I’m on the fourth draft of this WIP. What makes the situation unique, for me, is that I haven’t finished the first draft yet.
Usually, when I write a novel, I go all the way to the end before making any significant changes. There have been exceptions. Sometimes I’ll get the feeling the book isn’t working. Not in a small, niggling way, but a big, ‘two plus two does not equal five’ way. The motivation isn’t quite right or the ultimate conflict—the plot climax or the ultimate relationship test—feels forced. At that point, I’ll load what I have onto my tablet, read it, try to pinpoint the moment the book goes off the rails and make some notes to redirect it. This happened with both To See the Sun and Purple Haze. It wasn’t a big deal. In the case of To See the Sun, I had to go back and add a villain, which meant fleshing out an existing character and giving him a larger role in the overall plot. Simply done. Purple Haze was a little more difficult, but once I solved Dillon’s GMC (what did he really want?), I figured out what he needed to, er, sacrifice to get it done.
He and Lang got their happy ever after, okay? That’s all you need to know.
When I wrote my first book I had absolutely no concept of how the whole process worked. I wrote a story, read it over, sent it to a friend—who read it over and said very nice things—corrected a few typos, and sent it in. The publisher offered me a contract, and I thought, “Wow, that was easy.”
Then I got my first developmental edit letter.
I’ve had worse. I didn’t cry over that first one. But I did wonder why they’d bought the book if they wanted me to rewrite it. I decided that a first draft—revised, but not really changed—was the idea and that publishers bought ideas they liked and helped you shape them into books.
If there is one thing writing has taught me, it’s how to let go. It’s not an easy lesson, and out of all the lessons of the past few years, it’s the one I struggle with most—probably because it’s just so important. It affects every stage of the writing process and has value in other areas of my life.
I haven’t blogged much this month. I’ve been busy writing a book! It’s nearly done and I’m going to post a teaser for it next week and blog about the process of writing it. The knockdown, drag about fight I had with my copy edits for Block and Strike yesterday prompted this post. I wrote Block and Strike over two years ago. I revised it last year and rewrote a significant portion of it this year. Right now, it’s that book. The one I’ve invested a lot of self into. And yesterday, I finally had to let it go. Continue reading “Letting Go”→
The post I had planned for today was a summary of my works in progress. I don’t often share much about what I’m writing. I’m weirdly superstitious about it—or maybe it’s just that I prefer not to tease with a new project that might never eventuate. It’d be like hearing Ben & Jerry were finally going to marry bananas and coconut, but decided it wasn’t working before the product ever got to market.
Instead of telling you about what I’m writing right now—I can do that next week, maybe—I’m going to tell you about what I’m not writing. Or what Jenn and I have just given up writing, after working on it for six weeks.
We’ve just tossed a work in progress at 55,000 words in.
You might ask how we got that far without realising it wasn’t working. Two reasons:
1) The part that wasn’t working was a progressive disease. We treated it along the way, but we missed some symptoms. Before we knew what was happening, it had spread beyond our ability to halt it.
My metaphor is a little gruesome, but adequate to describe what happened. In more real terms, we realised that we didn’t have enough conflict between our characters. Not enough tension. They liked each other too much and kept resolving their differences as they occurred. In order to shake them up, we kept introducing more difficulties. They shook them off. These guys were good together. Very sweet. The sex was outstanding. They’ll probably live happily ever after in their own universe. But on paper, their romance was just too easy and therefore neither compelling nor memorable.
2) We designed a paranormal world—and told a normal world story.
We intended to do this, sort of. We wanted to write something different. We’d hoped to put a more lighthearted story into a paranormal setting. This one didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean others won’t.
So, we’re going to replot.
The 55,000 words already written aren’t a complete waste. Both characters are ones we like and they will work in different stories, with different partners. Sorry boys, the happy ever after isn’t going to happen in this world.
In writing them this far, though, we got to know them, and we got to know the setting. We’ll be able to take advantage of that as we plot out a new story. And, once we pulled these two love birds apart and talked about what we should do with them, we discovered they were characters from two very different stories. So our exercise has not been futile. We now have potential outlines for two books where previously we had one. Best of all, though, we’re excited about both these new books in a way we weren’t about the first one. We’ve been able to take a step back to an older idea we had for this project and actually incorporate it.
Finally, even though I loved writing a guy who was NOT Felix, I will admit the character I need to create for to pair with Jenn’s for the replot has me a little excited because, well, he’ll be gruffer and more cynical than the guy who I was writing.
Maybe I just can’t write nice people.
No… that can’t possibly be it…
Anyway, you’d think I’d be more upset about tossing 55,000 words. I’m not. I don’t regret the time and I don’t see it as a waste. I enjoyed writing those words, I enjoyed writing with Jenn. We have a long history of role playing together, so in essence, every time we write together, we go back to that. So, this is just one of the stories we told ourselves instead of sharing with the world.
I like writing outlines. Putting facts in order appeals to my sense of, well, order. I didn’t always feel that way, however. In school, I thought they were one of those evil necessities. I always knew what I wanted to write, so why did I need to write about what I wanted to write? Why did I need a plan for something that had already formed in my head and might possibly escape while I wasted time not writing it?
Then, of course, I’d sit down to write the thing and somewhere along the line, I would stop short, realizing I had left something out. Being a less than perfect student (lazy), I usually skipped that bit. Hey, if it hadn’t woven itself into the truth I spilled across the page, it wasn’t important, right?
Wrong. But not really, really wrong.
I didn’t use an outline when planning Less Than Perfect. I just sat down and started writing. I’d had Mickey’s voice in my head for a while and the first sentence of the novella was solid. The first paragraph, even. I knew who she was and what she wanted. Five furious days later, I had a story. Then the real work began. My first round of edits had me rewriting the entire story—but not because I had failed to plan. More, I had submitted an idea that an editor liked and, in turn, she sent me her idea of what my story could be, and so on. So, in essence, my first draft was my outline.
Generally, I do use outlines for my fiction projects. I don’t always adhere to them with fervent fanaticism, but putting down even a few points is a great way to build upon an idea, turn it into a story. Ideas are easy, stories…not so much. Often, when I’m outlining, I’ll discover a potential side plot or a secondary character. I’m not sure how relevant either would have been to my school projects, but they’re both invaluable to stories. I love side plots. I love the something that happens on the way to something, particularly if it’s somehow, secretly related to the something. Still following me?
An outline can also reveal the primary plot. What, I didn’t have that to begin with? No. I knew that the moon stopped moving one night, and I had a good idea how folks would react to that, but did I know why the moon was stuck in the sky? Nope. Not yet.
Despite my love of outlines, some of my best writing has happened outside the lines. When that happens, when a chapter just writes itself, or a character walks into your book, sits down and says “I’m here!” it’s like stumbling over an epiphany. These are the chapters and events that somehow make the story. They happen when a character steps outside the shell you created for him or her and tells you what they need to do. Or when a villain refuses to die…or when the evil twin you barely fleshed out because they were (conveniently) going to take the fall for your hero in chapter seventeen, develops a complex personality, motivation and a need to redeem himself.
Yep, I’ve had that happen.
I’ve also killed people I thought would make it to the end, and, as Jenn Burke will likely remember, some characters get dug up just so they can be killed all over again. (Poor Marcus.)
One of the joys of writing, outline or no, is when you reach that point—where your imagination takes over and your fingers merely become tools and the keyboard a conduit. When the story writes itself, inside the lines and outside, when the characters voices are louder than those of the people in the real world. When the outcome becomes so important, little things like dinner and bills and whatever the TV is yelling about just fade, fade away.
That’s when the stories outgrow their outlines and become real, breathing things.
(And you thought me charting a whole lot of nothing was weird. Finally, yes, I coloured the dinosaur I used as my featured image for this post.)