Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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A full circle

I’ve been re-writing, re-plotting, and re-drafting, the majority of a novel I wrote eight years ago. Shocking when I think it was that long ago that this project came into my thoughts and I began to write it. It took me one year to write that first draft. It was the first idea that spurred me into being a writer.

My grandmother’s death at the time was the inspiration for the premise. While that hasn’t changed at all, the story line has a lot. As have some characters. And motivations. And arcs. When I returned to this particular work last October, I thought it was an easy fix, and I thought it was basically done. Silly me. But once I’d ripped it apart, I realized I’d gone to far in to turn back or give up on it.

But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to. Especially as I have another novel I put on hold to whip this one into perfection (ya right! lol), and as I have ideas aplenty, I often wondered why I’m trying to fix something so broken when I can just start fresh. Well, the thing is, I think I just want to prove to myself that I can do my very best with it rather than dump it, and another part of me thinks it’s a great novel, one that many people can relate to. It’s a novel about death, or rather about how the living cope with death. And it’s a novel about stories, and how we each have one, and the choices we make as we travel down the road of that story.

I’m never steady in my belief in my own work. Sometimes I think it’s terrific, other moment I think it really sucks. The last few weeks I’d been thinking, okay, I’d better give up on this novel, the premise stinks, there’s too many characters, and it’s not plausible. Normally, I push through these moments, but this time I came very close to throwing in the towel.

And then three weeks ago my family and I buried my paternal grandmother. I was very close with her, all of my childhood, and even much of my adult life was in a shared residence with her. We even shared the same house during the pregnancy and birth of my first two children. The topic of my novel became too close, not something I was able to revisit during her illness and death.

About two weeks ago I sat down to work, and still, I questioned the story. This was a first–normally distance gave perspective, it allowed me to see flaws and solutions, not just garbage as I was seeing this time.

Yesterday, we buried my maternal grandfather. It was a swift death for him, a quick service. In three weeks, my two last living grandparents died, and I saw vast reactions to death. I saw my own different reactions to their deaths. Those around me responded differently. My parents come from different backgrounds, and I witnessed traditions that were quite different in each of the services and funerals. And it made me reflect on my grandmother’s death all those years ago, and how I felt at the time, and the story my mind created to cope with it. And I thought, “here I am again.”

I’ve come full circle, and yet, I’m a different person I was then. A lot has happened in these eight years, a heck of a lot, some wonderful, some terrible, and I’ve been thinking about this novel on and off during these last forty-eight hours since my grandfather’s death. Maybe this too is a coping mechanism, an avoidance technique. But it doesn’t feel like it. Because in thinking about these deaths, I’m thinking about my emotions, and I’m thinking that I really want to finish this novel after all. Right now there’s a sureness in me I haven’t felt since its creation. A sureness that I know the story I have to tell, and that I’ll be able to do it just right. Maybe I just had to live a little more before I was able to figure it.

As a side, this blog has been a little quieter than usual, a little more down than usual. Here’s hoping for a steady gait over the next while. And I hope all is well with all of you.


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The coffee shop chat

Coffee has so many roles. Too many maybe. As I sit outside and drink a nice warm cup in the brisk early autumn morning air.

I was watching sitcoms last night – a horrible pass time but one I can do while walking and rocking a sleepy cranky baby – plus there is almost never anything beneficial on tv. But this post is not a complaint about the tv line-up, it is about coffee in our writing.

In both shows that I watched, the actors spent a lot of time sitting around drinking coffee and chatting, telling jokes that we should laugh at. I wasn’t doing much of that, and it got me thinking – why this background for chatter? How about us, as fiction writers, do we use this background often? And what about the shows that actually make me laugh (namely Modern Family and Big Bang Theory) how much time do they spend drinking coffee on-screen? After all, a good script is the basis for a good sitcom, and writing is writing!

My WIP has tea drinking going on, and one lady from France who adores chocolat chaud, alternatives to coffee. Are these scenes painful info dumps with hot beverages as leverage? I hope not, and I’ve worked hard to ensure my writing does not contain info dumps….but sometimes these things sneak by us…

In my own writing I have noticed that info squeezed in through dialogue is essentially an outline. A note to self about  what I wish to write about, not the actual writing itself. This usually occurs in first draft stage, but as the time has gone on and I’ve been writing for longer I have done this less and less often.

When I have a scene with drinking coffee or eating it  must be for a purpose, not just for a convenient chat. In one scene that I can think of my MC is having a picnic with her maid, as a result of accompanying the household on a harvest. She ends up having a bonding moment with her maid and learns that her maid has been trained as a midwife as well. So, we have food and a chat, but I think it’s a natural progression, with a cause and a result.

Food and beverage is important I believe in fiction. It does a lot: sets period, mood, character identification, etc, but I’m worried now that drinking coffee is going to become like the barking dog in the last post – just a backdrop.

What do you think?

Do you struggle with avoiding info dumps through convenient dialogue?



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now that i have it….

Five, sometimes six different critiques from the members of my group. It’s taken me not one week but two to go back through two submissions from the opening pages of my wip. The most important part of any novel in my opinion. And for me, always the most difficult. Normally the beginning that gets my story going is not the one I think it should be by the time first draft is done. This time however I was quite confident about my opening, until one member of my group suggested re-sequencing! ahhhhh! The problem was that I liked the suggestion, while liking the opening the way it is now!!!! I haven’t moved things around quite yet, I’ll see.

So, I’ve been going through each member’s critique, and I have created a notebook file (something I have never done before!) and have written down each piece of criticism that I agree with. Be it language, paragraphing, word choice, characterization, whatever, you all know the drill. The ones that i am not certain but warrant further contemplation also go into that notebook. Now I have pages of notes, but it’s all in one spot, and what’s been most interesting combining it all in one file is seeing the overlaps. The sentences that jarred 3 or 4 members, the imageries that didn’t work. Once in a while one person will point something out no one else did, see things completely unique to him, and I think wow – what an interpretation!

In the past I implemented the changes after reading the critique from one person, and then moving on to the next. This way works much better for me. It allows for a much stronger interpretation of the feedback. And it gives me time to really make that feedback mine.

I was wondering how you process your feedback that you receive, from any source(s).

The other thing on my mind is this: how often do you re-write your opening? And do you wait until novel is at end stages to re-work it because  you know it can change so much from early to late stages?

Happy writing!

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