November 14, 2013
Today in honor of nanowrimo I want to talk a little bit about writing styles. I’m no expert and I certainly haven’t been taught all the ways to write a book but there are two I’m familiar with and of course I have my own style which I will attempt to explain. The two major writing formats are outlining and something called Pantsing, which sounds like a prank but it isn’t… or maybe it is it depends on how you look at it. Let’s start with the familiar.
Outlining: Remember in High school when they attempted to teach you to write a research paper about some boring subject you couldn’t care less about? Outlining was a part of that. This may be why I shy away from it to some extent but the gist is this, you have a main idea and you write out the bullet points. Some writers do this in a day (lucky) and others agonize over it for weeks. Whichever one you are is the right one for you, so long as it works and a book is born at the end. Now in school, every Roman numeral and capital letter and number and lower case letter was a sentence that built your paragraphs. Well with a book it’s more about the scenery. Each Roman numeral is the scene, capital letters are the important bits, the numbers are supporting dialog or back story, and then those tiny lower case letters and bullet points are the secrets you weave in and out of the readers reach to keep them flipping pages. Or something like that. This is akin to Hansel and Gretel leaving the white stones as a trail for them to follow back home, a single stone every few feet alerting you which way you are to go.
Pantsing: writing by the seat of your pants or having them yanked down ? That is the question. Throwing caution and judgment to the wind and just writing, free writing, bad writing, good writing, gold and dross all in the same space as you splatter word paint on the blank canvas. This is where you follow the bunny trial where ever it leads and to heck with everything else. In my experience this leads to a lot of staring out windows or web surfing in order to catch stray ideas and strain them from the ether in order to use them. In this mode inspiration and creation share a common space and like Oscar and Felix from the odd couple, sometimes they don’t get along but they are vital to the process. Making room for both is important for the symbiotic relationship to work. There are times you have to go out and find inspiration, track her court her threaten her whatever you have to do to get the spark needed for the second half of it. Creation is the frenzied typing sound you make as you sip your morning coffee. Throwing words and sentences on the page to weave a story together. It’s a little ‘devil may care’. Like the bread crumbs, you gather handfuls and toss them in what you hope is a vague approximation of a trail and you roll the dice and take your chances that you will end up back home or that you find a gingerbread house along the way.
The ripple effect: Now I’m going to tell you how I do it. I’m not suggesting it’s the right way or even recommending you try it because it can be an enormous pain to do it this way. The ripple effect is linear and circular at the same time. With the ripple effect you start with an idea, the spot where the stone went in, and begin at the beginning. For me this is the part I get to see in my mind first. I can back track from the idea with a “wonder how they got there?” and fill in the gap up to that point starting with Chapter one. Begin at the beginning and work to the end with your idea as an anchor of sorts. Each ripple consists of going over what’s been written and widening it from there each day, editing as you go and writing the new material with the fresh version in your brain. It’s very hard to do it this way because you run the risk of getting so sick of what you have written that you want to pitch it in the circular file. Fortunately as time goes on you get to a point where you are done looking at chapter one and trust that it doesn’t need much more fiddling with. The other chapters follow as you go over the material each time getting better and better. This is a little like the witch going out to Hansel asking over and over if he’s fat yet while Hansel sticks a bone out for her to feel. She tries everything to fatten him up just as you try everything to tighten up your work and make it flow giving you a platform to outline or pants from. I can’t say it is the best method but I can say it is the way I have always done it. It’s my Rhythm.
No matter how you get there, though, in the end you will eventually have to pitch the witch in the oven and let her fry, namely on the desk of an agent or editor. When you get to this part just remember, everybody lived happily ever after eventually.
September 5, 2013
I promise I have not abandoned this blog however I’ve been SUPER sick and SUPER busy attempting to turn this comic book idea I had years ago into a YA novel and it’s all sort of Crashed together. I will begin posting again in November. Sit tight and stay close.
November 16, 2012
This post is about writing but bare with me, first a little history about why Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year.
Several years ago my mother was diagnosed with food allergies. This wouldn’t have been too bad if she wasn’t allergic to everything but the kitchen sink. Wheat causes anaphylaxis and sugar causes severe pain starting in the deep muscle and going out to the skin as the nutrients is processed. Add to those eggs, dairy, yellow squash, peas of all kinds, thyme, black and white pepper, pumpkins and cranberries and you can pretty much kiss Thanksgiving good bye, right? WRONG! I was not about to stand by and watch mom pick at dry turkey while the rest of us feasted. How can you be thankful when you are being deprived?
So to Google I went in search of the perfect Thanksgiving menu and all the substitutions I needed. This is my menu:
One Vanderbilt Turkey Recipe
Green bean casserole complete with fried onions
Sweet potato casserole
One oatmeal pecan pie
One blueberry pie
(I also make my own corn bread, mushroom soup, chicken stock, poultry seasoning, fried onions, and marshmallows along with picking blueberries in the summer so we have a small taste of sun after dinner. Take that Martha!)
I know, you’re thinking “wait a minute all that has wheat and sugar and eggs and milk”. Originally, yes. But after hunting I found that brown rice flour makes the corn bread and the mushroom soup for the green bean casserole richer. Coconut oil is better than butter with a gentle taste that heightens the essence of what it’s used in. Honey and fructose take the place of sugar and coconut palm sugar has a delightful graham cracker flavor that replaces brown sugar. There are dozens of egg replacers on the shelf at the whole foods market that work like a charm. I even make my own vanilla with vanilla beans split and steeped in spiced rum for the year. Oat milk makes dairy a thing of the past and sorghum flour makes a nice pie crust. Marshmallows are surprisingly easy to make too.
With all the homemade stuff I had to prepare I found it was all too much to do the day before so next I set up a schedule.
Sunday is shopping
Monday is chopping
Tuesday is mixing
Wednesday is baking and combining
Thursday is cooking and eating and enjoying
One of the things we noticed is that after having the new Thanksgiving dinner all the old recipes seemed bland, and tasteless, kind of like first drafts. I wouldn’t dream of making Thanksgiving any other way as I’m sure no one would dream of publishing a first draft! The flavors and smells are rich and savory. The carrots wouldn’t taste as good covered in sugar as they do in fructose which brings out their carroty-ness. The sweet potatoes are almost dessert thanks to the coconut sugar and wildflower honey. The pecan pie has a deep velvety taste that sticks to the roof of your mouth. The stuffing, soaked in turkey gravy (the turkey is basted in herbs, white wine and brandy) is so delicious and full bodied it makes store bought stuffing almost gross. Hints of pecan and celery and apple, dance a seductive tango with rosemary, sage, and marjoram. I literally never want anyone else to cook thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it’s a week long process of homemade madness but it is the best thing in the world knowing that on Thanksgiving when everyone pushes back from the table that I’ve fed my family with the best I have to offer.
And isn’t that the feeling we want when the book is done and ready for the shelf? That we gave our readers the best we have to offer?
It is months and sometimes years of hunting down substitutions and turns of phrase and throwing out this recipe and tweaking that recipe and reading until we can’t remember what we sound like. But in the end once the shopping, chopping and baking of the idea is done and on the page we get to watch the book devoured with relish. As the reader closes the book and stares at the cover we know that the look of satisfaction is for us, that we served our best. We know we served up our best because we took the time and made the effort to make it our best. We tested it on the ears of friends and family and total strangers until it was ready. We rolled the phrases around in our mouths and swallowed our pride and spat out the gristle until we had the perfect mix of tension and mystery to entice the reader on to the next course. Chapter by chapter we honed our skill and tenderly roasted our words to get the proper balance of sweet and savory. We tinkered and tailored until we wrote an ending as sweet as summer blueberries baked into a flaky pie crust. It’s the work we put into it, the amount of time we spent writing, reading, learning, talking, sharing, hoping, praying and crying that makes such an achievement possible. There were disappointments along the way to the perfect Thanksgiving and there have been setbacks to writing a novel but I didn’t give up on dinner and I won’t be convinced to give up on my book, no matter how hard it is to write. Thanksgiving dinner gives me hope and makes me feel good about myself. If I can make an allergen free Thanksgiving dinner then I can write a novel people will love.
As with all things, if it is worth doing then it is worth doing well.
February 21, 2012
So Monday was a holiday. With Kiddo at home I figured I’d dust off the kitchen and cook breakfast. Banana pancakes (because I can’t have egg and bananas are a good substitute) and bacon… because it’s bacon. Who doesn’t like bacon? Well having dropped my tongs on the floor and having multiple irons in the fire, so to speak, I grabbed a fork and reached in to scoop the bacon out. This worked fine until the last piece (it’s always the last piece). The hot grease popped, with spectacular flair, and spattered the underside of my arm. You know that nice, soft, smooth strip of unprotected flesh that won’t even tan if you don’t specifically set yourself out to tan that piece? That’s where it got me. By the time I reached the sink two steps away the grease wasn’t hot anymore. The cold water felt good but the damage was done. Red spots still linger on that part of my arm set to send pain responses at the slightest brush. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had gotten the top of my arm where the skin is darker, thicker, and slightly tougher but it started me thinking.
I started thinking about weaknesses. Specifically weaknesses in our heroes. Not two moments before the pop my daughter came in and hugged me and told me I was the best mom in the world because I was making bacon. I look around the house at the piles of laundry needing to be put up and the stacks and stacks of dishes and the cluttered floors and the bags of recycling thinking I’m the worst mom in the world but my little girl is set to call me mom of the year for one act of domesticity. I love being a home maker and I love being a writer but the two are often at cross purposes, at least until we run out of underwear but all my girl sees is her mom loves her enough to make bacon.
Think about how many people we put on pedestals and are horribly disappointed when they fall off? Teachers, law enforcement, volunteers, politicians, all have communities looking up to them. If I can barely handle the guilt from falling short for one person how much worse is it for those under the immense stress of performing miracles for hundreds? Is it any wonder we have a problem?
But while flaws and weaknesses are unpleasant they are necessary in a character. After all who wants to read a story about a hero who never screws up or doesn’t have anything to lose? If he always wins there is no growth and therefore no story. Any book, movie, tv series, or comic book series author will tell you flaws and weaknesses are what make the hero approachable, admirable, vulnerable, and connected. If the reader/viewer cannot connect with your hero then your project will eventually be shelved. Sad but true. We want to feel that even though we are soft, squish, normal human beings that we can make a difference as long as there is one thing we do that is special. We don’t have to fly or climb walls or read minds but if we do something special, reading to others, folding things right, cooking a favorite dish, that we make a difference.
Moms are the greatest heroes I know. I spent this morning taking care of mom because she got sick. I ran errands and chatted with her, telling silly stories of days gone by. Mom is one of my special heroes. No, she doesn’t climb walls but on occasion she has been known to blow fire at certain rude, uncouth individuals in our defense. No she isn’t super strong, and she has no cape and boots, but she gets out of bed every morning and goes to work and budgets her money even though she’d like to hide in the covers and, on occasion, feels like the end is near. She is her own harshest critic but with us she is our best cheerleader.
In our family we have an unspoken rule. We have accepted that we are all just as crazy as bats in the daylight but we love each other anyway. That makes us heroes, flawed, weak, vulnerable, messed up heroes. And that’s the way I like it.