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Earlier this week, I was involved in conversations about foreshadowing and setting on a writers' list I frequent. I got to thinking about how I use foreshadowing, and [livejournal.com profile] corrinalaw and I batted the topic back and forth.

I'm trying to pay attention as I write this draft of Satisfaction, to see when I layer in things that will be foreshadowing (things that I already recognize as foreshadowing, I should say) and to see if there's a pattern to the layering. I guess what I'm doing is that, as I write, I see all sorts of fractal possibilities with each decision made by the characters. I can glance down each and see if any of them hold potential to work with the overall themes of the book as I know them, and if they do then I choose to include those layers.

Who I chose for bosun's mate in Satisfaction is one of those fractal layers that stayed. The new bosun has to have a mate to help with the implementing of discipline. Discipline is, in part, at the end of the lash, so when the new bosun (who's Dutch) turned up with a bigger, more aggressive countryman, I gave him a rope belt with a big, nasty knot at its end. It's just a detail of setting when he's first introduced, but I know that there'll be nastiness with ropes later on, so it's also foreshadowing, depending on how he uses it. Plus there's the verses of the What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor, (at least) one of which involves the lash and many of which have potential to lead to scenes in this story. So, layers equal foreshadowing.

And setting equals foreshadowing, too. There is a significance to every setting; the work is in figuring out what that significance is to the person narrating the scene. If a character is leading a bunch of others escaping down a corridor in a secured compound, the choice of corridors matters, both to the characters and to their interaction. One of them chose this route. The others have a reaction to the choice, and to the route. They are living in your setting.

It's not what the corridors look like, in other words, but what the corridors mean to the characters. If they mean safety, or concealment, you describe how hard it is to see the characters in them, how they can work their way up to corners unobserved, the texture of the floor that enables them to run silently, that sort of thing. If they mean imminent capture, you describe the lighting, the noise the walls and floors are echoing around, the positioning of cameras. All of those things might be there - the lighting, the cameras, the positioning of the corners, the texture of the floor - but what you choose to describe is determined by what you want to convey to the reader.

*****

Research has been limited because my available time has been rather compressed lately. I'm still doing minor readings on the city of Charleston ca. 1720 or so, not so much that I think the story will end up there as for the sense of place and time the information gives me. Port Royal had already experienced the first of its series of horrific earthquakes by the time of this story, and while it still existed as a city it was much reduced from what it had been. There are no existing buildings anymore for me to get this sense of place from.

(And hmm. There's one of those fractal layers I was talking about, above. Port Royal as a city crumbling around its residents' ears. One of the themes of this book is the clash of two societies and their mores (which are not the same as morals, but have things in common with them). So, when I do get to describing Port Royal, I need to describe the elements that will show this crumbling of the old regime.)

I had to do some research on bowsprit rigging, which drove me back to my notes from The Sailing Navy List - All the Ships of the Royal Navy, Built, Purchased and Captured, 1688-1860, by David Lyon. (All hail Interlibrary Loan; this book is in extremely limited circulation, and purchasing an available copy is just not feasible, though I'd love to have one.)

I also did some research into older building techniques in the Caribbean. (Hint: the islands aren't really rock, or at least the Bahamas Islands aren't, and that's where the scene is set.)

*****

Work on Satisfaction is ticking along at a respectable pace; thus far, I've made daily quota for [livejournal.com profile] novel_in_90, though getting back into the swing of daily word count was not easy. I've put up about 6000 new words in the first week of solid work on it, and the story's becoming fun again, thank whoever. I did not relish the idea of slogging through this story if I couldn't get it to be enjoyable...and while I understand there's something to be said for the discipline of writing even if you don't think the story is exactly enjoyable at the moment--as in, revisions for an editor, which I can hope to be doing at some unknowable point in the future--that isn't a lesson I want to practice right now.
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Yep, he's got a name and everything - and, of course, with the name comes personality, and background, and I even got a glimpse of the Why of the book this morning while thinking about this guy. I could do with a visual image of the man, but that would suck up entire hours, and I don't want to waste a perfectly good holiday home alone (except for the VERY NEEDY, MOM dogs) browsing the internet for just the right Hispanic-not-Mexican face.

(For those who helped out with the naming of the protagonist yesterday, he's settled on Gilomar, Gi for short. Thanks muchly!)

Oh, and I hit my word count target for the day by noon, after noodling around for the morning doing light chores and thinking I needed to write before everyone else got home. I finally got tough with myself and, around 10:30, set an arbitrary deadline of noon. Seven minutes 'til, and I had my words.

Time to take a break, go herd dogs around in the back yard (assuming the drizzle has let up), and then contemplate lunch. I was good this week. I may go out and splurge on lunch that isn't leftovers or pre-packaged frozen.

Query

Jan. 11th, 2007 09:11 am
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If you were reading a book in which most of the place names were Hispanic, and you encountered a man whose nickname was Gui (only, since LJ won't let me properly depict this font, imagine that the "i" has an accent mark), how would you think to pronounce it to yourself? In the first chapter, the full first name is given as Guiomar.

I'm not looking for dramatic strangeness, just a first-blush mental interpretation of the name.

NB: Early returns on the vote indicate a name change is needed. I can't in good conscience ask a character to go through life thinking his name is "gooey." Guiomar, meet Guilomar. Thanks to everyone who loaned me their tongues.
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Today, I had a walk-on character hijack the scene, and he's now camped out, determined not to be left out of the fun.

Here's hoping that my current POV character doesn't get upstaged. The new guy has potential.
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I don't know whether it's the pressure of New Year's and the resolutions so many make, either formally or only in the rooms of their minds, or fortuitous timing, but there's a new writing challenge out there, and I've joined it. The community's [livejournal.com profile] novel_in_90.

I want to see new faces and new places. I want to have new reasons to go to the library and do hours of research on the web. And I really needed the kick in the pants this promises to be in order to get new words on the page. *g* If I'm lucky, I can get the pirates who've been ignoring me to come play, too.

The new story's working title is The Bells of Leon y Cantara. Onward! And come join, if you've the desire and don't mind taking the risk of being mocked if you can't get 750 words a day.
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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.

[livejournal.com profile] matociquala talks about holding an entire story in your head - and how sometimes she can't - and [livejournal.com 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 thing...eh.

There is a reason for the title of this journal.

Anyone have a tool that works for them in tracking plot threads?
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With all those queries printed and posted, that now leaves me staring right at Kith and Kin. I'm also doing a lot more reading of new material in genre and out, in the hope that what my poor brain needs is fresh air.

I suspect, though, that what my brain needs is to fully synthesize what I've learned in the past couple of years about plot, and to get over itself. Knowing some of the plot in advance of writing the first draft is not a death sentence, Muse. I promise, I'll let you drop surprises on me, and won't argue too stringently if you decide not to take a left turn at Albuquerque.
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A Mailing has been committed this morning. In addition to five more novel queries (that would be Dimo, ringing those doorbells), I've sent off a story to the F&SF slush bomb project, and another (the Xavier "short" alt history) to Paradox. Now to await the blizzard of rejection SASEs. *g*
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I get the feeling I'm supposed to be doing something. I even know what those somethings are. So why am I not doing them?

Sometimes it helps to make lists:

1. Print out query letters for next batch of agent queries.
--figure out how to work the new printer, and how to connect the laptop (or the thumb drive) to it.
--make sure, once the laptop is configured for this printer, that the page breaks don't change and end my carefully manicured pages in awkward places.
--address envelopes to the agents

2. Print out "short" story Waiting to Breathe and prepare for mailing to Paradox.
--figure out what to use as a cover letter on a short story.

3. Print out short story Straying and prepare for mailing to F&SF.
--prepare cover letter for this one, too, once I figure out the format.

4. I probably also ought to re-read once more the second Canum story, Kith and Kin, and see if there are any more changes to be made before setting it aside for a while.

5. Come up with something new to work on. This one is probably what is stalling the others, as I have no burning need to work on any of the drafts I have going, and if I get all the other things on the list done, I have to face this one. Ugh.

::deep, fortifying breath::

Onward!
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...I wouldn't be slogging through the mud, eh?

As Murphy would have it, now that my latest Work In Progress (WIP) has finally started talking to me again and looking like I might actually make some progress, my brain is otherwise too tired to really gain ground on the project.

This project - the pirate story, whose protag is Josh - is a strange creature for me. I'm not sure whether my reluctance to push forward has to do with the fact that (a) I have some idea where I'm going with this one, or (b) I'm just not connecting as firmly as I'd like with Josh, or (c) the worldbuilding (as in, I've stepped outside my comfort zone and I can't get my feet under me) isn't reeling me in. Or any combination thereof.

That said, I may gain some forward momentum tonight, simply because I'm too tired to fight my subconscious.

I wish I could figure out how to release that Muse without exhausting myself first.
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A no love letter from Ginger Clark, after about three weeks.

Dimo, dear heart, tape up your knuckles. You'll be knocking on doors until you find the right one.
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Got the SASE back from Richard Henshaw - a very nice form letter, alas.

Query notes

Apr. 9th, 2006 08:46 pm
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I should note that I got a "no thanks" email from Maya Rock of Writers House on Friday. I still intend to get some paper queries out this week, but haven't and won't be printing that material out tonight. I have to write the cover letters first.

Icon love!

Apr. 9th, 2006 11:58 am
clarentine: (Pirtate!)
I have a new icon, courtesy of Marsha, and unveil it here to warn the audience (stares out at the empty hall, echoing and dusty) as I begin the odyssey of the new story, which tells me it's all about pirates and botany. Yeah. >:-) Anyway, if I remember, I'll try to flag entries tracking progress on the new story with Cap'n Pirtate!
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At least this stack didn't have to be weighed by the Post Office. E-queries away to Shawna McCarthy (The McCarthy Agency), Cameron McClure (Maass Agency - a girl can dream, can't she?), and Maya Rock (Writers House). Electronic media makes this process oh! so much easier.

That doesn't mean I didn't eyeball, individually, each letter on the screen to ensure I'd spelled everything right and the email addresses were correct. >;-)

Interesting how liberating finally taking action on this process can be. I've hardly done anything, and yet I feel like working on the writing again. Procrastination, and fear of the unknown/failure, sure is a tiresome burden to carry around. Thanks again to those who made me put it down.
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Got the rejection--polite, even kind--from Joshua Bilmes/JABberwocky. Drat.

Ah, well. Must cast the net wider....
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In this morning's newspaper (Richmond Times Dispatch, for which there is a website but, unfortunately, this article is not on it, therefore no clicky), Dr. Walter Witschey writes about the triggers that move a society from primitive to complex. What intrigues me about the concept is its application to fiction writing; it is not easy to determine what naturally belongs in one's fictional primitive or pseudoprimitive village, and what the protag might be expected to find as he turns a corner in one's pseudomedieval city.

According to Dr. Witschey (mostly unattributed*, but I think I will email him and inquire as to sources, because this is interesting stuff, and he's local, and academics always like to talk about their areas of expertise/interest), some of the elements that most commonly led to complex societies were innovations and interaction between food production, technological advancement, social systems, symbolic systems (religion and art), and trade and communication. He specifically cites new technology in irrigation in the city of Caral, Peru, as leading to new farming methods and surpluses in food stocks. And we all (well, those who pay attention to the whys of the human universe) know how important surplus food stocks are to improvements in one's lot in life, and to society in general. If you don't have to spend all your time struggling to feed yourself and your family, you might have time to develop art, or literature, or any of the other things that make life so much better.

In Mesopotamia, Witschey says, this multiplier effect is also seen in the interaction of water management (there's irrigation again), crop surpluses, domesticated animals, and social systems, which produced class and caste, religion and state, and early warfare. (That last, not surprising at all.)

In Egypt, irrigation and religion are woven together and build upon each other to produce monumental architecture and dynastic rule.

"Improvement and innovation in one corner of society multiplies the efficiency of another system. In 5,000 years, humankind moved from small classless villages, wrapped in kinship and shamanism, to the urban metropolises of Babylon, Karnak, Knossos, Harappa, Caral. Richmond, Toyko, New York and Hong Kong are their direct descendants."

Intriguing, yes?

_________
*Witschey mentions as sources British archaeologist Colin Renfrew and David Toye of Northeast State Community College, but does not tell us which of these gentlemen's papers (assuming they exist) are his sources for this article.
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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: http://theliterarylink.com/miller1.html. 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 (http://www.potw.org/archive/potw85.html). 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.

Foci

Dec. 30th, 2005 03:31 pm
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The expected early release on account of holiday weekend did not occur. Am stuck here for another hour. And so, to pass the time, I blog.

The OWW focus community has been batting around the idea of starting up another focus. Looks like we might end up discussing styles - what constitutes a style, and how to manipulate them.

Which put me in mind of a focus topic I forgot to suggest, but probably ought to: blurbs. We post and crit on OWW (that's the Online Writing Workshop, http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com) with the express purpose, for most of us, of improving our writing and snagging some publication credits. Blurbs fit into that purpose because they are, at their most simple, marketing tools.

A writer needs to know what to respond when someone asks what their book is about, especially if said someone is an agent or publishing type. We need to be practiced in that definition so that, even when frazzled by being face to face with literary luminaries, we can still stammer out the sentence or two that encompass the heart of our book(s).

Blurbs aren't as easy to put together as they sound, either. On one of my writing lists, the Jenny Crusie Cherries list, we did a round of blurbs last winter that was very instructive. I came away with a terrific blurb for Cavalier Attitude that I fully intend to use when I finally get this rewrite done and can begin marketing my work for real.

Now I just need to remember to mention it to Charlie, or one of the other OWW folks he has minding the focus list, so we can run one of those after the style focus is done.
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about accessibility and literary ambition and where I fall on the continuum between (prompted, in part, by a post on published author Olen Steinhauer’s blog and, further, by comments received on a recent OWW chapter post).

Steinhauer noted in his blog entry that (heavily paraphrased) he’d started out with high literary aspirations but had had that bubble popped by the realization that no one ever read his stuff because it was too complex. He then focused on more accessible structures, and got published in the mystery genre – and his work is good; I went and checked out his first book, The Bridge of Sighs, and enjoyed it enough that I went and got the second, The Confession. There’s a third I haven’t tracked down yet. Steinhauer’s post, however, is to indicate he’s decided to begin leaning in a more literary direction with his storytelling voice. I would note that his published material already strikes me as containing a lot of the structure clues that I tend to mark as “literary,” especially the second book he published. I’m not sure how much more literary he can go and still hold his audience, but that’s not my call.

What is my call is how accessible my own stories are. I’m aware that I have an issue with getting enough of the clues on the page that the reader can follow, and that this is a flaw I must work on – for, while I like stories that require the reader to do some work to follow, I know not everyone likes those sorts of stories. I guess my goal is to put in enough clues that the average reader can keep up, but not make the exposition so heavy that it annoys the very clever, very observant reader.

Not setting lofty goals for myself, now, am I?

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