Thursday, January 30, 2014

Breaking up is hard on the keys

(Image: stock.xchng/milan6)

I don't think using real conversations I've had to help spruce up my dialogue is a bad thing. I do it all the time. I'm not talking about taking whole conversations and changing the names. Occasionally using a phrase or sentence someone actually said can help make your fake conversations feel more real.

In my current case, it's also helping me tap into the emotions I'm trying to evoke in a particular scene. Today, it's a break-up between two characters who were in a romantic relationship.

Now, this scene had always been part of the plot of the novel - it's one of the motivating factors for one character's actions in the rest of the novel. Jacob Kent gets dumped by his girlfriend, Rachel, and in his sorrow makes a fateful decision. But I've littered it with bits and pieces from a couple of real breakups I've been through, and at least for me personally, I think it helps sell the emotions of the characters.

They say "write what you know," and in this sense, I think that phrase is true.

Here's part of the scene in question: (Keep in mind, it's still a first draft)

“Hey,” said the voice on the other end. Kent’s voice. 
“Hey,” she said. 
“You wanted to talk.” 
“I did,” she said. “You can probably guess…” 
“Well, no good conversation ever started with, ‘soooo we need to talk,’” he replied. “Historically.” 
She chuckled. “That’s accurate.” 
Then she let out a long sigh. She could feel the tears coming. She could hear his breath catch on the other end of the line. 
“You’re dumping me,” he said. It wasn’t a question. 
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “It’s just…” 
“Just what?” 
“You’re not... here.” 
“You did call me on the phone.” 
She closed her eyes, hard, trying to seal in the tears. “You’re wonderful, Jacob, really, I want you know to know that,” she said, voice cracking. “But… You’re so distant. You can’t ever tell me anything. It’s been nearly a year, and for all I feel, for all the good times we’ve had, I feel like I’ll never really know you.” 
He said nothing. 
“I’ve tried for months to get you to open up to me,” she said. 
“You know my work is classified.” 
“I’m not talking about your work,” she said. “I know what you do. I know where you go for days at a time. But I want to know what you think. What you feel. And I can’t keep going like this. I can’t keep dating you and feeling more and more like it’s just work.” 
“Do you love me?” he asked. 
She blinked. The tears streamed down her face. “Yes.” 
“Then why does it matter?” 
“Because it’s not enough. Not for me. Not anymore.” 
He said nothing. She sobbed. 
“Please don’t do this,” he said quietly. 
She wept. “I don’t want to,” she said between racking sobs. “I don’t! But you can’t promise me you’ll change, can you?” 
He said nothing. 
“I didn’t think so,” she said. She pressed the phone against her hot cheek, running her other hand through her hair. She gripped a handful of it and squeezed, feeling the tug on her scalp. But it was impossible to distract the tears. They kept coming. 
For a long time, neither of them said anything. 
But then he said, “I don’t want to hang up the phone.”

In writing fiction, even fiction as fantastic as something involving magic or aliens or mythical creatures, the concept of verisimilitude is key. If the reader can't get involved in the story, if some part of it doesn't ring true or real to them, they may give up.

I can't say that I often aim for deep philosophical truth in my writing, or even real emotional resonance in many cases, but I do want the reader to be engaged. That means that for all the fantastical, ridiculous things that are happening, it has to seem like it could really happen to these characters, and that the characters respond to these events in the manner that they should.

And one way to do that, as I said, is to draw upon my own memories and emotions. If it's real to me, the chances are someone out there can relate to it and it will feel more real to them.

So what if it happens to involve zombie Franken-dinosaur assassins?

Current Soundtrack:
"Dark Void" by Bear McCreary

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cast of Dramatis Personae Characters

(Image: stock.xchng/michaelaw)

So, here's something sorta embarrassing... I was having trouble remembering the names of some of the characters in my novel.

Yeah. I know.

They're totally minor characters, basically just red shirts. But, it's important to keep that sort of thing consistent throughout the entire piece, right?

So I did something that I really ought to have done from the start - create a list of characters and their associations. I know, I know, Writer 101 stuff. But, I've never really been one for taking copious notes or planning things out with more than just a bare outline and my brain.

In some circles, this is called "pantsing." People who do this are "pantsers." I realize how very 7th grade that sounds, but really, we're just trying to reclaim it.

But there it is. Look at me like a cautionary tale. Your novel will be full of strangers if you don't do things right. It doesn't have to be terribly in depth, just a straight up list. Is there a family, or groupings you need to keep track of? Go for it. Because most of my characters are in the military, I organized it by their squads.

Effort: Five minutes.
Not having to keep looking back through old chapters to remember character names: Priceless.

Current Soundtrack
"Black Sails" by Bear McCreary

Monday, January 27, 2014

Oh, hello there 2014

(Image: stock.xchng/nh313066)

It's apparently been an entire year since I updated this blog. Many things have changed since then.

Many things have also stayed the same.

I finished the Weirdo Company serial! That was a huge moment for me, hitting the "publish" button on the last of 10 parts. I had such an incredible amount of fun writing that story and creating those characters. I initially told myself that I was done with it for a while, and went to work on another project.

But the problem is, ideas for more Weirdo Company kept nagging at me. So I abandoned the other project and threw myself whole hog into a new Weirdo Company novel.  I haven't settled on a title yet, but frankly that's not surprising.

Along the way, other life things happened. I went to five weddings last year, three of them in about the span of a month. It was exhausting, and expensive, but at the same time a good deal of fun. My relationship with my best friend deteriorated until it was no more. That was also exhausting. And I got my heart broken, which was even more exhausting.

In the middle of all that, I got promoted at work. I don't work the night shift anymore, which is huge. I enjoy the work that I'm doing, and I feel like it's another step forward and toward what I would really love to be doing.

But I keep plugging forward with more Weirdo Company. It's comforting. It's fun. I'm pouring a bit more of my own emotions into this one, so hopefully there will be a little bit more dramatic meat beyond all the swearing and explosions and strange monsters.

It's also not a serial, it's a novel, though it keeps a lot of same serial format. I think fans will find a lot to like, and maybe I'll attract some new ones. Maybe.

I'm also writing this post from the very awesome Danish Pastry House in Medford. It's a fine little place that has lots of baked goods, sandwiches and really excellent coffee and tea options. I wrote a blog post for my second job about sleep deprivation while I was pounding back a chai latte. How's that for funny?

But, ultimately... How I'm feeling is this: 2014 will be big. Bigger than 2013. More things are going to change for me. I'm making that happen, rather than waiting for them. This is the next step that I've been building toward since I started self-publishing. Taking that leap was me beginning to do something different with my life than simply go to work, come home and do it all again the next day.

It's a little weird.

Current Soundtrack
"Inception" by Hans Zimmer