Is namhaid an cheird gan í a fhoghlaim.
The craft is an enemy when not learned.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

[Dianne] Weeks 21-24: Building Scenes and the Scene Sequence, part deux

So last week was the "Firsts and Lasts" exercise, and this week is "First Encounter and Then". It's a confusing set of titles, but the difference is that last week's exercises were focused on individual characters, while this week's exercises are focused on building the relationship between the characters.

There's a whole list of potential Firsts in the relationship for us to write about. I chose the First Encounter and the First Fight. Anah will be doing two other scenes in her post later on.

First Encounter

Nico has just gotten to the point where he can relax during the interview when the phone rings. [Name] glances at the caller ID and shakes her head. "I've got to get this."

She picks up the phone and it's immediately clear that she's talking to the guy who will (if he's lucky, if he gets the job) be Nico's boss. Her boss. The next thing he hears, because he's been tuning out so as not to eavesdrop, is [Name] saying, "Here, let me put you on speaker," and then suddenly he's being introduced to James [Last Name], who is tearing his hair out about car seats and school schedules and damp patches on the kids' clothes from where their cereal splashed.

The last interview question Nico had answered was regarding a sick kid on an airplane. But what James wants to know, apparently, is how Nico would manage to get two kids out the door on time in the morning without needing to make three trips back inside for backpacks and lunchboxes and one right shoe. That, Nico has an answer for. He half-raised his kid sister while his mom worked two jobs. He knows how to maintain a schedule, how to talk to people through their frustrations, and he knows the chaos of dealing with a kid first thing in the morning.

The relief in James's voice is reassuring—Nico has nailed this interview—but Nico wonders about the man behind it. He'll find out soon enough. He's got the job, and he starts Monday.

First Fight

The kids are caked in mud from head to toe. Pretending to be frogs will do that. Nico gets between them and the back door, blocking their way until they take off their shoes and socks. "Upstairs to put your clothes in the hamper, then get ready for a bath," he tells them. "I'll meet you up there in a minute." He has to get their shoes rinsed off so they'll dry before tomorrow.

Vali grumps a little, but Nico knows it's just for show. The little boy loves bathtime. There are crayons he can use to write on the walls, and when he erases what he's written, there's no sign it was ever there. That kind of freedom to explore and make mistakes is something he cherishes.

Inside, they follow directions perfectly, waving cheerful hellos to their dad before heading up to their rooms. The kids are happy, but James looks tense and uncomfortable.

"We found a frog," Nico says. "Next week, Bianca's class starts learning about amphibians. She was pretty excited."

James doesn't like that the kids were so messy. Crawling around in the muck is dirty, and full of germs. They're kids, Nico reminds him, and dirt washes off. The kids had fun.

James knows. He was watching on the monitor. Nico is surprised by that, he'd forgotten all about the monitor system James showed him his first day on the job. It makes him a little uncomfortable that James doesn't trust him enough to leave him truly alone with the kids. On the other hand, he's still new. And they're James's kids. Nico would probably be even more paranoid than James if he had to trust a stranger with his kids. He remembers walking his kid sister to her first day of kindergarten and staring suspiciously at the teacher and the other kids. Yeah, he'd be worse than James.

Nico tells James that if it makes him uncomfortable, they won't play in the pond anymore. They're James's children and James has the right to set the rules and boundaries. James is quiet, then shakes his head. The kids had fun. Just be careful.

Of course, Nico tells him. Always.

The Story So Far: I realized, as I was writing the First Fight, that I have to talk to Anah about the crisis in the story. Because I have an Idea. This kind of thing is what's making me realize how valuable this new system is for our process. So excited!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

[Anah] Weeks 21 & 22: Firsts/Lasts

First Birthday Party:
James doesn't remember his first birthday party, but he does have photographs. A few of them are in the digital frame on his desk, the one that cycles the moments of his life. Later in life, it seems like the differences between him and his parents fade, but in that first picture, he looks like someone else's son entirely. He is smaller than he should be, a tiny golden-skinned boy with a glossy-black bowl cut. A pointed paper birthday hat is on his head, the only thing he has in common with the burly man and petite woman who flank him. They're smiling. He looks uncertain, puzzling at the camera.

Last Birthday Party:
James is helping blow up helium balloons for Bianca's party. It took him a while to get it the first time, but this is the fifth party he's done it for now—he ties off another balloon with an experienced twist and hands it off to Andrea. Bianca is holding court in the large dining room, instructing the party planners on where exactly to hang the glittering ribbons and where to place the chocolate fountain. He's not spoiling her, he reminds himself. He's teaching her some important life skills here, like organization and delegation. And he's going to keep telling himself that.

First Kiss:
As first kisses go, it's rather disappointing. Dry lips, sticky tongue, braces, and an audience. Spin the Bottle, James realizes, is nothing but another disease vector. So, he'll discover in a week, is Mary-Ellen. At least he comes away from the party with more than just a case of mono. He knows for sure that kissing girls doesn't do a damn thing for him. That doesn't stop him from kissing a few more once he's over the mono. But it takes another year for him to find someone really worth kissing.

Last Kiss:
James already knows this isn't going to work out. If it were, he'd have told Alex about the kids, about getting approved for their adoption and the impending visit. He kisses Alex goodbye as he gets out of bed. Alex is sleepy, lazy in the mornings—not fatherhood material, as he's always said.
   "I'll see you tomorrow night?" Alex pulls the covers up and rolls over onto his belly.
   "I'll call you." James keeps it non-committal.
Too bad he has no idea how long it'll be before he kisses anyone again—he doesn't kiss his one-night stands—because he might have kept that last date, just to get a couple more. Sex is easy to come by. Intimacy isn't.

[Dianne] Weeks 21-24: Building Scenes and the Scene Sequence

Whoops! We were so caught up in finishing preparation for a couple new stories that we completely forgot to post our exercises this past weekend. So here are mine...

This week is Firsts/Lasts, the first and last time the character did some important thing, and we decided to choose two each to write about. For Nico, I chose his first and last kiss (before the start of the story), and his first and last runs in the ambulance.

First Kiss:
The first time Nico kissed a boy, he was thirteen years old. The other boy, Miguel, was older than Nico by two years. He had dry, chapped lips and the first dusting of stubble on his jaw. Eagerness tangled up with terror inside Nico's gut and he barely managed to pull away from the kiss before he threw up all over their shoes.

Last Kiss:
Nights out with his friends had become a release valve for the stress and pressure that built up under Nico's skin each time he climbed into the ambulance. His last night on the job, they took him out for a going-away-party sort of thing. He saw the bottom of way too many pitchers of beer and all he can remember about the man he kissed was that he had dark eyes, soft lips, and they barely made it into the bathroom stall before his hands were in Nico's pants.

First Run in the Ambulance:
The first time Nico went out in the ambulance on a real job, not just a ridealong, it was looking to be a quiet night. He drank his coffee from a paper cup and thought about whether he should buy a travel mug if he was going to be doing this every night from now on. He'd just opened his mouth to ask his partner, Darnell, what he thought about the idea, when the call came in. An hour later, Nico's clothes were spattered with someone else's blood and his shoes were spattered with his own vomit.

Last Run in the Ambulance:
The last time Nico went out in the ambulance, last night of his two-week notice, he still didn't have a new job lined up. His mom had already made a list of work he could do around the house until he found something: fix the leak in the kitchen sink, paint his sister's room, things like that. She'd been letting him stay there a month already, after the lease on his apartment was up and he didn't resign 'cause he didn't know what he'd be doing after he quit his job as an EMT...and he still didn't know. But the radio crackled to life and then he didn't have to know. He just had to do his job one more time. Save somebody's life, or try to.

Monday, April 18, 2011

[Anah/Dianne] Weeks 19 & 20: Synopsis Time

Sorry I'm running late here. I wrote up the synopsis using our outlines and notes—not by hand as usual, unfortunately. Here it is under the cut as it's a little chunky.

The Story So Far: The synopsis was easier to do than I'd expected, but only because we'd had a decent go at plotting so far. I think we'll always have to expand on the scenes in the POV grid before the synopsis, so that we're on the same least for novels and novellas.

Doing the synopsis, I moved where we'd thought the break point between Acts Two and Three would fall, because I could see where the weight of the story was lying, and because this story has a longer/slower denouement than usual due to the romantic/sexual content. The reader may not need the 'schmoop' to know what's going on, but they'd be sad without it.

This is something that I keep finding (maybe from now on, I won't be shocked, shocked, I say, by this fact of life) needs balancing when writing romantic stories, especially when most of the schmoop comes toward the end.

It seems to work to interleave the last character steps forward with the romantic content and explicit sex. The end can drag if not done correctly, even without this extra weight.  Most of the rationalization/proof for the steps needs to be established already, like working on a puzzle. The character changes in the last scenes should be like placing the final pieces—you know where they go, you've got nothing left to question, but it's satisfying to drop them in place, especially when they bring in the romantic payoff.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

[Dianne/Anah] Weeks 17-18: Plotting with More Than One Protagonist

This week's task is to make a POV grid, a table that explains from whose point of view each scene will be. I was, I have to say, not looking forward to this exercise. Not because I didn't think it would be useful (I actually love the version of this exercise that shows up in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel) but because it meant rethinking the outline.

Anah can tell you: I hate rethinking the outline. I want the outline to work. I don't want it to be wrong. Ever. :P (Anah: She takes it very personally. It's true. This is why I wait until we're nearly done the book to point out plot flaws. I have to work up to it. Also, she can't kill me that close to a deadline.)

Chapter.SceneScene NameSettingTimelinePOV
1.1Total ChaosJames's HouseDay 0James
1.2The InterviewMaddy's OfficeDay 1Nico
1.3When Can You Start?James's House/Swimming LessonsDay 2James
2.1Moving DayMama's House/James's HouseDay 4Nico
2.2Alive Below the WaistJames's Office/BackyardDay 8James
2.3Playing FrogJames's BackyardDay 10Nico
2.4BedtimeVali & Bianca's RoomsDay 10James
3.1Finding the DogDriving/Vet/James's HouseDay 14Nico
3.2Dinner Party and AfterJames's HouseDay 20James
3.3About the DogJames's HouseDay 21Nico
3.4Not Just the NannyJames's BackyardDay 30James
4.1Day OffNightclub/Cab/James's HouseDay 35Nico
4.2At the HospitalHospital/James's HouseDay 36James
4.3HomecomingJames's HouseDay 39Nico
5.1Waking Up AloneJames's HouseDay 40James
5.2Getting Ready for the DateJames's HouseDay 45Nico
5.3Out TogetherRestaurant/James's HouseDay 45James

Sunday, April 3, 2011

[ANAH] Weeks 15 & 16: Sacred Objects (James and Bianca)

I liked this exercise more than I thought I would. At first the idea of connecting objects to characters felt artificial. Then I thought about how so much of what I own is sacred to me and I felt overwhelmed. I reminded myself that I'm not neurotypical and my assignment of myths and meanings to random objects isn't normal, and I felt better.

Bianca was harder to do because for a child, meaning is intense but sometimes transient. I selected what matters to her right now. Her bicycle is a real one with two wheels and she feels very grown up when she rides it around. It's even a dirt bike like the boys ride in commercials. Her hand-held video game is her connection to her father. It also makes her cool at school and is a focus of her competitive nature. Her little gold cross was a parting gift from one of her nannies at the orphanage where she lived before James adopted her. She has a lot of mixed feelings about God, but she loves Church and all the solemnity there. It's a marked contrast to her father's work and she has some vague but positive memories of Catholic ceremonies.

James' sacred objects were something of a surprise because they are mostly from the distant past and have very little monetary value. Neither do they add to his social status in any way. All of his important objects are about family in one way or another.

The Story So Far: A very interesting way to look at characters that I'm going to do from now on. This is the kind of thing I end up fumbling to make up at some important part in the story and doing it ahead of time would be very intelligent of me. Good thing I have a book to tell me to do it!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

[Dianne] Weeks 15-16: Plotting with Sacred Objects

This week, Anah and I made lists of "sacred objects" that tie to our characters. These are the objects that will follow the characters throughout the story, and each item tells a story of its own about the character it's tied to.

Vali's toy train, for example, is his favorite. Though it's meant to be painted, it's still bare, because he's worried he might not do it "right". That doesn't stop him from playing with it, though, and its unspoiled status means it doesn't show the wear and tear as much as some of his painted trains.

The Story So Far: This exercise gave me the opportunity to think about the importance of some of the objects I'd listed on the character sketches early on. Note to self: trust your instincts.