Saturday, May 29, 2010

Days 58, 59, 60, May 26-28, 2010

Writing while away from home isn’t too hard, but posting a daily blog without an onsite Internet connection is proving far more difficult. First to the nuts and bolts: On Wednesday, I wrote five pages; on Thursday, oh my, I took the day off, today I made up for yesterday by writing seven-plus pages.

In Wednesday’s scene, the protagonist’s wife has unexpected trouble at work and learns her husband’s place in the world might also be uncertain, as he’s made some unannounced plans for their future. Given the uncertainty of her own situation, the wife is glad about that but she wonders what else he’s been keeping from her.

Today’s two scenes find the protagonist getting the goods not on the antagonists but on another major character. With the social order starting to fracture, all sorts of people are having their secrets revealed. Meanwhile, the antagonists have dug up a secret on their chief nemesis of the moment and use the man’s past to haunt him in a very chilling way.

Days 57-59 of writing my new novel are done.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 57, May 25, 2010

Being faithful to your blog is more difficult when traveling and not finding easy access to the Internet. Yesterday involved lots of driving to a remote place, waiting for people who were late in arriving, and doing more driving to end the day, all without intersecting with a WiFi spot.

So sorry.

I wrote 4.5 pages yesterday, wisely starting early before other adventures began. In yesterday’s scene, the protagonist is drawing the net closed around the sexual predator, closing in, but hasn’t caught him yet, leaving room for further developments. Obliging the reader to keep turning pages. That was the good news for the protagonist; the bad news is the leader of the antagonists, whose name he’s just learned has seemed to give him the slip…but she’s not far away.

I passed page 300 yesterday, about 75% done with the first draft. Maybe more.

Today, I wrote three pages so far. With luck, I might get a couple more done after this post goes up. In today’s scene, a supporting character discovers where the antagonists have been hiding out. Thing is, he doesn’t want to foil their plan, he wants to exploit their talents for his own purposes. The world is never as simple as black and white, and the character in this scene is evidence of that.

Day 57 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Days 55/56, May 22/23, 2010

Work gets interrupted again by travel. But I got 2.5 pages done this morning. Now up to 296 pages overall.

Today's scene describes a reinforcement of the social pecking order. Dissident elements have been whipped back into line. This is an important precursor for the finale when the antagonists will make people decide just how far they will go to preserve their privileged positions.

Day 55 of writing my new novel is done; day 56 will be spent mostly in travel. Back on Monday.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 54, May 21. 2010

Pro forma post today. Have to hit the road soon to meet a plane. Wrote 3.5 pages.

In today's scene, the protagonist discovers the identity of the lead antagonist, and most likely the identities of two follower as well. Which is all to the good but he hasn't yet laid hands on any of them. Almost as perplexing, he doesn't really know what's motivating them…but hints have been provided, and he's a smart guy, so…

The reader will just have to keep turning the pages.

Day 54 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 53, May 20, 2010

When you write a story, at least in the mystery, suspense and thriller genres, you have to do basically two things: throw a rock in a pond and then follow the ripples. In many novels of these genres, a big rock is thrown right away. Then the ripples are followed until they butt up against the far shore at the end of the novel. There, I've made things simple, haven't I?

Simple unless you're the person doing the writing. Because over the course of 300-400 pages you will have to keep lots and lots of details straight in your mind. Or your story will become the equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine and not even members of your immediate family will tell you your novel is interesting.

Today, I followed ripples in two scenes, and to make sure I had my details straight, I went back into the manuscript and reread the story lines relevant to these ripples. In one scene, a major character unexpectedly happens upon one of the antagonists and makes an unsuccessful attempt to capture him. This was an action scene: big rock. So the ripples from this are already spreading. In another scene, a question asked earlier by the protagonist—smaller rock—produces new information that could be relevant to the pursuit of the sexual predator—smaller ripple.

But all the consequences of all the acts are nearing the far shore.

I wrote six-plus pages today.

Day 53 of writing my new novel is done.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 52, May 19, 2010

I'll start today with some practical advice for the would-be fiction writer. Try to find a spouse with a great big trust fund. Wealth comes in handy when rejection slips outnumber advance checks. Which is to say most of the time for most writers. If you lose your heart to someone who doesn't belong to a Fortune 500 dynasty, at least look for someone who's in the arts. That way your spouse won't think you're any crazier than he or she is. Failing that, look for someone who's a good proofreader. Otherwise, your typos and grammatical errors might be some of the funnier parts of your material.

I'm lucky in many ways, but relevant to this blog and my work as a writer, I'm fortunate that my wife is an artist and a good proofreader. I'm unlucky in that she's out of town right now. So any glitches you might find over the next few days are what my wife sees every day.

In today's first scene, the protagonist is out searching the streets of the town where the story is set to see if he can find the sexual predator whose name and appearance he now knows. But the SOB is nowhere to be found because he knows he's being pursued. The predator may even have fled for parts unknown, but the protagonist can't afford to make that assumption lest he be mistaken and fail to prevent another attack.

In the second scene, a supporting character, the weak link in a criminal conspiracy, is about to be arrested when he foils—or at least delays—his incarceration by having a heart attack.

Today, I wrote five pages, edging up toward page 300 now.

Day 52 of writing my new novel is done.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 51, May 18, 2010

I think every writer gets his start as a reader. If you don't enjoy reading, how could you possibly come to be a writer? Anyway, one of the writers whose work I enjoy is the late Stieg Larsson. I'm hoping to borrow an English edition of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest to take with me on my upcoming research trip.The interesting thing about Larsson's stories to me is that I only knew clichés about Sweden: small relatively homogenous population, politically neutral, protested the Vietnam war, stuff like that.

I didn't know they had Nazis, biker gangs, corrupt business bigshots and lots of misogynistic men. The whole panorama of Swedish life as Larsson paints it is an eye opener. Familiar in some ways as a Western culture but full of surprises.

Makes me hope that the story I'm writing will be a fresh idea to a lot of people. Aside from the joy I take in doing my work, there's also the pleasure of hearing things like, "I read your book all the way from Honolulu to Chicago." Or, "Your book caused me to miss a meeting." Comments like that make a writer's day.

Throw in a reasonable chunk of money and who could ask for more.

Today, I wrote six pages. All the story lines are picking up speed. The protagonist picked up a clue on tracking down the sexual predator from an unexpected source.

Day 51 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 50, May 17, 2010

Fissures are starting to show in the community targeted by the antagonists. More than that, characters who are making divisive decisions begin to question whether they are doing so for their own reasons or if they are being manipulated by the antagonists. In either case, the result is the same: old structures are crumbling and it's not clear what will rise to replace them.

But what goes around comes around. The antagonists themselves are harassed by, of all things, a billionaire groupie who is just dying to meet them, and may be nearly as smart as they are. The protagonist, meanwhile, is making some discoveries that will be critical to ending the threat posed by the sexual predator.

The various story lines are rounding the clubhouse turn and about to begin the stretch run for the finish line.

Compensating somewhat for yesterday's small page total, I wrote almost seven pages today.

Day 50 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 49, May 16, 2010

I've mentioned before that the world can intrude on a writer. This is especially true when you work from home and people who aren't writers and don't understand the process of writing aren't hesitant to call you in the middle of your working day. Their unspoken attitude is: What's the big deal? You were cranking out words before I called, you can crank out some more when we hang up. They don't understand that writing is an intimate conversation between the writer and his muse—or his subconscious, if you prefer. When a third party calls, the conversation that has been going on is interrupted, and it's not always easy to resume.

But if you're not a hermit or a prima donna you make allowances.

Which is what I did today. I got my early writing in, 2.5 pages this morning, and then my wife and I did Sunday stuff. You don't need to know the details. We all have Sunday stuff. Just substitute yours for mine. I knew I could get back to the keyboard later. But a funny thing happened. I decided this Sunday, for only the second time in the past seven weeks, I'd let the writing go until tomorrow morning, not worry about any quota. Today I'm going to do some reading and even watch a couple hours of television.

So there.

Day 49 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 48, May 15, 2010

Today was a second straight day of interval running, which can be just as demanding as interval training. But when you've been writing for a while—years, actually—you make the most of whatever time you can find to write. Besides, you have to expect more outside demands on a Saturday.

I got a relatively early start for a weekend and that served me well as the first scene I wrote today was the conclusion of a three-part comic strip satirizing one of the major characters. When you insert a representation of another art form—the comic strip—in a novel and want it not only to work smoothly but also to make a major point about the novel's message, it can take a little time to get your head around that. Doing so takes patience, determination and a willingness to rewrite.

So I got the hard part done, and worked on and off the rest of the day. You've got to really love to write to complete a novel. If you don't, the distractions will overwhelm you. But if you do, you can say, "Screw the distractions," and sit down and do it at every opportunity.

In other scenes, it's beginning to look like the protagonist will catch the sexual predators but another major character will track down the antagonists, not to bring them to justice but to profit off them. And the fabric of society continues to fray under pressure from the antagonists.

I wrote six-plus pages today.

Day 48 of writing my new novel is done.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Day 47, May 14, 2010

We all have times during the day when we do our best work. I do my best writing in the morning, the closer to the time I wake up the better. That's when I'm most in touch with my subconscious and my muse. Ideas come easily and the writing flows. Pages add up with no great effort. If I get a good start and then have to take a break I can go back later and continue writing with no problem.

However, if I don't start writing until later in the day, after assorted distractions have had time to lodge in my mind, then things get a lot harder. Writing becomes work. Sentences are toil, paragraphs hard labor. Two or three pages wear me out. That's why I don't understand writers, or anyone else, who don't hit their stride until late at night.

Today, my work time was very disjointed, had to go back to it four separate times, but I got my early start and each time I returned to the keyboard I was able to pick up where I'd left off with no problem.

Today's writing dealt with the protagonist trying to resolve one of the novel's main subplots. A word about that: A subplot shouldn't exist simply to provide the reader with something else to carry him through the story. It should be integral to the story and by the conclusion should dovetail into the main storyline, making the ending all the more satisfying.

I wrote six-plus pages today.

Day 47 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 46, May 13, 2010

There are writers who prefer to write longhand and others who are devoted to their typewriters. I've used both methods but having switched to a computer and word-processing software long ago, I'd never want to go back to either. To me, the old ways are barely preferable to cutting words in stone. The work I did today was a good example of why I prefer modern technology. As I started work on today's first scene, I realized that it should come before yesterday's last scene. No problem making the fix. Just write the scene, cut it and paste it where it belongs. So simple. So maddening in the old days.

Today I wrote five-plus pages but divided them among four scenes. So there were shorter scenes, each of them ratcheting up a story line. I've reached, approximately, the last third of the story. At this point, I want the pace to accelerate. The schemes the antagonists have set in motion are causing divisions among the general populace of the town where the story is set. Up 'til now the results of their actions have been relatively benign, but when people are set at odds with one another any manner of unintended consequences might occur. Showing that happen will build tension and a sense of urgency, drawing the reader more deeply into the story as the finale draws near.

Day 46 of writing my new novel is done.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Day 45, May 12, 2010

I wrote two scenes today. One involves ghosts and guilt; the other involves a pissed-off character hungry for vengeance. The ghost scene happens not in any haunted house but in an outdoor public setting with commuter traffic passing by. You don't believe in ghosts? So how might you react when you see two of them on your way to work, and, no, it's not just you who sees them. So do all the other people passing by. Mass hysteria? Stay tuned. The second scene looks at how and where a community can start to fall apart. When somebody feels the need to lash out, the lashing becomes more important than hitting the right target, and it's all downhill from there.

Today, I wrote five-plus pages. Very lean and tight. Satisfying.

Day 45 of writing my new story is done.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 44, May 11, 2010

Today was pleasantly productive: seven-plus pages written. The story was flowing and my energy level was good. I know that most people, those who don't write fiction, wonder how much energy it takes to tap out words on a keyboard for fewer than eight hours, and I've touched on that before in this blog. But I'll give it another go. When I'm writing well, I'm feeling what the characters are feeling: happy, sad, angry, scared. Anyone who's had an intense argument will know you can feel emotionally drained in minutes.The same thing can happen with an exhilarating event; you get high as a kite for a matter of moments and then you're limp as an old dishrag. So imagine sharing the emotional experiences, the challenges, and the daily grind of a dozen or more characters.Then there are all the technical matters to keep consistent over the course of hundreds of pages so the plot doesn't develop gaping holes.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I love what I do. And medical researchers say challenging your brain on a regular basis helps keep dementia at bay. So I look at writing a novel as practicing a good health habit.

In today's scenes, the protagonist is not allowed to enjoy a quiet evening with his spouse. The antagonists have struck again, and a tip is delivered revealing the identity of the sexual predator. Elsewhere, two of the antagonists are considering a lucrative offer to go straight, i.e. give up on what they've been plotting. But they have to confer with their leader and they don't know if she'll go for it. Besides, they have one exploit that's set to go first thing tomorrow morning and any change of plans will have to happen after that.

Day 44 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 43, May 10, 2010

Recently, I wrote about the necessity of scrapping pages that veered from the intent of the story. Haven't changed my mind in the past 48 hours. But when you—or in this case I—happen to have a day when the writing just isn't as crisp as it usually is, it's best just to leave it overnight. Chances are you can come back the next day and upgrade both the art and the craft of the language. Sometimes both the muse and the writer can use a breather.

It can take a while to learn this, but once you do you're less likely to doubt that devoting your time to sitting down at the keyboard, or picking up a pen if you like to longhand it, was such a good idea.

Today was a time for moving the story along in small steps. A principal character unwittingly offers the antagonists a chance to sell out, i.e. an alternative, legal way to use their considerable skills. The truly creepy character, the sexual predator, realizes his doings have been uncovered and flees, misattributing his unmasking to the wrong person. The antagonists, not yet having received the opportunity to sell out, strike at the heart of the local power structure.

I wrote another five-plus pages today.

Day 43 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 42, May 9, 2010

Today marks a turning point in the story, a plot point as they say in the movie biz. A closely held secret becomes general knowledge through the old media format of a radio show: a character who wasn't meant to see a big secret, saw it and then blabbed to the public over radio waves. This means, with good reason, that many thousands of people are learning of something ill-defined but dangerous in their midst. The lack of specificity allows people to imagine all sorts of menacing possibilities, which is a lot scarier than having a single well-defined threat against which you can mobilize forces.

As this is going on, the protagonist is following his most promising lead only to find that person has left town. But he discovers the person he's after is using one of seven names, unless one of those names is only an alias. Still, it's a start, and our hero has resources at his command.

I wrote five-plus pages today.

Day 42 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day 41, May 8, 2010

Today, as I've said a few times before, I wrote five pages. Except that I really wrote eight pages. Problem was, the first three I wrote I wound up ditching. Not that the writing wasn't any good. It was clean, fast, really moved. There were some funny lines in there, too. But it was off point. Didn't advance the story one bit. It was like a musician carrying a solo too far. At that point, it's an exercise in ego. Hey, look at what I can do.

Bore the reader, turn off an editor is what I can do—if I'm not careful. But I try my best to stay true to the story. So I scrapped half-a-day's work. Which really put me behind. So I stayed late at the keyboard and got five pages done. It's important to me now to keep the momentum going.

In today's writing, I showed why a character who's under considerable pressure and will be important to the story later on didn't just blow town. It's important that characters do what they do for reasons the reader can understand and believe. In another scene, the protagonist realizes the antagonists have gotten inside his head. Seemingly innocent sights take on sinister meanings for him. Putting him off balance is exactly what the antagonists want. So will he fall or find his balance? Keep reading, reader.

Day 41 of writing my new novel is done.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 40, May 7, 2010

Today's writing has the protagonist directly considering the primary antagonist as a suspect for the first time. The problem is, the only reason the antagonist had fallen under suspicion is that she's a new face in town. But she's also a figure of wealth and power, and if the protagonist is wrong about his suspicion, or simply can't prove that he's right, he's going to get his backside handed to him. And he knows it. So he takes the only measure he can to protect himself.

But that's not good enough to prevent two of the other antagonists from finding out one of their own is in the protagonist's sights. In fact, these two anticipated the protagonist's move. They counter it and move forward with their own plans.

I wrote five pages today.

Day 40 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 39, May 6, 2010

I wrote another six pages today, and the whole process is beginning to remind me of a 20K run I did in Chicago a long time ago. The course was laid out, in part, on an out-and-back path along Lake Michigan. So while the recreational runner types like me were still on our way out, the elite runners were already on their way back and, man, those guys were flying. I'd have been happy to be able to run one or two miles at that speed, much less 20K.

I remember thinking at the time some of those runners will have to dial it back. They can't all maintain that pace the whole way. Of course, I never found out because by the time I finished they'd all gone home, got married and started a family.

Anyway, I feel like I'm writing at an elite pace now and I want to keep it up for at least a couple more weeks. I think I can do it; I'm pretty sure I can, but we'll have to see. At the end of the month I know I'll have to set a lesser pace because I'll be going out of town to do research for a new novel, and writing on the road, for me, is never as productive as writing at home.

Today's scenes include the protagonist getting a taste of how miserable the antagonists can make things for him just by doing little things. And a principal character comes to understand just what it would take for her to become a killer by reaching the point where the death of another seems to be her best choice.

Day 39 of writing my new novel is done.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 38, May 5, 2010

Today was one of those days when the world intruded. Both business matters and personal matters took big chunks out of the day…and I still managed to write six-and-a half pages. Yeah, that's a little bit of boasting, but more important than that, it's a comment on how hard the story has grabbed me. I'm having a lot of fun writing it, and I've built up a good deal of momentum. I raced past the page 200 marker and stopped for the day at page 205.

If you've ever done any drift snorkeling, that's the way I felt today. If you haven't done any drift snorkeling, it works like this: A boat takes you out to point A on some nice, clear, warm stretch of water and picks you up at point B. You can't stay where you started because a current carries you along. When you swim with the current, it feels like you're jet propelled.

That's what today's writing felt like, whoosh!

On the more substantive side of things, the antagonists cause a headache for the protagonist, get him good and PO'd, too. A satirical comic strip is used by the antagonists to anger another character, and to subvert her reputation. And lastly, the lead antagonist hatches a plot to bring down someone who truly deserves it, the escalating sexual predator.

Day 38 of writing my new novel is done.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 37, May 4, 2010

Today started with the protagonist hearing from another oracle; there's no rule that says you can't have more than one. But you probably shouldn't have more than two or you might start veering toward satire. In this scene, the protagonist gets two clues that will figure into the ultimate outcome of the story, but at this point the clues are more perplexing than helpful. In today's second scene, another threat is received from the antagonists. At first glance, the purpose of this threat is thought to be mere aggravation, but then it's realized the purpose could be to confuse those whose job it is to counter the threat.

Put simply, today was a day of story machinations, gears within gears. Requiring the reader to keep paying attention.

Five-plus pages written was today's tally.

Day 37 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 36, May 3, 2010

Today I wrote another five pages filling out the backstory of three antagonists, who are obviously very important characters. This last section brings them up to the present day. More important, today's work gave me two important plot ideas on how to wrap up the story.

Plot, done right, is an organic by-product of character. Brave people do brave things. Cowardly people do not do brave things, no matter how much a good woman might love them or how profound an epiphany they might experience. If there's just one bit of advice any writer should pass along to others, and remember himself, it's: Can the clichés.

If you write character honestly, you'll write your characters' actions believably.

The better you know your characters, the more choices you'll have as to what they might do.

Day 36 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Day 35, May 2, 2010

Today's writing continued the subject I began yesterday: filling in the background of three antagonists. Yesterday, I commented on the placement of such material in the arc of the storyline. I believe it should fall somewhere in the middle of the story at a point dictated by the development of the plot. In other words, there should be story logic as to where this type of material is placed.

The question I faced today is how long should such biographical information continue? Yesterday, I wrote five-plus pages and today I did the same, and tomorrow I'll do probably a couple more. That's thirteen pages on one facet of the story. Far more than I'd devote to an average scene. But, to be fair, the material is divided into a number of scenes.

Still, how long can you let other characters cool their heels. The answer, I think, is for as long as the background stuff is interesting and contributing essential information to the story, i.e. furthering the reader's understanding of what's going on.

The popular lit superstar of the moment is the late, great Stieg Larsson. In his second Millennium novel, he has the reader cruising along with his fearless heroine Lisbeth Salander from the start of the book and well into it. Then he has Lisbeth take a powder for a very long time. Even the other characters in the story wonder what the heck has happened to her. Of course, there are different rules for every writer (as to what a publisher will accept), and were Larsson still alive, there would be precious few restrictions on him.

Thing is, though, he put Lisbeth on the shelf for a good chunk of his book and got it published before he was famous.

My takeaway from that is to keep the parts of your story that you like and take your chances.

Day 35 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Day 34, May 1, 2010

When I read a novel, I like to know a few things about the principal characters, say a character profile, not a Doris Kearns Goodwin biography. So I feel it's only fair that when I write I provide a decent amount of background on the central characters. Figures of mystery bore me. They also make me wonder about a writer's ability to create characters you might recognize if you bumped into them at the opening of a play or at your child's playground.

So if you're going to provide some biographical info, a/k/a backstory, on a character, when is a good time to do it? Not in the middle of an action sequence: We interrupt this fight to the death to bring you a Hallmark moment. Not good. It's also not wise to front-load a life story, at least in popular fiction, because you want the plot to carry the reader into at least the second chapter and probably farther. Withholding a character's personal details until the last moment smacks of a Morris the Explainer ending where somebody has to make clear what's been going on. Very clunky technique.

So what does that leave? Yes, the great middle. Ideally the point at which we get to know someone should be dictated by story logic. That is, some action should take place that makes the reader ask: Hey, why'd he, she, they do that? The biographical info that follows should answer the question. It's still Morris the Explainer, but he's a much more welcome guest if he arrives in the middle of the party rather than early or late.

That's the way I feel, anyhow. And that's what I did today, wrote five-plus pages filling in the blanks on who three of the story's antagonists are and why they act the way they do.

Day 34 of writing my new novel is done.