NaNoWriMo 2014 – My Top 10 Songs

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Music has always inspired me. People resonate with story, and music is story, even without the words. My 2011 NaNoWriMo novel was inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Jigsaw Puzzle. My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel was partly inspired by April Wine’s Weeping Widow. Some songs inspire story, but some songs help motivate me to write, a sort of positive reinforcement.

I need some positive thoughts as NaNoWriMo approaches and John has no story idea, yet. Maybe I should listen to some music. *grin*

Here are my  top ten songs about writing, writers, or inspired by novels for NaNoWriMo 2014. There are many more, and some of my favorite didn’t make it this year. I could easily include Sympathy For The Devil, and while it is one of my favorite songs, it doesn’t inspire me to write. That’s my only criteria – inspiration. Enjoy.

1. My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors by Moxy Früvous.

I like Jion Gomeshi and his CBC radio program Q. He is already a Canadian Icon. He was also a member of this short-lived Toronto band with the one Canadian hit. It is a lively, fun song full of bad puns. It’s about a guy who likes to go out dancing but his girl likes to stay home and read quietly — “Lately we’ve had some friction. My baby’s hooked on, short works of fiction.” Listen, smile, and groan. Get your pen or fingers moving.

2. Paperback Writer by The Beatles.

I’ve always had this song in my head. The Beatles have written so many great songs, yet when you drift back to this cheesy song about a trade fiction writer, you should pay attention to the message. If I had when I was a teenager, I might be a real author by now. *sigh*

3. Been Down So Long by The Doors.

I picked up the book Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Fariña. Fariña is a tragic figure who died from a motorcycle accident two days after his novel was released. He was a Greenwich Village musician in the early sixties, hung around with Dylan, and married Joan Baez’ sister. I haven’t read the novel yet, but the phrase “The Classic Novel Of The 1960s” is what inspired me to spend $.50 on it. Listen to him play here.

4. The Battle Of Evermore by Led Zeppelin.

A Song of the final battle in The Lord Of The Rings. It’s many peoples’ favorite Zeppelin song and is certainly one of mine. I’ve read LOTR three times, and, like many want-to-be writers, it’s a cornerstone of my inspiration to write. I feel like I want to jump on that fantasy band wagon every time I listen to it. I don’t write fantasy, so I drop it to number four. *grin*

5. Ramble On by Led Zeppelin.

Back to back Zeppelin and back to back LOTR. Might as well get them over at once. This song doesn’t move me like Evermore does, but not by much.

6. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane.

Inspired by Alice In Wonderland, but this is basically a psychedelic song about drugs. Just what the writing doctors orders some days. This song is actually somewhat literary and metaphorical. I find it helps me find that dreamy zone where great words are sometimes born. *wink*

7. Hemingway’s Whiskey sung by Kenny Chesney; written by Ray Stephenson, Guy Clark and Joe Leathers.

“He didn’t like it watered down. He took it straight up and neat. If it was bad enough for him, it is bad enough for me. Hemingway’s Whiskey.” Yeah, many versions, much debate on which version is best, but I like them all. This is a slow, thoughtful song. You can feel the angst in the narrator’s life. No details, just that Hemingway’s whisky is the right medicine. Listen to this when feeling dejected and make it worse . *grin*

8. I’ll Be A Writer by Soltero

I don’t know who this guy is; I don’t read French very well. Mon francais et pauvre. But listen to the song. I’m tempted to vault it to the top of this list, but I can’t. The track is rough; the song is rough; the artist is rough. Yet this song about the downtrodden writer we all know hits me. I love it!

9. Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen.

I cannot listen to The Boss very much. He is not a casual listen. In some ways I find him too mainstream. His voice screams dark and dirty but his music tends to be clean. The juxtaposition bothers me. This song is from his Born In The USA album, and it is not an album I really ever cared for. This song, though, works for me. Its lyrics are meaty and meaningful. The song is about struggle, a wayward soul trying to find himself. Like so many of us, he is also trying to write a book. Story is such a big component of the human psyche, and this song brings it out for me.

10. I  Be Bound to Write to You by Muddy Waters (1942)

This song tells me how important it is to write. This song is about letters, not stories, but letters are stories. I think somebody even published a whole book of epistles. And of course it’s Muddy Waters. Give it a listen. The quality is awful and the lyrics hard to follow, but the inspiration is there.

So there you have it — ten songs to inspire you to write. Happy November!

Editors, A Mysterious Breed

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I am almost finished a short, short story of 1,440 words. I plan on submitting it to Canada Writes. As usual, I sought help from beta readers. For the first time, I solicited help from an editor.

Editors. Impressive species. They remind me of sandhill cranes — drab, erect, self-aggrandizing, and uber-pedantic. An editor would slash the previous sentence five ways from Sunday. Mine would anyway.

He is a copy editor for a  newspaper. He is not schooled in the discipline but is a natural. He is the same age as my oldest daughter. He was born without fear. He is clear-sighted, has a perfect ear for prose, and he is expert at riding the conflict fence. Not only does he tell me what he is really thinking, but he makes me feel good about it. He is also in one of my writing groups, we share social time together over coffee or scotch, I am in his book club, and I call him a  friend. Even more dangerous. Only a good editor could edit a friend’s fiction and remain friends. *I’d say the same about the writer, but I have my doubts about him.

What baffles me is how they do it. I mean, I have worked on this piece since early September, have let close to a dozen people read it and give me feedback — see a previous post — and I have scoured over it almost daily. I have taken a couple of short breaks. I have also read up on self-editing. Fred Stenson’s “Things Feigned Or Imagined” has a couple of great sections on self-editing, and I’ve read every article posted by Writer’s Digest or K.M. Weiland. Yet the stuff my editor sends back to me baffles me. Not the content; that’s exquisite. I mean how he was able to discern trouble.

I had the following two sentences.

He staggers to the kitchen, yanks open the fridge door, and grabs another beer. He punches the tab and the drinking hole stares back at him, the empty, steely eye of his beer can.

He thought these verbs were too strong for where they were in the story. He felt the rise in action broke the tension prematurely. I read it and the rest of the section. He was right. What baffles me is I knew he was right all along. I knew these verbs were wrong and subtracted from my later explosions. I had felt it many times, but I did not recognize my feelings. He found other places where I distracted the reader, spend too much energy on getting points across, used wasted, superfluous adjectives. He messaged an answer to one of my challenges that he had read the sentence five times. He said that he follows the rule if he has to read something more than once, there is a problem and it’s his job to root it out.

That’s what I fail at, stopping. I let my uneasiness be passed over. I don’t stop and smell the flowers, or stinkweed. Again, I know this. I think I have acknowledged this before on this blog. And I don’t know how to train myself to stop, or if it is even a good thing.

Seriously, is it good to be able to stop and smell the flowers? Is it good to be able to read your most subtle reaction, stop, analyze them, and investigate the source of their being? It is for an editor, but is it for the writer? Once I learn, can I ever lock the editor out of the room? Don’t I need him to take a vacation while I write?

I often stray when I write. I step sideways, and backward, and sideways the other side, and even forward. I explore character and plot when I write, all while trying to keep to an objective of story, character, and scene. If I let my editor question everything I write, I wonder if much of what I write would never find the surface of the page?

I worry too much. Yet I worry, and worry is good. I hope.

If you have techniques for making yourself aware of issues in your prose, please tell me. Suggestions like my editor’s — if you have to read it twice, there is a problem. That will now stick to me until I die, but there have to be more of these techniques. These little mental reminders. Filters I can turn on and off as needed.

Oh, and I am extremely happy with my story as it stands. I think it has chances. If not this contest then in a literary journal. I think the story is ready. I just hope the jury is up for being slammed upside the head.

Thank you my editor and editors everywhere.

Social Media Sucks

I’m not referring to its general uselessness but its aid to aspiring authors.

It comes down to two questions: what do we need as writers and where do we fill that need?

When it comes to writing, aspirants like myself need much help, and there are many ways to categorize this help. I’ll start top-down.

First, we need to understand what story is. We all know inherently what constitutes story. When we read, hear, or view one, we are moved. We react. Story is part of our genetic makeup. We have been telling story as long as we have been communicating with each other with words. Four million years? Six thousand years? Apply your own understanding of human history, but story has always been there. We all know story, yet hardly anybody can define story without help. Very few people can tell story effectively. Even fewer can write good story. Modern story is told with ancient techniques, but we have refined our understanding of story so that it is now considered a complex field of study worthy of advanced educational degrees o– MA, MFA, PhD., and this refinement is hidden within the philosophies and tomes of our history. Everything we now understand about story has its roots in Aristotle’s Poetics. Story is opsis, melos, lexis, dianoia, ethos, and methos, otherwise known as spectacle, melody, diction, thought, character, and plot. These elements are arranged in order of importance with the most important — plot — at the end. Story falls apart without plot, but story can fly with weak spectacle. Great stories address all of these elements.

I wish it was as easy as remembering six concepts. It’s not. Drama is more than high-level story. Drama is created at scene, paragraph, sentence, and word levels. Each level of refinement brings its own dramatic challenges. Fail to write effective scenes, and your story becomes mush. Your paragraphs do not sing and pulse with rhythm, well, aloha reader. You fail at comparing and contrasting, figures of speech and other literary elements, foreshadowing, backstory, consistency, and connecting dots, your story falls apart. If you fail at grammar — and too many writers do — then you’ve lost your reader before you’ve started. Can you name thirteen sentence structures? Can you describe when to use each type of structure? Do you understand voice, and not just the point of view considerations? Does your writing come from one voice or does it transcend? Have you incorporated the chorus? Why or why not?

Most writers have little idea about what I just rambled on about within their own stories. Most writers I see in social media circles seem to simply write a book and throw it out there. Most of social media writing groups consist of writers looking for validation of some mysterious ability they possess and is clearly evident in their prose if you would only buy their $0.99 book.

Writers in social media circles do not discuss these fundamental elements of writing fiction, not regularly. These writers want ideas for world-building. These They want help in picking names for characters, advice on overcoming writer’s block, or story ideas. These writers want you to share in the fun they experience at the keyboard. These writers search in the dark for lost keys, in a hurricane, on a beach, naked and afraid.

I have given up on them. In a half-year of trying to gain knowledge from writing groups, I’ve abandoned them. I clicked “leave group” and turned off notifications.

So where am I going for help? I am re-discovering forums. Absolute Write has some very knowledgeable peeps. Other forums are also popping up. Forums are good at a few things social media groups fail at: they persist  information and they categorize it.  If there was a discussion of correct comma usage five years ago, it is still there for me to read. In social media, it is gone from my view within days at most.

One thing social media has helped with is spread the fiction writing bug. I believe that writing story is catching on again. I believe that people are discovering that a life without story is shallow, that a life full of story is compelling.

My main source of nuts and bolts help is in books and blogs. Whenever I find a used writing book, I snap it up. When I address a weakness in my writing and find that one book that fills the gap, I buy it. I have bought one new book in the past two years. I now have over fifty craft books.

Writing blogs are everywhere. If you cannot find them, you are not looking.

I get involved with real people. Hold on, I need to count my fingers … I belong to four (five under broader criteria) writing groups, three book clubs, and am a board member on a literary festival. I get people to review my writing and I offer to review other writers’ works. My team knows they can slam me hard and they do. And I grow with every word of feedback. I grow every time I read to a group. I grow with every book discussion. I grow with every book I read, every scene, paragraph, sentence, and word I read. I grow when I write.

I have never grown from any interaction with a social media writing group. They are now history with me.

Doing it the write way!

Last Monday or Tuesday, maybe Wednesday — sheesh — I began another edit of my novel. I have a couple of manuscripts out to readers, but the story called to me. This might go against all sound advice, but I completed a development edit on August 31, and the story was more or less fresh in my head. I debated giving it a long timeout, say three months, but I knew there were sections that needed surgery. At the end of my story, looking back, I knew of several scenes that needed either modification or removal. Reparative surgery or amputation. I debated waiting for feedback to confirm my suspicions.

I decided to re-read my first chapter.

I should backtrack a bit. I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, Francine Prose’s ‘How to Read Like A Writer’, and Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451′. I had literary words in my head. I had Gaiman’s efficiency, Prose’s extreme literary examples, and Bradbury’s almost hyperbolic style hitting me all at once. I had focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs. I was focused on the writing, not the story. I felt I was in a zone.

I have also been working on a short story extracted from my novel. One of my readers told me a short scene I shared read like a short story. But it was only 500 words. Hmmm. I found another dangling scene and glued them together. It was an improvement, but it didn’t quite work. (see my previous post) The story also primed my thinking on my novel, and reaffirmed my need to get back at it.

I created a new file and began. I assumed a position of a content and line editor. I asked two questions: does it read well and does it belong? Maybe these do not belong in the same edit, but that is what I asked. The very first answer of the very first sentence was no, so I re-wrote my opening lines. I smiled. I felt good. I kept going.

Scene number three was my first challenge. I felt many times it needed trimming but could never find it, could never slash any of it. As I read it, it became very clear that much of it was crap. It was crap content and it was crap writing. I cut, cut, and cut. I then jumped ahead to a scene I knew needed a beat-down. I had just pounded one scene, so let’s roll. Let’s rumble why we’re in the mood. I chopped, chopped, chopped.

I am now 27k words in and have removed almost three thousand words. Yes!

But I added my short story in. It is a chapter in my novel. And this brings two dilemmas:
– do I remove bits of reference material needed for the story but not for the scene; because they were introduced in the novel?
– what will this do to my publishing chances? How does the copyright thingy work? Is it good or bad to publish a chapter as a short story?

I am discouraged I write so poorly, but aren’t we all? Anne Lamott in ‘Bird By Bird’ claims all our first drafts are shitty and not to worry about it. Good writing takes much effort, may rounds of editing, many attempts at trying new words and phrases, of experimenting, of working at it. Determination results in more creativity any noetic miasma might. So I plod forward and don’t look back.

Last night, after a weekend away, I edited a key scene. I asked myself “did I really write this?” It was good. Seriously, it was very good. It gave me chills. I woke this morning at 4:30 and jumped back in the pool. I re-edited the same scene and felt just as good. I edited the next scene, and … I removed it. It was part of my short story. I welded the remnants to the next scene, and read through it twice. I made some sentence changes. I moved me almost to tears. I smiled. “Fuck I’m good,” I thought, and slapped myself.

No I am not. Not yet. Never will be good. Quality writing occurs with a quality process. Focus on the process John. Do it the write way!

If you are beta-reading my last draft, sorry about this, but I will not likely use much of your feedback. Well, maybe I will, or maybe I will have already.

A Winner?

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Have you ever written something you know is a winner?

I think I am writing at least one, but it is not easy.

On Sunday morning I sat at a Second Cup coffee shop with a writing friend talking and writing. I had a new short story in my bag, and I was struggling with it. I knew some of its content was special. You know what I mean by special? Words that make you laugh or cry. Words that make your heart skip a beat. A story that slaps you upside the head and knocks you into a daze. One of those rare birds.

My story wasn’t there yet, and I was lamenting to myself on how I needed a master reviewer to tell me what was wrong with it. Not how to fix it; just tell me what doesn’t work, and if possible, why. I had uneasy feelings about the story, but I was too close to it. I couldn’t touch it because my fingers were all over it. You know what I mean; you as a writer have been there. Clarity. My kingdom for clarity.

What I needed was a specialist, and I know very few feedback specialists. Or do I? Jim walked into the shop. Jim is a distinguished Toastmaster as is my wife. I know most of the local Toastmasters, but hey, they only speak. They don’t write short stories or novels. But communication is communication, right? Jim knew Neil and I were writing and he sat down next to us; because that is the kind of guy he is. He is interested in what people he knows are doing. I have known Jim for 22 years, and we’ve never failed to at least say hello when our paths cross. Jim is also one of these special people. He is driven. He is actually the President-elect of Toastmasters International, a highly prestigious position in that organization.

I asked Jim to read my story.

“It starts out too slow.”

He didn’t say much more than that. He scattered a few nice comments. It contains good stuff. But it starts too slow and he never gained interest.

Bang! It’s the kind of feedback that kills writing careers. It’s the kind of feedback that can knock you on your ass so hard you never want to get up. This story I felt so good about, even with my nagging doubts, was shit. It was the truth.

I said thank you and let it flow through me and out. I did not let emotions take root. It was a bold chess move I didn’t expect, and I sat back and analyzed deeply before deciding what to do. And changes did need to be made. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. The more I pondered its slowness, the more ideas for speed crept into my head. I found a glimmer of hope — that my premise was in fact sound — and I clung to it for dear life.

This morning I sat down, opened it, selected the first half of the story, and pressed delete. The action was now at the top. My 1290 words was now back to 600. Then I typed. I wrote. I realized I had opportunity to create imagery revolving around the main topic. I filled in spaces. I fleshed out story. I wrote, and I smiled.

Tonight after at least a half-dozen edits, I am feeling once again like I have a winner. I don’t know if it is there yet. I have passed it on to some other reviewers and have asked them to skin me alive, rake me over the coals, and beat me with large, heavy clubs. I know I have a winner, and I know I cannot do it alone.

Thanks Jim, and Abby, and Elsa, and Max, and Neil, and Megan, and John, and a host of other writers all struggling to make our beginnings, middles, and ends match each other and our own creativity.

Write on!

“The Slilent Treatment” – Writing Prompt, 2014-8-20

Our second prompt last night at the city library’s main branch was “Silent Treatment.” Readers in order were Philip, Abbey, a new girl whose name I cannot remember, Megan, Scott, Neil, Sally, Max (female and not short for Maxine), Hendrine, Elsa, and me, John. The six women slammed the four men with their sexist prose, poetry, and historical account *grin*, so I was happy to finish with this little [unedited] piece ;) 

“What are you doing Phil?”

“Huh? Oh, checking out the dog house.” He’s on all fours with his head in the thing.

“Good Lord, no, we are not getting a dog,” Megan says. “We don’t have room in the house for us.”

“I don’t want a dog,” Phil says. “I’m checking out its construction.”

“Get up off the floor already,” she says. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“What?” he says, his words muffled by his new enclosure. His head is shoved in as far as it can go. His stalwart shoulders won’t fit through the entrance.

“Jesus Phil, get your ass out of there!”

Phil pulls back and slowly stands. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I can hear you just fine from inside this one.”

Phil turns and walks towards the power tool section.

The Plains Of Mordor — when your assassination targets reveal themselves.

If you’ve stumbled across this post, I am editing a novel. At this moment I have edited 99,254 words of my 120,620 word manuscript. A week ago I was around the 90k mark, but there is some deception in the numbers. At that time the manuscript contained 120,000 words, but I have added much, maybe 4,000 words. If you do the math, this means I have also deleted some 4,600 words. I have many more words to delete to get to the 100,000 target arbitrarily assigned new authors.

Honestly, I tried to delete as many words as I could over this summer. Seriously. Really I did. But almost everything I worked on ended up growing. All my writing was needed. During this last week, my opinion of much of my story has changed.

I now work on the final leg of my journey, the Plains Of Mordor. What a dreadful place it is too. The land is barren and sere, it’s covered in odd-sized boulders and rocks, and it crawls with ugly orcs. It is the land of the dead, and all of those necessary passages I kept are now haunting me. They scream in my ear “why didn’t you continue with me?” or “that’s not what I was going to do!” or “I’m so fecken bored, just shoot me, please.” So much of what I have written is now showing itself to be wrong, and it has drained my mind. I want to lay down and never see this piece of shit ever again.

Except today I edited a wonderful scene. I trimmed it nicely. I removed the extra curls, trimmed the eyebrows, and plucked its nose hairs. It is now clean and presentable and a strong component of a great story. Never mind the rest of the story doesn’t quite support it. What I knew would happen is happening, but it’s still painful.

My plan is simple and straightforward. I am going to edit the rest of this story as best I can. I know the ending is fairly true, so I will clean it up as best I can. I will slay any useless children. I will slit the darlings’ throats with a clean, sharp fish-knife. I will toss the remains in the ditch and laugh.

And then I will start over. I will bring a shotgun this time, plus a crossbow, a sabre, an M16, a Luger, a Remington 9mm, and an American policeman’s nightstick. I will search out and destroy these evil little demons. I will root them out and assassinate their sorry asses right out of my story and replace them, if necessary, with the handful or less of emptiness left behind.

f somebody wants to buy me one of these, I won’t complain. I may need it.

Back to work.

Novel Progress [2012]

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I’ve been busy this summer, writing-wise. Otherwise it has been pretty slow and laid back. I am unemployed and off of EI, so we are living off my wife’s salary only. We have also moved into an apartment in the city, and our daughter, who began her first full-time job in May, and her boyfriend are renting our house from us. The housing market sucks around here, and we have some foundation work to complete before we are ready to sell. Call it an experiment. So far, all tests are positive.

I decided to use this downtime to focus on a novel. Every day that passes I feel more comfortable with my abilities as a writer, more confident in my abilities to write a readable novel. Hell, let’s cut to the chase. I think I can write a best selling novel, and I think I have two in my portfolio, maybe even four.

Okay, pop the balloon head.

Seriously, I do think I am approaching take-off, that point where one of my novels can be pitched to an agent. And I’ll get this off my plate right now: I have zero interest in self publishing. None! I believe a novel placed in front of readers needs a large amount of care. Novels not only need a great amount of effort by the author, but also a great deal of editing, story and copy. As an avid reader, I want a quality book in my hands. I do not read trash. At least not often. And when I do, I give the book the review it deserves. I think my worst rating this year is two stars, but blame that on my prejudice against werewolves.

So when my school term ended in late June — I’ve been teaching part time at our community college — I began to stick my head back into my 2012 NaNoWriMo effort. I cannot accurately describe all the work I have done on this story, but I know it is a lot. 50,000 plus words were originally written in November 2012, and in the time since, it has grown to 115,000 words, give or take, as of July 1, 2014. *If you are an agent and are turned off by seeing NaNoWriMo, please do not be. I treat Novembers seriously. It is a convenient time to write, and the group support very helpful. We — me and a few other keeners who hope to get, err, plan to get published — are actively planning our 2014 novels now. Brainstorming mostly. I have almost nothing concrete in my notebook, and frankly, I didn’t in 2014 either. But that’s not my point. The point is I write seriously, and NaNoWriMo for me is a serious project kick-off. How many times have I heard authors say “I wrote this story quickly, in a couple of months?” And the audience says “ooh.” It’s impressive to write 50,000 words in a month if you are a published author but not if you are a hack writer? *end of rant*

I began by writing about my story. It is a complex tale with many subplots and themes interacting. I created a page for each and cross-linked them all. Funky graphs. Various colors of fountain pen ink. Stabbing, paring, dodging, and reconciling. Two weeks later I was still happy with my story but with notes. Gaps and danglings. Dead ends and stupid wtfs. No darlings though. I’m that good ;)

I am now deep into editing. I just finished off 90,369 words of 120,000. Yes, I have added 5k since July 1. And I am learning a lot about my writing. I think too much and direct the stage too much — he feels, he watches, he thinks, he looks. He edits with a heavy pen and a light heart.

I have a big stickler of an issue though. I introduce a main character late in the story and another after her. It pains me to leave them so late, but it kills the story to bring them in earlier. I think. I did manage to bring him, the second character, in much earlier, and I am real happy with the scene and placement. But I cannot bring either in sooner. Let me describe it another way that might make sense. I have two stories. I have the internal transformation — let’s call it becoming a wasp from an egg — and I have an external story, an in your face, dramatic story — the wasp saves the nest. These two characters belong more in the second story, and if look at the second, external story on its own, they are introduced early. But if you look at the lead up, the egg-to-wasp story, they play more minor roles, so they come in late. They cannot show up until the threats to the nest appear, really. I think. Anyway, that’s where it stands, at 90.4k of 120k words and less than three weeks left to my self-imposed deadline.

Then it’s beta reader time. They are lining up to read it!

I only wish the agents and publishers were lining up.

*** If you are local, I think I am going to read a short scene at Bernie’s open mic night in September at the Arts Centre. It’s a head twister ;) ***

Straightening Out My Crooked Manuscript

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If you try to write novels, you know what my title means. You have finished a couple of drafts, the first a whirlwind of creativity and the second an attempt to fix holes with plaster. But now the story has problems. It begins well enough and ends superbly. If you could publish the first four chapters and the last three, you’d be on the NYT bestsellers list. But of course you can’t. That middle section is a cloudy, muddy cesspool.

We try to fix it. We think we have a plan. We sit down with the first scene and begin reading it with the intention of making changes. The scene feels okay on its own, but when you sit back and think how it fits in the story, you don’t have many concrete thoughts, good or bad. Your mind goes nowhere, so you go there as well. You pack it in and go do something else like work on a short story, a blog post, a rebuttal to the latest vegan science, replies to anti-climate changers, anti-vaxxers, anti-whateverers, a rebuttal to any extremist’s post on whatever topic, or maybe play a 32 hour game of Civ V.

Our stories got in this state by our own excessive creativity: it would be cool if Mr. Protagonist did this or that or maybe joined the Brazilian football team. Apparently they let anybody play for them. And this Germany-Brazil game is a good analogy of the state of my novel — a disaster of national proportions. How do we fix it? How do we make sure it all makes sense, flows progressively and logically, all of the unnecessary verbiage is removed, and all of the black hole gaps are filed in. No traces of angst are left. Nobody can see the panty lines or skid marks of your novel. How do we sort it all out?

I decided to perform some technical analysis. TA is structured, objective analysis of a situation and often involves numerical indicators. I did not use any statistics. I examined my interfaces. I will describe what I did in point form so you can easily use this as a checklist if you wish.

1. I wrote a one sentence description of my story in this form — Protagonist learns to do this instead of that.
2. I reviewed all my scene headings and wrote a list of my subplots. I ended up with nine.
3. For each subplot I wrote
a. A description
b. Its pros
c. Its cons
d. Its character building contribution
4. Constructed a matrix to cross reference all subplots with
a. Relationship (echo, foil, etc.) *my knowledge of such descriptors is thin
b. Whether the current line contributes tot he cross-referenced line.
c. Conflict arising from plots meeting either against each other or in support of each other.
5. On the back of the page I wrote a paragraph for each line-line relationship. I labeled them 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc. I tried to write how this relationship should work.
6. I recorded any gaps in a list

I spent time on this. I did one sheet a day and I thought deeply about these lines and relationships. They say you should have no more than three subplots, so nine is way too high. But, bear with me. I think I extended the definition of a plot. At least three of these are more rightly called themes. Others, while they do have events, do not flow like plots. They are more like objects or symbols. When I filtered it all down to their exact definitions, I really only have two full subplots, maybe three if I stretch it. Regardless of definition, I examined my manuscript from nine different angles or dimensions. It feels like I examined a house I want to buy from all possible angles — roof, basement, walls, rooms, electrical, plumbing, heating, windows, doors, landscape, etc. Do these rooms fit this house? Do these trees match the shape of the house? Are there enough electrical outlets? Too many? Are there enough baths? Too many? What happens if my kids come home to live with us and five of us need to take showers every morning? Will that work? Is it realistic? One gets to know one’s house by asking such questions. One gets to know one’s manuscript by asking such questions.

You have a tough, mangled manuscript? Ask hard questions. Identify its important aspects (subplot, theme, symbol, motif, etc.) then ask how each aspect interfaces with each other aspect. Document gaps as well as pointless prose, though that will likely come out as you edit. Learn your story from the inside out by looking at it from all possible angles.

Tomorrow I edit!

Grandma’s House

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Poetic Asides Prompt #268

Just think, If you’ve been religiously following Robert Brewer’s blog since inception, you’d have written 268 weekly poems by now.

This week’s prompt contained multiple words. We only needed to use one of them.

toast
pop
right
paper
howl
little

Toast and pop brought me immediately to my grandmother’s little house on E. Front St. in Wauzeka Wisconsin. I have not been in it since maybe I was about eleven or twelve years old, 1972 or 1973. My brain cells from that era are AWOL. It wasn’t anything special. It was small and cramped, and its bathroom was always in shambles, but it had a yard with a chestnut tree in back and a line of climbable maples in the front. It had a large propane tank we could climb on and a garage we could get in trouble in. The backyard was annually flooded by the Kickapoo river which we were not allowed near. For good reason too. It was brown and deep and if you fell in, they likely wouldn’t find you until New Orleans. Pft! The black trains ran by at night, and our only other pastimes were watching TV and playing cards. The Rockford Files, the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the state news, cribbage, Euchre, Crazy Eights, and later Bridge were rituals. Cousin Mike — Grandma raised my cousins — might play his record collection of Dylan, CCR, Jethro Tull or one of his innumerable more local records such as Mason Proffit’s “Come And Gone.”

Coke and Pepsi were staples, along with popcorn, chips, and the new Tang. One of my younger brothers called Coke Coca Cola pop and the other called Pepsi Pessi-Cola pop. We celebrated the treats like any good 70’s family and turned these names into car-chants and we drove down highways 14 and 133 from Madison for the weekend. Is it any wonder I became diabetic a few years later? Don’t even bother with your retort that sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. I am not sold on that defense.

Card playing was pushed as safe, family entertainment — which it is — and while smoking and alcohol were not front and center, they were not exactly hidden. They tended to come out later at night when kids were sleeping, and only when company were present, which they always seemed to be. The 70’s homes were much more social than today’s. Grandma was the school librarian and English teacher. Dad taught the Hornets music for a few years until moving on like most teachers did then. A couple of years ago I stopped to chat with an older tourist at the Saint John City Market who wore a Wisconsin shirt. Turns out he was a music teacher from Praire du Chien, a few miles away and knew him. I whipped out the cell phone and they chatted a bit before he headed back to his cruise ship. Small world, 2200 miles away.

Grandma’s house also had bats. She hated the little demons with a passion. Always tried to scare us with her story of swatting 300 of them one night with her broom. One would squeak into her kitchen through a little hole and just as its legs waddled through, *whap*, she would let it have it. 300 little black demons piled up on her kitchen floor in a Wauzeka legend. We three boys and cousins Mike and Danny would stand out at dusk with busted tennis racquets, splintered baseball bats, and rolled up Mad Magazines and try to bash the little buggers as they orbited the house. Then we’d wail on each other until the referees jumped in, bathed us, and send us to he kitchen for card playing lessons — they taught us how to play, and we thought we were teaching them our own wisdom. Eventually family friends, fellow teachers, sweaty old farmers, and perhaps a local farm laborer dad had befriended, would trundle in with their beer, chips, and maybe a bottle of whisky which would be hidden until we disappeared to bed. The kitchen would soon fill with bodies, stories, and laughter. As young heads nodded and chairs became scarce, off we’d go to our beds upstairs.


Grandma’s house means bats
The little black screechers invade every summer evening
And we little ones howled all the way to bed
Until we learned how to play cards
Until we showed we could win at crazy eights or dirty clubs
We had to go to bed before the serious fun started
A kitchen full of grown-ups eating popcorn and drinking
Coca-Cola pop, Old Milwaukee, or that other stuff they wouldn’t
Bring out until we finally went to sleep
And even when we snuck down to peek
We were too young to read its dark, mysterious label
On that shiny, large clear bottle
We were pretty sure we saw its cousins lying shattered in a ditch

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