Friday Focus: Scrutinizing a scene with full concentration

This baby cat is so... kitten-ish.   And black.  And... brown.
070619_04.jpg cute kitten image by emodogess

How many times have you, as a writer, stopped mid-sentence and visualized the scene in order to explain it just right?  

How many times have you observed an expression on someone's face at the supermarket, or noticed the bad guy's body language on a movie, then written it down the second you had a paper and pen so you wouldn't forget?

Lately I've been doing a lot staring at the screen when I am stumped, unable to make a description sound the way I'd like.   Sometimes I come up with the *perfect* wording eventually, but most of the time I end up changing the words in question to red font, and move on for the time being.  
This Friday's quote comes from John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist.  

"The bad writer may not intend to manipulate; he simply does not know what his characters would do because he has not been catching the subtle emotional signals that, for the more careful writer, show where the action must go next.  Both because the cogency of his story depends on it and because he has learned to take pride in getting his scenes exactly right, the good writer scrutinizes the imagined or remembered scene with full concentration.  Though his plot seem to be rolling along beautifully and his characters seem to be behaving with authentic and surprising independence, as characters in good fiction always do, the writer is willing to stop writing for a minute or two, or even stop for a long while, to figure out precisely what some object or gesture looks like and hunt down exactly the right words to describe it."

Great quote, right?  Here's what I got out of it:  We writers should never take the easy way out.  (I'm a fan of the easy way out, by the way.)  What we should do is take whatever means necessary, no matter how frustrating or time consuming it may be, to ensure our final product is not only true to the story, but that the writing is also our absolute best.  

Does that sound about right?  Yes?   Okay great.  Now if only my absolute best would stop trying my patience...

The funniest thing happened on the way to my WiP...

So, first of all, as of the day I'm writing this, which is Monday evening, I'm about to reach the 45,000 word count on Flora, my YA WiP. Hopefully I'll even be past that by the time this posts. Honestly though, I will say, I'm shocked. Three quarters of the way done! That's a humacious *woot woot*, in my book. =) (Get it? Book? Hee hee)  

Anyway. I've been working on Flora for a while now, obviously, and as of last week, I still hadn't been able to decide on the MC's mother's name. She's a nervous woman who's been through a lot, is always worrying about the family, wringing her hands, crying about little things. 

Then finally, a few nights ago when I was trying to fall asleep, her name came to me. I realize I am saying this often, that things keep coming to me when I'm trying to sleep, but it's true! (And even though this happened when I was working on ILYU, it's happened much more with Flora, which I have found excitingly odd, as a lot of the book has to do with her dreams. Coincidence, my dear readers? I think not! Okay, maybe.) So, usually I'm at least thinking about things already, but this was different. It was a sudden, out of the blue sort of thing. I was going over the plot, trying to connect things in my head the way I always do to make my mind stop working, not even thinking about the mom, and then BOOM! The name hit me.  

I wrote her name smack dab in the middle of my journal in big letters (the journal I keep under my pillow for just that kind of occasion), and within a few minutes, I was fast asleep.

Fast forward two days. I'm sitting by the pool Saturday afternoon, working on info, adding little tidbits to the family tree as the girls were swimming. There are so many hidden meanings in Flora, things most people probably won't even notice, but they mean a lot to me. So I was going over names again, scrolling down page after page on a website, when the funniest thing happened.

I'd like to point out here that I wasn't paying attention to the names. The names were in the column on the far left on my screen, and I was looking at the meanings on the far right. When I came across this one meaning, it jumped off my cell phone screen, practically slapped me in the face.  

"That's it!" I thought, "It may even be better than the one I thought of! I wonder what the name is!"

And guess what? It was the exact same name I'd thought of two days earlier.  

Isn't that the craziest thing?

Writerly terms: A reader's handbook

We writers have our own lingo, but to those who aren't in the writerly loop, it may sound somewhat foreign.  When I first began my whole writing journey a little over a year ago and started following writers' blogs, it didn't take much for me to get confused.  MC, WiP, and so on... what in the world did these strange abbreviations mean?

In order to keep my non-writing followers from getting confused lately, I've been translating the shortened terms in most of my blogs.  Then, a few nights ago, when I was trying to fall asleep, I had an idea.  Why not post a blog explaining what all of those darn things mean?  

So here we go, a quick breakdown on writerly lingo.  For a more detailed explanation, click on the definitions with attached links.

MC - The main character.  Think Harry Potter, Isabella Swan (The Twilight Series), Josephine March (Little Women), Jody Baxter (The Yearling) and Romeo (Romeo and Juliet).  In my YA WiP, it's Dahlia Kennedy =)

Protagonist -  The lead character, like the MC, a hero or heroine, usually.  

Antagonist -   The protagonist's adversary

WiP -  work in progress

MS - The manuscript, also known as the WiP once it has been completed and is ready to be shown to agents and publishers!

MG - middle grade

So that about covers the main ones that used to confuse me.  If anyone can think of more words, feel free to mention them to the comments, and I'll put add them to my list:)

Friday Focus

Today's Friday Focus is a good one by none other than Stephen King.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s."
Stephen King (On Writing)

Love that one!

This week flew by so fast, I didn't realize I hadn't blogged what I intended on blogging about yesterday until this evening (Thursday).  What the???  I am so behind.   And the kids only have a few weeks of summer vacation left -- where in the world did the past four weeks go?  =(

Monday's blog post will be what I had *meant* to post on Wednesday.  (I will get things together somehow. Eventually.)  If anyone has a writerly term for me to add to my list, let me know in the comments.  So far I will be "translating" MC, WiP, words along those lines.  

Have a great weekend!

Flip flop fail

22.jpg picture by munchi5gal

In keeping with my blogging roll, I decided to blog today even though I had nothing planned (and should have thought ahead about this over the weekend).  I will warn you though - today's post has nothing to do with writing.

"What?"  You say.  "Are you crazy?  But how will we survive without your awesome tips?"

Ah, but I know you will make it, my friends.  How do I know this?  Well the main reason is because nothing I ever blog about is going to make that big of difference.  I share my thoughts, little tips, and quotes here and there, but in the grand scheme of things, those little thrown tidbits I throw out probably disappear in the blogosphere faster than I can trip and smash my face into a door.

Speaking of smashing my face into a door, that's what I did today.  Yep.  My walking up steps was an epic fail.  I've been kicking myself for not having the girls follow me around with a camcorder ever since.  I could have been rich I tell ya, rich.

You see, the face plant I did in my own front yard this evening was priceless.  Somehow it happened in the few seconds of the day when no one walks or drives by (quite a small window, no less), and my next door neighbor, who seconds before was outside in his driveway, was being distracted in his house by my husband.  This was no small feat (not walking up steps, keep reading guys), me hiding my klutziness from the neighborhood like this.  And after dodging everyone's eyes, I managed to not only catch my flip flop on the porch and fly into the front door face first, but keep my glasses on while eating my own lip.

That's talent, people.  And the glasses didn't break, either, not one bit.  My shoulder blades felt like they were coming out of my skin, my neck like someone had crushed it.  But I checked those glasses, because they were expensive, and being as pretty much everything that can go wrong usually does, I was shocked when there wasn't so much as a scratch on the lenses.

My lip, on the other hand?  Not so lucky.  I tweeted a picture of it, because after the girls figured out they shouldn't be laughing at at a time like this, and kid #3 informed me of my blood dripping on the floor, I realized there was no one else I'd rather share my misfortune with than you guys, my internetal friends.

I hope you feel lucky.  I know I do, sitting here late in the evening, the usual sight of the keyboard being blocked by my big fat lip.  Okay so it's not *that* big.  But it does keep catching my eye, sticking out like it is, and my brain won't stop telling me to close my mouth, and then I realize I've already closed it.  Strange how the eyes mess with you like that.

So writing will have to go on all day tomorrow, while I recover from my injury.   I'm not about to go out in public.  (No toilet paper?  Sorry kids.  Tear up those paper towels, or something.)  That's another reason I'm blogging at the moment, because I'm quite sure when I wake up in the morning I won't be able to lift my arms, due to the intense impact the steadfast door made on my shoulders.

I thought about using this experience in one of my WiP's, but I'm not sure I'd be able to make it hilarious.  Too much pain involved.  You know how it is.

Hope you all have a fabulous Tuesday.  Wednesday's post will be a simple breakdown of writer lingo, to make things a bit clearer for my unwriterly friends =)

Friday Focus

This week's quote is by W. Mitchell.   He's had to overcome more obstacles in his life than most of us would be able to handle,  and yet, he still looks at the bright side of things. 

I think this passage could be used as inspiration for writers, especially when we're having a hard time.  (Coming to a wall in our writing, a complete block, querying disappointments, ect.)

What I focus on in life is what I get. And if I concentrate on how bad I am or how wrong I am or how inadequate I am, if I concentrate on what I can’t do and how there’s not enough time in which to do it, isn’t that what I get every time? And when I think about how powerful I am, and when I think about what I have left to contribute, and when I think about the difference I can make on this planet, then that’s what I get. You see, I recognize that it’s not what happens to you; it’s what you do about it.

Isn't it a good one?  It's easy to let ourselves get down, focus on what we're having a hard time with (whatever it may be, writing or otherwise), to allow ourselves to be pulled into that hole of despair.  But we all have a purpose.  We all have something to contribute.  

If you'd like to learn more about W. Mitchell, check out his website here.

Happy Friday!

Index cards: They're Not Just for Reports Anymore

As promised, here is my post about a tool I've been using to help me with Flora. But first, a little backstory. ;)

Months ago I read a blog by someone (I'm sorry, but I can't remember whose it was, I've read way too many since then) who used index cards to organize their story line. At the time, I was new (still am, but not as new), and thought outlines and other such "organized" forms of writing weren't meant for me. I was an outlaw in the writing world, skipping around, jotting things down completely out of order and having to figure out where they went and what they meant later.

I was stupid.

Talk about making myself work more than necessary, and I mean a lot.

I'm a little over a year into this whole hobby/profession/insanity and I've learned that the more you organize, the better off you'll be. So I tried outlining.

Outlines are good for some, but they are *so* not for me. I was constantly erasing things, trying to fit in more info, it was a mess.

So a few weeks ago I came across some old index cards my kids used for reports, and remembered seeing the blog about index cards. Talk about perfect!

Color coding is a great way to keep things categorized. As I've mentioned before, there are almost two completely different story lines in Flora. Keeping track of such completely separate ideas is hard, not to mention distracting. I'm writing about the MC at her home, then I'm writing about the school, then I think of something a person would say in the other story line, then I'm back to the MC again at home, then, oh yeah, there has to be something by the creek but before the beach... Can we say confusing? It was so much easier to write when everything was laid out on the cards.

Now, obviously, they aren't big enough to hold much information (they're more of a visual tool to help me keep track of what's happening in order as I'm switching back and forth), but they definitely hold more details than an outline would (my version of one, at least).

Here's a picture of what they look like, along with my one of many owl-dorable notebooks that I had to include just for fun. =)

DSC_1460.jpg picture by munchi5gal

They weren't curled up on the corners until five minutes before I went to take the picture (they were still in one stack), when I knocked them into a sink full of water. I panicked, screamed a bit, Lovemuffin yelled from two rooms down to see what was going on, and I got them under a fan in time for them to survive, thank goodness. And it's still a good visual, even in the state they're in, don't you think? See how things switch back and forth?

I'm loving these things. Who knew something so small could simplify the whole process like that? The MC's main life is blue, and the other part, the one she slowly gets more into as the story goes on, is pink. I have them numbered, so when I jot something down in my journal I can refer to the number when I start to write, and I always know where I'm at and what's going to happen next.

So how about you? What's one of your favorite writing tools?

Progress Makes Perfect

confetti.gif confetti image by bltlioness

Da da dah da dah dah da dum, da dah dum da da dum dum dah dum dum....

Imagine me wearing a tall drum major hat (chin strap pulled tightly on my chin), and baton in my hand, marching proudly down the street.  Then add the song the band always plays, which I can't think of at the moment (too excited), but all you have to do is look at the way it goes up there on the first line and you should know exactly what I'm talking about.  (Or not.)

Anyway.  I'm celebrating.  *throws confetti*  Know why?  Because I'm halfway through the first draft of Flora, my YA WiP (for you non-writerly pals out there, that's short for "young adult work in progress").  Even typing the word "halfway" makes me excited.   

Coffee toast, anyone?

coffeefor2.jpg coffee for 2 image by Alikamou

Obviously I still have a long way to go, I am only half way done.  And it is only the first draft, with many rounds of editing to come once it's finished, but still.  I'm proud.  Proud of myself, proud for sticking it out.  Yay!

I'll be posting a blog later in the week about one tool that's helped me get this far.  But today, I'm just going to throw confetti every so often.  I'm having fun, enjoying my progress =)

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday Focus

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. ~Ernest Hemingway 

Way better idea than sitting there and staring at a blank screen for an hour or two (knowing your brain is done for the day, but refusing to give up), don't you think?

Happy Friday!