Rolling hills, steep gullies and fields

Place makes a difference in stories.

I’ve been inspired to write mysteries every time I visit Galena, Illinois. It’s not just the mid-19th century rebuilding of an early-19th century town that fascinates me. It’s also the roads I take to get there — the rolling hills and steep gullies always make the drive new to me. I love getting to Stockton and seeing the land dip and open on the west side of town. And then arriving in Elizabeth, with another surprise vista and a curve that — for a brief moment — reminds me of the hazards early settlers faced. And in that, I include the earliest settlers, the nomadic early Americans who followed buffalo, built burial mounds and peopled the region long before my European ancestors even knew the place existed.

I have also been inspired by the vast, flat black soil around the Illinois town where I grew up. Fields that grew corn, peas, asparagus and pumpkins surrounded my home town, a kind of cocoon holding us all together. And those miles of even landscape led me to believe — naively, I know now — that people were also level, the same, with the same opportunities and resources.

The land makes a difference.

For another perspective, take a look at this old post from Writing Rural.

http://www.dailyyonder.com/writing-rural-ron-rash/2015/06/22/7884

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Thinking out loud

Can it really be that I haven’t posted anything since November?

I had a goal to post things once a week, and then twice a month, and now we’re into a whole new year.

But I’m a couple of days into a Guppy class on revising a novel and I suspect I’ll be diving under again this month. So I wanted to share a few things before I disappear.

First, I want to mention that I’m a little nervous about my first real foray into revision. For several years, I’ve cranked out a rough first draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. But my workload and other obligations kept me from doing anything to improve those novels.

Oh, I have actually changed a few words, here and there. I’ve certainly let the novels sit in my mind and stew. I’ve made some notes about what I want to change. I even printed one of them out and started going over it. But it is literally sitting on a shelf in a storage cabinet right now.

Until now, though, I’ve never really devoted myself to going through and systematically rewriting what I finished in any given November. That’s what I hope to do with the help of the class this month.

The first homework assignment was to do a complete read-through of the story we want to revise. I stopped writing it last October, knowing I had some problems to fix. But I moved on to a new first draft. I planned to go back to the October draft in December, but I wasn’t sure how to start. Then a friend told me about the Guppy class and I decided to sign-up and wait for it.

Turns out letting this one sit for three-months was about right. I saw it with pretty fresh eyes when I started reading it last weekend. Fresh enough eyes that a scene I added late in the first draft felt so awkward and forced that I have completely changed my mind about who one of the characters in the scene really is.

I’ve also had it in my head that I needed to write an alternate ending. It’s been popping into my head off and on these last few months. Turns out, I actually wrote it last fall. Well, I wrote a new climax for the book, not a full new ending. I managed to add most of the ending yesterday, after I finished the class homework on POV. (And that — another story — led the instructor to suggest I needed to add more interior dialogue. Not a gap I had seen.)

I debated for a bit about whether to write anything new until we got further into the class. Then I figured since the new ending is technically still in the first draft, I owed it to my self to get it down. After all, you can’t rewrite what you haven’t already written.

The only other thing I’ve done so far is eliminate a character by combining her with another. At this point, it was just making a global name change. But if my plans for this bunch of characters work out, she’ll show up in the next book.

Wish me luck.

A bientôt!

Best year ever

I had an unprecedented NaNo this year.

I’ve been able to write every day, and for long stretches on many of them. I passed 51,000 words yesterday. I am so excited. This story has been writing itself. It’s not done yet, but now I feel like I can sit back and relax for the rest of the month. I should be able to get the actual full draft finished by then.

I’ve joined a couple of new groups dedicated to National Novel Writing Month. And I’m learning that NaNo may be most useful to people who don’t already have a good, regular writing practice. Up until recently, I’ve written when it fit into the rest of my schedule. I considered NaNo a gift to myself, a time when I could steal a couple of hours on many days, and really bank words on weekends.

I guess NaNo plus “semi-retirement” make a good combination for me.

À bientôt

Six days and counting

Last Monday I kicked off NaNoWriMo with a big day and I’ve been riding the wave of a couple of thousand banked words since then. With an extra hour on my clock today, I hope to move a little further ahead.

I’ve been learning some things about my main character and her friends in the past week. It’s the first draft of the second novel in a series I have planned. I just finished the first draft of the first book at the end of October, so I’m not dreaming up new characters — well, some are new; victims and suspects, mostly — or a new environment for them to live in.

Restraining myself from going back to make changes in the first novel has been one of my biggest battles. I did allow myself to make minor changes — the name of one character is different now, so I let myself do a global replace a couple of days ago. But otherwise, I’ve been making notes.

So far, I haven’t had to bring in the ninjas — a suggestions from some of my long-time NaNo friends about what to do when you get stuck. I know I have to raise the stakes for the main characters as the book goes along, but I don’t think ninjas really fit into my plot.

I’ve also got a rough idea of where I’m going. As I turn more and more into a “plantser,” I find a tendency to figure out what I need and make a Scrivener notecard for it, then go back to what I was doing. I still start out knowing very little. I like to keep things surprising — even to me.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on deepening my understanding of my characters’ back stories. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a bit of that today. I tend to put that in files that aren’t part of the novel, so I don’t usually include that in my word count. It’s legit, but they won’t be part of the final draft anyway, so why put them there now? We’ll see where I am come Nov. 30.

I hope you’re having a good NaNo! And remember, use all the words.

À bientôt

It’s almost time to NaNo

For the last several years, Halloween has been the day before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to me.

I am pretty excited about finishing the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on this year. It was an outgrowth of my 2020 NaNo project, and I didn’t spend a lot of regular time on it until September. Since then, I’ve had pretty regular writing sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. For November (NaNo month), I plan to put in some time every day of the month.

But I did want to pass on a few of the gems from the presenters at Write On Door County’s first mystery writing conference. The ideas weren’t new to me, but the reminders were just what I needed. Maybe you need them, too.

Everyone has a a different writing process

The first panel with the authors who led opening day workshops made that pretty clear. All were published authors, some of many novels, some of few. Some were plotters and some were pantsers. A couple admitted to being plantsers — those who start out with a vague idea, but make plans as they get into the story.

For the first few years I’ve done NaNo, I’ve been firmly in the panster camp, but I’m leaning toward plantser. I finished the first draft of my work in progress because I started figuring out which scenes I still needed to make the novel work. I didn’t write them from start to finish, but I made notes and wrote them whenever I got a fair idea of where each scene needed to go. I did write the first scene first and the last scene last, but that was about it.

Let the reader do some work

Years ago when I took a playwriting course in college, I learned a lesson from the professor. I wrote the last scene of my play with a happy ending — more or less. When he read the first draft, he told me, “You need to give the actors something to do. Why don’t you kill somebody?”

I realized then that acting is as crucial to a successful play as scriptwriting is. (And costuming, stage designing, directing and all the rest….) So, too, is leaving something for the reader to imagine. It’s possible to spell out too much in a story. Pete Hautman wasn’t asking us to be vague, but to leave a little to the reader’s imagination, too. It helps them get involved in — and keep reading — the story. The writer, he told us, must trust the reader to connect the dots.

Downtime counts, too

“Ruminating is also writing.” So said John DeDakis.

While nothing will ever get written without sitting in a chair pounding on a keyboard or writing in a notebook, storytelling begins in ideas, daydreams, imagination. It will take work for most of us to put those ideas into a form that will intrigue a reader. But never discount the time when you find yourself gazing out a window, mindlessly watching leaves fall from a tree or clouds scud across the sky.

We all need to give our creative minds a chance to run free so we can have words to put on pages (or screens).

There was much more packed into two short days, but right now I need to ruminate before I start this year’s NaNo novel.

À bientôt