Tuesdays With Story
June 23, 2011
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.” — J.K. Rowling
Tuesday at B&N . . .
Amber kicked off the evening by reading from Chapter 22 of her still untitled YA novel. Kim wondered if the main character would notice her father thinking about something before he says anything. Pat wanted more action from the brothers at the dinner table. Jerry needed more reaction from the mother at the dinner table when the brothers rush back to the kitchen. Jen W. wonders if the dragon can cloak his scent as well as his looks. Clayton and Jerry have a problem with the number of speech tags throughout the chapter – some could be moved to increase suspense.
Greg Spry shares Chapter 7 from Beyond Cloud Nine with the group. Clayton thought the main character had been poisoned, but Greg tells us her symptoms are due to a combination of space lag, drug addiction, and being around family. A few people suggested he update the glow-in-the-dark stars and maybe the windows. Clayton wonders if the niece would defend the robot/pet. Pat’s looking for more sister/twin shorthand later in the chapter – would they get more catty as the chapter goes on? Millie likes that the main character is becoming more humanized. Jen W. didn’t think the Japanese word used for a particular member of the family was correct. Pat liked the way Greg slipped in the digital paper; very smooth.
Millie shares Chapter 26 with the group from Life on Hold. Kim called out one line she liked in particular. Pat loves Millie’s exposition but thinks she has a fetish for eye color. Which brings up the question, does hair color really matter? A few of the group weren’t sure why they would drive around the Chicago loop before heading to the Northwest suburbs, unless someone is trying to stall. Judith thought she captured the tension of meeting someone’s family. Clayton asked if one parent would believe another character’s story more than the other. Jerry thinks as it is, the dinner is kind of a throwaway; he wants the knock-down, drag-out row to happen over dinner, with the hired help around!
Liam shares a prologue or even a first chapter of a story with the group. Pat brings up the POV problems right away, but it was still readable. Jerry thinks the whole chapter should be from the main character’s POV. No one knew who the grainy picture was of. Jen didn’t think the FBI would be that calm with that many charges against one man. Aaron didn’t think the FBI would stop to tell the butler who they were there to see either; they would just bust in. Jen W. and Amber wondered who Scott and Rory are. Pat had a problem with the butler committing suicide. The list of charges seemed like such a farce to Randy, it set the tone for the rest of the chapter for him.
Rebecca shares a part of her Cheese Logue under the theme of cyclists. Pat really likes the stream of conscience writing. Jerry thought it was nicely done. Clayton questioned the tense. Rebecca says it should be in the past tense since they’re written as journal entries, but a few people noted a switch in tense. Judith thought it had some nice descriptions. Eileen thought she could take and develop the character of the cheeses even more.
Clayton shared Chapter 16 (again?) of Fishing Derby with the group. Pat thought there was some great imagery. Jerry wants to know how the main character knows who’s prone on the beach. Greg suggested that some of the information one character has needs to come out in the story earlier. Eileen had a problem with the number and reference/names of boats. Rebecca wondered if the main characters hands could shake while holding the binoculars, to help develop the personality of the main character. Let’s give the main character some traits, or perhaps a fatal flaw. Because it’s this particular characters story, Jerry thinks that character should have the last line in the chapter.
Who’s Up Next . . .
June 28: Jack Freiburger (chapter, Path to Bray’s Head), Carol Hornung (???), Amanda Myers (???), Kim Simmons (chapter 22, City of Winter), Liam Wilbur (???), Randy Haselow (chapter 25, Hona and the Dragon), and Jennifer Hansen (???).
July 5: Judith McNeil (???), Kime Heller-Neal (chapter, Feathered), and Jerry Peterson (chapter 12, Thou Shalt Not Murder) . . . Pat Edwards led computer workshop.
July 19: John Schneller (chapter, Final Stronghold), Eileen Flanagan (???), and Aaron Boehm (screenplay/part 9, Hell Cage) . . . Pat Edwards led computer workshop.
Keeping up on the old hands . . .
Those who remember Rev. Trish – Trish Mackey, she was a part of our group four years ago – after her husband, Bill, died, Trish moved south and I lost track of her . . . until we crossed paths on Facebook last week. Then this week, she emailed me asking if I still had a “Death by Chocolate” short short story she had written for our January 2007 Fifth Tuesday writing challenge. I did and sent it on and asked for an update on her journeys.
Rev. Trish: “I retired last year and now am ready to get back to work. I came down (to San Antonio) last June 2010 because my son and his family live here. It’s hotter than I like, yet I don’t want to have to shovel snow or drive on ice again. I left Madison and went to church in Illinois, outside of Chicago, and, after 1 1/2 years, I was just too burnt out to do my job well. That created the move to Texas. I am taking a position in Eugene, Oregon, in September for three months with a church and may decide to stay there or come back to Texas. Only God knows, and he’s not telling me yet.”
If you’d like to reconnect with Trish, you can friend her on Facebook. If you would prefer to email her, email me and I’ll send you her address. We don’t put email addresses in Writers Mail.
Jim Cue returned . . . to the first-and-third group this week. Jim had been a part of second-and-fourth group four or five years back. He dropped out to write a set of children’s stories and that then led him to write three film scripts. Ask Jim and he’ll tell you the story. He’s now going to be a regular with Tuesdays with Story. – Jerr
REPRINT OF GREG’S DIRECTIONS RE: HOW TO UPLOAD YOUR STORIES TO TWS SITE:
Uploading your writing chapters, pieces and poems to our TWS Yahoo site might be helpful for everyone. Ideally, anyone who is submitting something for a Tuesday night critique can upload their work to the site. Then it is available for everyone to open and download. Anyone getting ready to read through the other people’s writing for a Tuesday will also have all the pieces together in one location. Theoretically, this will be more convenient for those submitting and those doing critiques. We’ll see over the next few weeks. Let’s all try to use the TWS Yahoo site as the master file for submissions. It’s ok to also email your work also if you want to until we know this is going smoothly. Thanks to Greg who put together this nice how-to-use guide for the savvy and the clueless:
1) Navigate to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Tuesdays_With_Story/
2) Click Sign In in the upper left-hand corner of the page
3) Enter your Yahoo! ID and Password and click Sign In
4) Navigate to the Files link in the left menu
5) Click on the folder link for your group: First and Third or Second and Fourth
6) Click on the folder link for the current year (example: 2011)
7) Click on the folder link corresponding to the date of the meeting (example: 0621 for June 21)
8) Within the date-specific meeting folder…
a. To upload your submission, click Add File in the top-right corner.
i. Click Browse to search for your RTF file on your local computer’s hard drive. Locate your submission and click Open to add it.
ii. Type in a Description (optional) and click Upload File. Your file will appear in the meeting folder
b. To download a submission, click on the name of the RTF file. A dialog window will appear, asking if you’d like to Open or Save the file.
9) To add a folder if it doesn’t already exist, click Create Folder in the top-right menu. Type the Folder Name and a brief Description. Click Create Folder. Folder structure:
a. First and Third
i. Four Digit Year (ex: 2011)
1. Four Digit Meeting Date (ex: 0621) – Use this format rather than month name so the dates sort in the correct order
b. Second and Fourth
i. Four Digit Year (ex: 2011)
1. Four Digit Meeting Date (ex: 0628) – Use this format rather than month name so the dates sort in the correct order
10) Note: site members can edit or delete folders or files that they’ve created/uploaded. Individual members cannot alter anything they didn’t upload or create. Site administrators can modify anything.
P.S. We still need an editor for the July newsletter!
On Writing, Reading and Publishing . . .
New paradigm shift? Read “Literary Agents Try New Role as Self-Publishing Consultants.”
The chapter 2 submission by Colin Flaherty of Wilmington, Delaware was selected as the winner to continue the summer spy serial started by famous author David Ignatius in conjunction with the Washington Post. Read Flaherty’s chapter here (chapter 1 is also available):
Public submissions will be accepted to compete for a winning chapter 3. Where would you like to take the story next? You can submit your own chapter or read and recommend what others submit. Then watch for the next installment.
It’s a sign of the times — indie bookstores charging admission for author presentations. Read “Come and Meet the Author but Open your Wallet.” (thanks to Brandy D.)
Midwestern girl hits it big in the writing world, becomes millionaire, gets multi-million dollar book publishing contract and gets interviewed by the New York Times magazine. Amanda Hocking, a young woman from Austin, Minnesota, self-published a series of books which went viral. The Times article on her is interesting, surprising and inspiring.
Looking for some good summer reading? Can a librarian really recommend a good book? See the 2001 Notable Books List selection put out by The Notable Books Council of the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association. For fiction:
“Nashville Chrome” by Rick Bass. This lovely and unsettling account of pop trio The Browns reels you in as though the concept of rags to riches were brand new.
“Room: A Novel” by Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown. Five-year-old Jack vividly narrates the story of his life confined in a room with his mother in this unsettling exploration of resilience and hope.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. A ‘70s punk band becomes the touchstone for a motley crew who spin their interconnected stories over time and distance.
“Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin. Two men – one black, one white – must confront the secrets surrounding their childhood friendship following the disappearance of two girls in rural Mississippi.
“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. This incisive portrait of the fractured Berglund brood captures the zeitgeist of contemporary America.
“Next“ by James Hynes. Welcome to the worst day of Kevin Quinn’s life as he battles the anxieties of the modern world in steamy Austin, Texas.
“The Surrendered” by Chang Rae Lee. The complex entangled lives of three people forever scarred by the Korean War are sympathetically portrayed in gorgeous prose.
“Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” by Karl Marlantes. An ambitious and idealistic American Marine faces the horror, heroism, futility and pragmatism of war in this visceral portrayal of life in-country.
“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel” by David Mitchell. A young clerk attempts to establish himself in the artificial and intense world of Dejima, the Dutch trading colony in 1800s Japan.
“Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray. Filled warmth and humor, this coming-of-age novel set in a Dublin boys school is a sprawling homage to adolescence, string theory, donuts and unrequited love.
“The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli.The adrenaline high that danger offers infects photojournalist Helen Adams as she documents the war in Vietnam.
“The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel” by Brady Udall. In this big-hearted novel, Golden Richards and his clan navigate their chaotic lives as each clamors to be noticed.
On Outlining . . .
Where the Hell am I: Know where you are going (Thanks to TWS’s Aaron)
By Jason Aaron
Before you write the first line of your story, you’d better have at least a pretty good idea of what the last line’s going to be.
Before you even get started, you’d better know where you’re going.
Confidence is good, but don’t assume you’re good enough to simply write your way through a story without having any idea where you’re headed. I don’t know any writers who are. It’s okay to let your characters guide you, to some extent. It’s certainly okay to give them the room to breathe. My favorite moments to write and usually to read are the little moments, the exchanges, the lines of dialogue, the gritty little character bits. But ultimately, a story is only as strong as its framework.
A solid outline is a writer’s best friend.
Usually, you won’t have a choice. Most likely your editor is going to want to see an outline. The less they know and trust you, the more detailed they’ll want it to be. The bigger and more high profile the project, the more comprehensive it has to be. They’ll want to see how one beat leads to another, how things escalate from act to act, how everything ultimately wraps up. The whole thing, soup to nuts. That doesn’t mean you have to beat the story until it’s dead and work all the spontaneity out of your work. You always want to leave yourself room to improvise, to change things up when you can. The best ideas are often ones that come to you in the spur of the moment. But you better at least have a strong roadmap to guide you on your journey, or you’ll undoubtedly wind up lost and floundering.
Writing outlines is not fun. Not for me at least. Go ahead and accept that right off the bat. Writing characters is fun. Writing dialogue is fun. Writing outlines is too much like actual work. Like putting a huge puzzle together. Maybe you enjoy putting puzzles together. I never really have. But I’ve come to appreciate that I’m always at my best as a writer when I force myself to craft a solid outline, even if I’m not required to.
If you don’t know the basics for structuring a narrative, then you first need to learn. Read Robert McKee’s “Story.” McKee is often criticized, but his book is still something of an industry standard among screenwriters, and applies perfectly to comics as well.
I believe that some of the screenwriting programs like Final Draft have features that can help you in your outlining, though I’ve yet to check them out. Once you find a process that seems to work for you, it’s hard to break it and try something else.
I usually start with a file on my computer. A Word document. Or maybe a physical notebook. Just something I can throw ideas into. Scenes. Character arcs. Themes. Names. Maybe a line of dialogue. Everything and anything that comes to mind, I write it down. And later, from that, I start to build something that bears some semblance of coherence. I break the story into acts. Break it into issues. Move scenes around. I’ve heard of some writers who use notecards. They write scenes onto the cards and them shuffle them around into the best order. I haven’t tried that yet, but the idea is the same.
However you get it done, the point is just to do it. Not just for your benefit or your editor’s, but remember, somebody has to draw this too.
I admit, it’s fun to sometimes write yourself into a corner without any idea of how you’re going to get out. It’s a nice challenge. But what you don’t want to do is end one issue with your hero trapped in a burning building, weaponless, surrounded by goons, and then open the next issue with him suddenly whipping a baseball bat out of his back pocket and beating his way to freedom, when you never previously mentioned to the artist, “Oh, and be sure to draw a baseball bat in his back pocket. That’s gonna be important later.” Don’t leave your artist out to dry. They don’t like it when you do that.
And remember, as I’ve mentioned before here, if you’re writing an ongoing series, chances are you’ll be writing for multiple artists. And that will likely require you at least part of the time to write out of sequence. You have to keep multiples artists working at the same time, so if one artist is drawing your first arc, you’re also gonna need to jump ahead and write the second arc for the next artist. So in that case, you most definitely better have a solid outline. When you’re writing issue #6 before you’ve written #5, you better damn well know how you’re gonna stick your landing in that previous arc.
Despite what you may have heard, I assure you there is no such thing as simply following your muse. No such thing as merely sitting back and allowing your characters to guide you where they want to go. You may get that in very brief moments, in magical little glimpses. The entire rest of the time, it requires foresight and work. Stories don’t coalesce by magic. They have to be crafted.
Does that mean a great outline automatically makes for a great story? No, of course not. It still has to be executed. But like a team going into their big game, it gives you a solid gameplan.
And then the fun part begins.
Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series “Scalped” for DC/Vertigo and “Wolverine,” “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” and “PunisherMAX” for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter (@jasonaaron) or his blog. His beard is bigger than yours.
The Last Word . . .
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” – Mark Twain