One-on-One Conference Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night is the second-to-last meeting of my novel-writing workshop. It seems like it's flown by, probably in part because I had to miss two of the ten class meetings (grr, grr). It's been an interesting class, to say the least, between the flurry of ugly e-mails, a failed attempt at a coup, a bunch of hurt feelings, two complete (and messy) restructurings of the class, and the loss of a classmate due to legal troubles (not the legal troubles I wrote about in a previous post--I know, life gets more exciting every day).

But it's still been a good class. I've managed to stay out of the fray (as is typical, since I tend to prefer cluelessness to discord, at least in social situations). I've been able to give a lot of constructive feedback to the other writers in the class, and I've received some good feedback as well. I've drafted about 45 pages (just over three chapters) of my novel, GM. As a class, we've had the chance to pick the brain of an award-winning novelist. I'm glad I took this class, and if it's offered again next semester, I'm going to sign up for it.

Tomorrow night is my one-on-one with Charles, the award-winning novelist and unassuming ringleader of this workshop. Basically, he'll give me some of his observations of my writing, and suggestions and such, and I'll present him with some questions and issues that have come up in the course of writing GM. Here are some of the issues I'm dealing with now:

1. What do I do with these out-of-the-blue characters that keep manifesting themselves? A character will start out as a minor character--a comic character, meant to lighten the rather weighty subject I'm writing about--and the comic minor character ends up having a complex past. And I feel like I'm cheating the character by not presenting him or her as "whole." Because I keep thinking to myself, "There are no minor characters in real life. There are no stock characters. Even my minor characters need to have depth." Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but it becomes a problem when I want to get the story moving.

2. What more can I do to get over this "Protestant-work-ethic" syndrome? I want to devote three hours a day to writing, but that time tends to get eaten away by laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc.

3. Am I being too Type-A with the outlining? Charles has told us that he doesn't outline, can't do it, has no desire to do it. I, on the other hand, am an outliner. I've never been a slave to the outline, but I do need to make some sort of "map" of where I'm going, even though that map is always subject to change. When I wrote my novel "Gypsy's Caravan" in college, I had a detailed seven-page outline. When I wrote my sappy teen romance "Forever One" in eighth grade, I had an entire notebook for outlining, notes, character sketches, etc. When working on those outlines, I would think, "I may not be a natural at sports (like my sis) or socializing (like my bro), but I am a natural at outlining novels. For what that's worth (if anything!)."

So today, before I worked on Chapter 4, I spent about 45 minutes on a belated, updated, and very rough outline of the first eight or so chapters. What started out as a messy cluster diagram in a notebook turned into a somewhat detailed Excel spreadsheet. I have one major plot and two primary subplots that feed into it. One of the subplots includes flashbacks, which makes for kind of a sub-subplot that will (hopefully) tie in neatly to the major plot in an unexpected way. Sounds a little complicated, but I'm looking at taking 300 pages to work it all out.

4. Do I have too many characters? I think I may have too many characters. Or, too many characters with too much history. How do you whittle down a cast of characters? After all, these characters are now living, breathing people in my imagination. They won't take very well to being whittled, even if I promise them starring roles in future stories.

That's it for now. Of course, I don't necessarily want or expect concrete answers to any of these questions. I'd just like to discuss these issues and see what insight I can gain from the discussion.

Time to go put the clothes in the dryer, then stuff the pork chops and put them in the slow-cooker, then run an errand in W'ville, then go to an appointment, then run. (See what I mean about real life getting in the way of writing? And piano, too, now that I think about it?)

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