Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Swamp in the middle of your story.

The beginning of your book is exciting. You’re meeting new people, new relationships form. Stuff is happening! As you get past the beginning, all the people who are going to populate your book, with a few minor exceptions have been introduced. You know who likes who and who is hoping to do the bunny hop with who. It’s like October in High School, routine.

If you are drawing a graph of excitement in your novel it starts out high. If it doesn’t you need consider how you are going to draw your reader in. But, as the thrill of introductions wanes you go downhill to the lowest point of your novel. This is the swamp. This is where everything looks the same, there is no clear path and the bugs are eating you alive. You don’t want to stay in the swamp, but to get to the mountain on the other side ,which is the joy of completing your story and making sure that everyone gets what they deserve, you have to cross the swamp. There are no short cuts.

The problem is that the swamp is a dangerous place. If you aren’t careful that tuft of grass you are standing on will disappear and dump you into the murk. Some of that beautiful green turf is a lie and cheat, you will fall through and vanish. There are creatures here that eat novels whole. Writer’s block watches you from stagnant water waiting for you to show weakness. Unnecessary characters sit like vultures in the tree ready to enter your story and weigh down your plot. Real life buzzes around your head whispering that you’ve failed, again, and why don’t you get a real job. Will-o-the-wisps try to entice you away from your plot line.

For all the danger, there is treasure to be found in the swamp. Scattered islands of golden apples. Here is where the relationships that you created are tested and reforged. Strange beings give odd advice. Your characters learn to discern what they are about. What they are really about. This is where their false hopes and perceptions are stripped from them. This is the abode of that oddest of creatures – the talking donkey.

The talking donkey is the thing that comes from out of the bounds of the story and changes everything. It may be a car accident that forces someone to face their mortality. It may be an infestation of rats that eats everything a character owns so they realize that they valued none of it. It might be a midnight conversation with a stranger in a cemetery. The point is that it changes things. This above all is what makes the character different when they climb out of the swamp.

Every story has to have its swamp, its low point. It isn’t fun to be a writer in the swamp. It is messy, frustrating, and saps your energy, but this is where you can shine as a writer. Paying attention to what you do in the swamp will make your conclusion that much brighter. It takes discipline and courage. Sometimes you’ll get lost and have to retrace your steps. Sometimes the swamp dumps you onto a foreign shore and you have to decide whether to stay there or go back.

The longer your work, the more important the swamp is, and the more likely you will encounter it more than once. False peaks abound, but eventually you will prevail and the final mountain will rise out of the mists. It is then, scratching your bites and scraping of the mud from your feet, that you will make the exhilarating climb to the end.

How to write a book.

This is a poem I wrote for National Poetry Month – April. 

How to write a book

Write
Write some more
Write until you get to the end of the story.
Do a little happy dance.
Tell people that you wrote a book.

Read your book.
Crawl under your desk and weep and bang your head against the wall until the sound makes the neighbours crazy.
Re-write the book adding some annoying neighbours.
Get pulled into the story again.
Rant and rave at your characters.
“Behave,” you say, “or I’ll kill you off.”
They laugh and run off to dance in the moonlight.
Bang your head some more.
Apologize to the neighbours, again.
Tell them you’re writing a book.

Start to wonder how any one person could have made so many mistakes in one book.
Fix mistakes, make new ones.
The book takes on a life of its own.
No longer just words on a page, this is your baby and you want it to grow up healthy and strong and maybe be a bestseller someday.

Allow the neighbours to read your precious child.
Gnash your teeth when they point out that the scene with the talking donkey really just doesn’t work.
You love that scene; you wept tears of happy abandon writing that scene.
Can’t they recognize brilliant writing?
Cut the scene.

Start to hate the book, again
It’s horrible, mindless drivel, but it isn’t the book’s fault.
So you keep working,
Cut more scenes that you love,
Let a few stay in,

One day think:
This whole thing may actually work out.
It isn’t going to change the world.
No one may even read it.
But it’s time.

The story has to stand on its own now.
There are still things you can do, but you don’t.
Instead, you hold your breathe and send it off with a backpack filled with sandwiches and a change of underwear.

Look, there it goes.

Isn’t it cute?