To those readers in winter-affected areas: is the weather making everything feel like extra work to you? It is to me. Just getting dressed is a shivering labor involving long underwear under my jeans, a fleece over my shirt, wool socks as thick as my thumb. Preparing to actually leave the house, say to walk Hannah? Good grief, there’s another twelve minutes of dressing that requires an assistant (getting snowpants over jeans over long underwear is one thing; then reaching my feet to pull on boots?) and results in my resembling a giant goosedown puffball. An iconic fashion statement for the Arctic Circle. I’d shovel the driveway but I can’t move my arms. Nor can I rely on anything to work right in the deep freeze. When pushing the button to open the garage door has no effect because it’s frozen shut, I actually have to figure out that thawing it by running the car to warm everything up really is not a good plan, simple and efficient as it may seem.
And in an utter lack of creativity, the weather repeats itself over and over. Snow. The only other idea it’s come up with is ice. As I think I’ve demonstrated, even my brain is in slow motion. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to get my study warm enough to work in. Or my hat’s too tight. But no matter how strong the pull of the Slough of Despond when it appears, serious writers still put in the daily work. We feel like doing it by doing it. I tell myself, You can’t revise an empty page. Just put something there.
In the last post, I wrote about structuring my new novel. That’s what I’m working on, and I blame the weather because it’s moving at snow-slogging speed. (I’d prefer not to take questions on the physiology of that… .) Time periods have emerged as the best way to structure the novel, and it seems to want three large divisions. Book I is set in the mid-eighties and provides the backstory for Deana. Book II moves from the eighties to contemporary time, during which Daniel, another lead character, becomes involved in geocaching, the plot-twisting device in Book III. Whether or not specific dates are mentioned in the novel, I’ve sequenced the years in which characters were born and seminal events occur, so characters and story will be authentically developed. This meant I had to fill in my character list in order to place their entrances on the storyboard.
Completing a character list involves naming them. I love this because as soon as characters have names (as opposed to only roles), they begin to animate for me. Back to research. I looked up the most popular baby names for the year in which each character was born. Generally, I didn’t use the most popular, but picked one from the top five or ten. It’s a way to evoke an era and/or a generation in a reader’s subconscious mind. (Here’s an example from my character list. Of these four characters, which two were born around 1936, and which two were born around 1976? Brian, Joyce, Jenny, George? Can you pick them out?)
As part of broad spectrum research, I’m refreshing myself on fashion, home decorating, economics, news, music and other cultural trends of the mid-1980’s, now that I know that Book I and the beginning of Book II will be set then. See how designing the structure circles me back to research and details? If anyone has a memory about a quirky trend of the mid or late eighties I’d love to hear about it. Slang? Shoe styles? Hair styles? Toy crazes?
May I call your attention to Mark Fischer’s comment on the January 30th post if you haven’t seen it already? It’s a story about a recent geocaching experience, and Mark provides a great look into that world. (A hint from geocaching lexicon: dnf stands for did not find and a geocaching addict like Mark will go to great lengths to avoid logging a dnf.) I’ll try to talk him into giving us a few more anecdotes like this along the way. Thanks to Mark, to readers, and all who have commented!