Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using Arguments for Good

I found myself involved in a few arguments this week. That is not the norm for me - I hate conflict and try to do what I can to avoid it. I am pretty good about seeing things from someone else's point of view. Unfortunately, that's not always enough to head off an argument. Once you're in the argument, it's like there's no going back. The frustration grows as you try to explain your point of view to someone unable or unwilling to listen, and you become unable or unwilling to listen to their end because you're so upset.

Of my two arguments, one was resolved quickly and the other was not. This is in part because they were with two different people, but also because they were two different kinds of arguments. When I was able to step back from them and look, it was easy to see how each side believed they were 100% correct. I was able to understand why one was resolved and the other still kind of hangs out there even though the talking part is over. And, unable to help it, I started analyzing how these experiences could be used to enliven my writing.

The funny thing is, even though I hate real life conflict, I love writing arguments. I love the dialogue and the emotion involved in the script. I may flush my way through it as I feel what's going on with my characters but I cannot deny my love for these scenes. In fact, many of my stories start with the idea of an argument midway through the book. It may not even be part of the main conflict, yet it is enough for me to get a gauge on my characters to understand what they're going through and what might have led to the argument. And the story starts.

In all truth, arguments are not bad, and this should be kept in mind while you're writing that big blow up scene. Arguments may not be pleasant, but they are not inherently wrong, either. In fact, they can be very helpful if the people involved can break through that moment of emotional stonewalling to get to the issues underneath. The misunderstandings are the easiest. Redefining what you meant initially can click with the other person, showing how silly the argument was. Or, that click may never come and it can be a source of ongoing stress between the two characters, creating a distance that has a direct or indirect effect on the story line.

The more difficult arguments are those based on differences of opinion, or worse, moral beliefs. They can also be the most emotionally wrenching to have, particularly if you care about the person you're arguing with - or if you care what they do. These are great in stories for conflict and for reader engagement if they're written correctly. This kind of argument cannot be written in the same way a misunderstanding is written. These feelings go deeper, need to cut more, even if the argument itself is quieter than a noisy 'you're not listening to me' shouting match. These kinds of arguments can be the catalyst of your story, giving your characters that unexpected change of direction that make something difficult look down right impossible.

Arguments can be silly, or they can be powerful, quiet and understated or loud and obnoxious. No matter what type is written, they are wonderful literary tools for conflict. They can show a character's flaws beautifully, while outlining strengths at the same time. For this reason, I love writing arguments into my stories. For this reason, I hate having them in real life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writer's Block As It Is

When I don't have a clue of what to write for the week (like today, for example) I always start reading through the blogs I'm following. I can usually find my inspiration there, or by browsing through the posts on Google+. Today, everyone seems to be talking about writer's block and since I know of a really cool quote, I thought it would be the perfect post for me, as well.

Everyone has their own ideas about writers block, whether they write or not. Oh, of course it's real. Oh, of course it isn't. If you want to write, just do it. If you're blocked, take some time away to recenter yourself. I agree with each and everyone of these statements, plus most of the other's I've read about writer's block. What does that say about me? Just that I understand a bit about human psyche.

In my view, writer's block is real because we make it real - or not, as the case may be. Our own minds are extremely powerful, particularly when it comes to what we can and cannot do (or what we tell ourselves). Ever since I learned about cognitive psychology, I've been intrigued by the power of the mind, and have managed to use it to break a few habits, to restructure some of my more destructive thoughts, and to convince myself something could be done even if I had originally thought it impossible. Our minds are incredibly powerful - how else could we come up with all these stories?

The trouble is when we can't come up with those stories. We call it writer's block because we feel like our natural creativity is somehow blocked. This doesn't mean we can't write, though many authors do describe feelings of intense anxiety when they sit down to write during a bout of writer's block. But that isn't about writing, I don't think. I think it's more about the fear of the content we're trying to create. Which brings me to my quote.

"The ironic thing about writer's block is that you're writing all the time, it's just that you think everything sucks." John Rzeznik, vocalist and guitarist, Goo Goo Dolls.

Rzeznik said this after the huge success the band received after producing 'Iris.' He had apparently been going through years of writer's block before this song finally came to him, breaking his cycle and giving him the confidence to get back into, what he considered, good writing.

I love this quote. This quote to me is what writer's block is. It's not a lack of content, but a lack of what we consider 'good' content. We know we're capable of it, so where is it?

Most of us will not be able to get the kind of mass recognition Goo Goo Dolls did with their song. Something like that is powerful enough to knock you out of your mental rut and feel value in your skills again. Most of us will have to discover that value ourselves, either by taking that break or pushing through the hard times to get to something we consider worth while.

I run with the crap. I write until I've written it all out, then go through and pick it apart, keeping whatever gems I might find and tossing the rest. I know, I know. Never throw out your work. But then again, think of how therapeutic that is. Writing all the crap out, then just deleting it away.

Ahhh. Zen.

Well, maybe not Zen, but hopefully a few more hundred words of the actual piece we're working on. Words that can stay.

Your thoughts on writers block? Any other cool quotes you've come across? Please, share. I love quotes. :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who Needs a Deadline?

*If you enjoyed my whip/WIP post from last week, check out my Candy Cane analogy on 42WD Publishing's blog.

Now on to this week.

I'm beginning to worry about the pace of this re-write. I spent most of last week working on chapter one, getting it to the point I felt comfortable enough to move on. Power writing seems to be out of reach for this round of drafting. I'm not thinking that's a good thing.

Once I was content with chapter one (took about another 5 days), I tried to move on to chapter two, but it kept eluding me. In this re-write, I have to figure out how the drastic changes to chapter one effect the interactions that follow. Also, I'm making the chapters content based rather than word-count based, so it changes the overall feel and flow as well. Breaking from one pattern to fall into another is proving trickier than I thought.

Yesterday I was able sit down and write for a solid block of time. This is not always possible with my 2-year-old son and 4-year-old nephew running around. Yesterday, however, they were quite content playing without fighting so all I had to do was keep an ear out, refill juice cups and kiss the random owie.

So I was able to write until it was time to make dinner when I put everything aside. I came back to writing after about 2 hours. I worked a little longer, but I kept feeling more and more discontent with what was going on. This was not what I wanted. It was too ... silent. Despite the information I was presenting, there was no forward movement in the story, and that just had to change.

So I re-read, cut, dissected and moved some words around before labeling it Chapter Three. A quick line explaining what I wanted to happen in chapter two, and off went my computer. I was too tired to focus on it anymore even though nothing had really been produced in all the hours I put into it.

This morning, not-quite-fresh, but ready to start again, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to brainstorm exactly what movement I want to happen, what forward movement do I want to see in this story. My brainstorms actually look like a bullet list littered with lines, arrows, curvy brackets, question marks, exclamation points, clouds and boxes circling words or terms, etc.

I'm almost ready to restart chapter two. It's been almost two weeks since I started this re-write. Are we seeing the problem with pacing? At this rate, it will take me two years to finish this second draft. This may drive me crazy. All I can do is hope something gives and I can get cracking that WIP instead of being stuck untangling the mess it's become.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

WIP It - Excerpt Enclosed

I'm sure I'm not the first one who has figured this out, but the acronym WIP (Work In Progress) makes me laugh sometimes. Because, really, how much does your WIP actually relate to it's homophone, whip? (Okay, not an actual homophone since WIP isn't an actual word, but go with me. And, of course, we can't talk about whips without a picture of Indiana.)

Whips/WIPS can be really cool. You can do cool tricks, make people feel excited, fearful, etc. But, if you're not careful, your whip/WIP can bite you, draw blood, even leave scars. It can be something that excites you one moment, disgusts you the next, then cause you to fear even picking it up. Let's not forget how tangled we can become in our whips/WIPS.Sometimes, even though you think you know how to use your whip/WIP, it doesn't do what you ask and you suddenly doubt you ever knew how to work it in the first place.

My current WIP hasn't bit me too hard - yet. It has been through a long process. It started out in a different genre before settling into YA, then it was a matter of pinning down exactly what it was. It took me almost a year to get from idea to something to work with, then another long stretch to write it. And now it's time to re-write.

I haven't touched the thing (much) since last October. I thought I had the right direction in mind, then a couple really good critiques had my head spinning. Never doubt the power of a good critique. I have beta readers, but never before this did I have anyone who knew writing the way I needed them to. I was thrown for a loop and I just kept spinning, trying to pin down exactly where to start again.

This past week, I did just that. Pen and paper style, I scratched out as many words as I kept while rewriting my first chapter. And, not surprisingly, the changes made create entirely new facets in my characters. This translates in to a lot of other changes ahead, but the guts of the piece will pretty much stay the same.

Last time I wrote this book I had a word-count goal along with everything else. This time, I'm going to use that material to add some more depth without worrying about filling in the extra 300 words that didn't make it into this chapter, hoping that the combination of techniques gets me to where I want to be. I am counting the words I write, though, as a way to mark my progress. For example, in the last 3 days, I wrote a whopping 1500+ words.

But, oh, the words I wrote! They aren't magically amazing, or finished yet, or polished. They are words I have been looking nearly 3 months for. That in itself is fantastic. Writing in sequence as I do, it feels great to have finally broken the ice and be back swinging the ol' WIP. (See what I did there? Swinging the WIP/whip ...? Oh, fine.)

In celebration, I have decided to share my words, this new beginning of a story done, but not. Please follow the link. It's read-only so you are welcome to leave any comments / questions here. If you can be kindly in your criticism, I can be kindly in my denial of it. (Joking! Note above where I mention I loved the critiques.)

So, here it is, the link to Beautiful Lies, WIP.