Louie, Louie

In New York State, people over seventy (I’m seventy-two) or with health challenges that make them particularly vulnerable have been told to stay home. (Just saying to put you at ease, I have no health challenges.) Stay home period. Groceries are left outside our gate. I’m lucky to have my husband and my dog, to keep company with, and a big backyard to walk in. And to have you guys–to be able to read your questions, discussions, and the way we support each other. Please, everybody, be careful and stay well!

On December 4, 2019, in response to my plea for questions, Melissa Mead wrote, Questions….let’s see…

I write really slowly. Any tips on writing faster/spending less time chasing red herrings?

The WIP has 2 POV characters. How can I balance out their timelines?

I wrote back, About the first, I’m very slow too, and I chase red herrings, which sometimes turn out to be crucial. I’ll take a stab at this one from the standpoint of a fellow easily distracted writer.

I’ve added this to my list, but are they together, interacting, or are they in different places?

And Melissa Mead answered, In different places–and they’re essentially 2 versions of the same person. in different places, interacting with some of the same people, but at different times. They meet up once or twice in the course of the story, and at the end.

My brain hurts just trying to explain it.

Raina came in with these suggestions: For the writing faster, this method helped me tremendously, and I’ll let the original author explain it much better than I ever could: www.thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html.

The part that particularly changed my way of thinking was Side 1: Knowledge, or Know What You’re Writing Before You Write It. I use her method for outlining scenes before writing them for nearly everything I write now, and now the actual writing goes so much smoother. Of course, my scene summaries tend to be looong and take me a while to write so I don’t know if I’m actually saving time, but it feels so much easier and that alone is worth it for me.

For timelines, I really like this NaNoWriMo blog post about plotting your story like a subway map: www.blog.nanowrimo.org/post/166302962291/nano-prep-outline-your-story-like-a-subway-map. I’m a visual person who loves using number lines to visualize plotting and pacing, so this was right up my alley. Your results may vary, but it’s worth a look, especially for complicated/multiple plot lines.

If you’re talking about in-story *time*, specifically, rather than narrative pacing, I found that a simple schedule helps, at least on a small scale. I planned out my MC’s day like an agenda (12 AM: arrival. 1-2 AM: getting settled in. 2:15 A.M.: visit another character) and it helped me keep track of timing and how long things should take. It also helps to remember that narrative pacing and in-story time can be very different; a 3,000-word scene that’s mostly dialogue can take place in less time than it actually takes to read, while a single paragraph of a character traveling can take place over hours or even days. It also helps me catch when I forget to make characters eat or sleep.

Thank you, Raina! I especially like the enthusiasm side and the techniques to ramp it up. Being eager to write a scene makes everything easier and more fun.

There’s this quote attributed to Oscar Wilde, although the wording varies. It goes something like, “I had a busy and productive day. In the morning, I took out a comma, and in the afternoon, I put it back in.”

He was talking about poetry, and poets are notoriously finicky and precious. Still, everyone’s pace is different, and we should take credit, as Oscar Wilde did, for our productivity (even if the word count is zero).

As I’ve said here, I’m slow. I don’t know if all pantsers are. But lately, I’ve had to face the fact that I allow the online world, especially emails, to contribute to my pokiness. I’ve started limiting email checking to half-hour intervals, and I’ve already noticed improved concentration.

But it isn’t only email. I google too much. As you may know, I’m writing about the Trojan War. Near the end of the war, thirteen Amazon women came to the aid of Troy. Thirteen is a small number, but the Amazons (who really existed) were fabulous warriors, and they cut a swath into the Greek army. I’ve read a book about them, The Amazons, Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. They were Scythians, an ancient people, who were technologically advanced for the time: among the first to domesticate the horse and to smelt iron. Most of all, for my purposes, their bows were far and away better than any others, smaller but more powerful than those of the Greeks. The Scythian bow was complicated, consisting of wood, animal horn, sinew, and animal glue. Making a single bow took a few years, so each one was precious. My MC is a young bowyer (bow-maker), so I need to understand the process.

I’ve spent hours online, reading articles, watching YouTube demos, and–in terms of frittering–learning many fascinating things I may never need. The whole process still isn’t clear to me, but I may have enough for the writing. I now know how to make glue from my dog’s collection of half-chewed rawhide!

So we limit our email checking, our Facebook looking, our tweeting (I don’t do that one), our Instagram gawking (guilty!). We set limits.

Pantser that I am, I now know that I need a fundamental, very basic, maybe just half a page, outline. And I have to know, more or less, the ending. With those two, I’m confident that I have a real story and not a meandering maze. And with them, I write (slightly) faster.

I write faster, too, as I get farther along and the choices narrow, and the excitement builds–I think this is the enthusiasm side. So, it will help us to keep our eyes on the prize, our basic plot and our ending.

A deadline can help, too. It does for NaNoWriMo writers. I have deadlines, but I generally push them so far out that a non-English speaking writer could probably learn the language from scratch and make my deadline. (Slight exaggeration.) Even if you don’t have a waiting editor, you can set a deadline.

However, we all go at our own pace and take our pleasure where we may. I like fiddling and rewriting as I go and making lists and seeing what I come up with. I enjoy framing and reframing a sentence sometimes and sometimes getting an elegant turn of phrase. These do slow me down, I guess, but they also are part of what I love. I won’t come anywhere close to the output of the late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who, in his seventy-two years, wrote or edited more than five hundred books–I’d have to live more than five hundred years!

In terms of the timeline for Melissa Mead’s two characters, a chart might help. Since they’re versions of the same character, lets call them Louie One and Louie Two. The chart might consist of a column for each Louie with a third column for dates and times. For some times, when the action is intense, we’ll need to include hours and possibly even minutes. For example, the left-hand column might show Saturday, 9:00 am. Next column: Louie One, dusting the bric-a-brac in his front parlor. Third column: Louie Two, spooning arsenic into his delicious lamb stew. Next line: 10:00 am. Louie One, not in story. Louie Two, ladling stew into mason jars. And so on. (I don’t know if they can be in separate places at the same moment–Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde couldn’t be.)

I think the chart can be used either during the writing or in revision–or both.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Jack and Jill live in the kingdom of Desertia, which has been in a drought for fifty years. Throughout their whole young lives, they’ve heard rumors of a well on a certain hill. A pail of water from that amazing well will inexhaustibly irrigate all the farms in the kingdom. There are conditions, though. Not a drop of water may be spilled, and the pail may be lowered into the well only once. In half an hour of real time, write any scene from Jack and Jill’s journey to the hill. Decide if you’d like to spend the half hour writing the tragic denouement.

∙ Jack lives in western Desertia, and Jill lives in the far east. The well is over the northern border in the kingdom of Floodovia. In an exchange of letters, they agree to meet at the bottom of the hill at sunrise on a certain morning. Each encounters obstacles on the way. Jump back and forth between them, and write their travels, keeping track of the time, so that they do arrive as arranged.

∙ Both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are diarists, though their styles are quite different. Dr. Jekyll mulls over every word, and Mr. Hyde writes at a fever pitch, the heck with grammar, spelling, and handwriting. Write a diary for each of them.

Have fun, and save what you write!