Writing Wednesday

Today is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo where people will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the next 30 days. (Forget for a moment that 50k is generally thought of as a novella.)

I won’t be one of them. I’ve tried, just so I could be considered one of the in-people, but I couldn’t do it. My best NaNoWriMo produced only 15,000 words. So, instead of feeling a part of it, I came away feeling like a loser.

I don’t know how anyone can do it. November is the worst month to hold a novel writing competition.

For many of us, there are only 10 or 15 free days in which to write. The rest of the time is taken up with adulting responsibilities.

Things like raking leaves, cleaning gutters, prepping the lawn for winter, storing patio chairs, putting away Halloween decorations, shopping for and putting up a Christmas tree, decorating for Christmas, and the biggest time-consumer, cleaning the house for the holidays, planning Thanksgiving dinner, shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and entertaining family on Thanksgiving. Not to mention many of us have a full-time job, as well. (Sorry. I guess I did mention it.)

Writing? Bah. Ain’t no one got time for that. If you somehow do, more power to you.

Me, I’ve never understood why they chose November. Worst.month.ever.

Good luck to you.

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Writing Wednesday

In rereading my urban fantasy fairy tale, I came across a scene that I had pulled from the trunk novel I was using for donor parts.

The scene features the MC and another character, the MC’s friend who is also the Homicide Police Captain.

My MC is called in to look at what turns out to be a magic circle, used to summon demons, because he’s an expert on the esoteric. He is often called in by the Police to identify occultish symbols or objects. Not because anyone believes in the occult, but in the hopes that by giving the item a historical context they will have a better chance of assigning motives and tracking down suspects.

Now as I said, this is an old scene, one of the original scenes from my trunk novel that I had started 15 years ago.

In the scene, my MC meets the Police Captain in a corn field and together they head toward the murder scene.

On the way, they pass the Medical Examiner, who is leaving the scene, heading back to his car. He quips a few morbid jokes and is gone. Never to appear in the story again.

At the time, I thought nothing of that meeting with the ME, nor did any of my beta readers mention it. I knew nothing about writing crime scene fiction nor had I read many police procedurals.

But this week, I started thinking about it. Something nagged at me that the scene was inadequate. But what?

It occurred to me that the ME just leaving the scene, the bodies, without so much as a “How do you do?” was a little odd.

If you’ve ever watched the television show NCIS (or any of the hyper-graphic crime shows), you know that Ducky never just leaves the scene. He and his assistant are there investigating and providing Gibbs with a running inventory of findings. Then, after they’ve done all they can at the scene, Ducky tags and bags the bodies and ensures they get to his lab for the autopsy.

My ME, on the other hand, tells a few jokes and is gone.

Because I now have a better understanding of how (fictional) MEs work, I’m going to revise the scene.

The ME will still leave, still make some jokes, but now I’ll add some more dialog. The Captain will ask a few questions, including something like “Leaving already?” And the ME can respond, “I know how to deligate.”

At the crime scene I’ll add a few ME assistants and forensic techs, even giving some pertinent dialog about the bodies to one of them.

Why did I start thinking about this scene this week? My oldest son just started interning with the local Medical Examiner’s office and I guess that made me more conscious of what was going on in this story.

A writer’s job is never done. That’s because writers are always expanding their knowledge and always applying that knowledge to improve their writing.

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Writing Wednesday with Chekhov’s gun

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” — Anton Chekhov, from an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” — from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov, quoted by S. Shchukin, Memoirs

Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted piece of writing advice, often referred to simply as “Chekhov’s gun,” is a literary concept that means every element introduced in a story must be necessary to the plot or it is superfluous and should be removed.

In other words, you should remove all false guns from your writing. This applies not just to physical objects and characters, but irrelevant scenes that don’t advance the story, as well.

gw077-chekhovs_gun

I bring up Chekhov’s gun because as I was reading through my own manuscript, I found one. I missed it my first read-through, however, it must have made an impression upon my subconscious because while I was sitting enjoying a cup of coffee (Sumatra from CoffeeIcon. Yum!)j Saturday morning while watching an episode of Star Trek on BBC America, it popped into my head.

“The knife!”

I immediately wrote knife on a notepad and placed it on my computer to remind me.

“Well? What about the knife?” I hear you ask.

I’m getting to that. Patience, young grasshopper.

I have a scene in my manuscript where my MC, an expert in things occult, and his friend, who happens to be a captain with homicide of the local police department, are together investigating a recent gruesome murder scene when one of the investigating officers discovers an ancient obsidian knife.

The knife turns out to be evidence from an earlier murder that the MC believes was a human sacrifice in a ritual to summon a demon.

The MC takes a picture of the knife and sends it to an expert in early Mesoamerican civilizations, who is aiding the MC in the hunt for the demon, in the hopes that he can identify the artifact.

When I had introduced the knife, I had fully intended to have it serve as a significant clue and later my MC and his Mesoamerican expert would get together to discuss where the knife had originally come from.

One thought I had was the knife was an actual museum piece stolen from an Aztec museum somewhere Central or South America and it would help the police to finally identify the killer.

The thing is I never mentioned the knife again!

That’s right. I placed the knife there for the reader to see and then I completely forgot about it.

Now, however, all sorts of new scenarios are presenting themselves on how to make use of the knife, including, but not limited to, adding needed information to not only identify where the killer came from, but also to help develop the relationship between the MC and his police captain friend.

I did a quick Google search just now and found a cool Aztec ceremonial knife that would work, but unfortunately, that knife is held in the British Museum nor is it ancient enough, which means it won’t work in my story. Shame.

aztec ceremonial knife

I’ve got more research to do. Down the rabbit hole I go!

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Unpacking my trunk novel

I set aside a novel several years ago. Not because it was a bad story, on the contrary, I really liked it, specifically the Main Character (MC) and a few other secondary characters. Plus, the main plot, I thought, was interesting.

I still do. But I became disillusioned after receiving some 60+ rejections from literary agents.

During the revision process,  which happened after each rejection — “Maybe they didn’t like this.” or “I bet they wanted a different beginning.” despite not receiving any feedback indicating any of those changes were needed — I had the novel Beta-read by several writers and editors. 

They all liked it, except the last one who said it was a good story but it was so poorly constructed only a complete rewrite from scratch could possibly help it. Yes, instead of listening to the majority, I keyed in on that last critique. At the time, I couldn’t see how I could rewrite it without rewriting it exactly as it was already written.

So I trunked it. I gave up.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was a novel, in the urban fantasy genre, that had started germinating in my mind back in 1993 or so, before I even knew there was an urban fantasy genre. It was the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson and Milwaukee was filled with the sound of rolling thunder. The excitement influenced my creation of a character, a sheriff, who rode a white pearlescent Harley. He became involved in a situation where demons were released into our dimension. I also created a secondary character, based heavily upon an old time radio character Chandu the Magician as well as the Marvel comicbook character Doctor Strange, a sorcerer who becomes involved and together the two characters join forces to battle the demons. The problem was, I couldn’t think of enough personal story to flesh out the sheriff to make him a three-dimensional MC and I had yet to create any backstory for the sorcerer to make him one. So I set it aside.

Years later, the story idea morphed into something closer to the novel I ended up subbing. Now the MC was the magician, both stage and real, who is called in by his friend on the Police force (no Harley) simply to identify occult symbols at a crime scene and everything took off from that point. 

It took me two years to write the novel and a couple more to edit and polish it to where I thought it was submission-worthy. 

I liked the MC and other cast of characters so much, I even wrote a complete sequel to the first novel, and started writing a third.

Over the next five or so years, I subbed the novel to agents, rewriting and editing after each rejection whether I got feedback or not, until that fateful critique when I trunked it for several more years out of frustration.

Recently, I started writing a new idea completely unrelated to the trunk novel about an ordinary guy who runs into (literally) a fairy, injuring her, and takes her home to nurse her back to health. It is a romance, of sorts, and the story has slowly taken shape in my head and on paper. Then one day, I had an epiphany. 

I could combine the two stories using the main plot from the trunk novel and this fairy story as a subplot. I could resurrect the MC from the trunk, making a few changes in his backstory, keep him a widower with a daughter, keep his Police friend, and get rid of the rest. The demon plot would provide the action and suspense while the fairy story would provide character development. 

So I’m writing that story. I’m writing most of it from scratch, too, except on occasion, I’m snatching snippets of dialog or scenes from the trunk novel and with minor edits fitting them seamlessly into my new work-in-progress.

And I’m excited again. Even more excited than I was when I first wrote the trunk novel, because the subplot is providing the missing piece of the puzzle that I think the trunk novel was lacking — the human interest part.

I am writing and I’m actually enjoying it.

Write, Ferret, Write!

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