Wrong Turns Part II
WRONG TURNS PART II
I’m always fascinated in hearing how other writers transform an idea into a finished work, and after reading Liz and Maureen’s comments on my Tuesday blog, I started thinking about how, after years of trial and error, I’ve learned to do it.
When I first started to write back in the early 80’s, I met a HQ author, Elaine something, it’s so long ago I’ve forgotten her last name, but Elaine wrote great stories. She’d start off with a single sheet of paper and then keep taping on extra sheets, spread sheet style, until she had long, detailed plans that would put an engineer to shame. Her plans included character bios, character arcs, story graphs and every other little trick we’ve learned in writing class. And when she was finished, she went back, connected all the dots, and hey presto! her story was done to perfection—no saggy middles, no unanswered questions. (I just remembered—Elaine Stirling, back in the mid-80’s she wrote a great HQ Intrigue, Call After Midnight).
Elaine made the whole process look so darn simple, I gave it a try…and wound up with the worst mess imaginable. After that, I tried writing an outline—10/20 pages of this happens and then that happens. Another disaster because I was treating my characters like puppets and once I started the actual writing, I kept deviating from the plot--at least, I thought it was me until I realized it was my characters rebelling at being forced to do stuff they did not want to do. I then tried the start, middle and finish approach—to which my characters replied: okay, maybe, and ABSOLUTELY NOT.
For a short story, I don’t bother with outlines or lists. I know I have to wind it up within 10-20k, so I have a fairly good idea of where the story is headed and how I need to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. I don’t often take a wrong turn, but if I do, it’s usually not that difficult to fix. The problem I had with JUST ONE LOOK was because I’d added a subplot that kept growing and growing. The basic subplot is fine, but I kept getting these additional good ideas that I didn’t think through properly and thus wound up with a scene that didn’t work.
With a full length book, 100K+/-, I find keeping everything on track is not so easy. I start off with a main thread for the principal characters and a couple of minor ones for the supporting cast--my ideas usually come with a great opening scene that just drops into my head. I then do a couple of pages on where I think the story should go, do short character sketches, figure out the GMC and any back story, and complete any necessary research. By the time the opening scene is written, I have a loose idea what will happen next, but no clue at all how it will end because around the middle of every book, my characters unfailingly take over.
To combat this takeover, I make reminder lists about things that need to happen or not happen etc. etc. I’ve also discovered a marvelous little trick to keep everything heading in the right direction: At the end of the first third of the book and again at the end of the second third, I have a story conference with my characters to determine their respective states of mind. What they want or want not to happen; how they feel about the other characters, and so on and so on. It’s really quite illuminating once you start treating your characters as people rather than puppets.