mind. I’m impressed, and it’s not often I impress myself.

I refuse to boast about word count. I haven’t even got to the end of the novel yet–I’ll just say I’m above the required. But instead of adding more lovely characterization, I’m going to sketch out how to get from here to the end and fill it in loosely. Then I’ll be satisfied.

I only changed the name of the novel once. That’s also impressive. I have written every day, which is good for me during NaNoWriMo, but doesn’t necessarily apply to my everyday life. Eleven months out of the year, I write when I can as often as I can, but don’t generally have the time to sit down and write for three or four solid hours. And you know what? It’s all good.

NaNoWriMo hasn’t been as much a rush to the finish for me as a learning-to-navigate-my-lack-of-outlining-skills experience. But as my mom always said, “As long as you learn from it, it was worth doing.” Now I can’t wait to craft it into something solid.


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Happy November! That Means NaNoWriMo.

I usually approach National Novel Writing Month with a combination of excitement and dread. I’m never sure which is more appropriate but one thing is certain: it’s always exhilarating.

Writing whenever the mood strikes.

Me, hard at work. Photo via Visual hunt

Last year I worked on a novel right on the heels of Pitch Wars. To say I was burnt out is an understatement. Reworking a novel in a couple of months is no mean feat, much less preparing for the agent round, which always coincides with the start of NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a complaint, though. I learned so much from Pitch Wars, particularly about my weaknesses as a writer. For one thing, I’m not much of an on-paper plotter. I know where a story is going in my brain, after a vague fashion, but putting it down in an organized fashion makes me want to tear out my hair. I had to do it for Pitch Wars, but now that I’m on my own I’m free to own my bad habits, as long as I recognize them.

We hear a lot about the two main types of writers (plotters vs. pantsers). At this point I’m a hybrid between the two. I know where a story starts, where it wants to end, and a few of the most important plot points in between. I’ve also written (and rewritten) enough romances to have a fairly decent feel for where I am in the story at any given moment.

I’m also a bit of a rebel, and like to break the rules. Not all of them, because romance novels need to have a certain reliable emotional sequence in order to work. Just because standard wisdom says the characters shouldn’t have sex before the 50% mark doesn’t mean that works with all characters in all settings.

I’m proud to announce that today, on Day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I managed to get an intimate scene in there. To be fair, I wrote the first chapter of this book previously (don’t worry, I’m not cheating by including that chapter in my word count), so I have a small idea about my characters and their emotional makeup. Also to be fair, this is the third book set in a specific world. That also goes a long way toward making the words flow more easily–I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most of the characters are new, which is fun. One is an old favorite who’s evolved so much over the course of the first two books that he’s a pleasure to write, even if he’s only really evolved in my brain. But that’s why we write! To get the stories out of our brains and onto the page.

I’ve also just begun querying my last book (not last year’s NaNo novel, that got scrapped but served as good groundwork for the one I’m shopping, which I wrote in a personal May-June version of NaNo, then edited to the ground). I see November as three things: writing every day (something I learned how to do from my very first NaNo experience), researching agents and sending query letters (something I got really good at after Pitch Wars), and getting into the groove with the website a bunch of us have been working on (All The Kissing – by romance writers, for romance writers). Ultimately, that means it’s shaping up to look like a normal month.

But I have my NaNoWriMo buddies to cheer on, and to cheer me on. It’s so much fun!

Tell me, how are all of you? What are you working on? How’s autumn treating you?


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Giving Up on a Book

This has nothing to do with Pitch Wars. I want to set that straight right off the bat. I love my PW manuscript with the fiery passion of a thousand supernovas, even though I’ve read it and rewritten it so many times I’ve lost track. No, this is the story of another book I wrote, and it’s about self-analysis and having reasonable expectations. Continue reading


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Ahead to the Past

Last November I did my best to work through my NaNoWriMo novel. By the end of November I was just this side of disgusted with it, put it away, and decided not to take the February pledge to finish it. That was a first for me; I’ve always pushed ahead to finish my NaNo books before even when I felt they were only so-so.

Last night I pulled up the pages on Scrivener, chose a random chapter, and started reading. Guess what? I thought it was pretty damn good after all. The problem with the novel isn’t the story itself, it’s the story-within-a-story framing that doesn’t seem to work. I can take the inside story and write that by itself, and I do believe it will be a nifty little murder mystery. Once that’s done I can go back and revisit the framing and see if it needs the modern-day layer or if the 1940s story is better off on its own.

I started the novel from a single concept: a long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily, unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. Some pieces of the modern-day story are lovely, but I might be able to weave those in without the extra complication of three sets of year 2000 characters converging.

I like ghost stories. Actually I love them, and love writing ghosts. Now that I’m warming up to revising this one, though, I might leave the ghost angle out (for the most part, I can’t make any promises about doing it for good because ghosts are too much fun to write). I can always save that part for another day.

To work! Signing off now, with much love to one and all.


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#NaNoWriMo in Retrospect

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… when I can look back at November and decide whether or not the story I worked on every day for 30 days is worth its weight at all, or if it’s a load of rubbish that I need to chuck into the nearest bin (or desk drawer, or digital filing cabinet).

When the clock struck December I had about 57,000 words and a whole lot of disgruntlement. I mean, I was glad to have accomplished what I did, but the novel feels wrong. Like it’s off balance. I shared the first chapter with my critique group (by the way, everyone should have one of those! They keep you honest and on your toes*) and had that very same feeling of the voice being off-kilter confirmed.

I had no defense. I knew it was crap. But it was also a completely unedited first draft, one I hadn’t looked back at since November 2 when I finished that chapter. I know the strength in NaNoWriMo involves turning off our inner editor and simply letting the words flow. Last year I had no trouble with that. The year before, I had no trouble with that. But this year? Wow. I fought hard for every one of those 57,000 words… and it shows.

The novel has the working title The House on the Hill and the description is as follows: A long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily… unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and during the course of those 30 days I made a lot of new fictional friends I never knew existed before. The format ended up being a story within a story, taking place at two different points in time. I really loved the past part of the story, but the present seems forced. So I’m going to shelve it for now, even though I know whodunit and how they whodunit, although I haven’t written that part yet. Maybe I’ll get back to it, but I have the distinct feeling that not all books are meant to be written.

In the meantime, today I remembered an idea I had for a novel I wanted to write, and realized this is the one I should have worked on for NaNoWriMo. Tonight, I started on it. I don’t know if this will be THE ONE or more fodder for the recycle bin, but I’ll find out. Check with me in a month or two.


* Are you a writer living in the East Bay? If you are, let’s talk.