Tricks of the trade (a.k.a. cheat sheet for stragglers)

Helga’s Post # 16 — Nineteen days remaining! My calendar indicates that our writing buddy Paula will do the honors of posting to the blog on the fateful day, February 5. What will she say? Maybe it’s the 5Writers’ last post to the blog? We never really discussed the blog’s future. Perhaps we need to hear some cheering from the bleachers to help us decide. Anyone?

Regardless, time cannot be stopped. Countdown to the new era has begun. 19 days remaining for the 5 intrepid writers. The era of ‘back to the normal life’. It could mean any or all of these: ‘I have to delete those 4,785 emails’. ‘I have to lose the 10 pounds I gained since September 5’, ‘What’s wrong with the dog? He’s gotten fat!’dog-obese

And then there are outstanding invoices from uncharitable service providers: ‘Electricity bill 5 months overdue; ditto for gas, telephone, Internet, utilities…) Uncalled for and cruel threats to turn off said services, even collect garbage (don’t these outfits understand the busy routines of writers?)

But we’re not there yet. 19 prolific writing days ahead, and yes, I for one need every one of them; every hour and minute that I can squeeze out of my non-sleeping time. With that in mind, my survival instincts have kicked in. I know with 100% certainty that unless I take drastic measures, I will not have a completed manuscript by the time witching hour strikes on Feb. 5.

I went over my puny  pages written as of today and realized that triage is in order. And even that won’t save my bacon, but at least it may (emphasis is on ‘may’) avoid flagellation in the public sphere of the Internet.

On to damage control then. Tricks I’ve started to apply to increase my page count. It’s the only chance I have to change my short story to a novel. I’m not the first writer to use such tricks, or as published authors would say, tools. In fact, I recognize this in most books I’ve read, whether fast-paced thriller or venerated classic. It’s quite simple, really:


I am padding my story with details and back-story. Yes, padding! I am creating scenes that, while not exactly moving the plot forward, add a human element, apart from the more complex theme of the book. In my case (it’s too close to countdown to keep my cards close to the chest; and who would want to pirate such a crazy story concept anyhow?) I have a lot of complex scientific content, which provides the context for the story. The Human Genome Project, international DNA databases, and the research after its conclusion, genetic manipulation, biobanking, etc. etc. (Please, buy the book in spite of it. It’s not that bad). So, tons of research for a neophyte scientist. Hours and hours of pouring over executive summaries (i.e. cheat sheets) of scientific papers, trying to comprehend before I could actually WRITE about it (admittedly, I did enjoy the learning process). As well, I wanted to keep that scientific mumble-jumble to a minimum, because it doesn’t exactly make for the fast-paced suspense novel I had planned. Still, I had to create a credible framework for my story. As expected, even with all that research, my page count suffered.g9510.20_Baby.indd

I decided to be nice to myself. Write big chunks of the novel without the fancy-schmantzy science stuff. So, for example, in one of my scenes my protagonist, a researcher, gets a call from a stranger, saying he has information she needs. Scandalous stuff. They arrange to meet. He is a now show. His next appearance is in the morgue the day after.

That yielded me two measly pages.

I got thinking. How about instead of the stranger, it’s a colleague. He calls, just returned from Asia. He has to meet her urgently. She agrees. There is a bar scene with lots of details about setting and choice of cocktails (yielding another three pages). He is sick (more details, filling up space). But why stop there? Maybe her colleague could be a former lover! And yes, there is lots of titillating back story how they got together, and the city where it happened (yes, with lots of colourful scenes, the city’s history and other tidbits), some steamy sex (never hurts), etc. How their relationship continued and changed, and why. Some soul-searching. Lots of good stuff. I gained another ten pages before I knew it, and it was actually a nice reprieve from the genomes, the chromosomes, the telomeres, the binding proteins, and such.DNA Strands

And there are lots of opportunities to spin the yarn even further. Maybe the colleague/former lover has a sister who has befriended my protagonist. She knows some secrets of her brother that provide more fodder for my story. Family secrets never hurt, if well told. Or a former girlfriend enters the picture. Whatever.

So this is how I just might get through this project. Emphasis on ‘might’. And you know, I don’t even feel guilty about it. Because most authors, if not all, are using that same tool, padding the story, stretching the plot. This is where the writer can relax a little, and write with abandon, without the need for tons of research. To write about our past, our own life experiences. Let them spill on the page like a bag of candy. Like writing autobiography.

And that’s how I’ll be spending the next 19 days. If by chance a miracle happens, I’ll have a manuscript, but if so, it will only be an extremely rough first draft. And then the real work begins, after a short reprieve. In between, it’s time for some serious cooking before I lose my touch, for catching up with friends, for getting back in shape, and above all, for spoiling that nice guy I married long ago.a_vinage_love_and_romance_illustration_1

9 thoughts on “Tricks of the trade (a.k.a. cheat sheet for stragglers)

  1. Go for it Helga! Happily, and unhappily, for me, I will be spending most of the last desperate days of our challenge here on Maui. I’ll do the best I can to find writing time, but a marathon at the keyboard is not in the stars.

  2. You call it padding – it’s not padding unless it’s only purpose is to make the book longer – I suspect that you’re actually including necessary details that thicken the plot, build the characters and provide necessary elements that you need in the book. Keep going! As to continuing – I’d certainly like to hear that you keep the writing focused and on the front burner. And I’d like to hear what happens to the books – especially those that don’t get done by deadline – will those half completed ideas actually become a book? Will the rough draft get done, and if so, when? Will the revisions happen? Have the queries been written? Have the synopses been roped, brought down and tamed? Have the publishers responded? If so, how? How can we know the answers if you don’t keep posting?

    • Fear not, Bev. This project has taken on a life of its own by now. Whether we intended it or not, its rolling along the track, gaining speed and momentum. Nothing can stop that train now.

  3. I agree with Bev. Not all is padding. After all we are storytellers and readers like to know what makes our characters do what they do. Our first meeting face-to-face after Feb 5th will be interesting. I’m game to keep the blog going!

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