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Friday, February 29, 2008

Verse and Reverse

Wrong turns, wanderings, and reversals are a fact of life when you write like I do, beginning to end, no outline. I love the freedom this kind of writing gives me, and I've talked about how I feel it enhances my own creativity, but there is a price.

I've been creeping through chapter 4 [ok, I've already lopped off a two-page "prelude" that I was never sure of and made my five-page first chapter into the prelude, so this is really the chapter 5 I was worrying with last week.] I've got my three agentes confide into the palace where the nefarious assault took place...and I got Portier into the hoosegow for one night. I met Maura - did I mention I had plans for her? Not just because she hates lies and she is a cool lady and I enjoyed inventing her, but because I woke up two days ago realizing that she and an unnamed character in my proposal were one and the same. Not only do I have plans for her, but I even know what those plans are! [I LOVE it when that happens.] But then I got stuck.

What do you do when you have writers' block? This is one of the most common questions any writer is asked. And the answer is...

A working writer can't afford to be "blocked." You have to keep plugging, keep looking for something to move you forward.

I picked at the stack of books beside my writing chair and read one called "How Did They Do That" or something like, and it was a great overview of significant developments in various topic areas: Law, Medicine, Food, Science, Architecture, etc. Sort of like the science or food timelines you can find on the internet, only less comprehensive, but including cool pictures and diagrams. I found several VERY useful tidbits.

I read an internet piece about bloodletting [actually a Strange Horizons article called Misconceptions About Medieval Medicine]. Very interesting.

I dragged some descriptive phrases about the palace out of my head [this was truly like pulling a toothpick out of a tarpit]. Which led me into inventing a piece of history - this kingdom had long ago been ruled by the Fassid, a very sophisticated, dark-skinned race - think the Moors in Spain. Sabria's art and architecture reflects the confluence of several great civilizations. Fassid influence is especially pervasive in southern Sabria, and this tells me some things about family customs, too. The Fassid withdrew...disappeared...I have yet to figure out whether this is relevant to current Sabrian history, but it gives me some grounding when I'm writing description: is this a Fassid edifice? was it built to imitate Fassid art? was it built to "put down" Fassid art?

I invented a bit more magic - but it wasn't sufficiently "new" to make me feel accomplished.

At last yesterday, I squeezed out enough words so that Maura got Portier out of his overnight confinement and took him to where he was planning to go...and I realized that it was totally the wrong thing. His "plan" - the investigation I had sketched out in my book proposal, Would Not Work! That's why I was having such a difficult time moving forward. The place I was going to put him would not give him sufficient "cover" for making the inquiries he needed to make.

Once I saw this, I also saw where he needed to be. This is one I have to rework before I can move forward. So I backtrack. Remove a few incidental paragraphs that I can easily use later. Reword a few things. And the incident I wrote yesterday will still work, but Portier will now end up in a place he did NOT plan to be, rather than ending up in the place he planned to be all along. Which circumstance promises the most interest? And the payoff line I wrote in triumph last night still works!

"They found another mule*."

* mule, in this case, is not a sterile donkey offspring, but a person who has been repeatedly bled, his or her blood used for... No, No. That would be telling...
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nice to meet you, Maura

How I love it when a new character steps out of my foggy plot and waves a hand, saying, "Here I am. Not only can I be the bearer of tidings, but I am a damn interesting person myself, and perhaps could serve a purpose you hadn't even thought of before." This is the creative in creative writing, I think. Today I needed someone to make a job offer to Portier. He is languishing in prison - already, you say? Well he got himself in a bit of hot water...

No, I'm not going to tell you what he did.

So anyway, I need someone to visit him in his cell and make him an offer. I decided this person needed to be a functionary in the queen's household. And I started looking for his name. I need a name to give me a starting place for description and personality. [Does the seed of an idea in my head germinate first, so that I'm looking for the right name to bring it to life, or is it spotting a name that evokes a certain personality? I can't tell you. Probably some of one, some of the other.]

But as I browsed male names, I thought, "Why does this have to be a man? A woman bold enough to visit a stranger in his prison cell to offer him a job could be an interesting woman. I ran across the name Maura, which sounded just right. And she stood straight up, assertive and confident, though I have a feeling there is something lurking underneath all that confidence. I'll bet I can find something to shake it, if I need to. She can't abide lies. I'm not sure why, as yet, but honesty is really important to her. Which, of course, sets up tension in any scene with my three conspirators...uh, excuse me, Portier prefers agentes confide. Yep, I definitely have plans for Maura.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creeping forward

The marvelous mountain weekend of concentrated, internet-free work helped me make a couple of breakthroughs on the WIP (work-in-progress, just in case you missed that.) I had been struggling with two problems.

  1. The first chapter was much too long and did not give me any strong guidance into WCN - ie. What Comes Next.

  2. My narrator has been speaking of an investigation into "unholy magic" used in a royal assassination attempt, and I had no idea what that particular piece of unholy magic was!

These kind of problems need concentrated thinking. You've got to commit to a course that might take you on a wild goose chase. The better the thinking, the less likely the wild goose chase. I don't like wild goose chases. So how did I solve the problems?

Confustication number 1 came up because I had two of my agentes confide attempting to recruit a sorcerer for a dangerous mission. They need to test the sorcerer's qualifications, as well as whether or not he had "honor that could be claimed or bought."

In my first stab at this three-way encounter, I have the (very crusty) sorcerer respond to an argument about the nature of magic with a demonstration. All of this flowed very nicely to about 28 pages!! My manuscript chapters run an average of 12 to 15 pages. Occasionally, at critical points, they'll go to 18. So this was way long especially for an early chapter.

The solution came as I considered the character of my crusty sorcerer. Why on earth would he, a man who distrusts just about everyone in the world, especially aristocrats and other sorcerers, expose his unorthodox beliefs to strangers? [Oooh, says Carol, here is potential for problems; the Camarilla - think of it as the union for the world's most powerful mages - does not take kindly to sorcerers who preach "heresies"; those who claim to prove that their own power is sham; this guy rattled their cages once and they passed him off as...well, you'll find out. Source of conflict, ie. source of tension.]. Anyway, what this question pointed out was the need to give Dante a strong motive to show what he can do. And it means that our narrator - and the true leader of this little group - must figure out what that motivation is, as well, and tap into it - which he does. [Because I already knew the one thing in the world Mage Dante cares about - the magic itself. Intellectual curiosity! ]

This makes Portier smarter, which is a good thing for a point-of-view character. Puzzles...oooh...there's a mystery waiting...and Portier lays out something just tempting enough that he believes the sorcerer will bite and come to him. Which necessitates a scene break! Woo-hoo! So the solution to my overlong chapter incorporated better worldbuilding, better character definition, and better plot pacing. Because now, of course, Portier must wait and see if the fish will bite.

Confustication #2 seemed harder because it involved settling on a key piece of evidence, an object used in an assassination attempt that told our hero that
  • magic was used

  • it was of an unsanctioned and unsavory kind

  • actually it really scared him

  • it posed a danger beyond just a failed murder attempt

  • he had neither the magical talent nor the resources to figure out how it was done (thus needing to hire this strange sorcerer)

At some point I have to sit down and sketch the chain of evidence that will lead our heroes to the Crux of the Matter - the really serious stuff going on. But I'm not ready to do that yet. I feel as if I need to know more about the world and about these characters [This book is looking to have another large cast - but we'll have multiple protagonists, in case you haven't noticed, so it's going to be quite different from the Lighthouse books.] Once I quit tearing my hair and approach the problem rationally (and remember, I had no internet escape on this weekend) I pull out my book proposal in which I named several "anomalies" that my investigators will discover along the way. By the Ten Gates - there it is, sitting in a list, buried in a synopsis! I have already thought of an instrument...and I plop it down in a locked room, and there it will stay along with the...ooooh...very ordinary-seeming attempted murder weapon...and a tale... Yes, this works very nicely.

So I already had the solution in hand and in the days since the writing weekend, little ideas about these two bits of hardware sitting in the locked room...and the man who carried them...have continued to escalate. This is what I mean about getting things down on paper. You get to the point where you MUST answer certain questions, and the writing reveals the answers.

Goals, motivations, conflicts are the key to plotting - along with all that thinking stuff.

Did any of this make sense? I hope!
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Day for the Heart

I consider myself a moderately romantic person. So why can't your heroes and heroines catch a break in the intimacy department, you might ask. Well, of course, because I'm writing heroic fantasy and I must make my protagonists work and suffer to do their great deeds. And, indeed, I view romance in a literary sense - what the dictionary refers to as "an exciting and mysterious or exotic quality found in heroic literature" that can elicit sympathetic emotions on the part of a reader. I love tropes like [identify the book!] amnesia, telepathy, two souls in one body, love that transcends death, the forced cooperation of people entirely unsuited, enslaved or otherwise imprisoned heroes, the doubting hero, the hero/heroine who gets shafted by the gods, etc. etc. These are storylines that have intrigued us humans since we began telling stories. I like to think I give a different spin on them, of course.

As for the nitty gritty of romantic love in my books, there are two questions I get asked a lot.

  1. What about Seyonne and Aleksander?
  2. Which is your favorite romance in your books?
To avoid public SPOILERS for the rai-kirah books and several others, I'm going to duck behind the "Read more" label now. Don't go there if you haven't read all of the books...

1. Yes, I considered having Seyonne and Aleksander be physically attracted to each other. But then I decided that that was not the story I was trying to tell. Their relationship was a deep and abiding love and respect that could not be categorized as brotherly, father/son, romantic, or even exceptional friendship. I can't ever picture them as casual buddies. Though they shared an intimacy that no one in their world would ever match, there is a reason that Seyonne persisted in called Aleksander "my lord" all the way to the end of the books. And Aleksander didn't fight him on it.

2. As for which romantic relationship I like the best? That's a much harder question. Seri and Karon are obvious, and yet, I think that Jen and Gerick in Daughter of Ancients might be the romantic relationship I had the most fun with. They each had so far to come. You can't give yourself to someone else fully until you see yourself as a worthy gift [Carol's pop psychology for the day]. And it was the relationship that I gave myself the leisure to develop through lots of story time. I regret that I just didn't have the time to develop Valen and Saverian's relationship more fully. I think they will be very much fun, and...who knows? I just couldn't take up more pages with it - I was pushing page limits in Breath and Bone as it was. And then there's Aleksander and Lydia. Another reason Seyonne didn't have a chance, even if he'd been interested. I went looking for a perfect foil for Aleksander, and again, despite the lack of page space for her, I was delighted with the woman that stepped forward.

As for Aidan and Lara...their relationship was not about romantic love at all. Maybe it could be, maybe not. [I do know this answer, but I'm not telling.] You'll have to decide it for yourself. Or, if I ever get the chance and the inspiration to write more... So many books.

Happy Valentine's Day!
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Weekend Webweaving

What a great weekend! I joined a group of fellow writers, some of whom I knew, some of whom were just names on a list, for a writers’ retreat at a funky hotel/B&B in Fairplay, Colorado, Elv. 9896 ft. This was not a writers’ workshop or a retreat where everyone sits around the fire and listens to inspiring speeches or does free-writing exercises. This was a working weekend for writers who are, or seriously aspire to be, published. We wrote.

I had been looking forward to the weekend as a way to get a jumpstart on the new book. I can’t stress the productivity boost of being away from cooking, laundry, mail, newspaper, the internet, the income tax stuff sitting on my dining room table, or the temptation to cuddle up on the couch with the spouse and watch some old movie we’ve watched six times before. (I felt a bit guilty even jotting down this post!) My friend Susan and I thought we might get done out of it by a spate of wild winds that close Kenosha Pass, the short way from Denver to Fairplay. But at 11:30am on Friday, the pass reopened and we ventured forth. Two hours later, I was ensconced in the sunroom of the Hand Hotel, looking out at the snow-drenched scenery and contemplating how to split up a chapter that had gotten way too long. [More about that next post.]

Our group filled up the Hand Hotel’s rooms, so we had the place to ourselves (except for the reputed ghosts, though nobody saw them). They have a bottomless coffee and tea supply, fruit and cookies in the afternoon. They served us breakfast two days, and a Saturday night dinner complete with the chef’s personal-stash-Washington-state-blackberry pie (to die for). We visited over snacks and dinner and wine, talking writing or kids or whatever, but the rest of the time we were plugged in with our laptops, working in the quiet. On Saturday, a couple of people were up writing before I went down at 7am, and five of us were still typing at 11pm.

Our group consisted of five fantasy/sf writers, four romance/erotica writers, one guy who swings all ways—sf, western thrillers, and one lovely spouse who read instead of wrote (We allowed that). We shared my thesaurus, and heads popped up to share the triumph when someone blurted out, “I figured out what the bad thing was!” or “I finished that scene.” A few people stopping by the hotel to check it out looked at us strangely – ten people in the heart of Colorado winter wonderland with their hand on keyboards. Writers are just cool people. My friend Susan and I chose to stay another day, just because. Now I’m home, envigorated and two chapters farther along in the new story. Next weekend anyone?????
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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Internet Magic

I'm back from visiting my mom in Texas and buckling down to some actual work on this book. I have a writers retreat in the mountains this weekend, and I hope to make real progress.

I am still mucking with the opening chapter, though I like the way Portier and Ilario are shaping. My rough beginning had Ilario acting too serious and clever - he is a ditzy young lord who carries a luck charm to protect him from crocodiles - and Portier too timid. Portier may be a failure in his chosen profession, but he has been charged with a serious task by his king, and he is smart and determined to make good. (And the king has chosen well!) I also gave these two too much room to get to know each other. Part of the unfolding structure of this book must be my three main characters learning to accommodate one another - or not doing so. Once I got these two guys straightened out in my head, I was faced with a problematical disconnect in the plot.

My opening action has these two new partners approaching a third person, feeling him out to see if he can help in the task the king has set, without revealing anything of the secrets that surround the task. Well, of course it all goes wrong. But the person they approach - a sorcerer - shows Portier something that shakes him. Only this early in the book, I've not laid the groundwork for why what the sorcerer demonstrates should shake him.

So, back up, Carol. How do I lay the groundwork for the structure of magic, the current belief system, its relationship to scientific discovery, etc - all that stuff I worked out week before last? If I do it right, then the reader can feel Portier's wonder when he says,

The green eyes stared at me. Watching. Waiting.
I stared into their fiery depths and felt the entirety of the world crumble.

You see the problem? We have to know what is crumbling before we can feel Portier's astonishment and distress. And this is tough to do so early in the story. So I think I need to stick in another piece.

So far, the king's charge to Portier has been off screen. We don't know what has caused,
the dread that settled in my bowels like Discord’s Worm, gnawing at the heart of the world.

I really don't want to show too much too soon, but if I do and Portier must place this threat within the context of magic, then we'll know what he believes. Thus when I shake him up yet again, we understand.

All of which leads to contrasting magic with science. King Phillipe has called upon someone familiar with magic to solve his mystery. But he embraces science, and gives Portier an example of what he loves - which led me to looking at 17th century scientific breakthroughs - which led me to this online copy of Robert Hooke's Micrographia. To be able to turn the pages of a book published in 1665 on my computer is just wizardly!

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