Friday, July 1, 2011

Keeping The Flame Alive: Staying Connected to Our Stories Under Trying Circumstances

by Lucy Marsden

I should be exasperated and cranky by this point.

It’s been catch-as-catch-can with my writing over the last two weeks: sickness, work emergencies, childcare juggling, etc., and that usually means a disconnect from my characters and my story that creates huge inertia once I’m finally able to sit down and write again. Teeth-gnashing for days until I re-establish the flow of the scene I’m working on has historically been guaranteed.

But not this time. This time, I’ve been able to finagle enough ongoing connection to my WIP so that even if I’m not actively writing the way I want to be, I’m still IN my story and feel as though I’m moving forward with it. Here, in no particular order, are my sanity savers:

Story Collages
Everything I know about collaging for a WIP I learned from author Jenny Crusie. When I can’t write (for whatever reason), I can still look for images, textures, colors, lyrics, and text that “taste” like the story in my head, and that enhance my experience and understanding of it. Once the collage is made, looking at it brings me back to the world of my book.

Story Soundtracks
Certain songs are for the vibe of particular characters, others are for the feel of certain scenes. Currently, I’m listening to a playlist called “Wizards and Time Lords” featuring a lot of Murray Gold’s work from Doctor Who Season 5. So good, and again, immediately evocative of the feel of my book.

Kick-Ass Movies and TV Shows
Sometimes, even if I’m too frazzled to concentrate on my story, I can switch gears and keep my writing skills primed by looking at how other writers have handled plot, character, pacing, and dialogue. Game of Thrones has been amazing, Doctor Who Season 5 I’ve already alluded to, and I just found the first two seasons of Moonlighting at Target for $9.99 (Score!). Quite the smorgasbord, but it’s keeping me engaged and invigorated about telling stories, and that’s the main thing.

Writing Podcasts
I’ve mentioned them before, but they are so worth mentioning again. The Popcorn Dialogues and Storywonk Daily are my two favorite places to go to listen to passionate, articulate discussions about storytelling. Jenny Crusie, Lucy March, and Alastair Stephens are currently studying episodes of Burn Notice, Life, In Plain Sight, and Leverage over at Pop D as the foundation for discussions about writing community. Lucy and Alastair keep the story-love coming over at the aptly-named Storywonk site, too: world-building, genre conventions, dealing with reader responses to your work, interviews with folks like Anne Stuart and NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty--all this and more is available. I listen in the car during my commute; it’s just one more way to pull Story into my day and stay connected.

So what about you? How do you stay connected to storytelling in general and your story in particular under less-than-auspicious circumstances?


Amy said...

Great post! I pretty much use the same sort of things to keep busy, when I'm not writing. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I've never done the collage idea - but I know a lot of people use it. I should try it one day!

I tend to let my characters trot around in my head when I can't give them actual writing time. Most of the trotting isn't connected to the story - but it keeps the characters active and that helps :)

Sophie Perinot said...

I don't generally have a problem getting back into my story -- I have a problem getting OUT. My children & husband often find me distracted when I am writing (I am saying "uh huh" to them but thinking about my herione on crusade). No place is safe from my book -- not the shower, not driving.

I do have a "historical fiction" playlist on my ipod but I never actually play music while I am writing.

JeffO said...

For me, it's mostly just a matter of thinking about it whenever possible. It's not a substitute for sitting and writing, but it helps keep everything in my thoughts.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Great post - I use some of the same tactics (and face some of the same obstacles). I listen to certain songs that "are" part of the story, if I need to keep a connection while I'm away from the ms.

I also try to look for qualities in other people that I imagine my characters would have. It's a good way to stay writing while doing something else... like grocery shopping.

Luce said...

Hi, Folks--

Thanks for stopping by to comment.

Amy: Yes! The feeling that I'm keeping busy, that the story IS being worked on in some fashion, that's what prevents me from getting frustrated.

Jemi: The active daydreaming thing definitely works for my CP. Her characters show up to bug her when she's been away from them for too long. Mine don't care if I enter the Witness Protection Program.

Sophie: I envy that level of immersion, but I also know that I can only get there by putting in significantly more concentrated writing time than I've been doing lately. Time management, ahoy! And I can't listen to the WIP soundtrack while writing, either; I'm just too auditorially-oriented for that. I'd love to know what you're listening to while your character's on crusade, though!

Jeff: Thinking about the story, not letting the momentum stall--that's definitely my goal, so that when I'm back in the scene I can go forward full-throttle.

Mindy: I LOVE the idea of looking for character traits in actual people. I know that observing real life is hugely important for making characters and worlds that feel real, but it's something I don't remember to do often enough. I'm generally orbiting my own cranium and thinking "Why is it so empty in here?" Duh!

jmarierundquist said...

Music is a huge way to bring me back into my characters and their story... and I use my muse playlist in the car so that even in the kind of weeks that I've been having where writing time is short and life is stressful, the music keeps my characters close by.

I also take my characters with me and let them experience what I am experiencing. Went to an amusement park birthday party with my 4 year old and imagined my characters doing the same with their kids. It's an easy way to keep them alive and a good character study/development exercise as well.

I'm definitely going to have to check out those podcasts you linked.

Jean Oram said...

This is a definite issue for me lately. I'm finding that using a software program (Scrivener) that allows me to pop my character sketches, story notes, scene notes, create a synopsis/storyline all in one place is really helping. It puts my brain all in one place so when I come back it feels a lot less like I've been gone. (If that makes any sense!!)

I love the idea of story writing podcasts! I'll have to check them out--even though I am absolutely horrible at tuning out talk radio/podcasts/talking books. Old habits die hard!