Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

Story

So, while working on my novel…..

…..(henceforth referred to as Novel Now Finished), I had a fairly diverse cast of characters. I knew their histories, what the relationships were, what they did for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream. The names I researched and chose for them reflected aspects of their personalities – a lot of the time, it was right on the nose. Sometimes it wasn’t and I’d have to come up with a new one, with the help of friends.

In Novel Now Finished, one character had a tendency to change his name almost every time I revised a draft of the story. He was quite annoying about it, too – lucky for him, he’s also a very charming and forthright fellow, a practitioner of law and magic, and quite handsome to boot. So, right up until the eighth revision, I kept him in the story, enjoying his easy repartee with the narrator. However, because I was having difficulty finding a way to introduce and establish his character early on, my editor suggested that he be removed and his scenes saved for the sequel.

This was not an easy decision to make – I didn’t want to lose him and I fought hard to find a way to keep him in Novel Now Finished. I tried to at least plant seeds of his presence early on through dialogue by way of other characters, but could not actually place him physically (so to speak) in an early scene where he and the narrator could meet and interact.

Did I mention that he was also the romantic interest?

Anyway, I ultimately excised him out of Novel Now Finished and saved his scenes to a separate Word document.

What happened next was unexpected – the story died.

I mean, it was still a good story, I still enjoyed the characters, but…….it had lost any sort of energy to draw me in. And because I no longer cared or had any enthusiasm, Novel Now Finished became a chore to re-write scenes, even to open up the document. Even my editor felt that it had gone as far as it could go, that maybe I should focus on another project. My gut said otherwise – I could not let this story go, I knew it would be life-changing, I knew it was important to me, somehow, and not just because it was something I wrote and had worked hard on for three years.

So I sat on the manuscript for six months, with no desire to write another word ever again. Then, when month seven was half-done, I reached out to another editor, to ask her to take a look at it and see what her thoughts were. She agreed and was able to not only give it a thorough read, but to provide notes, as well. One of her first notes was to find a way to make a more solid connection between the prologue and the rest of the story.

I chewed on that for a bit, then added a business card in the opening scene for the narrator to find, which would then confirm and encourage her next move. The business card, I decided, had to belong to someone related to the narrator’s quest. Someone who might be connected to her larger problem, but can also keep secrets, have particular knowledge that the narrator needed, and be part of a profession that has a somewhat dubious track record of being trustworthy, despite the need for trust. Someone who might not be what he seems to be, given where his business card ended up.

Naturally, the Charming Character, who practiced law and magic, was the most obvious choice to belong to that business card. It would allow me to introduce him early on, provide some ambiguity to him until proven otherwise, and it would give the narrator some conflict. And as soon as he opened the door to Chapter One, arguing with his law partner, and almost walking into the narrator, the novel came back to life. The synergy between Charming Character and the Narrator fell seamlessly back into place, but it was new and fresh and made their later interactions easier to accept and believe.

So. What’s the take-away here?

Trust your gut.

So, deleted scenes from Novel Now Finished…..

…….are being reassigned to the sequel of my first novel, Secrets & Howls.

In a way, it makes sense.

Both novels/series take place in the same geographical area (Northern California) and in the same fictional county in which I placed them. Both series are also supernaturally themed, with werewolves, vampires and witches being fully integrated with the non-magical world by hiding out in plain sight. [1] Given that some of my favorite TV shows, movies, and books deal with variations on that subject, it’s not surprising to me that I’ve chosen to do the same. And by exploring themes of self-empowerment, self-reflection, and facing down that which haunts us, the supernatural world seemed like an obvious back-drop to reflect back the internal struggles faced by the characters.

Although Novel Now Finished is set in the present day and Secrets & Howls and its sequels take place in the summer of 1978, the deleted scenes in question are set further back in time, by at least one hundred years. Not only that, they deal almost exclusively with the characters of Secrets & Howls. So, even though it was interesting and a lot of fun to come at that particular story/world from a different perspective, it didn’t serve Novel Now Finished. But it does serve Secrets & Howls and the sequels that follow.

What framed those deleted scenes were characters and settings from Secrets & Howls, and which I also excised from Novel Now Finished. This helped me to finally see who survived that fateful summer of 1978 and who didn’t, thus giving me a way back into that story.

So, while I develop the sequel to Novel Now Finished, I can finally map out what happens in the sequel to Secrets & Howls.

And believe me, I’ve had a lot of questions about that.

[1] There are also a plethora of ghosts to contend with.

So, I stumbled across an old screenplay……

……that I wrote twenty years ago, while searching for old magazines for an art project.  Only the first few pages had been typed, the rest were in long-hand.  So I put everything aside and read the old script, curious at what my younger self had produced.  It’s a romantic comedy involving a video store, a matchmaker with a mysterious background, a search for the film To Have and Have Not and the ghost of Humphrey Bogart.  It was with some surprise that I realized the story held up really well. 

A page from the old script.

It’s not a perfect screenplay, by any stretch of the imagination, but it had genuine feeling and heart and that’s where art begins to fly.  And so I put it on my desk, with thoughts of going back into it and revise it into something…..new and exciting.

At the same time, I’ve been contemplating revising my Saucy Speakeasy story and setting it in modern times.  As much as I loved the appeal of the Roaring Twenties, the music and the threat of danger lurking when dealing with illegal hooch, Saucy Speakeasy just was not working out the way I’d hoped.  I had written some brilliant moments and one incredibly intimate and sexy scene that I still blush thinking about. [1]

An old concept photo for the Saucy Speakeasy Story.

Then it dawned on me – I could merge both stories into one, creating an external conflict that was missing in both stories; fill in the blanks within the screenplay; bring a level of humor that was lacking in the speakeasy story; and flesh out the characters of both.  Instead of a video store, there’s an antique bookshop located in the building above the speakeasy.  There’s a meet-cute, a clueless bookshop clerk and, yes, a somewhat supernatural element. 

Taking two stories and merging them into one is not a new idea to me – I had taken elements of a short story to add to Novel Now Finished.  It ultimately created an unrealized subplot and opened up a lot of possibility to the Main Character’s backstory.  

What I hope to achieve with the screenplay and the speakeasy story is similar – other than the time period, both are about two people who are each other’s equals and find a true partner in love and in life.  And because it is fiction (as well as a romance), there will be the mandatory conflicts, mayhem and misunderstandings.  

The matchmaker may or may not become a part of the story – so far, she has kept that decision close to her vest. 

 

[1] I still can’t believe that I wrote it.

Image by Bitmoji

Like what you’ve read?

Want to leave a donation?

Trot on over to Venmo.

Search for @JJB-Wordslinger1.

Post an amount ($1 or more).

Every bit helps to keep this writer going!

Thank you.

 

So, I got hooked* on Once Upon A Time……

……..a fantasy TV show that aired on ABC and involving characters in both their fairy-tale context (with a twist) and in our modern world.  The most common reaction I get when I mention the show has been, “Yes, I loved it, but it got really weird”, with no clarification on how it got weird or why.  But this is a show involving fairy tales and magic, so weird kind of left the station with the very first episode.

One of the things that utterly charmed me from the start about the show was how the writers took one event and approached it from multiple view-points.  An example of this would be the ‘hold-up’ of Prince Charming’s carriage by the bandit, Snow White.  As a reader/viewer and even in real life, it’s easy to forget that everyone involved in an incident (from chance meeting to purse snatching) will have a completely different experience and interpretation of events.

As a writer, I loved the attention to detail in these moments and how they were woven together.  It takes well-thought out planning in advance – no flying by the seat of one’s pants, here – so I suspect that the creators of Once Upon A Time had their vision mapped out over at least three seasons before pitching it to ABC (and the parent company, Disney, who owns the rights to many of the characters that appear in the show).

I missed the original run when it aired on ABC, and my memories of it were articles about story lines and plot points.  There was some minor controversy over season 7 (something to do with Cinderella, if I remember it right), but coming to the show as I did, none of it seemed all that important.

Just a tempest in a pot of tea, from my point of view.

The show is fun, it’s campy, romantic, full of adventure, thoughtful contemplation on good, evil and the possibility of redemption and twists on established characters.  The conceit of fairy tale characters living in our world is delightful and it’s perfect viewing when things feel dark and heavy in our world.

Definitely on my list of shows to re-watch.

Maybe I can savor the show an episode at a time.

‘Maybe’ being the key word, here.

*Pun fully intended.

 

Like what you’ve read?

Want to leave a donation?

Trot on over to Venmo.

Search for @JJB-Wordslinger1.

Post an amount ($1 or more).

Every bit helps to keep this writer going!

Thank you.

So, I’ve rediscovered writing in long-hand…..

…..something I’d always done up until about seven years ago, when I switched entirely to writing my novels and scripts directly onto a Word or Final Draft document.  This was in large part due to a trauma that affected me in such a way that writing in long-hand felt too intimately connected to my brain.  It would take three novels and a stage script before I found my way back to using pen on lined paper again.

Imagine trying to implement corrections using a typewriter!

I think it would be fair to say that the project that drew me back to writing in long-hand was, perhaps, a little ironic.  The setting of the story is in the 1920s, decades before computers would replace the typewriter, a time when pencil or pen was also a more commonly used method to write down ideas, create poetry, stories and develop essays.  This particular story is about passion, sensuality and love between two people, a particularly intimate story that has presented many challenges.

Pen sketch; note the rather arrogant look in his eye.

And that’s how writing long-hand is to me – an act of pure intimacy between the mind and the page.  I love watching as the ink swirls across the page, forming words or shapes or quick sketches of horses.  It’s almost never planned, those words or images – I often allow myself to go into a kind of trance and allow my subconscious to go where it wills.  There’s something hypnotic about the way my pen feels in my hand, pressed against paper, as I try to keep up with the story playing out in my imagination.

Which is not always easy to do.

And which is always the challenge.

So, in the fall of 2016…….

……while working on my first round of notes from my editor, I had the conscious thought that Novel Now Finished would be a life changer.  At the time, I thought it would center around picking up a book contract from a publisher (and it may well do).

Working on edits.

However, as I’m working on incorporating changes based on my editor’s note, I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that there is a deeper meaning to my original thought.

One of my editor’s most constant notes to me is about giving my Narrator more agency in her own story.  To have her make smarter choices and decisions, to have a more active role in the events that surround her.  To not rely on someone else to get her out of a situation or give up her identity in the process.  In essence, I was being asked to give her the opportunity to own her life and see what happens.

Whether it’s moving home (Secrets & Howls), dealing with trauma (The Pike Horse) or even being open to true love (Much Ado Over Murder), I’ve noticed that I’m often working on stories that reflect what has happened or is currently occurring in my own life.  I often won’t recognize these elements until much later, but I’m not surprised that Novel Now Finished is following this trend.

I’ve described Novel Now Finished as being about a woman who comes out of the shadows and not only reclaims her power, but embraces it.

Guess what’s going on in my own life, right this minute?

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!!!

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’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.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: