Friday, April 24, 2015

Toward/Towards an Ending

I sometimes have to stop on my novel writing journey for some very small detours. One of those detours revisited me last week.

It was a small thing, a simple choice of a word. Do I use toward or towards to describe a motion or direction?

When I asked a poet what to use, she suggested that I go with what most people would be used to reading.

I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s good for supplying both British and North American usage for common words. I read that towards was considered North American and figured that left toward as the British.

After that, I took to using toward in my novel thinking that would be a better fit for the larger English-speaking world.

I should say here that my first inclination had been to use towards. I don’t know why. It just seemed natural.

Enter Miles Gibson, a British novelist and former pen pal to my oldest friend.

I helped my friend reestablish contact with Mr. Gibson and in the process discovered his literary legacy. While reading his first novel, Vinegar Soup, I noticed he used towards in his sentences.

Hum, what’s up with this? I wondered before starting a Google search. My online exploration revealed the two words are interchangeable. No biggie there. But it also revealed that towards was actually considered the British favorite. Mr. Gibson got it right. Again, no biggie. But I was left with two problems: did I misread the OED entries and where did I pick up this usage?

I showed the OED entries to a neutral third party. He came away with the same impression as I had—toward was the British favorite. Strange. My 2004 concise eleventh edition wasn’t so concise after all? Perhaps the twelfth edition will do better.

That left me puzzling about where I picked up my personal preference for using towards. I have to say I’m inclined to blame my friend. She has been a confirmed anglophile most of her life and it must have rubbed off while she was pouring me cups of Typhoo tea.

For the time being I’m going to let this situation remain as is and continue toward my ending.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Springtime in Bishop Hill

I recently made it back to Bishop Hill. The sky was blue and the temperature excellent for the middle of April.

As I headed south on I-74 toward Henry County, I checked out the atmospheric conditions with my usual simple test: At which mile marker will I spot the first hint of windmills on the horizon? I caught sight of them at mile marker 16. A new record. Marker 20 has always been a safe bet—except for foggy mornings.

Driving back is always good for research. I make sure to check out the roadsides to see what’s growing, how far along it’s gotten, and to note what kind of visual impression it makes.

This day’s results: Tree branches hadn’t entirely lost their skeletal starkness. There was just enough new leaf growth to lend them a little fuzziness. The grass in the ditches was greening up nicely between patches of the dormant yellow-brown of winter. I didn’t detect anything blooming until I stopped in the village.

As always, the best treat for me was the small blue flowers that bloom between the Bjorklund Hotel and the Colony Residence. Three dainty delights take turns giving the patient viewer overlapping waves of refreshing blue every spring: Scilla siberica (Siberian squill), Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-snow), and Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells). Add a few yellow daffodils to the mix and you have a fitting salute to a Swedish spring. A lovely treat that I tried to duplicate in my Bishop Hill yard.

 I came to meet up with old friends and check out changes such as:

·        The brick sidewalk by the Colony Church has been re-laid with new bricks by someone who wasn’t chintzy with them. A nice solid sidewalk with hard edges. Colony-made bricks are softer looking and irregular. Actually, they are simply softer and therefore show the wear of many feet easier.

·        The sagging wire that spanned the Edwards River by the bridge is gone. The kingfishers have to work a little more to get their fish.

·        The Blacksmith Shop has been totally redone and looks a lot sharper than when I worked there. Adaptive reuse in action.

·        The Steeple Building has a new coat of stucco and painted windows. It has to be close to its original look.

Other familiar sights near the center of the village: the post office, the Colony Store, The Filling Station, PL Johnson’s, the barn, and the bakery. All there and decorated for the season’s official opening day. Farther out: Outsider Gallery, Summer Cottage, and the Feathered Nest. Other shops and storefronts are different from when I lived there. It’s sad to see the few empty spaces, but I’m sure something interesting will come along.

Overall, I’d say that Bishop Hill is rooted in the past but not stuck there.

Not like my novel where the main part is stuck in 2008, a pre-windmill era.

Henry County has lots and lots of windmills. I left them out of the world of my novel on purpose. However, I did let them sneak in a symbolic appearance. Fair is fair.

Friday, April 10, 2015

OOMPH: Part Two

I started the week out with a simple goal: create an outline I could use to plot out changes I wanted to make in my novel. In short, look for a way to navigate and keep myself on course.

I checked into doing a “real” outline. Building a document with topics, subtopics, details, and sub details. You know an arrangement of staggered, stepped sentence-like things that use Roman numerals for main ideas and upper and lower case letters for elaborations. I even watched a YouTube video. It seemed a bit overwhelming.

I didn’t want to invest that much time into creating something brand new from scratch. So, a regulation outline wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, I went with what I had, seven pages of hand written notes that summarized each chapter as I had it at this time. Basically a list. Crude perhaps, but I needed to make it work.

First, I went through my list and blocked out major areas of action and made note cards. I laid these out on a desk top and organized them into the days of my timeline. This gave me a nice two dimensional layout that I could move around. Again, crude. But it worked well enough for me to see that moving large chunks of action around wasn’t going to work out. I couldn’t see the motivation that would get my protagonist to develop the way I wanted. Thus, with no major insights, I had to stay with what I had.

What I could do, and this went along with editor Jane VanVooren Rogers' suggestions, was to add detail, action, and enrich what I had.

So, my seven pages became my guide. Sticky notes became my tools of choice.

Actually, they were small, arrow-shaped sticky notes in a great many colors. I used them to follow different characters throughout the story and guide the changes I wanted to make.

It might not be “by the book” correct, but my impromptu visual aide has allowed me to make progress.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Adding OOMPH! :)

When I read books by other local writers, I sometimes find myself wishing their characters worked harder, that their people supported the story more, or advanced the plot. I wanted them to give me something to root for.

It made me wonder how my crew really holds up.

I recently received some editorial comments that pretty much answered my question. My guys need to work harder, too.

Some of my problems stem from my own personality style, which is non-confrontational. I spend a great deal of time tiptoeing around other people’s sensibilities. Works well enough for real life, but not so much for a novel.

I’m not great at supplying enough of the fine details that Sue Grafton might provide. I’m not a natural-born shopper and dropping name brands will never come easy for me.

As for physical characteristics, I thought I at least had my foot in the door. I supplied hair and eye color, height and weight, threw in a moustache and a beard, even a cane and a walker. I used direct description and contrasting comparisons. I’m proud to say I only resorted to the mirror trick once. Briefly. Early on.

For personalities I have a fuss budget, an entitled patrician (make that two entitled patricians), a couple of crusty artists, and a whole raft of strong females.

That’s still not quite enough.

With some help, I’ve brain stormed some fixes. Which leaves me thinking about pulling out the really big gun of writing—the outline.

I’ve been going at my writing like a pantser. A pantser is a NaNoWriMo term for someone who writes by the seat of their pants. Works well for some, such as Tony Hillerman. However, I think my time has come to work with some kind of an outline. I have a great deal to contend with mystery wise:

·        Who is the killer?
·        Where is the real painting?
·        Where is the forgery?
·        Who painted what and when?
·        Where’s the romance?
·        Where’s the conflict?
·        How in the world can I tie everything up?

My paid editor, Jane VanVooren Rogers, pointed out the problems as well as the things that worked. Her suggestions were clear and insightful. They have been helpful and, frankly, not all that surprising. I just needed to hear it from someone besides my own wishy-washy internal editor. It was money well spent.

And now it’s time to get back to work.