Plotting or Plodding?

Humph! Here’s the real truth about writers: sometimes we have no idea how it’s all going to turn out.

I mean, really, what are we doing? What am I doing? What is my plot doing?

Sometimes it feels like I’m playing a giant connect-the-dots while blindfolded. Are these two dots really going to connect in the end?

This is an issue with any type of writing – including a stand-alone novel. But with a series, humph! Plotting seems like plodding at an ant’s pace.

I’m working on the final segment of The Forgotten Child Trilogy, and while I’m currently on chapter 19 – more than half way finished, I am starting to wonder how I’m going to tie up all of these strands. Yes, I like strands. Perhaps too much. Maybe I should have stuck with the third person limited. I did that once with the novel A Love Story For a Nation and I must admit it was freeing because every scene whether description or dialogue came from one person’s perspective. That’s why books which in the first person “I” have such an appeal.  It’s immediate. It’s personal. But let’s admit it. It’s also limiting.

My first series is being written in third person omniscient. It has to be this way because there are so many characters who are helping to tell the story. Now, I don’t write the narration from everyone’s perspective. In fact, there are three (maybe four) antagonists and I don’t tell it from their perspective at all. It’s just a choice I’ve made in this particular series. I wanted their motivations to be slightly obscured through the perspective of the different protagonists. Yes, this story is about many people.

There’s the rub. It can be confusing because I’m trying to balance many different strands from many different perspectives: Frick, Bee, Ash, Hatty, Ruthy, Rachany, Haddock, Adams & O’Malley – any more?

Okay, so what’s the solution? How to keep my head on straight?

First, take a deep breath and know that no one else – I mean no one – will ever see your first draft. So it’s okay if it’s terrible, and it usually is.  Just get the story down the best you can. You may not fill all holes at once and that’s okay.

Second, plan on spending the next six months doing rewrites and revisions. Just do it. Build in the time into your writing schedule. You’ll be amazed at how your mind will shift and you’ll get new ideas – better ideas – over time. Don’t be in a rush to get it done. Take your time.

Third, remember that it will work out in the end. It always does. The ‘i’s will be dotted the the ‘t’s crossed. It just takes time. It may seem chaotic right now, but after you write that next chapter, some clarity will come. More direction will be revealed and you’ll get there.

Four, remember to tie up all the ends even if it means re-writing. Don’t leave anything hanging when you come to the end of the series. Therefore, read the whole thing again. I know, I know. You told yourself that you’d rather bang your head against the wall than read your story one more time. But it will be worth it. Slow down. Read it again. Make sure it’s all tied up neatly in the end.

A good last impression is the best impression. Don’t let the end slip away from you.

Okay, now I need to start following my own advice.

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Cancel Everything. Write and Discover.

A couple months ago, I was publicly weighing the options of how to write book three of my trilogy. I first stated how great outlining was, though I rarely used it before. Then I followed that up by stating that I just need to discover where I’m going before I get there.

I’m not a good third way into my novel and I realize how ridiculous all of this sounded. I can’t plan or outline or discover anything until I start writing.

Writing is outlining. Writing is planning. Writing is discovering. At least it is for me.

I fretted and worried about where this story would be going. How silly it all seems now!

As I started writing, I have discovered ideas that I would never have thought of before. I  came across plot shifts and surprising developments that even surprised me, the writer.

How does that work? How am I so blinded by my own story that it ends up surprising me?

It must be about a lack of development. When I outline an idea, it’s just a shell with not any structure standing around it. It sounds good at the time, but it’s hollow with no substance behind it.

Then I start writing. The first idea gets developed and that leads to a new set of objectives and details which I didn’t have in my writing bag before. So I shift gears and end up going in a direction which I couldn’t have anticipated.

When I’m not writing, it’s frightening because I can’t figure out what’s going to happen.

But when I’m writing, it’s exhilarating. It’s like walking down a virgin path in the woods and discovering a mysterious cave you never new was there. I don’t think I’ll doubt myself anymore.  This is how I write. This is how I live. I can’t plan. I don’t know how to. All of my plans fall through as my never-ending brain shifts and changes at the whims of a new idea.

So I think I will strop trying to write like anyone else but myself.

I write to discover. Period. Foreever and ever. I’ll leave the outlining to those really smart writers who have a singular mind which doesn’t change.

I’ll continue to change with the whims of the air. And my mind.

Writing (for me) is a step by step commitment

I’ve said it before that for me writing is more of a discovery process than anything else. Today, as I was thinking through a chapter I’m working on, I asked myself what I was committing to complete at this point. I realized that I am committed one hundred percent on the current chapter only, but I make no promises about what comes next.

(By the way, I love that no one is telling me where my book should go. Fiercely independent!)

My approach makes outlining for me a supercilious occupation. How dare I think that I know where my story is going!

I’m writing a chapter now, a rather poignant one, with an American in Vietnam during the summer of 1945, starring down an angry mob for reasons I don’t feel comfortable sharing at this point. It’s a difficult and important scene because it’s building towards a climax for this part of the novel.

But what’s next after this ‘climax’? I don’t really like thinking about it. I do have some ideas, and I do write down these ideas lest I lose them through the many memory holes of my cranium, but that’s really all they are. They are idea points which might or might not work depending on how things that I am presently writing turn out.

So here is my writing philosophy: be committed to what you are currently writing. Once complete, place your commitment in the next step and so on. Novels can be intimidating if you think ‘oh my goodness, I have 30,000 more words to write.’  I actually used to think that way. How am I ever going to be able to write enough words to qualify for novel length.

But that’s silly thinking. Just take it step by step. Commitment in the here and now will be reward in the future.