Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I've been busy the past week! Here's an update.
I continued my work on Chapter 2. The characters went off in their own direction, literally, and a new mini-adventure popped up all on its own. It was very interesting and a viable way to advance the story, but it was "off course" according to my outline, the scenes I had intended to write. I went with it, but after writing it had to evaluate whether the new version was really the right way to go or not. I decided to put off making a final decision and instead reorganize my thoughts and go back and redo the Chapter, keeping it true to the original plan.
With two versions of Chapter 2 under my belt, along with a lot of holiday treats, I then allowed myself to go back to Chapter 1 and do some more editing, filling in little details and expanding small sections to draw out their dramatic potential. The chapter grew and grew some more, finally coming in around 9,000 words.
Then, I actually got my giant pair of virtual scissors out and went CHOP-CHOP and -- voila! -- the chapter has now been cut into three parts, each around 3,000 words long! So I have 3 chapters now where there was one before, which means Chapter 2 is now Chapter 4, and it will be divided into three parts probably, so I've made a good bit of progress this past week and now have about 17,000 words!
In the midst of all this rapid progress, which happened over the course of about 4 days, I hit one of those idea logjams, the kind where all the new stuff begins to push against the original planning stuff and pretty soon it's all jumbled together and I reach a point where I just can't make another page of progress until I sit down and figure it all out, again, and again, and again.
That happens often along the way, until I get a sure enough footing. When the greatest plan on earth meets the reality of life on earth, something has to give.
I revisited my original outlines and notes, which were already in multiple stages, sucessive layers of development, then created a second revised set which in time also underwent successive mini-versions or "options" . . . and eventually got down to the real issues which ultimately brought everything into question all over again. I am no stranger to re-thinking, and re-thinking my re-thinking.
What I ended up with by way of confusion was whether to integrate this new novel, THE ISLE, in to the story line of my last novel, THE REFLECTING STONE, and possibly incorporate other ideas for additional novels. I looked at several ways THE ISLE could work, and how it could work with or without being made part of a series, and how best to draw out the drama, the suspense, the changes and growth for the characters, the central conflict, the main point, etc., etc. A lot of thinking and rethinking and innovating and creating and pulling substantial ideas out of thin air just in the nick of time to keep it all held together by even the minutest thread at times but, heck, it worked.
I ended up with the same story, once again now understood on a much deeper level, and tied in to other novels to create a series of novels that are, well, tied together.
The same story, but with some new twists. And, yes, my recent posting commented on twists, but now again there are more twists, so my plot line looks like a multi-layered, braided, spiraled telephone-cord-rope-thingy that could bear the weight of the QE2 or the Empire State Building, or, heck, given its epic nature, both at the same time.
And still I keep my sense of humor, such as it is.
Suffice it to say, I made a lot of progress in the past week! I just need to review my latest notes, establish my immediate writing goal, and get back to work in writing more new pages.
At some point I hope to let loose and just keep writing! However, I appreciate the value of considering the options and tying it all together in new and innovative ways that even I hadn't thought of until the moment I thought of them.
I hope to post again later this week that Chapters 1-6 (old large Chapters 1 and 2) are "done" and edited (I still have to choose between the two versions I wrote earlier of what was originally big Chapter 2), and that I'm at work on Chapters 7-9 (what would have been big Chapter 3).
Happy Holidays, and wait until January before hitting the stores again if you don't like the crowds,
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I tried to leave it, I really did, but I kept going back to it. Yes, Chapter 1 is now about 7,400 words long, but it's really polished! Couldn't help myself. I like reworking early chapters many times because I end up knowing them intimately, every nuance, every possibility. A good start makes for a good journey. I am always afriad if I rush too fast too soon, I'll get off on the wrong foot, and then all the work I do subsequently will be a waste of time. So, it's worth it, to me.
Anyway, after nearly a week on Chapter 1 I'm now into Chapter 2. However, it wasn't an easy transition.
I intended to jump into Chapter 2 right away when I started writing last night, but instead I found myself sitting and thinking intensely about the story, the overview of key events, the ulimate direction it was headed, and other, deep things related to the story. I ended up spending a few hours pouring over my notes and outlines again, and revising them yet again, drawing on new insights and familiarity after finishing Chapter 1.
I tried to see the story again from the few competing perspectives on it, and at one point got frustrated that even though I was trying to make things better, I was ultimately just digging in and making it all more complicated for myself than it needed to be. I felt I was working myself into a corner where everything becomes a question and I can never settle on any answers. Then, quite happily, I took a walk at about 3 am, a short one in the very cold air, and cleared my head, then went back inside and by the time I was in my chair I realized the answers to the quandaries and the path through the wilderness, the way out of the conundra (hope that works, as a Latin neuter plural instead of the Anglo-Saxon plural -s).
I ended all this revising work with a very good sense, rethought out in all the important ways, of the story arc, and several plot lines or issues that run through it, act by act. Of course, I had this before, but it's much better now, more detailed and more nuanced. "New and improved!" An endless process, but it gets better each time.
The balancing act is working, using a combination of detailed planning and open-ended possibilities on how to realize those ideas in actual practice. I haven't teetered or tottered too much one way or the other, although I felt myself tipping a bit with all the rethinking last night.
I found a new way to do my tables that was very stimulating. Anything that works. My tables are a powerful tool for me in planning. I create tables in Microsoft Word and then fill them in, a way to create a pattern for me to see, a way to anticipate things that will need to be thought of, a way to organize what I know, a way to stimulate new perspectives, new ideas. Eventually I'll share some of these on my other blog of writing tips -- and, happily, I figured out finally how to put them online and make them available! I wasn't sure how to do that before.
Well, I'm not looking back now, will not go back in to Chapter 1 for the time being since I know it thoroughly. Instead, as I advance in Chapter 2 and think of some minor detail that should be changed in Chapter 1, I make a brief note of it in another file of changes to make to Chapter 1 once I've finished Chapter 2. It's important at some point to maintain that line and not go back, only forward.
Hope to have Chapter 2 done within a few days. The pace will pick up as the story gets underway, and eventually I'll do a chapter or more a day. It seems I'm back on my 12 steps = 12 chapters pattern, but the goal will be only 5,000 words per chapter, and any above that is "extra". This will bring me in around 60,000 - 72,000 words. I can later look back over it and see whether I can break it down to shorter chapters, but I won't worry about that at this time. I think 12 is a good number for chapters in a book, and it fits my outline of main steps in the plot.
The holidays are fast approaching and the traffic is getting terrible. I refuse to go out and shop any more. Any last-minute shopping I'll do online and since it's too late for online retailers to deliver by now unless they charge significant shipping fees, I'll probably just send online gift certificates. It's not nearly as nice as a gift you choose and wrap yourself, but at least this way it's something they'll like since they'll pick it out themselves. Luckily I did most of my shopping several weeks ago.
Maximizing my writing time even as the world goes crazy around me with the holiday frenzy,
Monday, December 18, 2006
This week, as soon as I can, I'll put up an initial draft of the back-cover blurb for THE ISLE, so visitors to this site will have some idea what it's about.
If you'd like to see what my last novel, THE REFLECTING STONE, is about, you'll find a link to it near the top of the sidebar (look in the margin where the links are). I'm still editing that novel, and will still finish it and seek to have it published -- it's a very worthwhile story, but I don't want to sit in idle mode too long, so I'm busy with my next novel finally, after a couple of false starts.
I can say that the new novel, THE ISLE, deals with a young man on his way to Australia to spend the summer in the Outback. On the plane he meets another young man who intrigues him terribly, but just then there is a significant problem with the plane and it crashes. There's lots of mystery to follow as the young man washes up on a fog-shrouded ISLE....
I went over the first chapter at least eight times, thoroughly editing it. This involved tweaking things, clarifying ideas, expanding sections of dialogue to deal with issues with more depth in terms of what the main character is thinking/feeling, really drawing out the significance of things for him, and providing a little more context for things through his thoughts and brief memories or associations. The chapter still reads quickly and easily, is not bogged down, but is more "enriched" and has more meaning now for the Reader.
It comes in now around 6,000 words, about three times longer than I intended at the outset, but at least I did a thorough job of establishing the main character prior to his embarking on "the journey" or "the quest", showing him in his "normal world" and what his priorities and concerns are, and "the rules" that he must live by, how things are for him. I also drew out the themes, the issues, the matters that concern him, setting up a sense of his hopes and fears that will be drawn out further in the remainder of the story.
I like what I wrote -- I am very happy with it. I like the depth, the way each character has a distinct personality. All of the characters have been evolving considerably except for the main character. He is the only one who has remained exactly as I first conceived of him. The role of antagonist has been making the rounds. First it was one character, then another, as I experimented with shifting roles and potentials. I've considered having the antagonist be a friend, a friend of a friend, and a stranger. I'm still leaving it open -- although I have a distinct plan, I had two other plans before that one, and I think once I'm actually writing it the antagonist will emerge naturally out of one or the other character and when I find him for sure, I'll know which version I'm writing. The basic storyline is the same regardless, but different characters would allow different slants on things, so it's something that will work its way out in due time. I'm not worried about it.
This is the first time I'm writing with a plan, several options (versions) to fall back on, and a sense of letting things develop as they do. In the past, I always wrote from inspiration with no or minimal planning, or from extensive planning that was stifling. My last novel was different, in that I planned extensively and was not constrained and actually wrote out what I planned. However, I think I can do better writing by merging structure and lack of structure, planning and inspiration. I want to try to take the best of both approaches. It's a balancing act, but I think I'm ready for it. I wasn't sure before, but I feel more comfortable trying this now. So far, it's working wonderfully.
I'll probably read over the first chapter again, but should move on to chapter 2 tonight and will hopefully have most of it written by tomorrow. I'll then spend another few days editing it as I did the first chapter. I feel this is one story that might need less editing, based on my experience with it thus far. I think if you get it right the first time, there is less to worry about in the editing. My last novel came together that well in the earlier chapters, but the later chapters still need substantial work, something I want to avoid in this novel. I can see readily how I'm growing and advancing rapidly after years on a plateau. Feels good to see real progress finally.
I'm going to update my WELCOME TO MY WORLD blog because there are some things going on these days that I just HAVE to comment on....
Good luck to everyone else working on a novel,
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The revised outline is one that excites me. The story is one that excites me. I came up with several twists and turns that were unexpected to me, and decided to throw them in and let the story grow some more. What I ended up with includes the main conflicts/issues I started out with, but now has even more surprises in store for the Reader. (Notice I capitalize "Reader" to show my respect for anyone who would think to read my fiction.)
Anyway, I felt I had a solid enough footing, clear anchor points, enough details and events and a strong sense of the main characters' personalities, so I went ahead and took the plunge. I'm most of the way done with Chapter 1 now. It currently runs around 3,600 words. I am only intending on a minimum of 2,000 words per chapter, and don't want them to run very long (like the 10,000-word length that is common in THE REFLECTING STONE). My style is clear and crisp and reads quickly.
The first chapter surprised me in that I got a few new characters who presented themselves, and another twist came up on two of the main characters -- nothing that alters who they are supposed to be for dramatic purposes, but a new slant on how to represent that. I know, it's all very cryptic, but this is a mysterious story (heck, with a title like THE ISLE it should have some mystery in it!). Anyway, the new ideas that come up as I write help keep me excited about the story, and I keep them (so far) in line with the outline.
I took time out for other things this past weekend, wanting to finish up some of that holiday-preparedness that is so important this time of year, so I didn't spend as much time writing as I might have, but I'll catch up tonight (Sunday) and will now keep my nose to the grindstone so I can finish this first draft within December.
It feels great to be connecting with a story, setting aside my meta-level thoughts about the process and just enjoying the sense of adventure and discovery. It helps that it's such an interesting story for me to work with.
Wishing everyone else well as they enjoy their stories this holiday season,
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The past several days I've reworked the outline a few times, using a larger group, a middle-sized group (as a compromise), and emphasizing different aspects of the initial storyline to see how things would play out depending on what I focus on. Each time through I felt frustrated that I was re-doing the same work over and over and over, wishing I'd just get it right and say "go with it", but also I knew each time I was coming up with exciting new ideas for the pool and in the end I was able to go with the best set of ideas from that expanded pool and prodeuce a final version that I like a whole lot. So, it was fun in a way, certainly frustrating as I wanted to finish up and start writing, and ultimately rewarding: the new revised outline is one I'm very excited about. Also, I found a way to keep a fantasy element in it, as well as a mystery.... (Ooh....)
So, I'll take time for any last thoughts, tweak things a bit if needed, and then dive in and start writing. I might start the writing later tonight. I am happy it's winter again as I have more time during this time of the year to write.
My current timeline for THE ISLE is to finish the first draft within December, and the second draft within January. Depending on how it goes, I hope to have a completed manuscript by March, and to start shopping it around as soon as it is finished. Meanwhile, I'll work on THE REFLECTING STONE as I can, and prepare for the next novel.
Glad to be back at it, and the break certainly made a lot of difference.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
When I looked over the fine outline I had made for THE ISLE, which is perfectly viable, not a thing wrong with it, I allowed myself to ask one question which had been nagging me when creating the outline for the story, but which I had avoided until finally I realized I just had to ask it and ponder the possibilities....
The question was, whether to stay focused as I was on four main characters, and keep the novel centered around just these four characters' experiences on THE ISLE, or whether I should keep this basic premise but expand to a larger group of characters on THE ISLE.
When I face questions like this, my strategy for dealing with them is to open a text document (I use Word for this) and write the question, then brainstorm and type out an answer. If I don't know the answer, then I brainstorm a list of possible answers, then go into detail for each possibility considering exactly how it would play out or impact other things, etc., as the case may be. Then, I read over my comments, reflect as needed, and when I'm ready to decide, either immediately or the following day, I then write a summary paragraph at the end stating which solution I chose and exactly why.
For every option I consider, I always explore the pro's and con's and list them, because when there are several viable options, it often comes down to choosing the one option that contains a certain pro the others don't adequately address, something I need for the story, in spite of whatever con's may come with it. This is typically where one direction for the story allows the characters to explore some issue or theme, and at the same time precludes them from experiencing something else that would have happened had things been different. Sometimes I can work those missed options in in other ways, but usually it does come down to some sort of "either/or" choice, and I never really get everything I want because logically it isn't possible, but I get the most important thing that will benefit the story in some essential manner.
Well, enough of the babbling....
In considering the possibiltiies, I also considered other stories that THE ISLE is related to, other well-known novels that deal with people on islands, and considered how having more or fewer people on my island would help or hinder the story and the characters' experiences, etc. I finally decided that although I had initially chosen to focus on just four characters and keep the experience rather intimate with such a small group, which made certain things more likely and more possible, I could still work some of that stuff in with a larger group but also would gain substantial drama from having a larger group present due to large-group dynamics, the sort of stuff that might happen with a larger group but that probably would not happen with a smaller group. My story is unique (of course), not a clone of other stories, but readers will certainly draw parallels to these others stories which everyone is familiar with (I'm not saying which ones they are yet). I need to be cognizant of those connections that readers will make, and it's not objectionable to me that I would pay homage in some way in my own story to some of these other great novels, while at the same time telling my own story with my own characters.
Anyway, it all boils down to the decision to go ahead and expand the group from four to a larger number, which I haven't settled on exactly yet, but I know it'll be 12 to 20 or so. Big enough for large-group dynamics, small enough that I can still focus on the few central characters and to a lesser extent with other characters who will now be present.
Apart from all of these characters, there are also the minor characters I had originally envisioned, people not on THE ISLE. They will still be in the story, although I will likely now focus more on the events that take place on THE ISLE and not spend story time before and after these events by showing much of what happens off THE ISLE with those other minor characters. Those characters may end up on the cutting room floor, but they are there as part of the back-story if nothing else.
This adjustment dictates a fundamental change in the specifics of the outline, so I am having to redo the entire outline, drawing from what I already did -- the basic premise is the same -- but now developing it on two levels, the large-group level and the individual-character level.
The past few days I've been rethinking the story, brainstorming and writing notes of how things might play out now that there are more characters, and developing other plot lines, threads that will be woven together as the individuals try to deal with other individuals and also deal with the larger group goals. I also did more pre-writing, writing another attempt at the first chapter, but I am not sure yet that I have found the proper starting point or voice for the story. I want to do more pre-writing, maybe try another two or three versions of the start of the story, maybe dive in and write a scene from somewhere in the story, just to play with the material, get a clearer sense of the characters' voices. I had though previously of doing a summary of the story from each charater's POV -- that's a very worthwhile way to prepare to write the first draft. I had a clear sense of the four characters, but with the changes, the characters have all been morphed into new versions, so I have to go back to the drawing board so to speak and reconnect with them.
Some pluses I've noticed as I work on this, ways I've grown from my work on my previous novel....
One plus has been the prose I'm writing is tighter from the get-go. Reading THE MARSHALL PLAN earlier this year has helped since the books provides concrete examples of how to write tigher prose. I commented on the book in an earlier posting and gave a few examples.
Another plus has been that I can see a way now to both plan the story and also leave things open to inspiration along the way. Having some experience with detailed outlining under my belt from my last novel, I can much more readily envision how one part of the story is tied to other parts. I can see keeping the twelve "pillars" or main plot points in mind, yet leaving it open exactly how I get from one to the other as I write the story, "discovering" it as I go. To help me keep that in-between writing on track, I can draw on another plus, which has been my increased focus on goals and complications. I focused on that aspect in my planning earlier this year and it paid off, training me to see things in that context. It's surprisingly easy to do that now, a perspective that is more ingrained than it was before. Essentially, for each scene, I have a clear goal for the POV character, and I brainstorm ways things can go wrong for a person with such a goal in that scene. I then throw complications at the character, and allow the ending to be either that the goal is not reached, or reached but not as intended, or the goal must now be replaced with another goal since the first goal proved unworkable, impossible or unnecessary. In other words, constant DRAMA, something I avoid in real life like the plague, but which is the stuff novels are made of. Of course, in selecting these complications, I keep an eye out on the larger story, the context of things, the symbolism, etc., to choose things that make sense, not just random events that are possible. Also, the characters must stay "in character" at all times in how they deal with the complications, and, yes, the complications are designed to draw out some qualities of the individuals characters who are facing them to affect their character development.
I will continue outlining until this new version is done, any day now. In spite of feeling better able to go it free-form between plot points I don't want to attempt that yet, afraid I'll get lost. I like knowing the story up front before I begin writing it. I will continue pre-writing to sharpen the characters' voices. And, within this week, I'll finally be ready to embark on the first draft outright, which I then intend to keep at until finished, and to finish it within December.
Happy Holidays to all the other novel-writers out there,
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I'm still finishing up the other project, the non-writing project I've focused on for probably two months now. It'll be done soon, and I'll post details about it once it is. It's really cool.
As that work is winding down to conclusion, I've had the strong desire to get back to my writing. I've decided to stay completely away from any of the novels I had worked on previously and never managed to finish. There is just too much risk of getting caught up in old patterns that weren't successful before, in terms of getting things completed.
In that vein, I've come up with a brand new idea for a novel with the working title of THE ISLE. I am drawing inspiration from a few other novels that have been written that involve islands, but the story and characters are unique. I like the story and it's nice to have a warm, tropical island to spend time on in my writing when otherwise the cold winter weather has arrived.
In the past few days I did some brainstorming, generating some initial plot notes, then used the templates for the tables and charts that I developed last year, a way to further develop the plot and characters. I also wrote a complete and detailed outline of the entire story. At this point I am going to take one more day to look over the outline and reflect on some possible changes, enhancements, and maybe take a little time to do some pre-writing in preparation. One thing I did last year on my last novel was to write a synopsis of the story from each of the main character's POV. It helped a lot with getting me into each character's head. I feel I already understand their personalities and goals/issues in the story, and how they interact, after the outlining, which was done with the four main characters in mind at each step along the way. However, a little writing to get the engines warmed up wouldn't hurt, if I can manage the patience to do it. I'm ready to dive in and start writing, so I don't want to linger too much longer at this planning stage. It went quickly this time and everything fell into place. It helps that I've planned a few novels over the past year. Each time I work through my tables and charts and create outlines it gets easier and easier for me, and I see much more readily how things fit together. Practice makes for improvement, that's for sure. I've clearly grown a lot over the past year.
Well, I'll post again later this week after I have the first chapter done. My target length is a standard 60,000 to 72,000 words, and I really don't want it to go beyond that. I want to finish the first draft by the end of December, a realistic goal. I want to get it done and out the door, and along the way to use the engergy from this to help push me back to the editing of my last novel, which is still in limbo at the moment. I will get it done, though! And I look forward to sending each of them out to publishers/agents as soon as they are ready. I also look forward to sharing details of my other exciting project in the coming weeks.