nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘novel

writing life,

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This summer I have been taking a break from writing science fiction. I have my next science-fiction book Meniscus: Karst Topography ready to publish so I can take some time to think about other writing projects.

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In 1997, I wrote a long mystery novel. I thought it would be interesting to read it through and see how much my writing style has changed. It has changed a lot, as you will see below. But the story was good and I had spent a decent amount of time on characters, story arcs, and point of view, so I decided to work on the draft.

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The story is titled HHGG (big reveal later in the year) and was 162,500 words. Yikes.

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This is my first draft of an eventual cover blurb …

Kaye Eliot comes to Acadia Creek to spend a quiet summer with her two children. But instead of passing stress-free days of swimming and hiking, she finds herself embedded in mystery after mystery. A missing vagrant and a gang of thieves have the community worried. Neighbours seem determined to occupy all of Kaye’s time and energy in restoration of an old flower garden. Meanwhile, she and her kids have stumbled on a century-old legend of a treasure buried on the property, a packet of old letters and an old map of the garden. And they dig up a sinister sea shell. A sea shell who looks like a grinning skull and who will not stay where he is put. Can Kaye recover her calm or will she be victim of neighbors, vagrants, thieves and a shell called the Grinning Tun?

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jane1 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 utc)

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the Grinning Tun (about 25 cm or 10 inches across)

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My work on the book has been on several fronts. I have ‘tweeted’ daily about my process  since May 28, 2018 (@TimsJane):

  • Reduce the number of words. I lost a lot of words through editing and style changes. I took out the dream sequences, all the ‘ly’ adverbs, a lot of thinking and feeling, and a raft of ‘that’s. I went from 162,561 words on April 13, 2018 to 148,999 words today on July 15, 2018. It is still a little long but a good read (in my opinion).
  • I did a lot of thinking about whether to keep the setting in 1994 or modernize it to 2018. With some advice, I have decided to keep it in 1994. In fact, the story would not unfold as it does with cell phones and computers at hand. So my characters drive down to the community phone booth almost every day and look for clues in whirring reels of microfiche.
  • Leaving the action in 1994 provided an opportunity to explore the culture of the 1990s. Besides the missing cell phones and computers, people collected Canadian Tire Money, waitresses smoked in restaurants and POGs were a fad among kids. In the summer of 1994, the song ‘I Swear‘ held the Canadian single charts for three weeks and the American charts for seven weeks. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon was a thing. The slang interjection ‘like’ punctuated speaking (still does).
  • Part of the text is in Spanish so I asked my friend Roger Moore to help me proof-read the Spanish text.
  • I spent a lot of time with my Grinning Tun … I bought him on line in 2010. The more you look at it, the more it looks like a skull.
  • I spent a stupid amount of time designing a curlicue for announcing a change in sections. I am glad I did, because this new novel will include ‘Drop caps’ at the beginning of every chapter and said curlicue.

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design

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It will take me a few more weeks to proof the draft. To do this, I order a Proof from CreateSpace and do my edits as a way of passing the time effectively on my stationary cycle. Once I have the Proof, I’ll be able to concentrate on painting the cover for HHGG. This is the rough outlay for the cover, tacked together from various photos …

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HHGG cover (2).jpg

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Now you know everything about HHGG except its title!

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All my best,

Jane 

Written by jane tims

July 18, 2018 at 7:00 am

writing a novel – getting to know your characters

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The Whisper Wind Writers’ Retreat – the setting for my novel

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Working on the drafts of a novel is like combing hair.  You start at the top/beginning and comb through the words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters, over and over.  Eventually the tangles comb out and the hair becomes smooth and shiny.

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I find the best way to do the ‘combing’ is to work at specific components of the story.  Developing symbols within the story is one.  Developing characters in the story is another.

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I have a lot of characters in my books.  In ‘Open to the Skies’ there are 44 characters, major, minor and dead.  This is probably too many, but it is a book about a community.

So far, in ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I have 33 characters.  These include Sadie and Tom, members of the community, and the six ‘retreaters’ (the writers enjoying a weekend at the Writers’ Retreat).

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A difficulty with writing a sequel, I feel responsible for all these characters.  Leaving one of them out of book #2 seems wrong to me.  But by book # 25 (!) I’ll have a whole planet to contend with. So I have to make choices.

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Each of my characters has a character sketch, a background story and a story arc.  As I’ve said before, I try to include three ‘bumps’ in each story line.

One of the ‘combings’ I do is to look at each character as he or she appears in the book.  I want to make sure the character is consistent with respect to appearance, back story, way of speaking, relationships, and so on.

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1.  Character sketch and background

As an example, let me introduce you to Ruby Milton.  She is the fourth character from the left in the sketches above. She is a minor character, a constant companion to one of the major characters.   Ruby is 64 and married (she was a Brunelle before she was married).  She is a retired librarian and now runs a U-Pick with her husband Lars.  Ruby, as a result of her name, loves all things red.  She wears red and she bids on a lamp at an auction because it has a red glass finial.  A quilter, she works a red patch into every quilt she makes.  She was also one of the characters who opposed the sale and relocation of the Landing Church in ‘Open to the Skies’.  Ruby snubs Sadie at every opportunity.

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Ruby would love my lamp with the red finial – it once belonged to my mother-in-law Mary

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It’s hard to have to keep checking on a character sketch as I write, so I prepare a chart of my characters.  I keep the chart file open so I can check on it as often as I want.

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Name Occupation Characteristics Age  Vocabulary
 Ruby Milton Librarian; runs a U-Pick Wears red; thin; a quilter; maiden name Brunelle; lived in community all her life 62 Cemetery; uses lots of contractions
 Lars Milton Retired Teacher; runs a U-Pick Tall; Full head of snowy hair 65 Graveyard
 Marjory Alworth Shop owner Nicknamed Margie; Ruby Milton’s daughter 41
 Betsy Alworth Waitress Ruby Milton’s grand-daughter 24

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2. Story arc

Ruby occurs three times in ‘Crossing at a Walk’.  She occurs because she is a friend to Pat, a major character; she runs a local U-Pick and food from the U-Pick is used at the Retreat; she represents the community’s continued interest in its landmarks.  She wants to continue to use the Landing Church for her quilting group and she participates in celebrations of the history of the covered bridge.  Ruby also represents the part of the community that Sadie hasn’t quite won over in her efforts to fit in.

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As I read my draft so far, I realise Ruby needs to change in some small way during the book.  So, in keeping with her importance as a representative of community, I add some elements to Ruby’s story.  At the auction, she won’t even acknowledge Sadie.  But during the book, Sadie allows Ruby’s quilters to use the church and treats Ruby as knowledgeable about community history. By the end of the book, Ruby greets Sadie as a friend and contributes a story about her memories of the covered bridge.

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inside a covered bridge

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I keep a table of story arcs for each of my characters, to help me build the story, be consistent and make sure that I find the story for each character.

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Name First occurrence Second occurrence Third occurrence Story
 Ruby Milton Ignores Sadie at auction (page 35) Asks to use hall for quilting group (page 146) Greets Sadie as a friend at a community gathering; tells a story about bridge (page 232) Pat’s friend; represents community;  changes her attitude about Sadie

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Ruby is a relatively minor character in the book.  However, I treat her with the same respect I give my major characters.  And she gives back to me.  She suggests turnings for the story.  And she helps make the community I have created for these characters more realistic.

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Ruby puts a bit of red in every quilt she makes

 

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims 

Written by jane tims

April 3, 2015 at 7:35 am

writing a novel – searching out the symbols

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When I wrote ‘Open to the Skies’, I used various ways to examine and tighten the plot.  One of these was to list the various objects in the book and consider them as symbols.

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For my book ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I will use this process to help my eventual readers understand the progress of the story.

Mentioned once, an object, such as a candle, is just a candle.  Mentioned twice, it becomes a symbol, and the reader remembers the first mention of the object and draws understanding from the symbolism.    So a candle may be remembered for its light.  If, in a subsequent mention, someone blows out the candle, this may make a comment on the idea of communication. Passing a candle from person to person suggests the passing of stories between people.  The use of symbols deepens meanings and helps the plot reverberate throughout the writing.

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'back-up'

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Symbols operate like mini sub-plots throughout the story.  These mini-plots echo the main plot, and the objects change in a way that illuminates the main plot.  The mini-plots also tend to occur in three ‘beats’, providing a beginning, middle and end.  For example, an unlit candle becomes a useful source of light and is passed between people at a wake.

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In this round of edits, I have tried to examine the use of symbols in my novel.  To do this, I built a list of the objects I have used as symbols.  Then I looked for their occurrence in the novel to see if I could identify three ‘beats’ and a mini sub-plot.  In some cases, I identified gaps – fixing these has helped me to solidify my overall plot.

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This is a short version of my list of some of the objects/symbols in my book.  When I assembled the list, the items in red were missing and I had to fill out the story accordingly.  Perhaps you can use this method to help strengthen the narrative in your own fiction.

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Object Symbol Occurrence   (page numbers) Mini-plot
coyote fear 87 104 120 coyotes howl in woods; they rattle some of the retreaters; Sadie considers it a failing of the retreat
church tower refuge 15 104 181 tower is off-limits to retreaters; becomes a place to sleep in safety; a place to write a poem
paper maché ball and chain servitude 39 58 180 Sadie is asked to provide a community service placement for Minnie, a trouble-maker; Minnie stores the ball and chain, a theatrical prop, on a library shelf during her stay; when the time is up, she destroys the ball and chain
rain a barrier 6 133 186 rain interferes with the retreat at every turn and ends up being the source of the flood that threatens the covered bridge
scale model of a covered bridge remembering 35 132 150 a scale model of the covered bridge is purchased at an auction; helps tell the story of a character in the novel; could become the only memento of the bridge
burning candles passing stories from person to person 58 140 188 candles are not allowed in the old church but later become a practical source of light during a storm and a way of passing stories about the covered bridge from person to person
loon communication 21 169 182 loon calls at retreat encourage people to talk to one another
stars, shooting stars hope 12 109 185 stars become inspiration for an artist, encouragement for a love-interest, and an inspirational setting for a wake

 

'a comet'

 

Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 1, 2015 at 7:27 am

writing a novel – sub-plots

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In every story, sub-plots help with the story telling and contribute their own dynamic to the action, characters, and the relationships between characters.

sub-plot : a smaller, separate story strand that provides support for and adds complexity to the main plot

The courses I have taken have taught me that often subplots contain a minimum of three re-occurrences or ‘beats’ in a story.  A sub-plot is introduced, more is learned and the sub-plot is resolved.

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To help me identify the subplots, I have used my ‘story board.’  I identified some key subplots and put stickers on the scenes on my ‘story board’.  Here you can see the subplots ‘A’ and ‘P’.

 

plot elements

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This mapping of subplots can help me decide if some of the story is missing.  In the ‘story board’ below, sub-plot ‘P’ could be improved by a mention on Day 3 and 4 (the vertical rows of green trees indicate a day in the action).  Major inclusions of the subplot P on Days 1, 5, and 8 will be my three subplot ‘beats’.

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plot connections

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Copyright 2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 27, 2015 at 7:41 am

writing a novel … next (brave) step

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For the past two years, I have been working on a novel.   The working title of the book is ‘Saving the Landing Church’ – the actual title is ‘Open to the Skies’.  For more information about the process of writing ‘Open to the Skies’, have a look at the category ‘writing a novel’. https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/writing-a-novel-telling-a-story/

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The book is about a woman who falls in love with an old church and decides to save it from demolition, in spite of active resistance from members of the community.

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the setting for my novel … an old church and its hall and rectory are moved to a new location along the St. John River to create a writers’ retreat …

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After taking my book through nine drafts, numerous readings of bits with my writing groups, and a third-party edit, I have taken the next (brave) step.  I am sending my novel to three publishing companies.  I chose the publishers based on their dedication to Canadian authors and subjects, their willingness to read unsolicited manuscripts, and their current book lists.

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It will be a long wait.  I know from past experience that I may not hear from them for six to eight months, and then it will likely be ‘no’.  This is not lack of confidence or uncertainty about my skill.  It is reality – most book publishers get up to a thousand submissions per year and, of course, can only choose a few of these to publish.  However, on my side is the characteristic of doggedness.

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I will be sure and let you know what happens next with ‘Open to the Skies’.  Meanwhile, I’ll be busy working on a sequel to the first book and, of course, on my poetry.

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 16, 2015 at 7:34 am

writing a novel – plotting the change

with 6 comments

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Title: unknown

Working Title: Saving the Landing Church

Setting: a writers’ retreat, including an abandoned church

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom; people from the community

Plot: the story of how Sadie tries to win over a community in order to preserve an abandoned church

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'Rose Window'

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In writing and editing my novel, I have had to turn my attention to the plot, again and again.

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Last November, when I started to write my novel, I learned quickly –  stories usually are built on the concept of change.

  • the main character wants something (a need)
  • The character sets about trying to fill the need and is thwarted at every turn
  • In the end, they either fill the need or they don’t

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During the story, the main character must be altered in some way.

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Sadie

this is my main character, Sadie … how will she be changed during the novel? She does look like she could use a hair salon …

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As my novel has progressed, I have realised that Sadie not only wants the church, she wants the church with the blessing of the community

How does Sadie change?  Her understanding of the community and her attitude towards the community changes.  She realises that ‘community’ is a necessary component of the church she wants so badly … without the community, the church is just a hollow building  …

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To make certain my main character is changing and growing in the right direction, I’ve plotted out her understanding, her attitude and her progress with respect to the community …

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This excerpt from my writing journal will make no sense to you, but it shows that I write to make the novel and the characters progress towards an end.  If I encounter something in the plot (or the subplots) that does not fit, I look at it again and rewrite or reorder events …

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If you write short or long fiction, how do you make sure the plot is always moving in the direction you intend?

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Copyright 2013   Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

October 23, 2013 at 7:00 am

by the frozen lake, next year

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It’s mild here today and we are expecting lots of snow.  I’m working on my novel, doing edits.

I want this post to include an excerpt from my work, so I have chosen a wintry bit.

In this excerpt, the protagonist, Sadie, and her husband are near the edge of the lake, on the property they have bought.  They’re planning to bring the Landing Church to this location, to build a writer’s retreat.

Sadie’s husband, Tom, isn’t well.  He’s dying.  His way of coping is to be a stoic, to face his death as inevitable, and to plan his wife’s life out for her.  Usually, he talks about what she’ll be doing this time next year.  Until now, he’s refused to include himself in any talk of the future.  But, as the novel progresses, his thinking is changing.

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the frozen lake

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The lake, in the grip of November, had frozen to plates of glass, interrupted by pebbly bands where the wind mixed snow into the surface of the ice.  The distant shore presented itself in silhouette, an indigo strip between the lake and the brighter sky.  The dark images of trees were frozen into the surface of the ice.  The air was crisp, but we sat, as we did in summer, on the bench by the lake’s edge.

‘Next year,’ said Tom,  ‘we’ll clear the ice for skating.  And we’ll build a bonfire, here by the shore.  There’s certainly enough dead wood to fuel it.’

I sat still, watching the lake and thinking about Tom’s words –  ‘next year’ and ‘we’.  These words were so different from what he would have said, even three weeks ago.  Ordinarily, he’d be making plans for me alone.  Ordinarily, he’d have said ’Next year, you’ll clear the ice for skating.’

We sat in silence, as we always did, just watching the lake.  Tom probably didn’t notice how thoughtful I’d become.  I wondered how I’d missed it, this transition from ‘no future’ to ‘plans for tomorrow’.  Plans to be shared by us both.  My hands began to tremble.

To distract myself, I found a flat stone embedded in the frost at my feet.  I stood, moving a little closer to the edge of the lake.  I turned my arm and cradled the stone in my hand.  I pulled my arm back and propelled the stone toward the ice.  It hit with a clear ping and bounced across the surface, leaving a line of clear notes in its wake.  I tried another one.  It sang a semi-tone higher, and the ice vibrated between the crisp air and the ice-cold water below.   Tom bent and loosened another flat stone from the ground.  He stood beside me.  In another minute, the ice was ringing with the song of skipping stones.

We’d soon depleted the shore of every loose flat rock.  The lake was still and silent.  No note remained in its repertoire.  The ice in front of us was littered with flat grey stones. 

‘No skating this year,’ said Tom.  ‘We’ve planted enough trippers to last into next spring.’

We turned from the lake and followed the path back to the field.  As we navigated the alders and rounded a corner, we came suddenly on a sturdy bush of bright red berries.  ‘Look, Sadie.  Winterberry holly,’ said Tom. ‘It usually grows by the lake, but here it is, in our field.  Our very own burning bush.’  

The bush glowed with orange-red berries, set off by bronze-colored leaves, not yet fallen.  In the silver and grey of the thicket, it was a gift…

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bush of winterberry holly

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If you have any comments, good or bad, about this piece of writing, let me know.  Is there anything you don’t understand?  I there anything I could better explain?  Have you ever skipped stones on  the ice of a lake or pond?

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Copyright   Jane Tims   2012

Written by jane tims

December 19, 2012 at 7:46 am

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