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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing on the Fast Track (SiWC 2011 Notes)

Ooh boy what a month this has been. In the past week I have finished my NaNoWriMo 2011, which I have something to say about (just not this post), *and* the rewrites based on the feedback I received from a rejection letter. I successfully hosted weekly write-ins in my living room and for my NaNo, after realizing that my writing brain was suffering Janni-related fatigue, I let myself work on something fun that is nothing like what I've been writing of late: an adult-level (as opposed to YA) urban fantasy that has been in my brain for years. The point is, I've been busy. So busy that I still owe my great-aunt a reply to her letter from mid-October

Okay. I'll stop ranting my absence excuses now. Notes time!

The subject on writing fast has come up a few times this year, especially if you've been following Magical Words, but I found the approach in this class to be different. (It being a class rather than just a post to read may have helped.) Author Mary Robinette Kowal (from The Intersection of Puppetry and Speculative Fiction notes I posted a few weeks back) had a great way of dissecting the subject, complete with exercises. (Bear with me. I left most of my attempts here.) The exercises were all about knowing your story. From there, we went on to discussing the actual art of writing faster.

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Writing on the Fast Track
Mary Robinette Kowal

A lot of writers try to learn all of the techniques at the same time. It’s best to look at the techniques as individual things, and how they can be used to write a story very fast.

Part I: Know Your Story:

Exercise 1: Describe the room. Use all five senses.
-     The hum of the A/C. The scuff marks on the striped-wallpaper walls. The checkmarked pattern of the carpet, a burgundy and indigo and tan  pattern that was probably once vivid, but with years of foot-traffic and dust has faded to ugly shades of brown. The taste of dust on the tongue, as the air is overheated and my nostrils tingle with an allergy that before this weekend, I didn’t know I had. My throat burns with the dry air and the knowledge that, thanks to this weekend’s gathering of people, I’ve probably caught another cold. 
-          As you start doing this, if you keep describing this for long enough (try half an hour), you’ll start to notice all the tiny details that make a story pop. 
-          Description can reveal character. Point of view is what a character notices. 
-          Focus indicates thought, what the character is thinking about. As a writer, you have control of what your character is looking at, what they notice first.

Exercise 2: Take your description and take a specific point of view. Write three lines based on that, and they should reveal the character’s occupation.
-          The padded chair promised to be comfy, but already I could feel its rigid straightness wreaking havoc on my lower lumbar.

-          The seats were just a shade too high, and my IT bands were seizing up.

-          The overheated air tried to overcompensate for the rain outside, burned my throat.

Breath and motion: typically we don’t notice breathing unless it carries information. Breath indicates emotion. The speed and focus can reveal different details, depending.
- Action uses short, choppy sentences because they represent fast breathing on the page.
- Just by putting an extra line of description can show a character is fixated on something.
- Aggressive motion: anything tha is motion towards; passive is no action; regressive is movement back.
- Unpack an emotion: with motion, reveal emotion
- Avoid crutches: looked - Instead of she looked away, try she turned her face into the cotton pillow.

Exercise 3: Transcript: Go to the exercises posted on Mary's blog at Change the context of the scene without changing the dialogue. Frequently, the dialogue is meaningless without the context behind it.

Other things to consider:
- Understand what the rules are so that when you break them, you break them with intention.

- Orson Scott Card: Character and Viewpoint: Think about what's the focus of the story you're telling, using MICE. Then structure your plot around that focus:
- MICE: Millieu (settting), Idea (question), Character (dissatisfied, become resolved/resigned), and Event (something upsets the status quo, ends when status quo is returned). 
- Milleu – you go somewhere, have experiences, and come back. (e..g. Gullivers ctravels) – often dull on its own, often embedded with Character and event stories.

Rembember the Compact: Every story begins with a  promise to the reader. If you start the story with a promise, you follow through.

Think about the question: what does the character want? What to they need? Do they get what they want?
-          Yes, but
-          No, and
-          Yes
-          No
-          These questions can be in the scenes. What does the character want? Systematically deny them.
-          A scene should advance the plot, develop character, and establish setting. If it doesn’t do at least one of these, and preferably two or three, it doesn’t belong in the novel.

When approaching the plot, think: who is the character, where do they come from, who is their family, and why? Why?

Exercise 4: Write, just thinking about plot, with beginning/middle/end, thinking about MICE: Write one each of five separate plots for five separate stories.
Milleu: Goldilocks leaves home, has an adventure and comes home.
Idea: Bears come home and find a small girl asleep in their bed.
Character: Goldiocks is unhappy at home and runs away, has a bad experience and comes home.
Event: Someone has broken into the bears’ house! But when Papa bear fixes the broken chair, everything is happy after all.

What excites you most?
Think of a “what if” question.
-          Who has the most to lose?
-          What do they want?
-          Do you want a happy ending or a sad ending?
-          Do the try/fail cycle.

Part II: Now, About Writing Fast:
- You must learn the individual elements of storywriting, so that when you sit down to write, all you think about is the story. Because everything else becomes natural. You don’t want to think about it.
- It’s good to learn things these that don’t come naturally because then when you need it, you’ll come back to it with ease.
- Use shorthand if you must, but then go back and fix it. If you need to write fast, get the story down then come back and tidy it later.
- When you need to write fast, give yourself a loose framework before you begin. Just start with knowing where your beginning, middle, and end are.
- Look at your opening scene and paragraph for things that you can repeat (a line, an emotional state, an image). That helps bring the story full circle.

How do I get into the headspace to write? (especially if I'm a procrastinator?)
-          Know that you have plans to write. Use an activity around that is not verbal to start gearing yourself up. Think about story constantly.
-          Set a timer. “I have only this much time; I have to see how many words I can get done in this much time, with this many minutes” (e.g. 15 minutes).
-          Don’t get up for a glass of water while the timer is on. Don’t get up because you’ve reached an emotionally difficult point in the story.
-          GooglePlus Hangouts: Start a hangout: “Hey, I’m writing,” chat for 15 minutes and write the next 45. (e.g. write-ins).
-          If really stuck, do NOT go to the Internet. What happens is that your brain is saying, “I need time to think, to get away”, but you need to do something physical that does not engage the storytelling part of the brain. The Internet is verbal and storytelling.
-          Find something else.
-          Take an acting class: that will help you with character motivation, dialogue, and pacing.
-          Learn a foreign language. It talks about different cultures and the way we use language reflects a different culture. It breaks up your natural assumptions.
-          Read outside your genre. Don’t pick randomly; go to someone who reads something you don’t and ask them for suggestions. 
-          Read heavily in your genre, too.
-          Travel. Go places. That alone can feed your creativity.

What do I do if I have a day-job that is heavily word-based?
-          The more time you spend on the computer for work, the computer becomes “this is my work” so if you're really stuck, switch to another medium (such as writing longhand). Or have a computer specifically Internet-less to write on. The medium in which you write can change the pacing of the words, the rhythm.
-          Do exercises. Give yourself permission to doodle.
-          Every day write one page of something different. Don’t think about the entire giant thing. Give yourself permission to start something and just play. Sometimes a story will catch.
-          If working on more than one project, considering having a buffer to switch between projects. Depends on how your brain is wired, may want to keep multiple documents open on a computer.
-          Keeping track of your wordcount can be useful, but not if it makes you depressed.

Exercise: Write down a list different random ideas (1-5 words each, pref. 2 or 3). Cross out the first three or five. Look at remaining list. What idea excites you? Combine two or three. Then ask why. Why is it happening? Have an internal dialogue with yourself, write it down so that it gets recorded and excites you.

Still stuck? Do the maybe chant, where you set yourself off on a cascade of brainstorming. (Note from Laura: I totally do this. And it works: "Maybe X is because of Y. Maybe Z happens. Maybe ZOMG maybe A B and C are true and that's why X is really happening!")

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So, there you have it. Maybe these notes are too late to use for NaNo, but NaNo itself is its own creature, anyway. This class reminded me of Rachel A. Aaron's post on how she increased her writing output: IMHO, it all seems to come down to knowing your story.

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