My love affair with AMC … mostly!

Once upon a time—or maybe more—I’ve blogged about the TV programs I watch, and I questioned why they’re all dramas. Sometimes late at night I watch old sitcoms, some from the 70s, but none current. I don’t know why. Anyway, today I’m sharing thoughts on a few of my current favorite dramas—and four of the five air on AMC.

Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY

I’m excited because the final episodes of Breaking Bad will air on AMC soon. I came late to the series and watched all four and a half seasons in two weeks this past winter. I’ve rewatched some episodes and I’ll  read the recaps of the others to refresh my memory before the last eight episodes air. Right now, I want Hank to bring down Walt and something good to happen for Jesse. And I still miss that villain extraordinaire, Gus.

Another show I came late to view is The Killing. I caught up on the first two seasons just as the third started airing. The writing and acting in the first two seasons was excellent, so it shocked me to learn that AMC had announced last summer they would not renew the show for a third season. Luckily, they changed their mind when Netflix bid to take it over. Emotionally damaged detectives Linden and Holder are amazing to watch.

Speaking of Netflix, they experimented by debuting the entire first season of their original series, House of Cards, at once. It was a big hit in our house. My husband and I binge watched, and now we bemoan the wait for the second season. The writing and acting is top notch. Francis Underwood has not done a single thing to inspire my faith in politics, though.

I believe I’ve told you before that I’m a fan of Mad Men, also on AMC, and though I couldn’t connect fully with this sixth season, I think that was my problem. The quality has never disappointed me, so I expect to appreciate this season more in retrospect. I’m beginning to think Don Draper is a cat—which of his nine lives will he be on next season? So many characters to love and hate—sometimes simultaneously. But that makes good drama, no?

My AMC guilty pleasure is Walking Dead. I can’t quite believe I’m watching a show about zombies, but there you go. Not a spoof or dramedy, this is a frightening and complicated tale as Rick and his tribe struggle to survive both the zombies and the psychopathic Governor. And three main characters were killed in last season’s finale! Actually, I guess I don’t feel guilt for watching it. I’m looking forward to October and finding out where the writers take the story next.

Two things these shows have in common are good writing and good acting. I think a lot about the writing, of course. Actors are inspired to do their best when they’re presented with good writing just as fictional characters are developed fully by well-written narrative.

I probably won’t ever write about drug dealers, homicide cops, politics, the 60s advertising business, or a zombie apocalypse, but drama is drama. I’m learning while I watch. As I prepare to start my next novel, I visualize my characters acting out their drama, but they’re only ghosts of who they’ll become when I flesh them out with narrative.

I can hardly wait to type The End.

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What was I waiting for?

First, a contest Reminder: Check my sidebar –> for links to two bloggers giving away copies of my novel!

I’m not a NaNoWriMo sort of writer. And yet, I am a “pantser.” I don’t write true first drafts. I need a certain level of reassurance I’m on the right track before I can head out of the station. And yet, I love uncovering the story as if it were an ancient artifact at an archaeological dig.

For months now, I’ve been taking down notes, sometimes nearly full scenes, in preparation to write my next novel. I know how it begins, how it ends, and some bits in-between, but I’ve been waiting for something more.

I thought I was waiting for my main character’s voice to grow stronger. Maybe I needed to know her better before I could write her. But I already know her, I created her three years ago. She’s been talking to me for a while now.

I considered doing a real outline, the kind I’ve heard other writers talk about. Some novelists, maybe you, plan in such detail before they start writing that they know every scene and exactly which chapter it will happen in. My oddly disorganized organized brain rebels against all that, but I thought maybe this time I needed to do it differently.

Then I remembered that I set off writing The Brevity of Roses with only a need to explore the story idea. I had a general idea how it would end—I was wrong. I thought I knew who the main character was—wrong again. I loved the adventure of discovery, and it turned out all right.

So, I kept taking notes and writing out bits of dialogue that came to me. I opened the file and stared at the opening paragraphs for a while before closing the file unchanged. Finally, it hit me; the problem was structure. I ran it by my critique partners and we decided my original plan was needlessly complicated. After I made a new decision on how to narrate the story, everything clicked into place. I’m writing again, and it feels wonderful.

Your turn: What do you need to know before you can start writing?

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Spaghetti Gone Wild

Yesterday, in a Tweet to Kayla Olson, I described the state of my chapter-in-revision as spaghetti gone wild. Switching the order of the scenes had seemed a simple task. I had four scenes to deal with: one moves down, two move up, one stays in last place. No big deal. Next step: write/revise the narrative to link these scenes.

That’s when the mess began. I wrote words. I deleted them. I wrote different words. I deleted those too. Nothing felt right. Desperate, I thought maybe the fault lay within the scenes. Even though I’d loved them when I wrote them, I began to edit. I highlighted words, phrases, whole sentences I could improve, but I knew there was no sense working on those until I was sure they wouldn’t be cut. But then, the more I read the more I became dissatisfied. (If you’re a LOST fan, this is when I nicked the dural sac. :-))

Suddenly, none of it made sense to me. Everything was wrong. The writing was mediocre, the story silly, and I questioned why I wrote the chapter in the first place. When I realized I would rather play games than even open the file again, I knew I was in trouble. I now hated the chapter I once loved. Where had I gone wrong?

Without a clue, I gave up and played TextTwist, and as I did, I was reminded of way back when I first wrote about Jalal. I would write until I was out of words, and then I played Bejeweled. I don’t know why, but the background music brought Jalal’s voice to me, and I would play until I knew what to write next.

So, yesterday, as I sat there playing TextTwist, the fog lifted. This chapter was about Jalal, from his point of view, but I had ripped the heart out of it by trying to revise without him. I barged right in and started hacking away and shoving in more, without “getting into character” first. That’s how I totally screwed it up.

I must now step away (Or count to five? :-)) and listen until I hear Jalal’s voice. Then I’ll get this mess untangled.

Now, your turn: Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s done this.

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Photo credit: Susan at Timeless Gourmet

She said what?!

In this round of novel editing, I discovered a problem caused by rearranging scenes. I was reading merrily along when I said to myself, “Wow, is Renee a bitch or what?” Granted Renee’s a little rough around the edges, and says pretty much what she thinks, but still. I didn’t believe she and Jalal knew each other well enough, at that point, for her to speak to him that way.

So, to check out my theory, I took all the bits of conversation they’d had up to this scene and pasted them into another file. I cut out all narrative and dialogue tags, and color-coded to make it easier to see only the words they had spoken to each other. Like this example (which is not the bitchy part):

“I love your accent.”
“I don’t have an accent.”
“No? Say my name.”
“Well … maybe a little.”
“So … you were born in Iran.”
“Indeed.”
“Are you … Muslim?
“No.”
“Will you ever move back home?”
“This is my home; I am an American citizen. I have lived here a long time.”

The conversation that got my attention used to appear a later in the book where Renee’s little dig at Jalal made more sense. But I had shifted around previous scenes which moved this scene up. These two had actually said less than 800 words to each other, so yes, it was inappropriate for Renee to feel such familiarity with Jalal that she would take such a jab at him. The fix will be to insert a new scene, in which they get to know each other a little better, before this one. (Yay, higher word count!)

Btw, I also found out that dialogue can look pretty dull without the narrative. 🙂


Whose voice is that?

Yesterday, a friend posted a link on Twitter to an article by Kurt Vonnegut (a fellow native of Indianapolis) titled “How to Write With Style” and in it he gave seven tips to improve your writing. The one that stuck out the most to me was #5 Sound like yourself. He says about writing voice:

The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

Sometimes that voice creeps into my writing—when I’m trying too hard, when I’m pushing to write this scene right now, no matter what.

Vonnegut says:

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

A writer I admire, Frank McCourt, died this past Sunday, and I’ve spent some time this week listening to interviews with him as well as re-reading bits of Angela’s Ashes. He wrote exactly as he spoke. Of course, he wrote memoir, though he was working on a novel, last I heard. I hope it was finished; I’d love to see how he wrote fiction.

To me, it seems easy to write my blog posts in my own voice … though I don’t write it exactly the way I speak. I’m appalled at the grammatical errors I hear come out of my mouth. But I do write the way I think.

[Hmmm … is it normal to speak differently than you think? Tell me you do the same! Please.]

Meryl Streep is one of the actors I admire. She’s praised for her command of the accents she uses for the characters she plays. I have to be a Meryl when I write dialogue. I have to speak for many people, and each has to sound like themselves, but ultimately, it’s my interpretation of their voices. It’s me acting a part.

But it’s my narrative I have to guard. I have to banish that “cultivated Englishman” and let my own “person from Indianapolis” shine through.

How are you doing with voice?