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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Process’

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What the hell did I just do?

I have no idea what I’m doing. I am attempting to do two things. One, learn how to use and write in Scrivener. I’ve heard so many great things about it. It sounds wonderful. It’s probably really easy to use. But, I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to anything more complicated than your basic email. Okay, I’m a little better than that, but, geez, it’s painful. It takes me forever to get a handle on something. So, this is me entering in what I’ve got written so far for the second Stevenson book, and kind of/sort of using the synopsis cards and comments and whatnot, so I can look at and really verify the rest of my outline works. This I usually do with a pencil and paper, which works fine. But a pencil and paper doesn’t, in the end, give you a supposedly easily-compiled MS to simply turn into whatever e-publishing file you need for whatever platform you want. That was the real selling point for me. Using Scrivener, right now, is less about the writing and more about the end result once it’s ready to go out into the world. I guess I’m hoping it’ll be good for the writing, too. If I can figure out how it works, as I work it. (Yes, I went through the tutorial. My brain, though, is like a sieve.)

The second thing I’m trying to do is set things up in order to build an email list of potential readers, so I can, well, let them know I have stuff for them to read. I just spent a half-hour trying to figure out MailChimp and how to get that going on my WordPress site. I have failed. And I am not a fraction of an inch closer to having any idea as to how to do anything in terms of that particular goal. *sigh* These are the days I really wish I could conceptualize this kind of stuff, you know, easily, in my head, like some folks seem to be able to do. For me, it’s a huge effort that requires going over and over and over something until it eventually clicks in some small way, and then following that way, painstakingly slowly, until I get to the end. It’s like reading instructions in another language I have just a rudimentary understanding of. If you want an idea as to how hard it was for me to earn that goddamn MFA, just imagine what I just described spread over six years, 24-7. No wonder my thyroid exploded.

I’ll get it, though. Goddamn it.

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donkey_black_white_line_art_coloring_book_colouring-1331pxI’m starting a new feature today, to better introduce you to this thing that I’m working on.

Every Wednesday, I will post 100-500 words out of my work-in-progress manuscript, so that you might get some idea of what I’m doing and my writing in general. And after the words, I’ll share a little about how they came about.

The excerpts will be randomly chosen. I picked today’s using a random number generator. But to encourage participation (because it’s fun to play together), the method with which I will chose next week’s words will be as follows: Post a number between 1 and 177 in the comments below. I will pick one of them and that will be the page from which I will chose next week’s words.

As a special treat, for this first installment, you get about 600 words.

And now, from page 24:

The donkey was tiny, mouse-colored and sweet looking, but with a jaw as resolute as Jeanne d’Arc as the flames touched her nose.

“She is small, but I’ve seen her pull much more than this,” Antoine continued.

“She?” Louis’s heart broke for the animal—to be beaten while one toiled was one thing, but to be beaten by such a brute who would strike a woman; that was too much.

Oui, she could run both you and your sack up and down the mountains,” Henri added.

“I’ll take her,” said Louis. He didn’t know if she could. She didn’t look like she could. But chivalry sometimes took precedence over practicality.

Antoine jerked his head towards the spectacle in the courtyard, signaling their movement into the fray.

The sea of children parted with Antoine in the lead, Henri second, and Louis last. Grubby little faces looked up, some nonplussed, some annoyed, a few scared. The one that had been ringing the donkey’s bell all this time finally stopped, having found something more interesting—these three adults who dared to breach their ranks.

The old man looked upon them with relief.

Comment puis-je vous servrir, messieurs?

Antoine spoke with the man. They spoke quietly and Louis couldn’t hear the conversation above the din of children, one of whom kept slapping him across the rear and then looking away as if innocent.

“Is he willing to part with her?” Louis asked Henri, who was closer to the conversation.

“I believe so,” Henri replied. “He wants to demonstrate her worthiness.”

“Not necessary; I’ll take her,” said Louis, turning for the fifth time hoping to catch the slapping culprit in the act. “How much?”

“He insists,” Henri said.

“Really, I’ll take her,” Louis argued, then abruptly spun to the nearest, shortest fellow. “Arrêter maintenant ou je vais vous couper la main!

The crowd became quiet and stared at Louis, even the three men. He turned his palms up to them.

“Obviously, I wouldn’t really cut off their hands, but this one, you see…”

“That is one way to get their attention,” Henri said approvingly. The old man had started unhooking the donkey from his cart and Antoine was whispering into the ears of the children closest to him, who, in turn, whispered to their neighbor until word spread throughout the crowd. Most smiled and nodded, some laughed and cheered, a few—just a few—shyly sneaked away.

What happened next Louis may have paid money to see back in his college days in Edinburgh. Surrel brought the little donkey around through the mass of children, who moved accordingly and lined up.

“Now,” Antoine said to Louis, taking up his position as audience member next to him so that both his French friends flanked him. “Surrel will demonstrate her strength and endurance.”

Louis made to protest, momentarily afraid of what he was about to witness, but it was too late. The old man lifted the first child in line and sat him on the donkey’s back. The donkey responded accordingly and kicked the child off. The boy flew over the head of the animal and rolled in the dust. The children cheered, Henri laughed out loud, and Antoine smirked. Louis looked on, stunned. For no sooner was the first child stoically dusting himself off, Surrel was loading the donkey’s back with another, who soon went the way of the first. Louis noticed the first boy had actually rejoined the end of the line.

“Won’t someone get hurt?” Louis asked Antoine.

Probablement,” he replied, his eyes trailing up, then down, to watch another child fly through the air.

I used Stevenson’s original Travels with a Donkey as a template—following as faithfully as possible. It’s a wonderful little book: very humorous, very palpable in sensory detail. Although I obviously didn’t want to, 1) just rewrite a travel book, or 2) mimic his style, I did want to sort of work within the parameters of the book allowing for the use of other, related Stevensonia) as much as possible. It’s like any decent prompt—it put certain limitations on my writing, and so forced me to be creative within those limits. I found, though, that RLS provided enough routes (literally and figuratively) to keep things interesting, but never stump me (there were a few trying moments, but once resolved, they seemed so obvious).

For every moment Stevenson traveled, there was a story scene, and when it didn’t come together perfectly in line with his journals, elements were easily moved and shaped to construct the necessary scene. I was helped considerably by the wild and wonderful world of academic footnotes! I referred to the Penguin Classics edition of RLS’s Travels (coupled with The Amateur Emigrant), edited and introduced by Christopher MacLachlan, Edinburgh born and educated. If any of these notes failed to give much illumination in terms of creative wiggle room, I referred further to Stevenson’s original journal (as opposed to the version ultimately published). (This was The Cevennes Journal: Notes on a Journey Through the French Highlands, published on the 100th-year anniversary of Stevenson’s travel in 1978.)

By way of these texts (and two biographies I’m sure I’ll mention another week), I was able to create a more robust narrative (in terms of fiction, not in terms of a travelogue, which RLS certainly didn’t need my help achieving).

Above, Louis’s French friends (not in the original) help him procure a “suitable” donkey for his journey. The man with the donkey was named “Father Adam” in the published version. I thought that intoned too much character baggage, so I instead named the donkey seller his actual name, which RLS notes in his journal: Surrel. Further, the entire scene is a fleshed out version of what, according to RLS, actually happened.

Stevenson writes:

To prove her good temper, one child after another was set upon her back to ride, and one after another went head over heals into the air; until a want of confidence began to reign in youthful bosoms, and the experiment was discontinued from a dearth of subjects.

Even further, down the road a piece (literally for RLS), there was an instance recorded in his original journals but excised from the published version (for obvious reasons, I think). Stevenson, frustrated with his donkey and harassed by a passing family, ends up venting his spleen at one of the kids. There are a handful of occasions throughout his original text on which he loses temper (and understandably so), but perhaps it was easier to stomach when it was directed at adults. Nonetheless, it was a colorful scene and I thought it shouldn’t be wasted, so I merely moved it up and fit it into a new set of circumstances.

This is, pretty much, how I wrote the story—following him along spatially and temporally (for the most part; until the last couple of days of his journey, the distance he covers and the towns he passes through on each day match his actual journey), but playing with characters, lifting moments that weren’t useful where they were and better utilized elsewhere, and finding these little hidden gems that existed in reality, but few readers of RLS would know about unless they were faithful to the notes of the editor, and more so, took the time to find and read his original journal. All of these things came together, almost preternaturally (I say with a grin), to form an entirely new, adventurous story.

It was tremendous fun to write. And now, please, pick a number…

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