Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Pantsing by the Seat of my Write!

Morning, y'all! It's another beautiful day here in the Crescent City. And it makes me so happy to be able to write another WIP Wednesday post! It's been... a million years since my last WIP Wednesday post. I know, I just looked it up.

So I'm closing in on 40K words and the end is in sight! The road is littered with spare prose and talking heads, but that will be a job for draft two. The thing about pantsing, I need to underwrite. Unless I'm struck by a marvelously suitable turn of phrase while I'm typing, I wind up reverting to a lot of short-hand "stage cue" type tags (lots of he says, she says, and people turning around) that are basically placeholders for better writing once I have the plot figured out. I think if I was trying to do both at the same time,  my head would explode!

But yes, it's working pretty well for me, since I'll wind up writing about five hundred words, go back and realize there's been a lot of talking, and then suddenly make something catch fire (not literally. except that once when it was.) and see how the mc is going to react. I've learned a lot about her this way, actually.

Other than that, I solemnly swear that I am only doing research when absolutely necessary at this point. I mean, I did one big glut before I started, but I'm limiting my research to stuff I can't. Write. Without. Knowing. And I'm keeping a list in my notebook of topics I need to research while I'm letting my first draft stew:

electricity, plumbing, etc in poor areas of FQ
prevalence of automobiles
Charity Hospital layout pre 1930s
medical training
segregation in church/public transportation/workforce/theaters/Spanish Fort

The fun thing about my day-job is that I have access to a lot of digital copies of photographs, but to anyone writing a historical novel set in New Orleans, an excellent resource is the Louisiana Digital Library, or, the LOUISdl. Over twenty local institutions, including LSU, LSM and THNOC, contribute to this database, so make this your first stop, not Wikipedia, lol!

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to come across this little beauty:

It's like a blue book, but printed by the madam of the "World-Famous" Mahogany Hall, with pictures and descriptions of all the girls, c.1906. Segregation laws prohibited white prostitutes and prostitutes of color from working in the same building. Mahogany Hall was one of the most famous houses where a (white) man could go to find a prostitute of color—the legendary quadroon and octoroon girls for which New Orleans was so renowned. Part of the reason had to be its location on Basin Street, right on the railroad line. Convenient, non?

I'll leave you with one last image of the girls inside this guidebook, but in my opinion, one of the most interesting things about this book are the period turns of phrase, sayings that seem old and tired now, but at the time were en vogue.

"-Nuff sed." :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Writing Like a Rock Star!

Is what I've been doing since my last post. Hello? Is anyone there? I don't blame you for abandoning me. I've had to abandon y'all, as it turns out, in order to get anything accomplished.

But things have indeed been accomplished. As of 10:30 last night, I have completed 30,000 words of my new project, tentatively called SKIN. I don't want to say too much about it yet, but it is a historical mystery with a hint of the paranormal. Anyone want to guess where it's set? I'll give you three chances.

That's right.

New Orleans.

Turn of the century New Orleans was a most interesting city. About 1911, when my story takes place, parts of the city were glowing with electric lights, shining with clean water and new plumbing, and other parts of the city were being pumped dry for expansion.

Older parts of the city, like the French Quarter (which was known as Frenchtown at the time) were not always getting the modern updates, particularly the older tenements and poorer cottages. There was a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots—sound familiar?—and Jim Crow laws were dividing up the population like never before.

Storyville had been in operation for nearly fifteen years, and Jazz, though the term was not yet in use, was being played in the finest "sporting" houses. Carnival second-line groups like the Babydolls had just been formed, as well as social aid and pleasure clubs like Zulu. All in all, it was a tumultuous time to be alive, which is something I want to demonstrate in my novel.

But this post will have to be enough to reassure you all that I am still here, since I am going to have to make myself scarce if I want to write another 30K words in a month. In case anyone is interested, I have been pantsing this time around. I don't know how this is all going to come together, I have no specific conflict resolution in mind. I still don't even know exactly "who-dunnit". Which is helping me get the words down quickly, and helping me keep the mystery alive.

What is that mystery, you ask? Well, you're going to have to stay tuned if you want to find out! ;)

Hope everyone has a fun and safe weekend!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Romancing the Reader (Repost from March 2010)

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our writing.

I'm weaker with character development and dialogue than I am with setting description and plot twists. I know what I need to work on, but sometimes knowing feels like it's only like a sixteenth of the battle. Maybe less.

Here's the eternal question: How do we get the story in our heads to match up with the story on the page?

It turns out I've had to do a lot of scene by scene work, determining exactly what's happening in each scene. I'm realizing that I'm sacrificing characterization for the sake of plot and word count in many places, and that ain't good.

Who cares what happens in my story if my characters aren't alive? Well, you know, alive in the mind of the reader and all that jazz. So I've been trying to analyze what I enjoy about the characters in the books I've been reading recently.

Alexia Tarabotti from Carriger's Soulless didn't have to do much to earn my sympathy--sure, she had to kill a vampire, keeping her wits about her, but it was the fact that she'd escaped the confines of a stuffy party in search of a dessert cart that really won me over. The more I learned about her (not only is she lacking a soul, a secret she can keep from her family, but not supernatural creatures, she's also suffering from the unfortunate malady of being half-Italian ;D) the more I wanted her to get exactly what she wanted--even if she didn't know she wanted it yet.

It's all well and good to analyze, but putting this characterization into practice is much more difficult for me. One writing book I read (which one? really they're all a blur at this point) said that nearly every line of your manuscript should be pulling double, or even triple, duty.

For example: Dialogue should enhance character development as well as advance the plot. Narrative in a first person pov should do the same.

During my next round of revisions, I'm going to be ruthless with my writing. I'll have to make sure every line is pulling it's weight, or if there's a different way to say the same thing that will add to another aspect of the story, adding realism and affecting the reader in an emotional way.

Difficult as it is to read my own work as if I don't know the story, I'm trying to see it with fresh eyes this time around. Hopefully, I'll be able to add an extra dimension of detail and emotion to the story that was lacking before!

How do y'all tackle characterization? Does it come naturally, or is it like dragging a basketball-sized lead weight through a swamp in the dark with no shoes on? Cause that's how it feels for me sometimes. ;)