Monday, July 11, 2011

Note to Self

By Kathleen Bradean

Ignore the hideous wallpaper. It was on the hovel walls when we moved in, and fifteen years later, I have yet to replace it.

My days are all very much like the ones that came before, so it all seems deadly dull stuff. I work a ten hour day plus spend another two hours commuting, so between 5AM and 5PM, my day looks like any other working schlub's. (Except that while I'm driving, I'm thinking about plot, character, and other pleasant diversions instead of the stuff normal people think about, like... I'm drawing a blank here. What do normal people think about?) Then one of us cooks dinner, we sit down together to eat, and after about 7:30 my time is mine to waste as I see fit. I watch maybe two hours of TV a week so I'll have time to write. Or, to be truthful, to read emails, mess around on FaceBook, look up some really esoteric minutia that passes as research, and then maybe do some writing before bed. Or I read and write reviews. Or do blog entries. It's not exactly the life of Castle, is it?

So while I sat at my desk and tried to think of a way to make it seem as if I lead a terribly interesting writer's life, my gaze flitted past my current Note To Self. Aha! Writerly stuff! So I took a picture with my phone (thus the crappy quality, but I hope that helps hide the handwritten "typo" in my note) and posted it here.

This is my third attempt at a novel titled The Devil's Concubine. It's been a real struggle. The first pass was my NaNoWriMo novel. I'd never done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in which you try to pound out 50,000 words of a novel between November 1st and 30th) so I thought I'd give it a go. It proved that I can produce 50,000 words in a month, but also proved that I produced 50,000 words of utter crap. That isn't the fault of the pressure. The problem was that one of my characters lacked definition before I started, and I was never able to pin down his squirrelly butt. Plus, my plot sucked.

In January, I took another stab at it. 80,000 words, but again, nothing I'd show to someone. I still didn't have a clear vision of the story, and it showed.

Then, during a commute, I had an epiphany. It came in part because of something Michael Thomas Ford said in his master class at Saints and Sinners literary conference. I realized that I had never forced myself to define what the story was about. After noodling over it for a couple days, I figured it out. So I wrote it down and taped it to the wall next to my computer so that if I ever lost sight of what I was supposed to be doing, it was there to remind me.

Figuring out what the story was about was closely followed by the definition of the plot. It's a very simplified version of the whole complex spy thriller I have in mind, but at it's core, this is what happens in the story.

What's the main conflict? I have to remind myself. Isn't that sad? But since most of the caper involves a third character, it's been too easy to shift my focus to him. That's went wrong with the other two attempts at this story.

What drives the plot? This is where the third character is important. He's the catalyst that puts the plot into motion.

So there you have it, a sloppy handwritten note taped over world's ugliest wallpaper so that I can keep on track in this story. A day in the life. Whoo-hoo. Riveting stuff.


  1. Hi Kathleen,
    I like your post. Sometimes it does take the longer route to figure what's going on. A running joke between one of my friend's and I is that if I need to write a 20K story, I'll surely have written at least 100K before it's over. It has to happen that way, I think, for some of us. Hope your notes are helping now. :)

  2. Kathleen, I laughed at your hideous wallpaper comment, as I think I have hideous wallpaper in my kitchen-- yet I've lived with it for 11 years. Good grief.

    But this is also a terrific reminder/writing lesson. I ache to write another novel (it's been years since I even attempted NaNoWriMo), and your post reminded me of that desire. Thank you. And good luck on your novel!

  3. Ayla - on one hand, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one, on the other hand, we sure do write a lot! I guess that'sthe way some of us find our way around a story.

  4. Kristina - Living with another person's bad taste isn't pretty, is it? At least it's not like the wallpaper in the bathroom at my old workplace. That had a bright red background with sort of a bamboo lattice work design on it, on top of which were irises about two feet tall with lime green leaves and cobalt blue flowers. Can you say seered retna? The same stuff was in the break room, only with a white background and bright yellow flowers. And lime green kitchen cabinets.

  5. Oh my, Kathleen. That's a hell of a mental picture. :-) Mine kitchen wallpaper is grapevines and bunches of grapes. Too, too busy for my tastes (the previous owner was in the wine and beer industry and the entire kitchen was kind of a wine theme), but I've just never gotten around to taking it down and doing something else. I guess it grew on me...

  6. But consider the key role played by hideous wallpaper in that classic story "The Yellow Wall-paper" (1890s, Charlotte Perkins Gilman)! Studying wallpaper might be considered parallel to forming a plot - you need to look for patterns. Kathleen, I'll be interested to know if/when your novel is available to read. I love the way you combine the mundane world with the supernatural in your fiction.

  7. Jean - you're so kind to me. I'll let you know when I get something readable together.

  8. Kathleen,

    You've written 130,000 words - and you're throwing it away?

    Geez. I don't know whether to be jealous or appalled.

    But everyone is different, I guess. I'm happy to hear that you may have a handle on the book at last. I'd hate to see another 80K go down the tubes.

  9. Lisabet - you and me both. I'm a terribly inefficient writer. I write three or four words for everyone that makes it into the final version.