After doing some analysis on my work-in-progress, I realized that the main problem is that my midpoint-shift event is falling way too late in my plot arc, although it’s less than halfway to the word count I was aiming for. And the second murder needs to be a final catalyst to my main character, not an early development. No wonder it was so boring! So much for the joys of pantsing. Now to reset the outline.
The “pantsers” versus “outliners” is an ongoing schism in the writer fraternity. I use the word “schism” because, rather like choosing an organized religion, it seems to be mostly a matter of whatever works for you, and yet it starts up a lot of heated debate. Personally, I think it has more to do with right brain/left brain than any kind of absolute how-to for everyone.
I have always preferred to have some idea of where I’m going before I set out on a journey. Heck, even for an evening walk, I put it in my mind that I’m going for a cup of coffee or picking up bread and eggs. I’m an avid collector of city maps, and to wander aimlessly makes me restive and irritable. On the other hand, I have a friend who verges on the edge of hysteria if I make a wrong turn on the way to the mall, believing I’m going to get us lost or at least several hours late for dinner. And her husband is a man whose overriding philosophy of life is “We are not lost – we are exploring alternate avenues of access”. It’s an interesting marriage.
I seem to fall somewhere between them. After a character jumps into my mind, or a setting haunts me until I consent to stage a murder there, scenes bubble in my head until I put them down on paper (so to speak). At some point I start seeing them mesh into a plotline, and then I sit down and try to at least mumble through a vague synopsis. Which becomes an outline, which often goes through shifts and changes like the course of a river in Africa. Not quite pantsing, but loose enough to waste some effort while keeping my creativity alive.
Until lately I’ve had a theory that even the most inveterate pantser would have to eventually take a breath and scribble down a few notes on where she is going and how to get there. What kind of book just starts out and goes nowhere? Surely only an amateur who will not see publication.
Wrong. I have decided to give the crown of “Pantser King” to George R.R. Martin after watching his plot lines diverge and diverge and diverge, until in exasperation, the writers of HBO have simply taken the story over and left him behind. If we are to ever see a conclusion to any of the magnificent stories that Martin has birthed, I suspect it will be on television and not in the pages of his books. His irritation at fans who demand that he come up with the next book is perfectly understandable, if we posit that he himself has no idea where anything is going from here.
To which I happily grant that it doesn’t really matter to his fans, of which I am one. The stories are magnificently written, the characters are some of the most real and compelling ever found in literature, the universe he has built has enthralled our world. And the man has made tons of money. So a grand toast of Dornish wine to George R.R. Martin and pantsing!
Meanwhile, I need to get back to my outline.
I placed my fictional world of the ‘End of the Line’ saloon in a fictional desert town called Del Sueño, somewhere in inland California. Rather than set it on one of the numerous lakes, I placed it alongside a fictional river. Southern Californikators know that most of the rivers there are ‘ephemeral’, to use Wikipedia’s word: sometimes there’s water in them, sometimes it’s just a dry arroyo. And woe betide the occasional tourist who thinks a dry arroyo is a great place to park their RV. Sudden flash floods can toss and float the biggest Winnebago down the line toward the Pacific.
But one reviewer of a book in the series commented that if the town was in the “desert” then there couldn’t be any river. Funny how people not from the southwest assume all desert is like Death Valley or even the Sahara. In fact, Death Valley does get an average annual rainfall of 1.5 inches (38 mm). The wettest period on record was mid-2004 to mid-2005, in which nearly 6 inches (150 mm) of rain fell in total, leading to ‘ephemeral’ lakes. (Again, thank you, Wikipedia!) Due to the aridity, they disappeared quickly, but the “desert” does have water and lakes and even rivers. At slightly higher elevations, a couple thousand feet or so, the rivers stay at least moist most of the year. Unlike the Rio Grande, say.
In 2014 my son was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso. One of the first things he did was drive down to get a look at the legendary Rio Grande, about which he had been hearing all his life, not to mention seeing it in countless movies. Instead of the mighty surge of water expected of a river that divides two major nations of the western hemisphere, he beheld a wide dry wash full of sand and sagebrush. Apparently it was one of the major disappointments of his life. “Mom!” he said with childlike shock. “There’s no water! It’s the ‘Grand River’ for crying out loud!” I.e., how can there be ‘wetbacks’ if there’s no ‘wet’?
Like many people, he hadn’t realized that even the ‘Grand River’ has trouble staying wet in the middle of summer. In my mystery novels, I describe my river as being low and choked with weeds and reeds much of the time. Since its source is a high mountain lake, it’s never completely dry, and similar to the San Joaquin river, supports almost forty species of freshwater fish. Good thing, since many of the people living Del Sueño spend a lot of time on its banks, escaping the heat and catching what might end up as lunch.
So, yes, Virginia, there are rivers in the desert!
photo of Rio Grande by Glysiak, courtesy Wikipedia
A flash fiction riff from a prompt for Friday Fictioneers, at https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/friday-fictioneers-2/
The limit is 100 words; I did 92! Still trying to figure if I made it a full story.
photo copyright Sean Fallon
“How long has she been here?” he asked the nursing home aide.
“Oh, about six years.”
They stood in the door watching the old woman in her wheelchair as she stared out the window. On the sunny window ledge was a fat Mason jar full of bright colors.
“And what’s the deal with the jar full of old batteries?”
“Her grandson said he had a project for the science fair. She promised to save old batteries to give him on his next visit.”
“When’s the science fair?”
“It was five years ago.”
Here’s the opening paragraph of “A Cold Blue Killing”, coming out soon:
The old Pontiac sat half in the water, its front wheels resting on the stones that had been exposed by the drought. A taut cable stretched upward from its bumper to the bluff where Sheriff Pete Branson stood watching as the police underwater diving team scoured the site. Their dripping wetsuits left trails of lake water on the small rocks, turning them black in the sun. The men around Pete were too busy to talk, preparing to haul everything up to the road. The car would go on a flatbed. The body would leave in a somber ambulance.
Well, that figures. I either piddle around on the internet, or I get so involved in writing my book that I forget to blog about it. In a way not much has happened, and yet in a way it has advanced. Wordwise, a little low for the last month and a half, not anywhere near what I had projected. But plotwise, a lot blooming in my head.
Right now I have a problem with a phoney name. I have a character who changed his name back in ’78 to ‘Elliot’ because he felt a kinship with the kid in the movie “E.T.” Anybody spot the flaw in this? Of course, everyone but me. Until I finally woke up the other night and sat bolt upright in the dark. “You flippin’ idiot! E.T. didn’t come out until 1982!” Aack.
So now I’m plunging through my collection of memoirs about the Sixties and Seventies, specifically the SDS and the Weathermen. Which is why he had to change his name, see? After a few of the doofuses blew themselves up with their own bomb in 1970, the rest went underground (hence “Weather Underground” – names changed everywhere). I had thought of having him name himself after Che Guevara, who was a revolutionist hero then, but I don’t want it too obvious. And “Che” is pretty obvious.
Then I thought he could chose “Bob Dylan”, whose song gave the Weathermen their name. Also too obvious and famous, but Dylan’s real name is Robert Zimmerman. Cool, just enough obscurity to last to the big reveal at the end. Except the name Zimmerman has some more recent connotations in the news and nothing I want to connect to. So, back to plunging.
Anybody got any suggestions? Help me out, here.
Hi and welcome to my new website. Well, it’s not really new, it’s the same name but it’s been completely redone, and I like it very much.
Right now I’m working on the third book in my Del Sueño mystery series, “A Cold Blue Killing”. I intend to blog now and then about how it’s going. I don’t want to load anybody down, so I’m not sure yet just how often I will post, but it’ll be fun to keep a running tag on my progress. And a boot in the pants if I start to procrastinate.
My first novel was “The Last Party in Eden”, a mainstream coming-of-age story that took place in the Sixties. It’s a fascinating time period (not so much when I was living through it, but looking back now, yeah). So I’m using a lot of my interesting memories and research to develop a significant back story to the present murder mystery. I figure a time of conflict, protest and political eruption has to have some great reasons for murder, right? So, onward.
I’m still in the process of setting up this site. Bear with me and mind the dust, there’s lots to be done…