Saturday, July 30, 2011

INCOMING!

It has long been a joke that my editors have to batten down the hatches for the "Brenna Barrage" of new submissions two to four times a year. One in particular spins an elaborate tale of sitting under her desk, her arms wrapped around her knees, rocking back and forth, and (in a Rain Man voice) chanting "No more Brenna books. No, no Brenna." While I hope that's an exaggeration, I don't think the editors fully appreciate that the barrage is no more comfortable for me, as the author, than it is for an editor. But...I'll get back to that.

To put this in perspective, for those who don't know me, here are a few facts about my writing.

In the last (nearly) nine years, I have been published well over 100 times in fiction and with almost 100 separate works, two dozen of which are novel-length. The bulk of writing I have published in that period of time has been written in the last decade; only the poetry predates it. I write in 21 series worlds plus stand-alones in an estimated 25 subgenres of work. I have between 8 and 25 releases every year and work with 7 publishing houses.



I write an estimated 50,000 words of new work in an average month. My high-water months were double that or more.

I have (currently) about 90 works in progress stored in binders and notebooks...and some directly in the computer. I work on up to 6 of them in a single week.

So, how can someone be that prolific and range that far and not go insane? My opinion is that all writers are a little unbalanced. Some of us...more than a little. For that reason, claiming to be sane is a sticky subject for any writer.

How do you not confuse that many characters and worlds? Technically speaking, each of my characters is unique in my mind. Much as the average person on the street wouldn't confuse his or her best friends, I don't confuse my characters. Since I know them inside and out...or soon will...it's hard for me to get them confused.

That doesn't mean it's easy sailing with my characters. We argue, and they win. They have to win, because I have a character driven process, and the story flows from them to me...subconsciously, of course. If the characters aren't acting in character -- because I'm stubbornly trying to change the story as it comes out -- the words do not flow. A few examples of character roadblocks?

Brenna: “You CAN’T do that. You have to be alive for the next scene.”
Eric: “Bite me. This is what I do. I act this way. You know that.”
Brenna: “I’ve already written scenes for you. You don’t die here, and everyone in that room? They’re toast in ten pages, buddy.”
Eric: “Well, figure it out, WRITER. You’re supposed to be so smart.”

I could tell you the real-life scene this ended up creating, but it is a little ridiculous. It’s amazing my husband hasn’t had me carted off in a pretty, white coat. Like I said, authors have compromised sanity. You have to in order to do this job.

Second example?

Brenna: “You really shouldn’t do that.”
Curt: [the mental equivalent of a character flipping me off with a snarl]
Brenna: [sighs] “You know, the world rules say...”
Curt: “Do your worst. I don’t care what the consequences are.”
Brenna: “Okay. I will.”

I do have the ability to throw situations at the characters and let them react to them, which creates some incredibly lush scenes.

But what about when the words don't flow at all? To set the stage, I’d met about four of the other characters in TYGERS before I met Katie. Katie wouldn’t talk to me. I finally decided to have a sit-down with her.

Brenna: “So...what am I doing that you don’t like?”
Katie: [in a rather Taming of the Shrew tone] “My name is Katheryn and anyone with any SENSE calls me Katheryn. If you want this damned book written, YOU will call me Katheryn.”
Brenna: “But, no one else calls you Katheryn.” (They had to act in character, as well, and I couldn't compromise them any more than I could compromise her.)
Katie: “Who said they have any sense?”
Good point...

The only arguments I win, in any fashion, go something like...

Brenna: “We need this scene, so if you’d just answer this question --”
Alex: “Not interested. I know the answer. Why should I tell you?”
Brenna: “If you want this book written...ever, you will tell me the answer to this question in the next five minutes.”
Alex: “You wouldn’t dare.”
Brenna: “Wouldn’t I?”

Okay, so the price of prolific writing is that the author isn't in the driver's seat much? That's partially correct. One of my beta readers is fond of saying that it's not that I don't plan anything, though from the outside looking in, it appears that way. What is actually happening is that the storyline arcs and outlines and character studies that plotters do in the real world take place in my subconscious. Somewhere back there, entire books are written, rooms are full of spreadsheets and notes, and the clutter is something a hoarder would have lying around in the physical world. I just pull the stories out in pieces and weave them together.

That's an apt description of what I do, if I've ever heard one. I have no clue or only a vague clue of what might be coming next in the book or where it will end. Unless I've already written the end...or think I have, because there might be more to it I can't see. Plot twists just appear on the page, surprising even me. Sometimes, I'm stupid enough to argue with the characters about them. Usually, I'm not, these days. I just sigh, write it down, and move on, knowing it will weave into place eventually. Experience has taught me that arguing over plot twists is little more than a waste of time.

My beta reader has also described me as a functional schizophrenic. Considering discussions like the one below (that took place at 2 am or so during one writing spate), I can hardly blame her for saying so. I point to the fact that all writers have to be a little insane to do this as my defense.

Jole: "And this is how she HAS to find out about..."
Brenna: "Not now! I'm still on the scene where Alex meets Lyssa."
Jole: "But, Susan has to..."
Brenna: "Will you shut up for two minutes... Oh, all right" "give it to me quick so I can get back to Alex."
Alex: "Hey! We were in the middle of a good scene back here."
Jole: "Talk louder next time, buddy."
Alex: "Huh uh! I just met my mate. You are NOT allowed to--"
Brenna: "Everybody quiet or I will go to bed! Now, Jole talk. Alex, I'll be back to you in five..."
Alex: "Like we intend to let her sleep tonight?"
Lyssa: "Oh, just shut up and let her write so we can get back to the bathroom scene!"

Being a character-driven author means I literally write whichever character is screaming loudest at that time and whatever scene that character is focused on, even if I have no idea how it fits into the whole yet. If there is a block, a time when a character or book isn't talking to me, I turn to the one that is and work on that instead. Unless I buckle down and set myself a deadline or a barrage.

Back to the Brenna Barrage... Told you I'd get back to that eventually. I write blog posts about writing much in the same way I write anything but poetry. That means flitting from here to there and then attempting to tie it all together in the end.

In pulling these stories in pieces out of my subconscious, I amass a huge pile of partially-finished works. In some cases, I simply finish one naturally, but the truth is, I have to set a barrage once in a while, just to get a bunch of them off my desk.

Take this month, for instance. A little over a week ago, I evaluated what I had closest to finished and came up with eleven stories that I felt were barrage worthy. I reread what I had on each, tested the mind to see what I gauge is there on the book for me to draw from at this moment, and then set precedence of trying to finish six of those ten before doing any other work. Now, I admit that's a large number, even for me. Typically, I start with five or six and end up with about four.

Remember when I said the barrage isn't comfortable for me? Here's the reason.

My natural writing style is to let the characters scream when they have something to tell me, something that's percolated and aged to near-perfection. My style is not me rooting around in the junk pile and pulling out nuggets of storyline for whatever is open on my desktop and waiting for input, then actively thinking about polishing it to my usual shine. That's exhausting and frustrating for me, but if I want to get a barrage out of the way -- and by extension, set my release schedule for the next few quarters -- I have to knuckle down, round up the characters, and give them a speech not unlike the one I gave Alex.

So, can an author change gears and force that to happen? Of course I can. I've already finished one of the six and submitted it, in less than a week. It wasn't a small task, since that particular work needed an additional 6000 words and cleaning edits to make it ready for submission. I'm hip deep in the second, at the moment.

Fair warning to my editors... The barrage is in full gear. INCOMING!

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Brenna,

    Welcome to the Grip!

    Honestly, I can't imagine what it must be like being in your head. And although I sometimes wish my characters were a bit more pushy, I'm really not sure I'd want your day to day experience. It sounds exhausting!

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  2. Brenna - indeed, why would we ever get our characters confused? But maybe we're asking the wrong crowd...

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  3. This is one of the things I'm always curious about and trying to get into more, the creative process other writers have. I'm always interested in how people approach certain elements of writing that I struggle with. You in particular are prolific so that's especially interesting to me, to see how you get so much done. So you actually have quite a large backlog to draw from, and your work is driven by characters. That's good information. Over all it sounds like the simple truth is you work pretty hard at this.

    Thanks for being my guest! Great post!

    Garce

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  4. Thanks for having me! The truth is that the characters drive me to write. It's not so much that I choose to. Choosing not to doesn't sit well. In fact, on one camping trip with the family, I thought I could go without writing for three days or so. Two days in, it was like the drug addict. I'd fished an orange pen (the only color ink on hand) out of the van and a couple of flyers and was scribbling scenes on the backs of them.

    The one thing to remember is that the method of creation for one author won't ever precisely match the method for another. How the words come for one will always be a little different than it is for another.

    Brenna

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  5. Garce,

    The backlog is there, because the characters give me stories out of order. Getting a piece of one just means I know it's in process back there somewhere. I may actually have hundreds in process that no one has let me in on yet. Grin...

    Brenna

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