Book Done Yet?: Pick a Lane

Note: This weekly post is to keep me honest about working on the WiP. It’s going to be mostly me figuring things out and therefore probably not very interesting. Feel free to skip as I free-associate myself through to enlightenment.

So as part of my New Efficient Approach to Life (wait for the implosion, it should be here any minute), I am determined to pick one WIP and FINISH the damn thing. Which means I have to analyze what I have and see what I really want to write. (Okay, what I really want to write right now is my version of Lucifer but I know nothing about LA or the nightclub business, and the last thing I need is an eighth book in progress, so back to the WiPs). Below is my analysis of the seven manuscripts I have in progress, in no particular order. It’s pretty much a three part analysis: Do I have story? (protagonist/goal/antagonist/goal); How much do I have done? (word count); How do I feel about this book? (what do I love/what’s keeping me from working on it?). Continue reading

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Zelda 7: Creativity and Rewriting

For those who asked, I can’t talk about the Fun Book, it’s still in the squishy stage when it has to be just me. I wouldn’t have brought it up here except that it’s taking time away from You Again and that’s what the Twelve Days are about, what happens as I try to write Zelda.

One of the worst parts about rescuing a past book is that since it’s not new, so much of what I do doesn’t feel creative. There’s something about starting a brand new book that’s both terrifying (one hundred thousand freaking words) and exhilarating (I can do anything!). Rewriting is so much more about craft and decision than it is about story-telling. So I’m thinking maybe running both is keeping me creative enough that I can do the rewrite without losing my mind. Rewriting Agnes damn near killed me. It needed all the rewrites I did, it could probably use another, but it went on too long without me doing anything creative because I was determined to get Agnes out of my life before I started anything new. Looking back, that was a mistake.

The problem in doing both is the story world. I have to be able to enter that story world and believe in it, even in the rewrite, and that’s really hard when I’m doing two books and keeping two worlds in my head. Music and collage help put me there, but there comes a point when that window closes and I’m looking at the book from the outside. That’s good for copy edits and polishing, bad if my rewrite requires me to still write new scenes or to radically change the old ones. So I have to make sure I finish a book before that window closes, and writing two at the same time just ups the chances that I won’t make it.

But the good news is, Zelda is shaping up again in my head, so I think maybe You Again, since it’s been such a long time, will just become a new book. The vestiges of the old world are in my head, but the book I’m writing now comes from where I am now, and so the story world that emerges this time will be different which is probably why it’s sticky now. And the real challenge is to cut out everything that’s going to drag me back to a dead story world. Those sixty-thousand words I had that were going to make this a fast book to write are dwindling with every rewrite because some of them were infodump (a lot of them were infodump) but mostly because Zelda’s different now and so is Rose, not a lot but some, and so I can’t use the parts that are too mired in the old story world. Holding onto those is going kill the story I can tell now.

And then part of it is just that I overwrote this sucker, using massive slugs of dialogue to convey infodump instead of writing scene. And I know better. So now I’m looking at the 7000 words I wrote to get James to Rosemore to meet Zelda, and I’m going to have to knock it down to 2500, 2000 would be better, and that’s not going to be easy. Well, taking off the first 2200 was easy because I started it in the wrong place, in James’s law office instead of on the road. So that was an easy cut. Then I went through and chopped off some more obvious infodump and now it’s down to 3500. A thousand, maybe fifteen hundred to go. It’s going to be a long night.

And after that, my word count will have dropped to 50K. If this keeps up, this book will be fifty words long. But very tight. No infodump. Onward and upward. Or at least onward.

Because I still don’t have that first Zelda scene right.

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Zelda 6: Much Better

The new first scene really is much better. It’s still not tight enough and I have to concentrate on the characters more so it’s not so much information swapping and is really conflict. I did another polish on it today and it’s still not where it should be, but I’m happy with what I’ve done.

Tomorrow, I’m going to figure out what James’s first scene is. Originally it was in his office, but that’s starting too far back, I think. So I’m shelving that one–he can have that conversation later at Rosemore–and moving up to a zillion words of James in the car with his horrible relatives. Which I will cut by a half to two-thirds. Scylla’s scene can be shorter, too. And then I’ll have the first chapter.

I’d have gotten more done but the Fun Book called to me again and I worked on it for hours. At this rate, the Fun Book and You Again will be done at the same time. Hey, worse things could happen.

Maybe from now on, I should always have a Fun Book, something I can work on without pressure when the Real Book starts to get to me. It doesn’t seem to be interfering with You Again at all, except for the time loss, and it’s making me happy.

Yeah. The Fun Book stays.

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Zelda 5: Save the Cheerleader, Save the Book

I was supposed to be working today, and instead I caught up on all the back episodes of Heroes. People kept telling me it was wonderful and I kept saying, “I have no time, I must write,” and then my brains dribbled out my ears because all I did was write. So I thought, “Okay, I’ll watch the episode I have on my Direct TV Tivo which I am mentioning here because the damn thing is going out on me after only two years and now it sticks all the time, probably because it’s full of dog hair but I’m still mad at Direct TV.” Where was I? Right. I watched the first episode on NBC.com, but they didn’t have any more so I went to iTunes and downloaded the entire fifteen-episode season so far. It’s a damn good thing I don’t drink or do drugs because my ability to say, “No, really, that’s enough,” is non-existant.

Anyway, it takes time to watch fifteen forty-three minute TV shows (you do the math, i’m an English major) so all I got done today was one lousy table set up in Word with five of the major characters across the top, each with a plot or subplot and the nine plot points along the left–Beginning, Act One, First TP, Act Two, Second TP, Act Three, Third TP, Act Four, and Climax. Then I filled it in. And then I watched more Heroes. Extremely bummed about Charlie, but Hiro is the best. (Is it significant that there’s a Charlie and a Charles? I don’t think so.) Although that scene with Hiro’s father and sister . . . please. Lame. On the other hand, the scene where they’re lying under the van and the van drives away . . . . Keep that writer and fire the one who came up with “Really my sister is a better CEO than I am because I’m sensitive and she’s smart” which completely obliterates ten thousand years of patriarchy in Dad’s mind in one stunningly obvious and unrealistic move. I was praying Dad would say, “Are you insane? She’s a woman,” because I was not expecting that. Instead we got the expected. And the lame.

Where was I? Right. I filled out a table for You Again trying to get all the plots to mesh. And I worked on the plot for the Fun Book, too. But mostly, it was “We could be Heroes” all day. Jessica is turning out to be the Angelus of this show, so much more interesting than her good-two-shoes counterpart. Whining is not attractive, Niki. And then Dr. Who showed up and I was thrilled. Christopher Eccleston is just the best. Especially shoving Peter off a building even though I like Peter. Also I like Mohinder a lot, but could we lose the voiceovers? Voiceovers kill, people. And Adrian Pasdar owns this show whenever he’s onscreen. What a great face he has; when he smiles, he’s 95% teeth, terrifying everybody in sight range. Now there’s a character with some real ambiguity.

You know it’s amazing how well this show handles a HUGE cast of characters so that you really do know them all. I have a hell of a time with that, every one of my books always ends up with seventeen characters (oddly enough, not an exaggeration, I seem to bottom out at actual seventeen) and readers scream that they can’t keep them apart. You Again is no exception. Or it wasn’t until I cut two of them and knocked it back to fifteen. Maybe if I gave them super powers. Evil twins. Secret marks. White eyeballs.

Like I said, I watched Heroes all day today. So I am a sloth, but I’m a happy sloth with a new appreciation of action and a much better understanding of why Too Much Dialogue Is Bad, so it really has been good for the book. And tomorrow I’ll get back to work. Because there are no more episodes of Heroes to watch until Monday.

Although Mollie did say that the latest ep of Supernatural was terrific . . .

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Zelda 4: Inching Along

I now have all the pieces of You Again separated into different scene files and stashed in Act Folders and I know exactly why Jen said, “No,” and Bob screamed trying to fix it. It’s a puzzle that’s missing three quarters of its pieces and somebody lost the lid to the box with the picture on it.

Of course there’s some good stuff in there. It just doesn’t make any sense when you put it together.

So now it’s time to hit the whiteboard. Scrivener is a godsend on this, it’s helping enormously, but it can’t give me the whole book at a glance. For that I need my whiteboard. I see colored markers in my future.

So what did we learn today, Dorothy?

I know this is definitely a book about fathers. Zelda’s, James’s, Rose’s, I’ve got fathers all over the place.

I know it’s got something to do with clashing realities, something to do with how everybody tells her own story and makes herself the hero and other people supporting players, except the other people think THEY’RE the heroes . . .

I think I know my turning points for Zelda’s father hunt, for the mystery, and for the romance, plus Scyllas subplot.

I know this is a lot more fragmented than I remember and that’s a little frightening.

Argh

Whiteboard Tomorrow.
Panicking Tonight.

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Zelda 3: Beats and Bad Timing

I played hookey today and wrote 3500 words on my Fun Book, the one that’s not under contract and won’t be for months. I guess that’s Busman’s Hookey, isn’t it? Shirking work to do work? But it’s so much fun to have a book I’m not talking about, one that I’m just playing with. Everything I wrote is Don’t Look Down Draft which means it’s going to need massive rewrites, but still that’s some work there.

Then I went back to You Again and looked at the first scene. You remember, the one I cut more than half of. It’s still too long. It has too many beats, I think.

The same way stories are broken into scenes, scenes are broken into beats of conflict. Each beat is a struggle of its own that has a climax/turning point that throws the scene into the next beat. I like three-beat scenes because I think that’s a natural rhythm for people, but it’s not something I’m rigid about. If a scene has four beats or two beats and it works, fine by me.

Zelda’s first scene has six beats.

• The first beat is her in the car, arguing with Scylla about going into Rosemore.

• The second is facing Rose at the front door and then yielding and going in.

• The third is in the entry where Rose tells her she wants her to come to Rosemore permanently to start a garden/nursery.

• The fourth is in the hallway where Rose tells Zelda about her mother.

• The fifth is in the entry, Zelda on her way out the door, when Rose tells her if she stays she’ll help her find her father.

• The sixth is Rose’s final move which defeats Zelda completely in this scene, fulfilling everything she was afraid of in the first beat.

I can cut the mother stuff and use that later, i think. That gives me five beats.

And her fight with Rose is really just these four beats:

• At the door, resisting going into the entry hall (Scylla).

• In the entryway, resisting going into the central hall (garden).

• In the central hall, making a break for the entry (father.

•In the entry way, not making it out the door and falling into Rose’s clutches.

Except I need that beat with Scylla at the beginning to set the hook and show the reader how much Zelda dreads Rosemore. Except that’s not part of the struggle. Except Rose is in cahoots with Scylla so it IS the first beat of her struggle with Rose. Except the reader won’ t know that, so it’ll feel like I’m switching antagonists.

So it’s

1. In the car, resisting going into Rose’s clutches (Rose speaking through Scylla)
2. At the door, resisting going into the entry hall (Scylla).
3. In the entryway, resisting going into the central hall (garden).
4. In the central hall, making a break for the entry (father.
5. n the entry way, not making it out the door and falling into Rose’s clutches.

That’s still a lot of beats, and that first one is still iffy. Argh. And none of it echoes the last scene which is a pain in the butt because I like to bookend.

So maybe Zelda doesn’t make a break for it. Let’s try this again. Since she’s going to be fighting going out the back door in the climax, maybe she’ll just be fighting going in here.

1. In the car, resisting going into Rose’s clutches (Rose speaking through Scylla)
2. At the door, resisting going into the entry hall (Scylla).
3. In the entryway, resisting going into the central hall (garden).
4. In the central hall, resisting going into the sitting room (father).
5. Trapped in the hall, falling into Rose’s clutches.

Still too much stuff. The scene won’t bear that much info.

1. In the car, resisting going into Rose’s clutches (Rose speaking through Scylla)
2. At the door, resisting going into the entry hall (Scylla, garden).
3. In the entryway, resisting going into the central hall (father).
4. In the central hall, falling into Rose’s clutches.

So more cutting. And shaping because each of those beats should get shorter and right now they don’t. I just rambled. Time to tighten things up, get those rhythms in place so I can go write the last scene and balance them.

Except now it feels too short, too abrupt. Oh, hell, I’m just going to have to go back in and write it. At least it’s not a million slow beats now.

Progress.

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Zelda 2: In Which Chapter Heads Are Considered and the Word Count Falls

One problem I’ve been having in the past years (argh) is going too dark. And here’s Zelda, stuck in a house where people are getting murdered, so I can feel the lights dimming. But there’s I’m-so-depressed-I’m-going-to-kill-myself dark and there’s Gorey dark. Black comedy. Or at least Charcoal Gray Comedy. I just need ways to remind myself of that. So I thought about chapter heads. Usually I don’t use chapter quotes or comments or anything besides “Chapter One” because I want the chapter breaks to be invisible, but I’m thinking maybe I’ll try chapter heads this time as part of the story. A little retro post-modernism, if you will, using old techniques to do commentary and play with readers’ perceptions. Usually when I get this clever, i get shot down because clever screws up story telling, and there’s a good chance that’s going to happen again. But I’m going to work with the chapter heads for awhile anyway.

Here’s the chapter head for Chapter One: Continue reading

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Zelda 1: Get Out the Knife

The Twelve Days of Zelda officially began today, so I opened the You Again files.

There are ten thousand of them. The earliest is dated May of 2004, but I know I started it in 2003. I don’t know why I thought I’d open the folder and it would all be neat and tidy. It looks like a goat threw up in there. And although I have many files to open yet, here’s what I’ve found so far:

In a desperate attempt to save this book, I have called Zelda “Emma,” “Esme” and “Roxy.” Her best friend Scylla was once called “Beth.” James, however, has always been James.

I have started this book it three different places, once too late in the story, once too early in the story, and once just in the wrong place. The first scene, which should be Zelda meeting an antagonist, was actually three scenes and a coda: the first scene had 2392 words, the second had 3889, the third had 1384 and the fourth had 241. Yes, folks, almost 8000 words to get my heroine on the scene and in trouble. That’s, uh, too many.

Then the hero, James: 7225 words to establish him and his relationships with his cousins. Yawn.

The heroine’s best friend, Scylla: 2248 to get her POV.

That one may actually be pretty good, but it’s still going to have to be cut unless I move her to Chapter Two because by the end of the first chapter, I have to have my heroine with her goal and antagonist, my hero with his subplot goal, and something that’s brought them together so I can get the love story subplot going. Which means I now have over 17,000 words for a first chapter. Which is about, oh, eleven thousand too many. So I have to cut it which means that 60,000 word head start I had on the novel just faded to 50,000.

Helping in this weeding out process is some great shareware that I found called Scrivener. If you’re not on a Mac, don’t even go look at it because it’ll break your heart that you can’t have it. It’s a writing word processor that’s only meant for writing drafts of fiction and screenplays. When it’s done, you save it to Word or whatever major word processor you want. But as composing software, it’s great, well worth the $34 they ask for it.

I now have my first chapter scenes all in Scrivener where I can keep them straight with the note card that goes with each scene that I can see all at once tacked to Scrivener’s corkboard which looks like this:

Scrivener’s Desktop

And I have my basic plot outline (Beginning, Act One, Turning Point One, Act Two, TP2, Act Three, TP 3, Act Four, Climax) filled out for Zelda, for the James/love story subplot, for the Scylla subplot, and for two other major characters so I know where there are at the crucial moments. Tomorrow, I’ll add some of the minor characters so I know where they are in their plots at those moments.

Plus I have my One Sentence Idea (Bob will be so proud):

A woman goes back to the house for a Christmas house party and meets the same people she was with at a summer house party fifteen years before while trying to discover who fathered her at a similar Christmas house party thirty-five years before.

Yes, it needs work.

And my “this book is about” sentence (which is easier for me than a One Sentence idea):

This is a book about ZELDA who wants to find her FATHER/FATHER’S IDENTITY but can’t because X is destroying evidence and killing the people who know.

And my central question:

Will Zelda defeat X and find out who her father is?

And yes I did a conflict box. You’re not getting it because it gives away the murderer.

So while I still have a mess on my hands, at least I’m clearing away some underbrush and getting my plan in place. Pretty good or a first day.

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You Again: Sticky Time

So Agnes went out yesterday, and then I dealt with some trauma which meant my head was anywhere but my writing, and then I woke up at the crack of dawn still upset and read a book by a pal that made everything better. Mad Dash by Patricia Gaffney. It’s not out until August, so this is cruel, teasing you like this, but it’s so wonderful, and I wept all over it in a GOOD way, because it’s just beautiful but not sad at all, just true. You know how it is when you read exquisite writing that just nails something you’ve known but couldn’t put into words? And then you weep because it’s so true? That kind of crying. Mad Dash, wonderful, wonderful book.

And of course reading great books makes me want to write. I’ll never be the writer Gaffney is, she’s a miracle, but I’m pretty damn good, and I have that Zelda file right there on the desktop looking at me. And now I want to write.

But not yet.

So my daughter calls and we’re talking about the Cranky Agnes logo (the logo Agnes has at the top of her newspaper column and on her promo aprons) and I tell her that now I have to find a new occupation for Zelda because she was a cookbook writer and now Agnes is a cookbook writer so Zelda cannot be one. Which is all right because I wasn’t married to that anyway. And I ask Mollie, “Any ideas on what Zelda should do for a living?” and she says, “Why would I have ideas?” and I say, “Because whatever she does is what you’re going to hang the marketing stuff on,” and she says, “OH.” Because she is business 24/7.

Mollie says, “She has a cable TV show,” and I’m thinking, “Uh, no,” and Mollie says, “About plants,” (Mollie was a landscape architect in first career), and I say, “Oh, well . . .” and she keeps going with ideas and hits “perennial expert,” and I say, “Oh!” and she talks about how you can’t plant perennials under walnut trees because the roots kill them, and I’m thinking, “Malcolm is a walnut tree, Zelda could look at him and think ‘walnut tree,’” (oooh, maybe I should change his name to Walter) and that certain perennials are really good together and that others are toxic to each other, and I’m thinking, “Hoo boy, symbolism there,” and then she says that many perennials are poisonous, and I remember there’s a murder by poisoning in the book, and what if Zelda is known as an perennial specialist, and all of a sudden, I’ve got Zelda’s profession and a whole new way into this book.

Because Zelda’s nemesis (although not necessarily antagonist) in this book is Rose, and Rose has a mother named Lily, and then I started thinking about how tough roses were, both to grow and then to get rid of, especially the wild rambling kind which have to be perennials, right? I don’t know, I haven’t looked yet. But is this not crunchy?

And that’s when I realized that you could get a second go round on Sticky Time.

Sticky Time is that period at the beginning of a book where you keep tripping over things that need to be in it. You’re not looking; it’s just that everywhere you go, suddenly you think, “I can use that.” I used to think that everything stuck to the book during Sticky Time, but then I realized that I was seeing and hearing thousands of things during that time, but only the stuff that the book wanted registered. It was like the book knew what it needed, and turned sticky for those ideas.

But I always thought it only happened at the beginning of the book. Oh, sure, sometimes things come along later, like Wonder Woman in Don’t Look Down, but the stuff that stuck in the beginning determined the shape of the book. Only now it turns out that if you go away from a book and then come back, you get a new Sticky Time.

Well, I’m thrilled.

So now I’m looking at perennial books and googling and making notes, and Zelda is coming through strong again. The work a character does is so important, it says so much about who she is, that getting that right can sometimes bring the entire character into focus.

Plus did you know that if you don’t separate perennials every few years, they start to strangle each other? How’s that for a metaphor for family? I’m LOVING this Zelda-as-plant-specialist idea. Mollie does it again.

And—how crunchy is this—Strop is right, YoU AGAIN type does look like it has small vines or something growing on it. That’s A Sign.

Excuse me while I go find things that stick to my book.

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You Again: She’s a Type A

First, thank you all very much, I had a great time reading the comments. Still not sure what Zelda’s deal is that gets her hooked, but I have plenty of options now.

Then I played with the type and thought about Zelda, and she has to be this one:

Because it looks like her, that why.

I know many of you were seduced by Fireside Chat, but the problem there is that it has such a strong identity already, before a book is even attached to it, that I think it overwhelms what I want the book to be. I love that font, but it’s just too classic Christie, and I’m looking for classic Crusie. On the other hand, the Archive type that’s so perfect for Zelda is too heavy and threatening for this story. So I think this is it:

This I like, now that I’ve calmed down that awful staring “O” in the middle of the “You” by making it lower case. This is formal and old-fashioned but it’s got that whacked-out undercurrent to it. I’m pretty sure this is what the book I want to write looks like.

And the fact that the Zelda font doesn’t match the world-of-the-book font? Symbolism, baby. Yep, these are my choices.

I still haven’t opened the file because I’m still working on Agnes but I’m really close now. I’m taking tomorrow to cut 5, 584 words from it (argh) and then I’m done. Forever.

And shortly after that, I’m opening that file. Well, I might take a break. But really soon . . .

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