Friday, April 6, 2007

This Writing Stuff Ain't As Easy As It Looks...

By Lonnie Cruse

Writing a mystery novel, particularly dealing with the saggy baggy middle, isn't as easy as it looks. And it isn't all about "talent" because I firmly believe we ALL have the talent to write a novel, be it science fiction, romance, fantasy, mystery, or main stream (whatever that is.) We ALL have stories buried deep inside us that only WE can tell. We just have to learn HOW to tell them.

Some of us keep our stories forever buried, fearing what the reader would discover about us, IF we actually wrote them down on paper.

Others of us actually write them down (not being able to resist) then bury them deep inside a desk drawer, fearing rejection by publishers, agents, and/or family members who read them.

Then there are those of us who dare to tread where angels fear, typing our stories out, spiffing them up, firing them off to every available agent/publisher, and eventually getting to see them in print. At which point our friends and neighbors announce to all and sundry that they never suspected we had such a "dark side" until they read our work. Most likely the very same people who keep their stories hidden from us. Sigh.

Which very thing happened to me just last night. I met someone who hadn't read my work, and while she was eagerly buying a personalized, autographed copy from me, another friend sidled up to say she never knew I had a dark side (never mind that I write cozy, but I DO have to include a murder or two if I want to be considered as a mystery writer, sigh. And never mind that HER mind is every bit as dark as mine!)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the saggy baggy middle. Assuming you ARE ready to write your thoughts down, into a novel, you most likely have the beginning in mind, and possibly even the ending, meaning you know who was murdered, who did the dastardly deed, who will be your suspects, who will have alibis, who won't, but how are you going to connect the beginning to the ending? In other words, how are you going to fill the 250-300 pages in the MIDDLE??? Yikes.

So you stare at blank pages, go for a walk, eat chocolate (which fills an entirely different middle that you did not wish to fill) and you worry. Some writers even stop writing THAT story all together and switch to writing a new work. Maybe even several new works, never getting past the MIDDLE. What to do? Okay, for what it's worth, here's what I do.

Eat chocolate. Which, incidentally, I'm doing at the moment. But I also jot down notes on 3 X 5 index cards (pastel colors, thank you very much, the plain white ones aren't girley enough for me.) I jot down ideas of ANYTHING that could happen to my characters. Doesn't have to fit the story. In fact I have a left over card from a book that's about to come into print this year that says "send character out to play golf." Unfortunately this character positively refuses to play golf. So, I'm stuck with that card. But the other possibilities I'd written on cards for that story worked. I'll find a spot for the golfing card somewhere, someday.

Something else I do is a variation of journaling. Now, don't start gagging on me just yet. I know some authors love journaling, others run shrieking into the night if they even see a book with blank pages. I fall somewhere in the middle (there's that nasty word again.) I buy beautiful books with blank pages, journal my life every day for a week or two, then put the books down to gather dust. Then I took a class from Margie Lawson at http://www.writeruniv.com/ and she insisted the students do SOME journaling, but only bits and pieces a day. Nothing lengthy, just quick thoughts, ideas, etc, and keeping the journaling brief. It has REALLY helped me to jot down short ideas for my overall story. Character names. Overheard conversations that could lead to a story line. Possible new story lines. Etc. Works wonders, so if you are having trouble with your writing, buy a nice journal, and jot just a FEW words in it each day.

One other thing that helps (and I couldn't live, not to mention write without) is my little Alphasmart. IF you've never heard of them, check out www.alphasmart.com This is a small keyboard that is very durable and goes anywhere. It runs on batteries that last forever and are cheap to replace. It only shows four lines of verbage at a time, but I can arrow up or down if I need to, to see what I've written above or below. The beauty of the machine is that I generally don't want to arrow up or down, and I'm really not facing a blank page, so I just type whatever comes to mind. Then I upload what I've typed into the ongoing story on my computer.

If I have a thought that doesn't go into the story line at that spot, I type a reminder to myself in ALL CAPS to work on later. Or if I don't want to describe the scene I'm working on, just want to get the dialogue down, I put a note to describe it later. When the file is full, I upload it into my manuscript on the computer, save it, back it up on disc or thumb drive, delete it off Alphie, and begin a new section. Alphasmarts aren't real expensive, and eBay likely has used ones. I can type anywhere in the house, or riding in the car with my hubby. The Alphasmart is great for getting me through the middle of my manuscript because ONLY the part I'm working on at the moment is there. Therefore I can NOT go back and edit earlier parts of my manuscript until the first rough draft is done.

And if you are someone who wants to write a novel, but you don't think you have the talent, TAKE CLASSES! They are all over the Internet. Some pricey, some reasonable. IF you have a story you want to tell but don't know how, learn how. It is NOT about talent, (though, yes, some have more than others, and most writers are far more talented than me!) it's about YOUR individual story. No one can tell it like you. So write it down, tell it, get it published, and let us read it. And tell your friends you are no more weird than they are.

3 comments:

Sandra Parshall said...

Lonnie, I actually enjoy writing the middle of a book. That's where everything expands, we learn more about the characters (all, or most, of their secrets), the hero and heroine start admitting their interest in one another if it's that kind of book, and with any luck the story takes a sharp turn in a new and unexpected direction. The end -- the last fourth to third -- is what drives me bonkers. Endings are so hard to get right, so easy to mess up... And that's exactly where I'm poised, trembling, in my work in progress. I feel a blog entry coming on. Might as well share my misery!

Lonnie Cruse said...

Wahahah, good comments Sandy, PLEASE do blog about this.

For me, the middle is like walking on one of those wood/rope bridges where I worry if I'll reach the other side, OR walking on rocks in a quickly flowing stream and hoping none of the rocks shift and toss me into the water. Rocky and scary!

Yancey said...

Confronting the blank page has always been one of the top "problems" for writers.

Your description of how you use alphasmart to limit the blank page to one line is great re-framing.

I know several people who I know will benefit from this advice.

Thanks