Saturday, November 07, 2009

Gaining Ground

After starting a rewrite from scratch, but not feeling like it was "happening" for me, I went back to the beginning and started again. I've gotten farther already today, in just a few hours of writing, than I had all week with that other draft. I just needed to feel more connected, to open up my creativity and let it flow.

I'm in Chapter 4 now of the Second Complete Draft (just launched) of the JASPER novel. Present word count: about 7200 words, all of them written today. I'll write more later today.

I'm writing from my new and revised plan, which is laid out in a table in a word processing document in three columns: one for the main plot, one for the main subplot, and one for the antagonist's plot line. There are forty items in all distributed among the three columns, with most items in the main plot line, of course. I've already done extensive spreadsheet work and thought about sections (a la Marshall Plan), so at this point my table is quite simple and just lists a short phrase to help me identify what each scene/section/chapter is about. I know the story from heart and these simple reminders are all I need to clue me in at this point.

My current plan anticipates a final length of about 50,000 words for what has turned out to be a Middle Grade fantasy novel (ages 8-12). However, I'm writing so much for each chapter, that I'm probably on track for 80,000 to 90,000 words again. That's okay. I'll let it run however long it runs. By the time I'm into a final draft and editing and polishing it, I'll be able to bring the word count down to 40,000 words, but not more than 50,000 words. I know these novels are typically 30,000 to 40,000 words, but thanks to Harry Potter and other fantasy series many of them are now 60,000, 70,000, 90,000, even longer. I'll keep mine on the shorter end of this, but am willing to take a chance if it's a little beyond the 40,000 threshold.

I think I'll just stay in the flow and keep writing, and write my way through the entire story. I did that before, in the First Complete Draft. That draft fell apart in the second half. Although I completed it, it had major plot problems. I have supposedly fixed those problems with my new and revised plan, so trying the new plan out by writing at length in a leisurely and expansive way is probably a good thing to do. I'll get to see how the story plays out, whether I've solved all the plot issues as I think I have. Writing at length will also let me explore more fully the characters and their motivations as well as their actions. When I'm finished with this Second Complete Draft, then I'll reflect, shorten, and possibly start a Third Complete Draft. (I know of highly-successful writers who write many complete drafts to hone their stories before editing and polishing the final version. They have to practice telling the story several times to get it down. They can recognize easily when they're done, telling it the way it was meant to be told. Food for thought.)

What's nice is that my drafts these days are written in a style that is very readable, pretty close to a finished manuscript. In other words, I've spent a lot of time working on how I construct sentences and paragraphs over the past few years, and I'm turning out much better prose at the outset. I can still tweak it till the cows come home, or the dragons return to their caves, but the truth is when you start with better quality, it takes less work to tighten and polish it. I can certainly still pare it down, but the underlying sentence and paragraph patterns are solid. Score one for the hard-working!

Interestingly, the key to my success with this draft, at this point in the process, has nothing to do with plotting. What is essential right now is getting into the FLOW. I have to FEEL the story. I have to live it, to experience it with the characters. I have to get truly wrapped up in it, so that when I'm writing it, I'm able to capture it vividly. I have to have the right mind-set for the story, capture the right voice or style that works for telling it. I have to draw the characters in a way that brings them to life. I have to really get into it, or else the draft will fall flat. It's not about plotting now. It's about making it real.

Can't write from an outline?

You can, if you slow yourself down, look beyond the outline, have internalized the outline. Get beyond it, use it to guide you, but see past it. See the story. Become the story. Live and breathe the story. Bring it to life. Lose yourself in it while you do. But always, keep yourself on track, which is easy now because you KNOW the story.

I'm in the zone, and I'm gaining ground.

And, most importantly, I'm enjoying it.

Best wishes for your own writing enjoyment,


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