Writing Problems: Goody!

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

Volume II in my Rumpolina of the Bailey series is coming out awfully slowly. It feels like, my God, do I have to do everything? Place, people, plot, weather, food, law. But I am having fun using my real life enemies as minor villains in the story. It’s a harmless, private revenge—invisible and satisfying.

Anyway, writing problems:

Names. Jill and Josh. Too chime-y, like Mother Goose. One of them has to change. But the names have come to seem real to me, so that a change would jar my sense of who they are.

Do you dial a cell phone? Or is dialing just for old rotary style phones? And if you don’t dial, how do you call someone on cell? Do you punch in the number? Tap it in? Poke it? Maybe you just call.

I have one made-up character that I’m very pleased with, and it probably shows, and not in a good way. Anyway, I keep re-describing the character to make sure she’s still there. With the characters that are based on real people (me and my lawyer pals), I just have us talking and doing stuff, no description necessary, we’re already there. I’m not sure which way is right, but they can’t both be right.

In a series book, how do you take care of the reader who hasn’t read the previous books (or book) and also the reader who has? Patrick O’Brian is so good at this. Toward the beginning of each book he finds a way to reintroduce the characters and give a bit of the plot that’s come before. Those passages have to be there for new readers, but they also have a special satisfaction for the long-time fan. You see a familiar world and old friends with fresh eyes.

Writing takes a lot longer than reading, so I spend two or three days writing a page, and it feels like it’s going on forever and must be so boring, but it’s not really going on forever, I’m just taking forever to write it. A few days later, I read that poor labored-over page, and it feels rushed, anxious to please, full of jokes, afraid of slowing down (because that might be boring).

And speaking of pacing—shouldn’t chapters be roughly the same length? I picked up Persuasion to check how long the chapters were and ended up reading it. And the economy, the speed with which she gets through the story, is unbelievable. And never rushed.

Also, does a chapter have a subject? Or does it just have to get through a recognizable chunk of plot? If I had to name a subject for the four pretty shaky chapters I’ve written so far, it would go like this: Chapter One: Hopes and Delusions (Getting Older); Chapter Two: Food and Loneliness; Chapter Three: Courage—Someone In Trouble; Chapter Four: Duty and its Consolations.

Now I have to go write Chapter Five: No Fucking Clue.