Sunday, May 23, 2010


A moment ago I read one of the funniest updates on writing that was ever posted on twitter:
"Oh no! I've written myself astray! I'd better stop or the story will take me away!"
And this made me remember a chat with another writer a few days ago, who asked me if I was an "outliner" or a "pantster".

I'm a pantster, if you care to know.
When I started out writing this novel, I had no idea where it would take me.
There was just one scene firmly fixed in my mind that I wanted to write about (and I'm not telling you which one), and the rest, well it just had to fall into place somehow.
And it did.
For the longest time, I did not know which ending the story would take, if my heroes would be allowed a happy end or not, and now they are getting one, but blemished.
They walked through their fates at their own will, taking me along to record it, but I did not shape it for them.
Just now, for instance, editing, I came across a scene where my two main characters discuss how they felt about each other during their long parting, and it ends with the woman leaving the room wordlessly.
When I wrote that scene, I had no idea where she was going or what she would be doing, only that her lover is left behind in fear and bewilderment. He spends the next couple of hours talking to his friend and producer until she finally shows up again, and it was only in that very instant when Naomi opens the door and walks in that I knew what she had been up to.
It turns out she did not run away from him and their discussion at all but did something that would solidify their future relationship.
But the point is, I was just as much in suspense while she was away as Jon was.

Which is why I am a "pantster", someone who writes "by the seat of their pants".
This means I go with the flow, let my people develop their characters while the storyline evolves, and let the storyline evolve around the characters.
The downside of this is that the editing takes long, because, as with normal persons, my protagonists change over time.
It probably also makes the book thicker than a novel that has been rigorously outlines and plotted and then written down, because you tend to be side-tracked.
Not side-tracked in a meandering way, but maybe looking at the surroundings inside the scenes more closely. After all, there is time to explore if you have to wait for your characters to make up their minds.

I'm not going to change my writing method. In fact, I love to be inside my stories.
It makes my readers tell me, "it feels as if I'm really there!" and that is all I want to hear.

And now I'm going back to the real writing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Neil Diamond and Tequila

What do you see here? Oh yes ... it's just another hp laptop. But there is a story here.

A couple of years ago my aging father decided that he wanted to buy a computer and learn how to use it. He was 85 at that point, but hale and hearty, and there was no good reason why he should not, like so many senior citizens, make good use of the many possibilities of the internet. My sister and I encouraged him, my mother deplored it. She is a gardener and not too fond of technical stuff, to put it mildly.
We don't live close together, as you know from earlier posts, my parents, my sister and I.
So when my father called me one early Saturday evening to announce proudly that he had bought a laptop, I had no idea what was in store for me.
He: "I bought a laptop!"
Me:"That's great, Papa! So is it running?"
He: "No, there is a problem. It does not open."
Me: "What do mean, it does not open?"
He: "What I said, it does not open. There are two buttons, and they can't be pushed."
Me: "Uhu.... there should be only one, and it should move to the side or something...."
Growing impatience on the other side. Until we found out that he was trying to push the hinges and not the opening mechanism. Then it opened. The laptop.
"Ok, Papa. now turn it on."
"Turn it on? Where?" Confusion.
"There is a button, Papa. Upper left corner."
"You mean the one that says "esc"?"
"No, Papa, that is the escape button. Above that. ABOVE the keyboard."
"Right. What's the keyboard? Oh, ok, I found it. Wait a moment!"
While we were waiting for the thing to boot, my father said (ALL on the phone, mind you!!!): "Listen, I'll tell you what I want with the computer. I don't want to do a lot, only email, use the internet, talk to you and your sister vie webcam, and a homepage."
Yes, Papa, and I want a Porsche.  Did not say that out loud, though. I said, "One thing after the other, Papa."
Answer: "Don't use that tone with me!" (I'm nearly 54, btw)
Next, he tells me, "It says, "willkommen"! And to accept the license."
Me: "Ok, then do it."
He: "Ok." Pause. "How?"
Me: "Uhm, there should be a little square that you can click."
He: "I can what?"
Me: "Click. You need to put the cursor there and click."
He: "Ok." Another pause. My blood pressure rising. "What's a cursor?"
Longish explanation of how to click. Then: "But there is no square."
This time, I did not say, "You need to scroll." but started the explanation right away.
He: "I found the square."
Me: "Ok, then now you need to click on it. Put the cursor in the little square and then click on the left...."
Interruption: "Listen, I don't want all this, all I want is to use the internet and set up a homepage!"
Here was when the

comes in, and high time too.

"Yes, Papa, but first we have to set up the computer itself, you know."
"Uhu. Ok. It asks for a language here now. I'll take Arabic."
Sulk. "Then I'll take German."
Deep breath, and it was time for another shot of

With a couple of drinks under my belt, I was getting into the swing of the thing.
"Take English, Papa. You know English best, and we will get along with that, too. Set the computer to English."
Obstinacy. "No, then I'll choose German. That way, I can learn German at the same time."
"Papa, this is NOT the right place to learn more German. Please. You need to understand what the machine is telling you."
"No, I want German. It is now set to German."
"So how do I get a homepage now?"
Erm. "Not today,  Papa. I'll come down and visit you next month, and then we can start something for you. You have to get the wifi working first."
"The WHAT?"

A few days later my sister went to visit my parents and installed the wifi, set up and internet connection and an email account with their provider, telecom. Wrote everything down for my father, explained again, and left for home.
A few hours later, he called me.
"The email is not working."
"But since we are on the subject, how many emails can I send? And how many accounts can I have? And does an email to the US cost more than one to Saudi Arabia?"
Time for some

Longer explanation.
"Ok, and what about the homepage? Tell me what to do! I want it now!"
Sweat prickling on the back of my neck.
"Papa, listen, I can't do that on the phone. I need to be on your computer."
Grumbling acceptance, then: "Ok but I want a google mail account."

And here began my nervous breakdown.
"Ok, you have a google icon. Click on it."
This was not a problem anymore, and we made it to the sign-in page for googlemail.
"You need to fill out that form, Papa."
This worked, until we came to "password".
"You need to choose a password to secure your account. Any word that has a meaning to you and you can remember."
Here, my mother comes in.
A heated discussion among them erupted about the password, and which one to pick. In the meanwhile, I opened iTunes on MY computer and clicked on this

to soothe my fraying nerves.
"What are you listening to? What' that in the background?"
"Neil Diamond, Papa."
"Do you remember, I used to have his poster in my room when I was 15."
"Oh. Yes. I have a password now."
"Good! then fill in the form."
Which he did.
"It says, "repeat the password!"
"Well, then do it, Papa."
"But I forgot it."
"Did you not write it down?"
"What? No."

And it was time for some

I'm stopping now.
There were a lot more sessions and occasions for

but my father never had enough patience to sit down with his laptop and learn about it. In the end, he gave it to my son. My mother was pleased, he was disappointed, and I was finally sober again.