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Q & A ~ Prose Problems
By C.V. Lee
August 21, 2020

Every human has strengths and weaknesses. The same is true for authors and writers. Some aspects of the writing process come easy, almost natural, while we struggle through other elements of our manuscript. Today, our Paper Lantern Writers share their writing challenges and some advice for powering through them and finding a solution.

Linda Ulleseit – author of the recently released book, THE ALOHA SPIRIT, struggles with a common problem for writers—the ending.

I’m pretty good at dialogue and setting. It’s harder for me to describe characters physically and actually get started writing each day, but the most difficult part of the process for me is writing the ending. I do so much research into the time period, and invest so much into the lives of the characters, that I don’t want to stop.

The women I write about are real people. I can’t write their entire life because that wouldn’t necessarily be a good story. I have to choose the chunk of their life where their path changed forever, or they had some shattering insight. What they did afterwards as they raised their children and slid into old age doesn’t add to the story. It’s part of the character’s life, though, and important to me because she’s a relation.

For example, the book I’m writing now is set at Fort Snelling in Minnesota in 1835, when the area was inundated with people who would end up famous. Samantha, my ancestor, will marry a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln appoints him ambassador to Chile and they go off to Valparaiso. Later they settle in the California Gold Country. So many wonderful stories!

My current work in progress (WIP) focuses on a time before all this happens, when Harriet and Dred Scott are married at the fort and when the white men who work for the government are trying to convert the Dakota to Christianity and build schools for their half-white children. The actual Dred Scott lawsuit and the Dakota being moved to reservations is decades later. It’s important to their lives, but is it important to the story? I’ll have to decide that in about ten more chapters.

Katie Stine finds the hardest part of writing is Time. All aspects of it. From carving out Time to write and edit (my current #1 problem), to Timing of my story, Time is my problem. 

I work in healthcare, so right now, things get a bit hectic for me, as my day can change suddenly: schedules upend, new protocols, new information to learn, it’s all there. But then, I’m also mama to (an almost) three-year-old. Talk about hectic and ever-changing. One moment, we are laughing and playing, the next minute he’s yelling at me because I’ve been pretending the dog was a firetruck for the last five minutes and now that’s not okay. By the time his bedtime rolls around, I’m beat. The last thing I want to do, or sometimes, even can do, is look at my manuscript with fresh eyes. I don’t have fresh eyes. 

How do I work through it? I recruit support. The actual writing phase is easiest for me, because I love the act of writing. So even if I just ask for 500 words a day, I can do that after the kiddo goes to bed. It’s the editing process where I have to recruit my support team to take care of the kiddo so I can have chunks of time to work. 

The other Timing issue? Pacing of the plot can be tricky. Just because you, as the author, thinks that this is an exciting moment does not mean that you’ve written it in such a way that the reader feels compelled by it. Or that your plot events occur fast enough to keep the reader interested. I’m particularly prone to digression, which gets me in trouble in my first drafts. In A LADY’S REVENGE, I took out an entire subplot in subsequent drafts. In BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH, I’m taking out an entire chapter in an effort to keep things moving. 

To work through this, I use a developmental editor to help me keep things on point. Also, reading aloud is helpful. You can hear the pacing of your words, if they sound quick or slow, if you get impatient with yourself wanting the next event to just happen already. 

Kathryn Pritchett is working on adding more sensory detail to her writing.

 “I’m very visual—for years I worked as a design writer describing interior design and architecture. Perhaps because I’ve worn glasses since I was eight years old, I’ve always worked hard to SEE things. That means I often shortchange the other senses. I’ve heard that smell is the most evocative sense so I’m consciously trying to add more scents to scenes. I’m listening for ambient noises and the timber of characters’ voices. I’m urging them to reach out and touch someone—or something—and let me know how it feels.”

Ana Brazil, author of FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER, writes in multiple POVs. There’s probably “a rule” that you shouldn’t, that you can’t, that you’ll fall down into a wet well and never climb out if you do, but that’s how my stories come to me. One POV is never enough!

More often than I like, my critiquers—especially my romance-writing critiquers—have told me that my characters are not showing enough emotion, and that they don’t know what my characters are feeling.

“Give us some feelings, Ana!”

Frankly, I blame soap operas for my characters’ inability to emote. As a long-time viewer of shows like All My Children and One Life to Live, I’ve watched characters spend minutes just staring at each other, expecting the viewer to fill-in-the-emotions. That’s kind of what I grew up on, so that’s kind of what I write.

Fortunately, one of my critiquers also suggested a way to bring more emotion into my third person POVs. She suggested that I re-write the third person chapter in first person. This, she said, should help me unleash all of my character’s emotions. And once I’ve really honed into how the character feels (in first person), I can add those emotions back into the third person chapter.

This type of writing suggestion is called “an exercise” and like all exercises, it takes time and discipline.

I won’t get around to doing it this week, but I am going to try it out on my WIP soon. 

According to C.V. Lee, her biggest challenge is character introductions.

In my writer’s group, I receive accolades for readability, smart dialogue and authentic characters, not so for my introduction of my characters. My work-in-progress (WIP), ROSES & REBELS, contains a large cast of characters. How does a reader keep them all straight?

C.V. Lee writing in her journal on her first trip to Paris.

Most of the advice centers on giving characters dissimilar names (a tad difficult when writing about real people) and introducing them gradually. Little advice exists regarding the introduction of multiple characters within a few pages.

How do I plan to work through this conundrum?  For each new character, I plan to provide a hint of juicy backstory coupled with a memorable moment of introduction to spark the reader’s interest in their journey. Then sprinkle in just enough breathable space before introducing my next cast member. The other essential element will be dis-inviting any character to the party that is not essential to the scene and delay their introduction to a later chapter.  

Fingers crossed it makes this difficult but fabulous party scene work!

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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