Craft: Research, Craft: Writing

Buy More Bookshelves

If you want toWakonda Club be a historical novelist, buy more bookshelves. Now I’m not talking about the weak little particle board ones. The kind that bows under the slightest pressure. I’m talking about the thick ones. Real wood. The kind that if they fall on you, you’re gonna think a polar bear sat on your chest (polar bear — not my words really. One of my favorite lines from the movie Road House – careful some graphic violence here). You’re gonna need all the support you can get. I don’t know why, but when it comes to historical research, often times the best sources are the real heavy ones.

Several years ago I bought a membership roster of the Wakonda Club at a flea market. I thought it looked really cool (a few books I have give an overview of the country club, but they’re limited and the place’s website’s even more vague). One of the best tidbits I found was on the second page where it described an incident in 1932, when the sheriff raided a gambling club set up at Sayers Nursery near by. Several of the boys fled across the course with the sheriff in hot pursuit.  He shot over the heads of the escaping boys and nearly shot a club member. I scanned the document and put it away, thinking I may never, ever use it. But the source is cool to have on hand anyway.

Then came my latest frustrating chapter. I struggled and struggled with it for over a month, watching it ramble to and fro, irritated with myself that it lacked any semblance of direction. Fine. I’d just let it marinate in it’s own juices for a while and come back to it. Then it hit me after a couple of days of separation, why not use the incident of the shooting in my latest scene.

Ok. Things started to click and the scene finally had direction. But questionSayer Nurserys kept nagging me. Where in the world was Sayers Nursery? The Wakonda roster only mentioned that it was nearby. Where exactly? I needed my characters to be in somewhat of a believe position to be shot at. I was lazy and went to Google first. A quick search of “sayers nursery & 1932 shooting” landed zilch. I switched and looked up “Sayers Nursery & Des Moines, Iowa”. This time I got something. A park near Wakonda. That was a start. Well, if it was around in 1932 and I did have a humongous 1931 Des Moines City Directory on my shelves. Okay. I dug that out. Toward the back of the obese thing I found where the nursery had been located: 1302 Watrous. A quick Google search gave its past location.

Bam! Scene finished. But another scene popped into my head. What was the punishment of discharging a gun within city limits? I knew it’s illegal now. But was it in 1932? So out came the big, fat, paper monsters again. 1931 copy of Iowa Legal Code. A Des Moines City Ordinance volume from 1932. Yep, it was illegal then too, only it didn’t give the length or fine to be enforced. Zilch on Google for 1932. Managed to find something from an article published in a Mason City online newspaper in 2012. In Mason City, Iowa, discharging a firearm within city limits is a $625.00 fine or 30 days in the county jail. Wasn’t Des Moines, but it worked for me. While it is historical. It is fiction. And sometimes ya just gotta make things up ($625.00 – 2014 = $$36.12 – 1932).

Having the city directory, the Iowa Code, the city ordinance and the Wakonda roster on hand saved me a trip to the downtown library. They’re big bulky things. I might just keep them around when I’m finished with this manuscript. Who knows. I might need to use them again.

giantbooks

Craft: Writing

Plots

I’m a character person. I loved to pepper my stories with banter. And people not saying what they really mean to say. When it comes to plotting, I’ll admit, it’s not one of strong point. So in the past week I decided to brush up on some books that’d been laying around the house (or on the Nook) that I haven’t managed to read yet.

All of these novels focus on plot by having you look long and hard and what the main character’s goal should be. Gerke doesn’t shy away from giving you examples of authors that lean one way of another (I found him a bit heavy-handed on using his own work repeatedly. Thought he could work a little bit harder to come up with other authors’ examples). The writer should strive for the middle of the road or close to the middle of the road, let’s say either character or plot 51% + 49%. Those that can strike a balance have much better change of making their story a bestseller.

Tapply focus more on the mystery genre. He suggests heavily plotting technique. One of his most useful suggestions is to write out the murder before hand. Who did what to who and how. Knowing this will help you keep up with the clues, provide the appropriate red herrings and make the story satisfying to the reader.

I attempted, with a piece of paper, to draw each clue and plot point out, but ended with a frustrating mess. I needed something more visual. Something that was easily corrected by hitting ‘delete’ if I wanted. After some searching I discovered Scapple created by the same developers of the writing software Scrivener. You jot down an idea and can draw lines and connecting points to each little thought. The developers offer a free thirty day trial (which I’m using). After that it’ll cost you $14.99. But I suppose a little deduction to the wallet isn’t so bad when you can visually see your plot and avoid all the hassles of trying draw a picture in your mind of how everything is connected.

scapple-history_of_rock-lg
Craft: Research

Some times, Word Sucks

I’ve been in a groove lately with my current WIP. I’d just finished up my latest chapter and saved it to my flash drive. I wanted to give it some time to breathe before doing a final read through and saving it into something besides Word. Well, in an expanse of three hours the file had somehow become corrupt. I tried doing a recovery in Word. Nothing. I even tried opening the file in Notepad. That was successful but all I got was a bunch of gobbly-goop.

So adding to the mantra save and save often — save into something else besides Word too.

Other Alternatives:

  • Microsoft OneNote: I loved this program. It was great for storing all of my research into sub-divided notebooks. I could be a possibility to divide various WIP chapters, but for me, not all my devices had access to to the program. That’s why I opted for something else.
  • Evernote: I used this now to store all of my research as a plan A incase my hard drive decides to die. I also store finished chapters here as well (I just hadn’t gotten to it before the file became corrupt). What’s great about this program is that you can access it via the web, or the application on your device, make changes and it syncs once you’re hooked up to the web. The only draw back. Once you change something you can’t get it back.
  • Ywriter: I usually save my final chapter draft in this software. I love the fact how it breaks everything down into scenes, since that’s the way I write anyway. Once you’re finished you can convert the chapter to RTF, HTML or ebook.
  • Notepad: A simple, no-nonsense way to keep notes. It can be converted into to other documents. Probably a good thing to have if all you want to do is make a back up before you lose everything.
Craft: Writing

Get Your A(bleep) in the Chair

writeeverdayAfter ten years and just as many moves, I had to break down and buy a new chair for my office. The old one is raggedy. It squeaks. Wobbles. And it’s literally being held together by a screw. This chair has been with me while I logged countless writing hours, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. It now has a home beneath the desk that gets less use. I suppose I’ll put it out to pasture eventually. When it has no legs to stand on 😉

Sitting here rocking back in forth (and not hearing a thing or having to reposition my keyboard cause I’ve wobbled one direction or another) in my new chair it makes me think that the key to writing is really about two things: a chair and your a(bleep) and getting your a(bleep) inside it.

Life interferes if we let it. Fear blocks our ambitions if we let it. But if we can just sit and write – the creativity will come. Even if it’s been eight hours, your strung out on caffeine and all you’ve got is one measly sentence. Well, at least you’ve got something.

Check out Cathy Yardley’s book Write Every Day. She suggests that you’ve got to treat your writing like any other habit you do every day. She has some great pointers on why you’re writing maybe stalled and how to fix it.

Oh, if you’re in need of a new office chair, but don’t want to break the bank, check out Big Lots. They have full-back mesh chairs for 45 bucks. And they’re comfy.

 

Craft: Research, Craft: Writing

Chasing Shadows

Chasing shadows. That’s what researching a historical novel can feel like at times. You go one way, then you find yourself going another. I always have a general outline in my head of how things are supposed to go, but I usually run into obstcles. It’s never write what you know, it’s write what you’re willing to find out. This is how a chapter for me went.
 
 
Scene 1: Main character is sitting in library with her fiancee after the doctor has set her wrist. StopWould doctor make housecalls in the 1930s? (Check my notes. Yes.) Fiancee and she are alone. Stop. What problems did courting people face? (Check my notes). They discuss why fiancee and her father were arguing. Fiancee and girl part at her bedroom door. Main character is looking at at old photos. Mention golf clubs. Stop. What clubs were available and what were they called? (Check my notes). Mentions one of the girls has a Gibson style hair style.  Stop. When was this style popular? (I don’t have this in my notes. Gotta look it up. Tried Wikepida first. What do they site? Patterson, Martha H. Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Check Worldcat.org to see if any of the libraries around have it. Yes/No. It’s at a close library, but I can’t check it out there. Might have to interlibrary loan this one when I get more into this character. For now it’s okay to use. Dates in title of the book work for the time period of the picture).
 
Scene 2: Main character is getting dressed. Stop. Clothes and make-up of a 20-something in 1920s & 1930s? (Check my notes). Breakfast. Wondering why her father is punishing himself?
 
Scene 3: Main character is at work in the courthouse. Stop. What does the court house look like from inside and out? What would an office look like in the 1930s? (Check my notes). Main character is a law clerk for an appellette judge. Stop. How are applette courts arranged in Iowa? Woman lawyers? What do law clerks do? What would they do in the 1930s? (Check my notes. Have stuff regarding women lawyers in the 1900-1940. Don’t have anything regarding Iowa appellette courts. Quick internet search from the agency’s website gives me what I want. Need to go deaper into what law clerks do. Found two books on law clerks from the library. Great sources, but I don’t know if a law clerk position was the same now as it was in the 1930s? Couldn’t find anything remotely close in local libraries. There was a book on Amazon. The Forgotten Memoir of John Knox. While this is about the Supreme Court in the mid thirties, the Supreme Court is still an appellte court. Should work. Should I interlibrary loan it for $1.50 or buy it for $6.00? I’m gonna take notes and only plan on using it once–interlibrary loan it. Wait two weeks for it to arrive. Have two weeks to read it. Take notes.) Character does her job. Fiancee comes and takes her out to eat. Stop. What kind of car would a young successful judge drive to show that he’s made it? (Check my notes – Packard it is). Girl sees first love and swears.
 
From start to finish, it took me about a month to write and research this chapter. Guess  I’ve discovered one of the reasons why I’m such a slow writer 😉
Craft: Writing

Characterization

Okay. I’m a little behind the times. Or maybe I just need to be in the mood for a drama, but anyway, I just finished watching Denzel Washington in Flight. The first fifteen minutes were incredible. The tension. The plot. Disaster loomed but I stuck with it anyway. After the crash I watched this terribly damaged man wallow deeper and deeper into a bog of self loathing, fueled by alcohol and drugs.  Just when I thought he’d gone as deep as he possibly could, strangled by his own addition, suddenly he came up for air in the last minute. His mind clear and ready for confession. It was to nice. Too neat. Too Hollywood. The ending stuck in my head long after the credits had rolled. But not in a good way.

All the craft books on cwhitcombharacterization state that a character must change either through a physical or psychological journey. Evolution, according to Cynthia Whitcomb, comes in five stages:

  1. The Self
  2. Bounding
  3. Family
  4. Community
  5. Humanity

Most stories concern numbers one through three. Some touch on four, but rarely do they ever get to five. The bigger the jump the more memorable the character. Whitcomb sites five memorable number five characters such as Scrooge, Casablanca, A Wonderful Life, King Lear & Godfather.  I think what Whitcomb fails to touch on is the progression of that jump must be a gradual ascension. You can’t wallow in number one and suddenly jump to number five. In my experience people don’t change. And they don’t change that drastically. I think that’s what ate at me about Flight. Denzel’s Washington’s transformation was too big. Too sudden. And it just wasn’t believable. Not enough for me.

Craft: Writing

Irony

While at work today, I was doing my usual data collection and listening to my Ipod. Strangely, it decided to play three Warren Zevon songs back to back. Now, I’m a product of the 1980s. I got stuck listening to a lot of my parent’s music. I do remember Warren Zevon, but honestly it’s his hooks that I remember the most. “Werewolves of London”, “Excitable Boy” & “Lawyers, Guns & Money”. Now that I’m older and I can actually comprehend the lyrics…man Zevon was exercising some serious issues on his third album (yes – I had to look that up). But one thing that struck me and struck me hard was his use of irony. And dang, does he know how to use it.

Take the song “Excitable Boy”. It’s a great example of dramatic irony (if you don’t know what irony is, look it up). It starts with an upbeat kinda 50s feel. A lot of oohs and sha-na-nas. It hooks you with the nostalgia feel. Then you have this guy coming down to dinner in his Sunday best. Okay, you know that he’s going somewhere, but you don’t know where. It’s just dinner. They’re having a pot roast. Instead of eating it, the guy rubs it all over his chest. Okay, this guy is a loon. But the chorus with the upbeat ladies, is like the good mother saying ‘oh there’s nothing wrong with him’ he’s “just an excitable boy”. While his actions clearly state something else: this guy is positively nuts. I could break my comments down by each line of lyrics, but I won’t. You gotta listen to this yourself.

 

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (2013)

Okay. NaNoWriMo 2013 was a bust, at least my meeting the 50,000 word goal. I didn’t even come close. It was a great experience. It showed me that I lacked motivation and needed a better handle on my story than I originally thought.

I think if I decide to do it next year, I’ll spend a couple of months ahead of time getting to know my characters and ramping up my plot outline. That way I just have thirty days to do nothing but write and nothing else.

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (Progress)

GOAL: 50,000 words

Day 01: 700 words
Day 02: 1200 words
Day 03: 2400 words
Day 04: 2400 words
Day 05: 3585 words
Day 06: 4066 words
Day 07: 4266 words
Day 08: 4766 words
Day 09: 5966 words
Day 10: 5966 words
Day 11:  6766 words
Day 12: 6966 words
Day 13: 6966 words
Day 14: 6966 words
Day 15: 6966 words
Day 16: 6966 words
Day 17: 6966 words
Day 18: 6966 words
Day 19: 6966 words
Day 20: 6966 words
Day 21: 6966 words
Day 22: 6966 words
Day 23: 6966 words
Day 24: 6966 words
Day 25: 6966 words
Day 26: 6966 words
Day 27: 6966 words
Day 28: 6966 words
Day 29: 6966 words
Day 30: 6966 words

TOTAL WORDS: 6966 words

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (2013)

nanowritingmo

What the heck is NaNoWriMo, you might wonder? It’s the abbreviation for Nation Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel in thirty days. Or 50,000 words. That breaks it down to about 1667 words a day. I’ve never tried it before. Thought I’d give it a shot. Mostly because I’m a pick-at-it writer. Move words around. Stare at the screen, sometimes only producing a sentence or two while my inner editor is screaming. That sucks. You wrote that, ick! No. No. No. Don’t say it that way. I want to push myself to write what I can. Get the **&%y first draft out of the way to work on editing and revising later. Tell my inner editor to shut up! Time out. Go sit and sulk in the corner for a month, then I’ll let you out to play.

Oh, **&%y first draft isn’t my words at all. They’re Anne Lamott’s. In one of her chapters, **&%y first drafts, she says exactly that. Sometimes ya gotta write crap to get to the good stuff.