Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking Shape

So what did I do with myself yesterday, having given myself permission to lay off the regular feature updates for a while? Interestingly enough, I did a little work on my book idea.

There's an interesting tension between forced productivity and paralysis. When I was working at the Daily Oklahoman in the 80's, I wrote three or four screenplays and pieces of a couple of novels. The discipline of having to write at work on demand gave me the ability to do so on my off hours as well. In the years after I left the paper, though, I pretty much stopped writing for several years.

I picked back up in 1992, challenging myself to write every day, which resulted in a screenplay. Then I enlisted and didn't write as much, though I did write one incomplete novel during the next five years. Leaving the service with a book idea and a year's worth of research done during my second tour in Korea, I wrote my first finished novel, but didn't write anything else during a five-year period.

When I was unemployed last year, I took to the regular features on my blog as a way to keep myself disciplined, and eventually made myself write a novel as well, while still maintaining those regular features.

But since I've started working again, I find that all my free time has been taken up with thoughts of the regular features whenever I sit down to work. I keep telling myself I'll work on the book, but I've got to get the weekly features out of the way first, and I've had less and less mental energy to do both.

So now I'm turning my energy toward the novel instead of scanning comics and doing screencaps of movies. Which is not to say I've done a whole lot of actual work. Most of what I'm doing right now is technically called "stalling," which is to say I'm turning ideas over in my head again and again, trying to find the approach I want to take. Romancing the stone, so to speak.

I spoke before about "negatives," giving myself a list of things I didn't want to do. The problem with negatives is that, if you don't have a bigger and stronger list of positives--things you want to write about, qualities you want the finished product to have--then basically what you've done is talk yourself out of writing anything. Which is where I was until yesterday.

So I asked myself in the simplest terms, what do I want the finished product to look like? What book do I want to write?

And the answer I got was, "Johnny Dollar meets Godzilla/Cthulhu, in the style of 'Big Trouble in Little China.'" Which means what? More or less, action-comedy with trappings of mystery and supernatural horror in a period setting. I paced around for a while today and sketched up an idea map for the story. Not a plot outline, per se, but just an idea of all the factions at play and the overall scheme.

Now I need specifics, especially characters. Characters have always been a weak spot for me, but Death Wave showed just how much good character work can pay off in the writing. I had a really firm grasp on my main characters for that one, and they surprised me a couple of times.

So my next steps: develop my main characters, and take the plot from vague overall notion to a list of specific events and scenes.

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