Valley of Ashes, a Scene to Behold – Day 201

The demolition of Shea Stadium, making the site look very much like the Valley of Ashes once again. Photo from the Bridge and Tunnel Club -- click on the image to see their website.

As I mentioned yesterday, things are not going well on the writing front. This whole week actually, in both the novel and the day job, I have been a little sluggish creatively. Perhaps it is just a blip — I hope things will get back on track shortly (I haven’t gone this many days in a dry spell in a long time though…!)

In any case, today I spent the morning exploring different ideas and approaches I can take in the novel to get things moving again. I listened to an interview between Joanna Penn and Larry Brooks about his new book I mentioned before, Story Engineering. In one spot, they talk about each scene being a microcosm of the book. Each scene needs to have a goal, something that moves the plot around. Although I am very conscious of my scenes, I’m not sure I am putting enough effort to make each scene a story unto itself…

Then I found this interesting post on the Valley of the Ashes in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald describes it in detail in one scene, and Levi Asher found an aerial photo of the area taken in 1924 — about the time Fitzgerald would have been finishing Gatsby — that shows landmarks described in the book. I didn’t know it really existed! Not in so much detail, at least. Another fun fact: Shea Stadium was built on the site years later. Kind of cool to see the reality behind the story. Inspiring too.

After all this well refilling, for the rest of the morning I wrote about my book. What I was trying to achieve. What the themes are, who the characters are. What the story is. Most importantly, how I want to tell the story. This is where I’m having the most trouble, I think. I’ve mentioned before, I might be overthinking the whole thing. I’m starting to strangle myself creatively, second-guessing every word I’m writing down. On the other hand though, I know that I’m missing the mark in many places — or at the very least, not making the writing as good as it can be. This isn’t self-doubt — I know what that feels like. This is an honest appraisal of the writing. I need to jack it up a bit, make it more interesting for the reader, and find ways to make it connect on more levels.

Here’s what I wrote near the end of my babblings:

Next step: identify what each scene needs to accomplish, then write that scene with intent to that goal. Inject conflict, questions, and misdirections clothed in sarcasm and wit in every sentence.

In every sentence. That’s a tall order, but I’m going to try writing passages that, if not quite as decadent and depraved as Hunter S. Thompson’s (really, I don’t want to go that far), then at least half-way there.

(Ooh, another fun fact I learned today: part of how Thompson learned how to write was to type out the books he loved… including The Great Gatsby. The idea I guess was to get a sense of the pacing and language as he typed. Interesting…)

Hope to have some time to delve into this writing again tomorrow. Will get back to you soon, in any case.

~Graham

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6 Responses to Valley of Ashes, a Scene to Behold – Day 201

  1. Tami says:

    Sorry to hear you’re having a dry spell – sometimes a short break to recharge the batteries is all we need.

    I’m the kind of writer that does better just writing (even when I KNOW I’m not doing the writing justice) and then fixing it during the first edit pass. In a way, I’m writing it twice sometimes (since I will not hesitate to just burn a whole section of prose and rewrite if it’s bad enough) but sometimes it’s easier for me to focus on writing or editing one at a time instead of both at once. I get to feeling overwhelmed when I try to do both.

    Do you find that you do best when you’re doing both at once?

    (Also, I think this is the first time I’ve noticed your alphabet soup background. *laughs* Love it!)
    Tami’s most recent blog post: Internal Critic Containment Tool

  2. Graham Strong says:

    Hi Tami,

    It’s the strangest thing — I don’t usually get “writer’s block” per se, but on occasion I do hit little spurts when everything I write is awkward and not flowing well (does this sentence prove my point…? lol) It lasts a few hours or sometimes a day, but this time it’s a little longer…. For stuff like my novel, yes, for sure I always say to push through it. You always get something out of it, even it the writing needs to be cleaned up later.

    The problem for me right now though is that I need to nail the voice here before I can go onward. It’s been an ongoing process, that’s for sure, getting that voice. I feel though that I’m on the verge of a breakthrough, if I could get things to flow again!

    I think I need to be a little looser, maybe have some fun with it. The good news is that this morning’s day job work seems to be going a lot more smoothly, so perhaps I’m out of the woods…

    Glad you like the background — I didn’t want to make it too overwhelming, just enough to give it some texture. (And enjoyment to the few people like us who take the time to really look at it…!)

    Thanks for the encouragement — it always helps!

    ~Graham

  3. Tami says:

    AH, I think I missed that nuance the first time round (attributed to my own skimmy-reader nature, not the writer, I am certain).

    Getting the VOICE nailed down.

    Heckfire, I still don’t know how to do that. Some voices come to me right away, and others take ages.

    On my webserial, I’ve got two good guys I’ve nailed, far too many bad guys, and then no less than THREE good guys I’m still waffling a little on. *headdesk* Thankfully, I have very forgiving readers. =]
    Tami’s most recent blog post: Internal Critic Containment Tool

    • Graham Strong says:

      The bad guys are always more interesting to writer, aren’t they?

      In this case, I’m talking more about the narrator’s voice (though I am trying to be conscious of the main characters’ voices not blending together either…) I’m hoping that a nice strong grip on the rudder will smooth over any other imperfections in the story of this first-time novelist…! It’s the area of the narrative I’m spending the most time on to get it just right.

      ~Graham

  4. Joanna Penn says:

    Hi Graham,
    I’m glad you found the interview with Larry interesting. I really did find that writing by scenes completely changed my novel structure and made it hang together properly. It was just a lot of waffle before I rejigged it all. Now I’m writing based on that structure. It also helps with word count e.g. you write around 2000-3000 words per scene and you’re writing a 90,000 word novel, then you need around 40 scenes. If you outline those 40, even in a few sentences each, it can help to propel the writing parts faster. I currently have 28 scenes outlined for my next novel which is enough for me to put some words on the page. I then do batches of writing per scene and focus on the writing – then I will restructure again after first draft.
    I think this makes the process much easier because I know the direction I’m heading in when I sit down to write – and then I can invent within that framework.
    Thanks, Joanna
    Joanna Penn’s most recent blog post: Writer’s Block Take Note

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hi Joanna,

      Yes, I’m finding that writing from a scene-centric viewpoint is helping me keep on track in terms of word count. (That and just upping my target word count, lol.)

      I’ve been shooting for about 60 scenes at 1,500 words each (average) — originally my target was 100,000 words. However almost *all* my scenes are long so far, so I’m going to have to chop something somewhere. Right now though I’m focused on creating a strong second draft — I’ll leave in all the “borderline” stuff for now and rework (chop with extreme prejudice) in the third draft when I have a better sense of the structure.

      In a way, I envy the way you can outline. I tried doing that — it is sooooo painful for me (I’ve talked about this in earlier posts). I understand the need for it, and I’m certainly not “against” outlining. But I can’t do it, for whatever reason. So now I’m outlining as I go — a “pantser” technique as Larry Brooks would call it, I know. Although I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily, I think ultimately it will work for me.

      Thanks for stopping by Joanna! And good luck with your WIP!

      ~Graham

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