J is for Jethro

Jethro, Arizona isn’t on any maps. That’s mainly because it’s plucked straight from my imagination. I was traveling all over the southwest a few summers ago, on business with my dad. Luckily this was made interesting on account of my father knowing the southwest like the back of his hand, and his willingness to travel off the beaten path.

I had a story in my head that, while not exactly just beginning to form (it had been a story before, you see, but it had been demolished and salvaged for scraps when it had gotten out of control and unpublishable), was definitely in the beginning stages in most cases. A lot of my time on this trip was spent writing poetry about desert lizards and musing on this story.

I was looking for a place. I knew it would be in the desert, but it had to be somewhere special, somewhere that was mine. And then I found a place that was almost perfect. We drove through Jerome, Arizona, a small mining town that’s all topsy-turvy and thriving on tourism alone, with intrepid architecture and dangers of mine shafts all round.

I knew that I had found something magically close to where I wanted the setting of my story to be. I regret that I haven’t woven more of its magic into the story yet, as I feel that will be something left up to the rewrites, but it’s all the glory of the modern world in an older western settlement, with the beauties of the hot Arizona desert, a desert I’ve grown to love in my years of traveling across it time and again in my youth. This is a story I love, so it’s fitting for it to have a setting that I love, too.

And I’ve just realized I now have two J entries… le sigh.

B is for Belief

Since today was General Conference for the LDS church (which I happen to be a member of), my natural thought when I was trying to think of a topic for today was to write about belief.

But when I sat down to actually write the blog post, another facet of the word came to me—something much more tied to my usual topic of writing and/or fiction.

What I thought about, was Firefly. Actually, Serenity. About how the reason the Operative in it is so dangerous, was because he believed. More to the point, he believed that what he was doing was just and right. And I remembered a paper I very nearly wrote for a Classics course I took in college, where we read Antigone. The “villain” here too, Creon, the one who has decided Antigone’s fate, believes that he has made a just call, the only thing he could do, under the laws of the gods.

Another example is Javert from Les Misérables. Javert too is a man of justice, a man who believes in exact punishment. He believes he is a servant of God, but he (like Creon) doesn’t understand the subject of mercy, and therefore is limited in his view of the world—he sees only in black and white, wrong and right.

In these cases, belief can be a scary thing… especially belief without questioning. Devoutness can be admirable, but it can also be taken a little too far. It makes for some great villains, though. 😉

Belief makes for great heroes, too, though. Think about Harry Potter, Frodo, or even say, Indiana Jones. Each of them have a strong belief system, a goal that they will not stray from, and it is those beliefs that give them the courage to take on the things that might scare or intimidate the rest of us into complacency.

This makes me wonder a little what my characters believe in… do they believe in anything strongly enough? What about yours? What about you?

Writing bumps (and successes!)

Sometimes writing feels like walking in the dark down a bumpy road. I’ve had a lot of bumps in my writing the past few months, mostly in the form of minor freak-outs that I just can’t cut it. I’ve been lucky, though, that I always have someone waiting to listen to me as I worry, and miraculously a lot of my worries have been followed immediately by a light clicking on, and my being able to see that much further of my path.

What do I mean? Well, I’ll tell you.

Firstly, I had a BIG block on Jethro… I’m talking about a month and a half’s worth of block. I knew who my bad guy was, I could see him, I just didn’t know how to get him to find out about my characters… and how can he hunt them down, if he can’t find out about them?

I avoided this block for a long time. I basically didn’t even open my manuscript because until I knew how to connect point A to point B (or more like point Q to point R, in relation to the story) I was sure I couldn’t get anywhere else. I was in California living with my sister at the time, and she basically called an intervention, worried that I wasn’t doing any writing, which I was specifically there to do. I flipped out on her pretty much, spilling all over to her about my seemingly impossible situation. Then after talking through the complexities of it to her and virtually draining myself of anything I could even think on the subject, the answer popped into my head a few days later. And it was the simplest thing in the world. So obvious, in fact, that I was really tempted to knock my head against a wall like they do in movies sometimes. (Movies? TV shows? Does anyone ever do this anymore?) (Maybe I should say, I literally wanted to headdesk.)

I had a similar freak-out on my Secret Project. I was worried that the middle wasn’t exciting enough, and there was a lot of middle. A part of me thought that this was going to have to be the story I shelved for years and years until I was “good enough” to write it. I talked to Isabelle Santiago about this one, and she assured me that what I had was good, that I already knew what I needed, just like I had before, and that this was a story that needs to be out in the public. (It’s so nice to have a friend who fangirls your WIP unabashedly.)

Starting in January I joined a critique group through Authors Incognito, a group of LDS writers (that’s writers who are LDS, not necessarily writers who write LDS books)(and yes, I’m LDS too). I’ve been having the chapters of Jethro critiqued—so far just the first chapters of Jethro, the ones which flowed like water onto the screen that I’d thought were so good. I’ve gotten them back torn up and abused, with red ink all over them… and then I had another freak-out, this time needing both my husband and Isabelle’s assurance that firstly, Jethro was good, and secondly, this is a first draft… all the little things get fixed in the editing, which is way more fun than writing. (Would you have ever believed that back when you were in school? I sure wouldn’t have.)

Part of me wanted to run into a corner and hide, and bury my poor little manuscript under a shroud of anonymity so that it would never be critiqued again. But most of me was starting to realize, yeah, these are things I need to address in my writing. I have good, gripping prose in me, I know I do… but maybe I don’t have it in my first drafts, and that’s okay, so long as it’s in there by the end.

My latest flip-out experience was also Jethro, and it was just the other night. I’d been reading a bunch of blog posts about writing the book from the right character, and even though Jethro is really an ensemble piece, suddenly I was terrified that the character I’d chosen as the “main” was wrong. And I’m talking about thinking  this nineteen and a half chapters into writing it. One of my secondary characters just sparkles so much more, and I know she has some serious demons that’ll be in her path very, very soon, and I thought maybe the character I’d picked just couldn’t hack it, couldn’t carry a full-length novel that would keep teens and adults reading.

This was maybe my biggest heart-attack yet. How could I have so misjudged? How could I have gotten it all so mixed up?

But then logic kicked in… the character I’d chosen had to be right. Considering who she was, what her personal history was, there was no way she was wrong. She was the one. The only one who could tell the story as a hero. Well, maybe one of two… but that’s a bit of a secret.

Still, this presented me with a problem. Luckily, this problem also turned out to be a solution. You see, I knew the answer to this question, too. The question being, “How to make my main character be more exciting,” or more to the point, “How to torture my main character just a bit more?” I knew because it was already in an earlier version of this story, but it was something I’d thrown out because I’d wanted to involve another character in that story arc, a character that it was vital to the plot that she be involved.

So again, I panicked a little bit. I had 1+1+1, and I needed it to equal 2, because in this case, 3 just wouldn’t cut it. 3 would be preposterous.

I ranted at my husband about this problem for a few minutes, but he was working on other things and I was talking too fast to really understand probably, anyhow. In this instance, I pulled out my trusty notepad and just started scribbling. I basically did a web-diagram, in the messiest, fastest cursive that I can claim.

And you know what? My problem worked itself out. In a way that not only was simple and logical, but that actually solved another little problem I’d had with my plot, and had me feeling like standing up and cheering for my characters, because they’d just proved to me how awesome they really could be. I jumped from that to writing almost a full scene, only stopping because it was late and I was bone-tired.

The one other bump I’ve had recently had nothing to do with writer’s block, but more with my laptop charger, which died on me unexpectedly about a week ago. Without a charger, my laptop turned into a big ole’ paperweight for a few days, and stealing time on my husband’s desktop wasn’t fully cutting it. I got my new shiny charger in the mail from Amazon the day before yesterday, though, and while I was out pretty much most of the day yesterday, I got on today to find that Jethro had actually crossed 40K while I wasn’t looking. I’m excited! Secret Project has over 55K, but not in a solid, chronological block like Jethro. I can’t say this is the longest thing I’ve ever written (I was a fanficcer, once upon a time… ssh… it’s a secret!) but it’s the longest I’ve had of a wholly original story.

Success suddenly seems a lot closer in hand than it ever has before.

(And hey, while I’m here, check out my contribution to The Hollow Tree today. We post free reads there every Friday, don’t forget!)

Character Likeability

I have to start this post by making it clear that growing up, my family has never done anything less than support my writing. When I’ve let them… which means that I spent a lot of time as a kid scribbling in notebooks and not letting anybody read what I wrote—I don’t hold this against myself, as most of it really was awful, but bygones.

My family was always big on creativity. My mother is a master appliqué quilter, who evidence has shown can also draw amazingly and write beautifully. My siblings are all professional artists. Creativity was always going on somewhere in the Asanuma home. My own creativity has always been mainly focused on words, and like I said, my family (especially my mother) were always very supportive of me, even if my “art” wasn’t as flashy as the rest of the family’s, maybe.

That didn’t stop me from hiding it for years, though. I knew I still had a lot to learn, that most of what I was writing was just other peoples’ words reformatted, and mainly, I knew that someday I would be BETTER than that. I knew one day I would write words that moved people.

When I started working on my Secret Project, I knew that finally, finally I had something worth sharing with my family. I was still nervous, because the category I write—Young Adult—is something that neither my mom nor my sister (the two big readers in the family, the two I planned on sharing it with) are even remotely interested in, but I bit the bullet and did it anyhow. The one real response I got from their reading my first three chapters? That my character just wasn’t likeable enough.

I’ll admit, this goaded me a little bit. Partially because one big intention I had with this project was to take a character who was nothing (or at least felt like they were nothing) and build them up into something really and truly formidable—a leader, a hero. That’s not to say that I wanted my character to be unlikeable at the beginning of the book, but I wanted it very clear that life hadn’t been nice to her, and she wasn’t all that crazy about life, either. More than anything, she starts off the book unfulfilled, bored. But that didn’t have to mean she was boring.

I thought for a long time that maybe it was enough that I loved her. Well, me and maybe someone else in the story. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.) Looking back over my manuscript the past week, though, I started seeing just what my mom meant. My character had too many nettles, and not enough spark. Not enough visible spark, rather. The spark was always there, I just needed to be better able to convey it to my audience, earn that little bit of endearment that would make someone want to follow my character on this epic, character-building experience.

So I’m doing some revising. I’ll probably be talking about it a lot for the next little while, because there’s a lot of revising to be done. My character is beautiful and so is the world she lives in… I’ve just been depending far too much on my readers’ ability to climb inside my head to see it all. Can’t be doing that, Lisa.

What about you? Have you ever had someone tell you that your character just isn’t likeable enough? Or __________ enough? Or have you ever found a character lacking in something you were reading yourself? What makes a character likeable to you?