Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back To Work: Categorizing Characters...




So. Sometimes when things aren't going well, a writer has to use the recluse clause until they can sort out the problem, wrestle with it, swear at it, tie its hands behind its back and slap it in the face, then feed it cake until it behaves itself and toes the line for further cake-shaped rewards. That's pretty much where I've been, barring a few interruptions from real life. Again.

Let me just get this out of the way. That dance scene my editor suggested was a complete %&$!$%& to write! *deepbreathandrelax...*

Here's the thing. Remember (again) these aren't the characters I started out with. When Blake looked like Christian Bale and Olivia looked like Reese Witherspoon, I had a pretty good idea of who they were and what motivated them. Characters are my thing. At least they used to be when I could - y'know - write. When I started back to this story, I went in with the proverbial clean sweep of a new brush and re-cast my hero and heroine as part of the shake up to get me going again. Now don't get me wrong, I love the new version of Blake and Olivia who now look like Michael Trucco and Charlize Theron. Problem is, I don't think I took enough time to get to know this new version of them. And when that happens, things tend to come to a screeching halt when they start doing things you don't think they should... like dancing a Tango for example...

Thanks to a little help from my Internet friends (you know who you are!), I had a better idea of the dance itself and could get my head around the idea of two people who have never learned the Tango, somehow pulling off a comparable set of moves around the dance-floor without looking like complete idiots. I'm not about to volunteer to try it with anyone, but with a little dose of creative license, a lot of tweaking, several re-writes and a ladle full of sexual tension tossed on top, I like to think I've got past my hang ups about this scene. But what really made a difference was taking a step back from the keyboard and having a long think about who these people are and why they were reacting the way they were. Then a short snippet of dialog came to me a few nights ago (you'll know what I'm talking about if you're following me on Twitter) and suddenly my hero had arrived. He took his sweet time if you ask me. But with his line a piece of the puzzle fell into place and I realized where I'd been going wrong...

The original Blake was cocky, arrogant and confident as hell. That hasn't changed. The original Blake had issues with his dead father. That hasn't changed either. He had an agenda. Yup, still there. But the original Blake also had a secret identity my heroine wasn't aware of. The new Blake is who and what he is and doesn't give a crap who has a problem with that. I know I've talked about this before, and on the surface that might not be much different from the original version of him either, or at least that's what I'd thought. See, I've been working really hard on my subconsciousness need to justify his actions - cross my heart I have! - but even if I wasn't correcting it on the page, I was still doing it in my mind. And that my friends, was a huge mistake. Because Blake isn't me. And readers aren't stupid. Everything happens for a reason. It's why Blake does what he does and why (hopefully) my readers will keep turning the page to discover why. All I have to do is know, then forget about it until the point he reveals it to my heroine. The reader will find out when she finds out in the same way they would - or I would - if we met someone in real life and had to spend time getting to know them. I preach this often enough. So why was it suddenly so darn hard to put it into practice?!

I think the answer is, because there are times we have to surrender control to our characters and let go. And that's not always easy. Especially if you're the writer-ly version of a control freak, which apparently I am when my confidence is low...

Over-compensating much, Trish?

Ridiculously, and because we all know what a geek I am, I'm gonna use the Joker from the Batman movie The Dark Knight as an example to make my usual long-winded point here. Bear with me. If you know the movie then you'll know the Joker is a sociopath. You'll also know that Bruce Wayne spends a good portion of the movie trying to understand him and justify his actions in some way so that he can think ahead and formulate a counter-measure to prevent the kind of chaos the Joker is seeking (thus gaining control of the situation). It takes Alfred to tell Bruce a story about a man who simply was what he was for Bruce to understand that sometimes people just do what they do; summed up in the line 'some men just want to watch the world burn' (or words to that effect). They don't have to have a master plan. Yes, the Joker will continually reference things that are all 'part of the plan', but it's a flawed 'plan'; one designed to have the chaos he thrives on as the outcome. He's hell bent on destruction. Doesn't see any further than his end goal or care how it will effect everyone around him. In a much less psychotic manner, I think this is where Blake is at the start of my story. He has a plan, but it's a flawed plan. And I've been Bruce, trying to understand why he's doing what he's doing and justify it so I can figure out how my heroine will prevent him from achieving his goal (thus gaining control of the story). Obviously the similarity ends at the point where my heroine discovers there is a reason why Blake does what he does, but until that point, thinking of Blake as the kind of man who simply doesn't give a damn is a big part of my heroines conflict. By not allowing myself to 'let go' and roll with that, I'm frequently making the mistake of allowing my heroine to behave as if, on some subliminal level, she knows there's a reason why Blake is behaving the way he is. Thing is, she doesn't. And every time I forget that, I not only lose that part of the conflict, I also have her behavior rocking back and forth in a way that just plain doesn't make sense.

Let me put it another way. Oh come on - you've met me - you thought I was done? By now you should know to make coffee and visit the bathroom before you visit here.

In the Orson Scott Card book 'Characters and Viewpoint', he talks about how we all categorize people. I've often referred to it as a kind of mental filing cabinet with many drawers where we can file people away under headings. The headings can be as simple as 'good guy', 'bad guy' or 'man' and 'woman', but they can also be more complicated with sub-headings like 'Good guy: Work colleague/not a potential love interest/nail biter/wearer of really bad after shave', etc., etc. We categorize people every single day of our lives and from an early age. We categorize ourselves. Often, the most basic categorization is based on stereotypes and first impressions. If we get to know someone a little better then some of the sub-categories may change, but ultimately we still need to label them and file them away according to levels of perceived importance in our minds. The fact my heroine can't do that with my hero is a source of much confusion for her, particularly when she's so sexually attracted to him (the category that includes 'rude, arrogant, over-bearing' being completely at odds with the category of 'potential sexual partner' in her mind). Part of the reason it's so frustrating is the fact she categorizes everything in her life to almost obsessively neat standards in order to feel she's in control. She then uses that perceived control as a kind of security blanket. I think that's something else we all do to some extent or other, because by categorizing everything into neat little compartments, we can (theoretically) understand why things happen the way they do, understand our own reactions better and seek logical solutions to our problems, even when those solutions may initially seem out of reach.

There are hundreds of complicated and complex theories based on our need to categorize people this way. There are long lists of stereotypes and personality types and archetypes and... other words that end in 'types'... but personally, I don't feel we need a masters degree in something or to wade our way through some heavyweight book on psychology to know we ALL categorize people and to use it to our advantage when telling a story. The trick is not to force our own way of thinking onto our characters. If we did that, wouldn't they all be exactly the same?

If I take a heroine who borderline obsessively categorizes people and place her opposite a hero she can't neatly categorize, I've got the makings of internal conflict. In order for that conflict to work, I have to leave my hero the hell alone, forget that I know why he is the way he is, and allow my heroine to react in a way that demonstrates her dilemma. It took me a week to get my head around that. You'd think I'd have known by now. Apparently I needed a reminder. *Sigh*

Spending so much time thinking about all this might seem like a form of procrastination. Spending so much time working on one scene might seem like another form of procrastination. Both might be considered a waste of time to those who stick rigidly to a pre-set word-count each day. But like I've said before, each to their own. I now feel more confident about the direction I'm headed, with my characters clearer in my mind. I also understand that getting the dance scene right was important because it's what I consider a 'pivotal scene' (more about that next time). So yes, I did disappear and become a recluse again, but hopefully you understand why. I think it was a necessary evil this time. A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do and all that...

So how's everyone else doing? Still chugging along? Characters behaving? Life getting in the way? Want to brainstorm anything? Ask any questions? Share some thoughts on my long, rambling post? My sister-in-law made me brownies. So I'm gonna have coffee while I eat them and answer some comments and then it's horses and keyboard, in that order. TTFN!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back To Work Day Five...



Chapter three took more adjustment than I'd thought it would. What was I thinking when I wrote that chapter the first time?! Apart from the fact my heroine was changing personalities faster than I refresh my coffee supply when writing (which is fast during the wee small hours - trust me!), my hero pretty much launched himself at her like some kind of rampant rabbit. No wonder my editor thought the kiss was too soon. Were we trying to get to the 'good stuff' that ups the word count in a Modern Heat perchance, Trish? I'll admit there were low points when I just wanted the darn book written but for crying out loud. If he moves that fast the first love scene would have lasted less than half a page... now there's fantasy escapism for ya!

Since the original chapter three and four both lost scenes, I've added the original chapter four (or what's left of it) to the wordcount meter, but right now I'm kinda stuck on the dance scene where the kiss scene originally was. Originally I had my heroine dancing with other guys right under my hero's nose and my hero not liking it one little bit. That part has stayed. I then had her disappear and my hero went and found her for that kiss and an ultimatum. I'm now replacing it - or trying to - with the addition of a dance my editor suggested might work better. Thing is, I LOVE the idea of him stalking into the crowd to claim her for a dance that leaves her all hot and bothered, I just don't quite know HOW to get the effect I want. Well not yet anyway. In my search for inspiration I found a quote from George Bernard Shaw that says:

Dancing: The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.”

... which is EXACTLY what I'm aiming for. It's a way of getting two people who are fighting a fierce attraction to each other (hence the working title Irresistable) very close together physically with the opportunity for ramping up the sexual tension by having them fully clothed and in a public place surrounded by a bunch of very proper, somewhat uptight people. It could be a very tactile, sensual scene, if I get it right. Problem is, to the world of dance, I'm the equivalent of those Disney elephants in tutu's. Now obviously my hero and heroine will be way better at it than me, but when I think of sexy, sensual dances I've been trained to see Dancing With The Stars in my head. Trouble is, as gorgeous and sensual and sexy as those dances can be, I also know how much training it took to get that effect.

Ah, but Trish this is fantasy, I can hear you say. Well, yes it is my friends. But it's also supposed to be believeable and as much chemistry as my lovely re-casted hero and heroine have, I'm having a hard time convincing myself that they'll both have learnt to dance the tango, or anything similar, so they both know the steps and don't end up stomping on each others toes and tripping over. I think what I need to do is take the 'scent' of that dance and think about how they could move together to Tango-type music (maybe, maybe not when it comes to the music - we shall see). For example, I love both these pics. I think both poses are doable. I can see at least one dip in there. Then, speaking of 'scent', I'm reminded of the Tango in the movie Scent Of A Woman, and when I watch it again I think hmmm... maybe it IS possible to get that effect with a man taking the lead the way Pacino does...




I'm over-thinking this, aren't I? Actually, talking this through and looking up a few pictures and this video clip has helped some. I honestly think sometimes we need to do that when we get stuck: Take a step back, have a think, a bit of a Google, make coffee, get a visual image or two that might spark our imagination. Does that work for you guys too? Do you use similar methods? Or do you move on to the next scene until you can come back to the one you got stuck in with a clearer idea of what you need from it? Inquiring minds need to know!

Meanwhile, as the cold weather continues to work in my favour when it comes to keeping me indoors at the computer, all the animals that share my little corner of the universe seem to have taken to hibernating. Quite possibly to rub my nose in it that they can sleep all they want while I'm up half the night writing since it's quiet and there are less people queueing up to fill tubs of water. Naturally those same animals are awake when the people are filling the tubs of water during the day and couldn't possibly get those to people to let them out and in while they're here. Oh no. Mummy will tend to our every whim, even if it means interrupting her morning doze. We have her very well house trained. Am I the only person whose daily routine is dictated by those with four legs? And is it wrong that part of me smiled lots when I woke them all up with the camera flash when taking these pictures? It didn't feel wrong at the time...

So, just to make formal introduction for those not in the know; the one asleep on the back of the sofa is Daisy, the one who thinks he owns my bed is Max and the one who has her beddie (the one in my office) all to herself for a change is Doodle (Max also lays claim to half her beddie whenever he feels like it and as he's less than a third her size that means he wins). Don't they all look comfy? I think I'll just go take their pictures again to be sure...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back To Work Day Three/Four...



So. As you can probably tell, day three didn't exactly go according to plan. If I tell you that most of our days here at the minute involve a stream of visitors to my place to fill canisters, tubs, buckets and bottles with water because the horses water drinkers are still frozen solid (as are the pipes), then maybe it will give you an indication of how much more work this flipping cold spell is making for us. On a brighter note. I don't think my kitchen floor has ever been mopped so much...

Anyhoo. With a late night start, I've worked through chapter two. Remember those 104 words we gained in chapter one? Yeah, well we just lost 113 in chapter two. But, and it's a BIG but, I THINK maybe my hero is starting to come to life. One of the things my editor liked most about him in the partial was a scene in the next chapter where he lays down the law and tells my heroine how it's gonna be. So, having removed the conspiracy part of my original plot (long Blog to explain that one), I've dropped a heavy hint into the end of chapter two that it's coming. Actually, being given the freedom to just let my hero be who he is has really helped, I think. The guy has issues. He doesn't waste words. And he sure as hell won't be played. Unfortunately for my heroine, he's kinda gotten the wrong impression of her and thinks she's trying to play him.

In the next chapter, there's quite a bit to do I think. The scenes themselves will stay pretty much the same, as in they'll be at the same place at the same time and a lot of the inner POV will be the same. There's IS some of the great conspiracy plot to take out, and a kiss that my editor thought would be better when the sexual tension has continued to build, but at the same time I have stuff to put in that wasn't there before. My dilemma is now if I can replace the sister I'm taking out in chapter four with the friends I'd planned on my heroine having later in the book. I do think she needs someone to bounce off at this point when the hero is being such a pain in the behind, and I know I'm taking my heroine and hero out of the city to the Hamptons about halfway through the book, where they'll pretty much be isolated with each other, so maybe this would be a good time to toss those friends into the mix; especially since I'll need then when my heroine comes back from the Hamptons...

I'll think about it while the Vet is here in the morning looking at Charlie. He has the same flipping sarcoids Katie had, but in a different place. I'm hoping these ones can be removed or tied off. Poor baby. I HATE sarcoids! They can be vicious little suckers. Meanwhile, I'm off to watch an episode of Stargate Atlantis as my reward for surviving another day back at work. I'm working my way through the box set. And it's calorie free!

So how is everyone else getting on with their new writing year? Jenna Bayley-Burke has been keeping me company so pop over and check in on her. She did office pics too! I know Nicola Marsh and Donna Alward are starting new books. Anyone else with a blog to add? Let me know!

And keep an eye out for me on Twitter as I get back to it later today (link in the sidebar). Hold a gun to my head to keep me at it if needs be...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back To Work Day Two...



So. Added 104 words to Chapter One and am now determined to leave it the heck alone. Chapter Two added to the wordcount now and it's gonna need a little more work as it's one of the chapters my lovely Editor felt needed a few changes. It all comes down to a personality flaw I seem to have when it comes to my heroes. I did the same thing in the first version of One Night With The Rebel Billionaire. When the hero comes across all strong and Alpha-like, Trish apparently feels a subliminal need to soften him and justify his actions to the reader.

Must. Stop. Doing. That.

So originally, although Blake was inheriting squillions of dollars, I made him a secret millionaire to boot. It was very James Bond in places if I'm honest. My editor felt if he were less perfect, more flawed and human, he’d be a far stronger and more compelling Alpha hero. She's so on the money. But then she always is. Reading back over what I had, I can see where he's so much sexier when he's simply being who and what he is; a working guy who doesn't give a damn about the money left to him by someone he hated and who never wanted anything to do with him - the kind of guy who doesn't follow rules - who takes what he wants when he wants and doesn't answer to anyone but himself. The trick is not to try and justify that, but to make it understandable. Oooh... that's quite good... I might have to put that on a post it note and pin it to my board...

Onwards and upwards. If I can get Chapter Two sorted out then the real work will start in Chapter Three; which pretty much needs torn apart and put back together if I remember correctly. Especially since I'm pretty sure it's the chapter where I tossed in a younger half-sister for the hero to talk to so the reader could see what a great guy he was. That girl is g-o-n-e.

Meanwhile, here are a few pics of my brand new office, *almost* finished, for anyone who didn't catch them on Twitter yesterday. Ignore the junk on the bookshelf to the bottom right of the first picture (did I mention the office and my hall are filled with bathroom junk because I'm redecorating?) And yes, I do have a blind for that window. I just haven't put it up yet. Not sure I like it to be completely honest. And - not that you can see it - but outside of those windows are all my wild bird feeders. So, it's kinda like having a window into a large aviary. Distracting at times, but very calming. And sometimes amusing. Since we got MORE snow last night and have more on the way the poor babies need all the help they can get. We have WEEKS more of it ahead of us apparently. Oh joy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back To Work...


There's a part of me that really wishes I was starting a brand shiny new book, but since that's not the case, here we are. I've added the wordcount for the first chapter because I know the first chapter is fine. I know this because in the last year I have edited it... oh, I dunno... about a gazillion times? Having said that, I'll re-read it just to be sure and to get me back into the story since I haven't looked at this book in MONTHS. And since I've kinda re-titled it, re-cast and know I have to tear it apart... Lots...

So, starting at the cover page and running on the theory I can't take any chances and there may have been a negative vibe from the last title because it had the word 'reluctant' in it, I now dub this WIP "Irresistible". Much better I think, don't you? Particularly for a Modern Heat.

Livvie now looks much more like Charlize Theron. I wanted someone who could look like she was ultra-efficient work-wise, fun and playful with her friends and sexy as get out with my hero, and thanks to Ms. Theron, I now have pics for all of those moods in case I need visual inspiration. She's someone I haven't 'cast' before, so it'll be interesting to see what (if anything) comes my way. Though, to be completely honest, it wasn't my heroine who was causing me problems last time. Now that I've narrowed that down for you, do you wanna take a guess who was giving me problems?

While Christian Bale may be the very lovely Ally Blake's everlasting muse, as a hero he was as much help to me as Hugh Jackman was when I was writing The Return Of The Rebel. I switched heroes that time and ended up with a hero who practically wrote himself. Here's hoping the gorgeous Michael Trucco can do the same thing for me with Blake! I bought the entire Battlestar Galactica series on DVD a while back, watched it from beginning to end with my family - and I officially love this guy. I'm even tempted to rename my hero Sam, but we'll see how we go, shall we? Baby steps and all that.

SO. Here's how it's gonna go. Since my last post some of the loveliest, most supportive Blog readers and bestest friends in the whole wide world have left messages for me that cheered me up no end! Some of them are starting back to work today too. So, if you are, let me know and keep me posted on how you're getting on. If you have a Blog leave me a link and I'll add it to a list at the end of each day's post so folks can check in on you (if you like). I think the ever lovely and patient Janet is organizing a thread in the Members Forum (link in the sidebar) for those without a Blog and for anyone who wants to brainstorm along the way. I'll send regular updates via Twitter (again, link in the sidebar) during the day to keep you posted (and so you can nudge me if I go AWOL and cyber-hug me if I crumble again) and let's see if we can't kick 2010 off to the right kind of start!

Okay... HERE GOES...

(Should I be this nervous?!)

P.S. Office pics later when I vacuum.