Location (AKA also a character)

As a writer, I’ve struggled a lot with the question of location. There’s a lot of the world and this country that I’ve never seen (tragically, because I *love* traveling). In the past I’ve not been much of a researcher; initially because I was writing fast and hard for NaNo and rarely went back to the books for edits. But I did place characters in cities and states that served an important purpose for the characters and stories I was building.   

I do believe that location is incredibly important to the integrity of the story being told. For me, location is almost like a third character, silent but formative. It frames your story, it supports it in the background. It breathes atmosphere and often is a part of character growth and development. 

The first story I ever really researched for a location I’d never visited had scenes in London and Paris; I could not be *less* familiar with either location. But for both these locations in both were vital to the story. 

One of the loveliest things about participating in fan culture (which is where my writing really took off and picked up speed) is that it is a *gift* culture. Which means that when you need help, have questions, or a boost, there will generally be someone there to help you out. Having had a positive experience with help from other writers re: the story that took place in Europe, I decided to send out a call for help for locations in my current novel. I got so much amazing help, and for each person who offered advice, thank you, And also, sorry because big changes had to be made that kind of cut out sections that you all helped me with (eeep).

When I began this story, I’d never been to Chicago (a fact that seems to boggle everyone’s mind, as everyone here has been there at least once. It’s only 4 hours away and there’s train and bus routes). So why Chicago then? Why not pick a location I am intimately acquainted with? (For those wondering, that knowledge would be limited to Florida, Michigan, and Ohio). 

I needed one of my characters, Wren, live in a city that was supportive of the *thing* that makes him special (we’ll reveal that in the future when we’re closer to publication) (isn’t it awesome how I’ve somehow become a magical we?) (I love parentheticals. Just submit to the insanity). Detroit? Not a city that would work in any way for this need. Other Michigan cities that support larger populations? Not necessarily what I needed either because they’re in no way what I would consider cosmopolitan (sorry!). Plus, Michigan is just too conservative for my needs. I didn’t want a huge city, such as New York, or an expected city such as San Fransisco. Chicago seemed like it might be a good fit, and in a fit of insanity, I figured I could probably travel there for some on site research. Research is fantastic, but I really would have liked to soak in the atmosphere. 

Remind me to tell you about my disastrous attempt to visit the city this past June. 

Anyway, Chicago it was. It was a good fit for Wren, but also, a very important place for my other character, Cam. 

Enter another location that I know *nothing* about: Nebraska. I’ll give that revelation a little time to simmer as you ponder just why I chose that state as Cam’s home state.

I needed Chicago to be a revelation, and I needed Nebraska to be a foil, and I needed them to support a character in the process of discovery on multiple levels. I’ll admit that I only managed to glimpse Chicago at a distance while trapped for over an hour in the worst traffic jam of my existence; this obviously really changed my plans and the way that I placed my characters and their interactions in the city — as I wrote the book, the city became very much a background character (with totally made up places). At this point, it’s more the *idea* of each location that became important. But still, I stand by my assertion that location is a vital piece of my storytelling puzzle (here and in other books I’ve written. Or sort of written. Half written?) 

Of course, I am regret and anxiety filled, so now that the manuscript is in I worry that I haven’t done enough or filled things in enough. I guess time will tell. For my writer followers, how important is location in your stories, and how do you use location? For my readers, what are your thoughts? Do you find that location is important in shaping a story or does it depend? 

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Harnessing a Tornado

Last Saturday, I joyfully went to my local Kinkos (which wasn’t actually that local) and had them print out my first draft, all the while hoping they wouldn’t stop to read it and find some serious smut. Still, a few minutes after they got my file, I was holding 170 pages of fresh printed, warm papered story. 

Of course, I didn’t think ahead to things like a binder or a three hole punch. This means I am very carefully splitting the story into two as I go through it, and praying that my three year old will not get into them (which is a high hope, because my three year old is an adorable tornado of destruction).

I’ve improvised a crazy system involving sticky notes, colored index cards, regular index cards, and multiple kinds of pens. I’m reasonably sure there is probably a more streamlined way of doing this, but it probably wouldn’t be *me*. 

I’m a little tornado myself. In many ways, a lovely, chaotic, story telling tornado. With a destroyed house I am ignoring in favor of writing this book. Oh well. Sacrifices must be made, right? 

I referred in an earlier post to my character and plot development system and said I’d be talking about it in the future, and so I thought I’d begin here. 

I wrote my first novel participating in NaNo in 2007. I had no story idea. It was November 5th I believe, so I was already behind. I was working a soul sucking, mind numbing job with truly mean people. Except for one girl, who like me, dreaded each day of work. Unlike myself, she *had* a story idea that she’d always wanted to write, but never thought she could because she wasn’t a huge reader. 

I sent her a link to the NaNo website and encouraged her to be my writing buddy. As a nice side effect, it distracted us for a bit from the horror of our jobs. 

I went into NaNo with no plan, with no idea how to write a book, how to structure it, how to develop characters. So I just made things up. I started with a moment and thought to myself, “What happens after this?” I allowed the story and characters to fall into place like dominoes. After a while, my characters started doing things I didn’t expect, and some that I’d created for background moments started to step forward to carry parts of the plot. I told myself that this is what happens when you write at a breakneck speed. Next time I write a book, I told myself, I’ll plan it out, I’ll know the characters completely, I’ll work to flesh out a completely developed plot. 

Oh god, if only I could. 

The truth is that I am a chaotic writer. I write like a flash flood, fast and hard and messy as hell. I write *through* a story, and in doing, am slowly learning to accept that I have to let the characters talk to me. That I have to allow myself to let go of plans and to trust my intuition, because, as it turns out, I am a highly intuitive writer.  Although It is often hard to trust that I’m going to get *there*, that amorphous ending point (which, after writing that first mess of a novel, I started to do — that is have an idea of how it ends, at least), it’s just how I write. And I must be doing something right: I hope that that little Interlude Press logo confirms that, if only to myself. 

For the moment’ I’ll have to leave you with that. Stay tuned for more conversation regarding character development, small hints of what is happening and who they are and how I am attempting to harness the tornado of this whole experience. I must be off though, because my kids have decided to open my storage totes to make caves for themselves. I should create a superhero persona for myself: Mommy Writer, with the power to write romance and smut, but also corral active little boys who are stuck indoors due to rain. 

I am off to find a cape then. While I do so, I’ll encourage you all to attend Interlude’s 24 Launch Party. I’ll be speaking about writing original fiction with other 2015 authors. There will be sweet giveaways. And if you want, you can register here for chances to win a free copy of my ebook when it is published! 

 

Tiny Celebration Time!

So there’s been an awful lot of silence here for a bit, for which I apologize. I’d love to set a goal to blog at least once a week as I start to gather steam. Right now, I must confess, all the steam I’ve managed to gather has been focused on finishing the first draft of my manuscript. 

I can proudly announce that my first draft is finished, and that I am now ready to move into the first editing phase of this process. My goal was to finish by July first and give myself well over a buffer of a month before my manuscript is due. 

As most of you have probably experienced in your life, however, life interfered — my youngest child was very sick, I had a family vacation during which I became really sick. Once I was home, I got even *more* sick and was down for the count for days. 

Once I managed to get out of bed and see straight, I booted up the old hunk of a machine I call my laptop (I generally blog and have fun on my Chromebook), and got to work. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really developed my writing process through my involvement with NaNo. Here I learned to pound out 50k words in 30 days or less (my proudest and perhaps most painful accomplishment being writing that 50k in ten days when my oldest was 2 years old). 

I write fast and dirty, often with parenthetical notes that read something like: Cam said, (insert something witty here with a word that starts with a C that I can’t remember) or (use that word I like and can’t remember here). I generally write chronologically for reasons involving plot and character development I’ll be blogging about in the future. Writing this way often means I skip scenes I am not ready for at the time. I don’t go back to change spelling or grammatical errors at all because I drive forward so fast. 

All of which adds up to *Hot Mess* for a first draft. As I gird my loins in anticipation of diving in to this editing process (70k of *Hot Mess* feels terribly daunting), I ask for your positive juju vibes to help me along. I have a long family vacation the week before my manuscript is due (it is actually due the day I come home), so I’m going to hit the ground running as soon as the dust settles from an epic fandom journey I took this past weekend. 

I do hope to blog in this time, because I’d love to share my process and bits of how I developed these two boys I came to love so much. 

For now though, for those of you inclined to celebrate (it’s Wine O’Clock somewhere in the world), I hope you join me in raising a glass to myself in accomplishing something affirming, something I am so proud of: the completion of the first draft of the first published novel I’ve written.

Huzza!