Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Description- vs. Action-oriented Plots (also, Hurry up, Spring!)

First, I would just like to lodge a complaint with the weather gods: you couldn't be bothered to give us a white Christmas this year, and now you're cruelly jerking us around with two days of blissfully mild, sunny weather, only to plunge us back into sleet, gray skies, and freezing temperatures. Not fair. JUST SEND SPRING ALREADY.

/end complaint.

The WIP continues to chug along slowly, much like a steam engine but one with a really bad head cold (in other words, slowly and lethargically). The quarter's schoolwork has picked up steam, as have work at the store and at the newspaper. Finding time to write has become as hard as finding the Fountain of Youth--I've heard it exists, but have yet to see it myself.

As a result, when I DO have time to write, I'm noticing that it's getting increasingly spare. Sentences are shorter, more to the point. Dialogue has basically disappeared but for the stuff essential to moving things along. And action--holy cow my characters are flying from one action-packed moment to the next, with no time to sleep, eat, or even breathe in between.

If it sounds awful, trust me, it is.

I've never been one for heavy description. It's one of the few things that drove me nuts about Tolkien (and I love Tolkien) and other writers like him. A certain amount of description is needed, obviously, to anchor your characters in a time and place, but pages and pages devoted to the exact shade of the sky, the shimmering beauty of a river, is overkill, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I suffer the opposite, especially now: my descriptions are complete MIA.

I can visualize my setting perfectly in my head, as vivid as if I was standing in it with my characters, but for some reason that's not translating well onto the page beyond a cursory "rock wall" or "dense foliage". Well, what kind of foliage? Are we talking rainforest dense or Black Forest of Germany dense? THERE IS A DIFFERENCE, KATHERINE.

(For the record, it's "Black Forest of Germany" dense.)

Part of this, I know, is a time thing. I have almost none, so when I do steal a few minutes I'm slamming down as much as I can to actually get the plot, the story arc, on paper. Descriptions can come later! I tell myself, as I ALWAYS tell myself.

But of course, the descriptions never come "later". I only have to look at my draft from over the summer to see how very sparse it is in terms of world-building. And that story was set in a place that really does exist!

So how to inject more color and texture to a story, particularly when a. you're not very good at it and b. you suffer a time crunch? This is something I do genuinely wonder. Is description something best left for the rewriting/editing process? Or am I just going to have to resign myself to getting less 'plot' down per writing session, but a more complete world in the first draft?

Dilemma dilemma.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Staying Faithful to the Project At Hand (Or: When Plot Bunnies Attack)

When I was a kid, I was a serial cheater.

That sounds much worse than it is.

I would become slavishly attached to a character, a setting, a plotline, devoting all of my time, energy, blood, sweat and tears to this fixation for days or weeks or however long the infatuation ended. But it almost always ended before the story was finished, and the next thing the poor thing knew I had abandoned it to my desktop and was pursuing another newer, shinier idea with the same single-minded determination.

As a result, there is a disgusting number of unfinished projects scattered all over notebooks, hard drives, and various scraps of paper.

I worked hard through high school and college to tame that wandering mental eye and finish the project at hand for chrissakes, and was dutifully rewarded by several completed manuscripts that did NOT require five years to finish. I felt productive and motivated--not only was I starting ambitious writing projects, but lo! I WAS FINISHING THEM!

And then I started graduate school and once again discovered that I have the creative attention span of a chipmunk with ADHD.

I love my current WIP. It's gaining so much complexity and beauty, the characters are starting to show some real spunk and depth (the youngest one most of all, surprisingly) and with more than 50k under my belt, we were establishing the rhythm and flow of a well-connected, long-term relationship.

And then the plot bunny came along.

It's so pretty! So shiny! So YOUNG and full of promise and excitement! Suddenly my current WIP looks dull, old, and boring by comparison! I am BORED I need something NEW that will stimulate my CREATIVITY etc.

And before I know it, I am sneaking a half hour here and there, time when I should be doing homework, or working for the paper, working on this shiny little plotlet, while my WIP languishes in a folder, waiting for me to return to it. Poor baby.

I always tell people who are worried about whether a new story idea is worth pursuing to write the idea down. There's no such thing as a bad idea, in my opinion, and if you write it down, you won't forget it, and you can revisit it later and see if you still like it. I take my own advice, but a bit too far. I should amend the advice with the following: don't abandon what you're working on now, no matter how good an idea the new one is. It'll still be there when you finish.

This might seem a bit over-the-top, and perhaps it is. Plenty of terrific writers probably had pages of manuscripts that they abandoned to pursue something else. But there is something to be said for training yourself to be disciplined in writing. If I careened off into a new story idea as often as they came to me, literally NOTHING would be finished past three chapters. Nothing.

I just need to remind myself of this every time my imagination strays away from the task at hand. My writing time has been whittled away to almost nothing as it is--I can't compromise it further by indulging in literary affairs!

How do you stay with the project at hand? Or is it easier for you to jump from project to project?


Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Start, New Project (Or: Well Jeez, December Was Anti-Climactic. Take Two, Shall We?)

Dear Self:

This month was pathetic. Get thine arse back into gear.

With Love,


My goodness, has it really been almost a month? At what point did December 6, 2011 become January 1, 2012? This is terrible!

What makes this worse is that today is usually the day the bloggers come out of hiding with their list of resolutions, with "BLOG MORE DAMMIT" somewhere in that list. So, I'll get this part out of the way:

Resolution #1: BLOG MORE DAMMIT!

Actually, I have a whole laundry list of things I want to do with 2012 that I wanted to/meant to/should have done in 2011 but either couldn't, didn't, or simply didn't have the time to do. I won't bore the world with the non-writing related ones, but for anyone who is interested, the writing ones will be located in a tab to the left of this post.

The one thing I can safely say I DID do since my last post (which, seriously, was technically not only last month but last YEAR. Good lord I suck sometimes!) is keep working on my WIP. Some days are infinitely better than others, but the story continues to move forward with far less protest/whining/writer's block/general foolishness than I feared. Christmas and my birthday came in very quick succession over the last month and I was gifted a terrific keyboard for my tablet AND a new netbook computer, so I now have absolutely NO EXCUSE to not have mobile writing capacity. I also received the album from which this great song came, and as I suspected, it has effectively become the soundtrack of choice for writing.

In other words, there is absolutely no reason for me not to press on, finish my WIP, meet my writing goals for 2012, and finally stop being dull around here!

But, seriously, I need to write here more, dammit. I need widgets. And alarm reminders. Maybe an alarm widget on my phone that screams "BLOG!" every five minutes until I do so. But then I would need that alarm in other places too, like my watch. And my music player. And probably my teacup.

Perhaps I should just tattoo it to my forehead. Then I won't forget!

What are your writing resolutions for 2012?