Jilly: Christmas and Community

christmas-and-communityJust three weeks of 2016 left!

The first few days of December are always the calm before the storm. I’ve been inching forward with my WIP; wrestling with my synopsis, which needs to be totally rewritten; working on the edit of my first 50 pages; and thinking some more about how to keep my story alive when the holidays are in full swing.

Last Sunday I put together a list of ways to stay in touch your story on a daily basis – quick tricks that could be squeezed into the most packed schedule. Then, on Thursday, Kay tracked down some productivity insights offered by the prolific film and TV writer-producer-director, Joss Whedon. I’m especially grateful for the tip about the importance of rewarding oneself early and often. 🙂

Yesterday, to my surprise, I added another strand to my holiday week WIP survival plan.

As I mulled over my editing goals I spent some time thinking about what makes a book into a lifelong keeper. What gets its hooks into my brain and buries itself there. Firstly the author’s voice and choices, of course; secondly, my favorites are almost always part of a series, because a great fictional world deserves more than one book. In addition to sharing a hero and heroine’s love story, I become part of the wider community. I care about these people. Individual stories come and go. The community is what supports and often drives the main characters through their adventures. I want to share their lives as they change and grow.

It’s not just me. Check out NPR’s list of the 100 best romance novels of all time, compiled from over 18,000 audience nominations. I’d guesstimate that at least two thirds of the books are part of a series. No matter the subgenre, communities rule – dynasties, families, neighbors, colleagues, cops, comrades-in-arms, gamesters, investors, sports stars, wolves, vampires, angels, demons…

So I decided one of my manuscript revision passes should look beyond my H&H, to ask whether they are part of a fully realized, engaging community. And wondering how best to get my head around that brought me right back to Christmas. If there’s one thing the end of year holidays are about, it’s community. People are super-aware of their connection with others. It’s the time of year when many (most?) people make a special effort to acknowledge and reinforce those links.

As well as connecting with friends and family, my husband and I will step into the world of my mum’s nursing home – the residents and their families old and young, the nurses and carers. We’ll mix with the locals in the pretty market town where mum lives. We’ll immerse ourselves in the quiet, self-contained world of mum’s ex-neighbors and later switch things up to celebrate with the young, cosmopolitan cast of our favorite London restaurant.

There has to be story gold in all of these encounters. To borrow a phrase from Kay’s Joss Whedon post, I don’t want to mine them for content, but I would love to spark off them – to reflect on the power of a close community, and consider how to replicate that in my imagination.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’m still planning to try the writing tricks I listed last Sunday. I’m definitely going to experiment with the reward system advocated by Mr. Whedon 😀 .

But most of all I’m going to enjoy, and watch, and learn, and see if I can pick up an idea or two to make stronger human connections within my fictional world.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Christmas and Community

  1. Ugh. You just made me (finally) realize that Russet Springs, the little town where I plan to locate my contemporary series, needs to be much better developed in this first book than I’d planned.

    As if this revision weren’t proving overwhelming enough.

    Bah! Humbug!

    (Seriously, thanks for the nudge.)

    • Sorry, Jeanne, and with you on the Bah! Humbug! I had the exact same reaction – lot of work needed on this, not to mention the hundred and one other things…argh.

      A couple of days ago I started to sketch out all the things I still don’t know/want to work on/must improve about my WIP and series. My head nearly exploded and that night I had the weirdest night’s sleep ever – full of crazy dreams about being late for meetings, packing suitcases, missing planes, chasing people I never caught, and being in exams without any of the necessary knowledge. It was just like being back in class 😉

      • OMG, is it the season for weird dreams? I dreamt I was in my childhood home, but it wasn’t mine — it was full of people who were related to me, though, and I was trying to pack a lunch for work. They kept piling in more and more leftover holiday goodies into my little bento-box — I even got an extra food container. And it was all so delicious looking, but I couldn’t get the lids on my food, so I wound up discarding things quite savagely. Things that were vaguely a good idea, but just didn’t make the cut.

        (-: Of course, that dream wasn’t about cleaning the fridge and getting rid of leftovers. That there was a high-level metaphor, and fortunately one I could understand. Not one I can really do anything about — I don’t want to discard any of my delicious new projects because I still believe I would have time if I just were a better person and more disciplined.

      • I would like to add a cautionary tale to the concern that community/world building must be strengthened to hook readers: I just finished reading today’s synopses of recommended reads over at Smart Bitches (thanks, Jilly, for reminding me Back When to subscribe), and I bought two out of the three recommended reads. And the book I didn’t buy was the one that had mediocre reviews because—many, many Amazon reviewers said—the author went on too long about background and world info and character back stories and she didn’t get to the plot. So—while we know that it’s important to incorporate backstory carefully throughout and not engage in infodump, etc., etc.—still, it’s also clear that we have to get right into the story, too. Maybe some of the back story and world building can be incorporated when it’s best needed, even if it’s a later book. Anyway, just a thought.

        Good luck with your revisions!

        • Thank you for the caution, Kay! You’re right, of course. I didn’t mean that the story should sink under the weight of worldbuilding or community or backstory, just that the H&H don’t exist in a vacuum, and if the world and people around them are interesting, it makes the whole book/series so much more captivating. Take Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. I loved the two feuding families, the village gossip mill, the alpha patriarchs, and the morally dubious tone of some of their shadier business dealings. I loved the individual stories, some more than others, but I kept reading for the snarky social battleground of the community. I’d say it helped to propel the individual stories rather than slowing them down.

  2. (-: I don’t think it’s such a terrible thing to do things in order to have more fodder for writing. I mean, if it gets you up and off and doing things, the initial (selfish?) motivation doesn’t matter so much, does it? I do think there’s a danger of being trapped in my observational brain, and only being a spectator to my life instead of a participant. But if writing in some way makes me engage more fully in my life, it’s a good thing.

    I will admit, though, the “it’s good for my writing” argument is almost never useful as a primary motivation for doing stuff. It can be the penny that tips the balance, though. “Well, X would like help with her luggage at the airport, and it’d be a great chance to have more time to chat with her on the plane home, and while I’m there, I could visit Y for my book, and I bet X would love the chance to see Y as well . . . .” The “good for my writing” is almost always buried in the middle somewhere (-:.

  3. I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Jo Putney lately. She does a nice job with community in her stories. The first book in her Lost Lords series describes an alternative school (for boys of good birth and bad behavior) so the reader knows there are several boys who went to school together who remained friends, but she only highlights one or two of the other boys in each story and builds so by the seventh book, the reader knows all the characters. I’ve just started her Rogues Redeemed series which takes some vague secondary characters from the Lost Lords and gives them stories.

    I’ve been digging into my series lately and realizing that I need to beef it up. Looking around and observing all the communities that one encounters during the holidays is a good way of doing it. In the next couple of weeks, I will be going to family, friends, community, and church group functions that could be valuable in building my world.

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