Thursday, March 18, 2010

Putting The Focus On Focus

As you know, because I've been shrieking about it for two days now, things here have been a bit chaotic. My toilet overflowed, my carpet got soaked, a giant noise making drier got placed in the bathroom doorway, and my carpet danced in the breeze, leaving me ever so slightly seasick.

Then, presumably because of bunny rabbit overload, my camera died. I immediately ran out and bought a new one, since Scooter can't go unphotographed for more than twenty minutes at a stretch.

The drier kept running non-stop for 36 long wretched hours. It was like living on a LaGuardia runway. Finally, I turned it off this morning, and just now they came and took it away.

In the midst of all this, I bumped into a problem with Blood Wounds. In spite of my heroic commitment to dawdling, I'd gotten a lot written over the past week. The scenes I'd figured out were now on paper (or in the computer somewhere). I knew how the book was going to end; it was just a question of having the time to get the characters where they needed to be.

But then I realized I didn't know how to get them there. I'd used up the scenes I'd already planned, and didn't have anything to happen next. I was missing the transitional stuff.

I've been doing an excellent job of not telling you what Blood Wounds is about, and I intend to continue with that policy. But it gives away essentially nothing to say it's a family novel, as opposed to a school or friend or a boyfriend novel. Most of my books are family novels, and to keep the focus on family, I usually set my books in the summertime, or have the moon move closer to earth. Clever writer tricks I learned at Clever Writer School (I majored in Tricks).

But Blood Wounds takes place in November. I forget why, but I'm sure I had a good reason at the time. And the funny thing about November is people who go to school go to school then. I managed, thanks to one crisis after another, to keep my heroine out of school for the first 200 pages, but now the crises had passed and there was no reason why she shouldn't return to French class. And see her friends. None of whom I had even bothered to name, since they had nothing to do with the story.

I had intended to do a full day's worth of dawdling and writing yesterday, but both were pretty much impossible with the great noise machine roaring throughout my four room apartment. Usually when I'm stuck with a plot point, I lie down on my bed and ponder. But I didn't want to do that, since I didn't know when the carpet folk would return to check out moisture. Besides, it's not all that relaxing to lie down on a LaGuardia runway. I knew I wouldn't be working today, and I was concerned that the book would just die on me. One reason why I work in such intense concentrated doses is because I'm always afraid if I stop for any extended period of time (like more than a day), I'll never go back to it.

So there I was, in a noisy state of panic. And then, while playing one of the really dumb games the internet offers as prime dawdling material, I began to focus.

I'd been trying to work out a school scene because my heroine would be in school and I didn't know what else to write about. But the story wasn't about school. I needed to remind myself just what the story was about (family) and think about the characters (members of her family) and come up with a scene that would let my heroine get where she needed to get to, emotionally and physically.

And once I realized what the focus was, I was able to focus. I worked out a scene between my heroine and her stepfather that would take place Tuesday evening. And after that was figured out, I came up with a tiny but telling school scene to be written next. My heroine sings in the school choir. Singing is an integral part of the novel. She goes back to school on Monday, to which I'll devote a paragraph or two, without mentioning friends by name. She goes to choir rehearsal after school, and is relieved to find that even though she's missed over a week of school, she will still have the solo she mentioned way back in the very beginning of the book.

Then she'll have the scene with her stepfather, and we'll pretty much be on the way to the ending of the book. Which I actually have now changed, to include the choir recital.

This is my favorite part of the writing process, figuring out just what the story is and how to tell it. The putting it down on paper/computer can be very involving, and there's a real pleasure in coming up with a great line or a good characterization (in Blood Wounds there's even some description). But the problem solving is what I love the most. It's why I do so much pre-writing and mental outlining. Because there's always a solution, if I just think hard enough (and play enough dumb games).

So if you're asking yourself, why I'm not writing now, well I have my dawdling excuses in place. First of all, I ran some errands today with my mother. Secondly, the carpet may be back to normal, but I have photographic evidence that there are still things to be put away (those are all my books, which I keep in mostly chronological order in the bookcase, so it's never fun when I have to reassemble them).

And best of all, Scooter's taken over the desk chair.

Not even a problem solving trickster can write a whole book standing up!

ETA to show an empty bookcase and a full chair.


Lupe said...

I'm glad you resolved the problem with your book and hope you get your carpet back to the way it was :)

I have a question for you. I was a thinking about it as I read today's blog on your writing process (which I find pretty useful):
How do you visualize the ending? How do you know what the ending is going to be before you even know the middle of your book?

I've been frustrated by this everytime I write a story [I'm an aspiring writer], I know my plot, the story but I can never visualize my



Nora said...

Were you aware of this animal, one of the 15 cute animals that could kill you?

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Lupe-

Your question is so sensible that I'm going to write a blog entry to reply rather than trying to do it in a comment.

Also if I do another blog entry, I won't have to go back to cleaning the apartment and writing the book!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello Nora-

I never knew about Pfeffer's Flamboyant Cuttlefish before and it is now my second favorite animal (Scooter being number one).

I sent the link to my brother a couple of my Pfeffer cousins, so they could learn about our new family mascot.

It sounds like the Pfeffer Flamboyant Cuttlefish would fit right in at a Pfeffer family reunion!