Monday, March 08, 2010

Written in the Stars

What I'm reading: Inside Out by Barry Eisler

Despite the hectic schedule and stress of a conference, the three-day break from driving was welcome. I met with two agents and an editor, and all requested pages. Considering I hadn't thought about my romantic suspense in some time, I'm pleased that I sounded coherent enough so they were willing to ask for a peek, not only of the romance, but also of my mystery. Once I get to a place where I can unpack my computer and printer (one agent wants hard copies) I can make sure I have the right files to send.

The only "problem" having the appointments created was cutting into workshop time, but I did manage to glean some useful information.

Robyn DeHart began her talk with a quote from Stephanie Bond: "Good writing is not accidental." From there, she went on to speak about revisions, making clear the difference between revising and editing. She compared the first revisions to a heart transplant, where entire scenes might be cut, added, and moved around. The next pass would be the tummy tuck, where you can address things like setting, subplots and continuity, and make sure you're incorporating the five senses. The final step would be the Botox – where you polish things like character voice and pacing, and do the copy editing.

Lori Wilde's workshop was also informative, although it was scary for a non-plotter. Her topic was layering scenes for maximum impact. Unlike Robyn, who says the theme can take a while to appear, Lori urges writers to know the theme of the book from the very beginning (scary point #1) and make sure it appears in every scene, although it doesn't need to be blatant. Finding ways to address theme will make the story deeper and resonate more strongly with the reader.

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Wilde read a passage from one of her books where she showed a man being released from prison and getting his civilian clothes. She showed how he strapped on the band of his watch, and tied his shoes. The theme for that book was "The Ties that Bind" and those two items subtly introduced the theme. She also spoke of concrete symbols like these as ways to show rather than tell. These can be props, symbols, or motifs (scary point #2). In the example she gave, the watch became a symbol, important through the book, while the shoelaces were merely props, never to be mentioned again.

She went on to speak about the character's world view (scary point #3) and how one should know how your character filters his sensory input. Is he a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic person? And by making the heroine the opposite, you can add more conflict. If one's an artist and one's a musician, they'll have different world views. Or maybe the visual character wants the lights on during sex, and the kinesthetic character wants them off to concentrate on the sense of touch.

Then she recommended using archetypes to build characters (scary point #4). From there it was deciding what events in the character's life form his world view, which will also create flaws in his thinking. And the character will have to let go of those flaws before he can be saved. She suggests knowing what defining events will have colored the character's world view at five points in his life. First between birth and 5 years, then between 5 and 10, then his teens, then 18-22, and then his recent past. Each should escalate, and they need to be different types of events – if his flaw is

After that, she talked about finding life metaphors (scary point #5), represented by those props, symbols and motifs.

I certainly understand what she's saying, and agree that it will make a book a more compelling read, but the thought of planning those before writing is scary. She did point out that if you're not a plotter, you can go back and add these layers (thank goodness), but she was quite strong in urging everyone in the room to learn to get these things in from the start.

One of the reasons I find doing detailed plotting so difficult is that it forces me to think too far ahead. Also, it seems like a tedious chore, having to fit things into a defined structure. That's probably why thinking about a book as a three act play doesn't appeal to me; the end result for me might follow that basic plan, but it seems to be more organic.

For me, it's more like my 'idea board' system, where I collect things I need to address, keeping in mind that they need to create conflict. When I do this, I'm considering who the character is, although I don't think I've ever started with a specific archetype. I haven't really thought much about archetypes since Mr. Holtby in World Lit in High School.

My own workshop went well enough, but I'm thankful that housekeeping chose that time to clean our room so that hubby came downstairs and found me. The speaker who preceded me used her own laptop instead of the one provided by the conference, and she disconnected everything when she left. Hubby knew what keys to press to get the laptop to talk to the projector. I'm sure my stress level and irritation that there wasn't AV support for techno-dweebs like me would have bled through into my talk.

I'm writing this Saturday night after the books signing and closing reception. All in all, a worthwhile conference. We'll repack the car now that we don't need easy access to the same things and head off. Two nights in Texas are our scheduled stops for Sunday and Monday. Tuesday my guest is Jenny Andersen, who will be talking about girls and horses. And we should be pulling into Colorado Springs sometime early evening.

I hope you'll continue to stop by, and please share if you're enjoying my posts. Tweet, Facebook, Stumble – whatever! Friday, I'll have the pictures Jason took on his trip to the Everglades. Meanwhile, forgive me for the lack of illustrations here lately - time is too limited to search them out.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think Lori made some great points, but I'm with you...I'd mess myself up if I spent too much time planning those things out ahead of time. I'm not even an outliner!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth -- I think these things come as I write, and maybe after I've written as many books as she has, it might work its way into the process sooner.

Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like you are packing a lot of information and activities into a small amount of time. Wow. Good luck with the romance and mystery submissions.

darkangelauthor said...

I used to be a complete pantser, but as my craft becomes stronger, I find myself doing more of the pre-planning part. Still, I can't see myself following the approach Lori recommends...for me, much of the fun of writing comes in realizing that the details of which she speaks have found their way into the story all by themselves. Far more naturally, I think, than if I tried to plot them in. I dunno...for me, I think that would feel just too contrived...

Terry Odell said...

Mason - thanks. There's a big dichotomy between the brain overload at the conference and the brain function when navigating unfamiliar highways for 6+ hours a day.

Darkangel - I agree. I recall the discussions in HS English when we'd ask if the author really intended all the symbolism our teacher would have us digging from stories. He said the author probably didn't do it on a conscious level, but when choosing words, some felt 'right' and some didn't work.

Elena said...

Wow, I couldn't even write my own life in such neat and precise catagories as Lori suggests, and I know none of my characters would put up with such control.

But, then to each her or his own. It all goes back to whatever works.

Terry said...

Thanks for sharing those points. I don't plot either but some of Lori Wilde's points are already in my WIP. Most not. I like the idea of going back and plugging them in later, as desired.

I wonder if Lori is related to Oscar.

Good luck with your submissions and your move.

Terry Odell said...

Elena - I guess that's why it's good that we can create lives for our characters!

"other" Terry - I tend to be more like Robyn in that I'll go back and add the layers rather than try to get them in from the get go. I'm afraid I'll be forcing square pegs into round holes if I try to decide on too much in the first draft. And I do think our subconscious minds get a lot of that stuff in there.

Carol Kilgore said...

Wonderful post with lots to remember. Your scary points would be mine, too. Way too much pre-planning, but good to know what to layer in.