Thursday, June 24, 2010

I am a sick bitch

I’d been wanting to write one particular scene in On a Twisted Tree for a while. It’s a really tough, really raw scene, so I put it off for a while as it developed in my mind. I finally sat down to write part of it last night and ended up doing the whole thing. It involves Lindsay coming across his brother, Cary, after he’s been paralyzed in a hunting accident. (No spoilers there, really.) It’s really gelled his character for me, and gelled their relationship.

Yikes. That was tough. I tried to capture that disconnected feeling you get during a tragedy, where half of you is numb and half of you is just rotting with dread because you know. I hope I did it in a way that communicates that feeling.

I’ve discovered that I like (although”like” is a strange word) to delve into the moments that make and break characters. I push them into the absolute worst moments of their lives and force them (and me) to live those moments. I can’t write a character as well as I want to until I can see and experience, through writing, the moments that have formed them as people. I also tend to explore the various tiny ways people can be good and cruel to one another, and this scene (this story) is full of those.

A teaser:
“Roll him,” Wade said. “Do it gentle.”
Lindsay did, moving to Cary’s other side and grabbing him around the middle. He’d barely lifted Cary’s hip from the ground when he let out a low cry from deep in his chest. Lindsay cursed and let go. “What hurts, Care? What hurts?”
“Don’t move me,” Cary begged. “Just let me be.”
Lindsay’s throat tightened. “I’m sorry, brother. I got to. We got to get you to the hospital.” He put his hand on Cary’s hip again.
“Don’t!” It was a scream, like a fiddle with a broken string. The sound rattled Lindsay badly, and he couldn’t force himself to do it, just knelt there. Paralyzed.
“Lindsay,” Wade said behind him. “Turn him.”
“It hurts him!”
“Do it!” Dad’s scream this time, almost as harsh as Cary’s.
Later, Lindsay would wonder why he had been forced to do it.
“I’m sorry,” he choked out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
To belabor a point, the idea I was trying to get across here is that Lindsay, the son, is forced to purposefully hurt his brother (even if it’s in the interest of helping him) while Dad stands back and watches. This is something Lindsay will never forget, even if he eventually forgives himself for it.

This is the kind of stuff I like to write. I am a sick bitch that way.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


This new WIP, which I’ve tentatively titled On a Twisted Tree, is a first for me in a lot of ways. It marks the first time I’ve written about a place I’m intimately familiar with (I grew up in the area) and references places I pass by every day–in fact, part of the story takes place in my apartment. It’s also the first time I’ve written a protagonist with a disability, and the first time I’ve really dealt with the kind of people I grew up with, who are, in a word, unapologetic rednecks. Maybe most significantly, though, this is the first time I’ve dared to address some of the demons of my past through writing.

Now, I can’t write a story without some family drama, because we all know family drama is just ripe for the picking. This particular family is just as wonderfully fucked up as the rest of the ones I’ve written, and, just like many of the rest of the ones I’ve written, it comes along with a dysfunctional dad. In this story, though, I’m facing some particular dad issues head-on. I decided, more or less on a whim, to do this because the story lends itself well to it.

This dad is a larger-than-life version of my own (my dysfunctional dad is not a militant conspiracy theorist, for instance), and I will freely admit that. His two sons react to him in a combination of my real feelings and actions during a particular period of my life and the actions and words I wish I had done and spoken. The combination provides a pretty amazing catharsis. Part of me worries that I’ll turn this story into my own personal therapist and wring out all of my issues into it, but I think I’m pragmatic enough to handle it in a way that will appeal to a wider audience.

Because, really, what’s not to love about rednecks and mythology?

I’m also doing my best not to make the story into a session of “local masturbation,” as I like to call it, chock full of references and in-jokes and self-conscious descriptions of settings for the sole purpose of having someone who lives there go, “I know where that is!!” I’ve found this annoys me in other stories (Laurell K. Hamilton is bad about that, and Jim Butcher can be). If you live here, you know exactly where the boys’ trailer park is, you can picture the parking garage is, etc., but try to describe the setting in such a way that someone who will never set foot in Springfield will get most it.

This story is my own weird tribute to the area and the people that fostered me in my formative years. I’ve developed an odd affection for the place, so it’s fitting that I write this as I’m leaving it. Even more, though, as I move on in my life (cue violin music), it’s my attempt to exorcise some of my personal demons rather than letting them haunt me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pantsing in world building: legit or folly?

I make no secret that I’m largely a pantser when it comes to a lot of aspects of writing. When it comes to world building, though, I’m definitely a planner. I’ve done the top-down method (creating a whole world and then narrowing it down to a more specific setting to start with) and the bottom-up method (starting with a certain culture/setting/group and building outward), and the sideways-and-upside-down method. I’ve also tried pantsing and building the world as I go along and figure out what I need.

And I’m here to say, the latter method is complete bullshit.

Maybe this is just me–maybe people can legitimately pants it the whole way. Some people can just dive into a story and see where it takes them. I cannot, and I’m not completely convinced that anyone benefits as much as they think they do from winging the world building. Here’s what’s happened to me, and what I know has happened to many people I know: they dive in, and everything’s good. The excitement is still there, and they’re just trucking right along. Then they get a couple chapters in, and all of a sudden, they hit a snag, because they don’t know what the hell to do next.

This is where a little planning would have helped. There is such thing as too much planning, where you get to the point where all you’re doing is world building and researching as a clever form of procrastination (not that I’ve ever done that…nope, of course not). But you have to know the basic milieu of the story, the things that will affect how you proceed toward the important aspects and turning points, before you get too far in. It’s like getting that particleboard entertainment center home and diving right in before you even glance at the directions (not that I’ve ever done that, nope). All of a sudden, oh shit! Where does this one piece go? What’s this thing supposed to look like, anyway?

How the hell are you ever supposed to know where you’re going and how to get there if you can’t answer the basic “journalist questions” about your story, or if you don’t know the place and setting your characters are interacting with? You don’t want them to bump around a big empty vacuum of a room. Setting ain’t just for scenery, folks. Unless characters interact with the setting, unless the story could happen in no other place and time without significantly altering, it’s not believable.

So, you have this fantasy story. There’s this guy. He’s sort of short and he has hairy feet. And there’s a dragon! And another guy, who’s ugly and has a lisp and talks to himself a lot. And, um, the short guy with hairy feet…goes…somewhere. And there’s this thing he finds. It’s a piece of jewelry. A necklace, maybe? Or a ring. Not sure what the ring does, but it’s a ring. And there’s writing on it.

Somehow, I doubt Tolkien dove in with half a page of notes.

There are some people who argue that you don’t have to know where you’re going when you start. I don’t understand these people and I think they’re freaks (kidding, mostly), but I can understand wanting to build a story organically. I’ve done it, though granted it was never by myself. But pantsing plot vs. pantsing the entire world? I just don’t see how the latter works. At all.

I’m fully willing to make the concession that no, you don’t have to have it all figured out before you start writing. I never do. I’m one of those, “Eh, that’s enough” types. I make shit up as I go along all the time, but I know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there and what’s most important, and that actually helps me get stuff done. Writing is all about momentum. You lose it, and it’s really hard to get it back again. You lose it because you have to go back and figure something out, fuhgeddaboudit. It’s one thing if your story takes a left turn you didn’t expect, or if there’s something you just didn’t anticipate, but another thing to have done shoddy pre-work and have to pay for it later. No excuse for that, IMHO.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Trucking Along

I crossed the 10k threshold with New WIP just now. Pacing-wise, it’s actually going pretty well already, not fraught with pacing issues from the beginning the way some (a lot) of my stories are. I’m having fun dropping little Southern jokes about Miracle Whip and iced tea.

People have been giving me some really excellent ideas for the story left and right.  It’s awesome to have friends who are not only creative, but are knowledgeable in my areas of concern.  As I write, I’m getting good ideas, too. I haven’t felt quite so capable of doing a solo project in a really long time. It’s a good feeling.
Last night, Co-Author #2 and I decided that our current UF project would work best as a serial, as well. It would ease a lot of plot structure issues and make the whole thing more cohesive. I’m inclined to think all of the stories in this series would do well in serial form. Now that I’ve told Kate we’re going to do it, we can’t disappoint her, so we better get to work!

I’m actually finding the structure of a serial easier than I’d anticipated. The episodic nature forces me to think in terms of individual chapters as well as the novel overall, so I have to keep the tension and even raise it at the end of each chapter to keep the reader going. Keeping the tension is something I struggle with sometimes. This is a really good exercise in structure overall.

My goal is to get this done by the end of July and then off to betas. At this rate, about 5k a week, I think I can  do it.