Archive for the ‘Finnegans’ category

Late additions and lengthy implications

October 6, 2011

So the novel I’m working on, Finnegans Deciphered, had a slight structural problem in the plot. I had decided recently that in order to make the tale a bit more realistic, I needed to make my protagonists more cost conscious. They are both retired, and though they enjoy frequent weekends at bed and breakfast inns throughout the Midwest, they are living on their retirement income and what little the wife makes as a freelance journalist. As you may know, staying at a bed and breakfast is certainly the most civilized way to travel, but it isn’t the cheapest.

Once I decided to make my husband and wife protagonists more careful about spending their money, I realized I had a plot problem. In the current draft of the novel I have them arriving in the small town on a Friday evening to stay until the next Tuesday morning. But the town is only a two-hour drive from their home in Kansas City. (Hey, what a coincidence. My home is in Kansas City!)

I don’t think it’s implausible for a couple to travel only two hours from home to enjoy a nice weekend away. But since I’ve decided to make them more cost conscious, I wondered why they would bother to pay for Friday night at the inn when they could easily drive to the town Saturday morning to see and do all of the things they will see and do. Why would they pay for a night’s lodging that they don’t need, especially if they do need to watch their pennies?

Similarly, I have them leaving Tuesday morning. But their business in town ends (they think) when the local library closes on Monday at 5:00 p.m. They could easily make the two hour drive home after that and sleep in their own bed, saving the cost of another night at the bed and breakfast. And the breakfasts as this inn aren’t particularly great, so that’s not an incentive for them to stay. (The fact that the local library is not open on Sunday explains why they stay through until Monday, and it also spreads a little more tension into the story, but enough about that.)

Regarding the Friday night arrival, I will either come up with some reason why they must be there on Friday evening, or I’ll shift their arrival to Saturday morning. Probably the latter, but we’ll see.

As for the current matter of them staying Monday night only to leave on Tuesday morning, I will remove this idea from their minds. They will think that they are going home on Monday night, but the development of the plot will dictate otherwise.

And so now I face the prospect of rewriting whole sections of the story as well as looking for the implications of all of this throughout the novel. I don’t mind this. It’s part of the job. Plus I’m glad I realized all of this now rather than have it pointed out to me by some reader years from now.

The perils of research

October 4, 2011

It’s tough being a writer. The work is often dangerous. There are risks and sacrifices and perils lurking all the time.

Take the novel I’m working on right now for example. I’ve set it in a small river town in Missouri. A husband and wife visit the town and stumble upon a little mystery. While there they partake of the delights of the town. I mentioned here that I have an actual town I’m using as a template for my fictional town. In a few weeks my wife and I are going to spend some time in this town, doing the things my fictional husband and wife do in the novel. It’s research, folks, and I do it because I must.

My protagonists spend the weekend at a bed and breakfast. I think it’s only right that I should do this. I have to get the facts right. They have a nice dinner at an upscale restaurant. You can’t fake those kinds of details. You have to do the research. They wander through antique shops and cafes and art galleries. They walk the peaceful streets in the autumn air with leaves falling at their feet. They learn a lot about the local history of the little burg. They drink a lot of wine and have long, rambling conversations.

So my wife and I are going to endure a similar weekend purely for research purposes. It’s part of the writing process, but it lacks the glamor of sitting before a blank screen for hours waiting for the words to come. I don’t suppose I thought of the research implications when I first came up with my idea for a series of novels with a husband and wife staying at bed and breakfast inns. Or maybe I did.

Endgame again

September 27, 2011

As I half expected, now that I’m in the endgame with this novel I’m writing, all sorts of bits and pieces are suggesting themselves for inclusion. On my walk to work this morning (yes, I walk to work; it’s only about two miles, and when the weather permits and my enthusiasm hasn’t waned, I have a pleasant pre-dawn walk), the ideas came flooding into my poor head. Bits of dialog. A way to enhance a scene and add more telling detail. A fun little motif I can employ reasonably in a couple cases and then bring in for a nice payoff near the end.

I was eager to get to the office (which is not usually the case) just so I could get all of these ideas down on paper where they were less likely to flit away. I have found when I have these kinds of ideas and then later can’t remember them when I have the chance to write them down that they find their way back to me in a week or so. Right now I don’t want to wait a week for stray thoughts to return though. I want to get busy using them.

And so I have the challenge of shoehorning these new features into the mostly written story. They’re good contributions, and I will certainly use them, but I’ve found when I try to put things in long after the first draft fact that it’s hard work. I don’t like to “violate” the prose that is there; so “perfectly” written it is. Often it’s more than just a new coat of paint. The addition is more like building a new wall.

But to have such troubles is a good thing. I hope they keep coming to me for a while.

Endgame

September 26, 2011

I’ve reached that point in my WIP where I’m now writing the penultimate chapter. It’s the big confrontation, the big reveal, and I’ve been imagining this scene and rehearsing the dialog for years. Now I’m there. It’s working out pretty much as I had imagined it, though the growth and evolution of the novel has taken a few of the details into other directions than I had first envisioned.

As you may recall from some of my earlier, anguished posts here, I’ve been working on two novels simultaneously, though work on Larger Than Life has fallen to the back burner as Finnegans Deciphered has taken up most of my imagination lately. (I don’t think there’s a mixed metaphor in that sentence.) That’s as it should be, I think. It’s probably not wise for most people to try to be doing two major undertakings that call on the same set of resources at the same time.

Anyway, Finnegans Deciphered is about to come to its first draft end. (Probably only a few more writing sessions to get the final, wrap-up chapter down.) Then I’ll let it sit and stew for a while. I have some short stories I need to give some love to. Then I’ll go back to the novel and shore up all of its weaknesses. I want to do more with the dialog, especially between the two main characters who are supposed to be married for more than 30 years (so they should have some verbal fluidity between themselves). There’s also something one of the characters is half-heartedly searching for that I need to straighten out. I think at one early point I have him giving up the search and then later have him still in the hunt. I probably need to fill out many scenes with more detail, look for ways to support the theme, and so forth. I play some games with character names in the novel too, and even as recently as this last weekend, I renamed another of my characters. I won’t be surprised if I find the need to do that again as I work through the rewrite.

I have no idea what the word count is of the novel, though I suspect it’s a little bit short of what would conventionally be defined as a novel. We’ll see, and then we’ll what we can do about that.

Plot dumps

September 12, 2011

So I’m working on the latter third of my work in progress, one of my Finnegans novels, and I need to bring in some history about one of the characters and the small town where she lives. How to do this without being intrusive or pedantic?

I more or less stumbled into having the necessary information presented as chatter among a group of old men at the town cafe. My main character is among them. She’s a freelance journalist writing an article about the town, and she’s urging the men to blather away, hoping to pick up some tidbits for her piece. I, of course, am urging them to blather away to provide some plot points about the past that figure in the story of the present.

It’s only first-draft stuff at this point, and I will probably modify/revise/enhance it several times down the writing road. I have a group of old men, the collection you might find hanging around the seed mill of a farming town, or at the cracker barrel of the country store, or, in this case, at the small town’s only cafe. What I haven’t done is give any one of them a name or description. One has a cane, but that’s it. I don’t intend to present these characters again. (I suppose there is a temptation to describe each of these characters. To give each a name and some colorful, quirky characteristic, but I don’t see any value in that. I’ve already written in this humble bog about my anathema for Nancy Drew Moments.) These men have no individual importance to the story. They are more of a Greek chorus than individual characters. What they are doing for me is imparting a lot of plot in a small space.

I’m sure I’ve seen this technique in other fiction I’ve read, though I can’t point to any specific examples. The knowledgeable sidekick is often used this way. This is the person who knows the history of some situation. Or it’s the scientist who can give the necessary technical explanation. Or some other expert who can credibly spell out some important facts that would be too tedious or incongruent to put into narrative form. It’s pure telling and little showing, a dichotomy I’ve seen anguished over by too many writers.

My old men are gossips, and my protagonist has already judged much of their material to be dubious at best. It’s useless for the article she is writing, but it is valuable for the actual plot of the novel. At this point, it’s working as a device to move my plot into the reader’s mind. We’ll see how long I keep it.

Big steps

June 28, 2011

It’s odd to me how what seem like little things in my writing efforts can actually be very big things.

I’ve mentioned here once or twice about what goes into my efforts at naming the characters for the stories I write. (Look here or here if you’re interested.) By and large, the names I give my characters are not crucial for understanding the story — except for two very important names in Finnegans Deciphered, which I”m still working on. (And I suppose for all of the characters in The Sleep of Reason, since I renamed every single one as the story progressed.) When I give a character a name with a specific referent, it’s usually done as a bit of playfulness or to keep me clued in on some aspect of the character’s nature. The reader may or may not catch the point, but understanding the story isn’t dependent upon it. (The name of Professor Hunter in my story “Moron Saturday” seems like a giveaway though.)

I had a “playfulness epiphany” the other day about the characters’ names for Finnegans Deciphered. I don’t want to divulge anything specific, but it is something I’d held in reserve for some future story yet to be imagined, and it has to do with the setting. Why not, I realized, use this name/setting business in the novel I’m writing, which happens to be in that same setting? It has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of the story and is really more of a meta feature than a story feature. Any reader who did catch the references would see that this playfulness was not about the tale but about the telling.

I realize I’m being cryptic, and maybe my little bit of craftiness is not even worthy of such oblique discussion, but my point is that it has further invigorated my motivation to write the story. It seems like a very small thing, and yet is has given me a big step forward in my work. I’ll take my motivation however it comes.

Silver slippers

June 20, 2011

If you’ve read the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you know that Dorothy actually wears silver slippers, which help her get home. They were made into ruby slippers for the movie since that color worked better on screen. I think most people only know of this story through its movie adaptation, but that’s not so bad, and for my nefarious purposes, that’s actually very good.

I’ve gotten back into the groove with Finnegans Deciphered. (You may recall a recent post on this humble blog in which I detail the manifold distractions that have been afflicting me in recent months.) I have a scene where two characters have a bit of a banter, mostly chit chat, but in it the minor character offers a quote from The Wizard of Oz (movie) to impress another character (the protagonist). The idea for this pretty much just popped into my head as I was writing the dialogue. I hadn’t planned it. I wasn’t looking for a place to squeeze it in. I hadn’t even thought about putting these two characters into a chatty situation together. It all just seemed to happen organically.

But, of course, it didn’t. Deep in my creative subconscious I’m sure my mind was waiting for me to get to the right point in the narrative to use it. How do I know this? Because the introduction of this unbidden minor motif fits perfectly with the theme of the novel. It even serves the plot in the next chapter. And the development of the protagonist’s background. Not long after I wrote the bit of dialog I began to see how I could develop it in the rest of the story. Even the fact of the Wizard not being who he seems adds to my story since characters not being who they seem, or at least being other/more than they seem, is at the core of the plot.

Thus I suspect that such a snatch of dialog, fitting so well and allowing such a useful development, was no accident but really a calculation of that creative part of my mind I don’t want to know too much about.

Such revelations like this invigorate my writing. I suppose in other times one would have attributed this kind of thing to a Muse. Whatever. I’ll take it however it comes. And I’ll get back to writing the story as soon as I can.

Ten to one

May 16, 2011

In the times when I’m away from my laptop and can’t indulge in feverish composition, I often have flashes of insight about the stories I’m working on. (Do these flashes come because I’m away from my laptop? Does the inability to be writing cause me to have these moments of inspiration?) When this happens I generally make feverish notes so the thoughts don’t get away. I always keep a small notepad and (mechanical) pencil at hand, and generally regardless of whatever I am (or should be) doing, I will take up pencil and pad and scratch down a few lines until I have my brilliant thought safely corralled.

Although these notes sometimes deal with a short story I’m working on or even what I plan to do for the coming weekend, they mostly fall into two categories right now. Either they are about the Finnegans novel I’m currently working on or they are about the Larger than Life novel I’ve set aside for the present.

What I’ve found in recent months is that the ratio of Larger notes to Finnegans notes is about ten to one. I have about ten insights about my frustrating Larger than Life project to every one I have for my Finnegans novel. I suspect there is a message in that for me.

I don’t want to parse this too finely. The Finnegans novels — I have about a half dozen plots I’m actively developing as the muse visits me — have been knocking around in my head much longer than Larger than Life has. It may be that I’ve worked out most of the character and plot development for those stories and just don’t “need” the insights now. Also, Larger than Life is a more ambitious work; I intend for it to present a much more complex character with a more challenging storytelling approach. The Finnegans can more or less be taken at face value. My Larger than Life character — let’s call him Chris, though he would prefer a different name — merits a more careful and considered view.

Larger than Life continues to both tantalize and frustrate me. It’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ll ever write. I began work on it, managed to get about six chapters written, and found that I still didn’t know the story well enough to do it justice. It’s certainly become a much deeper telling than what it had started out as. The character’s journey and destination, while the same as originally, are also different. I’m still trying to understand it and how to present it, which is why I think the insights that come to me continue to come to me. I’m still learning what the story is that I have to tell.

I don’t mind this. Larger than Life will be a much better story than what I had originally conceived. I just don’t know when it will be time to start writing it again. And my Finnegans story would appreciate more mental space for its development in the meantime.

Finnegans Deciphered thusfar

April 10, 2011

I haven’t given a report on my progress with Finnegans Deciphered lately because, well, I haven’t made much progress with it lately. Since my last tally in February, I’ve managed to add about 8,000 words in three new chapters. Thus I stand at nine chapters comprising nearly 28,000 words. Doesn’t seem like much given that I think I’m about halfway through the story to be told.

But some of that sparseness is the result of ruthless paring on my part. I had realized that I needed to insert a new chapter, and as I wrote it, the thing had swollen to more than five thousand words, and I hadn’t even finished what I was trying to do with it. (Most of my chapters as they exist right now are around 3,500 words.) So I took the red pen to it and managed to take out 1500 words. I may use them elsewhere — it will be another new insertion chapter.

And because the story is building to a big revelation, I’m sure I’ll go back to these chapters to work in hints and other mechanisms to cause that revelation to happen. Plus I’ll need to drop in more tension. All is not as it seems in this picturesque little river town where my story is set. It’s better than it seems, but also worse in some ways. I’d like to visit again the actual town I’m using as my template to soak up more detail and tone to use as well.

I’ve also figured out how to use the “he said/she said” counterpoint in this story. I have two Finnegans: Ann and Greg. Each tends to experience the critical events of the story separately, and when they bring their experiences together, they make sense of it all. I can use that to broaden the perspective of the story telling and build a little tension. Plus it’s a fine opportunity to display character.

So that kind of tinkering will help boost the meagre word count.

I try not to let myself worry about things like chapter size and total word count. It’s much too early in the process for one thing. The story is still “revealing” bits of itself to me, so I can’t judge where it might take me. At this point I just need to keep pushing the words out of my head and onto the page. I’ll see where I’ve landed when I get to The End. And then I’ll begin the rewrite, and the rewrite of that, and so on.

Still, it’s a bit disheartening to find that this story that has nagged at me for years is coming up so sparse at the halfway point. Such a good tale, and yet what of the telling? I’ll work on it and do my best to ignore the inner voice that keeps telling my I’m not up to the task.

And during all of this, thoughts about my work-in-hiatus, Larger than Life, continue to come to mind. I’m actually making more notes about that novel than about Finnegans Deciphered. I’m not sure what to make of this. The former, I’ve judged, is not yet realized enough to write, and the latter is mostly fully realized yet not seeming sufficient.

But enough of my lamentations. I finished the insertion chapter I needed in Deciphered, and that allows me to move on to fresh developments in the plot.

Nobody said this work was easy.

Claiming names

March 1, 2011

In my Finnegans novels, one of my two central characters — Greg Finnegan — had been a university English professor for three decades in Kansas City. For nearly as long as I’ve had this notion, I had named his school “Osage University.” I like the First Nations connection since it grounds the fictional college in actual regional history, the Osage Indians having figured in the history of western Missouri. (My original, original name for the place was “McKinley College” after a professor I had in graduate school, but that was always only a working title.)

Alas, I recently learned that the University of Missouri has named one of its extension schools “Osage University.” It seems I had made a good choice originally, but they got to claim it before I could. (Can you claim a name?)

So this has resulted in my casting about for a new name for my fictional school. I wanted it to have some regional authenticity, and I liked the First Nations reference idea. The Missouri Indians were prominent in the area in their day, but there is already a university system with that name. So too with the Kansa Indians.

I wanted something unique, certainly something that wasn’t already being used by anyone else. I feared that I would have to resort to some totally made up name and then have to cobble together some history for it to make it seem authentic (in a fictional world, of course). But as is often the case with these things, the revelation just popped into my head one afternoon.

Greg Finnegan taught for his thirty years at Wyandotte University! The Wyandottes (or Wyandots) are an existing tribe with many members currently living in the Kansas City area. There is even a major street in our city by that name. Thus I have found my name, carrying as it does all of the regional connection and historic authenticity I had hoped for. And it has another nice quality: no one else is using it.

I therefore lay claim to the name “Wyandotte University.” (And also to “Wyandotte College.”) Ye institutions of higher learning and scribblers of fiction: It’s mine!

Greg Finnegan has a smoldering case of self doubt. He is haunted by the notion that he is not good enough. Not good enough academically to have found work at one of the “major” universities in the country. Not good enough to ever attract the interest of a woman. So forth. Of course over his lifetime he shows all of this to be unfounded, but he still believes it about himself. In any case, early in his academic career at Wyandotte he comes up with the self-deprecating reference to it as “the little college at the end of the alphabet.” I like that. It’s the kind of tag line that could come up casually in each of the novels he appears in. A cast away line, but one that is softly memorable. And one that illustrates, even in an oblique way, something about my protagonist.

And thus I feel good about my need to rename my fictional school.

Update May 15, 2011: I’ve since evolved the school’s name to Wyandot University (and prior to that, Wyandot College). Leaner seems cleaner to my eye in this case.

Update February 16, 2019: I’m adding some detail to my One-Match Fire novel, and one piece will be David’s intimidation at enrolling in college — night school. I’d always known he would go to Wyandot University, but now I’m adding the name of it to the novel. Also, it has a second, deprecating reference: “Why Not University – for people with nothing better to do.”