Friday, May 28, 2010

Fly Figure Genious

. Friday, May 28, 2010

One sure way to tell that you are not a genious is to misspell the word genious every time you put fingers to keyboard. I have no delusions of genious, not any more than I have delusions of super powers…that is to say, I do have some.

I wince to admit it but console myself by reasoning that all of us believe to some extent that somewhere buried deep inside us lives a genious, a super hero, an extraordinary being. Why else would such myths exist worldwide on such a large scale?

My super power is flight. It can be a problem. Whenever my delusion asserts itself, I want to test my power. How do you test your ability to fly? You jump – off a building, out of a moving car – you jump and pray the delusion is, in fact, the lack of power and not vice versa.

Tall buildings and other high places can be avoided. I am not a window washer, nor am I a mountain goat. But moving vehicles? Harder to evade. The worst is the highway. I get my Chevy up to a certain speed, anything over sixty, and my rational landing gear retracts, allowing the plane of my delusional impulse to take off.

Like a cop talking a jumper down from the ledge, I must reason with myself.

You can’t fly. You have no mutant wings, and the yellow sun does not allow you to defy gravity. If it did, you would have flown before now.

Talking myself down in this way makes it ever so obvious that my latent genious abilities are not latent but nonexistent, for what genious would have the need to convince themselves they cannot fly?

And so, I am not a genious, I am not a super hero, I am not even particularly smart, but, hey, my mom always said I was a late bloomer. Destiny may still guide me into the path of a super-engineered pissed off bird or some genious producing nuclear goo.

If I can’t have my delusions, I’m going to hold on to my dreams.

Beware These Words

“It’s not personal.”

If ever anyone says this to you, run, in a zigzag pattern so as to avoid the bullets whizzing toward your back.

These words are not uttered for your benefit. The only reason anyone ever says them is because it is personal.

You know it. They know it. But they’re trying to convince themselves that whatever devastating deed they have done, or are about to do, doesn’t make them a bad person.

Here’s the thing. “It’s not personal” is what mob types say to their mark right before they blow the mark’s brains out and dump their lifeless body into the river.

Can’t get more personal than that.

So, again, if someone says those words to you, run or fight if you think that will save you. The point is to find a way to survive the attack that always follows those words.

“It’s not personal.” translates as “Ready. Aim. Fire.”

Trust Your Voice

Years ago, I sat in the coffee shop sipping a tall Chai tea and arguing with the veteran writers. I respected them, I came to them with questions, but I could not accept their advice on this topic. Plot, theme, grammar, dialogue, character development, point of view (POV) – these were the tools I needed to master in order to make my novel work. Not Voice. No one cares about Voice.

“This isn’t your story,” Beth, our group leader, said. “It’s the story you think you’re supposed to write.”

Kathy chimed in, “You’ve overanalyzed it, Jocelyn. You’ve become fixated on the tools you need to create your story and forgotten about the story itself.”

They were wrong. I hadn’t forgotten my story. I knew it inside and out. I had been over the plot a million times, used every character chart I could lay my hands on in order to make my characters more believable. I knew the theme, was confident in my choice of POV, and had practiced writing dialogue until I saw quotation marks in my sleep.

I left my weekly writer’s group still shaking my head in disbelief, but when I got home and looked at my novel I felt the same dissatisfaction I had been feeling since I began it. I needed to master the craft. I had to wield my tools better in order to make my writing right.

I began editing my novel again, but somewhere in the trenches of the second chapter, I saw it – or didn’t see it. My voice was gone. I had killed it. My fear of failure had chased it away. I had held so hard to the belief that I had to change in order to write better that I had begun channeling someone else’s voice.

I had leashed my characters, bullied my plot into the direction I thought it should go. I could no longer connect on an emotional level to the theme. Beth and Kathy were right. This wasn’t my story. It was Jocelyn's monster, the reanimated corpse of a story that once lived.

I walked away from the computer, found a pen and paper, and began to write. Just write. No editing, no watching the story arc, no worrying over where the characters were taking me.

It flowed. No writer’s block drove me to pull my hair out, no beating my head against the wall. I wrote without fear and my voice was strong. My characters were interesting and funny. They said and did the most fascinating things, took me to the most engaging places.

I am now in a place where I trust my voice. Writing and editing must work together, but they should not live together. I had been using my writer’s tools as a crutch. I learned to walk again, and now I am running through the worlds I bring to life by using my voice.

Plotting or Plodding Along

There seems to be a great divide between writers who are pro and anti plot. Both sides have their reasons for their anti and pro status, and both are sure that their way is the right way. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ve written with and without a plot and both work.

The reason I choose to plot before writing now is simple: my goal is to support myself with my writing, and do this, I need to produce a finished product by deadline. With the use of a plot, I have a better chance of meeting that ever-looming deadline.

Having a fully functional plot keeps me focused on the finish line—that last line of my novel. Plot keeps me from feeling as if I’m just plodding along with no end in sight. Most importantly, plot helps me look beyond my current manuscript to the next one in the series.

There are a lot of plotting tools out there, and I think I’ve probably read/studied/tried them all. Years of frustration have passed before I learned to make plot work for me instead of working to conform to plot. What finally clicked for me was creating Scene and Sequel Chains.

If I figure out four points about each scene than I don’t have to plod through the book like a human stumbling through the dark:

POV: Whose Point of View should this scene be written in? Sometimes it’s a toss up, but I always pick someone before moving forward.

Goal: What is the goal of the POV character? Throughout the story, the POV Character’s Goal may change, but she should enter the scene with a specific goal in mind.

Obstacles: Who or what stands between your POV character and their goal? The more obstacles, the more conflict. The more conflict, the more meat you (and the reader) can chew on throughout the story.

Hook: Ending your scenes with a good hook doesn’t just propel the reader forward, it propels the writer forward as well. A hook can be a disaster, a potential disaster, a surprise, or even just some good foreshadowing that will get your and the reader’s heart pumping and fingers turning the page because you/they have to know what happens next.

That’s it! That’s all I need to know to write my first (and second and third…) scene: POV, Goal, Obstacles, and Hook.

Now, I usually (but not always) follow up my Scenes with Sequel. Sequel is where the Hook is explored by the POV character through Response, Problem, Decision.

Response: How does your POV character emotionally and physically respond to the Hook from the previous scene?

Problem: What actions can your character take to resolve the Hook? And what are the potential problems her actions could create?

Decision: Your character’s Decision will be her Goal in the next scene.

Here is an example of using these plotting tools from a scene in my novel First Heat:

Scene One

The Texas pride’s next shifter cat leader, KISSA ALASSANE, spent her childhood watching her parents literally take swipes at each other. Their vicious arguments are legendary among the prides. As she prepares for her first heat, her top priority is choosing a mate she can love and trust.

With his sexy French accent, VENOR BRUN seems like the perfect choice: smart, honest, gorgeous, and crazy about her. But when she learns that he’s hiding things from her – and maybe even cheating – she follows her head instead of her heart and removes him from her list of potential mates.

A friend since childhood, TAN GABBARD, seems like a doable alternative. She resolves to choose him as her mate even though she doesn’t love him. But on the day of her first heat, her sire, LATIF, escorts in the eligible males and, to her disbelief, Venor is among them while Tan is not.

Furious at her parents’ manipulation, she chooses to let her heat pass without mating the three times required to seal the mate bond. But when Venor touches her, she can’t deny her cat instinct and her all too human heart, she names Venor as her choice.

POV Character: Kissa

Goal: To choose Tan as her mate

Obstacles: Her parents removed Tan from the list and replaced him with Venor.

Hook: She chooses Venor as her mate but plans on finding a way to dump him ASAP.

Sequel One

With their cats so close to the surface, their mating is both beautiful and violent, but the afterglow dims all too soon. Emotionally incapable of confronting him about his deception, Kissa retreats to the temple and informs her dam, GENET, that she will not complete the mating ritual with Venor. Unable to force Kissa, her dam confines her to the temple for the duration of her heat.

Response: Kissa regrets her decision and leaves Venor to hide in temple until she can get a message to Tan.

Problems: She’s still in heat, which makes planning difficult. Alice slows down her planning. The incense drug slows down her brain.

Decision: Sleep and ask Alice to take a message to Tan in the morning.

So Sequel is Response, Problem, and Decision. Simple. Right? That’s why I like these plotting tools. They are how I (and I suspect many writers) naturally write. Using these outlining tools reveals the big picture and keeps me on track. Now, that’s not to say that while I’m writing, the Goal, Obstacles, Hook, Response, Problems, and Decision don’t change.

They do. My characters’ needs are always the priority. And when they want to do what they want to do, I don’t argue or try to pressure them into behaving as I planned in my plot. Again, use your plot. Don’t let your plot use you.

If this type of plotting looks like it will work for you, I highly recommend that you purchase Dwight V. Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer. Out of all the books on writing I’ve read (and there have been dozens), Swain’s has been the most helpful to me, and this type of plotting is expanded on in great detail.

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