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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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characters

So, I got hooked on Grey’s Anatomy a couple of months ago……

……. thanks to Lifetime Network and their habit of airing half a dozen episodes five days a week (it repeats to the first episode of season 1 after the last episode of season 10).  I’m surprised at how much I like it, considering that my memories of the show when it first aired were decidedly not impressed.  I’ve been wondering why it took me this long to get sucked into the daily life of Seattle-Grace turned Grey Sloane Hospital and my only conclusion thus far is that, like anything else in life, there is a timing for everything.

And seriously, what’s not to like about this show?  Women are allowed to be silly and strong and angry and loving and emotional on this show (and its spin-off, Private Practice, which I preferred over Grey’s at the time).  No one comments on it, except as a response – a woman getting pissed off is actually respected by the male characters as having a reason for being pissed off, not just dismissed as unimportant.

This is due to Shonda Rhimes’ vision and direction and she has chosen writers, producers and directors to further that vision.

There are characters I don’t really like (Karev, Arizona, George), despite their moments of pure generosity and humanity;  there are characters I really like because of their utter awkward goofiness (Lexie, April);  I like the friendship between Callie and Mark, who keep the lines and boundaries clear, regardless of where it goes;  I like Derek and Meredith’s faith in each other, despite the heartache and pitfalls;  and I absolutely love and admire the almost Victorian courtship of Owen Hunt and Christina Yang that didn’t entirely hide the raw passion between them.

Of all the characters on the show, Christina Yang has emerged as one of my favorites.  She doesn’t have time for bullshit, she doesn’t have time for niceties, she just wants to work in surgery and be the best in order to save lives.  Sandra Oh brings that hard-edged, unapologetic character to life so fully, that it would be impossible to picture anyone else in that role.  Yang may not have the best bedside manner, but if she’s there to save your life, I rather think the latter is more important than the former.  I’d certainly want her as my doctor and surgeon because I know she’d fight like hell to keep me alive.

No spoilers on Seasons 11 through 13, please!!!

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So, after six years with nothing but an idea…..

…….a time frame, and one chapter, I finally found the story to the sequel to Secrets & Howls.  If Novel Now Finished gave me insight to its own sequel (and it did), as well as the first couple of pages, then I feel confident that it also gave me a window into two characters that featured prominently in S&H.

And I’m excited about that, because I genuinely like these characters.  I’d like to get to know their story better, of how they met, how they became lovers and what led to their decision to have their relationship play out as it did.  The questions I have for them run deep and I suspect that more than one surprise will happen when I finally dig in.  Of course, there will be plot threads from S&H running throughout the sequel.  Those threads will be tying into different time-frames that I’d set up for the world of Wolf’s Head Bay.

Some threads will be tied into a neat and tidy knot, others will serve to create more questions to be answered in succeeding books.  As is my plan for my other series, I’m planning five books total for the village of Wolf’s Head Bay, with a few short stories thrown in.  I have an overview of how my supernaturally themed stories tie in to each other and I think that’s why I like them so much.  These stories have a kind of depth that is demanded of me, and so I throw everything into them, including the kitchen sink. [1]

I’m interested in seeing how this sequel turns out.  One scene meant for S&H is being utilized in this story, but with some minor differences.  I keep everything I write, in part because these cut bits are really good when I read them.  And they got cut because, as it evolved, these bits no longer served the story.  But I knew I could use them elsewhere.

And I did.  And now it’s time to find out what happens next.

What secrets lie hidden in this small, coastal village?

[1] Not really, but it feels like it.

So, I finished revisions on Novel Now Finished…….

…….and I feel pretty good about it.  Granted, I merged to short chapters to make a more robust single chapter, effectively losing one.  And I had to go through the tedious process of re-naming two minor characters and almost missed a couple of places.  Also, there was the general clean-up of the timeline and removal of dialogue that conflicted with said timeline.

The Manuscript in Question.

Still, it was well worth the effort and I feel very pleased.  As soon as I’m able and depending on availability, it then goes back to my editor with her laser gaze and keen intellect.  If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have gotten Novel Now Finished to its current state.

Now, as I set it aside once more to percolate, I’ve found myself thinking about two characters who appear only once.  They have a short scene that takes place in 1924 and both characters figure prominently in my first published novel, Secrets & Howls.

Outside the narrator of Novel Now Finished, they are my favorite characters.  I’m fascinated with their relationship, their passion and their places in the world.  In Secrets & Howls, they are older, wiser and still very much in love with each other, though they live their lives separately, a choice that seems to suit them.  In Novel Now Finished, they are young and impetuous, bold and secure.

I think they deserve their own story.  I want to get to know them and their world a little better and see how their lives unfold.  Maybe a short story, or a novella.  It needs to be something that will compliment the world I’m building.

Something to chew on, anyway.

So, I’m revising Novel Now Finished…..

……and apparently, it decided that, yes, there is indeed a timeline.  Which I already knew about, because the bulk of the story takes place a few weeks before summer.  I wasn’t particular about the exact dates beyond the number of days between separate incidents.  And for the most part, it seemed to work swimmingly.

Except, now I’m going through and cutting needless words and cleaning up paragraphs that are left behind.  And the more I cut and revise and clean up, the clearer the story becomes.  And the clearer the story gets, the more details I’m finding about the timeline.  Vague, throwaway lines like “Oh, it happened a few days ago” will find it harder to survive.  Concise statements like “It was on Sunday” will take over.

So now, I’ve got a Word document in place to keep track of the timeline and help minimize confusion (which would be mine). This will also help keep it clear and concise for readers (which would be you, if I may be so lucky).  As of today, I’ve managed to track one week, beginning with a case of vandalism.  It’s a few sentences long, with the timeline basically being the day of the week, followed by a dash (-) and a short sentence describing the event that occurred on that day.

I haven’t decided on actual dates beyond the month, but that will change at some point.  I’m a little over a hundred pages into the revision as I write this blog, but as I go along, that timeline will grow and become as detailed as necessary.

And then I’ll go back and do it all over again.

The Manuscript in Question.

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 was going over my saucy speakeasy tale…..

……and discovered that it was quite decent. Even the sexy scenes, which I had never written about before, leapt off the page in vibrant, delicious feelings.

To be perfectly frank, I couldn’t believe that I’d actually written a scene – several scenes – that were so sensuous and sexual. I felt removed from the text, as if someone else had written the words, even though I remembered putting them to paper.

And I liked this story. I liked the characters and their own personal conflicts and how the two leads banter with each other. I liked how the leading characters were getting to know each other, to establish boundaries that are respected. I liked how they teased each other and how they find joy in each other’s presence.

There are so many things about this story that I liked, that I can’t name them all. I had put it on the side burner a couple of months ago, because something felt off and the story ground to an unexpected halt. Where it went wrong, I can’t put my finger on, but I’ll work it out by re-writing the previous few pages before moving forward.

That’s my habit – to re-write the previous few pages on a work in progress. It’s my way of getting back into the story and the minds of the characters, to re-familiarize myself with that world of magic and feeling.

I’m not quite ready to get back to my saucy speakeasy, but it will be waiting for when I am.

prohibition

 

So, I’ve been working on my speakeasy tale……

……and I’m enjoying the interplay between the hero and the heroine. I like how they’re getting to know each other, how she gives herself permission to be bold with him and how gives himself permission to be vulnerable with her. The banter they engage in as they build a relationship of trust and mutual respect is amusing and reveals a lot about who they are and what they both desire, for themselves and for each other.

It sounds like I’m describing real people, doesn’t it? Well, it helps, when writing, to treat your characters as if they are. As you get to know them, their thoughts and feelings, the more real they become within the context of you story. If they are real to you, the stakes get higher and the resolution far more satisfying and authentic. This makes them real to the reader creates a memorable and emotional impact, which is exactly what you want.

The rough draft is so far eighty pages long – I am not sure what the ultimate page count will be until I get there. I expect it to be less than two hundred pages, not a full novel, but not a short story, either. There is a seven page scene written that has yet to find its place within the narrative. I’m not worried – I know where it’s going to go, I just haven’t gotten there yet. As far as an ending goes……well, I’m not sure which way it’s going to go. Do they go their separate ways or do they pursue a life together?

The answers will show themselves as I write it, I suppose. In the meantime, I need to follow them as they tell me their story.

prohibition

So, when it comes to naming my characters…..

……I tend to put a lot of thought into it. Actually, I put an obnoxious amount of thought into it. I have the usual suspects, er, books on names and their meanings. I mix, I match, I sound things out. Sometimes I even take two or three different names whose meanings I like and try to weave them into something new. Those names I reserve for epic fantasy tales, in the same vein of The Lord of the Rings or Crown of Stars series or the Shannara books. Titles are a little different, but I put the same effort into finding the right one for each story.

Why the effort?

Because names have power. Names mean something, not just to the person who carries it, but to the people who use it, whether with love or hate or indifference. Sometimes, names are secret, the true name of the self, known only to the one who holds it.

In my current Work in Progress, I had one character (a pretty major one, at that) be so dissatisfied with his name that it changed seven times. It was frustrating, to say the least. He was still so completely dissatisfied, that not only did his name change for an eighth time, he switched nationalities.

I would like to say that, as the writer, I have some control over wayward characters and plot. However, I know I’m not alone when I say, no, actually, I don’t. As soon as I start writing, it all takes on a life of its own and I have to hang on for the ride.

So whatever it is you’re naming – whether it’s your characters, your pet, your child, your project – put thought into it, make it count. Even if no one else understands it, you do.

And, really, that’s what counts. It’s your secret. Cherish it.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Source Book – Sherrilyn Kenyon

 

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