Stupid Gardeners

Well it turns out that I am a Gardener, but not one that works with seed and soil. Rather I am the type of writer that builds a loose latticework frame, plants some seed, and sees what grows into the lattice and what grows wildly out of control.

Mostly right now things tend to grow wildly out of control.

I do have to say I enjoy it however. I *just* paused writing my novel Charlotte because in my attempt to skirt writing chit chat between my heroine and some random children I put in because the halls of her tenement just seemed far too empty all the time, I ended up reintroducing one of my side characters.

Charlotte, my heroine, is smitten with this man. So far there’s not much to him beyond this roguish manner and self confidence, but I’d really rather leave him there, at that. But I need to build him up some so I can use him to tear Charlotte down again in a few more pages. I’ve just realized that he’s going to be really good with the children. They love him, and he honestly loves and cares for them. This creates a problem. The problem is that as I write about him, about how Charlotte sees him, I really start to like him. At least from her point of view.

I fear I might end up liking him too much. If that happens then I can’t use him to tear her down, or if I do I fear I won’t like it at all. Maybe that’s a good thing that I don’t like what his fate is. But if I don’t like it, will the reader?

At least I have an end goal for this character, a destiny he cannot escape without a sizable rewrite. I have another novel that is currently on hold because I don’t know how to proceed with it. In it I have a character, Eric, who’s supposed to be a real asshole. He was going to be zombie zero, and as I wrote him I didn’t want people to like him. He should die because he’s an asshole.

I did a good job with him. Too good. The asshole was interesting. Compelling even. I couldn’t kill him off anymore. His story was too good.

Well shit.

I need to learn to plan a little more. If I take too long to get to my destination, I will have to cut out half of everything on revision.  I want my darlings to mean something so they don’t get cut.

At the same time I need to keep some of my gardening, because I love discovering how the story unfolds. It is part of the fun.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Wow This is Tough

Writing is hard.

That’s the TL/DR version. The rest of this post is just going to be me complaining.

Writing is hard.

I know I’m being redundant, but I think anyone who writes will agree that if there’s one common truth in writing, is that it is hard. Obviously there are probably those few for whom writing is as easy as breathing, but we’re going to ignore them. Outright. Forever.

Writing is hard.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when it is brilliant fun. I’m more of a discovery writer, and so there are times when I throw in a random sentence that a moment later becomes a phenomenal way to carry my story forward. For instance I recently wrote a bit where my heroine is pulling apart a wooden slat box. The thing is held together by iron nails and she sets these aside because she has almost no possessions and if she’s going to have to lose her wooden box, she’s going to gain both slats and nails to compensate. A chapter later I’m trying to get my heroine out of her apartment, but her hair is a mess. So she ends up making bobby pins out of the nails. Not the best case scenario. I didn’t plan that, but it was brilliant fun trying to figure out how this young woman might use what meager resources she has to their fullest effect. Never mind that she’s a ghoul in early 19th century France. That part has become blasé to me, but figuring out that she can bend nails into bobby pins was fun!

Other times can be very frustrating however. I have a road map for my story, and I did pretty good following my outline for about six chapters. Maybe four. On about chapter five, I had my heroine meet a merchant who openly rips her off. She settles for his deal because no one else will help her. Then because he is the only person that she feels comfortable dealing with who will actually deal with her, she returns a few more times. Each time she sells more of her meager possessions. On her final trip to see the merchant, he reveals that he knew her father and would like to help her out. They say lots of words, there are a few tears, a couple cups of coffee, some exposition, and finally my heroine has a refuge … which will eventually vanish in flame and blood. This fits my road map nicely, but I didn’t like the pacing of the chapter. It all seemed to happen too quickly. I (stupidly during the first draft) asked myself things like, “where did Charlotte go between paragraph five and paragraph six?” “what is she spending her money on?” and similarly horrible questions for a discovery writer. So I set the chapter aside and started to (stupidly) answer the questions. The answers were brilliant (to me at least), but now I’m ten chapters into explaining where she was and what she was doing between paragraphs five and six and I’m still maybe a chapter or three away from getting back to paragraph six. And all of it has to stay because nothing makes sense without the chapter before.

What. The. Hell? How long is this thing going to be? I’m shooting for a single novel at around 100,000 words, but at this pace who knows how long this thing is going to be. Am I actually going to be able to sit down when I do the 2nd draft and cut a lot of this? I’ve never done that before. Is that actually humanly possible?

Writing is hard.

My heroine is going to be raped. Well not really. Some young men are drunkenly going to try. But remember she’s a ghoul. She’s got powers and she’s been learning how to use them. At this point she’s hurt and exceptionally hungry. She’s been trying to just live her life as normally as possible and resisting the urge to eat anyone. So while she has an incredible willpower, she’s at a tipping point. Something needs to happen to push her over the edge to embrace the monster and this seemed natural because it is so personal. An attack by a common thief or murderer seemed too distant to potentially permanently push Charlotte over the edge toward embracing the monster she is. She needs to fall. HARD. She needs to fall so hard that clawing her way back to some sort of normalcy is almost impossible. Then I plan on pushing her down again. Anyway, while my alpha readers (80% female) have nothing against this story line, I’ve read and heard things from professionals that seem to suggest that this is a giant no-no. It’s lazy. (I have no argument here). It’s distasteful. (Well sure it is, but my heroine eats people to live. That’s pretty distasteful too). Ungh. I’ve done too much of the ground work to turn around so I’m just going to write the story as I know to write it. If it ever sells, it sells. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I just have to strive toward the goal of finishing first. Lessons will be applied to book two and beyond.

Writing is hard.

Is this process like this for everyone? At least at first? At least for some writers? One guy that actually has published something? I don’t think my story rambles. In fact it seems pretty interesting to me. My Alpha-readers seem to like the story a LOT, but what do they know? Honestly I’m asking because I don’t know. They are voracious readers, but they are also family and friends. I expect them to be generous with their praise and slow to critique – though I MUST admit that I have gotten some very good feedback both on my original short story and portions of my novel to date. So I find myself unsure. Reticent to continue but pull inexorably forward.

Writing is hard.

They say a good writing group can help with a lot of these issues. There’s a few public writing groups in the greater San Antonio area, but all of them are far to “normal” for what I’m doing. Plus I kinda feel like they aren’t exactly “pro-beginner”. I really want to find a small group of writers that is willing to accept my writing as being valid and who are constructive toward building each other’s skills. I write about ghouls so I guess I should be open to unicorns too.  There are some online sources for getting peer reviews, but there’s always SOMETHING in the way. Unghhh. Sucks to suck.

Writing is hard.

I spend a lot of time away from family and friends holed up in my bedroom like a hermit connected to the world by twitter and brass door knob, both of which are supposed to remain untouched. I mean I see that little blue bird tab just RIGHT there. I should click it and just see why the tab is glowing . Someone probably posted something witty about something relevant. And by probably I mean that there’s maybe a 10% chance. There’s an 80% chance that I couldn’t care less what it says except for the fact that I don’t know. 10% is a huge percentage compared to the lottery. People win the lottery you know? Thirty minutes later I remember the only reason I even saw that little blue bird beckon was because I was looking up another French surname online. Stupid research. I could have spent that time on the XBox with my friends. Oh yeah, or writing my novel.

Writing is hard.

Damn hard.

Whelp. I guess I’ll get back to it.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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How I Started Writing Horror

One of the very first story ideas I had was something I originally called, “Love in a Time of Zombies.” The idea was to write a comical love story that was set during a zombie apocalypse.  So I started thinking about who my characters were, what their motivations were, and how everything would come together.

Being the sort of mind that mushes several ideas together and then sees what comes out of that, I determined that I needed a Zombie Zero (Z0). So to that end I decided that my Z0 was a pizza delivery driver that snooped where he shouldn’t have been snooping, namely a military base in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t really care that the idea felt kinda already done, but the story wasn’t intended to be serious or taken seriously.

Then I started writing about this pizza delivery driver. All I knew when I was writing about him was that he was going to die and become the first zombie, so I didn’t want him to be likable. Having been a pizza delivery driver before, I had some character traits that I knew existed in some people that I didn’t like, and so I slathered all these traits in to a single character, Eric.

Eric was supposed to be unlikable and then die, but after I finished writing, I had a ten thousand word prologue with a character that I no longer wanted to die. I had a new hero. Additionally, while there is a trace of dark wit running throughout the piece, it isn’t really funny so much as it is just dark and creepy.

My comic piece was substantially smaller and had character with names like General Whoremonger and Corporal Red Schertz. I had a budding love affair with an oblivious scientist and religious military detective. Parts of what I had written were delightful while others were forced and flat, but it was a first draft. I expected issues.

Eric’s addition the the story however didn’t give me a nice starting point, instead it suddenly twisted my earlier work to become dark creepy something that I can only assume is horror. The thing is, I don’t really read horror. I’ve read The Shining and Heart Shaped Box and that’s about it.

So I started rethinking everything because I loved Eric a LOT more than I loved where my feeble comedy was going, and that’s when I started running into problems. I rethought all of my characters. I wanted to leave them more or less who they were, but now I needed/wanted to make their roles a bit more serious. The oblivious scientist would still be a little oblivious to the romantic advances of our heroine, but he would no longer be a bungling baffoon who would spontaneously have massive nose bleeds whenever General Whoremonger approached withing a certain distance. My heroine now became more conflicted. She became the daughter of immigrant parents. Her father was a Muslim and her mother a Catholic. Her mother died in the 9/11 terror attacks which propelled this young lady to work for the government.

The problem with those characters and the resulting story is that I have no idea how to write that story yet. I have some ideas, but there’s a lot going on there. I really don’t want to mess that up. So I shelved that idea, for now.

After shelving Love in a Time of Zombies, I started writing a traditional fantasy story. I liked where it was going, but I paused writing it to write a short story for a read & critique event at Gen Con 2014. The story I wrote was called Charlotte, a story about a young girl that is lead to her doom in the catacombs of Paris in 1814. The end result was MUCH better than I would have given myself credit for being able to write which was in part due to some awesome friends and family who were there to read my work while it was in process. What I had when I finished was … something.

The read and critique went pretty well, and I got some professional advice on the first half of the story that I was able to share. I took what they said and rewrote the story and submitted it for the SAWG 2014 writing contest. I got some pretty good feedback and went on to the final judging. I didn’t place, but I didn’t expect to. I did get an analysis of my work from a professional writer who wrote horror. He had some excellent things to say both favorable and critical. I was delighted, but I now saw a need to extend my short story to something else, something more.

In my head I had a future for Charlotte after her death. There was a story that needed to come out, and while I’m not sure about my first two attempts, I know I can write this one. I’m still not certain what to call the genre. My heroine is an undead that can pass as being alive. She just wants to live her life. It’s a coming of age story in which a victim finds her place in the world by embracing the monster that she had no say in becoming. I don’t know. I assume it’s horror, but I guess we’ll see.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Madame by Toni Stoop

Putting Off Writing – 01 Design Does Not Always Match Execution

Before going to GenCon and attending some of the events being presented by the writing conference there, I wrote a short story to present at one of the panels. I couldn’t find my original notes when I started writing so I winged it. I enjoyed the resulting story titled Charlotte.

Charlotte was a young French woman starving on the streets of nineteenth century Paris. She is led from the streets into the catacombs to serve as a maid for a pair of ghouls, but when she screams in fright at the sight of the monsters, she’s paralyzed, hung over a table, and bled dry. The story is written as a diary entry and suggests that despite being bled to death, she somehow goes on.

The previous 70-ish words were how I ended up executing the story which is wildly different from the following 5oo-ish words which are my outline notes for the original story I had in mind.

—-

Two rather well put and dandy ghouls are having diner and complaining about the state of their dining room. They lament about being unable to keep help, slowly revealing that the help never stays for very long. Except for Archibald the butler. Archibald might be able to clean the mess around the table, but then he would not be able to acquire more servants who always seem to arrive just in time for diner. And while they scream and thrash about, never cleaning up the mess they are hired to do, they do end up as the next tasty morsel – except that just adds to the piles of bones surrounding the diner table.

The story will start with two posh dandies discussing the issue of having a lack of servants. The keep refusing to do the job and have to be cut.

Vaguely describe the state of the room from the POV of the ghouls, not letting on that they are anything but extremely messy.

Comment that they are hungry, so very hungry. Vaguely suggest that they never leave the table.

The wife comments to the husband’s lace is stained with the blood of the raw meat. More so now that the juices of his last bite have seeped down his hands and to his sleeve.

The husband comments that his wife’s bosom is a mess of bits of viscera to which she looks down, delicately plucks a bit of something from just above the lace of her bodice and pops it into her mouth with a laugh.

Crying and pleading are heard. The noise gets louder. Archibald approaches with the newest recruit. She, it’s always a she, first thinks this beast of a man is going to rape her and maybe kill her too. Archibald takes her into the dining room and she screams.

The two dandy ghouls laugh and comment about her looks and squeamishness. She’s bolder than most though. Hopefully she will work out.

Somehow the girl manages to calm herself long enough to ask some questions. What is this place? It looks like a poorly run slaughterhouse. Are those human remains? She begins to lose it again. The husband warns her that she will have to be cut and her employment ended if she cannot perform her duties.

She asks if she can refuse employment, the ghouls admit that she may. So she refuses to serve them. The wife looks sad, but there’s also a gleam in her eye. She declares that if the girl will not work she will be cut, and she again says she will not work for them. The wife then says that the girl must be CUT. Both the husband and wife smile with mouths that are far too wide with far too many teeth. The girl is promptly struck in the head. Archibald loops a rope around her ankles, pulls on the rope (fixed to the ceiling through a ring), and raises the girl off the floor. The girl regains her senses and screams again.

What are you?! she demands just as Archibald grabs her hair in a massive fist. Then all she sees is the knife.

The wife says, “Hungry!”

OK if I have to be perfectly honest, my very original idea was a pair of dandy ghouls having diner when their manservant-ghoul brings in a woman for them to eat. So you can see that while the execution varies wildly from the outline, it ultimately does not vary too far from my original idea. This idea trills me somewhat. A single thought can generate two incredibly different ideas. And certainly that is not the absolute end as a multitude of different stories could be told from that first flash of images formed unbridled in my head mush. I’m very tempted to write the story presented in my original outline. Though I don’t think it would be nearly as dark as Charlotte eventually was, it would be really fun to write.

© 2014, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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