Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Faster than a Herd of Turtles

"Off like a herd of turtles..."

“Off like a herd of turtles…”

Well, I’m happy to report that I have continued to work regularly on Sky. I did 2 1/2 hours a day last week, and so far 3 hours a day this week. All time I actually spent focused on the work at hand instead of everything else in my periphery.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done a number of things to help myself be more productive — trying to get to bed earlier; keeping things picked up and put away so I don’t see them when I walk out of the room and thereby get distracted; using Freedom and turning off the phones. And they have helped. But overall, I think I have to chalk this up to the Lord’s doing. I feel different about it all now, and it seems almost effortless to get to work…

But I did have to get to a point of despair when it came to my own efforts and finally just give it all over to Him:  “Here, Lord. I can’t do this. You handle it.”

I finished chapter 6 on Monday and started chapter 7 the next day. Today I continued on Chapter 7 and so far I have 10 pages.  It’s difficult to describe how I work, because it’s pretty chaotic. I have ideas, snatches of conversations collected on various papers, cards and electronic documents. They show up when I’m making notes about what’s to happen next, or when I do nonstops about the work. I also have a sort of outline for the events/incidents that are going to happen.

So what I’ve been doing is just putting those altogether, thinking about the resultant mix, starting to question various elements of that mix, sometimes to answer the questions I posed and from all that to begin to gather and shape the ideas into a coherent narrative.  And it does appear that something interesting is emerging. I’m excited!

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Second Real Day Back

events stack

Well, finally, after all the catch-up I played last week after our trip, I’ve gotten back to work. It was a productive day!

When I started, though,  as I looked at the three hundred or so  2″ x 3″  cards scattering my desk, I felt quite overwhelmed. Over time I’d used them to note down ideas as they had occurred to me — ideas about character, about incidents or events that might happen, about a character’s intentions or desires or reactions… each to its own card, but the cards all in a jumble. All waiting to be put into some kind of coherent plotline.

Augh! How was I going to do this? It was all swirling around —  random events and occurences that seemed to have no relation to one another. I needed, so I thought, to form some kind of plot line, but I felt lost in a fog of indecision.

So I went to the Lord, which I’m doing a lot more now than I have in the past — about almost everything.

“What should I do?” I asked Him, wanting to run away from it all yet again…

Well, He drew my attention to the fact that I have three placemats on my desk and enough space for another, though I don’t have one.  That’s more or less 4 sections. I could at least divide up the stack into general sections…

So I took up my stack of “event” cards (above)

And began to go through them one by one… placing some of them on the “beginning” placemat, some on the “ending” space and  just parceling out the rest of them as seemed fit, more or less where I thought they would fit in the story. Some events were predicated on others, some had to come after others… Sometimes I had two cards with different options for the same event, mutually exclusive. Sometimes I had two cards with slightly different takes on the event, or different details or trappings for it.  I just laid them all down, some in rows, some on top of other cards, some bridging two rows. Some of them I even put between the placemats when I wasn’t sure.

It was kinda fun, because I didn’t have to decide, just generally divide up the cards. Some of them I even threw away. And it was something of a comfort to find that for several of the events I’d envisioned, I’d made two, three even four cards with the same event on it.

Once I had them all parcelled out, I divided them into four piles, which I gathered together in a rough approximation of the order they’d been placed on the table.

The operative word here is “rough.”  I was not demanding that I be precise and orderly, it was just to be a general dividing of the concepts.

parts 2 - 4 small

Above you can see parts 2 -4 all gathered up and secured with rubber bands.

Where is part 1?  Well, once I’d gotten all four of my stacks divided, I took up Part one and began to lay out those cards in terms of cause and effect, order, etc.:

cards part 1

And having done that I have the beginnings of a line of events to work with. Nothing finished by any means but a start. There are lots of holes, and some of them are just ideas that need fleshing out. Some — those either/or cards — require a decision to be made one way or the other.

But that’s all tomorrow’s work. Oh, and I’m still loving my Freedom program, which I blogged about awhile back. That and turning off the phones, continues to give me what feels like a safehaven in which to relax and focus on the work… Plus something about the suspension of being available for contact motivates me to use the time to advantage rather than simply dink around.

Game of Hot and Cold

Some time back in one of the messages I listened to about living in your spiritual gift, Pastor Farley described his own experiences in developing a sermon. He said that when he starts a message, he’s often stone cold. The Holy Spirit plays a game with him of hot and cold.

That immediately made me think of something I learned back during the time I was writing The Light of Eidon: if you’re bored and don’t want to go forward with a certain plotline or situation, that’s very often a “COLD”.

I remember planning out an entire sequence involving a fire in Southdock, and then could not make myself write it. Just could not. Finally it dawned on me that maybe this was not the way to go. Once I did that, and began to think of other ways to proceed. Sometimes in fiction, there’s an event you only want to “have happened” not actually portray dramatically and it can be difficult to figure that out. Sometimes, you’re just, flat headed in the wrong direction altogether and the event is either one you’ll never use, or something to be saved for another place in the book, or even another book.

I think that’s what’s been happening with Sky. I’ve been trying to take the story in a direction that seemed interesting and just is not where I want to go.

Craft and Daft

Recently I’ve been exploring various elements of WordPress, such as the new stats page, the “follow” function, the reader page, and on the latter, the WordPress Daily Post. Today’s Daily Post was on what it takes to get on their “Freshly Pressed” page, which is a best post of the week collection, or ten best for the month. That was interesting in itself.

Even better, though, was that through it I discovered this post by Oliver at his blog Literature and Libation. It’s part of a new series on writing he’s started called Craft and Draft, but it wasn’t long before I was seeing that as Craft and Daft.

Both titles work for this particular entry in the series (It’s called Craft and Draft: Character Counts), because it’s not only hysterically funny in a daft sort of way, it also resonated in terms of what the writing process is like for me.

He uses, of all things, photographs of various Lego figures to complement and illustrate the process he is outlining and explaining. That choice was brilliant. Yes, it’s exaggerated and simplified but that’s what makes it work so well. It’s easily applied to one’s own situation.

A vivid metaphor for how disconnected, discombobulated, and contradictory one’s characters (or world, or plot, or descriptions) can be — most likely will be, maybe even should be — when you’re moving through your initial drafts of the piece.

I will never forget his Lego man “hero” with the wooden leg, high-tech breathing apparatus, extra head with no face and best of all, a “period-inappropriate tricorn hat” which also happens to be on fire.  (You gotta see the photo, if nothing else. Here’s the link again. And you might as well read it while you’re at it, cause then you’ll have context for what I’m going to say next.)

I love it! As I said earlier, it’s daft, but TRUE. I call this process “cobbling,” and I’ve been doing it for some time — in fact, with every novel I’ve ever written. A process where  I just shove all the things I think I want in a scene together, whether compatible or not, with the promise that I’ll straighten everything out later. It’s a way of getting past the inertia, the inability to decide — eg, should he be high-tech (breathing apparatus) or low (wooden leg)?  And if both, how could I make that plausible?

(In point of fact that is EXACTLY what I’m facing with Sky, since it has a sort of Roman-flavored culture, but is high-tech as well, thought “high-tech” in its own way.  I’ve made the changes in the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, relationships, etc., just as Oliver described. But a lot of that has worked itself out now. At least for the beginning sections.)

This piece has reminded me how difficult this all is for me… in the sense of tolerating the chaos and uncertainty. But it’s also reminded me that there is something on the other side and that I have to go through all this to get there.

The only thing I took exception to in Oliver’s article was his contention that we force our characters to have whatever views we have decided they should have: “We force their beliefs onto them without even asking,” says he, “telling them what they’re passionate about, what they think about certain philosophical quandaries, and how they ultimately view the world.”

I’ve tried to do that. It doesn’t work. They sulk. They refuse to do what I want. Literally refuse. Everything goes blank. I can’t get them to talk or do anything. I avoid the work for days. I go back to it and they’re still stubbornly refusing to do what I want.

“No I will not go fight the fire. I don’t care if it’s dramatic, I think having the fire happen right now is a stupid thing.  Why in the world would I be out there, anyway? I’m not a fireman! And besides, it has nothing to do with anything.”

That probably sounds loony, but I’ve been through it enough, I know it’s so. Instead of me forcing things on them, I believe it’s my job to discover who they are and what their story is. When they don’t want to fight the fire, and the fire has nothing to do with anything, I need to find out what the “thing” is that I’m really supposed to be focusing on, because clearly I’ve gotten it wrong.

Of course it’s all coming out of my thinking, so maybe a better way to describe it in macrocosm is, what kind of story is it that I’m wanting to tell? What kind of characters am I wanting to tell it with? And I really have no idea at the outset. I can only muddle my way along, putting down the things that I like and seem to fit at the time without worrying about if they actually do fit.

In fact, I’ve been doing that with Chapter 3 for the last three days and I am almost to the end of it… maybe tomorrow I will be!

Sex and Violence in the Bible

Last week I had a new comment on the the guest post I did over at Speculative Faith Blog called Sex, Violence and Dark Events. The commenter, Joanna Wilson, suggested we use the Bible as a model for portraying such things, pointing out how when it comes to sex and violence, the Bible is usually quite graphic when it comes to its descriptions of violence but not so much when it comes to sex.

Her comment sent my thinking off in a number of different directions. First is that sometimes what appears as mild and bland in our English translations is that way because of the translators’ reluctance to render the evocative, earthy terms of the original languages into comparable English words. Eg. “seized violently” instead of “took” and “raped” instead of “lay with.” (“Lay with” as a euphemism has always cracked me up. Talk about bland and inaccurate!)

My first thought, which I stated in my response to Joanna’s comment was that often the story being told in the Bible is not concerned so much with the sexual activity as it is other — worse — sins. Here’s what I wrote in my response (with additions):

In the case of David and Bathsheba, for example, it seems to me that story had little to do with the relationship between the participants but was instead about the steps a mature believer — the man who faced down Goliath because of his faith in God — can take when he turns his back on God.

First is the fact that David was not supposed to even be there, lazing around the palace and sleeping through the day, but out on the battlefield leading his army as  2 Sam 11:1  says clearly:

 ‘Then it happened in the spring, at the time when KINGS (like David was) go out to battle [on a military campaign] that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.

And in case that wasn’t enough to clue us in, Uriah reinforces it in vs 11 when he dismisses David’s suggestion that Uriah go to his own home and spend the night with his wife while he’s in Jerusalem (there, because David had sent for him)

“And Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in [tents], and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing.”

This is the officer’s code that David himself had developed. Having Uriah throw it back in his face, you’d think he might take note. Apparently not.

We can see right there in vs 1 that David was out of it. If he’d been where he was supposed to have been none of this would have happened.

Then there’s vs 2, just to drive the point home:

Now when evening came, David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof.

This is the man who, when in fellowship with God, rose early in the morning to pray and commune with God, as he himself wrote in Psalm 143 (Let me hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in Thee; Teach me the way I should walk; for to Thee I lift up my soul.) and Psalm 88:13 (But I, O Lord, have cried out to Thee for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before thee.) Now he’s sleeping the days away and making mischief at night.

So the story begins with David’s failures as a king and as a soldier and a commanding officer.  And he’s rising at sundown instead of the dawn: again, wrong place, wrong time.

Second, he apparently didn’t recognize Bathsheba since he had to “inquire about” her, so he must not have known her personally. Which tells me this wasn’t about a relationship, so much as an exercise of lust and an abuse of power, and came out of the sins that God called him on through Nathan in the next chapter: ingratitude and arrogance.

Nathan then said to David, “…Thus says the Lord God of Israel,

‘It is I who appointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

‘Why have you despised the word of the LORD  by doing evil in His sight? [That is] you have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.  Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ ” 2 Sa 12:7-10

Here God’s provided everything for David, promoted him fabulously, and he was still dissatisfied, and arrogant, despising God’s word, (which is the same as despising God Himself, as this passage also makes clear). He was so full of himself, he actually thought he could get away with murdering one of his loyal men and taking his wife, because the seven wives and unnumbered concubines he already had weren’t enough. Gross.

Since the story is really about David’s failure to love and honor God’s word — and thus God Himself — and not being humble and grateful, it seems to me that the specifics of the adultery/rape incident are irrelevant and would only distract from the main point.

Even in the area of violence, there aren’t many specifics. We know little of the details of  Uriah’s death  beyond the letter David sent to Joab telling him how to do it — that is, put him “on the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him that he be struck down and die.”

Which I guess supports the point I made in my original post that such specifics only go in if they really serve the point you’re trying to make with the story.

If one were writing this story as a novel,  however, I can see where you might put in a few more specifics. Fiction isn’t supposed to be an outline, or a Bible lesson, but an experience. Authors are supposed to try to assemble enough specific details of character and setting to make the scene come alive for the reader.

And therein lies the problem, I think. Some people would rather not “live” certain scenes. In fact, I suspect all people feel that way. It just depends on the scene.

More on this in another post…

Sex, Violence and Dark Events…

That is the title of my guest post over at Speculative Faith’s Blog which should be up sometime Friday morning July 6. I want to thank you all, my readers, who replied to my request last week for ideas for this post. You can see from the title which of them was most popular.

This post turned out to be a lot harder to write than I expected. I thought I’d just knock it out, but it took me the entire week.

The question I posed myself was : “Should we as Christian novelists include portrayals of sexual sins, violence or other “dark” events in our fiction, or would that be an automatic violation of Christian standards?”

Then I did a nonstop on the subject. That turned out to be more or less a rant, but it had a lot of energy, as rants often do, so every time I re-read it, it just carried me along and no alternative routes opened up before me. Finally, in desperation, I sent it to a friend for help, and afterward sat down and began to just list my thoughts on the matter as they came, without letting the emotion carry me off.

Turns out I have a lot to say on this subject. More than could be confined in a single blog post, so I had to work on paring it down and getting it focused. It was an experience kinda like trying to fill a plastic trash bag with styrofoam peanuts. Every handful you put in, stirs up the peanuts already in the bag. They go flying out, stick to your hand, the inside of the bag, the outside of the bag… Yeah. Very much like that if you substitute “thoughts” for peanuts.

A lot of prayers went up, and at times I had to vigorously trust  that in the end God would make it come clear. Between His help and that of my friend, I believe it did.

Anyway, as I said, it goes up Friday morning, July 6, and I invite you to head on over to Speculative Faith to see for yourself if I succeeded.  Feel free to comment there or here, if you are so moved. I’ll try to monitor both places.

Here’s how the post starts:

Ten years ago this summer Bethany House Publishers released my first novel Arena into a literary world of petticoats, bonnets and buggies. This explains its original pink and purple cover, an attempt perhaps to mitigate the fact that it was a significant departure from the usual run of Christian fiction. While Arena does include an element of romance, at heart it is an allegorical adventure with sometimes dark and violent scenes.

I’ve received a full spectrum of responses to it, from “Fabulous!”…. Read the rest here

ΩΩΩ

Quote: Beginning is Chaos

“For some people, the beginning is a time of complete chaos. You see bits and pieces of what is before you. You have a sense of what it is you must set out to do. But nothing will form yet. When you sit cown to write or paint or form movement, it’s like stepping over a cliff or into a dense fog. All you can do is trust that this impending masterpiece is going to somehow manifest itself as you work. But you do know that there is something specific ahead, and you feel the excitement of that.”  ~  Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

At first I thought dense fog was the better metaphor for how I tend to feel at this stage, but then decided that stepping off the cliff might be better. Because you’re falling and you have no idea where and it may well be to a very unpleasant end.  And you’re seeing all sorts of things — rocks, trees on the cliff face, birds, but can’t quite get a fix on any of them…


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