Thursday, May 9, 2019

Howie Balaban: Looking for the Write Stuff Vol. 4

Here's a saying that many of us have either heard or used at one time or another:

"The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."

Given that the last time I updated you on my writing progress was a month ago, I suppose you could say it fits me right now.

The entire month of April flew by faster than I could have imagined. While I did begin writing my novel in earnest, I also wound up pausing for about three weeks near the end of the first fully written chapter because nothing seemed to flow. There was no good way to end it until just a few days ago.

Furthermore, as I was writing the chapter I realized that there were some supporting details I had not yet considered. Specifically, the where and the what. The who and the how are, I believe, understandable. However, any good book paints a picture of a setting. I can tell right now that I'll have to go back and add some detail about where characters are and better describe what they are wearing.

At the same time, I don't want to fall into the trap of bogging down my story with details that truly do not add to the narrative. Imagine reading a spy thriller, greatly anticipating every one of the next exciting actions, only to wind up with a chapter in which the main protagonist is waxing poetic about a famous painting or a large building. As a reader, you'd probably wonder, "What does this have to do with the story?" For some readers, who choose to dive deeply into everything, there may indeed be a "deeper meaning" to a slowing down of sorts. For others, that altered pace could lead to them skipping ahead to where the action picks up or even putting the book down for good.

It's a fine line a writer must walk so as not to stray too far into the supporting details that he or she winds up writing unimportant fluff. Consider what some of the most popular books are both today and historically, and you begin to see my point. A story like "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" endures because almost every chapter features Tom getting into some sort of situation that moves the story forward and Tom is a memorable character. A contemporary success like "Dark Matter" keeps its reader turning page after page because the action doesn't stop, or another story like "The Feed" features such an unexpected twist that the reader's mind is blown and he or she keeps reading because every expectation has been subverted. (See my review of Dark Matter here, and The Feed here. Dark Matter at one time was slated to be a movie. The Feed is supposedly going to be a TV series. Both have potential to be wonderful based off their source material.)

The point here is that character development and plot development sometimes must remain separate and sometimes they go hand-in-hand. So far, one of the characters in my story has easily been portrayed as an honest young man caught up in a dishonest scheme. Since I plan on ultimately making this character a key supporting one in the story, it is important to show how and why he does what he does later on by giving him a decent background early.

I ran into a stumbling block with this character, who is essentially the main cog in the prelude to the main plot, when I tried to do too much. After I simplified the plot just a bit, I figured out a way to introduce another key figure. This figure will wind up being replaced several times in the story, but what he and his successors represent is what is vital to the story. (Well, at least so far. Once I get to the point where I introduce what this handful of characters represents, that could be altered slightly.)
So that's where I am.

The order may change to make the story more aesthetically pleasing to the literary mind, but I am solidly in my second chapter of writing and with Dad's Taxi Service nearing the end of its run for this school year, theoretically I'll have more time in the afternoons and evenings to devote to this passion project. I've been burned in the past when I've written about timeline goals in this space, so let's just say this: I missed my first one, but after playing catch-up a bit, I think it is entirely possible to meet my second one and get to my third one early.

Time will tell, obviously. It's not as if being home more often means there's nothing to do. There's always something to do. Working through a messy room, mowing the lawn, painting/staining something. All of these things need to get done.

But I'll be home to do them, which means I can always spend a break working on this. And now that I've passed one obstacle, I look forward to moving passed several more as this story finds its footing.
What I'm reading this week: Going to finish The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox. (I'd set it aside for a while.).  Simultaneously, I'm listening to A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. This will likely lead to an argument between Craig and I: does listening to an audiobook count as "reading" the book?

What I'm reading next: The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Howie Balaban blames Spring Break, Game of Thrones, several season finales of some good TV shows, and the New York Yankees' West Coast trip for his falling behind. Really, though, he has no one to blame but himself. He is fully aware of this fact.