Work in Progress

No Sagging Middles

Posted Aug 16 2017 in , , , ,

A funny thing happened on the way to…the middle of my book.

I had a scene I’d labeled “The Middle.” I loved this scene in the middle. It was perfect…in the middle. But a couple of weeks ago, the strangest thing happened. I was writing along and BAM, the scene presented itself way earlier than I expected. And since then, my “write a scene a day” scenario has been shot to hell. I’ve spent a lot of time with my Scrivener program open, staring at my list of scenes and pulling at my hair, rocking and repeating like Ray in Rainman, “What’s my middle?”

Non-writers will say, “Why don’t you just move it back?” But it doesn’t work that way. If I’m to give up control (not the easiest thing for me) and trust my main character to guide me, then I have to accept sometimes (yikes!) I’m wrong. And I was wrong to think that scene was my middle. It’s much better off where it is now. It slingshots my main character into the second act of the book. But now what?

According to Blake Synder’s book Save The Cat!, the midpoint is where the stakes are raised. “…it’s like nailing a spike into a wall good and hard. The clothesline that is your story can now be strung securely.”

In the Wizard of Oz the middle is when the witch has Dorothy and she’s turned over the hourglass. The sand is literally running out. And just when you think Dorothy is out of time, she grabs the bucket of water, throws it on the witch, and voila…she off to see the wizard again.

 

Side bar: Don’t ask me what the middle of Dunkirk is. I have no earthly idea. And I just watched it. I actually have no clue what the main story is. Land, Air, Sea? Pick one! That movie consisted of a bunch of beautifully shot, beautifully scored scenes that added up to nothing. What happened? Who was the hero? Where the hell was the editor? Well, now I’ve gone off on a tangent. Anyway…

 

Without a strong middle, the story will cave in on itself.

There’s a phrase writers (and this forty-something woman) dread: The Sagging Middle.

Oh how I want to avoid the sagging middle! On the site How To Write A Book Now, the sagging middle is defined as what occurs when the prose that fills the large space between your novel’s opening and its climax fails to hold your reader’s interest. In other words – it’s boring! And life’s too short for boring books! In our ADD nation, believe me, bored readers move on quickly. 

So it’s time for me to pull on my story-Spanx, cinch up that belt, and write a middle scene I can bounce a quarter off of. I guess that means I have to hide the Junior Mints now.

And the writing journey continues…

 

 

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Juggling

Posted Aug 9 2017

The blog got dropped today. Back next week…

 

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A Writer’s Voice

Posted Aug 2 2017 in , , ,

Voice – that mystical goddess all writers want to capture. What is it? How do I get it? Where does it come from?

It’s what agents are looking for. It’s what publishers demand. It’s what keeps a reader reading. And it’s what keeps writers up at night, chewing on their fingernails.

It’s taken me many years in the game to grasp the tiniest concept of voice and how it works. And it is, in my opinion, something that can’t be taught in an English class or creative writing class (although they can help you lasso it in and sharpen it.) Voice is something you’re born with. It’s how you tell a story. You’re cadence, rhythm, word choice. Like a metronome, setting the tone for your tale. 

If you aren’t sure what it is, I promise as a reader, you know when it’s not there. Without voice, the writing is stiff and boring. Voice breathes life into words like helium into a balloon, changing the shape of the words from flat innate objects into something fun to play with.

I met a fellow writer at the Texas Writing Retreat last January. Her name is Laurel Thomas and she’s working on her fiction as I am. She read a sample of her manuscript to the group and her writer’s voice struck me immediately. It was soft and southern and vulnerable. And it’s a voice I remember. Especially when I read her recent post, A Child’s Voice in the River, on her blog My Fresh Bread.

Here is an exert:

A speech impediment plagued my five-year old self. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pronounce my name. The letter “l” was impossible, the “r” tricky. My name, Laurel, required mastery of one or the other. The sound that tumbled out of my mouth in an untidy heap was not my name.
Awkward, mumbling “Ohwell” confused anyone who asked, “What’s your name, little girl?”
How could six letters arranged to identify me be so hard to get out of my mouth?

This passage showed me one way Laurel’s voice (literally and figuratively) came into being. It’s soft and southern and vulnerable. Just like her fiction. And I’ll bet she wasn’t thinking of voice at all when she wrote this – which makes it even more authentic.  

I believe moments from our pasts, good and bad, shape us and our voices. As writers, being able to tap into those moments, even especially the ones that we don’t necessarily want to remember, help create a voice that’s both personal and unique. 

As far as my own writer’s voice goes, I don’t know what it is. I’m too close too it. But I am working on three things to make sure I keep it authentic:

  1. Own it – be who I am; be those experiences that shaped me; embrace it all, even the bad
  2. Let go – write with childlike abandon whenever I can; sometimes I think we’re all holding on just too damn tight; let go or be dragged
  3. Trust myself – my voice wants to be heard, trust it to tell the story I want to tell; get out of its way

As a matter of fact, I’m off to do all three right now. Here’s hoping the voice goddess finds me.

And the writing journey continues…

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Insomnia – A Pebble in Your Shoe

Posted Jul 26 2017 in , ,

I was reminded recently of an old Chinese proverb that loosely translates to: If everything is going well in your life, put a pebble in your shoe. 

Well, last week, I got a pebble in my shoe. A pebble named insomnia. I have to stop here and say if you suffer or have ever suffered from this hideous affliction, I am eternally sorry. Holy. Moly.

Because of this pebble, I have oatmeal brain. I only wrote 17 words this past week. 17. And I think they were all in one sentence and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even a complete sentence. I’ve missed two morning walks with my writing friends because I literally couldn’t get dressed. I’ve sat on my sofa at 3am, asking my cat if she’s had any meetings with Russian lawyers. I’ve worried over everything from the armadillos in my flower beds to what if my girls say they’re moving to North Korea one day. I held a bridal shower for a friend at a local restaurant and walked out without paying. That’s a fun call. “Um, Mrs. Moorhead, um…did you leave? You didn’t pay your bill.” Nope, I sure didn’t. Because I can’t function without sleep!

Yes, I realize this is a first-world problem but it’s a problem nonetheless. And, thankfully, one I’m on the road to resolving (hopefully before I lose my mind). In the meantime, bear with me. And let’s all join hands and make a vow to never take a good night’s sleep for granted again. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and pry a pebble out of my shoe.

And the life journey continues…

 

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Critique Partners and Tricky Scenes

Posted Jul 19 2017 in , , , ,

My “write a scene every day” plan is actually going better than I thought. Sure I’ve missed a day here and there but for the most part, I’ve rolled right along. Until last week.

That’s when I spent several days trying to write one particular scene. I started the scene but it didn’t seem to want to go anywhere. My momentum screeched to a halt. I swear it’s like my character stopped on stage and looked at me and said, “Line!” I looked back at her said, “It’s your story, you tell me the next line.” And we had a stand-off. For four days. 

During this time, I saw a Facebook post from an author I respect and trust about a Yahoo forum which opens in July and January where writers can go to find critique partners. Hmmm, I thought, why not? I need critique partners. I wrote one book with out them, and it was hideously hard. I certainly don’t need to make this any harder than it already is.

I joined the forum and typed in my genre (suspense) and what type of critique I wanted (general – Is the main character likable? Does the pace of the story feel right? Does it start in the right place?; I specifically asked for no line edits – this is when someone goes line by line correcting grammar, typos, sentence structure, etc.) My draft is still a ball of clay. No line edits until this baby goes through a few more rewrites.

So, I immediately get an email. And now I’m in a group with two other women. One of whom writes edgy suspense/mystery and one of whom writes cozy mysteries (a genre I know nothing about, by the way – I thought she wrote mysteries. Oh well!)

Anyway, we exchanged first chapters and critiqued them. And I warned the cozy writer she best be careful giving me too much time with her manuscript. I’ll turn her New England bookshop-owning, baked goods-making heroine into an alcoholic sex kitten with major daddy issues and body parts in her freezer. (I just love a flawed protagonist – Rachel from The Girl on The Train being one of my favs!) Not sure if she’ll stay in the group. Time will tell.

I haven’t gotten my critique back from the cozy writer. But the other writer’s critique came back while I was still in my scene stand off, and it was definitely a “put on your big girl pants” kind of critique. That’s something I appreciate. When you’re trying to sharpen your words into a sellable book, you better have someone close by telling you when things have gone astray or were never on the right path to begin with. And even though I’ve learned to be careful with critiques so I don’t jump in and make every change immediately, I did give her comments careful consideration. I like her writing style (especially her dialogue – she normally writes screenplays) and I like she’s worked with professional editors before (which teaches you so much and thickens your skin quite a bit.) 

Whatever happens, it’s a good start and giving me some things to think about. Even more important, it’s lighting a fire under the write-a-scene-every-day exercise. I need to keep writing, no getting bogged down on one scene. I’m being held accountable now. And being held accountable opens doors that seemed locked up, and helps you work through those uncomfortable scenes that sit unattended for days.

 

Which brings me back to my stand off scene with my main character.

 

 

I sat down, opened my laptop, and started to write. The scene involved my main character (MC) sitting at her kitchen table early in the morning, talking with a lawyer who just showed up on her front porch. During their conversation, my MC had a random internal thought that surprised me. I stopped writing. I shook my head at her and said, “No way you’d think that. You’d only think that if there was a child in the room.” She looked at me and said, “Exactly. Duh!”  

Since I had to get the scene finished and move on, I scrolled up to the beginning of the scene and let her have her way.

This time when I wrote it, my MC padded down stairs and opened her front door to find a lawyer standing on her porch, but he wasn’t alone. He had his three-year-old son with him. After that, the scene wrote itself, and my character was able to think her thoughts and give me a little more insight into what makes her tick. Quite fun.

If that’s all I get from this critique group, fine by me. But I think there’s more to come.

Like my yoga instructor says, when you start to feel uncomfortable in a pose, don’t come out of it. Stay in for at least one more breath. That’s when the magic happens.

Thanks critique partners!

And the writing journey continues…

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Dream A Little Big Dream

Posted Jul 12 2017 in , , , , ,

Today I want to ponder dreams. Not the ones where you walk into a public place naked or show up for your final exam and realize you haven’t been to class all year. I mean the big dreams. The life dreams.

One of my favorite quotes is:

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” 

I was talking with my sister on vacation last week, and we veered onto the topic of college since I have a child on the verge of going to college. I started reminiscing about my college experience and wishing for something different…I wish I’d chosen a major centered around writing. I wish I’d gotten an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I wish I’d set goals and chased dreams. But I didn’t. I knew things I liked to do, but I didn’t consider how those things could become a dream. It baffles me how complacent I was to let the ships sail by. I’m not pointing fingers or assigning blame, I’m simply owning it.

 

 

Now that I’m older, I know when the dream ship shows up, you damn well better claw your way to the end of the dock and jump on.

 

 

 

Writing books and publishing those books are my dream ships now. And I’m working to keep my focus but…sometimes I do allow myself to, well, dream. I wonder if maybe there aren’t more dreams out there. More ships to climb aboard. When you don’t set goals early in life, I’m finding you tend to get “goal ADD” later in life. The “what ifs” start marching in.

So much to do, so little time!

One of those what if’s occurred to me a few weeks ago when I visited the local Barnes and Noble. It was a Tuesday. Paula Hawkins’ book Into the Water had been released that day. I walked back to the customer service counter (I use that term lightly!) and asked a woman where I could find the book since it wasn’t on the front display.

First, she had to look up who Paula Hawkins was. What?! Next, she had no idea Hawkins had a book being released that day. Double what?! Then she says, “Oh, I found it. Yeah, looks like we ordered it and it’s supposed to be here. But we don’t have it.” I waited a beat, then I slapped her. Okay, I didn’t do that. But I did stomp out to my car and promptly order Into the Water on my Kindle in the parking lot.

That encounter got me thinking. My city doesn’t have an independent book store. A place where booksellers know more about books than puzzles and fidget spinners and the latest lego set. (Yes, this is a mini-rant.) A place with the knowledge of a library, the comfort of a living room, and the ability to dedicate a wall to books by local authors. I know book stores are morphing into the new dinosaurs but what if…I would love to open one, run it, smell books all day, talk about books all day (that’s assuming the customers buy printed books instead of downloading them to their Kindles in the Barnes and Noble parking lot🙄).

Aahhh…but a girl can dream. 

So what about you? Did you have dreams growing up? Did you make them come true? Did you decide on a different dream? Are you dreaming now? I’m curious! How’d it turn it out?

 

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Writing on Vacation…Not

Posted Jul 5 2017

Unlike Hemingway, I’m finding it difficult to put pen to paper while in The Keys….

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Edit Like A Boss

Posted Jun 29 2017

Last week’s blog, Summertime Vicious Circle discussed all those summer plans I never quite get around to completing. This week’s is about the one I actually would like to complete. The first on my list…finishing the second draft of my second book.

For me, the first draft is always the easiest. It’s footloose and fancy free. But taking that draft and turning it into something beautiful and cohesive…well, that’s the bugger. And I say bugger because I just completed an online editing course with a bunch of foul-mouthed Brits who I absolutely adored! This course is by far the best online course I’ve taken. It’s called Writers’ HQ: Plotstormers II!

My course involved six weeks of turning my (shitty -their word not mine!) first draft to a (less shitty) second draft. With about ten people in the class, we were assigned exercises and had a forum where we could vent or celebrate…depending on how the exercises turned out. In the end, we all learned how to edit like a boss.

I texted with a writer friend the other day about how tedious writing can get. Sometimes we lose the joy of it when we’re deep into edits or query rejections or just general writer malaise. But courses or conferences or just talking with writer friends can really help relight the flame. And this course did that for me. It helped pull me out of the query trenches. I also learned a key thing about myself. I like to write in scenes not chapters.

(Right now I know you’re thinking, Do I really care? Well, too bad if you don’t. It’s my blog and I’ll blab if I want to.)

So this scene by scene thing came about during the course. One of our exercises was to write a one or two sentence summary for every scene in the book, beginning to middle to end. Every time the point of view changes, new scene. Every time the location changes (even within the same house) new scene. No chapters. Just chop it into bits.

Sounds destructive but seeing the book in pieces in my Scrivener folder (a writing software I can’t live without!) made so much more sense to me than seeing it in chapters only. I’ll probably do this trick to outline Book Three, which is creeping around in the back of my mind, waiting it’s turn.

I have about 100-110 scenes for Book Two (Broken Bayou). Those will range between 500-1000 words each. I think of them as tiny bricks. And I’ll use those bricks to build chapters later. And those chapters will build the story.

I’ve written fourteen scenes so far so I figure if I write one scene a day, my second draft will be done in three months. One scene a day. That’s it. Surely, even with the summer doldrums, I can handle that.

If you’re not a writer, this particular blog may not be your cup of tea. I get it. I think I just had to write it so I’ve got someone holding me accountable. 

*from the Writers’ HQ Facebook page

Thanks for listening. 

And the writing journey continues…

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Summertime Vicious Circle

Posted Jun 21 2017 in , , , ,

Today is officially the first day of summer. I always have big plans for summer. I plan to get everything done that didn’t get done during the school year.

My plans this summer include (in no particular order):
  • finish the second draft of my second book
  • clean out my home office
  • write a short story
  • dust off my Olympus Pen and take more pictures
  • cook family dinners
  • rinse the horses every afternoon
  • work the horses every afternoon
  • repair multiple dog damages in my home
  • walk the dogs every morning before the heat hits (to avoid said damages)
  • train my dogs (again, see previous statement)
  • organize my closet
  • help my teenagers organize their closets
  • clean out my car
  • clean out the attic
…and so on and so on. 

Yet, summertime arrives and it’s hot and the livin’ is easy and I dream of sitting in a beach chair reading a book.

So I say…oh, I’ll do all that stuff in the Fall when the kids are back in school.

And the the vicious circle begins.

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Hollywood’s Yes is a Novel’s No

Posted Jun 14 2017 in , , , , , ,

I saw the movie Wonder Woman last week and have to say…it was pretty good. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen but highly entertaining. I even suspended reality enough to accept the costume and slo-mo fight scenes. Probably because most of the movie was set in WWI Europe (one of my favorite time periods in actually WWII – have you read The Nightingale? The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? Unbroken?)

But I’ve gone off topic.

What I wanted to visit about is the movie’s ending. And, no, I won’t give it away – but, really, don’t you know how it ends? It’s DC Comics for crying out loud.

Anyway, there’s a huge climatic scene at the end and it’s nighttime and the good guys are fighting the bad guys and things are exploding and people are dying and blah, blah, blah. 

Then when the smoke clears and all is said is done, the scene shifts to the horizon and the sun rises on a new day, with loads of dramatic music to help it rise. This is a moment for Hollywood, not a novel.

At the Texas Writers Retreat last January I had the pleasure of not only meeting Joe Clifford (his latest book Give Up the Dead from the fast-paced Jay Porter series just released) but also taking workshop classes with him. And he taught our group a phrase I’d never heard before: pathetic fallacy.

Pathetic fallacy is a literary term for attributing human emotion and conduct to all aspects within nature. For example: if your character is sitting in a room sad and crying while outside it’s raining or if the rain stops at the exact moment your character stops crying – that’s pathetic fallacy.

Avoiding it in your book means your hero and heroine shouldn’t always have a dramatic scene when it’s raining then have the rain stop and the sun start shining as soon as the conflict is resolved. Sometimes they need to fight in the sun! Sometimes, it just needs to keep raining. And sometimes it must rain when your character is happy. And not all tension-building scenes have to happen at night only to be resolved just as, you guessed it, the sun rises.

I would like to take a minute to confess in an earlier draft of my first manuscript I had a climatic scene at the end where my heroine fights for her life…at night…in the rain. And, wait for it, when her fight ended the rain stopped and the sun rose. I had BOTH things happening. Double pathetic fallacy! Needless to say that scene went the way of the Dodo bird. 

So Hollywood, have at it. But writers, beware. Watch the time of day. Watch the weather. Watch your character’s mood and actions during both. 

And the writing journey continues…(as the sun sets) 😉

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