Struggle, fight, but keep the story moving

Can I make a confession?  I have never suffered from “writer’s block”.  For all the fiction, non-fiction, intelligence reporting, and documentation I have written, I have never been intimidated by the blank page or empty display screen.

However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have struggled with format, with wordsmithing, and trying to impose my will on that of my characters.  Over the years, though, I have learned that writing something is better than writing nothing.

In my current effort, a novel I have tentatively named ‘Clarice’, I am struggling with how to proceed.  Do I write the story to my other stories, continuing to create a sort of interrelated dystopian universe, or rework the eighty-two pages written so far to be something new?  The characters are fighting me on this.  They seem to know where they’re going, but they haven’t as of yet condescended to reveal their destination to me.  They have hinted that it will be a little town called Cartersville, Florida—but that’s another story entirely.

And while we’re at it, I chose the name ‘Clarice’ as a placeholder until I discovered the heroine’s real name—44,726 words later the name hasn’t changed.  The problem is that I can’t hear the name Clarice without immediately thinking of sweetmeats, fava beans, and a nice Chianti (Damn you, Thomas Harris!).

If you have a favorite name for a girl born into poverty in coal country, let me know.  I’ll have a talk with Clarice and she might agree to change her name to benefit the story.  Who knows?

So, how do I handle it when I’m struggling with my characters?  First of all, I don’t discard anything.  This way, if I need to, I can easily step back to an earlier version and keep writing.  Whenever I’m done writing for the day I save the current file with a unique revision name both to my local drive and to the cloud.

The next day, I save the file with  a new name and start working.  You can see from the image what I mean.  If you aren’t quite this disciplined, that’s fine.  I’m pretty anal about it after spending one career as an intelligence analyst and another as a  technical writer.

The point is to keep writing.  Write every day.  Write something.  Then fight your way through until you arrive at the story your characters want to tell.  Don’t worry about it being clean or being perfect.  There will be plenty of time for editing and finessing the mechanics.  The story is everything.  Without the story, you might as well leave the page blank.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

So I Had Surgery A Few Days Ago…

So I had surgery a few days ago and my wife heard me in the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I was walking to get some exercise and noticed the paper towel holder was empty,” I said, “so I was replacing them.”
“You’re not supposed to be doing that,” she chastised.
“Alright,” I responded, “then I’m going back to my office to write the great American novel so I can make millions with spin-off movies and soundtracks and fan fiction will appropriate my characters and violate the established canon of their universe.”
And I thought, wouldn’t that be cool!
© Copyright 2016 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Location Worksheet

In an earlier post I discussed the Character Worksheet I used to keep track of all the characters mentioned in my Any Tomorrow Trilogy.  The worksheet simply lists the name and a basic description of each character.  This tool is very handy to make sure names aren’t too similar or confusing and to keep track of relationships and other important characteristics of each character.  The example I provided for Character Worksheet page is simplified and doesn’t include details that might spoil the reader’s discovery.

The Location Worksheet lists all the geographic locations mentioned in the Any Tomorrow Trilogy.  It consists of three columns: Name, Location, and Description.  You can see the Name and Location columns on the Location Worksheet page.  As with the Character Worksheet, information  that might spoil the reader’s discovery (in this case the Description column) isn’t posted.

When I created the Location Worksheet I had to make a number of decisions about just how detailed to be.  I wanted a useful tool, but not one that would bog down the process.

Some references are specific, such as “14825 Magnolia Street, Melbourne, FL” from Any Tomorrow: The Calling.  Other references are vague because within the story there are many inferred or nonspecific location references.  Whether or not to include inferred or nonspecific location references requires a case-by-case decision based on how important the reference is to the story.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  Take the following sentence from Any Tomorrow: The Calling

“In a small village in north-central Iraq, Enrique’s combat team came upon a disheveled group of Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers.”

“In a small village” isn’t specific as a location, and neither is “north-central Iraq”.  Iraq is a fairly large place, however, taken in the context of the reference, I thought I might want to include it so, if I needed to, I could easily see how I referenced the location of the action.

On the worksheet, entries that don’t include specific information are listed as NFI ― No further information.  NFI means there isn’t a specific name or a specific location.  The information that is listed is there because it’s important within the story and I’ve probably provided myself with an explanation in the Description column.

So take a look at the Location Worksheet and if it’s something that might help you with your writing organization, feel free to use this tool.  The Location Worksheet, along with the Character Worksheet, a detailed timeline, and vocabulary/syntax worksheets really helped me to stay organized and I hope they’ll help you.

If you have other helpful ideas or just want leave a comment, please do so by clicking the Leave a comment link below this post.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.