Archive for March, 2011

On Foreshadowing

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I am nearing the home stretch with my third draft. Today I have done much of the work on the ending that I mentioned needed to be done. While I was working on it, I continued in my process of discovering the marvels of foreshadowing.

From a reader’s perspective, foreshadowing is the stuff you read near the beginning of a novel that comes back into play at the end in an interesting way (or, at least, the writer hopes it’s interesting).

From a writer’s perspective, it appears to be almost the exact opposite experience. I write through to the end, and I get to a place where I need events to unfold in a certain way. Then I think about what really works, and what would be satisfying. Usually, this creates a picture of events in my mind that is incomplete and lacking important details. Then I comb over my manuscript looking for a few places to help set the stage for the events as I imagined them. My protagonist needs a certain item in a climactic scene? Great, I’ll just go back and allude to said item a few times when it makes sense. That way when he holds the item aloft, events may surprise the reader, but the reader won’t ask, “Where’d he get that?”. Or if the reader does ask, he can, at least, flip back to see that those events really did take place.

One of the keys with this way of writing is not being too heavy handed. If the lines I insert as foreshadowing stick out, the reader has too good a sense of what’s to come. If the lines I insert are too vague, the reader doesn’t gain any of the benefit of foreshadowing, and my work was wasted.

In some ways, foreshadowing is like the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. At the time, most of them seemed like they meant one thing, but looking back with a Christian perspective, we see that they mean something completely different.

I know I’m saying nothing magical here; it just was my primary lifting today, and I knew I hadn’t talked about foreshadowing here before.


The Awful Thing About Life is This:

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t remember where I first heard this quote, but its original source is Jean Renoir (that Renoir’s son). He said, “The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has his reasons.”

My primary antagonist in Wolf has his reasons, too. In the first couple of drafts, I just didn’t make those reasons as obvious as I might’ve. Today, I have spent the bulk of my effort explaining his reasons.

This is important work. Unless the primary antagonist in a piece of fiction is supernatural, he should have perfectly good reasons for what he does. He, almost certainly, thinks of himself as the hero of the story and the protagonist as the villain. This helps make a story more true to life (verisimilitude won’t go away). Osama bin Laden, Hitler, or Stalin surely all thought, or think, themselves heroes not monsters.

If I can convey my antagonist’s point of view in such a way as to make my protagonist doubt himself, I think I score a victory. We all want to cheer for the ‘good-guy’ and we all want the ‘good-guy’ to win, but there’s only one, true good-guy. The rest of us are varying percentages of evil. Which means, unless the protagonist is a pure Christ figure, he’s probably done wrong and gotten things wrong himself. Which means he should be forced to doubt the virtue of his actions.

The trick, for my money, is highlighting this without making the protagonist and the antagonist so similar no one cares. I like the idea of the anti-hero, and in some ways that what my protagonist in Wolf is. He has certainly strayed far from the path of the righteous. But I don’t really want a leprous, atheistic, rapist as my protagonist, either. I want the protagonist to be more of a ‘good-guy’ than the antagonist is.

Hopefully, my work today helps shine some light on my villain’s villainy. I hope it does, because he, too, has his reasons.

Han Solo

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Looking through my posts, I realize, I haven’t explained ‘Han Soloing’.

I have heard a theory that the original three Star Wars movies (Episodes 4-6) worked, in part, because whenever someone was there to suggest something ridiculous, Han Solo was there. He tore down dumb ideas, and he told the other characters how unbelievable it was that they’d all survive. Then the other characters would tell him he was wrong, or lacked faith, or to just shut up, and they would go on with their plans.

The second trilogy (Episodes 1-3) had no such character. There was no one to laugh at Jar Jar, no one to laugh at the silly kid from Tatooine, and no one to point out how hopeless it is to fight robots with fish people. The second trilogy hurt for the lack.

Han Solo was a voice for the audience. He gave our doubts voice. This way the other characters could refute our logic. Even if their refutation was basic, our doubts and concerns were answered. This helped the audience believe (remember verisimilitude?) the outcome.

So, I try to go through my work and make sure I ‘Han Solo’ as much as I can. When one of my characters has a crazy plan, and there are a few, I try to have someone else point out how things will never, and should never work. Then my other characters can address it. We can all move on together.

Well, today I found a fix for the ‘refugee problem’ I encountered last week. The situation was nowhere near as daunting as it seemed when my head was stuffed with viruses and cold medicine. I figured out the problem and moved on. Along the way, I figured out another problem and I ‘Han Solo’d’ it. The novel will be better for it.

Voice is Hard

March 28, 2011 1 comment

Today, I discovered ‘okay’ is a late nineteenth century Americanism. There were eleven ‘okay’s in my fantasy story. I then went to replace them with ‘alright’, but that came about around the same time. So I used a few new, but old sounding, colloquialisms and a combination of ‘all right’ and ‘a’right’. I figure that’ll be okay. As it were.

I’m glad has the little bit of etymology it does, because I’m able to look these things up. It’s quite a help, but I often find myself looking at the etymology for every polysyllabic word I write. Again, voice is hard.

The novel is coming along. I’ve reached 72,800 words. Not that words alone define the quality of a novel, but I’ve added some good ones in there. I’ve tweaked the voice quite a bit from the first and second draft. I think it’s better. Not good, maybe, but better.

I still have quite a bit to do, though I am near the end of this pass. I want to revise the end more and add at least two more action scenes, which are fun to write, though I have to be careful not to get repetitious. Even after I’m done (I project that to happen by the end of this week), I’ll have to turn around and start revisions all over again. The 20-30 thousand words I’m adding are all ‘first draft’ level, so I need to go back through the whole thing and make sure it isn’t embarrassingly rife with typos and voice errors. That should be done by the end of the first week in April. Then I send the manuscript out to a slightly larger group of friends and family to test read it. I’ll give it back to my first readers, but they are, in many ways, already tainted. They’ve seen it before, so they might miss things. Others will have to be found.

As a side note, I finally recovered from the flu. That ruled. I’m still hacking up phlegm constantly, but the fevers have stopped. Now, I just sit around and wait for the toddler to bring home something else.

Double Roadblock (and a Bonus)

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I hit a double roadblock:

One- I’m ill.  Not deathbed ill, but I’m coughing up giant chunks of phlegm. They inspire awe. So the coughing and hacking has me taking meds, which, among other things, ship my brain to outer space. Turns out, outer space is not a brilliant place for my brain. It’s cold and dark there with a touch less oxygen than my brain prefers. Whatever, I’ll trudge on.

Two- My protagonist leaves an idyllic city and runs, almost immediately, into a giant wall of refugees. What? Why was there no warning of this? Why are villages a day’s travel south swarmed, yet the city just chugs along hunky dory? I clearly need to go back in and layer in some foreshadowing. And then I need to push back the refugees. The mass of them should be further away and less immediate.

Either of these things by themselves would be okay, but together, they make my head hurt.

My, adjusted and modified, goal for today is to figure out a plan of action and to begin implementing a fix.

On a happier note: my total word count is over 71,000. I’ve reached ~285 pages, paperback. That’s a book-ish length.

I think, speaking of roadblocks, that the first person voice is really hampering my ability to round out the story. There are times I would definitely appreciate the ability to follow other characters around for a while. It would help break things up and add suspense. Unfortunately, the first person bit is necessary because of how my protagonist works. I’m glad I’ve played around with first person, but I can’t wait for my next novel, where I’ll go third-person all the way.

On Dreams

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This morning I had a pretty detailed dream that, upon waking, seemed to make a good story.

Which helped me realize one aspect of being a writer: those dreams we cling to in the dim light of dawn under warm blankets, the ones we try to snuggle back into because they were so intriguing, or intoxicating, or fantastical. Writers can, sometimes, recapture those.

We can scribble down the thoughts before they flee us, and we can find them someday on a scrap of paper, when the actual memory of the dream has long been burned away by the light of day and the process of living. When we find them, though, we get to have them again. We get to wrap ourselves in them, and then, if we work at it, if we wrestle with it, if we craft a tale worth the dreaming, we can share it with others.

And, maybe this is the part- the secret sauce, others, in their reading add to our dreaming. A reader’s imagination takes the dream further than ours. A reader gets ownership of a sliver of a dream and nurtures it into a world.

I’ve been hammering out more poetry today. I doubt it shows. At all.

Categories: Fiction

Iambic Pentameter is Hard

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

After about an hour or work, I wrote this today:

A cardinal- of ends and life doth warn,

His worldly worries done are they for now,

So sit not lightly on your deathly bough,

And carry on this soul to its new morn.

And… it’s garbage, really. How did Shakespeare write entire plays in this form? I can wrap my head around da-DUM, da-DUM. and I can find it when I read it, but to put it into practice while also making it make any sense, is an impressive feat. And I’m not even playing with the form as Shakespeare, Donne, and their contemporaries did. I just want four lines of vanilla five foot iambic.

I will leave it as is and dream about it and likely erase it all and start again. For four lines. I only thought I respected poets before. Maybe that’s why modern poets live William Carlos Williams, because he freed us from the hegemony of the iambic. Maybe I like him a little bit more now, too.

And yes, I just used hegemony and iambic in the same sentence. This is what you get when you cross an English and an International Affairs degree- polysyllabic, masturbatory gibberish.