“Creativity is a continual surprise.”
Ray Bradbury

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

The knot is the plot.
Plotting With Celtic Knots
Fri 2006-11-10 23:06:01 (single post)
  • 12,157 words (if poetry, lines) long

Confession time: I didn't think this up. Not only didn't I think this up, but I only got into it because it's shiny. Its suggested benefit in story building only took effect later. Tonight, actually.

The "this" in question is the idea of using Celtic knots and braids as a plotting mechanism. James D. Macdonald tells us about this in his famous and long-lived "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" thread over at the AbsoluteWrite.com forums. (Go read it. From the beginning. Yes, it will take you awhile. Take your time and do the homework assignments as you get to them.)

Like I said, my first thought was "Ooh! Shiny!" My first action was not to try plotting a brand new story, but instead to run off and learn how to draw these things, which I mainly got the hang of, and to show off my new hobby in a Comicollage contribution.

Now, I'm not sure I can do what Uncle Jim does anyway. I don't think I can use a knot to come up with a plot from scratch, not the way he describes doing it. What's intuitive for one writer isn't intuitive for another. But I thought maybe I could design a knot or braid based on the way things were already shaping up, and use the resulting pattern to figure out where the Nano-novel was going next.

Three threads were about all I could keep in my head at once. So I named those threads "Gwen and the bookstore" (blue/gray), "The talemouse" (blue), and "The corporate thug" (maroon). (The colors come courtesy of the particular selection of le pens I had on me at the time.) Each thread represented not just that character but also his-or-her goals, interests, and actions.

Then I tried braiding those threads. I quickly found out that in a simple braid, you end up with a rock-scissors-paper conundrum: each thread has only one relationship, "win" (over) or "lose" (under), with each of the other two threads. That makes it exceedingly symmetrical, but it doesn't suggest an interesting progression of scenes. So I messed with it some more, hoping to get a bit more variation--and I got the image you see here.

I think this may well be the perfect basic three-character pattern ever. OK, well, maybe not, but it's pretty cool. See, you have the gray-blue thread for the protagonist, who stays in that tight twist representing the central plot. Then you have the supporting character in blue and the antagonist in maroon who alternately help/hinder the protagonist and oppose each other. The braid runs chronologically along a timeline, and each intersection is a scene that can be described as "[thread on top] [does something] to [thread on bottom]." For a bonus, the braid emphasizes that the secondary and the antagonist have plots of their own which intersect "off-stage." I need to flesh them out.

After I drew this out and labeled the threads, I started labeling the intersections. It mapped surprisingly well to those scenes I already have written or planned, and suggested new scenes I would need to invent. (Note: letters in list correspond to letters labeling intersections in the .GIF, and text in brackets indicates scenes that weren't already planned but were instead suggested by the braid.)

  1. The talemouse first rescues an abused child by disappearing him from Gwen's world and putting him into one of the books Gwen wrote. This affects Gwen because neighborhood suspicion falls on the bookstore when kids start disappearing, and because her books have been changed.
  2. [I guess here the talemouse witnesses something the corporation plans to do, and that spurs the talemouse into action he would not otherwise have taken.]
  3. Gwen accepts, takes possession of, and makes plans to reopen the bequeathed bookstore. This affects the corporation, who wanted to buy the place. Gwen's action threatens the corporation.
  4. The corporation sends a thug to threaten Gwen and scare her off.
  5. [Here the talemouse must take some action to try to protect Gwen from the thug. Maybe he'll influence the neighborhood beat cop, who is currently not well disposed towards Gwen.]
  6. [Here something Gwen does will change the talemouse's course of action, causing him to trust her more maybe, resulting in...]
  7. [...the talemouse indirectly reuniting Gwen with the Bookwyrm, whom she last saw when she was a child.]
A neat aspect of that central twist is the way Gwen-affecting-other is immediately followed by other-affecting-Gwen. Something Gwen does incites another character to react to her directly. For instance, her moving into the bookstore poses a threat to the corporation, so the corporation sends out the thug. It's a very intimate tit-for-tat sort of thing.

Unlike a self-contained knot that might lend itself to the abstract concerns of theme and relationship, this braid is a literal storyboard. That has its limitations. It'll need a shake-up somewhere just to keep the dynamics from getting too predictable. I think that the pattern will have to change drastically after one full repeat, which is to say, after the talemouse causes Gwen to meet the Bookwyrm once more (which is to say, grown-up Peter Pan remembers how to fly, with a little help from Tinkerbell). Also, I should probably put in a couple new threads for Gwen's agent and, once I decide how he gets into the story, Gwen's love interest. (I may have mentioned that she's married in Right Off The Page? Hubby-to-be needs to play a part in this story. Maybe he'll be the security cop Gwen hires when the beat cop makes it clear he can't care less.) Both those characters are going to play real parts, not just be "prop characters" like the Bookwyrm and the missing children. And then there's the beat cop and maybe a representative parent-of-missing child. And then, and then, and then....

And then a lot of stuff. But for now, that's the first part of the book mapped out. Plus I get to make shiny pretties in Adobe Illustrator! What's not to like?

No Writing At The Polls, and No Talking Dogs In My Novel
Wed 2006-11-08 23:17:36 (single post)
  • 10,011 words (if poetry, lines) long

I only got my notebook out once yesterday at the polling place, and that was to jot down the URL associated with the cute fuzzy hat that the Machine Judge was knitting. What was I thinking, finish the short story rewrite at the polls? I didn't even hit the NaNo-novel that day. After my working day ended at 9:30 PM (that's a fifteen-anna-half hour working day, I'll have you know), I was just about up for a bike ride to The Dark Horse for their Tuesday night Burger Madness special, and then sleep.

Today was a different story. Today I broke 10,000 on the NaNo-novel. Most of it was Gwen reminiscing about her "imaginary friend" and her unorthodox book-finding procedure at the bookstore throughout her childhood. The surprise for me today was when I realized that the bookstore was no longer magic for Gwen. Gwen is Peter Pan grown up. Part of the plot development will be her re-learning, so to speak, how to fly.

The other surprise was the totally cliche occurrence of the main character receiving a warning at knife point to pack it in and leave town. This will be the adult version of a Scooby Doo plot, I'm afraid: the villain's motivation is to scare those meddling kids away from his base of operations. In other words, he grabs her, tells her that everyone knows she's involved in the recent child disappearances, and that she'd better leave town before she finds herself on the wrong end of vigilante justice; when in actuality he's connected with corporate interests that want to turn the bookstore property into something new and tall and shiny and profit bearing.

I am both impressed with myself over the Peter Pan angle and depressed with myself over the Scooby Doo angle. But don't worry. I'm not writing in a talking Great Dane for Gwen. I'll be writing in her husband-to-be at some point, but not a big talking dog.

Tomorrow, Life Will Suck.
Mon 2006-11-06 23:46:32 (single post)
  • 5,248 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 8,208 words (if poetry, lines) long

Which is not to say that you should not visit the polls tomorrow. Not at all. You should totally go to the polls and VOTE. Really, few things are as depressing in this so-called democratic republic than the concept that a 20% turnout is considered high. Go vote! However, I will continue to whine about how much life will suck for me as I work the 14-hour day involved in running my home precinct's polling place. During a general election. With poll watchers telling me how to do my job.

And no laptop.

I am not allowed to bring my laptop! It is electronic. It has ports. It could potentially be used to hack into the electronic voting booth that I'll be running. So it's not allowed on the premises.

And for once I have nothing ready to knit.


So given that work on the Nano-novel tomorrow will be a no-go, I prioritized it today. I brainstormed about how to throw pointier rocks at Gwen, who is up the tree of Being In Charge Of A Bookstore No One Will Shop At Because Of Suspicions Of Past Criminal Activity. She thinks she knows how to handle this. She is wrong! So wrong! Give me an hour, and I'll figure out why she's wrong. Something to do with digging up copies of her own books and discovering one of the missing children in it, I think. Also, I decided that the scene with 7-yr-old Gwen meeting the Bookwyrm, which I've written before, will be rewritten from the point of view of the talemouse, who will be amazed at seeing a story character travel to the place between stories.

Meanwhile, I plan to bring the short story along with me in hard copy tomorrow: critiqued copies, print-out of current work, and spiral notebook. Perhaps by the end of the day I'll have something ready to type up. I am so very sick of dragging this revision out.

When Writing IS Cat-Vacuuming
Sun 2006-11-05 20:28:29 (single post)
  • 6,956 words (if poetry, lines) long

I should not feel guilty about today. I should not feel under-accomplished. I wrote some 2300 words towards November's 50,000-word goal, and all of it was new material--nothing I'd already imagined in the years I've been kicking this novel idea around in my head. Well, yes, I sort of riffed off the phenomenon of Gwen and Vai holding a crisis conference lunch at their favorite Chinese restaurant, sure, I'd already done that in Right Off The Page, but I'm allowed to give these characters a routine. I did it with brand new words. I was careful not to just repetitively cover ground sufficiently covered last year. I was a writing machine. 2300 sparkly words! All of them new!

That's good, right? That's totally awesome, right?

Don't be fooled. It was 2300 words of procrastination. While I was working on The Bookwyrm's Hoard, I was very deliberately not working on the short story. Dammit.

I'll go do that now, shall I?

On Logic and Math
Sat 2006-11-04 22:31:36 (single post)
  • 4,717 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 5,248 words (if poetry, lines) long

I hate writing science fiction! It has to make sense! I am sitting here with pen and paper trying to decide what the timeline is for the plant virus to take effect, and how exactly Daphne catches it, and how--if she only contracts it once she gets to Lac Des Allemands--she and Aaron don't hear about it on TV what with people contracting it directly from the source before they even leave Kenner. Gahhh!

On second thought, that sort of logical mechanics isn't just a province of science fiction... I hate writing fiction! Fiction has to make sense! Why can't it all just be striking turns of phrase and smooth dialogue and stunning imagery? I hate having to make it make sense!


As for the other on-going project, I'm still behind schedule. About 20 words per day behind schedule. Which, multiplied by 26 remaining days, isn't so bad. But I have this sense of dread following me around, because I haven't done very much more than rewrite from memory things I've already written here and there in past years. I'm not entirely sure what I'll do when I use up that material and have to figure out exactly how the rest of the novel goes.

Maybe this weekend I can spend some time plotting and outlining. I still haven't played with yWriter's nifty Outliner machinery yet. Maybe I'll do that.

Still behind, but not unmanageably so
Theory Of Compost, Addendum
Fri 2006-11-03 22:57:30 (single post)
  • 3,472 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 5,192 words (if poetry, lines) long

Simplifying what I said yesterday: The difference between Procrastination and Soup-making is the difference between thinking about the project and not thinking about the project. And the "must" moment is never totally lost, although the contents of the soup may need to be reheated.

I say this now because I did a lot of soup-making last night and today. Falling asleep, I saw in my head the near-invisible Ambassadors holding their tentacle-like limbs into the air in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral for the small birds to perch on. I re-worded the very ending of the story. Aaron's two moments of realization came clear to me.

And then, instead of writing the scenes down, I played video games. I read blogs. I looked at the clock and said, "Oh, crap! Only an hour left to Novemeber 3! Must log some words so that my bar chart doesn't lose a bar!"

And so I opened up The Bookwyrm's Hoard instead and wrote about how Gwen became a writer.

There is probably a special procrastination hell for writers who pretend to be writing by writing stories whose protagonists are writers. I promise, once again, that Gwen will not become a Mary Sue! I promise!

In any case, the piece of scene I wrote is something I've written before, but rewriting it from memory allowed it to be influenced by my more recent understanding of the character since writing the first draft of Right Off The Page.

OK. Now, I really shall work on the short story. I think part of my problem is, I'm not totally clear on how to rewrite Daphne's banana reverie. I think instead tonight I shall rewrite the ending scene. Actual words bubbled up in the soup this afternoon; I should get them down before the soup cools off.

When In Doubt, Write A Talemouse Scene
Thu 2006-11-02 23:40:49 (single post)
  • 2,265 words (if poetry, lines) long

Well, it gets me 900 words in half an hour. Dunno what it does for you.

I finally couldn't stand it any more. Typing stuff like [##gwenslastname##] and [##agentsname##] all the time--I drew the line at [##talemousesnameskittlessomethingwasn'tit?##] and finally copied last year's NaNoWriMo draft over from master zip disk to hard drive. So those would be "Halpburn," "Vai" (did I ever give him a last name?), and "Rakash Sketterkin." I figured that out while rereading chapters 1 through 3, which are surprisingly good for NaNoWriMo output even if I do say so myself at this late date. Only I'd totally forgotten what Gwen's voice was like, and that I'd written her POV bits last year in present tense. Yesterday morning's output looks really, really stilted. I guess I'll go back sometime and fix that. Gwen's proper voice is talkative enough that the revision will only help my word count.

(And by yesterday morning of course I mean November 1. Right now it is November 3, but only just.)

I'm still behind. I'm using SpaceJock Software's yWriter2, and it has a handy tool for calculating daily word counts--you can give it any start and end dates and grant word count total, but it was specifically created for NaNoWriMo. It tells me I have... to write 1768 words per day starting tomorrow if I'm gonna win this.

That's not so bad.

No, wait! That's 1768 starting Saturday! If I push my computer clock back to Thursday, it says "28 days left; 1705 words to write per day." That's even better!

(OK, now I am thoroughly waxing the cat, or vacuuming it, or taping bacon to it, or doing something else that neither the cat nor my writing deadlines like much at all.)

Now I can go back to the short story with a clean conscience. But first! Sleep.

Status Check
Wed 2006-11-01 15:29:40 (single post)
  • 5,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,056 words (if poetry, lines) long

Revision Status: "Putting Down Roots" will probably not hit the mail today. (And why is that, Niki?) Because the darn thing has almost completely rewritten itself in my head on a plot level. Like, where the virus comes from, and why the aliens are on Earth, and all that. The plot is twisting itself back into its original shape, but it's taking a lot of its recent developments with it, with the result that I'm not working on the... [counts on fingers] ...6th draft of this story so much as writing a new one with the same characters, climax, and ending. So I haven't gotten anywhere near completion since last blog post. Dammit. Working on that will take priority; I don't mind being a little behind on NaNoWriMo in the meantime.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo: Have reset the word count on "The Bookwyrm's Hoard"--those 7.5K or so came from summing together all the words from all the snippets I've drafted through the years, any of which I'll end up rewriting from memory this month if the novel still wants them in it. This morning, after the clock hit midnight and the calendar hit November, I broke the first thousand, but it was all very clumsy. I'm not entirely sure where the novel's going beyond the plot premises of Gwen taking over the bookstore and children vanishing into her books.

Last night's This morning's NaNoWriMo kick-off was very well attended, and the people who showed up all had a productive session. One of 'em even crossed the 2K mark. Then things devolved into mere socialization and cat stories until about 4 AM. It was fun. And I am paying the price today. But, having slept until about 3:00 PM, I think I'm recovered enough to get on with things. Like, rewriting short stories. And cleaning up in the kitchen.

When It's OK To Quit
Wed 2005-11-23 00:07:18 (single post)
  • 35,205 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 7,322 words (if poetry, lines) long

No, not me. I ain't quitting. No sir. I didn't do a full 2K today, but I did this much:

A daily word count of 1,667 would have put you at 36674 words.
You have averaged 1600.227 words per day thus far.
A daily average of 1859.375 will make you a winner!
Good luck!
So, my actual average is approaching 1,667 (even though my recommended future average has actually increased by five words since yesterday) and my total is very close to what an on-track total would look like. I'm practically caught up!

But not everyone "wins" NaNoWriMo. And that's OK. From talking to at least two people today who started the challenge and then stopped, here are two reasons to give up on the idea of a single 50K work written in 30 days:

  • When you're no longer interested in the story. One person I know started an entirely new novel during Week 2, and now has given up on that story too. But she still comes to write-ins and does stuff like freewriting and brainstorming. Sometimes a given story just dies, or needs to be put on the shelf for awhile. Pushing past the point of authorial interest will only guarantee an uninterested reader.
  • When you're no longer interested in writing. Some people take on NaNoWriMo, having never written much before, with the intent to discover whether they have a book in them. Sometimes they discover that no, they don't. At that point, it's probably best to stop writing and move on to something one would prefer to spend time on. Because, heck, life's too short to spend on something you don't fundamentally enjoy. Granted, writing isn't always playtime, even for the most inspired writer in the world. It'll be work from time to time too. But if the work isn't fulfulling, move on to something else. Don't turn your daily word quotas into a penance undertaken for the sin of not coming out of NaNoWriMo a lifelong career writer.
I suppose I'm just saying this to remind myself and fellow Municipal Liaisons that "You can do it! Keep going!" isn't always the most appropriate answer to "I'll never reach 50K by November 30, and I think my story's dead." How to respond to a low word count in Week 4 depends largely on why the participant started playing the game and what they've gotten out of the course of its progress thus far.

Moving back into my own NaNoWriMo 2005 experience: I did a bit of kvetching today about how Right Off The Page is the second book in a series whose first book isn't written. Kandybar's response was a sort of "Oh, I hate it when that happens, I've totally done that." My husband, on the other hand, said, "You're an idiot!" He's very sweet and wants to see me get published, and he knows that if I'm banking on this series then I'll have to publish The Bookwyrm's Hoard first.

He also knows that means one more book for me to write before I'll finally get back to work on "the ghost story." This refers to an as-yet unnamed novel which began as a short story roughly inspired by thinking too much about Tori Amos's song "Toast." That alleged short story refused to show signs of ending after 2,000 words. (At this point I had Stern Words with my Muse about false advertising. "Oops," she said, "did I say short story? Maybe I, er, underestimated." She means lied.) John would like very much to read it, but only those 2,000 words exist as of yet. He would like more of it to exist, please, and as soon as possible.

It's times like this when I thank the Gods for supportive husbands. Some writers have spouses that say, "That's nice, dear, but when are you getting a real job?" or "What do you mean, you're busy? You're only writing." I have a spouse that says, "Is it finished yet? Can I read it? What do you mean, no?"

(He would also like me to be the next J. K. Rowling so he can retire on my book advances. Well, so would I.)

It's nearly Thanksgiving. I have thanks to give. This is not the only reason, but it's a big one.

A Litany Of Excuses. Oh, And An Excerpt.
Wed 2005-08-24 22:02:36 (single post)
  • 7,322 words (if poetry, lines) long

Almost didn't post this evening. It's been a long and busy day in which the only times available to work on Drowning Boy were this morning (had I woken up two hours earlier, which I didn't) and right now. And if the IHOP was too uncomfortably public for composing a sex scene, imagine trying to write Hot 'N Steamy from the cramped seat of a crowded westbound #B bus.

Work today involved not only database input, web page modifications, and attempts to script a self-updating potcast feed, but also a lot of driving and a 3,000-foot change of altitude. And then it was a mad scramble to catch the westbound #S. And on the bus I had a story to critique and homework to complete for my writing class. Not that I get graded. Homework in this class is completely optional. But so many good ideas are born from homework exercises that I hate not to do them.

So here I am on the bus with a headache (cf. altitude change) and very reluctant to start on the novel. I'm thinking, "4 hours, all right, I mean 6 hours tomorrow. No, eight! Just--not tonight, OK?"

But wait just a moment there. I did my homework. If that's not writing, what is?

Hence the new manuscript title at upper left. The Bookwyrm's Horde is a metafictonal novel--rather, a transfictional novel--concerning an author who inherits a magically labrynthine bookstore after which the novel is named and who writes stories that children just fall right into. Literally. Also, the Bookwrym? He's real. He's big and purple and wears horn-rimmed glasses and, occasionally, eats people.

Over the past few years I've babbled out bite-sized bits of that novel at random intervals. The word count you see up there sums up all those vignettes. And I've only just realized that this, this here, is the real first book of my "book detective " series (the one that I hope won't get flagged as a Jasper Fforde rip-off; I swear I've been working on it, mentally at least, since before I ever heard of The Well Of Lost Plots.) So this realization puts much of the next novel--which involves a missing main character--into perspective. It also upsets my previous ideas about how Bookwyrm was going to shape up. But that's why story-writing is so fun, right? You never know what'll happen next.

So, just to prove I wasn't a complete bum today--well, as regards writing; I have been very busy otherwise, and yesterday too, just not so much with writing--here's what resulted from my homework assignment. The prompt was this: Take the phrase "message in a bottle" and reinterpret it. No desert islands, no literal bottles. Here goes.

Every day that she could steal a few minutes, she went to the library. She went like a fugitive, on frightened feet, staring about with haunted eyes. She would wait at the juncture in the path until a moment when no one could see which direction she chose. And she'd hide her face from the librarian at the information desk.

But if you were to follow her, if you were, say, a small brown mouse with peppercorn eyes and quiet, quiet toes, you'd see her sneak over to the middle-grade shelves. You'd see her picking her terrified way past the voices of children some five years her junior, flashing that hunted look up and down each aisle before venturing into its narrow confines. You'd know when she got close to her target by the way she began to allow her eyes to rest on book titles.

It wouldn't take her long to choose. Five minutes at the outside, and she'd have a book down in her hands, flipping madly through it. If you didn't know better, you'd think she just wanted to reread her favorite scene. And you'd be confused by the fear in her hands.

And when she found just the right page, she'd reach quick-quick into her back jeans pocket, whip out a piece of paper, and in one motion slip it into the book and the book back onto the shelf.

Then she'd run.

And if you happened to have seen her do it, you might have gone back to that book and searched it for her contribution. You wouldn't find it any other way; she chose books that never got checked out much. But if you were, say, just a little sandy mouse with clever paws and claims to literacy, you might have seen which book she chose, and you might have been able to open it up to the right page, and you might have been able to read...

"Page 168-and-a-half: Then, while Alison was still practicing her BROODING face at the window, she saw a little girl come running down the street. The little girl looked so distressed that Alison opened the window wide and leaned out and said, 'Hi! What's wrong?' And the little girl said, 'Please help me, I'm stuck in the real world and I have to get out, can I be in your book please?' And Alison said, 'Of course you can be in my book.'"

If you knew where to look--but of course you wouldn't--you could find almost ninety-nine notes like this one in almost ninety-nine books, and they'd all show a little girl meeting one of the characters and asking for permission to enter the story.

But since you're not a mousey-brown mouse with well-traveled feet, you don't know a thing about it until one day the newspapers report a missing child and quote woeful parents with tears running down their cheeks, and you just shake your head over the tragedy of a world in which even little girls aren't safe from evil. And you go on to put your coffee mug in the sink and kiss the cats goodbye, and you lock the door and you head into the office for another day of depressing sales calls.

But there's a lot more to know than what you know, and the thing about this little girl is, she was the first.

See? I told you so. Writing. And mad propz to whoever spots the YA novel to which a page 168.5 was contributed. (Not that 168.5 is necessarily the right page number. I'm going from memory here.)