work in progress

quote marks and talk bubbles

Group Dialogue

I enjoy writing dialogue. In fact, I’m one of those writers who lets characters call the shots a bit too much. Often, they just sit around and yak, instead of doing something to propel the plot.

Dialogue between two characters is basic and straightforward. But in my current work in progress, a group of five people is about to go somewhere and do something. (Let’s hope it’s something interesting.) Of course they’re going to talk about things, make plans, argue about details–and I’m already getting nervous about refereeing those conversations.

A few things come to mind right away…

  • If the whole group is there, or even just three of them, I’ll have to supply dialogue tags or other clear indications of who says what.
  • At least one person will be the silent type. When they do talk, they should say something important or at least funny.
  • Each character’s style must be represented in the way they express themselves, which means I have to know all of them better than I do now. I could conduct character interviews, or try this technique described by author Richard L. Pastore.
  • Dialogue will be easier if most scenes include three or fewer of the characters, which means thinking up how to get the others out of the way.

In fact, I’ve already decided someone is going to go missing. Which means the others will have to organize a search while dealing with a number of other issues. That will, of course, require more planning, discussions, and arguments, many of which will take place over meals. (Can’t starve the characters, after all.)

table, teapot, plates, candle

By the time I’m done, I’ll either have mastered the art of managing the multi-character conversation or killed off two or three of the characters.

All you writers out there must have ways of dealing with group dialogue. Any tips or tricks you would like to share?

Images from Pixabay. Featured image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay.

SWCF manuscript pages

A Page a Day

Once again, I have a work in progress. It took me a while to assemble the story’s elements, but on December 11th, 2020, I started writing.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve realized I can’t depend on obsession to fuel my writing projects, which is what happened in 2000 and 2001 when I wrote The Friendship of Mortals. (Writing project? No, that first novel was a bout of delightful madness!) For me now the normal state of writing a novel is a long and weary slog.

First drafting is a draining experience. Except when a scene fully blooms in my imagination and simply must be written, bridging the gap between imaginings and words is hard work.

A neglected work in progress is an albatross, a ghost, a sinister shape seen out of the corner of one’s eye, a bad smell lurking in the corner. A neglected work in progress is a burden. The choice is to keep slogging or lay it down and give up.

Giving up is out of the question.

So I made a deal with myself–write one page a day. One page, that’s all. If I hit a point where the work takes off and I write more than a page–great! But one page is enough.

A page of my handwriting is between 400 and 500 words. I’m aiming for a 100K-word first draft, eventually to be reduced to between 85 and 90K. A page a day until the end of June should get me most of the way there.

I’m not saying this is the best way to write a novel. I haven’t tried this technique before, but it seems to be working for me right now. Most days I can find the time and energy to write one page. Often, the session extends to a second or third page. The work is coming to life and asking to be written. After 12 weeks, I’m at 40K words, approaching the halfway point of the first draft.

Fellow writers, do you speed through your first drafts or squeeze them out word by word? Do you have any tricks to make yourself keep writing?

hot air balloons over Luxor Egypt

She Comes Forth!

Cover image for She Who Comes Forth created with Canva

The ebook version of my soon-to-be released novel She Who Comes Forth, is available at a special pre-order price of $2.99 from now until the release date, November 7th, 2018.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

B&N  KOBO  APPLE

SMASHWORDS

This is the work in progress I’ve been blogging about for the past year or two. Finally, it exists as something more than a pile of paper and a bunch of Word docs.

The novel is a standalone sequel to the Herbert West Series. Readers who enjoy a combination of realistic adventure and supernatural elements in an exotic setting — Luxor, Egypt and the Theban Necropolis — may wish to have a look.

October 1962. The developing nuclear missile crisis in Cuba is of no concern to Francesca “France” Leighton. Recently turned 21, France travels from her home in Providence to a job at an archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt. She takes with her two legacies—an emerald ring from the grandfather she never knew, and an antique cello from his friend, a man she loved like a grandfather.

The dig disappoints. France is relegated to sorting chunks of stone, the dig’s director makes unwanted advances; rivalries and mistrust are everywhere. And it’s too darn hot! Tasked with playing her cello at a gathering of archaeologists, France meets the enigmatic and fascinating nuclear physicist Adam Dexter. She’s smitten, especially when he promises to show her the secrets of Egypt, including a hitherto undiscovered tomb.

After a risky balloon cruise ends in a crash landing, France is forced to leave the dig. Despite warnings against solo explorations on the west bank, she finds herself with Adam Dexter in an eerie house near the Theban Necropolis. Adam’s promises are alluring, but he is both more and less than he seems and his motivations are disturbing. Fleeing his house, France makes a horrifying discovery.

Through an image of Osiris, France discovers the true reason for her presence in the Theban Necropolis. As the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war, she must call upon resources both within and beyond herself to meet the perils that await her in the world of the dead beneath the Western Peak.

 

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

hot air balloon on ground rainbow colours

Preparing to Launch

I will publish the ebook version of my next novel, until now referred to as “the work in progress,” in November. I’m not sure when in November, but definitely in that month.

The book, now titled She Who Comes Forth, will be available for pre-order early in October.

September and October will be busy months for me, but right now, while the garden bakes in midsummer heat, I’m doing the following:

  • Finalizing the cover image. I’ve narrowed it down to seven possibilities. Yes, that’s not very narrow, but I have a couple more months to brood over them.
  • Finalizing the book description (called by some a “blurb,” but I think that word sounds dumb; and besides, it actually refers to a brief endorsement of a book by someone noteworthy. You see blurbs on those annoying pages that precede the title page in mass-market paperbacks). I have both a short description (really short, i.e. 60 words) and a longer one (350 words). I’ll be adding one or the other to the back matter of my existing ebooks.
  • Reading all the “how to launch your book” blog posts I’ve bookmarked.
  • Listening to Mark Coker’s Smart Author podcasts. Even though I’ve published several books, I’m sure I can learn something valuable from these programs. There are 16 episodes, all available at Smashwords and at a multitude of podcast sites. You can find them here.
  • Writing something new. Yes! A couple of years ago I published four short supplements to the Herbert West Series. I’ve decided to write three more and make all seven available as a collection, replacing the four separate stories.
  • Trying to figure out how to summon some rain to this parched part of the world.

Hot air balloon image courtesy of Pixabay

The Egyptian Book of the Dead and book rock

Chapter Titles: Why They’re a Good Idea

In the past, novels had titles for each chapter, sort of like this: Chapter the XXIIIrd, in which Lady Jane drops her handkerchief in the garden and bumps into the wrong person while looking for it.

Not any more. In books — and ebooks — of the present day I generally see Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. Or simply 1, 2, 3. Sometimes it’s Roman numerals, (I, II, III) or spelled out numbers (One, Two, Three), but that’s about it.

Maybe it’s time to revisit chapter titles.

Books for children have never abandoned chapter titles, and with good reason. They help a reader navigate the book if he or she needs to go back and check something already read in a  previous chapter. And chapter titles are a sort of sneak preview, tantalizing without revealing too much.

Having read and published a number of ebooks in the past several years, I’ve realized that looking back for something you’ve already read isn’t easy. Sure, you can search words, but if you want to find a particular scene without a distinctive keyword, you pretty much have to try page numbers at random. That’s harder on the eyes than flipping pages in a printed book. I’ve added linked tables of contents to my ebooks, but that nice list of numbered chapters helps the reader only if they happen to remember that the scene they’re trying to find was in Chapter 5 or whatever.

Chapter titles, being memorable and mnemonic, make it easier to find one’s way around a book. Even short or cryptic titles (The Summons, An Encounter, Danger!) are better landmarks for the reader than numbers alone.

Then there’s that sneak preview aspect. Writers labour over their brief book descriptions to make them enticing without revealing too much. Chapter titles can be a whimsical supplement to the book description. Because they appear in the first few pages, chapter titles are seen by potential readers in ebook samples and previews.

My work in progress, She Who Comes Forth, frequently makes reference to The Egyptian Book of the Dead by E.A. Wallis Budge. It’s not surprising that its sixteen chapter titles were inspired by those in Budge’s work, such as “The Chapter of the Pillow” or “The Chapter of Not Dying a Second Time.”

Here are my chapter titles for She Who Comes Forth

1 The Chapter of Experiencing Departure and Disappointment

2 The Chapter of Experiencing Insult and Injury

3 The Chapter of Entering the Tomb of a King

4 The Chapter of Undertaking a Difficult Task

5 The Chapter of Meeting One Who Is Beautiful

6 The Chapter of Intoxication, of Tardiness and Triumph

7 The Chapter of Eating and Drinking in a Place of Mystery

8 The Chapter of Rising into Air and Falling to Earth

9 The Chapter of Experiencing Unpleasantness and Being Driven Out

10 The Chapter of Making a Crossing to the West

11 The Chapter of Seeking the Right-Handed One

12 The Chapter of a Passage in Darkness

13 The Chapter of the Red Dress and the Sharp Blade

14 The Chapter of the Heart and the Egg

15 The Chapter of Speaking the Truth and Hiding It

16 The Chapter of Going Forth

I had to be in the right frame of mind to make these up — not too serious. The idea is to hint, rather than specify.

After the heavy work of writing and rewriting, making up chapter titles is a way to celebrate and ornament your creation. I recommend it!

 

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

The Tail of the Tale

 

Back in January, I typed “finis” at the end of my work in progress. Since then, I’ve gone through it twice, once to find gross errors and inconsistencies, and a second time to streamline the prose and reduce the word count.

Everything went swimmingly (a word to be used sparingly or not at all) until I came to what’s still called #15, which is the final section of the novel. (I haven’t decided where to put chapter breaks yet). The crisis and climax happen in #14. Why, some may ask, is another whole chapter needed?

In music, there’s something called a coda. Here are some definitions, snipped from Wikipedia:

In music, a coda (Italian for ‘tail’) is a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures, or as complex as an entire section.

Coda (It.) (1) The tail of a note. (2) The bars occasionally added to a contrapuntal movement after the close or finish of the canto fermo. (3) The few chords or bars attached to an infinite canon in order to render it finite; or a few chords not in a canon, added to a finite canon for the sake of obtaining a more harmonious conclusion. (4) That closing adjunct of any movement, or piece, specially intended to enforce a feeling of completeness and finality.

Notice the bits about creating “a feeling of completeness and finality,” and “obtaining a more harmonious conclusion.” Also that it may be “as complex as an entire section.”

Prologues are a contentious subject among writers, but I haven’t seen as much discussion about devices to end a novel. I’m not talking about epilogues, which are disconnected from the story, both chronologically and otherwise. Some novels need what might be called a “literary coda.”

Such a device directly follows on from the events of the preceding chapter. It’s a kind of runway to land the reader gently rather than leaving them gasping in midair after the crisis (even if there is a sequel, but especially if there isn’t). Or maybe it’s like the gang getting together at the pub after the big game instead of going straight home. It’s a chance for the reader to linger a while longer with the characters and setting, savouring the reading experience. (Assuming it was positive, of course).

Loose ends (some of them, anyway) are tied up and a few final revelations presented. Going back to music again, the final chapter is like an encore, a way of prolonging the story for the reader who just doesn’t want it to end.

Back to the WIP. The first half of my final section was fine, but the closer I got to that “finis,” the more obvious it became that my main character (who is also the narrator) had been taken over by someone else — me. She was no longer talking about what was important to her, but rejoicing that she had arrived at The End. She was voicing my emotions, not hers.

The last paragraphs had an overly reflective tone, dwelling on earlier events already known by the reader. They didn’t sound like a 21-year-old with choices to make and apprehensions to deal with. The voice was that of the middle-aged writer who was almost finished. “Whew, we’re all done, and isn’t that great!”

A rewrite was in order.

A couple of things I had to keep in mind:

  • Until a book is published (and really, not even then, if it’s an ebook) nothing is unchangeable. I’ve had to persuade myself of this repeatedly while writing this novel. Just because my characters do or say certain things doesn’t mean I can’t change them or even (gasp!) delete them if they aren’t working. I am, after all, The Author.
  • Unless a scene or chapter is 100% horrible, wrong, and bad, I prefer to work with the existing text than to go back to a blank page. Some may consider the blank page a fresh start, but I don’t need blank page anxiety at this stage. I do, however, recommend making a fresh copy of the section to be edited before slashing and burning. The original, with all its faults, is safe until the rewrite is done.

This rewrite turned into the usual dog’s breakfast, with different colours and highlights marking problematic text, new text, and text moved from elsewhere. Then there were my exhortations and critical comments to myself, in ALL CAPS, so I didn’t overlook them.

SWCF screenshot pic

This is actually a selection of random paragraphs from the “Deleted Stuff” file, but looks just like sections of the actual manuscript, post-rewrite.

The rewrite is done and I’m happy with it. We’ll see if that satisfaction persists. I need to go through the whole manuscript again (at least once), this time zeroing in on words I may have used too often or inconsistently. Then there’s the matter of chapters. I’m excited about that, since I’m planning to give them titles instead of numbers.

About which I’ll post later.

type

Editing? Ask Yourself This. And This.

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progressI’m in the process of turning this pile of scribbled-upon paper into a book. In other words, I’m editing the first draft of my work in progress. (Well, okay, I’m actually working with a Word document, but it started out with pen on paper).

As I work through each of the fifteen sections that may very well end up being chapters, I ask myself questions like these:

blue flames question markWhy?

Is this logical?

Would it really take that long?

Could it possibly happen that fast?

Why this word/sentence/paragraph? What do they add to the story?

Why would he/she/they say/do/think/want that?

Does she know that yet? Why would she care?

Etc.

The first whack at the first draft is really hard. And annoying. Here’s why: to create that first draft, the imagining part of my brain worked full blast, making up scenes and putting down words. That was hard enough.

But editing that first draft is a negotiation between the Editor side of the brain — asking all those questions — and the Imaginer, who must re-imagine and re-create. “Hey you, this doesn’t make sense. Come here and fix it!” The two sides don’t always get along. The Imaginer is a free spirit and doesn’t like being ordered around. The Editor is a bit obsessive.

In fact, I started writing this post to get away from the situation. Sections #6 and #7 needed some significant tweaks to make plausible a really important scene in Section #14. Think Rubik’s Cube. And I finally got around to figuring out just how many days elapse over the course of the first ten sections. Surprise! There’s no way my character could get a reply on Day 19 to a letter she sent on Day 15. It’s a long way from Luxor, Egypt to Providence, Rhode Island, and no one was sending emails, texts, or even faxes in 1962!

Fix, fix, fix!

hammer and anvilI don’t know about other writers, but when I finish a scene or chapter, it’s tight, like a glued and clamped piece of woodwork. Each line cues the next one. There’s no gap into which a little extra can be wedged. If a scene needs to be adjusted or corrected, I have to wrench the whole thing apart and rebuild it.

Aaargh.

Creating a timeline was a great idea. Inserting DAY 1, DAY 2, etc. into the text was an even better one. At last I feel in control of chronological details. I wish I’d thought of doing this earlier. A bonus fact I’ve discovered is that 1962 and 2018 share a calendar, so I can even get days of the week right. But then there are those moon phases, which aren’t the same.

Copy of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes used paperback

From the basement’s random used book collection.

BTW, if you want to see writing with a lot of strong verbs and minimal use of that frowned-upon word, “was,” grab a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and read the first couple of chapters. It’s amazing, full-tilt action writing, and yet poignant and poetic. Something to strive for while massaging text.

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Finished!

Today — Thursday, January 25th, 2018 — I typed the final sentence of my work in progress, followed by finis. Why finis instead of THE END? No reason, except that’s how I’ve envisioned it for the last few months. (Besides, finis is cool).

Well, okay, it’s only the first draft. And it’s still steaming. I’ll leave it to cool and solidify, and then start poking around, cutting out bits from here, adding some stuff there, reworking and massaging — in other words, editing.

But right now, I’m relishing the state of completion. I started writing this novel a year ago, picking it up after a false start and a couple years of dormancy. Now it’s complete, even if rough. No more worrying about cranking out the next section, and the one after that. No more visualizing action scenes, contriving conversations, and wondering how long it would take to get from A to B. And no more fictitious meals to put together.

Facts and figures

Title (provisional): She Who Comes Forth.

Word count:  104,816, but that includes notes to self like [CHECK THIS!] and [LUMPY! REWORK!]. So this number is subject to change.

Genre: Uncertain. Maybe “Women’s adventure fiction.” Is that a genre? With a coming-of-age element, and the necessary injection of the supernatural. This is, after all, a spinoff from the Herbert West Series.

Setting: Luxor, Egypt and the Theban Necropolis on the west bank of the Nile.

Time period: Autumn, 1962.

Publication date: Uncertain. Late 2018 or early 2019, depending on how editing goes, and other factors.

Things to do immediately: save to flash drive, external hard drive, and the cloud. Email a copy to self. I don’t want to lose the document to some sort of computer ailment. I’d still have the handwritten manuscript (pictured above), but it’s only the proto-draft. The real first draft is a lot better quite different.

hot air balloons over Luxor Egypt

Image from Pixabay

 

The Willful Character And The Act of Writing

 

I read comments by writers all the time saying their characters take over and start driving the plot of the story. With my current work in progress, I’ve become quite the plotter, making detailed outlines for each section of the work before I start writing. So imagine my surprise when the pen in my hand started writing a scene that was definitely not in the outline! What’s more, it was an unplanned sex scene.

Once it was written, I had to admit that scene actually worked, but the whole thing got me thinking about the willful character. Maybe it’s a form of “automatic writing,” not in the supernatural sense, but the result of tapping into subconscious impulses while in a state of receptiveness induced by the act of writing. (Hey, that’s not bad, considering I made it up on the spot).

The best fictional characters are like real people, complete with flaws, quirks and contradictory impulses. Some writers develop their characters before they actually start writing the novel. Physical features, musical and food preferences, hobbies, education — a complete curriculum vitae. I’m not that kind of writer. I have a hazy vision of my primary characters, that becomes clearer as I write. There seems to be a department in my brain called Character Development, that trots out details about each major character when needed. Sometimes it throws me a surprise.

One of the best parts of the writing process is when this automatic thing kicks in and the words pour out effortlessly. Sometimes it feels as though I’m just copying stuff dictated to me by a disembodied brain. It’s probably my brain. Or some kind of collective unconscious, a well of ideas available to all who yield themselves to the writing urge. That’s where our characters come from, finding their way in response to tentative images in our writing brains.

Characters manifest their characteristics, prompting a kind of negotiation with the author. “Okay, that’s fine — you can do this, but not that. And definitely not the other thing.” But cut them some slack. Willful characters aren’t a problem, but a sign that the writer’s imagination is engaged beyond the scope of the outline, tapping into a realm of mystery. And that’s good.

Sitting down to write, giving yourself up to whatever you are creating, is like going down an unexplored trail. You just don’t know what you might meet around the corner, even if you have a map. Whether you outline your plot in detail before you start, or write by the seat of your pants, you must be prepared for the unexpected.

SWCF manuscript and notesThe first stage of creating a work of fiction — the first draft — isn’t the place to worry about rules, or getting every detail right. At this stage, the writer’s imagination needs to be cranking out stuff, producing raw material to be refined later. That’s why I still write my first drafts — or maybe they’re better called “proto-drafts” — in longhand. Actually, “longhand” seems too fancy a term for my cursive scribble on the borderline of legibility.

The thing is, at this stage you don’t want to read over what you’ve written and polish it. You want to forge ahead, beating out the rough shape of your story, bumps, holes and all. Don’t look back! For me, stark black words on the bright white screen are just too intimidating. I really doubt I would have written that sudden sex scene if I’d been using my laptop. But I scribbled it down, and when I typed it up a few days later, the critical, analytical part of my brain said, “Well, okaaay, I guess it works.”

As for my work in progress — the first draft is almost done! Another 5,000 words or so, and I can write Finis.

And then, of course, I go back to the beginning. The crazy, creative part of my brain will take a back seat, and the critical, analytical part will get to to do its thing.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

thinking, contemplation, statue

Unspoken Thoughts And The Inner Voice

Readers and writers, I need advice!

What’s the best way to represent unspoken thoughts in first person, past tense?

My work in progress contains unvoiced thoughts and interior monologue, as the first person narrator shares her private thoughts with the reader and holds debates with herself.

Like dialogue, the narrator’s uncensored, unvoiced thoughts must be in present tense. The problem is that readers may perceive them as random departures from the prevailing past tense, i.e., as mistakes.

Which leads to these two questions:

a) Are unvoiced thoughts confusing or distracting for the reader, and therefore best avoided?

b) What’s the best way to tell the reader This Is An Unvoiced Thought?

Three possibilities:

  1. Incorporate the statements of the Inner Voice into the past tense narrative, with the tag “I thought” as the signal (same as the “I said” tag in spoken dialogue).
  2. Put the unvoiced thoughts in italics, in present tense.
  3. Unvoiced thoughts in present tense, but without italics or any other signal.

EXAMPLES:

She clattered downstairs, all gussied up for her big night out.

“What do you think?” She twirled around, the short pink satin number revealing her thighs.

“You’ll wow ’em, for sure.” Too short, too tight, too shiny, I thought.

“It doesn’t make me look fat, does it?”

“You look great!” Only like a sausage about to burst its casing, I thought.

The door closed behind her. Why am I so judgmental? I wondered, turning back to my crossword.

OR

She clattered downstairs, all gussied up for her big night out.

“What do you think?” She twirled around, the short pink satin number revealing her thighs.

“You’ll wow ’em, for sure.” Too short, too tight, too shiny.

“It doesn’t make me look fat, does it?”

“No, of course not!”  Only like a sausage about to burst its casing.

The door closed behind her. Why am I so judgmental? I turned back to my crossword.

OR

She clattered downstairs, all gussied up for her big night out.

“What do you think?” She twirled around, the short pink satin number revealing her thighs.

“You’ll wow ’em, for sure.” Too short, too tight, too shiny.

“It doesn’t make me look fat, does it?”

“No, of course not!” Only like a sausage about to burst its casing.

The door closed behind her. Why am I so judgmental? I turned back to my crossword.

OR?

My thoughts on this: I don’t like the first technique, of adding “I thought” and similar phrases. It works if the unvoiced thoughts are brief and few. It’s awkward if the thoughts are longer than a single sentence, or are frequent enough that a phrase other than “I thought” becomes necessary. “I thought” is more obtrusive than “I said,” and becomes irritating with repetition.

I favour using italics to designate any thought that’s not spoken aloud (#2 above). But I’ve heard that italics can be confusing or irritating.

A fairly extensive treatment of this matter, mainly with regard to third person narrative, however, may be found here. It suggests the technique used should reflect the intensity or importance of the unspoken thought, with italics kept to a minimum. Given all the unvoiced thoughts and interior monologue in my WIP, I will have to keep this in mind when I work it over once the first draft is complete (soon, that will be!)

So what do you think? Here are the two questions again:

a) Are unvoiced thoughts in a narrative confusing or distracting for the reader?

b) What is the best way to tell the reader This Is An Unvoiced Thought?