On Writing: Spackle

Sunday, November 20

A lot of us are feeling woefully behind on our word counts right now and doing anything we can to move forward. One of my the things I rely on in these sorts of situtations is the literary equivalent of spackle.

Spackle, you might ask? You mean like that weird, white plastery stuff that you use to cover holes in the wall?

Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Spackle when writing is just what it sounds like: a flimsy lick and a promise to get back to a spot and create something better. Stronger. Heftier. When I am in the zone and the story is unfolding before me, if I take too long in trying to capture the words, they’ll disappear before I can get them down. For me, always, the race is to get the story down while I’m in the heated flush of that writing zone. I can linger and dally over language all I want later, once the bones of the story are firmly in place.

Or, conversely, if I am having a hard time getting the words to flow, or flow in a jumbled, out-of-order sort of way, I use spackle to fill in the blanks so I can at least maintain my forward momentum. Sadly, this is the situation I find myself in this month.

Spackle often shows up as a set of brackets [like this] when I know I need a better word or simile but I don’t want to stop the writerly flow and search right then.

Something in his face made me [uneasy].
His eyes hardened like [sharp flat stones].

Sometimes though, spackle can be an entire action.

[Heroine and hero escape stronghold and make their way to safety. Will need to learn something on the road that will be critical to final solution/climax.]

As you can see, that’s no mere phrase or word choice, but an entire plot point that needs to be worked out.

The thing is, with rough drafts I know I will need a series of scenes in there. Some of them are showing up, right on cue, and others aren’t. But I still need a placeholder in this new draft I’m building, something to help me capture the pacing and the rhythm of the scenes. In that case, I spackle entire scenes, which go something like this:

[They arrive at court. Hero leaves her to talk politics with duchess’s advisors. She pretends she’s bored and wanders away. Uses this as excuse to eavesdrop on other’s conversations. Learns Count Z has returned, sees Lord X and Lady Y in tete a tete, wonders what they’re up to. Protects one of the serving maids against an overbearing baron, accidentally runs into the French ambassador, then herofinds her and invites her to dance.]

In that bit I list all the things from the various plot threads I’m juggling that I know have to happen then, in that scene. It also helps me capture in really broad strokes what the scene will encompass, while also giving my subconscious time to figure out more of the details and the nuance and even what the scene will actually be about. (Because clearly, from looking at that list, I do not have a clue. Yet.)

Oftentimes, I’ll figure out major epiphanies for that scene in subsequent scenes—scenes I never would have written if I’d let myself get totally stuck and stymied in one spot and not allowed myself to use spackle.

So if you aren’t currently using spackle, you might see if there’s a place for it in your writer’s toolbox. Because honestly? Sometimes a lick and a promise and a healthy dollop of spackle is what finally gets us to the end of this first, rough draft.


On Writing: What’s In A Name?

Monday, October 31

For me, naming is a huge part of character. In fact, I cannot get very far in a novel until I have the correct name. I can be brainstorming and jotting down plot notes and some basic character sketching but until the true name clicks, I’m rudderless. The character doesn’t become real to me until that name solidifies.

The truth is, names matter. A lot. Both in real life and in fiction. So much goes into a name; parental hopes, ancestry, gender, ethnicity, and social status.

Because names carry all that weight, they can also be a hugely valuable tool in terms of world-building, setting an emotional tone, creating an integrated setting, and of course, characterization. The right name can also help anchor us in the story world, whether it be historical or contemporary or Other. Think how different the name Araminta is from Jennifer, or Carradoc is from Justin.

Plus all words have connotations, even names. The way they sound, feel, roll around in our mouths as we say them. All those elements affect how we perceive a name as well. As writers, we can use that, make it work for us. The names can do a significant amount of “showing” so we don’t have to waste time “telling.” [click to continue…]


Someday, I will write a book that does NOT have a cast of thousands. Some day. But for now, that seems to dog me with every book I write. Here then, is a trick I devised to not only help me keep track of the characters, but to help the ones that need to be memorable BE memorable.

When one’s novel is populated by hundreds of people, not every one of them can stand out, nor should they. It would be exhausting and overwhelming. Even worse, it would risk diluting those characters who truly were important. It is perfectly acceptable to have some characters in one’s novel simply be part of the backdrop, the bodies that populate the room for realism’s sake while the true drama unfolds among a select handful of your characters. For those walk-ons and stand-ins, its okay, necessary even, to use quick broad strokes, perhaps even, dare I say it—stereotypes—since their actions have no bearing on the plot.

Because their actions have no bearing on the plot.

Those words are key.

[click to continue…]

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Even though I still consider myself to be in the pre-writing phase, the next thing I need to do is to create a foundation that will support the shape and heft of the book. I know that might seem like kind of a left-brained thing to do in the pre-writing stage, but I find if I don’t do it, I run out of steam after about 50 pages and the story just lays lays there, staring at me with accusing eyes.

However, if thinking about plot or structure makes you tense or nervous or doubt yourself or break out in a cold sweat, by all means, back away from the computer and ignore this post!

To make plotting feel less left-brained, I remind myself that at this stage, structure is merely a way of thinking about what sorts of scenes go where. Since character transformation happens through action, the plot is simply the actions our characters go through in order to grow and change, and looking at structure helps me brainstorm the sorts of story events and scenes I will need to be thinking about. [click to continue…]


Growing Plot From Character

Sunday, October 28

Once I know my character’s emotional landscape, it’s time to see how to shape that into an arc that will work with the story idea. How can I turn all that I’ve learned about my protagonist into the beginnings of a story?

In order to understand what actions will effect a transformation in your character, there are a few things one needs to know. Debra Dixon addresses this brilliantly with her concept of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and if you haven’t read the book, I highly, highly recommend it. She talks at length about needing to have both an external GMC (plot) and internal GMC (internal growth arc).

Goal – What your character wants.
Motivation – Why do they want it? Why are they pursuing this goal?
Conflict – What is standing in their way.

Ideally you should be able to answer those questions on an external and internal level for your character.

One of the things I constantly stumble over is giving my protagonists an actual, bona fide goal. It takes me a while to figure out what they want, and sometimes I realize they don’t actually want anything. Or at least anything that they could articulate to themselves or anyone else. [click to continue…]


Pre-Writing: It’s All About The Character

October 25, 2012

I usually have at least a vague kernel of an idea as to who my main characters are, a kernel which I will be able to dig around in and coax into some sort of personage. Although with MORTAL HEART, I do have a decent sense of Annith and the other characters in the book […]

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On Mash Ups, High Concepts, and Writing to the Trends

October 24, 2012

A Google Alert landed in my inbox the other day, pointing me to a blog that was talking about GRAVE MERCY in conjunction with a recent Publisher’s Weekly article that had mentioned it (which I had totally missed, so YAY!) The PW article was about current trends and the increasing number of mash ups being […]

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