Musery, or Conversations With A Goddess

by Janis Patterson

On one of my writers’ loops the other day a bunch of us were lamenting the fact that we all couldn’t just write and leave the business side of publishing to someone else. These days however you are published you have to deal in the non-creative side of the book industry – publicity, editing and all the rest. As we all were having the same problems, someone said she was grateful for other writers, as ‘misery loves company.’

Well, you know I can’t leave a single quip unturned, so I popped back, “Shouldn’t that be musery?” My rather smart-ass remark has turned into a… well, not a phenomenon, but a comment that is spreading. ‘Musery’ is a growing concept.

So what is Musery? It is taken from the legend of the Muse, a mythological construct of some goddess or another who is constantly whispering fantastic prose into a writer’s shell-like ear… which all writers know is pretty much wishful thinking. Even if you get ideas constantly peppering you like beneficent shotgun pellets as I do, ideas by themselves are pretty useless – nice, and a necessary beginning, but by themselves pretty much useless. No book ever came from ideas alone. It would be sort of like trying to live in only the foundation of a house.

Ideas (and it takes many to make a book) are only the beginning. You need believable characters, many complications, conflicts… the whole menu of writerly tools. Many of us need the interaction and brainstorming with other writers, and then there is research and finally – and perhaps most importantly – a command of the language that can make the whole heap of disparate parts into a readable and hopefully enjoyable book.

This seemingly magical combination of elements is the essence of Musery, which boils down to the basics of inspiration, imagination and skill. Done right, it appears effortless, which is probably the basis of the popular belief that some magical creature dictates the finished product to the writer, who has only to write it down, thus perpetuating its own myth that writing a book is a piece of cake that anyone could do if they only took the time.

Yeah, right. The fastest way to reach your Muse always has, is and always will be hard work. Now I have to go propitiate mine with a couple of hours at the computer.

Getting Unstuck

 

Last weekend, I ran into a fellow writer and asked him how his new book was going. He said it was hard. Very hard. I said mine was too, and he replied, “If they’re good, they’re all hard. Can you imagine what you’d have if you could say, ‘It was easy, I just wrote it?’ ”

When it’s hard, here are some things I’ve found that help me move through the muck:

Trying the scene in a different point of view. (Of course, this only works  if you write in the third person.) Figuring out who has the most at stake in the scene and shifting to their POV can give a scene more energy and drive.

Cutting the last few lines or even paragraphs of a scene or chapter. How often have I said this to critique partners, and how often have they said this to me? “The scene really ends here.”

Revisiting the protagonist’s character arc. What will challenge her to go where she needs to go next psychologically?

Revisiting the protagonist’s story goal. Is the main plot sufficiently  driven by what she wants and what’s getting in the way of it, or have I gotten sidetracked? The fertility of my garden of subplots is astounding, and some of the things that sprout in it are weeds.

Examining the protagonist/antagonist relationships.  I usually have multiple oppositional characters in the way of my main character’s goal, presenting conflicts that push her to change and mature. As with subplots, I have to examine these characters and make sure I haven’t cast  too many.

Doing  an intense writing workout. For example, cranking out a 2,000 word short story in a single sitting. I’d already plotted it while running. I knew the instigating event, the protagonist, the antagonist, the secondary characters who complicate things, the settings, the themes, the ending, and the twists. Was it a brilliant story? No. But it shot me clean through a plot and made me review skills for structuring and tightening a story. I knew intuitively what to skip such as the transitions that were easily implied and the descriptions that a reader would have already imagined. And I have the satisfaction of having finished something. Now, back to the book in progress.

*****

I haven’t been totally stuck, by the way. I have two new releases this month: Small Awakenings, a book of reflective essays, and a boxed set of the first three Mae Martin  psychic mysteries. The boxed set is on sale for $2.99 through the weekend.

Writing is My Life or My Life is My Writing by Paty Jager

Artful Murder 5x8There’s not a writer out there who hasn’t brought something from their life into their writing. Writing whether for pleasure or for money, deals with everyday life experiences. It has to. One can’t bring the full flavor of life into a story without allowing something they have experienced to come into the writing.

Everyday happenings: the pungent aroma of coffee brewing, the dampness of mist walking on the beach, the blinding glare of light from an oncoming vehicle at night, the sweet and sour tingle on the tongue while eating candy.  All of these everyday things are used when writing. The senses and what we see and feel around us are used to show the characters in the same or comparable settings.

When I started planning Artful Murder, book 10 in the Shandra Higheagle mystery series and my March release, I had to draw on past experiences. Far back experiences. LOL In Artful Murder, Shandra volunteers in a high school art department.

While figuring out who the murder victim would be and lining up suspects, I went back to memories of high school and found the one teacher who the boys made fun of and the girls found creepy.  He became my murder victim.

I made the victim worse than the real life teacher. And I gave the principal a reason for ignoring the complaints of the other teachers and students. Which, of course, added more suspects and widened the net of suspects to parents and significant others of the female teachers.

Students are more savvy to what is going on in their schools than teachers think. I used this and a person with a grudge to add even more fuel to the ffire that was about to explode at the school.

I can honestly say that I have more fun fleshing out my mystery books than I do the other genre I write. There is something therapeutic about putting the people or events that I’ve come across through my life into books and find my own justice.

SH Mug Art

 

 

The Perplexities of Pantsing and Plotting

by Janis Patterson

In one of my discussion groups not long ago the perennial discussion of pantser vs plotter came up. Again. It rears its head every couple of months, and each side has its devoted and vocal advocates. One member – a downy little newbie – asked what the names meant and how were they different, a simple request for information that ignited a lively discussion of the various virtues of each.

Basically it boiled down to the facts that plotters like to have everything planned and laid out in varying degrees of exactitude. Some even use detailed cheatsheets to create their characters, some covering everything from their eye and hair color to their favorite flavor of Jello. (Don’t laugh – I have seen this.) The story is laid out in either a paragraph or outline form, sometimes going three or four or even more layers deep if it is bullet-pointed. Plotters say it keeps them on target.

A pantser is one who writes ‘by the seat of their pants.’ They have a basic idea, or perhaps even just an opening line, then sit down and write from there, letting the story and the characters take them wherever they want to go.

Full disclosure : I am – and always have been – a definite pantser. Even in school I loathed outlining, thinking even then that it was the best way I could think of to kill creativity and spontaneity. Yes, I was a very precocious child!

There is danger in pantsing, though, especially for the newbie – unseasoned? marginally skilled? – writer. It gives one the opportunity to wander all over the place with no story structure. One of the hardest things to convince newbies is that pantsing does not mean writing without structure. It only means no preconceived, written out structure. The story has to be a cohesive whole, with proper foreshadowing and rational action and reaction as well as a beginning, story arc and an end (yes, even in fantasy/scyfy). Otherwise all you’ll have is a great number of words – not a book.

Another danger with pantsing is that of writing yourself into a corner – meaning you have not set things up properly. A story has to flow as a whole, not just be a string of really nice scenes. Everything has to interact and work together. When newbie (and let’s be honest, not-so-good) writers find themselves in this corner, all too often they fall back on the old ‘and the cavalry rides over the hill’ trick. In other words, something happens to save the day but it’s never been set up properly or integrated into the story or even foreshadowed. That’s not only a cheat, it’s a cheap cheat, and the readers know it.

I’m always trying to hone my skills, so a couple of years ago I took a plotting class about which everyone was raving. It was quite good – just not for me. You took ten boxes; then in each box you would put five plot points. Under each one of those you’d put two minor plot points. Seems like there was another layer with plot points under each of them, but it’s been too long and I don’t remember. Theoretically when you finished you would have a very detailed outline for a 100K book.

I did all this. Came up with a really nifty romantic adventure involving a female race driver, her murdered brother, a dirty bomb, a terrorist plot, two luscious men… a story that will never be written. Oh, everything is there, and it hangs together beautifully, and I am bored to death with it before writing the first word.

I do not take boredom well. Also, as someone intelligent whose name I cannot now remember said, no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. One of my perennial strong sellers was pantsed, and two of the main characters were not in the original concept of the book. They just walked in and took over. Had I been slavishly following an outline they never would have been born, and the book would be so much the poorer for it.

Don’t get me wrong – writing is hard work, whether you outline or (especially) if you are a pantser. Perhaps more if you’re a pantser. Reining in a rampaging imagination while giving it enough freedom to create is not easy. If you’re a newbie writer, or a writer who’s hit a rough patch, I’d suggest trying both and see which works for you.