A Team Effort with Imaginary People

 

 

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Writing a novel isn’t easy.

There are moments of doubt about the overall book. Crippling, terrifying doubt. (This idea is stupid. I am stupid. None of this makes any goddamned sense.) You pick your story apart, piece by tiny piece, until it’s in ribbons. But that’s not even the hardest part.

For me, at least, getting the characters going is the real nail-biter. At first, they feel flat and tepid and boring (and that’s being polite). There’s a time when it feels like the minor characters, especially, are just hollow plastic dolls that you’re bashing together while you play pretend in your head.

The thought of breathing life into dozens of imaginary people can be paralyzing.

Think of all the people you talk to in a day. Imagine their thoughts, their dreams, what they ate for lunch, where they’re going after work. They’re running late. They’re out of milk. They got shit to do.

Characters are like that. Individuals, all with their own concerns and priorities and issues. They don’t give a crap about your Hero’s story; they’re too busy living their own. It’s tempting not to give a crap about them, either: how dare they not fawn over your Hero the way you do? But each of them needs just as much attention as your main attraction, if they’re to feel real. And the only one holding the God-pen is you.

It won’t happen. Not this time. I’ve used everything up.

You show up to the story anyway, feet dragging if they need to. Tantrums are expected, if not outright encouraged. You sit and scowl at one of these pretend people until both of you feel a little uncomfortable.

Eventually, one of you will break.

“Okay, fine,” she’ll mumble. “I’ll tell you a little about myself. Listen close; I won’t do this again.” And your character will talk about how she couldn’t afford college, which robbed her of the career she wanted. She settled. She pretends like she’s happy, but she’s far from it: she’s miserable and exhausted and bitter. And, okay, sometimes it makes her grouchy. It makes her snap at your beloved Hero when all he’s done is ask for more coffee.

She won’t tell him why she does these things, but if you’re very, very lucky she might tell you.

And now you’re talking, and though you get to ask some questions most of it is just listening. You take notes as fast as you can because this faucet, once turned off, might not reopen.

And then suddenly, you know her. You know exactly what made her who she is.

And if you sit very, very still, the others will begin to come forward. “I had no friends.” “I was State Champion before I hurt myself.” “I fought against the odds, and won. These losers need to suck it up.”

You don’t breathe. You don’t dare scare them away. Minors are well aware they’re not the stars of your show, and understandably they’re reluctant to give you their stories. Why should they bother? You won’t use most of it, anyway.

But you want them to be alive, just as alive as your Very Important Person. Because if they’re just props, we’ll all know it and none of us will feel very good about it.

Here’s the thing: you can’t go any further in your novel without these temperamental jerks. They hold the fate of your story in their stubborn little fists. And sometimes they like to make you sweat for a while, wondering if they’ll ever tell you what makes them tick. So you wait (im)patiently, fingers crossed, hoping that eventually they’ll help you flesh out this world of yours.

My minors finally came to chat over coffee this weekend. They told me their secrets. Some went deeper than I expected. I am thrilled to finally know them.

And (just like that!) all those loose ends tied themselves up. There’s nothing in the way of the book, now.

Game on.

Guess What Came in the Mail…

Crooked Little House

Crooked Little House comes out on Tuesday!

I’ll be doing a giveaway on Facebook, and you have to be a fan of my author page to enter. Swing by and show me some “like”; giveaway details to follow once I climb down from this cloud.

It’s finally here. I’m finally a novelist.

Brave New Novel

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This is it.

My novel is DONE.

What you’re seeing here is my baby, all dressed up and ready to go. I’m lucky enough to have a good friend editing (and as an indie, helpful friends are EVERYTHING); this is the copy I’m giving to her tomorrow.

The formatting is arranged. The cover is designed. I feel like it’s a good, clean copy.

This is happening.

IT’S ALMOST HERE, YOU GUYS.

IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!

…by which I mean, I’m alive. How the time flies when you’re slacking off on your blog.

Sorry ’bout that.

So. Uh. Long time no see. Since the last time you saw me, we’ve welcomed a new niece into the world. I’ve started a new DayJob (same company, but I moved on up to the fourth floor). Oh, and I wrote my first novel. It’s still in the roughs, but as we speak I have a real, live, full-length novel sitting on my desk. It’ll be out in the next month or two.

I’ve done some deep thinking about where I want my writing career to go, and about what that looks like, in terms of the day-to-day. I think what made the blog fall apart before was that I was focusing so hard on new content that the actual writing stopped. It stopped for a long time, actually. Completely. Cold. I have never felt worse about myself; conversely, while I was writing the novel this past Fall I was the happiest I’ve ever been.

So, a balance. A fresh start. I have no idea how often I’ll be blogging; I have zero schedule in mind. Because at the end of the day, the effort needs to be about the writing, not the talking about the writing. That being said, I think I can pull off more than once every two years, if I hold my tongue just right. Who’s with me?

 

-Stef

 

 

This Week in Sniderville: 20

I am beat.

I had the most pleasantly productive week! A quick rundown, since it’s Saturday night and this is a long weekend and I got shit to do:

I wrote an entire short story, from scratch, front to back, in one three hour sitting this week. I’ve never written so much so quickly in my life. It’s still in its rough stage, of course, but still… I was riding high after that one. Expect it soon!

I’ve been on a mad “homeowner” kick: rearranging our family budget to reach our financial goals for the next house, and doing lots of little things around our current house in the meantime. I’m planning on using a chunk of my upcoming vacation to paint the front porch, and I stayed home today to “putter around the house”, which makes me feel old. But you know what? I’m loving how things are coming together.

We donated a ton of old clothes, talked over our Big Plan for the next few years, and next we’ll start the conversion of our front bedroom from ill-used waste of space into our dressing room. I’m just a tad excited.

I swear there was more, but between the fireworks outside and the cool breeze and the siren song of the alcohol in the kitchen, I’m feeling a tad distracted.

How was your week?

This Week in Sniderville: 18

People have been asking why I’ve been updating less these days.

This week, there were two reasons: one, I was working the morning shift and getting up at the ungodly hour of four AM, which would turn all but the morning-est of morning people into shambling zombies. I was lucky if I made it past twilight before crashing hard into bed. (And people wonder why I’m trying so hard to make a writing career for myself — when I’m fully self-employed, four AM will be the result of a long night hunched over the keyboard, AKA “heaven”.)

And two (and by far, the better): I’ve been writing my ass off. I have a big, exciting project in the works, and by the time I bang out my daily quota (and then, thank you Universe, double and sometimes triple it) I’m pooched. Writing is my second job right now, and as anyone who’s worked more than one job knows, by the time your second shift is over the last thing you want to do is… well, anything, really. After I’ve worked DayJob then worked WritingJob, the most I feel like doing is staring at the tv or reading a few chapters before passing out for the night. Good for my career — each day getting me closer! — but not so great for being social.

It takes a lot out of me, being my own cheerleader and drill sergeant at once, but it’s the only choice I have for the moment. I have only 3.5 years left of my Five Year Plan, and I have to hustle if I’m going to make it.

So apologies (and much love!) to those of you who’ve been asking for more from me. I love hearing from you, and I do listen. I just need to get my head on straight again first. That fifteen hours of sleep I got last night is a good start.

How was your week?