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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

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Writing

So, I’ve been brushing up on my editing skills…..

…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel.  It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.

There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”.  But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.

Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched.  Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath.  Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.

My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter.  And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions.  It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously.  I feel confident in that skill again.  And I plan to move forward and keep doing it.  Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.

Complementary skills, writing and editing.  And useful.

Suggested reading:
On Writing by Stephen King

So, I’m plugging along on my Ancient Greek Comedy….

……and I can feel the tangents wanting to take off and create something new.  This is exciting to me, because it means that this play has a lot to say, that there’s more depth to it than I had originally anticipated.  But because these tangents are too nebulous and without form, I’m making them wait until this revision is finished.

I know, I know, I’m being terribly mean to these tangents.  I mean, they only want to help my Ancient Greek comedy become something truly magnificent.

And I can’t argue with that, because I want the same thing.  Still, this revision has to happen first and then the tangents can come in and do as they please.  If it makes anyone feel any better about it, I write these tangents down to remember them.  That is, if there’s something solid enough to write down.

In any case, I’m delighted to see characters that I’d written out make their way back in,  One character has regained his speech after I took it away from him.  Issues that I have strong ideas and feelings about are working their way in, which is only right.  Theater, and the arts in general, are about exploring ideas (good, bad, ugly) and politics and feelings.  The arts are here to make us think, not just make us feel.  There is something at work within the confines of this play that I can’t readily identify, but it’s exciting to me.

And that’s a very good thing.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

So, I’ve begun a new notebook of ideas……

……for the sequel to Novel Now Finished.  This is new territory for me, because I’ve never actually written a true sequel before.  I’ve written many stories that developed into multiple novels (written or in summary form), but never upon completing a manuscript.  I know who’s returning, who’s new to the story and I even have a story to go with the idea.

I’d known from the start that this would be a five-book arc – I didn’t want to write more than that involving these characters.  Part of that is because of my own experiences in reading several different series – by the time I get to book six, I’m bored and wishing the whole thing had been wrapped up in the previous book.  This is not the fault of the writer – I’ve read many authors whose series spanned multiple titles and have always enjoyed them.  But lately, my attention span has petered out at book five and I’d rather leave my audience wanting more than losing their interest (this is also an old theater saying).

While writing Novel Now Finished, I had no idea of how I was going to carry this character into another book, let alone four more.  I don’t usually plan my stories out to the tiniest detail nor do I use an outline – I tried the outline once and found it to be more of a hindrance than in any way helpful.  [1]  I was a little worried about how I was going to stretch this character’s story out beyond this one novel, regardless of how much I enjoyed her world.

The idea came to me while I was rearranging a snippet in Novel Now Finished – a simple image of the character standing at the entrance of a seldom used road.  Suddenly, I had an idea of what the story would be, of what the mystery would entail and who was going to be involved.  I also knew that there would be some character dynamics at play that I hadn’t tried before, so I’m curious to see how that works out.

And a few days ago, I wrote the first page of what’s to eventually become the sequel to Novel Now finished.

The character showed me what’s going to happen next in her story.  Now all I have to do is pay attention and write it.

The Manuscript in Question.

[1] I’m not suggesting that outlining or planning out a story to the smallest detail is wrong in general, just wrong for me, specifically.  If it works for you, then by all means, keep doing it.

So, I’m revising my Ancient Greek Comedy…..

……where chaos reigns and ancient mythologies collide.  And that’s on a good day.

Most of the characters are based on the Greek gods and goddesses, but as I revise the play, I’m paying more attention to other mythologies.  I make reference to a number of them within the dialogue, but I actually want to have the other ancient mythologies represented.  To do that, I’m looking to give them a voice and space.

Since the ancient gods and goddesses are archetypal (ex. Athena is an archetype of war and wisdom), I’ve tagged a couple of the speaking roles to change over to a different mythological god/dess.  It’ll be interesting to see how that works out, especially among mythologies that aren’t as readily identifiable, like the Greeks or Romans.  Archetypes are common throughout every culture and myth.  One of the reasons the ancient mythologies and plays resonate today is because we can still see ourselves and circumstances in those archetypes thousands of years after they were first staged.

There is, naturally, a Chorus, because what ancient play – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, (fill in the blank) – doesn’t have a Chorus, the impartial conscience and voice of the play itself?  Generally, the Chorus’s role in the ancient plays (particularly the Greek ones) served to comment on the action within the context of the play.  My Chorus sings about the action, what the situation is and offers back-up to Hera and Juno when they discover that their philandering husbands are one and the same (for my purposes, Zeus is Zeus and created his Roman counter-part, Jupiter because his ego determined that he can).

And what ancient play is complete without music?  This play was inspired by the music of the Eagles and music has always played a part in grounding my stories to a time and place and feeling.  I even created mini-soundtracks for my screenplays, each song triggering a scene or a moment that demanded to be put down on paper.

But, while writing this play, I encountered a significant problem – I’m not a musician and I don’t know how to write song lyrics.  How am I to incorporate music into this play, other than to use and pay royalty fees for previously recorded music?

Fortunately, I am blessed to know several local musicians who have become very dear friends over the last few years.  During a conversation about my play, I mentioned my concern over how to incorporate music.  Unanimously, they said, “We’ll do it, all you need to do is ask, and it’s done.”

So now I have music and possible lyrics.  I promised to have my song ideas for them upon completion of this current revision.  My goal now is to find the right places for the songs to go and carry the story forward.

I have the feeling, however, that Zeus will make every effort to make it all about him.  Because that’s his nature.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

So, I finally wrote the ending to my Novel in Progress…..

…….and it felt good.  While I didn’t write the actual ‘The End’, it was a definitive ending that will carry over into the next story.  There were a lot of fun and humorous moments in this story, as well as frustrating ones, but I muddled through and got to that final period that ended the final sentence.

There were some interesting things going on in this story, not the least of which that it has parallels to my saucy speakeasy story. [1]  The story begins and ends in a cemetery and involves a family.  The Narrator descends into a basement (house, library, county court house, store) on at least four separate occasions.  She grows progressively less resistant to the idea that she has power, that she matters, that she has a voice.  Her reliance on ghosts is cut off until she finally is able to embrace her strength and power and chooses to face it, rather than run, which was her normal reaction.

If I were to apply Jungian theory to this, I’d call the basement the physical representation of the Narrator’s subconscious.  In each instance, she is given information, which she takes back with her to the surface.  By not resisting her own power, she is literally able to unlock and open doors without using a key or lock picks.  By choosing to embrace this power, she destroys the lies told about herself and is given the opportunity to know herself honestly.

This was not a planned theme – as I drew closer to the ending, I became increasingly aware of these subtle meanings within the text.  As I go back into it, for editing, revision and general clean up, I’m sure I’ll start finding more subtleties and either rein them in or emphasize them a little more.

The Manuscript in Question.

[1] I wrote a blog post in March of this year about the multiple similarities between this novel and my saucy speakeasy.  You can find it here.

So, I’m getting close to writing ‘The End’ on my Novel In Progress….

……and I know this because I’m distracting myself every ten or fifteen minutes.

If it’s not a post on Facebook, or a handful of tweets, or even preparing a few entries for my Patreon page, it’s channel surfing. Or I’m surfing the internet, looking up articles for new story ideas.

I’m procrastinating, in other words.  Not an unusual thing, but a definite habit.  Because once it’s done, it’s done.  There’s no going back…..well, okay, that’s not true, because there’s editing and revising and moving whole chunks of narrative around or eliminating altogether.

The point is, writing ‘The End’ on a story means that I no longer have this project to go back to, in the manner that I’m used to.  Now, when I go back to my novel, it will be to murder my darlings (words, for the lay person) and tighten up the narrative.

I’m distracting myself right now, writing this blog post.  And in a few minutes, that distraction will carry itself over to errands that need doing in town.  Maybe even lunch.

And when all that is done and behind me, I will fire up this computer, open up that document and throw words at it until I have no more.  Take a deep breath, throw some more words in, move things around and I will keep doing that until I am forced to write the inevitable.

‘The End.’

The Manuscript in Question.

So, I get the question (a lot) of why do I write……

……and my answer is a variation on the same theme – because I can’t not write, because I have to, because I feel compelled to write down what these fictitious people are saying and doing and thinking.  But I always leave out the most important thing, because I find it really difficult to explain when put on the spot.

In addition to the reasons listed above, I write because I want to feel things.  I write because it seems that the only place I can legitimately express the desire for love and passion is in the words my characters express*.  I can say the things I want to say, without fear of rejection, by way of a character to an idealized fictional version of the type of man I find attractive.  I can be witty and pithy and strong and powerful in these scenarios, without losing my essential sense of who I am.  In these stories, I am writing to find the best version of myself.

I think, in all aspects of art and creative work, we are searching for ourselves, for that voice that seeks expression.  Having feelings, both negative and positive, are normal – how we deal with them is what makes us human.  The more I pour my feelings, both light and dark, into my art and my writing, the better I feel.

By removing it from my inner self and splattering it on a blank canvas or Word document, I am dragging it out into the light, taking away its power and giving it a voice.  It can sometimes feel like lancing a wound and letting the poison seep out, so that the wound can heal.  And it did, for me, when a traumatic experience worked its way into a story.  I had lanced that wound, that was slowly poisoning me for three years.  It was never meant to be in the story I had been working on at the time.  But whether I had meant it or not, my subconscious found similar elements in the story that had mirrored the circumstances surrounding my trauma.

I think, no, I believe, that is when I really began to heal.

Art is like that.  Being creative is like that.  Creativity gives us a way to express things in another form, if words fail us.  Don’t be afraid of feeling.  Express it in art and find your voice and your strength.  Find yourself, get support, have faith in who you are.

What 336 pages of manuscript (minus ending) looks like.

*It’s also a safe and productive place to express darker themes, but that’s another post for another time.

So, Novel in Progress is coming along……

……and I’m really excited about it.  I haven’t been this excited about a writing project in a really long time, so I’m doubly happy.

So far, it’s clocking in at just over 94,000 words, but the actual number is in doubt, since I’ve got a couple of scenes to write, as well as the ending. The word count is also fluctuating because words are being added or sacrificed – they’re definitely getting moved around – and, since that’s how a writer pens, it’s all good.

What projects are you working on?

So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress…..

…….and I noticed an interesting connection it had with my saucy speakeasy story.  No, neither story features characters that show up in both tales, nor does the action take place in the same time frame or location.

However, that being said, this is what I’ve noticed.  It’s not the first time I’ve noticed at least one connection, but the others surprised me.

The Novel in Progress is a contemporary tale, with flashbacks to the 1920s via letters and experiences related by other characters.  The Narrator 1, due to circumstances dictated by the story, is a virgin.  I didn’t even realize that until I’d been writing the novel for a about a year and a half – it just never crossed my mind.  She is estranged from her parents and has no other family to speak of, as far as she knows.

And then, I wrote a few of scenes where she interacts with two very different men at different points in the story.  One expresses obvious interest in her, flirts with her, gives her his contact information (which she promptly gives away to another woman, despite her own cautious interest).

The second man is made a prisoner by the same people looking for the Narrator 1, which unites them in their own survival and freedom. There is a moment where both of them become aware of the other, but she blurts out “I’m not ready” and they both back away from it.

Interestingly, “I’m not ready” is the same thing said by the female Narrator 2 in my speakeasy story.  Only, the dynamics are little different, as this work in progress is following the erotica beats.  Where Novel in Progress is set in the Present, with only occasional flashbacks to the past, including the 1920s, the Saucy Speakeasy Story is fixed very firmly in that decade, from flappers to jazz music to bootleg whiskey.

Narrator 2 is about the same age (nearing 30) as the Narrator 1, but her life circumstances are in direct contrast.  She has three younger siblings, of whom she assumed care of when their parents died.  She had a fiancee who died in World War I and has had some sexual experiences that Narrator 1 did not.  She is not afraid of her own feelings or her desires and the man she meets in this saucy tale revels in her own autonomy.

I’ve been working on both stories for the last couple of years.  I ought to have noticed these similarities sooner, but I guess it’s one of those things that you only notice when you’re ready to see it.  The fact that the two Narrators are also so different and so tied to their time and place, I guess it’s not that hard to miss.

I’m amused that I’m writing about two very different women who are separated by almost one hundred years, five hundred miles and life experiences.

What are their similarities?  They are moving from one established role to another, one by chance, the other by choice.  They refuse to compromise themselves to achieve whatever goal they accept.  They’re smart and articulate and the men in their lives respect them.

Interesting.

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