Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back of Beyond

Sitting at my computer in the living room, having nearly made the transition from my beloved nearly 10 year old, much updated desktop PC, I am now pretty much committed to my laptop which has many advantages for speed, ability to take with me and continue working when on a trip, but I LOVED the energy of my old computer and only gave it up after something started happening that made writing fiction on it impossible-- sudden black screens and reboots.

Years ago, I remember writing with a PC that would do what was then called a blue screen of death. It was caused by various complications involving insufficient operating memory. This time there is plenty of operating memory, and I think instead the catastrophic failure has been caused by one of the updates from Thunderbird, Mozilla or Microsoft and something didn't work with my old machine. You can only update these machines so far maybe, possibly, who knows.

In short, neither I nor the local techie (Farm Boss) have any clue why it happened, but the second time, after a restore hadn't stopped it, I was outta there and onto this one, which in June got set up in the corner of the living room. No way am I going to voluntarily edit a chunk of text only to have it disappear before I can hit save. The second time is NEVER as good-- at least not in my memory, and since the first is no longer there to compare, my memory is all that counts.

For the last month, my high point emotionally was renting a house on the Middle Fork of the John Day River, a very old farm house with four bedrooms and one bathroom (they claimed it had an outhouse but turns out it only had the building part and no hole which means they did not have an outhouse-- besides which after our daughter related one of her archaeology field school experiences where, when they took down the outhouse after the dig, they found the bottom full of black widow spiders, I think there was limited enthusiasm for using one) and with ten of us at assorted ages from 68 to 3 one bathroom, even inside, felt like going back in time.

The experiences the kids got from being in that area, at that house, seeing the fossil beds, were, I think very good as it was a lot like stepping back in time with only some additions to what would have been there 50 or even 100 years ago. What we did next took is all even farther back.

Farm Boss and I took the upstairs bedroom even though that is about the last thing I really wanted to do. It made sense though as in the middle of the night I'd rather it be us getting up and going down narrow stairs than the kids. The owners had installed a window a/c; so it wasn't too bad for sleeping other than the necessary once during the night trip down the stairs hoping nobody else was in that bathroom.

The kids loved the two hammocks on the screened porch which ran around two sides of the house. They also had a lot of fun on a hammock type chair that was outside hanging from one of the locust branches. Basically they had fun doing what kids long ago would have had fun doing.

The house was not far off a main east west road through the middle of Oregon which meant traffic noise even up in the locust tree grove where the house set.

Conveniently, it was not far from the John Day Fossil Beds, an excellent interpretive museum, and the South Fork of the John Day River for swimming and fishing. It is in the middle of some of Oregon's prettiest and least seen country as it is five driving hours from our farm home and about that from anybody else's the west side of the Cascades.

With walking in the canyons where they have so many fossils and where this area has been preserved for future generations as a National Monument, with an excellent museum and talk explaining how life hhas shifted on earth as this is all from the Age of the Mammals, we also had time to swim in the South Fork (current just amazed me as the rivers have more water than they have had in years) and fishing, throwing rocks (ideally not in the same pools, drinking wine (not the kids), playing cards (not the oldsters), eating good food, and having lots of conversations, it was a good time I think for everybody.

When Farm Boss and I drove north from the house on an exploration of our own, we ran into a cattle drive down the middle of the highway. The photo above is the vanguard of the drive with the major part of what looked to us like 200 head of cattle being behind us. I always love those kind of experiences for photos, and the good feeling I get from seeing what looked like a family, of all ages, about fifteen of them on horseback and two with a pickup truck (likely grandma and grandpa), moving the cattle herd from one grazing ground, through the little town of Spray, and to a new pasture.

Cattle drives like that are part of the old West but very much a factor still in today's West at least in some parts of the country. I can relate because we have our cattle get out on the highway once in awhile which requires some of the same techniques to move them excluding the horses.

Anyway this family trip was the high point of my month from a positive perspective (although writing has gone very well). I also had what appear to me now to be a set of experiences that weren't so high but were emotionally powerful and will actually write about those too as part of what it means to live a country and ranching life.

So I am warning anybody who has a tender heart-- skip my next blog which will be for August 1st. I had debated not writing about any of it; but it seems it's part of at least my story for this summer and really for the life I lead and who I am as a woman. The warning comes because while it's what I experienced, it's not what everyone must.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Energy from what we read

Before I leave this topic, I have one last thought regarding the energy we get from whatever we are reading or writing whether that is fiction or non-fiction. Our choices for what we read and write do become energy for our lives. We choose what we do partly due to that but maybe sometimes it's more subconscious and we are getting something we never intended from this reading or writing.

Through my months of working on my writing, I came to have more faith in my own stories, see the value of romances or action books or so many other types of fiction that have an emotional roller coaster ride at the center of their plot. It's similar to how once in awhile I want a Jurassic Park fix.

Romantic fiction, as an example of what I mean, is a kind of mythology. Reading it requires a bit of your own gatekeeper experience. You are ushered into a different world and follow vicariously a set of experiences as you leave your need to find logic in every situation behind, and you do it to get energy that you can use other places in your life. To me, as a writer, it's not necessary to make someone believe what happens did happen. That's for non-fiction. We also don't have to think we would want it to happen. It's not about reality.

Everything we read gives us something, and we should choose the kind of books for the things we want elsewhere in our lives. To read an adventure thriller does not mean the reader wants to have bad guys chasing them around town. It means there likely was going to be a take-charge moment, a time of using skills, a time to get strong, and it might apply to anything in that person's life but not likely what the protagonist in the story got.

I believe romantic fiction can be empowering but not in that you go out the door trying to find that beautiful woman or handsome man. It's that you feel more internal juice, more ability to do the things you must for your own life. I believe choosing the right kind of books to read, which will be different at different times in our lives, can provide that vibrant energy along with an awwww moment or oh no or a lot of other emotions. It feeds emotions in a way that is uplifting where so many other places we're bombarded by emotions that are anything but uplifting.

As an example of this reading for energy, think about one of the most popular fiction types right now in teen and pretty popular in adult fiction-- vampires. If you look at the book table at Costco, you can't miss these books. If you go through the teen books to find something for a teen, you can't get past not only them but other adventure fantasy stories.

Vampire stories give the one who reads them something, and it's good to stop when looking at it or any type of literature to figure out what it is and whether it's what we wanted. Better to know than to be subconsciously bombarded by something that undermines what we are trying to do in our daily lives. In that, it is no different than any entertainment or media including music.

I will be writing more about what I think a romance yields for energy when I open up the Romance on the Edge blog.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The ending

So there are several stages to writing a full length, finished manuscript. First the ideas, then the beginning to get down the bones, add the meat... and then comes the last stage. Editing, editing and re-editing. Writers used to have editors who did some of this for them but not so anymore. If someone wants to go the publisher route, they have to present a very nearly print ready book which might get some tweaking but basically will stay as it is.

I have heard of writers who can lay down a story that is print ready from the get go. That's certainly not me. I get that story laid out (mine run from 80,000-138,000 words), have the characters and gist of it about as they will stay, check all my spelling and punctuation as I go, and then try to let it set at least a month in what I thought was finished form.

When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I do it all again because no matter how much I thought I caught, there seems to always be more. Does a computer faerie come along and insert such glaring errors? The blog also has that happen. The work of editing happens whenever I have time and I'll come and go from it as this or that gets reworked.

Then for me comes what I hope will be the final edit. I think it works best if I have a block of time to read it through pretty much in a couple of settings-- close together. The reason for this is to see the continuity that I might've missed when I was fitting it into many other activities. That isn't likely to be the last time I tweak something, but it is the time I hope I got it all as good as it gets.

This spring and summer, where I was editing a lot of my stories, I had a couple of additional pluses to this work. I got to see my body of work at one time which told me where I wasn't putting out fresh ideas, what my patterns were, where I might want to break them for future writing. I saw protagonists I liked better than others and had a chance to look at the ones that had a good story but maybe not so strong of characters with the idea of strengthening them. Working on one of the stories brought me back to the cover because I simply didn't see the face there as fitting the story. The new improved model seems better.

So basically editing is to look at the story for good writing, plot, character consistency. Does it all flow? Does it make sense that that person did that? It's when you find inconsistencies of character, names, appearance, location, etc etc.

Now if one is just writing for their own pleasure, this is the last stage. If, however the intent is to send to a publisher, there is the toughest part yet to come-- query letter, synopsis and outline. None of these are easy for me and although I did work with that consulting writer on doing them, did several times get past that stage to have an editor actually request full manuscripts before rejecting them, I never liked it. It is though part of selling.

Because my plan this time is to use EPUB, which means electronically published online in various formats, I do not need query letters or outlines. I will need instead a promotional paragraph.

The more I thought about EPUB, about not losing control over my stories, over creating covers that had meaning to them, I knew it's my first choice for getting these stories out. I still, however, have a concern about whether putting them out online would end up with the stories being ripped off as in someone else taking them and putting their own name on them. What protects the work from that?

EPUB requires more than a finished manuscript. There must be those covers, brief teasers to interest a reader in finding out more about the story. The latter means a killer sentence, as often that's all the chance someone gets, and a blurb to let a reader know what they would be getting if they bought my book. I also will write each a short essay regarding what they were about and my feeling toward them which will go into the blog devoted to promoting them-- Romance with an Edge.

Come fall, when I put out the first of my stories, a blog called Romance with an Edge is where future writings on these books will be going. It will come out about the time the first eBook goes online. It will have more about my writing philosophy as I don't want to use this blog to sell books. I've seen writers who do this, but this blog has its own purpose, one I don't want to change. The new one will though be in my blog lists for those interested in more info on those books as they come along.

Whatever a person does in the creative line there often does come a time to put it out there and take the risk that their baby will be rejected by either a publisher or today those with eReaders of one sort or another. It's painful to have that happen but equally so to do something that we put our heart and soul into but then never show another person. The sales part is secondary to the primary creative effort, but it's no less a part of it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Snappy Dialogue

One of the things the consulting writer drilled into me over and over was to show not tell. Dialogue is a wonderful way to do that. You want to show what a character is really like, the easiest way is how do they talk to other people. Tell your reader how wonderful they are but give them boring, long expository dialogue and watch it not be believed.

What people say in real life, how they communicate will be different from one person to another, and it's important to keep the dialogue true to each different one. That can be one of the trickiest parts because all the dialogue is really the writer's (unless you remembered something someone else told you). It's easy to end up having all the people sound alike for how they talk, for what is important to them, but it is not the best dialogue.

There are some great movies for getting ideas for snappy dialogue. Watch how the characters communicate and the sharp line that says it all. There are films I can watch over and over just for that snap. Pretty much anything with Humphrey Bogart in it is a good example. John Wayne didn't waste words either.

The other thing is listen to real conversations wherever you are. People don't talk in a line. They come and go with their thinking and ideas come in seemingly from nowhere. Don't finish up every possible dialogue's hanging line because sometimes that's what leads the reader to wait for the answer. Have people insert things that are red herrings because that's also life.

Some of my characters are better at giving good dialogue than others and when that happens, I try to go back at it and see if it is the character who is lacking in personality too.

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

"...You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.”

"As you wish."

"You had me at hello."

"I wish I knew how to quit you."

Lines like those say it all about the character and the story. Even if you don't know what came before or what movie they were from, you know the feeling they generated. Naturally all dialogue is not that powerful but it's the goal.

There's nothing wrong with a lengthy piece of dialogue but if that's all that is in the story, I think it doesn't work. If dialogue isn't how people talk but simply to tell the story, that doesn't work. When I am reading someone else's story and a character talks for too long, I tend to zone out on it. In my own story, I try to avoid that failing (it's easy to slip up). Keep the dialogue to the point and make it fit who said it. If a character is driveling on, make it clear that it's their personality and not a plus.

"Here's looking at you, kid."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The setting

For me, an important aspect to a story coming together is where it's set. It is important in reading or writing one. The setting is almost like another character in the best stories. It fits the action and emotional feel and can be as important as any other single element. Consider it a character.

So far I have never written one that wasn't in places I have been and experienced. The closest to an exception would be the story of the wagon train. But I did see the parts of the trail from Wyoming on West, had driven some of it in my part of Oregon.

When I am thinking of characters and plot, I come very early to deciding where this whole thing is happening. For me it's fun to write about places I have enjoyed being and incorporate them into a story. The stories have to seem to have potentially really happened there.

Equally enjoyable is to write about a character's home and have it be a home I'd love to have. An example, from one of my contemporary romances, was where the artist heroine had gotten an older home along the Tualatin River near Portland, Oregon. She had bought it needing to be repaired and had fixed it up before the story began.

When I was a child, I had been in a home very similar to that one when my uncle had rented it and I stayed there with my cousins for a few days. I'd have loved having that home even though it was older and not my uncle's idea of a good house. I gave it to my heroine and let her do with it what I'd have enjoyed doing if I had gotten it.

Some of my favorite books to read have had the same situation where the characters are living somewhere I find fascinating. I don't know how many readers find that an important part of their reading pleasure, but it's sure mine and it adds a lot of enjoyment to writing a fiction piece when I can set it somewhere I'd love to live in an alternate life.

If you know where the story is taking place, you know the birds, the feel of the wind, what kind of storms are likely, the flowers or seasonal colors, and you can insert that now and then to let the reader feel they are really there-- not making it into a travelogue but as it is for us when we are somewhere and the sounds, smells and sights are part of what it means to be there.

In a novel, it's nice to, instead of writing setting all down in one block and forgetting it, to have it weave through the story, pieces here and there. It keeps the reader grounded as your characters are. For some characters where they live is a big part of who they are. With others not so much. Sometimes I have wanted to base a story somewhere I have not been but that would require at least research (ideally trips) to familiarize myself with what it means to be there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Craft of Plots

Basically with every possible plot already created, some say Shakespeare covered them all, how does a person create something new when really there isn't much (if any) that is? I think you do it by putting your own twist to that plot. You take the bones of a common plot, stir in something you read, maybe someone you knew or an event that you saw, and evolve it all into something that, despite similarities to other stories, will be uniquely yours. If a plot device is classic, if it's been used a lot, that means it appeals to humans.

One other thing is to write your own ideas without a major concern for whether you can sell the end result. Writers write whether they can sell or not. They create because it's in them to do it whether it's a type of fiction or non-fiction like the blogs.

My thinking on how you craft a fiction plot (in this case romances) comes out of a belief that for a good one, there are some similar qualities. My thinking on what those are has been influenced by Joseph Campbell's writings on the power of mythology because a great romance really is a kind of myth as well as an emotional catharsis. So what must it have?

Usually to start, a grounding of where the hero/heroine is before the story begins. Where are they living, who are they before comes what is called the gatekeeper experience?

The gatekeeper is what ushers the characters into another world and on their way to their adventure. It might be meeting their soul mate. It might be a disaster, but it has to be strong enough to get them out of their world and enter a new one. The new one is where change happens. Writing the gatekeeper section for me has to be believable. If there isn't a strong enough reason to move forward, the story falls apart.

Then, when in the adventure, there should to be growth, threat, relaxation and then more of each. Some name that the W which means you start out one place, go into a valley and then something helps you get back up to the next apex and back you go.

A good romance has those valleys and hills. Excite, relax, back to threaten. The romantic moments can come in either place but they are part of them.

There has to be an obstacle. Man loves woman. Woman loves man. No obstacle. Story over. I want that obstacle to feel real because too many romances have something that feels phony.

Ideally I like to write something that makes the reader and the character think this is it, they got it... and then comes the letdown, the boom, the threat, the demand they must go somewhere they don't want to go but it's the only way forward. So something fun, light, maybe even humorous, romantic, and then the character faces a challenge. Great moments followed by a what the heck is this ones.

Good music is like that also. There is the build up and then the drop, the filled with joy part and then the threat right behind it. For writing fiction, I like writing to movie soundtracks. I have quite a collection of Western soundtracks and like their emotional quality when I am trying to find those words. Even when it's not a western plot (actually I only have written one true western) but rather something contemporary, those western soundtracks have that emotion for which I am looking. For me, it's hard to write to any music with lyrics although I have used a few soundtracks where the lyrics seem to be submerged in the melodies-- best though is something like the soundtrack to Red River. Perfect!

Then comes the point in the plot where the story must be wrapped up, and a writer really has to think about that. It has to seem as though it was right that it happen that way. I hate a story or movie where it seems the writer just made something happen that earlier hadn't been going that direction. Yes, life is full of surprises but even then it must make sense.

You know in life there are many mysteries, things that seem to drop onto us with no logic to them. We have to accept that in life, but in my stories, I want it to make sense because I can do that where I often cannot in my life.

Besides the ending having to seem as though it was believable, I also don't like a drop in ending. All of a sudden it's rush to a conclusion where it's not really wrapped up but just dropped. Don't cheat the reader. Where it comes to a romance, a person has spent a number of hours with these characters and needs to care that they are getting, at least for the moment, a satisfying wrap-up.

My stories all have happy endings (although some suggest that that ending might be temporary) which means I have to make that seem believable. Save tragedies for literature. Romances are not meant to be tragedies. There is enough tragedy in life without my creating it for a book, without my dwelling on it for the months most manuscripts take to create. I like to write what I'd like to read and that's something that makes me feel better when I set the book down than when I first picked it up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Plotting plots

So what does work to put together the plot if you have the characters? Basically there are only so many plot outlines and they have all been used many times. For me the trick is to find a derivative of that so what I write is fresh. Ideas for what that might be anywhere from dreams, to newspapers, to discussions with friends, etc.

One thing you absolutely had to do back when I began writing seriously was to understand your genre. That would still be critical if you wanted to sell something to a publisher as they want things to fit niches that have already been successful. Each genre has requirements which can be found online if one doesn't belong to a professional group. Readers expect when they pick up say a mystery that it will have certain qualities. I have read authors say, who can write mysteries and romances, that they would literally have to clean their palette between, by reading something totally different like Hemingway, as romances were one way and mysteries quite another for what was needed.

For years when I was trying to write romances, I read a lot of them which was highly recommended. I read them until they were coming out my ears. I also read books on developing stories, worked with a consulting writer on one of mine, and I wrote. Even if my efforts weren't as good as I thought they could be, I'd still write.

Then I stopped being able to even tolerate reading romances. It was like the time you get too much sugar. Your teeth ache (not really) and you think you can't stand one more sweet thing and you go months without any. This turned into years before recently I had to move a bookcase which meant sort through books and then discovered there were some romances in those shelves that I still enjoyed. Mostly they were stories with a lot of what I am trying to put into my own—limited flowery language, descriptive language not euphemisms, and a real problem to resolve. If there is an obstacle between hero and heroine (and in a romance there better be) then it can’t be something silly if it's going to satisfy me.

For my plots, I also don't like endless angst. I like potentially real situations involving strong characters who, besides falling in love, are dealing, not endlessly whining, with a very real problem. Whiners aren't my cup of tea in life or books. I also don't like weak heroines who do silly things but still have this exciting man wanting them. If any of my lead characters start out that way, they better grow and stop moaning about the situation, take life in their own hands and accept responsibility. And when they do take life into their own hands, it should be believable. Skills you knew they had but they are just learning they can wield etc.

Although I generally start out knowing where my stories are going, the core of them, I like to make discoveries along the way. I don’t do an advance outline. When I believe I have these two people (and their assorted connections) then I will stop and think what might happen as a happy little addition here or there—or an additional complication.

Not for me either is writing a plot like Stephen King or what Anne Rice used to put out. I do have one paranormal and it worked okay for me to have a monster, although I didn't much like the research I had do for that one; but generally I don't like to immerse myself in negativity or scary stuff. Some danger, that's fine; but not horror. If I won't read them, I sure as heck won't write them where I'd be spending months, not hours in that situation.

I saw a non-fiction book (I prefer non-fiction at this point in my reading life) the other day, The Murder Room that looked interesting as a story about three men with expertise in criminal cases who meet monthly to try to solve cold cases, which are brought to them by someone else. I thought it might give me some future story ideas for villains and the possibility, from different angles, as to how they might be found out (my romances usually have a crime and villain as part of their edge); but I didn't purchase it because in skimming it, I saw it looked to me like it dwelt way too much on the psychopaths and not enough on the ones trying to solve the cases. It had some photos in the center and they sent me quickly setting it down. I have enjoyed a few Ann Rule books for how a crime happens and how it is found out; but I can only take so much. Hers are best when the emphasis is on how they find and then prosecute the bad gals/guys.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Without the characters

When discussing characters, I thought I'd start with a couple of my story ideas that didn't work. Oh they sounded real good, at least to me, but went nowhere although I am not convinced they never will.

My favorite is a reincarnation story that I thought would be challenging and fun to write. I figured it would be a bit of a murder mystery which fits my ‘romances with an edge’ theme.

The story would incorporate three past lives I planned to use which at least one is possibly one of mine. I found in used bookstores the necessary material for the historic periods I would need (this was before internet changing research so much). Where a romance is a bit of a fantasy, a fairy tale, I like mine to be set in a real period and place, although I might use made up names for a town, but it will always be where there are real towns and describe their feel.

I knew how the story would progress. The female protagonist would have nightmares and is looking for a reason for them. She wouldn't be a believer in reincarnation, but her dreams would become more and more vivid as she got deeper into remembering these other lifetimes. And she needs to remember.

Her motive then for going backward from today would have to be a life that wasn't all she wanted and one more thing-- a threat around her where the answer could be found in one of the people in her current life and an ongoing relationship from the past one—so a bit metaphysical, investigative and, of course, there’d be a love as, along with an age-old enemy, there would have to be her soul mate. The story would be told in 'flashbacks' and today. What could go wrong?

What went wrong is I never had her character. I tried different possibilities for who she was but nothing worked and when I'd start to write, it would just be those words strung together with no form. After a couple of tries, I gave it up because if I couldn't find her, there was nothing else I cared about, but who knows I might go back to it someday if she comes to me.

After I had spent time at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, I had another idea for a story that went nowhere of an Anasazi woman and a traveling trader, a Pacific Northwest Native American. Perfect combination of a place I love, the Southwest, and boy have you ever seen some of those Pacific Northwest Native American men from say up in the Queen Charlotte Islands? Perfect for a romance-- a totally yummy hero and quite a problem for two cultures trying to come together, one adventuring and more warlike while the other, where the story takes place, is on the cusp of change. I would have placed it when the Anasazi culture was turning violent itself and falling apart, right before they disappeared from their mesas and left behind a mystery as to why.

What went wrong? Well for one thing I had always written about women with whom I could relate. What did I know about that woman? I could make her be like me but that didn't feel right culturally. The end result was it went nowhere-- although I have the research materials for that also... Maybe someday.

So I can have the plot more or less but if I don't have the characters, it's all for nothing. I have to virtually fall in love with my heroes and feel my heroines are worthy of them with something interesting about them also.

This is just personal preference, but in most of my stories, one of my lead characters will be almost mythic, larger than life, while the other will be grounded and more a stand-in for the reader. It can be the man or the woman for either role. One stands for the fantasy, the dream. The other is possibly the one to whom the average reader relates.

The characters are, to me anyway, most important and without them, the rest is just words. I’ve read a lot of romances, from those years of learning the genre, and some are pathetic for how stereotyped they are, how they manipulate the reader. Call a heroine Fancy and frankly I’m through reading.

A really good story should have characters that are not plastic. Sure there has to be some fantasy to them; but if they are like anybody else, what was the purpose of the book again? Readers of romances want an emotional lift.

Where it comes to characters, there are only so many ‘types’ out there, but what makes them work is what is added to the type. Strong detective type guy but then what else is about him to make him not seem like you've read about him too many times? Schoolmarm? Ho hum-- but a schoolteacher who is an amateur detective, now it’s going somewhere.

From where do mine come? Well they aren't real people. They aren't movie stars. Only once have I written one where I later knew who that character was for real, but I didn't know the person when I wrote it; so can't say if that was coincidence or what.

I think music helps me not only get the energy for heroes/heroines but also plots. For me, it has to be soundtracks with no words. I don't need music to write non-fiction, but when it comes to romances, I want the oomph it can provide. It’s amazing how I find new ways of saying something based on music. Find some really heroic, compassionate, or romantic music and a writer is in business.

Once I had a story that was going nowhere for the hero even with the plot firmly in my mind, then I began to play the soundtrack for Phantom of the Opera (plot nothing like my story) and the emotional passion of that music practically wrote his character and the rest of the story-- the fastest I have ever written 80,000 or so words-- in one month.

Besides the hero and heroine there are sidekicks (several of whom I ended up liking so much that they got their own romance eventually); and of course, a lot of fun to write are the villains. Some of mine have been definite psychopaths; but even then I want them to have believable motivation—crazy as the motives might seem to anybody who wasn’t pathological.

I absolutely love writing interesting villains and the dialogue between them and the main characters; but they aren't the heart of the stories. They are, however, what I think gives the plot the edge, the zing. I can't spend that long with unsavory people, certainly not as much as it'd take to write a story just about them. My inability do that probably limits me as a writer, but it's simply not how I can live my real life. And writing should improve daily life or it's not a good thing to do.

Characters, who can come from anywhere, really are where it all starts and if a writer can create characters who are exciting, interesting, complex, and can grow through their experiences, I think it's the heart of the story. Without them, along with some great villains and secondary characters, it goes nowhere even with what seems like a good plot at least not for me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

In the beginning

Because I knew I would be busy in July, I wrote a few blogs to post on a subject of great interest to me, writing, and to address a question I have been asked-- How do I get stories? It was good for me to write this down for a couple of reasons. One of which is once I had gotten online, I discovered, to my surprise, how many talented writers there are. So I thought I would share my experiences in the hopes it encourages someone else to find enjoyment in creating their own completed stories.

My philosophy on writing can be broken down into various aspects but I must admit, if someone’s goal is to be as published writer, what I have learned doesn’t mean it would get anyone to that point. It is, however, how my stories come together to a point of getting characters, a plot, a beginning, middle, end, and using between 80,000 and 140,000 words.

For me, writing, whether it gets published or not has been a satisfying way to step into someone else's life, to spend imaginary time places I love, and create something rewarding to myself. It has an added benefit, unlike say sculpture or paintings, that the end products don’t take up a lot of space. Time though, yes much time is involved as writing is something that is done and done again.

One of the things I have found and really believe (and this covers any of my creative endeavors), I can only create the best I can do. That does not guarantee that what I am doing will be appreciated or wanted by anyone else. I can do my part in creating it and then (this is the big catch) I can put it out where others can decide if it is something they also like.

There are a lot of authors I really admire (likewise painters and sculptors), but I cannot be them. If I try to copy what someone else has created, it is craft at best. My own art comes from me, and it might or might not suit someone else. I can control my actions, not the reactions to what I do.

I have no interest in writing some kinds of stories but have always thought I'd love to be able to write what I call crone lit, which means good stories about older women but without romance. Up until recently that bothered me, because all that would come to me were ideas for stories about a man and a woman coming together in the midst of some dilemma as they try to decide if they can build a future together.

When I start to write anything else, say a story of three sisters, their complicated relationships with each other and maybe dealing with the breaking up of their parents marriage or maybe a woman coping with divorce or you know a multitude of real life instances, I start writing, which is how I do romances; and those other stories end up being a lot of words strung together but none of the things that I believe a good book needs to have to hold the reader's interest. If it's not even holding mine as I am writing it, I know it's not going to become of interest to anybody else.

Recently though, after working with so many of my stories at one time, trying to get them edited to a point I would want to put them out, I am feeling more positive about writing romances. There is an emotional release with them, a kind of fairy tale with real people quality that I actually feel good about. Mine are not the kind of story where the words are loaded with angst (no more than required for a passionate love), they have the bare minimum of flowery language and euphemisms, but I think are interesting stories (yes, sex is part of it) where through difficulties two people find something that might not be very realistic but is definitely emotionally satisfying to imagine as possible.

Anyway I am posting this in sections because it’s something which I have long done, been taught, and I think I have learned a few things along the way. What follows will be about fiction writing (which I think could apply to genres other than romances) as a craft and an art. Writing is both. Writing may not get someone published, but it is a gratifying creative activity—as well as damned hard work if you want to take it to the finish.

So, the beginning is deciding what type of story you want to tell.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Independence Day

I don't 'do' many holidays here partly because different nations have different dates and holidays; but it seems celebrating independence is a good one wherever one might live. I just hope my own country continues to value and fight to keep it for all its citizens not just the wealthiest.

For those in my country who like to rewrite why this day is important here, who would use it for their own political purposes while forgetting or lying about the full nature of what was going on July 4, 1776, it's not a bad idea to once in awhile reread the document.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Cometh July

Everybody who does a blog probably off and on runs into flat times. Then there are those times when there is simply too much going on to do justice to posting anything in their blog. I am in one of those places again and will be for most of the month of July depending.

Early this week was a trip to town for the funeral for a man who used to live out by us and still owns most of the land behind our property. That was a time to connect with a few neighbors (out here a neighbor can live 7 miles or more away) and learn some things I never did about the gentleman who had by the way led a very full and long life. I might write more about that later or perhaps not depending.

Then came jury orientation. Yes, I was called to be in the jury pool for the months of July and August. *groan* I look forward to summer all year and when it gets here, I may or may not be on a jury, but it's going to be possible and I'll have to check every Friday night to see if the next week will involve me until I get called-- if I get called. It is, however, one trial or one day depending; so one could hope short trial...

When the letter came to tell me I'd have to do this early in June, Farm Boss laughed. I didn't feel it was funny at all. It's about the last thing I wanted to do during the summer. Any other time it would matter less to me. Then when I got there and saw the courtroom where orientation was happening, full of people who likely also didn't want to do it, I saw it as just what will have to be if I get called.

My feelings are complicated by this since I have mixed thoughts regarding our legal system with the way juries are never given all the evidence and yet must make a decision based on what they are allowed to hear plus the law. Being who I am that doesn't set well but we'll see how this turns out-- hopefully not with me in contempt of court (nah couldn't happen I am too polite for that... I hope).

Then next week come two of the grandchildren again for a week which is good but driving down to get them and take them back means a lot of time on the freeway, not so good. After that is a week which might be free (or not) depending on the jury situation, but the following week is a family planned trip which other than it being a family trip, is vague for what we will all be doing. Probably camping though for at least part of it.

Oh and in there somewhere has to be sheep shearing (we hope to find a shearer still) and getting in the rest of the winter's hay which is the task for the muscle and big equipment operator here, Farm Boss, but it does impact life for me too.

There is also my writing with which I am still very involved. It's going well as in I am enjoying it a lot. One more manuscript just edited to a point where I feel good about it. That leaves four to go before I start back over the ones that looked finished but might not seem that way in a month.

I am trying to do each of them slow, get the feelings and dialogue right, make sure the plot flows; and then come back through fast for the silly mistakes where if I don't read it together, I forget what was not fitting (like a heroine's eyes changing from brown to green... A lot can change in a character's development, but that's not one. Thank goodness for Word's find feature!)

As part of that, I have moved where I write as a way to make it easier when the grandchildren are here. We had a small glass desk in the solarium and it is now in a corner of the living room. It's working very very well so far, great creative energy and I can more easily use music when I choose to do so. It is likely not the end of the jockeying around as I have a vague concept of what still needs to be done to make my work spaces all really flow when guests are here.

In short, for the month of July, posts here will come when they come... Maybe sometimes just a photo. August may not be a lot less full, but I'll deal with that when it comes.