Searching for my voice

Ugh.  So I’m 16,000+ words into The Veil.

I watched Donnie Darko three nights ago and it resonated with me.  Which now has me contemplating tossing half of what I’ve written.

Where I was with The Veil had it turning into a group hero piece.  That wasn’t working.  Deep down, I wanted the story to be more introspective, more a tale of identity and learning who you want to be.

Donnie Darko had this dreamlike quality to it.  The events of the movie seemed random until the very end, when you realise that the purpose of them all was to drive the hero to his destiny.  The story tied into questions of existence, love and being alone.

That’s the voice I’ve been searching for.  Now, I need to plot.  This time, for real.  No writing until I have a rough plot drafted out.  This write and find out approach is a big fail for me.

Not Finished Your Manuscript? Write Your Query Letter Now

You’ve read the headline and now you’re wondering, why would I write my query before I finish my manuscript?  After all, the advice you see on every website says to not send out any queries until after the manuscript is finished, edited and rewritten.  Well, I’m not going to tell you any different.

What I am going to do is give you something to think about.

What is a query?  New writers agonize over them, agents spout platitudes about their importance and they are generally seen as the key to the publishing kingdom.  Forget that.  They might all be true, but focusing on those points creates a distraction.  Besides, that’s not the point I’m getting at.

The query is a statement that uses two to three paragraphs to describe your story and then perhaps a single paragraph that states who you are.  You’ll read lots of advice on writing queries, but they will all tell you to include these two components.  It is because of these two components that I suggest you write it early on, like now, maybe before you write a single word.

The query in this sense becomes your mission statement.  Every time your story feels overly complicated and you think you’re losing track, you look back to those simple paragraphs and you remember the essence of your tale.  Distilling your story to its core early on will keep it omni-present in your mind.  This will give you cohesiveness.

It is not only the story the query distills, it is also your identity as a writer.  Remember, you and your story are a package.  Both need to be sell-able.  There have been interesting conversations about online identities and figuring out who you are as a writer.  Once again, your query not only serves as a mission statement for your book, it also serves as a mission statement for yourself.

The query is about selling yourself and your work.  If early in the game you can write a query that sells you on your book and your identity as a writer, it will be all that much easier to sell those things to someone else down the road.  No one will love you until you love yourself, KWIM?

Maybe someday I’ll feel competent enough to write a post on how to write a query.  Until then, I’ll provide you with a link to Adventures in Children’s Publishing where they link to examples of  Successful Kid Lit Query Letter Examples.  Feel free to add any great websites you know of that provide instruction on writing queries in the comments.

Depression, Writing & Satisfying the Need

My tag-line for this blog is, “This is my writing journey.”

Because maybe someday  someone (perhaps only myself) might find this interesting, I’m going to not only throw out great tips and the lessons I learn, I’m also going to comment on me, myself, and sometimes, I.

Yesterday I was depressed.  I don’t mean just feeling blue, I’m talking about staring blankly at the screen, no energy, questioning my existence, depressed.  It sucked.  What irritated me most about it was that I had no idea why I should feel that way.  I used to have many of those days.  Since giving my life some serious evaluation, seeking a little professional help and getting off my butt and actually working to make my writing dream come true, I’ve felt much better.  So why all of a sudden?  I came up with two answers. One was no big surprise.  The other gave me some serious food for thought.

The easy answer was the weather.  April surprised us all with its warmth and sunshine.  While May got off to a good start, yesterday was a horrible day.  Though it wasn’t as cold as winter, it was that kind of damp chill that creeps under your skin.  Add the grey sky and you have a very dreary day.

The interesting answer had to do with my writing and my online persona.

I haven’t touched The Veil in over a week.  The word count sits stagnant at the right side of my website, begging to be increased.  I put it there to guilt me into action.  The guilt is there, not so much the action.  I also hadn’t blogged in four days.  While I’ve been present on Twitter, my posts have provided little in the way of substance.  In short, I felt like a poser, a fake.

I’ve had numerous story ideas in the past.  The more I thought about them, the more themes and ideas I threw at them.  They buckled under the weight until they finally cracked beyond repair.  By comparison, the more thought I give to The Veil, the more it asks for.  The deeper I delve, the more layers it reveals.  It’s liberating and scary as hell.  I’ve allowed myself to be frightened to a standstill.  I need to get over it.

I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact I am a chaotic writer.  I don’t plot ahead, I don’t plan for specific times of day to write, I don’t have any kind of regular regiment.  This is turning into a considerable weakness.

I work shifts.  Between my job, my kids, trying to be a good husband, and just finding time to breathe, it’s impossible to pick a time of day in which to write.  There’s no time that will work everyday.  So I’m thinking what I need to do is look at my schedule for the week and decide on a day to day basis when I’m going to write.  Whether it be a blog entry or The Veil, I need to get my fingers moving on the keyboard.  I feel more alive when I see words forming on the screen in front of me.  There’s an energy in creating something that never existed before.  Even if my first draft is crap.  Even if I end up rewriting eighty-percent of it, there is still energy and power in its mere existence.  Within the dirt is a gem worth harvesting.

Now the question is, will I walk the walk, or is this just a whole lotta talk?

Current state of my writing

I’ve been away from writing for a couple of days.  This isn’t to say writing has been far from my mind, quite the contrary.  My iPhone currently has two scenes in it that I wrote in the middle of nowhere after having been hit by inspiration on the drive to said nowhere.

I find my story comes to me in drips and drabs.  Sometimes a whole scene washes in and obliterates everything in its path.  At other times, a few key sentences, a stray thought, are all that come through.

I keep trying to sit down and plot everything out.  Every time I do that, I get seemingly more stuck than just sitting at the keyboard and letting words flow.  I’m finding out I am the kind of writer that needs to get there before I can describe it.  I don’t know all the scenes in my story because I haven’t made it there yet.  I’m hoping this changes.  I can’t imagine trying to build a career based on whim and mercy of the creative muse.

On the up side, I figured out how it ends.  I know who the villain is.  I know why he’s doing the things he’s doing.  His undoing was one of the scenes I wrote in my iPhone.

Which brings up another stray thought I’m going to throw out; never be too focused on your current work that you ignore other ideas.

My wife is a photographer and visual artist.  She and I have talked about collaborating on a piece of work.  This really excites me.  I came up with two things for this work that I kept mulling in my head.  Guess what?  I used them for my novel.  See, they didn’t work on their own, but put the mention of them on the lips of a madman and suddenly things are cooking!

So my collaboration is on the back burner, and I need to sit and get to work.

I guess I should stop referring to my work in progress as that.  Right now, the working title is The Veil.  I’ll call it that from now on since it just makes things easier.

Sorry, this blog post is random.  Not so much in terms of advice, but more a journal entry.  I’ll do these from time to time.  Now I think I’ll go work on The Veil and see if I can crack 15,000 words.

Going With It or Accepting that I Am God

So I’ve been talking a great deal about plot.  Actually, my last four posts have been obsessions about it.  Seeing as how plot is the main vehicle for story, it seems important, right?  Unfortunately, what my researching on plot has revealed to me is that my current work in progress was severely lacking in it.  Sure, I had some characters, I had lots of concepts, but I lacked structure.  I lacked an actual story.  Most stories are propelled forward by some form of conflict, and I was really lacking in that area.  My antagonist was weak and his motivations murky at best.  It left me with a lot of questions regarding the viability of my “story.”

So, breakthrough while out in the car driving last night.  Funny thing though, my initial reaction was what I’m blogging about today.  When I thought of the main antagonist’s motivation, his plan, my initial reaction was, “I can’t do that, it might lead to A or B and that’s just too mean.”  The problem is, sometimes you have to mean.  Sometimes you have to accept that you will become the hated God of your own little created reality.

Does the idea of being God make you wriggle a little?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  Maybe, but it is the truth.  For our stories, we assume the role of the creator.  We breathe life into our characters where none existed before, we create the laws of physics, we populate the world with plants and beasts.  We guide the events of the story toward our desired ending.  Sometimes we are cruel.  Sometimes we are kind.  We need to be above morality, because sometimes we have to let awful things happen.  Sometimes a child, pure and innocent, has to die.  Sometimes an entire city needs to be wiped off the face of the earth.  Sometimes our hero needs to cry, fail, or die.  Ultimately, we are the ones responsible.

I need to let go.  I need to accept that if this is right, if what my antagonist is doing are the actions he would take, I need to let him.  I can move my hero and his companions into places to keep some of them safe, I can ultimately lead them to a place where they may foil his plan, but I also need to accept that there will be casualties along the way.  I have to accept the blood on my hands.  I have to accept that letting these things happen does not make me less of a human being, it makes me more of a writer.

As a reader I’ve been let down in the past by authors setting up certain events, only to have them completely back out in the end.  I felt betrayed and ultimately the book was less fulfilling.  I have to remember that experience as a writer.  I have to live up to my readers, which means I have to live up to my story, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.  After all, being God is a tough job.

OK, decision made

So in regards to my previous posts on plot, I am now convinced that crashing ahead is the wrong way to go.  I said I’d tell you and here I am.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been devoting some time and concentration to the links on plot that I posted the other day.  They have been incredibly inspiring and insightful.  The problem is, I’m now looking at the 14,000+ words I’ve already written, not to mention the next 2,000+ those words set up, and I’m thinking it’s now all wrong.  That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow.  So, do I scrap it all and start from scratch?  Do I carry on as if I had written what I had intended, get to the end and then go back during the rewrites.  Or do I bang my head a little more and see if I can make what exists work at least even a little?

I wouldn’t be in exactly this mess if I had done all this work before committing words to page.  I mean, at my current position, I am only vaguely aware of my antagonist.  How am I supposed to have a cohesive plot and conflict without any form of antagonist?  I need to rethink a lot of what I’ve done and where I was going with it.

So I have some challenges ahead.  I’m going to hammer out a plot outline basing it on the idea that I will leave what I already have.  I know there will be major revisions eventually, but at least it won’t be as demoralizing as deleting everything.  Wish me luck.  Progress updates as I go.

Plot, or lack thereof, and the surprises that come with it

I’m a man on a mission.  I’m writing a book.  When looking at the history of our race, the thing it teaches about missions is you should have a plan.  Well, I don’t, sorta.

As I said before, I’m a concept guy.  I start developing a work based on a single concept.  One idea I had was a world where the gods rule with an iron fist, but they aren’t really gods, they’re just people using technology to manipulate and keep the rest of the race stuck in the dark ages.  Now, that’s not a horrible concept.  The problem is, what’s the story?  Will one of the gods become dissatisfied with the rest?  Will he turn on them?  Will someone from the ruled populace rise up?  Depending on what I decide, the story is going to be substantially different, even though the initial concept is the same.

My work flow is like this; Concept – Story (usually just bare bones stuff like whose point of view) – initial scenes (which I take notes on) – a few more scattered scenes (also duly noted) – write the first scenes – spend a few days mulling over where to go next – write some more – repeat.

What I’m finding is that this is horribly inefficient.  On the other hand, it is surprising and at times thrilling.

For instance, my initial 3 chapters on my current work in progress flowed very easily.  My ideas for them were strong and clear.  They led to my main character being in the hospital.  What I didn’t have figured out was what happens in the hospital to further the plot and given the nature of his injuries, how do I get him out of the hospital because the majority of my story takes place outside of there?  I kicked this around for a few days.  I put pressure on myself by assigning a deadline for a day where I had to continue writing.  What I came up with worked well for me.  I was surprised though, because it meant introducing two characters I had intended to bring on the stage much later in the story, heck maybe not even until book two!  Now I run up against the same wall, because where do I go from there?  Repeat the previous process of humming and hawing for a few days.  What I decide, and ends up working pretty well, is changing the last paragraph of the chapter I’ve just written to introduce a surprise twist that I hadn’t intended to reveal for a few more chapters.  But what it did was it provided a more satisfying and “hook” ending to the chapter and it allowed me to fill the reader in more of what’s going on.  Seeing as how I’m a quarter of the way through, it’s probably time I let the reader in, at least a little.

Is this the best way to write a novel?  I’m not sure.  I know this lacks a lot of depth because I’m crashing through it without a solid foundation.  Because of what I’m learning about the story and the characters as I progress, I already know the intense level of rewriting that is going to have to occur.  At the same time, there’s something fun about coming up against a wall, having a single idea for a solution, and suddenly a whole chapter flows out and leaves you thinking, “damn, I didn’t see that coming.”

Ironically, the reveal that I’ve introduced early actually makes a later scene I have planned work much better and flow more organically.  I had my main character overhearing a conversation.  It’s an important bit of reveal that he needs to know.  My problem was, how do I get him there?  Well, I’ve created the perfect solution unintentionally by doing my earlier than planned reveal.  Funny how that worked out.

So in the end, this is my sloppy way of working through a novel.  I know far more experienced writers suggest a full plot outline, and to be honest, I would feel more secure if I had one.  With a plan, I might be able to write on a more frequent and consistent basis as I wouldn’t need all the head scratching time between chapters.

I think I’m going to try and plot out the rest of the book from this point.  I’ll let you know as I go along which seems to work best for me.