Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Putting the 'Stuck' Back in Process

This blog is about the process of writing a novel. It says so, right up at the top of the page. And I'm writing a novel. Yup, I sure am. Sometimes when I write about writing, it's informative; sometimes it's neurotic; sometimes it's inspirational in intent; sometimes it's a little bit crazy; and sometimes it's just plain stuck.

Yes. I admit it: I'm stuck. I've been bashing my own motto to death and doing major character development as well as runaway research in the hopes of someday, maybe, unearthing a PLOT, but to not much avail.

Or, to no avail.

I'm still in Ancient Greece - Tibet, India, Australia, London, and New York are just gonna have to wait. Here's the set-up of the Greek plot thus far, in a little nutshell:

Boy loves god. God isn't into it. Boy convinces god to be into it. They begin a love affair. 

I'm very happy with this so far. A reluctant god who has sworn off love affairs, plus a smitten and utterly determined (and mildly narcissistic) mortal, makes for good fun conflict.

So the mortal wins, and they get together.... And then what??

I know it's not going to work out (sorry, but it's not). First of all, Greek gods are about as capable of fidelity in love affairs as - as - well, crap, my metaphors are failing me, but let's just say THEY'RE NOT CAPABLE AT ALL. Second, as I've mentioned before, despite their own major failings in the monogamy department, Greek gods don't deal well with lovers who cheat on them. Third, neither one of these people is really emotionally capable of true intimacy.

This is all good, right? Lots of potential conflicts, right? I KNOW! I read that and I think, "so what's the problem?"

The problem is that I can't for the life of me figure out exactly how things get messed up, or why. Does Apollo cheat on his mortal? Does the mortal cheat on him? Why? And if so, with who, and then what? Does Artemis somehow get involved? She keeps popping up in my brainstorming, but won't tell me why. It's annoying.

I was expounding on this on Twitter today - ok, fine, I was complaining - and the wise and very smart L.G. Smith advised me to "Time to take something precious from them [my characters]. If they have nothing to fight against, they're too comfortable."

This tickled something in my head... but I'm not yet sure what it is. I think she's putting me on the right track. Maybe. I hope. Certainly a love affair wouldn't be comfortable for either one of them - in fact, my instinct is that it's the intimacy itself that takes something away from them, even though they both thought it was what they wanted. I just don't quite have it yet. You know - the thing that gets taken away, and what they do in response.

Is this a case of the thing a person wants the most is the thing that frightens them the most? Or a case of the thing a person wants the most is the worst thing for them?

I don't know yet.

I know. I know. I presented an irritating problem, complained about it for a while, and then neglected to resolve it. This is not what I would call satisfying writing.

And yet, it's precisely the kind of grind that constitutes 'daily work' for a writer. You bang your head against your desk; the banging jars loose a brilliant idea; you follow that idea only to find out it's bunk; you bang your head some more and pull your hair, and problem-solve out loud, and write lots and lots of brainstorming ideas that start with "what if" and end in question marks. Rinse, wash, repeat.

I'm not complaining - or, well, I'm complaining only a little. I love this work. I just love it more when I have solutions to my problems, rather than just large stubborn problems that sit on my desk and taunt me.

So, that's where I am today. Not much of a thrilling inside look, perhaps, but a true one. Thanks for sticking with me.

And suggestions, of course, are more than welcome.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Down the Research Rabbit Hole

I'm still firmly ensconced in Ancient Greece right now; I've decided that the best way to tackle Research Fatigue is to pretend I don't have that much to research! If I can give myself tunnel vision, and focus on one item on the (Self-Inflicted) Research To-Do List For Crazy People, I don't feel nearly as, well, fatigued. I recognize that 1) this makes for less diverse and probably less interesting blog posts, and 2) it requires an advanced amount of self-delusion, but hey, I'm up for being dull and nuts if it gets the job done!!

This week, I followed my typical research pattern, which looks like a small child's hand-drawn map. You know, nothing is really in scale, there's no sense of perspective or distance between points, and more than one road goes meandering off into nowhere...

Here's an example: today, I set out to learn what the daily life of a shepherd in Ancient Greece would really be like (the other soul, Apollo's lover, is a shepherd, so this is grade-A important info.) Responsible-writer-cap firmly on my head, I went to JSTOR (thank you, Crystal!!), and started reading semi-related articles on animals and animal husbandry in Greece and so on...but nothing really answered my question.

I didn't want to give up, but I was getting frustrated, so I sort of pushed the responsible-writer-cap a little bit off my forehead - just so I could scratch my head - and found that I was searching on wikipedia instead of JSTOR.

Hmm. How did that happen? Oh well, I thought; I'm here, I might as well look into general shepherd-ry while I'm at it!

Except, that cap was getting kind of uncomfortable, so I took it off - just for a couple of minutes - and put it on my lap.

That's when I thought: wait, do I REALLY need a lot of information on a shepherd's daily life? I mean, the story is going to start when Apollo sees this shepherd and decides to take him away from his shepherding duties.

Yup, not important!! It was much more important for me to have a firm grip on this guy's character. I did some great work on Apollo's character last week, but Acaeus - that's the shepherd's name - was really underdeveloped.

So I abandoned wikipedia, opened up my trusty character analysis document (knocking my responsible-writer-cap off of my lap and onto the desk in the process), and dug into Acaeus. I started brainstorming and writing, and decided that his mother died in childbirth (an all-too-common occurrence in Ancient Greece.)

Wait, I thought, if she died in childbirth, did he need a nurse to, um, nurse him? Would a poor recently widower-ed shepherd dad even have access to a nurse? How did Acaeus survive?

Artemis must have killed his mom and saved him! She is the goddess of childbirth, and the Greeks believed she was responsible when mothers and/or infants died in labor.

But was there a nurse? And why did a virgin goddess care about childbirth, anyway??

Back to the internet! I looked up Artemis and childbirth, which led to much digging into maternal death rates, which lead to attempting to read about the lives of lower class women in Ancient Greece, which got even more frustrating because, like most historical reading, there's a whole lot of information on rich people's lives, and little to none on the masses'.

I brushed my responsible-writer-cap onto the floor in impatience, and decided that what I really needed was to research Ancient Greek names so that I could name Acaeus's mother and father!

Ooo...traditional names and their origin in *buries self in mythology*

Wait, what was I working on? Oh yes, Acaeus's character! I knew Acaeus had some narcissistic tendencies, although not a personality disorder, so I turned again to the internet and started looking up some basic psychology on narcissists.

I read three or four information-rich, thought-provoking articles, and then in the process of searching for more, I found a weird yet compelling website on reincarnation, and thought, OOOO! Why not? I mean, my book is about reincarnation!! So I started reading all about the 5 Levels of Souls and the 35 Stages of Souls and the 7 different Types of Souls and....

...and then I disappeared down the rabbit hole.

Whoops. Sorry about that. I'll try to dig myself out in time for next week's post...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When Research Changes Plot, Or What To Do With A Vengeful God

I've been digging into Edith Hamilton's Mythology this week. No, I'm not indulging some bizarre nostalgia for my early teenage school years (I am not one of those insane quirky people who wishes she could go back to the halcyon days of high school, probably because I would never even think to call them 'halcyon' days, not that I hated them, because I didn't, I just found them full of growing pains and awkwardness and I'm going to stop this run-on sentence now); I'm doing research.

Granted, I'm supposed to be looking into (to quote myself, here) "Day-to-day life in the Classical Period of Ancient Greece, including specifics on the worship and temples and priests of Apollo", so technically I suppose I'm also procrastinating. See, I do have a book on the "Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks", but 1) it's duuuulllll, 2) it's written for teens, and is therefore a bit oversimplified, and 3) while it's absolutely chock-freaking-full of information about the daily life of Athenians, it's got all of about two wee paragraphs on the daily life of goatherds and/or shepherds and also priests of Apollo, which is what I really need. What I'm saying is that the book has a misleading title and it's irritating. Not to worry, I do have a list of other books to look into (thanks to a certain brilliant and generous librarian friend of mine); I just don't have them in my possession. Yet.

So I'm taking a break from said irritation, and reading Hamilton instead. And happily, like other research, it's a useful and fascinating procrastination. I've got this little story planned out for a brief, possibly violent, and certainly tumultuous love affair between Apollo and a mortal youth, so this particular reading is actually part of my character development for Apollo. And like most research, it's changing my story.

The thing is, since Apollo does exist as a well-known mythological figure, I need to walk a fine line between meeting certain expectations for his behavior, and also crafting my own version of him. I did start some development for him, which mostly entailed combining what I remembered about Greek mythology with what I needed for the story I'm creating. I then used that combination to help me come up with a basic plot structure for this particular lifetime.

Well, it turns out I missed a few important things.

As I've said before, research is character is plot. In this case, I forgot a few things: namely, that the Greek gods can often be cruel bastards with a marked indifference to human suffering. Not all of the time, of course, and actually Hamilton points out that Apollo is one of the more beautiful and less crude of the pantheon, but he stills does stuff like have his sister kill his unfaithful lover, and rabidly pursue an unwilling maiden until she begs for mercy and gets turned into a tree (one that's sacred to Apollo, just to add insult to injury).

I also learned - and this I don't think I ever knew - that Apollo is the God of Truth and Light. Hamilton puts this quite beautifully, actually, saying that "he is the god of Light, in whom is no darkness at all, and so he is the God of Truth. No false word ever falls from his lips." Apollo really cannot tell a lie, nor can anyone lie to him.

Both of these things are important facets of his character, and they change what I'd been planning. I was thinking about having Apollo's mortal lover be unfaithful to him, and get away with it. Well, now I need to reconsider. I can disregard parts of his mythology that don't suit my purpose (thank you, artistic license), but these pieces are so interesting and so full of potential for great conflict that I don't really want to discard them. Now, if his lover is unfaithful, I need to think about how Apollo finds out (because he always finds out), how he reacts, and whether or not he tries to have this lover killed - or even whether he kills him himself.

I'm not sure yet what exactly is going to happen, but I won't be giving much away if I say that both Apollo and his lover will die somehow. After all, I'm writing a book about the various lifetimes of two souls, so in order to move on to another lifetime, the current one has to end.

This is one of the great things about research: when you find something that really does shift the story. What could be better than figuring out what a vengeful, all-powerful god might do to punish his faithless lover? I'm rubbing my hands together gleefully even as I write this...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Insecure Writers: Shaking Off the Rust

NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. Most of whom are insecure. So, we support each other from the safety and comfort of our desks. 

Hello, everyone! Happy New Year! I'm fresh off of a two-week blogging vacation, as well as a short but amazing trip to Iceland - which is every bit as otherworldly, spectacular, gorgeous, and, at this time of year, dark and cold and wind-driven as you might imagine - and I have to admit that my hands and my brain feel a little bit rusty. I'm back in the saddle today (or, OK, at the computer), but I haven't quite gotten my sea-legs yet. Which you just might - might - be able tell by my ridiculous mixing of metaphors in the previous sentence.

Isn't it funny how extended time off can make you feel like a beginner again?

Or, wait, is that just me?

Anyway, I'm not really a big fan of New Year's resolutions - I'll save you the long, wind-baggerish trip down Curmudgeon Lane and just say they're not my thing - but I do feel like I should mark the new year somehow on this blog.

So...since it's IWSG Wednesday and all...I'll admit that I'm starting the New Year by shaking the rust off of my hands, and I'm doing it with more than a little trepidation. When I took off for Christmas, and then Iceland, I left my new project smack dab in the middle of a looming mountain of research. So imagine my surprise and dismay when I returned from my travels only to find that no one had done any of that research for me while I was gone.

Can you believe it?? It was Christmas - a holiday positively brimming with elves - and I went to Iceland - a country whose people overwhelmingly believe in elves - and not one little elf came by and did any of my research for me! How irritatingly realistic!

Sigh. Lack of elves aside, the real IWSG revelation here is that I'm having a hard time facing down this Research Mountain with a positive attitude. I usually like doing research, and the fact that I'm sort of dreading it right now is worrying me. Did I take on too much? Has my idea moved so far beyond my original concept that I've lost the excitement I once felt about it? Do I need to rethink, and make some semi-drastic changes?

It's possible, too, that this is all just part of the post-vacation, post-holiday blues, and that in a week or two I'll feel very different and realize that I may have been overreacting. I hope this is the case. It's frightening, though, to think about all of the time and energy I've invested in work that I might need to throw away. I know getting rid of stuff is part of writing, but it sure isn't my favorite part.

For now, though, I really don't know. So I'm starting the trek up Research Mountain, anyway, backpack of reference books strapped on tight, and hoping that it's the right path to take. Only time and work will tell...

Wish me luck?

And in the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of Icelandic visions of beauty:

Þingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic parliament Alþingi was founded in the year 930 AD

 The gorgeous black sand beach of Reynisfjara, with views of the Reynisdrangar basalt pillars 

Swimming in the natural geothermal pools at the Blue Lagoon

The charm and loveliness of Reykjavik