Of Hamsters, Pantsing and Becoming Creative

COqFN43XAAMDOlhI still get a total thrill when people send me pics of my books on the shelves. Maybe one day I’ll get over it, but not so far. Could be I’m getting tiresome about it because I showed my mom a pic on my phone that someone sent and said, “photos like this make me so happy!” And she said, “I know,” in that *tone* people get, like when you’ve said something too many times.

But, hey. Look! Me and Guy Gavriel Kay!

Hee hee hee.

I’m over at Word Whores today, trying to explain more about my process and why I don’t really care about learning to pre-plot my books.

How an Intuitive Gardener (Okay: Pantser) Creates Conflict & Outer Motivation

Carolyn Crane File Feb 22, 8 43 40 AMI’m lucky to have my crit partner and good friend, Carolyn Crane, visiting me for a few days. This involves much time spent writing, drinking and talking about writing. Perfection!

She’s even going to help me plot my next series, which is awesome, because she’s WAY better at plotting than I am. As in, she actually *does* it instead of my weirdly organic gardening method of plotting. Apropos of that, I’m over at Word Whores this morning, giving my non-plotter’s take on Development of character outer motivation and outer conflict.

Song Mash-ups and Fun Ways of Looking at Story Structure

Isabel 1_22_13Tomorrow is Isabel’s 7th birthday, so this is her birthday portrait.

I’ve been working diligently on the Phantom story, laying down the words, working up the story. (I feel really hip saying it like that, like “laying down the tracks.” I’ve been kind of obsessed with Pitch Perfect and how songs mash-up. That, however, is probably a different, but related post.)

It’s been interesting because, as you may or may not recall, this will be an eSerial. The story will be broken into six parts, released 2-4 weeks apart. I’m surprised at how much this feels like a new form to me. Normally I set up my story according the classic three-act structure. If you aren’t familiar, that means the Act I climax occurs around 25%, the midpoint or story hinge around 50%, the Act II climax at 75%, Act III climax at ~90% followed by denouement and assorted wrap-up. The simplest explanation I’ve heard for the three acts is: get your protagonist up a tree, throw rocks at him/her, get him or her down again. With the Phantom story, I figured out my overall arc and then set up mini-arcs for each episode as well. It makes for an interesting rhythm.

Lest you think I actually plot things out ahead of time, however, let me disabuse you of that notion immediately. I don’t. I can’t, really. I’m a write-for-discovery kind of gal and I seem to be unable to figure out the story any other way.  I’m at peace with that. The writers who extensively plot and outline ahead of time usually call this “pantsing” as in “flying by the seat of your pants.” I don’t much like this term. I think it says more about their fear of being out of control than anything salient about my method.

I was realizing, as I worked up this new structure, that this is like stretching canvas for me. I have painter friends and I love to watch them prepare canvas. One taught me how, so I could easily transport one of his paintings home and re-stretch it. They assemble the wooden frame to a particular size, choose the type of canvas they want, pull it tight over the frame and staple or nail it on. Then they add various gessos or other foundations, depending on their plans. (At this point I get fuzzy on the details.)

This is how setting up the story is for me: choosing the size, the foundation, with a sense of how it will eventually look. Then I paint the picture.

The other really cool thing I discovered is how my structures interweave. Oh look, I’m back to the mash-up thing. Guess it IS related. See, if you don’t know, a mash-up is when they take two or more different songs and weave them together. They might share a rhythm line and then the melodies work around each other, playing in counterpoint and blending, creating an entirely new song. Forgive me if I’m getting terms wrong, because I’m just not very good at understanding music. I *want* to understand, so I listen intently to this kind of thing, wanting to organically GET how this works.

An old boyfriend once cited the fact that I listen to the same songs over and over again as one factor in him dumping me. I can see that. But I also see how my tendency to get fixated on something like this also contributes to my understanding of other things. I didn’t get why I’ve been listening to the Pitch Perfect mash-ups on iPod over and over until just now.

My story is working the same way. Okay – if you hate math, leave now. But this is an example of what I found out. If I do 6 15K episodes, that’s 90K, give or take. That’s my overall frame. The Act I climax of the overall story takes place then around 22,500 words. That’s in the second episode. By the end of Act I, I should have my protagonist thoroughly up a tree – all the story clues and components should be in place. If I look at the internal structure of Episode 2, the midpoint, the story hinge, where things really change direction, occurs at 7,500 words into the 15K episode (halfway), which is at 22,500 words overall. Do you see? The overall Act I climax will be the SAME EVENT as the Episode 2 midpoint!

Isn’t that cool??

Just me?

If it were a musical mash-up, it would be that point where the two songs spiral up together and hit that came climactic note, for one harmonious moment.

We’ll see if it works like I hope it will. Off to paint in some images!

Please Don’t Post Bitchy Little Notes

I had a choice of using another photo similar to this one, with more clarity and better composition. But in the end, I just loved the full-on dramatic blaze of color in this.

I suppose our choices aren’t always rational ones.

Lately, despite my INTJ nature (if you know what that is, you’re nodding in understanding; if you don’t, don’t worry about it), I’ve been the Queen of Non-Rational Choices. At least when it comes to writing. This is part of the mister curse. I rarely ever feel like I get to control a story or make decisions about it. It’s like this great slippery many-tentacled thing that I’m trying to wedge into a Vera Wang gown. Never mind the make-up and hair-I just want the story to be able to walk down the runway without turning into a pile of goo.

So here I am in the middle of RP2. Just past the middle, actually. I’ve got about 63K written and I’m predicting I have about 48K to go. And bizarre things keep happening. I get one tentacle neatly tucked in and three more pop out.

Sigh.

It’s times like this that I wish I could pre-plot, when I’m envious of all those neat little outlines and well-behaved characters who simply suit up and behave. I know, too, that I simply need to slog through this part, that the story is trying to communicate something to me and I have to find out what it is. Writing the words then becomes like saying a rosary or Kaddish – you sit your butt down and put in the time, trusting that the transformation will take place.

Meanwhile, I’m all kinds of cranky. If I were the sort of writer who locked themselves in an attic room, demanded that food be left outside the door and threw temper tantrums, I would SO be doing that right now. But I don’t have that luxury, so I plug along, observing my rituals and routines to stay more or less on an even keel.

This morning, after I lifted weights at the gym, I put the check for the water bill in the dropbox. Taped to it was a note. You know the kind of note I mean. The passive-aggressive kind. It said something along the lines of “Please do not repeatedly slam the dropbox door. The bills will drop easily on the first try.” Clearly this person’s desk is on the other side of the wall the dropbox is attached to and said person is tired of hearing the dropbox door repeatedly slammed.

Now I want to type up a little note of my own and tape it on there. Something like “Please don’t post bitchy little notes.”

Ah, the irony.

This, my friends, is how my crazy writerliness manifests.

Maybe you should all just find me an attic room after all. Just leave food outside the door.

Houston, We Have a Breakthrough

We’re starting to get the warmer weather cloud formations again. Some of them are so funny – little self-contained spaceships sailing by.

So, I mentioned yesterday that over the weekend I pitched The Middle Princess to a St. Martin’s editor. It was interesting, because the advice is to always pitch just one book. Even if you envision the book as part of a series, the Laws of Querying say thou must never, ever pitch the series. You may only pitch a stand-alone book.

It’s a funny rule, as many have observed, because clearly publishers like series. They like them because readers like series. When was the last time you wanted to implore your favorite author to right something totally different, in a new world with characters you’ve never “met”? Never, right? In fact, I often have that sense of trepidation when my favorite authors come out with a whole new world and characters. I have to overcome my resistance. I drag my feet, not *wanting* to have to get to know all of these new people. What if I don’t like them? Why can’t I have my old friends back??

Ahem. Not that I get worked up about this kind of thing.

At any rate, this lovely editor gal, while asking me to send her the manuscript and a synopsis (yes – it’s a necessary evil. just write one already), also requested that I sketch out the next two books for her. That was the interesting part – I obeyed the Law of Querying and did not mention that I envisioned that the older and younger princesses would have their stories, too. But it must have been clear. Built-in trilogy. Yes, I totally see it that way.

There’s just one teensy, eensy problem.

Yeah – all of you who’ve been reading any length of time already know what it is.

I so cannot plot in advance.

Or at least… I thought I couldn’t. Turns out I can.

Break out the naked cherubs and dirty martinis!

I’ve oft extolled the many virtues of my critique partners, Laura and Marcella. Marcella is really good at character motivation, goals and obstacles – stuff I just hate to think about. And Laura is excellent at drawing out stories from my subconscious. Laura argues that I *do* know what the whole story is, that it’s all there swimming around in that black lake under my thoughts. She appears to be right.

All this time, I’ve thought I needed to perform the action of writing to draw out the story, but it turns out there are other methods. In a Yahoo IM conference, the three of us talked about the other two sisters, the overall arc and themes I set up in Middle Princess. They asked me questions, made suggestions and I told them the answers and whether their ideas were warm or cold.

It was exhilarating and fun.

At the end, I had my sketches of the next two books. This is extraordinary for me. I find it fascinating that I continue to discover new things about my writing process, to acquire skills I lacked before.

Kinda like it should be.

Let’s Mist Again

We’re predicted to freeze tonight – exactly 32 F for the low. Time to bring in my container plants and bedding down the perennials for the winter.

That’s okay, as we’re a week into October now.

(No – I have no idea how that happened. One of my editors is planning to report the theft of September to the proper authorities.)

I’ve been thinking about imagination and creating stories lately. Totally part of my Neil Gaiman kick, I’m sure. It’s also because I found out that Marcella, Laura and I will be presenting a writers panel at the RT Booklovers Convention in April called I Was Born This Way! We all have really different styles of plotting, pre or no, and now we’ll have to find coherent ways to discuss it. I, of course, represent the mister pole, where I plot virtually nothing ahead of time. Not because I don’t think that sounds like a great idea, but because I just can’t.

Yesterday I wrote the scene where my Middle Princess arrived in the foreign country. All through the book so far, people have told wild tales about the place and the people. Tons of misinformation. In many ways the book has turned out to have the theme of things not being what they seem. So, she’s been anticipating – kind of dreading, kind of excited – arriving in this near-mythical place which will become her home. Believe me, I’m giving nothing away here. We know from the beginning that her fate will go in this direction, no matter how she fights it. She’s all interested to see what it’s really like.

And so was I.

Cuz, um, I had absolutely no idea.

This seems to be how my imagination works. I can think about the place, come up with hints and ideas, but until I write my heroine and I’m riding in her head, seeing the place, I just can’t seem to know much about it. While this creates uncertainty, it also makes writing really fun. But the place turned out to be… well, that part would be spoilery.

Suffice to say I was surprised.

Damn, now I want to tell you all about it.

😀

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Order and chaos have been on my mind lately.

What, you too?

See, I’ve been thinking about writing methods, because last week on Word Whores was all about pre-plotting versus misting through a novel and this week is about writing rituals, or lack thereof.

What I’m discovering is that these things have a whole lot to do with how we set up the rest of our lives. This should be no surprise to me. I’m a fan of tesseract theory and how a small piece of one thing reflects the overall thing. I’ve talked before about how the structure of one day can be the pattern of your entire life. (This is an over-time concept, so don’t panic if you just had a nothing day.) So it makes sense that your overall life affects the pattern of a single day.

We all plan our lives differently. We have different amounts of pre-plotting or misting to our days. Some of us have structure thrust upon us in the form of jobs that require us to be behind our desks from x o’clock to y-thirty. Some jobs change daily and, though you might apply a tentative structure in the form of To-Do lists, this can change completely depending on phone calls and what hits the In-Box. I expect we find our way to jobs that suit us this way. I love my day job for an environmental consulting firm because all that matters is the quality of my work and that I meet deadlines. No one particularly cares what the clock says when my butt is in the chair, just so long as I get the work done and get it done well.

This suits me. I had one of those “be there from x o’clock to y-thirty” jobs before and hated it.

A friend of mine once told me she’d read a psych study that showed that people with very orderly internal lives have wild and disorderly gardens. Likewise, people with more chaotic internal lives tend to produce orderly gardens. She said this while looking at my untamed cottage garden. The photo above shows my usual gardening style, though we’d only been in that house a few years and I hadn’t had time to completely convert it to a jungle-tangle. If I were to show you a picture of my friend’s garden, you would see her neatly bordered rows, with bunches of plants set an exact distance apart. Very pleasing to the eye.

I was forever wanting to sneak over and plant a stray something in the wrong spot.

At any rate, I’ve discovered that, though I’m an orderly person in many ways: ritualistic about my days, methodical in scientific work and my love for spreadsheets is near legendary, there’s another side of me that loves to fling order to the winds and embrace chaos.

I may never plot simply because I love the wildness of an unplanned novel. Oh yeah, later I’ll go back and thin it out here and there, tweak the plantings for maximum effect.

But first I’m tossing my seeds into the wind. Just to see what I get.

The More We Know

I don’t mind the overnight snow, since we need the moisture. Dust storms have been clouding the valley. Even the daffodils don’t mind. They whispered that they’re built to withstand this kind of thing.

Over at Word Whores – my group blog, if you didn’t know – we’ve been talking this week about drafting styles. Whether you plan it all out ahead of time or discover as you go. Whatever terms you may assign to to those styles, writers seem to fall pretty solidly into one court or another.

On Laura Bickle’s post from yesterday, she talks about her plotting method. The comments conversation has become very interesting, as other writers profess horror or admiration for her detailed outlines.

That she does *before* she writes the book. Ahem.

At any rate, in the comments, the issue of revising came up. It’s long been the lore that the great drawback of not plotting ahead of time is that you spend a lot more time revising. KAK, who is a german dictator under all that red hair and those pretty smiles, declared that every scene must pass the “purpose” test. If it doesn’t serve the overall story, off it goes.

She’s ruthless. Believe me, I know.

I can see her point. And definitely the revising process is more cerebral than drafting for me. The drafting is all about the misting along and letting anyone and everything into the story. Revising brings the critical lens to the entire arc of the story. I’m not sure anyone can revise in a subconscious, misty way.

Except.

Okay, I’m a self-confessed sub-conscious, dreamthink, misty writer. I do believe the stories and characters exist in some reality and reveal themselves to me. I rarely feel like I “think” them up. Sometimes I can’t logically defend why someone or something is there. The critical lens would have me delete that stuff. The purpose test would demand excision. Goal, motivation, conflict? They scoff at these bits.

This is where my gut comes in. Neither the conscious, nor the subconscious, but the deep part that is most me. If I don’t trust that part, then I’m not me, for better or worse. The GMC stuff (see above) arises out of classic storytelling. People like to talk about archetypes of the hero’s journey and so forth. The thing is, archetypes, which Jung originally described as subconsciously shared concepts are something, by definition, already exist inside us. We can critically analyze them, but on some levels, they defy conscious definition.

No, I can’t always defend the purpose of a scene. Sometimes it’s because the scene is junk, or something I needed to write through to get somewhere. But one of the most surprising things I discovered over the ten years I spent writing and publishing essays – the things people keyed in on the most, were those things I had not planned. Scenes or images that just popped up when I was writing. Things that, sometimes, I nearly skipped writing, or thought about deleting later, because they seemed extraneous.

I keep reminding myself of that lesson.