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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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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, 2021 will be the tenth anniversary….

……..of my novel, Secrets & Howls, being published. In anticipation of this, I’m revising it and remembering how I really loved working on it. The story opened pretty much as it does now, with a character moving into the sleepy village of Wolf’s Head Bay. As it happened, two very different plot lines featured characters moving into town (Elizabeth Phillips and her son and Marita Brye, the main character), but originally, it wasn’t the Marita we followed in the opening pages, but Elizabeth. I realized early on that the opening could stay, but only if it was Marita.

This meant merging the similar plots to reflect Marita as the primary focus; Elizabeth became a local resident and secretary in the local police department. I also had to integrate a series of letters from 1852 to end each calendar day in the book (which takes place over the course of a week). Then, to keep things interesting, I pretty much threw everything into the story. Except the kitchen sink – that would have been too much.

In the last few years, however, I’ve grown as a writer, thanks in large part to my editors. There are still four more books to write in this series and I’ve got the second one mapped out, with room for making detours along the way. Now, with my most recent novel complete and ready for submission, I’ve decided to go back to Wolf’s Head Bay and see what needs to be done.

It’s still a solid story, but I’m enjoying the revision

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.

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So, I’ve put off my 1940s character cosplay experiment…..

…….for a very simple reason – I sprained my ankle.  The bad news on that is I’m limping on a weak ankle, using a cane when necessary for extra support and balance.  The good news is, my ankle is healing and while it’s doing that, I’m gifted with more time to play around with the hair style that I’ve chosen.

This also puts me in a curious position – until my ankle heals completely, I’m not sure I want to wear the sensible shoes with the thick heel. [1]  So now, I’m looking at my black ballet flats, which will do in a pinch.  Not exactly period, but the height requirement on a flat-heeled shoe hasn’t changed all that much in eighty years.  Also, the entire process is about learning who this character is – is she someone who wears sensible heels or sexy ones?  Or is it dependent on the context of the situation?  Does she prefer flats over heels?

And so on.

Now, given my gimpy ankle (short-term though it is), I’m wondering if this character has a minor disability as well, one that requires her to use a cane.  It’s still all very ephemeral, so I guess I’ll find out as I go along.

Which is the beauty of research – it’s like being on a treasure hunt and each little nugget of information you gain leads you to more possibilities.

 

[1] There is always the fear of turning my ankle again – it’s painful and, if it doesn’t heal properly, I’m setting myself up for serious damage later on.  Also, even paved, the sidewalks in my town aren’t exactly level.

So, with Novel Now Finished back at the editor…..

……I’m spending my time waiting for its return by bumbling around with the sequel.  So many changes have occurred within Novel Now Finished that a lot of the background I’d written has gone by the wayside and no longer seems pertinent.  Still, there are some things I’m able to recycle into the sequel, with a minor tweak here and there, and I’m curious to see where these bits will fit in.

“A writer writes, always.”
Billy Crystal,
Throw Momma From the Train (1987)

Some, as I’ve mentioned, are a part of the Narrator’s background and history.  A character that I’d had to excise from Novel Now Finished will be introduced here, a prospect I’m looking forward to, as he was rather charming and amusing. [1]  Then there’s the added question about why the Narrator displays such a lack of interest in some areas of her past, which could be developed into a significant sub-plot.

So far, I’ve got a basic story-line written out and an idea of what happens, but it’s the details that will get me every time.  Many of the questions raised in Novel Now Finished will either be answered (fully or in part) or re-directed; some of the answers may produce more questions for the Narrator to ponder.  I do know that a lot of it will center around the circumstances that led the Narrator to where she is at the start of Novel Now Finished.

And while that doesn’t seem like much, it’s actually a lot.

 

[1] It helps that he and the Narrator have great chemistry.

So, I’ve got some of my ’40s character pieces together…..

……the dresses, the shoes and such.  I’ve got options on the shoes – flats, sensible heels, and a slightly sexier pair of Mary Janes.  The latter will probably not be worn, as this is more about getting to know the Character and her day to day experiences.  Since I already know she’s not interested in keeping up with the latest fashions (unlike her older sisters), I’m not going to worry about a glamorous look for her.

At least, not yet.

Right now, I’m more interested in getting to know her from the inside out, much like an actor works to get to know their role in a play or film.  [1] This means I’ve got to ask questions and make note of my discoveries in my journal.  Questions may range from Does she have a speech impediment, or a upper crust dialect?Does she have nervous habits and how do they manifest; Is her posture more formal when with her family and relaxed around friends? and everywhere in between.

Which brings me to my desire in dressing the part.

My reasons in dressing as this Character is to figure out her physicality and how she moves in the clothing and shoes of the period circa 1942.  Women wore a significant amount of layers, more then than we do now, and those layers affected how they moved and felt.  This includes their footwear.  It’s one thing to walk around in sneakers and jeans (as I generally do, since I’m a walker), but to be able to walk a significant distance even in flats (let alone the thick, sensible heeled shoes I’m pondering on wearing) has me aghast at the idea of putting my feet through a tortuous ordeal. [2]

But…..I want to know these things, so as to better inform the Character’s personality and the choices she makes.  It will give me the little details I might have missed had I not chosen to dress the part.  And until I start, I won’t know what those details will be.  That’s the beauty of this path in discovering who the Character is.

Sometimes, to know the character, you’ve got to dress the part.

 

 

[1] As an actor, I found that the more I asked why my character was in the story, the more reasons I uncovered that added layers to what might at first glance be a flat character.

[2] Already, my feet are putting in notices of protest.

So, I’ve got a new character and an idea……

…….of sorts for her story.  I’ve been thinking of it as a short piece, maybe 30k to 40k words, but as any writer will tell you, the length is usually determined by the characters and plot.

This particular story and character came into being while I was at work at the hardware store – a rather unpleasant customer had me wishing I could lay a curse on him or turn him into an unpleasant critter.  Which, karmically speaking, would be a bad move on my part.  I mean, who wants the energetic kick-back on that kind of act?

But I did get a story out of it, so that’s where my energy is going.  And that’s a positive way to deal with negative situations, people or feelings – turn them into art, whether it’s a poem or a painting or something in between.

This story has a light sense of humor attached to it, which is very good.  Some of the stuff I write feels like it comes out of a dark place, whether I intend it to or not.  From character to story, that darkness has helped build a lot of fictional worlds for me, and I’m grateful for those tales I created.  I don’t expect to stop writing them.

In any case, I’m wildly curious about this new story and the lightness and humor that feels attached to it.  I can’t wait to find out more about this character, the world she inhabits and the the town she lives in.  It feels like a completely different type of story than what I’ve written before, much like my Saucy Speakeasy.

And with the cursing of a customer, I’m about to find out what happens next.

So, one of my stories takes place in the 1940s….

…..and I’m pondering the idea of dressing as the main character in order to experience the world as she did.

Obviously, I won’t be subjected to ration books (because things like silk, food and other items were reserved primarily for those serving in World War II), nor will I be paying 1940s prices or rattling about in a 1935 roadster with rumble seat. [1]  On the bright side, however, I can still listen to music, view films and read novels of that era quite easily.  Also, there’s historical documents, non-fiction and documentaries to round all of that background out in a well-balanced way.

Still,  my goal in dressing in a similar manner as the main character is to get a sense of how she walks and how her clothes and shoes affect her.  This would greatly impact her thoughts, anyone she comes into contact with, how she feels about the day in general and her mood overall.  Since I prefer comfortable sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt whenever possible, this will greatly enhance my understanding of the character.

I hadn’t tried this before, since most of my characters are set in our current time frame, but I’m actually tickled to try this one out.  I have a dress that actually has that vintage look of the late 40s/early 50s and vintage shoes that have a thick and rather sensible heel (one that Miss Marple would approve of). [2]  When I go into town, I tend to park a few blocks from the downtown area and walk in.  This is the perfect amount of distance without overdoing things and defeating the whole purpose of this experiment.

There are a few things I’m going to have to go without, however.  Gloves were quite the fashion accessory back in the day, which is something I don’t own.  Neither do I have a proper hat to pin to my head (some with netting, some without).  I’ve also no idea how to do up my hair to fit the time period (and I imagine it would be time-consuming).  [3]

Still, I look forward to doing this – it’ll be fun, if not challenging.  In theater, this is one way to find the character from the inside out, developing their history and their Moments Before, prior to their entrance into the story.

I will keep you posted with updates and pictures, as I catch them.

 

[1] Not gonna lie, I’m kind of bummed about that last one.

[2] It’s been commented upon that it’s a good look for me.  I can work with that. 🙂

[3] There will be trips to thrift stores for the gloves and hat – hopefully, the luck of the Irish will be with me.

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