May the Editing Begin

I officially participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November.  Although I achieved the goal of writing 50,000 words in November, the event ending version is not complete, has loads of holes, and has far too much non-action for anyone to truly ever want to read.  But, that’s okay because the editing process is all about fixing these issues, right?  I have been putting off going back to edit the work for a few months now, and I highly regret not jumping right back in even though November had come to close.  Reaching the goal gave me such a sense of personal accomplishment that I “rewarded” myself with too much time away from my writing.  I have now reached the point where I am determined to push through to a complete first draft. As I work up the courage to move to the editing phase, I thought I would share the opening scene.

Charlie awoke suddenly.  He never slept well in strange places, but had fallen into a deep sleep tonight shortly after crawling into bed.  What was it that woke him up?  He didn’t remember hearing anything.  Although he had lived in California and had been awoken for earthquakes before, he was now in Michigan, so that would have been strange. A still silence continued.  Charlie stared at the ceiling thinking it would now take forever to get back to sleep.

He looked over at the nightstand, but there was no clock.  He grabbed his phone, yanking out the charging cable that didn’t quite reach all the way to the bed.  Pressing the home button the iPhone came alive.  It was only two thirty-seven, the same time he woke up regularly at home. “It would be easier to get back to sleep in his own house, his own bed,” he thought.

The ceiling had a couple faded water stains above the windows, which was not unusual for an older house.  The ceiling fan was quite dusty.  “Didn’t his friends clean before inviting guests for a long weekend?” he mused.  Then the unending stream of worried thoughts began  Did he send out that report to his boss on Thursday before leaving?  Did he lock the door, turn off the stove, set the alarm?  “God, I hate all thoughts that invade my mind when all I want to do is sleep.”

The squeak was subtle, more like the extended, quiet screech of an old door opening very slowly.  “Could that have been what woke me?” Charlie considered.  “I’m usually a heavier sleeper than that.”  Other people in the house getting up to use the bathroom or get a drink never woke him up before.

Huffing, out-of-breath noises followed by soft footsteps directly outside his bedroom door were more pronounced.  The steps were quick, like socks or very soft soled shoes alternating on hardwood and the hallway carpet runners.

Charlie was more alert now.  The random thoughts had been swept from his mind by these unusual sounds.  “It’s not my house,” he thought to himself, trying to put the odd footsteps and breathing noises out of his mind.  Charlie closed his eyes and tried to force himself back to sleep.

Several minutes passed again with nothing.  “Tim’s dog, it must have been Rascal.”  Rascal was a big Golden Retriever.  His soft pads and panting could easily have made those noises.  Charlie let out a deep breath trying to slow his heart rate and get his breathing back to that slower pace of sleep.  He had tried to learn meditation but never got passed the first lesson or two before losing interest.

PFFT, PFFT, PFFT.  These noises were new.  That was not a sound from a dog.  Wide awake, Charlie sat up in bed.  The flowered comforter fell to his waist.  He slowly swung his feet to the right until they found the edges of the bed covers. He scooted over until he could feel his bare feet soundlessly touch the floor.  He tried to remain as silent as possible, less in an effort to hide his presence and more so he could continue to focus on the noises outside the guest room door.  “It could be her,” he thought as his heart rate increased again.

For several more minutes, no more sounds reached his ears.  Charlie questioned, “Did the dog finally settle down? Did the person quietly moving about the house return to their room or were they simply out of earshot?” He could feel in his gut that there would be more sounds; this was’t over.  He didn’t know when the next noises would come and if they would be recognizable.  He had to wait to make sure everything was alright.

Perched on the edge of the rarely used mattress Charlie considered his next move. He feet on the floor grew colder with every minute he pondered the situation. “It’s not my house, I’m not used to these sounds,” he rationalized.  This was now the longest period between noises since he was startled awake.  He grabbed his phone again. Two fifty-two.  Only fifteen minutes had passed since he first checked the time.

Now he was wide awake, but the only thought keeping him up was what could be happening elsewhere in the house.  Charlie had always been a curious kid and had retained this trait throughout adulthood.  He had this inherent urge to be part of the action, at least the action he thought would be the most fun or interesting.  He had no fear about joining a group of kids on the playground or inserting himself in a conversation of strangers at a party.  In business he could take control of a meeting or larger conference because he could show what appeared to be a genuine interest.  In many cases he had some level of interest but he had a unique ability to fake it if necessary.

With the noises in the house, his curiosity grew. The noises were nothing to be fearful of, but now that he was awake he needed to know who else was up.  Sleep would be a long way off now.  The noises had been quiet for some time now, at least that was Charlie’s perception.  In reality it had probably only been a couple more minutes, but late at night for an insomniac, those minutes tick by slowly.  He lifted his feet from the floor and began to swing them safely under the covers.

SCLASH.  It was a quick noise like the shattering of safety glass. Charlie’s feet hit the floor quickly.  HIs right big toes snagged the hem of the sheets and dragged most of the sheets and comforter halfway across the bed.  Cautious to not make any noise of his how, Charlie did not stand up right away.  It wasn’t his bed or his house and could not be certain about a squeaky bed frame or loose floorboards.  He untangled his toe from the sheets and pushed them behind where he sat on the bed.

Each new sound had been stranger than the last and grew in intensity.  Were they closer to his room at the far end of the hallway or simply louder?  He knew he needed to investigate.  Although not his home, these were his friends, they were like his family.  What if they were in trouble.

I learned more about myself while writing the first 50,000 words than I ever expected.  I did it on the sly, so my wife was not aware of my participation until I reached the goal and revealed to her what I had been doing for the past month.  From the start I had serious doubts that I could reach the goal particularly because I did not feel I had a clear enough picture of the characters, plot and especially the ending in my head to be able to get the words out.  The process revealed to me a number of things I did not know about my writing style

  • I can let my characters lead me down the path they want to go
  • I am not an up-front outliner.  Writing scenes helps me work through the plot problems.
  • I do not need to write in order, but can jump back and forth throughout my story to write the parts that interest me when I sit down at the computer.
  • I can achieve my own personal writing goals, even if I know at the time the writing is horrible.

I used this event to show myself that getting the work out is the most important part of writing.  Although I pushed out my fair share of bad writing, at least I was writing and recognizing the good from the bad and what might work from what didn’t make sense.  In the end, I found that my very worst writing was a completely blank screen.

Grief or Regret? One and the Same

When I first started writing the following passage, the words flowed from an emotional reaction to a couple of losses over a number of months.  I only recently felt the need to put these feelings in writing.  At first it was just another snippet to keep filed away until I found somewhere to use it, either in a similar form or as inspiration.  While I wrote and rewrote, I thought more about what the passage may be saying in a broad sense and not simply what the words an emotions revealed about my own recent experiences.  I am not sure the passage, as written, fits into a story that has seen a little writing recently but is mostly banging around in my head looking for a release, but writing the passage presented a more natural motivation to begin her quest than I had come up with so far.  Writing these snippets as they come into my head is an important part of my writing process because they generate new ideas, ways to approach stumbling blocks in my plots and, simply, some good practice.

Either or.  This or That.  Why do people need everything need to be so black and white?  Should I be sad or relieved?  Should I regret what we missed or be satisfied with what we had?  Why should I have to pick one?  Can’t I be all of these things at once?  Any passing is sad but they also give us time to reflect on their lives and the meaning their lives gave to ours.  Life is never simple and neither are the many emotions these passings draw forth.

Often I struggled to understand why she was still with us.  She didn’t understand either and had been ready to go for sometime.  At some point in every discussion we had over the past several years, she would interrupt our current conversation to ask why she was still here.  During our lives we may come to realize a sense of purpose for our life, but can we every truly know why we are here, whose lives we have impacted and how we fit into the grand design?  I do not recall her struggling with this concept ever until she was unable to physically do much more than pass the time.

The news of her passing was not much of a surprise when the early morning caller uttered the not unexpected words.  Timing is always a surprise no matter how prepared you think you are.  The stale morning air had not yet been replaced with the aroma of coffee brewing.  I snatched my phone from the nightstand and,without focusing my sleepy eyes, I heard the only voice I expected to hear without seeing clearly the name the appeared on the screen.

My first feeling was relief.  Relief for her, mostly.  Relief for the caller.  Even maybe a little relief for me.  Then that sinking feeling started in my stomach and soon engulfed my whole body.  My shoulders rolled forward, my abs tightened, and my neck compressed.  She was gone and I would never see her again.  Each of my hands grasped its partner’s arm in comfort.  I had known her my whole life.  Tears welled in my eyes but no cry crossed my lips.  She was the last of the gang of four.  The last real connection to a time long before any of my own memories.

Regret rose from my gut next.  It wasn’t part of the loss I felt for her, but it was the regret for what I missed with her three counterparts.  This emotion circled back to recollecting the loss I felt when each of the others had passed.  This time, thought, it wasn’t loss of a person but loss of the unknown.  Each one left with so much knowledge and so many memories when they passed.  Unless they had shared this with others or through some recorded medium, it was all now lost forever.

I was only five when the first passed.  I didn’t even know what was happening and to this day have no memory of this time.  Over the years I have dreamt of what our relationship might have been like with him in my life.  My imagination battled with two possible outcomes—my interests would have developed to match his or that he would find renewed interest in the activities I learned to embrace.

To this day, I regret that I did not ask another member of the quartet and the person closest to him many questions before she departed.  I was an adult when it was her time to go.  She passed less than a day after I left her side for the final time and my first thought was, “I should have asked her more.  Asked her more about him. Asked her more about herself.  Asked her more about their past, their history, everything.”

I had the chance and took it with the last of the four.  There was still not enough time to learn and record it all.  By this time I had started too late and so many of her memories had faded.  As I researched her past and we discussed my findings, I felt as if I was reminding her of the things she had forgotten as much as she was helping me to learn more about her history which will forever be my history, too.

As memories of my loved ones float through my thoughts, I realized it may be too late to ask those who are gone important questions about our past, yet it isn’t too late to ask the living.  Grief is so much about regret.  Regret for what we did not do.  Regret for what we could have done.  We cannot always come to terms with these regrets, but if we recognize an opportunity before it is lost we may be able to minimize that potential regret.

After I wrote this, I began to think about some my own regrets I had with so many of my relatives.  It was that very day that I began drafting e-mails to all of my living relatives asking them to record a story, memory or simply their thoughts about any of our relatives.  I may not be able to have all my questions answered, but I still had time to collect their stories.  I will be sending these out over the next few months.  I am certain of those who will absolutely respond, but I am eager to see who surprises me with a response.

The Pleasures and Pains of Binge Watching

This has become my true pleasure of late.  Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m obsessed.  I am amazed at the large selection of past TV shows that I’ve never heard of before, that were competing with other programs to held my interest when originally broadcast, or that I simply never got into at the time.  Add in the numerous new content offerings that are readily available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and my watch-list is packed full.

I was binge watching shows I had saved on the DVR long before the term was even coined.  Since my wife and I do not always enjoy the same programs, I would save several episodes of Lost, Fringe, and Chuck on the DVR during their current seasons so I could sit down to watch when I had the TV to myself.  Since then, I have watched Twin Peaks, Supernatural and a couple of seasons of The X Files.  My wife and I have binge watched the first season of The Blacklist and The Killing.

I compare binge watching to reading a novel or collection of novels.  I’m not talking about when you settle in to catch up on reality programs.  I’m talking about taking in one or more full seasons of a drama or comedy.  As I have finally caught up to the current season of Supernatural (Yes, I have binge watched all 9 prior seasons over the past 2 months), I am now searching out my next streaming adventure.  I just fell into Supernatural from a Netflix recommendation, so finding a replacement that lives up to Supernatural’s standards or those of other shows I have loved might take some work.  I have put quite a bit of thought into what my favorite shows have in common that make them so enjoyable to me.  Like anyone who keeps returning to Agatha Christie books after searching high and low for a mystery that lives up to the standards she developed, I too am looking for the next Lost, Fringe or Supernatural.

To be a success in my eyes, I have put together the following keys to a thrilling binge watching adventure:

  • The overall concept needs to have a storyline that continues from episode to episode, season to season, building to a climax and leaving you hanging at each season finale.  Binge watching offers the advantage here – you don’t have to wait several months for the next season to begin to discover what happens next.
  • We need a long term relationship with the characters to feel truly connected to the show.  Essentially the same cast of characters should be included from episode to episode so we can root for those we like and root against the characters we don’t.  Sure, some of our favorite characters will need to die, but if they do, their deaths need to be worth it in the end.  As we hope our lives have meaning, the same is true for those characters who are lost.
  • As with any good novel, each and every scene should move the story forward, add suspense and work toward the ultimate ending the reader waits for until the very last page is turned.  Good episodic television will do the same with each episode acting as a chapter of a book, teasing the viewer/reader with new information which leads to the final reveal or intentionally down the wrong path.  This, I think, is why most reality TV is a big turn-off for me.  With most popular reality programs, each episode stands on its own, more like a short story than a novel.
  • There must be an end, or at least the expectation that the characters we love and have been rooting for will reach some type of closure for this part of their lives.  Lost, yes I know, there is a raging debate about the ending.  It may not be the ending the faithful viewers hoped for, but I will argue there is an end.  I recall my wife saying halfway through season 1, “If they end up to be dead from the beginning and the island is just purgatory, I am going to be so pissed.”  She barely made it through Season 2 and felt vindicated when I told her the end since she didn’t “waste” watching 4 more seasons to see the ending she had predicted.  I, on the other hand, absolutely loved the show so waste was never a term I used for my time spent watching, then rewatching (at least twice) all six seasons.  Supernatural, my current guilty pleasure, seems to have had several “ends” already.  Although I do not want the series to come to a close, I look forward to a time where the writers will find a way to wrap up all that has happened to the Winchester brothers.

As with any unexpected use of technology, I see the trend in binge watching as an important transition for television.  With more people cutting the cable and focusing on shows that they find important rather than “whatever happens to be on”, television executives will need to be more in tune with this new form of viewing.  Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have already embraced this method of viewing as they release entire seasons at once rather than one episode a week over the course of a season.  Sure, if we happen to binge watch an entire new season immediately after it debuts, we will need to wait several months or a year if and when a new season is produced.  If it catches our attention, most of us will certainly be back.

Another great thing about binge watching is that if it doesn’t grab my attention I can quickly move on to the next show.  But if I am hooked, I can wallow in pleasure watching episode after episode without having to wait a week or more for the story to continue. 

It seems like I have addressed mostly the pleasures, so if I must, here are the pains – I just spent about 150 hours watching Supernatural (probably why I haven’t posted much to this blog for well over a month).  I’m now way behind in my reading – the Kindle books are stacking up, so it’s a good thing they are essentially weightless.  I have a persistent itch to view another episode or start another show in my queue, but I really do have other things I need to do!  Now I’m worried that I may need to find a binge watching addiction support group soon.

Now for the real pain – I made it to the end of the 9th season of Supernatural earlier this week.  I am eager to start season 10, but since I didn’t even know the show existed until February of this year, I came late to the party so my DVR only includes the current season’s episodes 10 and forward.  Sure, I can get the first 9 episodes by buying them on iTunes, but since I don’t own any other episode, it seems like a waste to own this small sub-collection of episodes.  The withdrawal I’m feeling of not being able to see instantly what happens next is the real pain I’m feeling now.  Although I’m excited that Supernatural may continue for several more seasons, maybe for my binge watching guilty pleasures I should stick with shows that have reached their series finales.

I’d be interested to know your binge watching guilty pleasures since I need to fill some time until I can start watching Supernatural season 10.  If you don’t have any show suggestions, let me know if there are any other keys to a successful series are that make you come back for more.

Recording and Developing the Snippets in my Head

At the strangest times – walking through an airport, in the shower, vacuuming the house – snippets of scenes just appear in my head.  If I am in the right mood when they come, I can encourage and nurture their development.  If they are strong enough and I find myself at a place where I can actually record them, these scenes will make it into my Idea Project file in Scrivener.  Some may never find it to a place in a story, while others are nothing more than a way to recollect a feeling.  Eventually I know many of these snippets can be reworked to fit another idea I have floating around that may be more developed.

It was at the airport of all places.  I never see anyone I know in those vast hallways with thousands of people milling and rushing about.  When I was younger I would imagine running into all sorts of people I knew from childhood through adulthood at the airport.  Traveling alone was more exciting then.  Now it’s a lonely chore.

I saw him first, but before I could avert my eyes we were locked.  He was squat, chubby, little man, but his confidence and skill at intimidation made his targets shrink before him.  Upon catching my eye, his shoulders rolled back and his spine straightened starting at his neck and extending fully to his lower back.

His intimidating walk toward me forced by shoulders to narrow and every one of my vertebra to compress.  I felt three inches shorter while my insides turned to goo.

“So you think you’re a big shot now.  Telling me, of all people, what to do.  You were the failure I needed.  You just don’t know it.”  No positive words, probably because his vocabulary didn’t even include such words, were ever emitted from his mouth.

My jaw clenched tighter with every syllable his nasal voice uttered.

“No one will ever tell me what to do,” he continued.  “You, . . ., them, you’re all incompetent.”

Like a petulant child, I couldn’t hold back anymore.  “You lied to me!” I erupted.

His head cocked to the left and a grin slid across his face.  “No shit.  Did you really think I was ever giving anything up.  You didn’t think this through.  Those corporate dumb asses are all about checking things off their lists.  You were simply a check mark to them and a pawn to me.  My winning pawn.  You are a nothing.”

My shoulders slouched and my eyes lowered.  His evil stare burned my forehead as if etching his own claim to my soul.

“That was the worst decision I ever made in my life,” I uttered meekly.

“You didn’t make that decision I made it for you with that offer.  You should know by now that I’m smarter than anyone you will ever cross, which is why you are the loser.”  Satisfied at squashing me again, he turned to go.

My mind raced for the right comeback that never comes until it’s too late.  This time the words found their way to my lips.  “You’re right, I had no choice.  But that wasn’t my worst move.”

“What?” he spun around defensively.  He seemed to grow another inch as he leaned in to me.

Regaining some of my own stature, I stated with only the slightest tremor in my voice, “Believing that a single honest word could ever come from your mouth.”

“Don’t cross me or I will take you down further than I already have,” he emphasized with a fat boney finger in my chest forcing me to lean back on my heels.  “I’ve done it before.”  His hot air, and that’s all it really was, blew from his every orifice.

As I stood before him, watching the blood rise through his face, my confidence grew.  As with any bully, he couldn’t take someone actually standing up to him.  Slowly he began to shrink to the weaselly little man he truly was.

“You didn’t take me down!  You are so naive.”

“Talk about naive, you little bastard,” he said trying to interrupt.

“You gave me my freedom,” I continued ignoring his outburst.  “You let me fly, soar!  You gave me sight, opened my eyes.”

He stood straighter as my mouth utter such trite phrases.

“You never even gave me a chance,” I concluded.

“GAVE you a chance?  I never had any intention of giving you a chance.”  I stared back at him without speaking.  He couldn’t stand my silence and babbled on like the criminal who thinks he has an edge.  “Why would I give you a chance?  You have to earn it.”

“Earn it?  Right!  How do you expect I could ever earn something you had no intention of giving?”  For the first time since I caught his eyes I could no longer feel the blood thumping through my veins.  “You made up you mind about me before I ever started.  There was nothing I could have done to earn it and YOU know it!”

His face was blank.  It was my clue that he didn’t get it and never would.

“You’ll fail at this job, too,” he lashed out.  “You’ll always be a failure.”

“You have no concept of people, emotions, or rational thought,” I said almost feeling sorry for him.  “You’ll die a lonely, lonely little man in a room, alone!”  My chest heaved, expanding the breadth of my shoulders and straightening my spine.  “Your mind festers with your own erroneous ideas and the lies you choose to believe.  I now see you for a fool and eventually the world will see it, too.”

With a subtle, almost imperceptible, shake of my head I turned and walked away.  My confidence had been restored by the most unlikely person.  I knew that I hadn’t even made a dent in his own reality even though mine was beginning to be rebuilt.  This was all about me and that was okay.  His cold, lonely heart could not care less about my feelings or my reaction.  I didn’t turn around, but could still feel his now cold stare watching me walk away.

With the understanding that this is simply a scene from what would eventually become a larger piece of work and that much of the character development and descriptions would be included in other scenes, I welcome your comments and critiques.