A New Idea

I’ve been struggling to get going on my novel. Quelle surprise.

I’ve mind-mapped the characters. I fall asleep every night thinking about the characters. But I can’t figure out exactly what their conflicts are, or why my antagonist does what he does. I don’t have a sense of my story’s arc and I feel like I can’t start writing. I’m circling around them, chasing them, but I’m miles behind. Meanwhile, I’m not writing. I’m stalled.

Until this morning.

Last week I signed up for a newsletter from the Nelson Literary Agency. They have a great blog and if I ever have a manuscript, I’ll definitely be sending it their way. One of their authors, Janice Hardy, writes a great blog called The Other Side of the Story about the techniques and craft of writing, and I’ve been devouring her posts. She has a post about adding a new twist to an old plot, and one of her tips is to try a new location for a well-known story.

I’m standing there, toothbrush buzzing away, reading her post on my iPad and I realize… I’ve got it! I know how to get myself un-stalled!

One of my favorite TV shows is HBO’s Deadwood (you bastards, damned you for canceling it!). It has a lot of similarities to my novel. Western mining town. Late 19th century. The transition from lawlessness to order. Everyone trying to get rich, but really only a few that do. Characters you love to hate, and hate to love.

So, I think… Why don’t I reset Deadwood somewhere else; a new location and a new time in history. I can use the same characters with their trademark personalities and flaws and the same general themes. I don’t have to worry about plotting it out or figuring out character arcs, because screen writers much smarter than I have already done that. I can just get down to writing. My assumption is that this will just be “practice”. That through writing this story, I’ll be putting words to paper, learning what my writing flaws are, how to craft scenes and dialogue, how to show versus tell and all that important writing “stuff”. This story will probably go nowhere, and I won’t be writing it with the intent of making it my “debut”. It will just be my platform to practice.

I thought I had to say goodbye to Swearingen, Bullock, Ellsworth, Alma, Trixie, Joanie, Jane, Doc Cochran, E.B, Charlie, Dan, Johnny, Silas, Jewel, and Wu. Ah, what a cast. I get warm and fuzzy just typing their names… my old friends. But now, I get to take them forward. Reinvent them in a new time and place and hang out with them all for a while longer. Screw you, HBO.

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A Rough-Assed Read

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Have you read this yet?

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any kind of contemporary chick lit book, and I’m devouring this one. It’s what my best friend and I call a “rough-assed read”. I’m flying through it, can’t put it down, sneaking in a page or ten every time I go to the bathroom, before bed, while I brush my teeth. I haven’t read a single review of it because I wanted to form my own opinion. Here’s what I love about it.

  1. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. It’s not literature, but it’s devilish fun, and very well-written.
  2. Each chapter switches POV. I love being in the head of multiple characters and watching that play out chapter by chapter.
  3. Even though the chapters switch POV’s, they don’t do it chronologically. This is a very cool technique, as the story flows in real-time for Nick, but not for Amy. So at times you only really know what Nick knows, and then later you learn more about Amy even though her chapters are “behind” Nick’s in the timeline, and then they catch up to each other and it becomes a race.
  4. It’s a tiny bit epistolary. Not really, but there’s a bit of it as Amy’s diary excerpts play out, and a flavor of that as Nick tries to figure out the treasure hunt clues. I absolutely love epistolary novels, and my own story will make use of diary entries too.
  5. I love that there’s really no one true protagonist. You sort of root for Nick, even though you know he’s an asshole. But you don’t really want him to “win”. And Amy… she’s a psycho evil bitch, but also… she’s brutally honest (to herself). So you don’t want her to “win”, and you would never do what she did, but still… you root for her a little bit at times, even a lot at times.
  6. It’s not predictable. At least, not to me. But… I’m not that clever about whodunnits anyway. I just enjoy the ride, and I’m enjoying this one. I’ve read that some people didn’t like the ending. I’m forcing myself not to read reviews of the book because I haven’t finished it and I REALLY don’t want any spoilers. I’m curious what I will think of the end when I get there.
  7. As I said, it’s been a while since I read anything that takes place in current time, in the US, with pop culture references. It’s a bit of fresh air and fun to “get” the Duran Duran reference from the 80’s, and relate to the world of blogs and Facebook and spiraling viral videos. Hubby read that there are a bunch of Virginia Woolf references in there too. I noticed some blatant ones, but probably missed some of the others. I don’t remember much of my VW. I never studied her writing and only read some on my own so the stories didn’t really stick with me. I’m a VW lit failure. But… hey… I got the Duran Duran stuff.
  8. The “Amazing Amy” children’s book angle is fun, and I loved the dig at Beverly Cleary. But the psychologist parents with fucked-up kid is sort of cliché, although… it’s usually a true cliché, I guess.
  9. Great dialogue! After I finish, I’m going to go back through and look at how she writes the dialogue. It feels very genuine and tight. I also love that Stephen Kingish style of writing the character’s real thoughts interspersed with their dialogue.

Really? A list of 9, instead of 10? Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. Huzzah to Gillian Flynn.

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Thanks, NPR

It’s only a year later, but I haven’t forgotten my novel. Percolation continues.Image

Driving to work today, I’m listening to an NPR interview about the current Broadway run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The actor who plays “Big Daddy” was talking about how the play is really about the lies people tell. They play a snippet of the scene between Big Daddy and Brick, where they talk about the word “mendacity”.

And it hit me.

My novel is about two sisters. One in Caribou, and one in Cotapaxi. The good sister and the bad one. Each playing off of each other, driven by their assumptions about each other. I have a pretty clear idea who my main character is and her mannerisms and motivations. But I’ve been less sure of her sister in Cotapaxi. Until now, she’s been a name. An idea of a character, but without any personality.

Now, I’m beginning to know her. In fact… she’s a liar. She lies about everything. She’ll tell her neighbor she collected 10 eggs when she really got 9. She’ll say she knitted a mitten when she really knitted a sock. She’ll say her throat hurts, when it doesn’t. All those little lies, to remember always her biggest lie of all.

Thanks, NPR, for the review. Thanks, Tennessee Williams, for the inspiration.

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Screenshot of Snowflake Template in Scrivener

I had a request to share my snowflake method template in Scrivener. Here are a couple of screen shots to show how I did this. I have no idea how to save this out as a file to share, but it’s easy to replicate. It took me about five minutes to create.

Basically, I just created a page for each of the snowflake steps in scrivener. I pasted into the page the directions for that step. Then I saved the folder as a template. Then when I use the template pages for outlining/plotting, I have the directions right there on the page. I usually just start writing below the directions, and delete the directions when I’m done (or just leave them there for reference.) Not too sophisticated, but it seems to work for me.

Snowflake Method Template in Scrivener

Snowflake Method Template in Scrivener

I also modified the character sketch template to be a bit more detailed. This forces me to really think through each character. I think prior to filling this out, I will be doing a mind map for the characters to get the broad stroke ideas for them, and then come back to this template and fill out the detail. I started that with my main character and it’s working well.

Here’s an image of my character sketch template.

Character Sketch Template in Scrivener

Character Sketch Template in Scrivener

Happy Writing!

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Two Ghost Towns

Some musings…

Cotopaxi, Colorado. Dry, desolate, and hopelessly full of untillable land. 63 Jewish peasants arrive at their new home, tired but hopeful. The younger sister, infant in arm and toddler in tow, steps off the train under the sign that says Saltiel. She looks for the promised houses, the barns, the wagons, but sees only dirt and rocks.

Caribou, Colorado. Windy, cold, and tucked neatly in a frozen meadow cut into the dense forest. A bustling little mining town trying to convince the world of its worth in silver. The other sister, mourning her second loss, warms herself in the arms of a man named Saltiel.

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Percolations

It’s been a long time since my last post and my story has been percolating quite a bit. It’s so different from where I started a few months ago.

I think I’ve been google plotting. I have no idea, but I assume my experience is not unique. I start to research something and then find a fact that sends my story in a new direction.

Example: googling about Cornish miners. I discover that in Cornwall the original myths about Tommyknockers are that they were old Jewish miners from Roman times who died in the mines. That has GOT to be part of my story somehow.

The more I googled about Cornish miners and the role they played in Colorado mining towns, the more I have shaped my plot around them. I think Bessie will be traveling to the US with them on an immigrant steam ship and that is how she gets to Caribou.

Thanks, Google.

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Who are these people?

Tonight I spent time thinking about my characters. I began to do the initial character sketch for my protagonist, Bessie Gelman. I don’t think that will be her name for long, though. It’s just not right. Bessie Gelman sounds like she is someone who lives at the Greenhill on the Main Line, but not someone who came from Germany in 1880 (or is it 1879, I’m not sure).

I thought it might be helpful to put images of the real historical characters in my story into Scrivener so I could see them as I write. What a productive exercise! I not only found the pictures I wanted, but also found several other historical people that will fit perfectly into my story.

Then I searched google images for my key fictional characters. For Bessie, I found a beautiful Jewish actress from the 1880’s. She has exactly the look I wanted for Bessie, and now I can picture her in the scenes that are swirling in my head night and day. For Jakob Nuñes, I couldn’t find a good picture of a sephardic Jew from the 1880’s, but I did find a very cute picture of a young guy with Mexican Jewish parents. I used iPhoto to give his photo a sepia tint, and now he’s the exact Jakob that I envision.

So, here’s a quick look. Introducing…Bessie and Jakob.

Bessie

Bessie

Jakob

Jakob

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