Archive for the ‘Larger than Life’ category

Yet another post on my progress with Finnegans Deciphered

February 20, 2011

Yawn! Can I bore you with yet another post on my progress with Finnegans Deciphered? I am making progress. I certainly have the momentum and the critical mass necessary to convince myself that I have a whole story to tell and that I will be able to tell it. All is right with that world.

I continue to discover and correct all of the little inconsistencies that creep into my writing, especially on longer, larger works. If he has this realization now, then that couldn’t have been the case then? Didn’t I already bring up this point? Has this bit of character development been brought up yet? Don’t I want to introduce this or that feature sooner? Don’t I want to withhold this or that feature for later? All the mechanics of plotting and character development. It’s gratifying when I make the corrections even as it’s embarrassing when I discover the need for them.

Across six and a half chapters I’ve managed to compile 21,000+ words, and though I don’t write to prescribed word counts — I’ll tell the story I have to tell, dammit, and then be finished — I’m constantly checking this number. Those chapters will likely grow over time as I find I needed to lay the groundwork for later developments.

Ideas for necessary plot developments continue to reveal themselves to me. A couple of minor characters are playing larger roles than I had originally envisaged. I find I want to do more research — specifically to visit a certain Missouri River town and go bicycling. In all, it seems like a healthy progress.

It’s just boring as blog fodder.

In other news, Larger that Life continues to force itself into my brain. I am constantly making notes about how this new chapter needs to be developed and how that new chapter needs to now be created. My protagonist is evolving, and the story/character as I had originally seen them are long ago left behind. All I need are more hours in the day.

In your dreams (or mine anyway)

January 27, 2011

This has never happened to me before. As I slept the other night, I dreamed of an inconsistency in the manuscript I’ve written (so far) of Larger than Life. I didn’t dream up the inconsistency; it was an actual one in the story that hadn’t occurred to me, and the fact of it entered my dream.

Here’s what it is: At one point I have my protagonist reflect that he works hard, pays his bills, sets a little money aside, and helps his parents with their bills. Such a good son! But later in the story I have an observation that he could consider moving out of his apartment and buying a house because his parents would help him with the down payment. So in one case, his parents are poor and need his help and in the other they are well off enough to be able to stake him down payment money. Obviously that would need to be addressed lest the reader find it inconsistent.

But what amazes me is that this realization came to me in a dream! I’ve heard accounts of people who have solved problems in their dreams, or at least who have woken with a solution, presumably having solved it in their sleep. Until the other night, however, such a thing had never happened to me.

As for the inconsistency, I’m going to drop the bit about him helping his parents with their bills. It’s a nice quality to give to an overall likeable character, but there is more challenge to him, to get off fence where his life is currently stuck, in his having the ability to buy a house. Basically, he can’t avoid that kind of challenge/responsibility by claiming he can’t afford it.

I continue to surprise myself with the ideas I have for this novel that I’d decided to set aside for now. The story keeps pushing to the front of my brain. I think I’m going to have to write the whole thing somehow just to get some peace from it.

Speaking of which, in a couple of hours I intend to rest my head on my pillow, perchance to dream. Maybe some other plot revelation will come to me.

Update 2/7/11: It’s happened again. I woke from my sleep early this morning with a sudden realization about the name of one of my characters in my WIP. I had given the character the name I had because of its anagrammatic possibilities, but his name turned out to have an even deeper substance, one that ties even better with the plot. It was sitting there for me to realize for a long time. Granted, I might have reached this realization during my time conscious, but I didn’t. Sleep almost seems like another tool for the writerly toolbox.

Update 3/6/11: Happened again. This time just a “clever” name for a shop in town where my characters are staying, but it presented itself, and somehow in my dreaming I knew it would be good for the novel. And the name survived the perilous transition from sleeping to waking, so added it will be.

Confession; confusion

December 31, 2010

I had come to a decision. It was for my own good. It was clear and it was obvious. I was wasting my time, focusing on the wrong thing, or at least a thing that wasn’t paying off. I kept thinking it would get better or make sense or achieve critical mass or something, but it wasn’t, and I was deceiving myself thinking otherwise. I was putting a lot of effort into something that was just stalled.

So I made my decision. I was going to abandon work on Larger than Life and get on with my own life. The novel just wasn’t coming together. Too much of it wasn’t “revealing” itself to me. I wasn’t ready to write it. I didn’t understand the character well enough. Maybe I never would. And to keep plugging away at it was a big waste of time, especially since I have a whole bunch of Finnegan novels queued up, waiting for my attention. (Finnegan: my husband and wife cozy mystery novel series — though I’m not sure how well they fit into that category.) No, Larger than Life was at an end; a worthy effort, but a fruitless one in the end.

So to begin the new year I was going to put Larger than Life aside and embark on Finnegans Deciphered, my personal favorite among the many stories I’ve imagined for them. It was to be a fresh start at the new year on a new project that promised to be fruitful and lend itself to my creative energies (whatever they may be).

Finnegans Deciphered is a good story. I’ve written about it on this blog in some distant posts that are too distant for me to bother finding and linking to. It makes some nice literary references, it has some complex but credible characters, it has a nice and reasonable resolution of the tension, and I’ve been wanting to work on it for months and months.

I steered my thoughts to it, and I found all kinds of fresh ideas for its development and writing flowing through my fingers and onto the page or keyboard. It was coming along nicely, and I found that my notes file for the novel was just as thorough and comprehensive as I had remembered it to be. Finnegans Deciphered was one novel that was ready to be written. Green light: go!

Except that Larger than Life was not going to yield.

A friend once told me that you can recognize your good ideas by the fact that they won’t go away. Larger than Life won’t go away. It is as though by making the decision to “abandon” it, I have brought the novel to even more vitality in my pointed little head. Ideas for how to surmount plot problems are now bursting in my brain. The consequences of this or that character issue or plot point are revealing themselves to me apace. I’m seeing whole new chapters where I hadn’t before, chapters that needed to be there from the start, characters that I needed but didn’t know I needed. The whole theme of the novel has transformed in recent weeks. It seems that Larger than Life is not finished with me though I thought I was finished with it.

So I will not abandon it after all I guess.

It’s still going to be a long, difficult struggle to write this novel. That much is clear if nothing else is. My characters and their interactions are complicated, and in order to get them right, I’m going to have to toil and sweat and work and work and work. I don’t mind that, but it’s like learning that your child has some untoward talent that now must  be dealt with.

So how am I going to live my days? I’m not sure. I certainly will continue to struggle with Larger than Life, but I do want to put some effort to Finnegans Deciphered. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this or even if it is wise to try. But I am sure that it will make for an interesting new year.

*   *   *

I finished the Iris Murdoch novel The Book and the Brotherhood before the end of the year, which was a goal of mine. I loved the novel, and I suspect I will return to it again someday.

I’m now reading Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem on my Kindle and liking it a lot. I especially like the narrative voice. It reminds me a bit of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m not sure about this whole eReader experience though. It works, but is it the same experience as holding an actual book in your hands?

*   *   *

Oh, happy 2011 to all of you fine folk!

More of the same

November 21, 2010

The story of my WIP, Larger than Life, is slowly revealing itself to me. It seems that each week I better understand my protagonist and can better envision him not only in plot-forwarding situations but in how he will behave in those situations. I make my copious notes when I’m away from my laptop, and I manage to transcribe them and even put some of them into fresh words when I’m before it. I managed to put down more than 2,000 fresh words in a recent writing session, which I consider highly productive (for me) but probably not sustainable on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve mentioned here a few times that I really have no use for NaNoWriMo as a tool. (I’m happy if it works for others, though.) I can see from my process that it would not work for me. The reason is that I am discovering my story as I write it. While The Sleep of Reason (still no news) is predominantly plot and tone based, Larger than Life is mostly character based. I am getting to know my characters at a measured and thoughtful pace that I don’t think would work under a month-long, artificially imposed word count system. If all I were doing was writing a plot-based story, maybe I could see some value in NaNoWriMo (again, for me). Or if all I wanted was to get the bare bones of a story’s plot in place in a hurry, that process might work for me. But I would have to have the plot mostly fully realized in my head before the month began in order to work productively under such high pressure (for me). This is how I happened to write my recent short story, “Diaspora.” But as I said, I had the plot nearly fully worked out for that one, and it is a short story, not a novel.

The point of all of this babbling is that Larger than Life continues to gain critical mass and momentum (if I may mix a metaphor), and I know I will finish writing it. (There had been some doubt. I have other projects I really want to get going, but I can’t do two such things at once.) It may be the novel I had to get “out of the way” or it may turn out to be a finished work. Either way, I’m getting there.

Percolating

October 31, 2010

I wonder how many stories I would have written by now if I weren’t waiting for them to be “ready.”

Somewhere along the way I came to the notion that I needed to have a story fully imagined in my head before I started writing it. And it’s true that I made an embarrassing number of false starts with stories — really just ideas, images, characterizations — that didn’t have legs, so to speak. My hard drive is littered with the corpses of these failed attempts.

Still . . . I’m not sure this is a fruitful stance. My hard drive is also filled with “notes” for stories that I may never write as I wait for them to be fully imagined in my head. Lately I’ve found that if I just push my way past this imagined barrier, I tend to produce the core of something worthwhile.

I come to this realization because I am reflecting a great deal on how different it has been working on my WIP, Larger than Life, compared to the completed-and-being-shopped-around The Sleep of Reason. The latter wrote itself. There were many times when I felt the story was being revealed to me and that I just had to keep up putting it in writing. Larger than Life, on the other hand, is only coming grudgingly from that murky creative part of my brain. Every writing session is a chore, a voyage of uncertainty, and yet each time I am pleased with what I have done.

The fullness of the story is percolating in my head. Hardly a day goes by now when I don’t have some realization or insight about it, some really substantive understanding of the characters’ relationships or the implications of an act (or the foreshadowing for the act). The writing isn’t getting any easier, but the connectedness of it all is growing more clear by the day.

And I think this is happening, in part, because I am forging ahead with the writing even though I know the story is not “fully imagined.” I think the act of forcing it forward is compelling me to achieve these insights and understandings. If so, then this has been a valuable lesson to learn.

It makes me think that I should take up some of those short story ideas I have floating around and pushing my way to getting the core of something about them written as well.  (In fact, my recent success with the story “Diaspora” resulted from something much like this.) Now it’s just a matter of stealing the time to do it from the myriad of other things that need doing.

Looking for momentum

October 26, 2010

As of today, I have more than 23,900 words drafted for Larger than Life. That is comprised of six and a half chapters of wildly divergent sizes. (Chapter one is only 1,732 words while chapter two is 5,471.) I am making progress; I am moving through this, but it still feels as though I am swimming in molasses. I know where I want the story to go, how it must march toward the required end. And I now have a clearer sense of the narrative voice to use (though I haven’t really applied it yet since I’m still assembling the skeleton of the tale). But the story is not yielding itself to me easily, not in the way The Sleep of Reason had when I was writing it.

Some of the time I think that this story is not worth the telling and that I would better spend my time getting started on a completely different novel. I realize that’s a commonplace reaction, apparently at about this point in the process, so I try to ignore those thoughts and forge ahead. I have two novels that I abandoned when this happened to me before. One truly was not worth the trouble and the other was more a political screed than a novel, so I don’t regret giving up on either of them. But I don’t want that kind of surrender to become an easy habit.

At other times I think that if I can pull this story together, it will be the best thing I’ve ever done, with perfectly realized characters and relationships. If The Sleep of Reason is more fantastic, Larger than Life is grounded in real life, in mundane, day-to-day actions and reactions. The former is more plot driven; the latter is more relationships drive. Perhaps that is why it is both challenging and full of potential.

I’m embarking on the pivotal chapter, the introduction of the second most important character and pretty much the halfway point of the story. True, if this really were the halfway point, then I would end up with a novel of fewer than 50,000 words, but that’s not going to be the case. On the one hand, a wholly new chapter presented itself to me in the last few days, one I had not imagined before in the rough outline in my head, so that will increase the word count and the texture of the story. On another hand, I have a new character to begin depicting. She will be both an antagonist and a friend for my central character, so that dynamic should fuel a lot of growth in the story. And finally, there’s that narrative voice I keep hinting at. Once I begin applying that I expect the telling to go off in some interesting directions.

I just wish all of these factors would come together for a while and flow through my fingers without a fight.

Flesh and bone

October 17, 2010

I wish I could tell you that I’m making dandy progress on my WIP, Larger than Life. Or I wish I could tell you that I’ve given it up as a failed effort and moved on to something new. But I’m lost in some nether region where I can’t get to either place.

I continue to scribble words for the story, and I’m making some headway in getting it told, but I sure don’t feel the momentum I’d felt at this point with my earlier novel. Half the time I think my story isn’t worth the trouble of telling. (For another view, have a look at this.) And then I’ll go back and read some of what I’ve written and really like the kernel of what is there and get enthused again. Even so, it still feels as though I’m assembling the skeleton of the story and not yet writing the real thing. Yet hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of some detail to go back and add to what I’ve already written, so maybe I’m putting some flesh on those old bones. In fact, I sat down the other day and wrote more than 2,000 words — pretty good words — in one sitting.

I did have a pretty big thematic realization that will color everything I write about the story. My character is hungry, which doesn’t seem like much but just go with me that this really affected my understanding of what is going on.

I also have reached a conclusion about the narrator of the story. I had jokingly told myself I should do this with the narrator, and then the more I thought of it the more I both liked it and saw how it could work. So now I think I have control of the voice of the story too. (Hence I am heeding my own advice.)

On balance I’d say I’m winning more skirmishes with this story than losing, so I’ll keep at it.