Friday, March 13, 2009

Rainy Days and Fridays

Greetings to any zombies who followed Amanda yesterday and stuck around. I feel so loved having all those comments.

In spite of getting nothing accomplished work-wise yesterday, I had a pretty good day. My hair appointment took a rather long time, but it was time spent mostly reading while watching most of a Bollywood musical (I had to let the color set). But even better than the physical boost was the fact that the stylist thought that I was way too young to have started showing gray hairs. I pointed out that it wasn't exactly uncommon to start showing gray at 40, and it turned out she thought I was in my 20s. After that, she made every customer who came in guess my age, and the highest guess was 29. That gave me a nice little boost. And then I had a great ballet class. I just felt on (in spite of the fact that I didn't realize until it was time to leave and I was running late that I'd forgotten to put in my contact lenses, which meant I wore my glasses to drive, but they tend to fall off when I dance, so I was squinting my way through a slightly blurry class). It helped that we had fun music. There were ballet class piano arrangements of some Tori Amos songs (the teacher wouldn't let me sing along with "Leather" even though the 14 year old wasn't there) and then we did a nice adagio to music from Jurassic Park. I loved the irony of dancing ballet to music about dinosaurs, but that's the genius of John Williams, that he writes film music that's utterly perfect for the context but that also works just as nice music out of context.

And now today looks like it could be perfect. It's cold, gray and rainy, and I don't have to go anywhere. I'm wearing my pink, fuzzy work pajama pants (I have clothes that are meant to be pajamas that I don't sleep in and that I designate as "work" clothes, so that I can enjoy working in pajamas without the psychological sense of actually being in my pajamas) and I have my little firefly lights on in my office. I'm looking forward to spending the afternoon hunkering under the electric blanket and writing.

My valuable writing lesson of the week came from the book I've been re-reading. It's a book I read more than ten years ago and loved then, but this week I've been able to pick it up and put it down without really getting into it. It's very well written and the characters are great. But what keeps it from being a book I couldn't put down is the fact that there's no real driving goal. The main character sort of has an objective, but it's rather vague and there's no real sense of urgency about it, no indication that it will be really, really bad if the main character doesn't get what she's after (in fact, ultimately she decides she didn't really want that, after all). The characters just have a lot of adventures and narrow escapes until they get to the point where the objective might actually start to matter. It seems like the books you can't put down are those where the main character must do something, and there will be consequences if he can't do it. He must do X or else Y will happen -- He needs to destroy the Death Star or else the Death Star will be used to blow up more planets. Even better is if there's a specific timeline involved. He must do X before Y happens -- He must destroy the Death Star before the Death Star blows up the planet where the rebel base is.

People may keep reading if they really like the characters enough to care about them and see what happens next. But they really keep reading if the question in mind is "will he be able to do that in time and stop that other thing from happening?" rather than merely "what happens next?"

I've heard editors and agents refer to books that are a string of not-really-connected adventures as "episodic." So if you've been getting rejection letters calling your book "episodic," take a look at whether there's a strong story goal and whether the adventures along the way are steps toward that goal.

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