Monday, February 28, 2011

Rewriting. Again. And Again.

I really thought I’d nailed that first chapter. Really. Nailed. Fourth draft. The Second and third were mostly an attempt to start the thing en medias res – for the most part I lopped off several thousand words of backstory and tried to get closer to where the real beginning is. Twice.

Yeah, I still haven’t nailed it. Twice.

But that’s okay. Really it is. Disheartening, but not so much that I won’t go carve out some more and try to really really really nail it down.

While we are often told there is only one chance to make a first impression, the cool thing about writing is that we get drafts – however many we need – before we introduce our darling to the world at large. Okay – some critique partners have now met my first chapter rather more frequently than they might like (have I mentioned recently how much I LOVE you guys?), but they have all agreed to the part of the writers journey that comes before you nail the thing down correctly. This is a role we willingly play for each other.

Here’s the thing about good first chapters – we almost always write them as our ~3rd chapter or so. Somewhere between 20 – 60 pages are spent ‘setting things up’, making sure the reader understands what world we have put them in. And it turns out that those initial pages are backstory – sometimes containing important elements, but essentially just a drag on the reader before they get to the meat of your story.

And you WANT your reader to get to the meat of the story – why will anyone bother reading your story if it takes 60 pages for anything interesting to happen?

The suck part about this, is I know this fact. I know it well. I recognize easily when others do it.
And yet, I still did it. Sigh.

But, I have recognized it, have had it pointed out, have re-recognized it, and I think I am close. At least I have a plan, and some folks have heard the idea through, and I will re-write the first chapter again, and hope that I finally found the sweet spot where I dump the reader right into the middle of things without making a muddle of it.

Wish me luck with the words. And if not luck, then hope I find the right draft, whichever it is.

Back to it.

The Final Snippet: I have seen him drunk, wearing a bunny suit. (this is a contributed shoplift, so I personally did not see the guy in question drunk in a bunny suit. But having met him, I can now picture it. So, thanks for that.)

Deb Answers: Madeline in Orange County: Those are not the evening clothes you seek.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Singeing your Eye Whiskers

While playing poker at my house the other night, a friend said, ‘Uh, I think your cat may have burned itself…” We all turned to look where she indicated. In fact, the cat was standing very close to a grouping of candles, and as we all watched, she leaned over to examine a flame. Quickly she jumped back shaking her face. I went and picked her up and sure enough she had damaged the whiskers over her right eye. Which means she will walk a little funny and bump into things for a few days.

My cat is a gorgeous long-haired mix of American Ragdoll and Bob-tail. She is like a tiny, delicate, befurred Siamese, which a loud chirrup of a voice and a tail that is always curled around her (due to the bobtail mutation). She is adorable. She is not, however, smart, and this whisker singeing was not her first. In some weird way she is determined to ‘get’ something about flames and keeps revisiting them even though they clearly cause her some damage and a little pain. I have to keep the wood burning fireplace insert doors closed as she gets super close and I’m afraid she’ll actually walk in.

Yes, that not smart.

But her persistence got me to thinking. Both in life and in writing fiction, I think we tend to stick with the familiar, the comfortable. We don’t like stepping outside our habits, climbing out of our ruts. In my current work in progress, I found myself placing limits on where I would take my character – oh, I can’t write THAT, I would tell myself. That is too vulgar, or too over the top, or would offend some people. And for a while I wrote my character very carefully so as to stay within some boundary that makes me feel safe. After all, offending people, writing things about a character that people might confuse with me, writing something too vulgar (and yes, there is a TOO vulgar for me, I do have some limits), well, it SCARES me.

Yes, scares me.

What if something is so vulgar it puts off potential readers? What if someone surmises I am my character and therefore decides not to like ME any more? What if, what if, what if. Yet I kept coming up with scenes that seemed so right, then self-censoring myself. Not writing them. Just like my cat, back to the flame again and again.

But here’s what I have finally decided: We can’t be afraid to singe our eye whiskers. We just can’t. There’s a life lesson in here, certainly, but from a writing perspective, if we never go to the places where we singe our whiskers, if we only write what is safe and comfortable and what we think will not offend, well, we aren’t writing our true selves. And I think (and someone correct me if I am wrong) that writing that is unloosed, and not self-censored, and which goes exactly where it needs to go, is almost always going to be better and get more positive responses from readers than that which is restrained and safe.

By this I don’t mean that you need to work hard to offend, or use curse words, or gratuitously use sex. I mean, write the book that is there to be written, there inside your brain, and don’t let fear keep you from writing exactly that book. Even if it’s scary to step out of your comfort zones. Even if you think you might be judged. Even if you think you might singe your eye whiskers.
The worst that will happen is that you might walk a bit wobbly for a while, bump into things for a bit.

And I am pretty sure that’s okay.

Singe your eye whiskers writer-people. Do it.

The Final Snippet: It’s not road rage, it’s severe road irritation.

Deb Answers: Cara in Boston – lay off the bagels. Seriously.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guest Dog Goes Walkabout (and Other Stuff)

Saturday is usually my day to do stuff around the house, and I am deeply involved in Getting Things In Order today as I have a bunch of cool chicks coming over to play Texas Hold 'em. I of course plan to kick ass, but I do need to get a bunch of stuff done before the ass kicking can begin.

Which means I do not need a dog gone walkabout at the moment. But life often delivers us that which we least need, when we least need it. My life does anyway.

So there I was staining baseboards (yes, that's probably excessive just for a poker party but I have an excessive personality. Don't judge me). And I get the call from Guest Dog's real owner (Guest Dog is not mine, I am fostering him, hence calling him Guest Dog). I have to hike a mile to retrieve him. He thinks this is great fun -- not only did he make two new dog friends and a bunch of new human pals who think he is an awesome and rockin' dog, but he gets a most excellent walk from his second-favorite human (his first of course being his owner). Guest dog = happy. I = not amused.


But the forced walk in the middle of what I NEED to get done got me thinking about characters and whether or not we inflict the very real and mundane stuff of life on them as much as we should. Pipes break before big parties (at my house they do), dogs go walkabout while you are on a tight schedule, half & half goes bad seconds before you need to offer it to a guest, and the grocery stores run out of the exact item you need for the dinner you have planned forcing either a change of plans or a detour to another store (several if you are me). And sometimes you can't find a bathroom when you really, really need one. Again, don't judge me.

While I am finishing the draft of my work in progress, I think I will introduce a bit more of the mundane and irritating into my main character's life. Sometimes it's not the big plot points in life that show who a person is, but the way they deal with the mundane and routine.

I will not give my character, Else, a Guest Dog, however. She is much smarter than me and would know better than to take one in in the first place.

I'm off to finish the baseboards. Sigh.

The Final Snippet: I used to live with a Portuguese midget stripper. I hung her in a closet once, and boy was she pissed. (overheard of course in a bar. For the record, 'midget' is an extremely offensive way to refer to a person with dwarfism, but I think the guy who said this probably wasn't all too concerned with offending anyone).

Deb Answers: To Carol in Ozark Lakes: In fact it IS alligators. You should do something about that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Random No-Context Shoplifts

~Does my head look too big? Should I grow my hair longer to compensate?

~I started drinking because I was in choir....

~I'm not saying I'm NOT in love with you....

~It was like getting the Hapsbergs, the McCoys and the Gill Foundation to sit down and iron out their differences. Basically, pointless.

~Real world scuba accidents, and how to avoid them.

~They're retarded. And not in the sense of 'you're just stupid', but in the 'you have an extra fucking chromosome' sense. (sorry, offensive. I don't make 'em up, I just steal 'em and write 'em down)

~This is the part where you make a snarky comment which involves an obscenity.

The Final Snippet: None -- I gave you 7 excellent lifts above. Don't be greedy.

Deb Answers: To Randy in Maine....stop using soap, it is in fact infected.