A Pantser Visits the Evil Land of Plot (ters)

I will outline. Even if it’s in the form of thought bubbles across the page, interconnecting with one another along the way until I manage to figure out all the points between A and Z. What I will keep in mind is that I don’t need to stick to the road map I draw…but it will be something I can reference to help me get there. I can’t stick to an outline, but at least having these notions in front of me, I might be able to crawl along and figure things out. I swear, the main idea of this novel was to take place in a setting that I have JUST arrived at…after 35,000 words I managed to get the 3 characters to the main setting of the novel. That, my friends, is a problem. That’s a key sign that pantsing, in this particular instance, is NOT working for me. 

I’m willing to give this outlining thing another try. I’m hopelessly hopeless at following them, but I need something! Putting this in terms of a play—something that works extremely well for my pantsing techniques—my characters would still be behind the screen arguing about whose turn it is to take the stage. They would be back there bitching and moaning and the seats would be filled. But the stage would be in darkness and the audience would be able to hear every single word my characters say. That is not the way to do things. That is more than horrible, it’s unacceptable. The audience should NEVER hear the rumbling that gets the characters to the stage. The story should start right away, and never stop moving forward. I have so miserably failed this time that I’m considering getting rid of the pants altogether. 

Time to sit down and take a trip through the concept I originally grasped when I sat down to write my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. This time, though, there will be no horn honking to tell me when to start. There will be no distractions and there will be no pressure. It’ll be just me, a piece of paper, and my thoughts. Here’s hoping this outline thing finally pays off!

What about you. Pantser? Outliner (Plotter)? Or a perfect mix of both?

Word of the Day – ENNUI – Track Your Emotional Landscape

ENNUI (definition): “Listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom”. Synonyms: Boredom, Languor, World-Weariness, Tedium.

When I am not experiencing it, I love the way the word sounds…all evocative and soft and sensuous. But when I’m in the middle of it, the word kind of drifts away and becomes meaningless. It stops existing.

My favourite synonym for ennui is world-weariness. That it takes that many letters to encapsulate the heaviness of such a light, effervescent word is kind of cool…until you’re floating in that thick morass that ennui happens to be.

But do writers NEED to be world-weary? Do they need to let themselves sink down into the trenches of life before they can come up with material worth writing—worth reading? Not always. But some of us thrive on that kind of material. Some of us feel we are not cracking the crust of the surface if we are not going deep enough into the lives of the characters we create.

I tend to write characters who are not quite strong enough to make it on their own. They are somehow broken, but in being broken they are determined to show their inner strength. Usually, they don’t know they have this strength until I put them into a situation they wouldn’t normally be able to escape. Dangerous and unpredictable circumstances do things to people. And I’m not just talking Indiana Jones dangerous here. I’m talking emotionally dangerous. You don’t have to be balancing an elephant on your nose while walking across a murderous body of water on a trapeze rope to be in danger. Danger can be something as simple as heartbreak.

We don’t know our strength until we are tested. I have to admit that I feel most comfortable as a writer when I am feeling most uncomfortable as a human being. When ennui has its pull and I feel like I can not take another single day of this world-weary existence, all I want to do is write. I want to take one of my characters and put him into that mindset. I want to write a way out for her, help her figure out how to rise above the bleakness. I don’t think I need to live constantly in that unpredictable landscape of ennui, but I know I have to visit there. It’s like paying your dues. If you don’t know the emotion, you certainly cannot write the emotion.

Obviously, that logic also applies to happiness, euphoria, anger, jealousy and all the rest of the gamut of the emotional colour wheel. You cannot write a good story based solely in ennui, just as you cannot write a good story based solely in bliss. We are human beings. We need to have an up to recognize a down and a down to recognize an up. We have to be more open to emotions than the average person. In order to write them, we have to go dangerously close to the limit line of each of our emotions.

This sometimes means that we live on the edge, as far as keeping ourselves together. Sure, it’s kind of rapturous to sink into ennui sometimes…it’s like a hot bath for the mind. Even as you are sinking, you are feeling the lushness of something you cannot quite grasp. What is that wonderful feeling that comes with ennui, that thing that you can’t quite touch but know is there in the periphery? I for one think it is ennui’s opposite. I believe that whatever we are feeling, the opposite emotion is lingering outside the bubble of that emotion. It waves enticingly, tells you, “Okay…you’ve had enough. It’s time to come out of the pool. I’m right here. I’ll save you.”

But just like kids who never want to let go of the fun they are experiencing, we want to stay in the pool. We are deep in the vacuous blanket of ennui and we are thinking, ‘ah…this-this-this nothingness, this disconnection feels so good’. Part of you wants to just keep experiencing that emptiness and languor. As much as it feels bad, it also feels so good.

Writers have a unique opportunity when it comes to our emotions. We can transfer them onto our characters. We can make them experience the ups and downs and be witness to how they deal with them. How they sink. Or swim. This transference is also a good way to snap yourself out of an emotion. You can make yourself happy or you can make yourself sad, just by taking your character on an emotional fieldtrip. There’s a very common saying that I really love and to me it is completely wrapped up in the writer’s experience. The saying itself is common, but one of the best pieces of advice using the saying may be a little less known. I don’t know who said it, but I’ll share it here.

What is the one thing you could say to make a happy man sad and a sad man happy? THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

Whatever end of the emotional rollercoaster you find yourself on, you should always remember that it’s temporary. You will never get away with writing a story that is all downhill or all uphill. The spikes and dips are needed. MSWord is the word processing tool I use to write with. I have always been a little ticked that it has spell check and grammar check, but not emotional mood check. Once I finish a manuscript, of course I do a reading prior to the first editing pass. In that initial reading I am monitoring the emotional mood of the characters, as well as the story itself. Just like a good rollercoaster manufacturer, a good writer knows that the dips and spikes are needed, but that you cannot bring your readers too far down or too far up. You need the right balance. If a rollercoaster went one way—up—people would not have that nervous expectation. They would know that there were no surprises ahead. If it only went down, would they even get on the rollercoaster? What would be the point? You can get the windblown effect with a hairdryer. Go through your manuscript—measure the spikes and dips. Make sure they make sense. Make sure your reader isn’t going to be spending too much time in either place without at least the expectation of the opposite happening eventually.

Of course, you should be unpredictable when it comes to the emotional rollercoaster of your story. No reader wants to know absolutely what is on the horizon. If you can get the right balance of emotions, along with the unpredictability of their sequence and length, you’ll get a reader who wants to forge forward. You also build trust by showing them that you will take them on an emotional rollercoaster.

So, be an engineer. Build yourself a rollercoaster. Not just any rollercoaster, though…one that you yourself would board. Make it a thrill ride of unexpected dips and spikes. But make it reasonable. Make it real. As much as a single emotion begins to feel sensuous and inviting—whether that be a good emotion or a bad one—you can’t spend forever there.

Ennui is at first so daunting and miserable a thing to touch—despite the lilting way the word itself floats off the tongue—but once you are deep in it, once you are drowning in it…it begins to feel so elegant and sensuous, like it’s the only place you want to be. But trust me…it’s at that moment when you begin to like those darker of emotions that it’s time to get out of the pool.

FROM FREEDICTIONARY.COM – “Word History: Were they alive today, users of Classical Latin might be surprised to find that centuries later a phrase of theirs still survives, although as a single word. The phrase mihi in odi est (literally translated as “to me in a condition of dislike or hatred is”), meaning “I hate or dislike,” gave rise to the Vulgar Latin verb *inodi re, “to make odious,” the source of the Old French verb ennuyer or anoier, “to annoy, bore.” This was borrowed into English by around 1275 as anoien, our annoy. From the Old French verb a noun meaning “worry, boredom” was derived, which became ennui in modern French. This noun, with the sense “boredom,” was borrowed into English in the 18th century, perhaps filling a need in polite, cultivated society.”

The Evolution of a Dream – Or Six Degrees of The Beatles

I can’t remember the first time I heard the Beatles song PAPERBACK WRITER, but I know I was fairly new to the whole walking thing at the time. I do remember always thinking I WANNA BE A PAPERBACK WRITER!

The title of this post is a bit deceiving, because there is only 1 degree separating myself from the song–we were both born in the same year. That has to be a sign, right?

1966 – The Beatles release the song Paperback Writer and it climbs to #1 position on the world charts.

1966 – I am born with much less fanfare, rising to the top of not a single chart (Although, if my Nana had a chart I probably would have been somewhere in the top 30).

2011 – The Beatles song Paperback Writer still sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. I still, after all these years, dream of being a paperback writer.

2011 – I no longer have to do what I did as an 8-9 year old. Creating my own book jacket with crayon and marker and covering Roald Dahl books to make them look like I authored them is no longer an option. I AM A PAPERBACK WRITER!

It’s true. As of today, my debut novel is available in paperback! You can buy a copy at Barnes & Noble. BUT – (IMPORTANT SELF-PROMOTION BOOK LAUNCH NEWS COMING–) If you are local to me and thinking of buying a copy of SUMMER ON FIRE, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE hold off doing so! Shelley of Blue Heron Books has offered to host a book launch for Summer on Fire at her MOST INCREDIBLE bookstore! I will be announcing the date shortly. All you who are thinking of buying a print copy of the book—I want to BEG you to wait until the launch. I would love to see you at the launch! (So, please wait!)

If you would like to purchase a print (PAPERBACK! – because I’m a PAPERBACK WRITER!) copy of Summer on Fire, click on the cover below to be taken to Barnes & Noble.

EDITED TO ADD: I went to Chapters today and searched myself on their in-store computer. Then, I took a picture of the screen! (DON’T JUDGE ME!) Then…I went to the other computer and did the same search. Then I walked away, knowing both screens were displaying a picture of my book cover. (Can you tell I’m new at this?)

You can also purchase Summer on Fire at Chapters.Indigo! Click on the Screen Capture below:

Screen Capture! I’m available at CHAPTERS!

If you would like to GET DOWN – play the song below:

Booksellers – read this page at my publisher’s site for ordering details.

Suddenly, it’s cool to be born in ’66. (-:

When Goals Don’t Get Met – Writing Marathon Wrap Post

Well, it happened. I got to the Muskoka Novel Marathon and discovered I had NOTHING to write about. Usually, I don’t plan anything…but there is a something something floating around in my head that I pick up and run with. NOT THIS TIME.

It’s been a difficult year for me, for various reasons. I’ve been wondering if my writing would become strangled because of this. I made it through the Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival in one piece. I seriously worried I would have nothing to show for it after my 8 hours of being locked in the castle to write my play. The task was made even harder when I was given a blank stage as my canvas this year, instead of one of the beautiful (and inspirational) castle rooms.

But at the end of the 8 hours (actually after only 1 1/2 hours) I had my play written. By the audience reaction, I THINK it worked out. I heard much laughing…I’m sure that had more to do with the incredible actors performing the play than the actual writing. They were BRILLIANT.

Anyway…my worries over under-performing for Trafalgar24 seemed to have been premature. But I knew I was in trouble going into the Muskoka Novel Marathon. I’ve been running on empty for months. Still, I love the event so much that I tempted fate and I kept my appointment with destiny.

My goal this year was 60,000 words in 72 hours. I believe I broke the 50,000 word count last year. I no longer remember the exact count. But this year, I struggled to break 30,000…not to mention, those 30K words are short scenes stretched out. I failed to reach any sort of quality or quantity this year. I still had fun, though. Still enjoyed being a part of an event that raised over $8,000.00 for the Muskoka Literacy Council. That side of it will always rock, whether I write 1 or 100,000 words.

I’m disappointed in myself for letting my life get in the way of my writing, this time out. I was always able to prevent that from happening. We live, we learn. Sometimes you just need to know when not to pick up the pen. BIC, I am realizing for the first time in my life, is quite an accomplishment. Before now, I could sit down anywhere and start writing and not look up. Marathon writing is my comfort zone. It’s how I write novels. This year showed me that it just doesn’t come naturally. I won’t forget that next year.

This is NOT writing

During previous Muskoka Novel Marathons I was always able to work without much sleep. This year, having struggled for so long before the marathon with insomnia–I hit my wall early on. After only 43 hours without sleep, I crashed and slept on and off for the next day. I just COULD NOT stay awake or concentrate.

 

A Goodbye and a Passion for Words

I thought I would attempt a very short blog post from my desk here at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s 4:54am as I write this. I am sitting at the very back of the room, looking out onto a vast expanse of empty desks and scattered chairs. There are laptops everywhere, scattered sweaters and blankets and printers and lamps and satchels and laptop carriers and coffee cups and sleeping bags and water bottles and books and chip bags and toys…virtually everywhere. On the desk beside me, there is an orange piece of paper with the following quote:

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~ Vladimir Nabakov

There is only one other person within my field of vision; the person I drove up to Huntsville with. Sandra Clarke. Sandra and I were both published by the same small publisher out of Montreal; MuseItUp Publishing. We have just heard that the content editor for my young adult novel, Summer on Fire, has passed away. Karen McGrath went peacefully in the late evening of Saturday July 16th, after a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer. This news makes us both sad. Working with Karen, she was so very attentive to my concerns as the writer of the novel she was editing. She was thoughtful and considerate in all of our virtual discourses. And throughout the whole process, she did not once mention that she was suffering. Our dealings were professional and personable. It is with sadness that we mark her passing. Being part of a small publisher’s corral of writers, Sandra and I have grown to feel a part of a family. We all interact on a daily basis-some more than others- whenever we can…by stopping by on a group made up of Muse writers, editors, cover artists, etc. Karen’s passing will be felt by all of us. Though we have not met her in person, we have taken part in a journey with her.

I have just awoken from a nap that may have been three hours long and may have been four or five. I really have no idea. I know that I was up for 38 hours straight prior to said nap. I’m a little fuzzy, at best at the moment. I just finished what was possibly the best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted, or possibly just a nostalgic cup of hot water accidentally ingested before the teabag had a chance to perform its magic infusion. Who knows. I am beyond tired. I just drank something that seems to have awoken me. I will assume the teabag has done its job.

I began this marathon with not a thought in my head. This is the first of the four Muskoka Novel Marathons I participated in where I had NOTHING on my mind to work with. I have jotted a few words down in the past, or come into with little kernels of ideas percolating in that wide open space between my ears…but until this year, I have never come in with absolutely nothing.

I tried. I didn’t show up here on day one with the purposeful intention of having no ideas. I really tried to grab something out of that miasma of swirling grey soup that is wild mind. But nothing would stick. I spoke to Susan Blakeney just before the marathon. She picked the empty blackboard that was my mind until a thin layer of possibilities had begun to form. The palest of chalk outlines. When the marathon horn blew at 8pm Friday night, I chased that fading chalk outline with fingers on keypad. I now have almost 20K words to show for that race against emptiness. And I hope to continue chasing down the idea shortly.

I never stopped mid marathon to write a blog post before. That’s probably why I’m doing so now. I like to try everything once. Soon writers will start to trickle into the building, the streets outside the building will come to life with cottagers, and the day will be upon us. For now, there are just the two of us facing the screen. Sandra is almost as far away from me as possible, without being in another room. She sits sentinel on the entrance door at the other end of the room. As I may or may not have previously mentioned, I sit in the back corner–with a view of the entire room. This might have been an intentional choice for me. Nobody can sit behind me. I have all the other writers in my sights. When they are here.

I am sure there will be spelling and grammar errors in this post. I’m not sure the point of the post. But I wrote it anyway. I wrote it as a mile-marker along the journey. This is the point at which wild mind meets quiet mind. The words are being strung, but there is a lull–a patient simmering, if you will. There will be more words written…many, many more words. But this is the pause between two word storms. The breather before I go back down and lose myself. I wanted to remember our friend, Karen, and her courageous battle. I wanted to remember the soft coat of the fawn we witnessed grazing outside the MNM Wine & Cheese venue, Soul Sista’s. I wanted to remember the cup of tea I may have just consumed. And I wanted to awaken to the music that words make when strung together in a row. This weekend, we are honouring those who cannot even read the words I am typing…those who have a hard time navigating the simple day to day life of the modern world. We honour those who, for one reason or another, have been lost along the road to adult literacy. I cannot even imagine walking down the street outside this building without being able to read the vast collection of words hovering on every window, every lamp post, every car, every door, every billboard and every sign. How dark a world this place must feel without the basic knowledge of the language that floats out there all around us on a yearly-monthly-weekly-daily-hourly-minutely-secondly basis. With every step I would take, every footfall I would make down Main Street, I would crawl that much darker into my own dark little universe of frustration.

We are writing for ourselves this weekend. I won’t try to sugarcoat things and say that we are being completely selfless and altruistic. We’re not. We love the concept of a writing marathon and we take full advantage of it. But we are also writing for others. We are writing for those who cannot write, those who cannot read. We are here to raise funds and awareness for the fight against illiteracy. Each writer taking part in this weekend’s marathon has collected sponsorship pledges from friends, family and loved ones. Together, we have raised money to help the Muskoka Literacy Council help those who need to have their darkened worlds made a little brighter. The Muskoka Novel Marathon, though a great and amazing opportunity for us writers to get BIC time, is about Writers Supporting Readers. That’s what we’re here for.

Thanks to all those friends, families and loved ones who have helped us arrive here this weekend with a little money in our hands. You are supporting a wonderful cause that all of us writers can proudly stand behind. After all, without readers, there would be no reason for us to do that thing we SO love to do.

I bid you all adieu for now. I am struggling to stay awake and I have many, many more words to write. I apologize for the twists and turns this blog post may or may not have taken. I know not what I write. But I am fortunate enough to know that I can, one day in the near future, come back to this post and read it. Reading it may or may not make my meaning for writing it clearer. When you are working on this much sleep deprivation, you can’t always be confident that there’s a message in your words. But read it, I will. Because I can do that. Remember today, while you’re out and about in your daily life, just how many times during the day you read things. Imagine, if you will, not being able to read those things. How dark would that existence be? How utterly hopeless and alone would you feel? Be happy that you do not have to live that life. And be happy in the knowledge that there are literacy councils everywhere who do the good work of shining a new light into the lives of those who struggle daily with the darkness of illiteracy. We can make a difference.

Heading to Huntsville – #MNM2011 – and Interview

Hello Readers,

Not much to say today. I am getting ready to drive to Huntsville to take part in the Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s one of my favourite writing events of the year and it supports one of my favourite causes. All the money raised by the 30 writers participating goes to the Muskoka Literacy Council. They are doing great work in the fight against illiteracy! I’m so happy and proud to have a very tiny roll in helping them achieve their goals. Thank you to all of you who sponsored me for this year’s marathon! Our goal this year is to raise $10,000 for the cause. I hope we’ve achieved that lofty goal.

As I take to the road in a couple of hours, with my good friend and fellow marathoner, Sandra Clarke, I will be percolating…searching my brain for the beginnings of ideas. Nothing has come to me yet, but I have faith that my marathon-mind will kick in and give me something to run with!

Gotta run, now. So many things to gather up. I keep thinking I’m going to forget something! And at the back of my mind, I just know it’s my laptop I’ll forget! I will not be writing a marathon novel on my Android phone. Time to put the laptop in the car…just in case!

For now, I leave you with an interview. Fellow MuseItUp Publishing author, Lindsay Below, was kind enough to interview me for her blog. You can read the interview here:

Author Spotlight: Kevin Craig, Author of Summer on Fire

I am off on my weekend odyssey. Enjoy your weekend…may it be filled with writerly–or readerly–goodness!

(You can purchase SUMMER ON FIRE here)