inasmuch as it concerns Building Character:
Protagonists. Antagonists. Second-string chorus members. Meeting them, getting to know them, telling them what I want them to do, and finding out they don't want to do it, the bastards.
...annnnnnd All Caught Up Again!
- 15,103 wds. long
Not likely to fall behind tomorrow, either. Will be at the Tea Spot from noon until five. Noon until two is designated for writing, and I can't see why I wouldn't.
You know what I found out today? My main character's brand-new boyfriend (that was a new discovery last month, that she has a boyfriend) has got an elderly relative he refers to as Aunt Widget.
The story all takes place in the New Orleans area. The boyfriend is actually at his grandmother's place in Pearl River. Large southern families get nicknames. They do. Gods know that in my southern family, more people in it have silly nicknames than don't. Some bestowed by parents. Some by siblings. Some by very small children who hadn't got that pronunciation thing down yet. Some by the merciless affection of neighborhood friends (to this day, all the used-ta-been kids from my old block call me "Nooba." Sometimes "Nooba-cheese." I'm not entirely sure why, to tell you the truth). And then there's the collection of family codewords for ordinary objects, and individual phrases as simple as "Oh, apricots!" (I think Mom would have to tell you that one, I'd only get the details wrong) that will reduce the whole holiday gathering to tears of laughter because they all know exactly what hilarious exploit that refers to.
And then there's the way outsiders and former outsiders react to all this chaos. My husband has a southern family, too, but it's not nearly so large, and his left eyebrow got a workout the first time he met all my relatives. I mean, what with him always turning towards me and raising it sardonically while repeating, sardonically, the name he just heard. And being from Houston didn't somehow prepare him for me shopping at (R. I. P.) Schweggmann's. "OK, one more thing on my list," I said, "what was it now?"
"Oh," he says, "the muck-muck."
I looked at him blankly for a moment, then realized. "That's chow-chow, you dingbat!"
Right. Because "chow-chow" is a perfectly normal name for a mustard-based condiment. (Which Zatarain's no longer makes, I am deeply distressed to report. Apparently someone is selling jars of the stuff on Underbid. Soon as I get home on my own encrypted signal, and as soon as I figure out whether anyone's selling the stuff for cheaper, I'm placing a goddamned order, damnit!)
Which--to make a long story short ("Too late!" -entire cast of Clue)--is what sort of stuff I was drawing on when my characters had the following conversation:
"Sorry, my Aunt Widget just walked in. Wanna tell her Merry Christmas?"
"MERRY CHRISTMAS AUNT GIZMO!"
(in the distance) "What? Who you talking to? Get off the phone and come have dinner."
"OK. Gotta go."
"Tell your Aunt Thingamabob bon apetit for me."
I feel like it's trying to turn into a chapter from Good Omens. "Fine old Lancashire name, Device! Nothing wrong with it at all! Are you laughing? Stop laughing!" But, y'know, nothing wrong with that. At all.
Day 4: Still On Schedule / Ditching the Mary Sue phobia
- 6,849 wds. long
Hello. Back for more, as promised. Also, the Saints totally did kick the Jaguars' collective butts. It was brilliantly played. How about that onside kick, eh? "No, really, a field goal is nice, but we really wanted a touchdown. So... we're not gonna give you the ball just yet." And I'm all like, "Is that even legal?" because I'm not really knowledgeable about football at all, I just like watching my team win.
Anyway. One football game and 1667 words later...
So after digging up the "Namarie Sue" Making Light blog post to link to yesterday, I started reading it (and much of what it linked to) afresh. And part of the ensuing conversation rang very true, especially considering it mentions NaNoWriMo:
Mitch Wagner: "As a reader and wannabe fiction writer myself, I hate to think of up-and-coming writers who might be scared off of writing idealized versions of themselves because they're afraid of committing Mary Sue."
Kass Fireborn: Unfortunately, I gather it's so: Writing the Non-Mary-Sue Female Protagonist [now-defunct link to old NaNoWriMo forum topic]. There are five pages there discussing the problem of, well, writing the Non-Mary-Sue female protagonist, and that's just one of the threads which bring the concern up--and these days, NaNoWriMo is a broad enough cross-spectrum of future writers so you can figure if it's got that much of a discussion there, it's a problem elsewhere, as well. [...] So what you get, basically, is an effect on two kinds of people. One group contains people who, yes, might have written a Mary Sue if they hadn't seen this sort of thing, and went back and rethought their characters and as a result got something with better depth. The other group is full of people who wouldn't have written a Mary Sue--but they think they could have. They also think of not for grammar guides they'd have misused a semicolon, and if not for a class on plot structure they'd have had a novel that went nowhere. And so they go back and rethink their characters too, and start carefully sanding away certain bits of them, because they'd hate to give offense or do something as horrible as writing a Mary Sue. [...] If this sanding gets taken to extremes, what they end up with is, I suppose, a sort of anti-Mary Sue--a character so unremarkable you can't care about her at all.That is me all over. I'm sitting here so totally worried about the Sue-ishness of my main character that I'm, well, not so much sanding off her interesting bits as much as being made practically too paranoid to write her story at all.
I think the thing to remember here is, once again, rough draft. What you end up with on December 1 is a huge amount of total rough draft. Rough draft is supposed to be flawed. No one writes it perfectly on the first try--well, maybe some people do, but their example is not useful to us mere mortals. Our rough drafts get better as we continue practicing our craft, but then so do our revision skills, and our standards rise too. So we don't so much aspire to write publishable rough draft as we aspire to have better stories at the end of the writing-revising-polishing process.
As it is, the conclusions people came to on that Making Light comment thread can be summarized as follows: You can have author-insertion that isn't a Mary Sue. You can have admirable characters that aren't Mary Sues. Mary Sue is, quite simply, bad writing. If your wish-fulfillment story is well-written and its main character is well-rounded, it's not going to be a Mary Sue.
Also: A Mary Sue is the character that you're told to like. Because the author says so. For no other reason. Which condemnation says nothing at all about those characters that you come to like because they're genuinely likable.
Also: A pre-emptive remedy for Mary Sue-itis might be, "OK, so you have God-like powers. Now what?"
Also: Read the whole thread. It's good for you.
On a nearly unrelated note, Kass's mention of NaNoWriMo came about because several people upthread were outing themselves as NaNoWriMo participants: "It's rapidly becoming impossible to encounter a fairly large body of prospective writers without tripping over at least one WriMo." And this was 2003. There's even more more of us now. That we Nano'ers are considered a significant portion of the future write population, and that we can gab with pro writers who don't look down at us for choosing this method to produce our rough drafts, is a fine fine thing.
The Last-Minutest Short Story Ever!
- 5,655 wds. long
So I have now completed a full, actual draft of this story. And I do in fact intend to email it to Shimmer within the next couple hours. Yes, I'm nuts. But I said I'd submit, and gosh-darn-it, I'm going to submit.
Who knows? I may surprise myself.
I have a good deal of tightening up to do. It's too long for Shimmer's 5,000 word maximum. I also need to go back and make sure everything I want in it has actually gotten out of my head and onto the page, like what's the deal with Louise and Jimbo's Mom, and what Louise's Dad is up to, and all the parallels between Louise and Wendy, and of course making sure that it doesn't look too cheesy that Jimbo's got the same first name as Captain Hook. Y'know.
So. Back to the grind. More in a couple of hours.
Ending the Radio Silence
- 3,841 wds. long
We apologize for the inconvenience, but there was no Actual Writing to report on all week. Today Actual Writing has occurred and so our Actual Writing Coverage can continue. Thank you for your patience.
The first draft of the story is not done, but the shape is a lot clearer, especially now that the main character has decided that everything that happens is in fact her fault. She might be right, too, but I couldn't say. I wasn't there. I'll have to defer to her judgment on this.
Also. Long walks home from downtown Boulder, knitting needles busily in hand, are very good for brainstorming. You should try it. And then you'll be as sore about the shins and knees and elbows as I am, too. And it'll be good for you.
Suprise! Political Content
- 30,252 wds. long
Regardless of how the finished product looks, please believe me when I say that I very rarely set out to make a political point with my fiction. In fact, I can only think of one example--the post-Katrina New Orleans ghost story I began writing, flush with rage and helplessness during that first week after the storm as reports came in that the Red Cross had been denied entrance and trucks full of water were held indefinitely at the parish border--and that story will probably never be finished.
I certainly never set out to put politics in the books about Gwen and her bookstore. But tonight's writing turned up politics, all right. Tonight's writing featured the talemouse, that shy, retiring is-not-a-character, giving the Bookwyrm a furious lecture on reproductive freedom. I didn't expect that at all.
Her name is Gwen. Not 'prodigy.' Has a name. Isn't just a function. The talemouse is getting really mad now. How can the Bookwyrm be so obtuse? It knows so much, it governs the entire Fictional Hierarchy--how can it be so blind? Men characters, bad ones mostly, say, 'Woman's function is to reproduce.' Say, 'Should not have a job, should not write, should not be distracted from making babies.' Bookwyrm says, 'Gwen's function is to reproduce. Should not have bookstore, should not have family, should not be distracted from making stories.' He doubles over, panting with the effort of such speech. He has had to remember the voices of certain tertiary characters he's hidden inside in order to express himself so clearly. Bookwyrm. Woman-hating villain characters. Can't tell the difference.Well then. Rakash Sketterkin tells us how he really feels.
Perhaps we can blame the never-ending Election Thread over at Slactivist. I just caught up on reading it today, watching the thread go from readers staying up all night tracking county-by-county results from Virginia to all abortion, all the time. Or maybe this had been building up for a long time now, and I never knew it until my timid little talemouse got mad enough to stand up and say--to the Bookwyrm, who is for all practical purposes his God--"People aren't just functions. They're people."
Brave little talemouse. Bless him. One day he may become a real character after all.
A Couple Of Quick Observations
- 28,235 wds. long
First: When your main character is reluctant to do a certain necessary thing--like, say, confront the parents of the missing children in hopes of alleviating their suspicions--it helps mightily to give her more than one reason to do it. It's a good idea to get in their good graces, because they're the force behind the neighborhood distrust that keeps her business in the red. It's a great idea because they not only have influence in the neighborhood but they also have the police officer's ear; if they suspect her, he'll suspect her, which will make him less inclined to protect her from knife-wielding thugs. And it's a FANTASTIC idea because she knows she's supposed to think one of them hired the thug that's threatening her life. The last thing she needs is for the Evil Corporation Guy who hired the thug to realize that there's a cuckoo in his nest (the security guard that's in both their pay) feeding her vital information, like, "This actually has nothing to do with missing children. It's to do with property take-overs. Pretend you don't know that."
"Oh, God," she thinks, "I really am going to have to call these people! And talk to them! And make nice with them even though they are trying to run me out of business and quite possibly abused the children that I'm quite certain ran the hell away from home! I have to treat these people like they're human beings who have authority over me. Shit!"
Second: Nothing says "interesting stage directions" during a wee-hours-of-the-morning conversation between the protagonist and her de facto bodyguard like sexual tension! Yay! She's, so, hot-for-him, she's, so, hot-for-him... Bwahahahaha!
Poor Gwen. She's all nervous about having maybe been too forward and stuff. She doesn't know that by the second book she'll end up married to him. I know just how she feels. Well, aside from all the threats to her life, safety, and livelihood, and whatnot.
Two New Characters Whose Names Start With "T"
- 15,685 wds. long
First off, I promise not to go all anal with this Celtic Knot thing. I'm just having fun doodling, is all.
So. Meet Tess Helen Holland. Tess is the spiral in red. Tess is a middle school girl who likes books (especially those by Gwen Halpburn) and doesn't like boys (much) or sports (at all). Tess is the one who shows up at The Bookwyrm's Hoard and notices the quill is missing. She helps Gwen look for it. They don't find it, but during that time it becomes obvious that the bookstore is a good place for this little mousy misfit. Tess blossoms, sheds her self-consciousness, and even mouths off a little as she and her idol take apart old Mrs. Nimbel's desk in search of the writing implement. Gwen is inspired to keep the bookstore open for the girl's sake if not for her own.
Next, meet Tim Smith. He's the loop in green. When Gwen calls around looking for a security company who can spare guard personnel, like, now, he's the one who shows up. Thing is, after he sees Gwen safe home from the bookstore, he goes directly onto the graveyard shift at the office of a certain corporation which wants the bookstore property and doesn't think twice about using dirty tricks to get it. That's why Tim's loop crosses itself. He's crossing his own interests to take this job. Only he doesn't know it yet.
I might play further with the doodle if I get stuck, see what kind of neat repeating patterns these new lines might cause; they'll make interesting new intersections that might suggest future scenes. But right now I have plenty to work with for several days to come, just with these new characters and all their hangers-on. So for now I'll put away the colored pens and instead open up a paintbox full of words....
- 58,387 wds. long
- 117.75 hrs. revised
Still slogging along with the mother-son phone call. Stupid phone call. Amtrak's City of New Orleans is just getting into Chicago. It's running an hour late because we have a freight train crawling along ahead of us. Stupid freight train. The two girls behind me are having a conversation that alternates between teenage-style boy gossip and five-year-old-style whining about what a waste of time this trip is and how they'll never take the train again and they want their money back. Stupid whiny boy-crazy girls.
Will have about a four-hour layover at Union Station before catching the California Zephyr for Denver at 1:50 PM. Will probably find some wi-fi there to post this, after finding links to spruce things up with. Meanwhile I'm meeting an old friend for lunch at the Corner Bakery. That means I probably won't be hoofing it to the public library, since that's about a mile and a half in the opposite direction. It's to the southwest of Union Station, I think; the Corner Bakery is to the northeast. That's OK. I like seeing a different bit of Chicago each time I come through.
Once on the westbound train, I shall continue the slog. Wish me luck.
P.S. The attached picture is the part of Chicago's Union Station that actually looks like a train station ought. You have to come in from the correct entrance to see it, though. Either end of the Canal Street side of the building will do; the central entrance, though, will send you right down into the bit that resembles a modern airport and is therefore boring.
P.P.S. Did not manage to find myself wi-fi in Chicago. Just lots of pay-per-use wi-fi: tmobile courtesy of Starbucks, and SurfAndSip courtesy of Cosi. Stupid pay-per-use wi-fi. This post will have to wait until Denver and get backdated accordingly.
The Making Of A Monster, Redux
- 57,923 wds. long
- 116.00 hrs. revised
If fictional people were as psychotic as real people, readers would refuse to believe in them. At the very least, their psychoses have to make some sort of sense before they look like more than contrived conveniences for the sake of the plot. Thus, having Mrs. Windlow refer to Amy as "Mike's widow" when Amy has clearly engaged herself to Brian is just a wee little bit over the top. For all that Mrs. Windlow might actually have say this sort of thing as a real live person, as a fictional character she looks cartoonish saying it.
Cartoonish. Like little Lisa Rental in Sheep In The Big City, convinced that Sheep is a "doggie." Or the appallingly two-dimensional villain in Dean Koontz's From The Corner Of His Eye, convinced on the flimsiest of evidence that his female victims are actually in love with him. Delusions on that scale do happen in real life, but in fiction, in general, they're amusing at best and annoying at worst. They're rarely done well enough to be taken seriously. They scream "plot device" and "author's excuse." They don't inspire the creepishness that Koontz probably wanted and that Mo Willems probably couldn't care less about. (Lisa Rental is supposed to be both amusing and annoying. Koontz's villain probably wasn't.)
Now, having Mrs. Windlow aware of Amy's stated devotions but convinced that they're just little white lies meant to disguise pity for the pathetic baby brother--that's more plausible. A sane person might actually come to that conclusion, too. Except a sane person would dismiss that conclusion the first time he saw Amy and Brian together, whereas a psychotic person prone to seeing ulterior motives would dismiss exactly the evidence that would cause a sane person to dismiss the evidence for the ulterior motive.
Wait. That was convoluted and made no sense. What I mean is, there are enough red herrings in the characters' back story that Mrs. Windlow's opinion would make sense to a third party, if that third party didn't actually know Amy and Brian and had instead only heard Mrs. Windlow talk about them. She's being choosy about the evidence presented her; she's not making evidence up of thin air.
That may have made more sense.
People are subtle. They get broken, and their broken bits express themselves in all sorts of interesting ways. If you go far enough back with an omniscient enough eye, you can find the decision point at which the broken person, through his or her particular psychosis, began the spiral into paranoia and unreal expectations. And that decision point makes sense. And it provides that single premise that leads the broken person to come to a lifetime of mistaken conclusions: "All women are evil," maybe, or "my younger son never does anything without meaning me harm." There's always that one point in time where the choice seem reasonable, where the thought processes seem inevitable, and after which everything is chaos.
Pretty scary, if you think about it. Are you at one of those decision points now? Am I?
The Making Of A Monster
- 57,772 wds. long
- 115.00 hrs. revised
...is darn difficult.
Remember all that crap about the banality of evil? Human villains that aren't actually evil, per se, but aren't acting out of any sort of good intent for anyone but themselves? Useful stuff. Damn useful stuff. But still... I'm having trouble.
Rewriting the conversation between Brian Windlow and his mother. *shudder*
The previous version, which I thought was pretty good at the time, is a ham-handed mess. On the one hand, Brian's half of the convo isn't so bad. He reacts the way you'd probably expect, given the crap she's throwing at him. But the crap she's throwing at him isn't consistent with the philosophy that "No one wakes up in the morning, cracks their knuckles, rubs their hands together, and says, 'What eeeeevil shall I perpetrate today? Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaa!'" Well, it isn't.
So. Reevaluating how the evil got perpetrated now. Reevaluating, y'know, motives. Why is she such an unmitigated bitch to this poor boy? Is she convinced that everything he does is with her disadvantage in mind? Does she therefore view everything he does with suspicion, as a possible plot against her? Does she resent that he lived while her favorite son died? (Yes, yes, and yes.) And how the hell did she get this way? Most people don't start out with such a default distrust of their fellow humans. How bad, exactly, was that divorce, and why did her relationship with Brian get so saddled with it?
(And exactly how much remembered abuse is she actually guilty of, that Brian is now ambiguously traumatized by?)
I keep suspecting I've bitten off more than I can chew. There's a sort of highwire tension line between these two characters, and if I teeter off it even a little bit I plunge this portion of the novel into irredeemable hokeyness. Which is bad. Which is also a terribly strained metaphor, but, y'know. It's a blog. I'm allowed.
Anyway, that's about where I am at the moment. Now I'd better clear out of here--I can tell you with certainty that the New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company on Vets in Metairie (er. there are two. I'm at the one by the end of the parade route, near Oaklawn) has very decent wi-fi (unlike Puccino's, where I couldn't even connect, not once, and where there are signs telling students on no uncertain terms that they may not study there), but on a parade night they're pretty darn busy, and I bet they'll appreciate my freeing up a table.