Into The Dog Days

August is nearly upon us. Blogland’s population is largely on vacation. And I wonder if some of those “on a break” will really come back. I hope they do.

Working through Meghan’s new story is slow-going, and there are too many days where I question my ability to write it. But I made some real progress this weekend, and that feels good. So I’d thought I’d again share a short bit from the first draft of the book’s second scene:

“Why no headstones?” McVay asks.

And there you have it. What? You don’t think that’s very much? Well, okay. Give me a minute and I’ll again share a bit more.

Subtlety

In my previous post, I talked about the lost art of subtlety and my fondness for planting hidden clues.  I was actually referring, in part, to the post a week before, which included a photo of my computer screen.

That’s why I used the word “again” twice up above. Did you notice? No? That’s okay. Something like that’s easy to miss when skimming a blog post. But, you see, if you had clicked on that  photo and enlarged it (as you can do with WordPress), you could have read more of this draft second scene.

I know, I know. That’s way too subtle. But it was fun. And now you know why people don’t always get what I’m saying or feeling. And why I’m learning that too much subtlety makes for bad fiction.

So, I won’t make you go back to that other post for the promised little bit more. Here are a few more lines. Remember, this is still the first draft. Oh, and it’s Meghan who is replying to McVay and Sandberg. That’s clearer when you have the previous text.

“Why no headstones?” McVay asks.

“They might not have been stone. Or a later owner decided to put crops up here and pulled them out or buried them, too. We’ll need to call BHP to record this. They won’t be happy.”

“Who?” Sandberg asks. “And why not?”

“The Bureau of Historic Preservation. They oversee the cultural resources and burial laws. You can’t just dig up a cemetery because it screws up your development plans.”

“So that’s what the backhoe was doing?” McVay asks.

“Makes sense,” Sandberg says. “Why else dig that pit? It’s nowhere near big enough to bury all this garbage. And all that went in so far was the bones with some smaller stuff mixed in.”

And there you have it. A taste of Meghan’s third story. Which will, in some ways, be her first—if I can do it justice.

How is your summer going? Or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, your winter? Writers, how is your work progressing, whichever season you’re in?

53 thoughts on “Into The Dog Days

  1. Glad to hear you’re making progress 🙂 I’ve stalled the last few days, as we’ve started doing up our bathroom – need to pick up the pace to try to finish my last chapter by the end of Wednesday!

    Like

    • Major house chores are at least a good reason for having less time for the WIPs. 😉 My longer work days are taking a big chunk of my time, but I could be better about using some of my free time. Still, sometimes we need those breaks to recharge. Best wishes for wrapping up your last chapter on schedule!

      Like

  2. Great that you’re getting stuck back into it. And perfectly normal to doubt yourself – I’m an expert at that. You’re right that too much subtlety can make for bad fiction because we recently workshopped another writer’s short crime story in class and we were all left completely confused! She’d been trying to create a sense of mystery, but lost us all in the process! A very valuable learning lesson. I think I’d be hopeless at Crime Writing!

    Like

    • It’s so hard for me to get it right. As the writer, I have so much backstory and extra information in my head—in addition to knowing what’s coming in later chapters. But an audience doesn’t have that. So what I think is “subtle” may be invisible to readers! I’ll bet your writer at the workshop had a similar problem. And crime stories are probably the hardest. How do you plant enough clues for the reader to solve the case without giving everything away? Tough to do!

      Like

  3. At Thrillerfest, there was a lecture on subtext–how to say things without stating the obvious. But as you point out, what we as the writer think is subtle, the reader might not catch at all. Difficult sometimes to find that balance.

    Like

  4. Meghan’s looking good there, JM. My brother came to visit us on his vacation. He’s an archaeology volunteer. I told him about your books.

    It’s our busiest summer ever. We dared to go on vacation without Internet access. Our experiences inspired the creation of a new series.

    Like

    • Thanks, Christy. 🙂 I’m hoping this will be the one that’s finally ready for prime time.

      An Internet-free vacation? Oh, that must have been something to experience! We’ll cut back on a trip, but we’ve never gone completely cold turkey. I can see where the creative brain would appreciate that condition, though, and move into a higher gear. Sadly, I can see that the very real decrease in my writing output began when I began blogging. Every action has its cost!

      Like

  5. I struggle with subtlety as well. I am so afraid of being too obvious that I tend to veer off into obscurity. I’m glad to hear that you are back at writing. That is definitely good news. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Like

    • We know so much about the characters and the stories, and that’s probably why we can veer too far into nuances. For this story, I’ll try to remember that readers won’t have all that information. Will it help? We’ll see. 😉

      Fingers are crossed that the writing will continue to move forward!

      Like

  6. I’m not good with subtle. You have to hit me over the head with info for it to sink in. Yea for Meghan. Glad you’re making progress with her.

    Like

    • When it comes to reading, we’re all over the map, aren’t we? Some readers, like you, want the author to be very up front. Others want just enough information so they can form an image in their mind or work through the clues to solve the mystery just before the protagonist does. And I think this also applies to how much detail to provide for settings. Some days I wonder how can I ever know what’s right!

      Like

      • I think you just write what you like and know that no matter how good it is, someone will love it and someone will hate it (because of all our reading preferences)

        Like

  7. I only ‘skim’ when there are numbers involved. If I’m reading a novel (or a blog) and I see numbers I’ll ignore them completely 😯

    It’s great to see Meghan back again – excited now! 😀

    Like

    • Skimming depends on my mood. If something requires thought, and I can’t concentrate, I’d best come back to it later. 😉 Meghan and I are moving slow, but we’re moving. After the brick wall of the first part of the year, I’ll gladly take slow! 🙂

      Like

  8. Sometimes I catch things in a novel and get excited about that clue and what is to come. Sometimes I miss them altogether 🙂 and go ohhhh that’s that it meant. I like it either way though.
    One month of winter left. Yipeee.

    Like

    • After our really hot and humid spell, we’ve had a nice stretch of “average” temperatures. The nights are actually pleasant, which is really atypical for this time of year. With Meghan’s story, I’ll just have to remember that some readers will catch nearly everything and some won’t, no matter how subtle or clear I make something. That’s just the nature of the beast! 🙂

      Like

  9. Sounds good, JM. I’m in the middle of revamping my women’s novel. I’m half way through now, and the chapters are going smoother (and faster) because my writing got better as I went along the first time. I’m very excited about it, because for the first time I have beta readers to read it when I’m finishes. Keep up the good work.

    Like

    • Sounds like you’re on a good roll, Lori. Isn’t that a great feeling? I wish we could find a way to bottle it for those times where the creativity is stalling out. 😉 Betas are great to have. Much as the comments can be hard to take, it’s so much better to find out what is — and isn’t — working before we shop a manuscript to agents or publish independently!

      Like

    • Thanks, Clowie. 🙂 Maybe the fact that I’ve had to focus on the day job so much has been a blessing. I think I was trying too hard to move forward with the writing when what I really needed was a break. So I’m going to let Meghan go at a speed she’s comfortable with on this one. Much as she loves writing on the fly, I think she held back with this story so we could do it differently. 😉

      Like

  10. I’m late to this, JM. I’ve commented on your previous posts but have received an error message from WP that my comment can’t be posted! Just want you to know I read your posts, love them as always and look forward to more of your wonderful writing. I’m on the road in two days! I hope to be back on a more normal schedule soon. Take care, my friend.

    Like

    • You’re not late at all, Brigitte! And I wonder what’s up with WordPress that you received such an error message? I’d guess they might be working on something in the background again….

      Thank you for the kind words, and it means so much to me that you take the time to visit my blog—especially at such a hectic phase of your life. I hope you’ll soon be settled again and that I and others will see you posting again. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re a gifted writer with a keen eye and deep perception. You are missed! And you be sure to take care of yourself, too.

      Like

  11. Hm, Ms. Subtlety…I also noticed you use Scriverner’s, right? I caught the use of “again” but didn’t recall that your last post had a photo of your computer screen–that’s a fault of my poor memory, not your clue, though.
    Glad you’re making progress on Meghan’s novel. Someone buried/moved headstones? Intriguing.

    Like

    • Scrivener’s definitely my go-to program for writing. Once I got the hang of it, I found it so much simpler and efficient than Word. (Which I still have to use for the day job, alas.)

      I really did add that photo of my laptop for fun. I had a sneaking suspicion no one would click on it. After this post, a few folks have. And they would have seen a few more lines than what I shared here. 😉

      The progress is slow, but I’m hoping that is good. Maybe we won’t write ourselves into too many corners and will keep the plot moving the way it should. I can say that Meghan’s going to have her hands full in this story!

      Like

  12. I wonder if the absent ones will return too! I don’t know if you remember, but I did a blog post ages ago about people who seem to have lost their blogging mojo, and I’ve noticed a few people lately doing the thing I described on there, where they disappear for a while, come back with one or two posts, but you can kind of feel that their heart isn’t in it, they’re trying, but it’s not there for them! It does make me sad when they’re people and blogs that I really like! But ah well, c’est la vie! People come and go, we can’t force them to stay…can we? Maybe if we…no, we can’t force them to stay.

    Great to see the extract and hear how you’re getting on with it! I’m not very good at picking up subtle things in stories, whether in books or on films, I’m not always very good at picking up the obvious things either! I did notice that you said ‘again’ though, but I just assumed I had forgotten about the last time!

    Like

    • I can think of some bloggers like that, too. I wonder if some of them posted too often and then burned out after a while. I’m biased toward my own schedule, of course, but I really think fewer posts per week lets people stick with it longer. Of course, if someone’s a professional blogger, that’s another story. But those of us doing it to build an audience or for fun, less can be more. But a few of my “bestest” blog buddies aren’t around very much, and I really do miss them!

      Trust me, the level of subtlety I reached in one WIP would have left professional detectives, intelligence agents, and the like in the dark! So I hope Meghan will be more amenable to “subtle” clues that let most readers pick up on them. 🙂 But first, I need to get through this all-too-busy stretch at work!

      Like

  13. you wrote:<>

    I can imagine how HARD it must be to decide exactly what to reveal (or not) about your characters! So often when I’m reading, I wonder if the author hasn’t thoroughly fleshed out certain “people” or if their seeming lack of backstory is intentional! Sometimes I like filling in the gaps myself, and sometimes I don’t! This post was great, JM…it helped me better understand this dilemma from the author’s viewpoint.

    Like

    • If I had to bet, I’d say some of those writers did it intentionally while others got away with not fleshing out the characters so much. Honestly, I’ve read some books by new writers where an agent was obtained and a press picked up the manuscript—and I wonder how. Because I see that author “making it” when they’ve done everything we’re told NOT to do in a story. If the story was so gripping and “novel,” I could understand. But it’s not. And I can only scratch my head and wonder why. 😉

      But that’s the way life works, right? The third manuscript is supposedly the one that does the trick for many writers. If that holds for me, then this story should be the one that’s ready for prime time. You better believe I’m making offerings to my Muse! 🙂

      Like

      • I, too, shake my head at some of the crap (there I said it!) that gets on retailers’ shelves! Seriously, the best books I’ve come across lately have all been from the indie world…not unlike music and film! Crazy how backwards things have gotten!

        Like

    • Brigitte had difficulty getting her comment to come through, too. I’d bet WordPress is tweaking something in the background that will make some of us grumpy…. 😉

      Like

  14. HA – I actually thought about trying to peek on your computer screen on that post.
    Maybe the end of summer is bogging down bloggers? I’ve noticed it too and wondered if some will return – or find other ways to spend time – we’ll see. Would miss some of them. As it gets closer to school, may will be foraging in stores with wild unsatisfied beasts. Emotionally draining as well as time consuming.
    Meghan sounds like she’s already digging in to her new adventure. (oooo, this looks good)
    You answer to Gemma sounds so familiar – many times I write without realizing the background in my head is only in MY head – so readers get lost. Tough situation – want to keep them guessing – but not wandering without an anchor. Writing a good solid mystery is a lot harder than it looks. (But Meghan manages!)

    Like

    • At some levels, I am terrified about writing this story. It is a real mystery. Those are truly difficult to write. Meghan has the potential to be a good character with strong stories, but I have to execute. Am I up to the challenge? Too many days, I think, “no.” Others, though, I think, “yes.” I’m aiming for more “yes” than “no” days when my work load settles down again.

      So you weren’t the one person who did peek at that photo? I don’t know who did, but according to my stats, one reader clicked on that photo. I’d give them a gold star if I knew who they were!

      Subtlety is tough. I love it. But simply withholding the knowledge about backstory in my head isn’t the right way to go about it. I have to give readers enough information to pick up on those clues—without making a Monty Python-type neon sign pointing to the Holy Grail!

      Like

  15. Oh, that’s tantalizing! (The story snippet.)
    Too much subtlety is never likely to be my problem. I value clarity too much for that. But there is a problem with knowing how to reveal just the right amount in any story, and it is never more critical than with a story that is specifically a mystery. The clues must be there, or the reader feels cheated. And the clues must be clear enough that the reader will remember having read them when the time comes – or again he’ll feel cheated. Good luck with this! You’re very brave just for trying.

    Like

    • This is a real bugaboo for me. What I think is subtle can come across as invisible to readers. But I really don’t want to bash anyone over the head by stating the obvious or holding up a neon sign. This is a delicate balance in any genre, but especially so in mysteries.

      I love mysteries. Not the heavy, dark, psychological dramas, but a good “whodunnit” or some type of puzzle to be solved. Still, I’m pretty darn sure that writing one was the farthest thing from my mind for most of my life.

      This story of Meghan’s is so different from anything I’ve written before, and I’m petrified at the complexity of it. How do I keep the “lighter” spirit of the blog stories with some of the modern (and difficult) issues that arise in this one? I think the slow place is important and will help get me through my fears. Now, if only the telling will hold a reader’s interest!

      Like

  16. Ha! I DID notice that. I actually thought, at the time, I wonder if I could zoom in far enough to read her screen. Then I thought, oh God, what if somebody else does, finds out where she lives and burgles her house?! And then I thought “you’re being paranoid” hit “like” probably, and went to read another post. lol

    Like

    • Hey, I’m so paranoid I make sure there’s no real identifying information in the photos I post. If you look closely at the photos of the cars on the Beltway, you’ll see I blurred out their license plates! So you can bet I chose a scene that didn’t give too much away, either! 😀

      Like

    • The promotional work has to be exhausting and nerve-wracking. But I know it’s going to pay off in the end for you! I think your Butternut trip shows that—plus you must have gotten some good ideas for The Six Train’s sequel. Or maybe some mental images of kicking back with a glass of wine in front of a crackling fire with Caleb…. 😉

      Like

  17. Glad you’re making progress JM and giving us a teaser of what’s to come. I missed your subtlety I’m afraid but puzzles aren’t my forte. It’s an interesting point you make, we have to remember that as much as we know our story inside out, we may have to spell it out a little more for the reader, who is meeting it for the first time.

    Like

    • I’ve had several betas point out areas where they were confused in my stories, and my first reaction was, “How could you miss that?” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I “know” that the readers don’t. And so what seems obvious to me in fact isn’t. So I hope that when this story is ready for beta readers, I’ll have incorporated this lesson into my writing.

      Like

  18. Great to see such progress made from another writer, JM! 😀

    I’m already enjoying the way Sandberg and Meghan are going back and forth, even though this is a relatively simple conversation. They’ve got good not-quite-partner chemistry going. Like a McNulty and Freeman. You’d never see them romantically linked, but they communicate and work well together, each supplying the other with the next step.

    I admit, I’ve been a bad blogger this summer. I’ve been writing like a fiend, lately, though. Not always a good thing, but at least I’m not letting myself mire.

    Good luck with the story!

    Like

    • Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I would happily trade my regular blogging this summer for more writing. 😉 Although, I have to admit I’m gaining more understanding of Meghan, Sandberg, and the people around them. So while I only have the first three scenes drafted out, I think the main characters are establishing their personalities early on. I think that’s a good sign. 😉

      I’m glad to hear you’ve been making good writing progress! And I’m hoping we’ll get to see more of it on your blog, too. Hint, hint. 😉

      Like

      • That is a super-nice thing to hear, JM, and I think I needed it. Thank you. 🙂 While I’ve been writing a lot, though, I don’t think I can make it back quite yet. There’s still a lot of life to get through. I hope to catch up with all of your adventures, though!

        Like

Comments are closed.