Caution – Under Construction

UnderConstruction  Hard Hat Area

I’m tearing things apart and putting them back together. Lots of what I’ve done before will still be there, but in a different order, or with a different consequence, or otherwise changed. Other parts are going to disappear, and new things will be welded on.

Why, you ask?

Because the story was wandering. There was no consistent through line, no overall sense of how it was going to get from A to Z. Also, the beats weren’t working. I know how it will end, but the steps to get there weren’t well planned. I couldn’t tell myself what the story was about with any specificity (it was all fuzzy and generic).

So what’s ahead, you ask?

I’ve decided I’m going to do my own personal MyNoWriMo in July (the only month that makes sense for me to dedicate to this). I’m certainly not the first person to use that idea (see here and here), but I think it has the potential to work for me.

Leading up to that, I will be using Janice Hardy’s NaNoWriMo Prep Guide as a useful tool, suitably adapted for my situation. Then I want to put some stakes in my calendar marking deadlines/due dates I want to hit if this is going to work. I’m making them public here, so that I will stick with them! My deadlines are on Sunday (except the last one – June ends on a Tuesday), which means I will need to post a report no later than the following Monday (sooner, if I beat the deadline).

  • 3/1/15: Set the goal (a full 50,000-word draft, or half a novel?)
  • 3/8/15: Develop my one-sentence pitch line, also known as through line
  • 3/22/15: Establish major set pieces/beats
  • 4/12/15: Develop a rough synopsis
  • 5/3/15: Complete a rough outline or scene sketch
  • 5/24/15: Complete an “idea bank” with the things I want to include in the novel
  • 5/31/15: Plan the beginning of the novel, from opening scene to first major turn
  • 6/14/15: Plan the middle of the novel, including all the twists and complications leading to the ending
  • 6/28/15: Plan the ending of the novel, including the climax and the final resolution
  • 6/30/15: Get all my logistics in place (word-count log, file formats, backups, and so on)

Then – it’s off I go!

Hook, Line, and Thinker

HookLoglineThinker   So I was thinking.

I was rethinking the character mix in my story. This got me to rethinking the overall story arc, which brought me back to the scene worksheets and beat sheets I’ve been using to plan. And I ran into something I’ve never really had a good answer for: What is the logline for my story?

Now, logline means different things to different people. Some think of it as a comparison (My book is like Harry Potter, but with murderers instead of wizards). Others as a simple statement of high concept (Wagon Train to the stars – that was the actual concept for the original Star Trek TV show). What seems most useful to me, though, is the one-sentence summary, identifying the protagonist, the story goals, and the antagonist. That is the most useful idea, it seems to me, and something I want to get clear before I go any further. I haven’t been able to pin it down, though, so I have work to do!

Once I get that – my hook, my logline, and my thinking cap warmed up – I’ll be ready to go!

Character Questions

QuestionFaces  Who ARE all these people?

Now that I’ve opened my plans for the novel back up, working through it scene by scene, I’m asking myself whether I have the right number of main characters. There are six good guys (plus three bad guys – bad, badder, and baddest). Now I’m asking myself whether I really need all six of them, or whether I can combine and rearrange to have a tighter, more streamlined cast of characters. In a loose, theoretical kind of way, here are the people I have now:

  • The main character, who believes she has proved to be untrustworthy where it counted and therefore she must never again allow anyone to really count on her. She has cut herself off from friends and lover.
  • The love interest, the MC’s ex. She walked out on him years ago for reasons she has never told anyone, and it hurt him deeply. Especially since he needed desperately for her to be there, but never had the chance to tell her. Clearly, rebuilding trust between them is the main emotional arc of the story.
  • Two of the MC’s old friends, women she also lost touch with when she went AWOL. One is trusting and always sees the best in others; the MC would love to be like that, but doesn’t see that it’s possible. The other is kind of a control freak, and represents the extreme of what the MC has become to protect herself and those around her.
  • Two folks who are coupled with the two old friends. One is the man her trusting friend just married. He’s kind and wise, and is a scientist with knowledge that can answer important questions about what happened to the MC and how to solve the plot issues. The other is a women in love with the controlling friend. She is smart and sassy, brave and bold, and the two of them drive each other crazy (one too controlling, one too laid back), but they care completely about each other. These two relationships remind the MC of how committed relationships can work, holding up the standard she’d love to have but doesn’t think she deserves.

Can I combine the two couples into one? Here’s a possible plan:

  • The ex becomes the controlled and controlling one. He’s walled himself off, just as the MC has, in response to the pain she caused. Breaking down both their barriers is the work of the story.
  • The trusting friend is still trusting and open. She’s also the scientist with the secret knowledge.
  • The trusting friend marries the sassy, bold woman (the story is set in New York where such couples can marry – yay!). Their relationship shows the MC how such things can work, and I still get both the bold fighter and the mentor with arcane knowledge.

This plan would give me four good guys to balance the three bad guys (don’t worry, they’re REALLY bad, and this will not come off as a fight the good guys should expect to win).  Now the question is whether this will make the story too spare, without enough people in it to carry the whole tale. Also, whether this will actually work for the plot points I need. Must think more about this, before completely revising things.

What do you think? More the merrier? Or prune the guest list down to the minimum? Any advice here would be great.

Lessons from Rom-Coms

Hearts Hubby and I watched a couple of movies over Valentine’s weekend. They were both, appropriately, rom-coms – romantic comedies – recommended to us by friends. We enjoyed them both as good examples of something light, fun, and sweet to watch while cuddled up with someone you love. But I liked one better than the other, and I think I’ve figured out why. NOTE – there are some spoilers here if you haven’t seen the films, but nothing that should really ruin it for anyone.

First up: Letters to Juliet (2010, Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan). Sophie, who wants to be a writer, visits Italy with her fiance. She learns about the tradition of young women writing letters to Juliet (of Shakespeare’s play) for advice, and turns her hand to writing a response to a letter just found that was written 50 years ago. This draws her into an adventure with the original writer who has come back to Italy to find her long-lost love, and the woman’s grandson (Charlie) who thinks this is a bad idea. He comes around, though, and Charlie and Sophie wind up together, as do the two long-lost loves. The message of the movie is that it’s never too late to find love, and once you find it you must never let it go.

Next: Music and Lyrics (2007, Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore). Alex is a relic from an 80s pop band, living on his past as a kind of impersonator of himself. He has the opportunity to write a hit song for a hot young talent, but while he’s great at the music he can’t write lyrics. He stumbles across a young woman (Sophie) who has a brilliant way with words and convinces her to work with him, and they are successful despite her fears and his desperation. Along the way they find romance and also find the courage to be themselves without apology.

Here’s why I liked Music and Lyrics more than Letters to Juliet: because the characters and their relationship felt more real and more trustworthy.

Let’s take the two Sophies. In Letters to Juliet, she is engaged to a chef who is opening his new restaurant in New York City in 6 weeks. They go to Italy because it will be the last chance they have to go on vacation for a long time. He is passionate about food and cooking; she is less so, and winds up feeling left out and ignored as he travels around visiting suppliers and wine auctions. This annoyed me. If someone is about to open a restaurant in New York, where else would his focus be? If she’s so uninterested in food and cooking, why is she engaged to a restaurateur? At the very least, she should have come to peace with their differing passions and have expected them to spend time apart.

In Music and Lyrics, Sophie is timid and self-effacing at the start, because of a bad experience in her past. She spends much of the movie learning to have faith in herself and to be open to taking the risk of trusting others. This is a straightforward need and character arc that is rewarding to watch. At every step her character is acting in a way that is believable for her, and that kept me rooting for her the whole way.

Then there’s the male lead character. Charlie, in Letters to Juliet, is a jerk the first time we meet him. He specifically searched out Sophie for the sole purpose of scolding and insulting her, because her letter sent his grandmother on what he is sure will be a heartbreaking quest. That brow-beating, nasty facet to his personality couldn’t just have evaporated, and I didn’t see any convincing change to his true nature. And how do we know he loves her? He says he does, but we don’t see him do anything that shows this love. Finally, I can’t conjure up any image of the life they might have together. All they’ve shared is his grandmother’s quixotic romantic journey, which is nothing like the real life they will have to go back to.

Alex, in Music and Lyrics, is charming from beginning to end. There’s something sad about him hanging onto his long-past moment of glory, but he is comfortable with himself and never pretends to be something he’s not. From his first interactions with Sophie he is gentle and encouraging. He’s kind first, in love second. He shows his love for her by doing the thing that’s hardest for him: writing lyrics. They also have something they share besides just being in love: they write hit songs together. It’s easy to imagine them living a contented, rewarding life for years to come.

Let me repeat: Both movies are fun. They both do what they set out to do and do it well. I don’t want to discourage anyone from watching either movie. See them. If you like the genre, you’ll like these examples.

For me, for the writing, I take away two important lessons about character and relationships:

  • If I want readers to root for a character, I need to show why, especially at their first appearance. Show whatever it is that makes the character rootable – is he kind, is she smart, is he funny, is she generous? This is what Blake Snyder calls the Save the Cat moment – the hero is first seen getting the cat out of the tree, so we know he’s the hero.
  • If I want a couple to wind up together romantically, I need to show that they are in love and can have a life together after the final curtain. It’s not enough that they say “I love you,” there have to be actions, especially sacrifices, to back it up. And they need to have enough in common for this relationship to hold.

So that’s what I learned this Valentine’s Day about character and about love. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Roadmap

Maps  Still working on the revised roadmap for my book, but making progress!

I have found several wonderful resources:

  • A series of posts by writer and blogger Larry Brooks on his Storyfix blog about inciting incidents and how they’re different from the first plot point. This really helped me to identify the actual first plot point of my story.
  • A collection of beat sheets and scene worksheets put out by Jami Gold on her Beach Reads with Bite site, which I am using to work on the overall plan and the scene-by-scene plan.
  • From Michael Hague via Janice Hardy’s Fiction University site, a six-part plot structure that feels like it will work well for me.

I’m really rethinking how the structure all fits together, but the great news is – it doesn’t look like I’ll need to throw out much of what I’ve done. Just a little tweaking, and I’ll be headed in a new direction with more confidence, and a good map. Yay!

Back to the Drawing Board

DrawingBoardTaking a step back – so I can move forward

I’ve been floundering. That is, I write some, take it out, write some more… I can’t tell if I’m really getting where I want to go. I have a very clear vision of what I want this story to do, how it affects my characters and how they struggle and finally triumph over the odds stacked against them. But I how do I get from here to there?

One option – just jump ahead and write the scenes I have playing in my head. Later on I can stitch them together. I may try that, but first I think I need an actual roadmap. And for that, I’ve decided to work with a beat sheet.

There are lots of beat sheets, which define where specific plot elements need to fall in the story. A good summary of what beat sheets are and a collection of downloadable beat sheets is available from Jami Gold, who has an awesome writing blog and did a post on beat sheets. I’m taking time this week to step back from writing to lay out the plot points on my own beat sheet, so then I can forge ahead. Thanks, Jami.

Snow Day!

SnowTree   The little tree out front – taken from INSIDE my nice warm house. I’m no fool. Today’s snow day gave me some unexpected extra time. Yay! One thing I did was catch up on last week’s writing. I got in five days of work, but didn’t meet my goal until this morning. I’m counting today’s extra writing in with last week, though – so there. With what I did this morning, I count over 1,400 words, and I’m happy about that. Will this make it harder to reach the total this week? Maybe – but I won’t worry about that. Let me quote Ben Franklin: “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen.” Or Scarlett O’Hara: “I can’t think about that right now. If I do I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.