Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Friday, February 25, 2011

something sumptuous

Two blogs in one week. I must be restless.

It's been a while since I shared some poetry so here's a piece I wrote a while ago, which I did use in the first novel, Transition Girl. I was reminded of it this morning when I woke up from an evening of strange dreams. I know, I have weird dreams all the time and I should be highlighting when that is not the case (given the latter is much rarer)! I'm sure the dreams were triggered by the consumption of a particularly moist chocolate and beetroot flourless slice, something sumptuous to inspire my meandering mind.

Anyway, here's the poem:

You haunted me again last night
in a night of weary sleep.
Those steel eyes taunted me to fight
through a game of hide and seek.

The sensation of stroking finger tips.
I feel the contours of sweat soaked skin.
The essence of erotic, soft pale lips.
I idolise this state I’m in.

Blissfully bewitched - mesmerised.
Savour the taste of silky smooth flesh.
Rapturous oblivion - tantalised.
Aroused, intrigued and inflamed by one breath.

Ravished beyond intoxication.
A sensuous seduction. Deliciously sweet.
A slave helpless to her lustful master.
The strong against the meek.

As for the dream last night that reminded me of this poem, it was more intimate than erotic, and I am not sharing all the details. Suffice to say, if you were to see a pair of large flip flops on your front porch, you would be bound to dream of feet too. Two pairs of feet dangling off a pier by the sea on a glorious summer evening, water reflecting some nearby lights, the sound of waves lapping the shore and contented conversation. Bliss.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

story boards

A bellowing catcall awakened me in the wee hours of the morning, not once but twice and I am now wide awake. So I've slipped out of bed after an hour of tossing and turning unable to find sleep again. Damn it.

Today I want to talk about one of the things I do as preparation ahead of writing an actual story.

I call it a story board. It's not in a technical term. It is just what I call it. I am sure there is a proper writers' term for what it is but I cannot see the point of looking up the right terminology as only another writer would really care about calling a spade a spade. If I want to call it a shovel or better still a sithe then so be it.

The story board in concept is mapping the main narrative of your work. In concept it has application to just about any creative pursuit. Every writer is different in how they do this mapping.

I must confess that my process has evolved considerably since my first novel. Perhaps it reflected the shift in genre but I used songs that had meaning for me on a personal level to map out my key plot points in the story arc of my philosophical first novel, Transition Girl. And I also used three profound quotes from Tim Winton (Dirt Music), an inspiring episode of This Life, and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Much like a mind map, it filled but one page when I put the quotes that would guide my novel drafting on a piece of paper. It was rather unstructured and this may have been a contributing factor to the long time it took me to write the first novel (three and a half years).

In stark contrast, I chose to identify themes for at least 12 "blocks" (effectively chapters) within a single story arc in preparing to draft my second novel. The high level summary still only fitted on one page (as a visual person, I like my prompts to be easily accessable) though below it was a more detailed block by block identification of key scenes within each block and characters introduced in each block. (Aside: I also did alot more research on the subject matter for my novel before I started writing - several books worth in fact - which helped to underpin the credibility of ideas presented within the story). I retro-fitted the timeline later during two major redrafts of the story board, when I (a) needed to iron out inconsistencies in the story and (b) as the story evolved and original ideas for sub-plots did not make sense any more and I refined the story. Embedding better structure in my process improved my writing pacing, with the second novel taking less than one year to draft.

The second novel now drafted is part of a trilogy, so it was important for me to prepare story boards for the other parts of the trilogy. These story boards are even more structured. In addition to the high level summary and identification of key scenes, there is a paragraph summary for every key scene I expect to write in the drafting process matched to a timeline. At roughly five scenes per block, that's around 60 scenes mapped out in quite a bit of detail. I have found this a necessary addition to my process to ensure consistency across the trilogy!

I have even jotted down a few ideas for a further book...which would be a fourth in the series if the trilogy was well I believe it may be necessary to have an idea of where I would like to take the story beyond what is written on the last page of the trilogy. Knowing where you might end up if critical for plotting the journey to get there. I am anticipating inevitable demand for a further book as an avid fantasy reader always wants more.

As I found with the drafting of my first novel, I expect the story will evolve with the novels that I am currently writing so their story boards will evolve with that. An example of this is where characters may not be working well in terms of their motivations so it becomes a matter of changing the character or nuancing the story. I have found that changes to the story board are more substantive early in the drafting process, though I have also gotten into the habit of updating my story board for changes suggested by my editor. The latter is to keep track of changes as it is much easier to find scenes you may want to edit looking through a story board of 15 pages than reading through the full novel draft of near 400 pages itself.

It's now six am and time to get up to get ready for work. It's going to be a long day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

scenic drive

I did approximately 25 hours of driving over a stretch of three days. Twelve hours on the Saturday to get from Melbourne to Jervis Bay up the coastal goat trail otherwise known as the Princess Highway. Roughly two hours on the Sunday driving around to my favourite beaches at the bay for a quick show and tell dampened by drizzle all day and the occasional cows crossing the road on their way to be milked. Eleven hours on the Monday from Jervis Bay to Melbourne via the inland dual carriageway known as the Hume Highway (with a slight detour north for a cameo catch up with an old friend at a scenic lookout favoured by both of us when we first learned how to drive).

The driving was especially tough as it came at the tail end of my recovery period from a foreign flu super-bug. (No, not my cousin but perhaps a virus he brought with him flying from Europe via Bangkok.) I was worried about taking such a long drive given I was still recuperating, was worried I would relapse as has occurred the couple of other times I have chosen to venture out of home while still unable to control my incessant coughing.

But it turns out the long drive, a couple of days of my mother's home made soup, the breathtaking views from and crystal white sand and clear waters of the beaches of my spiritual home, and the time spent in quiet contemplation in the car alone for almost half of that extended driving time has inspired me. Head cleared vision.

I came home to my change of scene (my guestless house for the first time in a month) with an idea for a wonderful nuance to the climax scenes of the currently drafted novel, the Penitentiary, a sub-plot that will provide some great leverage in the sequel, the Crusades, and a pearler of an idea on how to thematically structure this sequel. All of which will add considerable coherency to the overall story arc across all three stories in the trilogy.

I've been back a day and spent my day yesterday writing with a demon inside of me. The currently drafted novel has now been tweaked in those final scenes. It is now ready and waiting for the agent to get back to me, who I expect to hear back from in mid-March. If the agent likes the sample chapters he's been provided, he's going to find the rest of the book riveting reading (I hope). I'll be one step closer to marketing my product to a traditional publishing house.

And I'll be spending the rest of my week drafting my story board (scene by scene) for the sequel. This will mean I will have two complete story boards (for both prequel and sequel) by the week's end. (Aside: I've already written in substance the first three scenes of the prequel.) I'm excited. And I haven't coughed once today.

It seems long drives and long walks clear away the white noise and debris inside my head. It seems Jervis Bay feeds my imagination like no other place.

Perhaps an artist roadtrip may be in order later in the year when I again need a boost to my creativity. Others more than welcome to join me!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

editing fill time

I'm sitting at my dining table sipping Panadol decongestant hot lemon, still editing chapter three. I've been editing chapter three for weeks now. I've been editing with a summer flu during this time, which I suspect has slowed me down. More so than my visiting cousin, who actually hasn't seemed bothered at all by my spending copious amount of time writing (and sleeping to break the fever). He's managed to occupy himself quite nicely. Gotta love low maintenance self-reliant tourists who cook delicious meals for you when they are at home.

The sample chapters (one and two) were posted to an agent last Monday. I finished editing those chapters a while ago to incorporate my editor's comments so decided to continue rolling the ball along even though I was still working my way through the editorial comments on the rest of the manuscript. It will be at least five weeks before I hear back from the editor so may as well be efficient with my time. Will write more about the agent process next time I blog.

Chapter three has been a real challenge. It is, as they say in the business, the pivotal chapter. It is the point in the story that either keeps the reader going or loses them so an engaging story is critical to hook a reader to read on. My editor had a lot of "please clarify" questions for this chapter. She knew that many of the questions related to things likely to be explained in the yet to be written prequel but it is very important that each novel is able to stand alone as a story in its own right. So she told me to take advantage of the fact that I still was over 15,000 word shy of what publishers expect these days for a fantasy novel (minimum 100,000 words) and to fill in the blanks.

I have been filling in the blanks for almost three weeks now. I've written three whole new scenes for the chapter and it is now the longest chapter in the manuscript. (This of itself will probably need some refinement but I'll tackle that issue another day.) I've squeezed out almost 9,000 extra words and have humanised one of the main characters that my test readers have previously told me was too misogynistic. It wasn't obvious to me why they thought so, especially given I had meant him to be one of the most sympathetic (though misunderstood) characters in the story, but now that I've filled in some of the gaps as they pertained to this character's motivations, I can see how they might have not connected with him in the beginning.

Now that the editing of the chapter is almost done, I am very satisfied with the product. The chapter is a neat stand alone story within the story and visually cracking. It offers the colour and movement my editor has been trying to extract from me.

Time for a little rest. I will be travelling to Jervis Bay, the place where I grew up, later in the week for a short break and taking my cousin on to the next stage of his visit to Australia. He's been pining for warmer weather than what has been on offer at home. Not much I can do about the remnants of cyclones, flooding and an unseasonally cool summer.

I will be travelling without my laptop. Scary.