Wow, so there's yet *another* thing I can do instead of writing! This place!

I'm 200 pages into a novel, and aside from the opening scene...I'm not sure anything has really happened yet. Killin' me. I gotta disappear the main guy's parents...but all this exposition keeps getting in the way.

I need a writers' group here in Chicago. And I'm not using the word "need" lightly. I'm half-decent, have ideas and chops, and yet I'm...wayward. Muddled.

And it's not as if sitting here and listening to Matthew Ryan is gonna cure any of it.

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Comment by Paul McGoran on July 18, 2008 at 3:27am
Well, this is an old discussion, but one that every first-time novelist should have. The writing group thing was marginally useful to me, but in the end the thing that worked was THE DEADLY DAILY GRIND - a relatively full outline (mine was ten pages single spaced) followed by a committment to a daily word count.

I'm an advocate of signing on to NaNoWriMo.org in November and trying for 50,000 words in one month. After doing that, I was able to get a (relatively) finished product in six months time. If you don't know it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month - an online community that becomes active every November and dedicates itself to helping you get through a 50000 word first draft. I've done it three times and it has helped me a lot.

I'm trying to finish up my third novel now. I'm not published yet, but I'm shopping the first two novels around as well as a volume of my short fiction.

And that 'tension on every page' comment is a great one. But I'd modify it to tension or sex. Tense sex, maybe, but not necessarily. LOL.
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 17, 2007 at 6:13am
Gotta agree with Cornelia on the tension thing. Well, that MAY be overstating it a bit, but the point is that something must always be going on, the plot must be driving forward. And the best way to accomplish that is to create two characters with opposing goals. Give your hero a life or death kind of goal but make sure there's someone there to prevent him from achieving it.

Drama is conflict.

A good example is the movie ROMANCING THE STONE. Once you get past the opening teaser scene, you're with the heroine who is finishing up writing a book. Sounds like it would be boring, right?

But what the screenwriter does is ingenious. First the heroine is crying, feeling the emotion of the scene she's writing, happy to have finished the book. Then she reaches for a tissue and can't find one. She goes to the bathroom, no toilet paper. She goes to the kitchen, finds a note on the fridge: GET TOILET PAPER.

So she pulls down the note and uses it to wipe her tears.

Then, when she goes to celebrate her accomplishment with some tiny airline/hotel bottles of liquor (of which she has many -- brilliant exposition/character development), she tries to twist the top open and it won't budge.

What the screenwriting is doing is putting conflict all through the scene and -- as such -- making it much more dynamic.

So, yeah, tension on every page.
Comment by Scott Hess on March 9, 2007 at 3:18am
Tension on every page? Oh, lordy. I can feel myself slipping deeper into backtrack hell, revising each page as I write it...

Onward with my Shitty First Draft of My Shitty First Novel...
Comment by Carolyn Rogers on March 9, 2007 at 1:00am
I also would love a writing group--but every time I think I find one, it falls apart. So, frustrated, I go it on my own.

Cornelia--what you said about throwing the 50 pages up in the air and tension on every page--what excellent advice. Or is that a warning?

This place is swiftly getting addicting. Since I"m at work, that could be a bad thing.
Comment by Scott Hess on March 8, 2007 at 3:56pm
Thanks to you both, Laura and Cornelia. Onward, onward, onward, onward...
Comment by Cornelia Read on March 8, 2007 at 12:36pm
One of the toughest things for me to learn was something the published guy in my now-defunct second writing group kept hammering on... that there has to be tension ON EVERY PAGE of a story for people to keep reading.

He took a submission of mine from that first draft once and looked me in the eye and said, "I could throw this 50 pages up in the air and it wouldn't matter which order they fell in."

It was like getting kicked in the teeth at the time, but without him, I never would have had something published.

I read a Kurt Vonnegut quote recently that summed up what Bob had been saying pretty nicely, something along the lines of: "every character has to want something on every page, even if it's just a glass of water."

That would be why my fifteen pages detailing the Erie Canal (with photographs to document the evolution of architectural influence) didn't make it past draft one. And those were NOT the pages Writing Group Bob hated...

If you focus on keeping the tension up, you'll know what backstory you need and don't need... in the SECOND DRAFT. For now, give yourself permission to write what Anne Lamott so eloquently called a Shitty First Draft.

In my current writing group, our slogan is "the unreadable pile of stinking crap." We just presume our work sucks and plow forward through it anyway.

I hope it goes really well for you...
Comment by Laura Benedict on March 8, 2007 at 12:25pm
My advice is to make a couple lines of white space, then kill them immediately! I agree with JD's/Scorcese's comment about scaffolding. I bet you'll find that you don't need all the exposition once you're done with the draft.

EQMM has been very good to me. I don't know your work, but they don't seem to care much for gratuitous violence or language.
Comment by Daniel Hatadi on March 8, 2007 at 10:03am
I love this. This is exactly the dialogue that will make Crimespace into a community (with free virtual beer!). Glad you're enjoying it, Scott.
Comment by Scott Hess on March 8, 2007 at 8:10am
Thanks, J.D. Thanks, Nikki. What a great first day in this space! Thanks, Daniel!
Comment by J.D. Rhoades on March 8, 2007 at 7:59am
Couple of points, Scott: As Christa said, don't worry so much about the first draft, just be ready to cut mercilessly in rewrites. Someone the other day posted a quote from, I think, Scorsese to the effect that some scenes are like scaffolding: you need them to build the edifice, but at some point, you take them away.

Second, Some writers use a lot of exposition because they're afraid the reader won't know what's going on. But sometimes, wondering "WTF is going on HERE?" is the first thing that brings the reader into the story. Feed their curiosity a crumb at a time, until they're sucked into the book.

Check out the opening chapter of Orwell's 1984 ("It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.") for one of the best examples I've ever seen of how to weave backstory into your plot.

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