Posts Tagged ‘technical’

The Post – Under the Pier: Next Step – Scaffolding

February 26, 2008

Okay. Besides sitting in the chair playing 20 questions with my stories, what else happened as Under the Pier took shape? I spent a lot of money at Office Depot and Staples. Let me back up.

In the early stages of the journaling and “assessing what did I have” it wasn’t obvious at first that I was combining all of these various stories into one big one. I am a stubborn person. I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reality I’m supposed to confront in life. I was still trying to “finish this story fast” so I could go to my to-do list and say “Yup! Finished a story, mailed it, waiting for the money, move on to story number two.” Yes, I told you I learn slowly. So I tried to make the animal story into a chapter book. I thought about making the Max-Jamie problem into a chapter book. Chapter books are longer than than the picture books I couldn’t write and shorter than the novels I didn’t want to write. It was just my last vestige of resistance and it didn’t last long. God finally hammered it into my head that 1) you have to write the story that’s meant to be written, not the one you can cross off your list fastest, and 2) if you’re not going to do it right, why bother? In any event, the bottom line – novel.

I think it was about this same point that it suddenly occurred to me I might have something bigger than a simple novel. That’s how I am. One minute I’m trying to get away with writing a sound bite, the next minute I decide to go for the other extreme – TWO novels intertwined. And that’s what this has become – the story of a girl and her world above the pier, the story of the hermit crab and his world below the pier. The two worlds intersect at points until they meet at the climax, then go off their separate ways. The two worlds reflect similar struggles, and mirror the question “will I reach out for connection or run away?”

Now that I’d finally gotten the message it had to be a novel AND figured out the one line premise, there was that whole HOW in God’s name do I combine all this and keep track of details? How do you remember who did what in the various chapters, never mind between two different worlds? For that matter how could I keep track of who was who? And then what about when the worlds intersected? Lots of places to drop the ball. Hence – I needed infrastructure. Scaffolding.

Some people can do all this in their head, or their computer. I need to “see it on a wall.” I need paper. Sorry, trees. And I had to tackle this like a business otherwise the brain says “hobby…play” and nothing gets done. Writing is a business. A novel is a project. When I worked at Glaxo, we had project planning – calendars, files, SOPs, to-do lists, wall charts. I had to manage multiple projects at once. If you don’t keep track of details, it all comes crashing down. So, manage two novels at once when I’d never even written ONE novel? Yup – go back to what I know. Organize.

That meant binders, index cards, binder section separators, page protectors with binder holes, stickies, markers, highlighters, cork boards, Styrofoam boards, push pins, a spare toner cartridge for the laser printer, pens, crayons, large sheets of paper to plan on…. Yes, I go to Staples a lot.

I set up binders for character bios – animal and human. I made short “at-a-glance lists” of characters for both sides of the story, so I could quickly know who was who, saving the binder bios for the complete facts. I also made an index card for every invertebrate, fish, algae, plant or mammal that might show up in the story, with scribbled references on the back to find more elsewhere. More on these in the research post.

There are binders for the settings above the water and binders for the places below. I had binders for all the research I did and the background info I created. Again, I’ll discuss this separately under the research post.

As I reviewed all the journaling I did on the story line, I established a “time-line” and figured out what times in the story would be covered and in what chapters. Once I had a rough idea of chapters, I took a cork board and huge sheet of paper. I drew a large box on the paper for each chapter/time point. Any idea, shred of paper, page of journaling that pertained to the events on a certain day, I tacked up in the appropriate box. Every time I thought of something new, another note got tacked up under that day. Some of those days had an inch thick stack of idea notes.

I made a wall chart that showed at a glance the chapters in the novel, human on the top half, alternating with the animal chapters on the bottom half, and listing on each, the chapter number, human or animal, exactly what day of the week each took place, and relevant plot points in each chapter. On this same chart in the middle between the human and animal chapters, I graphed the rise and fall of emotions and action for the plot. I wanted to see at a glance how the story tracked for rising and falling action, both in each chapter, and in the story overall. I knew the story needed to have balance – not all snoring nor all white-knuckle rides, but a mix of intensity with catching your breath. However, I did want to make sure that overall, the trend of emotion kept rising until the crisis/climax, and then dropped for the resolution. Hence my chapter graph.

I made a chart of the human world characters – their family trees and interrelatedness with the other characters and locations in the story. This was helpful actually, because I discovered a couple of characters who didn’t really connect to anyone and hence I cut them. If they don’t connect to anyone in the story, why have them?

I made a chart of all the chapter happenings on the animal side of the story- where the action happened underwater for that chapter, which critters were involved, what happened. I wanted to make sure that 1) I wasn’t having the same thing happening in 3 different chapters, 2) I had the right animals in the right place at the right time, and 3) if the animal appeared in both the human and animal chapters, I made sure the action matched up

I kept a running to-do list of things to check on, research, fact check, people to call. I have logs for each chapter in each draft of the novel and can tell you the dates I worked on a particular chapter in a particular draft. I made organizational charts to show the chapter numbering changes from draft one to draft two and there’s charts on foam boards of all the elements to check on when revising the stories – one board for the human story, one for the animal side, one for elements of revision applying to both worlds.

And calendars. Yes. I kept a calendar. I even set deadlines for finishing certain milestones. In business, you have deadlines. It’s the only way your product gets out the door. Now, most of the time I missed those deadlines because things always take longer than expected. Still, the thing about deadlines is that you set them. Even if you don’t meet them, you’re a hell of a lot closer to the end goal, than if you never set one.

So, lots of infrastructure. Other authors may be ripping their hair out. This may not be their way to work. I may not be this detailed for another story. This is not the only way to write a novel. It’s probably not the best way. It’s simply my way – what my brain needed. I’d never written a novel before. Also, given the complexity of this one, the level of technical, scientific, and real-life detail, and the fact that I was writing two stories at once that intertwined, infrastructure was the only way I could keep anything straight.

Next : The First Half of the Scientific Approach – Define Your Hypothesis, Assemble Your Gear, Do your research

The Post – There really IS a deeper process at work here

January 29, 2008

Some lighter fare on tap in the next few days…photos of Admiral Byrd waving his claw, Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost self, and . . . even the ever reclusive Melanie Hamilton! Finally caught her sitting on her “front porch” – ie the open hole in the Live Rock – at 6:30 this morning. Stay tuned.

For today: So does staring into a tank of fiddler crabs, never mind shooting photographs of them at 6:30 in the morning, REALLY have anything to do with writing?

The answer? It all depends. You mean you wanted a definite answer? Here’s a clue – Mindfulness and heart. Still confused?

Simply said, it’s what you bring to the situation. You can sit there and stare at them and your mind could be on the bills, what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, what you could be doing instead of sitting in front of a tank of crabs. You could sit there and nod, “Yup, they’re crabs. Eyestalks. Sideways walk. They all look alike. So what?”

Or you can sit there and notice that Melanie Hamilton has much tinier front claws than Scarlett O’Hara. That she is timid and almost never comes out of her crevice in the live rock…except early in the morning when the sunlight streams into the kitchen and hits that side of the tank. She loves to sit in the sunlight on her front porch. Or that Scarlett O’Hara, who normally never stops eating and never hides out, suddenly after molting has stopped eating and has refused to move from under the water filter. Or that Admiral Byrd, normally fearless, crawled into his tunnel cave after discovering Peter Lorre’s lifeless body and started twitching and wouldn’t eat.

The difference is how you watch. Are you fully present? And did you bring your heart? The heart makes all the difference.

I am taking an online spirituality course with some friends, studying the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (pronouced Tick Naught Han). He is an 80-year-old Vietnamese monk who endured the horrors of the Vietnam War, came to America to try and stop it, and was deemed a threat by both the Communist and non-Communist regimes in Vietnam. While searching for peace, he found himself everybody’s enemy. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his efforts to stop the war, and in his later years one of his many healing works has been to heal the souls of former American servicemen haunted by that war. Having lost close personal friends to that war, he has every reason to hate Americans. Instead he’s spent half his life healing people around the world, including Americans.

He tells a story in one of his books about a young man who wanted to learn to draw lotus flowers. So he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to the lotus pond and left him sitting there for 10 days. Can you imagine in today’s busy world, signing up for lessons to learn something quickly, only to be left sitting at a pond for 10 days?

The real essence was what the young man did with that time. He could have gotten impatient (something I know a lot about), and grumbled, sighed, walked away, went shopping, took a nap, try to do something USEFUL with that time instead of just sitting there. Instead for the whole time, he watched the flowers bloom when the sun was high. He watched them close into buds at night. He watched one flower wilt and drop its petals into the water, then studied the stalk, the stamen and the rest of the flower.

On the 11th day the master returned and brought him a brush to paint with. Although his picture showed his naivete of technique, a childish style, the lotus he painted was beautiful. Deep beauty shone from the painting. He had become the lotus and as such, even with poor technique, he could paint something that moved another’s heart.

Mindfulness and heart. He paid attention to the lotus. He worked from his heart. Writing, really good writing that moves people’s souls, comes from the heart, not the brain. You can write a technically beautiful book but without heart it’s a sterile desert emotionally.

I started out watching fiddler crabs not sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect them to have personalities and subtle differences in appearance and actions. And I most certainly didn’t expect to feel such upset as I watched Peter Lorre tumble off his rock, dead.

With any luck, at least a little part of me has become the crab. With just a little more luck, maybe that crab heart will come through in my book. I’d trade a whole bunch of technical expertise for just a handful of heart.

By the way, if of interest to read a good summary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, check out this link at Parallax Press.

http://www.parallax.org/about_tnh.html