Archive for the tag “writing”

Novel-writing update of win and gold

I’m fairly certain I’m one of the most inconsistent bloggers ever. The last time I posted was in June–right before I decided to abruptly sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo and write 30,000 words over the month of July (aka 1k a day). I never followed up after July had ended–so sorry about that!–but in case anyone was wondering, I totally achieved my goal. And believe it or not: what I’d churned out was actually good. Not perfect, mind you, but salvageable content. At long last, I discovered the voice of my main character Lindsey. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I just kept writing and I’ve been writing fairly regularly since last summer.

As of last week, I’m happy to report that my manuscript is at 50,000 words, and a little more than half of that is edited and mostly polished. It feels so good to finally feel like I’m making progress in this book. The more I write, however, the more I realize just how much more I have left to write. It’s both intimidating and exciting and I can’t wait to continue my adventures with my favorite gang of thieves.

I’ve also had the opportunity to submit completely new chapters of Boot Hill to a creative fiction capstone I’m taking this spring semester, and the feedback I’ve been given so far has been overwhelmingly positive and helpful. (I actually just submitted my final chapter to the class for workshop next week, so maybe I’ll talk about that once that’s over.) I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a supportive professor who is willing to let his students submit genre fiction, which has actually been both great for me but awful in terms of some of the other stuff I’ve had to read this semester. Yeesh. Anyway, his comments during our individual conferences lead me to believe that Boot Hill might just have publishing potential once it’s finished. Nothing beats hearing that from the mouth of a published, experienced author. Ahhhh, I can hardly contain my excitement.

And now that the semester is coming to a close, I will have even more time to continue writing my novel. I’m probably going to do Camp NaNoWriMo again in July because that actually seemed to work for me last year, and maybe–just maybe–I’ll have a complete first draft of Boot Hill by the time I graduate college.

Fingers crossed!

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A whole mess of character cheat sheets (with artwork!)

Want to know more about the characters I’m writing about this summer?

As an attempt to organize my story and the characters that run the show, I have started to compile little fact sheets about the major (and minor) players of Boot Hill. These sheets give a brief overview of each character, a picture (drawn by the wonderful Hunter Bonyun), the character’s purpose in the story, and his or her relationships with other characters. Just for fun, I’ve also included each character’s likes, dislikes, and fears. I hope you find them all as interesting as I do! These are a lot of fun to make, and they are helping me solidify individual character details as the cast of characters grows.

Characters added so far:

Lindsey Madoc
Riley Finch
Cornelius “Neil” Chapman
Ev Morris
Raleigh “Rally” Jambeaux
Fortun Rustreil-lis-Sygnes
Bastian

I will be updating the comprehensive character page throughout the summer, but I will be sure make note of any additional characters on my blog postings. Stay tuned!

Why I hurt my characters

It’s been a over a week since my last update, so I guess I’ll fill you in. Last week I decided to take a quick break from actual writing to create an outline for the first part of the book because I’m already running into some organizational problems. So far the outlining process has been extremely successful in helping figure out little plot holes I’ve been struggling with. So far, so good! I’m feeling less frustrated about the undertaking of writing a novel and more optimistic, so hopefully that feeling remains for the rest of the summer. I get excited when I open up my manuscript, which is the best sign I could ask for.

This afternoon, I was touching up and expanding upon a scene in the fourth chapter of Boot Hill in which my main character, Linds(ey), endures a lot of physical pain. Long story short, he ends up on the brink of heatstroke; falling down a cactus-ridden ravine; and getting shot in the arm. Now, I’ve always shared some laughs with my fellow writer friends over the idea of putting our characters through pain. We all do it, and I’ve always joked that it’s the sadistic part of me that likes to see my characters going through trials and tribulations. But the truth is that characters need to experience pain, adversity, and trials, oftentimes early on in a story.

I subscribe to “poor” treatment of characters because doing so helps establish character motives and resolve right off the bat. Do they crumble under pressures that are thrown their way or do they face them head-on? Do their goals change when the stakes are raised? When characters are pushed to their limits, readers are given a better idea as to who they are. Furthermore, the whole point of a novel is to explore conflict. Who wants to read about characters who aren’t struggling to meet their goals? Put your babies through hell, take away what they want most, and maybe, just maybe, something worthwhile will come out of it.

With that in mind, here is a little snippet of the pain Lindsey is going through. Maybe the sadistic part of you will enjoy it. ;)

I manage to keep my feet until my boot heel catches on a rock halfway from the bottom. I pitch forward and land on my already bruised thigh, unable to stop my ill-advised descent. Sand spatters into my eyes and mouth as I roll down the ravine. Cactus barbs rip into my skin, and despite pulling my head so tightly against my chest and gritting my teeth, I can’t help but cry out. I hit the drainage hard and fast. The wind is knocked from my lungs and I’m heaving, gasping for air. I curl up in pain, a breathless sob forcing its way from my mouth.

The hot sand pressing against my cheek reminds me of where I am. Snapping my mouth shut, I listen for sounds of pursuit over gunshots and chaos echoing above me across the canyon walls. I spit the dirt from my mouth and crawl onto my stomach, lifting my head to make sure I haven’t been followed; nothing but kicked-up dust settles in my wake. No one would be stupid enough to tail a two-bit outlaw with a death wish. Somewhat relieved but with panic still gripping me, I pull myself up but fall back down to the ground, my shaking arms and injured leg giving out beneath me. Long cactus spines pinprick my skin and press in deeper as I struggle to stand. I drag myself onto my elbows and knees, and then finally into a sitting position. My body tenses as I pluck out long thorns sticking into my elbow clear through my coat sleeve as fast as I can. Grazing my hand over my leg, I feel dozens more needling into my thighs and  calves, but I don’t have the time.

I force myself to stand, and begin to run.

What did I get myself into?

My summer novel-writing has commenced.

I have forgotten how taxing it is to write a novel–emotionally, mentally, and physically. Yesterday, I got together with Puer and Paper for a “write-in,” a good 2-3 hours of solid writing. I was totally wiped out and crawled into bed around 10 p.m. because my energies were so completely sapped. Hopefully this goes away and I’ll be able to write more efficiently throughout the summer. I guess I’m just miserably out of practice. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little discouraged, but I’m going to stay optimistic. I’m determined to get through this, and my characters are coming to life like never before. I currently have 14,000 words of Boot Hill written, and only about half of that had previously been written/polished. So far so good! I’m pretty happy with how it is coming out, too.

The only context I’ve ever had for writing a novel is National Novel Writing Month, and I’m not convinced my seven attempts (and five wins!) at writing 50,000 words in a month have prepared me for undertaking an entire novel in three months–the word count for this particular installation is looking at around 100,000 words. I know it sounds like the three-month 100,000 word novel would be a lot easier than 50,000 words in one month, but the honest truth is that there’s not much I took away from my NaNoWriMo writing attempts. As much as I loved the experience, most of the drafts I “won” with ended up in an archived folder on my computer, never to be opened again. Much of my writing felt so sub-par, irrelevant, and unusable for me that NaNoWriMo became more of a writing exercise than a fast way to churn out a story. I know it works for a lot of people; I just don’t think I’m one of them, unfortunately. I’m trying to make Boot Hill something I can be proud of, and I don’t think rushing myself is the key. So the alternative is this three-month summer option, and I’m doing my damnedest to make things work.

Here are a couple paragraphs I wrote yesterday that I quite liked:

My eyes flutter open to a brilliant orange and yellow sky. Finch sits beside me, chewing on a long piece of grass as he looks out into the distance. My heart jumps into my throat and I scramble away from him, wincing as the pain in my shoulder flares. I grasp at the wound, shallow breaths trickling from my chapped lips as Finch and I look at each other. After a few seconds, he stands and shakes his head. Both of his guns are secured in their holsters.

“Get up,” Finch says, striding toward me and grabbing my uninjured arm. “You’ve stirred up a whole heap of trouble, Linds.” I don’t move. He crouches down next to me. “Now, you’re coming with me once and for all. Y’understand? Or do I have to tie your hands so you won’t swat at me and my boys?”

Expanding the 20 sentence scene: Boot Hill

My first post to “The Sorry Songbird” was a 20 sentence scene exercise that I enjoyed because it incorporated everything I wanted to have in the scene, even if it was just the bare bones. But because my main character, Lindsey, tends to have a fairly articulate voice, I decided that I would try to expand what I’d written for the 20 sentence scene to match Lindsey’s tone while adding in some necessary storytelling components. Overall I’m very happy with what I’ve come up with, and thus far it doesn’t even span the entirety of the scene as outlined by the 20 sentence scene exercise. I might adopt the skeleton -> expansion method during the editing process more frequently if I come out with results like this. Doing so might even help me get over my crippling edit-as-I-go mentality that has held me back from finishing this novel for so many years.

I retrace my steps back to the correct dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, somewhat relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of hoarded trinkets, books, water skins, and clothing. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean my head back against the cool stone wall across from Finch. He removes the wrangling hat tipped forward over his face and sets it down on the top of his head, looking over at me.

“Thought you’d run off for good this time,” he says.

“How’s your arm?” I ask, noticing a trace of blood seeping through the strips of threadbare fabric.

“Could be better. Could be a whole hell of a lot worse.” He tests the movement of his arm, sucking in a sharp inhale between gritted teeth.

“You’re lucky.”

“Wouldn’t call it lucky,” Finch snaps. “First time I’ve been shot in years.” He pauses. “Six years, in fact.”

“You’re an outlaw. I’d say one gunshot wound in six years is a sign of good luck.”

Finch scoffs. “Not if you’re a good one.” He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged cliffs.

“What happened six years ago?” I ask.

“Long story,” he says. I sigh and look away from him, plucking the top book from a crooked stack of leather-bound books beside me. With my jacket sleeve I wipe the dust off the blank cover. As I thumb through the book I recognize the names of characters from old fables and legends from childhood. Only one of the pages is dog-eared: a three-page story called “The Sorry Songbird.” I’ve never heard of it. I think of who Finch might’ve killed for this book; something tells me he’s not much of a reader.

I set the book beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains stick to my feet, but I don’t bother to try and scrape them off. I pick up another book from the pile, and as I open it, the spine cracks with age and neglect. The words inside were written in pencil, and are now faint, barely legible. The small, rigid handwriting triggers a semblance of familiarity.

When I look up from the page, Finch is staring at the book in my hand. “Should’ve left you back there,” Finch mutters to himself, shaking his head. “You’ve got bad luck written on your heels.”

What do you guys think? Improved? Not so improved? As a writer, how do you approach scenes? All in one go, as a skeleton that you then return to in the editing phase to expand upon, or something in between? Do you struggle with the “editing bug” while you’re writing a first draft?

20 sentence scene

As my very first post to “The Sorry Songbird,” I will be posting some brand new writing for Boot Hill. I used an exercise given to me from my intermediate fiction professor, and it is one of the few that I found useful. I posted this on my old blog, but here is the exercise one more time for everyone’s reference–and I encourage you to give it a whirl if you haven’t already.

Write a 20-sentence scene with two characters. Each sentence must incorporate the specifications below, respectively:

  1. A sentence with a wall or boundary in it
  2. A sentence with weather (temperature, wind, air) in it
  3. A sentence with a sound in it
  4. A sentence with a gesture in it
  5. A line of dialogue of six words or less
  6. A sentence with light in it
  7. A line of dialogue of ten words or more
  8. A sentence with a ceiling or floor in it
  9. A sentence with a texture (the feel of something) in it
  10. A sentence with an object smaller than a hand in it
  11. A sentence with an allusion to literature or art in it
  12. A sentence fragment
  13. A sentence with a piece of furniture in it
  14. A line of dialogue that is a question
  15. Another line of dialogue that is a question
  16. A sentence with a hand or fingers in it
  17. A sentence with a dash in it
  18. A sentence with an allusion to a current event in it
  19. A sentence with a metaphor in it
  20. A line of dialogue that is whispered

Here is mine. I didn’t follow the sentence structure completely, but I tried to stay as close as I could. It needs some revision and expansion, but it’s a great skeleton for the actual scene when it’s done. Enjoy!

I retrace my steps back to the dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of trinkets, books, poorly-folded clothing, and water skins he has stored here over the years. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean against the cool, gritty wall across from Finch, next to a crooked stack of leather-bound books. I pluck the top book from the stack and open it. The spine cracks with age and neglect, and the words inside are faint, barely legible. The writing style seems vaguely familiar.

“Should’ve left you back there,” Finch says, shaking his head. He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged walls.

“And what’s keeping you from doing it?” I say, clenching my fists. “Right now. I never asked to ride your coat tails.” Part of me fears the possibility that he might follow my advice. “I didn’t ask for this.”

Finch doesn’t respond. I wait for some time but he has averted his eyes and won’t look up at me. I set the unread book in my hands beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains adhere to my damp feet, and I don’t bother to try and shake them off. I pick up another book from the pile and open it. Written in bold, frantic script on the inside cover: “Quinn.” I stare at the inscription, stunned.

“Where did you find these?” I ask, grabbing at another one of the books to check the inside cover. There it is again. Quinn.

Finch quickly asks, “Do they mean anything to you?”

My thumb catches on a corner of a page near the end of the book, and I part the pages. There are words, but for some inexplicable reason I’m too afraid to read them–too afraid to see whatever connection it holds to Finch. The gunslinger stands with some difficulty, careful of his injured arm in my makeshift sling, and begins to walk toward me. He crouches down so that his face is only a cricket’s wing from mine.

He inclines his head near my ear and whispers, “What do you know about him?”

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