So I was lying on the couch the other day feeling sorry for myself (tired and uncomfortable and just couldn’t figure out how to start that next scene in chapter 6 and why bother anyway because my stuff wasn’t good enough to publish etc.), generally losing all perspective, when a little voice in my head said, “Write one word.”
I could do that, couldn’t I? That didn’t sound so hard.
I propped my laptop sideways and with one hand typed just the first word in the scene. Then I thought I knew what the next word should be, so I typed that too. Pretty soon I’d forced out a pair of short paragraphs, and my hand didn’t know what to do next.
So I wrote one more word. Eventually, I sat up and employed both hands and got through a whole page.
That voice, at that time, was an answer to a prayer.
I just thought I’d share in case anyone else needed to hear this today:
“Write one word.”
As I sorted through the pieces of a 3,000-piece puzzle, it hit me that 3,000 is a lot of pieces. I spent at least an hour just finding all the edges.
50,000 is even more pieces. I thought about how each word in a novel is like a puzzle piece, interlocking perfectly with the words around it to create a large, awesome picture.
The words don’t come nicely cut up and packaged in a box. You, the writer, have to find each one in the world around you.
You don’t get a 600 dpi image of the finished image handily printed on a box. You get, maybe, a thumbnail. The picture gets larger and clearer as you go, but never exactly matches what you’re building.
Besides that, a lot of the pieces don’t interlock as smoothly as a jigsaw. Sometimes a jagged edge fits best beside a curvy one. And there are always extra pieces that you could swap in. The puzzle never seems finished!
Compared to writing a novel, building a 3,000 piece puzzle is relaxing. Maybe that’s why I’ve been itching to build one.
Luckily, there’s a magic spell you can cast over your finished “puzzle” that will beguile all readers into thinking it’s super awesome.
I just finished reading over the first draft of Featherfolk! When I began, I wasn’t sure if the manuscript had sat long enough for me to gain the distance and fresh eyes I need to revise.
As I read, I realized enough time had passed. I kept discovering small twists and turns I forgot I wrote. One bit the other day was so perfect and unexpected. It made me feel very clever indeed.
Thinking back, that particular twist was not part of my original outline. It came to me as I wrote, following naturally from the words and scenes I’d already typed.
I want to do that. Over and over. I want to surprise and delight myself.
Because if I can do that, I can surprise and delight others.
And that’s why I wanted to tell stories in the first place.
With my in-laws in town this week, I’ve been thinking of fictional families and how to go about writing them. I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where we all got along well the majority of the time, and I have awesome in-laws. With this background, I tend to write very “functional” families. It sometimes bothered me that lots of families in fiction are stuffed full of conflict.
But in recent years, my immediate family has been afflicted with a few falling-outs. I’ve come to see that while I, as a rather easy-going person, never had much conflict with family members, there was sometimes tension between members of my family that I was unaware of until it erupted later.
So even my “ideal” family had tensions and conflicts.
Here are my thoughts:
First of all, give your characters families. It’s easy to make an orphan or estranged character with no ties to family. It simplifies the story. But in reality, there are very few of these loners. Even Harry had the Dursleys, and Pip had Joe and Mrs. Joe.
While family doesn’t need to play a large role in every story, you should know about your characters’ families and how interactions with them have shaped your characters.
Where is there tension? Where is there not tension?
How severe is the tension, and is the main character aware of it?
Does it affect the plot? How?
My main advice for writing realistic families (and I need to be better at following this myself) is to avoid extremes. Don’t just write a perfectly loving and always understanding and tolerant family, or a completely dysfunctional and always bickering family. Both of these are parodies. Find the balance in between that is suitable for your character’s family, and let them influence him/her.
Just some thoughts.