Tag Archives: The Project

Wrestling with Character


My current work-in-progress is a superhero story about a guy who hates superheroes and therefore becomes a villain. And I just today wrote the start of a scene that kind of shocked me.

Without spoilerating my own story, this guy has a hostage problem to solve with no easy way out. (Which is exactly the sort of problem a good novel needs, right?) And in flinging myself against this problem, a solution occurred to my protagonist and myself simultaneously. Usually solutions for writers are good things, but this one is a little bit mixed.

It fits the character perfectly. It fits the narrative perfectly. But it makes me uncomfortable, because it’s a little rape-y. Not in the sexual assault way (it’s not that kind of book), but in the willful taking-by-force of a thing from a more or less helpless victim. A victim who was once something like a friend. And this taking … well, it’s pretty much going to color the relationship between these two forever, assuming I leave it in (and I don’t see how I can leave it out, at this point). It’s forceful. It’s traumatic. It has left me feeling a little bit icky after the words came out.

So, it makes me seriously uneasy, but it also really gets me fired up about the story, because it fits so well. And it hit me — this is the sort of thing that’s been missing from this story all along. My protagonist, much as I have been thinking of him as a villain, hasn’t done much that’s outright villainous; so for him to finally break bad like this feels a little shocking. Then again, at the same time, it feels long overdue, coming in the final third of the book.

But now I’m all conflicted. This isn’t the sort of thing I envisioned my protagonist doing, but now that the moment has presented itself, it’s hard for me to imagine him acting any differently. It’s not the act itself that has me vexed, though. The real quandary that’s sticking in my craw is that I don’t know if this guy (or this girl, for that matter) can come back from this. I don’t know if a choice like this can be redeemed, and that could be a problem in future installments of this story.

So many questions. Is this scene right? Is it happening at the right moment in the story, or should it happen sooner (establishing him as a real rotten dude right from the go would clear up some of the waffling he’s done thus far … then again, if this moment comes late, it feels more like a final step on a terrible path)? Can a character come back from something like this? And, for that matter, should he?

On the plus side, the last couple days’ writing has poured out of me like from a ruptured water main, so that, at least, makes me feel like I’m on the right track.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Soldiering On


A short SOCS post today, because I’m totally fried from this murderous week at work.

I’m back in the swing of my novel this week, despite the crazy hours at work. I got probably about 2400 words written — not quite what I aim for, but considering the loss of planning time and how scattered I’ve been, I’ll take it. But I’m not here to kvetch about word count (or lack thereof).

See, a few weeks ago I suffered what I could only, at the time, call a catastrophic setback: the loss of my un-backed-up flash drive, and hence the loss of a good twenty- to twenty-five thousand words on my latest project. That’s about two months worth of words, if you’re counting, AND I CERTAINLY WAS.

And, after the storm and the swearing and the self-abuse subsided, what was there left to do? Either quit the project, accepting the loss as too great to recoup, or soldier on and keep writing on the project anyway. And considering that this novel just happens to be one I’ve wanted to write for about three years, throwing in the towel was not a thing I was willing to swallow (argh, too many cliches).

So I took a day to outline the story I had written so far from memory, and then I started fresh with a blank page.

And man, that first day sucked, because returning to what was an essentially blank page was intimidating as hell (the perfect white expanse of the unblemished page — or, okay, word-processor window — is a thing you can only screw up with your first draft word-vomit). But a few days in, the momentum kicked in again, and all of a sudden I was churning along just like before I shot my foot off.

And the weird thing is? I actually feel really liberated. Losing the old project has allowed me to divorce myself from some of the preconceived notions and lame patterns that had cropped up in the writing. Now I can not only pretend they didn’t exist; they actually, literally don’t exist any more. I’m messing with new POVs, experimenting more with the narrative sequence, and generally having a lot more fun with the project than I had been for a while.

What’s that thing they say about relationships? Sometimes you have to lose something to learn what you really had? Maybe that’s a little too trite for the current situation, but one way or another, the project is moving ahead at a healthy clip again, and that’s damned encouraging.

Tomorrow: a third and final entry to the October horror flash-fiction challenge that’s kicking around over at Terrible Minds. (I hope.)

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Fly Away


I’ve had to kill more than a few flies over the past few days.

Part of it, I think, is that the little buggers feel the end of summer coming on, and they’re trying to get indoors before the cooler weather comes. And part of it, of course, owes to the fact that the building I now work in was built in the 70s and shows every sign of it, down to the poor ventilation and the likely hundreds of nests and colonies in the walls. My room is always host to some six-legged creature or other, and this week, it’s been flies.

Which are the hardest things to deal with, it turns out. Mosquitoes you can catch in a closed fist. Bees drone along and then hover in space. But not flies. Flies catapult themselves through the air like UFOs powered by technology that shatters physics.

I remember reading once upon a time that flies have all kinds of extra sensory organs — from their tiny little antennae to the hair-like structures on their legs and body to their 800-faceted eyes — which make them one of nature’s most talented getaway artists. They end up with the reflexes of a cat that can see into the future, so that you’re always just a snap too slow, you always seem to strike the air just behind them. It’s almost as if they can sense that you’re about to swat them, and they leap out of the way.

Turns out, the actual air pressure created by your rapidly descending hands is sufficient to push the little critters out of the way; in other words, the act itself of swatting at the fly increases the fly’s odds of escape. The only way to counteract this is to anticipate where the fly is going to jump to and try clapping your hands at that spot, rather than aiming at the fly itself.

Which is a mug’s game, right? You can’t predict which way a fly is going to jump, any more than you can predict which way a flipped coin will land or which face a tossed die will fall on.

Still, guessing — even guessing wrong — gives you better odds than striking straight at the thing itself.

And there’s metaphors here, aren’t there? Life is a moving target, and all that. And by the time you think you’ve drawn a good bead on something, it’s moved along and you’re swiping at the empty air.

Sure feels like that lately, anyway. Working on this new story, it feels like the real thing — the good stuff, the soft, nougaty center of this idea — is buzzing around my head, lighting here on a bookcase, there on a lamp, occasionally on the skin of my scalp. But every time I try to nail the thing down, it flits away effortlessly, and I can almost hear its tiny, incessant insectoid laughter. And I bang my head away against some weak facsimile of the story I want to write and curse the muse for not dropping any of her glittery inspiration turdlets in my direction.

But then I strike off in a totally new direction; rather than trying to write the story I thought I was writing, I make a hard left and take the story in a new direction, and for a few blessed days at least, I get to bottle the lightning. I trap the fly between my hands and work gleefully while it bangs itself silly trying to escape.

And of course, it does. It escapes again. You can’t hold onto these things any more than you can hold on to a fistful of the ocean.

But you keep grabbing onto it all the same, as long as the story cries out to be told.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be flailing around like an insane person trying to swat this storyfly.


Sometimes I write Good


 

The new novel is at the 1/3 mark — just the spot for a turn, a twist, a change that will color the story to come. And much like my two previous novels, the 1/3 point was an important landmark: a point of no return. The edge of the aircraft carrier, where the jet must either take wing or splash into the ocean, a multi-million dollar failure to fly.

And just like in my first two novels, there’s that horrible moment, right before that turn. That slow sensation, that creeping dread, that the story is a dead man walking, that the legs I thought it had are shot through with story-cancer and the whole thing is going to collapse before it ever has a chance to get going. The jet drifts toward the edge. The vast, indifferent ocean looms large. The wheels clear the edge of the carrier, and the craft does what heavy things do — it drops.

But then.

Like the very breath of God, the wind catches its wings. It defies all logic and it ascends into the sky — not like a bird on the wing, but like a shot from a cannon. And within the space of a heartbeat, from one moment to the next — from the terrible, awful, I-don’t-even-think-this-idea-is-viable-anymore words on one page to the next — the thing is flying not just under its own power, but on its own momentum. The very fact that it’s in motion keeps it in motion. The air rushing across its wings is working to keep the thing aloft just as much as the thing itself is fighting to fly.

And, well. That’s enough to keep you coming back for at least one more day of writing, innit?

It’s time once again for an old staple — my favorite thing I wrote today.

For a moment, Linc thinks about arguing the point — that he doesn’t hate these things, not really — but he realizes before he can form the thoughts that Michaels is right. He does hate them. Not in an overt, fiery way that smashes down walls and crumbles buildings, but in the quietly smoldering way of a not-quite extinguished campfire, smoking and hissing and spitting and waiting for a stray breeze to kick it up into a raging, all-consuming blaze.

Whee!


Suddenly Supercharged


There comes that moment when you’re writing a story and it just gets stuck.

Maybe it’s in a rut and not a lot is happening, or maybe the characters have backed themselves into a corner, or maybe it’s you the author who is blocked and unsure where to go next.

I’ve been in that place for the last couple of weeks with my project, probably owing in no small part to the fact that summer is over and I’m back to work. New employer, new commute, new routine, new stress. Hard to dedicate the grey matter that I’d like to the book, and it’s suffered for it. I’ve been writing by rote, pushing the story forward like it’s a stalled Ford Fiesta miles from the nearest gas station. (To say nothing of my scanty posts around here.)

Luckily, though, characters have a life of their own, and every once in a while, if you keep at it, the muse will flutter down and blow some glitter up your butt. My main character — perhaps as frustrated as me at the aimless wandering going on at this point in the draft — took the wheel and steered us right off the road during my morning session. Jumped ahead to a conflict I wasn’t planning until very late in the book indeed, if at all. Exposed the raw nerve floating right beneath the skin and vented some spleen all over the gooey sludge of this story.

It’s a turn I wasn’t expecting — wasn’t even thinking about when I sat down to write — but it fits perfectly with the character and the story. Of course it does. I told myself when I sat down to write not to force anything but just to let a conversation happen, and before I knew it, I was over quota for the day and my protagonist and antagonist have increased the boiler pressure well past the safe range.

Which serves as a good reminder of something I forget often: sometimes you just have to get the fargo out of the story’s way.

 


%d bloggers like this: