October 28th, 2021:
How I love this quote by George Saunders:
“If you know where a story is going, don’t hoard. Make the story go there, now. But then what? What will you do next? You’ve surrendered your big reveal. Exactly. Often, in our doubt that we have a real story to tell, we hold something back, fearing that we don’t have anything else. And this can be a form of trickery. Surrendering that thing is a leap of faith that forces the story to attention, saying to it, in effect, ‘You have to do better than that, and now that I’ve denied you your trick, your first order solution, I know that you will.’”
This has been one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read. In the past I've clung to the idea of some Big Reveal in my stories—that big, amazing twist—imagining just how powerful it’s going to be when I finally get there. But what can happen then is that everything else seems like filler along the way, not necessarily titillating build-up. The story can become predictable, or even silly, by the time you write that Big Reveal. Readers might tire of your continued withholding of information, and it takes great skill to keep those kinds of secrets for pages and pages without plot holes and/or characters who continually can't put two-in-two together. (Nothing worse than getting irritated with a character because you know a person in real life would never miss so many clues or opportunities or get so distracted, and you're aware that this is happening because the character can't know too much yet for the advancement of the plot.)
Now when I'm working on my WIP I brainstorm by asking myself questions like this: “Hm. But what if this BIG EVENT happens in Chapter Two? What if it’s not the climax after all?” Or: “What if my characters already know this truth? What if the reader does?” This way of thinking has tremendously improved my writing. It has challenged me to be more imaginative, helped me with pacing, and opened my mind to new, creative directions for my stories. It’s surprising how many unique ways you can tell your story. It’s like creating your own Choose Your Own Adventure for yourself. Or...creating your own maze with lots of twists and turns and dead-ends to maneuver through—and it’s so much fun.
May 7th, 2021:
Just jumping on here to recommend Lisa Crohn's STORY GENIUS.
This week I pulled out that trusty book after a long time away, and it helped me access all that was in my head for my WIP but hadn't found its way onto paper yet. It was so exciting to have an entire outline for two timelines just spill out of me...and make sense in how they're woven together! I know from A LOT of experience that things can (and should) drastically change throughout the creation of a real book,* but I'm still pretty darn excited about having a clearer idea of how to get from my beginning to the end in this draft!
Plotting this one seems incredibly important because with two POVs and a dual timeline every word has to truly count. I have two character arcs and story arcs to complete this time around. I can be a longwinded writer, so I don't want to waste any space with paragraphs I'll have to later murder, and I hope I'm saving myself some time in revisions. We shall see...
At any rate, the creative process while writing a novel simply ebbs and flows. This week it has flowed. This week my characters are having full-on conversations in my head while I'm driving my car or doing the dishes. It's a wonderful thing, welcoming them in. And I'm so, so sorry that they're going to have such a hard time. :)
(I can't tell them yet that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and that they'll come out better on the other side!)
* Regarding how books transform during the process of their creation: My latest book, DEAR BONES, was first written in the POV of Jill, and Richard was the side character. I wrote it nanowrimo-style, all the way through, now years ago. When I came back to it over a year later, I had a mess of 100,000 words and I trashed probably 75% of it, but somehow there was a story in there I wanted to tell. And I learned I really wanted Richard to have more space, because when I reread my story, my heart followed him. So I then attempted two POVs--Jill's and Richard's.
But I struggled with Jill's. I knew who I wanted her to be, but I didn't like being in her head. She sometimes seemed too simple. She fought with me. I kept trying to make her better than she was. I must've used thousands of words brainstorming what made her tick, and I did understand her over time, but in the end it was only Richard's story I wanted to tell. So DEAR BONES became his book, and Jill became his side character. I don't know why it took me such a long time to figure it out, and I've lost track of how many drafts I wrote. When I think back on writing DEAR BONES, I know there were some really hard times where I was stuck, stuck, stuck. It's such a difficult process but I absolutely love it. I'll never tire of creating stories and hearing my characters talking to each other in my head.
March 5th, 2021:
Hello! A little writing update:
I’ve spent the last few months working hard on my WIP, a YA Mystery I’m calling NETTED CHAIN CREEK (or NCC). I’ve filled an entire three-subject, college-ruled notebook and an 80,000-word document with notes, trying my best to get to know NCC’s new characters and their stories. That is some novel-length brainstorming there. Sometimes I’m certain I just need to write that shitty first draft already, nanowrimo-style, but this one seems to be such a complex story in the making…a really difficult maze that would be hard to pants without running in circles or hitting walls.
I am about 100 pages into my first draft so I am moving along. Slowly. It’s not easy being creative with the state of the world the way it is right now, and I’m sure other writers understand how hard it is to emotionally disconnect from the last book you wrote. (Note: I’ve dealt with all this before, so even though I know for sure that there are more characters and stories inside of me, sometimes it can take a while for your heart to catch up with your brain.)
I have two POVS and two timelines in NCC—one in 2018 (pre-pandemic) and one in 1987. This story is fun and dark and exciting and full of unique side characters and impossible to wrap my head around much of the time. Creating two complete story arcs and character arcs seems like a 200,000-word book in the making, so I’m reminding myself that I’ll deal with darling killing and streamlining later. And, while I’ve been trying to stick to a basic outline, my characters regularly have other ideas once I get writing. But that’s one of my absolute favorite parts of creating a story—that I made every character, that maybe I am every character, for better or for worse, and I don’t truly know them yet. It’s magical how things start to unfold to surprise me.
The other magic is writing The End, no matter what draft. I’m looking forward to the day when I’m sending this thing out for beta reads and biting my nails (I’m so grateful for my writer friends!), absorbing their feedback, revising and revising, maybe more beta reads, then handing off this new book to my wonderful agent, Rachel. This seems so far away, but I've got this.