When Last We Met…

On Sunday October 19, 2009, the Magic City Writers met and ruthlessly savaged my second chapter, …Awakens The Outer Circle…, leaving me a broken shell of a man (again). 

But first, lets talk about the food. 

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

The food, as always, was excellent. 

Kathryn baked fresh pumpkin bread (with a hint of orange flavor) and banana nut bread, both served with apple butter.  She also baked tandoori chicken, made with various herbs suspended in Greek yogurt and drenched over juicy chicken breasts.   

Nicole also displayed impressive culinary skills by improvising a tasty recipe for curry fried rice with stir-fry veggies on the spot. 

Needless to say, we were all well sated by the end of the meeting.  And best of all there were leftovers for me and Kathryn to dine on for the next couple of days.

And Now Back to the Savaging

With regards to the reviews of my new and improved chapter two of Gods Among Men, I am saddened to report they were mixed.   The chapter is substantially improved over last time, and some parts are quite good.  Unfortunately, only some parts are quite good.  This is not to call the rest rubbish, merely not good enough.

My most serious problem is structural.   The climax of the chapter requires an ambiguous point of view that is hard to get right.  There are multiple characters interacting in a way that creates two sequence of events happening at the same time.  I switch back and forth between different character’s perspective several times.  My intention is to help the reader understand what is happening and how the characters are affecting each other.   However, the switch between the different points of view, as written, is disconcerting and disrupts the reader’s ability to become absorbed in the scene. 

The group had few suggestions on how to resolve this point of view problem, and there was no consensus on the right solution.  None of the proposed solutions felt satisfactory to me.  I fear I may have to be satisfied with minimizing this problem rather than eliminating it.  My best hope at the moment is that once other problems in the chapter are fixed this point of view problem will not be as important as it is now. 

Another prominent criticism was that my secondary characters don’t feel real enough to maintain the readers suspension of disbelief.  Essentially, the group felt that I was forcing the characters to act as I wanted them to act and say what I wanted said, as opposed to the characters doing or saying what a real person would. 

This problem with the secondary characters is addressable by fixing certain key interactions.  As I reflected on this criticism, however, I concluded this problem was indicative of a weakness in my overall approach to writing. 

Houston, We Have A Problem

The first time I submitted any of my initial chapters, the group complained my characterizations were all over the place and unrealistic.  I fixed the main characters and the secondary were still problematic.  I fixed the secondary characters and tertiary characters continued to have similar problems. 

I am, by nature, a plotter, which means I first came up with the major concepts for Gods Among Men and from those concepts determined the details that must occur.  From there I extracted broad themes and formulated a complex tale, complete with an in-depth mythology of its own.  Then I focused on descriptions of settings and other such imagery.  It is characterization that I let linger until the very end. 

Given the type of tale I am trying to tell, I think  focusing upon plot and mythology to a certain degree is warranted.  But the result is that my skills for describing people in a realistic fashion is wanting. 

Perhaps this is an advantage of the “pantzer” style of writing.  If you focus only upon the situation at the moment and your characters’ reactions and interactions, with no thought as to where the story is going, perhaps you get truer characterizations.  I don’t know for certain that this is true, but it is worth considering.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Practice is what makes perfect, and practice requires a consistent devotion of effort over a long period of time. 

I must practice writing characterizations, focus on each character and discover their individual voice.  Learn to describe  them in ways that captures their mood and emotions in an honest fashion.  I must discover the words they would use, the sentences they would say, and the actions they would take.

I have considered using blogging as a solution to this problem.  My reasoning is thus:  A fixed schedule is the best way to ensure that effort is maintained.  I intend to keep putting up new blog posts, preferably twice a week.  (Though lately it has been closer to once a week.)  Since I always need something to write about I could use some of my time blogging to write small scenes and out of context conversations.  Vignettes from my world that I may or may not keep.   Posting these experiments on the blog also has the advantage of organizing them with attached tags I can use for looking them up again later.

I am still in my waffling stage on this idea.  It might work, or it might be a total waste of time.  The main point here is that I am searching for ways to improve my ability to write realistic characters.   Suggestions are welcome.

The Remains of The Day

After eating and editing, we sat around for a long time talking about various subjects.  Then we went upstairs to watch/listen to the RiffTrax for the movie Daredevil

A RiffTrax is an audio file of snarky comments that you play alongside a movie.  The worse the movie, the better the RiffTrax that goes with it.  Given how truly putrid Daredevil is, the RiffTrax for it was absolutely hysterical.

After the movie/RiffTrax, Lindy had to go to work.  Nicole, Kathryn, and I finished off the evening by watching episodes of the new Battlestar Gallactica.   I personally believe this series is the best science fiction show of the last decade, and one of the best and most daring television shows of all-time.

That concludes the summary of our latest meeting.  Kathryn is set to submit her first draft of the third chapter of her story, MoonlitShe will be mailing out copies of that chapter to the group in a few days.   Our next meeting will be on November 1st, again at my house.  As always I shall try to describe what happens in an interesting or at least entertaining way.

Until next time, have fun and party down.

When Last We Met…

Yesterday the Magic City Writers met and reviewed the first draft of the second chapter of Kathryn’s werewolf story, Moonlit. It was, as usual, a good meeting, punctuated by lively discussions about the content and details of Kathryn’s story, followed by a series of writing exercises and a tasty dinner.

To summarize, it was agreed that Kathryn had a good initial version of her second chapter.

My personal opinion about what you want out of the first draft of a chapter is that it should:

  1. Sketch out the major actions in the scene.
  2. Establish, continue, or expand the tone and style of the story.
  3. Progress the plot.
  4. Identify principle characters in the scene and their motivations.
  5. Lay the foundation for what will happen in later chapters.
  6. Avoid significant structural problems.

Kathryn’s first draft accomplishes all of this. The key phrase here is “first draft”. The journey between first draft and final draft is a long one, as I well know. Clutter must be removed, dialogue and descriptions must be added or sharpened, phrases reworded, and so on. It is a lot of work, often it is remarkably difficult, but having a decent first draft does make the process a little easier.

Nicole submitted her latest draft of her first chapter. I have helped her work on that, so I have a better idea than the others in the group about what to expect. To avoid inserting my bias into the mix, I will refrain from further comments about her chapter at this time.

The writing exercises we did were quite fun. We took turns coming up with starting phrases or sentence that we would all write on for about six minutes, then read aloud. The goal is to write quickly, without dithering over details; to let your imagination run free and put your thoughts on paper as fast as possible. I think we all enjoyed the exercises and noticed interesting trends in each other’s style. I will not comment upon the others, but for myself it did become clear that, compared to everyone else, I write slower and focus upon rich descriptions with dark themes. (Did I mention I am a fan of classical Gothic horror?)

Nicole served french bread, creamy cheese, a yummy vegetable beef stew, and ice-cream with nuts and chocolate sauce. Thank you Nicole for a great meal.

That pretty much covers the meeting. We are currently scheduled to meet in three weeks on September 7th. Its possible we may have a new person show up for that meeting. Lindy is inviting a friend of hers who has been published.

Party on everyone.

Into My Unknown

As I was writing chapter two of my story, Moonlit, I immediately encountered a scene that I literally knew nothing about. Lyka, the heroine of the story (so far) is awakening from a drug-enduced sleep into a room she doesn’t recognize. I have written internal dialogue, where she makes herself remember as much as she could before finding herself in that room. I want to go back and try to insert a little reality into this scene. How exactly should I write this?

She is a smart woman – at least I hope she is – so I started with trying to figure out what would be the first thought in her head. Now I have hurt my head before. Anyone who has known me long enough will attest to how accident prone I am. But I have never even been knocked unconscious, let alone drugged unconscious after a painful injury. The closest I have ever come is when I had to be put to sleep for a nerve block in my back. The difference was that I knew I was being drugged; I even watched him put the morphine into the iv (looked like milk, by the way). I made it to the count of five before I remembered nothing else. I woke up later, perfectly conscious, being handed cheeze-its and a soda, feeling no pain in my back.

Would this work in the story, in any way? At the end of the first chapter, she was beginning to be treated for her shoulder wounds, which were bleeding pretty badly, as she watched them load her unconscious brother into another long car. I could have them shoot her up with morphine without her knowing, but I would think that when she wakes, she would be pretty conscious pretty quickly. The bulk of her confusion could come from her not knowing where she was, and not remembering how on earth she got there. Kind of like shock.

The less pressing question is what would catch her attention the most. She is lying flat on her back, her head turned to one side. I originally decided that she would slowly come into focus as she was staring at a portable piece of medicinal electronics by her bed. But, I know so little about that that I decided to reduce that to a sort of ‘what is that? Wait, where am I?’ kind of thing.

I want to keep this part of the chapter short, because she has way to many questions in her head to focus too much on the where am I question (and she will be returning to that question). Mainly, where is her brother, why is she stuck in the bed, what’s with the large mirror, and where is her dog. I have a lot of explaining to do…