Bridging the Gap: inspiration vs skill

As great as it feels to have figured out the problem with my story, it doesn’t actually make the solution all that easy.

I’m a lazy writer. Most of my story ideas come from dreams, and my main skill is transferring the vague and often disjointed visions into something that I enjoy reading.

With this story, I know the beginning and I know the second half. I’m finding that there’s a lot of stuff that needs to come between those two points for the story to both make sense and flow well. Stuff like ‘why did the villain do X?’, ‘why do the good guys not see the problem?’, ‘why does MC care?’. When you add in the need for some exposition and world-building, it becomes obvious just how big a section this is.

I’m used to relying on the dream sequences to give the story shape; they tend to have just enough shadowy structure that I can drag a real plot out of them. When I don’t have enough story, I’ll wait till my subconscious can throw something together, something that can take years. That’s how lazy I am.

I do know how to write without inspiration, it’s just that I’ve just always separated the two. With a story that is dream-inspired, I try to match the ‘feel’ of the dream and build on the bedrock of the story that I found there. With a a consciously directed story, I’m more willing to experiment and grope around for the plot.

Trying to mix the two feels weird. Is this what maturity feels like?

Bridging the Gap: pinpointing the problem

Wen Spencer, one of my favourite authors, has long advocated for writers to join a writers’ group*. I’m coming to really appreciate this advice, as I find that I’m getting a lot out of the local critique group I belong to. I just wish we met more frequently (as in having a the second monthly meeting that’s more of a writerly chat than critique).

I was thinking about this because I’m finding the group has really made me think about the story I’ve been submitting (we submit a chapter or less each month). There’s the basic level of ‘grammar/tense/spelling’, but I’m also finding myself examining things like story structure, plot arc a lot more deeply.

This isn’t always a happy thing, lol. The story I’ve been submitting is mostly unwritten (no surprise), but I never could quite put my finger on why. Examining it for the purpose of sharing with the group put it under the microscope, and now I know the problem; I’m missing a section.

I’d written the beginning, glossed over the next bit, and built a fairly strong plot line. I realize now that the glossed over bit is the problem. The future plot stuff? It’s the middle to end of the story. The glossed over bit, which in my head was little more than a bridging chapter, has to be more than that. It has to be the section where the characters are established, clues are mentioned, and the worldbuilding is done. In other words, that ‘bridging chapter’ needed to be the first half of the novel.

I’ve been trying to jump from the opening scene to the middle of the story. No wonder it wasn’t getting written; my inner critic was keeping me from making a huge mistake.

So yay, now I know what I need to be working on. Now I just have to actually figure out what will get me from point A to point C.

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* Many writers advocate this, but Wen’s the one who mentioned this recently on her Patreon, so I’m going with her.

A valentine’s day gift to myself

I was incredibly busy with stuff last week, and sadly, none of it involved fiction writing, which is probably why I completely forgot that my favourite author in the known universe released a book last week.

blackwolvesClearly too much stress is bad for my memory.

Wen wrote the rough draft of this on FB, as a gift to her fans. Not only did she show off how her mind produces story ideas, but also showed her methods for structure, plot, and editing. All of us fans loved every single post*. Eventually her publisher saw it and decided to publish it. Anyway, if you enjoy urban fantasy with lots of humour, intelligence, fast-paced action, and interesting characters (and don’t mind a bit of violence), go buy this book.

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*If you want to see all the writing-process stuff, mostly in order, join Baen’s Bar, go to the Tinker’s Dam forum. One of Wen’s fans posted all the FB links. For some bizarre reason FB itself sucks at getting things in chronological order.

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EDIT: I just wanted to add, for Wen Spencer fans, this book has more of a ‘young adult’ feel than her regular novels. She’s exploring something through one of the characters, and I think the intention is to have lots of fun with him when he finishes with his ‘babyhood’.

I survived!

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So the second critique meeting went well, and I didn’t run screaming from the room. Yay, me!

I admit, when I realized my printer was messed up and couldn’t print up all the stories the others had submitted, I was tempted to just not go. But I set my anxiety on mute and went.

And it was great. We definitely did end up chatting way too much, but fortunately we still had time to go through everyone’s submission and talk about what we did and didn’t like. I even managed to keep my mouth shut on a submission by a writer I’m growing to really dislike; I honestly don’t know how much of my criticism was due to the writer being an annoying prat and how much was due to the work itself, so I kept myself from going overboard.

I also found that I really enjoyed reading and critiquing (or beta reading, maybe). I was worried about making too many notes, but another critiquer (I know, it’s not a word) was even more verbose than I was and I really liked their input, so I’ll go for broke next time.

Best of all, we now have the option of submitting longer pieces every second month. I’m soo into that; I really did cherry pick one of my better scenes for the first submission, so this will give me more time to a) clean up the next scene and b) write more of the story. I’ve got maybe 10% of it written, so we’ll see how it goes. Otherwise I’ll have to bring in something else. Of which I have lots, so that’s not a problem.

Yay for critique!

Sharing stories

I know, I’ve been awfully quiet. Partly because nano was draining, but also because of nervous tension; I turn into a hermit when I get anxious, lol.

The local nano group has morphed into a local critique group. That means we’ll get together once a month, and critique each other’s work, all done in a positive, meaningful way.

The first meeting happened earlier this month. I was nervous, as we went from a regular group of 5 nano’ers to 8 people who want to read each others stuff. Three strangers, five people I expect to see regularly during nano, reading my stuff? Scary.

We spent the meeting discussing how the system was going to work; emailing out our pieces a few weeks ahead of time, privately sharing the actual critiques, then at the next meeting, we’ll each have 15 minutes to discuss them.

It was amazingly difficult to pick out something to send. Because we didn’t want to overwhelm each other with reading, we limited the selections to 1000-1500 words. Lol, most of my scenes are 2 or 3 times that! Trying to find something that was short yet also cohesive was… interesting.

Finally I picked a piece. And then I read it and reread it obsessively, trying to tweak it into shape. I’ve never done editing before, and I have to say it kinda sucks. Cutting out a sentence here, rephrasing something that was too awkward, trying to find better words than ‘thingie’; these are all hard!

I finished the edit yesterday, and then sat on it for 24 hours for no particular reason. This morning I refused to think about it too hard and, taking a deep breath, sent it out to be read and critiqued. Gah.

On the plus side, I’m now looking at writing more of that story, as scenes keep building in my head. On the downside, at some point I went from writing in 3rd person to 1st person, which I didn’t notice before I sent out the piece (the piece was all 3rd, but later scenes switched to 1st person). Now I’ll have to think about fixing that too.

Things I learned from NaNo 2016

Now that Nanowrimo is officially over, you’d think I’d want to not even hear the word for the next thirty days. Instead, I’ve been pondering it, lol.

Things I learned this year:

  • Plantsing is fun. I had no plot, no characters, and it took me the entire first day to figure out what I was going to write, which was fucking scary. It took off from there, though, and it was really fun to write. By the end of the first week, I knew the plot, but didn’t write it out. It was freeing, but I know that if I didn’t write out plot ideas, I’d eventually forget them; not fun.
  • I stole from other stories (mostly mine, lol) to shore up gaps. I named my main characters after some of my favourite book characters so I had a mental image for how my characters would behave/look. I grabbed concepts from my own stories (technically I wasn’t using them anyway, right?) so my characters had things to do.
  • Finishing a story feels weird. I know where the story goes next; but as it stands, it’s done. I feel odd, like I should be doing the next story of it already. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s only 50,000ish words; I’m used to my stories taking twice that to reach the climax. Of course, I do have a couple of sections that didn’t get written; I realized certain areas were too thin, and needed more, but didn’t want to backtrack during NaNo. And there might be one extra scene to throw in at the end… so it’s 95% done, lol.
  • I still get a lot of words written with sex scenes. This is good for NaNo, but extremely discomforting when your kids ask why they can’t read your story.
  • While I was trying to pick a plot, I ended up really advancing several of my more vague story ideas. They may not be written, but now they have a concrete shape. Nothing works better for the creative process than desperation!
  • Working with a rather free-form plotline, and succeeding,  has reinvigorated my desire to write. I am going to try and start having regular writing nights, maybe three a week. I’m terrible at daily writing; I burn out too quickly. But three a week might just be doable.
  • Writing buddies are necessary. During Nanowrimo I’m competitive enough to keep pushing my word count if others are ahead of me. We also had local meetups, and being able to chat about the story as it progressed really helped. I got some very excellent ideas from the brainstorming, and hopefully didn’t bore them too much with my own suggestions. The locals have decided to do a monthly critique group, which might just help keep me going.