Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday 20, Maybe

We're under another tornado watch here until 2 am EST. Places north of us are getting hammered. Any decent storm knocks out our electricity here, so if I'm not back soon, it's because I'm lighting candles and trying to figure out what to cook on the gas grill for dinner. I'll catch up when the power permits.

Also, just to note -- today I caught up with responding to the many, interesting comments on the Is That Your Self-Promo in My Face, Or...
post.

I'm going to cut this short so I can post it before the next light flickers. Any questions for me?

31 comments:

  1. Ooh, I hope the weather clears up. Well, I'll post this question, and if you can't answer it, I won't be too crushed, lol.

    If you're writing, and one of the characters' scenes doesn't seem to...feel exactly the way you want it to, what do you do? I don't quite know how to describe it better. I guess it's saying what I want it to say, but it feels off. Any advice?

    Jason

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  2. Anonymous7:15 AM

    Heya. Hope things at Casa PBW simmer down. (ulterior motives abound, of course, we like our Friday 20.)

    Jason - While I am absolutely nobody, in the situation described I would do a once over to see if I can locate/fix the thing that's throwing the scene off, and then I would keep writing new material. Sometimes time and distance give a better perspective on what's not working.

    And my question is: I'm slowly discovering a writing process that works for me, and it involves notecards and breakdown by scene. Obviously, there's an estimated word count for each scene (2k) and now that I'm writing it, most scenes are running roughly 2k. I worry that I'm subconsciously tailoring my prose to be that long now. Is this a bad thing? My thought is to just do it for now to see where I end up, particularly with making my word count goals at least on the first draft, and then fix upon edit. What's your take?

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  3. Anonymous7:16 AM

    Oh, that was me above. Dang.
    Jess

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  4. Jason, when I've had trouble with a scene, I'll rewrite it from different POV's. I've found, much to my surprise, that sometimes I've just written it from the wrong characters POV. Weird, huh?

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  5. In My Humble and Unpublished Opinion: It helps to know what the scene's local conflict is about. Perhaps your scene conveys information or some important plot development, but doesn't actually give the characters anything to do.

    Lynn: How about that blimp annecdote then?

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  6. I still have power! Amazing! Those wonderful people at the power company must have hired another hamster to run the one turbine that's still working.

    But I digress.

    Jason wrote: If you're writing, and one of the characters' scenes doesn't seem to...feel exactly the way you want it to, what do you do? I don't quite know how to describe it better. I guess it's saying what I want it to say, but it feels off. Any advice?

    Happens to me now and then, most often in the first draft/daily edit stage. I don't nail a scene to my own satisfaction. It may be because I was simply having a bad writing day when I drafted the scene, in which case I dump it and write it over.

    If that's not the case, I look at what I know are my chronic problem areas in the scene: setting, description, showing emotion. I also see if I've been true to the characters as I've set them up. Often I find I'm trying to have a character do or say something that comes out wooden because the character in my head doesn't want to cooperate.

    At the end of one of my novels, the protagonist was supposed to get into a knife fight with the love interest over an important issue. Both characters were heavily invested in the issue and had no intention of giving in to the other, and the fight was necessary to wrap up their subplot for the novel. Only when I edited the fight scene after I wrote it, the whole thing felt fake. I put myself back in the head of the characters, and while the protag was more than willing to mix it up, the love interest wasn't -- he loves the protag so much he would never raise a blade to her. So I thought about the character's backstory, and thought what would he be willing to do to wrap up the situation? I cut most of the fight out, substituted a few things that were more logical, and ended up with a much better scene.

    Sometimes it happens during the revision stage, when I've changed some details in a scene to accomodate the editor's requests. After I do it sometimes feels, I don't know, patchworkish? In those cases I toss the entire scene and rewrite it from scratch, keeping in mind what the editor wants as I produce the replacement prose.

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  7. Lovely things, tornadoes. Ugh. That will be us in a month or so. Glad you still have power.

    I don't have a question, just wanted to say the discussion on scene-fixing is really helpful. Thanks!

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  8. Anonymous1:51 PM

    This question is for all Lynn's readers who have agents who deal with contemporary romance.

    I'm almost finished with my first novel (a romance that I was lucky enough to win a crit from Lynn for on Ebay!), and I'm looking for possible agent information from those of you who are already working with good agents. I've heard horror stories about bad ones, so I figure the network here would have some good advice on whom to try.

    The book will be about 100K in words, and it's along the lines of something Susan Mallery or Leanne Banks would write--not that I'm comparing myself to them. I've still got a lot to learn.

    Any agent tips much appreciated. Drop me a line at stilesca at winthrop.edu if you don't want to post on the list.

    Christina

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  9. No questions, just stopped by to say that I hope the torandoes are a no-show. We started the day with a 90% chance of rain/wind, and while right now it's sunny and beautiful there are clouds on the horizon that look like their headed our way. Have a good weekend.
    Ann

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  10. Jason2:44 PM

    Thanks to everyone for the help. That helped a lot!

    Jason

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  11. Jess wrote: I'm slowly discovering a writing process that works for me, and it involves notecards and breakdown by scene. Obviously, there's an estimated word count for each scene (2k) and now that I'm writing it, most scenes are running roughly 2k. I worry that I'm subconsciously tailoring my prose to be that long now. Is this a bad thing?

    Other writers will probably disagree with me on this, but I don't think so. Having that kind of internal wordcount meter can save you from rambling versus writing. I had the same thing going when I started out and made sure all my chapters being exactly twenty or thirty ms. pages with exactly twenty chapters per novel. Although I stopped obsessing about chapter and novel length a couple of years ago, I still write in the same basic zone. I know one thing I can't do -- write a one-page chapter. Oy. That freaks me out even to think about it.

    My thought is to just do it for now to see where I end up, particularly with making my word count goals at least on the first draft, and then fix upon edit.

    Sounds like a plan. I'm leery when it comes to messing with the flow of what I get on the page too much. Let the writing do what the writing wants; I'm just along for the ride.

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  12. Judy wrote: Jason, when I've had trouble with a scene, I'll rewrite it from different POV's. I've found, much to my surprise, that sometimes I've just written it from the wrong characters POV. Weird, huh?

    I'll second Judy's exemplary advice. I rewrote StarDoc from Reever's POV, and while looking through his eyes, I found a bunch of things I probably would have done differently in the original version.

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  13. Zornhau wrote: In My Humble and Unpublished Opinion: It helps to know what the scene's local conflict is about. Perhaps your scene conveys information or some important plot development, but doesn't actually give the characters anything to do.

    When characters become wallpaper, oh yes. Another great point, thank you, Z.

    Lynn: How about that blimp annecdote then?

    Plastered it all over comments at your LJ. It's a really lame one, too. ;)

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  14. Pat wrote: Lovely things, tornadoes. Ugh. That will be us in a month or so. Glad you still have power.

    So. Am. I. Lol.

    I don't have a question, just wanted to say the discussion on scene-fixing is really helpful.

    Getting different takes on how to deal with it helps immensely, too, because we're all different. Thanks to everyone for chiming in.

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  15. Anonymous3:58 PM

    I'm having problems with scenes in that I tend to write them through dialogue and forget the setting and other descriptions.

    How do you overcome this? And is it really so bad? I mean, it tends to flow ok, and I personally hate reading a lot of unnecessary description.

    Thoughts?

    Christina

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  16. What are the characters' goals in the scene?
    How do those goals conflict?
    What's stopping them achieving their goals?
    How does this scene progress the plot? illustrate character? explore setting? etc.

    "Umm, er, they don't have one" or "they don't" or "nothing much", or just an embarrassed silence? Time for a serious rewrite--or even the Evil Select and Delete.

    My question is, how can I teach myself to write dialogue that isn't on-the-nose?

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  17. Okay, so I now have a question. The evil phone companies have changed my phone number, would it be prudent to write to the publisher to whom I sent my manuscript (many moons ago) and let them know of my new phone number (and perhaps add my email address- or two)? The mailing address hasn't changed. I don't want to seem like I'm pushing for a decision (I'd just like to hear). Thanks, Ann
    P.S. Sorry if this is a lame question, it's just me channeling my inner Monk (or the cleaning fumes- it's my day off so I've become a cleaning demon).
    P.P.S. My word verification just called me a twit.

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  18. Eh, gads! We must have the same company running our electricity. If a drop of moisture falls on any of the lines here, the power is out for days! I hope your lights stay up - and that no tornados stop by to visit!

    No questions for me this week! Just dropping in to catch up on your blog and say Happy Friday!

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  19. PBW wrote in comments a couple of days ago: True enough. And the order to shut up came from the fact that I could hear you snickering inside my head as I was writing about how reserved and quiet I am.

    That's what I thought. Feel free to tell me to shut up anytime. I take perverse delight in it.

    Jess, your inner word count sounds like a wonderful thing to me. It seems to me (unpublished though I am) that you're setting yourself up for success when you get contracts with deadlines and external expectations.

    Jason, great question, I have some fresh ideas for a trouble spot now. I'm thinking it's a POV mismatch, but the writing from a different POV sounds like a useful tool to help bring insight into the scene that may help refine it even if you decide to remain in the original POV.

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  20. Christina wrote: Any agent tips much appreciated.

    Congratulations. When you get it into print, I want to be one of the first to know. :)

    I think Roberta Brown would be a good match for you, but her website says she's not accepting new clients at the moment. I'd try querying Emily Kim at Prospect; her submission guidelines are here. Good luck!

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  21. Ann wrote: No questions, just stopped by to say that I hope the torandoes are a no-show.

    I was up half the night waiting for the weather radio to go off, but other than a sporadic rain and a lot of wind we've not had much here. I hope things stay peaceful in your neck of the woods, Ann.

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  22. Christina wrote: I'm having problems with scenes in that I tend to write them through dialogue and forget the setting and other descriptions.

    The story of my writing life, lol.

    How do you overcome this? And is it really so bad? I mean, it tends to flow ok, and I personally hate reading a lot of unnecessary description.

    Some readers feel the same way you do, others feel cheated if you don't describe the curtains in every damn room. I don't think you can fake being an uber- descriptive writer, either. Some of us naturally have more dialogue/action-intense writing styles.

    What I've learned while wrestling my dislike of writing setting and description is to push myself to keep trying to write more of it or write it better than I have in the past. Good for the soul and the work, and maybe someday I'll find a way that helps me get over my aversion to writing it.

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  23. Buffysquirrel wrote: My question is, how can I teach myself to write dialogue that isn't on-the-nose?

    Eek, I'm not sure what you mean by on-the-nose. Could you clarify that?

    I work on dialogue every day by listening to what people say and how they say it. I'm a shameless eavesdropper, too. I take what I hear apart in my head, analyze the structure, the rhythms, the words that are emphasized, dropped, modified to slang, etc. Really wonderful lines that I hear I'll jot down in a notebook in my purse.

    The best places I've found to listen to a wide variety of people talk are food courts at malls, rest areas and shops at theme parks, and anywhere around an airport.

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  24. Ann wrote: The evil phone companies have changed my phone number, would it be prudent to write to the publisher to whom I sent my manuscript (many moons ago) and let them know of my new phone number (and perhaps add my email address- or two)? The mailing address hasn't changed.

    If they can obtain your new phone number from calling your old number (as in, the automatic voice that answers and says this number has been changed to etc.) I wouldn't worry about it. If you do feel uneasy, you can send a postcard listing the title and date of your original submission along with your new contact information, and simply let them know that it's an update.

    P.S. Sorry if this is a lame question, it's just me channeling my inner Monk (or the cleaning fumes- it's my day off so I've become a cleaning demon).

    Repeat after me: there are no lame questions. :)

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  25. Cora wrote: No questions for me this week! Just dropping in to catch up on your blog and say Happy Friday!

    Glad to see you, Cora. Have a great weekend.

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  26. Jean wrote: That's what I thought. Feel free to tell me to shut up anytime. I take perverse delight in it.

    Sure you do. I'm beginning to suspect you're in cohoots with my bad angel. ;)

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  27. You obviously haven't visited our airport lately :). Quiet doesn't cover it. Try deserted!

    By "on-the-nose" I meant that the characters talk about exactly what they're thinking or feeling or wondering about, rather than approaching the subject elliptically, as people more commonly do with sensitive subjects, or ones they don't want to admit to having any interest in. With my husband's help, I managed to write a scene where two characters disguise a conversation about whether they can trust each other under cover of a game of chess-equivalent, but this doesn't come easily to me. All my characters are plain-spoken....

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  28. Buffysquirrel wrote: You obviously haven't visited our airport lately :). Quiet doesn't cover it. Try deserted!

    I'm probably spoiled by mine (one of which is a gateway airport for another continent, and always has lots of international travelers.)

    By "on-the-nose" I meant that the characters talk about exactly what they're thinking or feeling or wondering about, rather than approaching the subject elliptically, as people more commonly do with sensitive subjects, or ones they don't want to admit to having any interest in.

    Now I get it -- thanks for clarifying.

    For me, composing dialogue always hinges on the characters. Any character's speaking style and conversational patterns are influenced by personality, relationship to the character(s) being addressed, situation and motivation. That sounds like a lot to remember, but you can create a shortlist in your head to remind you of how a character would normally speak, i.e.:

    Protagonist: blunt, undiplomatic, intuitive, tactless or gruff when emotional, curt or impatient under pressure, annoyed by chitchat.

    Character A: enigmatic, extremely reserved, withdrawn or overcontrolled when emotional, monosyllabic or cutting under pressure, ignores chitchat.

    The protag and this character are already at odds with each other over most things (the situation) so that adds an element of personality-clashing tension to every conversation they have. The protag is the aggressive one, and will dominate the conversation, trying to draw what's need out of Character A (and is most likely to be on-the-nose at times due to impatience.) Character A will be more analytical, holding off the protag from any rash decision in order to make an intelligent, personally profitable choice.

    Once you've thought out how the characters would speak to each other, then you should map out the conversation in your head -- not word by word, but by the characters' goals in that particular scene and (to avoid housekeeping dialogue) exactly what you need to move the story along.

    Let's say the two example characters I've outlined above are walking together down a road. Both see a hen with a bunch of chicks getting ready to cross the road, and a truck about a quarter-mile away. This is their conversation:

    "Who the hell let that chicken out to cross the road?"

    "I didn't. Why are you running?"

    "Why do you think? I'm going to throw myself in front of the truck to save it."

    "Don't be ridiculous, it's only a farm animal."

    "It's a mother with her babies. Let go of my arm."

    "I don't think so."

    "All right, you heartless jerk. But if anything happens to that chicken, you'll be the next one that truck makes into roadkill."

    "Be quiet."

    "Why are you worried about the ground at a time like this? Let go of me -- you can't throw rocks at baby chickens! What's the matter with you?"

    "It got them out of the road, didn't it?"

    I wrote the above without any tags or identifiers to show how what the character says reflects their personality (hopefully you won't have a problem identifying who is the protagonist and who is character A in the above lines.)

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  29. Anonymous12:54 PM

    Lynn Viehl said...
    Congratulations. When you get it into print, I want to be one of the first to know. :)


    You can bet on it! I'd love for you to read the whole thing, too. Let me know if I can convince you on that. ;-)

    And thanks for the agent tips. I'll check into Prospect, for sure. Do you (or anyone here) know anything about the Knight Agency in Georgia?

    Christina

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  30. Thanks, PBW :).

    One thing I love about going into Canterbury (as we did today) is that when someone opens their mouth, you never know what language is going to come out. It's about as cosmopolitan as you can get outside London. Today people were mostly speaking French.

    Housekeeping dialogue. Aaargh. Guilty.

    I've got many things to improve in my writing, but I've picked on dialogue as the first target. We shall see!

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  31. It isn't like you Lynn, to be gone for a week without a note to us, so I'm concerned and sending up some prayers for you and your dad Tony and your family.

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