In Which I Run Into A Wall And Rethink Some Things

Since I started my experiment I’ve managed to get about 50 pages written (remember these are 50 hand-written pages), but I also ran into some trouble. One of my workshop leaders at Vermont College of Fine Arts, A. M. Jenkins, said that a novel is like a picture frame, but you as the author have to know everything that’s going on outside of the frame. Well, after 50 pages I discovered I have no idea what’s going on inside or outside of the frame.

One difficulty is that I have no idea what timeperiod I’m in. Parts of it seem to be in the 16th century, other parts are in the 18th century, and there may even be some earlier time periods stuck in there somewhere. I’m realizing I have a very tenuous grasp of history. I also decided to include some characters of various ethnicities around the Mediterranean, which just made me realize how little I know about the Mediterranean and its various cultures and history in general.

I’ve been reading an enormous tome of Mediterranean history, which is nothing if not daunting, and trying to decide how much research is necessary, whether I should start with research or start with writing and research later, etc. etc. Thankfully, I had a very helpful conversation with fellow Secret Gardener, L. Marie, in which she reminded me that I’m writing fantasy and can make things up.

So this brought about an interesting internal debate. Am I writing historical fantasy? Am I writing about an alternate universe Mediterranean? Or am I writing a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy? After some angsting, I’m leaning towards a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy. I think I will still have to read about the history and culture for inspiration, but I’m going to make things up because that’s what I’m best at.

I wonder if some of my fear and anxiety about this is an unconscious belief that making things up isn’t as legitimate. History seems so much more, well, serious and intellectual. Not like making things up for fun! Of course, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of perpetuating cultural stereotypes and hurting people. I still haven’t decided whether choosing the route of a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy isn’t at its heart an act of cowardice on my part. But it does feel safer.

What about you, readers? Do you write historical fantasy, alternate universes, or culturally-inspired fantasy? Do you do research and how much? And do you start with research or wait till after you’ve written the first draft or write and research in tandem?

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In Which I Reveal My Plans For The Summer

I disappeared again! I apologize. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing health issues and I’m still getting used to the logistics of living in a new place. Anyway, I’ve decided to buckle down this summer and write through an entire draft of my new WIP, The Island of the Moon. BUT this is also going to be an experiment for me because I’m going to try to free write the entire draft by hand. I have a binder and a bunch of looseleaf papers so I can move things around. And I’m going to make a collage for the cover because that’s how writers procrastinate.

Why do I want to free write the draft by hand? Partly because typing hurts my hands and arms and partly because I want to stop myself from fussing with language, which usually happens when I type. I want to use the binder instead of a notebook because then I can move scenes around, draft out of order, throw things out if I want to, rewrite scenes. Basically I want to give myself as much flexibility and freedom as I can. Why free writing? Because drafts intimidate me. A draft is serious business. Free writing is exploration. Once I finish the draft I have some voice recognition software I can use to type it out without hurting my hands.

I’ve never tried this before so I have no idea if it will work, but I’m excited about it. I’m also going to focus on research as much as I can. So I’ll be reading books about Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and its history and culture, myths and legends of the ocean, and whatever else comes up. One resource I’m really excited about is the website rvte.es. It’s the website for radio and television in Spain and they have a lot of documentaries and shows you can watch for free. I’m definitely going to take advantage of that.

I’ll try to keep checking in to give you an update on my progress and I might also post any interesting historical or mythological tidbits I come across. My deadline is October 1 so I have about five months. Please feel free to nag me incessantly.

My VCFA Lecture: Freewriting and Characterization

So the graduating class at VCFA have to give a lecture in their final residency. Sometimes people use their critical thesis as a basis for their lecture, but I’m choosing to do something completely different. I’m going to be doing a lecture on characterization, more specifically, on using freewriting to get to know one’s characters.

What do I mean by freewriting? Lots of different things. You might interview your characters, for example, or write about your protagonist from the perspective of a secondary character. You might describe the contents of their wardrobe, their refrigerator, or their trash. If you have a character who writes songs or poems, why not try writing a few examples of something they’ve written? There are so many possibilities here, but the point is always to learn more about your characters.

I have a lot of trouble figuring my characters out in general (especially my protagonists), which is why I picked this topic. And while I don’t think everyone needs to chain themselves to their desks right now and do all these exercises or their story/novel will fail miserably, I do think they can be useful tools when you’re getting started or feeling stuck. I think the better we know our characters the less floundering we are likely to do and god knows I have done a lot of floundering.

Anyway, if anyone reading this has any suggestions for freewriting exercises I would greatly appreciate all the help I can get. What do you do to get to know your characters?