Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Getting to Know Characters - Pilot Scenes

Thanks to everyone who wanted to read Forging a Legend.

I've been writing a series of pilot scenes for my time travel fantasy. I came up with the term "Pilot Scene" after the concept of a pilot chute in aviation. A pilot chute is a small parachute that drags out the larger one. My pilot scenes are independent, sometimes disposable scenes that draw out the larger story.

I realized that I didn't have any emotional connection to my main characters, Mike and Ashley (who are twins in their late 20s). I needed to write some scenes to get to know them and to form a bond with them. So I jumped ahead in the story and wrote about them acclimating to living in the 1920s.

In this scene, Ashley has been trying to get to know 1920s household technology. It's a bit spare on description for now.
Mike's first day of work was the longest that Ashley ever spent. When he got home, she opened the door and announced, "I want a housekeeper."

He took off his hat as he entered, exactly as if he had been born in 1900 rather than 1985. And where the heck did he get that thing, anyway? "Why?" He asked as he put it on a peg beside the door.

"Good lord." Ashley said.

He shot her a level look. "What?"

"Next thing, you'll be telling me to fetch your cigar and smoking jacket."

He scrunched up his nose. "Not likely. The cigarettes here smell terrible. The men at work couldn't believe I didn't smoke. I was actually glad for the open windows, even if the screens had holes and let in every fly in St. Augustine." He pulled off his jacket. "So why do you want a housekeeper?"

"Because I don't know anything. I can barely operate that stove well enough to boil water. How the heck do you tell how hot the stove is?"

"By how red the heating element is, I guess."

It made so much sense she wanted to smack him. "Well, that's not all. Come look at this." She led him into the kitchen, opened the cabinet under the sink and brought out a washboard. "This overgrown cheese grater is how we wash our clothes. Do you know how long it would take to do even one load of clothes? So don't count on having a fresh shirt every day unless we get a housekeeper."

She caught a smirk on his face. "Don't think you can hack the 20s, Ash?"

"You can't either. Come see this."

He followed her out to the backyard. She gestured over the neglected lawn. "How do you expect to mow this grass without a power mower?" She was satisfied to see the smirk melt off his face. "The neighbors won't put up with all this grass now that someone lives here."
Shortly afterward, they discover the local speakeasy. Ashley's been night prowling, and here she has a bit of a shock when she takes a shortcut back home to the back porch.

Michael met her on the back porch with a gun.

"Where'd you get that thing?" Ashley asked as he lowered the gun.

"I thought it advisable."

"Well, I want one too."

"Why? Did something happen?"

"Inside."

She made sure the door was locked behind them, and then took him upstairs before she would talk, and then she insisted on talking in the stairwell, well away from any windows.

"How much did you check this neighborhood out before you decided to rent this house?"

"It seemed like a residential neighborhood to me. Why?"

"Well, there's a speakeasy around the corner."

His eyes lit up with interest. "Really? Where?"

"I'm not telling you!"

"Really, Ash. There's nothing to be alarmed about. If it's really a speakeasy, they're not going to want any trouble with the law."

"Yeah, that's what the guy said, too."

"What guy?"

"The guy who wanted me to go in."

He frowned, then tromped back downstairs and grabbed his coat and hat. "Come on. Let's go check out the place."

"Now?"

"They're not going to be open every night. I want to see it."

"Well, have fun, then."

"Come on, Ash. They're not going to let just any stranger in, and they've already invited you."

She stared at him and crossed her arms. He grinned. "Where's your sense of adventure? You afraid?"

"Yes."

"No you aren't. Let's go."

"Wait." She went over to her purse. "I want to take my camera."

"They'll never let you take pictures."

She held up the thin, pink plastic device. "And they'll never know it's a camera unless you tell them."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forging a Legend Rewrite Complete!

I finished my revision of Forging a Legend. For those of you who have read it, Verit is now a first-person point-of-view character, and his POV is the framework through which the story is told.

My problem is I'm too close to the story. I'm wondering if any of you want to read--or reread-it. I need to know if the story still bogs down in the Furdi chapters. I've cut about 8000 words.

Here's the first chapter. It is short. If you've read it, it refers to things that don't happen until the third book, only bits of which are written.
Chapter 1
The Fallen God
Verit

It took me many years to forgive her. For most of those years, I wanted only to kill her.

Then one day, she showed up at the doorstep of my hovel one day with that husband of hers behind her. Once, I lived in a castle on a cloud with a vista that seemed to encompass all the world. Now, because of her, I was here, forced to scrape an existence out of the stubborn earth.

For a moment, we just stared at one another. Forgotten was my wish to kill her as I absorbed the impossibility of her presence. She looked to be about fifty--the age I felt, although we were both much older.

"I never renounced you, you know," she said.

I opened my mouth several times before I managed a reply. I lived the life of a recluse by then, and had not spoken to anyone in months. "I know. You just stopped believing."

"You can't compel belief. You can't give it if you don't have it."

"So you told me, once."

We were silent for a moment.

"This is for you." She handed me a square package, wrapped in sackcloth and tied with string. "If anyone deserves an explanation, it's you," she said. She turned away.

"Do with it as you will."

She walked away, her husband beside her.

I took the parcel inside, set it on a table and stared at it. An explanation. I hadn't realized until that moment how very much I wanted an explanation. I untied it with increasingly eager hands and yanked away the layers of sackcloth.

It was a codex. No, many codices.

I opened the top one. The brittle sheets of papyrus were crowded with words. I flipped through it, reading phrases here and there.

It was her story.

It was clear that the words did not come easily. She was no writer. Parts of it showed heavy editing. In many places, words had failed her and she had simply drawn pictures instead. In these, there was no sign of hesitancy, no stray marks, no rubbed-out lines.

Her drawings demonstrated her true genius. In these, I saw the world through her eyes. The aqueducts of Ulrith. A Furdi shepherd on a clifftop. A snarling chimera. The placid lake of Fermere. The pyramid of Thesk with his bright light shining through the storm. The arena within the pyramid.

A dying god.

At the bottom of the stack was a scrap of papyrus, upon which she addressed me directly.

"I would have done none of these things had you not made me what I am."

She was right. She would have lived the simple life of an artist, had I not intervened. I had seen that as a waste. I saw her only for her heroic proportions, for her strong arm, and I made her into the legend I required.

She became a myth all on her own.

Do with them as you will, she had said. I saw nothing for it but to write, to take her words and pictures and stitch them into a coherent whole. I took her story and rendered it in my words, while adding my own side of the story.

Therefore, what follows is my last great act as the Lord of Truth.

She had started with her childhood, but I see no need for that. The divorce. That is the true beginning of her story.
If you'd like to read more, please let me know at tia dot nevitt at gmail dot com, or leave a comment below. Thanks!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

No Middles

I figured out my problem with both Any Woman and A Hollywood Miracle. For both novels, I plotted out beginnings and endings, but I didn't end up with enough material for a decent-sized novel.

I have no middles.

I suppose I could keep throwing complications at my characters. I would have plot in the beginning, a long string of complications, and plot at the end. I think that would be annoying to read. And to write. And I'm not sure if the result would be a strong enough novel to pursue. For either novel.

It makes me wonder if I'm a panster, rather than a plotter. As in, do I write by the seat of my pants, rather than plot?

The evidence is clear for the "panster" approach. When I wrote Starcaster and Forging a Legend, I was a panster for both. For Starcaster especially, I had no idea where I was going. I threw Tory in a sticky situation, and I let her figure her way out of it. The same for Forging a Legend. No clear ending, but when the idea for my ending did come to me, it was like a bolt out of the blue. And I really liked it. Abriel really faces what you would call "insuperable odds" to achieve a worthwhile goal.

The drawback was both took about five drafts. For Forging a Legend, which is the novel I wrote first, I had about 30,000 words in deleted scenes. For Starcaster, about half of that.

Fortunately, I always have something on a back burner. I've just started Highway of Time. As of right now, it's definitely a panster. I have some glimmers of ideas, such as a girl lost in time, and her brother looking for her. 1920s gangsters and gun molls. Time-traveling magic. Old cars. Telegrams as the fastest means of communication.

I think I'll write for 10,000 words and see how it goes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When in Doubt, Throw Yourself a Curve

I was writing the other day, feeling a bit spiritless, when I decided to throw a curve at my character, Karen. I made her take a plane trip with a demon. Not just any demon--an arch-demon; one she'd been warned against, and one she will have to "prepare herself" for before she can attempt to exorcise it.

Yup. I have an exorcist in my story. I sure didn't see that coming when I first started it. The New Testament can be excellent story fodder if you let it!

I wrote this scene after-the-fact, when she just got off the plane and met up with Max. But of course, I'm going to have to go back and write that scene on the airplane. It will be one of those corporate jets, so there will only be about six to eight people on board. And naturally, he will taunt her.

His name is Armonde. I know demons usually have names like Azrael, but I figure if I'm going to have angels named Leroy and Butch, then a demon named Armonde is perfectly acceptable.

I'm modeling my arch-demon after the demon in the movie Fallen. Somewhat. Since my story is based on New Testament-style exorcisms, lots of changes will be in order. And that's a good thing because I wouldn't want to just make my demon a Fallen knock-off.

There's nothing like a bit of a curve to put some life back into your plot.