The Starting Line

 

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In the beginning…

 

My latest novel is currently being proofread and content read and while that is going on, I figured hey, let me start working on a new book! I mean, sure I would love to start milling out query letters and picking out a new desk for when my name is in lights and all that, but…

…after I take the shrink wrap off my face and get some oxygen, reality sinks back in and I need to step back from everything for a bit: the book, the list of agents and yes… the shrink wrap.

I started sketching out a new book idea: character backgrounds, settings, the gist of the story, etc. And it sounds really good. These two people are going to meet under certain circumstances (encroachment!) and despite not liking each other, will wind up saving each other.

But this is one of those stories that has to start in the middle, you know? It can’t start in the beginning because, well, the beginning is fucking boring and who gives a shit what street the woman lives on or the step by step of why she is such a screw-up?  None of that matters right away.

What matters right away is that she broke down on the side of the road – her car is filled with maps and empty bottles of Blackhaus – and she needs help. What matters, is how her past affects her present day situation and how it will help or hinder her ultimate goal which is to forget about the dead guy who broke her heart.

What doesn’t matter right away is how she came to be such a screw up; why she is driving down a dark desolate road in the middle of the woods; why she has empty bottles of Blackhaus in her car.

That will all come over time.

I’ve sketched out two story ideas with a few ways as to how she winds up there.  It doesn’t come to be known until later in the book. One of those, “oh, ok, I see what is going on now.” But not in such a way that the whole story makes no sense.

What also matters, is the guy she meets in the middle of the woods and how his back story brought him to the middle of the woods because he is trying to forget the past as well.  But it all has to ooze out like a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. It can’t pop out like a wretched jack in the box or a clown from underneath the bed.

I’m all about knowing who the story is about, but there are better ways than an information dump, right?

How do you feel about information dumps? 

Where do you typically start your story? 

 

 

 

 

The Character Sketch

 

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Sticks of Personality

I am doing the 2017 Book Reading Challenge hosted by GoodReads.  Feel free to go over to the site and hop in on the fun.  I was going to try for 100 books, but then I realized I have things to do like work and sleep and eat and maybe pet my cat once in a while, and oh yeah, write my own book, so I went with fifty books.

So far, I have read thirteen and am really proud that I picked an underachievers number to keep my self-esteem higher than that of an eel in a snakepit.

I digress.

So far, some of the titles I have read include ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ along with some other swell reads.  I usually only read true crime.  However, as a writer trying to get her first book published this year, I have to read other genres.

I was reading Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches… but the main character yammered on too much and I got bored. I just put that one down and am now reading The Girl in the Ice which is listed as a gripping thriller. The writing is decent, and it is just now getting into some back story, but the POV is a flawed (it jumps back and forth in the same chapter at times). As far as the MC, she is screwed up which is good, because we’re all screwed up in some way. No one wants to read about a perfect person.

So my question is: Do you do a basic character sketch or a full detailed chart and backstory for them before you start bleeding at your desk writing? Or maybe you wing it and just feel them out as you go? I have always done a basic character sketch, but this time… this time I did sketches in more detail and it helps.

You can find blank sheets at Writer’s Digest.

Sketches help because as I write, I know which character would stop to let a squirrel cross the road and which character would run it over. I have tons of character sketch worksheets at home, but mostly use Scrivener, and I use real people.

Not like that! I use real people I see every day.  I ate lunch at a grocery store today (they have a lunch area, which is nice) and there were two employees sitting and talking at another table as I ate my salad, and skimmed my WIP for the second time this week. I listened to their conversation and peeked over at the woman real quick to see how she set her table for her lunch, her mannerisms, etc. You can read all the books you want about character traits, but the best way to get the real dirt is to go be among the people.

How do you give your characters character? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Draft

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The first draft. The revised draft. The final draft.

I completed my second NaNoWriMo project in November 2016 and am happy to say I just finished the revised draft of the same manuscript.

What does that mean? First, it meant a lot of cursing, tears and wanting to drive to the Grand Canyon just to throw my laptop in there. Then I could come back home and set the hard copy on fire.

After I calmed down and figured out that hey, this is the part that makes you a writer, buddy ol’ pal, I exhaled and…

While in Scrivener, I looked for ways to format it and pretty up the cover page. And how do I label the chapters for an e-book and, and… I had to slow myself down.

Whoa there, pardner.

I jump the gun sometimes… okay, a lot. And this is one of those times I want everything to go as smooth as possible! I can’t forget to dot one ‘i’.

So, in November, I wrote the first draft and when I was done I printed it out and put it away… for two months. While it sat I decided to do other things and…

  • I read books.
  • I painted things.
  • I tried to walk my cat (and still have scars to prove it).

Then, I took my printed manuscript, grabbed a highlighter and a red pen (and a giant mug of coffee. OK… several) and old school edited. Afterward, I made the changes on the computer copy and then…

It sat for another two weeks.

Then…

I put the whole damn thing in Scrivener. Yep! Chapter by chapter, I put it in there and that is where I edited, rewrote, and deleted parts of this manuscript that I am so nervous and excited about.

I wrote three books before this one and wherever they are, they taught me a lot and maybe I’ll get back into them one day; maybe not.

This manuscript, though… this one is the best one so far and I cannot wait to go back in and polish it up nice and shiny.

Do you have any manuscripts that never made it past the first draft stage? How long do you let your first draft sit before editing?

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Desperate Measures – Part One

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There were seventeen cats living in Louie’s basement.  Louie wasn’t sure how it got so out of control, but he knew he had a problem when incessant meowing had become the background music for dinner.  Louie really thought he was doing the right thing, but it seemed at some point in the last nine months he became a compulsive cat hoarder.

It all started when Pawsie and Meowlofur were left after his sister Shelia’s death.  She had asked Louie – while infested with tubes on her death bed  – to take her precious felines.  Louie had begged her in the hollow hospital room to let someone else have the pleasure, but Sheila was adamant.

“Take the precious ones, Louis. Take them and protect all of-” Sheila’s last words.

“All of what, Sheila?  All of the cats?” Louie asked.

Sheila’s head drooped forward.

“Alright, I’ll do my best, sis,” Louis sighed. That was his last memory of his sister.

Fluffington, a black and white tabby, came next while Louie was taking the recycling out the back of the office building he maintained as a janitor.  Fluffington, who was nameless at the time, cried under the dumpster while staring at Louie.  Louie stomped his feet.  The cat meowed.  Louie charged the cat.  The cat flipped over and rolled in the dirt all the while purring.  Louie dropped to his knees and scooped the long-haired cat up.

Caring for the cats became increasingly difficult after he adopted Cat 9, but Louie was a sucker for a furry face and every cat he saw outside without a collar he took back to his little house and put in his basement.

Litter had become so expensive that he decided it was best to just dig a ditch in the basement floor.  The ditch was four feet long by two feet wide and roughly a foot deep.  Realizing that he dug the ditch for economical purposes, he pondered how expensive filling it with litter would be.

There was a schoolyard down the street with a big sandbox, Louie remembered.  Each day he would stroll by careful not to alarm anyone about an older man skulking the play yard.  He couldn’t let anyone think he was a weirdo!

After realizing that his pockets were not adequate to transport his free kitty litter, Louie had cut off of the top of a gallon milk container to get sand.  He would go to the sandbox at the playground, careful to make sure he was alone.  He’d look around, and he’d chop his arm down in one big swoosh like a pendulum and fill the container with sand.  He didn’t even miss the days that it rained.  Those were the days he was sure to bake the sand and remove any unmentionables along with the dampness.

But the biggest problem of all was food.

How would Louie feed all these cats? 

…to be continued…

Flash Fiction Friday – The Broken Road

There was this road; this cracked, steamy, dilapidated road that I heard about in a bar about twenty miles outside of the small town of Centralia, PA.  The gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who spoke of the road was so inebriated, I could scarcely tell if he was telling a whacked out story handed down through generations or if there was truth to the tale.

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Photo: DAM Steelman (Centralia, PA)

But I had to know.  That was my nature.  I had to get to the bottom of everything.  So, like a snake slithering back into the trees, I slipped out of the bar unnoticed, and headed for Centralia. I drove around that bright, sunny Sunday afternoon and then I saw the sign:

CENTRALIA – 2 MILES

Yes!  I overheard the road was closed.  And why wouldn’t it be?  Apparently, it was in no condition to handle any kind of traffic.  There were cracks and graffiti; steam and overgrown weeds. I came around a bend and saw the cemetery on Highway 61 that was mentioned. It was old Highway 61 I was searching for and it shot right off of new Highway 61.

I made it!  I could go back to the city and tell everyone about the broken road I stumbled upon.  Well, I could have.

You see, there was a large crack in the road, I hadn’t noticed it really, if you could believe that.  I was too busy gazing at all the profane graffiti on the sun-baked asphalt while catching glimpses of steam shooting out from cracks far down the broken road.

There was no rumble when the ground opened wide and swallowed me whole.  It was almost as if the broken road had been waiting to feast on something to quell its burning innards.

I always did have terrible timing.

*This piece is a repost from an older blog. It is one of my favorites.

Short Story: Cotton Balls of Justice

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(NSFW – Language) I had this dream last night.  Real trippy shit.  Cotton balls. First, I thought it was because I went to bed drunk again, but then I remembered I hadn’t had a drink or a drug for close to seven months. So I chalked it up to too much television. You know, the standby excuse for all bad things is always too much television.

I thought it was a dream until I woke up to the silent dancing of flashing red lights. I don’t live in Las Vegas, so I knew it wasn’t a two for one special at Whores and Spores – Barbie’s Bouncy House.

It was a fire truck, two police cars and an unmarked.

Huh?

I grabbed my pants off the floor, walked over to the window while putting them on feeling like some suave, g-money gigolo, but a glance in the mirror at my doughy, bulbous body and crop circle bald spot yanked me back to reality.

After I stumbled to the bathroom, images resurfaced in my foggy brain about last night as I reached for some aspirin and stuck my face under the faucet to wash them down my parched throat that felt like a cactus riding a cheese grater.  I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like that, but I was damn sure it was close to what was going on inside my gullet.

As I peeked through the blinds, I flashed back to the bar – I’m on the nine-ball league – and there was this dude there from a different team (he was way more bulbous than me) and I remembered everyone not liking this guy.

It turned out he was my neighbor and I asked him, “What house is yours?” after we found out we lived on the same street.

He answered, “Legit, the one with all the Marigolds in the yard.”

I felt my face change after he said that. I said, “Oh, you’re the one with the stinky flower fetish.”

And he just looked at me and took his shot on the table. Five ball, side pocket.

“Yeah, it keeps nosy fuckers away from my windows.  Legit, I got some mouse traps buried in there, too.  I feel like I can tell you that ‘cause you seem like an asshole, like me.”

“Who you calling an asshole, asshole? And why are you on the other team if you live on my street?”

“I legit just moved,” he answered and chugged his beer like some 80’s punk in an afterschool special.

He missed his next shot and then I ran the table on him.

Ran it until I got to that shiny black eight ball, or it could be a white and powdery eight ball, but in this case, it was black and shiny. Legit.

“You wanna wager a wager?” He asked as he whistled for the barmaid to bring him a shot of Christian Brothers.

“Uh, sure,” I answered with about as much enthusiasm as a neutered dog at a dog park.

He snickered and threw back his shot. “Ah,” he said and smacked his lips. “Twenty bucks on the nine off the eight ball.  You gotta legit call it and bank it at least two times.” Bang. Shot glass on the bar. Another whistle.  Another fill ‘er up. I noticed the barmaid with her crinkled nose and curled upper lip.

She didn’t like him either.

“Seems fair,” I said and chalked my cue. I measured with my stick; the angles; the warps in the felt on the table.  A song by Chicago came on the jukebox as I called the rails and the pocket, leaned down and drew back to take the shot.

“Wait!” he yelled and motioned for another beer.  I flubbed on the shot and came within a hair of hitting the cue ball. “Sorry. Continue.” He laughed.

Son of a bitch.

After I lost twenty bucks, I called it a night and walked home.  The key was in the front door when I heard an incessant buzzing like a nectar drunk gnat behind me.

It was my neighbor. Bzzzz.

That’s all I remember.

Now, the street is a blinky crimson and I’m peeking out the blinds like a paranoid crackhead.

What the hell happened? And what is with all the cotton balls on my floor?

My bedroom floor – usually caked with dirty clothes and semi-clean socks – was blanketed with cotton balls.

“What the – ” before I could finish, my doorbell rang.

Another peek through the blinds revealed two detectives on my front lawn.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. What the hell did I do?” I ran down the stairs to open the door and waded through a sea of cotton balls in my living room.

“Hi!” I beamed too enthusiastically trying to block the view of cotton balls.

“Sir, we’re gonna cut to the quick on this one. Your neighbor was found dead on his front lawn this morning.  Someone stuffed about five hundred cotton balls down his throat, and well, they stuck cotton in all his orifices.”

“I’m sorry?” I heard him. I had to hear it again.

“You heard me.  Someone shoved cotton up your neighbor’s ass.  We think it was you. We heard he was an annoying son of a bitch who never shut the hell up.  Is that accurate?”

“Yes. He was a prick.” I thought of my dream.  The cotton balls, the blood, the guy who wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Shut up!  

“Sir, that was some evil shit you did,” the officer said and slapped me on the back. “The neighbors want to thank you.”

There was some faint clapping across the street.

“Good job!” Someone yelled.

“The guy apparently was a real asshole,” he continued and handed me a piece of paper.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A citation for littering,” he said.

I said, “Is this a joke?”

“Have a nice day, sir.”

I closed the door behind me and pinched myself. What was I going to do with the rest of these cotton balls?

This story is a response to the Flash Fiction Challenge via Chuck Wendig’s blog: http://terribleminds.com/

 

Outlines – Do You or Don’t You

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Bacon Saves Everything

I finished my second National Novel Writing Month project last November.  My first one was in 2011 and no, I have no idea why I waited five years to write another 50,000 words in thirty measly days. I did, however, write a lot of other stuff in those five years.

That first NaNoWriMo novel is still sitting on my laptop, slightly edited but otherwise untouched as a stark reminder of everything to NOT DO when writing a novel.  And some reminders of what TO DO.

One thing you really want to do is work with an outline.

Outlines are good because they keep you on track. You might be writing a gun fight scene and suddenly you are going off on the layout of a cemetery for four pages and then ten pages after that a horse is duking it out with the town mayor (who is also a cat) and your plot line is buried right along with the bodies in the cemetery.

Oh, snap.

So, to keep yourself on the path of ‘write-eousness’ outlines help.

My outline for “Pendulum Rose” (my working title for my current WIP) started out simple and as I went I added more detail. Starting simple just so you have a gist of where you are headed is a huge time saver.

Example:

Chapter One

  • Jane wakes up in a field of marshmallow bunnies
  • She meets a strange man
    • he lives on a stick in a cookie field
    • he is directionally challenged
  • They walk down a crunchy road
  • They meet a large frog who wants to eat them
    • the frog is deeply insecure
    • strange man pocketed some cookies while taking to the frog

This is just an idea of how I outline (subject material is only an example).  Jotting down ideas works because, if you are anything like me, your memory isn’t what it used to be (we don’t need to go into the why of it) and you’re lying to yourself if you think you are going to remember what you wanted to remember.

Outlines are different than character sketches because outlines are a briefly listed detail where character sketches are detailed write-ups of the beings in your story. And yes, writing up a character sketch in an outline format is perfectly acceptable.

The only thing I write without an outline is flash fiction.  Flash fiction is such a short, compact story that writing an outline for it would take more time than the actual writing of the story.

There are a few ways you can outline.  One way is hardcore pencil and paper because hey, that’s just how you roll.  Two is Microsoft Word or another word processing program.  Three is Scrivener. I bought Scrivener last year because I got a discount through the NaNoWriMo website and while I am still getting a handle on it, the handles I am grasping firmly, are amazing.

Scrivener makes things easy because you can have multiple projects and inside each project you can have tabs, post-it notes and chapters.  To make sure you aren’t committing to something you might not like or need, you can download and try it free for thirty days. Check it out here.

However you outline, I am interested.  Do you use details?  Bare Bones?

Don’t forget to sign up for updates and if you need inspiration, check out my free writing prompts download here.