Friday, September 28, 2018

Behind the Scenes: First Drafts and Rabbit Trails

Years ago, when I was taking a course in short story writing, my instructor said that my ideas were too big to fit within the confines of a short story. Writing short stories is as much about the breadth of a story idea as it is about the length. It really has to be boiled down. Now that I've written a few novels, I have a better understanding of her meaning because I tend to throw in everything, including the kitchen sink.

As I discussed in my last post, there is a lot of pantsing going on as I write. I have a thin, translucent skeleton of an outline, and planned chapters get bumped down the line while I'm adding new ideas that flow as I'm writing. When I'm finished with the first draft, I'll have a lot of clean-up work to do since there were ideas discussed in earlier chapters that I may have changed or completely eliminated.

That being said, the middle of the writing process is a fun place to be. I'm not all about being a best seller or Nobel Prize winner, and I would write anyway simply because it's what I do. I make stuff up and write it down. Maybe it's a way to feel a sense of self-control in a world that seems out of control. Who knows? What I find enjoyable is the path of discovery and how the story evolves from an idea that I thought was very simple into a novel with multiple plots.

I sit down to work on a chapter that seems to be stuck with no idea how to proceed. For example, my outline simply says something like Another attack. Well, that's pretty vague, isn't it? First I have to write about the attack itself, the choreography of it, and the effects of it. Then I have to write the reactive scenes, and all of the attacks and reactions have to be unique and logical. Next, I may have another event in my outline, but I'm not quite ready for that scene yet. I'll need some transitional scenes to get me there, and I also have to make them logical and interesting.

The exciting part is when I'm cruising along, and, on a whim, I find myself in the middle of an interesting scene that I hadn't planned at all, and it works. It may help me to pull in a character that I had planned to be in the story later anyway while adding another layer of mystery and an element that is completely in keeping with the character. Of course, rabbit trails can always go the other way. I have written scenes that I've had to cut out again because they were leading me in the wrong direction and not an interesting one.

However, I don't discourage exploring rabbit trails because you may find something in the mess that is worth keeping, and had I not explored that rabbit trail, I would have simply been drumming my fingers while wondering how to proceed. The rabbit trail that didn't completely work out allowed me to understand what wasn't working and why. It allows me to refocus and write something that does work. If you wrote five pages that you had to chunk, but you discovered two paragraphs with a good idea, those two paragraphs can lead to a lot more than five pages of good stuff.

I do like having at least a rough outline because it gives me a map of where to go in case I find myself completely lost. It helps me to see the overall path of the story, but it's not completely set in stone. I encourage writers to not limit themselves to only what is in the outline. Chase a few rabbits and see where it goes. After all, this isn't technical writing; it's supposed to be creative.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Outlining versus Pantsing, and... Brainstorming Doesn't Just Happen

If you are one of the wonderful people who read When in Gnome, then you know that Evie, who was adopted, set out on an adventure to find her roots. This adventure really took off when she got her car stuck in the mud and was forced to stay overnight at Rosewood, the plantation home where her mother was born and raised. As irksome as getting stuck may have been, it was necessary in order for events to play out the way they did.

I bring this up because sometimes I feel stuck in a story. I always have an outline, but it's really just a list of major things that I expect to happen in that order in the story. Actual mileage between these major points may vary. That being said, I'm thinking I'm a 50/50 outliner/pantser.

1. One who pantses.
2. A person who flies by the seat of his or her pants. 
3. A term often used in the realm of writing to describe a person who does not rely heavily on outlining.
4. A derogatory term used by writers who sweat blood over outlines to describe those free-spirited ones who seem to manage well without an outline. 

When I first attempted to actually write a story, I wrote a great beginning and then stopped because I had no idea where it was going. I had set the stage. I had a few characters and this great atmosphere, but I wasn't sure what the acts would actually involve. So, my stories tended to fizzle out.

As I matured as a writer and had a better understanding of story structure and plot, an outline became vital, a safety net that let me refocus so that I always knew where I was going. But there's still a whole lotta pantsing going on between those milestones.

I think this pretty much sums up my personality because I'm about 50/50 on the left/right brain dominance. I like structure at work, but I let my hair down at home. I like knowing expectations and parameters while, at the same time, wanting to make the most of freedoms. I'm 50% analytical over-thinker and 50% fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants free spirit.

As I write the rough draft of No Place Like Gnome, it occurs to me that I only had the vaguest notion of what I expected to happen in the story. I had a major idea, and, following quickly on the heels of the release of When in Gnome, I wrote about four chapters. I thought I was just going to jump right back in and pick right up where I left off, but it wasn't that easy.

"Ideas don't just happen unless you're actually thinking about them."

My ideas were undeveloped at that point. As I explained in the last post, I needed to let the ideas ferment a while and grow some subplots, to mix metaphors. Of course, ideas don't just happen unless you're actually thinking about them. Months can go by. Years even.

Which brings me to my point....

I don't really like to think of being stuck as "writer's block". I always have ideas. I just don't always know where to put them. To me, being stuck is like being at a crossroads. You have options, and the point that many call being stuck is simply a place where I find that I have to make decisions. I can turn right, turn left, or go straight ahead. There are times when I decide that the best course of action is, simply, to turn around.

That being said, there are those scenes that I know where something happens, and maybe it's major or maybe it's reactive, and I haven't really decided how it's going to flow. Sometimes, it's best for me to just leave a section of my document with a few notes of what I think will happen here and move to the scenes that I am able to clearly visualize. So, writing doesn't have to be linear.

I find it easiest, until I am finished with the first draft, to have my chapters, or scenes, titled with descriptions, and I have those Summary Descriptions (ex: The Investigation) set at a Header in Styles, so that the description shows up on the navigation pane. If I decide to move things around, I can click and drag that scene without cutting and pasting. Of course, you should always reread to make sure it flows and that you haven't overlooked something that is out of sequence.

I spent most of the past week brainstorming on the book, and I came up with some exciting ideas about the story, and I think it's possible that this book may be even better than the first book. Ideas kind of bubble up from different places, and, in this case, it was a song that gave me a good idea for a twist in the story.

As mentioned near the beginning of this post, everything doesn't always turn out the way that I originally plan. There were some changes that had to be made because, however interesting the result might have been, I just wasn't comfortable with the idea and didn't want readers to suffer with a horrible cliffhanger.

I think what I came up with will be just as interesting, if not more so. I would like to think that, in most cases, my episodes of being stuck, were actually just indicators that I needed to proceed in a different direction from what I had previously thought. It's not a matter of just getting out of the mud and plunging ahead, but it may actually be a way for my subconscious to flag me down and prompt me to reconsider my chosen path.

Until next time.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Update on Book Two

The blog got an upgrade today! Some areas are still under construction, but I hope to have things ironed out soon. I just wanted to give you an update on the LONG-anticipated Book Two of the series and kind of let you know what the issues have been.

The main issue has been the author. I got very distracted. I finished and published a children's book, and then I proceeded to get distracted.

Of my last two books that I have finished, those were mostly written in less than a year, after I put the pedal to the metal and aimed to finish them. I mainly had to get cover art, hire an editor, finish/rewrite a few chapters, and finish formatting. That sounds like a lot, but I already had most of a book in the months leading up to publication. After I published that second book, I really didn't have any other rough drafts in progress. I had spent the previous two years reaping, and it was time to start sowing again. I hope that makes sense.

That being said, I had about four chapters written and a vague idea of what I expected to happen in Book Two of the Gnome Sweet Gnome series. The more I tried to work on it, the less I realized that I knew about how it would go. While waiting for the book idea to "ripen" and develop more complex plots and subplots, I finished another book and began generating a lot of new ideas. So, waiting for Book Two to get ripe enough to write so that I knew where it was going, generating new ideas, and getting overwhelmed by "real life"--these have been some of the major reasons that I haven't completed Book Two before now.

I wish I could tell you that negative people didn't affect me at all, but I had had more positive reviews than negative ones, and I just wanted to let you know that I truly and deeply appreciate those who took the time to write such wonderful words. 

You may have noticed that Book One is not currently available. I will be making some minor changes and re-releasing it with a new cover when I am closer to finishing Book Two. I am not sure, at this time, exactly when that will be. I currently have about 25K words written, and I took time out today to edit the website and try to get a little organized.

Thank you for hanging in there and checking on me. Now that I took the time to take care of a little "business", I'll be getting back to writing so that readers can find out as soon as possible what is going on in Evie's world!