clarentine: (Default)
This illustrated map of the Middle East (roughly) and the groups who historically have controlled portions thereof is too cool not to propagate further:

(As is pointed out in comments below, it's an overly simplistic version of who owned what. Nevertheless, being a visual creature, I find the summarization intriguing, and trust you will do so, as well.)


As might be guessed, I'm home from my long travels away for the holidays and done with the enormous work backlog caused by courts who want to clear their dockets for the holidays by ordering responses in their active caseloads. December is one of those months I'm always happy to see the back of. So much expectation, so many deadlines and obligations to juggle! Add in a seriously ill family member, a historical snowfall on the eve of the holiday journey to the parents', and a massive sinus headache that just would not die, and you have an idea what this month has been like around here.

Needless to say, I've not been particularly productive on the writing front. Good thing I declared December mental vacation time. *g*

There have been books read. There have been books begun and ditched for lack of character identification (just could not seem to care enough to bother finishing, though I tried twice with one of them). There have even been books added to the "must obtain a copy for myself" list. I tried valiantly to introduce myself to new works, rather than wallow in the comfortable re-reads that cushion me when my brain is just too crispy or traumatized to function on anything but the most basic levels, and I think with that goal I've succeeded.

Beginning in January, I expect to be back to the writing, this time working on the second draft for Bells - this should be the theme-and-foreshadowing pass. One of the effects of writing for word count (this novel was written using [ profile] novel_in_90's 750-words-a-day goal) is that I did not have time to rein in my subconscious, and so I'm having to seriously think about some of the issues that rose to the surface, issues I was aware lurked down there but hadn't really explored otherwise. I want to do justice to this book. I also want to get the draft done and sent off to the Lovely Agent. I worry that the two goals are not compatible.

Ah, well. One does what one can with the time one has to work in.


I mentioned above an effect of participating in [ profile] novel_in_90. Another effect, very noticeable to me, is an astonishing unguided focus on plot. Bells and its sibling, the unfinished pirate novel Satisfaction, both unabashedly laid down plot point after plot point without any forethought on my part. I cheered! Not for nothing is this blog called Climbing Plot Mountain; I swear, the longer I work at this writing thing, the taller that damned mountain seems to grow. (There's a Zelazny short story about the tallest mountain in the known universe and the urge to climb it, and what one might find at the top, that lingers in my memory. Let's just say that I don't expect to find Paradise when I reach the summit.)

Of course, while the plot point blind navigation thing worked for Bells (at least I think it did), Satisfaction lingers unfinished precisely because it ran itself aground on uncharted plot and I haven't figured out yet how to drag it off. Josh pokes at me from time to time. I haven't forgotten him or his friends, and I will resolve the problem...someday. Just not today.

I understand that [ profile] novel_in_90 is beginning a new round come January 1. Allow me to highly recommend the exercise, whether or not you think you can write to that sort of word count demand. I didn't think I could, either. It's amazing what I learn when I stop fighting myself. *g*


Sep. 6th, 2008 09:10 pm
clarentine: (Canum)
Have just realized one huge limitation on personal-level plot stories: the reader has to care about what's at stake in the little personal-level plot.

::cue much gnashing of teeth::
clarentine: (Default)
Further on a conversation between [ profile] mnfaure and myself:

Quite ironically, while eating dinner I was reading a collection of Roger Zelazny's short stories entitled Unicorn Variations and stumbled upon an essay he'd written about writing reflexes developed over a long career. The essay was prompted by his reading of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, within which Hemingway observed that he deliberately omitted portions of what he knew of a story, on the theory that omitting what he knew was there would make the story stronger and "make people feel something more than they understood."

Zelazny's subsequent examination of his own writing habits led him to conclude, in part, that he himself tended to the opposite habit - e.g., he often included "gratuitous characterization" of the secondary characters as a means of enriching the story and achieving the same sort of effect Hemingway claimed--making readers feel more than they actually understood by grounding the story in a larger reality.

I've been thinking about all of this recently (following up on a seed perhaps planted long ago by my first reading of this particular essay? Hard to tell) in the light of my current bugaboo. In Break, I am attempting consciously to assemble a more human-scale plot with a backdrop of the World At Risk, where the larger events stay in the background. At the moment, I think it's working, but we'll have to wait for The End to be certain. One of the things I realized about this sort of plot is that the larger reality must be there, present if not front-and-center. Characters are still driven by larger events, even if what I'm showing is how their lives are changed by several-levels-removed reactions to those events.

This relates back to Zelazny's notation of "gratuitous characterization." I like to think that my habit of endowing secondary characters with real lives and cares and concerns is part of the strength of my stories, not at all a throwaway gesture. Those characters certainly help ground the reader in the story's reality and add layers that eventually support the bigger backdrop of the stories without me having to engage with it directly. A feature, if you will, not a bug. *g*

Does this habit "make people feel something more than they understood?" I hope I get the chance to find out!


*The title of the essay is The parts that are only glimpsed: Three reflexes, should you find yourself wanting to look it up. I have arrows and brackets all over my copy. *g*
clarentine: (Canum)
I’ve been wrestling with a rewrite I want to start on a novel I wrote several years ago, working title Break, third in the Canum series in which I’ve also recently rewritten books one (Shape) and two (Kith). I’m working out (again) who the antag is and how his goals clash with Canum's and what theme(s) I’m exploring and how those things all fit in with the plot.

Ah, yes, the plot.

The thing about plot is that I’m tired of Protag Saves the World fantasy plots. I want my stories to be about the small sacrifices, the little disasters that are the protag’s whole world but don’t risk the collapse of nations. I want a more personal level of conflict.

So [ profile] corrinalaw says to me, offhand, in discussing the antag, that X is the antag because the external plot is that X wants to take the throne. I balked - though, of course, she was right, both about who the antag currently is set to be and what his goal is. There had to be a way to get the smaller external plot I wanted, to make it more personal. I knew it had been done before – that *I* had done it before. Bells of Leon y Cantara has a protagonist with a very personal goal on which no nation's fate hangs and, in a lot of respects, I think is the one novel I've written in which I came close to writing a coherent external plot on my first attempt.

And then, in thinking about Bells and how I had gotten that smaller, more personal level of conflict right, I realized where I’d gone wrong in Break. It wasn’t that I lacked an antag (I have a veritable crop of potential antags, all with their own goals that intersect at right angles with the protag). It was that my protag lacked an external goal.

Bingo! To bring the external plot down to the personal level, what I needed was a personal-level external goal. I still need to figure out what that goal is, and then match it up with the appropriate antag, but I’m one step closer to making this rewrite work.

Thus endeth the lesson. *g* Hopefully, it will prove helpful to someone other than me.
clarentine: (Pirtate!)
Day 5 of [ profile] novel_in_90, and work on Satisfaction proceeds apace. I'm right on the verge of setting a ship alight, and it occurs to me that I do not have a story reason for doing so. I have an author's hand reason, but not a story reason. Bah.

::drops note to self in WIP: "wouldn't it make better sense if Josh had been forced aboard either Indomitable or Capella, such that this burning really makes a difference to him, personally?"::

Earlier, I was pondering the fact that this entire scene was written without dialogue of any sort. Is that a symptom, perhaps, of this disengagement with the protag, or a subconscious choice based on the scope of the action? Because there is action; there are ships getting quickly underway, and people firing guns at one another, and rowing, and ducking to avoid stray bullets. Probably the answer is, It depends. (And may I just say right now how much I hate that answer. And think that it is right.)

I do believe that it's necessary to show events in relationship to the protag who's experiencing them. This means, of course, that my note to myself is not a note but a mandate, and I will have to correct the mis-step in course, and will have to take it into account as I press onward. But now I have a focus from which to do so, and hopefully that will make the words come that much faster.

Which they must do, because I have a concert to go to tonight after work, and there will be no time for computers or novels. And I have not yet met my quota for the day. And lunch hour is, alas, all but done.


Research recently pursued: incendiary devices/Molotov cocktails; images of full-rigged ships so that I can better describe Capella; British history leading up to the period in which I find myself. Old houses in Charleston. Old houses in the Bahamas. And I refreshed my recollection on the naming conventions of masts and rigging, because Josh is going to be sailing again soon and I want to make sure I know what I'm describing, even if Josh doesn't.

Oh, yes!

Feb. 8th, 2007 08:57 am
clarentine: (Default)
Oh, yes. Oh, yes!

I love it when a plot comes together.

clarentine: (Default)
I'm working on a rewrite, and have once more discovered what a blind spot is. I'm plugging along, cleaning up prose, polishing and tightening, getting that body language in there for the kinetic readers in the audience...and it occurs to me that, no matter how nice and clean my prose is, if I haven't gotten the blinking plot markers into the story, it won't matter.

Period. Full stop.

So how am I going to figure out where the plot markers are thin, or non-existent, and just exactly what markers need to be where anyway? I'm going to resort to the only tool I've ever found that works for me: a scene by scene table charting the entire novel. It's an incredibly time-consuming tool, but once I've got the damned thing on paper I can trace and color-code the progress of the plot and, more importantly, I can see where I need to drag the plot to the surface. I can see it, I should say, because I can print the dratted thing and lay it out in front of me.

[ profile] matociquala talks about holding an entire story in your head - and how sometimes she can't - and [ profile] truepenny has also addressed this subject. I'm finding that, the more I (hopefully) grow as a writer, the harder it is for me to feel the breadth of the plot in my head. I look at the latest rewrite-in-progress and I quite literally cannot hold the image in my mind's eye all at once. Little bits and pieces, yes; I know what is supposed to come next, and why. But the full

There is a reason for the title of this journal.

Anyone have a tool that works for them in tracking plot threads?
clarentine: (Default)
The first line of Cavalier Attitude is:

"Dimolacan Avrila did not run."

As a recent review of the work revealed, I then spent 100 pages trying not to tell what he wasn't running from.


When, of course, in all reality he is running from that thing - it's called Duty - and continues to run from it until about two-thirds into the book.

I do not want to throw Dimo headfirst into the main plot. I find that inelegant, as well as ruinous of a lot of good worldbuilding. I absolutely despise flashbacks, probably because I don't write them well. I want to keep all these lovely little layers (damn, what is it with the alliteration tonight?) of the varying sorts of duty that I've written in. And yet...the first scene does not grab, not after that first line, and I know it.

The answer is probably the same as it's been all along: show how the main plot influences the events in that first scene, and in all the other scenes leading up to the point where the plot becomes more obvious. The plot is an octopus, I guess, and while its tentacles are wrapped 'round the events and characters that appear in the first scene and those that follow, I'm not even showing any of the slime. *g*

Well, I don't really want slime. I want marks from where the suckers were applied. *g* I want to see the damage, and the reactions of those damaged.
clarentine: (Pirtate!)
I know I said, Self, that you weren't to indulge in angst in the place of plot on the current story. That does not mean you must now make Josh leap, marionette-like, from plot-supportive concern over his future to happily looking for a place to hang his hammock. You are giving me whiplash.
clarentine: (Default)
In the past I have been accused, and rightly so, of letting my characters wallow in angst. I say this is a valid accusation, not because I was not seeking angst, or pathos, or tragedy but because I recognize that my use of it was not working.

And that's the one rule of writing that you can't break, yes? That whatever you do must work?

So I've been letting my subconscious stew on the subject for a while. It came to me that what I wanted was not angst, but tragedy. Tragedy as a literary structure (or what-have-you; I'm not educated in literature and like as not will get the terms backasswards) has a very long lineage, all the way back to the Greeks in the written form. More recently, Arthur Miller wrote an essay dealing with the modern use of the term and structure, a copy of which can be found here: Miller describes in words I can comprehend exactly what the power of tragedy is, and how we as modern fiction writers can best make use of that power.

Which will be helpful, once I can assimilate it, because I'm working on the kernel of characterization that will become, I hope, a riff on the Noyes poem The Highwayman ( I want to better make use of the concept and structure of tragedy in writing this one, to make the inevitable rewrite easier.

In other news, I recently was able to see where I'd made a plot mistake (like, failing to have one) in a short/flash story I'd put together last year or the year before, and can maybe see what I need to do to mend my not-so-short story about love and death in an alternate Serbia, otherwise known as the Xavier story. Xavier in particular is an emotional favorite of mine, and I'd like to fix it so that others can appreciate the tale. I'm still cleaning up the rewritten version of Kith and Kin before sending it off to be read, though, so Xavier will have to wait his turn. The flash, however, I plan on sending off to Fortean Bureau or some such. I think that'd be a good market for this oddling.
clarentine: (Default)
Plot, Rule One: make sure the opening conflict, the point from which your story begins, relates directly to the rest of your plot.

That is all.

::smacks self upside head::

Amongst the online discussions of Alfred Noyes' poem The Highwayman, there is one that ponders why Loreena McKennitt's [excellent, truly excellent] version omits verses that make it clear how the authorities learned about the bandit's plans to steal the gold and where to find him. This, it occurs to me, is a valid plot quibble.

And it's what was wrong with the opening for what I've been referring to, variously, as the pirate story, Josh's story, and the Highwayman story. I got two scenes down on paper, and stalled. Why? Because I didn't know what happened next.

Because it wasn't connected to what the story was about.

If, however, I make the attack that occurs in the first scene happen as a direct result of the conflict Josh faces through the rest of the book, then I suddenly know (a) the much less generalized location of the opening scenes, (b) the motive of the men participating in that first attack, (c) the motive of the men participating in the second attack, and (d) what happens next.

Color me pleased.


clarentine: (Default)

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