One Hundred Days and (Not) Counting

Yesterday was Day 100 on the hundred words/hundred days trail, and I’m going to stop counting for a while.  I won’t stop writing–if I could do that, I would have done it long ago–but I want a day off now and then.  I’ve mostly been editing, anyway, getting Bathtub Jinn into shape, and how do I measure that?  So much time with the manuscript on my lap?  So many pages marked up?  It’s all on the honor system, anyway.

The cast of Bathtub Jinn includes a cat, a wise-cracking pooka and witch’s familiar who plays an important supporting role.  His name is Porthos, although the hero insists on calling him Porky, and he’s black with golden eyes, in the tradition of the pooka, battle-scarred from several years of living among feral cats.  One of my critique partners, Carl Miller, however, is convinced that Porthos is an orange tabby, and last night he sent me this (uncredited) picture, saying: “Spotted one of your lead characters, in repose.”  It’s not Porthos, but it’s a great cat.

This morning when I spent $36 on slightly more than 9 gallons of gas, I thought of this list that I clipped out of a local paper recently.  No attribution, but I must  admit that I remember at least some of these numbers from fifty years ago:

  • average cost of a house: $13,500
  • average annual wages: $6,450
  • average cost of a gallon of gas: 31 cents
  • average monthly cost to rent a house: $118
  • average cost of a loaf of bread: 21 cents
  • average cost of a new car: $2,650
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: 969

I’ve been pretty good about not buying actual paper books lately, but I’ve downloaded a few to the Kindle:  His Lordship’s Vow, a short Regency romance by my buddy Cheryl Bolen, Skies of Fire, a steampunk romance by Zoe Archer, and two books about writing by Holly Lisle, Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course and Mugging the Muse.  Sigh.  I now have 98 books on my Kindle.  I’ll never catch up.

Reading About The Craft Of Writing

was something I avoided for quite a while after I started trying to write fiction (mumble-mumble) years ago.  I suppose I was afraid the authors of such books would tell me I was doing it all wrong.  And I probably was, but at least I was trying.

In the mid 90s I joined a local multi-genre writers group, the Bay Area Writers League, but I knew I wanted to write novels.  I didn’t know I wanted to write romance novels until I discovered what was then called “futuristic romance,” the infant subgenre that eventually led writers to science fiction romance, urban fantasy, and various other branches of paranormal romance.  So I joined Romance Writers of America® and the local Houston Bay Area chapter.  Through those groups I attended workshops and conferences, and met the wonderful BK Reeves.  Her encouragement (and classes) gave me confidence, and showed me that books on writing could be both entertaining and helpful.

Since then I’ve read a lot of craft books.  Some I agreed with, some I did not, but I learned something from every one of them.  I certainly learned that you can read the same idea over and over again and barely notice it until one day that idea is exactly what you need.  I’ve given some away over the years, but I still have several bookshelf feet of craft books that I want to reread, or at least refer to from time to time.

My current favorite craft of writing author is James Scott Bell.  I have not read his fiction (he’s known for legal thrillers), but I have his books on Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing on that bookshelf, and The Art of War for Writers, a collection of essays and blog posts, on my Kindle.  When Amazon informed me (they know me all too well) that Bell had a new book out on Conflict & Suspense, I downloaded that, too.

I don’t really like reading craft books on my Kindle.  I don’t know what page I’m on, or where to go when an author says “more about that on page 165.”  I can’t flip back and forth to find some neat idea I want to reread.  On the other hand, I can pull the Kindle out of my bag and read through lunch, as I did this afternoon, or while waiting for the oil in my car to be changed.

So I can’t tell you what page to look at, but somewhere around the 65% mark, in Chapter 14, “Tools for Conflict,” I found a Really Neat Idea, one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas (for which Bell credits Sue Grafton, one of my favorite mystery authors–I’ve been a fan since A Is for Alibi was published).  Bell calls this the Novel Journal–a notebook (or computer file) used as a preface to the day’s writing, for recording bits of the writer’s life, stray thoughts from the middle of the night, ideas for the next scene or anything else that comes up, a place to gather all those loose ends that don’t fit into an outline or synopsis.  Grafton calls this an “interchange between Left Brain and Right.”  Bell recommends it for both OPs (Outline People, or Plotters) and NOPs (No Outline People, or Pantsers). 

The Novel Journal certainly ought to work for someone like me, who falls somewhere in the middle.  I’m going to pull out a fresh  spiral-bound notebook and try it.

 

Michael Hauge’s Story Mastery Workshop

kept the West Houston chapter of Romance Writers of America® entranced yesterday.  Hauge is primarily a screen writing consultant and teacher, but he has become very popular with RWA chapters and his workshop at the RWA National Conference in June was a big hit.  I skipped that two-hour session because I knew I’d have the chance to see him here, and for a full day at that.

Only one or two people in our group of more than sixty raised their hands to say that they were actually interested in writing screenplays, but Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Key Components of Story, Story Concept Template, and Four Categories of Primary Character are thoroughly applicable to novel writing.

It was a long day.  When Michael Hauge gives a presentation, he gives it his all, and yesterday that covered seven hours (not including breaks) packed with information.   I’m not usually a note taker, but I filled up five sheets of paper (both sides) with truly useful ideas.

As you would expect, Hauge uses films as examples for his theories of story structure.  He sent ahead a list we might want to brush up on, and as a result I watched one movie that was already on my DVD shelf (The King’s Speech) and two that I might otherwise never have seen, Shrek and HitchThe King’s Speech deserved every one of those awards and nominations it racked up, Shrek is delightful (and Donkey is a stitch), and I found Hitch perfectly charming.   One of these days I’ll rewatch all three, with Hauge’s comments in mind.

If you have a chance to see Michael Hauge in person, I urge you to do so.  If that’s not possible, check out his Story Mastery web site.  It’s full of free-for-the-reading articles, Q&As, and writing misdemeanors, along with a variety of books, cds and dvds for sale. (Selling Your Story in Sixty Seconds was the most popular yesterday.)

Needless to say, I barely kept my eyes open long enough to add a couple of hundred words to my WIP last night.  Today I had to do my grocery shopping, laundry, bookkeeping, etc.  I read and judged another contest entry and returned two of them to the coordinator (I have two left to do), and I still need to do at least a little bit of writing, if ony to keep up my current hundred-words/hundred-days streak (today is 127).  60,751 words and counting.

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