17 December 2012

Fun Facts: Volume Two

I'm finishing up a chapter tonight (hopefully) so as a fun little side project I've been making a list of things my characters are always doing. You probably don't notice these things when you talk to someone in real life--the sighs, shrugs, and all the tiny little movements we make that reflect our moods or what we're saying. In writing, these things are usually filler, especially in scenes with a lot of dialogue. They help make the scene more real and break up the line after line of speech. However, if you're like me, you end up using the same actions again and again. And again. Sometimes this can be useful, if say, one character has a particular trait that is shown regularly. But when you're constantly bombarding the reader with these little action tags, they might learn to just glaze over them to get to the juicy dialogue. So this is my list, and I am most certainly poking fun at myself. Maybe you'll notice the same things you make your characters do.

Things My Characters are Always Doing

  • Sighing
  • Shrugging
  • Smirking
  • Rolling eyes
  • Frowning--This wouldn't be so bad, but having a first person narrator realize that he’s doing it feels a bit odd
  • Smiling sadly--EEK! An adverb! With an oxymoron! Kill it! KILL IT!
  • Glaring at each other/eyes narrowing--If I put Jordan and his mother in a scene, my God...I'm surprised they can see enough to walk around with all the glaring.
  • Staring
  • Grinning
  • Taking deep breaths/exhaling slowly
  • Sticking tongues out--Ok, that's pretty much just Jordan. He's a cranky little boy who likes getting his way.
  • Shaking heads--Interesting note, not a lot of nodding. Apparently my characters are always disagreeing with each other. 
  • Groaning--In frustration! My God, get your mind out of the gutter!
  • Moaning--Ok, proceed to the gutter...
  • Snatching things--cell phones, wrists, and a chin once to steal a kiss, but I'm not getting rid of that. It was adorable. 
I'm sure there's more, but these are my worst offenses. I hope they were good for a laugh.

02 December 2012


Just in case somebody wanders on here today or early tomorrow, I'm in the process of changing the look of my blog. So far just the template, and I probably won't work out all the kinks until tomorrow (day off, woo!). So if it seems weird, or if you've been here before and you have no idea what's going on, just bear with me! Or if you've never been here before, by all means, keep reading.

<3 Sarah

But no love from Jordan. He told me to tell you that.

29 November 2012

The Problem with Chapter Nine

If you’re like me (crazy), as you write your novel, each new chapter becomes your favorite one. I feel this is a good thing; at least on some level, this points to improvement in your draft. Either you’re enjoying the story more as you get into it, or you feel your writing is getting stronger as you go along. The only downside is that each new chapter has to live up to its predecessor. Not every chapter, or at least every scene, is always going to leave you on the edge of your seat. So what about those in between moments? What do you do when you have a scene that is entirely necessary to the plot, but just not that exciting?

I finished Chapter Eight of my novel about two months ago. While I certainly haven’t stopped writing since then, I just can’t bring myself to complete the next chapter. I’ve been writing random parts of the story—namely, the scenes that interest me. Because while I have the entire next chapter planned out, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s just not all that interesting. The logical step would be to cut it, right? Therein lies the other problem. Skipping to the next chapter would leave a gaping hole in the narrative. I guess the whole point to my book is to show the very slow progression of a relationship. In the next important scene, the characters are too close, too familiar with one another. They weren’t at this point at the end of Chapter Eight. So I still have to get them there.

I guess the problem with Chapter Nine is that nothing exciting or earth shattering happens. I’ve tried everything to spice it up—amusing dialogue, sexy make out scenes, etc., etc. But I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. How do you deal with this sort of downtime within your narrative? If you think about real life, obviously not every moment is exciting. In fact, excitement is rare. But you don’t want to bore your readers with the mundane everyday life. What’s the solution?

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you the solution. Well, obviously I don’t have it, or this chapter would be complete. But I do have some theories. An overly exciting book can be interesting, but exhausting (The Da Vinci Code comes to mind, where every two page chapter ends with a cliffhanger). But on the flip side, a book where nothing happens will never keep the reader’s attention. Forgive me for the most extreme of clichés, but you should treat your narrative like a roller coaster. There are the moments that build up with suspense, the high points that are intense and exciting, and then the low moments that come in between. If you need a slow moment in your book, the most important thing to consider is what purpose it serves. Does it help the reader recover from an intense scene that happened before? Is it building up to the next one? What are we learning about the characters?

So far my plan of action has been to skip ahead. There’s an important scene in Chapter Ten that I’ve almost completed. Once it’s done, I’ll look back, see what’s missing from the end of Chapter Eight until this particular moment. What needs to be said or done to get my characters to this point? Then what’s important—what’s necessary, even—will be much clearer. If Chapter Nine ends up being a short chapter, then that’s all right, if that’s what it needs to be. It’s important to listen to your narrative; sometimes it will tell you what it needs. 

08 November 2012

The Fight Scene

The first rule of fight scenes is you do not talk about fight scenes. No, wait, that’s fight club. Fight scenes, you have to talk about. If you have a fight scene in your novel, then you won’t want to just skim over it. There has to be a reason for it, so the reader should be able to experience it fully—be in the moment, feeling all the rage, heart pounding, and blood spattering that your characters are experiencing. Of course, there are two kinds of fight scenes, and I actually have both in my WIP. One is your average teenage boy scuffle (cliché? Perhaps. Bear with me) and the other is a heated argument between lovers.

Honestly, for me at least, I find the physical fights easier to write. You have to be so in the moment, so focused on the physical elements that you don’t really need to focus on anything else. If your character is in a fight, how much time do they really have to think about their next move before their opponent strikes? The pace on the page should follow this sort of mindset. It’s not like a video game where you hit your opponent, then do nothing as they hit you, then bounce around while you decide which attack to use next. If someone is hitting you, then you’re probably at least trying to shield yourself, if not hitting back. Is your character being attacked or did they start the fight? Their fighting techniques may be different, depending on whether they’re trying to inflict pain or just avoid it. Unless it’s an epic battle or climactic shootout, it’ll probably be over quickly (or in my case, broken up by adults). I happen to like this little snippet of a fight scene in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

Last week, I tapped a guy and he and I got on the list for a fight. This guy must’ve had a bad week, got both my arms behind my head in a full nelson and rammed my face into the concrete floor until my teeth bit open the inside of my cheek and my eye was swollen shut and was bleeding, and after I said, stop, I could look down and there was a print of half my face in blood on the floor. (51)

The entire fight is summed up in one paragraph, so it’s short, but at the same time graphic and intense. The fight itself is actually one sentence, so it feels almost like a stream of consciousness. You’ll want to be completely in the moment when writing a fight scene. Your character won’t be thinking about the phone call he had the other day, or the homework assignment he has to do tonight. He’ll be thinking about how he was just punched in the jaw, and whether or not he wants to hit back.

Then there’s the other type of fight scene, or the argument. There are several different levels of arguments, from “why didn’t you take out the trash?” to “why did you sleep with my best friend?” If an argument is stemming from a small issue, chances are it will either fizzle out or escalate into something that was never really about the trash in the first place. As the fight goes on, it usually becomes more intense. What starts as a minor disagreement can escalate into screams and insults. Usually with verbal fights, each person always believes that they are right. I find in real life, the most frustrating part of a fight is trying to make the other person listen to you and see that you are right. People generally do not want to listen. You can feel like you’re not being heard, and that just makes you angrier. Think about what you have felt when you’ve argued with someone. There’s a lot of emotion to be found and your characters will probably be at their most out of control. As far as dialogue goes, obviously there will be a lot of it, but you won’t want to overdo it, either. You’ll want to trim it down to the most important lines so it’s not too overwhelming, and unlike a physical fight, there are more opportunities for your characters to be thinking about what they want to say, or even reacting to something they said without thinking.

Of course, the fight will need to come to an end at some point, maybe with one character storming off or slamming a door. You can bring the intensity down to where it started, try to resolve the issue, or you can leave it high and uncomfortable, with your characters still feeling the anger and frustration (which may make the reader immediately start the next chapter, just sayin’). If your characters are angry enough, they may want to hurt each other in order to get the upper hand. For my scene, one character says the worst possible thing he could say to the other, knowing that it will devastate him. If your characters know each other well enough, then they’ll know exactly where to cut the deepest. No matter how you end your fight scene, you’ll want to leave an impact.

You really want to ask yourself why your characters need to fight at all. I realized the reason I had an argument at a particular moment was to throw a wrench in the plot, even move it toward the end. Things can never be the same for the characters after they have this fight. Really, this should be the goal in any verbal fight scene: that things aren’t the same any more. If you have your characters fight only to immediately make up, then why did they fight at all? Maybe you had a different reason for the fight. Maybe the fight revealed something huge, that someone had a secret, they cheated, etc. There are several good reasons, but things can’t go back to just peachy after such a big reveal. Like any other moment in the narrative, the fight has to move the plot forward, even if it’s in a negative direction. If you still want your happy ending, then your characters just have more to work through in order to get there.

Fight scenes, whether physical or verbal, can be intense and emotional. Often the before and after is just as important as the fight itself. I suppose the best advice would be, don’t water it down, and don’t hold back. A weak punch isn’t going to get you very far. 

02 November 2012

Friday Night Ramblings

As usual, I thought I was going to blog about one thing and end up blogging about another. I had a set plan in mind, but I've been up since six o'clock this morning after waking up from a dream that I was about to drown in a flood. I tried to be productive but I was tired all day. And I just spent the last four hours packing to-go orders at work, which involves a lot of running back and forth and screaming at people for french fries and extra sauce. And as soon as I got home I stuffed my face, so I'm bound to slip into a coma in about half an hour. I figured I'd get some ramblings done before then. Also, I'm watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the third time, partly because there's nothing else on TV, partly because I'm almost done reading The Girl who Played with Fire but I'll never be able to keep my eyes open if I start reading, and partly because I have a bit of a crush on Daniel Craig (what?!).

But anyway (agh I'm worse than Jordan...), I had a few ideas today that were worth sharing. I might actually, finally be on the verge of coming up with a title for my book. I don't want to share too much yet because I don't want to jinx it, and there's certainly a good chance that I'll change my mind tomorrow and hate the idea. But I had one of those moments where an idea hits you out of nowhere and you actually gasp when it happens. It wasn't actually a phrase, but sort of an idea that I can work with, probably with the use of a thesaurus and a math book. And several hours.

So that got me to thinking about titles. Sometimes you come up with them before you even begin writing the story; sometimes it takes you months to figure it out. I think it can be hard because how do you sum up your entire work in one phrase, maybe even one word? It seems like you could be trivializing something that is extraordinarily complicated. Plus you want it to be catchy, something that will interest a prospective reader.It's a hard thing to figure out. You have an entire novel full of words to express your ideas, but then you have to pick a select few that will truly sum up those ideas.

The thought of important words brought me to another idea--a project of sorts. I want to make a list of words and phrases, sort of like a stream of consciousness, moving from one to the other without much thought. All of these words will have to do with my book, but on a thematic or symbolic level. Basically what I think the book is really about, not describing plot or characters, but boiling it down to the underlying issues. I think it would be fun and insightful. If you know what you're trying to write about, it'll be easier to focus your ideas.

So if it works out, and if I actually finish it (because it could be never-ending), maybe I'll post it here. Or maybe I'll keep it a secret.

Well, I think it's time to pass out. Goodnight!

31 October 2012

The Trouble with Finishing

For Halloween, I was hoping to write a short story about a serial killer to post here. But seeing as I have written only half a page and work is fast approaching, I don’t see it happening. This leads me to think about a big issue with writing, which is simply getting it done.

When you start writing something, isn’t the ultimate goal to finish it? You plan out the entire thing, see every scene and detail clearly in your mind—so why should completing your work ever be difficult?

Time would be the most obvious answer. Most writers who are just starting out probably also have a full time job, one that might have absolutely nothing to do with writing. Maybe you have a routine 9-5 sort of job, but if you’re like me, you have no set schedule and don’t even have the same days off every week. And when you do have free time, there’s still laundry, cleaning, cooking, running errands. There’s also time spent with your significant other, family, friends, cat. And of course the most important thing of all—sleep. It doesn’t leave a lot of free time.

But you’re a writer, so you must write. So you sit down in front of your computer, or with a notebook in your hand, and you end up staring at the blank page. And you know it’s not writer’s block—you want to write! The problem is that you’re actually overthinking it. I do this all the time. I refuse to write even a sentence before it is perfectly crafted in my mind. So I don’t get anywhere. You can’t really make anything perfect on the first try. If you refuse to write anything less than perfect, you probably won’t write anything at all.

But there’s a third factor in this, and it may be the most important one. Odds are you wouldn’t even realize it. Because deep down, somewhere in your subconscious, you don’t want to finish. You’re afraid of the “Now what?” that happens once you’ve finally crafted your masterpiece. That first rush of creative energy that made you write in the first place won’t be there anymore. You’re afraid of editing, of slaughtering your work. You’re afraid of rejection once you try to send it out into the world. But maybe part of you doesn’t want to finish because you don’t want it to be over. There was something that drew you to this particular story, some love of characters or plot, or just an idea. Finishing your work means letting that feeling go.

I’m not sure how to sum this up, how to wrap it up in a nice little bow. I don’t feel I’m in the same place as when I started. But we all know we have to finish, because what else is the goal? What is all the time and energy and passion for? I guess that’s why we keep trudging along. 

29 October 2012

Muse Mondays: The Takeover

A Guest Blog
by Jordan M. Palmer

I don’t get the whole middle initial thing. Maybe it’s because Mason is the stupidest name ever. But anyway…

I guess I’m supposed to apologize first, which I’m not going to do. There’s a difference between accepting responsibility and being sorry. I’m not fucking sorry. She should know better. Was I sorry for seducing an older man? Well, maybe, we’re still working on that I guess.

I’m sorry, I get distracted easily. What were we talking about? Oh, I hadn't even begun to make a point yet. Well then. You may have noticed that there hasn't been anything posted here in months (I like to italicize. It’s good for emphasis). And I guess it’s all my fault, because I’m a selfish asshole. Blah blah blah, what else is new?

So she works, like a lot. It’s really boring. I usually find something else to do, except when there’s inappropriate conversation between coworkers, which is a lot, actually. You’d be surprised. I can help with that sort of thing. Actually, I managed to crack her up while she was on the phone with a customer once. But anyway, so that takes up a lot of time and so if there’s time to write, well then it has to be about me. Sorry, it just does. So once we ran out of blog ideas I wasn't really putting in the effort for new ones.

Do you know what a muse really is? I mean, weren't they like some imaginary bitches in Ancient Greece or something that helped you write poems? (Oh Christ—don’t even get me started, she’s on this Ancient Greece kick right now, like reading all this shit. Because everyone was a fucking pederast back then. And something about math. Pythagoras  I dunno. I stop paying attention when symbolism comes up.) When did teenage boys become muses? I don’t know how I got this gig, really. 

You probably don’t understand how hard it is to be a muse. I mean, it’s like, 24/7. Sometimes I have to hijack her dreams, but mostly that’s just for exploiting memories. But I've got all the responsibility here—my book, obviously, but the blogs, and poems, and whatever else she comes up with. Sometimes I have to tweet, too. It’s like I’m freakin' in charge of everything. I can only focus so much attention on each thing. Maybe I’m a little biased but whatever. I’m running the show.

Do you have any idea how exhausting it is? I have to exist, simultaneously, in every important moment of my life. The character version of myself will always be fifteen, no matter how much time goes by. But if she wants to work on the sequel thingy? Well, then I have to be twenty. We've even gone so far as twenty-nine. You try to be fourteen different ages all at once. And if we’re talking real time? Well then I’m sixteen, almost seventeen. I’m a junior in high school, so I've got a lot of shit to do. Plus I've got the band with my friend Eric (I’m an amazing singer—she didn't tell you? Geez). And I've got like three boyfriends and maybe a girlfriend, too. THEN I’m supposed to help this chick write my life story? Does that sound fair to you?

But anyway, this post is called “The Takeover,” not “Jordan Bitches All Night.” We’re at a turning point. We’re gonna pump some life back into this dead and rotting blog. And I guess the first step is getting my permission. So fine, I guess I won’t hog all of the attention (even though she’s more in love with me than her boyfriend…cough cough…but you didn't hear it from me). We’re even gonna work on a play that has absolutely nothing to do with me.

So we’re gonna try blogging three times a week. Mondays will often be called “Muse Mondays,” usually about inspiration, what sorts of things help with her writing, or just about me in general *grin*. Fridays will also have some fun posts, but I’m not gonna give everything away right now. And then Wednesdays, too. We’re gonna wing it for now and hopefully we won’t run out of steam too quickly. Neither of us is very organized, but we’ll find a way to plan ahead.

So look forward to some action around here. And you never know, I might pop back in now and then. Be afraid!

I’m just kidding. You love me. It’s a gift I have.


11 July 2012

When Research Goes Wrong

So I’ve been mulling over a good amount of blog ideas lately to try to be more consistent in my posting (yeah…sorry about that), and was actually planning on writing about something else today. However, I stumbled across something this morning that outraged me so much that I just had to rant about it.

In my years of writing strictly fantasy stories, I never had to do much research. I had created entire worlds and facts were never really that important. Now that I’m writing realistic fiction, I find myself constantly fact checking. Maybe my readers aren’t really going to care that I described a key lime pie as being green when usually it’s yellow, but I want to make sure I get every insignificant detail right. So if I’m not sure of something, I look it up. Over the course of writing my book, I’ve gathered dozens of random facts, from how to make fresh pasta to age of consent laws.

My book takes place in New York where the age of consent is 17. I researched this fact well over a year ago so I certainly wasn’t looking for a vital piece of information when I went on Google this morning. I guess curiosity (or watching too many episodes of Law & Order: SVU) got the better of me and I just wanted to find out if there was a statute of limitations on statutory rape, and if so, how long it was. I don’t even need to know this for my book; like I said, I was just curious.

Surprisingly, it was difficult to find this information. Once I had scrolled past all of the Yahoo Answers results (no, just…no), it was hard to find any web page that was more recent than 2009. By changing my search criteria a few times, I managed to stumble upon law.com, which had an entire dictionary of legal terms. I figured with a domain name like that, this must be a credible website. But when I looked up the definition for statutory rape (a rather short paragraph), there were several things about it that bothered me.

The first sentence defined it as: “sexual intercourse with a female below the legal age of consent but above the age of a child, even if the female gave her consent, did not resist and/or mutually participated.” Now hold on a second. Statutory rape can only happen to a girl? Well, I guess I’d better stop writing my book because there’s no conflict there; boys can’t be victims of statutory rape (oh, Jordan just told me he’s going to have me fall down a flight of stairs for referring to him as a “victim,” and also that you should know this). Seriously, though, what the hell is this? Are we living in that episode of South Park where Ike has sex with his teacher and all anybody can say is, “Nice?” There have been famous cases where an older woman has had a sexual relationship with a minor, and guess what,  it was still illegal.

The inaccuracy of this definition didn’t end at the first sentence, either. The following sentence read, “In all but three states the age of consent is 18.” I had to do a double take with this one, because this is just flat out false. Even Wikipedia knows better. Age of consent in the U.S. ranges from 16 to 18, with the majority of states (29 and the District of Columbia) setting it at 16. In fact, only 12 states have 18 set as the age of consent. I wanted to shake my computer at this website’s stupidity.

I started looking at other definitions at ended up facepalming so many times I’m surprised I didn’t bruise myself. Sure enough, the definition for rape only referred to women. The definition for sodomy, I kid you not, states, “Homosexual (male to male) sodomy between consenting adults has also been found a felony but increasingly is either decriminalized or seldom prosecuted.” Any remaining sodomy laws in the U.S were eliminated in 2003. Yes, that’s right, nine years ago. And when I clicked on the definition for age of consent? It was blank.

You want to know the worst part? The copyright for this website, right at the bottom of the page, states 2012. They update it regularly, and yet their information is horribly inaccurate.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you not to trust everything you read on the internet. Just be sure when you’re doing important research for your book that the source you use is a credible one. That way you won’t have people laughing at your book like I was laughing at this website.

12 April 2012

How to Write a Sex Scene

There are two things I should confess before diving in to this subject. I’m certainly no expert on writing sex scenes, so this is less of a structured how-to guide and more of my personal journey into being able to write them at all. Second, what started me on this quest was not even a sex scene. It was a hand job scene.

At a certain point I came to the realization that my book needed a little third base action. Dealing with the gradual progression of a physical relationship, it just seemed natural. Accepting this fact, however, was not nearly as hard as actually writing the scene. (I should have said difficult, I know.) Getting through every sentence was like pulling teeth. I spent days, weeks even, writing sentence by sentence and still not getting anywhere. The whole scene was just a choppy mess. So I tried to figure out why I was having so much trouble.

I have more or less been writing sex scenes since before I even had my first kiss. I say “more or less” because they all followed the same formula. Start with kissing, then some vague description of foreplay, immediately followed by the scene cut. You know, that blank space between paragraphs that serves as a white curtain shielding all the naughty bits. (Ever read Breaking Dawn? There’s a lot of this.) It’s not like the reader doesn’t know what’s going on in that space, either. We know the characters are fucking their brains out. Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason for this—Breaking Dawn, for example, is a young adult book, not erotica. An explicit sex scene just wouldn’t be appropriate. But if you don’t have a valid reason for making that scene cut, why do it?

When I first wrote my current book as a short story, the sex scene was actually one of the first parts that I wrote, and I decided that I didn’t want it to be longer than a paragraph. I thought I was being clever, making the sex scene purposely vague. It would be obvious—by the time it finally happens in the story, it doesn’t really matter anymore to the narrator, so making it vague was some sort of plot device.

But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the vagueness as a copout. What was really stopping me was my own ignorance. What the hell did I really know about a relationship between two gay men? I felt like a stupid, naïve little straight girl who just likes to think about boys kissing.

I kept thinking, realizing that even that wasn’t the real issue. No, it went much deeper (yes, I realize what I just said, and no, I won’t apologize). Because every sex scene I had ever written had been just as vague. It wasn’t the characters. It was me.

I came to a realization. I had a problem with vulgarity. It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t have a problem with swearing, not in real life or in a narrative. But when it actually came to describing sex—I was terrified! What made it even worse was that I was writing from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old boy. If it was a girl, I could get away with my usual flowery prose. I couldn’t even fathom using the sorts of words that I knew were needed to make these scenes sound even remotely realistic. If I couldn’t get past my discomfort, then this novel wasn’t going to work out.

I don’t know how the idea came to me. I realized that I had to go beyond my expectations, not just a hand job or a vaguely written sex scene. Even if those were my ultimate goals, I had to break myself completely in order to obtain them. I had to write something more explicit, more intense, so that I would never feel uncomfortable writing these scenes again. Suddenly the solution was very clear.

I had to write a full blown sex scene. And not just any sex scene. A gay sex scene.  

I know what you’re thinking. Does it have to be two guys? Why not just create some random man and woman whose lovemaking I could be some voyeur to? Two reasons. One, I couldn’t take any chance whatsoever that I would fall back onto my characteristic girly vagueness. So no girls allowed. Two, I had to make this scene the extreme of extremes of anything I was ever going to write. If it turned out tamer than what my hand job scene needed to be, then I would fail.

In order to embark on this quest, I had to first abandon my current work and head into an alternate universe. I still wanted to use the same characters but in some nonexistent future where by some miracle they get back together (I like happy endings and I fantasize, ok?). So, characters, check. Setting? Well, the bedroom, obviously. Check. The next step was just to write.

Now, this is me we’re talking about, so I knew I wasn’t going to be disgustingly graphic. But I was determined to be straightforward, get those words out that I was afraid to use. I kid you not, it took me five minutes to write “cock” for the first time. I did it letter by letter, with my eyes closed. It was just so awkward! I had never used these filthy words! But after that first one was over and done with, it became easier to write things more explicitly.

It took about three nights to get the whole scene out. Each sentence had to be slowly crafted in my mind before I could convince my fingers that it was ok to type it. Once it was done, it was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The next night, I tackled my hand job scene and found it much easier to write, and I actually made it through to the end.

Getting comfortable with vulgarity isn’t just important for the sex scenes, either. For me, it’s helped to craft the entire voice of my narrator. Because sometimes he’s gonna jerk off, or fantasize, or get a little too excited while making out. (Despite the fact that I’ve asked my boyfriend several times to describe an erection for me, I still can’t get a straight answer.) I can’t be the innocent, vague-sex-scene-writing person that I used to be.

Recently one of my managers at work happened to say that I probably had never said the word “dick” in my whole life, to which I was able to truthfully reply, “That’s not true. In fact, I write it all the time.”

22 March 2012

Psychic Writing

I had another one of my little epiphanies the other day—and I’ve been waiting for it for over a year. I was looking at some diagrams of triangles when a random idea popped in my head. So I wrote it down: “Take a triangle, for example. No matter what the degrees of each angle are, they’re always going to add up to 180.” And suddenly everything clicked.

Let me explain. If I had to briefly sum up my novel, it would be something like: boy fails math, gets tutor, they concoct an elaborate and twisted relationship. When I was first brainstorming, I just happened to choose math as the subject he was failing. Geometry, to be specific, just because that was the subject I took when I was fifteen. And ever since, I’ve been asking myself “Why?? Why did it have to be math?”

The thing is, I hate math. Sure, I was great at it in high school, even managed to get through Calculus. But then I went to a liberal arts college where we could waive math with a C average or an SAT score of 550. So I forgot all about it. Why, then, did my brain automatically turn to math? I didn’t know, so I just went with it, looking up random geometry equations to use and questioning whether or not it should be some other subject, like history or science (besides the fact that Biology or Chemistry would scream “Look at me, look at me, I’m a cliché!”).

I wanted something more. Some sort of symbolic reason for the math to be there. I had this feeling if I kept working at it, trying to figure things out, it would eventually make sense to me.

Then it slapped me in the face. The math had been there the entire time. The characters’ relationship was, and had always been, somewhat formulaic. I just had to look at it that way and make the narrative show it. Part of me had always known this was right before the rest of me could catch up. So like every other crazy idea, everything just sort of fell into place.

I guess I’m the sort of writer who doesn’t fight off the ideas, at least not the major ones. Sometimes I’ll write a scene and then look back and say, “What the hell was I thinking?” But even if I know the scene is complete crap, I don’t delete it. There was some reason for writing it—maybe I realized something about the characters in that scene, or figured out something that has to happen later on in the plot. There’s something there that I can look back on when I’m struggling with another scene.

It’s ok to write something that doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes you just have to go with that gut instinct. Maybe you’re not actually psychic, but there’s a reason for every idea you come up with. You’ll find a way to make them work for you.

For now, just write. Leave the questioning for later.

15 March 2012

Seat Fillers: Why Some Characters Should Be Throwaways

If you had to write your life story, who would you include? Probably your family, your love interests, and your close friends—whoever was especially important to you. What if this story was only focusing on a few months out of your life? Who would you include then? Everyone you came in contact with? Are you allowed to cut someone out if they aren’t important to the story, even if you interacted with them every day?

This is just another one of the dilemmas I’m facing while writing my novel, one that I’m more or less putting off until the second draft. It was a lot easier when my project was just a short story. The minor characters just weren’t necessary; in fact, they were dismissed in less than a paragraph. I just had Jordan say that he had plenty of acquaintances but no real friends because he just didn’t like people. No problem, right?

Well, it’s a problem now. I really just can’t believe that someone who is supposed to be charismatic and manipulative wouldn’t have friends, even if he didn’t actually like them. And when he goes to school and sits down at lunch, is he supposed to be some loner all by himself? It just didn’t fit the character. So that lunch table needed some seat fillers.

I created four friends—Brian, Eric, Max, and Andy. They were created in a rather interesting way, actually. I wrote all five characters into a play. This was a lot of fun and I actually workshopped it in college, but that’s a story for another day.

As I try to develop these characters more and more, I’m wondering if it’s worth it. On one hand, they’re necessary to make the story more lifelike and believable. On the other hand, they might be dragging the story down but just being boring and not adding anything to the plot. The good news is that I came up with a subplot involving two of the friends. Basically Brian—the obnoxious, hotheaded friend—becomes the enemy, someone to be eliminated, while Eric—the shy, insecure one—becomes more of an asset to be manipulated and brought over to the dark side.

Ok, so Brian and Eric are now necessary. But what do I do with Max and Andy? Even in the play they were sort of lackluster. They really were just seat fillers, literally. There was nothing that distinguished them from one another. But if I get rid of them, then I’m just left with three boys at that lunch table. I still don’t buy it. I don’t remember ever seeing a group of just three boys in high school. It’s like they travel in packs. But these boring characters are more than likely going to make the story boring, and I certainly can’t fit in another subplot just to make them necessary.

I’ve narrowed down my options to three:

Option One: Combine Them 

Max and Andy have always seemed interchangeable. So why not just have one character with no personality who’s just sort of there? Four boys would be better than three, at least. The major problem I see with this is that my Max/Andy hybrid would kind of seem like a loose thread. Jordan is my narrator, and Brian and Eric are important to the subplot. So why is this other guy there? By having just one character, the fact that he is unnecessary becomes even more obvious. 

Option Two: Get Rid of Both

This would probably be the best option for the sake of the plot. They really serve no purpose. Their dialogue is predictable, generic, if I let them speak at all (which I haven’t yet, in four and a half chapters). The obvious problem with this option is the lack of realism. I can believe that a teenage boy would only have two close friends, but not that he has absolutely no other friends or even acquaintances to sit with at lunch. My character loses his credibility. 

Option Three: Turn Them into Props 

With this option, they’re just there. They probably never speak. Maybe there are even more boys than Max and Andy. They might not even have names. There might be some vague reference to “the other guys” after an actual conversation with Brian and Eric. Their identities aren’t important because I’m still maintaining the fact that Jordan doesn’t like people. He really doesn’t care. 

I’m leaning more toward option three. You get the realism of an actual group of teenage boys without boring characters having their boring opinions take up page space. At this point, though, I’m still not 100% sure.

Which option seems the best? Or is there a fourth one? Which one would you pick?