Details, we need them.

How many passes through a scene does it take for you to get all the details in? For me, it’s around… many. That first draft is really just about plunking down the ideas, and focusing on the characters as a whole. I don’t have too much trouble generating dialog, so my initial drafts always have a lot of it when there are things to be said. My brain seems to effortlessly generate sarcasm and bland expressions which can easily overwhelm a scene. Normally I have to go back through it all with a more critical eye and decide if it actually serves the scene, or just my love for the sound of my own ass-hattery. Sometimes the answer will be both. (happy dance!)

Once I’ve picked over all the dialog and tuned it to the exact frequency I like, then I just sit around being proud of myself for awhile. Ideally I should walk away from it here, because the scene is nowhere near finished, but I can never seem to remember that until after I’ve embarrassed myself by showing it to someone. Then I’ll sit in front of my computer for a while poking at the problems that are now completely visible and making me regret my excitement. (insert heavy, self-judgmental sigh)

Now that I’ve reached the stage of realistic I can start putting in details. This includes everything from hair, clothing, furniture and facial tics to weather, time and background noise. It’s really a lot like building a world for your Sims. There are always things that need to be accounted for in every scene or your reader isn’t going to be able to appreciate the world you are creating. The main things I tend to overlook are weather and surroundings. What does the room look like? Is there furniture? What about décor? What’s the character’s kitchen scheme reflect? Is it glitzy and showy, or practical? Is there a toaster? Does she use it? If she doesn’t use it, then why does she have it? Maybe I should change it to a coffee maker.

And what about the weather? The sun is always somewhere, even if somewhere is the other side of the planet. Is the wind blowing? Rain? How about a storm? What time of day is it? The beginning of Smashing Pumpkins starts with a wind storm, and I found myself forgetting that in spots as I worked on other characters. Everyone is existing in the same place during the same time frame. This means they all have the same weather. Some of them will undoubtedly be talking about it because that’s what people do. We talk about the weather.

Personality quirks are another thing to think about. Where did they come from? Why does that guy always twitch and look hungry when someone says the word camel? That didn’t just happen, it started somewhere. So figure it out. Even if you never tell your reader that the man once crossed a desert with only a small, black button for a companion, the fact that you know it will go a long way toward helping you make that character three dimensional.

After all of that thinking and discovering, there are times when I’ll go back and rework a scene days, weeks or even months after I thought it was finished. You really never know what detail you might have missed, or may have to add, until you reach the actual end. My appreciation for detail has really grown in this past year, and I know my work reflects. Detail has slowed down my production, but really, I was going to fast anyway. I needed the bumps in the road to show me the problems with my car. I can still draft at full speed, but my consciousness of detail has changed the feel of the final product.

If you want to join me on Patreon for the final push of Smashing Pumpkins I’ll drop the link on you next Monday. Launch day is September 24th! A single dollar will get you access to the finished chapters as they roll out, and I could really use your support.

As always, I wish you the best of your inspirations and hope you are living your dream.

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Dystopia or Bust!

Dystopian themes are about the authors view of what the world would look like if a certain set of variables are changed. For some of us, the catalyst could be something as simple as a jack-o-lantern contest where the losers are executed Shirley Jackson style. This is exactly what happened here. My wife made a comment to the effect of “What if…” and my brain exploded. For me to create a world where this could happen, I needed to change a lot of things. I haven’t actually split the atom here, but there are definite differences. For the most part I have left the world itself alone and dealt only with the U.S. of A. As with many authors who tackle projects like this, I have taken the politics of my time, and the opinions of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered and had conversations with, and built a country that matches what I envision. My point of view is very Spartan-esque, slicing away a lot of frill and general garbage. I’m a firm believer in doing for yourself as opposed to buying your way to happiness. My own world, the one I see when I look out the window of my apartment is very small and troubled. People are confused and struggling, and the reasons that stand out to me the most are corporate greed, and the desensitized inaction of a dying government. What if that all went away? What if a livable wage was not an issue, and people everywhere could have fresh food without having to micro-manage their accounts, or beg? What if you could go anywhere in the country for free? What if all debt was erased? What if violent crime was erased? What if, in exchange for all of that, you had to give the government the right to assess your children during their early school years and remove the ones they didn’t like?

Smashing Pumpkins focuses mainly on the lives of four people who are all affected by the same rules. We’ve all got histories and lives that shape how we react to things, so I’ve really dug into the backgrounds of my characters and tried to show the connections that make them who they are in the story. Overlaying it all is the political practices and opinions that will always insert themselves into a group’s dynamics. Seems like a lot to manage in a single novel, right?

Well, the Patreon ball will be rolling soon and everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to give their opinion. If you want to join the community, just follow the link I’ll post here at launch. The current projection is September 24, as in next Monday.  In the meantime, happy writing!

Moving to Patreon

I’m obviously not writing shorts or scenes or anything anymore, I’m just working on the book and… well… working.  The whole of the story has become really large and intricate, more than I ever thought it would, and my need for feedback has become a tangible thing.  Patreon seems like a good place to finish this out.  I’ll be posting a link here at launch for any of you who would be interested in joining in.  There are some nice rewards in the tiers and I would love to hear your thoughts on the characters and the world I’ve built.  September 24 is the set date, and there is still so much to get ready.  I’m even sucking up my camera shyness and recording a short intro video.  I’ve never done one before so I’m really nervous about it.

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!  I won’t be joining in this year, but I would love to support those of you that are taking up the challenge.  It was really a great experience for me.  I intend to do it again after Smashing Pumpkins is finally finished and in print.  I’ve got two more books in the wings, waiting for their chance to be in the NaNoWriMo spotlight.  If you decide to participate please do drop me a comment and I will happily cheer you on.  And don’t forget the Word Sprints.  I absolutely LOVED those!  If you don’t have a Twitter account then go get one and follow the Word Sprints.  It really added to the sense of community for me as well as giving me a competitive focus.

Power forward my friends!

Monologue #24

It’s funny how the one thing you thought was going to change your daily life for the better can manifest in the completely opposite manner.  Four months ago I was looking at a shift change and was preparing to move myself more into daylight hours.  Working third shift was good but working NOT third shift is better.  I’m a swing shift kinda guy and have my best hours right, smack in the middle of our twenty-four hour cycle.  I was excited and looking forward to this change.  I had high hopes of getting back to something more comfortable.  Well, that didn’t happen the way I thought it would.  The new shift was awful; management turned into demons, and my nerves shattered, making me combative and argumentative.  Four months later I have a different job, a different apartment and a different life altogether!  WTF!

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I’m not usually hard to work with.  My day job was my bread and butter; my entire life up until then.  I have ridden out hard times in the past by simply looking past it and seeing that things would get better eventually.  I put twenty-three years into that job and made a career out of it when I had no other career options; mostly because I hadn’t thought of any.  I had been a goalless twenty-something when I went into that industry.  In my mind it was just another stop on my non-existent travel plan through life, kinda like working at the local chicken-by-the-bucket place had been.  It was something to do that made me better money than slinging greasy food at people and going home smelling like fried everything.  I had no idea that I was going to fit so well into the new job and that it was going to become my employment Mecca for the bulk of my adult life.

I guess I’m actually writing an obituary here for my lost youth.  The past few months have left me bitter and feeling more my actual age than I ever have before.  My birthday was a few weeks ago and added a one to my half century of life.  With all those years behind me, putting up with so much crap from a job that once gave me a lot of happiness just became something I wasn’t willing to do anymore.  Putting up with garbage as you grow is a part of life.  Those shovelfuls of shit that get dumped on you are things you learn to deal with and avoid.  Everyone has to learn those things.  I wasn’t born into a family that was bursting at the seams with money and influence so I had to pick my way along like the rest of the poor and middle class.  Finding a job that was a good fit for me was really a surprise, and in many ways, a gift.  I know in my heart that a lot of folks don’t get to spend their lives working at something they actually like.  For me to find that job before I turned thirty was blessing that I can’t overlook.  To have those shovels turn into dump trucks was not.

Now I’m drifting along on the tracks of self-employment.  My car is my business.  Sadly, a lot of other people have chosen the same path as me and the work is a little scarce right now.  I believe business will pick up soon though.  Once the holidays are over all the part-timers will fade back out and I’ll be able to get back to the business of making money.  In the meantime I have resumed work on my novel and started blowing away the dust from my blog.  I never meant to leave it, especially for so long, but the stress of these past few months was more than my writing could hold.  Something had to fall by the wayside.  It hurts to know that my deepest love is the first thing to get left behind when times get tough, but I understand.  Survival first.  Creativity comes later.

Stay sane during this most obnoxious of holidays and don’t forget to tip your Uber/Lyft driver.  They gotta eat too. 🙂

Smashing Pumpkins – Opening Scene

(Being hard at work on getting my book finished I haven’t written a short story this week.  I feel moderately bad, but under the circumstances sacrifices must be made.  My life will be different next week.  Until then help yourself to bit of my main character.)

 

“This will go so much smoother if you will all just get in a line.”  Tammy’s voice rose higher with each word, a useless attempt to verbally control the throng of adults groping over her desk like zombies in search of a meal.  

Samson tried not to chuckle as he thumbed through the stack of papers marked for him.  Tammy’s desk was placed fully across the main path to Principal Brandt’s office, the door being in a direct line with her chair.  Anyone needing to speak with the Principal had to deal with Tammy first.  Like it or not though, the only order in force this morning was that of alpha versus everything that wasn’t alpha, excluding the scavengers drifting around the outer edges looking for their shot, and secretaries who lacked enough self-assurance to enforce order in an excited situation.

As if to prove his point, a narrow, pale arm covered in a three quarter length black knit and surrounded by four wide, silver bangles, snaked its way between himself and the other third grade teacher, Mrs. Chang, and snatched one of the thinner stacks off the top of Tammy’s faux wooden desk.  From the edge of his vision, he could see the platinum blond head of Alison Kanger, one of two seventh grade math teachers, retreat to the south wall with her prize.  Ghost white skin and large, round eyes with irises the color of drying earth clay, Alison was a startling apparition in the fluorescent illumination of the school’s main office.  More than once in his first three weeks here it had amused him to think she would be a heart stopping shock on a dark, county road in the dead of night.  High beams or low wouldn’t make a difference.  If Alison Kanger jumped in front of his car he would scream like a school girl and jerk the wheel.  

Using her middle finger to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, Tammy scowled at the group, her round, flushed cheeks bulging outward like a chipmunk.

“Is anyone even listening to me?”  

Noting the way the small muscles around her eyes were tightening Samson looked directly at her and smiled, showing just the bottoms of his upper teeth.  Tammy’s pupils expanded instantly and she smiled back, her teeth fully exposed.  Quickly he looked back down at the papers in his hands. 

“Not really,” Alison stated, head bowed over her papers.  The fluffy, overly large bump she teased into the front of her hair translated into the pillar of a crown in the shadow she cast on the pastel yellow wall behind her.  Her angle in the light coupled with her head down posture gave her shadow a grotesque hump on its back.

“Animals, all of you.”  Straining to cross her arms over her chest Tammy huffed deeply and used her feet to push off from her desk, propelling her office chair backwards, away from them all.  A slight turn at the end gave everyone a side view of the long, brown tresses she refused to trim, the split ends appearing gray and unhealthy as they floated through the air a mere two inches from the floor.

Seeing all his pages were in order Samson went through them a second time, not really looking now as he watched Alison from the corner of his eyes.  The way she was licking her finger before turning every third page was maddening, like listening to someone scrape their nails over an old, slate chalkboard.  The small gap between her top and bottom teeth, clearly the result of a mild overbite, was filled with the tip of her tongue waiting for its next opportunity to wet the middle finger of her right hand.  Near the bottom of the stack she froze for a second, her eyes widening and a calculated smile spread over her entire face.  It vanished so quickly that had he not been watching he would have missed it completely.

Straightening up he began to make his way out of the office.  At six feet on the nose, he was taller than most of them and used that difference to his advantage. Careful to not step on Mrs. Chang’s foot, he dropped one shoulder and slid between her and Mr. McDonald, the Middle School Phys Ed teacher.  McDonald grunted as Samson’s pristine blue button down brushed his arm.

“Mmpf.  Football players.”

A guilty smile flashed across his face.  He had never been a football player or into any sports at all.  His muscular build was from the hours spent at home doing floor exercises while studying his suspects on the plasma.  He never went to a gym.  

“Goodbye Samson!”  Tammy’s voice sing songed over the heads of the teachers.

Raising a hand in acknowledgment he headed into the hall toward the Elementary wing. He had twenty minutes to get himself together before the kids started pouring through the doors.

“Dream on, sister.”  

Irritated by the snarky tone, Samson paused and thought about going back to confront Alison about her assuming attitude.  It would be a great start to his day, but it would undoubtedly give Tammy the wrong idea.  She was nice and all, but she was also a toad. Every time he looked at the squat secretary with her four feet of dead hair, his mind drew a picture of a jelly-filled amphibian with giant glasses riding on a shaggy lily pad.  Naw, let Tammy deal with Alison on her own.

The school housed kindergarten through high school, each part joined to the next by a single set of heavy, metal, double doors.   Pushing his way out of the middle school, Samson let the big doors bang shut hard behind him and walked to his classroom near the end of the hall. Cardboard cutouts of pumpkins, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns were taped to the walls above the coat racks and JOC banners were tacked over every classroom door.  Closer to the floors, cats, ghosts, spiders and colorful fall leaves had been pasted.  The overall impression was an entire hallway of Halloween.  Welcome to October.

 

Snippet #20

Fading sunlight lit the windows with a soft, reddish glow, the edges fading first to orange, then to gold.  All along the street people lowered their heads, tugged the brims of their hats farther down or shielded their eyes with hand despite the sunglasses guarding their delicate peepers.  The brightness, magnified times six, tall, sky scraping buildings clothed in sheets of perfect glass, created a world bathed in its own fashion dilemma; a look to rival Godiva’s famous ride where only a fool could see the truth.  For sixteen minutes, there was no fool, only the dimming of the lights.

Monologue #21

I wrote this piece while I was at work last night.  Evidently my sleep deprived brain thought that was close enough.  When I got home, I ate, watched an episode of Criminal Minds and went to sleep without scheduling the post.

My goal of getting my chapters in order by the end of June did not get met.  From the look of things, I may not be finished until the end of July, maybe the middle of August.  I’m not real torn up about it.  I’ve made huge progress and learned a lot about how to do this.  My largest lesson has been about organization.

When I started this last November during NaNoWriMo I was really in the dark about how to go about things.  I had index cards scattered across my coffee table and multiple files on my computer about all my characters.  My brain refused to cooperate with the idea of structure so I was just typing out every possible scene for each character as fast as I could.  Now that I’m about halfway through piecing my chapters together in a form that makes sense, I can see that I needed to structure myself a lot sooner.

Last week I bought a little program called NewNovelist that cost me about $30.  I was eyeing Scrivener too, which was only $10 more and seems to be the favorite of authors everywhere.  This late in the game I was really interested in getting myself more organized than giving myself a learning headache, so I went with NewNovelist.  It’s not perfect, but I’m happy with it.  Once I got my notes, characters, places and chapters ported over from Google Docs, I was pretty pleased with myself.  Everything is now right at my fingertips.  Some of the information the program gives me is nothing but gibberish to my eyes but the ability to have all my resources just a mouse click away without having to open multiple browser windows is really nice.  I may have another look at Scrivener for the next book though.  It offers some customization that I currently don’t have.

The other big lesson I learned this month is about timelines.  Flying by the seat of my pants with that has not been effective.  As it turns out, my lead character is moving along much slower than everyone else.  I need to go back and bring him up to speed in order to get all my events flowing smoothly and in the correct order.  Had I bothered with an outline (something I hate) I probably would have spotted that problem right away and corrected it.  This doesn’t mean I’ll be outlining in the future but I will definitely be paying closer attention to the timeline.

Happy, productive writing everyone.  I wish you all the best!