Annihilation. Rebirth. Less Angst.
I'll point you to this essay.

So I dimly thought that LiveJournal was still capable of actually serving as a host, but browser issues for the last three days have kayoed my ability to post things. Right now, the "visual editor" does not function in either Firefox or Chrome, which means that I can't paste excerpts from my writing into the blog.

(Well, I can, but then I have to go through and manually edit HTML tags, a process that can take upwards of half an hour for a complicated section, and frankly I'm already spending an hour a night AFTER writing making an essay. So fuck that. And the formatting is important to how the chapters read.)

So I'll be making an official post looking for other alternatives on Monday - I need a place that:

1) Can restrict access. This is the opening chapter to a novel, and if it is printed on the web for all to see many publishers consider that "self-published" and then I don't get to sell it.

2) Allows me to paste in fucking text in a fucking visual editor that works.

3) Isn't too much of a pain to set up, because again, I'm writing for two hours and spending an hour blogging about the writing, and if anyone says, "Hey, Ferrett, there's this WordPress plugin that you can spend a Saturday installing!" I may bite their throats out.

4) Isn't too much of a problem for you to create an account to see.

People have suggested Patreon, but that involves giving me money directly, and it's not my money. (Plus, I don't know Patreon.) So if you have any ideas, I'd be happy to listen, and I apologize, because I have about 3,000 words ready for commentary that I just can't share, and that is fucking shitty as goddamned hell because LJ can't get their fucking script together.

Sorry. Frustration speaking.

Your Entry For Tonight
Is fucked, because stupid fucking LiveJournal is fucked.

I'll get you an entry, but the only way I can enter things is in raw HTML, which doesn't work when I paste my Word text in.

Man, I have to find a better way to do this if I do it again next year. LiveJournal can eat a dick.

Shift In Postings!
I'm gonna start posting in the mornings now, because I don't always have time to write and do commentaries at night.  I churned out some words tonight, so we'll have some discussions tomorrow about narrative flow. 

"How Can You Spend Ninety Minutes Writing 154 Words?"
So I started writing at around 8:20, and ninety minutes later I have this:

Gwendolyn’s husband had told her that if she left, all she could keep was the $83 in her wallet, the clothes on her back, and her favorite musical keyboard.  She considered that a fine bargain. 

Or had, until someone had stolen her keyboard while she was sleeping on the Greyhound bus ride out of New York.

Which is a pretty good intro, but it's all I got.

I spent about half an hour figuring where to start the novel - and while most writers will tell you, "Start in the middle of the action," I say "Start at the point you'll generate the most sympathy for your character."  There's a lot of places I could begin this story, either further back with her final argument with her husband before he kicks her out of the house, or more forward when she walks into the honky-tonk bar to offer her services as a dishwasher.   But I think for three sentences, we understand immediately a bit about Gwendolyn's character - that "She considered that a fine bargain" does a lot of work here - and how bad things are about to get for her.

But then I got sidetracked, because I had added a fine detail: Gwendolyn had named her favorite keyboard "Allegro."  Which tells you a lot about how precious her instruments were to her, especially if I'd implied that she named all of them.

Yet ridiculous as it sounds, the first paragraphs of the novel are where you make promises.  And if I named her keyboard, that was sending a subtle message that this opening chapter would involve hunting down her keyboard - if you name it, it's like a pet, and you keep expecting it to come back - and realistically, the keyboard is never coming back.  I pondered for a bit whether I could have the keyboard return at some point later in the story, but no - at the end of the chapter, Gwendolyn will be transported to Backstage and will never return to Earth, and I want the theft to be a shitty mundane thing, not a mystical kickstarter to get her to the outer planes.

So I spent fifteen minutes debating what to do about Allegro.  Then I started to wonder: what does happen if you lose something on a Greyhound bus?  So I did some research, and determined that if you brought the bag with you on the bus as carry-on they would not reimburse you even if it was stolen (and the official guidelines tell you very strongly, take your shit with you if you get off the bus to pee), and even if the keyboard was checked-in luggage the most they'd reimburse you for would be $250 and that would take weeks to cut the check.

I wrote a quick paragraph about all the people Gwendolyn could have blamed for the theft - the bus driver who made her put the keyboard away rather than clutching it to her chest while she slept, the guy who took it while she was zonked out on the way out of Manhattan - which made Gwendolyn seem pretty responsible, as she ultimately blamed herself, but it dropped the narrative dead.

Yes, you can kill a narrative flow in one paragraph.  Particularly early on, each sentence has to pull you deeper into the plot, and that third paragraph as written didn't telll you more about her situation.  It just told you how she felt, and this early on you need each sentence to do double-duty.

But how much is a keyboard?  How much do they weigh?  I pulled up Amazon, saw that most of their top-rated keyboards were around $150, but they went up to $4,000.  Which, you know, is an interesting point.  Gwendolyn's husband (who I'll probably have to give a name to at some point) is a big spender, believing in living at the top of the heap - it's why he's so goddamned stressed when his investments start to fail, he's all about looking good, and he's panicking because he might look poor.  So he'd have probably bought her a top-of-the-line keyboard, something like $3,000.

I then wrote a brief paragraph-long scene with Gwendolyn where she negotiated with Greyhound to get the money back, which was a little better - it showcased how screwed she was, and it allowed for a micro-flashback about her husband wanting all sorts of expensive shit - but that had the hybrid suck of a) making this story, once again, seem like it was about Gwendolyn tracking down her keyboard, and b) not really advancing the story to where we need it to be, which is Gwendolyn walking into a bar to clean dishes and play a crappy piano for a crowd.

Remember, kids: a scene is about forward motion.  It's not a bad idea to have a scene that has Gwendolyn trying to convince some faceless bureaucrat that she needs the money now, but when it's not what the story is about, then you gotta do something else.  Early on, every moment we spend with Gwendolyn is establishing what she's doing to survive, and presenting a scene where the forward motion is "Gwendolyn tries to get her keyboard back" makes a promise to the reader that Gwendolyn getting her keyboard back will be significant, whereas the truth is what matters to Gwendolyn is the loss of it.

So how do we convey that?  I pondered for a good long time, and then realized the best way to deal with that was to have the third paragraph be about what Gwendolyn intended, and how the loss of it affected her.  So I realized it has to be, basically, about how Gwendolyn planned to be a busker at the big station in {$TOWN} and earn cash through her music, but now she lost her favorite keyboard and sure, Greyhound won't give her her money back. But that tells us what Gwendolyn's plan was going to be, which allows us to understand why she's so damned hot to wash dishes if she can just play the keys at the end of the evening.

But then I thought: What's she wearing?  That's actually critical, because I want to channel the sense memory of what Gwendolyn's feeling, and it's totally different if she's dressed in her finest bohemian wear than if she's wearing hobo clothes.  So I went to Gini and asked, "You met Gwendolyn last night while we were talking; what does a woman like Gwendolyn wear?"   And Gini saw her, as did I, dressed in flowing bohemian gowns by default, but thought it would be far more appropriate if she'd been wearing activewear when the Big Fight had started - Gwendolyn had been practicing in her apartment when her husband really blew his stack, wearing leggings and a Stevie Nicks t-shirt (or something slightly more telling), which will be really uncomfortable when she's on the bus and looks like she left her home in a huff, and especially humiliating when she has to walk into a rattled-down honky-tonk bar and ask for a dishwashing job, and even more humiliating when she has to play in that soiled outfit.

So after all of that, I thought, okay, we've got a good solid third paragraph here, leading into her dilemma - she'd intended to busk, someone just stole her $3,000 keyboard, which she'd kept her remaining $20 in because these fucking leggings don't have goddamned pockets, and she'd gotten off the bus terminal in Nowheresville, Pennsylvania because she had to report the crime as soon as possible and now the next bus doesn't leave until tomorrow.

That's a good situation, but it's already 10:00 at night and I know if I launch into that then I'm gonna write for another two hours.  And me, I have to go to bed.

So that's how a writer can write for ninety minutes and poop out 150 words.  It's not that I didn't write anything; it's that I was smart enough to recognize what didn't work.

The Song That Shapes The World: Opening Shots
Okay.  So tonight, I started writing the beginning to my new novel, "The Song That Shapes The World."

...and if you know writers, you'll know that sometimes a night "writing" consists of pacing around in the basement like a madman trying to figure out how to start.  Which is pretty much what tonight was.

In truth, I hadn't wanted to write this novel at all and was like, "God, why did I commit to this?"  Which, if you've followed me for long enough, you'll realize as my writing canary-in-a-coal-mine signal that THIS NOVEL IS BROKEN.  When a story is going well, I'm eager, but when I'm all like "Meh" then I realize that there's some structural issue in the book my subconscious has picked up on.

In this case, after a few walks around the block (my dog benefits vastly from my novel blockage), I determined that the big problem was that the opening scene didn't actually love music.  Music was just another moment of angst in the all-angst, all-the-time opener, and I am absolutely correct about wanting to write an opening chapter that's monotone from beginning to end.  Especially in a book that's about how music is magic that changes the world!

So I wrote down everything that I knew about the character going in - the entire back story.  And I asked myself, "What's missing from this?"

As an exercise to the readers here, I'll give this to you and see if any of y'all can note what is missing.  I figured out what was absent from this right away, but it took a plot-ride with Gini to fill it in so I can actually start writing.

Gwendolyn was a coffee-house musician when she got married at the age of 20.  Her husband was good-looking, a music fan, hung around the shop a lot and fell in love with her music. 

When she married him, he agreed that he’d bring home the bacon – he had a job as an investor – and she’d have five years to get her music career together. 

Three years later, despite practicing her instruments and writing tons of songs every day and seeing every band she could, Gwen had little to show for it – a bunch of songs on YouTube, a couple of thousand subscribers.  And her husband’s investing hadn’t worked out well, either.

He told her: “You have to get a job.” 

She said: “Things aren’t that bad.  We can get by with less.” 

He couldn’t.  It became increasingly clear that he now thought of her music as a nice hobby – he asked her to do it in the evenings, after she took a shift at the coffee shop or something. 

After months of fighting, he laid an ultimatum: Get a job or get out. 

She left.  She wanted nothing from him: no cell phone, no credit cards, no sympathy.  She took her keyboard and about $80 in cash, and got the hell out of town. 

It seemed like a good deal until her keyboard got stolen. 

Now she’s wandering alone, looking for jobs, and finds a honky-tonk bar with a piano that needs a dishwasher.  She asks about the job, and takes it on one condition: she can play the piano after hours.  The boss laughs and says “Sure.”

She washes dishes, all the while thinking about how good it’s going to feel to get back on that keyboard.  And when she gets through a gruelling, hand-destroying shift, her fingers wrinkled, she gets out to the floor where a couple of the shift managers and the late-night regulars are still waiting, and:

The piano is out of tune. 

Now she knows why the boss laughed. 

But still.  There’s gotta be a way to do something with it.  So she finger-walks up and down the keyboard, figuring out which keys are off, which keys she can use, and figures out that there’s like six notes that aren’t busted. 

So she’ll make a song with six notes. 

On the spot, she writes a weird number with what she has, minor and major keys alike, creating lyrics about the bar itself, and the regulars all line up and the workers stop serving because she is killing it, she is in the zone, and:

The owner tells her to stop interrupting the patrons. 

She fights a bit.  It’s not fair.  She has something to say with her music, and he’s just mad because he thought she’d dink around and walk away, and now the crowd is grumbling to let her play but the owner has his hackles up because this is his bar and he's been proven wrong and she’s gotten fired and she walks away madder than ever. 

Clarion Echo: How This Works When I'm In Hawaii
So loyal Echo readers may have noted an absence of posts over the past two days; that's because I've been travelling to Hawaii for a ten-day vacation.  I'm going to write during vacation - that's never in question - but my ability to actually have an Internet connection will be spotty at best.

I gave you a story today, and while I'm on the plane to Hawaii today (five hours!) I'll write up my comparison notes between first and final draft, along with the first redraftings of the videogame story.  But can I post them?  I'm on a cruise, so I may wind up in a place where it costs $30 a day for a dribble of Internet, in which case I love you all but $300's a bit of an expense.

So work will be progressing.  You may not see it, but I assure you it's there.  I've also critiqued all the stories on the plane, and will have notes for y'all at some point; the only bottleneck is, you know, my ability to talk to you.

So I thank you for your patience.  The Echo may creep a bit beyond its six-week limitation, but that's fine; it's been five years since Clarion ended, and I'm still carrying it with me. 


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