The Recurring Subplot

So I was trying to decide just why I write so many romantic subplots into my stories.

There is the concept of writing what you want to read, of course, but why do I want to read that kind of subplot?

Is it because I am single? Because I’m pushing one of those arbitrary sell-by dates and I’m alone? Because I don’t know what love is?

I have dated. It’s been a while, admittedly, and I think it’s fair to say that what I thought was love wasn’t love. I still don’t know what that’s really like, not personally, and maybe I’m still curious about it, wanting to know what that’s like so I write to define it or even to have the experience through the characters.

I want to deny that. It feels like something to be ashamed of.

I think there is a bit more to it. At least, I hope there is.

I have to do a separate piece on why I choose broken characters, ones that have been through some very hard times in their lives, but I do write them almost too frequently. A part of most of my stories is how they overcome the bad in their lives and get to the end where they have a bit of “happy,” where they are recovering and have hope.

(It occurs to me that I need an article on why I write stories with optimistic endings, too.)

At any rate, I think that people who have been through the kinds of things that my characters have and overcome them deserve to have happy, full lives. That includes love. Not just any love, the kind of love that holds the promise of forever or at least the rest of their lives.

So there’s that. I’m still not sure that’s a good enough reason to include the subplot, but it’s part of why I do, at least.

A friend suggested that I should write stories without it so that people could be fulfilled without that love. I’m not necessarily against the idea, I keep saying I’ll leave the subplot out, but it finds its way back in more often than not.

In cases like that, I blame it on the banter between the characters. They’re not supposed to go there and find that connection, but they do. I say the characters write the story, not me, and they do. Sometimes they see things that I don’t or want things that I wasn’t planning on giving them. Or they’re hurt worse than I knew and need more to heal.

Maybe they’d all revolt if I tried to leave that subplot out? Or maybe they’d be glad? Not that the subplot ever felt forced, not to me, but maybe they’d rather not share that part of their lives. I don’t know.

Then again, by that argument, if the characters didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. I could say that it’s not my fault. I almost want to. Then it’s not about me or my issues.

We’ll see what happens next time I start a new story. Maybe the subplot won’t be there. Maybe the characters will keep it out. Maybe I will.

That doesn’t help with the stories that I’ve already written, of course. It doesn’t solve my dilemma with one of the stories I’m currently working on, either. Such a pesky subplot that one.

Old Friends Want New Sequels

Recently, I had to correct the mistake I made in leaving the notes I’d complied while rereading my stories ignored for up to five months. These are my editing notes: typos, poor word choice, missing words or explanations, those sorts of things. All of that I try and pay attention to when I’m reading so that I can help the editing process along. Rereading and editing is my process.

The danger in that, of course, is getting caught up in the stories again. I reintroduce myself to old friends, and the longer it’s been since the last time I read the story, the more I miss the characters.

Now I would love to tell more stories with all those old friends. It’s been too long, though, and I don’t mean just in the sense of how long it’s been since I’ve read the story.

I have this distressing feeling that I would not be able to capture the true essence of the characters after this long away.

Last time I tried to do something with Frankie and Rico from In the Family, Frankie was nothing like herself. Attempts at sequels for The Geek and the Fed and Tearing Down the Pedestals left me with two stories at the same time that were out of character.

On the other hand, I was able to pick up The Lady in Black, The Consultant and the Cat, and Criss-Crossed Paths after years of abandonment and finish them. I think the difference there may be that I had started them by hand, and I had to type them before continuing them, so the flow was still there, the mindset and understanding of the characters.

Starting the sequel to Tearing Down the Pedestals almost immediately after finishing it did not keep Chel and Tremayne in character, though.

So I’m not sure. I don’t know what that elusive quality is that would allow me to pick up where I left off with the characters (or even jumping ahead a little) and keep going.

I want to find it, though. I miss my old friends. I want to continue having adventures with them.

Predictability and Writing: Your Opinion, Please

I recently had the same reaction as Tom Selleck’s character in Her Alibi when a couple of my regular readers had most of my story figured out before I’d written it.

It was predictable. My writing was predictable.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are smart ladies who tend to figure out the plot of episodes and movies before they’re done. I do the same thing. That is why to me the important part of writing a good story is an enjoyable journey because I can, nine times out of ten, pick out the end of a mystery before it happens or predict that “big” twist that’s coming before the end.

But… to have two stories, back to back, be that predictable, bothers me.

If my writing is predictable, does that mean that I am, in essence, telling a story that I have told before? My characters are similar in many cases (they tend to be broken in some way and recovering from that because I like stories where they overcome that kind of thing in themselves in addition to the stuff around them) and since I write mysteries, predictably, there is a part where they identify the bad guy and the end comes.

I am a bit worried that I’m creating stuff that’s all the same, and who wants to read that?

I thought I’d work more in my science fiction areas or maybe a bit of fantasy to change things up some, but I have a poor track record of finishing my science fiction.

I thought I’d ask, then… How much predictability is too much?

In Her Alibi, his editor tells him its a comforting quality that his readers like. I put the question to all readers. What do you think of predictability?

A Potentially Disturbing Pattern. I Blame Edits…

I was looking at the numbers again. It’s a new month; it means new numbers.

Where does January sit?

Behind November and December, actually. I did finish The Memory Collector in January, and Variety Store was really close (so close that I finished it today), but the official finish count is only one book.

I think, in addition to a few issues with life in general, the main source of the lower number trend was the edits. It takes a bit to go through the stories, reading them, sometimes out loud, to make sure they make sense and are clear, and then I go back in and change whatever I notice as I read them on my phone. Yes, I do read my books on my phone. It’s portable, and it shows me how the epub format is going.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown of what I did in January:

Additions to The Monster in My Garden Shed: 15,902

Near completion of Variety Store:  62,650

Everyday posts to The Not-So-Super Superhero:  38,337

Complete total for The Memory Collector:  42,634

Start for the third Nickel and Dime, tentatively titled Five and Ten:   1,464

Shorts probably to be included later in the Nickel and Dime series:   3,844

Miscellaneous other writings:   13,106

Total:   177,937

Again, lower than the last couple months. I’m not sure if the trend is something that should worry me, if I need to make myself buckle down and accomplish more, or if it’s too soon to tell.

I did a lot of editing, I typed on an older, handwritten story, and there was chaos going on in life as well, and so there are plenty of factors going into the count. I’ll keep an eye on it, though. It should level out somewhere, and that’s really the target.

Besides, the numbers don’t matter so much. It’s quality, not quantity, so that’s part of why editing is so important. Clearly, I haven’t stopped writing, and that’s the main thing.

November Really *Is* the Novel Writing Month

So, I thought I’d sit down and total up what I wrote all through the month of November, aka Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month.

Ready to be stunned and amazed?

Well, perhaps not.

In case you’re not aware of it, I finished three novels in the month, so…

Any Other Reality, Nano, completely done in November = 67,807
The words I added to All the Men in My Life = 43,961
The words I added to In the Family = 76,307
The words added to The Monster in My Garden Shed = 25,864

Total for original fiction last month = 213,669

Two hundred thousand words, lol. I could have won Nano four times, I suppose. I’m just pleased with my overall turnout this month.  Now to get the editing going…

Multitasking and Writing

I am a multitasker.

How does that relate to writing?

Two basic ways, I would say.

First, there is always some kind of story going in my head regardless of what I’m doing. Well, unless I’m sleeping, but then I’m dreaming, so yeah, still a story. I’ve been in the middle of reading a book, set it down, and just stared off into space before–because the story that was running in my head became more interesting or compelling. I used to get complaints all the time from my family because I was writing while watching a movie or playing a game. It’s always there. Some story is being told in the back of my brain, and I can’t shut it off.

So, for those of you who think multitasking is a bad thing, I guess that’s too bad for me because I’m screwed. The stories aren’t going away.

It does make some of the mundane tasks in life more interesting, though. Cleaning while figuring out the latest section of a story is to be preferred over cleaning without it.

The other aspect of multitasking and writing for me is window flipping. Yes, I have a PC, so I have… Windows. Even if I didn’t, though, I’d still do the window flipping thing. I need to feel like I’m doing more than one thing, even when writing. So I usually have a couple browsers open (my current favorite is chrome, but I like firefox and despise internet explorer) with email accounts open, livejournal friends pages to refresh, and any research I might need to do in another tab.

I can write while watching movies or television, but admittedly, I accomplish more when it’s just music going in the background. I don’t do well with silence while I’m writing, and singing along can help inspire me and keep me going.

It’s interesting how doing more than one thing at once helps me accomplish that one thing.

Always Too Many Stories

One of the bane’s of a writer’s existence has to be that there is never enough time.

There will always be more stories than can be written. It’s an inescapable fact.

I tried to say once that even if all I did was write for a year, I’d never get through half of my stories for a particular subject. It was pointed out to me, very wise and correctly, that half was optimistic.

I’m not optimistic by nature, but that’s a different story.

The point of this being that there’s always something new that wants to be written or something old that was abandoned that wants to be picked up. There’s never enough time in a given day to do as much writing as wants to be done.  I say that as a fairly fast writer. Depending on the day, I can come up with at least 10,000 words, if not more.

For instance, in the space of about ten days, I wrote 76,307 words on one story, all the while working on my Nano fic and getting about 20,000 words on it. So, I wrote about 96,000 words in those ten days, roughly that 10k a day.

So, say I wrote 10,000 words a day, every day. Nano novels are 50,000 words long. That would give me a Nano novel every five days, in theory.

Why don’t I have a novel every five days? Other than actually having to do something besides write every now and again (though admittedly not doing as much of those non-writing tasks as those around me would prefer), of course.

My problem isn’t with speed.

No, my problem is with attention and inspiration. Recently I started tricking myself with the whole “this project must be done so that one is like cheating” thing, making one or more of my other stories “guilty pleasures.”  That means that I keep up a certain amount of work on the one story, and then the others get to be like… fun. More fun. Writing is almost always fun.

So really, the reason why I don’t have another finished novel yet this month is not about speed or even dedication. It’s that there’s never enough time, and when you have all these stories competing for your interest and time, you end up with some kind of crazy form of ADD that says, “ooh, look, shiny” and tries to drag you away from what you’re working on.

Did I need another story to compete with The Monster in My Garden Shed? No. I really didn’t. I already have the blog story, The Not-So-Super Superhero, that I am also working on. That didn’t matter. I couldn’t not work on the one with Effie in it, the one I’m going to call Nickel and Dime for now, after Effie’s store.

In some ways, I think that the pressure helps, having all these things to do. I keep waiting for the point where it breaks me, but I think self-preservation kicks in before that happens–I did that with In the Family, finished it to give myself some relief… Then I started working on All the Men in My Life and restarted the cycle. Is that healthy?

No. Oh, definitely not.

I’m dysfunctional.

I talked before about multitasking. About window flipping. Well, I need that window flipping with stories, too. Sometimes it’s nice to go to something else for a break. Sometimes it’s impossible to balance. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave a story alone for a while.

There’s always so many to choose from… Not hard to rotate through them.

The hard part is keeping more ideas from coming to distract you with their newness and shininess.

The Characters Write the Story, Not Me

I have said it before, and I will end up saying it again: I don’t write the story.  Well, I put it on paper, I type it, but I don’t dictate every little part of it. I sometimes call my stories wild rides, and that’s because sometimes I have no idea what’s coming next.

Some people sit down and write a full timeline before they start a story. I’ve tried it. It can be very useful. It can help keep a person focused. Or it can give a person a reason to write the later sections because they know what’s coming. Or at least that’s how I’ve misused it in the past.

After considerable exploration of the process over the last seventeen years (that’s how long I’ve been writing fiction for myself, though the early stuff was admittedly crap), I’ve found that what works best for me, regardless of the type of story I’m doing, is to brainstorm certain parts, the important ones, and to keep them in mind and a general sense of where the story is going. Some big reveal is always coming, the romantic pairing eventually finds their way to each other, and the major conflict is resolved. That is the nature of a story.

Knowing these general thoughts, even if it’s not perfectly clear in the beginning, is enough. Once the characters are created, once they’ve come to life, they’ll take the story where it needs to go. A lot of the time, it’s not even where I expected it to go.

Almost every time, though, it’s a whole lot better.

Why?

The characters know what works. They know themselves. They know what they’d do in a given situation, and they act accordingly. They say what they would have say, and it never fails to amaze me how one line in a conversation can change the course of the next section of the book or even the entire story.

Letting the characters tell the story, their story, is important. It makes them real, makes the story realistic. It is, I think, the single most important thing I can do if I write a story.

It’s Not the Author Who Matters

Going along with the characters tell the story idea, there’s this thing that’s been bugging me, and I think that in many ways I highlighted this with Any Other Reality.

Yes, that story is, in many ways, a spoof. It pokes fun at a type of fiction that–don’t get me wrong, I love. I have given many years of my life and much effort–almost blood, sweat, and tears to this type of writing.

What it really gets at, though, in the end, is the authors.

And I include myself in that number. I’m not immune. The pygmies are even mentioned.

I think one of the worst things a writer can do is forget to respect their characters. They’re human (sometimes) and bound to make mistakes, but they generally have reasons for the choices that they make. Ignoring their basic motivations and history to tell the story the way the author wants it is not right. It’s a bad process, and going down that road will not improve anyone’s storytelling. As a reader, when a character makes a choice that comes out of left field, you’ve just about lost me. Sometimes I stick around to see why they did that, and other times I’m just done. I can tell I won’t like where it’s going if that stuff happens.

Some equate writing to playing god. That’s something I’ve never liked.

I create characters, yes. I create worlds. They live in these worlds.

Does that make me the puppet master?

I try very hard not to be. They have reasons and motivations, and really, I’m just telling their story. It’s like I was a silent witness to it, not that I was telling them what to do. I wrote it down, but I didn’t interact.

So I feel the story is the main thing. It’s all that matters.

Forget I was even there.

Research Is a Matter of Definition

To be perfectly honest, most of the time I see research as a necessary evil.

Reality is one of those pesky details that frequently gets in the way of a good story.

I have a few stories, mostly historical mysteries, that are sitting around in some incomplete form because I’m not motivated enough to do the research necessary to make them authentic and realistic.

Research would be more interesting if it involved traveling, but most of the time, my research is limited to what I can find on the internet. I don’t get to go to exotic locations, though hanging out at the local museum and doing history fest I like to count as “research.” I even dress in as much period costume as I can.

Still, while pouring over books or browsing sites and trying to decide if they’re trustworthy or not, there are still fun ways to do research.

For instance, I’ve been asked to do a story where I change a part of a well known plot. I don’t really know how I’ll do it. Not yet.

But the movie has been remade three times, and guess what I get to do for research?

Oh, yes. I get to watch.

That’s my kind of research.