Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Block is Back

I'm having a hard time carrying on. I think the basic problem is that the sea voyage is just not as interesting to me, although I introduce a new, fairly important character and expand on pre-existing conflict.

Its just becoming something I have to press through, but right now I'm really having a hard time coming up with the motivation to do so.

I just looked back at the first chapter and the contrast between Silas now (at sea) and Silas then is startling - and not in a good way, I think he was more interesting back then.

Before the Great Re-Write I'm going to have to really sit down and think about his character and how he changes but, most importantly, how he is deep down - the kinds of rock bottom things that don't really change.

That's in the future, though, for now I have to keep slogging through this tough spell and stop thinking so much about how much work there remains to be done.

Work? Its supposed to be fun and enjoyable, right? Seems like it was back when Silas was on the Mississippi, but its not right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Silas at Sea

I've finally buckled down, cleared the decks and gotten my protagonist Silas to sea.

After SFF's critique of the 3rd Chunk I placed her comments/suggestions into my list of reminders and to-do's for the Great Re-Write, then I glanced through my approximately 4 page list of "Writing Reminders" that I culled from writing books such as Stephen King's "On Writing", then I thought about my motivations for tackling the project, then thought about how much fun it will be to ship off a copy of the 2nd draft to family and friends, and finally I put fingers to the keyboard.

I had a good idea, perhaps unique perhaps not, for a task that Silas must perform as a landlubber who is on the First Mate's shit list, and it helped to get me going.

There. Is. So. Much. Left. To. Do for this project that its extremely daunting to think about, however, so I'm doing my best to use the mountain climber's technique of not looking all the way up at the peak towering in the distance, but instead to concentrate on getting to the next switchback in the trail, the next stop for water, etc, in other words, to concentrate on the next intermediate goal.

The next intermediate goal is Silas to Panama which, according to my schedule, I should have accomplished by 3 days ago. Sigh.

Another thing I have to concentrate on in this section of the book is that there are only three important components of it: 1. Physically getting Silas to California 2. Developing a new friendship 3. Further developing an old enemy. While being entertaining, of course.

The Great Re-Write: Another subject for another time, but its looming over me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

3rd Chunk Reviewed by SFF

My wife, SFF, has finished reading the 3rd Chunk of the Secret Project. If I haven't said before, "Chunks" are just large packageable installments of the book based on significant events, in this case Silas going from St Louis to leaving New Orleans. The 3rd Chunk ended up being as big as Chunk 1 and Chunk 2 put together.

OBTW, the working title is "Overboard".

So anyway, SFF finished reading the 3rd Chunk of Overboard and, as usual, had some very constructive criticisms. Some of them I was already conscious of - not going deeply enough into Silas's remorse, for example - others were surprises, things I had to explain to her and, obviously, if I have to explain them verbally I haven't conveyed it well enough on the page.

Some positive things she said in a general way was that it was very much holding her interest and the characters had gotten much more rounded in this third section.

An insightful observation she made was that the protagonist (Silas) had changed a lot from the 1st Chunk, but not necessarily in a way that was consistent with the character as originally presented. Certainly characters have to grow and change - is there a good novel where they don't? - but she thinks (and I agree) that a character can't change into something he never was or never could be.

Here's the deal: I originally envisioned Silas a certain way and initially wrote him that way. Then, as things have progressed, the orientation of the novel has changed and my perception of Silas and the way I'm writing him as changed. Some of it is growth within Silas himself, but much is due to my external-to-the-character-and-narrative perception of him. So......I can see that when the Great Re-Write (more on that later) occurs, I need to completely and fully address which Silas is going to be on stage for the whole novel - the prototype Silas of Chunk 1 or the evolved Silas of Chunk 3.

Which leads me to my next cogitation: Certainly a big part of the change in him is the natural growth of the character, which is good and must be kept. By the time I get to the end of the book's rough draft I'll know Silas hugely better than when I started, and significantly better than I do now, so when the Great Re-Write starts I can write him as I know him to be, BUT I'm suspecting that it will be difficult not to present the "finished" Silas at the beginning of the book.

Clear as mud?

In paragraph 1 of Chapter 1 of the finished book I can't present Silas as I've come to know him to be in the last paragraph of the last chapter- he still has to go through all the growth and changes that the storyline causes in him. I will kind of have to say to myself, "I know how Silas is deep down, so, once again and with truthfulness and feeling, what is THAT Silas going to be like when he starts out BEFORE all this stuff has happened to him?"

If I can do that, then the inconsistency that SFF has spotted in the rough draft should go away. Silas will grow and change but it should all be believable, because its consistent with the inner, basic character.

Two last thoughts/observations:

One is something that popped out of my mouth as we were discussing some details that have been lost in the shuffle, some plotline points I've missed, etc and I said that this whole process has been "mind expanding". Wow, what a lot of work and mental effort a novel is! I've read thousands and not even come close to fully appreciating them.

Second is that although I've not received fulsome praise from SFF - not that I was expecting it, as I said she's a straight shooter - I was noting her body language as she read the 3rd Chunk. When she's very into a book she holds it closer to her face, inclines her head more, kind of rounds her body to it. If its a book that's not holding her attention its held further away, she's leaned back, etc. Her body language in reading Overboard has been getting to be more like the first kind. :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Writer's Block? Or Something Else?

For the first time since I started the actual writing of this thing in March my motivation has taken a downturn. Yes, for those of you paying attention, if any, this is right after my last entry in which I said my motivation level had never been higher.

I'm not sure what the deal is. My hero, Silas, has left New Orleans and is on a sea voyage that will take him to San Francisco. The second half of the novel will take place in California, with all the threads of the first half (hopefully) drawn together for the final conflict and resolution. I have lots of plans and ideas for the California scenes and, indeed, will have to work hard to prune it all down to a workable, not rambling, second half.

So why am I having trouble with motivation all of a sudden? Is it because the sea voyage has been not much more than a blank in my mind so far - no great ideas, just a way to get Silas to California? Is it because I've been thinking lately about just how much MORE time this is going to take? Is it a let down after completing the 3rd Chunk, which was the size of 1 & 2 combined, and had a lot of fun stuff going on in it?

Or is it writer's block or, more accurately, writer's trepidation, because, after all, how many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of books have sea voyages, and what could I possibly come up in terms of descriptive originality? Maybe I'll just have him fall into a coma and wake up in San Francisco.....

Its not like I can't write at all - this morning I added about a thousand words which has Silas well offshore southbound, but the sharp motivating drive has been dulled. I'm afraid that if I just write kind of on autopilot - which it sort of feels like - it will come out as very pedestrian (which the whole thing may be, of course).

Part of it could also be because I'm waiting for my Ideal Reader (borrowing the term from Stephen King), whom I sleep with on a regular basis, to finish reading the 3rd Chunk and offer her comments. My wife, SFF, is not one to sugarcoat it for me, she'll let me know what she thinks very honestly - I take notes when she tells me her comments. If she comes back with some encouraging words it will be a big help for me to press on.

On a different, positive note - I have a comment on this blog! A fan! Okay, "fan" is much too strong a word, but thanks to 'october fairy' for posting and telling me to keep up the good work. I've had one posted comment before, but it was from my (good) friend who did it when I asked him to - just so I could see how posted comments worked and so I'd have one.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hiatus Excuses

Boy, time flies, its been about a month and a half since visiting the blog. My excuse is the best one - I've been working pretty darn hard on the Secret Project, and never felt there was much time to blog.

Progress Report:

The bad news is that my protagonist, Silas, did not get out of New Orleans by my intermediate goal of August 15th. There was just too much going on.

The good news is that he HAS made it out of New Orleans, which happened on 31 August, two weeks behind the production schedule. The "3rd Chunk" of this first draft of the novel has been printed and is awaiting reading by my wife who is finishing up a re-read of the 7th Harry Potter book.

Yes, re-reading Harry Potter takes precedence, its like she thinks JK Rowling is a better writer than me or something, but in fairness to my wife, SFF, she did start the re-read well before I had the 3rd Chunk printed.

Word Count: At this point the rough draft stands at 113,000 words and I estimate that its somewhat over half complete. I'm guessing that the finished, polished product will clock in at 200,000 or so. Some literary agents who blog (Miss Snark and Pub Rants) are of the (professional) opinion that 100,000 is a good, marketable size for a debut novelist but, what the hey, I'm just trying to let the story go where it goes.

With regard to wordiness, I'm not sure if I'm being overly so or not. It surprises me almost every time as to how long a given scene takes, how much dialog there is, etc. Two characters get to talking about something important, for example, and before I know it they've covered two pages where I'd have expected one. Perhaps I'm too wordy, perhaps it will tighten up in edit, and perhaps it sucks, but it seems to happen when I just let them flow naturally - at least to me.

Try diagramming that last sentence a la high school English class.

My motivation to write the thing is stronger than ever, now I'm re-dedicating myself to keeping up on the blog.