Colors and Squares

When I was in Germany a few years ago, I was still in the habit of writing my stories by hand, rather than on my computer. I used up the notebooks I had brought with me several weeks before it was time to return home, so I went hunting for a new one. I’ll tell you now, I’m a creature of habit, and it nearly killed me when I realized that all the notebooks were A4–i.e., not the same size as all of my letter-sized notebooks that stacked neatly together. Nor could I find one with college-ruled paper. It was with great apprehension that I walked out of the store with a spiral-bound, A4 notebook filled with graph paper.

But, as we all know, tragedy is a wellspring of creativity. Upon being forced to let go of my letter-sized, college-ruled notebooks, I discovered a better way to plan. Graph paper is amazing! You can write in any direction. You can write in several directions on the same page. It’s SO much easier to make straight lines for tables. And doodling! Doodling is so much fun on graph paper.

Inspired by my forced breach of habit, I decided it was time to break away from my black and blue Bics and get myself a pack of Stabilo pens. And just like that, I went from Kansas to Oz, with planning sessions in ten bright, fine-tipped colors. I started color-coding my notes. When I would get stuck, I could change colors, and suddenly things were in a new perspective. And doodling! My doodles were ten times awesomer! If nothing else, guys, go get a pack of Stabilos for the sake of your doodling.

I changed to writing on my computer shortly after I returned home, but I still use that notebook and my Stabilos for planning (and doodling). There are pages with big blue questions scrawled across them, and pages with neat green tables, and pages with boxes of tiny red text facing every which way. I love this notebook, and when its A4 pages finally run out, I may just have to run back to Germany for another.

How do you plan? Do you have any obsessions with certain kinds of writing supplies?

Advertisements

Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey

I hate writing my stories in chronological order.

For a long, long time, I would have a basic overall plan for my plot, and I would work on writing whichever scenes I felt like working on. I wrote some really good stuff this way, and I was pretty happy working like that.

Until the moment came where I had to string it all together.

All of a sudden, 80% of these brilliant scenes I had written were completely unsalvageable. The story didn’t flow, the pacing was wrong, the character development was all kinds of wonky. Each scene seemed so beautiful standing alone, but none of them played well with the other scenes. It was like trying to put puzzle pieces together when each piece came from a different puzzle.

And so now, I write the drafts out from start to finish. Once I have a reasonably good draft, then I allow myself to jump around and choose what I want to work on. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes I would much rather revert to my previous writing process. Today was one of those sometimes, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s worth the slogging to get a story that works.

How do you get your draft out? Do you write straight from beginning to end, or do you stitch together pieces?

Out they come, the brainy specs!

Until recently, I had only owned two different pairs of glasses in my life, and I didn’t particularly like either of them. Contacts were my preferred method of being able to see, and my glasses existed pretty much to get me from the bathroom to the bedroom at night without running into anything.

However, as my glasses were two or three prescriptions behind and my contacts don’t agree well with Washington allergens, I decided it was finally time to get some glasses I didn’t mind wearing in public. And thus came . . . the brainy specs!

"You don't even need them. You just think they make you look a bit clever."

“You don’t even need them. You just think they make you look a bit clever.”

Unlike the dear Doctor, I do need my brainy specs, but I’m not against them making me look a bit clever. Or, you know, a bit more authory.

All right, enough goofing off. Time to get back to work. My writing is certain to be fabulously inspirational under the influence of such literary spectacles as those I wear.

Reading Material

I’ve encountered so many fun reads recently that I had to share, in case someone out there is in need of good reading material.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy; The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; and The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall. If you enjoyed Little Women, go read these books right now. I was severely sleep deprived yesterday because I had to find out who the Bug Man was and how Skye was going to do as the OAP. Super fun books about sisterhood and childhood adventures.

Uncovering Cobbogoth by Hannah L. Clarke. I just started reading this and am only a few chapters in, but I’m hooked. Secrets, hallucinations, codes, awkwardly uncertain relationships–it’s good stuff. I’m kind of thinking I might need my husband to hide the book tonight so I don’t stay up reading all night again.

And finally, not a book but a blog: The Stroppy Editor. This is home to some of my favorite blog posts of all time, not least among which are this one and this one. And his recent post For Writers is a fabulous response to one of those goofballs who insist that editors are useless.

What are some good reads that you’ve come across recently?

Five-year-olds are genius character developers

Most of my stories start out as a scene in a place I don’t know with characters I don’t know. It takes me a lot of work to dig into my characters and figure out who they are, why they’re there, where they’re going, and so on and so forth.

Which means that during the character development phase of writing, I revert to a five-year-old.

I sit down with a notebook, write the character’s name at the top of the page, and ask why over and over again, long past the point of sanity. Why is she wearing long sleeves in the summer? To hide the scars on her arms. Why does she have scars on her arms? Because she tried to break up a knife fight. Why was she breaking up a knife fight? Because she was trying to keep one of the guys from getting killed. Why did she care what happened to him? Because he’s the only person who knows where her brother is who ran away three years ago.

And that’s generally the point where my questions explode. Wait, what? She has a lost brother? Why did he run away? How did she feel about it? Did they get along? Has she been looking for him? Has she heard anything from him since then?

So I take each of those branches and why them to death too. Usually, as my characters develop, so does my plot. Motivations become clear, side plots sneak in, and important details begin to organize themselves for slow reveal.

How do you flesh out your characters? Do they come full of detail, or does it take effort to learn about them?

A Special Kind of Productivity

Today was a Monday sort of Wednesday. As a result, I spent one of my daughter’s naps finishing Sense and Sensibility, and the other nap making a Demon’s Heart playlist, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting. As such, I decided it was worth sharing with the world. Enjoy a peek at my eclectic music tastes!

1. I’m Still Here (John Rzeznik, Treasure Planet)
2. Nothing in My Way (Keane, Under the Iron Sea)
3. Ein Elefant für dich (Wir sind Helden, Von Hier An Blind) (*I laughed the first time I saw the title of this song–“An elephant for you.” But it’s sweet and pretty and one of my favorites from Wir sind Helden. Who’da thunk a song about elephants could be sweet and pretty?*)
4. I’m Happy Just to Dance with You (The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night)
5. Tempus Vernum (Enya, A Day Without Rain)
6. We Might as Well Be Strangers (Keane, Hopes and Fears)
7. Home (Michael Buble, It’s Time)
8. The Fields of Pelennor (Howard Shore, Return of the King)
9. A Man I’ll Never Be (Boston, Don’t Look Back)
10. Iris (Goo Goo Dolls, Greatest Hits Volume One) (*Another fun name story: I flatly refused to listen to Goo Goo Dolls for years because I thought their name was so stupid. I still think so.*)
11. Day Will Come (Keane, Strangeland)
12. The Call (Regina Spektor, Prince Caspian) (*Probably the only good thing to come out of that movie.*)
13. Stand (Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang)

What do you think? Have you ever made a playlist for your book?

Demon’s Heart Blog Tour!

Guess what, everybody? Demon’s Heart comes out four months from today! The publishing ball seems to be rolling faster and faster, with more exciting things to plan for every day. And the latest new development is . . .

 

Demons-Heart-blog-tour

 

I had never heard of blog tours before a few months ago, but I think it will be a lot of fun to see it develop! For more information, click here to see the blog tour site. If you’re interested in taking part, whether through an author interview, a book review, a giveaway, or something else creative and fun, leave me a comment or shoot me an email at bumblesbooks at gmail dot com!