Monday, January 31, 2005

The Treadmill

I just spent an hour tonight on the treadmill, walking my way through the entire "Starship, Greatest Hits" album. It's a great one to work out to, because it has a good mix of slower speed songs and faster speed songs, and takes approximately an hour to get all the way through. That got me 2.5 miles and burned over 300 calories. Yep, it's get in shape time. I'd forgotten how good it feels to get all the muscles perfectly warmed up, and then just at the point where you're breaking a sweat, the endorphins kick in. No wonder they say Sagittarians like cardio. Gotta love that 5% grade at a speed of 4mph. Hey, it's only my first day back, after all! I'll hit it harder as I get the muscle tone back. But it occurs to me that there's another writing analogy here.

That last long stretch through the end of a manuscript can be a killer slope that makes you gasp for air, or it can be the place where the endorphins kick in and you feel like you can go on at that same speed for miles--or however long it takes. I'm editing Shadows now, and words are coming off and going on like poundage on a roller coaster diet. But I'm not burnt out on the story, for whatever reason. I'm still discovering things I didn't know about characters, figuring out why So-and-So did what he did in Chapter Whatever. I'm taking things from here and fitting them in over there and whipping the plot into fighting shape. Went from 161,000 words to 146,000 words in a very short span of time. Some more stuff will be taken out, some will go back in, and on occasion two scenes will be compressed into one before we get to the scale for the final weigh-in.

Then, presumably, I get the manuscript to Bob and we--or the future publishers--drag out a whole new scale.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I pulled out an entire plot thread, which caused a related thread to become snarled. Now I need to fix it, but I don't think it'll be a truly horrendous job. I may need to add in a small scene or maybe a scene and a half. But...and here's the good news...taking out that one plot thread has pulled off at least 10,000 words from the body of the novel. It blew Chapter 12 completely away, and that was a 9,000-word chapter. That's the good news. The bad news is that I wasted 10,000 words on a plot thread that I DIDN'T EVEN NEED! The good news is that I realized it and was willing to cut it out. Hah. Take that.

There's more good news. According to my crit group at tonight's meeting, my ending doesn't suck. Which means, in crit group speak, that it's good. Now, granted, the romance writer liked it so much that she was even willing to forgive my male lead for keeping certain things from my female lead for the entire length of the book. He talked so pretty that she was willing to forgive him, the silver-tongued devil. I'd forgive him, too. He's a catch. However, that means that the romance in this book is pretty evident, and I'm wondering whether it's more than the usual amount for an epic fantasy. That having been said, I also think that while the plot would hang together without the strong emotions between characters, it's better with them than without them. The relationships unify things and pull events and people together. Perhaps we should jut call this an epic fantasy with strong romance themes. And no, I didn't pull any punches. I swear that every sex scene in this thing is there to advance the plot, not just for the sake of selling the book. Honest.

Evil grin? What evil grin?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Once more for the camera

I've finished the second novel of this trilogy. Actually, I finished it two days ago, but I didn't get around to bragging--I mean blogging--about it until now. It weighed in at a healthy 161,326 words. Now I have to go back through and start cutting, tightening, and polishing to get it down to something slightly less than 150,000 words. I've already chosen some parts to cut, which will hopefully increase the speed of events at the beginning. Then it's just a matter of taking out anything that isn't absolutely necessary to the story, and deciding which things will take place "on camera" and which will be "offscreen."

I just gave in to a guilty pleasure and watched all the extended or added scenes in the third movie of Lord of the Rings on DVD. Some of the things in the filmmaker's documentary sections sounded almost exactly like what I do when I revise a book. They talked about the editing process and how they figure out what it takes to make a good on-the-edge-of-your-seat movie. With the necessary nods to worldbuilding and scene-setting and all that, I think that a good book should be constructed much the same way as a film. Each scene should have a purpose and a vital reason for being there; otherwise, cut it. Same with anything you produce for entertainment value. If it puts your viewer or reader to sleep, cut it. Ask your test readers to be honest about which of your scenes made them want to skim past and which they just couldn't put down. Then tailor your book so that it plays like a movie in the reader's head. Show the story in full living color, with strong sequences that pack a real punch.

Excuse me. I've got to go do some hacking, slashing, burning. Well, maybe not burning. Catch you later.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Power of Words

This is the third time a death scene that I wrote made someone cry. Admittedly, two of those three times the people cried because they had either lost or were about to lose someone they loved and the death scene freed those emotions. Nevertheless, it's got me thinking about the power of words.

A while back, I went to see "Finding Neverland." If you've seen it you'll know it's a bit of a tear-jerker. By the time I had a chance to go and see it, it had already been in the theater for some while, so the audience that night was fairly small. At the end, most of us were wiping our eyes or sniffling, and someone made a laughing comment about how "we all had colds."

Writers and artists often have to cover emotional ground in our work that represents deep-seated issues for lots of people. In fact, that's exactly what we should be doing, because if we can't dig deep enough to get to those difficult places in the human psyche, then we haven't done the job right. That's part of what they mean when they say that writers "open a vein" to put our words to paper. Look at all the responses a well-written paragraph can evoke: laughter, sadness, despair, love, hope, exhilaration, or any number of others. It's amazing how a few carefully put-together words can wring such emotion from a reader, whether it's because we touched a chord in them or because they've formed such a deep emotional attachment to our characters. I can only hope that someday someone will tell me that my words touched them, made their day or made them see something in a different light. And if they tell me that they cried or that they were on the edge of their seat or that they laughed out loud--that's power. That's amazing, astonishing, exhilarating power. And you know what they say: with great power comes great responsibility. No wonder the ancient Celtic bards were so respected and so feared. The power to make people access their deepest, scariest emotions--think about that for a moment.

The same words can be either a blessing or a curse. It's all in the interaction between the delivery and the reception. We're the only beings on the planet that have a written language, with all its power and all its responsibility. Let's all use our words wisely.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Villain

What makes a good fictional villain? Well, among other things, I'd say he or she should go beyond the stereotype and feel as real as possible. So what are some of the motivations that a villain might have for doing what she does? There are the obvious ones: hate, jealousy, revenge, desperation, insanity. But how about love, belief, misconception, responsibility? Most villains--even the purely insane ones--usually do what they do because they believe that what they are doing is right. And we must never forget that one country's villain is another country's hero. Let's not take this into the current world situation, but instead put it into an epic fantasy context or ancient historical context.

A king musters an army and sets out to conquer the neighboring kingdom because his own people are starving and for some reason, he either can't or won't try for a peaceful solution to the problem. Or perhaps he has tried, but his requests or offers fell on deaf ears. Well, he has to do something to save his people, doesn't he? Of course. But then let's say he conquers the recalcitrant and stingy neighbor and still doesn't feel secure, so he goes on to the next nearest neighbor and conquers that kingdom as well. Then he's formed a kind of momentum and just can't seem to stop. He keeps going, and going, and...he's become the Normans on steroids. His original motive: understandable. His eventual result: unacceptable world domination effort.

And what of the young prince whose father was a Great Man? You know the type--the parent who shines so brightly that the child cannot hope to live up to that image, promting the child to do more, strive more, be more in a desperate search for identity. Then there's the child who grew up in an abusive home or in very desperate circumstances, whose motivation to secure his future stems from the desire not to have his personal history repeat itself. So he goes to the opposite extreme and pushes too hard, making mistakes that might not have happened if he weren't so desperate, or if he'd been able to exercise moderation at some point, or even if he'd been willing to listen to the guidance of others who'd already been through a similar life experience. It's hard to listen when we're young. I've often heard it said that it would be great to have the body of a twenty-year-old and the experience of a forty-year-old, and I heartily agree. But most people who become villians just don't grasp that concept, and before they know it, they're in deeper than they ever intended, and it's too late. The original motivation: understandable but overdone reaction to circumstances. The result: unacceptable societal faux pas.

Then there's the villain who's just insane, but that's pretty self-explanatory. It does beg the question of how he got that way--heredity, accident, bad brain wiring or something else.

This topic was sparked off by a discussion going on at one of the writers' boards. There's so much food for thought here that if I tried to cover all the facets that I can think of, I'd have a book.... Hmm. Save that one for another day. And I said I didn't write how-to's. The Wicked Queen's Handbook for Creating Villains.

Now I have to go write another desperate Fight to the Death--against one of the villains, of course. This gal is not the Big Bad Villain. This one's the Very Nasty Slaver Captain who finds herself In Over Her Head.

Monday, January 03, 2005


All right. We're definitely in the end game now. I'm partway through Chapter 24, and have set up the outline so the book ends with Chapter 25. Problem: I'm already over budget for words on this book, as I've mentioned before. After I've finished the storyline, I need to go back through and cut, tighten and polish to try and get it down closer to 150,000 words. Pity I can't just make it 170,000 and not worry about it. It would still be a fast read even at that length. The trouble with my "revisions" is that when I revise, I tend to make things longer, because I add in the layers of detail like some of the tastes and scents that might not have been there before. I write lean in general, mostly because of having studied a book called "Write Tight" by William Brohaugh. It's a good resource for new writers, if you can still get it.

Word length aside, I'm really on the downstroke now. It's my first sequel, but the interesting part is that my first draft of this book has been a lot closer to the third draft of my previous book in quality. Follow that? In other words, I'm getting better at this gig, which means less revision if not faster output. After all, I did start a serious reorganization of this book at the beginning of August, one which involved a major rewrite of sections I'd already done, and a complete redo of the outline. So most of this book has been written over the past five months, and I'm almost done. That may be good news for fans some day, although I'm not sure I'll be able to do more than one book a year for a while yet. I'm still a mom, after all, and I have all these responsibilities, see? Yeah, whatever.

I'm having trouble getting back into the daily grind after the holidays. I'm still in holiday mode--that, and writing mode. Part of me wants to just hole up like some kind of hermit and focus on nothing but writing for the next week--just get the book done and forget all the rest. The other part of me...wants to go shopping. How Barbie of me, right? But I need to shop because I suddenly realized that I have nothing to wear. Really. I have a great business wardrobe, perfect for conferences and book tours, but my day-to-day wardrobe should have been featured on TLC's "What Not To Wear". So I'm going to fix it. Hmph. After all, I never appear in public as Frumpy Writer, so why should I be Frumpy Mom? What would happen if I were ever (gasp!) recognized on the street one day?

Ok, done with the Barbie moment. Back to the scene I'm working on, where my heroine must navigate through a tricky situation while hung over. Not so very Barbie at all. Especially with the CD player blaring out the soundtrack to "Alexander" by Vangelis. If that doesn't get us through all the booby traps, I'll put in X-Men.