Whither The Writer? 4/9/13

What now?

thinking (Microsoft clip art)

image credit: Microsoft clip art

That’s what I’ve been asking myself since last Tuesday, when we wrapped up Buried Deeds. As I neared the end of that story, I tried to visualize Tuesday posts without Meghan. Buried Deeds began on 20 November 2012. Meghan’s first story, still unnamed, began on 4 September 2012. Even before that, she first appeared as my nameless “poetic archaeologist” on 21 February 2012. Looking back, I realized she controlled most of my Tuesday posts for more than a year.

I think she’s found an audience even beyond those of you who leave likes or comments with each installment.She’s a good character, one who could anchor a number of short stories, maybe even novelsโ€”if I can persuade her to share more of her adventures.

Although it wasn’t my original intent, I hope these two stories have shown that “pantsing” doesn’t necessarily result in a first draft full of plot holes, logical inconsistencies, and lost subplots. Would I publish the stories as is? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t do that even if they were the result of detailed planning and outlining. No first draft of a story is ready for publication. But even my near-crippling self-doubt has to admit I did a decent job on this first version.

Still, this was a difficult story to write. Based on comments from people who have read my two novel manuscripts over the last few years, I don’t make life difficult enough for my main characters. I understand the obstacles don’t have to be life-altering or threatening. But today, popular novels are supposed to make the story line difficult for the mains at every turn. Unfortunately for me, I have a hard time believing everything that happens to most modern characters. All those obstacles pull me out of the story. I start thinking, “Oh, come on. They can’t have that much bad luck or that many idiots around them.”

But if I’m going to write a story with any chance of a decent-sized audience, I have to find a way to do this. And so I tried it with Meghan. The unexpected skeleton in the cellar wouldn’t be enough. So I gave her a difficult “client” to work with. I added her son and husband pressuring her for a dog. Then I put the house on the market and forced her to search quickly for a new one. I suggested the client’s ancestor was a murderer. And the client talked about canceling Meghan’s dream project. Oh, let’s not forget the reporter. Or Maisy and Chess knocking her over and getting underfoot.

Your comments suggest I succeeded in “ramping up the tension.” But Buried Deeds was only 18,600 words, and it felt like overkill while I was writing. If I wanted to turn the story into a novel, would more scenes about the existing obstacles be enough? Or would I have to add even more to the story?

This relates to my novel writing, too. I think about the manuscript of Death Out of Time and wonder what I have to add to pick up the action in the middle and present new information. Do I need more obstacles? New scenes of the main characters slogging through existing obstacles to obtain new information? This is hard to answer because some readers suggested this was needed, but others didn’t. As the writer, I have to make the final call. But as of now, I don’t know what that call is.

So what will next Tuesday bring? I’m not sure. I do know it’s not a new Meghan Bode mystery. I’m still waiting to hear what that is. Even then, I need a break from writing them live on the blog. I suspect it’s time to talk more about me, the person. And that just might be harder than writing a new story on the blog….

47 thoughts on “Whither The Writer? 4/9/13

    • It would be easier if I thought my life was interesting. I know I’ve done things that others would be too afraid to try, even if they wanted to. But my brain has this awful way of thinking, “If I’ve done it, then it must not be interesting or difficult.”

      Still, I’ll try to make things interesting. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

      • There’s no need to try to be interesting JM – other people’s lives are always interesting because they’re either different or similar to our own, and so we imagine ourselves in another’s shoes, and make our comparisons, and one way or another that’s fascinating.

        Like

  1. Thank you for sharing your writing process with us. I found it helpful as it answered questions for me. I too am very much looking forward to learning more about you.

    Like

    • I believe in sharing the lows with the highs. It’s easy to talk about writing when the ideas and words are flowing easily. But if I’m going to be honest, I have to share the doubts and lows, too. We will see more of my experiences here. As the advertisers like to say, “Watch This Space.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

  2. I think you will be more fascinating to us that you believe. Also, I’m with you on how stories can really be unbelievable, but yet I like that. Stories are a way for us to question ourselves through the make-believe characters. The harder the scenario and conflict, the harder we have to question ourselves about what we would do in that improbable situation (which doesn’t happen in daily life–and when it does, we aren’t so grateful to be pushed like that)

    Like

    • As I just said to The Wanderlust Gene above, I have a hard time thinking of me as interesting. But I will try, and Vanessa prompted my brain to come up with some posts….

      For me, the nonstop conflicts often have me doing one of two things. If the main story and characters are interesting enough, I’ll skim more than I read until I finish the book. If they’re not interesting enough, I’ll set the book down and move on to a different one. But then, I’m someone who normally reads to get away from “real life” and the hardships and difficulties it often brings to people. That may be one reason I have a harder time reading newer works than older ones.

      Like

  3. Meghan will probably let you know what she wants you to do with her story!
    There are trends and fashions in writing, as in other things – I think we should be aware, but not be a slave to them.

    Like

    • The biggest mistake would be to force a story from my characters. I’m jotting down ideas as they strike, most of which are probably throwaways. But setting them down might help them decide what they’d like to do next. We’ll see. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And you’re absolutely right about not being a slave to trends and fashions in writing. Most of us will fail if we try to write “to the market.” We’ll fail either because it means being untrue to our real voice or because by the time we write the story, the fashion has changed. And after all, those trends are usually started by someone who wrote “outside the box!”

      Like

  4. I tend to tire of the never-ending plight-by-obstacle in many books. I am probably less attracted than some to highly plot-driven stories. I have a friend from Mississippi who tells the greatest stories. It is the way she tells them that I like more than the actual story—the words she chooses, her Southern accent, the slow and drawn out build up and delivery. There are still readers out there who like to read those kind of stories too. You have a great following and lots accomplished. Well done.

    Like

    • I can handle some fast-paced booksโ€”as long as there aren’t too many bodies, gory passages, or twisted psychopaths. I usually read to escape the dark sides of life. One of the many positives I see in this new publishing world is that there is room for books that aren’t cookie-cutter variants of the bestsellers. With e-books and POD paperbacks, indie writers don’t have to worry about unsold inventories the way traditional presses do. Of course, finding those indie books we’d enjoy isn’t always easy. But it’s possible.

      Now I should act on that particularly brilliant insight. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I should write the stories in my voice as I think they want to be told. And stop worrying about broad market appeal….

      Like

  5. I’m looking forward to hearing more about you, the person, JM. I enjoyed Meghan. I liked her. If you need “more,” make her do something unexpected maybe. Out of character. Give her some flaws, let her really “mess up.” People love redemption and flaws. At least I do — I identify with those kinds of characters. Maybe you should whittle down to a short story and submit? There are plenty of places to do so. My problem is writing too much and not knowing when to stop. Like now.

    Like

    • Character flaws. There’s another shortcoming in my WIPs. My characters don’t have enough of them. I guess they’re like so many of us and don’t want to publicize their shortcomings. And yet to me, they’re not “Mary Sues.” But what I see as examples of their flaws aren’t readily recognizable to readers. I’m working on it.

      I still have it in my mind that Meghan has a third novella to share. And then I would refine the three of them and e-publish them as something that could be either a standalone work in itself or an introductory collection to a novel or two or…. I’m jotting ideas as they come to me, and we’ll see if any of them take root.

      And while I work on that, Vanessa’s comment above has given me inspiration for some posts about me. We’ll see the first one soon, I think.

      Your writing, Brigitte, is so engrossing and evocative that you shouldn’t worry about it ever being too much. You leave readers wanting more, not wishing there had been less.

      Like

  6. Too many far-fetched obstacles can for sure tax a reader’s patience, but I think you covered it well: not every obstacle need be a life-threatening event (e.g., Meghan being challenged by her family for a pet). Each scene needs a conflict, but that conflict doesn’t have to be an unbelievable catastrophe. That can get tiring. For example, I love the show ‘Prison Break’; have just one season left to watch. The writers keep the viewer on the edge of the seat, but sometimes almost too much. The poor characters never get a break–there is always something horrific challenging them. I feel like I could use a breather at times!

    As for pantsing vs. outlining, I think those of you how have an intuitive feel for pacing and structure can do very well with pantsing. For those of us where it may not be as intuitive, plotting it out beforehand can be helpful.

    Like

    • If I’d been born 40 years earlier or more, I might have had an easier time writing a popular novel. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Writers then could spend more time with characters around the main action, and every scene didn’t require conflict. Readers could catch their breath along with the protagonist.

      I do enjoy some fast-paced books and TV shows. But there’s been a cultural/technological shift, and I think there’s now an expectation that all genres need to be shorter, more plot-driven, and intense. Even the fantasy genre, long the bastion of 800-page and longer books with extensive world-building, is producing shorter works and packing more “punch” into them. That’s not bad. I’d just like to see other styles getting an equal chance at the traditional publishing market.

      Pantsing. Outlining. Both can work well! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  7. I’ve known you for a long time, kiddo, and I am eagerly awaiting some blogs about you. Thank you for bringing us Meghan and for sharing your struggles with and thoughts about the writing process. I look forward to reading more.

    Like

    • Hey, girl, great to see you stopping by. You know how much I value your insights on writing. I think we all go through at least one period of wondering, “What next?” And trying to force the creative process rarely works. Sometimes we need to step back and clear the mind so it can be receptive to new ideas when they appear. Vanessa’s comment sparked my Muse’s interest, and she set down her mojito on this 80-and-climbing day long enough to get me started on some new posts. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Bits of my life are forthcomingโ€”in a way this introvert can handle. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  8. I know what you mean about a story that’s packed full of obstacles. It just seems obvious that the writer is writing to a formula and that’s not very interesting to me. What interests me is getting to know a character and putting myself in that person’s head. I felt like I got to know Meghan along the way. Her obstacles were believable and the kind that most people face, which made me relate to her even more. I also keep thinking I should put more personal stuff up but I’m not a very interesting character. But then, we’re already putting our thoughts up so I guess that’s pretty personal. I feel like I’ve gotten to know you too, as well as Meghan, so that’s a good thing. So really all this just means keep doing what you’re doing! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    • It’s just so hard for me to talk about myself. I’m shy, introverted, and really don’t think of my life as all that interesting. And yet, objectively, I know some parts of it are. And as The Wanderlust Gene noted, we usually find other people’s lives interesting. I’ll never write anything about me in a “tell all” manner. But maybe I can still make some parts of my life an interesting read….

      I don’t know if we’re in the minority when it comes to readers today. But I feel like I enjoyed more of the books I read as a young adult than I do today. And I think a lot of that is due to what modern novels are “supposed” to be. Not that I would want to have been born 40 years or more earlier. The status of women then? The state of medical knowledge and available treatments? No, thank you!

      Now, is Meghan reading these comments about her? Don’t they make her want to share more adventures? That would be more fun than unpacking in the new house, don’t you think?!

      Like

    • Not at all. I appreciate all likes and comments. I often leave a simple like when I either don’t have time for more or don’t feel like I can contribute to the conversation. The fact that someone has taken time to let me know they enjoyed something I’ve written is always a great feeling!

      Like

  9. I hope Megan will be back, for the very selfish reason that I enjoyed reading the the two stories, but I can’t imagine that it’s easy always having the next piece ready each week – not to mention pulling off the overall plot. You should do what you need to do.

    Regarding obstacles for the main character, I don’t think obstacles for the sake of obstacles contributes to a story. The obstacles should relate to the plot. Having a second plot thread, like buying a new house, is ok, but just one, I think, and it’s better if it dovetails with the rest of the story in some way, rather than just being completely separate. (My two cents.)

    Like

    • Some readers prefer simpler story lines, others say the more complex, the better. We’ll never please everyone, right? I’d like to think that if a writer is true to her voice and tells a story in a way that feels natural, then the story has a good chance of finding an audience. Of course, that still requires good writing skills and edits, rewrites, and polishing. But to force “what sells” onto that work might ruin it rather than make it “marketable.”

      Ultimately, we have to do what feels right with the story. Some of us will find market success with that. Others might find a small, independent following. And still others might end up writing for an audience of one. Even if I end up in that last category, I’ll be happier because I’m writing the story the way my characters and I want to tell it.

      Like

  10. I think all the obstacles made Meghan’s life realistic. I can run into twenty obstacles just trying to get something done in a day. It’s something we all can relate to. I think it also helps to explore inner conflicts. Like Meghan not wanting to sell the house but wanting to sell the house. That’s something many people have experienced. You want to move on to a bigger and better place, but that old place has so many memories so many hopes and dreams were created there. It’s such a tug on the heart. I guess what I’m trying to say is you may not have to keep dreaming up external obstacles so much as deepening the obstacles that exist and ramping up the internal tension. Just a possible thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    • For now, at least, I think this story will stay a novella. But I did ponder what it would take to expand it into a full novel. And I wondered if expanding on the existing elements would be enough. I still wonder, but my concerns on this subject are really for Death Out of Time. I have to figure out if there’s something different I should do in the middle that would improve the story, if I should tweak elements of the existing bits to move the story along more, or if I should simply polish what’s there. Various readers comments fall in each of those camps. Until I figure out what will work best, I don’t want to dive into revisions or edits that might become pointless. And it’s a decision only I can make. Like this Libra ever has an easy time making decisions! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

      • Eek. I’ve been there. With my YA story I got very divergent feedback from agents and editors. If I did what one group said, it was in direct opposition to what the others said. I let it sit for a while. At the end of the day, it’s your story. And it’s more important why that section wasn’t working for the readers rather than what they want changed. There are many solutions to a problem. Only you know how to “fix” your story. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

  11. One thing I absolutely trust about your writing is that whatever obstacles you choose to put in the path of your MCs will not be the sort that gets readers questioning their veracity. Your aesthetic and voice will shine in your work. Your obstacles will fit your characters’ lives and personalities. They will further the plot and not feel extraneous. You won’t let them.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement, Jagoda. I’m trying to decide if I have that balance yet in Death Out of Time. I’ve taken quite a break from it, so I hope I have a fresh perspective as I pick it up again. I know I can never be 100 percent satisfied with the story (or any of them, really), but I won’t put it out if I don’t believe I’ve done my reasonable best. I know I would feel more confident about being a “real” writer (one who publishes at least several works) if I had another new story in the pipeline.

      Like

  12. As a newcomer to your blog, I’m tremendously impressed by the high level of engagement of your followers. You’re certainly doing something right — so don’t agonize too much over the advice of critiquers. I think the advice to “up the tension and conflict” in a story often results in these “Perils of Pauline” plots with one disaster after another daunting the protagonist. But the stories with the most meaningful, absorbing tension (for me anyway) are the ones where a) the protagonist is someone we care about deeply, and b) the obstacle is something the protagonist cares about deeply. In other words, the stakes are high, and the outcome really matters. In other words, “quality” tension may matter more than quanitity of conflicts and problems.

    Like

    • One of my favorite parts of blogging is the camaraderie with readers that develops in the comments. Given the number of people who follow my blog (a few hundred), only a small percentage comments regularly. That’s good because I either would have no time to work on my novels trying to respond to everyone, or I couldn’t reply to all comments. And I would feel bad about that. Of course, posts like this, where we open up about ourselves, tend to generate longer and more insightful comments than, say, a post about funny search terms.

      I think you describe the nature of tension in the story perfectlyโ€”quality over quantity. The books I have the hardest time with are those where the tension feels like a device or formula rather than an integral part of the characters and story. I want to find that right balance and flavor in my writing. Meghan’s stories have been good exercise, and I hope the lessons learned will transfer to my novels.

      Thank you for joining the conversation!

      Like

  13. I love hearing about your writing process JM. I’m a pantser and it seems to work for me that way.
    Obstacles are part of everyday life (I know I run into them all the time!) I loved reading about Meghan and the way she sorted through every obstacle that came her way. I have a feeling she’ll be back one day (I hope!)

    Whatever you decide to write on your blog is your choice. Go for it ๐Ÿ˜€

    Like

    • I really want Meghan to share more stories. She’s really grown on me, and I think she would find a receptive audience. Thanks to Vanessa’s comment, I do have some ideas for talking a bit more about me, the person. And tomorrow I get back to working on Death Out of Time. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  14. Obstacles don’t need to be outrageous, they just need to be unexpected to avoid the pitfalls of predictability. I think you did a great job with Meghan on that front. And I think high levels of drama instead of action are another great way to avoid writing to a formula, which so often happens with popular novels. But it all takes practice, so don’t lose heart now, JM. You’re in a really good place with your writing. Your readers love Meghan.

    I think a few memoir posts would be lovely. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    • The current lack of a new story idea bothers me, even though I know it shouldn’t. Logically, I know that well-established writers with ten or more books go through stretches like this.So I’m trying not to force the ideas and to let my mind be receptive to possible prompts. And when I wrap up this comment and the one below it, I’m off to work on Death Out of Time. And some posts about me. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  15. While I am certain that you could improve Meghan’s story, I do think that, as is, might have been very acceptable to send somewhere as a novella. I have written one story in one sitting that did manage to get published. It was less than 3,000 words, but it is possible.
    You have a wonderful novel on hand. Kick up your confidence. You are a very good writer.
    Scott

    Like

    • As I just told Kate above, I’ll be happier and more confident when I have that next idea to work on. I hate to think I’ve already exhausted my allotment of creative works. But I can’t force an idea to appear and take shape. I don’t mean that I’m sitting around, waiting for my Muse to drop an idea in my lap. I’m jotting down thoughts, thinking about existing characters in new adventures. But nothing is sparking a new story just yet. And there’s nothing wrong with switching to the final revisions and polishing of Death Out of Time. That story deserves a shot at publication.

      Like

      • Yes, that story certainly does. By the way, try out one of the prompts for very short stories. Friday fictioneers keeps me polished on forcing a lot of thought into just a few words. And FSF does the same for a word prompt in just five sentences.
        Scott

        Like

  16. JM, I totally agree with your perspective on modern stories. I know there must be conflict, but the characters have to get some breathing time! I think it’s much more realistic to have ups and downs. Unless you’re writing a tension thriller or spy story, I guess, in which case it might be better to have the action keep climbing rather than rising and falling all over the plot. But, when you’re constantly going uphill, that gets tiring…for both the characters and the reader. Let the poor sods break for elevenses, at least! ๐Ÿ˜€

    I enjoyed the balance with Meghan’s conflicts. She felt like a real person. That’s much more interesting to me personally than a Jack Bauer who never sleeps. And, mysteries don’t have to be thrillers. Meghan herself is much more thoughtful than a gumshoe or a superspy; that’s just the nature of her occupation. I think she could make a great star for a series of short stories or novellas.

    “Pantsing” can really show us where our strengths and passions lay. I’m really impressed at what you were able to do, week after week, with only a rough outline of plot points to go on.
    You mention a kind of slogging feeling as you wrote the story. What parts of it did you really enjoy? I’d say, focus on those aspects, not necessarily what other people tell you you should write.

    Everybody wants to write that great novel (I’m guilty of that, too). But, maybe you’d find more joy in weaving together a bunch of smaller stories. Your style – from what I’ve read here – is punchy and personable. That’s an enviable quality: you get readers to like your characters, almost instantly, without a lot of extraneous build-up, and they understand very quickly the conflicts and prizes at stake. I never felt like I was dropped into the deep end, not knowing who people were or what they were doing. I want to see more, and I’m betting a lot of other people do, as well.

    Writing – and publishing! – the modern novel is a tricky business, with everyone putting in their two cents, whether you’ve asked for them or not. But, only you can know what’s right for you. I hope the fresh breath of spring helps you sort that out. And, whether you’ve got more from Meghan on the way or some new adventure, I’m interested to read the journey.

    Best to you!

    Like

    • Mayumi, I always look forward to your comments, both on my blog and others we follow. You are so insightful and thoughtful, and you always seem to understand what the blogger is trying to say, even if s/he isn’t always clear.

      Part of why I gave up on the first season of “24” was the level of violence. But a significant part was the unbelievability of the story. There’s no way Jack Bauer gets all around Los Angeles and beyond and successfully navigates all those obstacles in one day. Maybe I simply can’t suspend disbelief the way most Americans can. And maybe I want something different from a story than most readers do. I am glad to see there are some commenters like you who feel the same way. But I have this sneaking feeling we’re very much in the minority.

      I suspect I’ve been focused on novels because the first two stories I wrote (beyond school assignments) were novels. But I’ve come to enjoy these shorter Meghan mysteries, and maybe I am better suited to writing works of this length. That’s one reason I’m hoping to find at least one more story for her. I think there might be an audience for compilations of three or four shorter works centered around a core character (or two). And I’m very glad that you and other readers think Meghan has that kind of potential. I’ve thought so, but it always helps to hear that others agree.

      While I search for the next new idea, I’m also sitting down again with Death Out of Time. That novel had some encouraging responses from betas, and the characters deserve a chance at publication. I think the break I took will help me approach it with a fresh eye. And if we can get past this early taste of summer (it’s currently 90!) and into the proper spring season, my energy levels, enthusiasm, and creativity should continue to increase.

      But really, 90? What happened to spring?!

      Like

  17. I think you should just view this as an opportunity to embrace something new, and who knows what that may be – hopefully that’s something that should add to the excitement! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Kevin MacNeil (lovely, famous Scottish author) once told me that you should be mean to your main character, always make life difficult for them. I say, embrace the opportunity to jump away from the norm and do what you like with your characters, it doesn’t need to be mean treatment!

    I’ll look forward to your Tuesday posts. ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy this new challenge!

    Like

    • I probably sound like a broken record, but at least for me, some writers really overdo the difficulties. But I suspect every agent and editor would want to slap me and tell me how wrong I am. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think my difficulty is finding the correct types of obstacles and associated intensity level for a story. Does that make sense?

      I’m hoping my ideas that cropped up from Vanessa’s comment will keep you and other readers entertained! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  18. This adventure was a lovely flight of words – it is what it is – you may go back and flesh it out, but let it simmer a little bit…like letting yeast rise in bread?
    I hate stories where the characters are constantly in turmoil – life’s not really like that…well, it can be but often life is long periods of ordinary jolted with extremes periodically. Crafting a long novel is tricky –
    I can see how much fun you could have with a series of Meghan stories …writing should be fun

    Like

    • At least with these first two stories, I think I’ll leave them at novella length. I’ve started working on the first one, seeing how I could flesh it out more than it was. I’d like to get it to a similar length as Buried Deeds. And for the next story, when it takes shape, I’ll see what feels like the right length for it. Buried Deeds will “rest” at least until I finish the changes to the first one. And I don’t see it needing too much work to polish up.

      If I can find the right “normal daily conflicts and tensions” for Meghan, I think I’ll be okay. Her mystery will take the lion’s share of the load. So I’m hoping more realistic things (like house hunting, a difficult client) will provide enough background tension.

      And writing should definitely be fun. If trying to get published ever takes that away, then I’ll forgo the publishing and maybe just put some things on the blog.

      Like

  19. I think it’s a good idea to know (as you obviously do) what kind of novel you’re SUPPOSED to write. But in the end, you’ve gotta write the novel you like.

    Like

    • Absolutely true. If the novel I’ve loved writing never finds an audience beyond me, I’ve still enjoyed the writing and can read it whenever I want. Since most writers never find commercial success, we’d better like the act of writing simply for itself.

      Like

Comments are closed.