A Book that Begs to be Finished

I printed out my work in pause (not quite a work in progress yet, but I’m getting there). It’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, I don’t remember all the specifics of what I wrote and I need to know what I have and where I need to go from here.

It’s a book worth finishing, if only to see what I end up doing with it. Here is where I left the book more than four years ago:

A shriek like that of a jungle beast in pain woke Chip. He rolled over onto his back, too tired to wonder who or what could be making such a racket. Dry leaves scratched his bare skin. What happened to his shirt? He patted the ground beside him thinking that perhaps the buttons had somehow come undone during the night, but he didn’t feel any fabric.

Moclockre shrieks and shouts. This time the screeches sounded decidedly human.

He squinted at the sun. It seemed to be lower on the eastern horizon than when he lay down for a nap after his breakfast. Could the sun be moving backward? He closed his eyes. More probably, he’d slept round the clock. But clocks didn’t exist any more. Letting out a soft groan, he wondered how long such outdated expressions would linger.

A breeze ruffled the hair on his thighs. He raised his head and stared at his legs. When he fell asleep yesterday—was it yesterday? It could just as easily have been a week ago—he’d been fully dressed.

He caught a glimpse of hot pink and lime green between his thighs. He jerked upright.

Poor Chip, having to spend four years in such a state. It’s time I moved him beyond this horror and into even more horror. Or humor.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

No Wisdom, Just Words

I’ve been sticking to my self-imposed writing schedule this month, doing a blog a day (sorry to all my subscribers who have been getting an email each day announcing a new post. I promise I’ll go back to my more sporadic posting next month). I’m also racking up the word count on my novel for NaNoWriMo.

I normally don’t obsess over word counts. The way I figure, I either write or I don’t, the scenes are either workable or they’re not. But this month, it’s about the word count. I hoped that by writing so quickly I couldn’t stop to think, I’d stir up my depths, and words of wisdom would automatically appear on the page. Nope. No wisdom yet. Just words.

I did have an odd experience this morning, though. I sat down to write a scene for my grieving woman book, and ended up writing a scene for my poor old work-in-pause, an apocalyptic allegory.

Makes sense, I guess. That novel has been rattling around in my head for years. I started writing it months before I started this blog. Since then, I’ve dealt with three deaths (none of them mine), learned how to use a computer, learned how to navigate the internet, made dozens of online friends, started a dozen blogs (most of which are now clogs — abandoned blogs clogging cyber space), participated in hundreds of writing discussions, gotten three books published, edited those three books plus a fourth (which will be published in the spring), spent hundreds of hours trying to promote those books without actually promoting them (the only thing more annoying that a full email inbox is an inbox full of annoying emails), and  . . . well, you get the point. I’ve been doing everything imaginable except working on my WIP. So today — ta da! A couple of scenes for that book appeared instead of the one I planned to write for my grieving woman book.

I always liked the idea of working on whatever book stood out most in my mind when it time to write each day, but I never tried it before. It might help put the fun back in writing, and who knows what I’ll end up with!

The Next Big Step

Yesterday when I was out walking, I finally got a sense of where my WIP needed to go. I wasn’t thinking about the story, but apparently it was thinking about me, and after all this time, there it was, the next big step. Grief. (Wonder where that idea came from!)

I always knew my hero was grieving the loss of the civilized world and everything in it, but I was concerned with his following the stages of grief — denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It dawned on me yesterday that he had never actually felt the sorrow and devastation that accompanies grief. So my vision was of his crying. It goes to show that I cannot write what I do not know. Even though J. had been sick for so long, and I had gone through most of the stages of grief, like my hero, I had never actually gone through the emotion of grief. Could never even have imagined the feeling of amputation that accompanies such a life-changing loss. 

I’m not sure where the discussion is in this.  Perhaps: do you have to have experienced the emotions your characters go through to find the truth of the story? Perhaps: what’s the next big step you need to take in your writing, your life? Mine is a move — perhaps temporary — but a  total upheaval. The big challenge will be to find the energy. One of the problems with grief is the accompanying lack of energy. (Which I need to remember when I write my hero’s grief.)

On a more specific topic, the main impetus for my hero leaving the safety of the compound is his participation in a birth. (This story is a reversal of the hero’s journey — in the traditional journey, the hero dies, at least symbolically, and is reborn. In my story he is reborn first, then the person he used to be dies symbolically.) A nurse, his eventual love interest, actually delivers the child, but my hero must participate in some way. What could he do that would be significant enough to be a catalyst? Keep in mind, this is a totally primitive world. Is cutting the cord (with a flint that he found and has been sharpening) enough? Could there be a problem with the birth that he helps with? He owned a pet shop in the old world, selling used pets, but he probably has been around for the birth of puppies and kittens and perhaps even livestock, so he might have some knowledge. Whatever he does, it has to precipitate his next big step.

I Need a…Gulp…Outline

I’ve been rereading my work-in-progress, trying to get back into the mindset of the story so I can work on it. Usually by the time I’ve written 37,000 words, my characters help develop the story. No, my characters never take over — they always do what I make them do. It’s more that I know who they are, what they want, and who’s going to stop them from getting what they want. Unfortunately, during the first part of my WIP, my hero mostly contended with the ever-changing world, and the people he met were simply passing through his life. So now I have to create a whole cast of characters.

I’m thinking of having a contest — let people suggest characters, and if I use it, they get an acknowledgement in the book along with a copy of the printed book when it’s published next year. Seems a bit of a cheat, but it could be fun.

But I digress. One of the characters I have to create is a group. Sounds odd, but groups have a culture, a dynamic of their own, a character that is different from the sum of the individual members. Groups also develop, just like characters do, and there are several distinct stages:

1. Coming together and finding the individual roles
2. Defining the task.
3. Feeling unrest — disenchantment with the group and each other
4. Cohesion — beginning to feel like a team
5. Interdependence — work as a team, believe in the subculture they have created.

In addition to creating a whole new cast of characters and developing them into a group, I need to figure out how to get my hero to give up the relative security he recently embraced and go back out into the dangerous world and dubious freedom.

When the novel is finished, much of this scaffolding will be invisible to the reader, but I need to be able to see at a glance how all the parts fit together so I can show what’s happening rather than telling it. It sounds to me like a need a . . . gulp . . . outline. I’ve never outlined a novel before. Should be interesting.

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My Novel Writing Month

Chip, the hero in my WIP (work-in-pause), has been running from a volcano for several months now while I spend my words writing articles and commenting on other people’s articles. Poor Chip is getting pooped. (Does anyone use pooped any more to mean tired? Or am I dating myself?)

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month); aspiring writers from all over the world pledge to write a 50,000-word novel or add 50,000 words to an existing work during those thirty days. (Had to say that silly little grade school rhyme — thirty days has September, etc., to get the number of days correct.) I planned on doing NaNoWriMo this year to get me focused on my novel again, but then I realized if I wait another month to start, I would find other ways to procrastinate, such as promoting my books. (Shh. I haven’t told my family yet, but two of my novels — More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire — are going to be published in November.)

So, I am declaring October MyNoWriMo (My Novel Writing Month). I’ve never been able to write 1,000 words in a day let alone the 1,670 words I’ll need to achieve my goal, but apparently the point is to let the words flow without censoring oneself, and that is what I want to learn how to do. I’m one who edits as I go, and that does tend to cut the output.

I decided to get a head start last night (I already know that I won’t be writing on Thursday because that’s when I have my live writing discussion at No Whine, Just Champagne on Gather and I wanted to make up for it), but I fell asleep. Makes me wonder how I ever managed to write and rewrite and edit and re-edit four novels!

Let’s hope my falling asleep isn’t a sign of things to come.

I’ll let you know what happens.

(Could I have used more parentheses?)

I Do Not Have Writer’s Block

My hero is running from a volcano and has been running from the dang thing for at least three months. I can hear him panting from exhaustion, but I sit at the computer and spend my words writing articles, leaving comments, sending emails. I have no words left to get him out of his predicament.

In the end, that’s why I write. Not for the fulfullment, not because of a compusion, but because the words gang up on me, using all available brain space. The only way to free myself is to let the words out. But the words I’m letting out now have to do with the mechanics of writing, and so my poor hero runs. And runs.

I thought for sure by getting guest bloggers to do my work for me that the words would begin to weigh heavy on my mind, but I wasted those words on other websites. And I used to be such a thrifty sort. 

I did come up with another idea for getting me back on track with my WIP: start another blog, one just to let my hero run free. Maybe I’ll post my research, notes on character, anything that pertains to the WIP. It seems like such a great idea, but here I am, planning to waste more words while not writing my novel.

But it could work. Especially if I can put one of those widgets on the site that shows how much of the book I’ve finished. Could shame me out of my not writer’s block.