Thursday, June 03, 2010

Skill Sets and Transitions

No new wildlife—I think the construction noise freaked them out. Hummingbirds are fearless, however—they don't even wait until you hang up the feeder.

Construction update. Tile laid in one of the entries and in front of the fireplace. The darker tile is going to look good with the lighter oak. Hall bathroom gutted and ready for tile tomorrow, along with the other entry (if they did them both the same day, we wouldn't be able to get out of the house until they set). They're discovering extra work due to strange techniques used by the previous owners. I thought things would be quiet, but they got out power saws and power screwdrivers and power noisemakers in general. And … drum roll … we have a Dumpster! Yes, Dumpster is a trademark, just like Kleenex, so it has to be capitalized.

As I listened to the workers dealing with laying the tile, I started thinking about layers of skill sets for characters. Depending on our upbringing and experience, we might consider those who work in 'blue collar' trades as people who work with their hands, not their brains. I know the focus on my generation was to get a college degree and work in an office, rising the corporate ladder.

Slight digression here...

I straddle the hippie generation and women's lib. But for the most part, the focus for my upbringing as a female, in reality, was to go to college, but the degree was to have something to fall back, or a way to support the requisite husband. Women weren't expected to work if they were married, and certainly not when they had children.

For better or for worse, 'white collar' jobs were seen as better than 'blue collar' jobs. And by extrapolation, 'white collar' people were smarter than blue collar people. However, in chatting with the men who are doing our work, they're not doing it because they couldn't get a 'better' job. The head man says he used to work for Microsoft, but it was too stressful. His partner said he couldn't stand the idea of going to an office and doing the same thing every day. After 10 years as an electrician, he now likes that he's probably repeating a task only for a couple of days before moving on. He enjoys stepping back and seeing what changes he's brought to a property he's working on, and from what I've heard, they both take pride in doing it right (thank goodness! – We've been watching too many horror stories on Holmes on Homes)

Another thing I've noticed – these guys have math skills. Things have to fit, and they can deal with fractions of inches like nobody's business. In their heads. I still count on my fingers for most of my personal math.

So when you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Can they visualize what an empty space could look like? I can't—that's not in my skill set. Are they able to look at a blueprint and know exactly how many bricks to order, or gallons of paint it'll take to cover the walls? Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

And to carry on the construction/writing analogy: This job is editing, not creating a manuscript from scratch. Taking the tiling as an example. First, they cut out the stuff that's not needed. It was an arduous process (not to mention noisy & dusty!), and they were sweating as they jackhammered up the old tile.

As writers, we regard our words as 'precious' and can't imagine deleting them. Didn't we sweat over each one. I'm sure the previous owners thought they were creating a perfect floor. But cut we must, in order to make the finished product shine.

So, they've pulled out the old flooring. But to lay the new stuff, they have to make sure the substrate is clean. Then they installed the base layer for the new tile, constantly paying attention to how thick the backer board is, how thick the mastic is, how thick the tile is, and how it has to end up at the same level as the new flooring which will go in next. Then, they have to cut tiles to fit, because the space isn't exactly a certain number of tiles wide. And there are corners.

Just as all the elements of the floor have to fit together, when we're writing, we have to pay attention to transitions…to how each word, sentence, paragraph flows into the next.

The space we're dealing with is a 'great room' so everything has to coordinate. The tile has to look good with the wood, which has to look good with the kitchen countertops, which have to look right with the cabinets.

And when we're done making sure every element works, we can step back and admire our project, whether it's a new room or a new book.

Tomorrow is a double field trip day. Jessica's taking us to the Giant's Ring, and I'll be over at Author Expressions with the job interview I did for Ryan Harper of When Danger Calls.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Transitions are so important, aren't they? There's nothing like reading a book that's all choppy...

Glad the tile is working out!

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - definitely. Whether they're the major ones or simply the flow of dialogue, everything needs to be smooth and polished.

Lou Belcher said...

Great post.... yes, so many beginning writers forget about transitions. They're in a hurry to tell the story and forget that the reader isn't in their head.

Thanks for a good reminder.

Mason Canyon said...

Great post. Glad the work is going well and it sounds like it's also working into the writing. BTW, you're right - hummers are fearless.

Thoughts in Progress

Terry Odell said...

Lou - I'm noticing exactly that as my CP gave me comments on the draft of a scene. Gotta turn that ESP on.

Mason - so far, the house work is progressing faster than my writing. I'm thankful I'm not on deadline.

Debra St. John said...

Very exciting! I love Dumpsters...they mean lots of work in progress!!

Terry Stonecrop said...

A lot of blue collar workers today are making more money than a lot of white collar workers.

Nice analogy about the elements working together.

Terry Odell said...

Debra - it's half full already.

TerryS - one of my daughters was dating a philosophy major, who, at the time according to statistics, had a better chance of seriously gainful employment than my other daughter's nuclear physics PhD student boyfriend.

Jemi Fraser said...

One of the great things about being a teacher is getting to meet people from all different walks of life. It's hard to stereotype people when you've met someone who's done that job. :)

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Interesting post and isn't it exciting to see something being built, whether it's a story or a house?

Sheila Deeth said...

Had a fun time talking with the guy who delivered my son's washing machine at his new home. Those collars just don't fit.