Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Changing Horses in Midstream

Today I passed page 200 in editing my current work-in-progress, and as I did so another method of murder occurred to me, along with a different murderer. This may seem a little late to be coming up with two crucial factors in a murder mystery, but instead of blotting them out of my consciousness, I stopped what I was doing and thought about it.

Like many other writers, I consider myself a pantser with a few caveats. I begin with an image of a character doing something. This is not quite a scene but close to it. I know who he or she is, mostly what they’re doing but not the implications and consequences. Who the person is in relation to the victim (or even if he or she is the victim) and the murderer isn’t yet clear. As I think about the image and how it grows in my imagination, the general outline of a story becomes clear.

I like to have the murder weapon or process be true to the setting and the characters. I don’t want to see a quiet, steely librarian suddenly whip out a gun, though that might make for a fun story. Nor do I expect longshoremen to use poison, or anything that could be considered genteel. So I was thinking up a method of murder that fit the setting, a farm in a part of rural America. I was satisfied with what I developed (and won’t mention it here because I plan to use it in another story).

And here is where the moment of inspiration comes in. It occurred to me that I had a much more appropriate method of murder that I had overlooked—perhaps because it was so obvious to someone like me (and no, I can’t say what that means). And then I thought about the admonition not to change horses in midstream. The method I’d been using made sense, it worked, and I was already in editing. But the new one made a lot more sense, implicated a lot of other innocent people, and was still true to the characters and setting. Plus it required a minimum of rewriting. I had to remove one short chapter, fewer than a thousand words, and the replacement chapter all but wrote itself.

I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that I’ve solved every problem in switching murder methods, but I like the feel of the story I’ve produced, and I like seeing some minor characters become more interesting to the reader.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this—changing a character in some important way in the middle of the story, combined two characters, changed locations, changed characteristics of a character—but this is perhaps the most significant one. I’m all for rules that guide the writer, ensuring a tighter, deeper, more compelling story. But I’m also all for breaking those rules when something better comes along.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My New Website

For the past month or so I’ve been struggling to set up a new website. After my web maven died this past October, I knew I really had to learn how to do this myself. A friend who designs websites thought it would be easy for me to catch onto HTML, and another offered to help me, for a fee of course, and still others had lots of advice and references. It seemed to be as hard to pick someone to do this for me as it would be if I did it myself. I remembered how frustrating it was to keep a running list of changes or updates I wanted my web maven to make, and then I had to review the results and follow that up with a list of corrections. It was time consuming and sometimes things were never quite what I wanted. Hence, my decision to jump in. I would build a simple website and all would be well. Famous last . . .

First came all the sites that offered do-it-yourself websites for a fee, and all of the advice from those who know how to do this for free. I tried four sites. In the end I chose Squarespace.com largely because I could try out their templates over several days before paying, and the templates were easy to work with. I had twelve days to try things out. To my amazement, I had two pages after the first afternoon. Since I knew what I wanted, sort of, I figured I had enough time. In the end, I didn’t need all the time allowed.

The most serious challenge came with transferring the domain name and the other technical stuff. There were a few glitches along the way, but with the help of the support staff (I’m a new convert to live chat features) I seem to have managed. Then came the magic of “propagating,” which seems to have its own heart beat regardless of the work with Google Search Console.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is except to report that given the right tools and the right support, even a Luddite like me can manage some of the new technology. And yet all is not high-tech ultra modern. I still needed older skills, such as patience, the ability to read someone else’s shorthand, an intuitive sense of which pages to close and which to leave open, and the skill of figuring out which question to ask. I give high marks to the folks on live chat because some had to jump in in the middle of my befuddled query. But all is well—mostly. I’m still waiting for the old website pages to completely disappear, and the new ones to take over.

Overall this was a fun adventure. I got to use some of my favorite photographs, watched the software surprise me as it picked up links I worried about, and learned more than I expected to. I have a much better understanding of how the Internet works, but it’s still very basic. But the site isn’t finished (these things never are). If you see where I should change or improve things, please let me know. Now that I have learned how to get into the pages and do all the work myself, I’m glad to do so. And I'm always glad to hear other people's opinions and suggestions.