In the Writer’s Chair: Map it Out, B**ch

Given the nature of the way I write, I spend a lot of time–and usually have the most fun with–character interaction. Dialogue. I like the back and forth. The banter. It comes naturally to me. It’s fun.

But sometimes a section needs more action, or more description and I need to take a step back. And in some sections, geography is necessary, whether it’s as basic as the layout of a room, or a little bit pulled back, such as the layout of a section of town, or even pulled back more, such aGiven the nature of the way I write, I spend a lot of time–and usually have the most fun with–character interaction. Dialogue. I like the back and forth. The banter. It comes naturally to me. It’s fun.

But sometimes a section needs more action, or more description and I need to take a step back. And in some sections, geography is necessary, whether it’s as basic as the layout of a room, or a little bit pulled back, such as the layout of a section of town, or even pulled back more, such as the country borders, and even the planets, galaxies and constellations.

This where I need a little backup. In order for me to write with the most freedom and confidence where geography and borders are necessary, I need to see it in my mind. I need to visualize what I’m looking at so that I can write about it. Sometimes I refer to actual maps, whether street or city maps. That helps. Sometimes I use photo reference. Either I’ll pull out photos from my own collection, or do Google searches for images. Anything visual so I can form a picture.

But sometimes the maps I need don’t exist. If I’m inventing a new place, well, it doesn’t exist other than in my mind. And in those cases, it’s a little tough to refer to a map that hasn’t been created yet!

And these are the times when my inner voice says, "Map it out, b**ch." Which is my way of telling myself to just hunker down and do the dirty work of going slow, and physically drawing maps, creating a visual element I can refer to. In these cases I need to create maps–such as they are–so that I can "see" what I’m writing about. I need to have a diagram of the physical landscape in front of me to so I can picture where scenes take place in relation to one another.

This usually takes a few versions for me to get it right, because 1) I’m a lousy artist, 2) I’m not always sure about what actually works, if I’m obeying the laws of physics and 3) I’m not always sure about what makes sense given what’s going on in the scene, so the layout might change as I realize it works better one way compared to another.

So even though I’m a bit challenged when it comes to creating the physical elements I need, I find the process significant, as it helps me think about plot, sequence and dialogue because the scene becomes more real. Once I can "see" it, I can jump in. It’s like I’m there. I have this diagram or map to refer to, running my finger down the lines and realizing that the centerpiece table can’t fit where I had it because it’s too close to the door, or a river that I had running east/west should actually flow north/south.

I’ve always like maps, which isn’t to say that I’m any kind of map expert, because I’m not. Although I’ve discovered through sheer trial and error that maps make me a better writer, because they force me to deal with whatever reality I’ve created. Once I can see it, I can write about it. And that’s where the fun begins.

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2008/10/28 21:26

Watchmen

With the movie version of [i]Watchmen [/i]coming out in March, I figured it was time to re-read the graphic novel. As always, it’s the total masterpiece I remember.

You can find numerous reviews online, but I’ll say this, if you like shows like [i]Lost[/i] or [i]Heroes[/i], or have an affinity for comic books that are a blend of great story-telling and art, then [i]Watchmen[/i] is an absolute must.

Part masked crime fighter series, part mystery, part sci-fi, [i]Watchmen[/i] is simply tWith the movie version of [i]Watchmen [/i]coming out in March, I figured it was time to re-read the graphic novel. As always, it’s the total masterpiece I remember.

You can find numerous reviews online, but I’ll say this, if you like shows like [i]Lost[/i] or [i]Heroes[/i], or have an affinity for comic books that are a blend of great story-telling and art, then [i]Watchmen[/i] is an absolute must.

Part masked crime fighter series, part mystery, part sci-fi, [i]Watchmen[/i] is simply the best of the best of the best. It’s a 12-issue self-contained graphic novel. If you’re not reading [i]Watchmen[/i], then you’ve got a treat in store for you, because it’s available in every comic shop in America, and probably every Barnes & Nobles, too.

It’s simply that good.

Son of Ranbow

Saw a fun movie this weekend. [i]Son of Ranbow[/i] is about these two 10-year-old British kids from the 1980s, who, for different reasons, start making their own version of [i]First Blood[/i], the Stallone movie that spawned the Rambo franchise.

You can totally relate to the youthful exuberance of the kids, plus their desire to fit in, and to live out their fantasies to make up for their home lives that leave them feeling lost and on their own.

As with many British films, the lightingSaw a fun movie this weekend. [i]Son of Ranbow[/i] is about these two 10-year-old British kids from the 1980s, who, for different reasons, start making their own version of [i]First Blood[/i], the Stallone movie that spawned the Rambo franchise.

You can totally relate to the youthful exuberance of the kids, plus their desire to fit in, and to live out their fantasies to make up for their home lives that leave them feeling lost and on their own.

As with many British films, the lighting is dim and there’s a dulled atmosphere overall, but the passion from the kids is very real, with some great, laugh-out-loud moments of childhood audaciousness.

Totally worth the effort. Thumbs up.

Heroes: Villains

While I thought Heroes was a good show during the first season, I never drank the Kool-Aid, going ga-ga over it. I liked Heroes. I enjoyed it. But I never loved it.

And now that we’re into season 3, I’m pretty much over it altogether. I’ve only watched a few episodes this season, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been a big, jumbled mess of a show that just doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

They either need to essentially start over and get back to basics, or call it a day. While I thought Heroes was a good show during the first season, I never drank the Kool-Aid, going ga-ga over it. I liked Heroes. I enjoyed it. But I never loved it.

And now that we’re into season 3, I’m pretty much over it altogether. I’ve only watched a few episodes this season, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been a big, jumbled mess of a show that just doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

They either need to essentially start over and get back to basics, or call it a day. Because if it keeps us as is, from my eyes anyway, it’s just not worth the effort.

Mad Men Season 2 Finale Tonight

I’ll save my big review until after tonight’s season finale, but Mad Men is one of my favorite shows right now. Creatively this show went in an unexpected–and very cool–direction this year, and I can’t wait to see how it all ties together …I’ll save my big review until after tonight’s season finale, but Mad Men is one of my favorite shows right now. Creatively this show went in an unexpected–and very cool–direction this year, and I can’t wait to see how it all ties together …

Out on Parole: My Week in Writer’s Prison

At this point I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent released, but I’m out on parole.

I mean that writer-wise.

Starting last weekend I got hit by what turned into a nasty cold that really wiped me out. I still went to work every day–although I probably shouldn’t have–but when it came to working on [i]Crossline[/i], or blogging … forget it. I was locked in my cell.

Started with a sore throat, and then morphed into a chest and head cold, fever, aches and no energy. For me, that’s a priAt this point I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent released, but I’m out on parole.

I mean that writer-wise.

Starting last weekend I got hit by what turned into a nasty cold that really wiped me out. I still went to work every day–although I probably shouldn’t have–but when it came to working on [i]Crossline[/i], or blogging … forget it. I was locked in my cell.

Started with a sore throat, and then morphed into a chest and head cold, fever, aches and no energy. For me, that’s a prison of sorts, because while I wanted to be out roaming free creatively, I felt very confined. Locked up. To me, being sick is like being in a cell with a window. I can see outside and be tempted to go out there, to see it so close I can touch it, but yet I can’t do it. My body just wouldn’t allow it.

I’m much better now, not completely recovered, but certainly well enough to be clacking the keys again now (yay!), and enough so that I’ll be back on my early morning schedule tomorrow and writing [i]Crossline[/i] again. I’m working on a really big, really important sequence, so it’s time to get rocking.

Truthfully, if there was ever a time to be knocked out of commission, this was it, because I’m at a critical point in the writing process, and sometimes taking a break–planned or not–helps give me perspective, and then a fresh eye when I get back to it.

So now I’m out on writer’s parole, and hope that by the end of the week I’ll be totally free and clear.

In the Writer’s Chair: Untangling Story Knots

As I noted in my last blog, I’m in the middle of working out a major sequence in Crossline, the new novel I’m writing. And as happens to me often when I’ve got a big sequence to work out, I’m a little stuck, like trying to untangle a massive ball of string.

I’ve got this idea, and it’s pretty crucial to the overall story, and while I’m close to working it out, I’m not quite there. So picture this big ball of string. It looks cool, and I want to get at it, so I start pulling the string loosAs I noted in my last blog, I’m in the middle of working out a major sequence in Crossline, the new novel I’m writing. And as happens to me often when I’ve got a big sequence to work out, I’m a little stuck, like trying to untangle a massive ball of string.

I’ve got this idea, and it’s pretty crucial to the overall story, and while I’m close to working it out, I’m not quite there. So picture this big ball of string. It looks cool, and I want to get at it, so I start pulling the string loose. And there it goes, on and on, and then it gets stuck in knot. OK, no problem, I’ll just slow down a minute and untangle that knot. And I do, and then resume the greater untangling.

But the longer I go the more knots I find, and even though as a major sequence–this ball of string–it looks great overall, I keep getting stuck on the details. And like with a ball of string, sometimes the knots are big and sometimes they’re small, but either way, I can’t get to the end until I’ve untangled that knot.

That’s how my mind works. Not always, but it happens fairly often when I write. All the ideas I’ll need to make this book really explode are already in my head, drawn from the ether. It’s all there. But the sequence of events are all jumbled up, and I’m not sure if what I’m planning right now makes sense. So I have to follow the string as far as it will take me. And sometimes like that ball of string, I somehow manage to get myself all tangled up worse than when I started, so I have to go back and retrace the string to now undo the new knot I just created.

So … yeah … sometimes this writing business takes a little longer than I would like. But that’s also part of the fun. Untangling the knot. Because If I’m having fun unraveling this mystery, coming up with a story that totally works, and then running my finger down the string to make sure there are no little knots left over to trip me up, then I’m confident that anyone reading the story will have just as much fun.

I can’t say how much longer it will take for me to untangle this particle knot. Maybe I’ll have it untangled by the end of the day, maybe the end of the hour. It could take me days, or even weeks. I never know. But what I do know is that I’m close, and when I get this ball string all straightened out, it will have been totally worth the effort, because if I’ve worked out all the knots, the story I’m meant to tell will be on the page. And then we’ll really have some fun.

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2008/10/18 08:21

My Novel Mojo is Back! Thank You Puerto Rico!

Just got back from Puerto Rico last night, and I’m feeling good. Liz and I had a fun trip, including attending a wedding on the edge of a rain forest–more on that later–so it was good just to get away for a few days and recharge.

On the writing side of things, my time away helped do for me what I had been hoping–kick in some story mojo. I’m deep into writing my next book–[i]Crossline[/i]–and there’s a big scene that takes place about two-thirds of the way in. It’s a crucial sequence toJust got back from Puerto Rico last night, and I’m feeling good. Liz and I had a fun trip, including attending a wedding on the edge of a rain forest–more on that later–so it was good just to get away for a few days and recharge.

On the writing side of things, my time away helped do for me what I had been hoping–kick in some story mojo. I’m deep into writing my next book–[i]Crossline[/i]–and there’s a big scene that takes place about two-thirds of the way in. It’s a crucial sequence to the overall story, so I really have to get it right. Thing is, I haven’t been exactly sure what the scene should be.

So … yeah … that’s kind of an important issue to resolve.

I’ve gotten the key characters where they need to be, and I’m very happy with the build-up. There’s tension and excitement, there’s a few twists, and, of course, there’s humor. But the pay-off. Yep. Gotta nail it.

What I’ve learned about myself over the years as a writer is to trust myself. When I start a project I rarely–no strike that, I don’t think I’ve ever done it–do I have the entire story figured out. I usually have a good idea of where I want to go, some of the central conflicts and themes, and some key scenes. The rest I figure out along the way. I trust in my writing process. I trust that, eventually, I’ll get where I need to be.

My time in Puerto Rico went a long way to that end. Just having the time away, free from distraction, gave me the time to think. Which is sorta ironic for me, as I figured out a major sequence while attending a wedding, with about 200 people, in the middle of a torrential rain storm. Funny how that can happen. Sometimes just getting out of my regular element is what I need to clear my mind and allows the ideas to flow. I’m not quite sure how or why it works, but pretty consistently, I’ve found that mixing it up a bit–in essence splashing some cold water on my face and refreshing myself–helps the writing mojo kick in.

I haven’t figured out the entire sequence yet–still working out some of the details–but I now have a major plot element figured out and I’m very close to tying up the loose the ends. Just a few more points and I think I’ll have it. Could be today, could be tomorrow, could be a week from now. Maybe a month. Who knows? But it doesn’t matter, because I’m close.

For me, at least, the writing process is mostly about rhythm, about repetition, just banging away at it day after day after day. But sometimes I need to step away, to physically get away from the keyboard and let my mind work, so that I can come back to the keyboard with fresh ideas and full of energy, and then clack away at the keys again.

This time around, a wedding near Puerto Rican rain forest restarted my writing mojo. I’m never quite sure when or where it will happen. I just trust that it will.

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2008/10/15 06:02

Puerto Rico + Wedding = Mojo for My Next Book

Tomorrow morning Liz and I will be heading off to Puerto Rico to attend a wedding, and while we’re there, we figured, let’s take an extra day, so we’ll be hanging out until Tuesday.

And for that I say, thank god.

For all sorts of reasons it’s been a long, rough stretch these last several months, and I’m ready for a break. I’m not even sure what hotel we’re staying in or where on the island it is. All I know is that I want to be someplace that isn’t here, have a steady flow of umbrellTomorrow morning Liz and I will be heading off to Puerto Rico to attend a wedding, and while we’re there, we figured, let’s take an extra day, so we’ll be hanging out until Tuesday.

And for that I say, thank god.

For all sorts of reasons it’s been a long, rough stretch these last several months, and I’m ready for a break. I’m not even sure what hotel we’re staying in or where on the island it is. All I know is that I want to be someplace that isn’t here, have a steady flow of umbrella drinks and then I’ll figure out the rest.

The break comes at a good time for me writing-wise as well. I’ve been hitting a really good stride lately, and I need to think a few plot points out. I’ve found that getting away can really jump-start me creatively, and help the ideas flow. In fact, way back in 2001, when Liz and I were on a cruise to the Carribean, we were in the gym, looking out over the water as I bopped away on the eliptical machine, when I had a major a-ha moment, one that had a major impact on Finders Keepers and really helped nail the ending to the book.

So yes indeed, I’m looking forward to Puerto Rico.

Let the chill begin …

In the Writer’s Chair: Write Every Day

While down at the Baltimore Comic-Con after party Pig Roast, fellow writer dude Jim Chambers and I were, besides knocking back a few, bestowing some writerly wisdom (such that it was), to Eric, the teenage son of another friend who was at the shindig.

Eric expressed some interest in writing–specifically zombie stories (hey, whatever floats your boat)–and so Jim and I took it upon ourselves to school the lad. And in doing so, Jim also schooled me. Or should I say, reschooled me.

AmonWhile down at the Baltimore Comic-Con after party Pig Roast, fellow writer dude Jim Chambers and I were, besides knocking back a few, bestowing some writerly wisdom (such that it was), to Eric, the teenage son of another friend who was at the shindig.

Eric expressed some interest in writing–specifically zombie stories (hey, whatever floats your boat)–and so Jim and I took it upon ourselves to school the lad. And in doing so, Jim also schooled me. Or should I say, reschooled me.

Among the pearls of wisdom we espoused, we suggested to Eric that he:

* write what you love

* write because you love it

* set writing goals

* write your way

* even if the words don’t come right away, sit there until they do, no matter how long it takes

None of this is rocket science, but it’s amazing how often we can overlook the basics, just because they seem so … basic. But they are the cornerstone of getting writing done.

And as we were talking, I mentioned to Eric that even if he can’t get to his writing every day, try to make a consistent schedule and stick with it, as the routine will help him find a rhythm. This is where Jim chimed in. He flat out disagreed, at least in part. He was in total agreement about routine and rhythm, but he essentially insisted, is that the hallmark of writing is this–[b]Write Every Day[/b].

While in my head I was thinking about finding the balance in life–juggling work, family, health, finances, etc.–with my writing schedule, Jim just struck a nerve with me. Because you know what? He’s right.

Write Every Day.

That doesn’t mean I can write for the same amount of time every day, but it’s better if I write something–anything–than to write nothing. It’s like anything else. The more you do it the better you get. And it’s amazing how quickly you can lose your edge. Since Jim’s proclomation I’ve written just about every day (sorry, dude, had to skip one or two), but I’ve been writing more in the last 10 days than I have in months.

It’s amazing the kind of time I can find for things when I just stop making excuses and do it.

So thanks, Jim. You gave me the kick in the butt I needed. It’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s that I felt I wasn’t writing [i]enough.[/i] And sometimes I just need to hear the right thing at the right time in the right way from the right person to get me on track, or to kick it up another gear.

Write Every Day.

Indeed.

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2008/10/07 06:52

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