Friday, July 30, 2010

Time Constraints (or WHY AREN'T THERE MORE HOURS IN A DAY?!?)

I currently work part time at a bookstore (*angels sing*), which means roughly 5 out of every 7 days I am walking among hallowed shelves, lovingly stroking pages and spines, immersing myself in the words of my heroes...oh, and helping customers find what they are looking for :)
When I'm not at work, my time is pretty much split between Things I Must Do and Things I Want To Do. Things I Must Do include the following:

1. clean the apartment
2. bills
3. work out
4. clean up after the cat
5. clean the actual cat
6. errands
7. eat
8. sleep

Things I Want To Do include the following:

1. Write
2. Read
3. Play with the cat

As you can see, TIMD far outstrips TIWTD. And since TIMD are generally bound by time constraints, with bad consequences if I do not meet those deadlines (dirty house=insects, which freak me out. Unpaid bills=debt=annoyed parents=annoyed me), they are generally the things that must be completed first. Since there are only 24 hours in a given day, roughly 12-17 of which I am actually awake, by the time I have completed TIMD, I usually only have a little time to split between TIWTD. And that is frustrating! Why should cleaning my apartment get more of my time and attention than reading? Why am I working out when I could be playing with my cat? Why, oh why, do I not have more time to write??
This is a dilemma faced by many writers, I know. Most of us are not wealthy European aristocrats, who can spend leisurely hours on a vine-covered terrace, writing, for weeks on end. Most of us have jobs, school, spouses/significant others, children, pets, family demands, and a host of other things that require giant chunks of our time. And those things are fine! If we didn't have those other things to add dimension and structure to our lives, we'd probably all go crazy with idleness. I know I would.
The trick, then, is to carve time out from TIMD for TIWTD. For the writing, this is especially important. I've taken to bringing my notebook to work, and writing on my lunch break. I started out writing all my stories longhand, back when I was a kid and wasn't allowed to use the computer without supervision. As I got older, I used a computer almost exclusively because typing is just so much faster and easier than writing longhand, but I must say it has been really nice to get back to the actual organic process of writing a story, rather than typing it. It also gives me a chance to pound out 500-600 words I may not have otherwise gotten to write in a day.
So, gentle reader, how do you make time for writing in your busy life? Any particular tricks or schedules you use? And if you happen to be a wealthy European aristocrat who can spend leisurely hours writing on a vine covered terrace, want to switch lives for a little while? I promise, the change of pace will be fun :)


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fact: Writing Scenes out of Chronological Order can be Extremely Draining

I like to write my stories from the beginning. Prologue, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Etc, Epilogue if necessary. I may occasionally write scenes out of order if something comes to mind that needs to be written ASAP, but on the whole I try to write things In Order, so that I can have a defined feeling of beginning, middle and end. I worry that if I just wrote scenes at will, I'd just keep writing scenes til the end of time, with no actual way to tie them together as a story.
My current project started out sort-of-chronologically ordered. Now it is just scenes. And I kind of want to scoop my brain out with a rusty spork.



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Which We Jump Through Time, and a Snippet

One of the best things about writing fiction, hands down, is the freedom to bend the world to your will. Obviously certain rules have to be followed--gravity, for example, does not change whether you're setting is in Elizabethan England or present-day San Diego. Nor does the need for oxygen. However, the realm of fiction--particularly those of a supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi bent--gives you the latitude to do truly awesome things with your characters and settings. You can expand upon real events in history or create your own, new history. You can give different dimensions and sparkle to places with which you are familiar, or you can create your own towns, countries, entire worlds. Your characters and plot are really only limited by your own imagination.
I love to mess with time in my stories. Not necessarily with time-travel or wormholes, but I am intrigued by the idea of extended lifespans. Not immortality, but the aging process slowed down. When I saw the previews for Benjamin Button I was transfixed. I never saw the movie, but the concept it presented was interesting to me--here was a man brought into the world as an infantile old man. The size of the baby, the mentality of a baby, but with the frailty, depth, physicality, and flaws of a very old man. As he aged, he grew younger, stronger, taller, only to become, at the end of his life, an adult sized infant with the heartbreaking flaws of extreme old age: dementia, arthritis, etc.
In my current work, my main protagonists all start out as children. In fact, they are normal up until they are young adults, and put under the knife as part of a scientific project. They do not gain miraculous superpowers--they can't bend spoons or set fire to things by looking at them--but their aging process--at least externally, physically--slows down dramatically. They are young adults in the 1940s, at the height of the second world war. In 2010, they are still young adults--at least externally. Internally is another matter altogether.
What makes age and time interesting to me is the fallibility of it. Immortality is easy--you never age, you never die. I find it very cool in some ways, and a bit too simple in others. Aging, I think, is an important part of character development, even if you can't see it on the character's outside.

And now, completely unrelated to the topic of age, I give you a snippet. I am very (deeply, seriously) dissatisfied with the quality of writing in this first draft, but then I usually am with all my first drafts (there are no great writers, only great re-writers!) So, without further ado:

Were she not so exhausted, so afraid, Margaret probably would have been able to appreciate the splendor of the hallway down which she was led. The walls were papered with a rich, colorful pattern, and the ornate side table and mirror that decorated the hall were made of a warm, well-polished cherry wood. They passed a sitting room, full of beautiful cream and brown furniture, and Margaret could see a small piano on the far wall. Her fingers on her good arm twitched instinctively, longing to run themselves over the smooth ivory keys—it had been ages since she had played.

They passed another room, this one smaller, the door mostly closed. To her surprise, Josef swore loudly, leaping ahead to block the doorway. He spun around, eyes wild, and seized Marcus by the collar.

“Did you go in there??” He growled. To Pieter, who had frozen with Margaret still in his grasp, he snapped, “get her to the bathroom, quickly!” To Margaret, his eyes burning with the same terror she had seen in the forest, he said nothing, but his face gave the order clearly: do not look inside or else.

Margaret quickly turned her eyes to the floor to hide her guilt as Pieter hurried her past. She had already seen what was in the small study. The body of the blond man, slumped over a giant desk, blood congealing on the dark wood, the carpet beneath his feet, and the body of the woman, sprawled across the floor in front of the desk, her hair matted and sticky, blood making scarlet tracks down her neck, under the collar of her dark green suit. Pieter could feel her tense under his grasp, and he hissed, too softly for Josef to hear, “you’re damn lucky Anna said you had to live, or I’d put one in your head right now. Do not look again.”

“Who were they?” Margaret gasped as he propelled her down the hall. She silently admonished herself—fear was making her reckless, Paul would be disappointed—but the boy jerked the bathroom door open, spun her to face him, and smiled coldly.

“Our parents,” he replied calmly, before shoving her into the bathroom and slamming the door.

Please feel free to comment. CC is always welcome!


Narrative Reliability (or Help! My Main Character is a Pathological Liar)

One of the earliest challenges in the story-writing process is trying to sort out just who is telling the story. Are you, the author, pulling the strings as an omniscient, omnipresent narrative voice? Have you handed the reins over to your protagonist, explaining details through his or her eyes? Is perhaps the story being told by a more minor character about your protagonist? The possibilities, while probably not endless, are certainly many and varied.
For my current project, I decided that my narration would jump between two lesser-but-vital characters, describing the world of the main characters through their eyes and perceptions. This is clever! I thought to myself gleefully. There will be all sorts of depth and opinions to color their views, it will be excellent!
Except, I have realized I have a small problem in doing this. I'm not really sure how reliable either of my narrators--or nay, even my main protagonists--are as narrators.
you may be thinking, you should know how reliable your characters are, aren't you creating them? Yes and no.

The plus side of using characters to narrate your story is that you can really dig into how the character perceives everything around him/her. The downside is that if your character's perceptions are colored by outside factors--perhaps they really hate or don't trust people, or perhaps they're really oblivious--you may not be getting the full picture. Your narration is only as reliable as your narrator, and your narrator can't get into every character's head (unless said narrator is telepathic, but that's another discussion for another day). That's why using an omniscient, objective narrative voice is sometimes viewed as the 'better' choice--they don't have the same hangups as a fallible character actually in the heat of the story, only able to see things through one set of eyes--her own--only.

In my current project, I'm starting to find narration pretty tricky. One of my characters is in the dark about the main protagonists' big family secret, and she has to stay in the dark for at least one more chapter. When she DOES find out, her own background and opinions are no doubt going to color her new perception of the protagonists and, if we're being completely honest, it's going to have some negative connotations. So how will her narration change? With everything somewhat tinged with distrust on her part, how can a reader entirely trust her account of things? As for the other narrator, she's in on the secret, but she also has a very particular agenda, which does not always make for reliable narration, because she's always looking for the 'how to achieve MY goals' angle. The protagonists themselves are also not 100% reliable as subjects for narrating, because they have a tendency to lie, and they're also, possibly, quite insane. Dilemma.

Yet, as has been proved in countless stories, sometimes a decidedly unreliable narrator/subject is interesting, and that unreliability is actually an integral part of the story. Consider The White Hotel for example: the woman who is the central narrative voice for much of the story is decidedly unreliable--first she rambles, explicitly, about sex at this crazy resort where people keep dying in freak accidents, like ski lifts falling and all sorts of other natural disasters. Then the reader discovers (with the help of another, apparently more reliable, narrator) that all of the first two sections were really an allegory for her confused sexuality, and the events didn't actually happen. Then the next section proves that more-reliable-narrator completely wrong when we see that it was all an allegory and premonition for something much, much worse than an internal struggle, and then, at the end of it all, we discover that both of the narrators....but I won't spoil that for you. Go read it :P

The point is that a narrator's (un)reliability is not necessary a liability (though it sometimes certainly feels like it >.<), but it is something that needs to be worked around. So, writers, what do you prefer? An objective, omniscient narrator, or narration from the pov of a character? And why?

Sunday, July 25, 2010


"Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum."
So said Graycie Harmon, writer, asylum keeper, and speaker of some of the best quotes I've ever read.

Hello, blogworld, and welcome to my Writing Desk. Pull up a chair/bean bag/piece of floor and make yourself at home.

As I lie here on my living room floor, trying to construct this post (I've deleted things about twenty thousand times by my own count), I've had some time to consider the parallels Harmon might have seen between creativity and craziness. Perhaps the blurred lines between fiction and reality, or balancing act required to direct, protect, and subdue a host of characters, all clamoring for their voices to be heard and their stories told. And there are a lot of stories to be told, so we'd better get down to business. I'll start with my own:

My name is Katherine, and I am a writer; have been since I was about nine, when I was writing poems about soap bubbles and stories about horses in Dumpsters. I have since moved past the bubbles and the horses, but I never outgrew the writing 'bug', as it were. I opened the doors of my own personal insane asylum, and have been conducting character intake ever since. I have never come across a form of the written word that I didn't like, but I have always been partial to prose fiction, whether it be short stories, novellas, or novels. I wrote steadily all through high school, even getting one story 'published' to a limited-print publishing house (link here), and into university while I pursued a Bachelor's Degree in English and Creative Writing. Now, out in the 'real' world, I am working to hone my craft further, welcome more patients to the asylum, and create more stories.

For a brief while, I had a writing blog at another webhost, but felt that with the new chapter in life, and the new stories percolating in my head, it was time for a new space. Thus, out of the depths of the very obliging Blogger webhost, I bring you my Writing Desk, where I shall post project notes, pieces of writing, and general rantings of the writerly/insane-asylum-management ilk. I welcome all comments, constructive criticism and especially conversation!

So, welcome to my little piece of the internet. Pull out your journals, iPads, word processors, pens and pencils, and have a blast. I hope you enjoy the ride--I know I will!--and remember, to quote the esteemed William Wordsworth, "fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."

Happy writing, everyone.